Bible Q and A – Archive

These Bible columns have been published in the Petersburg, VA, Progress-Index or emailed every Wednesday to about 500 subscribers in the U.S. and 25 foreign countries. Please email tomlovorn@comcast.net to be added to this service. Feel free to copy, paste, and print these for your use. I welcome your comments and further questions via email. The most recent column will always be first. Because of computer crash some columns may not show. If you want them emailed to you, please contact me.

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  • Can we communicate with the dead?
  • Is America mentioned in prophecy?
  • Is everyone guilty of breaking all the commandments?
  • Are the dead in Heaven aware of our actions on earth?
  • Are the sins of fathers passed on to their children?
  • Does Mark refer to himself in his gospel?
  • Who were concubines in the Bible?
  • Was the Queen of Sheba saved?
  • What does the Bible teach about alcohol consumption?
  • When did Paul go to Jerusalem?
  • Did Jesus know he would die and be resurrected?
  • What does the New Testament say about polygamy?
  • Are Demons fallen angels?
  • What will happen to small children at the Rapture?
  • Didn’t God want the sacrifices?
  • What did Jesus mean in Matthew 11:12?
  • Why doesn’t God always judge evil immediately?
  • Did Jesus make a Resurrection appearance to his mother?
  • Should we keep asking once we pray for a request?
  • What are earth groanings?
  • If we don’t bear fruit, are we lost?
  • Is sin a disease?
  • Did God tell Israel not us use horses in battle?
  • How could the sun and moon stand still for Joshua?
  • Does the Bible teach we may lose our salvation?
  • Why was the first noel delivered to shepherds and wise men?
  • What are the government prohibitions against Christmas?
  • How can Jesus be Prince of Peace and still cause division?
  • What is the difference between soul and spirit?
  • How did the Jews worship?
  • Can the Jews reinstitute Temple worship without the Ark?
  • Who owns the land of Isael?
  • Was Jesus wrong to kill 2,000 pigs?
  • Why did Jesus weep?
  • Will we have to be introduced in Heaven?
  • Where is Satan now?
  • Did Jesus ever laugh?
  • Is anger a sin?
  • What was the rock that followed Israel?
  • If it’s appointed to man to die once, how do we explain Lazarus?
  • Why kill the animals in conquest?
  • Is the curse at the end of the Bible meant only for John’s Revelation?
  • Did Jesus have actual brothers and sisters?
  • Is it wrong to get a tattoo?
  • Are the Proverbs promises or principles?
  • What is the symbolism of Ezekiel 1?
  • Has the Abomination of Desolation happened?
  • What is Universalism?
  • What is the First Resurrection?
  • Does Baptism save us?
  • Where is the Revelation’s Babylon?
  • What is the Gap Theory?
  • Why is homosexuality wrong?
  • How was Joseph a type of Christ?
  • Who was Melchizedek?
  • Is the Rapture near?
  • Should we celebrate the death of Bin Lauden?
  • Why is the Resurrection so important to our belief?
  • What happens to people who don’t choose Jesus?
  • Why did the Jews hate the Samaritans?
  • What is the curse of Ham?
  • Do I have to close my eyes to pray?
  • What part does repentance play in our salvation?
  • Is God preparing the world now to receive the Antichrist?
  • If Jesus had a human mother, how could he be sinless?
  • What is the Scriptural meaning of water and blood?
  • Are lawmen and soldiers breaking the 6th commandment?
  • Why are there so many animal deaths in 2011?
  • Will we see the Kingdom of Heaven come?
  • What is the sign of the son of man?
  • Is it wrong to request rebaptism?
  • Is God speaking through natural calamities?
  • What are the 12 days of Christmas?
  • What did Paul mean by “in Heavenly places”?
  • Will my pets go to Heaven?
  • Is Thanksgiving a Christian holiday?
  • Tell me more about angels
  • Why are there different versions of the Bible?
  • How should we pray?
  • Why did God give 2 different covenants?
  • Where are we told that Satan talks with God?
  • Proof why we won’t lose our salvation
  • Praying in Jesus’ name
  • Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart and send 10 plagues?
  • Does the Old Testament predict major events in Jesus’ life?
  • What about angel titles and rank?
  • Will we see the Trinity in Heaven?
  • Who is the Spiritual Israel today?
  • What will happen to those who die during the Tribulation?
  • Where did Evil come from?
  • Which is the best way to study the Bible?
  • Why did God tell Israel to destroy their enemies?
  • Where did we get the titles for our officers?
  • Turn the other cheek
  • Corporate Worship
  • Daniel’s 70 Weeks
  • What are the rod and staff in Psalm 23?
  • What were the first true and false religions?
  • Does 2 Chronicles 7:14 still apply?
  • Why did Paul write about baptizing for the dead?
  • What does Shiloh mean?
  • Why do we teach about the Trinity if it’s not in the Bible?
  • What was the ephod Gideon made and why was it wrong?
  • What was the significance of Moses’ removing his shoes at the Burning Bush?
  • Did Passover predict how Jesus would die? How about his resurrection?
  • How did Judas actually die?
  • How could there be 24 hour days before the sun was created?
  • How do they set Easter dates?
  • Why did Jesus tell some people not to tell about him?
  • Where are the dead awaiting Judgment?
  • Can a person really return from the dead?
  • Why are some numbers used more in the Bible?
  • Does Satan converse with God today?
  • Does eating meat make you guilty of idol worship?
  • Who were Jannes and Jambres?
  • Were there 12 or 13 Apostles?
  • If we forsake God, will He cut us off forever?
  • Please explain our Christmas tradition origins
  • Are carnal people saved?
  • Please explain the weaning ceremony in the Old Testament.
  • How can I know that a saved person doesn’t lose his salvation?
  • What is the significance of a curtain torn at Jesus’ death?
  • What is the Baptism of the Spirit?
  • What happens to backslidders?
  • Can we “Fall from Grace?”
  • What did Paul mean about broken and grafted branches?
  • Should Christians avoid Halloween?
  • Of what significance was the color of Jesus’ robe?
  • How much free will do we have in our choices?
  • What does Beulah Land, etc., mean?
  • Does the O.T. predict a Savior for gentiles?
  • Did Judas go to Heaven or Hell?
  • Did Paul have a brother named Rufus?
  • What Bible version do you recommend?
  • Why are there 2 genealogies for Jesus?
  • What is the third Heaven?
  • What do we know about Jabez?
  • Is Antichrist alive today?
  • Why did Jesus teach in parables?
  • Where is the first mention of Jesus in the bible?
  • What is the “sin unto death”?
  • Why did God allow men to have multiple wives?
  • Why doesn’t God have a mother?
  • Who was God talking to in Genesis 1:26?
  • Is Mary still a virgin?
  • What crowns may we expect in Heaven?
  • Can we find dinosaurs in the Bible?
  • Explain Easter terms
  • Explain who will be at the Great White Throne Judgment.
  • Did their sacrifices save the Old Testament saints?
  • Is the Antichrist alive today?
  • Why did Jesus ask Peter 3 times if he loved him?
  • What was the Urim and Thummim?
  • Interpreting Revelation’s Letters to Asia Minor
  • What is the correct name for Jesus?
  • Does God send a lying spirit?
  • Did Jesus want the Jews to be saved?
  • What does the water and blood mean?
  • Does God write his Word in our hearts?
  • Did Jephthah really kill his little girl?
  • How are we to understand Babylon in the New Testament?
  • Please explain the Book of Life
  • Can you shed some light on the Bible book of Ecclesiastes?
  • Will our family and friends that we know now be the same in Heaven?
  • Why are people looking for the Ark of the Covenant?
  • What should we observe in the New Year?
  • Why was the first noel given to shepherds and wise men?
  • Why was Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes?
  • Explain Gehenna and Abraham’s Bosom
  • Does Jesus need to be made more perfect?
  • Why pray “Lead us not into temptation”?
  • What age will we be in Heaven?
  • How can we know which Old Testament laws to keep?
  • Please explain about wine in Proverbs 31:6-7
  • What happened to Enoch?
  • What about our interim bodies after death?
  • What is the age of accountability?
  • Is there a blessing to old age?
  • Are Demons real?
  • What was the mark of Cain?
  • Please explain what happens to our spirits at death.
  • What about people who’ve never heard of Jesus?
  • Is there a window from Heaven to Hell?
  • When was Satan created?
  • Did God really try to kill Moses?
  • What did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged?”
  • Can anyone be saved with knowing about Jesus or being in the Book of Life?
  • Who were the giants of Genesis 6?
  • How should we “study to show ourselves approved to God”?
  • Where did Cain get his wife?
  • Is the gift of tongues a valid gift today?
  • How should we understand Isaiah 9:5?
  • Does the Bible forbid women braiding their hair?
  • How can a believing spouse sanctify the unbelieving one?
  • When did Christians begin worshipping on Sunday?
  • Did Jesus have to have faith?
  • Can we date the Rapture in Bible chronology?
  • Who was the snake in the Garden?
  • What does the Bible say about divorce?
  • Are religious talks a sign of the end?
  • Is the Church really distinct from Israel?
  • Explain the phrases and punishments of Matthew 5:22
  • Is our conscience related to the Holy Spirit?
  • Will we have individual attention in Heaven?
  • Must we hate our families to follow Jesus?
  • May Christians claim Old Testament promises?
  • Can a Christian lose his salvation?
  • What do Mormons believe?
  • Why did Jesus die, and what about saved Old Testament people?
  • Does the Bible teach that women are saved by bearing children?
  • Do we become angels or ghosts when we die?
  • Did King Saul go to Heaven since he committed suicide?
  • Explain the conflict between Acts 5:13 and 14.
  • What were the rituals for Pentecost?
  • Tell me about early church members
  • Do we invite Jesus or the Spirit to save us?
  • How long did it take Jesus to gather his Disciples?
  • Did Jesus contradict himself about witnesses validating his ministry?
  • Explain the parable of workers in the vineyard
  • Is it a sin to get a tatoo?
  • Does God send angels to lie for him?
  • Who will the Antichrist be and what is 666?
  • Why did Jesus say it would be hard for a rich man to be saved?
  • Why don’t Christians keep the O.T. kosher laws?
  • What did Jesus mean that some people would not die before the Kingdom comes?
  • Does the Bible teach that the sun revolves around the earth?
  • Were the tongues of Acts 10 the same as those at Pentecost?
  • Can we prove the Bible is inspired?
  • What did the livestock eat in the wilderness journey?
  • Why did Jesus tell his disciples to buy a sword?
  • When will the unsaved be resurrected and what kind of bodies will they have?
  • How old was Jesus when he died?
  • How can the Bible promise no more wars in Jerusalem?
  • Did the people of Jerusalem hear the wind of Pentecost?
  • To Whom are First and Second John addressed?
  • What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe?
  • Who was the “man from Macedonia” who appeared to Paul?
  • Why do some churches sprinkle and baptize babies?
  • What’s the differences in our main protestant denominations?
  • Explain the titles the Bible gives for angels
  • Does the Bible predict our present conflicts in the Middle East?
  • Please explain the Passover customs
  • What did Jesus do from age twelve to thirty?
  • How can we tell the “Marys” apart in the gospels?
  • What about the so-called discovery of Jesus’ bones?
  • Explain the Kenosis passage in Philippians 2:7
  • Explain Calvinism and Armenianism
  • Why didn’t the Jews recognize their Messiah?
  • Why was Jesus born a Jew?
  • Did the Cross take God by surprise?
  • Why did God punish David for taking a census?
  • Explain Jesus’ answer to John in Matthew 11
  • Why pray “lead us not into temptation”?
  • When will the Temple be rebuilt?
  • What is the significance of the 5 women in Jesus’ genealogy?
  • Did the Wise Men come to Nazareth?
  • Please correct our traditional distortions of Christmas
  • Jesus’ Earthly Family
  • How may I legally celebrate Christmas in my school?
  • Did a meteor kill all the dinosaurs?
  • What is our Spiritual Inheritance?
  • Was the second day of Creation good?
  • Is the United States mentioned in Bible prophecy?
  • Explain the Day-Age Theory
  • Is it wrong to observe Halloween?
  • Did Jesus Give an Invitation in Hell After He Died?
  • Tell us about your Mississippi Mission Trip
  • How Did God and Jesus separate themselves at the Cross?
  • How did they measure years in the Bible?
  • Was God ever called “Baal?”
  • What are some comparison beliefs of other religions?
  • Is something lacking in Christ’s atonement for us?
  • Is there forgiveness for adultry and remarriage?
  • Are worship styles of primary importance to God?
  • What is Replacement Theology?
  • What was in the sponge offered to Jesus on the cross?
  • What about churches who don’t use music?
  • What does it mean for our speech to be “seasoned with salt?”
  • Is it dangerous to fool around with occult paraphernalia?
  • Do our loved ones in Heaven know what’s happening on earth?
  • Should we call a priest “Father?”
  • Why did Jesus call himself “Son of man?”
  • Should I fast?
  • What is the meaning of Job 26:7?
  • Who are the people of God in 2 Chronicles 7:14?
  • What does it mean to “rightly divide the word of truth?”
  • Why do bad things keep happening in our schools?
  • Did John know Jesus was the Messiah when he baptized Him?
  • May we expect Pentecost to happen again?
  • What was in the Ark of the Covenant?
  • Why do some Christians observe Lent?
  • Is it a sin to give the price of a dog to God?
  • Are we to practice our beliefs all the time?
  • Will we know each other in Heaven?
  • Why does Genesis 1:1 say God created the heavens (plural) and the earth?
  • Why did Elisha call bears to maul 42 children in 2 Kings 2?
  • What are the signs of Christ’s return?
  • Why didn’t Jesus baptize anyone if he taught his disciples to do it?
  • Why was an enormous curtain torn when Jesus died?
  • What do we know about Jesus’ earthly brothers?
  • What happens when we die and who are the 144,000?
  • What does it mean that Jesus is called a Nazarene?
  • Explain how Jesus meant the predictions of Matthew 24 would come true.
  • Is the Virgin Birth important?
  • Explain the Biblical doctrine of predestination
  • Why are we told to “bear one another’s burdens” and then to “bear your own burden”?
  • Why Call Israel a Land of Milk and Honey when it’s so barren today?
  • Is the US mentioned in End-Time Prophecy?
  • Who will judge Israel?
  • Did the Spirit come the first time at Pentecost?
  • Why Did God Try to Kill Annanias in Acts 5?
  • Were Angels involved in giving the Law to Moses?
  • Will I go to Hell because I’ve had an abortion?
  • Did Jesus claim to be the Jewish Messiah?
  • Does John 15 teach we can lose our salvation?
  • Is the story of Jonah really true?
  • Why does God hate Homosexuals?
  • Peter and the Keys to Heaven
  • What does it mean to “work out our salvation”?
  • Will we recognize each other in Heaven?
  • What is the Everlasting Gospel of Revelation 14?
  • Does God know about Clones?
  • Lightshine or not?
  • What will Heaven be like?
  • Explain Acts 16:31
  • Why Jesus Cursed the Fig Tree
  • How Are We to Wear Our Hair?
  • Removing Graven Images
  • The Founding of Christ’s Church
  • Was the Gospel offered to Gentiles before Jesus died?
  • How dates for Passover and Easter are chosen
  • Meanings of the days of Holy Week
  • Who are carnal Christians?
  • Are we supposed to forgive and forget?
  • Does the Old Testament approve breaking the Commandments?

 

Can we communicate with the dead?

Q. What does the Bible say about communicating with the dead, and do the dead ever come back? Max McGhee, San Clemente, CA

A. A lot of movies today deal with zombies which have become a popular topic for young people, but of course there are none because life and death belong to God. His Word says in Hebrews 9:27 that judgment follows death for the unsaved. The only time we have the walking dead is in Matthew 27:52-53 when some Old Testament saints were allowed to testify to Jesus’ resurrection as he transported Paradise heavenward.

Jesus told a parable in Luke 16 about a rich man in the place of the unsaved dead asking that dead Lazarus take a message to warn his brothers not to come to that place. Abraham told him a great gulf is fixed around Hades so that no one can pass back to this world (verse 26). That means that people who claim to have had visitations from the dead are either lying, imagining it, or they have been deceived by demons.

The exceptions to that rule are those saved people the Lord has allowed to come back for his purposes. Moses and Elijah appeared at the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17 and Mark 9, and Revelation 11 says they will come again in the last days. The prophets and Jesus sometimes raised the dead, and Jesus himself returned from his grave.

A notable exception is recorded in 1 Samuel 28 when King Saul asked a witch at Endor to bring the prophet Samuel back from the dead. Although such practices of consulting the dead are forbidden in Exodus 22:18 and Deuteronomy 18:10, God honored Saul’s request and allowed Samuel to return. This “witch” was a fake who didn’t expect Samuel to return because in verse 12 she screamed when he actually appeared. This was further evidence of Saul’s disobedience, therefore Samuel told him his life and reign would end the next day. It happened as Samuel predicted.

Paul warned in Galatians 5:20 that those who practice witchcraft will not enter Heaven. Instead, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 as the Companion and Guide for all believers. And, James 1:5 says if we need wisdom for any decision we should ask God and he will provide it graciously.

 

Why does John record 2 angels at Jesus’ tomb?

Q. Is there a special significance in John 20:12 for the 2 angels in the tomb of Jesus and where they were positioned? Tonya Brown, Assistant Director of Quality, DFW Airport, TX

A. Every word God records for us in the Holy Bible is significant! It comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4) and it endures forever. “The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Jesus said in John 17:17, “Thy word is truth.” He didn’t say “true,” but “truth” because “true” may change with circumstances, but “truth” is a principle that endures forever.

Mary saw 2 persons perhaps because Deuteronomy 19:15 and Matthew 18:16 say 2 witnesses declare a matter to be true. By the way, Luke 24:4 says there were 2 men at the tomb in shining garments and he further says in Acts 1:10 that 2 men gave testimony at the ascension of Jesus. These could have been the same “angels” Mary saw, or they may have been the same 2 men who appeared at the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:2 identified as Moses and Elijah. They are the 2 “olive trees and candlesticks” of Zechariah 4:11-14 identified in Revelation 11:3-6 again as Moses and Elijah. The great law-giver and the greatest of the prophets will testify to the Jews that Jesus is their promised Messiah. This will result in 144,000 Jews being called as Christian evangelists in the last half of the Tribulation (Revelation 7).

I do think the position of Mary’s 2 angels back in John 20:12 was significant. One was at the head of the burial slab where Jesus had lain and the other was at the foot. Peter spoke of angels’ curiosity in 1 Peter 1:12, and Daniel 4:17 calls them Watchers as to why God would save sinful men. They could have been measuring the small degree to which the God of Creation limited himself in human flesh. But, I think they were pointing back to Exodus 25:18-19 where 2 cherubic angels were placed at the ends of the Ark of the Covenant looking down at the Mercy Seat where the sacrificial blood was accepted by God. These angels were looking at the symbol of God’s new covenant, the empty tomb, where holy blood was accepted for the sins of the world.

There’s so much in every word God has recorded for us. Study it prayerfully and ask God to explain what you don’t understand (James 1:5).

 

What was Paul teaching about eating meat offered to idols?

Q. What was the custom Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians 8 about eating meat offered to idols? Anita Cole Alcorn, Oak Ridge, TN
A. Paul was addressing Roman Christians who lived in Corinth. Their worship offerings were different from those of the Jews. Many of the Hebrew offerings God had prescribed in Leviticus were burnt offerings. Sometimes the whole animal was burnt; at other times only parts of the animal were offered. Other worship gifts might be grain offerings. These were waved to present them to the Lord. Other oblations might be oil or wine that was poured over the altar, or cakes of bread that were baked before the Lord. The left-over animal parts, grain, and bread offerings that were not consumed were given to the priests for their families.

Citizens of Corinth, however, usually did not offer burnt offerings. They set out fresh fruit, vegetable, and meat offerings before their idols each day and replaced them the next day. The day-old offerings were then sold in the markets at greatly reduced prices. The poor people were glad to get those bargains!

Many of the Christians in Corinth were among the poor who shopped at the bargain markets. However, some Christians felt they were participating in – or at least placing approval on – the idol worship if they ate those offerings. Of course, Paul knew the food was harmless, and Christians who were strong in their faith could eat it without a problem. But, new believers might be led astray thinking seasoned Christians were saying it’s OK to participate in idol worship.

Paul advised his readers to obey their consciences and consider if an innocent act of eating such food would lead someone else to worship idols. His conclusion in 1 Corinthians 8:8-13 can be summarized as: “I know such meat hasn’t been tainted by imaginary gods, but if eating meat will lead someone astray, I won’t eat any meat again!”

This gives us an example to follow the spirit of Paul’s words. Paul is not saying don’t eat meat. God approved of proper meat consumption in Genesis 9:3 and Acts 10:11-13. Paul is teaching that we should be careful about the impressions we leave with others, lest our seemingly innocent actions may cause another person to sin.

 

How are God’s servants sealed in their foreheads?

Q. What is meant in Revelation 7:3-4 by God’s servants being sealed in their foreheads?Clarke Blankenship, Chester, VA

A. I understand the Revelation’s record of future events to be largely chronological except for the three-fold judgments which may be layered simultaneously. But, the interludes and flashbacks given for explanation are not necessarily in chronological order. The appearance of the Two Witnesses is recorded in chapter 11 where verse 6 identifies them as Moses and Elijah, yet chapter 7 may record their converts. When the greatest of the Jewish law-givers and prophets identify Jesus as their Messiah many Jews will trust in him, and 144,000 of them will become Christian evangelists. This will complete God’s promise to Abraham as his descendants, indeed, will be a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 22:18). These are said to be sealed in their foreheads.

Commentaries differ as to whether this sealing is a physical or spiritual mark. The same question could be asked about Cain in Genesis 4:15. That verse reads that God gave Cain a signal (mark, sign, or token). That could have been some sign of encouragement to Cain that no one would kill him, or it may have been a visible mark on him to warn others not to kill him.

If physical marks are placed on the 144,000 servants in Revelation 7 they would be like bond-servants who were branded as their master’s property: a warning for Satan’s men not to touch them. It could also identify these preachers as true messengers from God. However, if these are spiritual sealings they might be an invisible bubble of protection around each of these Jewish evangelists. The sealing in their foreheads could mean their thoughts and words are those of God even as they are sheltered from catastrophic winds (verses 1-3).

Whatever the nature of their sealing, these preachers will be supernaturally protected so that Antichrist can’t harm them. In Revelation 14 we see all 144,000 standing safely on Mt. Zion at the end of the Tribulation praising God. Their preaching will result in many people all over the world being saved even though Antichrist will threaten death to their converts. Theirs is a type of the security of every believer whom Paul assured in Ephesians 1:13 is “sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise.”

Should we substitute Lord for God’sname?

Q. Are we breaking the third commandment of Exodus 20:7 by substituting LORD for God’s name in Scripture? Larry McKibben, Nesbit, MS

A. Bible names indicated character. When we say God’s name is holy, or hallowed, it means his character is holy, sinless, and uniquely set apart above all others.

The first Hebrew name God gave Moses to use for himself throughout Genesis is Elohim meaning, “Strong or Almighty One.” But, that name was a generic name used for all gods. Early men wanted to know God’s personal name to know his character. So, Moses asked his name in Exodus 3:13-14. God said his name is “I AM.” In Hebrew, God used 4 consonants we call the Tetragrammaton. We usually render them as JHVH. They form the root of the Hebrew verb “to be.” That means by extension that God has always existed and is trustworthy. But, his name sounded incomplete, and God knew people would ask: “I am…what?” God said tell them “I Am That (Who or What) I Am.” God meant he can only be described in terms of himself, and we can only know about God what he chooses to reveal to us.

Moses considered God’s name too holy to pronounce, so God came to be known as “the God who has no name.” Early scribes and the Septuagint translators (the 70 scholars who translated the Pentateuch into Greek for Pharaoh’s library) didn’t know what to do with JHVH, so they wrote “memra” (Hebrew for Word) each time they came to those letters. However, when the Jews read it, they pronounced it “Aedonai” (Hebrew for Lord). John 1:1 explains who that Word is. Revelation 19:13 later confirmed what John wrote years before: That Word is Jesus.

English translators took the vowels from Aedonai (e, o, a) and added them to JHVH to make “Jehovah” as a guess for God’s name. However, since the Hebrew J could also be a Y and the V could be a W, we have ancient writings of God’s name spelled “Yahweh,” or “Yahveh.” Some Bibles now use LORD (all caps in your Old Testament) for these consonants making God’s name.

I don’t think we’re being irreverent because God looks on our hearts. The substitution of LORD for the Divine Name is an effort to keep his holiness while showing the uniqueness of his name. I think God is more concerned with how we live to honor the character of his name than how we write his name.

What does the Bible teach about the distribution of wealth?

Q. What does the Bible say about the distribution of wealth to make the gap smaller between rich and poor? Bob Grosz, Sandston, VA

A. I agree that there has always been a gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” of our world. Often, this has caused social and governmental problems including religious debates. Many people in Bible times believed riches, good health, and temporal blessings were signs of God’s favor. The whole book of Job refutes this. The disciples of Jesus asked in John 9:1-2 if God had let a man be blind because of his sins. Jesus’ answer was “No.” When it was popular to believe wealth indicated God’s favor, Jesus shocked his listeners in Luke 18:24 by saying it’s hard for rich people to enter God’s Kingdom.

That debate about blessing and blame and how to “level the field” is in the spotlight again. Our government is proposing various plans to take from the rich and give to the poor. You’re asking if God has anything to say.

Some people think the early church in Jerusalem right after Pentecost was communistic because Acts 2:44 says they had all things in common. That wasn’t communism or socialism where the state takes ownership of personal possessions and decides how to distribute them. They do that to keep everyone in equal submission to the state. Those early believers were so controlled by God’s Spirit and so filled with his love that they voluntarily shared their abundance with those in need. That’s God’s teaching about the distribution of wealth. It’s spelled out in such scriptures as Romans 12:13, 20; 1 Timothy 5:16; James 1:27; and 1 John 3:17.

The Bible doesn’t teach that our possessions are to be taken away by the state and given to the poor. Rather, as Jesus did with the rich ruler in Matthew 19:21, the New Testament challenges each individual believer to share freely with those in need who cross our paths. We should follow the example of Acts 4:32-35. If the Church practiced this, there would be no need for many social organizations which fill this gap today.

So, let’s not wait for the government to solve the problems of the poor, but let each person do what we can to minister, train, and encourage the indigent around us. If we do this in Jesus’ name he will be glorified (Mark 9:41) and ours will be a better place to live.

Does God ever repent?

Q. If we believe God makes no mistakes, how are we to understand his repenting in 1 Samuel 15:11? Justin Laib, Round Lake, IL

A. The King James Bible in 1 Samuel 15:11 records God’s saying to Samuel, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king.” In most other versions that verb vacillates between forms of “repent” and “regret.” The Hebrew word for repent there actually means “to sigh or breath heavily” as if to be sorry. The same word is used again in verse 35. However, verse 29 says God is not a man that he should repent. So, yours is a valid question to ask!

Let me share how I reconcile the thought of an all-knowing God regretting something he has done: I understand it best by remembering that we often describe God in anthropomorphic terms; ie., we refer to him with human characteristics. We talk of God as having eyes and ears, heart and hands; but Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is a spirit. Yet, God describes himself that way. In Psalm 34:15 God inspired David to write, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.” He allows us to think of him in terms we can understand.

Thinking of God as repenting or regretting some previous action is a way to understand why God may change his behavior toward a person. Our English word “repent” means to make a 180 degree turn and go in a different direction. If we think of God as repenting, it simply means that he has changed the way he will relate to someone. And, that’s because the individual failed God’s expectations and reached a point of no return. It certainly doesn’t mean that God has made a mistake; or, in this case, that God didn’t know King Saul would be a poor king. God knew full well what Saul would do, but he was the best man for the job at the time the people were demanding a king (1 Samuel 8:5).

How slow we are to learn that God usually lets us do what we’re determined to do, because that’s the best way to teach us to trust his way! When Saul continually disobeyed God, God eventually stopped blessing his reign and prepared to remove him. So, we can still believe an all-wise God never makes a mistake, but our Heavenly Father is teaching his children in terms we can understand.

 

Q. The Bible teaches that believers will be rewarded for good efforts. What kind of rewards may we expect? Sharon Harbaugh, Williamsburg, VA

A. Many places in the Bible promise rewards. As early as Genesis 15:1 God promised Abram he would shield him from danger and give him earthly rewards. Proverbs 16:31 teaches that living a long life is one of God’s rewards for righteous people. The same is a conditional promise in the fifth Commandment for one who respects his parents (Exodus 20:12). Some of Jesus’ parables in Luke 19 picture rewards of more money or cities to rule over for the faithful even though they were already rich. On the other hand, Job 15:31 promises more evil as a reward for those who are evil.

Beginning with Daniel 12:13 the emphasis seems to shift more to rewards promised at the end of life. In Matthew 5:12 Jesus assured great rewards in Heaven for the righteous. He also said in Revelation 22:12, “Behold I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

Some of those rewards are pictured as crowns. Five crowns for various acts of faithfulness are mentioned in the following scriptures: 1 Corinthians 9:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4 and Revelation 2:10. But, what will we do with those crowns? Revelation 4:9-11 says we will lay our crowns at Jesus’ feet because only he is worthy of all honor and glory. Anything we seem to accomplish, we have done so in his strength.

Some preachers believe our dwellings in Heaven will reflect our rewards. They suppose Jesus is preparing our dwelling places with the materials we send ahead, perhaps with the gold, silver, and precious stones Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:12. Yet, we are told in Revelation 21:19 that our Heavenly city will have walls of diamonds, streets of gold, and foundations of many precious stones. The Water of Life and Trees of Life (plural) will be other rewards in eternity for the saved.

While I don’t think we should be working primarily for the rewards, I also think it’s alright to lay up as many rewards as we can, because it will please Jesus to be able to say, “Well done!”

Q. How do I answer people who accuse me of being a narrow- minded fanatic for believing Jesus is the only way to God? Name withheld by request

A. I believe you will hear accusations like this more and more as we move more into a post-Christian world. Just think how conditions have deteriorated in our lifetimes. But, this should not discourage believers because Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:9-10, 37 that such would happen before his return. It is testimony that the Bible is true and that Jesus is coming soon. In fact, he said in verse 34 that generation that saw all these things in Matthew 24 happening would not pass before he returns.

As to people calling you a fanatic: You didn’t make that statement; Jesus did! You’re just quoting Jesus when he said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” He further said in John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (NASB). Peter also echoed, “Neither is there salvation in any other…” (Acts 4:12). And, the apostle Paul testified in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

To understand this we must go to the only Book that explains it – not the Koran of the Muslims, nor the Bhagavad Gita of the Hindus, nor the words of Confucius. All these have fictitious accounts, if any, of the beginning of the world. It makes more sense to believe the Bible’s account of Intelligent Design behind an orderly creation than to believe evolution’s theory that everything came from nothing. Have you ever heard of an explosion bringing orderly results? Yet, we’re supposed to believe a Big Bang brought this complicated universe into existence!

The Bible explains that mankind broke God’s laws and reaped the penalty of death. However, this God who created us to bring him pleasure (Revelation 4:11) and to be his friends (John 15:15) loved us so much (John 3:16), he refused to let us die without a chance to be redeemed. So, this God put on a human body and came as Jesus to die in our place because there is no other way to be reconciled to God. Responding to his invitation in Matthew 11:28 to return to God by way of Jesus, we are saved. That’s not fanaticism; that’s just fact!

Is it a sin to call someone rabbi, father, or master?

Q. How are we to understand Matthew 23:8-10? Is it a sin to call someone rabbi, father, or master? Matt Harm, Port St. Lucie, FL

 

A. We must consider the setting to study this passage in context. In Matthew 22 Jesus had been confronted all day by his Jewish adversaries asking questions to trap him. Here was Jesus, who had come to bless people in bondage; but, their religious leaders were putting them in more bondage by stealing from them and burdening them with “commandments” God had not given. These leaders were placing themselves above the people they were supposed to serve and demanding that the people call them by titles of respect.

 

It was in this context that Matthew 23:8-10 recorded Jesus as saying, perhaps aside to his disciples, that they not follow the examples of the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. He wanted them to consider themselves equal servants of the people. And, as far as we know, none of the original apostles ever chose any titles of distinction for themselves.

 

I do not see the primary emphasis here as prohibiting such titles as rabbi or father or master. Rather, I think the lesson Jesus was teaching was that believers should serve in humility, not expecting any special distinction or honor. He applied what he meant in verses 11-12.

 

Jesus actually used all those titles in his teachings. He allowed people to call him rabbi; and, in Matthew 10:25, he used the same titles a servant used to address his master and lord. He never rebuked those who addressed their elders as father. Therefore, I understand this as another example of Oriental teaching by exaggeration so that his hearers might discern for themselves the real lesson of humility taught here.

 

According to Matthew 6:4 we are to let God reward openly what we do discretely. The greatest among us should consider ourselves merely servants doing our duty according to the parable in Luke 17:7-10, and in that attitude we will be honored. Certainly, Jesus does not object to our honoring those we deem worthy of respect; but the leader should not demand such honors from his followers.

Are “Blood Moons” signs of the Second Coming?

 

Q. Are the “blood moons” in our forecasts the “signs in the sky” predicting the Second Coming of Jesus? Marjorie Kindiger, Chattanooga, TN

 

A. We in the eastern United States were disappointed this past Tuesday morning, April 15, that the skies were cloudy and we couldn’t see the first of the tetradia, or four, “blood moon” eclipses. This eclipse fell on the beginning of this year’s Jewish Passover. Next year there is another one predicted for April 4, 2015, which will also happen during Passover. The ones this October 8 and next year on September 28 will occur during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Historians have pointed out that some previous eclipses which occurred within a 2 year period were also on significant dates of Jewish history. Add to that a total solar eclipse next March 20 on the Jewish New Year of the Levitical calendar, and Bible students take note.

 

But, eclipses happen every so often. Sometimes conditions are such that the moon may appear to be red, or black, or some other color. And, as far as eclipses happening on Jewish holidays, what about those that didn’t happen on special Jewish days?

 

It is true that both Jews and Christians have scriptural predictions of such “wonders in the heavens” happening before the “great and notable day of the Lord.” In Acts 2:20 Peter preached about this in his Pentecostal sermon in which he quoted Joel 2:31. The timing of these wonders is given in Revelation 6:12-17 as happening when the Sixth Trumpet Judgment is sounded just before the Glorious Appearance of our Lord. That will be after Christians are removed at the Rapture and at the end of the Great Tribulation. Jesus confirmed in Matthew 24:29 that it will happen “after the tribulation of those days” when “the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars will fall from heaven.” Those will be supernatural signs earthlings have never seen before, not natural eclipses which happen often.

 

Although I respect the preaching of the Rev. John Hagee and other prophets of our day, my personal opinion is that these eclipses are not those predicted by Joel, Peter, or Jesus. Yet, believers are urged to warn everyone to be ready for the coming of our Lord at any time and to keep our eyes on the eastern sky from which our redemption will draw nigh (Matthew 24:27; Luke 21:28).

Are Christians ever at risk?

 

Q. If the Lord knows our destiny, why should we be concerned to do things that may put us at risk? Judy Beach, N. Chesterfield, VA

 

A. There’s no need to fear when we have God protecting us. First John 4:18 says perfect love casts out fear, and God’s love for us is perfect. He has promised that all things will work together for good to those who love the Lord, who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

 

But, we should be careful if we have a “que sera sera” attitude thinking we can do anything, and we’re invincible. That promise in Romans hinges on our being in God’s will – “called according to his purpose.” Yet, when God’s call and our obedience seem to put us at risk we can be content knowing that nothing will happen to us without first being filtered through our Father’s hands. Jesus said we are in his hands and, if that’s not enough, he said he is in the Father’s hands (John 10:28-29).

 

Being in the Father’s hands doesn’t mean we may not suffer or die, but it does mean that our eternal destiny is unshakable. Paul was in such a dilemma in Philippians 1:21-23. But, he concluded that, even if he died, it would be gain! So, even when we’re not in God’s perfect will, we still have the assurance that all who believe in Jesus will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

 

I believe God has 2 possible wills for each of us: a perfect will and a permissive will. In his perfect will we will be all he wants us to be and have all the blessings of Heaven we need. However, since none of us is perfect – and we’re certainly not always in God’s ideal will – he has a permissive will. That means when we detour out of his perfect will he can still bless us and protect us while he brings us back where we should have been. However, we won’t accomplish all we could have done if we had remained in his perfect will.

 

Either way we should never intentionally do things that needlessly put us at risk. If, however, we find ourselves in danger while attempting to obey God; we can know that he will “bring out the big guns” to deliver us or remove us from harm permanently by taking us to his home where we’ll never be at risk again (2 Corinthians 5:1-9).

How may I know if a game is harmful?

 

Q. Is anything wrong with letting my children play with a Quija Board? How may I know if a game is harmful? Name withheld in VA

 

A. Quija was a popular board game in the fifties and sixties. It may still be available from Parker Brothers/Hasbro. The board had the letters of the alphabet and answers like: “Yes, No, Maybe.” The game was played by asking the Quija a question. As 2 people placed their hands on a sliding arrow their unconscious movements might cause the marker to move and spell out an answer. Sometimes it made sense and sometimes it didn’t. Although it was a harmless game, some people believed it had magical powers and associated it with the supernatural.

 

Few things are harmful in themselves; rather, it’s how we use them that makes them bad or good. Let me give some principles to decide if a game might be harmful:

 

1. Will the game cause physical, emotional, or spiritual harm? If so, there’s no need to go any farther: Leave it alone!

 

2. Will the game be used in a harmful way? Are you trying to reach some supernatural power to gain superiority for yourself? Then, leave it alone because Deuteronomy 18:9-13 says things like that are abomination to God.

 

3. Will having and playing the game cause someone else to stumble or mistake your association with evil? Then, based on 1 Corinthians 8:12-13 and 1 Thessalonians 5:22, believers should leave it alone.

 

4. Does your conscience tell you it’s questionable? Read Acts 24:16; Romans 2:15 and 13:5; and 1 John 3:20. If these apply, leave it alone.

 

5. Can you pray about it and ask God to bless it because you can imagine Jesus playing it with you? If not, then you’re fooling yourself; leave it alone.

 

6. If none of the above bothers you and you have God’s peace about it, you are free to play the game with a clear conscience.

 

You should be aware that having something that clearly identifies with Satanic powers, such as crystal balls, Tarot cards, the Satanic Bible, and any implements used to contact “the other side” may actually be an invitation for demonic spirits to invade your home and oppress those living there. You must never take lightly the supernatural battle all believers face and the wiles of the devil to deceive us (Ephesians 6:11). The rest of Ephesians 6 tells us how to wear our armor to withstand the evil one.

 

Is America mentioned in prophecy?

Q. As we approach 236 years of the Lord’s abundant blessings on the USA, could you tell us: Is America mentioned in prophecy? Dr. Paul DeVries, President, New York Divinity School, New York City

A. America is not mentioned by name. Of course the New World had not been discovered then, but America certainly was not a surprise to God. However, there are many prophecies concerning unnamed gentile nations. When Scripture mentions the isles of the sea it’s referring to far off nations which could include America (Genesis 10:5; Isaiah 66:19; Jeremiah 31:10).

Another interesting prophecy that might refer to America is in Revelation 12 where verse 14 predicts the woman (Israel) will be rescued from the Dragon (Satan) by eagle’s wings. Could this be America, with our national symbol of an eagle, airlifting believing Jews to Petra? Verse 17 may imply that a coalition of Jews and Christians may have saved the believing Jews. That verse says the Dragon then turns his wrath against all those who keep the commandments of God (Jews) and those who have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Christians saved after the Rapture.) This could possibly include believers from America.

For the rest of this column let me draw on the blog of Joel C. Rosenberg, whom I consider to be a prophet for our age (http://flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com). Mr. Rosenberg poses the question: “Is America facing a ‘Jonah’ moment, or a ‘Nahum’ moment?” I summarize.

Jonah was sent to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, to warn that evil nation of God’s impending judgment. Even though Jonah went reluctantly, the Ninevites believed his message and repented in fasting and mourning. God heard their earnest prayers and had mercy on them sparing them from the destruction he had planned. About 100 years later, the next generation of Ninevites again had forsaken the Lord and God sent Nahum to warn them. This time they did not repent, and in 612 B.C. the city of Nineveh was completely destroyed.

America has had the greatest preachers of all time warning thousands in stadiums and by electronic media. When our people repented in the past, God poured out his Spirit in the First and Second Great Awakenings bringing sweeping revivals across our land. Those were our “Jonah” moments. Again, today, the warnings are going forth from faithful preachers and even from natural calamities across our land. If Americans do not seek God’s forgiveness, we may face our “Nahum” moment of God’s wrath. The best birthday gift we could give America would be that each of us would turn from our sins and seek God’s favor so that he would heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

 

Is everyone guilty of breaking all the commandments?

Q. Does James 2:10 mean each of us has already broken all 10 Commandments whether we actually committed them or not? Jim Young, Ft. Walton Beach, FL

A. James 2:10 in the English Standard Version says, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”

For a simple answer, think of the Commandments as a chain with links. It doesn’t matter which link you break, if you break one the whole chain is broken. However, James’ purpose isn’t to say you have actually violated each commandment; in his chapter 2 he’s warning against pre-judging someone to be a sinner because they have broken a certain ordinance. Yet, the person who does the judging has also broken some commandments because no one but Jesus has ever been perfect. In God’s sight sin is sin, and breaking even one commandment brings his judgment.

But, Paul wrote Ephesians 2:15 to give us a glorious hope. He said Jesus abolished “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” In that chapter Paul explained how God sent Jesus to remove the barriers between Jews and gentiles in order to unite all races for the purpose of praising God eternally. Since it was the Old Covenant with all its ordinances that separated Jews from gentiles, Jesus “abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.”

One pastor I read said he’s amused by people who want to prove someone is doing wrong by quoting where the Bible speaks against something like tattoos or long hair on men. But, if you want everyone to keep some Old Testament laws, then you must keep them all. That means you mustn’t eat pork or shellfish, or wear any blended garments, and men must let their beards grow without trimming the sides. On the contrary, Paul said the Old Covenant no longer has any power over us because Jesus fulfilled its requirements for us.

So, if Jesus abolished the law of commandments, we’re no longer guilty of breaking every one of them. For those who trust Jesus as their Savior, our fine has been paid and the charges are dropped. We’re saved to join other saints from all races and nations in Heaven’s eternal praises. That means all people should repent and trust Jesus alone for salvation.

 

Are the dead in Heaven aware of our actions on earth?

Q. Do our loved ones in Heaven know what we’re doing now on earth? Rev. Bud Goude, Gloucester Point,VA

A. Many Old Testament passages refer to death as a sleep. However, David believed the dead were conscious because he wrote in Psalm 73:24, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” Today, some Christians believe in “soul-sleep” and that the dead are asleep until the Resurrection. However, most of their supporting scriptures may refer, not to the soul, but to the physical body “asleep in death.”

Jesus and Paul give us reasons to believe the dead are aware of the living. In Jesus’ parable of the deaths of a rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16, Abraham and Lazarus were certainly conscious and aware of the condition of the lost. Even the rich man was aware that his brothers needed a witness less they end up in Hell. Luke 23:43 records Jesus, from the cross, telling the believing thief that he would be with the Lord in Paradise that very day. I’m sure Jesus didn’t mean that he would enjoy the company of a sleeping body!

In Luke 20:37-38, Jesus was questioned about this very subject. He said God is called “the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living.” Remember, at Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:30, Moses and Elijah were alive, talking with Jesus, and knowing what was happening on earth. They even knew the future because verse 31 says they spoke with Jesus about his coming death in Jerusalem.

In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul implied that when we’re “absent from the body” we are immediately “present with the Lord.” In 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul wrote that in Heaven we will know all things even as God knows all things about us now. Also, John in Revelation 6:10 records the dead in Heaven asking, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”

I believe the overall teaching of Scripture is that the dead are aware of events on earth, but, personally, I don’t believe they watch our every deed. That wouldn’t be heavenly: to witness every sin and failure. They certainly don’t worry about us because, like Moses and Elijah, they see our ultimate victory. They know Jesus will keep the promise he made through Paul in Romans 8:38 that nothing can separate us from the love of God – not life or death.

 

Are the sin of fathers passed on to their children?

Q. If we have accepted Jesus and forgiveness for our sins, are we responsible for the sins of our forefathers like David in 2 Samuel 21? Marian Baker, Richmond, VA

A. You’re referencing a time during David’s reign when Israel endured 3 years of severe famine. In the Bible the number 3 often pointed to God’s involvement. Therefore, David believed 3 years of supernatural drought must indicate God wanted their attention.

David inquired of the Lord and learned the land was being punished because King Saul had broken Joshua’s vow to the Gibeonites. In Joshua 9 we saw that Joshua and his elders swore a covenant in the name of the Lord to protect the Gibeonites. Years later, in a selfish attempt to impress Israel with his kingly authority, Saul had a number of the Gibeonites killed. The Gibeonites were asking for retribution from Saul’s family. David agreed and gave them 7 of Saul’s descendants to “be hanged before the Lord.” This was not done in a vengeful spirit. The Gibeonites felt a vow unto God should be kept, and it was done at harvest time so God would remove his curse and give Israel a fruitful harvest.

While this may have been proper justice to Saul’s household, which verse 1 says was a “bloody house” and his posterity may have followed his example, I prefer to think this is a unique incident which should not be taken as a precedent for everyone. God had said in Deuteronomy 24:16, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”

Therefore, it may fall under the rule of first happenings that teach a principle the first time they appear in Scripture. At the beginning of God’s national people in Joshua 7 Achan was killed because he stole things devoted to God. Again, at the beginning of God’s new people in Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead because they kept back God’s money. Second Samuel 21 is the first instance of a nation’s sin in failing to keep a national vow to God. Perhaps this is a reminder that nations are accountable to God just as individuals. While we cannot undo the sins of our fathers, we can learn from them and not repeat them. If our forefathers vowed under God that America would be a Christian nation, it’s the responsibility of every citizen to return us to our Christian roots. Again, if our nation has made a promise to stand by Israel, we need to honor that promise. Second Chronicles 7:14 certainly teaches that individual response to God can affect his blessings on a nation.

 

Does Mark refer to himself in his gospel?

Q. Please explain why Mark included verses 51-52 in his gospel, chapter 14. Jim Ballou, Petersburg, VA

A. Those verses read: “And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.”

Let’s back up a little. We believe Mark interviewed Peter and wrote his gospel first from Peter’s stories. Matthew and Luke relied heavily on his record. But, if we knew that Mark personally participated in some of the gospel events, that would give additional validity to his account.

Well, we do know that John Mark was the son of Mary, the sister of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). That made Mark the nephew of Barnabas, which explains why Barnabas wanted Mark to travel with him and Paul (Acts 15:37). Mary was a wealthy lady who had a big house on top of Mt. Zion. It was in her upper room that Jesus observed his last Passover (Mark 14:15), and it was at her home where the Spirit descended at Pentecost and where the early church met (Acts 1:13; 12:12). Mark would have been a young man watching curiously at all the things happening in his house.

It was customary for first century writers to omit their own names. For instance, John never calls himself by name in his gospel, but we believe he was the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Following that custom Mark recorded his anonymous testimony in Mark 14:51-52. I think he was the young man who had probably gone to bed between his mother’s linen sheets. He must have heard Judas leave their upper room. A few minutes later he heard Judas return with a contingent of young temple soldiers looking for Jesus. He wrapped a sheet around himself as he followed in the shadows to see what was happening. But, one of the soldiers saw him and grabbed his sheet, which Mark left behind as he fled home naked!

This is Mark’s way of saying his was a first-person, eye witness account of Jesus’ arrest. This also adds credence to the plenary verbal theory of Scripture inspiration. This theory says God let the writers record their own words and personal accounts while the Spirit ensured that they wrote exactly what he wanted recorded in our Holy Bible. Such records as this inserted in Scripture remind us that God used ordinary people in extraordinary ways to record his inerrant Word.

 

Who were concubines in the Bible?

Q. Please tell me the difference between concubines and prostitutes in the Bible. Ralph Moore, Prince George, VA

A. A woman of marriageable age in Bible times, especially in the Old Testament, might be unmarried, betrothed, a wife, a concubine (1 Kings 11:3), or a prostitute (Leviticus 19:29). Betrothal was as binding as marriage for a specified time while the future groom and bride courted and planned their wedding.

Some cultures allowed for multiple wives as with Jacob in Genesis 30. A man who wanted a more satisfying love life or more children than his legal wife could provide might take a concubine. If she wasn’t already his servant, he would approach the woman or her parents offering to support her if she would move in with him. The arrangement would be by verbal contract which the man could break and send the woman away if she didn’t please him. Being “in love” usually didn’t enter into the picture. Women had less rights than men and were under the authority of their father as long as they lived at home.

Although a concubine was not legally married to the man she might call her husband, she lived in his house and was usually subject to the legal wife, serving her like a maid. The advantage to the concubine would be her support, a family and a chance to have children, and a slightly higher status than if she remained single. In rare cases a concubine might exercise the same, or even higher, authority than the legal wife. The wife didn’t have to agree to this; but she might suggest a concubine to her husband if she were unable to give him children, as Sarai did in Genesis 16. Since children were very important to men, having several even by a concubine was more important than the live-in complications. Her children might not have an inheritance; if they did, it would be less than the wife’s children. Rich men were usually the only ones with multiple wives or concubines because poor men couldn’t afford them.

A prostitute was seen in secret, paid for her services, and made her living that way. She might live in a brothel, which was a house of ill repute where several prostitutes lived. In later times a prostitute might become a mistress if the man visited her regularly and she agreed to see him alone. He would then agree to support her without having her move into his house. The tourist guides in Ephesus, Turkey, tell a story connected with the library, which is the largest free standing ruin of that ancient city. They say a tunnel led from the library under the street to a brothel. Men told their wives they were going to the library when they might actually be visiting the brothel!

Jesus said Moses allowed the corruption of God’s ideal because of the hardness of men’s hearts. So, in Mark 10:4-12, Jesus stated God’s ideal of one man and one woman committed in a faithful marital relationship for life.

 

Was the Queen of Sheba saved?

Q. In Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31 was Jesus saying that the Queen of Sheba was saved and at her resurrection she would judge those who rejected Jesus? Was she seeking God when she sought Solomon’s wisdom? Clarke Blankenship, Chester, VA

A. In 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9 we read of the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon. There are many theories as to which Sheba this might be: There was a Sheba in Ethiopia, one in the Arabian dessert, and also one in Persia near Assyria. Psalm 72:10 hints that there was an island nation called Sheba. Some Bible scholars believe Isaiah 60:6 predicted that the Wise Men would come from Sheba in Persia.

Wherever she came from, 1 Kings 10:1 says she came with questions about Solomon’s God, and verse 9 quotes her as saying: “Blessed be the Lord your God, who delights in you, to set you on the throne of Israel: because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore he made you king, to do judgment and justice.” We don’t know if that was her personal declaration of faith in Solomon’s Lord.

That brings us to Jesus’ remark when condemning the Jews for their unbelief. Luke 11 says he was speaking to the people, but Matthew 12 tells us his rebuke was primarily directed at the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus said essentially the same thing in both accounts: “The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater one than Solomon is here.”

Although she may have believed in Solomon’s God, we can’t discern that from Jesus’ remarks. There’s no mention of her resurrection to eternal life, but merely that she would “rise up in the judgment with the men” of that generation. Revelation 20:12-13 records that every person will be resurrected for judgment. John 5:22, Romans 14:10, and 2 Corinthians 5:10 teach that Jesus will be the Judge before whom every person must answer. Here in Matthew and Luke we learn that the testimony of others may confirm his judgment decisions.

Of course, here Jesus is giving an illustration, or a parable, to emphasize his major point that the Jewish leaders of his day had more evidence to believe in Jesus than the Queen of Sheba had to believe in Solomon’s God. However, while the implication is that the Queen of Sheba returned praising God, the Jewish leaders refused their own Messiah. Even so, today, with all the knowledge we have about Jesus, many still reject him as their Lord. This queen of the south may testify against them also!

 

What does the Bible teach about alcohol consumption?

Q. How is alcohol consumption addressed in both the Old and New Testaments? Mike Hathcock, Colonial Heights, VA

A. In both the Old and New Testaments, “wine” may refer either to fresh juice or a fermented drink. It’s not always easy to know which is meant. The word “alcohol” doesn’t appear in the King James Bible, and “liquor” is only mentioned twice. Wine was usually made from “the fruit of the vine” or grapes (Matthew 26:29), although Song of Solomon 8:2 speaks of pomegranate wine. The first mention of wine is in Genesis 9 when Noah got drunk after the Flood.

Hand squeezed juice or the first juice to flow from the wine press was a delicacy called sweet wine (Amos 9:13). It might be the family’s drink in place of bad water, but if the water was good it could be mixed with juice to make a grape flavored drink, especially for the children. If the sweet wine was allowed to ferment it was called new wine (Proverbs 3:10) and was the best a host could serve. After the sweet wine was collected, the rest of the grapes were dumped into a wine vat to be trampled by foot. (In Revelation 19:15 this is a metaphor for God’s Judgment.)

This wine was drained off and poured into new goat skins that had the legs sewed up with the hair on the inside. This helped to speed fermentation. As the juice fermented it expanded and stretched the wine bottles so that the skins could only be used once (Mark 2:22). The wine was then strained before serving. The more aged the wine, the more alcohol content it had. This was called strong drink (Proverbs 20:1).

Levitical practice required that all wine used in worship rituals or feasts such as the Passover be mixed with 5 parts water so no one would get drunk. Intoxication was frowned upon in both Testaments. In fact, it was an embarrassment to any host to let his guests get drunk. In the Old Testament God forbade certain individuals to drink wine or strong drink (Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; Judges 13:4; Proverbs 31:4-5), and many passages warn of the danger of abuse (Proverbs 21:17; 23:31-32; Isaiah 5:11).

In the New Testament the making and serving of wine followed a stricter etiquette so that most people rarely got drunk, and it was recognized for its healing properties (Luke 10:34; 1 Timothy 5:23). Matthew 26:28 records that the wine served at Jesus’ last Passover became symbolic of his own blood. Always, in both Testaments, getting drunk was prohibited, and warnings were given against drinking too much wine (Ephesians 5:18), but the decision was left to the individual. After all, God gave us the grape and made fermented wine possible, but he warned us about its use and gave us minds capable of making the right choice (Proverbs 20:1).

 

When did Paul go to Jerusalem?

Q. Please explain why Acts 9:26-27 says the Apostle Paul could be in Jerusalem just days after his conversion when Galatians 1:17-18 says he went to Arabia for 3 years and then to Damascus. James Ballou, Sr., Petersburg, VA

A. I know you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture as I do. If something seems to have contradictions, it’s because we don’t know all the facts.

As you know, Dr. Luke wrote his Acts account from second-hand sources until we get to the “we” sections where it’s obvious Luke joined Paul’s band. He wrote in third person until Acts 16:10 when he includes himself as traveling with Paul’s party. We believe Luke got much information for his gospel from Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the rest from reading Mark’s gospel, which was the first gospel to be written down.

For the information he recorded in Acts as happening previous to chapter 16, Dr. Luke had to depend upon what Paul told him. Likely, Paul would have told Luke about his conversion and early years in the ministry. But, Paul’s time in Arabia and Damascus for 3 years right after he was converted was probably so personal to him that he may not have told Luke much about it. In fact, Paul only spoke of that 3 years in ministry preparation one time when he wrote Galatians 1:15-18. There, he was making a point that his gospel knowledge was not influenced from other believers, but he received it first-hand from the Lord himself.

All the interpreters I consulted say Paul went from Damascus to the deserts of Arabia for 3 years of prayer, meditation, and studying the Old Testament prophecies about Messiah. Then, he seems to have returned to Damascus briefly before going to Jerusalem. Some scholars place his 3 years in Arabia after Acts 9:22, while some others think the 3 year gap should be between verses 25 and 26.

Personally, I don’t believe there’s a contradiction here. Dr. Luke either didn’t know or just didn’t tell us everything that happened before Paul finally went to Jerusalem. There, he wasn’t readily accepted by the followers of “The Way” because they were still afraid of his persecution. According to Paul’s testimony in Acts 9, it was Barnabas who convinced the Apostles to hear Paul. Galatians says he spent 15 days with Peter and briefly met James, the Lord’s brother, before the Christians in Jerusalem fully accepted him.

This is a lesson for us not to be discouraged by what others may say. We’re responsible to obey the Lord the best we can. God may delay, but he’ll never be late. His time clock operates on eternal time!

 

Did Jesus know he would die and be resurrected?

Q. Throughout his ministry, did Jesus know he would be crucified and resurrected? Harold Crowder, Colonial Heights, VA

A. The Incarnation, which refers to God’s taking on flesh and becoming a man, is a mystery debated for centuries almost as much as the Trinity. Both of these are important doctrines taught as facts in Scripture but which we must accept by faith. Because they deal with God’s own nature we’ll never comprehend them fully.

Some people think Jesus didn’t know he was the Son of God until God announced this at his baptism. Others believe the Spirit of God came upon Jesus the man at his baptism and left him just before he died, which was the reason he cried in Matthew 27:46, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” I don’t hold to either of those interpretations. If the Spirit left Jesus before he died, then only a man died for my sins!

I believe Scripture indicates that Jesus knew he was the Son of God and, therefore, knew of his future. The first instance of his incredible knowledge is in Luke 2:46 at age 12 when he astounded the doctors at the Temple. Then, in Matthew 8:20, Jesus began to call himself Son of Man, which was a Messianic title especially seen in Daniel 7:13. Jesus also allowed Satan, the demons, and people to call him the Son of God (Matthew 27:43, 54). In John 4 he told the woman at the well that he was the Messiah for whom she had prayed. Jesus predicted the time and manner of his death in Matthew 26:2, and he sweat blood in the Garden knowing what was coming (Luke 22:44). In Matthew 24 and 25 Jesus foretold the future and events surrounding his return.

As a teacher of Scripture Jesus would have known the predictions of his death and resurrection in such passages as Genesis 3:15 and 22:8; Psalm 22:16 and 16:10; and Isaiah 53. After all, he was in on the planning from the beginning (Genesis 1:26)! Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16-17 that the Jewish feasts and holy days were a shadow, or a prediction, of things to come. Indeed, the major events of Jesus’ life happened on those exact feast days, and Jesus must have revealed that to the 2 believers on the Emmaus Road when he expounded all the things in Scripture pertaining to himself (Luke 24).

The only thing Jesus said he didn’t know was the time of his return. Since Jesus had said in John 15:15 that he had made known everything the Father had revealed to him, Mark 13:32 indicates that God had not revealed to him the exact time of his return. That emphasizes the fact that no man knows the Father’s time table; therefore, we are to be ready for his return at any time.

 

What does the New Testament say about polygamy?

Q. Does the New Testament address polygamy? Christine Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. Usually, the Bible speaks to people in their cultural setting and accepts the customs of the times without trying to change them from the outside. For instance: Jesus didn’t preach against slavery, per se. But, when Christian principles are practiced from the heart, men will not enslave their brothers. God wants to change people from the inside out. When their hearts are right with him, they will be guided by God’s heart.

The Old Testament was set in a society where polygamy was practiced along with slavery, and people fought and killed to gain what they wanted. Therefore, God worked in that setting. However, this was certainly not God’s ideal. He gave Adam only one wife, and instructed Israel to respect their fellowmen. Still, some people practiced polygamy; and idolatrous neighbors threatened Israel’s Godly heritage. Yet, the Old Testament records God’s coming to those people as they were and working in their circumstances. They were in a moral “kindergarten” until Jesus led them to “high school.” God still does that today; if he didn’t come to us as we are, none of us would ever know him. We sing the gospel invitation: “Just as I am, I come.” But, praise God, he sees a better potential for us!

What we call polygamy is technically polygyny which means “a many-wived man,” whereas polyandry means “a many husbanded-woman.” The New Testament says nothing directly about polygamy because it assumes by then that monogamous relationships were the norm, due largely to Greek and Roman influences. The Greeks and Romans had concubines and divorces, but usually only one wife at a time. The only exception is found in Matthew 22:24 and corresponding passages in the synoptics where the Old Testament practice of bearing children to a deceased brother’s wife is mentioned.

Jesus restated God’s ideal in Matthew 19:4, where he said the two become one flesh. First Corinthians 7:2 reinforces that teaching by saying, “…let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” This is also spelled out as a qualification for church leaders in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 12, and Titus 1:6. Marital faithfulness is an important New Testament teaching because it demonstrates the believer’s responsibility to be loyal to Christ. Ephesians 5:25 and Revelation 21:9 picture Jesus as the Groom and the Church united as his faithful Bride.

 

Are Demons fallen angels?

Q. Luke 4:33 is just one place mentioning an unclean spirit. Is this a demon and are all demons fallen angels? Mary Virginia Harris, Chester, VA

A. The word demon is not found in the King James Bible. That’s a name we have given to the devil’s angels. God never made any robots; his creations always have minds to choose what they will do. When Lucifer chose to rebel against God (Isaiah 14:13) the holy angels who joined him were cast out with him. Revelation 12:7 says there was war in Heaven, and Jesus said in Luke 10:18 that he saw Satan fall from Heaven. When Revelation 12:4 says the dragon drew a third of the stars with his tail, we believe it refers to the number of angels who fell with him. When they left the holiness of God Lucifer became Satan, the Devil, the Serpent-Dragon. We call the angels who rebelled with him demons or devils.

Fourteen times these fallen angels are called devils. They’re also called evil spirits 9 times and unclean spirits 11 times. These refer to their natures now that they are unholy. The Devil is not a son of God like Jesus, nor is he like God. He is a created being, made to serve Jesus (Revelation 4:11). Satan doesn’t have the attributes that belong only to God: omnipotence (all power), omniscience (all knowledge), or omnipresence (everywhere present). Since the Devil can only be in one place at a time, he depends on his demons to extend his power. When Flip Wilson said, “The Devil made me do it,” he was probably mistaken. Most of us are not important enough to warrant the Devil’s full attention; he usually sends one of his imps to trick us!

Where are the Devil and his angels now? They’re not in Hell, they’re on the earth and in our atmosphere. Revelation 12:4 says the stars that fell by the Dragon’s tail were cast down to the earth. God asked Satan in Job 1:7 where he came from, and he said from walking to and fro on the earth. Ephesians 2:2 calls him the prince of the power of the air, meaning from our atmosphere he rules over the earth. When the Devil offered Jesus the kingdoms of this world in Matthew 4:8, Jesus didn’t refute him. But, Revelation 11:15 says one day “the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

 

What will happen to small children at the Rapture?

Q. At the Rapture, what will happen to small children and the mentally challenged who are not able to confess Jesus as their Savior? Barbara Smith, Cumberland, VA

A. The Rapture is predicted in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 as the time when Jesus will remove the saved to Paradise before the Tribulation of earth’s final days. Those who have chosen Jesus as their Lord will be snatched away suddenly and invisibly to remain with him until he returns at his Glorious Appearing. These are the 2 phases of his Second Coming: At the Rapture Jesus will come for his saints and at his Glorious Appearing he will come with his saints.

Jesus and the New Testament writers plainly teach that no one will be saved from eternal punishment without believing that Jesus died to reconcile them to God. Therefore, they must repent of their sins and call on Jesus to save them. However, your question is a valid one: What about those unable to ask Jesus to save them? I think if they’re unable to understand they’re sinners and need a Savior, then surely they’re unable to reject Jesus. If they’re not accountable for their sins, theologians call them “safe in Jesus,” declared righteous by his grace. If we believe children who die under the age of accountability will be safe in Jesus, then I think they will be transported to him at the Rapture.

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary says children are “regarded as consecrated to God, in the same covenant relation as the parents.” If that’s so, those children from families who are devoted to Jesus will surely rise with their loved ones when Jesus calls believers to himself. When Jesus said in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven,” we believe he implied that innocent children (and those whose minds are still like children) will not be denied acceptance by Jesus. Second Timothy 4:8 calls God, “the Lord, the righteous Judge.” In Genesis 18:25, Abraham declared that God would surely not destroy the righteous with the wicked as he asked, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

 

Didn’t God want the sacrifices?

Q. What did Jesus mean in Matthew 9:13 by saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”? Emily Williams, Seattle, WA

A. Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels recording this event. For Mark and Luke it was second hand, but for Matthew verse 9 records his own story of when he began to follow Jesus. Surely he had met Jesus before, because Jesus himself said no one should follow him without counting the cost (Luke 14:28-33). Matthew’s last act before leaving everything to follow Jesus was to introduce his publican friends to Jesus at a banquet in his honor (Luke 5:28-29).

But, Levi, or Matthew as he called himself, was a hated publican who was motivated by greed to sell himself to collect Roman taxes from his own people. Yet, the power of Jesus not only saved him but radically changed him into a humble servant of others. This is the eternally significant story of a man who had been cast out of Judaism (and “Heaven”) by the priests and Pharisees, but who had been taken in by Jesus to a true Heavenly inheritance. However, all the Pharisees could do was murmur that Jesus was eating with “sinners.” They interpreted the laws of Moses to ostracize those who failed to keep all its precepts.

To the Pharisees Jesus explained that those who are sick are the ones who need a doctor, not the well people. If the Pharisees claimed to be right with God then Jesus needed to take God’s call to those who were far away from God. Then, he told the Pharisees to learn what their scripture meant when it said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Of course, “sacrifice” to the Jews brought up the picture of all their worship rituals.

Jesus was quoting his own words he had spoken in Hosea 6:6 to those who were keeping the outward rituals of Moses, but not showing respect to their fellowman. We recall that Jesus once said if your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and make peace with your brother (Matthew 5:23-24). Now, Jesus spoke his words to Hosea again in the same situation saying in effect: “It’s more important to God that you show kindness to your fellowman than to keep Moses’ laws perfectly.” He wanted the Pharisees to realize that his priority was not to stay in the Temple with worshippers. He must be out where the “sinners” are, because his mission and ours is to love those outside the fellowship of faith so we might bring them into God’s fold.

I wonder: If Jesus came today, would he stay with us in our comfortable churches where our worship sometimes becomes a series of meaningless rituals? Or, would he dare to skip church to go to the ghetto where people need him the most?

 

What did Jesus mean in Matthew 11:12?

Q. I have a difficult time understanding Matthew 11:12. Can you please help? Homer Belle Isle, Petersburg, VA

A. Matthew 11:12 in the King James reads, “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” An example of the difficulty translators have with this verse is found in these 2 modern versions: The CEV translates the last phrase as, “…violent people have been trying to take over the kingdom of heaven by force.” However, the NIV reads, “…the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people have been attacking it.” Since the voice of the verb is unclear, either of these may be correct depending on whether the action is understood as active or passive. Another reason this verse is hard to understand is that it doesn’t seem to fit into Jesus’ compliments of John the Baptizer.

However, I believe we can get a better understanding if we back off and look at the big picture. John had just been arrested and Jesus knew he had finished his mission. Therefore, Jesus was giving well-earned tribute to John. John had done his job well. His preaching had excited the masses over the coming Messiah; however, the people seemed to be expecting a political Messiah who would free them from Roman bondage. I think Jesus wanted to correct that misconception.

The kingdom of heaven Jesus mentioned in verse 12 couldn’t be God’s spiritual kingdom. No one can enter that kingdom by force. He was using the same terminology the Jews used when they referred to their nation as the kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God. Their kingdom had been established and blessed by God. We see an example of this usage in John 3, when Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Jesus read his mind in verse 3 and knew Nick had really come to ask about the “kingdom of God,” or if Jesus had come to be a political Messiah.

Jesus was saying John’s purpose wasn’t to lead the people to rebel against Rome. That would never bring in the true Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, the people should think of John’s primary message being “repentance” like Elijah preached (verse 14). Elijah didn’t try to raise armies in rebellion of King Ahab; he came to call the nation to repent and turn back to God’s standard. That’s what John and Jesus were doing. And, that’s what our nation needs today: Men and women like John who will call their neighbors to return to God’s morals. Readers, we don’t need a political revolution; we need a spiritual revival in America! May God make it so.

 

Why doesn’t God always judge evil immediately?

Q. Why does God sometimes wait so long to judge evil? Calvin Meadows, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Let me give you the bottom line answer first and then I’ll give some Biblical examples: The mercy of God! Second Peter 3:9 in the King James reads in part, “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” I like the way the Good News Bible helps us understand that whole verse: “The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins.”

When God created us in his image, he gave us the ability to choose to obey him or reject him. In giving guidelines to help us obey, he also had to state what will happen if we choose not to obey. God doesn’t delight in punishing evil; that’s not his purpose. His purpose is to bring all people into a holy relationship with him. So, he gives them time to repent and turn toward him. Only when he has proven they won’t honor him does he keep his promise to punish. That’s the mercy of God toward both the evil and the good!

Let’s look at some Biblical examples of God’s timing: Genesis 6:3 says, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” Some teachers believe that was the time God gave Noah before the Flood would come. Why would he wait? Perhaps to give Noah time to build a boat to save his family and to give sinful men time to repent.

Why didn’t God give the land of Canaan to Abraham right when he promised it in Genesis 12:7? Genesis 15:16 says the sins of the inhabitants had not reached their peak at that time. Deuteronomy 9:4-5 confirms that God didn’t give Israel the land because they deserved it in their goodness, but he was destroying the Canaanites because of their wickedness. Mercy is undeserved favor.

Genesis 50:20 says God didn’t punish Joseph’s brothers for selling him into slavery because God would use Joseph later to save his family. In Numbers 32:13 God waited 40 years for the rebellious Israelites to die so he could give the land to their believing children. God’s mercy knew the old generation was needed to raise the next generation.

These few examples just remind us that we can’t know God’s reasons unless he reveals them to us. But, we can trust his mercy. God is righteous toward evil and merciful toward faith. Both actions come in his timing. If you know the Lord as your Savior you can claim the same mercy of Isaiah 54:8, “In my anger I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.”

 

Did Jesus make a Resurrection appearance to his mother?

Q. Why didn’t Jesus appear to his mother after his resurrection, whereas he did appear to at least 517 other followers? Jim Ballou, Petersburg, VA

A. Let me make it clear that this is an opinion question which the Bible doesn’t answer for us. Therefore, I can’t give a specific answer; however, I can make some educated guesses.

Scripture tells us Jesus appeared over some 40 days to the women at his tomb, to Peter, and to his brother James. He also appeared in the upper room to his disciples without Thomas and the next week to all them including Thomas. He appeared to 2 followers on the road to Emmaus, to his disciples with Peter at the Sea of Galilee, and to some 500 followers on a hillside.

Why didn’t Jesus appear to his mother? Maybe he did! Mark 16 and Luke 24 name some of the women at the tomb on Resurrection Sunday. Among them is “Mary the mother of James.” Many Bible teachers believe this Mary was also Jesus’ mother. First century believers knew Jesus had existed long before Mary conceived him, and this was written later when James was the leader of the Jerusalem church. Matthew 28:9 says Jesus met these women as they were leaving the tomb. So, Mary may have seen Jesus then.

Again, when Jesus appeared to Cleopas and another person on the Emmaus Road that first Easter, Luke 24 says he went home with them for supper. Since John 19:25 says Mary had a sister married to Cleopas, it’s very likely Mary and Jesus’ siblings were staying there for Passover. If so, they saw him at supper and again later that evening when they all gathered in the Upper Room (without Thomas). We do know that all his family were saved and present when the Spirit came at Pentecost.

Jesus had reasons to appear to Mary Magdalene, Peter, James, and his disciples. But, he had already broken ties with his mother at the Cross when he entrusted her to the keeping of John. Maybe he did appear to Mary; if so, the New Testament doesn’t record it possibly because it was so private. Besides, knowing how people would esteem Mary, he didn’t need to spotlight her again. As I said, we don’t know because the Bible doesn’t clearly answer this question.

 

Should we keep asking once we pray for a request?

Q. When we have a prayer request should we continuously bring the request before God, or should we just pray and give thanks that God is answering in his own way and time? Clarke Blankenship, Chester, VA

A. I think both are appropriate, as you feel led. Remember that God deals with us on an individual basis. Even basic Biblical teachings about prayer do not put God in a box or hem him in as having to respond in a certain way. He uses principles as guidelines for his Spirit to apply according to our spiritual maturity and needs.

There may be times when we need to keep on asking. In Luke 18 Jesus told a parable about an importunate widow whom an unjust judge answered because she kept on asking. Jesus certainly wasn’t comparing our Heavenly Father with that unjust judge; rather, he was contrasting the two. If an earthly judge finally will answer petitions because the constant asking wearies him; how much more God delights in answering his children. The lesson here was not in wearying the judge until he answered; the lesson was in the widow’s faith that the judge held her only solution. When you believe God is your only hope for a desperate need, it’s alright to keep on asking while you await your answer. If asking him daily makes you feel better and you gain strength from leaning on him – if it keeps your attention on him rather than your problem – I see nothing wrong with repeating your request.

However, in Matthew 6 Jesus said twice that our Father knows what our needs are before we ask. The lesson there is in trusting and believing God will provide. In both these instances the asking is for our benefit, not God’s. If you have the faith to ask once and leave the timing to God, you’re practicing what Jesus prayed in Gethsemane: “Not my will, but thine be done.”

I believe Jesus answered this question in Matthew 7:7 by teaching 3 ways we may expect God to answer our prayers. They come by our asking, seeking, and knocking. Sometimes we ask and immediately have what we asked, so your question is mute in this case. However, if we don’t get our answer immediately after asking, Jesus taught us to seek. Sometimes God allows us to help him find the answer that’s been available all the time. There’s where your faith trusts God to lead you to his answer in his time. But, sometimes we must knock. The idea implied with knocking is that we may have to keep on knocking while we wait for God to open the door. That means we keep on asking. So, according to Jesus, either of the ways you asked about is alright.

 

What are earth groanings?

Q. Do you believe supernatural events are heralding the soon return of Jesus? Christine Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. Strange things are indeed happening all over the world! When I search YouTube for earth groanings I can hear strange moanings in various places from Japan to Colorado. Some of them are like a trumpet sounding for several minutes. People come outside their dwellings and look up at the sky trying to find the source of those noises. I’m reminded of Romans 8:22 which speaks of the whole creation groaning as it awaits our redemption. Indeed, man’s sin has affected all of creation. And, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says the trump of God will sound at the Second Coming of Christ.

But, perhaps a more relevant scripture is Jeremiah 25:31 where the prophet says “A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the Lord has a controversy with the nations.” We know that God isn’t pleased when the nations try to ignore him saying he doesn’t exist and persecuting his children. Jesus said in the last days “great earthquakes shall be in many places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven” (Luke 21:11).

Other YouTube videos show an almost invisible pale green horseman riding through rioting crowds where buildings are burning. This reminds me of the fourth horseman of the apocalypse in Revelation 6:8, but I believe that will happen in the Tribulation after the Church is raptured. And, videos of Japan’s earthquake show a UFO ball of fire seemingly leading the swelling waters flooding Japan. Add to that the many instances of birds falling out of the sky, hundreds of fish and animals mysteriously dying, and porpoises beaching themselves. Like you, I ask could these phenomena be explained by natural reasons, hoaxes, or reflections on camera lens? Some people believe aliens, secret government experiments, or electromagnetic waves from the aurora borealis are to blame. I doubt if anyone really knows!

All this causes me to remember Paul’s situation when he was in prison in Rome. Philippians 1:12-18 records Paul’s comments that his bonds had caused some Roman Christians to be bold in saying that Paul was imprisoned because of his faith in Jesus. Others, Paul said, were preaching Christ out of envy and contention. But, Paul rejoiced in the fact that Jesus was being preached and people were confronted with the gospel. So, if these strange happenings are causing people to search the Scriptures and think about the soon return of Christ, praise God! I do believe many signs are being fulfilled and that Jesus could return at any time.

 

If we don’t bear fruit, are we lost?

Q. What does John 15:2 mean by removing every branch that doesn’t produce? Larry McKibben, Nesbit, MS

A. John 15:2 in the King James Version quotes Jesus as saying, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman (gardner). Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth (prunes) it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (parenthesis added).

This verse has led many Bible students to question if it teaches that salvation can be lost. That’s because the Greek “en emoi” in verse 2, translated “in me,” is usually placed after “branch.” This implies that the branch is a part of Jesus. However, we must compare Scripture with Scripture. So, we recall that Jesus said in John 10:28-29, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” Since those verses and the majority of other New Testament passages, such as Ephesians 2:8-9, teach that salvation is not of works but is a gift of God’s grace which we don’t earn, it causes us to look for a different understanding of this verse.

Other versions, such as the NETBible and the International Standard Bible, place “in me” after the word “fruit,” so that it reads: “He cuts off every branch that does not produce fruit in me.” That implies that a branch may be identified with the vine, but not bear his fruit. That is, the fruit it bears is not from Jesus. So, we may conclude that Jesus could be speaking of those, like Judas, who appear to be joined to him but who are not really saved, because the fruit they bear doesn’t honor Jesus. “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).

If that’s a proper understanding, we can say that God’s judgment will remove those who give the false appearance that they belong to Christ but who actually are not saved. This is confirmed by the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13 where the angels will reap God’s final harvest and destroy those who are hypocrites. But, John 15 goes on to say those who are bearing fruit for Christ will be pruned, or refined. This pruning may not be pleasant, but it’s often necessary to bear acceptable fruit. Thank God that his Spirit doesn’t give up on us; but while he’s removing those who are false, he’s helping the rest of us do better the things that honor Jesus.

 

Is sin a disease?

Q. Why do some people refer to sin as a disease? I disagree! Lynda Hale, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

A. Perhaps without thinking it through, some people may see the similarities of sin with a disease. Both are malfunctions from God’s ideal; both are caused by outside forces; both may result in pain, discomfort, or death. Both disease and sin may spread to other people and be so overpowering that we need help to overcome them. Such thinking could lead a person to think that sin is something that happens to them beyond their control, like a disease.

A Webster definition of disease states: “Disease is the cause of pain or uneasiness…in which the natural functions of the organs are interrupted or disturbed …without a disrupture of parts by violence, which is called a wound. The first effect of disease is uneasiness or pain, and the ultimate effect is death.”

The usual Greek word translated as sin means “to miss the target.” The target is God’s ideal will. Let me paraphrase the definition of sin from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Sin is any departure from God’s will. While it may be a willful act, it also includes any involuntary neglect of God’s laws or commands by ignorance. In addition to an outward action, sin may also be committed by thoughts, purposes, words, and desires that are contrary to God’s will.

God’s Word equates sin with iniquity (Psalm 38:18), transgression (Psalm 51:3), a haughty look and a proud heart (Proverbs 21:4), foolishness and abomination (Proverbs 24:9), rebellion (Isaiah 30:1), and unrighteousness (1 John 5:17). James 4:17 says, “To him who knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin.” In Psalm 51:4, when David repented of his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah, he prayed, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned and done this evil.” Therefore, sin is ultimately against the holy expectations of God. God will forgive any confessed sin which is truly repented, but not the sin of blaspheming or rejecting the call of the Holy Spirit to forgiveness in Jesus (Matthew 12:31).

When you compare sin and disease this way, you can’t call sin a disease. While disease affects the body, sin affects the spirit. One may go to Heaven from an incurable disease, but no one gets into Heaven with sin that is unrepented and uncovered by the blood of Jesus.

 

Did God tell Israel not us use horses in battle?

Q. Why didn’t Israel in the Old Testament use horses in battle? Micah Stawarz, age 13, Prince George, VA

A. You’re right that in the early history of Israel and their conquests in the Promised Land, they didn’t use horses. As early as Deuteronomy 17 God warned against owning many horses. Further, in Joshua 11, when Israel won in battle God told them to burn the chariots and hobble the horses. Hamstringing, or cutting the Achilles tendon, would keep a horse from being used in battle. He couldn’t run, but he could plow or pull wagons. The Israelites, therefore, believed that God didn’t want them to use horses in battle.

I think God may have forbidden horses and chariots because God wanted them to trust in him rather than their implements of war. Deuteronomy 20:1 says, “When you go to battle against your enemies, and you see horses, and chariots, and an army larger than you, don’t be afraid of them because the Lord your God is with you.” And, 1 Samuel 17:47 reminded them, “The battle is the Lord’s.” Psalm 33:17 further reinforces this: “A horse is a vain thing for safety, neither can he deliver by his great strength.”

Practically speaking, horses and chariots were useful for fighting in the plains, such as in Egypt or Babylon. However, Israel usually fought in mountainous terrain. Battle horses wouldn’t do well on Israel’s stony ground. Also, armies in Joshua’s day used horses to travel great distances to invade foreign countries, and that was never God’s intent for Israel. Even wealthy and royal Israelites rode mules instead of horses. Absalom rode a mule when he ran from David’s army; and Solomon, in his inaugural parade, rode on David’s mule. However, in later years, as David ignored this prohibition and began to acquire horses, his sons Absalom and Solomon followed his example and prided themselves with more horses, which may have aided their downfall.

Perhaps one reason God forbade horses is because he favors them as heavenly mounts! His angels ride horses of fire (2 Kings 2:11; 6:17), and horses are reserved in the future for his Son and the saints who will accompany him at his return (Revelation 19:11-14).

 

How could the sun and moon stand still for Joshua?

Q. Please explain how we are to understand the sun and moon standing still in Joshua 10:12. Rev. Steve Kane, Aldie, VA

A. Joshua 10:12-14 records, “Then, Joshua spoke to the Lord on the day when the Lord gave Israel victory over the Amorites, and he said in the sight of all the people, ‘Sun, stand still over Gibeon and, Moon, over the valley of Ajalon.’…So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and did not go down for about a whole day.”

When Joshua conquered the Promised Land, the Gibeonites tricked him into a treaty guaranteeing their protection. The surrounding Amorites kings, angry over this alliance, marched against the Gibeonites who begged Joshua to help them. God told Joshua to fight those kings and assured their defeat. As Joshua was sensing victory, it seems the sun was about to set behind the hills of Gibeon and the moon was already rising over Ajalon. The Amorites would surely get away under cover of darkness. Stepping out on faith Joshua spoke to God, not to the sun or moon, claiming aloud that the night would tarry long enough to claim his promised victory.

Critics have used this to attack the veracity of Scripture claiming that the sun doesn’t move through the sky. They also laugh at Psalm 19:4-6 which speaks of the sun running a race across the horizon. However, God has the last laugh here because neither Joshua nor David could know what astronomers recently discovered. Our earth does revolve around our sun, but our sun also moves in its own orbit taking 260 million years to complete. Of course, the rotation of the earth gives the illusion of the sun and moon being in motion. Further, that same rotation of the earth causes its gravity; and if it were stopped, everything on the surface should fall off. Yet, if I believe in a God who could create this whole universe in 6 days, I have no problem believing he knows how to stop the movement of heavenly bodies and freeze time for as long as he wishes with no ill effects.

I don’t claim to explain this because, if we could explain God and his actions, he wouldn’t be greater than we are. There’s the possibility that the light of the sun and moon could be refracted in a dense atmosphere like we continue to see the sun a while after it actually sets. But, this was not a few minutes; it lasted “about a whole day.” Every year scientists discover natural laws built into the system at Creation that they didn’t know before. But, it really doesn’t matter how this happened, just that it was a miracle from God at the exact time Joshua needed it. So, let’s just believe Jesus when he said in John 17:17, “Thy word is truth.”

I draw 2 lessons from this account: Faith can move mountains so that nothing is impossible (Matthew 17:20). And, God can move (or stop) heaven and earth to come to the aid of those in his care because we are more important than the sun! May we resolve in this new year to trust him more.

 

Does the Bible teach we may lose our salvation?

Q. Does Revelation 3:5 imply that we may lose our salvation? Reggie Newcomb, Chesterfield, VA

A. Revelation 3:5 says, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life….” Many people have mistakenly believed that verse suggests we may lose our salvation. They say that if Jesus said he won’t erase one person’s name, then there’s the possibility that he might erase other people’s names.

Yet, the New Testament’s overall teaching is the security of our salvation. If a person truly commits his or her soul to Jesus believing in his promise to save them, they can rest in the assurance that they won’t lose their salvation. John 3:16 promises that whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life and will never perish. Jesus said in

Luke 21:18, “There shall not an hair of your head perish.” John 10:28 quotes Jesus as proclaiming, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish.”

Our salvation is secure because it’s God who saves us; not our good works. “For by grace are you saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). If Jesus saves us he can keep us saved. In John 5:24 Jesus said, “He who hears my word and believes on him that sent me has everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation.”

Believing the above, then, we must resolve the question arising from Revelation 3:5. Some teachers suggest there may be two books keeping the records of our faith, or lack of it. Perhaps the “Book of Life” (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5, etc.) is a register of all who have ever lived. If so, those choosing to reject Jesus as their Savior will have their name removed because they were never alive spiritually. But, those in the “Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 13:8; 21:27) will never have their names blotted out because they are written indelibly by the blood of Christ. While that may be true, I think the best solution is the simplest one: The Greek word “oume” translated “not” in the King James is a double negative combining “not” and “absolutely not.” It’s simply a guarantee from Jesus that he will not, absolutely not, remove the names of those who trust in him.

At the beginning of a new year let us rest in the assurance that, “He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). At the end of the age he promises to present all who believe in him as being without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). All this is because of his amazing grace!

 

Why was the first noel delivered to shepherds and wise men?

Q. Why was the first noel given to local shepherds and foreign wise men? Owen Van Cleave, Colonial Heights, VA

A. The word “noel” is a French word for Christmas, derived from the Latin for Christ’s nativity. By common use it has become an alternate word for the “good news” of the gospel (from the English “good spell”). In our Christmas songs it usually refers to the announcement of the angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem and encompasses the entire message of Luke 2:10-14.

In 4-5 B.C. (the usually accepted dates for the birth of Jesus), the three largest settlements of Jewish people were found in Israel, Persia, and Egypt. Announcements were sent to each of these places where descendants of Abraham were awaiting fulfillment of God’s promise from Genesis 22:18.

The Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem was once owned by David’s father, Jesse, and may have been the same field where David guarded his sheep and perhaps wrote Psalm 23. Earlier, it had belonged to Boaz and was the field where Ruth gleaned. In fact, the rock over-hang forming a shallow cave where shepherds were known to keep their sheep may have been the threshing floor where Ruth slept at Boaz’ feet in Ruth, chapter 3. According to the Jewish Mishna that field was later dedicated for Temple use to raise sheep for sacrifice or Passover. Yet, the shepherds who raised those sheep were considered outcasts because they chose a vocation that required working on the Sabbath. But, to these “untouchables” God sent an angel host to announce the coming of the Good Shepherd. This fulfilled Isaiah 53:6-7 and other messianic predictions written in shepherd terminology.

The second largest contingent of Jews was in Persia where many chose to remain after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. The book of Esther is set there. Jewish priests there, called Magi in the Persian tongue, knew of Balaam’s prediction in Numbers 24:17. Upon seeing a brilliant supernova one night they chose, on their own, to lead a caravan to Jerusalem to find the prophesied King of the Jews. They didn’t follow the star across the desert because the star wouldn’t have led them to Herod! Disappointed at not finding a baby in Herod’s palace, Matthew 2:10 says they rejoiced when they saw their star again this time leading them the six miles to Bethlehem. As God had led their fathers through the wilderness with a pillar of fire, he also led the Wise Men with a pillar of starlight to the house where young Jesus was.

That night, when Joseph fled with his family to Egypt, he joined the third largest settlement of Jews. Matthew 2:15 says this was a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1. There, Joseph told everyone that Mary’s son was the Jewish Messiah. The Coptic Christian Church of Egypt traces its beginning to Joseph who told them about Jesus. Thus, God was letting all of Abraham’s descendants know the fulfillment of his promise to their forefathers. Further, the angel expanded that promise to be good tidings of great joy for all people of goodwill toward God.

 

What are the government prohibitions against Christmas?

Q. What are the legal prohibitions concerning the Christmas celebration of those in government or the school system? Anonymous

A. Christian legal experts tell me that we must not be bullied into thinking we have no rights to celebrate Christmas in government functions. After all, the angel said in Luke 2:10 that the good tidings of great joy would be for all people.

Our Constitution protects our freedom of speech and our individually held religious beliefs. No U.S. court has ever ruled that government or schools must prohibit all references to Christmas, censor Christmas carols, or silence Christians who wish to celebrate our faith. Rather, the ruling is that government must remain neutral and may not endorse one religion over another. The courts have ruled that the celebration of Christmas as a national holiday is a secular matter accepted by popular tradition. Therefore, Christmas holidays may appear on government calendars, Congress may take a Christmas break, and the United States Post Office may sell Christmas stamps just as they acknowledge any other holiday.

Students, teachers, and government workers may wish each other a Merry Christmas, give Christmas cards and presents, and wear Christmas jewelry as long as it doesn’t interrupt set routines. Students and teachers may carry a Bible for personal use so long as it isn’t disruptive or cohersive, and they may bow their heads for private blessings before meals if they desire. Likewise, no business may legally prohibit employees from expressing their deeply held religious beliefs, such as wishing others a blessed Christmas.

Schools and government offices may have Christmas pageants and sing Christmas carols as long as they include secular songs or symbols. They may display nativity scenes as seasonal decoration if they also include secular items such as a Christmas tree, Santa, or reindeer. Teachers may present lessons on the origin and meaning of holidays which are a part of our culture as long as the lessons are purely instructional and not religious worship. Students may study, sing, and perform religious songs as a part of their education about all types of music. A school choir performing in a church is not forbidden as long as it isn’t compulsory. Students may not be forbidden from expressing their religious beliefs during relevant classroom discussions or assignments. Jesus said in Mark 10:14, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not.”

 

How can Jesus be Prince of Peace and still cause division?

Q. Please explain from Luke 12:51-53 how Jesus can be the Prince of Peace and yet cause division. Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A. Luke is quoting Jesus as saying he didn’t come to bring peace on earth, but division. Further, he said even members of the same family would be against each other because of him. That sounds strange, especially at Christmas when we remember the angels’ message to the shepherds. Luke 2:14 records, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Isaiah 9:6 says of the child “born unto us…his name shall be called…the Prince of Peace.”

We must understand Luke 12:51-53 in its context. In verses 35-49 Jesus was talking about his second coming. But, in verse 50, he said before those prophecies can happen his “baptism” must “be accomplished.” He didn’t mean his water baptism, but God’s mission for his first coming. That will result in division, because Satan is opposing a rival king in his domain. That struggle is already happening: Our society is becoming more anti-Christian, Jesus’ enemies want to take Christ out of Christmas, do away with nativity scenes, remove the Ten Commandments and crosses. As Luke said, people will turn against family members if they don’t agree theologically.

So, what do we do with the promise of “peace, good will toward men” to be brought by the Prince of Peace? The answer is in that question! Only when the Prince of Peace is allowed to rule can there be true peace and good will toward men. But, that won’t happen universally until Christ’s second coming.

In Isaiah 9:6 you may observe several skips in time. The first phrase jumps 33 years from a baby “child” who can only be born, to a grown “son” who can only be given to die for our sins. Then, it jumps to the second coming millennial reign of Christ when “the government shall be upon his shoulder.” That’s when Jesus will be accepted as our “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” For now, I prefer rendering Luke 2:14 as a promise of, “peace within men of good will toward God.”

So, until Christ returns as the Prince of Peace and Satan is confined eternally, the old Serpent will still cause division. The only way you can know real peace on earth now is inwardly as you invite Jesus to reign within your heart.

 

What is the difference between soul and spirit?

Q. What is the difference between soul and spirit? Nel Harper Jones, Linthicum, MD

A. The Bible does distinguish between the soul and spirit. Hebrews 4:12 says the Word of God is powerful like a two-edged sword and able to divide between soul and spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 Paul wrote, “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here, Paul probably had in mind Genesis 1:27 implying that we are triune beings like God with spirit, soul, and body.

Now, I know what my body is. It’s the outer shell housing my spirit and soul. It’s the spacesuit I’m wearing on spaceship Earth as I travel the universe at 66,636 miles per hour while rotating at 1,000 mph.

The Greek word from which we get “soul” is transliterated as psyche from which we get psychiatry and related terms. It means your personality, the ego or self, the YOU inside your body looking out the windows of your eyes. So, your soul includes who you are in your mind, emotion, and will. Psalm 139:16 teaches that when there was nothing (at the moment of conception) God knew our personalities or souls. That’s when life begins, and the Bible tells us where life begins. Your soul is the home of physical life. Genesis 2:7 and John 1:3 say Jesus formed man of the dust of the ground, making his physical body in his image. Then he blew the breath of life into Adam and “man became a living soul.” Your soul guides your body, does your thinking consciously, and keeps the autonomic functions of your body going subconsciously. Physical death occurs when God withdraws his breath, the spark of life, from the soul.

Now, your spirit is that part of you that makes you unique from plants and animals. Your spirit is what Jesus made in the image of his Father. John 4:24 says God is a spirit, and we only worship him when our spirits truly commune with his spirit. In your spirit you’re able to understand and respond to God. Plants only have bodies. Animals have bodies with limited minds, wills, and emotions; although at times, all creation is capable of worshipping God (Psalm 69:34; 98:7-9; Romans 8:22). As far as we know, animals don’t have spirits enabling them to be aware of God as we are. When a person is saved, God’s Holy Spirit comes to reside in the human spirit.

God created Adam holy in his spirit. But, when Adam’s spirit became contaminated by sin, his fellowship with a holy God was broken. Sin affected his body, soul (or mind), and spirit. Since then every person falls prey to that sin barrier in our spirits. People without God in their spirits are lost from God. But, Luke 19:10 says Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost. How do you get God back in your spirit? You invite Jesus, who is God, to make his home in your spirit and receive him by faith, believing he will do what you ask.

 

How did the Jews worship?

Q. What were the elements of Jewish worship at the Temple and in their synagogues? Clarence Potter, Chapel Hill, NC

A. Basic worship rituals were prescribed in the Pentateuch, but how they were implemented might change with a new High Priest and Sanhedrin. Temple leaders preferred a staff of about 24,000 priests and Levites, usually divided by lot into teams serving 2 or 3 eight-day courses a year – more if needed, or if a person lived closer to Jerusalem. Priests, who traced their lineage to Aaron, could marry and live anywhere in the country. They served from age 30-50. The High Priest was chosen from their number by the Sanhedrin, the 70 elders who determined both religious and political practices. All other members of the Levite Tribe received no land inheritance from Joshua, but he gave them six cities where they could live.

Each High Priest selected his inner circle of associates called the rulers of the Temple. The other priests officiated at the sacrifices or in the Holy Place tending to the menorahs, incense, and showbread. Casting of lots determined where they served. Before serving, each priest was ceremonially cleansed by immersion in the Brass Sea, a huge baptismal font holding about 24,000 gallons of water. Then, he was given a white linen robe to wear in Temple service. Levites were the helpers doing menial tasks connected with the sacrifices, cleaning duties, or serving in the orchestra or choir.

Other than the Day of Atonement and the prescribed Feasts, which lasted 7-8 days each, and some were required attendance of all Jewish males, Temple activities consisted of daily sacrifices and teaching by the priests. The people participated by bowing or raising their hands in worship, sometimes saying “Amen” or participating in responsive liturgies, or singing along with the choir. The huge court – divided into areas for the priests, men, women, and gentiles – contained other buildings for meetings and storage, the Sanhedrin’s headquarters, and colonnades where rabbis could teach or Sanhedrin leaders could hold court to settle disputes. In the gentile court merchants, approved by the priests, could sell animals for sacrifice or change Roman coins into Temple currency, which was the only coin offerings accepted.

After the Babylonian captivity each community with at least 10 men could have a synagogue with one of the men chosen to be its rabbi, or teacher. When they were not at the Temple, the rabbi led in Sabbath worship and taught the boys. Not every synagogue had all the Old Testament scrolls, but the ones they had were systemically read each Sabbath while the people stood. Then, the chosen lecturer would sit down with the people to indicate he was sharing his own thoughts. Only men attended synagogues, but women and children might listen from a balcony or outside windows.

Benevolent acts were encouraged at local synagogues, although beggars often sat outside the Temple gates. Other than giving offerings and sacrifices and keeping the daily rituals, worship was primarily a spectator sport carried out by the priests or rabbis.

 

Can the Jews reinstitute Temple worship without the Ark?

Q. How can the Jews reinstitute Temple worship without the Ark of the Covenant? Philip Gay, Woodbridge, VA

A. I don’t know if you’re talking about the present time or after the return of Christ. Presently, 2 groups of Jews are working and preparing for a rebuilt Temple. The Temple Mount Faithful are sworn to do all they can to repossess the Temple Mount from the Muslims who occupy it now. The Temple Institute is preparing the furniture and priestly garments according to the instructions God gave Moses in the latter half of Exodus. To follow Levitical rituals they also need a true red heifer to sacrifice in order to mix its ashes with water to sprinkle everything for purification. However, if the Temple is rebuilt during the reign of the Antichrist, he will regulate the Temple and its rituals.

If the Temple were rebuilt today, they don’t actually need the Ark of the Covenant because they haven’t had it since the Babylonian captivity. Several theories abound as to what happened to the Ark. Some suppose Jeremiah or a priest hid it in a cave under the Mount. Others believe it was taken to Ethiopia where they claim to house it today. A Guardian spends his entire life protecting it there, but no one can see it uncovered. However, John recorded in Revelation 11:19 that he saw the Ark in Paradise. Herod’s Temple during the time of Christ didn’t have the Ark. The Holy of Holies was empty except for cherubic images which they believed would guard the chamber.

Ezekiel, beginning in chapter 40, describes a future structure which many scholars believe will be the Millennium Temple. If your question concerns that future Temple, Jeremiah 3:16-17 says there will be no need for the Ark there to symbolize God’s presence. That’s because Zephaniah 3:14-17 says the Lord himself will be reigning from Jerusalem. The sacrifices offered during the Millennium will be in remembrance of the atoning work of Jesus just as we memorialize him in the Lord’s Supper today.

 

Who owns the land of Israel?

Q. With so much controversy between the Arabs and the Israelis today, who actually owns the land of Israel? Brenda Wills, Windsor, VA

A. No one can dispute the statement that God owns everything by creation (Leviticus 25:23; Isaiah 48:13; Psalm 50:10). But, does God own the land we call Israel today? Actually, he doesn’t. He gave it away! Genesis 15:18 says, “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” Notice that the verb is in the past tense. God had already given the land to Abraham and his descendants before he made this statement to Abe.

What were the terms of this gift? Originally a land of milk and honey in the Fertile Crescent, it had already been providentially determined, perhaps in eternity past, and it would last for eternity future (Genesis 13:15). Further, it was irrevocable since Abe didn’t do anything to earn it. It’s an unconditional promise made by God solely by his grace and based on his unchanging faithfulness. Its boundaries are from the sea (Mediterranean) to the river of Babylon (Euphrates), and from the river of Egypt (Nile) to Lebanon (Genesis 15:18; Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:4). Not since Solomon has Israel possessed such territory. But, it’s hers waiting to be taken. Other countries grow by conquest, and the nations acknowledge their acquired territories. But, the world won’t acknowledge Israel’s conquests and insists they give back all they have taken.

We must remember that Israel never won their lands by might. Have you noticed that the armies of Israel never used horses and chariots or the weapons of war that other countries used? They fought hand-to-hand and won or lost by God’s will. In modern times Israel has never lost a battle because they are still “the apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8). God promises to bless the nation that blesses the children of Jacob (Genesis 27:29).

When Jesus returns he won’t land at Independence, MO; nor will he follow Mohammed to Mecca or Medina; but, he’ll set his feet on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4), and set his throne in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 3:17; 17:25). Even now, his home is called the “New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2). No matter who tries to divide Jerusalem or occupy the Temple Mount, God gave all the land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

 

Was Jesus wrong to kill 2,000 pigs?

Q. How can we justify Jesus’ taking someone’s livelihood when 2,000 pigs were drowned in the Sea of Galilee? Janie Lovorn, Petersburg, VA

A. Both Mark 5 and Luke 8 record when Jesus and his disciples rowed across the Sea of Galilee to the region called Gadara. Immediately, a naked, demon possessed man ran toward them. The outspoken demon in the man recognized Jesus and cried out, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God, please don’t torment me!” Jesus asked, “What is your name?” The demon replied, “Legion, for we are many.” Then, Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the man. They begged Jesus not to send them to the Abyss, which is another name for the Bottomless Pit, where Satan will be locked up. The demons asked if they might indwell a nearby herd of pigs and Jesus gave them permission. Immediately, all 2,000 pigs ran over the steep cliffs and drowned in the sea. When the owners of the pigs saw what had happened they begged Jesus to leave their country.

First, let me point out that Jesus didn’t destroy the pigs; the demons did! This is the evil nature of Satan and his demons who didn’t care about the man, the pigs, or the owners. Second, we see the compassionate nature of God revealed in Jesus who restored a man no one else could help. And, though Jesus had the authority to banish the demons, he even had compassion on them.

The demons recognized Jesus because he had created them as angels who served him in pre-existent eternity until they rebelled with Lucifer (Revelation 12:4). A Roman legion of soldiers numbered anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000. A tremendous number of demons were able to reside in this man. If each demon entered a pig, there had to be at least 2,000 demons; but it would only take a few to incite a stampede. We know the owners were unsaved because they didn’t care that a fellow human had been healed, and they rejected Jesus.

God will not overrule the wills of those who trust him (Joshua 24:15), but he can get glory from the unsaved any way he wishes (Ezekiel 39:21). And, Psalm 50:10 says God owns all the beasts and the cattle on a thousand hills. I believe this incident happened for his disciples and us to remember that Jesus is more powerful than Satan.

 

Why did Jesus weep?

Q. If Jesus knew all things, why did he weep knowing he would soon raise Lazarus? Russell Ali, Carlsbad, CA

A. We’ve all learned that the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Although the division of our Bible into chapters and verses is not considered to be inspired, the Spirit must have meant for those two words to be set apart! They draw attention to the humanity of Jesus.

We know Jesus was the Son of God and we probably think he didn’t really feel pain or sorrow like we do. But, Jesus’ favorite title for himself was Son of Man (Matthew 8:20; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24; John 1:51). He came from Heaven by way of birth and left by way of death to be identified with every aspect of our lives. As a baby he surely cried when he was wet or hungry, and as a man he wept and sweated.

We don’t understand the division of Jesus’ humanity and deity. Speaking as God he predicted the signs of his return in Matthew 24:6-35, but speaking as a man he said in verse 36 that only the Father knew the time of his return. Again, in John 11, as God he called Lazarus back from death (which only God can do); but as a man, empathizing with his dear friends, he wept. Luke 22 records that, in the Garden of Gethsemane, as God Jesus knew what lay ahead and prayed, “Let this cup pass from me.” But, as a man he sweat drops of blood in agony (verse 44).

Why did Jesus weep? He knew he would raise Lazarus because he said in John 11:11 that he was going to awaken Lazarus. I don’t believe he wept for himself or for Lazarus, even though it would be a rude awakening (pun intended!) to bring Lazarus back from Paradise. Verse 33 says he groaned and was troubled, and verse 38 again says he groaned. Why? He groaned and was troubled when he saw Mary and her fellow Jews weeping. I believe he wept at their unbelief!

John recorded in his chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, etc. the many times Jesus had offered eternal life to all who would simply believe in him. Yet, the Jews couldn’t comprehend this; and even though Martha said she believed in verse 24, verse 39 proves she didn’t understand Jesus is the Lord of life. You may say you believe in Jesus, but have you committed your eternal destiny to him? Are you resting in full assurance and preparing for Heaven?

 

Will we have to be introduced in Heaven?

Q. In Heaven will we know our family members by name even if we’ve never met them? Victor Flanagan, Callisburg, TX

A. All we know about Heaven is what’s recorded in Scripture. Obviously, then, there’s much we don’t know and may never know until we get to Heaven. Down here, we may not fully understand what’s described in the Bible because, in this physical realm, we can’t comprehend the uniqueness of the spiritual realm. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things God has prepared for them that love him.” However, using the minds God gave us, we can piece together various scriptures we’ve read and deduce some logical conclusions about what Heaven will be like.

I believe the Spirit revealed to Paul much about Heaven that he recorded for us. For instance, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 that in Heaven, “I shall know even as also I am known.” In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2 and verse 16, Paul also said that we have the mind of Christ. Although we may not fully use its potential now, surely we’ll use it in Heaven. If we have even a small portion of knowledge like Christ we won’t have to be introduced to those we want to meet. Jesus said in Matthew 8:11 that in Heaven we’ll sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; so, obviously, we’ll know them by name.

In Revelation 6:9-11, those who were martyred for their faith are protected at God’s altar; but they know what’s happening on the earth and who hasn’t yet arrived in Heaven. Surely something as important as recognizing our own ancestors, those who were part of the line that brought us into being, will be the norm in Heaven.

Therefore, I’ll go out on a limb and say that, in Heaven, I believe we’ll know our family members by name even if we’ve never met them. We may not be able to name our ancestors very far back now; but I’m excited that, in Heaven, we’ll have all the time of eternity to meet and hear the experiences of our family through the generations. Yet, the most important Person we’ll meet face to face will be our Savior Jesus when we sit at his feet and hear the wisdom of the ages!

 

Where is Satan now?

Q. Has Satan been kicked out of Heaven or is he still there? If not, when was he kicked out? George Joyce, Hopewell, VA

A. Our first glimpse of Satan is when the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis 3. We’re not told who that serpent is until Revelation 12:9 identifies him as the Devil and Satan. Those names describe his character and activity. Devil means accuser and Satan means adversary.

In Ezekiel 28 we learn of an evil spirit identified with a “king of Tyrus.” That spirit was the angelic cherub who walked on the holy mountain of God. His unique beauty led to his prideful downfall. He seems to be the same spirit described in Isaiah 14 as Lucifer, who became Satan when he was cast from Heaven. In Luke 10:18 Jesus said he saw Satan when he fell from Heaven. All this must have happened before Satan came to Eve disguised as a serpent.

Losing his place in Heaven didn’t stop the devil from having communication with God. Job, chapters 1-2, and Revelation 12:10 say he still goes before God as our accuser. However, Heaven is no longer his home. Paul, in Ephesians 2:2, calls him the prince of the power of the air where he’s associated with the spiritual darkness of this world (Ephesians 6:12). That means the atmosphere around our earth is his domain now from which he and his fallen angel demons work in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2).

In the last 3½ years of the Great Tribulation Satan, called the Great Dragon, will be confined to the earth with no access to God. Revelation 12:10 says he will avenge himself with great wrath on those who believe in God because he can’t hurt God. Revelation 20:1-3 predicts his final capture when he’ll be cast into the Bottomless Pit. Then, after 1,000 years without his influence, Satan will be loosed a little while to test those who were born during the Millennium and hadn’t been tempted by him (Revelation 20:7). His final abode will be the Lake of Fire for eternity. How sad that we still encourage this loser to strike back at God each time we yield to his temptations!

 

Did Jesus ever laugh?

Q. Are there any recorded instances when Jesus laughed? Mamie Jackson, Springfield, IL

A. No; there is no record in the gospels of Jesus laughing. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” For Jesus, his whole mission in life was a time of weeping at the sins of his people, knowing that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The time for laughing will come at his victorious return. However, we need to remember two things about Jesus: He is God, and his character is perfect.

Knowing that Jesus is God causes us to remember the times God is said to laugh. Three times, in Psalm 2, 37, and 59, God laughs in derision at the vain efforts of the heathen. But, of God’s children, Job 8:21 says the Lord will fill their mouths with laughing and their lips with rejoicing. And, Jesus promised in Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who weep now: for you shall laugh.”

Knowing that Jesus had a perfect character, we must believe there were times when he laughed. I love “The Gospel According to Matthew” on video produced by The Visual Bible International. There Bruce Marchiano portrays a laughing Jesus playing with the children and rough-housing with his disciples. Even if no laughter is recorded about Jesus, he certainly showed his sense of humor on several occasions. It must have been funny for his disciples to think of “the blind leading the blind” so that they all fell in a ditch (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39). And, can you picture a Pharisee meticulously straining a gnat from his beverage while turning around and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24)?

If we associate laughter with joy – which is inner happiness – we find many instances where God and Jesus are joyful and where believers are promised, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). The angel told the shepherds in Luke 2:10 that the birth of Jesus was “good tidings of great joy.” Jesus spoke of his own joy in Matthew 25:21 and John 15:11, and he told of joy in heaven when a sinner repents (Luke 15:10). The fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 includes joy, and believers are promised in John 16:22 that when Jesus returns we will have joy that no one can take away. Finally, the benediction of Jude 1:24-25 promises that God will keep his children from falling so that we will be presented in the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.

 

Is anger a sin?

Q. Was Jesus angry? I thought anger was a sin. Hal Lovorn, Atlanta, GA

A. The word “anger” comes from the Latin meaning to squeeze or make narrow. It’s the word picture of narrowing one’s focus toward another person or thing until a resolution is reached. Webster most often associates it with retaliation when a person responds with some form of violence. In reality, however, anger is a neutral emotion that may motivate someone to do good or evil. There are times when anger provokes us to take a stand for the right. That may have caused Jesus to cleanse the Temple in Matthew 21:12, although John 2:15 calls it zeal.

Therefore, anger in itself isn’t sinful. At least 126 times the Bible records the Lord’s anger. We find it even more if we associate wrath or indignation with God’s being angry. Webster says indignation is anger mingled with contempt, disgust, or abhorrence, often resulting in wrath which is retaliation or punishment upon the object of one’s anger. Righteous indignation arises from a sense of justice or morality being violated.

The gospels certainly record times when Jesus must have been angry, although only once, in Mark 3:5, are we told that Jesus looked at the people with anger. Yet, Jesus never sinned. The only time sin is ever connected with Jesus is when 1 Peter 2:24 says he bore our sins in his own body on the cross, that we might be declared righteous.

The Bible teaches us that anger can be controlled. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and sin not; don’t let the sun go down on your wrath.” In Matthew 5:22 Jesus warned us not to be angry with another person without a cause. Paul also wrote in Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8 that anger associated with bitterness shouldn’t be part of our character. Instead, Paul reminded us in Romans 12:19 that we must not avenge ourselves because vengeance belongs to God, and he will repay injustice for us. Revelation 6:17 warns of the great day of God’s wrath when he will judge his enemies, yet we’re reminded in Psalm 103:8 that the Lord is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” toward them that love him. For “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

 

What was the rock that followed Israel?

Q. Please explain “the Rock that followed them” in 1 Corinthians 10:4. Bob Wallace, Disputanta, VA

A. Speaking of Israel in the wilderness, Paul wrote, “they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” There are varying opinions for understanding this.

First, however, we must think of the logistics of caring for a minimum of one million people for 40 years in a desert wilderness. At least twice God provided quail to give them meat. Daily he provided manna that could be gathered from the ground and made into bread. He even kept their clothes and shoes from wearing out. But, what about water for drinking, cooking, and washing, and for their livestock?

Exodus 17 records when the Jews needed water God told Moses that he, God, would stand upon a rock (probably by his pillar of fire) which he wanted Moses to strike. When Moses struck the rock a river of water gushed from it (Psalm 78:20). Although the Pentateuch doesn’t tell us this, the Jewish Hagadah says the rock itself followed them, always nearby continuing to provide water in the desert. Another oral tradition says, not the rock, but the river that sprang from that rock was never so far away that Israel couldn’t get the water they needed. Some commentaries suggest that Paul meant Israel carried the water with them as they traveled. Still others believe the river from that rock would have to flow across the desert toward the sea, so Israel must have followed that river bed and always camped near it.

Was Paul basing his analogy on those stories? Dr. Sidlow Baxter (Studies in Problem Texts, Zondervan Publishing House, 1977) suggests that Paul didn’t mean the rock followed them but that this analogy in verse 4 followed the previous events he had listed.

Although I cannot say how God continued to provide streams in the desert, I offer my understanding of 1 Corinthians 10. Verse 6 says Paul listed Scriptural illustrations as examples for encouragement. That word “examples” means illustrations or types. Therefore Paul’s whole thesis in chapter 10 is that the same provision God made for Israel is available for believers today. God led Israel by his pillar, he protected them in the sea, he fed them miraculous food, and he provided their water from a rock (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Therefore, I believe Paul was picturing the rock as a type of Christ who always follows and provides those same blessings for those who trust in him. Further, his River of Life springing in our souls (John 4:14) will never run dry. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Jesus following me; I want to follow him!

 

If it’s appointed to man to die once, how do we explain Lazarus?

Q. The Bible says it’s appointed to man once to die. How do you explain Lazarus and the people who claim after death experiences? Clark Meadows, Colonial Heights, VA

A. You’re right; Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” We may quote the first of that verse while leaving off the important last part. But, remember, no judgment is necessary to decide our eternal fate. We make that choice ourselves by what we do with Jesus while we’re alive. After death, the unprepared will answer to God in a judgment that determines the degree of their punishment (Revelation 22:12). Even the saved will answer at the Judgment Seat of Christ as to how they have lived for Christ and served him since they were saved (2 Corinthians 5:10).

As for this applying to Lazarus whom Jesus raised from death in John 11, remember that there are exceptions to most rules. In the case of Lazarus, the One who made the rule could certainly overrule his rule! Jesus has the keys to death and hell (Revelation 1:18). John 11:43 says Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” His voice was loud enough to reach past the physical realm to the eternal realm and snatch the soul of Lazarus from the lap of the Father and bring him back to earth. I like to think that, if Jesus had not called Lazarus by name, every body in that cemetery would have come forth when the Lord of life called them!

Lazarus was raised so that his death wasn’t permanent. He did have to die again. That was before Jesus died and arose to conquer death for us. Now, the rule is that those who are born once die twice (physically and spiritually), and those who are born twice may only die once (physically). However, they may skip that death if Jesus comes during their lifetime! As for those with after death experiences, they should realize that God wasn’t ready for them yet. It should cause them to question why they were left here and spend the rest of their lives trying to fulfill that quest. By the way, that’s good advice for each of us!

 

Why kill the animals in conquest?

Q. I understand why God commanded Israel to destroy their enemies when they conquered the Promised Land, but why were the animals also to be killed? Rev. Bob Stephenson, Graham, NC

A. We tend to judge God by human standards, but I see the same supernatural battle continuing in Canaan as we saw at the Flood. God’s primary reason for sentencing anyone to destruction is to foil Satan’s opposition to his plan to bless the world through Israel and Jesus. Satan was using the Egyptians and Canaanites just as he used Ananias and Sapphira to hinder God’s purposes.

In Genesis 12, when God called Abram to follow him, God said he would give that land of Canaan to Abe’s descendants. Later, God told them how to possess the land. The general rule for taking possession of Canaan was given to Moses in Numbers 33:52-55. There, God simply said to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and….dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it.” They were to destroy the heathen altars, but the general rule was not to kill anyone if they would give up their land peaceably. God said in verse 55 the inhabitants would be a snare to Israel by tempting them to worship false gods.

In certain battles God did command Israel to kill all the inhabitants and even the animals. Jericho was such a place because it was to be a first-fruit, holy offering devoted to God. But, even in Jericho, Rahab was spared because of her declaration in Joshua 2:11. At other times, when God ordered complete destruction I believe he did so to teach valuable lessons.

Some of those lessons may have been: Those who worshipped other gods were condemning themselves for destruction. God has declared that we’re to have no other gods before him (Exodus, chapters 20 and 23; Jeremiah, chapters 25 and 44). When animals were destroyed it was because the war was not about gaining personal treasures, but about the battle against their enemies. If they obeyed God he would provide the livestock they needed (Deuteronomy 28:11). When our reasoning fails, we must accept the lesson of Psalm 50:10-12 which teaches that everything on earth belongs to God and he can do with it as he wishes.

 

Is the curse at the end of the Bible meant only for John’s Revelation?

Q. In Revelation 22:18-19, is that warning meant for misquoting the Bible or just John’s Revelation? Ann Rook, Plainfield, IL

A. Revelation 22:18 reads, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” Verse 19 adds that if anyone takes away from that prophecy God will take away his part from the Book of Life and the Holy City. We call this Revelation’s curse.

This warning seems to be specifically for the book we call The Revelation of John. Verse 18 says it applies to “the words of the prophecy of this book,” and verse 19 addresses it toward “the words of the book of this prophecy.” Therefore, I assume the curse is for anyone who deliberately adds to or takes away from the message of The Revelation. The person stating this curse is identified in verse 20 as the one who says, “Surely, I come quickly.”

Jesus is that one who was introduced in the first chapter and, along with an accompanying angel, he delivered these prophetic visions to John. So, I have to conclude that Jesus is emphasizing the importance of this message. Why is it so important? It’s the climax and conclusion to the story begun in Genesis. It reveals exactly what’s going to happen in the future, and that can’t be changed. This book summarizes and drives home the message of the whole Bible. It reveals to us that Jesus is the central character of the Bible, and our salvation comes only from him (Revelation 7:10). When he triumphs over Satan, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall proclaim that Jesus is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 17:14 and 19:16). One day he will lead those who love God to his own home of joy and peace forever. No one has permission to change that message!

However, I believe we can also apply that curse to the whole Bible without doing harm to its original intent. Jesus declared in John 17:17 that God’s word is “truth” – not true, but truth. Truth stands alone. Truth is eternal and cannot be altered. Anyone who purposefully misquotes God’s truth will answer to God.

Please note that the wrath of God will not be directed toward someone who changes the Bible by accidentally adding or missing a word. It’s not about simplifying it with modern versions intended to make its message clearer. It’s not about a preacher who dresses it up for sermon application. God looks upon the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). This curse is for those who harden their hearts and reject the truth of God’s Word so that they try to water down its meaning and present a different Christ, a different salvation, or a different destiny for human history. Revelation, chapter 5, shows the future is in the hands of Jesus alone!

 

Did Jesus have actual brothers and sisters?

Q. Were Jesus’ brothers and sisters his full or half siblings, or possibly cousins? Jim Ballou, Petersburg, VA

A. Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 name 4 men called Jesus’ brethren: James, Joses (short for Joseph, Jr.), Simon, and Judas called Jude. Verse 56 mentions that Jesus had sisters. The sisters are not named, but since the word is plural there were at least 2 of them. John 7:5 tells us his brothers didn’t believe in Jesus, and all 3 synoptic gospels tell of a time when his mother and brothers came to speak with Jesus. The implication is that they came to take him home, possibly to rethink his ministry because he was offending the Jewish leaders. That may be why Jesus didn’t go out to talk with them immediately.

Later, 1 Corinthians 15:7 says Jesus made a resurrection appearance to his brother James, which must have converted him. Then, Matthew 28:10 records that the rest of Jesus’ brothers would see him at a resurrection appearance in Galilee. So, Acts 1:14 says Mary and all the brothers were present when the Holy Spirit came upon believers at Pentecost. In Acts 12:17, Dr. Luke wrote that Peter sent word to James and his brothers of his miraculous release from prison. By the middle of the first Christian century James appears to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13, Galatians 1:19 and 2:9). He wrote the epistle of James, and his brother Judas wrote the epistle of Jude in the New Testament (James 1:1; Jude 1:1).

Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:34-35 record that Mary was a virgin and Jesus was fathered by God’s Spirit. God, himself, testified at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son!” (Matthew 3:17). John 3:16 identifies Jesus as God’s only begotten son, meaning he was the only son God ever fathered. So, Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father. Matthew 1:25 says Joseph did not have relations with Mary until her first son was born, implying that she had other children. Joseph would have been the father of Mary’s other children. That would make them the half-brothers and sisters of Jesus.

In an effort to keep Mary pure and a perpetual virgin some church dogmas declare that Mary never had any other children. This is not supported by Scripture. Jesus was miraculously born, but he had a normal family with a mother, foster father, half brothers and sisters, aunt Mary and uncle Cleophas (John 19:25), and cousins Elizabeth and her son John the baptizer (Luke 1:13 and 36).

 

Is it wrong to get a tattoo?

Q. If our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, is it wrong to get tattoos and piercings? Dora Gurganus, Capron, VA

A. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 19, wrote that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in us. The Holy Spirit is the same as the Holy Ghost, and he is God’s Spirit who comes within each true believer at the moment of our salvation. We don’t have to pray for a “second blessing,” or the gift of tongues to prove we have the Spirit. Paul also wrote in Romans 8:9 that if we don’t have the Spirit of God we are not his children. So, the converse would be true: All those who are saved have the Holy Spirit.

Paul continued in 1 Corinthians 6:20 to say that (the bodies of) believers are not our own because we have been bought by the blood of Jesus. Therefore, we ought not do anything in our bodies or spirits that would bring shame on Jesus.

Tattoos and piercings are not expressly forbidden in the Bible. Many people believe these make their bodies more attractive. Some African tribes decorate their bodies with permanent markings of which they are very proud. Women in the Old Testament pierced, not only their earlobes, but their noses. Rebecca was given a nose ring by Abraham’s servant when he proposed to her on Isaac’s behalf. And, in the New Testament, a freed slave who wished to remain with his master had a short wooden stick pierced and left in his earlobe. That’s the word picture of a “bond servant,” or one who freely chooses to serve Jesus for life.

Therefore, outward adornments of our bodies, such as how we dress or comb our hair or what jewelry we wear – these vary within cultures. As the old saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!” Yet, all believers should remember that verse 20 reminds us to glorify God in our bodies and spirits. If in our spirits we seek to glorify Jesus then our bodies should reflect his holiness.

By way of application, we should refrain from criticizing or judging those whose appearance is different from us. The way we adorn ourselves isn’t as important as our spirits being in submission to the Holy Spirit as he leads us to serve Jesus in all we do. Remember: Jesus died for every person; no one is unworthy of his love or our respect!

 

Are the Proverbs promises or principles?

Q. How are we to understand and apply the Proverbs if, sometimes, they may not come true? D. S., Taipei, Taiwan

A. There are different ways to interpret Scripture and still honor God’s Word. The most common choices are literal or figurative. Some passages we understand to be literal truths; they will happen exactly as they’re written. Other verses are figurative, symbolizing greater spiritual truths. Just because something isn’t literal doesn’t mean it’s not true. There’s also a third way to interpret Scripture. Certain passages ought to be understood as principles rather than promises. A scripture principle is an ideal rule to strive for. We may or may not reach that goal, but we set it before us as something to live by. A promise is a guarantee that something will happen. Some people have lost faith in the Bible because they claimed principles as promises, and when those promises didn’t come true they blamed God.

Much of the Book of Proverbs should be understood as principles for living rather than promises for life. In the first 7 verses of Solomon’s introduction to the book he indicated that these were guidelines to obtain understanding, but true wisdom comes from the Lord. Therefore, some proverbs are the wisdom of men – good advice, but not ironclad promises from God that will come true in every situation. Think of Proverbs as a slice of the truth, not the whole truth for every situation.

Consider Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That’s a good principle to strive for, but God doesn’t put everyone in the same mold. There are too many uncertainties of which you have no control. If you do your best to raise your child to love God but he departs from the faith, that doesn’t mean God or you have failed. Every person makes their own choices, even when you set a good example before them.

Another example is Proverbs 3:9-10 which says if we honor the Lord with our finances and our tithes, our barns will overflow and we’ll always have plenty. That’s a principle to follow, not a promise that those who honor the Lord will never suffer lack. If we understand Proverbs as principles, they give us something to hope for but there’s no disappointment with God if we don’t see them fulfilled.

Now, mind you, if you personally claim certain Proverbs as promises you believe the Lord has given to you, then by all means keep faith in them and wait for God’s fulfillment. But, if you’ve done your best and you still have hardships, don’t say God’s Word isn’t true. Exceptions to the rule do not make the rule invalid in other cases.

 

What is the symbolism of Ezekiel 1?

Q. Please comment on the symbolism of Ezekiel’s first chapter. Judy Beach, Richmond, VA

A. There are many interpretations for any Bible passage that’s full of symbols. Unless the meaning is obvious or they’re explained elsewhere, your understanding is as good as mine.

There were 3 main prophets of the Babylonian dispersion: Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem, Daniel ministered in the king’s court in Babylon, and Ezekiel was prophet to the Jewish deportees and the common people of Babylon. “The thirtieth year” in verse 1 may refer to the 30th year of Babylon’s world dominion, or 30 years since the priest Hilkiah found the lost book of the Law and King Josiah read it to the people. Again, it may have been Ezekiel’s own age, the age at which he would have begun his priestly duties in the Temple had he remained in Jerusalem. If so, this is Ezekiel’s priestly calling to serve Babylon as is evidenced in chapter 2. Numbers 4:3 says a priest or Levite served from ages 30-50. This may be one reason why Jesus waited until he was 30 to begin his priestly ministry.

Like Isaiah who saw God high and lifted up on his Throne, Ezekiel saw God on his Throne transported by 4 composite creatures called Cherubim in chapter 10. Although seen a little differently in Revelation 4, they’re probably the same 4 beasts attending God’s Throne there. They may represent all creation serving God. The Talmud lists these 4 as representative of the best of their species. Perhaps they predict the 4 gospel writers who would later lift up Christ. Matthew’s gospel presents Jesus in his humanity as Son of Man; Mark shows his deity as the Lion of Judah; Luke emphasizes his servanthood like an Ox; and John presents Jesus soaring over his enemies like an Eagle. These four creatures carry a platform supporting the Throne of God. Zig-zagging like lightning they picture God surveying all the earth.

The hardest part to understand is the wheels in Ezekiel 1:15-21. Ezekiel saw 4 wheels, each with another wheel at right angles within them like a gyroscope. The wheels were alive and had eyes all over them. They seemed to be attached by invisible cords to the four creatures. Where the creatures went in the air, the wheels followed on earth. Verse 20 says the Spirit of God that directed the Cherubim was also in the wheels with their eyes picturing his all-seeing presence.

What could this symbolize? The only thing on earth that’s alive with the Spirit and knowledge of God is the living Church of Jesus Christ. We are connected by his Spirit to the very Throne of God. Where he leads from Heaven, his Church functions on earth (Matthew 16:19). Perhaps Ezekiel saw a foretaste of the Church fulfilling the same calling as the prophet would be given in chapter 2, verses 2-7. The commission of Christians today is to keep delivering the words of God faithfully whether people listen or not.

 

Has the Abomination of Desolation happened?

Q. Has the abomination which Daniel prophesied been fulfilled in the past or is it for the future? Will the Jews rebuild their Temple? Gene Mims, Prison Bible Teacher, Petersburg, VA

A. The word “abomination” appears 76 times in the King James Bible. It means something that’s disgusting or detestable to God and, therefore, is forbidden for God’s people. Leviticus 11:7 says swine are unclean for the Jews, and Isaiah 66:3 says the offering of swine’s blood to God is abomination.

We call some predictions “double prophecies” because they have double fulfillments. These prophecies may come to pass soon to a lesser degree, but they also may predict a greater fulfillment in the future, usually in the last days. An example is Isaiah 60:6 which predicts the nobles we call Wise Men coming from Sheba in Persia to honor the birth of Messiah with offerings of gold and incense. That prophecy will find its greater fulfillment during the Millennium when all nations bring their homage to worship Jesus.

In his chapter 11, Daniel gave us a double prophecy. He said an evil ruler would come against Jerusalem; and in verse 31, he said that ruler would cause the Temple sacrifices to cease because he would place an abomination there. This abomination would result in the Temple’s desolation or abandonment. This prophecy was fulfilled when Antiochus Epiphanes sacrificed a pig on the Temple altar in 167 B.C. However, in Matthew 24:15 Jesus predicted another fulfillment in the future. Revelation 13 says the False Prophet will place a statue of the Antichrist in the Temple that he wants everyone to worship.

Therefore, we believe the Antichrist will make a pact with the Jews during, or immediately before, the last 7 years when he will allow the Jews to rebuild their Temple. At the midpoint of the Tribulation, Antichrist will turn against the Jews and claim the Temple for his worship. He will fashion a “Frankenstein monster” statue which will seemingly come to life (Revelation 13). This is the final abomination, and the unsaved will worship the Antichrist as God until he tries to sit on the Throne reserved for David’s Ultimate Son, Jesus. Then the King of kings will return in glory to claim his rightful Throne.

 

What is Universalism?

Q. If the Bible says it’s not God’s will that any should perish, how can anyone be lost? Won’t God’s will always be done? Joel Devallon, Alexandria, VA

A. In his second epistle, chapter 3, Peter wrote about the patience of God. So great is his patience, or long-suffering toward us, that he could wait for people to be saved as long as a thousand years and not count it more than a day (verse 8). That’s why in verse 9 Peter wrote, “The Lord is…longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Peter was writing to encourage believers that, though they may experience earthly persecution, God won’t let his children perish eternally. Here, the Spirit also revealed God’s heart toward the unsaved. God’s heart’s desire – his wish, his want, his purpose (these are all legitimate translations for “bulimia” which the KJV translates as “willing”) – God’s wish is for everyone to repent of their sins and be saved.

If we misunderstand and think verse 9 means that no one will perish because that’s not God’s will, then Jesus wouldn’t need to pray “thy will be done on earth as in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Obviously, God’s will is not always done. God’s will was not done when Satan and his angels rebelled or when Adam and Eve sinned. If God’s will were always done, Jesus wouldn’t need to commission his followers to preach the gospel, because everyone will be saved. That doctrine is called universalism, or universal salvation. It’s the mistaken belief that because God’s character is one of love, he won’t allow anyone to go to Hell. But, that’s not so. God doesn’t make anyone be lost just like he doesn’t make anyone be saved. These are individual choices which God respects. To fail to make a choice is the same as not choosing for God.

We must realize, therefore, that there are three natures to God’s will. We call these his directed will, his ideal will, and his permissive will. When God directs or decrees something, it will be done. His ideal will is the standard he has set for our good. When we fail his perfect standard, his permissive will allows us to continue the course we have chosen. We may reap the consequences of our choice, or God may overrule those and give secondary blessings. Those blessings will never be as perfect as those from his ideal will. We could classify 2 Peter 3:9 as God’s ideal will – his wish, his desire – that not any should reject his offer of free salvation in Jesus, but the choice is yours!

 

What is the First Resurrection?

Q. What is the “first resurrection” mentioned in Revelation 20? Mike Hathcock, Colonial Heights, VA

A. The Bible speaks of 2 births, 2 deaths, and 2 resurrections. John 3:5 describes the 2 births as being, “born of water and of the spirit.” Lest we think the water birth refers to baptism, verse 6 explains that the two births are the fleshly (physical) birth and the spiritual birth. The physical birth is called the water birth because the baby is in a sack of water that breaks at birth. Therefore, the 2 deaths are also physical and spiritual deaths. At physical death the spirit is separated from the body; at spiritual death the spirit is separated from God, the Source of Life. Revelation 20:12-15 describes the second death when the spirits of the unsaved are cast into the Lake of Fire.

Job 19:26 first states the doctrine of the resurrection. I believe the first recorded resurrection is in 2 Kings 4, but Samuel was brought back in spirit in 1 Samuel 28. The first resurrection in Revelation 20:5-6 is for all those who are saved from both the Old and New Covenants. It began with the resurrection of Jesus on the Feast of First Fruits. That was when the Jews brought the first fruits of their spring harvest in anticipation of a further harvest to follow. Jesus set the pattern which all believers will follow. Matthew 27:52 says some of the Old Testament saints also arose with Jesus. Our future resurrection is called the Rapture. It’s described in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4. At the Rapture, the saved who were dead will be resurrected and given new bodies. Their spirits, who have been with Jesus, will come back with him and indwell their new bodies. Those saints who are alive on earth will be changed instantly into their new bodies and rise to meet Jesus. This “first resurrection” is for all believers to the end of the Tribulation, including the saints who will be killed after the Rapture. They will be raised before Jesus returns in glory.

The second resurrection is not mentioned, but the implication is for those awaiting the second death. All the unsaved dead, except the Antichrist and the False Prophet, will wait in Hell until after the Millennial Reign of Jesus. After the Final Rebellion, described in Revelation 20, Satan will be cast into the Lake of Fire. The unsaved dead then will be resurrected and judged at the Great White Throne Judgment before they join Satan. We could say, therefore, that a person who’s born only once will die twice, and those who are born twice will die only once, unless the Lord comes during their lifetime. Then, they will cheat death both times!

 

Does Baptism save us?

Q. Why does 1 Peter 3:21 say baptism saves us? Rich Forsen, Romania

A. Peter was a prominent apostle during Christ’s ministry and in the early life of the Church. He wrote his first epistle to encourage believers who were being persecuted in the five provinces of Asia Minor, or modern Turkey. In chapter 3 he urged them to remain faithful, because it’s better to be persecuted for doing good than to be punished for doing evil (verse 17). He gave the example of Christ who was persecuted when he had done nothing wrong, but by his death he paid the sin-debt of all who believe in him. I agree that, in verse 21, Peter seems to say that baptism saves us. However, this goes against the overall New Testament teaching in such passages as Ephesians 2:8-9. There Paul said we’re saved by grace alone and not by anything physical that we do.

We go back to verse 20 which tells us Noah and his family in the ark were able to pass safely through the water of the Flood. The water didn’t save them; the ark did. In verse 21, the word “figure” means an antitype or a representation. He’s saying that as the water of the Flood lifted the ark that really saved Noah, so the water of baptism points to our clear-conscience confession in the work of Jesus that saves us.

In the rest of verse 21 Peter clarified his preceding statement to make sure his readers knew that he was not talking about baptism cleansing us spiritually. Rather, it’s our confession in repentance and faith that saves us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God resurrected Jesus he will resurrect all those who believe in Jesus. The Contemporary English Version translates the last of verse 20 and verse 21 as: “Eight people went into that boat and were brought safely through the flood. Those flood waters were like baptism that now saves you. But baptism is more than just washing your body. It means turning to God with a clear conscience, because Jesus Christ was raised from death.” Water baptism is a picture of spiritual baptism whereby the saved are placed into the body of Jesus and covered by his righteousness.

Verse 21 is best understood in the light of the “whole package,” i.e., everything that’s involved in our testimony of salvation. We hear the gospel, we believe it, we realize we’re sinners and repent, we pray for God to save us because of the death of Jesus on our behalf and his resurrection as proof of God’s confirmation; then, with a clear conscience, we obey Jesus in water baptism as our public profession of faith. Peter’s use of baptism here represents this whole process of our commitment to Jesus as our Savior and Lord.

 

Where is the Revelation’s Babylon?

Q. Which city will be Antichrist’s headquarters that will be destroyed in Revelation chapters 17-18? Harold Carpenter, Micco, FL

A. Your question is answered in Revelation 17:18. Antichrist’s headquarters is called “Babylon.” Did you know that Babylon is mentioned in the Bible more than any other city except Jerusalem? But, names in Bible prophecy may have symbolic as well as literal meanings. Revelation 18:11 refers to Jerusalem spiritually as Sodom and Egypt. So, Babylon is a symbolic name as well as the name of a literal city.

Isaiah 21:9 predicted it, and Revelation 14:8 and 18:2 say, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen.” That says to me that there are 2 ways Babylon is said to fall in the last days. I think Revelation 17 refers to the fall of religious Babylon, and chapter 18 describes the fall of governmental and commercial Babylon, Antichrist’s headquarters. However, Bible scholars disagree as to whether these are 2 designations for the same city, or if they are 2 different cities.

Babylon is the symbolic name in Revelation 17 for the false religion called the great whore, full of blasphemies and abominations. Revelation 17:9 makes it plain that this Babylon is located in Rome, the city which sits on seven hills. Antichrist’s second in command, the False Prophet, will divide his religious functions between Rome and Jerusalem, but many scriptures teach Jerusalem will not fall. His unification of all false religions which will lead the world to worship the Antichrist is called the “mystery (religion of) Babylon the Great,” started by Satan. Genesis 11 introduces that religion of the first Babel as embodied in a tower which would reach toward heaven. Many Bible teachers think it was to be an observatory from which Satan introduced the astrological gods of the zodiac.

The Babylon in Revelation 18 which is the governmental and economic center for Antichrist may be literal Babylon in Iraq. Saddam Hussein started rebuilding that ancient city which will have to be completed in the last days. If so, then Satan is going full circle to the place where he devised the first governmental and religious rebellion against God. However, many scriptures including Jeremiah 50:39-40 say that Babylon, once destroyed, would be deserted forever.

Others see no division between chapters 17 and 18 so that governmental Babylon is also located in Rome. Revelation 18:20 would seem to apply to Rome more than the Iraqi Babylon because of the many prophets and apostles, including Peter and Paul, who were killed there. It makes more sense to me that the “Revised Roman Empire” would be centered in Rome! No matter which city is implied here, the message is plain: “Babylon is fallen, is fallen!” Jesus will win over all his foes!

 

What is the Gap Theory?

Q. Please explain the Gap Theory associated with Genesis 1. Doug Street, Taipei, Taiwan

A. Some Bible students believe there should be a gap, time-wise, between the first 2 verses of Genesis 1. They summarize this theory as old earth/young life. In the King James Version those verses read, “(1) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (2) And the earth was without form, and void….” (Some versions use the original Hebrew dual form, “heavens.” This refers to the atmospheric heaven where the clouds are as well as the spatial heaven where the stars are.)

Those who say there may have been a gap of perhaps thousands of years base their theory in part on a word in verse 28 which the King James translates as “replenish.” They say for something to be replenished, first it had to be “plenished.” However, that word simply means “to fill.” Also, they point out that the verb “was” in the second verse can mean “became.” So, they read that after God created the heaven and earth, the earth became without form and void. The reason for this, they say, was a cosmic cataclysm resulting from the rebellion of God’s angels.

Advocates of this theory believe that the accounts of angelic rebellions and their resulting fall happened in an earlier age before man was created. Here, they place such scriptures as Isaiah 14:12, Ezekiel 28, and Luke 10:18. This fits well with those who hold to theistic evolution, i.e., that God created everything but used the process of evolution over thousands of years. They say dinosaur remains and other extinct fossils actually came from this pre-human age. Those same teachers usually believe the 6 days of creation were 6 indefinite periods of time. Knowing some people would think that, God clearly stated that an evening and a morning made each 24 hour day. And, the Bible repeats it in Exodus 20:11 spoken by God’s own mouth.

The problem with these theories is that they add to the record God has spoken and preserved for us. Jesus said in John 17, “Thy word is truth.” Further, Paul wrote in Romans 5:12 that sin and death came into the world by Adam. Yet, if the angels’ sin caused death in the world thousands of years before Adam, then Paul is lying. The more we try to change the Bible to make God say what we want him to say, the deeper we dig our own pit. Surely God is capable of saying what he means and meaning what he says.

 

Why is homosexuality wrong?

Q. Why does the Bible say homosexuality is wrong? Kali Miller, age 13, Richmond, VA

A. Kali, I’m glad you didn’t ask why God hates homosexuals! God makes it plain in his Word, the Bible, that he loves everyone. John 3:16 reminds us that God so loved the world (everyone in the world) that he gave his only begotten son (the only son God humanly fathered) that whoever believes in him (Jesus and what he did on the cross) will not perish (spend eternity in Hell), but have everlasting life.

Peter also recorded in his second epistle chapter 3, verse 9, that “The Lord is…longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Three times in Ezekiel God said he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. So, God loves each of us – and we’re all sinners, because no one but Jesus was ever perfect. But, God is holy and he cannot abide in the presence of disobedience. It is sin when we disobey the rules God gave for our good. When people choose to disobey God, the act of their sin is what the Bible says in wrong.

Now, you’re asking a good question: What makes homosexuality wrong? To answer that we have to go to the beginning of Creation. When God created the first couple he gave them his Prime Directive. God told them in Genesis 1:28 to multiply and fill the earth. Why did he say that? Because Revelation 4:11 says we were created for God’s pleasure. In John 15 Jesus called us God’s friends. So, God made male and female to have children who will love God so God can have more friends to give him pleasure. Obviously, homosexuals can’t produce children to be God’s friends. Therefore, theirs is a sin against God’s Prime Directive.

Homosexuals are not bad people, but they’ve made a bad choice. Since God has spelled out in such places as Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27 that homosexuality is a sin, people are obviously not born that way. God wouldn’t condemn their actions if they couldn’t help it. And, the fact that many former homosexuals have changed their lifestyle also means they weren’t born that way. Therefore, consciously or unconsciously, people choose that lifestyle when God has warned us not to do it. Yet, the good news is that God came in the person of Jesus to pay sin’s death penalty for everyone who turns from sin and asks God’s forgiveness. And, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, God promised that he will help us overcome any temptation. So, anyone who is trapped in any sinful habit can have victory over it with God’s help.

 

How was Joseph a type of Christ?

Q. What do preachers mean when they say Joseph was a type of Christ? R. E. Johnson, Suffolk, VA

A. Webster’s second definition for type as a noun is “a sign; a symbol; a figure of something to come.” There are many people, things, and events recorded in the Old Testament which Bible teachers may compare as types of Christ. That is, God was using them to demonstrate some prophecy that Jesus would fulfill later. The Ark with its one door is a type of Christ’s being God’s one door to salvation. Abraham’s effort to sacrifice Isaac is a type of God’s future sacrifice of his Son, Jesus. Moses’ leading Israel from bondage through the Wilderness of Sin (Sinai) to their Promised Land is a type of Christ’s leading his followers at last to Heaven.

Perhaps the most obvious type of Christ in the Old Testament is Joseph, son of Jacob (Israel). As Jesus is the main character in the New Testament, Joseph is the main character in the book of Genesis. His story occupies more chapters than any other character, covering Genesis 37-50.

Consider a few other comparisons with Jesus: Joseph was Israel’s favorite son, beloved of his father and hated by his brothers. At Jesus’ baptism God said, “This is my beloved son!” Joseph’s father gave him a glorious robe just as Jesus is crowned with glory and honor. Of course, Joseph wasn’t perfect but no sin is recorded against him. Jesus lived a perfect life of example for us never committing any sin (Hebrews 4:15; 9:28). Joseph was misunderstood by his brothers and hated for telling the truth about the prophecies he received from God. Likewise, Jesus was hated by those to whom he delivered God’s truths.

Eventually Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, kept under sentence of death, and sold for the price of a slave. Yet, Joseph had done no wrong. Jesus was betrayed for the price of a slave and sentenced to die, although Pilate found no fault in him (John 19:4). Joseph was kept in prison and brought forth to be elevated to second in the kingdom of Egypt. Isaiah 53:8 predicted Jesus would be in prison, and tradition says he was kept in Caiphas’ private prison the night of his trials. Upon his resurrection Jesus arose to the right hand of the Father. Joseph forgave his brothers because he loved them before they even knew about him. In his high position he took care of his family and fed them, just as Jesus loves and cares for his followers. Later, Joseph sent transportation for his family to bring them to his home where he had provided all they needed. One day the angels will take us to the mansions Jesus is preparing for those who love him (John 14).

Joseph had a gentile bride unknown to his brothers; but, when they saw him in his glory they met his gentile bride. The Jews today do not accept the Church as God’s gentile bride; but, when they receive their Messiah in his glory, he will present the Church as his bride without spot or blemish. Then, the family of God from both covenants will be complete in God’s home.

I think the most amazing thing about Joseph’s being a type of Jesus is his Egyptian name which Pharaoh gave him. He was called Zaphnath-paaneah. This literally means, “Your God has spoken it.” But, we could paraphrase it today as, “The Word of God!”

 

Who was Melchizedek?

Q. Who was Melchizedek and why does Hebrews 7:3 say he had no father or mother? Charles Richland, Louisville, KY

A. Melchizedek, also spelled Melchisedec, is a mysterious character mentioned in 3 Bible passages, each written hundreds of years apart. Scholars have debated for centuries who this man was. Mel first appears in Genesis 14 after Abraham had defeated the invaders of Sodom and Gomorrah and rescued his nephew Lot. As Abe was passing the future location of Jerusalem, called Salem then, the city king came bringing bread and wine to refresh his army. His name, Melchizedek, means “King of righteousness,” and Salem means “peace;” so this man was “King of righteousness and peace,” titles later used for Jesus. Abraham recognized him as “the Priest of the Most High God.” When Mel blessed Abraham, Abe gave him “tithes of all.”

Many questions arise here: How did this believer show up here? How did he know about Abe’s God? How did Abraham know he was the priest of the same God Abe worshipped? This is the first mention of tithes. How did Abe know that giving tithes to God is acceptable worship? The law of the tithe wasn’t stated until Leviticus 27? Psalm 110 is an amazing prophecy of Jesus having triumphed in Glory and sitting at the right hand of his Father. David heard God swear that Jesus would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The writer of Hebrews chose to expand on that in his chapters 5, 6, and 7. As you mentioned, he wrote that Melchizedek had no father or mother, no beginning or end of days. That simply means we don’t know his lineage and we have no record of his birth or death. A Jewish priest had to prove his lineage from Aaron and the tribe of Levi. But, Jesus was appointed our eternal High Priest by his Father. Hebrews 7:9-10 says the fact that Abraham worshipped Melchizedek meant, in type, that Aaron and Levi, still in his loins, acknowledged his priesthood as greater.

Without confusing you any more, let me simply point out the similarities between Mel and Jesus. Jesus was of a different priesthood like Melchizedek, since he was not from the tribe of Levi or Aaron. As God, Jesus has always existed without heavenly birth parents. Since the High Priest was appointed for life, Jesus is our High Priest forever. Mel came from Jerusalem bringing bread and wine! Of what does that remind you? Personally, I think that, perhaps, Melchizedek was a preincarnate appearance of Jesus to Abraham. John 8:56 records Jesus as saying Abraham saw his day and was glad. After all, Jesus appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush and as the Fiery Pillar. That was at the beginning of the Jewish nation. Why wouldn’t he appear to the “father of the faithful” who started it all? Just as he used bread and wine to symbolize his New Covenant with his Church, perhaps those same ingredients were a symbol of the Abrahamic Covenant to bless the world through the Descendant of this man of faith. But, as himself, Jesus couldn’t make that covenant with Abraham. He was not the priest of the Old Covenant; he was the Sacrifice!

 

Is the Rapture near?

Q. Do you believe the Rapture is near? Jane Newbill, Suffolk, VA

A. Many signs pointing to the “snatching away” of believers are being fulfilled all around us; however, unlike those who set this coming May 21 as the date for the Rapture, I don’t believe in setting a date. Jesus said in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows the day nor hour of his return.

Some of those signs Jesus predicted in Matthew 24 are: our hearing of wars and rumors of wars, false messiahs, the gospel preached all over the world, persecution of believers, a falling away of many who once claimed to believe, increase of iniquity, and upheavals in nature such as famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. We’ve had those things to happen individually, but Jesus warned in verse 33 to note when all of them happen in rapid succession. In verse 34, Jesus said that nation (Israel, or this present age) wouldn’t pass away before all these things happen. Then, in verses 37-41 he described conditions of the Rapture.

Bible scholars differ on the timing of other end time prophecies, as to whether these will happen before or after the Rapture: a confederacy of Russia with the Islamic nations attacking Israel as described in Ezekiel 38-39, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the establishment of Babylon (or Rome) as a world capitol, compromise toward a world-wide ecumenical religion (such as “Chrislam” which is now trying to unite Christian and Islamic worship), and one man claiming the ability to solve the world’s problems. Paul warned in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 to beware when the whole world seems to be moving toward peace and security.

Personally, I believe most of the remaining prophecies will happen after the Rapture. Yes, I do believe the Rapture is nearer than we may realize! Why? Because I think the last 2 signs to be fulfilled before Jesus’ return for his Church happened when Israel was regathered as a nation in 1948 and when satellite communication made it possible to beam the gospel all over the world. I think the present world-wide calamities mark the beginnings of God’s trying to get our attention. And, Romans 8:22-23 says the earth is groaning for its redemption from the curse of sin. I believe it’s time to make peace with our Maker and heed Luke 21:28 which says to lift up our heads because our redemption is drawing nigh!

 

Should we celebrate the death of Bin Lauden?

Q. I’m glad Osama Bin Laden has been stopped from the crimes he committed, but should we be celebrating the death of a fellow human being we assassinated without benefit of a trial? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A. Many people have been voicing this same concern on Facebook and Fox News, and it erupted into a long discussion in my weekly Bible class this past Tuesday. The comments I’ve heard from most Christians are that they feel relief at this milestone in the War On Terror, but at the same time they wonder what this teaches the younger generation about the value of human life.

While one of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20 is usually rendered, “Thou shalt not kill,” the actual translation from the Hebrew is “Thou shalt do no murder.” Murder carries the idea of forethought with malice, or intentional killing, one on one, in anger or retribution. Therefore, this Commandment really doesn’t speak to killing in war or in defense of life or home. For Israel, God gave cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6) for those who unintentionally killed another person. And, in Genesis 9:5-6 God established capitol punishment. At other times God actually commanded the killing of Israel’s enemies.

While I’m not justifying what was done to Osama (Usama in Arabic), I’m pointing out that the rules for killing in war time are different from individual murders in peace time. And, we are in a War On Terror. National enemies are often killed when they threaten our military. Bin Laden would surely have killed our Seal Team if they had not made the preemptive strike. And, it was he who began this War on 9-11. As far as a trial, Bin Laden video-taped his own confessions and has since bragged publicly about those and others he killed.

Yet, I’m glad that even those who are not professing Christians have adopted our Judeo-Christian values, and they feel bad about the killing of another person. All this is what we need to explain to the next generation.

 

Why is the Resurrection so important to our belief?

Q. What part does the resurrection of Jesus play in our salvation? Rich Forsen, Romania

A. The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christian faith. Everything that Jesus did or taught is verified by the resurrection. Luke 24:46 says the resurrection was a necessary part of the gospel account. In fact, the resurrection is the icing on the cake of salvation. It proves Jesus was who he claimed to be. Since life and death belong to God alone, only God can raise the dead. If Jesus were a charlatan God would not have raised him!

First Peter 1:19-20 and Revelation 13:8 teach that Jesus was the Lamb of God who, before the creation of the world, was destined to be slain for our sins. He died in our place so our sins would be absolved and we could have unhindered fellowship with God. But, who would want the love and friendship of a dead God? Jesus had to be alive to enjoy our company!

The resurrection was such an important part of God’s plan that God had the Old Testament prophets to predict the resurrection thousands of years before it happened. Job 19:25, Psalm 16:10, Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 are a few of those predictions. Jesus, himself, predicted his death and resurrection on the third day. Matthew 12:39-40; Mark 8:31; Luke 18:33; and John 2:19 record his prediction in each of the Gospels. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul made the death, burial, and resurrection the key ingredients of the gospel he preached. Jesus died to pay the penalty of our sins and satisfy his own laws; he was buried to prove he was dead and to conquer the grave for all who believe in him. Then, he arose under his own power to prove he’s the Son of God. First Corinthians 15:20 calls Jesus’ resurrection the “firstfruits” of all believers. That means he became the example we will follow.

Romans 10:9 says, “If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That says to me that the resurrection is not an option; you must believe it to be saved. If you don’t believe Jesus arose, then he never died or he is still dead. In either case, he can’t be your Savior. If he did arise as he predicted, he is all he claimed to be: the Son of God who will judge the living and the dead at his Second Coming. Be sure you settle your case out of court!

 

What happens to people who do not choose Jesus?

Q. If God made everyone with free will, the ability to make voluntary choices, what will happen to the people who reject Jesus’ offer of repentance? Jim Ballou, Petersburg, VA

A. You’re correct in stating God made all people with free wills. Even the angels had the choice to serve God or reject his Lordship. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 seem to describe the wrong choices of Satan when he rebelled and led 1/3 of the angels to follow him (Revelation 12:3-9). Genesis 3 shows that Adam and Eve had the freedom to choose to obey God or eat from the forbidden tree. When they disobeyed, being the parents of all humanity, they brought the consequences of sin upon their progeny and all creation. So, it isn’t the ability to choose that’s wrong, because that’s a characteristic of all those made in the image of God, but it’s the result of our choices that can be fatal.

Each time God allows a free choice, he warns against the wrong choice and clearly states its consequences. Yet, a part of our humanness is that, at some time in life – and more often than not, we will make choices that are against God’s plan for the race. Romans 3:23 says all have sinned. Romans 6:23 warns that the penalty for sin is spiritual death, which is separation from God – the Source of Life – in eternal punishment. Those same verses also tell us how we can escape the outcome of our sins. If we never sinned, we could remain in perfect fellowship with our holy God, but our sins break that fellowship and insult God. Being holy and just, God must punish sin as he said he would; but being pure love, he prepared a way for us to be forgiven and restored to fellowship with him.

God put on a human body and came to earth as the sinless man Jesus to die in our place and pay the penalty of our sins (John 3:16). When we approach God in repentance and faith we are justified as if we never sinned. Repentance means, not only an attitude of true regret for our sins, but the determination – with God’s help – to try not to return to those sins. Faith means we receive what the Bible says about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. That faith leads to a commitment to live for Jesus as our Lord. There is no other way to return to God (John 14:6).

God has revealed himself in his creation and warned us in his Word. The way to be forgiven is stated throughout Holy Scripture, explained by believers, and illuminated with conviction by God’s Holy Spirit so that no person is without excuse (Romans 1:20). God doesn’t want anyone to spend eternity in Hell (2 Peter 3:9), but he will honor our ability to choose because he made us that way. We should follow the example of Joshua who said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

 

Why did the Jews hate the Samaritans?

Q. Why does John 4:9 say the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans? Clarence Potter, Chapel Hill, NC

A. The Jews had an ongoing feud with the Samaritans from the time they returned from Babylonian captivity. Bible students call this the Samaritan Schism.

When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was conquering most of the Middle Eastern world, he used a tactic designed to keep his captives from uniting and rebelling. He played a kind of “Fruit Basket Turn-Over” by moving large populations of countries to different locations. So, when he took most of Judah to Babylon he resettled other people in their place.

Not all the Jews were carried off. The elderly and sickly were left, and many Temple scribes were left to care for them. With the country almost vacant, the scribes and other able-bodied people moved into the plantations on the rolling pasturelands of Samaria. These intermarried with those who were brought in, so that the Samaritans were no longer a pure Jewish race. Seventy years later, when the Jews returned, the Samaritans came to help rebuild Jerusalem. The Jews called them “half-breeds” and sent them home! The Samaritans built their own temple which the Jews considered pagan. The feud grew, and by the time of Christ, the Jews hated the Samaritans so much they crossed the Jordan river rather than travel through Samaria.

But, John 4:4 says Jesus had to go through Samaria. Why? Because he had a divine appointment with a woman there who later said she believed when Messiah came he would teach her about God (verse 25). Later, to shame the Jews for their prejudice, Jesus made the main character in one of his parables a Good Samaritan (Luke 10); and the 1 leper of 10 in Luke 17 who returned to thank Jesus was a Samaritan. On a side note, the scribes later became so wealthy they hired servants to copy the scrolls. They became the lawyers who interpreted the Laws of Moses and gave Jesus much opposition.

In John 4:26 we find an important revelation. It was to a sinful Samaritan woman that Jesus announced he was the promised Messiah! Jesus was not prejudiced, and he taught his followers to respect all people.

 

What is the curse of Ham?

Q. Please explain the curse of Ham in Genesis 9. Terri Allen, Richmond, VA

A. After the Great Deluge you would think people had learned the dangers of sinning. But, mankind was still mortal; and even the heroes of the Bible continued to sin as Satan was striking back. Noah had preached righteousness and warned against sin for 120 years. After the Flood Noah set out the grape plants he brought on the Ark, and this stalwart man of faith got drunk sampling his wine. Genesis 9 tells how he lay uncovered in his tent in a drunken stupor. Satan must have given one of Noah’s sons, Ham, the idea to visit his father at that very moment.

The word “saw” in verse 22 implies that Ham gazed with interest on his father. There’s no indication this was a homosexual act. I think it simply means that Ham took delight in learning his strict father had “feet of clay.” Ham couldn’t wait to tell his brothers. Of course, he couldn’t know that one of the Bible’s great warnings is against malicious gossip that tears down a fellow human being (Leviticus 19:16; 1 Peter 3:10; Ephesians 4:31). His brothers were more considerate of their father and covered his nakedness. When Noah sobered, someone must have told him what Ham had done. Surely, it broke his heart to learn of his son’s disrespect.

Following this, Noah made a prophecy about his sons’ progeny that came true. Other Old Testament patriarchs gave such prophecies before they died (Genesis 49; 50:24; Deuteronomy 31). What has been called “the curse of Ham” and used to justify subjugating one group of people was actually a pronouncement concerning Canaan, Ham’s son. Knowing the character of Canaan, Noah – aided by God’s Spirit – prophesied that Canaan would be a disappointment to Ham just as Ham had disappointed his father. The word usually translated “curse” may also mean to be abhorred or shunned. Noah had no reason to curse Canaan; he was simply stating a future fact. Although history has shown that Ham was the father of many people who settled where the environment turned their skins dark, there’s no indication that God intended any “race” to be inferior to another.

The word translated “servant” in the King James Bible could be understood as “steward.” The descendants of Shem (the Middle Eastern, Asian, and Mesopotamian nations) and those of Japheth (the European and Western World nations, including the Americas) would live in cooperation with each other. The descendants of Ham through Canaan (the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the nations of China and Japan, and the African and American Indians) would not readily be accepted by the others. Yet, as stewards, they have provided the world’s physical sciences of agriculture, architecture, medicine, mathematics, commerce, and communication. These 3 streams of humanity are not really 3 races because we all have descended from our fathers, Noah and Adam.

 

In Matthew 5:43 and 22:39, Jesus taught that we should love everyone as we love ourselves. a prophet in America today?

Q. Do we have a national prophet in America today? If not, does that mean God is finished with our country? Marion Baker, Richmond, VA

A. Dr. Billy Graham was our last national prophet. For decades he has been pastor to our presidents and has always drawn huge crowds. He was virtually recognized as the voice of God calling and warning, not only in our country, but around the world. Now, for health reasons, he’s unable to function effectively in that office. Billy Graham’s son Franklin heads up his organization, but he hasn’t achieved the recognition of his father. I know we have some great pastors and evangelists who extend their ministry beyond their local communities. Yet, none of these seem to be as well received as Dr. Graham has been.

Like you, I’m anxiously awaiting the next man of God. I think we can agree that our nation, which was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, has fallen far from those ideals. I pray for a national prophet to call our country back to God. At the same time, we must not put words in God’s mouth and say he’s given up on America. Biblical history records decades and even centuries where God was silent until he was ready to send a prophet. Probably the longest time would be the inter-biblical period of 400 years when we have no Bible record of a national spokesman for God in Israel.

Yet, we wonder if the lack of a national spokesman is God’s way of warning us that we have departed from the faith once given to us (Jude 1:3). Numbers 32 records God’s warning that if people who have known him turn away from him, he will depart from them. Amos 8:11-12 is most pitiful when it says, “Behold, the days come, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.” Peter warned in 2 Peter 2:21 that it would be better not to know the way of righteousness than to know it and turn from it. Read the entire ninth chapter of Daniel to see how the people rejected God’s prophets and what he did. But, read on to see Daniel’s prayer of repentance. Where there’s life and faith, there’s hope. We have God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that, if we return to God, he will heal our land. May it be so in our lifetime!

 

Do I have to close my eyes to pray?

Q. Do I have to pray out loud for God to hear me? When I say my blessing out loud at school, I get funny looks! Kortney Jones (age 5), Prince George,VA

A. Kortney, I’m glad you’ve asked me this question! Let me tell you several things about prayer that you may not know:

(1) God can read your thoughts, so you don’t have to pray out loud for him to hear you. Talking to God is like thinking it in your mind. In Matthew 6:6 Jesus said prayer is private, like being in a closet in your mind.

(2) Jesus said, in Matthew 6:8, that our Heavenly Father knows what we’re going to ask before we ever pray! So, you may ask: “Why do I need to pray if God already knows what I’m going to say?” Our prayers are more for us than they are for God! When we have asked for something, and we get it; then we remember that we asked God for it. When we realize that God has answered our prayers, we thank him. Knowing that God hears and answers our prayers strengthens our faith in him, and we will trust him more.

(3) God had rather have you talk to him in your own words than say a memorized prayer that you may not mean. In Matthew 6:7 Jesus said we shouldn’t use vain repetitions. Sometimes in church we say the same prayers and sing the same songs that may not mean anything to us any more.

(4) You don’t have to close your eyes, or bow your head, or get down on your knees to pray. We teach young children to do that so they will be still and respect God when they pray. And, it’s alright to continue to bow, or kneel, or close your eyes. But, you can pray any way. Jesus prayed looking up to Heaven. You can pray while you ride to school, or play at recess, or do your school work. Just talk to God in your mind. He loves for us to talk to him about everything.

Some teachers may say you shouldn’t pray in school, but I think a lot of prayers go up in school, especially during tests! I commend you for giving thanks for your food. That makes us different from animals! I’ve never seen a dog pray before he eats, have you? Jesus set an example for us by always praying before he ate. And, I’m glad you pray even if you get funny looks. It really doesn’t matter what others think; God is pleased when you ask him for what you need and thank him for answering your prayers.

 

What part does repentance play in our salvation?

Is God preparing the world now to receive the Antichrist?

Q. Is God preparing the world now to receive the Antichrist? Michael Hathcock, Colonial Heights, VA

A. I don’t know if God is “preparing” the world or if he’s just letting the world come on its own to that climax of history! Certainly, God foreknew that one day the world would bow to a Christ-imitator when it rejected the true Christ. God prophesied it as early as Genesis 3:15; and he sent a vision of the end in Daniel 7. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 Paul gave us the time when a future world leader would come to power, and John described him in Revelation 13. His end is foretold in Revelation 19 and 20.

Revelation 18 uses apocalyptic imagery to tell us the reason the world will turn to Antichrist. Primarily, it will be a world-wide economic collapse that leaves the world in chaos so that one man will rise to the top peacefully and be given authority to solve those problems (Revelation 6:2).

Dr. David Jeremiah reminds us that in 1944 when the world was rebuilding after World War II, the Brettan Woods Agreement settled on gold as valued by the U.S. dollar to be the international monetary standard for world currency. However, President Nixon did away with gold in order to let us set our own value for the dollar. Since that time we have printed money as needed without gold to back it. That’s causing the value of our dollar to go down while our debt, along with the interest on it, continues to rise. The world is watching this. If the dollar fails, the world’s economy will go down with it. That may set the stage for a one-world government to try to bring order to turmoil. Even now, world rulers and governments are being unseated as the poor masses seek a better way of life.

It would seem we’re right on track! But, the good news is: That’s not the end of the story. One day God will say, “That’s enough!” And, God’s Prince of Peace will establish everlasting righteousness. Until then, he promises to keep the souls of his children safe and come for his own before the final pandemonium. Even though God’s Word is sure to happen, we don’t know his timing. We’ve been through depressions and recessions before, and this scenario may not happen in our lifetimes. Remember, therefore, that Jesus told us not to be troubled when we believe in him (John 14).

 

If Jesus had a human mother, how could he be sinless?

Q. How could Jesus be sinless when he had a human mother? Pauline Cloud, Colonial Heights, VA

A. The answer to your question lies in one of our major Bible doctrines: the Virgin Birth of Jesus.

When it comes to the Virgin Birth, most people are divided into 1 of 2 camps. If they don’t believe the Bible, they either ridicule this idea or reject it completely. Those who ridicule this doctrine have no answer to your question. They may profess to believe in Jesus as their Savior, but reject that Mary was a virgin. They don’t realize the importance of believing the sign that God gave in Isaiah 7:14 and Luke 1:34 to identify his Son.

Those who reject this doctrine deny the deity of Jesus and make him just another man. They scoff at a man being born without a father and say it’s impossible. But, God specializes in the impossible; that’s one of the qualities of being God. Yet, such beginnings are not unknown today. In nature there are species that reproduce without a separate father. Many plants have the characteristics of both male and female within them, and they

self-pollinate. Reproducing a rose bush from a grounded stem, rooting a plant from a cutting, or cloning a sheep are all examples of births without fathers.

Doctors know a child’s blood characteristics are set by the father. A child may have a different blood type from his mother because their blood never mixes. The fetus receives nourishment through his/her mother’s cell walls. Having a human mother doesn’t make us sinners. Geneticists have determined that the chromosome that gives a person the ability to choose between values – to determine right or choose to sin – that chromosome comes from the father, not the mother. Jesus could have a human mother and not be a sinner.

On the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16:24 says the High Priest had to make a sacrifice for his own sins before he could offer a sacrifice for the sins of the nation. Because Jesus had a divine Father, the Holy Spirit, he had his Father’s blood qualities and he could live without sinning (Luke 1:35). If Jesus had been conceived of a human father he would have been a sinner, and no sinner can save another sinner. But, praise God, it was holy blood that was shed at Calvary – holy enough to cover all our sins (Hebrews 10:10). If your Jesus wasn’t virgin born, he couldn’t be your Savior.

What is the Scriptural meaning of water and blood?

Q. What do you think is meant by the water and blood in 1 John 5? Rev. Andre Best, Chesterfield, VA

A. Depending on their level of spiritual maturity, Bible students may draw different meanings from Scriptures that contain allusions or figures of speech. That doesn’t mean one person’s understanding is better than another’s. This has happened among theologians with different explanations for the water and blood in 1 John 5:6-8 and John 19:34.

First John 5 says Jesus came by water and blood, and John 19 tells of water and blood from Jesus’ side at his crucifixion. Then, 1 John 5 adds that the Father, the Word (the Son), and the Holy Ghost bear witness in Heaven; and the Spirit, the water, and the blood bear witness on earth. We wonder what John meant.

Some teachers have said that John’s reference to water and blood refers to the baptism and death of Jesus, encompassing the period of his earthly ministry. God spoke at Jesus’ baptism, affirming Jesus as his Son. And, the Spirit had predicted the events of Jesus’ death which were authenticated by the earth quaking and the sun darkening when their Creator died. Also, John 19:34 says water and blood came from his side when Jesus died. This could indicate heart rupture to prove Jesus was really dead. Those events at the Crucifixion caused the Roman executioner in Matthew 27:54 to cry, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”

Although the above is true and may be the better answer, I prefer the simplest explanation. First John was written to dispel the Gnostic heresy at the end of the first Christian century that denied the humanity of Jesus. They said it was an illusion to think that God would take a human body and die since a holy God would not be associated with sinful man. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John 3:6, he used water to refer to physical birth (“the water birth”); therefore, blood would mean physical death. The Holy Spirit uses these two events – the virgin birth and the death of Jesus, and everything in between – to show that Jesus was fully human and divine. The Triune God in Heaven agrees that the man Jesus was no illusion. Also, the Spirit uses the life and death of Jesus to testify that the God-Man came to earth. God is witnessing to the world that Jesus is his Son. In personal faith, we, too, must claim that God came as the man Jesus to live and die so we might be saved.

 

Are lawmen and soldiers breaking the 6th commandment?

Q. When people kill in self-defense, as with soldiers and police officers, are they breaking the 6th commandment? Harold Carpenter, South Hill, VA

A. The Ten Commandments were given to Israel at Sinai as a framework for their part in God’s covenant with them. All the other regulations of the Old Testament are applications of the Ten Commandments.

In receiving them, Israel became caretakers of universal laws which they have passed on to all humanity. Such scriptures as Isaiah 2:3 teach that God’s laws are intended for all people. The rest of the Old Testament shows how God was growing Israel toward the ideals of a new covenant as expressed in the New Testament. Today, we know the commandments are guidelines for our relationship with God (the first 4 commandments) and our relationship with our fellow man (the last 6 commandments). Diagram their directions, and they become a cross pointing to the God-Man who fulfilled them for us (Matthew 5:17). Therefore, under Christ’s New Covenant, we don’t keep the commandments to be saved, but we’re on our honor to try to keep the spirit of those laws because they please God and they’re good for society. Further, God has given his Spirit to apply his will for his people today.

The Hebrew word in Exodus 20:13 translated “kill” is ratsach. It comes from a root meaning “to dash in pieces.” It’s translated almost equally in the rest of the Old Testament to refer either to accidental slaying or intentional murdering. It’s never used as a prohibition in battle or for capitol punishment. Many times, God led the Jews to battle in defense of their way of life and beliefs. Likewise, our soldiers and law men and women sometimes have to kill to protect themselves and our social values. We should be grateful for them, voicing our thanks often. I don’t believe they’re breaking the 6th commandment.

Of course, Jesus gave us a new and better standard in teaching that we not hate, but love our enemies. In imitation of him, we turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, and give to those who would take from us (Matthew 5:39-41). Like our Lord, we are to bless those who curse us, and pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Filtering the commandments of the Old Covenant through the grace of the New Covenant is God’s ideal for society.

Why are there so many animal deaths in 2011?

Q. What do you believe is happening with the recent deaths of so many fish, birds, and animals, as well as upheavals in the heavens and on earth? Christy Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. Only what I hear and read over the Internet and news: Near the first of January, about 5,000 birds fell out of the sky in a 1 mile radius in Arkansas. Scientists said they were liquefied inside and were dead before they hit the ground. The same phenomenon was reported about the same time in Louisiana, Arizona, and Sweden. A short time later, 100,000 fish washed up from the Arkansas River, and masses of dead fish were reported in Australia and New Zealand. Forty thousand dead crabs washed up in England, and 200 cows fell dead in 1 Wisconsin field all within the first 2 weeks in January. I understand many buffalos and seals have died, also.

Add to that the recent rash of UFO sightings and the baffling account of the sun arising over Greenland 2 days early. Astronomers have always predicted when Greenland’s winter darkness would end, but for the first time on record the sun began to shine 48 hours before their prediction. And, we hear of flooding in places like Australia where it rarely floods. Now, a typhoon is bearing down on them threatening more floods. Monster storms are bringing blizzards and flooding across America; Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan are in turmoil with rioting in the streets; and economies all over the world are on the verge of collapsing. Like you, I ask what’s happening?

Physical explanations have ranged from too many New Year’s fireworks exploding in the atmosphere, to a shift in the earth’s magnetic field, or holes in the Ozone layer. Others blame climate change or the world’s end supposedly predicted by the Mayan calendar. I understand the Mayans didn’t predict the end of the world; they just ended their projected calendar. (It had to stop some time; maybe their stylus broke or they ran out of stone slabs!)

As I said a couple of columns back, perhaps this is God getting our attention. Such scriptures as Hosea 4:1-3 and Matthew, chapter 24, describe times like these when people have turned away from God. Or, maybe God is letting Satan prepare the world to accept his man, the Antichrist. I’m not a doomsday prophet, but I believe all the signs have been fulfilled for Jesus to rapture his followers at any time (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Although that may be years away or tomorrow, when believers are removed the tribulations of Revelation, chapters 6-18 will be the vanguard before Jesus returns to judge the world in righteousness (Revelation 19:11). Until then, God wants to be our refuge and strength if we will call on him (Psalm 46:1).

 

Will we see the Kingdom of Heaven come?

Q. Please explain the apparent contradiction between Luke 17:20 and 21:11. Will we see the kingdom of Heaven come or not? Rory Johnston, Las Vegas, NV

A. Luke 17:20 in the King James says, “When he (Jesus) was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation” (parenthesis added). That last word in the original language literally means “inspection,” or something you can see with your eyes. So, Jesus was saying, “God’s kingdom isn’t something you can see.”

Later, Jesus’ disciples asked him about the coming kingdom, and Jesus said in Luke 21:11 that it would be accompanied by “fearful sights and great signs.” I agree: This certainly sounds like it could be a contradiction with what he said previously.

However, I believe the resolution lies in understanding the 2 audiences to whom Jesus was speaking and the 2 kinds of kingdoms. In Luke 17:20 Jesus was answering the Pharisees who were his enemies. They were unsaved and, therefore, unspiritual. They were always trying to trap Jesus. After Jesus performed the amazing miracle of healing 10 leprous men, the Pharisees “demanded” of Jesus a question intended to discredit him. His answer to them was that they couldn’t see the spiritual reign of God because he reigns in the hearts of his subjects (verse 21). This is the same answer he gave Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus didn’t understand the spiritual kingdom of God until he allowed the Holy Spirit to give him new life by faith in Jesus. The unspiritual can never understand spiritual things.

In Luke 21 Jesus was answering the questions of his followers who were already saved because they believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah. They were asking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the end of this age. Jesus said that would be preceded by visible signs. Some of those signs are listed in Luke 21 and Matthew 25. We know they will precede the coming of Jesus who will then set up his Millennial Reign on earth. Those who enter that physical kingdom must have already invited King Jesus to reign spiritually in their hearts by faith. The great signs and wonders which precede Jesus’ return are for the unsaved in hopes that they will repent and turn to God before it’s too late. When Jesus starts his descent, all decisions for Christ will be locked in place with no opportunity to change then. “I wish we’d all been ready!”

 

What is the sign of the son of man?

Q. What do you think the “sign of the Son of Man” will be that heralds the Second Coming of Jesus? J. B., Richmond, VA

A. You’re referring to Matthew 24:30 where Jesus predicted in the King James Version, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven….” Unlike some popular Bible fiction writers who dramatize the Second Coming, I don’t think a blazing cross, or any other wonder, will appear in the sky several days before the Second Coming of Jesus.

In answer to his disciples’ questions at the beginning of the chapter, Matthew 24 records Jesus’ abbreviated description of the threefold plagues detailed in The Revelation’s chapters 6-18. These supernatural judgments will be a 7 year fanfare announcing the entrance of the King of Kings. If the unsaved world hasn’t believed after those outpourings of wrath, they wouldn’t believe a blazing cross in the sky. Anyway, Jesus said in Matthew 24:36 that no one knows the day or hour of his coming. And, he said in verse 27 that his coming would be sudden like a flash of lightening. These testify against another sign marking his entrance.

Two other scriptures mentioning a like sign can help us understand this “sign” in Matthew 24. Isaiah 7:14 predicted a sign from the Lord that a virgin would bear a son. The primary sign there wasn’t the virgin, but the son, who was promised repeatedly since Genesis 3:15. Then, in Luke 2:12, the angel announced that the sign was fulfilled by a baby in a manger. Again, the sign wasn’t the swaddling bands or the manger; the sign was the baby! He’s the sure sign of God’s love.

Therefore, I believe the sign of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 24:30 was HIMSELF appearing in the sky. The word “of” could be implied but it isn’t in the original Aramaic, so a good punctuation of that verse might be: “And then shall appear the sign – the Son of man in heaven.” The Message Bible paraphrase agrees by printing that verse as: “The Arrival of the Son of Man….will fill the skies.” Right now there are signs all around us – the beauty of God’s world, the wonder of his creations – that should draw a thinking person to seek to know God who has revealed himself in Jesus.

 

Is it wrong to request rebaptism?

Q. Is it wrong to request rebaptism? Clarke Blankenship, Chester, VA

A. We are only saved once and it cannot be repeated (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:10). Baptism is a symbol of that once-for-all salvation and, as such, it doesn’t need to be repeated (emphasis on need). The order Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19 commands that we disciple the nations first. Scriptural baptism should follow salvation as a testimony of one’s identification with Christ. Both salvation and baptism should be requested by those old enough to know they’re entering a life-commitment to God.

Baptism by immersion, when the candidate is dipped under water, is a visual identification with and re-enactment of the gospel. We’re saved by believing that Jesus died, was buried, and arose soon to be reunited with his Heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). When we let the preacher start lowering us into the water, it’s an act of submission and obedience just as Jesus was obedient unto death (Philippians 2:8). When we go all the way under the water, we’re enacting the experience of Jesus’ burial in his tomb under the earth (Romans 6:3-4). Then, we’re lifted up by the preacher just as the Father vindicated the Son by resurrecting him from the dead. This is a testimony of our belief in that gospel truth for our salvation (Romans 10:9-10).

Jesus is our pattern in all things. He was dedicated as a baby in the Temple, but he requested as an adult to be baptized. He wasn’t baptized to be saved because he was already the perfect Son of God. After all, John’s baptism in Mark 1:4 wasn’t a baptism of the New Covenant. He didn’t know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Being the son of a priest, John was a priest under the Old Covenant and his baptism was the same as a laver-washing of the Jews before they served God. It was an act of repentance, praying their sins would be forgiven. Therefore, it needed to be repeated each time someone began service in the Tabernacle or Temple (Exodus 40:30-32).

So, there’s nothing wrong in repeating baptism as an act of dedication just as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper often to remember and rededicate ourselves to Jesus. This August, Lord willing, I will offer rebaptism in the Jordan on our Holy Land trip. Most of those pilgrims will have been baptized before, but I see nothing wrong with repeating it in the same river where our Lord was baptized. I don’t believe it’s wrong to repeat sincere vows that honor the Lord.

 

Is God speaking through natural calamities?

Q. Because of the many natural disasters we heard about this Christmas, I wonder if God is trying to get our attention. Nancy Voigt, Colonial Heights, VA

A. There are always natural and man-made disasters but we’re more aware of them at Christmas. That’s because the original message of the angels in Luke 2:14 told of God’s desire for peace on earth. Therefore, at Christmas more than any other time, our hearts empathize with those who are hurting. We are touched by those who have lost property or lives in floods, fires, tornados, accidents, sickness, or war. It’s good that we share their grief because Jesus taught us to care. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said when we help a brother or sister in need, we’re honoring him.

And, God is always trying to get our attention. He speaks to us in the wonder of nature, through the Bible, by his Spirit and through his messengers. Although he may not necessarily cause afflictions, he may allow the consequences of a rebellious world and wrong choices to draw us to ponder him. Yet, Scripture does record many times when God used turmoil in nature to show his displeasure. The worldwide Flood of Genesis 7 is an extreme example. But, lesser examples are found in such passages as 1 Samuel 12:18 and 1 Kings 18:45. In Matthew 24, Jesus predicted upheavals in nature that would be signs of his soon return. The disasters we’re hearing about now well could be the beginning of sorrows referenced in Matthew 24:8.

Matthew 5:45 records Jesus saying that, in mercy, God sends sun and rain to everyone. He may or may not cause our problems, but he wants to give us peace in our storms. Jesus said in John 16:33 that we’re always going to have tribulations in this world, but we can have cheer knowing that he has the power to overcome them. I like the old saying that God may not remove our difficulties but, if we ask him, he will hold our hand as we walk through them. Although we should be listening continually for God’s voice, when calamities get our attention it’s always appropriate to consider if God may be speaking. Our answers will come in prayer and meditation on his Word.

 

What are the 12 days of Christmas?

Q. Where did we get the custom of celebrating 12 days of Christmas? Dianne Gillam, Jarratt, VA

A. Marking 12 days to celebrate Christmas is not a Biblical custom. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong; it’s just not mentioned in the Bible as a practice of early Christians.

As far as I can tell, this tradition began in the Greek and Roman Churches. It was popularized across Europe and England. Each country added their particular practices so that not all religious cultures give the same meaning to those days or conclude them the same way. Some traditions lead up to the baptism of Jesus rather than the coming of the Wise Men.

Colonists from the Old World brought these traditions with them. Today, many churches that observe a liturgical calendar include the Twelve Days of Christmas. These liturgies are not bad; they’re intended to give guidance to Christian celebrations and make them more meaningful. However, many Americans have dropped this particular ritual in favor of the commercial customs of Christmas which include shopping and exchanging gifts, giving parties and planning New Years celebrations.

Matthew 12, as well as Mark 2 and Luke 6, record how the legalists of Jesus’ day spoke against him and his disciples for not observing the practices of men. All of Matthew 12 records Jesus’ response. Paul warned in Galatians 4 about returning to the bondage of keeping special days more than a personal relationship with Christ.

For many, the rituals of their faith have deep spiritual meanings that are beautiful and draw them closer to God. Please remember, however, that choosing to celebrate traditions that are not spelled out in God’s Word is strictly a personal preference and should not be forced on anyone. They certainly should not imply a lack of spirituality if one doesn’t observe them. As always, how we feel led to celebrate our faith remains personal for each individual.

 

What did Paul mean by “in Heavenly places”?

Q. In Ephesians 6:12 Paul refers to spiritual forces of evil “in the heavens.” Can evil be in Heaven? Victor Flanagan, Gainesville, TX

A. Several times in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians he used that phrase. It’s variously translated in different versions as “in heavenly places,” “in the heavenly world,” “in the heavenly realm,” “in high places,” or “in the spiritual world.” The literal translation from the Greek in Ephesians, chapters 1, 2, 3, and 6, is “in the heavenlies.”

“Epouranious” may refer to any one of the 3 heavens Paul inferred in 2 Corinthians 12:2. The ancients called the atmosphere around us the first heaven. That’s where the clouds are. The second heaven is the spatial heaven where the stars are, and the third heaven is the spiritual Heaven of God’s home. The context usually tells us which heavenly realm is intended.

Since God created all things, he allows evil to exist. Evil is really the absence of good. Therefore, there’s a sense in which evil once existed in Heaven when Lucifer and his angels rebelled, but God cast them out. In Luke 10:18 Jesus said, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” Yet, we know from Job 1:6 and Revelation 12:10 there is still on-going communication between God and Satan. Revelation 12 is set in the future when Michael and his Heavenly army will defeat Satan. Until then, Ephesians 2:2 calls Satan the “prince of the power of the air.” His realm seems to be in the first heaven now. Therefore, Ephesians 6:12 probably refers to those unseen evil forces in the air around us. Paul calls them, “principalities, …powers, …rulers of the darkness of this world, …spiritual wickedness.”

I don’t think Paul means to say there’s evil in God’s home now except when Lucifer (Satan) comes to tattletale. So, let’s emphasize the positive use of “in the heavenlies” for those who are saved. In Ephesians 1:3 we’re told that all spiritual blessings are stored there awaiting our use, and in 2:6 Paul infers that our salvation is so secure our spirits already have reserved seats in Heavenly places.

 

Will my pets go to Heaven?

Q. Can I expect to see my pets in Heaven? Christopher Stawarz, Prince George, VA

A. God doesn’t really tell us in the Bible what happens to animals when they die. Animals are different from people. They aren’t created in the image of God, and God didn’t send Jesus to die for animals like he did for you and me. So, we are much more precious to him. But, I think God likes animals. He created so many of them when he made the world. Genesis 1:25 says after God made all the animals he said it was good. In the next verse God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the animals. I think that means they were to watch over the animals. Remember, also, that Genesis 6 says God cared enough about the animals to put some of them on the Ark so they wouldn’t be annihilated by the Flood.

When Jesus returns, he will set up his millennial kingdom on the earth. Animals will be part of that kingdom. Isaiah 11says wolves and lambs will live together; cows and bears will eat together, and leopards will lie down with baby goats. Little children will play with them without being hurt. I also read in Revelation 19 where certain animals will be in Heaven. The Heavenly army that descends with Jesus will ride on white horses.

Jesus said in Matthew 6 and 10 that God feeds the birds and knows when a sparrow dies. If God knows and cares when a tiny bird dies, surely he understands our grief when we lose a pet which has been like a member of our family. Jesus promised that Heaven will be a place where we have everything we need to be happy. If that includes the pets we’ve enjoyed on earth, then God may have them waiting for us there. For now, however, our greatest anticipation for there should be seeing Jesus and our Heavenly Father face to face.

 

Is Thanksgiving a Christian holiday?

Q. Is Thanksgiving a Christian holiday and, if so, why? Dr. Don Crain, Mechanicsville, VA

A. Christianity is actually a Judeo-Christian faith, rooted in the Old Testament and expanded in the New Testament. Any old covenant precedent that isn’t set aside in our new covenant is available for Christian use. So, we ask, “Is Thanksgiving Biblical?”

Although not a holiday, the first mention of thanksgiving in the Bible is found in Leviticus, chapter 7, where Moses gave instructions for an offering to restore peace with God. There, Israel was told they might include an offering of thanksgiving with their peace offering. This was optional, because in chapter 22, God said sacrifices of thanksgiving were to be self-initiated and of free will.

In Psalm 35 David said he would offer thanks before the congregation in public worship. In fact, the giving of thanks is the theme of many Psalms, such as 30:4; 50:14; 69:30; 95:2; 100:4; and the many other times they enjoin us to “Give thanks unto the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” This was also Daniel’s habit to offer thanks 3 times every day. But, is it continued in the New Testament?

Yes; 8 times in the gospels Jesus, himself, gave thanks before eating or feeding others. In Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21 Jesus said thanks in his public prayers, and in John 11 he offered thanks before raising Lazarus. In Luke 17 Jesus commended the one leper out of ten who returned to give him thanks for being healed. Paul admonished the Ephesians in 5:20 to give thanks in the name of Jesus for all things. Even the angels who live daily in God’s presence will offer thanks in Revelation 7:12. In Revelation 11:17 they’ll be joined by all the saints in Heaven thanking God for his awesome power.

I believe Thanksgiving transcends any religion and is appropriate everywhere because it springs from the heart’s desire to show gratitude. We’re fortunate that our forefathers and leaders today in America have set aside a season to encourage national Thanksgiving to God.

 

Tell me more about angels.

Q. I’m fascinated by angels. Can you please comment on their creation and purpose. Anonymous, Prince George, VA

A. The Greek word for angel is aggelos, meaning messenger. The context tells us whether aggelos refers to an earthly messenger, such as in Revelation 2-3 and 2 Corinthians 12:7, or a heavenly being. Genesis 1:1 says that on the first day of Creation, shortly before God created the earth, he created the heavens. That’s when he must have created the beings who dwell there. Job 38:7 tells us the angels sang as God finished his creation.

Psalm 104:4 says God “makes his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire.” There, we learn that God created them as spiritual beings to minister to himself. Hebrews 1:14 says they also serve those who are saved. But, we shouldn’t pray to angels; God directs them. Being spiritual, they’re invisible until they choose to appear in physical form. And, David could only describe their nature as something like fire. Since Satan was first created as the angel Lucifer, God gave angels the ability to choose whom they will serve. Those angels who chose to rebel with Lucifer are called demons.

Daniel 10:13 names a demon the prince of Persia and Michael one of God‘s chief princes. Michael is also the only Archangel and Captain of the Lord’s army (Jude 1:9, Revelation 12:7). These titles indicate angelic ranks and orders such as Cherubim, Seraphim, and angel hosts. Gabriel is a special messenger-angel mentioned in both the Old and New Testament, so angels are ageless. Angels are called “sons of God” in Genesis and Job because God created them for his “family.”

Lord is a title used for one special Old Testament angel, The Angel of the Lord. This angel is addressed in Hebrew with the definite article and speaks interchangeably as if he were God. We believe The Angel of the Lord is Jesus in the Old Testament. We think angels are special; but, in reality, humans are more special to God. We alone are created in his image with the capacity to be his friends, share his love, and reign with him. First Corinthians 6:3 says Christians will judge angels. God never loved angels enough to die for them as Jesus did for us!

 

Why are there different versions of the Bible?

Q. With the 2011 edition of the New International Version of the Bible just released it causes me to ask why Bibles need to be updated. Nat Fleming, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Every Bible you read today in English is a translation from the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic (the vernacular of the day, such as the red-letter words of Jesus). Since Jesus didn’t speak 1611 King James English, even that favorite version is a translation.

Biblical translation is not an exact science because the accuracy of any translation from an ancient language hinges on the knowledge of the translator. Problems arise when we may not have English words to adequately translate the original meaning. Or, if we did translate something literally, those words might have a different meaning today. Yet, the miracle of the Bible is that God’s Spirit has inspired it, preserved it, and translated it so that we may read and understand the words God intends today. Isaiah 55:11 assures us that God’s Word will not return to him with no effect, but it will accomplish his purpose.

As discoveries are made of more ancient manuscripts, we come closer to learning the meaning of the original texts. Even when no new manuscripts have been found, archeologists might make a significant discovery of how the people lived. For example: We might learn that shepherds kept their flocks differently from what we thought, and that could change how the translators write the shepherd passages. Bible versions need updating when today’s language differs significantly from older versions or from the original intent of the Biblical writer. Since we no longer say “thee“ or “thou,” versions in today’s language are easier to understand.

However, we can rest assuredly that God’s Spirit guides the translations to say what he allows. Second Timothy 3:16 says all Scripture is inspired (God-breathed), and Hebrews 4:12 says it’s quick (alive). That’s because the Holy Spirit adapts it to each person’s needs. I’m told that comparisons of all versions from various manuscripts have shown no more than a 1.6% variation in meaning, and none of the vital doctrines of salvation are affected. But, what’s printed with ink in a book isn‘t as important as how each person receives and obeys what he or she understands to be God’s message. Second Corinthians 3:3 says believers are God’s epistle to others, written not with ink or in tablets of stone, but written by God’s Spirit in the fleshy tablets of our hearts.

 

How should we pray?

Q. When I have a long prayer list, how should I pray so that it doesn’t become a burden? Bob Grosz, Sandston, VA

A. Let me first answer another question on prayer that I also received this week: “To whom should we pray: to the Father, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?” In Luke 4:18 Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” That Trinitarian quote from Isaiah 61 shows all three persons of the God-Head in one person, Jesus. So, I answer the above question by asking how you would address your earthly father. Would it matter if you call him Father, Daddy, or by his given name? No, because he’s one person known by many names. Think of God as one Being whom we may address as Father, Jesus, or Sweet Spirit. What’s important is that we call on him often!

 

As for a long prayer list, why not divide it so that you pray for a different group each day? Personally, I think I would reserve Sunday just to praise God and not ask for anything. On Monday I might pray for myself and for provision and guidance for the coming week. I would want to allow some quiet time to listen to what God may impress upon my mind. The rest of the week I could take a specific day to pray for family, friends (including those who are sick or bereaved), national and world needs, and denominational partners and mission needs around the world. On Saturday I might pray for my church leaders and their preparation as well as for the unsaved to whom I’ve witnessed during the week. Of course, every day I should be open to God’s leading and voice any other concerns that come to mind. A prayer journal could help me remember these requests as well as record what God has said to me and how he’s answered my prayers.

First Peter 5:7 says we should cast all our cares upon God because he cares for us. God doesn’t want our time with him to be burdensome because Jesus said he already knows all our needs before we ask (Matthew 6:8). Further, Romans 8:26 says God’s Spirit is constantly interceding for us, anticipating our unspoken or even our unknown needs.

 

Why did God give 2 different covenants?

Q. Why do you think God gave two covenants and special relationships with two people groups in the Old and New Testaments? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A. A covenant is an agreement between two parties in which each promises to do specific things. We can know from the record that God has chosen to relate to his creation in two covenants. The book of Hebrews elaborates on these. The Old Covenant made with the Jews at Mt. Sinai was centered around God’s Law. Just as children in kindergarten have to know the teacher’s rules, the Old Covenant illustrated God’s expectations of holiness and corresponding punishments when the race was young. God raised up and honored Abraham’s descendants as the participants of that covenant. As children will do, the Hebrews often failed and received many spankings.

Then, as mankind grew to know more about God and we had his desires recorded for us, God treated us with more latitude in a New Covenant of Grace. This is made with both Jews and Gentiles who are born again into his Church by faith in God’s Son Jesus. Now, anyone may choose to be a partaker in this covenant. Because of God’s love for us, the writer of Hebrews shows how the newer covenant supercedes the older one. Here, when we fail – as we all do – God has placed the ultimate consequence of sin on Jesus who’s strong enough to bear its punishment for us.

These covenants are recorded, not to help God remember his part; rather, they’re spelled out and preserved for our benefit so that we may be warned and also have hope in specific promise-blessings from God. Since God’s character is one of righteousness and orderliness as well as love and grace, the warnings are as much a part of the covenants as the blessings. But, under Grace those who trust in Jesus are given many chances to learn from our failures.

Neither of these covenants automatically involves everyone. As with any covenant, the two parties must willingly agree to its terms. John 3:16 tells how we may enter into covenant with our Creator when we personally place our faith in Jesus as our Savior.

 

Where are we told that Satan talks with God?

Q. Is the book of Job the only place where Satan converses with God? Does Satan talk with God now? C. H., Sutherland, VA

A. The Old Testament book of Job is believed to be the first Bible book to be written down. When most people couldn’t read, some families made their history into a poem which was memorized and passed through generations. Most of the book of Job is written in that style of crude poetry. Perhaps Moses, or some scribe of his day, recorded Job’s story.

Job’s book begins with God’s bragging to Satan about his servant, Job. There, Scripture plainly teaches that God and Satan converse, and we can make God proud when we serve him faithfully. Revelation 12:10 says, still today, Satan continually accuses us day and night before God. That’s one reason why it’s so very important that Christians refrain from sinning. The word Satan means “adversary,” and Devil means “accuser, slanderer.” That’s what Lucifer now has become to everyone who wants to serve Jesus. As Satan points out our flaws, Jesus, our Advocate, has to come to our defense (1 John 2:1).

Other scriptures also record where God speaks to the Devil. Zechariah 3:2 shows God rebuking Satan when Satan opposed one of God’s high priests. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Jesus’ speaking to Satan during 40 days of intense temptation. Today, God allows Satan to think he is the Prince of the Power of the Air (Ephesians 2:2). But, in the last half of the final Tribulation, Revelation 12 says Satan will be cast to the earth. At that time his communication with God will be cut off. In his anger the Old Serpent will persecute the tribulation saints. But, our defense against him for all ages is found in Revelation 12:11, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

 

Proof why we won’t lose our salvation

Q. How do we know we won’t lose our salvation? Stephen Mast, Glen Allen, VA

A. A major teaching of the Bible is that salvation, once received, cannot be lost. In John 3:14-16 Jesus said that anyone who believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. If it’s eternal, it can’t be lost. John 6:37 says Jesus will never cast us out. John 11:26 says whoever lives (spiritually alive) and believes on Jesus will never die (spiritually). In Romans 10:13 Paul wrote that everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. It doesn’t say we’ll be saved some of the time and lost at other times. Ephesians 1:13-14 says believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit who is our guarantee of Heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that we are saved by God’s grace and not by anything we do. It is a gift from God. If we have worked to earn it, we can lose it; but if it is gift from God, we never lose it! Titus 3:5-7 teaches the same thing as Ephesians 2:8-9. 1 John 5:11 says God has promised eternal life through his son, Jesus.

I like Ephesians 6:17 describing our Spiritual Armor. There, salvation is pictured as a helmet covering our minds, not our emotions. We’re not saved because we feel like it. If so, on the days we feel bad, we’d be lost! Our salvation is based on the fact that Scripture says God has chosen us before the foundation of the world. He knew who would respond to his Spirit. If you believe you’re saved because you must hold onto God, you can lose that salvation. John 10:29 teaches that our Heavenly Father holds onto those who trust in Jesus, and he will never let us go. The Seven Spirits before God’s Throne picture the complete Holy Spirit bringing every believer home (Revelation 4:5). How can we witness to others if we don’t know we have the product? God wants us to know we’re saved in order to convince others to trust him. Ephesians 5:30 says we are the flesh and bones of Jesus, and John 19:33 says none of Jesus’ bones were broken on the cross. Let our motto be: “God said it; I believe it; that settles it!”

 

Praying in Jesus’ name

Q. When we pray in Jesus’ name, why don’t we always get our request? Evelyn Entsminger, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Jesus gave a promise to his disciples in John 14:13-14, and he repeated it in John 16:23-24. That promise was that whatever they asked in his name would be granted by his Father in Heaven. That began the custom Christians still practice today of ending our prayers “in Jesus’ name, amen.” Amen is a transliteration of the same Hebrew word meaning, “So be it; this is the truth; I agree with this.”

To be honest, we have to admit that our prayer requests are not always granted even when we pray in Jesus’ name. That causes many folks to reach one of the following conclusions: Either (1) Jesus was lying; (2) John misquoted him; or, (3) we misunderstand how to pray in his name. Since Jesus is God and his Word is truth (John 17:17), we can rule out numbers 1 and 2. That leaves us with number 3: We have misunderstood this promise.

Please note: This promise has nothing to do with closing our prayers, “in Jesus’ name.” That’s not a magic phrase, nor is prayer a blank check, to get anything we want. In the Bible, “name” means character. To pray in Jesus’ name means to ask in the character of Jesus and for a purpose for which Jesus would ask. In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Matthew 7:7 lists 3 ways we may get our answers: Sometime we ask and we have it immediately. Sometimes, God gives us the joy of searching for and finding his answer. At other times, we just have to keep knocking until the time is right for God to answer. His answers may be, “Yes,” No,” or “Not now.” But, if our request will honor Jesus and his Father, we’ll have what we need when we need it. It may come immediately, later, or in Heaven. However, there’s one prayer God will always answer. It’s the same one Jesus prayed in the Garden: “Not my will, but thine be done. (Luke 22:42)”

 

Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart and send 10 plagues?

Q. Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart and send 10 plagues on Egypt? Andy Mullins, Chattanooga, TN

A. When the Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, their captors were polytheistic. After almost 400 years maybe a few Jews still practiced Abraham’s faith in One God, but they had no specific beliefs to pass on. Remember that the Jewish faith was not organized until their sojourn at Mt. Sinai after they left Egypt. Likely, many Jews were tempted to worship Egypt’s false gods.

I believe God had a two-fold purpose: (1) To defeat the 10 Egyptian god groups Satan had inspired and (2) to impress upon Israel that he was the true God. In order to do that, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart until he struck at all 10 god groups. The number 10 is a complete, earthly number.

The first plague aimed at the worship of the Nile, but also at Hapi, the spirit of the Nile; Khnum, the guardian of the Nile; Nu, the god of life in the Nile; and Tauret, the hippopotamus goddess of the Nile, couldn’t live without its waters.

Hekt (or Heqt) was pictured as a woman with the head of a frog. Frogs were sacred, and killing them was often punishable by death. Geb was the god of the dust of the earth which God turned to lice, or fleas. The priests acknowledged in Exodus 8:19 that the finger of God was against them, because they were unclean if touched by an animal or insect. The fourth plague was of “swarms,” possibly biting flies or scarab beetles. The insect god, Khepri, had the head of a fly. The fifth plaque was of murrain, a deadly disease of cattle and sheep. This was against Apis, the bull or golden calf, who represented the god, Ptah, and his wife, Hathor, who had the head of a cow.

The plague of boils was likely skin anthrax which produced running sores on everyone’s knees, legs, and feet. That’s why Exodus 9:11 says the magicians couldn’t stand before Moses! This was against Seraphis, the god of healing; and Imhotep or Isis, along with Thoth, who were the gods of medicine. Hail was against Nut and Horus, the god and goddess of the sky. Seth, the crop god, couldn’t defend against locusts. Amen-ra, the sun god, couldn’t stop 3 days of total darkness. Lastly, the Pharaoh himself was the embodiment of all Egyptian gods, but he couldn’t stop the death of his own and every other first-born son. Only Yahweh is sovereign, and he can do as he will with his creation, especially those who are sold out to Satan.

 

Does the Old Testament predict major events in Jesus’ life?

Q. I know Isaiah predicted the birth and death of the Jewish Messiah, but does the Old Testament prophesy any other events he would fulfill? Rev. Daniel Krynauw, Pattaya, Thailand

A. Yes, the Old Testament records some amazing prophecies forming a chronological pattern Jesus fulfilled exactly! However, most of these prophecies were not recognized as predictions of their Messiah. God gave them to Moses at Sinai in the Jewish Levitical calendar of holiday feasts. When the Jews observed those holidays, they were actually celebrating future life events of their Messiah. Colossians 2:16-17 says these feasts were a shadow of things to come.

The Jews observe the Feast of Tabernacles variously from mid September to mid October. John 1:14 literally says Jesus “tabernacled” among us, implying that he knew Jesus was born during Tabernacles. All able-bodied men had to go to Jerusalem for that feast. That’s why Joseph had to make that trip even if he had a pregnant wife. That’s also why the inns in Jerusalem were full. Mary and Joseph had to find lodging in a stable in Bethlehem. We have known that December 25 is a guess about when Jesus was born, but maybe God lets us celebrate that date because it might be when Mary conceived Jesus in her womb.

The next feast is Passover in the spring. Jesus fulfilled all requirements to be our Passover Lamb, even to dying on Passover Day. Passover was observed after sunset on Thursday, which Jews considered to be Friday. Later on that same Friday Jesus died. The Friday of Passover week was also the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Leaven, or yeast, represented sin. The Jews swept all bread with yeast in it out onto the ground. Jesus, who was without sin became sin for us and was buried in the ground on that day. The Sunday after Passover was the Feast of First Fruits. Jesus became the first fruit of many resurrections when he arose on that day. Fifty days after Passover was the Feast of Pentecost. That’s the spring grape harvest festival. Peter reaped the first Christian harvest when the Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus that day and 3,000 were saved from Peter’s preaching. The final major feast was Trumpets in late summer. There was no reason for the Feast of Trumpets except to call the faithful back to God after a long, hot summer. First Thessalonians 4:16-17 says one day the Trump will sound and Jesus will rapture his children home! “I wish we’d all been ready!”

 

What about angel titles and rank?

Q. Why are angels addressed by different titles? Are there ranks among angels? Judy Beach, Richmond, VA

A. The Greek word for angel is aggelos. It means messenger. The scriptural context tells us whether aggelos is referring to an earthly messenger as in Revelation 2 and 3 or a heavenly being.

Genesis 1:1 says that on the first day of Creation, when God created the earth, he also created the heavens. That’s when he must have made the spiritual beings who dwell in them. Job 1 says the angels sang as God finished his creation. God created all the angels to serve him. Since he gave them minds with the ability to choose, he allowed some of them to rebel and follow Lucifer who became Satan, our adversary. Those unholy angels are called demons.

Angels are mysterious, fascinating beings. One way we learn about them is from their scriptural titles. Daniel 10:13 calls one of Satan’s demons “the Prince of Persia.” That same verse also addresses Michael, one of God’s holy angels, as “one of the Chief Princes.” These titles indicate ranks among angels. This is confirmed in Ephesians 6:12, which may be a listing of the ranks in Satan’s kingdom. The Bible mentions a variety of angels: Cherubin, Seraphim, the only named Archangel Michael, the messenger angel Gabriel, the rebelling angel Lucifer, the “Hosts of Heaven” meaning God’s angel army, and the only 2 female angels with wings in Zechariah 5:9.

Isaiah 28:2 calls one of God’s angels “Mighty One;” Daniel 4:13 calls an angel “Holy One.” Scriptures like Job, chapters 1 and 38, call angels “Sons of God,” as does Genesis 11. “Lord” is a title used for one special Old Testament Angel, called “The Angel of the Lord.” This Angel is always addressed in the Hebrew with the definite article. He is the Angel who spoke to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3. This Angel speaks as if he were God. Indeed, we believe “The Angel of the Lord” was a preincarnate appearance of Jesus before he was born of Mary.

We think of angels as being special because they may enter God’s presence to serve him. In reality, humans are more special to God than angels. We alone are created in his image with the capacity to be his friends, share his love, and reign with him. First Corinthians 6:3 says Christians will judge angels. God never loved angels enough to die for them as Jesus did for us!

 

Will we see the Trinity in Heaven?

Q. When we get to Heaven will we see God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost or will we just see one? F. W., Prince George, VA

A. The Bible gives us many foretastes of Heaven. Some of those passages describe the appearance of the God-head there. Keep in mind that God is a Spirit; as such, the Trinity is a mystery we cannot comprehend in our flesh.

The Revelation, chapters 4 and 5, pictures 24 elders around God’s Throne. I believe these represent the saints of both the Old and New Covenants. There, God the Father is on the Throne, Jesus is the Lamb before the Throne, and the Holy Spirit is represented by 7 lamps burning before the Throne. The God-head is separated in these chapters. I believe this pictures our worship in Paradise right after our Rapture, but it’s full of symbolism.

Hebrews 12:23-24 is another passage that separates Jesus from the Father. It’s intended to remind us of our joyful, yet awesome, relationship with God. The writer says we approach the new Mount Zion, the home of God, the Judge of all, and Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant. This is not intended to be a literal description of Heaven as much as it is a warning against refusing God when he speaks to us. Yet, these verses do separate the God-head.

First Corinthians 15:24-28 predicts the time when our salvation will be complete and Christ will deliver the Kingdom to his Father. Verse 28 says, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” This verse may teach that, after Jesus and the Holy Spirit have done their separate works for our salvation and edification, they will reunite in the God-head that “God may be all in all.”

The Old Testament offers several pictures of God as One Being on his Throne. However, the New Testament seems to teach that we will behold the Persons of the Trinity by their separate relationships to us on earth. When their work is done, we will know them in eternity as the one God proclaimed in Deuteronomy 6:4. In the Hebrew, the Shema reads, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our Gods (plural) is one Lord.” That gives a hint of the Three-In-One, even in the Old Testament. Please read John 17:20-24 for Jesus’ own answer to this question. There, Jesus prayed to the Father that we may be one as he is one with the Father and that all who love him may be with him in Heaven to behold his glory.

 

Who is the Spiritual Israel today?

Q. Who is God’s spiritual Israel today? Van Rowe, VA

A. When Paul was converted on the Damascus Road, Acts 9 records where God commissioned him to preach the gospel to the gentiles as well as Jews and kings. A gentile is anyone who isn’t a member of Abraham’s family through Isaac.

It was Paul, therefore, who cleared up this question of God’s spiritual Israel since the Jews had rejected their messiah. He argued in Romans 4 that the blessedness of having our sins forgiven comes by grace, not by the works of the law. Verse 16 says that, for those who hold the faith of Abraham, he is the father of us all – even gentiles! Further, Paul wrote in Galatians 3:7, “Know, therefore, that those who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” And, he reiterated in verse 29, “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and his heirs according to the promise.”

In Romans 9:6-8 Paul also wrote, “They are not all Israel, who are of (the nation of ) Israel: Neither, because they are the descendants of Abraham, are they all his children….That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but believers in the promise are counted as his seed” (Italics added). What promise is he talking about? God’s promise to make Abraham a great nation through his Seed, that is, the promised Messiah (Galatians 3:16).

Does that mean God has forsaken the national Jews today? Paul asked and answered that same question in Romans 11:1-2, “I ask then, Has God cast away his people? God forbid! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away his people whom he foreknew.” Romans 4:3 says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” His belief was that God would make of him a great nation through who would come a blessing to the whole world. That Blessing is Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). Paul said those who believe in him, whether they are Jews are gentiles, are the children of Abraham‘s faith, the spiritual Israel.

 

What will happen to those who die during the Tribulation?

Q. What will happen to the saints who die during the Tribulation, and will we all stay in Heaven for eternity or settle on a new earth? Gene Mims, prison counselor, Prince George, VA

A. Bible prophecy is hard to interpret, and I don’t claim to understand it any better than others with a decent knowledge of Scripture. However, I believe that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 predicts the first phase of Christ’s Second Coming which we call the Rapture. That’s when he will snatch up all living believers and raise the bodies of dead saints to take them to Paradise. That‘s where the spirits of the saved dead are already waiting with Jesus (Luke 23:43).

It is true that the Holy Spirit in the Church’s witness will be removed at the Rapture (2 Thessalonians 2:7). However, I think John’s Revelation, chapter 7, is showing that 144,000 Jewish believers in Jesus will preach the Christian gospel; and many people will be saved during those last years (verses 9-10). The Antichrist, called the first beast in chapter 13, will make war with believers in the One True God and be allowed to kill many of them. According to Revelation 6:9-11, those believers who are killed during the Tribulation will go to Paradise.

Those who have been saved and survived the Tribulation will welcome Christ at his coming and be the living citizens of his Millennial Kingdom on a renewed earth like it was in the Garden of Eden (Matthew 25:31-46). It’s difficult for me to imagine the already dead and glorified saints who’ve been in Paradise returning to live with mortals on earth. Perhaps, we’ll celebrate a 1,000 year honeymoon with Jesus in the Holy City circling the earth as a satellite. After the final Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20, Jesus will create a new heaven and earth where all the saved will live on earth for eternity (Revelation 21:1-2; Ephesians 3:21).

 

Where did Evil come from?

Q. If God created everything and everything God created is good, where did evil come from? Rory Johnston, Las Vegas, NV

A. This is a pertinent question because there are those who say if there is a God, he can’t be good because he allows harm to come to people. They ask, “Why doesn’t God answer prayers and keep bad things from happening to good people?” Some skeptics even take the argument farther to reason that if people are known by their works and bad people do bad things, when God allows bad he must be bad. We like to picture God as always acting in righteousness toward us. That’s true, but righteousness doesn’t mean he has to be good according to our estimation. Righteousness means God is always true to his own character, purpose, and timing.

John 1:3 says, “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” Genesis 1 says everything God created was declared to be good. However, God created us like himself with minds to make our own choices. We may choose to reject God and the good he intends for us. Where God and good are rejected we have evil. Just as cold is the absence of heat and darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. Evil is the result of what happens when men and women don’t have God’s love in their hearts.

We must admit that, since God created everything, he created Satan; and he even made possible the absence of good which we call evil. Yet, knowing that we might succumb to Satan and reject the good, God has written and miraculously preserved in the Bible instructions for how we are to use the goodness he has created so as to overcome evil. But, when we do sin we have a Savior, Jesus, who lived and died so that evil will be abolished one day. In the meantime, God offers peace, comfort, and hope to those who are plagued by evil and harm. Those gifts are available through our faith in the atoning work of Jesus who promised never to leave or forsake us.

 

Which is the best way to study the Bible?

Q. Can you tell me the best way to study the Bible? Almena Jones, Mandeville, Jamaica

A. There are many good methods for Bible study depending on whether you’re preparing to teach it, defend it, or meditate on it for spiritual growth. From the early church, we learn Lectino Divina, a Latin phrase for “divine reading.” That was an ancient practice of thoughtful reading and meditation with prayer for God to reveal his truths. Teachers today suggest you make Bible study a daily habit using a specific time and place and following a reading plan.

In Living by the Book (Chicago: Moody Press, 2007) Drs. Howard and William Hendricks suggest studying by observation, interpretation, and application. Observation includes reading the passage several times from different versions with prayer asking God to help you realize what he’s saying. Observe all you can about who wrote it, to whom, when, where, and why. You might imagine yourself there hearing it for the first time. Look for connecting words and phrases that refer you to something written before and study it in context. Watch for things repeated, emphasized, similar or dissimilar. Then, journal what you’ve observed so you can refer to it later.

After you’ve drained yourself of all you’ve gotten from a passage, interpretation includes consulting the many helps available in language study books and commentaries, from the Internet, or Bible scholars. Be sure you know the literature style: Is it allegorical, poetic, or narrative? Is it the writer’s personal thought, suggestion, or command? What part did local culture play, and how does it compare with similar passages?

Application might include meditation until it comes alive for you and then determining how you can live it or teach it to others. Psalm 119:11 suggests the best way to apply the Bible, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” That means if we study it, memorize it, and make it a lifestyle it will keep us from sin.

 

Why did God tell Israel to destroy their enemies?

Q. Why did God say, “Thou shalt not kill,” and then have Israel wipe out entire nations to get their Promised Land? Brandon Hair, Summerville, SC

A. While I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, I will share my personal opinions which you may take or leave.

First, the sixth commandment is literally, “Thou shalt do no murder.” That’s different from killing in a war or the state’s executing a murderer. Also remember that Psalm 24:1 declares: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Since God is the Sovereign Creator, every thing and all people belong to God to do with them as he wishes without answering to anyone.

I suggest you read Romans 9:14-24. Verse 20 is asking if people who were created have the right to question their Creator’s actions. It speaks to this very question using the example of God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart. God could harden Pharaoh’s heart because he may get glory from Satan’s followers anyway he wishes. However, I don’t believe God will overrule the wills of his children.

God owns the Promised Land because he created it. He chose to give it to Abraham and Isaac’s descendants long before Ishmael’s descendants settled there. If all those people sprang from Adam, Noah, and Abraham, then they had the knowledge of God at one time and many of them chose to ignore God. Romans 1 says everyone is without excuse because God attempts to reveal himself to all people.

The Canaanites had to be banished from the Land because, when they were left there, they tempted Israel to worship their false gods. The whole Bible story is much more than what we see on the outside; it’s a struggle between God and Satan. The Jewish people remind the world of God through their history of his miraculous dealings with them, so Satan always tries to remove them. But, God took the proactive step to rebut Satan’s strategy by ordering the removal of Satan’s followers.

 

Where did we get the titles for our church officers?

Q. Why do some churches have elders and bishops while other churches have pastors and deacons? Clarke Blankenship, Chester, VA

A. Throughout church history 3 primary forms of church government have developed with various combinations. The episcopalian form of church supervision is suggested by Titus 1:5 and 7 which mentions bishops and elders over churches. Traditionally, this has been the set-up of Episcopalian, Catholic, Methodist, and those who have a hierarchy with 1 person at the top. That person may be called a pope, bishop, elder, etc. For instance, A.M.E. Zion churches are African Methodist Episcopal churches. That means their members are usually African-Americans who follow Methodist doctrines with episcopalian administration.

Acts 15:6 gives an example of presbyterian management when, “the apostles and elders came together to consider the matter.” This is practiced by Presbyterian and other churches who allow a presbytery, or council, of elders, trustees, deacons, or stewards to make major decisions for the body.

The third form, congregational government, is implied in Acts 15:22, “It pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch…” This time the apostles and elders asked the opinion of the whole church. Baptists, congregational groups, and community Bible churches usually allow the whole church to vote on issues of importance. Each church determines the authority of its paid or voluntary staff.

Today, if a preacher starts his own church, he may call himself elder, bishop, apostle, or a title of his choosing. Elders may be an official office or governing body, or simply church members of long standing. Some churches use elders, fathers, and priests fill the function of pastor. Elders who rise to be over several churches are called bishops. In some churches, elders assist the pastor in making policy decisions while deacons primarily render physical service. This is Scriptural. Deacons were originally men ordained to serve Communion and relieve the apostles of menial tasks. The word pastor comes from the same root as pasture, “one who nourishes the flock.” Reverend began as an adjective but is considered a pastoral title today. As in any profession, those who have a terminal degree in their field of study may be called doctor.

 

Turn the other cheek

Q. Why did Jesus say we should turn the other cheek when someone hits us? Rory Johnston, Las Vegas, NV

A. Matthew, chapters 5-7, records the Sermon on the Mount. That’s the only sermon of Jesus which we have written in full. Does that surprise you? That calls attention to its importance. Like the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, this sermon comprises the platform of Christ’s earthly kingdom and the basis of everything else in the New Testament. Keep in mind that the Prince of Peace is establishing a Kingdom of Peace.

It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus would say, “Turn the other cheek.” It takes 2 to tango, and it takes 2 to fight! This was his own philosophy which he lived and practiced based upon his love for us: If someone wants your coat so badly that he takes it by force, give it to him because you must; then, give him your overcoat because you love him. If someone needs you to carry his burden 1 mile, carry it 1 mile because he needs you; then, carry it another mile because you love him (Matthew 5:40-41).

Jesus demonstrated that perfect love when he let Roman soldiers crucify him because there was no other way for us to be saved. As the gospel song says, “He could have called 10,000 angels…but he died alone for you and me.”

Practically speaking, we could say turning the other cheek gives the offender time to reflect on what he’s done. It also shows that we didn’t begin the confrontation because, as citizens of the Peaceable Kingdom, our desire is to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). This in no way conflicts with our protecting essential values. If all efforts at peace fail and you’re about to lose those things that are dear to you, then fight for them! But, let it be known that the conflict didn’t begin with you. Jesus intimated in John 18:36 that some things are worth fighting for. Paul, in his first and second letters to Timothy, taught that living our faith is a fight that he bravely endured; and Hebrews 11 lists the heroes of our faith who “were valiant in fight, and caused enemy armies to flee.”

Therefore, we turn the other cheek to identify with him who said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who’s in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

 

Corporate Worship

Q. What does the Bible say about the needs or requirements for corporate worship? Bo Godbold, Murrells Inlet, SC

A. Since the Bible is our guidebook for all matters of faith and practice, it has much to say about worship, both private and corporate. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two because God won’t accept our corporate worship if our private worship doesn’t precede it sincerely. However, I’ll list a few references that deal primarily with corporate worship.

We can imagine that Adam surely worshipped with his family and taught his sons how to sacrifice, and probably Noah’s family joined him in his sacrifices of thanksgiving after the Flood as recorded in Genesis 8. The first instance of the word “worship” is in Genesis 22:5 where Abraham and Isaac went to worship at Mt. Moriah. The first call of God for corporate worship is in Exodus 24 where God invited the leaders of Israel to come and worship him on Sinai.

From the first instance of worship by Cain and Abel, to Noah’s sacrifice after the flood, to Abraham’s offering of a ram in place of Isaac, Deuteronomy 26:10 continues the practice of bringing some gift to God in worship. Therefore, after presenting ourselves with a pure heart to worship God, he seems to be pleased when we bring an offering as Psalm 96:8 says. That leads me to say that the Psalms are full of injunctions and instructions for corporate worship.

By the middle of the New Testament the day for the Church to worship was the Lord’s Day, Sunday. At various places the Scriptures tell us to worship God with our whole heart, with tithes and offerings, in repentance and faith, in praise and singing, and in prayers of confession and petition. The Levitical choir led Israel in songs of praise at the Temple, and David even danced in public worship of God. Jesus worshipped at local synagogues by reading from God’s Word and commenting on its application. Also, 1 Corinthians 1:21 says God is pleased to save the lost by our preaching, so a gospel presentation with some kind of invitation in implied there. All these are patterns of corporate worship in the Bible that we still use today. Although we can worship God privately away from church, 4 times the Old Testament tells us to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, which is God’s House. In fact, Hebrews 10:25 commands that we not forsake assembling ourselves in worship with other believers at appointed worship times.

 

Daniel’s 70 Weeks

Q. Please explain Daniel’s prophecy of 70 weeks. Tommie Thompson, Orlando, FL

A. In Daniel 9:24-27, the Angel Gabriel told Daniel that God had determined 70 weeks (of years) to deal with the Jews and Jerusalem in order to “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” The word translated “weeks” is literally the word “sevenths.” Referring to years, 70 sevenths is 490 years left in which God would deal with the Jews before Jesus (“the most Holy One”) is anointed for his Millennial Reign. This prophecy has, and is, being literally fulfilled with 1 exception: that of an interlude between the 69th and 70th weeks of years.

Gabriel said the prophecy would begin when the king of their Babylonian/Persian captivity issued the decree that the Jews might return to rebuild their homeland. This happened in 445 B.C. Also note that Gabriel divided the 490 years into 3 parts: 7 weeks (49 years), 62 weeks (434 years) and the remaining 70th week (7 years). This amazing prophecy has actually come to pass this way: After 49 years of ministry and hard work by Ezra, Nehemiah, and others, Jerusalem’s streets and walls were rebuilt “even in troublous times.” After the dedication of Zerubbabel’s Temple and the city walls, another 62 weeks (434 prophetic years of 360 days each) takes us to the final week of Jesus’ life (the exact day Jesus made his Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem).

Jesus was cut off and crucified after 3 and 1/2 years of public ministry. Verse 27 could be a double prophecy, referring to Jesus at his first coming and to the Antichrist, “the prince that shall come.” The remainder of that 69th week was fulfilled when the Jews stoned Stephen and began persecuting the followers of Christ. When God called Paul to preach to the Gentiles, this marked the beginning of an interlude of unknown length. That interlude we’re in now is called the Church Age, when God is working through Christ’s Church. When God is through with the Church and raptures her, he will turn again to the Jews for 1 more week of 7 years. That’s Daniel’s 70th week, called a time of tribulation and described in John’s Revelation, chapters 6-18. At the end of that week of 7 years Jesus will return in his Glorious Appearing. Remember: Biblical prophecy is just history (His story) that hasn’t happened yet!

 

What are the rod and staff in Psalm 23?

Q. Does Psalm 23:4 mean that David would feel comforted even if God used his rod and staff to correct him? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A.Psalm 23:4 reads, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Some Christian interpreters and even Jewish expositors understand the rod and staff of verse 4 to refer to two separate instruments a shepherd might carry. I, myself, have thought of the rod as a short instrument used for defense against robbers or wild animals and the staff as a shepherd’s crook to guide or rescue the sheep. I have also pictured the rod as a means of disciplining a wayward sheep. Sometimes, a shepherd had to use his rod to knock an ornery ram on the head in order to get his attention! If these are true pictures, then David found comfort in believing that God would both protect and guide him while even correcting him for his ultimate good.

However, studying this phrase in Hebrew, many commentators say these words can be used interchangeably. Both “rod” and “staff” can be translated as a staff, walking stick, scepter, or rod. Sometimes, they referred to the two ends of the shepherd’s crook. A shepherd might call the walking-stick end his staff while calling the crook his rod. Thus, he would think of the one instrument as his rod-and-staff.

In Israel there’s an ancient trail up to Jerusalem which climbs above the deep precipice the Jews call “The valley of the shadow of death.” They say David had this scene in mind when he wrote Psalm 23. When walking this narrow trail, weary pilgrims going to Jerusalem could easily slip and fall into the deep canyon below, or robbers might assault them from the huge boulders on the mountainside. It was a dreaded, fearful and dangerous part of the upward climb to the Holy City. But, singing the songs of Zion and claiming the promises of God’s Word, they moved joyfully on to the celebration awaiting them.

With that picture as the context of verse 4, David was writing about God’s provision in the hour of fear or death. When we’re afraid of dying, we don’t need a shepherd’s rod to discipline us or his crook to pull us back on the path. We can pass through that valley without fear because we know our Shepherd is with us, and we’re comforted to know that he’s fully capable of guiding and sustaining us. In fact, the Jewish Targum understands verse 4 to refer to the laws and promises of God’s Word. We, too, are as defenseless as sheep against the wiles of the Devil, but we take comfort in knowing our Shepherd will walk beside us all the way home!

 

What were the first true and false religions?

Q. Do we know what were the first true and false religions? Ralph Moore, Colonial Heights, VA

A Surely we know that religion is not the same as faith. One’s religion might be some superstition or ritual passed down from previous generations that one is supposed to practice to ensure a desired outcome or blessing. But, one’s faith is a heart-belief in a higher deity that motivates all that person does. When you ask about the true religion, I take it that you’re talking about the true faith versus false religions.

Since the Bible is an accurate record of man’s history, it predates the ancient records of all other civilizations. Although Genesis 3 doesn’t described it as a faith, Adam’s walking and talking with God each day in the Garden resulted in the faith principles he passed to his sons. We could call that worship because true worship is talking and living to honor God.

You could say that Genesis 4 records the first religious practice of the true faith when Cain and Abel presented their offerings to God in worship. Evidently Adam had taught his sons what he must have learned would please God: that denying ourselves and offering to God something of value is a way to show our thankfulness and praise. Each son brought something valuable from the work of his own hands. Cain brought fruits and vegetables he had grown, while Abel brought a lamb he had nurtured. God accepted Abel’s gift from the heart, but he rejected Cain’s gift. According to Genesis 4:5-7 there was sin, possibly pride, in his heart.

I believe the first record of an organized false religion is in Genesis 10-11 where King Nimrod led the people of Babel to build a tower to worship the stars. This was the beginning of astrology, or the worship of Satan and his demons as imagined in the stars. Astrological signs are engraved in the foundation of the ancient ziggurat believed to be the ruins of the Tower of Babel. It is thought to have been a type of early observatory to chart the stars for worship. Satan devised this religion called Babel, which originally meant the “Gate of God.” But, it came to mean “Confusion” when God confused their languages so they could not pass on their false religion. This was Satan’s attempt to regain a foothold on earth after God sent the great Flood to stop his former attempts at gene manipulation.

Today Satan still leads men and women into false religions and cults. His final attempt is described in the Revelation during the kingdom of Antichrist. In Revelation 17:5 Satan will try to reestablish Babel’s worship called the “Mystery Religion of Babylon the Great.” Satan is great, but God is greater. He has spelled out in the Bible all we need to know about truly worshipping him from our hearts.

 

Does 2 Chronicles 7:14 still apply?

Q. Please comment on 2 Chronicles 7:14 as it applies to our times. Owen Van Cleave, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Some people say the Old Testament doesn’t apply to our Church Age today. While it’s true that the instructions God gave to Israel along with their covenant at Sinai were primarily for that nation, many Old Covenant principles are timeless instructions by the Maker of our universe. They still offer guidance for the good of society today. This is true for the renewed covenant God spoke when Solomon dedicated the Temple. There, in 2 Chronicles 7:14, God said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

Notice that God didn’t name Israel; that would have limited this covenant. Instead, he addressed all those who are called by his name or who identify with the character of his name. Today, Christians are his people, called by the name of the Second Person of the Godhead, redeemed and purchased by his blood. His Holy Spirit dwells within us. We are more God’s people than any group before us. Therefore, we need to look often at this covenant as applying to Christians today.

A covenant is a two-way promise where each party commits to do certain things. God will do his part to hear our prayers. If he hears – and doesn’t turn a deaf ear because of our sins (Isaiah 59:2) – he will answer according to his greater purpose and timing. Also, he promises to forgive our sin and heal our land if we keep our part of the covenant. No one can deny that our lands and world need divine healing today. We need only look at Jesus’ predictions of the end times in Matthew 24 to see that God is trying to get our attention. Our part is to humble ourselves before God. That means to recognize him as the One True God and submit to him. We are to pray – not selfish prayers that begin with, “I want…” or “Please give me…”, but we are to pray seeking God’s face. That means to seek the smile of his approval. To do that, we must turn from our wicked ways. Notice that God didn’t say that sinners must turn from their wicked ways; God’s people must keep our vows to remain holy before him. To be holy means to be separated from the world – separated for God’s use.

So, if you’re anxious over the direction our nation is taking; if you worry about the problems we face in government, the economy, moral issues, crime, or physical calamities, God has given us the answer. He and he alone will heal our land when we keep the first part of this covenant. Don’t look to government, the courts, or national leaders to solve our problems; they helped to create our problems! Look to God. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 121, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip: he who keeps you will never sleep.”

 

Why did Paul write about baptizing for the dead?

Q. Could you please explain the complex scripture of 1 Corinthians 15:29? Clarence Bell, Hopewell, VA

A. First Corinthians 15:29 finds Paul proving the veracity of the Resurrection by asking: “What shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” If this question were taken out of context it would seem that Paul is suggesting some merit for the dead if someone were baptized in their place. When we compare this to the overall New Testament teaching about baptism, we know this is a false assumption. Scripture overwhelmingly supports the view that baptism doesn’t save and that it is only a sign whereby believers identify with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It is one’s personal trust in Jesus that saves; no one can do that for another person – living or dead!

Note that Paul is using this illustration merely to prove his major teaching about the truth of Christ’s Resurrection and the certainty of a future Resurrection for believers. Just because Paul mentioned that someone might wish to be baptized for a dead person is certainly not to be taken as Paul’s approval of such a far-fetched practice. Some early Christian historians intimate that this may have been an erroneous practice of a few uninformed first or second century believers. Indeed, it may have been one of the issues Paul was hoping to set straight in succeeding visits to Corinth.

You only need to consult several commentaries to see that there have been scores of attempted explanations for this passage. One of the most reasonable interpretations I found was: “What shall they do who receive baptism on account of the dead, (i.e., with a view to meeting their dead loved ones in the Resurrection) if there is no Resurrection?” This may mean that Paul knew some people who had confessed faith in Christ and been baptized because they believed their departed dead loved ones would want them to do so. Or, they were being baptized in hopes of seeing their dead loved ones at the Resurrection. But, Paul is asking why would they do this if there were no Resurrection. The very fact that Paul doesn’t dwell on this, or that it isn’t taught anywhere else in Scripture, attests to its use merely as a means to get across his greater point: There will be a Resurrection and a Judgment to follow; therefore, everyone should be prepared for both.

 

What does Shiloh mean?

Q.What did Jacob mean in his blessing of Judah when he said “Until Shiloh come?” Brenda Wills, Windsor, VA

A. You’re referring to Genesis 49:10 when Jacob, then called Israel, blessed his sons and predicted their futures. That verse in the King James reads: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” This is an amazing prophecy about a person or place named Shiloh, which is thought to mean tranquil or peaceable. We’re not even sure that Shiloh was a place before Joshua decided on it as a central location for the Tabernacle and the seat of Israel’s theocracy through the Period of the Judges. No one knows if Jacob had ever been there. He certainly could not have known of its future recognition as a seat of government or as a title for Messiah had God not spoken this prophecy through him.

Understanding this prediction has divided translators for centuries. Literally, the word translated “scepter” means a stick used for walking, punishing, or ruling; and the word for “lawgiver” refers to one who engraved words on stone tablets, the way laws were recorded. The Hebrew’s use of dualism, or repeating the same thought with different words, would tell us those 2 phrases mean the same. “Between his feet” could refer to a ruler’s staff resting between his feet, or to an heir from Judah’s loins. In the latter case, Shiloh is sometimes translated as “him whose right it is.” Since the last phrase of that verse contains the masculine pronoun, all these descriptions must point to a male Ruler from the line of Judah. The Jews consider Shiloh, “the Peaceable One,” to be one of the first names for Messiah. “The people shall gather (in obedience) to him” looks all the way to Christ’s future Millennial Kingdom.

That’s the most amazing part of this prophecy: It covers the whole scope of time from Genesis to Revelation! It predicted that Judah’s family would furnish national kings until One whose right it is comes, and all the people are gathered to obey Him. History has proven that no legal heir has ever sat on the throne of Israel except a direct descendant of Judah. That’s why Saul’s dynasty could not last; the people wanted a king prematurely, so God gave them the best man for the job until a worthy man from Judah came along. The northern kingdom of Israel had 19 kings from 9 different dynasties, while the southern kingdom of Judah had 19 kings from 1 dynasty, Judah’s house. Since the legal line was interrupted by the Babylonian captivity, that Throne awaits the Peaceable One whom all the people will obey. Today, we long more and more for the coming of Shiloh, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

 

Why do we teach about the Trinity if it’s not in the Bible?

Q. Since the word Trinity is not in Scripture, why is it so prominent in Christian dialog? Mike Hathcock, Colonial Heights, VA

A. It’s true that Trinity isn’t mentioned in the Bible, but the triune nature of God is taught all through Scripture. Trinity means a union of 3 in 1, and it’s the best word we have to describe the character of God. So, it’s alright to use that word!

Scripture makes it clear that God is a triune Being. The Hebrew word God must have given for himself in the beginning chapters of Genesis is Elohim. It means “The Strong One.” Hebrew nouns have 3 possible forms, whereas we’re used to English nouns being either singular or plural. Hebrew nouns can be singular, meaning 1; or they can be dual, meaning only 2. When they’re plural, they mean at least 3. Elohim has the -im plural ending. Therefore, early believers knew that, in some way, God was a Being exhibiting 3 or more qualities. The Jews and Muslims accuse Christians of worshipping 3 Gods, but the Shema they quote from Deuteronomy 6:4 is literally, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our Gods (Elohim) is one Lord.”

Old Testament saints were limited in their understanding of God’s triune nature, but they knew of God (the Father) from Genesis 1:1, and they knew about the Spirit of God from Genesis 1:2. A third, mysterious Being, who often addressed himself interchangably with God, was called “The Angel (Messenger) of the Lord.” An example of this is Exodus 3:4 and 6. In the Hebrew language, this Angel was always preceded with the definite article, the. The doctrine of the Trinity is implied in Isaiah 48:16-17, Matthew 3:16-17, and Matthew 28:19-20. Throughout Paul’s writings God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit appear as a joint Object of worship and praise.

We are not unfamiliar with triune situations here on earth. An egg is 1 unit but it has shell, white, and yellow parts. H2O can appear as liquid (water), solid (ice), or gas (vapor). A man is only 1 person but he may be a husband, father, son, and many other relationships.

We don’t worship 3 Gods, but a God who relates himself to us in 3 Persons. God made our bodies in the image of Jesus, the one physical form of the Trinity. And, he gave us minds and spirits in the image of the Father and Holy Spirit. In our minds we’re aware of our surroundings; in our spirits we can be aware of God; and in our bodies we serve him. Therefore, we were made to be like God, and we’ll never find fulfillment until we are reunited with him.

 

What was the ephod Gideon made and why was it wrong?

Q. Why would Gideon lead Israel to sin after God had given him a miraculous victory over the Midianites? N. J. L., Prince George, VA

A. The book of Judges is set right after Joshua died when Israel had no national leader for their newly conquered land. Instead, God raised up local leaders, called judges, as needed. Chapter 6 tells of Israel’s slide back into idolatry after the death of Deborah and Barak. Thus the oft-repeated cycle was begun: Israel was blessed; in their affluence they forgot God and served the idols of their neighbors; God let them be afflicted by their enemies; they called upon God and he sent deliverers; after their rescue they soon forgot God, and the pattern started over again.

This time, God sent an angel to the village of Ophrah in the tribe of Manasseh west of the Jordan River. This angel told a shy young man named Gideon that God wanted him to rally an army and deliver Israel from their Midianite neighbors who were harassing them. You know the story of how God reduced Gideon’s army of 32,000 to 300 and gave him the battle plans that caused the Midianites to flee.

Judges 8 says Gideon returned home and asked for donations of gold collected from the Midianites. With this he made an ephod which became a sinful snare for his people. The original ephod was the breast jacket worn over the high priest’s robe. Its pockets contained two divining pieces called the Urim and Thummin which the priest used to determine the will of God. Perhaps Gideon, being then a civil ruler and judge, tried to start another tabernacle in his home town because his relations with the tribe of Ephraim made him reluctant to attend the Tabernacle at Shiloh. That ephod would be something his own appointed priest could wear.

This may not have started out as a bad thing. Several Jewish commentators understand this ephod to be a commemoration of the great victory God had given Gideon over the Midianites. Later, that garment may have been worshipped as an oracle to consult on special occasions, without going to Shiloh. Chapter 8 says all Israel went “a-whoring after it.” Certainly, everyone didn’t do this; but many people may have perverted its original purpose. Various commentators have understood that phrase to mean that Israel tried to worship God by going “after Gideon’s tabernacle” rather than to God’s Tabernacle at Shiloh. Others have said it means “after Gideon’s death” this ephod became an idolatrous thing Israel worshipped. Whatever is meant, we must be careful that our influence not lead others to sin by leaving God’s established way, ie. his Church and his great commission.

 

What was the significance of Moses’ removing his shoes at the Burning Bush?

Q. Why did Moses have to remove his sandals at the Burning Bush? Irma Jenkins, Chesterfield, VA

A. Exodus 3 records Moses’ experience when he saw a bush on the side of Mt. Sinai that appeared to be on fire, but it didn’t burn up. He went up on the mountain to investigate this phenomenon. Verse 2 says “The Angel (Messenger) of the Lord” (written with the definite article in Hebrew) spoke to him from the flame. In verse 6 this Messenger identified himself as God. He told Moses to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. There’s your answer: Moses was standing on holy ground.

Taking off one’s shoes was and still is a sign of reverence, humility, and respect. This same experience was repeated in Joshua 5:15 when the Captain of the Lord’s Army told Joshua to take of his sandals. In 6:2 this Captain is identified as the Lord. Anytime Scripture shows God appearing in human form, we understand this to be Jesus. He is the only representation of the Godhead with a physical body. Since he has always existed, in the Old Testament we call him the preincarnate Jesus. He walked with Adam and the Hebrews in the fiery furnace.

Almost all ancient religions specify that shoes are to be taken off and communicants are to be barefooted when offering oblations or worship to their gods. Orientals take off their shoes when entering someone’s home. They don’t do it because their shoes may be dirty; they do it as a sign of respect! These customs must have originated by God Himself in these 2 scriptures.

Some ancient writers said there may have been a previous temple on Mt. Sinai, and the reference to holy ground was because Moses was standing on those ruins. There’s no historical record of a temple there, and Moses would have surely known about it since he’d been grazing his father-in-law’s flocks there for 40 years. There certainly was no temple near Jericho when the God’s Captain appeared to Joshua. The ground was holy because of the presence of God. God’s own presence is what makes any temple holy. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our bodies are holy because we are temples of God’s Spirit if we have given our hearts to be indwelt by Jesus.

Taking off his shoes reminds us that God likes to fellowship with us without any barriers. With his bare feet touching the ground where God stood, Moses surely felt the divine Presence. Matthew 27:51 records God’s tearing the veil in the Temple when Jesus died so that nothing need hinder our personal entrance into his presence. He still wants to fellowship with each of us personally if we confess our sins and our need for him and approach him in Jesus’ name.

 

Did Passover predict how Jesus would die? How about his resurrection?

Q. Please explain how the Passover traditions predict Jesus’ death and resurrection. Connie Capps, Richmond, VA

A. By Jesus’ day, Passover traditions had changed since the original Passover in Egypt. Not everyone carried their lambs to Jerusalem to be blessed by a priest and slaughtered. “Modern folks” bought lambs or lamb meat that was kosher, meaning it had already been blessed and/or processed under the supervision of a priest. Poor people, as Jesus’ band certainly was, might get a little lamb meat to make a stew. They ate by dipping unleavened bread into a common stew bowl of “sop.”

Customs varied with family celebrations. Not everyone was religious; so, not every Jew kept Passover. Those who did fell into orthodox, conservative, or liberal camps. Even the time of their observance varied. Most of the faithful dedicated an entire week to the festivities. They might have their Passover meal on the most convenient night of that week. This allowed people to visit around and celebrate with various relatives and friends. Orthodox and conservative Jews held Passover on the 14th day of the first month of the Levitical calendar. When Jesus observed Passover it fell on a Thursday evening.

What the Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t realize was that a new Passover Lamb met all the qualifications that year. A Passover lamb had to be declared by a priest, observed for three days and found flawless, killed on Passover, and its blood would cover the peoples’ sins. Jesus was declared a fit Lamb by John the Baptizer who was the son of a priest and, therefore, he inherited his father’s priesthood. Jesus was observed, not for three days, but for three years; and found without fault as Pilate testified for the state. Even more amazing is the realization that Jesus, as God’s Lamb, was actually offered the same day as their Passover observance. Thursday after sundown began the next day, Friday, on the Jewish calendar. And, Jesus died on that Friday. But, he voluntarily became the sin sacrifice for all who claim him as their Passover Lamb.

Traditional seder rituals also predicted the resurrection of Messiah. The Afikomen bread was pierced, striped, broken, and wrapped in a napkin where it was hidden until it was found near the end of the seder. It brought great rejoicing and was called “the surprise hidden dessert.” Jesus, also, was wrapped in burial clothes, hidden away in a tomb, and three days later he arose to great rejoicing. At his Last Supper, he said of that bread, “This is my body which is broken for you.” At Easter we celebrate our salvation by faith in his atoning death. It is not by our good works, the teachings of our church, or the blessings of our priests, but only by the grace of Jesus himself that all who trust in him will also conquer death.

 

How did Judas actually die?

Q. Aren’t Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18 contradictory in their accounts of the death of Judas? W. L., Dinwiddie, VA

A. Not necessarily. But, let’s back up a minute. After Palm Sunday, which many Christians celebrate this Sunday as Jesus’ honored reception in Jerusalem, Judas continued to have his doubts about Jesus. He left the Passover on Thursday night before Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. Because he felt he had been insulted by Jesus, Judas went to the chief priests and agreed to identify Jesus to their soldiers for 30 silver coins. Later, Matthew says Judas felt remorse for his actions and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the priests. He, then, hanged himself. Peter, speaking to the followers of Jesus in the upper room, said that Judas purchased a field with the reward of his iniquity and fell headlong (presumably over a cliff) where his body burst on the rocks.

Matthew 27:3-8 in the King James reads: “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? See thou to that.’ And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, ‘It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.’ And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called the field of blood unto this day.'” However, Acts 1:18 says, ” Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”

These 2 accounts don’t have to contradict if you have seen the Field of Blood in Jerusalem as I have. That’s the traditional site where Judas died. It’s a rough, terraced mountainside. Some of the plateaus are 50 feet or more above each other. Today you can see trees growing on the edge of these terraces leaning over the valley of Hennon, also called Gehenna, or Hades. Judas could have looped his hangman’s rope over one of those overhanging limbs and jumped off to hang swinging over the cliff. If the limb or the rope broke, his body would have burst on the rocks below.

I guess it’s a matter of your perspective: Those who looked at the rope would say Judas hanged himself. Those who found his body below might say he jumped over the cliff. Most scripture passages which seems contradictory can be explained by differing viewpoints.

You may continue to ask: What about Peter’s statement that he bought the field with his reward of iniquity, when Matthew says he returned the 30 pieces of silver? The priests used his returned blood money to purchase the place where he died as a burial ground for the poor. In a sense, we could say Judas bought the field since his money and actions resulted in the field being bought. Each of us will someday “buy the field” at the end of the path we’ve chosen. It can be a field of beauty for those who let Jesus buy the field of blood for them!

 

How could there be 24 hour days before the sun was created?

Q. How could the first days of Creation be 24 hours before the sun was created? Kay Williams, Suffolk, VA

A. Orthodox Jews say their days begin at sundown. That’s because God had Moses write in Genesis 1 that “evening and morning” were the first day, etc. Ask yourself: “If I wanted to convey a literal 24 hour day, how would I say it?” You’d probably say it the same way God did: Evening and morning, or light and darkness made each day. God even repeated this six times so we wouldn’t argue with the record! It seems God is saying very plainly that one rotation of the earth counts as one day.

But, if I understand your question, you want to know how God defined days before the sun was created. Let me lead you through some more simple questions: What was the first thing God created (verse 1)? The heavens and the earth. OK! The earth would have to be created spinning, otherwise there would be no gravity to keep things in place.

Next question: What does it take to have day and night? Light and darkness on a spinning earth, right? So, what did God create next (verses 3-4)? He created light and divided it from the darkness. By the way, darkness is not a created thing; it’s simply the absence of light. By verse 4, then, you have all you need for a 24 hour day and night. When does Genesis number the first day? In verse 5, following the above criteria needed for a 24 hour day!

Later, when the sun was created, it ruled over the day God had already set in motion. Still, you may ask where that original light came from. I believe it came from the glory of God. Jesus, who is God, said in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world.” We got glimpses of his glory at the Burning Bush and at his Transfiguration. His glory shining in Heaven will be the light of that eternal universe.

If God were smart enough to create everything from nothing, he can certainly make a day before the sun was created. If he says each day is composed of one evening and one morning, we should accept that at face value – not eons or years, but 1 day. He even restated it in Exodus 20:11, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.”

A friend of mine in Utah pointed out that we can see Jesus in everything he created: He is the Source of all existence (Genesis 1:1); He is Light in our darkness (v. 3); He rides on the clouds (v. 6; Psa. 104:3); He is the Water of life (v. 9); He is the Solid Rock (vs. 9-10); He is the Vine (v. 11); etc. Look for him in all of Genesis 1 and throughout the Bible. History is His-story!

 

How do they set Easter dates?

Q. How do they set the dates for Easter and Passover? I thought Resurrection Day (Easter) was about 3 days after Passover, but that’s not always the case. Joe Keeney, Colonial Heights. VA

A. Jesus died on Passover to fulfill the prophecies predicted in the Passover Lamb rituals. In fact, he fulfilled all the Levitical requirements to be substituted as our Passover Lamb. Jesus was designated as the Father’s sacrificial lamb and confirmed by a priest. Since John the Baptizer was the first son of Zacharias, who was a priest, John inherited his father’s priesthood. In John 1:29 the Baptizer cried, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

As the Law required, Jesus was examined, not for 3 days but for 3 years in public ministry, and declared to be without blemish. Pilate, the chief minister of the state, declared in Luke 23:4, “I find no fault in him.” Then, he was offered by the High Priest in John 18:14 who said it was expedient that one man should die for the nation.

Later, Jesus was sacrificed on the exact day of Passover. By Jewish reckoning a day began at sundown and continued until the next sundown (Genesis 1:5). Therefore, when his disciples celebrated Passover on Thursday night it was really Friday morning. Later that same day, on Friday afternoon, Jesus died as our Passover Lamb.

The difference in the dates of Passover and Easter is based on one being a specific calendar day and the other being determined by the solar cycle. For the Jews, Passover always begins on the 15th day of their month of Abib and runs for 8 days. Abib usually falls between our April 15-May 15. Although they may observe the Seder meal any day that week, many Jewish families still celebrate on Thursday evening.

In A.D. 325 the Council of Nicaea, convened by emperor Constantine, issued the Easter Rule which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal (spring) equinox (when the day and night are the same length). The “full moon” in this rule is the ecclesiastical full moon which is not always the same as the astronomical full moon. The council set their date for the vernal equinox as always being March 21. Those who follow this rule celebrate Easter on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. In the countries that follow the Jewish calendar Easter is celebrated on the Sunday after Passover.

For the Christian, Easter is our most sacred day, the culmination of our Christian Day of Atonement. After Jesus was offered for our sins on Good Friday, his resurrection on Easter means God has accepted our sacrifice and the sins of all who trust him are forgiven!

 

Why did Jesus tell some people not to tell about him?

Q. In Mark 8 why did Jesus tell Peter not to tell anyone about him, when in Mark 5 the demon- possessed man Jesus healed was told to tell everyone the great things the Lord had done for him? J.W. Disputanta, VA

A. We all know hindsight is better than foresight. Christians today tend to interpret the whole Bible in the light of our fuller perspective after 2,000 years. In this instance, we know that Jesus gave his Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 as his overshadowing mandate to his Church. We can’t understand why some New Testament passages quote him as commanding someone not to tell about him.

Remember that the New Testament is an unfolding story. The earlier parts of the story may seem strange because we already know the end of the story. It is true that Jesus later commanded believers to tell everyone about him. However, he hadn’t stated that commission in Mark 8:27-30 when he told Peter and the other disciples not to share their knowledge of him. Jesus had just given his disciples their mid-term exam to see if they comprehended who he was. Peter answered for the group that they believed Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus then blessed Peter for his correct assumption. However, Jesus continued, “Don’t tell anyone!”

The reason for this can be seen in the very next verse. In Mark 8:31 Jesus foretold the completion of the gospel story. Until that story was fact, the disciples were not to preach a partial gospel. It was only after his death and resurrection that he returned in post-resurrection appearances to command that the whole story then be told.

Now, what about the demon-possessed man of Mark 5:18-19 who was told to tell his family and friends? In Galilee, where the people knew about Jesus, he was very popular. Across the Sea of Galilee in Gadera the people didn’t know who Jesus was. This is evidenced in verse 17 by the hog owners who begged Jesus to leave their country. That country needed to know that a Man in Galilee was doing great things from God. This healed Gadarene was sent to bear witness to the same introductory message in his land that Jesus had earlier sent his disciples to preach throughout Galilee: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”

We can begin our witness for Christ by telling people where we are that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Then, because we have the completed gospel, we should continue to tell them the rest of the story so that by faith in Jesus everyone may enter that Kingdom.

 

Where are the dead awaiting Judgment?

Q. Does the Bible say where the dead are awaiting judgment? Mike Bigony, Suffolk, VA

A. No one passes through a judgment immediately upon death. Read Luke 16:22-23 and 23:43, Philippians 1:23, and 2 Corinthians 5:8. The decisions of a person’s life have already determined his or her eternal fate (Isaiah 55:6-7). There is no purgatory, no second chance; and no saint waiting to check credentials at the Pearly Gates. (The “keys” given to Peter in Matthew 16:19 allowed him to be first to preach the gospel to the Jews in Acts 2 and to the gentiles in Acts 10. But, Jesus taught in Matthew 18:18 that the binding or loosening powers of the gospel belong to all his disciples.)

Jesus speaking in Matthew 7:13-14 taught that there are only 2 roads after death. If a person doesn’t consciously choose to enter Heaven by its only Door, which is Jesus (John 10:9; 14:6), the default destination is Hell. Those who are saved know it because they made a conscious choice to serve Jesus (Matthew 7:21, 10:32). Those who are unsaved may not know it because they’ve either made the wrong choice or neglected to choose. In either case, 2 Corinthians 4:4 says they’ve been blinded by Satan and will reap the fate reserved for the Devil and his angels (Matthew 5:41).

Several judgments are said to happen at specific times. The faithful of the Old Covenant were saved by obedience to God’s revealed will and by faith believing God would vindicate them. Read Jeremiah 29:13, Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, and Hebrews 11:7. After waiting in a pleasant place which Luke 16:22 calls Abraham’s bosom (for the embraces they received from the saints), they were judged and rewarded at Christ’s resurrection by receiving gifts from him and accompanying him to Paradise. Matthew 27:52-53, Ephesians 4:8, and 1 Peter 3:19 teach this.

The saved of the New Covenant also wait in Paradise (Luke 23:43) until they’re joined with the rest of Christ’s Bride at the Rapture. At that time they will be judged and rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ and honored at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb (2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation, chapters 4-5; 19:7-8). Then, we see in Matthew 25:31-46 how those who are saved after the Church Age will be judged and granted entrance to Christ’s Millennial Kingdom. Nowhere are the saved said to pay for their sins except by loss of reward (1 Corinthians 3:15), because Jesus has born all our punishment (Isaiah 53:5).

The unsaved dead of all ages go immediately to Hell where they remain in solitary punishment under darkness until the Great White Throne Judgment after Jesus’ Millennial Reign (Revelation 20:11-15). John 5:22 says Jesus himself will be that final Judge who calls back the unsaved from Hell to confirm their rejection of his salvation and sentence them to varying degrees of punishment in the eternal Lake of Fire, which is the second death (Revelation 22:12; 21:8; 14:11).

 

Can a person really return from the dead?

Q. Can someone return from the dead? Beneil Watts, Louisville, KY

A. Rarely, but it has happened. Deuteronomy 30:19 and John 5:24 teach that God possesses life and death to use for his purposes. First Samuel 28 records King Saul’s seeing the prophet Samuel return from the dead. God allowed Samuel to return to bring Saul a message of doom. A few saints in both testaments prayed for the dead to be restored soon after they had died, and God answered their prayers. However, Jesus is the only one who ever brought back someone after he was buried. Lazarus, in John 11, was dead 4 days, and he was buried, when Jesus called him to come forth. Of course, there’s the account in 1 Kings 13 of a dead man being thrown into Elisha’s sepulcher and coming to life when he touched Elisha’s bones; but God did that!

God doesn’t honor mediums, channelers, or fortune-tellers because Deuteronomy 18:10-11 warns that such practices bring the wrath of God. When they appear to call someone back from the dead, you can be sure it’s either a trick or a demonic apparition. Likewise, you should beware if you think someone from the dead has appeared to you. The Bible tells us to test all spirits to see if they honor Jesus as God’s Son who came in the flesh to be our Savior. If the person who seemed to appear to you was saved, ask yourself some questions: “Why would they want to leave Heaven where they’re serving God in perfect peace? Why bother to come to me when they now have perfect knowledge that God loves me and wants the best for me? They don’t have to tell me of God’s love when I have the Bible!”

If you think you’ve seen the return of an unsaved person, I assure you that you didn’t! Luke 16:26 records Jesus telling of Abraham’s saying that no one can return from Hell. This place of punishment for those who have rejected Jesus is surrounded by a great void which allows no one to cross. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Since death and the judgment – when we answer to Jesus – are certain, we would be wise to prepare for those two intruders by settling our case out of court!

 

Why are some numbers used more in the Bible?

Q. Certain numbers, such as 40, 12, 7, and 3, are used more in the Bible. Do these numbers have any special meaning? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A. Not all numbers in the Bible have parallel meanings, and those that do are often used without their optional meanings. Sometimes they were just commonly accepted expressions. Saying “3 days and 3 nights” was not taken literally; it was an idiomatic expression meaning “about the third day.” Forty was an approximate measure of time, like we use the word month; and 40 years meant a generation. Thirty or 40 days of mourning came from Egypt where it took that time to mummify a body.

Gematria, commonly called Biblical numerology, is the study of the numerical values of Hebrew or Greek letters as they apply to Biblical interpretation. Those languages had no number characters. Instead, certain letters were given numerical values, as we see in Roman numerals. The context told the reader whether the characters should be understood as letters or numbers. Numerical values in apocalyptic dreams and visions might convey hidden messages, but not all gematria experts agree on the same meanings for numbers. Therefore, you’ll find different definitions which make for different interpretations of apocalyptic (“hidden”) writings.

Some of the more commonly accepted meanings are: 1 = unity, 2 = division, 3 = divine, 4 = of the earth, 5 = pertaining to redemption or grace, 6 = the number of man, 7 = spiritual completion, 10 = earthly completion, 12 = governmental completion, 40 = a period of probation or trial, 1000 = a large, complete, but uncertain number. Multiples of these numbers added to their complicated meanings. Twelve was the number of the tribes and the apostles composing the foundations for Israel’s and Heaven’s governments. The Holy City has 12 foundations and 12 gates. For instance, 144,000 is a combination of 12 x 12 x 1,000, and – although that seems to be exact in John’s Revelation – it may also refer to a complete but uncertain number of governmental leaders. The letters in Antichrist’s name will add up to 666, but that could also picture a man trying to be divine.

Bible characters usually understood something happening 3 times to mean that it was a sign from God, ie, 3 angels coming to Abraham, Peter’s sheet of animals let down 3 times, etc. The number 7 seems to indicate completeness for God’s purposes. The earth was complete on the 7th day, and the “7 Spirits before the Throne of God” in Revelation 4 and 5 means the complete Holy Spirit in all his work and in all the saints he has indwelt. In apocalyptic writing “horns” means power; therefore, “ten horns” means complete earthly power. You can learn much more from the many good books on gematria. Understanding these may help you find new spiritual truths as you dig deeper into God’s inspired Word.

 

Does Satan converse with God today?

Q. Where in the Bible does it say Satan converses with God? Does he still do that today? C. H., Sutherland, VA

A. Other than the first chapters of Genesis when God rebuked the serpent that was possessed by Satan, the book of Job is another place where Satan is said to talk with God. This book begins with God bragging to Satan about his faithful servant, Job. Satan said Job wouldn’t be so faithful if God weren’t blessing him so much. God allowed Satan to remove many of Job’s blessings to test his faithfulness in difficult times. Job passed the tests.

Therefore, scripture teaches that God and Satan converse about the faithfulness of God’s people. Revelation 12:10 says Satan continues to accuse believers before God. That seems to say that Satan runs to God and tattles when Christ’s followers stray from God’s ideals. That’s one reason why it’s so very important that Christians refrain from sinning. As Satan points out every fault, Jesus has to justify dying to save us.

Another record of God and Satan’s talking is in Zechariah 3:2. This tells about God speaking to Satan when he opposed one of God’s high priests. Remember, also, that Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Jesus speaking to Satan during 40 days of intense temptation. At the Last Supper Jesus said he would pray for Peter to overcome his testing. That would be another example of God speaking to Satan!

Yes, I believe God and Satan are still on speaking terms now. God allows him to think he’s the Prince of the Power of the Air (Ephesians 2:2). But, in the last half of the final Tribulation, Revelation 12 says Satan will be cast to the earth. At that time communication with God will be cut off, and in his anger he will persecute the tribulation saints.

The word Satan means “adversary,” and devil means “accuser, slanderer.” That’s what Satan is now to everyone who wants to serve Jesus. Our defense against him is found in Revelation 12:11, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” That means that we know we’re saved eternally when we claim the blood of Jesus shed on our behalf and we live each day as join heirs with Jesus. We fight Satan’s lies today by the truth of our testimonies of what God has done for us and what we understand from God’s Word. And, we don’t fear dying because we know death is a friend who leads us to a better place!

 

Does eating meat make you guilty of idol worship?

Q. In Revelation 2:14 and 20, why did Jesus condemn Pergamos for eating things offered to idols when Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8 that it was alright? Joe Keeney, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Participation in idol worship was one of the prohibitions James placed on gentiles at the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15. But, in 1 Corinthians 8, the connection with idols is figurative because the Corinthian Christians weren’t actually worshipping idols. Paul said, since idols have no power, if eating meat that had been set before an idol didn’t offend anyone’s conscience, there was nothing wrong with it.

Many of the Corinthian Christians were poor, and that meat was sold cheaply. Paul was saying the meat hadn’t been harmed physically by setting it before an idol for a little while. The possible offense here was that it might lead someone with a weaker conscience to think they were participating in idol worship. If that were the case, Paul said, “If meat offends my brother, I will eat no flesh while the world stands lest I cause my brother to offend.”

However, “to eat” in both Revelation 2:14 and 20 is not the verb used for literally eating something. It’s an alternative verb which often means a figurative partaking, or seeming to be a part of something. I believe Jesus was condemning Pergamos, not for eating, but for returning to idol worship. Like the Gnostics that John wrote against in his epistles, evil men called Nicolaitanes taught that Christians were above moral law and could do anything they wished. In verse 15, Jesus said he hated that doctrine.

Verse 14 makes reference to Balaam’s instruction to Balak to entice Jewish men to sexual fornication. Then, God would forsake them and Balak could conquer them. Realizing that the Spirit seems to have made Pergamos a parallel to the state church which Constantine later founded, we could say in application that Jesus was also condemning the idolatrous worship of saints, church officials, or any other thing we place before God. This is spiritual fornication.

 

Who were Jannes and Jambres?

Q. Who are Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy 3:8? They’re not mentioned in the Old Testament. Rev. Daniel Krynauw, Cape Town, South Africa

A. Verse 8 should be studied in the context of verses 1-9. Verse 1 indicates that Paul was speaking prophetically. As he said in 1 Corinthians 7:10, Paul’s knowledge came from the Lord. Yet, in warning Timothy, Paul also saw his prediction happening in the present. In this last pastoral letter to his young protege Timothy, Paul gave practical advice in chapter 2 for Tim’s ministry. He concluded that chapter in 2:25 mentioning those who oppose the faith. Carrying that thought over into chapter 3, Paul predicted that things will get worse the closer we come to the end of this age. In the New Testament, the “last days” may refer to any time from the Cross to the Second Coming, with emphasis on the time just before Christ returns.

In 2 Timothy 3:2-7 Paul profiled those who oppose the gospel. These “covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers….Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” are, indeed, among us today. I think it’s interesting that, in verse 3, he says they will be without natural affection. Paul used the Greek word astorgos. The “a” places it in opposition to storgos, which is one of the 4 Greek words translated as love. Agape pictures a self-giving, benevolent love; while phileo means brotherly, or friendship, love. Eros refers to erotic, or lustful desire; and storgos, storge, means family love. This is like a mother’s love for her child. This Sunday, January 17, is “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday” when we encourage pregnant women to keep or plan for their unborn children to be adopted.

For a negative example, Paul mentioned Jannes and Jambres. You’re right that these are not mentioned in the Old Testament. However, several ancient historians – Pliny, Eusebius, Origen, etc. – say these were the magicians Pharaoh called to oppose Moses. By black magic they were able to reproduce the first 3 miracles of Moses: their rods becoming snakes, turning water to blood, and calling frogs upon the land. Because they did this, Pharaoh hardened his heart against Moses.

In today’s terminology, Paul would be saying we should beware of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who pretend to teach the gospel but who are reprobates with corrupt minds. Corrupt means depraved or insane, and reprobate means to have no moral judgment. The closer we come to Christ’s return, the more Satan will send his emissaries to lead people from the truth. You and I have to be very careful whom we follow!

 

Were there 12 or 13 Apostles?

Q. I just read that Jesus had 13 apostles; I thought there were 12. Peggy Payne, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Of course, we know Jesus had 12 men following him during his short earthly ministry. We correctly call them his apostles, rather than disciples. A disciple is a learner or follower, and all those who believed in Jesus were his disciples. An apostle is one who is called and sent forth on a mission. It wasn’t unusual for a popular rabbi to have a group of disciples following him. Matthew 9:14 mentions the disciples of the Baptizer. Matthew 27:55 says many women were also among the disciples who followed Jesus to minister to him and his apostles. So, wherever Jesus went large crowds followed him, but his own special group included 12 apostles and various other men, women, and young people who accompanied him from time to time.

We usually think Jesus extended “cold calls” to his apostles, but most – if not all – had followed him at various times during the first year of his ministry. About the beginning of his second year, Jesus called the 12 he had selected to follow him as full-time apostles. These would receive special training to become “fishers of men” and carry on his work. Matthew 10:2 names the 12 apostles as: Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew (Nathaniel); Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus (James the Less), and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot (from Kariot in Judea; the others were all from Galilee).

After Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, Acts 1:26 says the other apostles elected Matthias to succeed Judas. The requirements for being an apostle of Jesus were: He had to have seen Jesus in his lifetime, and he had to have been called personally by Jesus. Paul felt he met those qualifications because of his Damascus Road vision. Therefore, in Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1, and other epistles, Paul referred to himself as an apostle of Jesus called late in time.

If you discard Judas and keep Matthias, whom we know little about, and also include Paul, you do have 13 apostles. That coincides with the Tribes of Israel. How many tribes were in the 12 Tribes of Israel? 13, including the tribe of Levi who wasn’t counted since they were the priestly tribe who didn’t inherit land. They were given cities in which to live, but Levi was never given an inheritance in the Promised Land.

After Pentecost, Jesus’ apostles scattered to take his gospel all over the Mediterranean world, including Africa. They were all martyred for their faith in Jesus except John, who was the only one to die a natural death in old age. He’s buried near Ephesus in Turkey.

 

If we forsake God, will He cut us off forever?

Q. How can we reconcile David’s words to Solomon in 1 Chronicles 28:9 where he said, “If you forsake the Lord, he will cast you off forever.”? Does this mean Solomon lost his salvation? What about Peter and us when we, at times, have forsaken the Lord? K. K., Alamance County, NC

A. In 1 Chronicles 28:6, God told David that he had selected Solomon to be as his own son, and God would be as a father to him. That sounds like Solomon is saved, one of God’s children. Then, in verse 9 David passed on God’s warning to Solomon. However, I agree that the way verse 9 is stated in the King James Bible certainly sounds like God leaves us forever when we disobey him. Forever is a long time!

One commentary I read said something like: If we seek God with all our hearts, we can find him; and that’s enough to make us happy. But, if we forsake God and turn from following him, he will forsake us forever. That’s enough to make us either miserable or very careful.

This could certainly describe someone who has not sought the Lord nor approached him by way of Jesus, our only sacrifice for sin. To fail to surrender our hearts to the God who loves us leaves an eternal hell as our default choice. But, in Solomon’s case, David’s favored son was already looked upon by God as his own son. Therefore, God seems to be saying that if Solomon deserted his service to God alone, God would take away the wisdom and other things God had promised him in 1 Kings 3. That seems to be exactly what God did after Solomon did leave God’s ideal for marriage. He started out as a very wise king, but he disobeyed God when he took many pagan wives who led him to worship their false gods. If, as we believe, Ecclesiastes is the autobiography of Solomon; then he spent most of his adult life searching for that elusive happiness God had taken away. But, did God cast Solomon off forever as he had said to David? If not, was God lying to David?

If we do some Hebrew word studies here we might find a better understanding. Our solution might be, not so much in the “cast thee off,” as in the “forever.” This latter adverb is slightly different from the usual “forever” meaning for eternity. It seems to mean “as long as.” And, the effect of “forsake” implies a continual forsaking by Solomon. So, I think we can say Solomon would find God’s blessings hidden from him for as long as he continued to ignore God’s laws. That leaves room for him to return to God and be restored to his former fellowship. In fact, Solomon seems to have done just that because, after all his searching, his bottom line in Ecclesiastes 12:13 is, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” God grant that we may also resolve to do that in this coming New Year!

 

Please explain our Christmas tradition origins

Q. What are the origins of our current Christmas traditions, especially the Christmas tree? Anonymous

A. To answer the anonymous gentleman who called me without giving his name: Our Christmas traditions have become so mixed in a melting pot of nationalities that many of their origins have been lost in antiquity. Therefore, the most important thing about your traditions is what those celebrations now mean to YOU. I can only tell you what was passed on to me about certain traditions.

Jesus Christ was probably born some time in late September to early October during the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. Our date of celebrating his birth on December 25 was a Christian alternative to a pagan Roman winter festival. If Jesus were born in late September, God may be letting us commemorate Mary’s conception possibly on December 25! They celebrated with bonfires and candles to remember the Star of the East and Jesus’ claim in John 8:12 to be the Light of the World.

Through the years Christians have shared with the needy and given gifts in remembrance of the Wise Men, who brought gifts from Sheba (Isaiah 60:6), and of Jesus, God’s good and perfect Gift. Jesus had taught them in Matthew 25:40, “What you do unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done unto me.” A Christmas feast for loved ones, which included invitations to the poor, was an appropriate celebration of him who was born in a feeding trough to become the Bread of Life.

As far as I know, the first Christmas tree is traced back to Martin Luther in 15th century Germany. Luther cut a small evergreen tree and brought it into the house for his ill son. He decorated it with candles to simulate the beauty of the night sky. Perhaps he taught his family from Romans 8:22 that all nature groans and travails awaiting our redemption at Christ’s second coming.

Candles in our windows announce our hospitality and supposedly say to the Holy Family, “If you’re turned away from the inn again, you’re welcome in my home!” Evergreen wreaths in an unending circle remind us of the everlasting life Jesus promises those who trust in him. Take the memory of Christian men like St. Nick and St. Claus, who exemplified Christ, mix it with a poem about a jolly old elf and a song about a reindeer named Rudolph, and new traditions are born.

All these combine to make Christmas the most unique holiday of the year, the only one we celebrate for over a month, lighting our dreary world with beauty, music, and generosity for others above self! It’s the only legal holiday (“holy day”) where our nation officially recognizes an historical religious figure. Even in countries where they don’t know about Christ, they still enjoy a commercial Christmas! This tells me that people are longing for peace and joy. That’s what angels announced at that first Christmas: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord….Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men” (Luke 2).

 

Are carnal people saved?

Q. What did Paul mean by calling some people carnal? Are carnal people saved? Judy Beach, Richmond, VA

A. Strong’s Greek dictionary defines carnal as “pertaining to the flesh.” The noun carnivore or adjective carnivorous pertains to a flesh-eater. In Scripture carnal may mean fleshly, bodily, worldly, or temporal. It can refer to an unregenerate person or a Christian who is more worldly than spiritual. At times it may mean to be human. When God robed himself in flesh and was born that first Christmas, we call that his incarnation, i.e., his becoming a man.

The first time Paul used the word “carnal” was in Romans 7:14. There he used it to refer to himself as being “sold under sin.” He meant that at times he was a slave to his old sinful habits. In the next verses Paul described the battle every child of God faces: that of the flesh warring against the spirit. Just because someone is saved doesn’t mean that he or she is never tempted to sin.

However, in Romans 8 Paul warned, “They that follow the flesh will do the things of the flesh; but they that follow the Spirit will do the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded brings death; but to be spiritually minded brings life and peace. The carnal mind is an enemy against God….So, then, they that live for the flesh cannot please God.”

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul said the Corinthian Christians were carnal. He felt he had to treat them like babies rather than mature believers. They needed Paul to hand-feed them the teachings of Scripture rather than their learning and teaching others the deep doctrines of the faith. Their in-fighting, envying, strife, and divisions proved them to be carnal. When God’s Spirit is in control, there is peace and harmony among believers.

To answer your question: People are carnal when they yield to their fleshly urges. And, yes, a carnal Christian is saved, but he or she is following their fleshly nature more than the Holy Spirit. All of us are carnal at times when we fail to yield to the Lordship of Christ. We can recognize our carnality when we no longer have the joy of our salvation or feel the urgency to share Christ with others. I like to say an unsaved person has self on his heart-throne and Jesus on the outside. A carnal Christian has Jesus inside his heart, but self is still on the throne. A spiritual Christian has Jesus on the throne of his heart and self on the outside. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus called each believer to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

 

Please explain the weaning ceremony in the Old Testament.

 

Q What was the weaning ceremony Abraham conducted for Isaac? Joe Humphries, Chesterfield, VA

A Genesis 21 says when Isaac was weaned Abraham hosted a “great feast.” Among many early people groups, for whom life was monotonous, any milestone could be made an occasion for celebration. Old Testament families celebrated betrothal, marriage, the birth of a son, his weaning, his becoming a man around age 12, etc.

Today, we understand weaning to mean a child no longer nurses from his mother or a bottle. Some scriptures may, indeed, imply that a baby no longer nurses, such as: Isaiah 11:8 and 28:9, and Hosea 1:8. That could even be true of Isaac in Genesis 21:8. However, the Hebrew word for weaned actually means “to become a person.” Therefore, many Biblical families held a weaning ceremony when a male child was old enough to show his personhood. That is, his character was evident as he began to make his own decisions. When a child did something of significance on his own, his father might celebrate his uniqueness. Weaning, therefore, was a step up from a baby to a young child. This could be any age from 3 to 9. This may have been the case for Isaac and Samuel. On the day Isaac did something independently, Abe celebrated his personhood. In 1 Samuel 1:23, Hannah certainly wouldn’t have taken a 2 year old baby to old Eli! In fact, that verse says he was a young child.

Since Bible names indicate character, a baby might be given a temporary name based on a condition of his birth or a character trait his family wished for him. At his weaning, his name was confirmed or changed if he were not living up to the desired character. When Bible characters told their names, they were telling something about their character. Names could be a positive incentive to live up to a worthy trait or a negative reminder to change their character. I suspect Abe’s wife Sarai was named “Contentious One” in hopes she would grow to be less objectionable!

When characters changed, names were changed. Jacob was called “Trickster” at birth, but when God changed his character, after he got saved when he wrestled with Jesus in Genesis 32, he was called Israel, meaning “One who prevails with God,” or a “Prince of God.” Likewise, Sarai became Sarah, “Princess.” If you bear the new name, Christian, which means “a little Christ,” try to live up to His character!

 

How can I know that a saved person doesn’t lose his salvation?

Q. May I please have some Scriptures proving that a truly saved person doesn’t lose his/her salvation? Irma Jenkins, Chesterfield, VA

A. Many people will disagree with this column because they have a different understanding of salvation. That’s their prerogative; mine is to share what I understand from God’s Word. Many verses plainly state that salvation, once received, cannot be lost. At other times, Scripture types illustrate this truth.

John 3:14-16 records Jesus speaking to Nicodemus that anyone who believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. There are no conditions to this belief, and those who do are promised that they will not perish. Further, Jesus calls it eternal life; if it’s eternal it can’t be lost.

John 6:37 says Jesus will never cast us out. John 10:28 says Jesus gives us eternal life, and we will never perish. John 11:26 says whoever lives and believes on Jesus will never die (spiritually).

Romans 10:13 says everyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved. It doesn’t say we’ll be saved some of the time and lost at other times. Ephesians 1:13-14 says believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit who is our guarantee of Heaven.

Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that we are saved by God’s grace and not by anything we do. It is a gift from God; and God doesn’t take his gifts back. If we have worked to earn it, we can lose it; but if it is gift from God, we never lose it!

Titus 3:5-7 teaches the same thing as Ephesians 2:8-9. 1 John 5:11 says God has promised eternal life through his son, Jesus.

Some Scripture illustrations, or types, which teach our eternal security are: living water (John 4:14); bread of life (John 6:35); the helmet of salvation which covers our minds – not our emotions (Ephesians 6:17); the Seven Spirits before God’s Throne picture the complete Holy Spirit bringing every believer home (Revelation 4:5); Ephesians 5:30 says we are the flesh and bones of Jesus, and John 19:33 says none of Jesus’ bones were broken on the cross; the Book of Life has recorded our reservations in Heaven (Revelation 21:27).

If you believe you are saved because you must hold onto God, you can lose that salvation. John 10:29 teaches that our Heavenly Father holds onto those who trust in Jesus, and he will never let us go!

 

What’s the significance of a curtain torn at Jesus’ death?

Q. What is the significance of the veil being torn at Christ’s death? Margie Randall, Houston, TX

A. The veil was the heavy curtain in the Temple at Jerusalem which was torn when Jesus died. Matthew 27:51 says “Behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.” This curtain separated the second room called the Holy of Holies from the first room, the Holy Place. Only 3 items were in the Holy Place: the Lamp Stand (Menorah) symbolizing the light (knowledge and guidance) found in Scripture, the Table of Showbread (12 fresh loaves of bread placed there each week) reminding Israel of God’s continuous provision for their 12 tribes, and the ever-burning Incense Altar symbolizing prayer. This was in the center by the veil since prayer is the closest we come to God in this life. The second room, the Holy of Holies, contained the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark was a 3 foot long chest covered with gold. It was carried by staves through rings on the side because no one could touch it and live. It embodied the presence of God and radiated a fiery Glory called Shekinah which rose up through the Tabernacle roof and became the fiery Pillar that led Israel through the wilderness. On the Ark’s top were replicas of 2 cherubim angels looking down in wonder at the center of the lid, called the Mercy Seat. This was where the high priest sprinkled the sacrificial blood once a year on the Day of Atonement as he prayed for God to forgive the sins of his people.

This veil was colored blue at one end and red at the other end blending into purple in the middle. Blue is for the heavens; red is for the red earth; purple was the perfect blend of the two. These colors represented Christ, the God-Man, who’s the only Door to God. The Temple veil was the thickness of a man’s hand embroidered with figures of cherubim like those Ezekiel saw guarding God’s Throne. The veil was also a picture of death whereby we enter the Presence of God.

Scripture says, when Jesus died, the veil was torn from top to bottom. If the earthquake that happened at Jesus’ death had ripped the curtain, it would have been torn from the bottom upward as the earth separated. But, the invisible hands of God reached down and removed this barrier himself, tearing it from top to bottom. Now, no earthly priest is needed to beg for our forgiveness. Anyone may enter God’s presence by way of Jesus’ blood, shed to pay the wages of our sins (Romans 6:23).

 

What is the Baptism of the Spirit?

Q. What does the Bible teach about the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Larry Black, SBCV State Church Planting Associate, Madison Heights, VA

A. Ephesians 4:5 reads: (There is) “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” That baptism is the same which John the Baptizer predicted when he said in Mark 1:8, “I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” First Corinthians 12:13 reads, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Like that verse, Galatians 3:27 says, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

None of the preceding Scriptures is talking about water baptism, but rather about the Holy Spirit’s work at the moment of conversion. We call that “positional baptism” because the Spirit positions each believer safely into the Body of Christ when we’re saved. Note what Paul and Peter wrote about our being in Christ: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Peter 5:14). That means that, spiritually, every saved person becomes a part of Christ’s Body, the Church universal. Also, it teaches the assurance that if we are in Christ, when God looks at us, he doesn’t see us in our sins; but he sees the perfect Son of God standing in our place. When we are hidden in Christ our salvation is secure.

This work of the Spirit – spiritually baptizing us into Christ – happens to every true believer, whether we’re conscious of it or not, without our asking for it. We don’t have to pray for the baptism of the Spirit, or a “second blessing” as it’s sometimes called. Romans 8:9 says, “Now if any man doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Conversely, if you are Christ’s you have his Spirit.

If we believe the Bible, we don’t need the sign of tongues to prove we’re saved. Other than Pentecost, there are only 2 times when tongues were a sign of the Spirit’s presence. These proved the Gentiles could also be saved: When Peter preached to Cornelius in Acts 10, and in Acts 19 when Paul told the Ephesians about the Spirit’s baptism. In fact, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:22 that, “Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” Misunderstanding this doctrine has divided many churches, but the baptism of the Spirit actually unites all believers in Christ.

 

What happens to backslidders?

Q. What happens to a person who once gave his or her heart to Christ, but at the time of their death was in a backslidden state, with unrepented sin in their life? T. S., Colonial Heights, VA.

A. Obviously, there are only two possible answers to your question: Either the person was saved or they were not. If they were ever truly saved, they went to Heaven. Since every person falls into one of those two categories, let’s pursue both scenarios.

Perhaps the person was never saved to begin with. Satan is the great deceiver and the father of lies. Second Corinthians 11:14 says Satan can transform himself into an angel of light. He can deceive people into thinking they’re saved. Those who seem to fall from grace, never had it to begin with. Jesus said, at the Judgment, many will be sentenced to destruction while crying, “Lord, Lord.” They will be religious people who think they’re saved; but, Jesus will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

On God’s part our salvation is by grace, and it’s complete and secure immediately. However, on our part, salvation is a continuing determination to serve Jesus from now on. Matthew 10:22 records, “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.” These are 2 sides of the same coin. Jesus said in Luke 9:62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” And, finally, the beloved apostle wrote in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.”

Second, let’s suppose the person truly was saved but died in a backslidden condition. Let me ask two questions: Are we saved because we do good works? No; Ephesians 2:8-9 answers that! Then, we must be saved by the grace of God who, when he came as Jesus, said, “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish.” Notice that Jesus gives it, and once a person has it he can’t lose it; it’s eternal! Second question: Do we become perfect and never sin again after we’re saved? No; 1 John 1:10 answers that. So, God saves a person while he’s still a sinner if he truly believes; but, that belief must be accompanied by a heart dedicated to Jesus as Lord. Then, God doesn’t take that gift away.

However, if a child of God returns to his sins, maybe that’s why he died! First John 5:16 says there is a sin unto death. When we can’t overcome our temptations and we grieve the Holy Spirit within us, God may remove us from those temptations and take us to Heaven. Therefore, it’s dangerous for a Christian to return to his sinful lifestyle; but if he or she truly believes in Jesus, nothing can keep them from Heaven!

 

Can we “Fall from Grace?”

Q. Please explain what Paul meant when he spoke of falling from grace in Galatians 5:4. Harold Carpenter, Clarksville, VA

A. In chapter 5 of Paul’s letter to the Galatian Church he stated his thesis in the first verse: “Stand fast therefore in liberty where Christ has made us free, and don’t revert to being entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” That yoke of bondage referred to all the regulations the Old Testament Jews had to keep. Then, in verse 4 Paul continued, “Those who think you are justified by the (Jewish) Law, you’ve made Christ of no effect to you; you’ve fallen from grace.” He meant that those who thought they had to keep the rituals of Judaism to be saved had left the doctrine of “saved by grace.”

The reason Paul felt he had to write this was because of the “Judaizers” who followed him wherever he started a gentile church. When Paul moved on, some Jewish teachers would come in and say that gentiles must convert to Judaism before their salvation was secure. They reminded those infant believers that Jesus was a Jew, all of his disciples and first followers were Jews, and even Paul, himself, had been of the Jewish faith before becoming a Christian. Word had come to Paul that the Galatians were being circumcised into Judaism because of this false teaching. He said they had fallen from the doctrine that Jesus saves us by his grace alone, without any works on our part. Grace means unmerited favor whereby God bestows salvation on all those who trust in the atonement of Jesus no matter the degree of their sinfulness or unworthiness.

Jesus never taught that Judaism is the way to salvation. He said in John 14, “I am the way…no one comes to the Father except by me.” John 1:17 says, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” And, Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” He meant that when we know our salvation is a free gift from God, we won’t feel we have to work for it or deserve it in any way. He further taught that our salvation is secure because God won’t take away what he gives us. We didn’t work to earn it by keeping certain regulations, and we don’t have to work to keep it. Those who teach otherwise have “fallen from grace.”

 

What did Paul mean about broken and grafted branches?

Q. Please explain how you interpret Romans 11:17-23. Diana LeGere, Colonial Heights, VA

A. The passage you reference contains a complicated doctrine Paul was teaching in Romans. Let me give you my paraphrase of verses 17-23: “If some of the (original olive) branches are broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, so that you are nourished by the roots and fatness of the olive tree; do not boast against the branches. Such boasting imagines that you’re nourishing the roots, instead of the roots nourishing you. You may say, ‘The (Jewish) branches were broken off so that we (gentiles) might be grafted in.’ But, they were broken off because of their unbelief, and you replaced them because of your belief. However, that’s no cause to be arrogant; rather you should be cautious. If God didn’t spare the natural branches (because of sin), why do you think he’ll spare you? Remember, therefore, the grace and judgment of God: On them judgment; but on you grace, if you continue in God’s favor. Otherwise, you’ll be broken off, also. And the Jews, if they forsake their unbelief, may be grafted back in; because God is able to place them in again.”

Paul didn’t establish the church in Rome, and he had not visited them when he wrote his letter to the Roman church. Because of their influence in the capitol of the empire, Paul wrote to instruct them in vital doctrines of their new faith. We consider the epistle to the Romans to be very important because of its teachings. However, Paul was so brilliant, sometimes we have a hard time understanding him!

Paul began Romans 11 by asking: “Has God forsaken the Jews?” He was anticipating the Romans asking, “Are we gentiles now replacing the Jews as God’s chosen people?” To answer that, he talked about the root of Jesse, David’s father. The Old Testament prophets had said Messiah would come from the stock or root of David. Symbolically, then, Jesse represents the “root” of Judaism and, ultimately, Christianity since both claim David in their lineage. The Jews were the original branches, but when they rejected their Messiah God broke them off and grafted in Christians. Paul says we shouldn’t boast about that because it’s not based on anything we did, but on God’s grace. If God broke off his people, the Jews, he can surely break off insincere “Christians” (those who were never saved). However, prophecy says in the last days the Jews will turn back to God and acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah. Then, God can graft the believing Jews back in.

These verses refute a popular teaching today called Replacement Theology. That misconception says God is finished with the Jews forever, and the Church has replaced them. In Romans 11, Paul says that’s not so!

 

Should Christians avoid Halloween?

Q. Do you believe Halloween may contribute to Satanism and other occult practices? D. C., Dinwiddie, VA

A. Yes, I certainly do. And, the irony of this modern holiday is its beginning as a religious event. “All Hallows Eve,” which has become known as Halloween, began as a time to honor the memory of saints. However, like many other sacred institutions, Satan has corrupted it from its original purpose. Today, its commercialism is second only to Christmas.

It’s a well known fact that Halloween is the most revered night for Satanists. Disguised as innocent fun, more mischief and wickedness is done on that night than all other nights combined. Hiding behind masks, people do everything from practical jokes to unlawful atrocities, including animal and human sacrifices to Satan.

God’s Word warns in Leviticus 19, “You shall not…practice divination or soothsaying….Do not turn to mediums or spiritists: do not seek them out to be defiled by them.” And, Deuteronomy 18 reads: “There shall not be found among you anyone who…uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.” We need to teach our children that supernatural evil is to be avoided, not played with.

Therefore, it’s time for the Church to either divorce itself from present Halloween practices or use them to defeat Satan at his own game. Many churches now sponsor a fall festival or carnival to give children a safe alternative to asking “Trick or Treat?” from strangers. Others actually use that night for evangelistic purposes and visit homes to give a treat rather than take one. Along with a gift, they include a gospel tract or invitation to their church. Some churches portray “Judgment Houses” that graphically depict the result of evil practices.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not throwing a wet dishrag on all the holidays that make our children happy. But, there’s a difference in allowing harmless childhood fantasies and encouraging children toward evil practices that may open them up to deception or crime later. Proverbs 22:6 urges us to train our children in the right way so that they will grow up to make the right choices.

 

Of what significance was the color of Jesus’ robe?

Q. What’s the significance of the purple robe placed on Jesus at his crucifixion? S. Baker, Prince George, VA.

A. In Bible times, clothing for common people was usually drab and unbleached. It was hand-woven, usually from sheep or goat’s wool. Only the rich could afford expensive, dyed cloth. Roman soldiers could afford beautiful clothing since they were paid well, but also they could take whatever they wanted from captive peoples. We don’t know where the robe came from that the soldiers draped over Jesus when they were mocking him. With that robe, they also gave him a crown of thorns and a reed for a scepter. They jeered him as the “king of the Jews” while they slapped him and pulled his beard out.

Everything at Jesus’ crucifixion was predicted beforehand: the jeering crowd, his whipping, his piercing, the earthquake. The crown of thorns was implied by Isaac’s substitutionary ram in Genesis 22:13 being caught in a thicket of thorns. The reed was a weed like those that grew for Adam after the Fall. Even the color of his robe has meaning. Luke 23:11 simply calls it a “gorgeous robe.” Matthew 27:28 says it was a scarlet robe. The Tabernacle described in Numbers is a picture of the ministry of Jesus as our High Priest. It was covered over by scarlet.

However, Mark 15:17 and John 19:2 say it was a purple robe. Is this a conflict? No, because there was no quality control back then. Dyes were not color fast and often changed shades depending upon the dying process. The same Greek word translated purple can also mean any shade from violet to crimson, or any color between blue and red.

I prefer the translations from Mark and John that call it a purple robe. That was fore-shadowed by the gate to the Tabernacle and the Temple Veil. The Tabernacle’s only entrance faced east and was a wide curtain colored blue on one end and red on the other end. The colors blended in the middle to make purple. Likewise, the Veil in the Temple that tore at Jesus’ crucifixion had the same color scheme: Blue for sky was the color for deity; red for the red Judean hills was the color for mankind. Being blended to purple represented the God-Man who, by his death, became the Door, our only Access to the Father. Jesus said in John 14:6, “No man cometh to the Father but by me.”

 

How much free will do we have in our choices?

Q. If the Bible tells us that our path is ordered by God, how much free will do we have? Do our wrong choices alter our paths? Joyce Wallace, Petersburg, VA

A. You’re referring to Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delights in his way.” That Hebrew word translated “ordered” means to stand erect or to set something up properly. “Steps” means one’s course of life. The word “good” isn’t in the original text. The word for “man” is the Hebrew word for a strong man, a hero or conqueror. Thus, even a mighty man can do nothing without the Lord’s intervention to allow, if not to guide, his actions. This verse speaks of the sovereign wisdom of God to oversee all his creation. He keeps everything moving toward the end he has determined.

So, if I understand your question, you’re asking how our free will meshes with election, or the predetermined plans of God. Of course, election or predestination simply means that because God foreknows everything that will happen, he plans to act accordingly.

I believe God has an ideal will for each of us that’s ordered by God. That refers to the way God would like us to do specific things. But, I also believe he has a permissive will that allows us to use our free wills. Of course, following our own free choices may lead us off God’s track. To answer your second question: Yes, our wrong choices may alter our paths from God’s ideal way.

We know God will surely bless us abundantly when we’re in the center of his ideal will. “All things work together for good….” However, even when we use our free will and it leads to a less than perfect path, God may still bless his children. Perhaps those blessings will be different from what he’d like to give us. Yet, we must remember that the degree of our blessings does not depend as much on our good/bad choices as on God’s mercy. He remains faithful even when we fail him. So, patiently, God tries to bring us back from the detour we’ve taken. Still, we may miss some of the blessings that were on the road not taken.

Praise God that he gave us free wills and choices. However, he knows in advance the choices we’ll make so he plans accordingly. Only robots have no choice, and God never made a robot. Because we’re created in God’s image with a mind and intelligence, God allows us to learn from trial and error. How much better off we’d be if we learned from God’s Manual and Management and never said, “I did it my way!”

 

What does Beulah Land, etc., mean?

Q. Please tell us the meaning of some uncommon words in our gospel songs like “Beulah Land,” “Siloam,” “Pisgah,” etc. Tom Harvey, Chesterfield, VA

A. 1 Corinthians 14:15 says, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding, also.” However, like you, I wonder if we really do sing with understanding when we may not know the meaning of our words. By the way, a hymn is a praise song to God, while a gospel song tells men about the gospel. A lot of our favorite songs use Biblical imagery. Also, remember that our songs are poems set to music, and poetry communicates best by painting word pictures in our minds.

“Beulah Land” is not in the Bible, but “Beulah” is found once in Isaiah 62:4. There the Lord predicted a time when the Jews would serve the Lord faithfully like his wife. In that day Jerusalem will be called Beulah which means “married.” Although this is probably a reference to the Millennium, we have transposed that idea to Heaven where all God’s children will be “married” to him.

“Zion” originally referred to the fortified hill David captured from the Jebusites. David renamed it “the city of David” when he made it his capitol. Zion is the hill in Jerusalem where the Spirit came upon believers at Pentecost. At times Zion has meant the whole Jewish nation, the city of Jerusalem, the Temple, the future capitol of the Millennium, and the New Jerusalem which we call Heaven. The latter is its meaning when we sing “We’re Marching to Zion.” By extension it refers to the people of God, as in the gospel song, “O Zion, Haste.”

The “Crystal Sea” or the “Glassy Sea” in such hymns as “Holy, Holy, Holy” and gospel songs like “I Will Sing the Wondrous Story” refer to Revelation 4:6 and 15:2. Compare this to Ezekiel 1:22 where the prophet saw God’s throne on a crystal platform carried by composite angels called Cherubim. These picture the worship of the redeemed around God’s throne.

“Ebenezer” in “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is explained in the next phrase: “Hither by thy help I’ve come.” “Mount Pisgah” in “Sweet Hour of Prayer” is Mount Nebo in Jordan, the place where Moses died and angels buried him. “Siloam’s Fountains” in “Footsteps of Jesus” comes from John 9:7 where Jesus healed a blind man. “Sabaoth” in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” means “hosts” and refers to God’s title as Lord of the hosts of angels and the starry hosts of the universe.

Finally, “Hallelujah” by different spellings means “Praise the Lord.” “Alleluia” is a short form of the same word. “Hosanna” means “Save us, we pray.” In closing, remember that no matter how you pronounce your praise, it is acceptable to God if it comes from your heart; but even the most correct utterances will not be accepted if our lives do not reflect God’s praise now.

 

Does the O.T. predict a Savior for gentiles?

Q. Where in the Old Testament does it predict a Savior for the gentiles? Gene Mims, Petersburg, VA

A. The first gospel announcement, which is for all nations, is found in Genesis 3:15. There in the Garden after the first sin, God predicted to the Serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he will bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Her Seed would be Jesus who came to defeat that old Serpent, the Devil, for gentiles as well as Jews. When we speak of gentiles we mean everyone who isn’t a Jew.

Isaiah 11:10 says, “In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the gentiles seek.” Jesse had a son we know as King David. God promised David that One would come from his line to sit on his throne forever. He will draw the gentiles to God, and Isaiah 42:1 says he will bring judgment to the gentile nations .

Speaking to the coming Messiah, God said in Isaiah 42:6, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations.” Then, in Isaiah 49:6, 60:3, and 62:2 God said Messiah would bring spiritual light and righteousness to the nations. “The nations” means all the nations of the world, especially gentile nations.

The prophet Jeremiah predicted in 16:19, “O Lord, my strength, my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the nations shall come to you from the ends of the earth.” And, Malachi 1:11 says, “From the rising of the sun even to its going in, my name shall be great among the nations.”

So, God has always planned that the gospel is for all people. John the Baptizer even introduced Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus, himself, said the gospel must first be offered to the Jews because of God’s promises to Abraham. After the Jews rejected him, he called Paul to be a missionary to the gentiles and Peter to preach the first gospel message for gentiles to the family of Cornelius in Caesarea. Paul introduced the gospel to Europe when he baptized Lydia in Philippi, Macedonia (Greece). Later, all of Jesus’ apostles went to different gentile nations to offer Jesus as their Savior. They were all martyred except John, who was the only one to die a natural death when he was nearly 100 years old.

 

Did Judas go to Heaven or Hell?

Q. Do you think Judas is in Heaven or Hell? God allowed him to be used of Satan; it was even in God’s plan. Plus, he proved he was sorry by hanging himself! Shalonda Brockington, Alexandria, VA

A. You have some good points, but Jesus has already answered your question. In John 17:12 Jesus prayed before his crucifixion: “Those that you gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.” That verse says that even before Judas committed his fateful betrayal, Jesus knew he would be lost. Perdition means utter failure, ruin, or destruction. The son of perdition is a name given to Judas here and to the coming Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. In this Hebrew idiom, a person embodying the traits of something is called the son of that thing. Therefore, according to Jesus, Judas is in Hell. Acts 1:15 confirms this, “…Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”

Yes, God allowed Judas to be used “that scripture might be fulfilled.” That means it was prophesied beforehand. In fact, in John 13:26 Jesus even named who would betray him. True, this was in God’s plan, but God didn’t make Judas do what he did. In his foreknowledge, God knew Judas would give himself to be used of Satan.

Because Judas hanged himself, it would appear he was sorry for what he did, but sorrow alone never saved anyone. “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish,” Jesus said in Luke 13:5. Repentence is more than being sorry. It means being sorry enough to stop sinning and come back to God. If he had repented and given his life to God, he would have sought to live for God and not kill himself. Paul wrote the Christian’s ideal in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” We see no evidence of Christ’s living in Judas.

Judas had every advantage; he even lived with God as a Man on earth for almost three years. Yet, he allowed Satan to use him, and he chose to deliver Jesus to be killed. No one is automatically saved just by knowing about Jesus. Everyone must personally repent and ask for forgiveness. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). Each of us will spend eternity in Heaven or Hell by this one question alone: “What did you do with Jesus?”

 

Did Paul have a brother named Rufus?

Q. Is Rufus in Romans 16:13 the Apostle Paul’s real brother and is his mother Paul’s mother? Janie Lovorn, Petersburg, VA

A. In Romans 16:13 Paul wrote, “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” They obviously were in Rome since Paul mentioned them in his letter to the church at Rome. He calls Rufus one who is “chosen in the Lord.” That’s probably just a reference to his calling to salvation since the Lord used that same word in John 15:16. There Jesus said, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” Also, Paul may have said Rufus was chosen, or preferred, because he rendered some special ministry or bore some specific burden in Rome for the Lord.

The only other time a Rufus is mentioned in the New Testament is in Mark 15:21. That verse reads, “And they compelled one Simon, a Cyrenian who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his (Jesus’) cross.” Obviously, Alexander and Rufus were well known Christians by the time Mark wrote this, so that he expected his readers to be familiar with them. Their father was from Cyrene, a city of Libya in Africa west of Egypt.

One tradition says Simon was a black man. They base that on 2 observations: He was from Africa, and he came out of the country. He was from Africa, but we’re not sure of his race. Many Jews lived in Libya and came to Jerusalem often for special feast days. “He came out of the country” is usually understood to mean that he was a slave or a farm laborer.

Whether or not this is the same Rufus we don’t know. He’s not likely Paul’s birth-brother because Paul would have said more about him, and we would find him mentioned elsewhere in Paul’s writings. We know Paul had a sister and nephew but no brother is mentioned. The apostle not only saluted this man, but his mother also. She must have been a fellow believer who had “mothered” Paul at some previous time. It’s unlikely that she was Paul’s mother because he wouldn’t have passed her by in such a casual manner. Even non-believers back then honored older women and men by calling them “father” or “mother.”

 

What Bible version do you recommend?

Q. I can understand the NIV, but I hear that several verses and doctrines are left out. Can you recommend a Bible version with the accuracy of the King James but easier to read? Diana LeGere, Colonial Heights, VA

A. You will find most modern versions of recent years leave out some verses the King James Bible includes. That’s because recent discoveries of older manuscripts do not have those verses. They may have been inserted by zealous scribes for clarification. That doesn’t mean that the King James Bible isn’t trustworthy. It was excellent scholarship from the available texts of its day. Most of those verses that are thought to be inserted later do not affect the major doctrines. Of course, Jesus didn’t speak King James English! The KJV is a translation, and language has changed so much since 1611 that newer versions are helpful to understand those changes. Those who have published newer versions did so believing God was guiding their efforts to make His Word clearer.

Such is the case with the New International Version. A distinguished committee of Bible scholars worked on it, and they certainly didn’t have an agenda that planned to omit key doctrines. They used the most accurate texts they had. Many modern versions are paraphrases. I believe I’m correct in stating that any version with the word “standard” in its title is a literal translation as far as differences in language and culture allow.

In my classes I teach from the King James because that’s what I memorized when I was growing up. Most students can find a KJV to bring to my classes. However, in my preaching I often use the New King James because it keeps the beauty of the original version but updates the language. In my personal studies I compare versions and use those which seem most consistent with the original intent. I consult the New International, the Modern King James, the Message, the Good News Bible, the New Living Translation, God’s Word, and the Contemporary English Version among others. But, I most prefer for accuracy the New American Standard, the Revised Standard or New Revised Standard, the English Standard Version, and the Holman Christian Standard Version. Sometimes, I even use my own translation of the original languages.

Excellent sources of free on-line study materials and versions may be found at e-Sword.net, netbible.org, and blueletterbible.org. These offer free downloads for PC and Palm or Smartphone devices.

 

Why are there 2 genealogies for Jesus?

Q. The 2 genealogies in Matthew and Luke seem to trace Jesus’ ancestry through Joseph, but since Joseph wasn’t his biological father what is the significance of these genealogies; and why are the two lists different? Jim Young, Ft. Walton Beach, FL

A. Genealogies and tribal ancestry were important to Jews to establish the inheritance God promised them in their land. Every Jewish boy learned to recite his family line. This was especially important to identify Messiah since God had foretold his ancestry to be from Abraham through David.

Matthew seems to have wanted to prove to the Jews that Jesus met all the qualifications to be their promised Messiah. He began his book listing Joseph’s lineage to prove that Jesus had a legal right to David’s throne through his earthly father. On the other hand, Luke was a medical doctor. He knew that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ blood-relative, so he gave another genealogy. Many Bible scholars think Luke listed Jesus’ true earthly lineage on Mary’s side.

We understand Heli, or Eli, to be Mary’s father; therefore, Joseph was his son-in-law. The word translated “son” in Luke’s genealogy, beginning with 3:23, may also mean son-in-law. Jewish patriarchs called all the men in their family “son” and even the in-laws referred to them as “father.” Therefore, I believe Luke gave Jesus’ blood-line on Mary’s side to answer questions just like yours!

Whether you trace the lineage of Jesus on his foster father’s side or by his mother’s line, both were descendants of King David. Many prophecies such as 1 Kings 9:5 and Isaiah 11 predicted Messiah’s coming to be from the house of David. Luke even went all the way back to Adam to prove Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s prophecy to Adam in Genesis 3:15. He was the offspring of “the woman” in that prophecy who would strike the death-blow to the serpent and his seed. It’s interesting to note that no one has ever legally occupied David’s throne who wasn’t a direct descendant of David. That throne is vacant now awaiting the next King: Jesus!

This is just one of at least 33 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled at his first coming. The odds are astronomical that one man could fulfill all of those prophecies given by 8-10 different Old Testament writers scattered over 1400 years. God wants us to recognize his Son and receive him as our Messiah and Savior.

 

What is the third Heaven?

Q. In 2 Corinthians Paul spoke about a third heaven. Does this mean there will be higher positions in Heaven? Gene Mims, Prince George, VA

A. You are referring to 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 where Paul said he knew a man who was caught up into the third heaven. I believe this was the apostle’s own testimony. We would say he had an out-of-body experience and was allowed to view Paradise briefly. In Paul’s day “heaven” could mean any of these three: (1) the atmospheric heaven where the clouds float, (2) the spatial or universal heaven where the stars are, and (3) the spiritual Heaven where Paul visited and saw things too awesome to describe.

The reason we believe this was Paul’s humble way of referring to himself is because, in verse 1, he continues defending his credibility to the Corinthians. Some of them were doubting that he was an apostle. He says he could brag about visions and revelations because he often received these from the Lord. Yet, in verses 5-6, Paul says he refuses to glory in anything he might have done. His glory is in that vision, but he makes it plain that he doesn’t want anyone to think he’s better than they are. In fact, his infirmities helped to keep him humble.

This passage doesn’t teach that some people in Heaven will live on higher plains. According to 2 Corinthians 5:10, Christians will receive their eternal rewards, places of abode, and job assignments at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This will probably happen right after the Rapture. In chapter 5, the Revelation’s first picture of the saved in Paradise shows them having already received their crowns. Since they all return their crowns to Jesus saying only he is worthy, there won’t be any higher levels of living in Heaven.

Yes, we will have our mansions, or dwelling places, tailored to our likes. And, our rewards will be based on our faithfulness to Christ after we’re saved. But, I see no indication that some will live on a plain closer to God than others. Revelation 21:3 promises, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” Of course, this is not automatically for everyone; it’s only for those who have given their hearts to Jesus and their lives serving him.

 

What do we know about Jabez?

Q. What do we know about Jabez and why he’s inserted in Judah’s genealogy? Roane Lovorn, Atlanta, GA

A. Not much! We can only know what the Bible tells us in two passages. Jabez is listed in 1 Chronicles 2:55 as the name of a town where some scribes lived, possibly near Bethlehem. The other reference is in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 where it’s the name of an honorable man supposedly from the tribe of Judah.

First and Second Chronicles was originally 1 book written sometime during or after the exiled Jews were returning from Babylon. Ezra the scribe may have been the author. It’s purpose seems to be to recall God’s providence throughout the history of the southern kingdom for those exiles who may have forgotten their heritage. The major portion of the book concerns David’s life and his plans for a Jewish temple. But, it begins with some genealogies and information from various tribes.

Chapter 1 starts with Adam and moves forward to where the author finally comes to the tribe of Judah in chapter 4. Then, in verses 9-10, he inserts information about a man named Jabez without connecting him to any family. He may have been from the families of Aharhel, the last mentioned. However, it seems Jabez was so outstanding that the writer felt he needed to elaborate on him and he forgot to tell us Jabez’s relationships.

In Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible (published in London, 1810-1826), Dr. Clarke says the Chaldee version of this passage names Jabez as being the same as Othniel in Judges 3. I cannot substantiate this. Othniel, the first Judge in the book by that name, was the nephew of Caleb upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rested. He protected the Children of Israel from their enemies for 40 years during the period of the Judges.

Othniel is listed 3 verses down in 1 Chronicles 4:13 with no reference to his possible nickname of Jabez. The name Jabez means one who brings pain or sorrow. His mother may have called him that possibly because of a hard birthing delivery. Jabez is most known for his prayer in verse 10 in which he asked God to bless him, enlarge his influence, be with him, protect him, and (as a play on his name) keep him from pain or sorrow. The writer concludes that, because he was more honorable than his brothers, God was pleased to grant his requests. James 5:16 affirms that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much in God’s sight.

 

Is the Antichrist alive today?

Q. How can we know if the Antichrist is on the scene today? Pastor Russell Fail, Wappingers Falls, NY

A. The short answer is: We can’t! That is, we can’t know for certain until God reveals him. The first twelve verses of 2 Thessalonians 2 tell much about him. He may be alive today, but he won’t be recognized for who he is until “He who now letteth…be taken out of the way” (verse 7). Many Bible students believe this is a reference to the Holy Spirit being removed in his witness through the Church when the Church is raptured. Until that time, the “man of sin…son of perdition” is being withheld to “be revealed in his time” (verses 3 and 6).

The setting for Antichrist’s take-over is further described in 2 Thessalonians 2: There will be a great falling away from biblical morality. Men and women will be deceived into committing unrighteous acts. As a result, God will send them a strong delusion to believe Satan’s lies because they refuse Bible truths that might save them.

As for Antichrist, he will oppose all that is Godly and will act as if he were God with “power and signs and lying wonders” (verses 4 and 9). Revelation 13 implies he will be a gentile orator with great speaking ability that draws many people to him. The devil will give him “his power and his seat and great authority” (verse 2). Daniel 7 predicts he will rise to power over 10 kings or czars who will extend his rule.

If you think any of the above is happening today, you must also watch for these signs to recognize the Antichrist. He will come from some area originally ruled by ancient Rome; miraculously, he will survive an assassination attempt; his right-hand advisor will be a Jew who works amazing tricks that astound people; although he appears at first to be for Israel, he will eventually turn against them and persecute all who believe in God; he will be invited to rule the world at a time of world-wide natural and supernatural calamities. And, his ultimate identification will be in his name somehow being connected with the number 666. When he sits in the rebuilt Temple of God allowing people to worship him as God, Jesus will return to destroy him. Long before these final signs are given we believe Christ will take his Church out of the world’s final tribulation to wait in Paradise for our return with Jesus.

Until all these signs are evident, the only way to discern the signs of the times is to give ourselves to Jesus and ask his Spirit to enlighten us from his Word, the Bible.

 

Why did Jesus teach in parables?

Q. Why did Jesus use so many parables in his teaching? Philip Gay, Woodbridge, VA

A. The disciples of Jesus asked him that same question in Matthew 13:10. A paraphrase of his reply in verses 11-16 states: “Knowledge about the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you. But it has not been given to the crowd. Those who understand these mysteries will be given more knowledge, and they will excel in understanding them. However, some people don’t understand these mysteries. (Therefore), even what they understand will be taken away from them. This is why I speak to them this way. They see, but they’re blind. They hear, but they don’t listen. They don’t even try to understand.”

Jesus continued, quoting from Isaiah: “‘These people have become close-minded and hard of hearing. They have shut their eyes so that their eyes never see. Their ears never hear. Their minds never understand. And they never return to me for healing!’ Blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear.” Verses 34-35 of that chapter say Jesus didn’t speak to that crowd any more without using parables. He was fulfilling what Asaph had prophecied in Psalm 78:2, “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old.”

Jesus wasn’t the first to teach in parables; this method had been used by Oriental teachers for centuries. However, secular teachers had used parables only to provide illustrations to help their hearers understand their teachings. Jesus said he used parables to separate his audience. Those who were spiritually tuned to God would be further illuminated by what he taught. Those who were alienated from God would be kept in the dark, even more confused.

Even today, when the Bible is read, some people receive a blessing from its teachings and learn new truths. Others have no clue what they’re reading. What Jesus said is true: We will understand the Bible according to our level of spiritual maturity. Even among believers, some will understand greater truths than others. But, those who are separated from God by unconfessed sin, or who have willfully shut their ears to him, won’t understand the great promises it contains. Those blessings are reserved for those who love the Lord.

Therefore, it’s important – expecially as we study Jesus’ parables – that we ask the Spirit who accompanies the Written Word to enlighten us to the lessons he wants us to learn. Then, having learned those truths, we’re responsible to live by them and share them.

 

Where is the first mention of Jesus in the Bible?

Q. Where is the first mention of Jesus in the Bible? Nat Fleming, Colonial Heights, VA

A. John 1 says Jesus was the agent of creation who made all things. But, the first prophecy about Jesus is thought to be Genesis 3:15. Theologians call this the Protoevangel, or first gospel prophecy. Right after the first sin, God promised that a man-child would be born to a woman with no mention of a husband. There would be a battle and her child would be wounded. But, he would strike the mortal blow to the serpent. That he would be born of a virgin is confirmed in Isaiah 7:14.

Genesis, in 18:18 and 17:19, predicts him to come from the line of Abraham and Isaac. Numbers 24:17 says he will come from Jacob’s descendants, and Genesis 49:10 says he will be born from the tribe of Judah. Add to this that Isaiah 9:7 says he will come from David’s line and occupy his throne. Micah 5:2 names Bethlehem as the place of his birth, and Isaiah 60:6 predicts the coming of a large entourage from Sheba in Persia bringing him gold and incense. Jeremiah 31:15 says infants would be murdered at his birth, and Hosea 11:1 predicts the holy family’s flight to Egypt.

Daniel 9:25 foretells the exact year of his public ministry while Isaiah 9:1-2 says his ministry will center around Galilee. Zechariah 9:9 pictures his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Isaiah 53:3 predicts his rejection by the Jews, and verse 12 describes his death by crucifixion, as does Psalm 22 and Zechariah 12:10. That he would be sold for 30 pieces of silver is declared in Zechariah 11:13. Psalm 109:3-5 says he would be hated without cause, and Psalm 69:21 predicts the gall and vinegar offered to him on his cross. Psalm 22:18 says soldiers would gamble for his possessions, but Psalm 34:20 says not one of his bones would be broken. Isaiah 53:9 foretold his buriah with the rich, while Psalm 16:10 predicts his resurrection and Psalm 68:18 describes his ascension.

Add to this the many typelogical illustrations of his life and ministry: Joseph is most nearly a type of Christ in the Old Testament, and the Egyptian name Pharoah gave him calls him “The Word of God.” Also, Noah’s Ark, Moses, Joshua, Melchizedek, and Hosea are among many who forshadow his character qualities. God did not leave us wanting in ways to recognize and know Jesus was his promised Messiah for the Jews and his Savior for the world.

 

What is the “sin unto death”?

Q. What is the “sin unto death” which John mentions in 1 John 5:16? Mike Hathcock, Colonial Heights, VA

A. New Testament expositors have disagreed for centuries on the exact meaning John intended for this verse. First John 5:16 says, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.”

For example, some of the problems of interpretation include: “Brother” – is this a brother believer or any member of the family of man? “Death” – is this physical or spiritual death? Could it refer to a legal death sentence, or to a terminal disease contracted by sinful action? “He” – is this God or an earthly judge? Is John forbidding prayer for such a sinner? Most commentators today are divided among those possible scenarios.

For those interpreting “brother” to refer to an unsaved fellow human, some understand this sinner to have committed the unpardonable sin. When a person has rejected the Holy Spirit’s call to salvation, in effect equating the Spirit to be of no more value than the devil, he brings upon himself the sentence of eternal death. There is no other means of salvation other than allowing God’s Spirit to lead one to faith in Christ. Other commentators think this person might be under a legal or physical sentence of death he deserves. In either case, John could be saying there’s no need to pray for those justifiably dying because of their own actions.

Another possible truth John might be teaching is for carnal Christians still practicing their former sins. In this scenario the “brother” is a believer. The “sin unto death” may refer to a stronghold of Satan in the life of an immature Christian. Paul said in Romans 6 that we are to claim victory in Christ over our sins. If a believer is too weak to overcome a particular sin, God may just remove him from the presence of sin by taking him on to Heaven. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:30 that some believers who had abused the Lord’s Supper had died early. This says to me that it’s dangerous for a Christian to continue in willful sin.

I don’t think John is forbidding us to pray for any sinner. He’s just saying it won’t do any good if his fate is already determined by his actions. We ought not pray against God’s will. But, since we don’t know who has crossed that boundary, we ought to pray for and witness to everyone in hopes that God may give life – physical, and especially spiritual – to them.

 

Why did God allow men to have multiple wives?

Q. Why did God allow and even bless Old Testament saints who had multiple wives? Daniel Krynauw, Pattaya, Thailand

A. I cannot propose to know God’s reasoning, but there may be some Scriptural hints about this. Of course, we realize that social issues of importance to us are not necessarily urgent to God, because our salvation doesn’t depend on what kind of family life we have. God looks within each individual’s heart.

After God began the human race with only two people, he commanded in Genesis 1:28 that they reproduce to fill the earth. Although it wasn’t God’s ideal, allowing men to have multiple wives would populate the earth faster. This would bring more people into being to fellowship with God. After all, God created us to bring him pleasure (Revelation 4:11); and, according to Deuteronomy 4:9-10, our children should be taught to revere and honor God.

In a practical sense, those early agrarian societies needed large families. This was so important that childlessness was considered a woman’s curse. The more children they had, the more workers they had for their fields. The practice of giving a dowry arose from this need. A groom offered a gift to his father-in-law to help repay him for the loss of his daughter’s labor.

Later, God allowed the founding fathers of Israel to have multiple wives to grow God’s chosen nation faster. In Genesis 15:5 God promised Abram that he would have many children. This nation would be God’s instrument to bear the Savior for all mankind. The larger and faster that nation grew, the more impact they would have in preparing the whole world to receive God’s Messiah.

With the coming of Christ God’s population plan could change. No longer did the world need to reproduce physically. God’s new nation in Christ would reproduce spiritually. Therefore, in Matthew 19:4-8, Jesus in effect put an end to bigamy when he said it was God’s ideal from the beginning that one man be married to one woman for life. The greater lesson this teaches is that the Church as Christ’s bride receives his undivided love and attention. Now, the New Testament, in such passages as Ephesians 5:28, presumes that a Christian man will have only one wife: “He who loves his wife (singular) loves himself.” Jesus taught that God would have us return to his ideal of one wife “until death do you part.”

 

Why doesn’t God have a mother?

Q. My 9 year old granddaughter is troubled and asking why God doesn’t have a mother. What can I tell her? Martha Small, Courtland, VA

A. As you’ll see in my last paragraph, I would follow the same plan I use when young children first ask about getting saved. I answer their questions fully, but simply. I find that, usually, if I give them a logical answer that satisfies their curiosity, they’ll move on to other subjects. However, if a child continues to ask about salvation, God’s Spirit may be convicting them even at their young age. When this is the case, I ask them if they want to pray and ask Jesus to forgive their sins.

It’s natural for a child, sometimes as early as age 5, to want to trust Jesus if they’ve been brought up in a Christian home and church. I certainly don’t want to give children a false impression that they’re saved; neither do I want to turn them away if the Lord is drawing them to himself!

First, I lead a young child to understand sin in terms he or she can comprehend, such as: disobedience, jealousy, temper tandrums, lying, etc. As I lead the child to realize how much God hates sin and how everyone needs to let Jesus put our sins to death on his cross, I lead them to pray asking God’s forgiveness. I call this “A step toward God” and rejoice with the child, sometimes even announcing this in church. However, I don’t encourage baptism until the child is older and requests it. I want them to understand and remember this very important decision. That also gives me a chance later to confirm their earlier decision. Many churches practice the same thing calling it “Confirmation” to verify a child’s commitment to Christ.

Therefore, difficult questions often can be satisfied by telling children to wait until they can ask God in Heaven. As for God’s not having a mother, I would explain that he’s always existed, but when he came to earth as Jesus he needed a human family to live with. Mary isn’t God’s mother; that would make her older and greater than God. But, Mary and Joseph agreed to be God’s family while he was on earth. When we trust Jesus as our Savior, he adopts us into his family; and, like him, we’ll live forever in his Heavenly home.

 

Was God talking to Himself in Genesis 1:26?

Q. Who was God talking to in Genesis 1:26? Tom Harvey, Sr., Chesterfield, VA

A. The Hebrew word translated God in the beginning chapters of Genesis is Elohim. It means “The Strong One;” therefore, Almighty God is a good literal description of our Creator. Later, God revealed to Moses at the burning bush of Exodus 3 that his personal name is like the Hebrew verb “to be.” God said his name is “I AM.” That’s the covenant name translated LORD in all caps in our English Bibles. To the Hebrew consonants in that name we add our own vowels to get Jehovah or Yahweh as possible pronunciations.

Hebrew nouns have 3 possible forms, whereas we’re used to English nouns having 1 of 2 forms. Our nouns can be singular or plural. Hebrew nouns can be singular, meaning 1; or they can be dual, meaning only 2. When they’re plural, they mean at least 3. Elohim has the -im plural ending. Therefore, early believers knew that God was at least a three-fold being. Even the Jewish Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 is literally, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our Gods (Elohim) is one Lord.”

Old Testament saints were limited in their understanding of God’s triune nature, but they knew of God from Genesis 1:1, and they knew about the Spirit of God from Genesis 1:2. The third, mysterious being who often addressed himself interchangably with God was called The Angel (Messenger) of the Lord. In the Hebrew this Angel was always preceded with the definite article, “the.” An example of this is Exodus 3:4 and 6.

With that background, let me answer your question. The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 1:26 is plural accompanied by a plural verb and pronoun. Because of this, the translators had to render it as “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” We can only surmise that this is the God-head speaking in council with himself.

So, God made our bodies in the image of Jesus, the one physical form of the Trinity. And, he gave us minds and spirits in the image of the Father and Holy Spirit. In our minds we are aware of our surroundings; and in our spirits we can be aware of God. Therefore, we were made to be like God and be with God to serve him, praise him, and bask in his love for us.

 

Is Mary still a virgin?

Q. If Jesus had brothers and sisters, why do people still call his mother, the Virgin Mary? Charles Richland, Augusta, GA

A. The prophet predicted in Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” In Matthew 1:22-23, the gospel writer said, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,’ which being interpreted is, God with us.” Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew told us that Mary was that virgin Isaiah predicted. Therefore, we call Mary “The Virgin” because she was a virgin when she conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

The next verses tell us in Matthew 1:24-25, “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” The fact that he “knew her not till…” implies that he did have relations with her later.

That same gospel writer told us in Matthew 13:55-56 of the New Catholic Liturgical Bible that the people of Nazareth said of Jesus, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? And his sisters, are they not all with us?” Therefore, the testimony of both protestant and Catholic New Testament texts say that Mary and Joseph had their own children some time after Jesus was born.

Four brothers are named along with at least 2 sisters. This is confirmed by Paul in Galatians 1:19 telling of his visit to Jerusalem, “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” And, Jude, in the first verse of his epistle, calls himself a brother to James. That would make him the same Jude, the Lord’s brother, listed in Matthew 13:55.

We must be careful adding exaltations to Mary that cannot be supported with holy Scripture. Neither revelations to people nor religious traditions should replace what God teaches in his Word.

 

What crowns may we expect in Heaven?

Q. Revelation mentions crowns as rewards for the saints. What crowns may we expect? Joyce Neighbours, Windsor, VA

A. The Bible lists 5 crowns that are promised to the saved if they meet certain requirements. First Corinthians 9:25 refers to an incorruptible crown for temperance. In a Bible dictionary temperance is defined as self-control. Second Peter 1:6 urges us to add temperance to our character. Temperance has many shades of meaning: It’s the mastery of self, the abstinence from excess, the ability to be patient until the right time, and the capability to do the right thing.

A crown of glory is mentioned in 1 Peter 5:1-4. It’s given for special service. Not only may church officials and missionaries expect this crown, but all who have given their best wherever God has placed them should receive this reward. Those who have led out in special service to our Lord will receive a special crown of glory from him. This glory may refer to it’s radiance, color, or jewels, but it may also be the reward of becoming more like Jesus, whom James 2:1 calls the Lord of glory.

Revelation 3:8 and 11 speak of the victor’s crown for faithful witness. It will be given to those who have “kept my word and have not denied my name” (verse 8). Each believer should receive this crown, because the least we can do is obey the precepts of the Bible and not deny that Jesus is our Lord.

A crown of life for being faithful unto death is promised in Revelation 2:10. James 1:12 also mentions this crown. I think this is a special crown for those martyred in the Lord’s service, but it’s also for each of us who has served the Lord faithfully all our lives.

Second Timothy 4:7-8 has Paul expecting to receive a crown of righteousness for loving and longing for the Lord’s appearing. Those who live in expectation of Christ’s soon coming and have kept themselves pure for him – those who have tried to immitate his righteousness may expect this crown which will keep us holy for all eternity.

I hope all of us receive all 5 of these crowns! But, will they make us prideful if we get more than someone else? No, Revelation 4:10-11 show that we’ll lay them all at Jesus’ feet because only he is worthy of all praise. After all, he created our abilities, his blood cleanses them from prideful motives, and his Spirit energizes all we do; so it’s only fitting that he receives the praise!

 

Can we find dinosaurs in the Bible?

Q. Are dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible? Fossil remains prove they existed; what happened? Jan McDaniel, Carbon,TX

A. There are two strange animals described in the last chapters of the book of Job. Even today, Bible scholars are puzzled over the behemoth in chapter 40 and the leviathan in chapter 41. As you read Job 40, you may think behemoth may have been a woolly mammoth, an elephant, or a hippo; but none of these really match behemoth’s description. It sounds like an ancient dinosaur. Stories of these lingered long after their probable destruction with the Flood.

Likewise, we’re not sure what leviathan was. Guesses are that it may have been a crocodile, a whale, or an extinct sea monster. But, if there were such a thing as a fire-breathing dragon, then chapter 41 describes one! Isaiah 27:1 supports my theory. Leviathan is also mentioned in Psalms 74 and 104. Outside of the Revelation, there are 22 biblical references to dragons. Many of these may be describing varieties of dinosaurs. Many earth scientists ascribe the demise of “prehistoric” animals to the impact of a tremendous meteor, but no crater or remains of such have been found. The Bible gives a better answer in the Biblical Flood. Genesis 1:6-7 tells of the dividing of waters below and above the firmament of earth’s atmosphere. The waters above the firmament formed a vapor canopy which would be a natural shield from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and cause a greater air pressure. Under those circumstances plants and animals could grow much larger, and giant winged reptiles could fly in heavier air.

Genesis 7 describes a world-wide deluge we call the Flood. All air breathing animals and people died except those in Noah’s Ark. The Flood rained down the water vapor canopy. That release of air pressure and the resulting water and earth turbulence caused the deaths of giant animals and plants and restricted their regrowth. For survival on the Ark, God sent Noah 2 of all undomesticated animals and 7 of all domesticatible animals so the earth would be more hospitable for man. If there were any varieties not on the Ark, they died. Even if smaller varieties or babies of the larger species were on the Ark, they were among the unclean animals. Therefore, since there were only 2 of them, if one died they became extinct.

I subscribe to the young earth age theory the Bible implies. The same archaeological evidence that proves dinosaurs existed also proves man was upon the earth then. Footprints of humans and dinosaurs appear in the same rock strata; and, at least in one instance, a man’s footprint is inside a dinosaur’s print. If, in Job 40:15, behemoths are dinosaurs as they appear to be, then that verse clearly says they were created at the same time as man, not in an earlier age.

 

Explain Easter terms

Q. Please explain the terms we use for Easter and Holy Week. Tony Josephs, Darvills, VA

A. Thank you for sending your questions to me via the Progress-Index.

Easter was first called Pasch relating it to the Jewish Passover and, later, to the Catholic Lent. At Passover the Jews remember when Moses led their ancestors in Egypt to paint the blood of a spotless lamb on their doorposts. When God’s Death Angel saw the blood he would “pass over” them and they would be free to march to their Promised Land. Lent is observed by Catholics as a 40 day period of self-examination and denial culminating on Easter.

Because Pasch overlapped with the secular celebration of Astre or Estre, the goddess of spring, early Christians formed their own celebration which assimilated the secular name Easter. The carry-over of rabbits and eggs reminds us that spring is the time of new life. Believers know we have new life because Jesus arose from his tomb as the First Fruits for us. Traditionally, we call the week before Easter Holy Week or Passion Week. Passion refers to Jesus’ suffering and death. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter. Other days are also named, such as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

In the Catholic tradition Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, is a celebration day, or season, before Lent begins. Ash Wednesday is the day they begin to deny themselves for the 40 days of Lent. These are not a part of Holy Week. Palm Sunday is named for the day Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. By riding a donkey, Jesus presented himself as a man of peace; but the people wanted a conqueror. The crowd shouted “Hosanna,” which means “Save us!” Waving palm branches was a sign of victory for a conquering hero; or in this case, an invitation for Jesus to lead them into battle and free them from Roman bondage.

Maundy Thursday is so called for the mandates Jesus gave at his last Passover. Maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum, meaning to command. In John 13:34 Jesus commanded his followers to love one another and to remember him by his Last Supper. Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified. Although Friday was painful for Jesus, it is a good day for those who believe his death purchased our salvation. Holy Saturday is when the body of Jesus lay in his tomb.

Both Christmas and Easter began as secular holidays, but what they mean now to believers is what’s important. These titles don’t matter; the truth they represent and the praise of our hearts is what God accepts!

 

Explain who will be at the Great White Throne Judgment.

Q. If God has promised that he won’t remember the sins of those who trust him, why does Revelation 20 say everyone, small and great, will answer in the Judgment? Sid Johnson, Jackson, MS

A. The Bible does tell us in Isaiah 43:25 and Psalm 103:12 that, for those who trust in him, God will remember our sins no more and cast them as far as the east is from the west. The judgment you mention in Revelation 20:11-20 is what we call the Great White Throne Judgment. It’s only for the unsaved. John 5:22 says Jesus himself will be that final Judge. After the millennial reign of Christ, he’ll call back from Hell all the unsaved. This judgment will show why they’re being punished and assign their eternal state in the Lake of Fire.

The only judgment for the saved will be the Judgment Seat of Christ, so called in 2 Corinthians 5:10. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Notice that Paul is writing to the saved, therefore this judgment is not for deciding Heaven or Hell. It will determine the rewards and heavenly job assignments for the redeemed. Since Jesus bore ALL our sins on his cross, believers won’t have to pay for any of them. However, we may suffer a lack of reward for failures to live for Christ after we were saved. First Corinthians 3:15 says, “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

This judgment of the saved seems to happen immediately after the Rapture, symbolically described in Revelation 4:1. Chapters 4-5 picture the saved as having crowns, so they’ve already been rewarded. Yet, they choose to lay those crowns at the feet of Jesus and declare that he alone is worthy of all honor.

God’s judgment of the lost pictures Jesus seated at a great White Throne to contrast his purity and fairness to man’s sinfulness. Certain books will be the only testimony in that Trial. The Judge will consult the Book of Life to show their name blotted out because they rejected Jesus as God’s only path to eternal life. Then, he’ll look at the angels’ records of their deeds to determine their eternal punishment. Revelation 22:12 teaches that there will be degrees of punishment and rewards.

I suggest that the wise decision would be to settle your case out of court by committing your life to Jesus and living for him now. There will be no pleading of your case after death. The testimony of your life as recorded in these books will be the only witness for or against you.

 

Did their sacrifices save the Old Testament saints?

Q. Were Old Testament saints saved by their animal sacrifices or were their sins simply covered for another year? Bruce Hackett, Ft. Lee, VA

A. Laws given at Mt. Sinai and recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers required sin offerings to be offered continually at the Tabernacle (and later at the Temple). Those fires for the nation’s sins never went out. In addition, the High Priest had to offer a sacrifice for his sins before he could officiate at the sin altar, and individuals had to bring sacrifices for their personal sins.

These sacrifices were a means of covering sin temporarily. This was understood and later expressed by David in Psalm 32:1, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Also, Psalm 85:2, a psalm by or for the sons of Korah states, “You have forgiven the iniquity of your people; you have covered all their sin.” Of course, Old Testament believers had no way of knowing how God would remove their sins permanently.

God’s demand for a blood sacrifice pointed to the supreme offering of Jesus’ blood for the sins of the world. Hebrews 9:22 says, “without shedding of blood (there) is no remission (of sin).” Hebrews 9:12 then introduces the High Priestly work of Jesus: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”

Selected verses from Hebrews 10 sum it up: “For the law being a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of those things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make sinners perfect….For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have had no pleasure….We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Old Testament saints were saved, not by the blood of their sacrifices, but by the ultimate sacrifice of God’s Lamb (John 1:29). The blood of their sacrifices covered sins temporarily until the blood of Jesus could remove them permanently. The sacrifices themselves held only symbolic value since God looked upon the heart of the person offering the sacrifice. It’s efficacy was based on the repentant spirit of the sinner. That’s still the way it is today: Simply saying you believe in the shed blood of Jesus won’t save you unless you mean it with all your heart!

 

Is the Antichrist alive today?

Q. Could the Antichrist be alive and in power today? Tommie Thompson, Orlando, FL

A.Since the Rapture of the Church could be located chronologically in Revelation 4:1, chapters 6-18 describe events after the true Church is removed. The Antichrist may well be alive and have a limited political spotlight before the Church is raptured, but his world-wide reign will climax after Christians are gone.

Some key scriptures that tell about him are: Daniel 7-8; 2 Thessalonians 2; and Revelation 13. In the last days before Jesus’ return a world leader will arise from the former Roman Empire, probably Europe. He’ll be given complete authority to rule by controlling the economy and promising to solve the world’s crises. He will dazzle the world by his speech and knowledge; but his character will be the opposite of Jesus, including his sexual preference for those of his own gender. He’ll miraculously survive an assignation attempt so that he will be worshipped as God. And, he’ll persecute all those who worship the True God.

Antichrist will also be recognized by his right-hand man whom we call the False Prophet. These two are described in Revelation 13 as beasts. The first beast, the Antichrist, arises out of the sea which means he will be a gentile. The second beast, the False Prophet, comes up from the land, meaning he’ll be a Jew. This one will lead the Jews to follow Antichrist like a Judas goat leads sheep to the slaughter.

For those alive on earth then, the number 666 will help identify the Antichrist. Revelation 13:18 says, “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six.” The letters of the Hebrew and Roman alphabets were also used for numbers. One way Antichrist will be confirmed in the last days by Bible searchers will be that the letters in his name will add up to 666. That verse and chapter also makes it clear that the Antichrist will be one man and not a nation, religion, or impersonal principle.

The Bible gives signs for us to watch and know when the time is near for Jesus’ return. All necessary signs have been fulfilled and many continue to be fulfilled every day. In our recent economic crises we learned how easy it will be for one man to take over! That makes it urgent that everyone be prepared to meet Jesus favorably by receiving him as their Lord.

 

Why did Jesus ask Peter 3 times if he loved him?

Q. In John 21, why did Jesus ask Peter 3 times if he loved him? Judy Beach, Richmond, VA

A. The reason hinges upon a series of recent events in Peter’s experience. In Matthew 26:35, Mark 14:29, and John 13:37 Peter variously claimed to Jesus: “I will lay down my life for your sake….although everyone else is offended in you, I will never be offended in you….though I should die with you, I will never deny you.” In effect, Peter was claiming that he loved Jesus more than the other disciples.

In response to Peter’s last claim in the Upper Room, Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny him 3 times that very night. John 18, then, tells how Jesus’ prophecy came true as Peter denied 3 times even knowing Jesus when he felt his life was in danger. After Peter realized that he’d done just what Jesus predicted, he wept bitterly; but he never seemed to have forgiven himself. From then on to John’s chapter 21 Peter is on the fringe of the story. Yes, he went to the tomb; but he went away disbelieving Jesus was alive. He was in the Upper Room when Jesus made some resurrection appearances, and we’re even told in Luke 24:34 that Jesus appeared to Peter. But, it seems Peter no longer considered himself a disciple after he denied Jesus.

One reason for that may be in Mark 16:7 where the angel at Jesus’ resurrection told the women to “tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee.” That sounded like Peter was no longer included with the disciples. Another reason involved the Hebrew wedding vows. Sometimes, a poor couple could be considered married without a formal ceremony if they promised 3 times before witnesses: “I marry you; I marry you; I marry you.” Perhaps Peter felt he had divorced Jesus by denying him 3 times.

Jesus had to deal with Peter’s inflated pride by asking him if Peter still thought he loved Jesus “more than these.” By asking Peter 3 times, Jesus was giving him a chance to “marry” Jesus again. Even though Peter couldn’t bring himself to promise “agape” love and used the lower “phileo” love in his replies, Jesus accepted his professions by commissioning him with specific tasks. The implication of the original Aramaic could be translated: “Nourish my young lambs….Tend my (older) sheep….Feed (all) my sheep!”

Beware the trap of false pride even in your relationship with Christ. If Jesus made a special appearance to restore Peter, he can do what is needed for you and me.

 

What was the Urim and Thummim?

Q. What were the Urim and Thummim used by the Jewish High Priest to determine God’s will? Nancy Burt, Seattle, WA

A. Even the Jews today differ on what these instruments were since they were lost about the time the Ark was taken during the Babylonian captivity. First mentioned in Exodus 28:30, they’re not described as if Moses already had them or had been told how to make them. They appear to have been kept in a pocket of the breastplate or ephod worn over the High Priest’s robe near his heart.

Urim and Thummim were consulted by the priest to determine the Lord’s judgment or decision about questions. Guesses as to what they were range from stones or gems to sticks or bones. Were they carved, engraved, colored, flat or round? We don’t know. Urim appears to have come from a word meaning “command” and would indicate a positive answer. Thummim might mean “prohibit” and would be a negative answer. If they were 2 identical flat stones painted black and white on bottom and top, rolling 2 whites might be Urim and mean “yes,” whereas 2 blacks might be Thummim and mean “no.” One of each could mean no decisive answer at that time.

Why, were these needed? So, Israel wouldn’t depend on the High Priest’s words alone, who might lie or lead them astray for personal gain. When these instruments were thrown, rolled, or drawn out publicly, the people could see God’s answer for themselves.

Sounding like science fiction, some Jewish traditions have suggested they might have radiated colored signal lights from God. Or, inserting a parchment containing the holy name of God into a slot underneath the pocket caused the 12 stones in the priest’s breastplate to flash letters of the Hebrew alphabet to spell out God’s message. Some early Christians thought they could have been used by the disciples to select Matthias as Judas’ replacement. Latter Day Saints claim they were the spectacles given by the angel Moroni through which Joseph Smith looked to translate the golden plates containing the Book of Mormon.

Because both words are plural in Hebrew, this could simply have been a term for any method of divination to know God’s will. Thankfully, we don’t need them today because we have the Spirit, the Word, and prayer to know our Father’s will.

 

Interpreting Revelation’s Letters to Asia Minor

Q. How should we interpret the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation? Aliki Peltiki, Athens Greece

A. Chapters 2-3 of The Revelation may be understood in many ways to prove again the wisdom of our God and the riches of His Word. Note that these churches were not the only ones in Asia at that time, but they were specifically selected for greater lessons than what appears on the surface. They formed a rough circle in what is now Turkey and were addressed clockwise in order around that circle. They were addressed to the pastors or heavenly presence of those churches. I understand them in 4 applications:

(1) They were certainly actual letters to specific churches offering mid-course corrections as a kind of spiritual report card. (2) The number 7 means they were meant for all churches to consider themselves. (3) Because they are Scripture they’re meant for individual self-examination. (4) But, I believe it is no coincidence that they seem to represent periods of church history from Pentecost until the Second Coming.

Ephesus means “desirable” and seems to represent the original apostolic church until about 160 A.D. This early church walked in separation from the world which is God’s “desirable” But, Jesus rebuked them for leaving their first love of witness and ministry. Smyrna means “myrrh or bitter” and seems to characterize church history from about 160 to 313 when Christians were persecuted so greatly by Rome. Pergamos means “a mixed marriage” and characterizes the church about 313 A.D. when Constantine declared Christianity the state religion.

Thyatira means “compromise” and seems to describe the church from about 600-1500 A.D. during the period we call the Dark Ages. Sardis means “those coming out.” It characterizes the church about 1517 when Luther began the Reformation. Philadelphia means “brotherly love” and seems to describe the true church of the last days from about 1750 on, when William Carey began modern missions. This is not one church or denomination. Those who are truly saved in any church will be raptured by Christ.

Laodicea is the false church of the last days coexisting simultaneously with the true church. Again, this isn’t a particular church, but those who are unsaved in any church. This group will be left behind to join the final ecumenical church that will worship Antichrist. It is to this church that Jesus gives his most beautiful and passionate invitation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: If any man will hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in.” This is the message all churches should deliver for Jesus!

 

What is the correct name for Jesus?

Q. Is there a reason why Jesus is referred to as Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, or Jesus the Christ? Which is correct, and does he have a surname? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A. Christ is a title, so Christ Jesus or Jesus the Christ are most correct. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah. It means the anointed one or the promised one. He is the savior promised in Old Testament prophecies. The Jews looked for a messiah who would be their redeemer and save them from their enemies. Now, we call him our Redeemer or Savior because he paid the ransom of death demanded for sins.

Lord is a title of respect for one greater than yourself. Wealthy and noble men were addressed as lord. Christians equate Lord with God and also use that title for Jesus since he was God in a human body. It is often interchangeable with master because a lord usually had slaves or servants under him. In the King James Old Testament the word LORD in all caps takes the place of the name of God which we sometimes translate as Jehovah or Yahweh. It’s the name God gave to Moses at the burning bush and is the root of the Hebrew verb “to be”. The Jews considered it too holy to pronounce, so they substituted Word or Lord for God’s name. John 1 identifies the Word or Lord of the Old Testament as being Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t have a surname. If he did he would probably be called Jesus Barjoseph meaning the son of Joseph, as Barabbas meant the son of Abbas. He might be named Jesus Nazarene, like Mary Magdalene who was Mary from Magdala. According to Mark 6:3, Jesus might have been called the equivalent in Greek of Jesus the Carpenter or Carpenterson. Surnames came into being to identify the person from others by the same first name and were usually connected with that person’s parents, hometown, or vocation.

Moses wanted to know God’s familiar name because Hebrew names revealed a person’s character. God said his name is “I Am” because he has always existed and he is anything we need him to be. Jesus came to complete the name and character statement of his Father. So, the name Jesus means “I Am Salvation”, or “I Am. Savior”. However, he is only Savior for those who have committed their lives to him as their Lord.

 

Does God send a lying spirit?

Q. Please comment on the lying spirit God sent in 2 Chronicles 18.

A. Second Chronicles 18 and 1 Kings 22 both tell of King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah allying against the Syrians at Ramoth-Gilead. When Jehoshaphat suggested they should consult the Lord, Ahab called for his prophets. Jehoshaphat knew they always told Ahab what he wanted to hear, so he asked for a true prophet of God. Although Ahab didn’t like him, he summonsed Micaiah, known to be a true prophet. At first Micaiah told the king what he wanted to hear. However, upon being pressed for the truth, Micaiah told of a vision where he saw all the hosts of Heaven discussing with the Lord Ahab’s query. When God asked the heavenly counsels what they advised, a lying spirit volunteered to deceive Ahab to go to the battle where he would be killed. God gave permission for that spirit to do what he proposed.

How do we justify God’s use of a lying spirit? God had already determined Ahab would die at Ramoth-Gilead, so he allowed whatever was necessary to lure him there. Verse 18 says all the hosts of Heaven were present. This would include Satan according to Job 1:6 and 2:1. Jesus said Satan is a liar and the father of all lies. What Satan did here as this lying spirit is no different from what he does every chance he gets. And, he does it with God’s permission for the time being. All the evil that happens in the world now happens, not because God ordained it, but because he allows it.

Note that this vision took the form of a human council which is the only way we can even partially understand God’s actions. We must remember that God is sovereign. He doesn’t need to ask angels or anyone else what he should do. Nor should we suppose that God is the author of a lie, or that he can ever do evil. Of course, God doesn’t have to abide by the rules he places on mortals. What may be sin for us in our limited knowledge may turn out for the better good when God in his wisdom and timing decrees it.

We learn from this account that God does rule over the affairs of earth; he sets up rulers and takes them down using any power that serves his purpose. When he pleases, for the punishment of those who refuse the truth, Revelation 20:7-8 teaches that God not only lets Satan loose to deceive them; but, according to 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, he may give men up to strong delusions to believe Satan. Those who have rejected God’s salvation in Jesus have chosen their own ruin, and God may do with them as he wishes.

 

Did Jesus want the Jews to be saved?

Q. Why does Mark 4:11-12 sound like Jesus doesn’t want the Jews to be saved? Janie Lovorn, Petersburg, VA

A. Right after Jesus told the parable of the sower and the different soils, Mark 4 quotes him speaking to his disciples in verses 11-12: “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”

Jesus was saying that he taught in parables so that those who were spiritually discerning would understand him. However, those who didn’t want to be converted and have to change their ways would stop up their ears so they couldn’t hear the truth.

Matthew 13:14-15, Luke 8:10, and John 12:39-40 all quote Jesus saying pretty much the same as Mark 4. Actually, in all these, Jesus was quoting a prophecy God had given in Isaiah 6:9-10. Although it sounds like God doesn’t want some people to be saved and therefore he intentionally hardens their hearts, we know that’s not the case. Second Peter 3:9 tells us, “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Isaiah was speaking in a prophetic future tense stating the results for those who would harden their hearts. Jesus, in quoting Isaiah, was showing that prophecy being fulfilled. God would simply lock in the decision they had already made. Second Thessalonians 2:10-11 says, “They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”

All this simply means is that an understanding of gospel mysteries is available to those who are open to receive them. But, those who have chosen to ignore God will not understand gospel truths. As 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, it will be foolishness to those who are perishing. Don’t let that describe you!

 

What does the water and blood mean?

Q. Please explain what is meant by the water and blood in 1 John 5. Cynthia Riddick, Suffolk, VA

A.We know that the parables of Jesus and many other Scriptures may be understood differently according to our individual spiritual maturity. That doesn’t mean one person’s understanding is better than another’s. Such has been the case by theologians through the centuries in explaining the water and blood in 1 John 5.

First John 5:6-8 says, “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

Some Bible students understand John’s reference to the testimony of water and blood to refer to the baptism and death of Jesus. God spoke at Jesus’ baptism affirming him as his Son. And, the Spirit had predicted the events of his death which were authenticated by the whole universe. The earth quaked and the sun hid its face when the Creator died. This was further confirmed in John 19:34 by the water and blood from his side when he died.

Although the above is true, I prefer the simplest explanation. John was writing against the Gnostic heresy of his day that denied the humanity of Jesus. They said it was an illusion to think that God would take a human body and die. John may have been saying the water, blood, and Spirit testify that Jesus was fully human and not an illusion. Using the symbolism of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3, water refers to physical birth and blood to physical death. The Holy Spirit uses these two events, and everything in between, to show that Jesus was fully human and divine. The Triune God in Heaven agrees to that, and the Spirit uses the life and death of Jesus to testify on earth. God is witnessing to the world that Jesus is his Son. We, too, must claim personally that God came as the man Jesus to live and die that we might be saved.

 

Does God write his Word in our hearts?

Q. When the Bible refers to “the Word” does it not go far beyond the written Word we call the Bible? Couldn’t it also refer to the message God writes in our hearts? A. Van Rowe, Patrick Springs, VA

A. True, there are times when the Bible says “the word of the Lord came to” such and such a prophet. But, those words became a part of the written Word. And, yes, God is surely able to speak to individuals today. But, our hearing or understanding of his words can be fallible. If God does speak to us, he will only give an application or expansion of what he’s already recorded in his written Word, never a contradiction of it.

There are only two meanings to the phrase, “The Word of God.” It’s a title for the Bible and also a name Jesus will be called at his Second Coming. Hebrews 4:12 presents the Word of God in those two forms: A weapon to be worn and the Warrior who wields it. That verse pictures God’s words as powerful as the Creator who brought all things into being by his words. But, God also uses his words as a weapon to fight evil. It’s two-edged because it cuts both ways: defensively and offensively. And, that verse also says the Word of God is quick, meaning it’s alive. Only a living entity can discern the thoughts and intents of someone’s heart. Both the written Word and the Living Word are alive.

We know Jesus is the living Judge who can separate soul from spirit and joint from marrow when he destroys unbelievers in Judgment. But, the message of the written Word is alive, also. Only a living book can speak to people of all ages and adapt to whatever circumstances they’re in. Only a living book can expand in its promises as we mature in our understanding. Only a living book can increases in strength to anticipate and defeat every temptation Satan sends our way. Only a living book can follow believers all through life to ensure their entrance into Heaven. That book is alive through God’s Spirit who accompanies it.

Why is this important? It’s only as we believe the written Word that we can know the Living Word. We don’t worship the Bible. The Bible doesn’t save us, but it points out our sins and need for a Savior. Then, it points us to the only Savior who’s everything our world needs.

John’s calling of Jesus as the Word in chapter 1 of his gospel was confirmed when he saw Jesus returning in Revelation 19: “…and his name is called the Word of God.” Think about this: When Jesus returns he will not let himself be identified with anything that isn’t completely true and trustworthy!

 

Did Jephthah really kill his little girl?

Q. Did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter in Judges 11 or did she live and remain childless? Clarke Blankenship, Chester, VA

A. Earliest Jewish belief until around 600 A.D. was that she was sacrificed (killed and then her body burned). In the middle ages many rabbis softened that belief saying she was probably locked up by her father and never allowed to marry or have children. They base that interpretation on Judges 11:39 which says, “And she knew no man.” If she had died, that statement would have been unnecessary. They believed that her companions wouldn’t have mourned her death in fulfillment of a holy vow; they were mourning the fact that she would live and not be able to present her father with children to continue his line. They understood the final verse of chapter 11 to mean that her lady friends continued to visit her for 4 days every year to bemoan the fact that she was childless. They couldn’t have done that if she were dead.

Also, these say Jephthah wouldn’t have performed an offering to God since he wasn’t a priest, and no priest would have done this since human sacrifices were forbidden by God. Deuteronomy 18:10, Leviticus chapters 18 and 20, and especially Deuteronomy 12:31 says this is abomination to God. Verse 29 says the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah before he made his vow in verse 30. God wouldn’t have inspired him to kill his daughter. And, they point out that Hebrews 11:32 lists Jephthah as an example of faith. Would he be held in such high esteem if he needlessly killed his daughter?

Those who believe Jephthah did sacrifice his daughter base that on Judges 11:39 which says, “He did to her according to his vow.” That vow he made in verse 31 was to offer as a burnt offering to God whatever came first to meet him on his victorious return from battle. Indeed, it was a rash vow; but Deuteronomy 23:21 says it is a sin not to pay your vow unto God. And, Ecclesiastes 5 says it is better not to vow than to make a vow to God and not fulfill it. Conversely, they use much of the above as proof that Jephthah was a man of honor because he kept his vow, and her companions mourned her memory because she honored her father’s vow.

Sadly, neither of these had to happen. If Jephthah had known the Law or consulted a priest he would have learned that Leviticus 27:5 says a female child under the age of 20 given to God by a singular vow could be redeemed for 10 shekels. Neither do we today have to die eternally for our sins since our Lord Jesus paid the ultimate price to redeem all those who trust in him.

 

How are we to understand Babylon in the New Testament?

Q. How are we to understand Babylon as mentioned in the New Testament? Larry McKibben, Nesbit, MS

A. Scholars are divided over the Babylon mentioned in the last books of the New Testament. Is it the original Assyrian Babylon, with its ruins in modern Iraq, or Rome, believed to become Antichrist’s capitol in the last days?

In Peter’s first epistle, 5:13, he sends greetings from “She that is in Babylon.” Traditionally, this has been interpreted as meaning the Christian church in Rome. Ancient Babylon was in existence at that time, but there’s no evidence that Peter was ever in Assyria even though many Jews had fled to Mesopotamia after their dispersion from Jerusalem. Josephus says by this time any Jews left in that city had largely been driven out both by the Babylonian government and by decree from Caesar. In contrast, there are many records in the Catholic archives of Peter’s being in Rome where he was eventually crucified. And, since he also sends greetings from Silvanus (Silas) and Mark in chapter 5, we know they were in Rome with Paul.

It’s logical to assume that John, knowing of Peter’s association of Rome with Babylon, would use that same terminology in the Revelation, chapters 14-18. We must also remember that this is a prophecy of the future. Today Babylon is no longer occupied. Isaiah 13:20-22 predicted the ruin of that original city and said it will not be rebuilt.

I think scripture settles this question for us. Babylon’s designation in Revelation 17:5 as “musterion”, translated from the Greek as “mystery”, means a riddle to be understood figuratively. Further, the Revelation’s Babylon is described as a persecutor of saints (17:6), as sitting on 7 mountains (17:9), as ruling over the kings of the earth (17:18), and as a center of economic trade (18:3, 11-13). Rome has long been known as the city on 7 hills and Papal Rome has persecuted many saints over the centuries.

My personal opinion is that Revelation 17:5 refers to the mysterious religion of ancient Babel where Satan originated idolatry. Their king, Nimrod, was eventually worshipped as the god Merodach, and Satan’s demons were deified there as the “hosts of heaven” signified in the astrological charts of the Zodiac. In the last days that same Satan worship will continue as embodied in Satan’s man, the Antichrist, his false church, city, and government centered in Rome. As ancient Babylon persecuted the Jews this future Babylon will persecute all believers of the True God.

 

Please explain the Book of Life

Q. Concerning the Book of Life mentioned in Revelation 3:5, does this mean a person once written in the Book may lose his or her salvation? Donna Stout, Decatur, IL

A. Revelation 3:5 in the King James Bible says, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” You’re right that this sounds like a person may have his name blotted out and lose his salvation. However, Jesus taught in John 10:29 that salvation is an act of God, and he promises that those who believe in him will have eternal life. If it’s eternal, we can’t lose it.

So, how do we reconcile this paradox? There are several possible solutions to your question:

(1) You could understand Revelation 3:5 as referring to the Book of the Living (ones). It may refer to the record of everyone who has ever lived. Those who are not saved have never truly lived by God’s standards and will thus be blotted out of God’s record of living ones, ie., those having eternal life.

(2) Or, since we believe scriptures like Matthew 19:14 teach babies are saved (and recorded in the Book of Life) until they reach the age of accountability, if they reject Christ their names will be removed.

(3) The phase, “I will not blot out” could be understood conversely to give extra assurance. It may be intended to show there is no possibility that those recorded as being saved will ever be removed from God’s register. The Greek writes this as a strong double negative in the first aorist active (future) tense. Since only God decides who is registered in his Book of Life, he’s guaranteeing that he will not remove them once recorded. If this is the meaning, it shows that God knows and cares for his elect. Because of the unchanging nature of his love, he promises not only to save but to keep saved all those who belong to him. Salvation is God’s holding onto us, not our trying to hold to him.

When a scripture seems to contradict other passages, we have to go with the greater number of references on that subject. “Eternal life” is mentioned 64 times in the New Testament. Many of those passages, such as John 3:16 and 10:28, teach that once we’re saved we cannot lose it. Therefore, the wise person will settle his or her eternal fate by trusting Jesus to record their name permanently in Heaven’s Book of Life.

 

Q. Can you shed some light on the Bible book of Ecclesiastes? Does it really teach that we don’t have to be concerned about life after death? Kenneth Harris, Hopewell, VA

A. Ecclesiastes: The title of this book means the preacher, or one who wants to make a public statement. The author is believed to be Solomon, and this book is his autobiography. It’s progressive in that, before reaching his conclusion, he describes his various pursuits of the sensual pleasures of life. Therefore, the book is the confession of a man who lived contrary to his upbringing looking back upon many wasted years and telling how he finally found the answer to inner peace.

Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba and, because she was the favorite of his 8 or more wives, David also favored her son above his 18 other children. (The number of his wives and children vary according to which historian you read.) Just before David died, Bathsheba and their pastor Nathan persuaded him to crown Solomon as the successor to his throne. Soon after he became king, Solomon had a vision in which God offered him anything he desired. He chose wisdom over wealth. God was so pleased that he also promised Solomon wealth with his wisdom. Solomon expanded the Kingdom of Israel to its widest borders and was known for his lavish lifestyle, perhaps the richest kingdom of his day. Also, Solomon confirmed his wisdom in his many wise judgments and his custom of composing and collecting pithy sayings which are recorded in the book of Proverbs. However, he showed a lack of wisdom in allowing his 700 wives and 300 concubines to compromise his singular worship of the One True God.

Writing his autobiography, the preacher concluded that the result of his seeking for happiness in the physical, sensual and secular things of life is vanity, or emptiness. He taught that all of man’s efforts to find happiness apart from God are without result. Indeed, at times, one might think there is no accountability or life after death. Throughout this book his record alternates between hope and pessimism. At last, he reaches the ultimate conclusion he wishes to preach: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Ecclesiastes is hard to understand because people want to read it like we do the rest of the Bible. We expect to learn spiritual values from nearly every verse. But, we have to read Ecclesiastes like we would read a novel: Don’t take everything he says as a moral absolute; hold your judgment until the end. Learn from Solomon’s failures not to commit the same mistakes, and rejoice with him when he learns a spiritual lesson along the way. Finally, take to heart his ultimate conclusion that to respect and obey God is the path to true fulfillment in life.

 

Q. Will our family and friends that we know now be the same in Heaven? Luke McAllister, age 6, Auckland, New Zealand

A. Many Christians believe that, in what we call Heaven, the same saved people we know here will continue over there with life much as it is like here, but in a perfect state. They will look much the same as they did here; live on the same earth glorified, and excel in doing the same things they were gifted to do here – but without the effects of sin’s curse.

Matthew 8:11 teaches recognition in Heaven. Jesus said people in Heaven will be able to fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. According to Ephesians 2:19-20 we won’t be strangers in Heaven, but we’ll be fellow citizens with the apostles and prophets. We remember that in John 17 Jesus prayed for all the saved to be one with him in Heaven. That surely implies a special relationship with Jesus and, I believe, with all our saved friends from down here.

Jesus also said in Luke 15:10 that even the angels get in on the celebration when a new person is born into the family of God. At Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke 9:28-32, Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus about his life events. Although Moses and Elijah lived hundreds of years apart, they knew each other and knew what was happening on earth.

Luke 16:19-31 records Jesus’ parable about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Verses 23-25 teach that, after they died, Lazarus and Abraham knew each other. Family and friends who go to Heaven ahead of us will be waiting to welcome us there. That’s what “Abraham’s Bosom” means. That’s another name for Paradise meaning that it’s a place where friends welcome us with bear hugs!

Hey, our minds and memories won’t be erased in Heaven. I think our loved ones will be as we remember them best from earth. You may see a friend as a young man because that’s the way you remember him, but his grand children may see him as an old man. Age will be unimportant.

Remember this: Our family in Christ will always be our family. But, those who have been special in our relationships here will be even more special there. It was God who said it was not good for man to be alone. And, the book of Revelation promises that we’ll all be God’s children living forever with our Big Brother and our Heavenly Father.

 

Why are people looking for the Ark of the Covenant?

Q. Why are people still looking for the Ark of the Covenant when Revelation 11:19 says it is in Heaven? Bettie Van Cleave, Colonial Heights, VA

A. John’s visions in The Revelation concern the end times which are still in the future. Either God already has or one day will move the Ark to Paradise, or this is a spiritual representation of the earthly Ark. Perhaps it’s the original one Moses used as a pattern for the one he built. Exodus 25:9 and 26:30 seem to indicate that God had showed Moses a model of the Tabernacle and its furnishings while he was on Mt. Sinai. Even if the earthly Ark is in a heavenly temple in Paradise now, it’s not likely to be in our future Heaven because Revelation 21:22 says there will be no temple (and no need for an Ark) to represent God in our eternal home. God, himself, will dwell with his people (Revelation 21:3). Until then, many people believe the Ark is resting somewhere on earth – perhaps under the Temple Mount or in Ethopia – and they hope to exploit its supposedly magical powers.

For your consideration let me list some unclear passages about the Ark, variously called the Ark of Jehovah, the Ark of Testimony, and the Ark of the Covenant. Deuteronomy 10 is confusing because it seems to say Moses made another ark and put the Ten Commandments in it. Perhaps that was just to transport them safely down the mountain. Deuteronomy 31:26 is also confusing because it tells of a book of the law being put in the side of the Ark.

Exodus 16:33-34 says a pot of manna was kept with the testimony (the Commandments), and Numbers 17:10 says Aaron’s rod was there. Does this mean they were inside the Ark or just near it? According to Hebrews 9:4 these were in the Ark along with the stone tablets. That scripture also says the high priest’s golden censer (ash pot) was kept inside the Holy of Holies. But, 1 Kings 8:9, 2 Chronicles 5:10, and 2 Chronicles 6:11 all say the stone tablets were the only thing in the Ark. Perhaps these paradoxical scriptures describe its contents at various times. Maybe the Philistines of 1 Samuel 5 changed what was in the Ark while it was in their country, known as the Gaza Strip today. God will explain these some day!

The Ark was always hidden behind the holy veil or covered by it when travelling. Although unseen, the glory of the Ark was a visible representation of the presence of God with his people. His shekinah glory from the Mercy Seat on top of the Ark rose up through the Tabernacle coverings to become the pillar of fire and cloud that led Israel through the wilderness. Because of Hebrews 9:4 we can see the Triune God revealed in the pot of manna representing the provision of the Father, the living rod of Aaron testifying to the life-giving power of the Spirit, and the tablets of the Law pointing to Jesus who fulfilled it perfectly for us.

 

What should we observe in the New Year?

Q. What signs does the Bible say we should look for before Christ returns? L. P., Petersburg, VA

A. That’s a pertinent question at the beginning of a new year! You can find different prophecy event lists varying according to individual interpretations. There are partial end-time lists in the prophecies of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The most comprehensive list of “signs of the end” is the one given by Jesus in Matthew 24. These are not necessarily chronological, but they do tell you what to watch for.

In Matthew 24:3, Jesus was asked, What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age? His answer forms the rest of the chapter, and he illustrates it in chapter 25. The misleading sign in Matthew 24:4-5 predicts false messiahs and religions. The military sign in verses 6-7a tells of at least two great wars and many smaller ones. The misfortunes sign in 7b-8 says disasters will increase all over the world. The martyr sign in verses 9-10 predicts the persecution of true believers. The moral sign in 11-12a speaks of the degradation of moral values. The misbelieving sign in verses 12b-13 says there will be a falling away from the true faith.

The missionary sign in verse 14 tells of the gospel being preached all over the world. The merger sign in 15-28 explains the union of nations awaiting a world leader who will oppose Jesus at his visible Second Coming, described in 29-31. The miracle sign in verses 32-36 is a prophecy of Israel’s prominence in the last days and the Millennium. Finally, the multiplication sign in verses 37-44 predicts a great population explosion and the multiplying of evil in the last days.

The best chronological listing of future events is found in the outline of the Revelation. A simplified outline is in Revelation 1:19. Jesus was revealing to John the vision of the reigning Christ as what he had seen in chapter 1. He gave characteristics of what is happening in this Church Age in chapters 2-3. Then, in chapters 4 and following, John saw what will happen after the Church is raptured. If my understanding is correct, we’re living concurrently in the ages of the missionary church of Philadelphia described in 3:7-13 and the faithless church of Laodicea in verses 14-22. Following the Rapture, the Judgment Seat and worship in Paradise is seen in chapters 4-5. The events of chapters 6-18 will happen during the last seven years before the visible return of Jesus.

As I understand them, the primary signs preceding Christ’s coming are the reestablishment of Israel in her land, a union of European nations, growing antagonism toward faithful Christians and Jews. Now, you decide how close we are to his coming!

 

Why was the first noel given to shepherds and wise men?

Q. What is the significance of the Christmas announcements to local shepherds and foreign wise men? Owen Van Cleave, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Historians tell us the three largest settlements of Jewish people in 4 B.C. were found in Israel, Persia, and Egypt. Announcements were sent to each of these places where descendants of Abraham were awaiting fulfillment of God’s promise from Genesis 22:18. This was God’s Christmas gift to the world!

The Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem is connected with the ancestry of Jesus in several ways. Since much land around Bethlehem originally belonged to David’s father Jesse, it received its nickname from Jesse who had a large family. Ephratah, in Micah 5:2, means “the fruitful one”. Therefore, the Shepherd’s Field may have been the same field where David guarded his sheep and perhaps wrote the Twenty-third Psalm. We do know that it later belonged to Boaz and was the field where Ruth gleaned. In fact, the rock over-hang forming a shallow cave where the shepherds kept their sheep may have been near the threshing floor where Ruth slept at Boaz’ feet in Ruth, chapter 3.

According to the Jewish Mishna that field was dedicated for Temple use to raise sheep for sacrifice or Passover. Yet, the shepherds who raised those sheep could never offer them in personal worship. They were considered outcasts because they chose a vocation that required working on the Sabbath. But, to these outcast shepherds God announced the coming of the Good Shepherd who could lead all people to worship God. This fulfilled Isaiah 53:6-7 and other messianic predictions written in shepherd terminology.

The second largest contingent of Jews was in Persia where many chose to remain after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. The book of Esther is set there. The Jewish priests there, called Magi in the Persian tongue, knew of Balaam’s prediction in Numbers 24:17. Upon seeing a brilliant supernova one night they chose, on their own, to lead a caravan to Jerusalem to find the prophesied King of the Jews. They didn’t follow the star across the desert because the star wouldn’t have led them to Herod! Disappointed at not finding a baby in Herod’s palace, Matthew 2:10 says they rejoiced when they saw their star again leading them the six miles to Bethlehem. As God had led their fathers through the wilderness with a pillar of fire, he then led the Wise Men with a pillar of light from a star to the house where young Jesus was.

That night, when Joseph fled with his family to Egypt, he joined the third largest settlement of Jews. Matthew 2:15 says this was a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1. There, Joseph told everyone that Mary’s son was the Jewish Messiah. The Coptic Christian Church of Egypt traces its beginning to Joseph who told them about Jesus. Thus, God was letting all of Abraham’s descendants know the fulfillment of his promise to their forefathers. Further, the angel expanded that promise to be good tidings of great joy for all people of goodwill toward God.

 

Why was Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes?

Q. Why does the King James Bible say baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes when newer versions say he was wrapped in a blanket? April Lodge, Evans, GA

A. You’re correct that some newer versions say Mary wrapped Jesus in a blanket or that he was dressed in cloths. According to Strong’s Concordance, the original Greek refers to swaddling bands or strips. I think that’s important.

Swaddling bands were strips of cloth with which mid-wives wrapped new-born babies mummy style. When you think on this, that’s good therapy. While the baby was adjusting to the birth trauma of being thrust into the outside world, they wrapped him tightly to simulate his former life in the womb. Further, their old wives’ tales said this would keep the baby from getting sick. They didn’t know that new-borns have a natural immunity from many diseases the first few weeks of their life. So, they believed the swaddling bands worked!

Remember that Mary was so poor she may not have had a suitable baby blanket. John 1:46 reflects the current put-down of Nazareth since most of the 300 families there lived in caves and cooked over open fires. Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation is built over the cave where tradition says Mary was living when the angel appeared to her. I imagine she took swaddling strips with her when she went to Bethlehem with her newly-claimed husband. Whether or not a poor couple could afford a wedding ceremony conducted by a priest, the act of a man publicly claiming his bride and taking her to himself constituted marriage. When Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem unchaperoned he was claiming her as his bride and they were considered married. The word “espoused” in Luke 2:5 literally means “one for whom a dowry has been paid.”

Although we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25, he was probably born the last week of September during the Feast of Tabernacles in the year 4 B.C. Nine months before that would be the last of December. Maybe God is letting us celebrate Mary’s date of conception on December 25!

Galatians 4:4-5 says that Jesus was born under the law, or subject to the laws and customs of men. When Jesus was born he was wrapped with folk remedies like the poorest of the poor because he came to identify with our ignorance and lead us to the light of his truth. How appropriate that his life began wrapped as a mummy and also ended wrapped in the same confinements of this world until he broke the bands of death and brought to us true freedom and eternal life. After all, that’s why he came!

 

Explain Gehenna and Abraham’s Bosom

Q. What happened to people who died under the Old Covenant? Did they go to Gehenna or Abraham’s Bosom? Dawn Strickland, Prince George, VA

A. The parable Jesus told in Luke 16 sheds light on what the Jews believed about the after-life. Some scholars suggest that this isn’t really a parable at all, but a true story. That’s because it’s the only story Jesus told in which he used a proper name for one of the characters. The saved beggar was named Lazarus. He shouldn’t be confused with the brother of Mary and Martha. You may have heard some preachers call the rich man Dives. That’s simply the Latin word for one who’s wealthy. We don’t know his real name.

Hades was the name the Jews gave to the realm of the dead. It was where all dead souls went. They believed it was in the heart of the earth and was divided into two compartments. By the time of Christ, the Jews called the place of the unsaved Gehenna or Hell, so named for the Valley of Hennom, the garbage dump of Jerusalem. During times of apostasy, that valley was the place where fires were built to sacrifice babies to Moloch. Later, the Jews used it as a place to dump and burn the bodies of dead animals. It was where the worm never died and the fires were never quenched. Jesus drew on that analogy in Mark 9 to describe Hell. That compartment was also called Torments (Luke 16:23). That Hebrew word meant “the rack”. It was where God vindicated himself on his enemies in a place of torture.

Old Testament saints waited in a holding area they called Abraham’s Bosom. That title simply referred to the bear-hugs of greetings exchanged in that pleasant place. Still, it was a sort of shadowy-gray spirit world lacking the beauty of what we understand about Paradise or Heaven.

Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 3 teach that Jesus descended to Hades before his resurrection to announce his victory over death. After his resurrection Matthew 27 says many dead saints arose and appeared to their loved ones in Jerusalem. I believe these were allowed to stop off and give testimony to Jesus as he led them up to establish Paradise. That’s a Persian word meaning a beautiful garden. Since Jesus told the believing thief he would be with Jesus that day in Paradise, we understand that’s where saints now wait with Jesus until he allows us all to enter Heaven, the New Jerusalem, together.

Since no judgment is mentioned for entrance to either place, we must say the judgments come later to determine degrees of reward or punishment. At death, every person goes immediately to one place or the other depending on how they’ve responded to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

 

Does Jesus need to be made more perfect?

Q. In such passages as Hebrews 2:10 and 5:9 why did the writer imply that Jesus needed to be made perfect, since he was already perfect? Joe Keeney, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Hebrews 2:10 is related to verse 9 indicating that it is God who made “the captain of (our) salvation perfect through sufferings.” You’re right that Jesus was already a perfect man without sin. However, I believe we can understand the intent of the writer better if we let the word refer to Christ’s high priestly function and sacrifice rather than to his moral character.

The word “perfect” as used here means to be complete, finished, or eternal. In other words, Christ’s priestly offering of himself for our sin atonement is all that we need to be reconciled to God. That’s why Jesus cried from his cross, “It is finished!” Without suffering he could not have died, and without dying he could not have made an atonement for sin. His suffering allowed him to be identified with every ailment inflicted on mankind because of sin so that he could bear them all for our complete atonement. Isaiah 53:5 says, “By his stripes we are healed.”

In understanding Hebrews 5:9, we need to start at verse 1. Key words are “high priest” (verse 1), “Aaron” (verse 4), and “Melchizedek” (verse 6). These bring to mind that the old order of the Jewish priesthood, the order of Aaron, required that the high priest first make a sacrifice for his own sins before he could offer atonement for the nation (verse 3). Jesus, being already perfect, didn’t need to offer a sacrifice for his own sins. Therefore, he was able to fulfill the old order of Aaron and do away with its commandments and rituals whereby men tried to earn favor with God. Instead, he became our priest in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7), who, by his advances to Abraham in Genesis 14, required nothing to bestow grace upon Abe. Aaron could not offer himself because he was mortal; but Jesus, being eternal like the Melchizedek-type (Hebrews 7:3), could offer himself and return via his resurrection. Now, we have a new priesthood built upon grace.

To render him complete as a saviour, it was necessary that Jesus should suffer and die, bearing not only our death sentence but the obligatory physical punishments of the law as well. Therefore, all has been done that God required. We may now have the assurance that we have a perfect salvation because we have a perfect High Priest. Jesus is fully qualified to be the Captain, or Author, of our salvation (verse 2:10). As such, he can lead to eternal glory all those who, by faith in him, become children of God.

 

Why pray “Lead us not into temptation”?

Q. I have a problem with one phrase in the Lord’s Prayer. Why would Jesus teach us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation?” Gene from Prince George, VA

A. I agree that Matthew 6:13 could be a problem. That’s where, if our translation is correct, Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Lead us not into temptation.” That sounds like a contradiction with James 1:13 which says God never tempts us with evil. Therefore, if he will not lead us into temptation, we may well ask why this request is in the Model Prayer.

In researching your question, I checked the Greek to see if “temptation” here could mean “testing.” You know the Bible teaches that sometimes we’re tested or proven. James 1:2-4 says that this trying of our faith is good for us. However, even if “temptation” means “testing,” which it doesn’t here; we still shouldn’t pray not to be tested. Trials, by which we experience God’s grace, serve to strengthen our characters.

Matthew 4:1 gives an interesting account related to this subject. There, we are told that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. I believe the Spirit led him to this experience for our benefit. Hebrews 4:15 says Jesus was tempted in all points as we are, yet he remained without sin. To be our example and High Priest he needed to experience everything we do. That was God’s will for Jesus; but God didn’t tempt Jesus, Satan did!

Looking up the word “lead” in Matthew 6:13 in a Greek concordance, I found that it’s the word eisphero. That’s actually two words. Eis is a preposition indicating direction, purpose, or results. Phero is usually translated as lead or bring. However, I found that it may also mean to place or to give over to. On rare occasions, a form of phero refers to that which is left or abandoned. Based upon this use, verse 13 could possibly be translated, “Do not abandon us (or give us over) to temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.” I like the New Living Translation which simply says, “Don’t let us yield to temptation.”

A good thing to remember is that God rules over all. Nothing happens without his permission. Even our temptations and trials are allowed by God for our good. After all, he promises in Romans 8:28 that all things will work together for good to those who love the Lord and who are “the called, ” or the ones receiving his grace. I certainly hope all my readers know you are “the called” of God because you have answered his call to salvation in Jesus Christ. We can certainly be thankful for that each day of the year!

 

What age will we be in Heaven?

Q. What age will everyone be in Heaven? Clarence Walker, Matoaca, VA

A. Many people have wondered about this question: Will the elderly remain in their wrinkled, although glorified, bodies in Heaven? Will babies who died still be infants in Heaven? The Bible doesn’t give a specific answer to these questions, but we may certainly draw some conclusions based on what Scripture does tell us.

Since 1 Corinthians 15 says we’ll be given resurrection bodies, we know that they won’t be affected by sickness, pain, or death. Revelation 21 confirms that we’ll have perfect bodies and that the ailments of this life will have passed away. But, these passages don’t tell us how old our bodies will appear. In fact, 1 John 3 implies “what (age) we will be has not been made known.”

Some have guessed that we’ll all be the same perfect age. But, what is the ideal age? If we use the prophesied age span of “three score and ten, or four score” then, perhaps, somewhere between 30-40 would be the median or ideal age. The Old Testament book of Numbers specified that a priest would begin his Tabernacle duties at age 30. That was the age of Jesus when he began his public, priestly ministry. However, he was 33 when he died. First John 3:2 declares, “Dear friends, now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Does that mean that everyone will be 33 years old for eternity? Was that the age of Adam and Eve when God created them?

I don’t know of any elderly people who would object to being 33 years old again, but that idea makes some mothers sad to think they won’t get to hold their babies and watch them grow up. I do know that none of the descriptions of Heaven mention babies; rather, they say we will all be servants of the Lord. Revelation, chapters 4-5, symbolically pictures the saints as being grown, sitting on thrones, and returning their crowns to Jesus. Yet, I can’t help but think, since Psalm 84:11 promises no good thing will be withheld from those who love God, that he won’t give mothers a glimpse of what their children’s growth years would have been like.

Perhaps the saved will appear to be the age that different loved ones remember. I might see my parents in the prime of life as I like to remember them, but their peers might see them as the elderly friends they remember. However, you may be sure of one thing. Whatever age we appear to be will be gloriously perfect. Our bodies will be remade without any of the curse that sin brought into our world. There will be no fears of the infirmities of old age; just healthy bodies that will find complete fulfillment in serving our Creator in the beauty of Paradise forever.

 

How can we know which Old Testament laws to keep?

Q. Which of the laws in Leviticus are we supposed to keep and which are no longer in effect? How can we know the difference? R & S, Missionaries in Romania

A. Not everyone holds to Dispensations as a theory of Biblical interpretation but I find it very helpful for questions like this. Interpreting Scripture by dispensations divides all of history into 7 covenant periods called dispensations or ages. This is not new; Strong’s Greek Concordance shows the Greek word for age, aion, appears 102 times in the New Testament and is usually translated “world”.

Each of these ages begins with man being placed in a divine covenant with God in which man is charged to keep certain commands. Since, because of sin, man cannot perfectly live up to God’s expectations, each covenant period ends with a judgment from God. Those judgments are: expulsion from the Garden, the Flood, dispersion at Babel, Israel’s wilderness wanderings and death, the Cross where Jesus bore the judgment for sinners, the destruction of Jerusalem and coming Tribulation, and the final Judgment.

The benefit of looking at Scripture this way is to realize that the commands given for each age are only for those who live in that age. These are called primary commandments. Secondary commandments are those that are restated in a succeeding age.

The largest age, according to the amount of Scripture coverage, is the Old Covenant which began at Sinai and covers most of the Old Testament. We also call it the Covenant of the Law. The next covenant is the Covenant of Grace introduced at the Last Supper but beginning at the Cross. All of the New Testament comprise the expectations of the New Covenant.

Therefore, only those commands or regulations restated in the New Testament are what we’re expected to keep under our covenant. That means the regulations you mentioned in Leviticus were for Old Testament Israel and are not for New Testament Christians. That’s why we don’t have to offer sacrifices or refrain from eating pork. Many of the old expectations are repeated in the New Testament as secondary commandments. All the Ten Commandments are repeated somewhere in the New Testament except the Fourth commandment about the Sabbath – the seventh day, Saturday – which is changed to Sunday, the first day of the week. Sunday worship is, therefore, a major symbol of our New Covenant with a new Priest, new temples, and a new day of worship. We now try to keep these – not to be saved – but because we are saved; and since we’re under the honor system of grace we keep them to please God and for our own good.

 

Please explain about wine in Proverbs 6-7

Q. As I read Proverbs 31 most of the chapter is crystal clear to me with the exception of verses 6-7. Could you tell me what you think about those two verses? Owen Van Cleave, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Actually, the paragraph begins with verse 4: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: (5) Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. (6) Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. (7) Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”

Setting these verses in the Jewish custom of the day, we must recall that wine was more than just a party drink. It was a precious commodity with many uses. When drunk daily because of the danger of contaminated water, it was weakened with 5 parts boiled water to 1 part wine. Being poured out on the Temple altar, it became a sacred offering to God; or when anointed on the head with oil, it set priests and kings apart to serve God. It was also an antiseptic when poured on a wound and medicine when taken internally. In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul urged Timothy to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.”

Especially, stronger wine brought temporary relief to one’s anguish as it does today. However, the Bible warns of it’s misuse in such verses as Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Also, Proverbs 23:31 cautions, “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.”

Yet, Proverbs 31 contains good advice Lemuel’s mother gave to him. It concludes with the passage about how to seek and recognize a virtuous woman. Bible scholars think Lemuel was Bathsheba’s pet name for Solomon. Lemuel means “one loved of God”.

As the king, Solomon needed to rule fairly and give generously to meet his people’s needs. Therefore, his mother told him, the king should not abuse wine himself because he needed a clear head to judge his people (verses 4-5). But, knowing that wine helps alleviate pain or misery, he should freely give of his wine when his people needed it for comfort (verses 6-7).

We recall that this was still a custom of hospitality in Jesus’ day when they offered him wine on his cross to relieve the pain of crucifixion. In Matthew 26:39, Jesus had prayed in the Garden for this cup to pass from him. That’s the only time the Father refused to answer his Son’s prayer! On the Cross, a cup of vinegar wine was offered to Jesus. Though he refused it because he wanted to bear our atonement in full consciousness, he did freely take the Father’s cup of judgment against sin so that all who trust him might be saved.

 

What happened to Enoch?

Q. In Genesis 5:23-24 it says God took Enoch. What does this mean? When everyone else was living to be 600-900 years old, what happened to Enoch at 365 years of age? Ann Carpenter, England

A. Those verses read, “And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: and Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” The verb translated “was not” in the Hebrew is ayin, meaning to cease to exist or to become a non-entity. Hebrews 11:5 gives further insight saying, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” When you have a New Testament commentary on the Old Testament, you have an inspired commentary!

We have a riddle among Bible teachers: Methuselah was the oldest man who ever lived, yet he died before his father. How could this be? Answer: His father was Enoch who didn’t die. God translated him bodily to Heaven at age 365. This is why some people believe the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 will be Enoch and Elijah because they’re the only people who never experienced death. Hebrews 9:27 says every person will die once. Yet, God can make exceptions to his rules whenever he wishes. Those Witnesses of Revelation are definitely identified for us in Revelation 11:6 as being Moses and Elijah returning – the Law and the Prophets giving witness to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah!

I’ve heard many evangelists preach on Enoch being such a good friend to God that God just took him home without experiencing death. I like this one best: Imagine Enoch and God walking and talking each day, they were such good friends. One day they walked so far and talked so late that God said, “Dear friend, we’re closer to my home than yours. Why don’t you just come on home with me?” I’ve often thought that maybe Enoch expressed to God his fear of death or his anxiety at living in a world where no one served God but his family, so God answered his prayer by talking him out. Death is a judgment on sin and God needed a witness in that day that righteousness will be rewarded.

I think, also, God may have revealed to his friend Enoch his disappointment in mankind’s wickedness and his plans to destroy the world with a great Flood. Maybe Enoch asked God to spare his new-born son and God promised him that the Flood wouldn’t come until his son died. So, Enoch named his son Methuselah, which means “When he dies, it shall come.” That’s why Methuselah lived longer than any other person – 969 years, counted the same way we count our years – because God’s long-suffering patience waited that long before destroying the world. If you figure up the years, the flood came the year Methuselah died!

What an awesome God we serve!

 

What About Our Interim Bodies After Death?

Q When we die, what kind of body will we have and when will we receive it: at the Rapture or on Judgment day? Ed Walker, Matoaca, VA

A The Bible teaches that God created two kinds of intelligent beings. He made spirit beings we call angels who have no physical bodies like ours. Second Kings 6:17 and other scriptures suggest angels may have spirit bodies of fire like God, as Ezekiel 1 and Hebrews 12:29 describe him. From time to time, angels have taken temporary physical forms to accomplish their tasks among us.

In the chronology of creation mankind is the second order of intelligent created beings. We also were made with spirits, but God gave us physical bodies. Genesis 2:7 tells how God made our bodies from the same material as dust and blew his breath, or spirit, of life into us. Ecclesiastes 12:7 reminds us that, as our bodies return to dust at death, our spirits return to God.

Second Corinthians 5 teaches that when our physical bodies die, our spirits become clothed with interim spiritual bodies. You see, God never intended that we not have bodies of some kind. We got a glimpse of these spirit bodies when Moses and Elijah appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17 and Mark 9. From such accounts of returning saints and the illustration of Jesus in Luke 16 of the two men who died, we learn some things about those interim bodies which both the saved and the lost will have. They will look like our earthly bodies, and they’ll have the same five senses plus superior knowledge and recall. Further, Luke 16 teaches that, at death, our spirits in their interim bodies go immediately to a place of comfort or torment. Residents of both places will have full emotions and senses to feel joy or pain.

At Jesus’ Rapture, he’ll return to the atmosphere above the earth with the saints in their spirit bodies who’ve been with him in Paradise. At the shout of the archangel, Jesus will resurrect the earthly bodies of those who are saved. It doesn’t matter if their bodies have been devoured by animals, fire, or decay. Jesus knows where every molecule is! The temporary bodies of the saints will be exchanged for glorious, immortal, resurrected bodies which we will have for eternity. An instant later those who are alive and saved will also be changed and given immortal bodies. The unsaved dead will remain in Hell in their spirit bodies until the final Judgment when all the lost will be consigned to an eternal Lake of Fire.

We can know from 1 John 3:2 that our glorified bodies will be like the one Jesus had at his many resurrection appearances in the gospels. Jesus had a physical body that Thomas could feel, and in which Jesus was able to eat before his disciples. Yet, his was a body that could appear, vanish, and pass through closed doors. In that body Jesus traveled wherever he wished to go. Revelation 21 teaches that, like Jesus, our new bodies won’t die or feel pain.

 

What is the age of accountability?

Q. We hear preachers say unborn babies and little children go to be with Jesus until they reach the “age of accountability”. Where does Scripture support this? Nina in India

A. Our use of the age of accountability, also called the age of reason, comes more from church tradition than from Scripture. The Bible does teach in Psalm 127:3, “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Again, consider Jesus’ words in Mark 10:14, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” And, Matthew 10:18 records Jesus saying of children, “In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”

These and other Scriptures seem to teach that God protects the innocents, whether they are children physically or mentally. Therefore, churches have taught that until a child reaches the age of accountability, God does not hold them accountable for their sins. That accountability stage, though not set at any particular age in years, means when the child is old enough to understand the consequences of his or her actions. Variously, that age has been arbitrarily set as 9, 12 or 18, or in the Catholic Church as 7.

In the Bible, a ceremony often marked a child’s weaning. That didn’t necessarily refer to the time a child stopped nursing, but rather when he or she developed an independent personality – perhaps as early as 4 or 5 or as late as 7 or 9, depending on individual maturity. Children were given birth names hopeful of their future character. If the child were not exhibiting the characteristics of his birth name, his name might be changed at his weaning to indicate his true character. When Jewish children became 12 or 13 they were considered old enough to fulfill the Jewish commandments, and thus were young adults. Though Jesus would have attended Temple functions many times with his parents, his going at age 12 was likely a special event celebrating his manhood. Today, Jewish boys celebrate Bar Mitzvah (“to whom the commandments apply”) at age 13 and girls celebrate their Bat Mitzvah at age 12.

To recap: Traditionally, a child is said to reach the age of accountability when he or she knows the difference between right and wrong and is capable of obeying the laws of God and man. Based on the Scriptures above many Christians believe that the age of accountability is the end of a period of early grace which covers the sins of those not capable of understanding the consequences of their actions.

 

Is there a blessing to old age?

Q. Am I missing something? Is there a blessing to old age, or does God enjoy watching us dry up and become wrinkled? Emily Williams, Seattle, WA

A. I believe God wants us to enjoy each season of our lives. Most of us haven’t learned to do that. When we’re young we’re anxious to grow up, but when we’re old we wish for the strength and vitality of youth. Yet, someone has said the beauty of youth is physical while the beauty of old age is spiritual. As we advance in age we lose that which is temporary and begin to look forward to that which is eternal. With our failing bodies we cherish more and more our Heavenly home “where we’ll never grow old”. If we stayed healthy and strong, we wouldn’t long for Heaven. However, that’s the home Jesus is preparing for those who love him, and he wants us to be as excited about our going as he is about our coming. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

Daniel 7:9 pictures God as the Ancient of Days, and Revelation 1:14 shows Jesus with white hair. White is the color of wisdom and purity and the color of our Heavenly garments (Revelation 19:8) and God’s Throne. I believe God is maturing us through age to be more like himself! Remember, God is not through with us until he takes us home. He still has work for those of us who are experienced in age. Paul taught in Titus 2 that aged men and women have a lot to share by example and word for the younger generation.

I quote from an email forward that lists no author: “Old age, I have decided, is a gift. I am now, for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be….I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly….I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray, and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver….I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And, I shall eat dessert every single day!”

We all like to claim Jeremiah 29:11 which promises, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” In each season of life, God has promised us that, as our years, so shall our strength be (Deuteronomy 33:25). That’s the idea expressed in the old gospel song, “One day at a time”. So, Psalm 37:5 exhorts us to commit all our ways unto the Lord and trust also in him. Especially during economic hard times and American election uncertainty, let’s claim with 1 Peter 5:7 that “he cares for you”.

 

Are Demons real?

Q. What should we tell children who ask if demons are real? Martha Small, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Certainly we know demons are real. They’re the fallen angels who rebelled with Lucifer. Luke 10:18 and Revelation 12:9 tell us they were cast out of Heaven and fell to earth. Now, Lucifer, who is Satan, is using them to hinder God and his people on earth.

Demons may oppress saved people from the outside, but my personal opinion is that they can’t indwell or control saved people unless we let them. When we’re saved, God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. Jesus promised this in John 14:17. I have a hard time believing the Holy Spirit will share us with demons. I also think much of what we call mental illness today is actually demon oppression. We gain control over those demons by commanding them in Jesus’ name to leave and believing that Jesus will give us the victory.

At Halloween time our children talk about ghosts and demons. True ghosts are real, but they’re not the spirits of dead humans. Humans never return to us as ghostly spirits; real ghosts are demonic apparitions. Since Satan can’t be everywhere at once he extends his power through demons who may appear as ghosts or spirits of departed loved ones. However, Luke 16:26 says the dead may not come back.

Depending on the maturity of the children, you may tell them that there are good angels and bad angels. The good ones watch over us and the bad ones try to trick us to do bad things or to be afraid. Tell the children not to be afraid of demons because Jesus loves each of us. Psalm 34:7 and Matthew 18:10 teach that he sends guardian angels to watch over children. Jesus created all the angels including Satan and his demons, and he has set boundaries they may not cross. He only allows them to act for his purpose. When we are afraid we should ask God to send his guardian angels to protect us and fight off the demons.

My rule in teaching children is to answer their questions simply and honestly without making a big deal over them. That usually satisfies passing curiosity; but if they continue to dwell on a subject, there may be spirit influences we need to investigate further. Sometimes stronger Christians may help those who don’t know how to fight demonic oppression by exorcising the demons in Jesus’ name. At all times we need to intercede earnestly for our children to be open to God’s Spirit and not the world, the flesh, or the Devil.

 

What was the mark of Cain?

Q. What do you think was the mark God put on Cain to protect him? Harold Carpenter, Red Hill, England

A. Genesis 4 records the story of Cain and Abel after their parents were driven from the Garden out into the harsh world. We’re not given the details of their births: whether they were twins, or how many years separated them. The story jumps quickly to their lives as young men. We don’t know how they knew to bring an offering to God, unless God had taught Adam and their father passed his worship habits on to his sons. We don’t know if these were burnt offerings. We’re simply told Cain brought some of his vegetables and Abel brought a young lamb. Abel’s gift was accepted and Cain’s was not. Again, how they knew their offerings were accepted or rejected, we’re not told.

We like to think Cain’s was rejected because it wasn’t a blood sacrifice as was Abel’s, but that’s hindsight because we have no record of God demanding a blood sacrifice at this time. Genesis 4:7 hints that Cain’s offering was rejected because of unconfessed sin in his life. As the brothers talked afterwards, Cain killed Abel. Cain was then banished by God with a curse stating that he would wander the earth without success any more as a farmer. Cain cried to God that he feared everyone who met him would try to kill him. In loving response, God placed a mark of protection on Cain.

God’s judgment on Cain was both a statement of the result of his character and a curse. God still curses sin today, and unrepentant sinners will be cursed eternally in Hell. Because Cain was like he was, he would wander the earth and never settle down long enough to produce any lasting thing. Cain felt this prophecy of his future was more than he could bear. He imagined that every person he met would want to kill him. So, God showed mercy in judgment and set a mark upon (or for) Cain. The word translated mark may also mean “sign”. Some commentaries suggest it was some miraculous sign God gave to show he would protect Cain.

I believe this was probably a physical mark on Cain. Satan always imitates God. After the Rapture, Revelation 13 says the Antichrist will mark his followers on their foreheads and hands. That says to me Cain’s mark was probably a very obvious mark or deformity perhaps on his forehead. After all, he was the first of the Serpent’s seed, founding the line of those rebelling against God; and the Bible testifies to the corruption and problems in his family line.

However, the point we often overlook is that, from the early days of time, God loved Cain in spite of his sin; and this mark was the assurance of God’s mercy upon him. Likewise, God still loves all sinners and desires for them to repent. The blood of Jesus marks true believers today as a sign of God’s mercy upon us. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Genesis 12:13).

 

Please explain what happens to our spirits at death.

Q. I’m confused about Paul’s statements that Christians go to be with Jesus immediately upon death but elsewhere he says the dead in Christ will rise first. Please explain. Tommie Thompson, Orlando, FL

A. Both statements are correct, but the first one is talking about our spirits and the second one is about our bodies. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 about our being present with the Lord when we’re absent from our bodies. He means the spirits of believers go immediately upon death to be with the Lord. In Luke 24:43, Jesus told the believing thief that he would be with Jesus that very day in Paradise. We understand Paradise to be a beautiful garden where the saved temporarily wait with Jesus until the end of this age.

Nowhere does the Bible teach that, upon death, we pass through a judgment that determines our fate or offers a second chance. In his parable of Luke 16, Jesus taught that both men who died went immediately to their respective places of reward or punishment. The judgments come later to explain why people are being punished or rewarded and to determine their eternal degrees.

So, it’s our spirits that go to be with the Lord; but in 2 Corinthians 5 Paul also taught that those spirits won’t be unclothed. We will have some type of temporary spirit bodies that look enough like us that our friends will recognize us while we wait to return with Jesus in the Rapture.

When Jesus returns in the first phase of his Second Coming which we call the Rapture, he will bring our spirits with him. That’s when 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 teaches that our dead bodies will rise as glorified, eternal bodies and our spirits will enter them. This will happen in an instant before those believers who are alive are given their new bodies and caught up to Jesus in the air. These glorified bodies will be what we’ll keep for eternity. They will be completely whole and perfect without ever experiencing pain or death. Paul spent a whole chapter talking about this in 1 Corinthians 15. Revelation, chapters 21-22, describes where our spirits will live for eternity.

On the other hand, those who have put off their commitment to Jesus will find themselves immediately in Hell upon death. At the end of the age, those in Hell will stand before God’s Great White Throne Judgment to receive their eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire. The only way to avoid eternal sorrow is to receive Jesus in your life before you die. You may do that by praying to confess that you’re a sinner and to ask him to forgive and save you.

 

What about people who’ve never heard of Jesus?

Q. What will happen to people who have never heard the name of Jesus? Lisa Mason, Colonial Heights, VA

A. We must believe that God is good and that he loves us. Therefore, he will always do what is right toward us. He didn’t create us to be lost, but to be his friends. He doesn’t delight in punishing anyone. Peter wrote in his second epistle, “God is not willing that any should perish.” However, there are 2 sides to the coin of salvation. One side is God’s love and the other side is his righteous judgment. Someone has said, “Hell is as essential to the love of God as a sewage system is to a clean city.” Acts 17:31 says God will judge the world in righteousness. That means no one will be able to accuse him of not being fair, but his character demands that he punish sinners as much as he rewards saints.

It’s true that John 14:6 says, “No one comes to the Father but by me.” However, that doesn’t mean they have to hear the name, “Jesus,” or they will go to Hell. It means that the only way anyone meets God favorably is to approach him by the only way God established. That way is through the shed blood of Jesus to make atonement for the sins of all who call upon him. Repentance of sin and confession of Christ as Lord are the twin paths to Heaven. No one who rejects God’s only way of declaring us righteous will get in to Heaven.

Christ died at the crossroads of time so that sinners before or after the cross may be saved by faith that God will somehow justify their sins. Those who lived before Jesus didn’t know him by name but they were saved by their faith that God would take care of their sins. Their obedience to the only covenants and commands they knew proved their faith. Since the cross, those who have heard of him and reject him are eternally lost. Those who deliberately choose another religion that denies God’s only way or adds additional requirements are lost.

As to your question about those who never heard of Jesus, Paul deals with this in Romans 1 where he says that God reveals himself to every person so that everyone is without excuse for not responding to God. However, Jeremiah 29:13 promised that all who truly seek God will surely find him. Romans 2:12-16 says God will judge people by how they react to the knowledge they have.

Peter in Acts 10:34-35 said, “God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Josh McDowell wrote in A Ready Defense (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993, page 416), “We do believe that…God will not exclude anyone because he happened to be born at the wrong place or at the wrong time.” In this age, Jesus has commissioned all his followers to witness so that everyone may have the full joy of knowing him in true salvation.

 

Is there a window from Heaven to Hell?

Q. Does the last verse of Isaiah intimate that there will be a kind of window in Heaven where we can see those in Hell? Beverly Shauger, Petersburg, VA

A. You’re referring to Isaiah 66:24 in which the Lord says, “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” I can see how this would be confusing. Sometimes Isaiah jumps from his predictions about the future Millennium to his descriptions of Heaven when the Holy City will light on a newly glorified earth.

However, Isaiah’s final verses seem to continue his vision of the future Millennium. That one thousand year reign of Christ on the earth will happen between the rapture of believers, taken out before the final tribulation, and the Great White Throne Judgment of the lost. During that time, the earth will be restored to a paradise and the Jews will be God’s major people again preaching the gospel of Jesus all over the earth. Isaiah further predicted that those Jews, who have been scattered over the world, will be escorted with honor back to Israel by fellow gentile believers. God, himself, will honor them. Even from those who were not living in Israel God will select priests and Levites to lead all nations in regular worship.

Revelation 18 predicts a final battle when Satan is loosed to deceive unbelievers after the Millennium. Yet, God will give a supernatural victory to his people. This final verse of Isaiah is not talking about Heaven, but it’s comparing that victory of God’s people with the defeat of their enemies in that post-Millennium battle. The dead bodies of those who will be destroyed by God will litter the ground and be left for decay or burning. God’s people may go out from Jerusalem to look upon their utter defeat.

Whether this passage refers to their physical bodies decaying and being thrown into rubbish fires or their spirits dying eternally in the Lake of Fire, it has nothing to do with Heaven. It doesn’t picture the saved in Heaven looking through a window into Hell. I do believe that the saved in Heaven will know that some of their friends and loved ones are in Hell, but I don’t believe that knowledge will diminish our joy in Heaven. After the unsaved are stripped of all their goodness in Hell, they won’t be the same people we once knew or loved on earth. You realize, of course, that I’m using Hell and the Lake of Fire interchangeably because we tend to refer to the final punishment of the lost as Hell. There will come a time, however, after the final judgment when those who are in Hell will be emptied into the Lake of Fire which the Bible calls the second, and eternal, place of punishment.

Don’t scoff at the Bible’s teachings about Hell. It has a perfect track record: all previous predictions have come true exactly as foretold. It’s better to be safe in Jesus than sorry!

 

When was Satan created?

Q. Was Satan created by God? If so, when? Pam Hartwell, Alberta, VA

A. Some religions teach that Jesus and Satan are equal. They say, since both are God’s sons, Jesus and Satan are fighting for control of our souls. Some people serve Satan because they believe he has a chance of winning. Nothing could be farther from the truth! There is only one God, and he chose to reveal himself in a way humans can understand by becoming the man Jesus.

Jesus is God; Satan is not God. Therefore, since all things other than God are created, Satan is a created being. Several scriptures tell of his creation. Ezekiel 28:13 and 15 teach that Satan was created as a cherub angel, beautiful and powerful. Before he rebelled in his pride and wanted to become like the Most High, Satan’s job was to guard the holy things of God. John 1:3, Colossians 1:16, and Revelation 4:11 say Jesus created all things for his own pleasure.

As for when Satan was created, he was created with the rest of the angels. We believe this to be shortly before God created the universe and mankind. Job 38:7, calling the angels sons of God, says they accompanied God’s creation in song.

Only God possesses deity’s unique qualities of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. No angel, not even Satan, has all knowledge, possesses all power, and can be everywhere at once. Satan can only be in one place at a time. However, he extends his influence through the demonic angels who followed him in rebellion. We like to quote Flip Wilson, but Satan probably didn’t make you do it! Some little demon or your own sinful heart caused you to sin.

Satan is jealous of God’s position and power. He wants people to serve him, so Genesis 6 records how he tried to create his own race which God destroyed with the Flood. Satan wants people to worship him, so God had to dispel them at the Tower of Babel. Satan wants to create life, so Revelation 13 records when God will let him appear to bring the statue of abomination to life. But, those who worship it will end up in Hell.

Why doesn’t God destroy Satan? God never made robots. Even the angels had the choice to stay or rebel against God. Every person must have the choice of good or evil, God or Satan. That’s why Satan must be loosed a little while after the Millennium: to give those born during that 1,000 year reign of Christ the chance to choose Satan if they wish. However, Satan’s end is predicted. He will be cast into the Lake of Fire, the Second Death, where all those who have followed him will join him for eternity. Many scriptures indicate that God has Satan on a leash. God uses him when he wishes and then locks him up when he doesn’t need him. We would be wise to follow Jesus because one day all creation will bow before him.

 

Did God really try to kill Moses?

Q. Please comment on Exodus 4:24 where we’re told that God tried to kill Moses. Calvin Meadows, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Your question involves the time when Moses and his family were returning to Egypt after God commissioned him at the Burning Bush. Exodus 4:24 says the Lord met them on the way and sought to kill Moses until his wife, Zipporah, performed circumcision on at least one of their two sons. This is a very obscure passage. I read several commentaries and none of them agreed entirely on its meaning. Therefore, Let me share some of the scenarios.

At least one commentary suggests that the preceding verse of Exodus 4:23 is not part of the message to Pharaoh, but this was spoken by the Lord to Moses. If this were correct, God would be saying Moses should send his son to be circumcised; and, if he refused, God would kill him. God had commanded this rite to all of Abraham’s descendants. However, I did not find much support for this explanation.

Another commentary says it was Moses who was met by The Angel of the Lord with a sword. A sword is implied by the verb which, in other cases, meant death by a sword. This writer suggested that Moses had probably circumcised their first son, Gershom; but Zipporah found it repugnant. Later, she objected to circumcising her young son, Eliezer; and Moses had given in to her. However, God’s commands must be obeyed. It would be unthinkable for a potential Hebrew leader not to perform circumcision on all his own sons. God had specifically commanded this as a sign of his covenant with Abraham’s descendants. Therefore, God was impressing upon Moses the lesson of obedience in all things.

Since no details are given, we’re free to suggest possible explanations for what happened. I tend to agree that verse 23 is a continuation of God’s message to Pharaoh and not about Moses’ son. I don’t know if God personally appeared in physical form as The Angel of the Lord and tried to kill Moses with a sword. We’re not told how Moses knew that God was trying to kill him. If God had wanted Moses dead, he could have killed him instantly; however, it seems out of character for God to kill the one he had been preparing to send to Egypt to free his people.

It may be that Moses became violently ill after God visited him. If God carried a sword it would certainly impress upon Moses the seriousness of the spiritual warfare he was soon to encounter. Perhaps, Moses surmised that a violent illness had come upon him because God was chastising him for his disobedience. The original words for “sought to kill” certainly imply that Moses believed his life was endangered. Maybe, being too sick to do it himself, Moses told his wife to circumcise their son. Afterwards, Zipporah brought the bloody evidence to Moses and protested that she had risked the life of their child for a ritual she despised. Then, the implication is that the illness suddenly left Moses; and he felt the Lord had withdrawn his anger. That’s a possible scenario.

It is thought that, upon this occasion, Moses sent Zipporah and the boys back to stay with her father, Jethro, until the child was well and they could join him later. This would certainly be best because of the danger that would face them in Egypt. Moses wouldn’t have time to be concerned about his family in the midst of his confrontation with Pharaoh. Exodus 18:5 says Jethro brought Zipporah and their sons to Moses after Israel left Egypt and encamped at Sinai. This has also been seen as a type of Christ’s Bride, the Church, not being present during the Tribulation to come.

However it happened, we can take this as a lesson that God must be obeyed in all things, even if we reason otherwise. God’s commands are always for a reason and ultimately for our good.

 

What did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged?”

Q. Perhaps unknowingly, many people quote Jesus from Matthew 7:1, but what did Jesus really mean when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”? Dawn Strickland, Prince George, VA

A. These words are from the only sermon of Jesus we have recorded in full, the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew, chapters 5-7. The word translated “judge” means to distinguish or to decide. Here it carries a negative connotation implying a condemnation, considering another person or action to be inferior to oneself. Verse 2 goes on to elaborate: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

With these words, Jesus is saying that we determine how God will judge us. See how fair God will be? The measuring scoop we use to condemn or bless others will be the one Jesus uses to condemn or bless us. God’s judgment may not necessarily wait until the time we call the Judgment Bar of God. Some of it may happen in this life as God guides the consequences of our actions and choices, but we will surely answer to him then.

Most often, we hear these words returned when someone doesn’t like the comments we make about them. And, of course, Christians ought to build up, rather than tear down, our brothers and sisters in the faith. However, there are such things as constructive criticism and fruit inspecting. I don’t think Jesus was referring to these. Constructive criticism should be given prayerfully and tactfully in hopes it will help a believer improve his or her actions or attitudes. It should never be offered in a mean spirit or for revenge.

The idea of fruit inspecting also comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the same chapter 7, in verses 16 and 20. Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Therefore, he’s implying that we may be fruit inspectors to determine if we should follow others. We observe if their “fruit,” or actions, glorify God and follow Scripture models. Fruit inspectors should keep their judgment to themselves or share their concerns quietly with those who may be tempted by false teachers. We remember that Jesus said in Matthew 10:16 we should be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, chapter 6, that we were all sinners before we were cleansed by Jesus. He carries that same thought over in Ephesians 4:2 and Philippians 2:3 saying we must not puff ourselves up with pride. We have an old saying that applies here: “But for the grace of God, there go I.” In everything we should imitate Christ by seeking the betterment of our fellow man above ourselves.

When you hear someone say, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” remind them that Jesus is the final Judge. He’s the only one who is able to judge perfectly. We will all be wise to settle our case out of court by trusting him now before we meet him in judgment.

 

Can anyone be saved without knowing about Jesus or being in the Book of Life?

Q. At the judgment described in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation is there any implication that those who have never heard the name Jesus and are not recorded in his book of life may be saved by the grace of God and according to their deeds? Van Rowe, Patrick Springs, VA

A. I believe those under the Old Covenant whose faith was demonstrated in their actions were saved even without knowing their Messiah’s name would be Jesus. Four times the New Testament says in Romans 4:3 and 9, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23 that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. My personal explanation of 24 elders in Revelation 4-5 is that the 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles of Christianity represent all the saved of both covenants. Those living before Jesus did not know him by name, but they believed God somehow would forgive their sins if they trusted him. That trust was proven by their obedience of what they knew God expected of them. Paul wrote in Romans 2, 3, 7 and 1 Corinthians 9 about those who will be judged by the law or apart from the law; that is, by their response to whatever knowledge of God they had. You can be sure that God will take all circumstances into account and be fair in his judgment. He promised in Jeremiah 29:13 that those who truly seek him will find him.

As for God’s keeping a book of life, Moses believed he did in Exodus 32:32 when he offered to be removed from it if that would save his people. Some scholars believe Scripture speaks of 2 records of life. Exodus 32:33 and Psalm 69:28 give rise to the idea that God has written the names of every person who has ever lived physically on earth. Those who are blotted out of this record will be as if they never lived. Scripture does definitely teach that God has a record of those who are saved and have a reservation in Heaven. In Revelation 13:8 and 21:27 this is called the Lamb’s book of life. I believe it’s the same as other New Testament references to the book of life and the same as God’s book of remembrance in Malachi 3:16. It’s what Jesus referred to in Matthew 10:32 and Luke 10:20 when he spoke of the saved being acknowledged by Jesus and having their names written in Heaven.

Some people believe the Bible teaches that a person can lose his or her salvation. They may base this in part on Revelation 3:5. There Jesus promised the saved of Sardis that they will not have their names blotted out of his book of life. However, that phrase is a play on the word “name” mentioned in verse 1. Thinking that having their names on the Sardis church roll made them spiritually alive in God’s sight, members were reminded that God is keeping the real record. Whereas the local church might remove them for wrong doing, God will never remove those in his book. The original language assures us that this is not speaking of the possibility of losing one’s salvation, but rather it is the guarantee that those recorded by Christ will never be removed. The Greek double negative of that verse literally says they will never, not by any means, have their names removed. Therefore, the Bible makes it plain that there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must (or can) be saved. Whom God saves is up to him; how he does it is only through the atoning work of Jesus.

 

Who were the giants of Genesis 6?

Q. Who were the giants of Genesis 6? Harold Carpenter, Red Hill, England

A. Genesis 6:4 says, “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” This verse is the culmination of verse 2 which tells of the sons of God choosing mates (not wives in the marriage sense) from the daughters of men. Bible students have long questioned if these “sons of God” were humans or angels.

The title “sons of God” in its wider sense doesn’t just mean biological sons. If so, it would have to be singular since Jesus is God’s only begotten. It’s used for various relationships, such as sons by creation or redemption. Some scholars say this term could refer to the righteous line of Seth being the sons of God opposed to Cain’s line, children of the devil or daughters of men. However, Moses didn’t have a precedent when he wrote this for relating this title to righteous people. Yet, Moses had probably heard the story of Job where the angels are called sons of God in Job 1:6. Since God created them before humans and, according to Job 38:7, the “morning stars” (another title for angels) sang during Creation, they qualify to be called the original created sons of God.

The text implies those giants were the product of sons of God and daughters of men and they became men of renown. “Giant” literally means a bully or a tyrant, larger than life because of his wicked ways. “Renown” refers to fame or what is reported; that is, tales were told about them.

I believe this is a cataclysmic event where Satan was trying to defile God’s creation and generate a race that would serve him. If we’re talking about angels, they would be the fallen angels we call demons. We don’t know if these fallen angels possessed the bodies of evil men or how they produced offspring, if indeed they did. If these angels somehow caused human women to conceive, this may well have been the main reason God sent the Flood to destroy the progeny of Satan.

Their offspring may have been grotesque beings who started the tales of the mythological creatures of the Zodiac. Ruins of the Tower of Babel show the Zodiac signs inscribed on its base. That’s what Genesis 11:4 means when it says they wanted to build a tower, or monument, to Heaven. This was probably an instrument to worship the powers they believed lived among the stars. I believe this was the main reason God dispersed them and confused their language.

I certainly believe demons inspire all false religions and continue to manipulate their followers. Jude 1:6 speaks of some beings so awful that God has reserved them in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. A lot of what we consider to be myths today may have their roots in Biblical facts that have been distorted over the centuries. So, these giants of evil may have been human-angel mutations, or simply men who made a name for themselves as opposing God.

 

How should we “study to show ourselves aproved to God”?

Q. Second Timothy 2:15 urges us to study to show ourselves approved to God. As M’s we know that, but perhaps this would be a valid concern for your many readers. Rich and Sue F., Siberia

A. Naturally, 2 Timothy 2:15 means we should make a conscious effort to please God in all we do. The imperative translated “study” means to be earnest or diligent toward something. The word “show” gives the word picture of standing beside an exhibit of something you’ve done. It’s yours; in compliment or criticism you stand by it. The workman here is one who is tasked by God and accountable just as an employee answers to an employer. Approved” means acceptable; and “not ashamed” restates the opposite, meaning not having blame or reprimand cast back on oneself. Of course, we do this by prayer and obedience to the Spirit’s leading. But, Paul specifically says we learn how to do this by “rightly dividing the word of truth,” that is, the Bible. “Rightly dividing” is one Greek word meaning to make a straight cut, or to properly sort out something. It carries the word picture of a surgeon making a precise incision to reach the intended organ. So, the key words in that verse are “study…approved…(and) rightly dividing.”

I’ve just demonstrated one way to answer your question: by a thorough study of the key words in a text. Now, let me share some helpful insights I’ve learned from my Bible teachers.

1. Pray to acknowledge the Holy Spirit who accompanies the Word and to open yourself up to hear what he will say to you.

2. Don’t just read a selected passage and put it down. Really concentrate on it to study it. Is it prose or poetry? Hebrew poetry was written with couplets in which the second phrase repeated, completed, or opposed the first phrase. Poetic license allows a broader, sometimes more figurative interpretation, than prose.

3. Consider the context: Who is writing? To whom? Why? What is the writer trying to convey? How does this passage fit into the overall writing? Is it a key thought or just something thrown alongside? For this reason, if you select your own Bible reading plan, it’s best to study a whole book at a time to get the overall teaching of the writer.

4. Read the passage again and restate it in your own words.

5. Look for clues to help you get the true meaning: Are there any repeated words? This shows the writer’s emphasis. What about connecting words like “but,” “and,” “therefore,” or “then.” They connect you to a previous thought you ought to read. This may be a conclusion to what he has said before.

6. Underline or note the key words in your passage. What do they mean? Look them up in a Bible dictionary or read a conservative commentary about that passage. Ask a trusted teacher what he or she thinks the passage means.

7. Now, restate it again with the expanded knowledge you’ve gained. What was the writer saying in his day? How would he say it today?

8. This is the word of God. Every word is there for your benefit. Claim 2 Timothy 3:15-17.

9. Finally, ask the Spirit to apply your lesson to your situation today and how you should act on it. Then, do what the Spirit has instructed you to do. And, if you’ve gained valuable insight, share it with others. Teach them how to study and share as Paul instructed in 2 Timothy 2:2.

 

Where did Cain get his wife?

Q. If Adam and Eve were the only ones God created and they had 2 sons, where did Cain get his wife? Terri Atkinson, Prince George, VA

A. You’re right that Adam and Eve were the only ones God made by special creation. Even Jesus, who was fathered by God’s Spirit, had his body fashioned through natural gestation the way all other humans do. Ultimately, all humans and all races are of the same bloodlines from Adam and Eve and, again, from Noah and his wife.

The story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, should be understood as literal history. Jesus in Matthew 19:4 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45 confirm Adam as the first man. In Genesis 3:15, right after Eve and Adam’s sin God predicted a battle between the seed of the woman and the serpent and his seed. Revelation 12:9 tells us that serpent was Satan. Soon after this prediction, Satan started the battle by corrupting Eve’s first son and killing her second son.

After Cain killed Abel, Genesis 4 says God pronounced a curse that the ground would not yield her strength to Cain. He further said Cain would be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth. Thereafter, we’re told that Cain wandered through a land that came to be called Nod, probably after the fact; because Nod means “wandering”. Or, this simply may have been a way of saying Cain wandered for a long time. The only mention we have of Cain’s wife is in Genesis 4:17, “And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived….” So, where did he find Mrs. Cain?

Genesis 5:4 says Adam and Eve had many more children before they died. It’s obvious, then, that at first some of those children had to marry their siblings. So, did Cain marry his sister? Not necessarily! This was back when the race was young and the bloodlines were pure and before Mt. Sinai where Moses prohibited the marriage of close relatives. Back then, Genesis 1:6-8 tells of the creation of a firmament which was called heaven like we call our sky heaven. This appears to have been a water-vapor canopy shielding the earth from harmful ultra-violet rays until it rained down at the Flood. All the preceding factors would account for people living hundreds of years.

Let’s be conservative and imagine that the early patriarchs lived, on the average, about 400 years and had no more than 6 children. Of course, the Bible records their living many years longer and having many more children. But, if this were true and Cain wandered around for many years before finally settling down, there could easily have been over 100,000 prospects from which Cain might choose his wife.

We note that Cain founded the line of those rebelling against God; and one of Adam’s other sons, Seth, founded the line of true believers from which Messiah came. Even today that battle of Genesis 3:15 continues, and each of us must choose our side of the family.

 

Is the gift of tongues a valid gift today?

Q. Does the Spirit still give the gift of tongues today? For what reason? Tom Turner, Fincastle, VA

A. Acts 2 records the phenomena of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the church in Jerusalem. This happened to fulfill what Jesus had promised in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8. As such, this was the Father’s final confirmation of his son by sending the Spirit whom Jesus had promised. The tongues given at that time enabled the church to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. That commission, along with Acts 1:8, says we’re to share the gospel with all people “to the uttermost part of the earth.” Of course, different languages will be involved. Therefore, one of the Spirit’s gifts at Pentecost was the ability to preach the gospel in the 17 languages of those foreigners who had gathered in Jerusalem.

A few weeks later, Acts 10 records what we call the gentile Pentecost as Peter preached to Cornelius and his family in Caesarea. When they believed the gospel, they began to speak in tongues. Acts 10 uses the same Greek word for tongues, glossa, that’s in Acts 2. Strong’s dictionary calls it “a language”. In Peter’s defense of his actions in Acts 11:15 he said, “The Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” If this were the same thing that happened at Pentecost, it was not unknown gibberish, but known languages. The Jews accompanying Peter recognized this as a sign that God had saved the gentiles by faith just as the Jews.

Later, in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul listed tongues as a spiritual gift for personal edification, but he implied that it can be controlled. In fact, he said that only two or three should speak at a time and then only if an interpreter were present. We’re not sure if the interpreter actually interpreted the words from a foreign language or if the interpreter’s function was simply to explain the speaker’s emotions at the time and why he or she might be caught up “in the Spirit.”

Many Bible teachers believe the miracle gifts – including tongues – are sign gifts reserved for when the gospel moves into new territory. Other believers today claim the gift of tongues is a valid communication with God, particularly in prayer. In my opinion, tongues are unnecessary to prove new converts are saved. And, they should never divide our churches or make some people feel superior to others. John 14 implies that all believers are given the Holy Spirit when they are saved.

First Corinthians 12:11 says the Spirit gifts each believer severally as he will. That means only he knows the reason and purpose for our gifts. Our responsibility is not to question or desire other peoples’ gifts but to know and use our own gifts. As to the reason for tongues today, I’ll have to ask the Spirit in Heaven! Until then, I refuse to let belief in, or denial of, the value of tongues separate me from others in the Body of Christ.

 

How should we understand Isaiah 9:5?

Q. Why do various versions of Isaiah 9:5 read so differently? Sandra Buckner, Emporia, VA

A. Most of us know that the prophet Isaiah predicted many things that Jesus fulfilled at his first coming and there are many yet to be fulfilled at his second coming. Each Christmas as we listen to Handel’s Messiah we’re reminded again of Isaiah’s amazing prophecies. One of the passages from which Handel drew heavily is Isaiah, chapter 9. Verse 2 says, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” And, we’re familiar with verses 6-7, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”

However, most of us have never read the verses between those verses. In the King James Bible verse 5 reads, “For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.” Verse 6 is obviously intended to be connected to verse 5 because of the preposition “for” at the beginning. Verse 6 is predicting a great joy which is to come because a Prince of Peace will be born. Yet, the King James rendering of verse 5 seems to be out of context.

You know that translation is a difficult science because the translator must interpret, not only the language of the day, but the intended thought the words conveyed. Translating idiomatic expressions, such as those in verse 5, and poetry is even more difficult because of poetic license and symbolic imagery. Most of Isaiah 9 may have been written as poetic verse. When properly translated, verse 5 is actually good news because it tells of people in darkness seeing the light of hope spotlighting a time when war will be abolished and peace will reign on the earth. The reason is given in verses 6-7 as when the Prince of Peace is allowed to rule in the hearts and intents of earth-dwellers.

Therefore, newer translations based on older manuscripts and better knowledge of the day-to-day use of language have more accurately rewritten many difficult passages. Isaiah 9:5 is one of those verses. The phrase, “battle of the warrior” may also mean the boot and leg protection warriors wore. “Confused noise” was an idiomatic expression for the sound of soldiers marching. And bloody mantles pictured the gore of hand-to-hand combat.

Verse 4 is a reference to Gideon’s miraculous defeat of the Midianites by the Lord’s power, therefore verse 5 should be taken as a prophecy of a time when the Lord will defeat his enemies and vanquish all weapons of war. They will only be good for burning. Much like the New International Version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible prints this verse as: “For the trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire.” When? When the Prince of Peace reigns supreme! In opposition to other ideologies this is the Christian’s hope.

 

Does the Bible forbid women braiding their hair?

Q. Does God really expect women today to be “shamefaced” and not to braid their hair or wear gold and pearls as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:9? C. S., Prince George, VA

A. Late in Paul’s life, he wrote what we call pastoral epistles to his “sons in the ministry,” Timothy and Titus. After he left Timothy to pastor the church at Ephesus, he wrote practical instruction for Timothy to teach to his church. Today, most Christians believe all of God’s Word was preserved for our benefit. Therefore, 1 Timothy 2 has caused concern among women who want to obey the Lord. The King James Bible prints verse 9 as, “In like manner also, (I will) that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array” (parenthesis added).

After listing proper demeanor for all Christians and especially men in verse 8, Paul addressed the Christian women of Ephesus. He obviously felt that women who had recently converted from pagan customs needed to portray a Godly witness to their peers. Before they were saved, these women vied with each other in their elaborate attire, make-up, and jewelry. Paul believed that women, and men, should show their humility before God. He understood that, for a Christian woman, in God’s sight her beauty is inward; even a lady whom others might consider homely may be beautiful in spirit.

People naturally raise their own opinions when the Bible addresses our personal choices such as the length of our hair, covering our heads, or other etiquette concerns. However, because times and customs change, things that were questionable in Bible times may be different today. Therefore, social customs are not the Bible’s main focus; rather, I believe, God is more concerned over the impact of those customs on our worship and witness. Whenever the Bible narrows in with specific instructions for particular issues, we need to understand them in the context of their culture. A good rule is to study that passage in the light of the greater truth the writer intended, then transport that principle into today’s setting.

The word translated “adorn” in verse 9 means to make something proper. It was used to refer to trimming a candle wick to make it burn properly. “Modest” refers to socially appropriate action. “Shamefacedness” literally means to have downcast eyes showing a humble spirit. By looking down a person made it known that he or she did not consider themselves equal to or better than those they addressed. “Sobriety” means soundness of mind, or self-control.

A comparison of newer versions will help us. God’s Word prints this verse as: “I want women to show their beauty by dressing in appropriate clothes that are modest and respectable. Their beauty will be shown by what they do, not by their hair styles or the gold jewelry, pearls, or expensive clothes they wear.” Likewise, the Good News Bible reads, “I also want the women to be modest and sensible about their clothes and to dress properly; not with fancy hair styles or with gold ornaments or pearls or expensive dresses.” Today, I think the teaching of that verse would be that Christian women (and men for that matter) should be more concerned about portraying a right relationship to Christ than how they look by the world’s standards.

 

How can a believing spouse sanctify the unbelieving one?

Q. To what degree is an unbelieving spouse sanctified by the believing one? Nancy Sours, Capron, VA

A. In the first verses of chapter 7 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he began his treatise on marriage. This was a natural continuance of his discussion of sexual sins in chapter 6. In the first 17 verses Paul wrote about sexual relations within and outside the marriage bonds. Also, he gave some advice to unmarried people. However, his apparent primary purpose was to discourage divorce. He made it clear if he had received direct inspiration from the Lord about these issues or if he were speaking from his own opinions.

Then, in verses 13-14, Paul dropped a bombshell for interpreters. “And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” This has been debated over the centuries with little agreement on its meaning. Most readers, however, do agree that verse 14 should be interpreted in the light of Paul’s discouragement of divorce.

“Sanctified” in verse 14 usually refers to that which is set apart, or holy, for God’s purposes. Certainly, most knowledgeable readers will agree that Paul was not saying an unbeliever can be saved simply by marrying a believer. This goes against greater New Testament teachings, and other writings of Paul himself, that each person is responsible for his or her own relationship to Jesus as Lord. Therefore, there must be an other-than-obvious meaning here.

Interpreter John Gill pointed out numerous Jewish expressions in which “sanctified” meant espoused or married. Marriage performed under God is a holy or sanctified union. “By” may also mean “to” or “unto.” If this is correct, verse 14 could possibly read, “The unbelieving husband is espoused to the wife.” That is, they should not divorce because they have been promised to each other for life. Matthew Henry stated that it is the marriage that is sanctified, therefore Paul wrote about their union being recognized under God if one of the partners were a believer. In either case, the rest of verse 14 would mean that the children of such a union under God are not illegitimate, but legal progeny. Marvin Vincent understood this to say Paul meant the unbeliever is related to the sanctified family of believers by their marriage.

So, you see, there are many possible interpretations of verse 14; but Paul’s primary intent was to give reasons why a couple should not divorce. Certainly, we would hope that being married to a believer would make it more likely that the unbeliever would want the same faith and personal relationship to Jesus as seen in the believing spouse. We believe God would look more favorably upon that family if at least one partner were a believer. However, these ideals are probably not the literal meaning of verse 14.

 

When did Christians begin worshipping on Sunday?

Q. Does the Bible indicate when Christians began worshipping on Sunday? My friend says this practice was not instituted until Constantine began it. Bruce Hackett, Prince George, VA

A. Since the first Christians were faithful Jews, they kept all the Jewish rituals including worship on the seventh day, Saturday. They had always done this. Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple at the prescribed Jewish time for his dedication, and Luke 2 records their taking Jesus to Passover when he was 12. Later, Matthew 26:17 tells about the disciples and Jesus making their Passover preparations. Mark 1:21 indicates that Jesus, as a good Jew, observed the Sabbath and taught in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Soon after Jesus’ resurrection, early Christians added another day of worship to their routine. All 4 gospels tell us Jesus arose on a Sunday. The first 2 times he met with a group of believers were on Sundays, without and with Thomas present. So, for awhile, first century Christians worshipped on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday they went to their synagogues or studied Messianic prophecies in the Temple porticos. Since Sunday was a work day, at first they just met together in homes for their evening meal and concluded with a time of worship climaxed by the Lord’s Supper. However, after the Jews began to persecute them and stoned the first Christian martyr, Stephen, Acts 8:1 says many Christians fled Jerusalem. As persecution increased from the Jews, the Christians gradually discontinued their Jewish practices, including Sabbath worship, and held to Christian observances and worship on Sunday. Since Sunday still was not a day of rest, they worshipped in small private groups. The first churches had no buildings. When they were organized they met in homes or halls on Sunday evenings or whenever believers could gather.

Both John and Paul make reference to first century believers worshipping on Sunday. When Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:2 about laying in store their offerings on the first day of the week, it was because that was when the early church worshipped. Paul organized his churches to worship on Sunday because the gentiles to whom he was sent didn’t feel an obligation to keep the Sabbath. In fact, Paul warned of returning to the Law for salvation and departing from grace. In Colossians 2:14-16, he said on the cross Jesus took away our obligations toward Jewish ordinances.

John wrote in Revelation 1:10 that he was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day. That was Sunday, the day his Christian friends back home in Ephesus were worshipping. So, John’s visions from Jesus came to him on a Sunday.

Therefore, Jesus, not Constantine, is the one who made the change to the first day of the week. He began meeting with his followers on Sundays and has continued to honor that day of worship. When Constantine made Christianity the state religion, he confirmed what the early Christians had already been doing and made Sunday the official day of worship.

 

Did Jesus have to have faith?

Q. The Bible says it’s impossible to please God without faith. Since Jesus knew all things and didn’t need faith, how could he please God? Joel Devallon, Alexandria, VA

A. To clarify your question, let me state in full what you emailed to me: “In the Bible, it states that it is impossible to please God without faith. It also states that God was well pleased with his Son, Jesus Christ. As we all know, Jesus was 100% man at the same time he was 100% God. As God he knows all and is omniscient. Faith requires that one not know something but accepts it. How was Jesus able to please God when he could not have faith? He already knew everything and did not have to demonstrate faith.” Good question!

To begin with, let’s agree that Philippians 2:6 and other scriptures teach that Jesus is God, so he didn’t have to worry about pleasing the Father. He could not contradict himself. However, as you pointed out, Jesus was also fully man. As such, he experienced everything we will ever face. Therefore, he had to experience faith. In fact, Jesus did demonstrate faith when he trusted his future to the Father and said in Luke 22:42, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

Did you know that faith will still be necessary when it becomes sight in Heaven? There we will have the fruition of faith, but we’re not told faith will end. In fact, 1 Corinthians 13 says faith is one of the three things that will continue forever. Verse 13 says, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” We know that charity is the King James word for agape love. That kind of love keeps on loving without reason or response. God will continue to love us throughout eternity. Our response will be our returning love to him along with faith and hope. The word translated “abideth” in 1 Corinthians 13:13 is the Greek meno which means to continue to exist. Since Paul had been writing about Heaven in the preceding verse, the context implies that faith, hope, and love will continue forever in Heaven.

Why will we need faith and hope in Heaven? Verse 12 of that same chapter says, “…then shall I know even as also I am known.” That doesn’t mean we’ll know everything; we won’t be gods. It means we will understand why things happened the way they did in our earthly lives. Since Heaven will be a continuing experience of adventure and excitement, we’ll continue to hope for more of God’s abounding wonders; and our faith will continue to believe God will provide all we need in Heaven.

Back to your question: Since Philippians 2:7 teaches that Jesus voluntarily laid aside his deity, there seem to be some times when he limited himself as a human from knowing certain things. For example, he said in Mark 13:32 that only the Father knows the time of his return. We will never understand the incarnation, so we don’t understand how much Jesus knew about Heavenly things as a man. This is another reason why he still needed and often demonstrated his faith in his Heavenly Father’s plan.

 

Can we date the Rapture in Bible chronology?

Q. Please explain where you see the Rapture in John’s Revelation. Jan McDaniel, Carbon, TX

A. In my Bible classes I teach the Revelation of John as a chronological prophecy except for the evident flashbacks and interludes which explain the visions. I also believe the 3 sets of 7 judgments (seals, trumpets, and bowls) will occur pretty much simultaneously, with each covering the same 7 year period. The 7th of each judgment seems immediately to precede the Second Coming of Christ.

I understand, throughout the whole book, that John is empathetically experiencing everything from the sidelines as Jesus allows him to see the future on to eternity. As an angel guide explains the visions to him, it’s like John is drawn into them. He weeps when others in his visions weep and questions what other saints question. John received letters to 7 churches, but from the sidelines he also may have glimpsed the entire Church Age. I see 4 ways those 7 letters in chapters 2 and 3 may be applied: (1) They were specific messages to 7 literal churches in Asia Minor. Yet, they may apply (2) to all churches and, indeed, (3) to every Christian since churches are made up of individual believers. In addition, (4) those churches appear to represent 7 periods of Church history from Pentecost to the Rapture. There are too many similarities for this to be coincidental. A good Dispensational commentary will explain this to you.

I can easily see that the last two churches might represent those of our present last days. Philadelphia is the “church” that will be raptured, and Laodicea is the “church” that will be left behind to become the “whore” of chapter 17. Of course, I don’t mean any particular church or denomination. In every church there should be those who are saved (Philadelphians) and may be those who are lost (Laodiceans).

The Philadelphia church is the only one mentioning an open door. The same word is used in 4:1 which I believe describes the Rapture. This church is also told in verse 10, “I also will keep thee from (out of) the hour of temptation (tribulation) that shall come upon all the world.” Words in parenthesis are legitimate alternative interpretations. Notice that verse 10 is a prophecy affecting believers in the whole world. This letter is the only one mentioning the New Jerusalem which certainly awaits those who will be raptured. Then, I understand John to symbolically experience the rapture in 4:1. It’s logical to understand that the first thing that happens immediately after the Church Age ends in chapter 3 is the Rapture of the Church in Revelation 4:1. There, John hears the same voice we will hear calling him to come up. It’s the trumpet voice of Jesus which he heard in chapter 1. This coincides perfectly with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 where the Rapture is prophesied. After chapter 3, the church is no longer seen on earth until we return with Christ in chapter 19.

All believers have the right to interpret Scripture as they understand it. Some believe the Rapture will happen mid-point, others believe in a general resurrection and one judgment when Christ returns visibly. From my personal studies I am convinced that Christ will not let his Bride go through the threefold 7 judgments of the Revelation. Believers don’t need to go through the Tribulation to make penitence for our sins since Jesus paid it all. The Tribulation is not for the Bride; its purpose is to cause sinners to repent and for God to vindicate himself against his non-repenting enemies. When Jesus spoke about his return in Luke 17, he referenced Moses and Lot. Both of these were taken out before tribulations befell their neighbors. They were supernaturally rescued and taken to a mountain which, prophetically, is symbolic of the home of God. I believe this is our blessed hope of Titus 2:13 and the culmination of the “good tidings” the angel announced in Luke 2:10.

 

Who was the snake in the Garden?

Q. Why did God curse the serpent in the Garden if it were Satan who was using its body? Geebo, Alexandria, Egypt

A. Genesis 3 tells the story of a serpent who tempted our mother, Eve. We’re never told in Genesis that the serpent was Satan, nor are we told that Satan possessed a serpent. Oral tradition identified the serpent with Satan. However, we have a written identification in the last book of the Bible. Twice, in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2, we’re told that the serpent is the Devil, or Satan. He was further identified by Jesus in John 8:44 as the Devil, the father of lies. By deduction, since the serpent spoke the first lie he must be the Devil.

The Hebrew word, nachash, translated serpent or snake, seems to mean “a shining upright being.” As such, it may have been the form Satan chose rather than a particular animal he possessed. In the original language, Genesis 3:1 literally says it was more crafty than any “living thing of the ground,” or earth – not more than any other living thing, or beast. Note, then, that we’re not told specifically that it was an animal God had created in the Garden, but rather that it was more crafty than any of those living things around it.

Further, when God cursed the serpent in verse 14 we’re not told that he cursed all snakes. Proof of that is seen in verse 15 where the serpent is addressed in the singular. This particular serpent of verse 15 would have “seed,” or posterity, that would battle the woman’s child. Note the amazing prophecy of Genesis 3:15. A future woman would have a child without reference to a father. The child would be male. There would be a battle. The serpent would wound the child but it wouldn’t be a mortal wound; whereas, the child would deal the serpent a deadly blow. The curse that made the serpent crawl on his belly changed his form from an “upright one” to a crawling dragon as he is also called in the Revelation. By the way, tanniyn, most often translated dragon, may also mean serpent.

In summary, and to answer your question, my opinion is that Satan did not possess a serpent, but rather he was the Garden serpent. Therefore, I find no Biblical reason for hating snakes; but I still dislike them! Of course, along with other animals, snakes are referenced in many scriptures as being potentially harmful to mankind, thus giving us reason to fear those that are poisonous.

 

What does the Bible say about divorce?

Q. Is a woman supposed to divorce her husband or is the husband supposed to divorce his wife? Michele Simmons, Petersburg, VA

A. A simple answer would be: neither! Jesus was opposed to divorce.

In Deuteronomy 24:1-2, the King James Version sounds as if Moses is giving permission or even ordering divorce for no other reason than if a man “found some uncleanness” in his wife. Since Moses was passing on to Israel what he learned from God, it would seem that this is God’s opinion on divorce. Yet, in the original Hebrew, the first 4 verses of Deuteronomy 24 are one sentence. They should be read: “If a man takes a wife…and writes her a bill of divorcement…and when she has departed out of his house, she goes and becomes another man’s wife…her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife.” The emphasis, then, is really on the permanency of the first marriage vows. Moses was neither commanding divorce nor agreeing with such practices. In Matthew 19:8 Jesus explained Moses’ intent by saying, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives.” This was already a practice of the Jews which they learned from their heathen neighbors. yet, God warned again through Malachi 2:14-16 that a man not “deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.” Jesus also spoke God’s opinion in this matter when he said in Matthew 19:4-6, “Have you not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Answering the Pharisees who were trying to trick him, Jesus further said in Matthew 19:9, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Jesus, then, was speaking according to the spirit of the law God had given Moses teaching that since marriage vows are taken under God no one should take lightly the breaking of those vows. Fornication means sexual intercourse between two people who are not married to each other.

A writing of divorcement was for the wife’s protection. Wives were considered the property of their husbands. They could be stoned if it were believed a wife were unfaithful to her husband unless she could prove he had divorced her. That same idea was still prevalent in Jesus’ day except divorce had become easy and more acceptable. Jewish men thought it was alright to divorce their wives for any reason as long as they gave them written proof of divorce. No lawyers or courts were involved; the man simply denounced her publicly and sent her away. Jesus, however, taught that God considers the marriage vows to be a permanent commitment. Because the home is the foundation of society and for the propagation of the race, no one should divorce except for adultery by the spouse.

Adultery means that the marriage vows have already been broken by the partner. In that case either the man or woman might initiate divorce. But, in the society of Jesus’ day, women were still the property of their husbands; therefore, it was the husband who usually divorced his wife. Let me also state that divorce is not an unforgivable sin. We should not take it lightly, but we should not ostracize those who have divorced as if God cannot forgive them and they cannot start over and find happiness.

 

Are religious talks a sign of the end?

Q. CNN said King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is calling for talks between the Muslims, Catholics, and Jews. Is this a sign of the end times? Paul Voigt, Colonial Heights, VA

A. On March 26, King Abdullah was attending a conference in Rome trying to establish dialogue between the Muslim world and Japan when he issued a call for the three great monotheistic religions to “save the nations.” It was an unusual call from a country that has no official ties with Israel and bans non-Muslim religious services and symbols. Even more unexpected was the positive support he received from other Islamic countries such as Egypt and from officials in the World Muslim League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Saudi King said Pope Benedict XVI shared the same sentiment when they met in the Vatican last November. Muslim leaders agreed that talks are overdue to change the world’s view that Shariac Islam supports terrorism when they are actually fighting the radicals like the rest of the world. Abdel Muhsin al-Turki, Secretary General of the World Muslim League, said Islam teaches a message of goodness, love, justice, and peace.

This is certainly not the first time there have been talks between Christian denominations or world religions. According to John’s Revelation it won’t be the last time, either. If we take the Revelation chronologically, after the Church Age symbolized in chapters 2 and 3 and the Rapture of the Church in Revelation 4:1, a time of tribulation spurred by a false christ follows from chapters 6-18. Chapter 17 describes the final “church” of that period called the whore. It will be a merger of those denominations and religions left behind after the true Church is raptured. A False Prophet will unite them and lead them to worship the Antichrist. Therefore, no religious mergers today fulfill that prophecy until after the Rapture of the true Church.

However, that doesn’t mean the stage isn’t being set. We’re already seeing a union of European nations in the same territory once ruled by ancient Rome. A merger like that will be Antichrist’s springboard to world dominion. He will unite and rule over other “kings” who, perhaps, represent national coalitions on other continents. Rumors say secret talks are already planning to unite Canada, Mexico and the United States into a North American union. Other regions are also working for unity.

I doubt that Muslims, Christians, and Jews will find much common ground yet. Although I do not believe such talks among religious leaders today are proof of the end times, perhaps communication such as that called by King Abdullah and European markets will make more acceptable end time mergers in religion, government, and economics to fulfill prophecy.

 

Is the Church really distinct from Israel?

Q. How can we say the Church is distinct from Israel and has its own unique “Church Age” when Ephesians 2:11-3:9 says we’re all one body built on the same foundation? Reggie Newcomb, Chesterfield, VA

A. It’s true that, in Ephesians, Paul wrote a marvelous description of our unity in Christ. Jesus died to make it possible for all people to be joined in the same Family of God. That doesn’t mean that everyone is automatically saved. Those who confess Jesus as Lord become joint heirs with Christ and receive the same promises God has given to all his children. Since the cross, we must all enter that Family by way of Jesus and his sacrifice for us.

When Paul wrote Ephesians, he was writing to Christians in the churches of that province. He wasn’t writing to orthodox Jews; they wouldn’t read his letter. Therefore when he wrote of Israel and the Church being one, he wasn’t referring to national Jews, but to those completed Jews who had been Christianized. These were the “saints” he mentioned in Ephesians 2:19 who come from both “the apostles and prophets.” Christ’s Church now unites people who were formerly of the Jewish faith and those of pagan faiths or no faiths at all. Their new unity lies in their confession of the same Lord.

In Ephesians 2:14, when Paul spoke of Jesus’ breaking down the middle wall of partition, he was referring to the Temple partitions in Jerusalem. The Temple court had partitions beyond which only qualified Jews could pass. No gentile could enter beyond the outer court. There was even a warning sign saying that gentiles (non-Jews) would pass that point at the cost of their life. Beyond that was the women’s court, and no woman was allowed to pass further. The inner courts were for Jewish men and those who had come with sacrifices to be blessed by the priests. Jesus did away with those distinctions and made it possible for everyone to enter the presence of God by his sacrificial blood.

Paul was not doing away with the distinctions of Jews and Gentiles. Ephesians 2 and 3 is not saying that Israel is the same as the Church. They are still two distinct peoples of God. He used the Jews while they obeyed him. Now, he’s using the Church as his representatives on earth. After the rapture of the Church he will use believing Jews once again. In Heaven, they will have the same rewards for faithfulness; but that doesn’t mean they are identical on earth. That’s not the subject nor intent of Ephesians 2:11-3:9. God still has his unique purposes for redeemed Israel and for the Church. Therefore, I do not see this passage doing away with the “Church Age” nor the Rapture.

 

Explain the phrases and punishments of Matthew 5:22

Q. Since family arguments seem to be the norm in American society and the Bible always has an answer for everything, how do I handle the meaning of the phrases and their punishment in Matthew 5:22? Scott Terry, Romney, WV, formerly from Jerusalem, Israel

A. One of the over-arching themes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5-7, was his contrasting of oral traditions with spiritual expectations. Throughout chapter 5 Jesus repeated, “You have heard that it has been said…but I say unto you…” In that chapter Jesus clarified God’s view of righteousness, murder, adultery, divorce, swearing, retaliation, and how to treat our enemies.

Matthew 5:21-26 concerns anger and murder. The Jews interpreted the sixth commandment as forbidding only one thing. That was actual murder, or the willful, unlawful taking of a life. But, Jesus said the commandment is much broader. In God’s sight, it relates not only to the external act, but to one’s internal intent, feelings, and words. In verse 22 Jesus taught that vicious anger toward another person is the same as murder. You have already considered him unworthy to live.

Matthew 5:22 says, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” For becoming enraged over someone without a reasonable cause, Jesus used the word for judgment which means a tribunal. Likely, he was referring to a local Jewish court of 23 elders who decided minor disputes. To call someone raca was to call them empty-headed or stupid. When said in anger, this could be taken before the highest court, the Sanhedrin, and the offender could be stoned to death. However, Jesus implied that even thinking that someone was a fool puts you in danger of being judged by God who could send you to Hell. Jesus often used the word for Gehenna, the local garbage dump where trash continually burned, to teach the awfulness of eternal punishment. Therefore, one doesn’t have to commit an outward act to break a commandment.

We may think we’ve not broken a commandment if we can disguise it with a half-truth. In other words, we may not actually say a falsehood is true, but if we word it so that the listener thinks it’s true, we have lied. Remember: God looks at our intent, not just at what we say or do. If our intent was to let someone perceive an untruth, we have already lied when we started planning how to say it. Likewise, if we hate someone so that we wish they were dead, we’re already guilty of murder in God’s sight.

 

Is our conscience related to the Holy Spirit?

Q. What is our conscience and is it related to the Holy Spirit? Ellen Harris, Emporia, VA

A. Our English word conscience comes from 2 Latin words, con and scire. Con is an archaic form of the Latin cum, meaning with. Scire is Latin for knowledge. Therefore, conscience means knowledge along with another, or something else that influences your knowledge, motive, or action. We’re not sure what that “something else” is!

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Merriam-Webster, Inc., Publishers, Springfield: 1985, p. 278) says conscience is “a. the sense…of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions or character together with a feeling or obligation to do right or be good. b. a faculty, power, or principle enjoining good acts.” And, the reason that definition isn’t more specific is because theologians and philosophers have debated for centuries where the conscience comes from.

Philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists say the conscience is one’s inner self, or ego, that has subconsciously picked up the morals of one’s society and upbringing. They point out that consciences differ among cultures because what’s “good” or “right” in one social setting might not be such in another. That’s why the consciences of Japanese kamikazes or Muslim suicide-bombers don’t condemn them.

Theologians argue that there is a basic and universal sense of right and wrong in all peoples. They say that which influences a person’s motives is God. Therefore, they define conscience as “knowledge along with God.” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that conscience is “reason from God to make the right decisions.” That is, God has placed within every person the ability of self-examination of our actions. Sometimes our conscience urges us before hand to do something or not to do it. At other times it brings a sense of elation or guilt after we’ve acted.

Paul wrote in Romans 2 that there’s an inner nature inscribed in every heart that desires to fulfill God’s laws, whether they know it’s from God or not; and their conscience gives witness to this. But, Paul also wrote in 1 Timothy 4 that the reason people do not obey their inner voice is because sin has seared their conscience like a hot iron and they no longer recognize good from evil. Hebrews 9:14 says the blood of Christ, not only saves us, but cleanses our consciences so we will do what honors God. Preachers call this cleansing of Hebrews 9 the “Christian’s conscience” and say it’s the work of God’s Holy Spirit judging our motives and actions.

Whether or not our natural conscience is influenced by God or social mores, there’s no arguing that the Spirit of God influences that inner voice for those who are saved. If we listen, he will be our motivator, energizer, and judge to praise or condemn us before God.

 

Will we have individual attention in Heaven?

Q. How can millions of people gather at his feet in Heaven to worship Jesus and still have individual attention? Homer Belle Isle, Petersburg, VA

A. Dr. Randy Alcorn has written a very thorough study of the after-life in his book simply called Heaven, from Tyndale House Publishers, 2004. I recommend it to answer just about every question you have about eternal life.

Dr. Alcorn bases much of what he writes on the principle of continuity, that is, that we will continue with life much as it is now except in glorified bodies on a renewed earthly paradise removed from the curse of sin. Restored like Eden, the New Earth will host the New Jerusalem as its capitol. From that city, saintly inhabitants will go and come doing their assigned tasks based on the talents with which God has gifted us. Central in that setting will be the Throne of God on Mt. Zion which will be higher than any other mountain. The glory of God from that Throne will lighten the Holy City so that there will never be any night there, because God will never cease to shine for us.

I believe saints will be able, simply by willing our minds, to visit the fartherest galaxy and bask in the wonder of God’s creation for our enjoyment. But, since God is everywhere, he will be with us wherever we go so that we can praise him for his awesome greatness. Isn’t that true here on earth? God is only a prayer away!

Again, I think we can will ourselves back to the Holy City to sit at Jesus’ feet whenever we wish. Even with millions present at the same time, Jesus will give us individual attention as if we were the only ones present. Isn’t that what he does for us down here? We don’t have to wait until Heaven to be in God’s personal presence. Those who are saved have all of God in the person of his Holy Spirit dwelling within us right now. We can commune with him and praise him every day in all things, and he will hear us as if we were sitting at his feet.

Of course, we will enjoy the fellowship of united praise when people from every “kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9) join in praise to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world. We enjoy corporate worship today in our church congregations, large or small, but that doesn’t hinder us from our personal praise and prayer time alone with God. It will be so in Heaven.

 

Must we hate our families to follow Jesus?

Q. What did Jesus mean in Luke 14:26 that if we don’t hate our family we can’t be his disciple? Katie Watts, Augusta, GA

A. We must keep verse 26 in the context of all of chapter 14. Verse 1 says Jesus was a dinner guest at the home of a chief Pharisee. He knew everyone was watching to see if he would break their Sabbath rules. Thankfully, our Lord always considered people more important than rituals or customs, so he healed a crippled man who was brought to him. Then, he spoke a parable on humility and concern for others when he saw how the other guests chose the seats of honor. That setting triggered his parable of the Great Banquet in verses 15-24 where he taught the importance of preparing to attend God’s Heavenly Banquet.

Then, beginning with Luke 14:25 and on to the end of the chapter, Jesus listed some qualifications to be welcomed to God’s Banquet. He started out by shocking his hearers with verse 26: “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” That got their attention! That statement and the one in verse 33 about forsaking everything were intended to cause his hearers to think for themselves and reach the desired conclusion. Oriental teachers often used exaggeration to get their point across.

Verse 26 should be understood in the light of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:37. He had said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” In other words, our love for others must be like hatred when compared to our love for God. We should be willing to forsake everything else to keep God first in our devotion. Another word, “life,” in verse 26 doesn’t mean eternal life. It means earthly things that we seek down here. Those are not as important as seeking a heavenly life with God. Likewise, the word, “forsaketh,” in verse 33 doesn’t mean reckless abandonment, but to put things in their proper order. Striving for the things of this earth must not come before our longing for God.

When we love God ahead of people – even our family – and when we place earthly things in their proper order after heavenly things, we won’t have any trouble with the monuments in our lives (v. 28) or the battles we face (v. 31). Then, the witness of “our salt” (v. 34) will not lose its saving quality before men or God.

No, God doesn’t want us to hate our family or anyone else. He’s just getting us ready for the Banquet. We’ll be ready to attend God’s Heavenly Banquet when he’s number one in our lives!

 

May Christians claim Old Testament promises?

Q. Even though we are not Israel, can Christians claim God’s promises from the Old Covenant? Ray Reason, Petersburg, VA

A. I understand that you’re been asked if Christians don’t feel we’re obligated to keep the Old Testament dietary laws and rituals given to Israel, how can we claim God’s promises to them? That’s a valid question!

First, let’s mention that many people interpret the Bible by a dispensational method. I follow the system that divides Scripture into seven periods, or ages, called dispensations. I understand that the commands and expectations from God, with their corresponding rewards and punishments, given at a particular time primarily apply only to that age. However, if they’re repeated in following dispensations, they also apply to those future ages. For example: Christians don’t keep the Jewish dietary rules of the Old Covenant because they’re not repeated in our New Testament. Yet, the moral codes such as the Ten Commandments are restated in the New Testament and apply to us as well. The one exception is the fourth Commandment which the Spirit led early believers to change. Therefore, Christians keep the moral and spiritual aspects of the Old Covenant as applied by the New Testament writers; but we don’t observe many of the worship rituals such as sacrifice.

How then, you ask, may we claim promises from the Old Covenant that are not specifically restated in the New Testament. Well, for one thing, many of those promises are, indeed, restated in different words for our age. But, there are other wonderful promises we like to claim which are not literally spelled out in our covenant.

Never fear! Any promises that emanate from God’s unchanging character of mercy and love are ours to claim, no matter when or where we live. They remain above the rules of dispensations. God said, “I am the Lord; I change not” (Malachi 3:6). Since God’s character never changes, his desire for everyone to know him and respond to his love never changes. Paul wrote in Romans that spiritual Israelites are not necessarily those who are physical descendants of Abraham, but those who claim the spiritual heritage of Abraham. Therefore, Christians may freely claim such Old Testament promises as: “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deuteronomy 31:6). “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11). “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:5). “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

 

Can a Christian lose his salvation?

Q. Does John 15:6 teach that we can lose our salvation? Nancy Burt, Washington State

A. Sometimes one verse seems to contradict other scriptures. Therefore, we must study all verses in the light of the Bible’s overall teaching. John 15:6 quotes Jesus saying, “If a man doesn’t abide in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” On first reading, that verse seems to teach that a person who belongs to Jesus can lose his or her salvation and be cast into Hell. Of course, many other scriptures such as John 10:27-28 teach eternal security, or the doctrine of “Once saved, always saved.”

Dr. Warren Wiersbe wrote in his unpublished “Expository Outlines of the New Testament” that not everything in the parables of Jesus has to mean something. Parables were given to teach one major lesson, not many smaller ones. We should study the parables through a telescope, not a microscope.

John 15 is parabolic teaching set in the vineyards of the Kidron Valley where workers were pruning unproductive vines and throwing them into huge bonfires. Jesus and his disciples were walking through those vineyards after they left the upper room of his Last Supper. From this setting Jesus gave a parable about fruit-bearing, not salvation.

When Jesus spoke a difficult truth, he often restated it in simpler words so his hearers would understand. Our key to understanding what Jesus was saying in verse 6 is found in the following verses 7-10. In verse 6 Jesus was talking about the results of a person not abiding in him. He clarified that in the next verse by restating it in the negative. If Christ’s words don’t take root in us, we are not abiding in him. Therefore, you can see in verse 10 that Jesus is talking to Christians about keeping his commandments. Verses 8-9 say that will result in our bearing much fruit and continuing to show forth Christ’s love. As a Christian keeps the commandments of Jesus, his Spirit produces fruit in us. That fruit is the reproduction of his character of love and good works seen in our lives.

These “branches” could be hypocritical followers who were never truly connected to Jesus, such as Judas, who had just betrayed him. However, I prefer to believe that the branches are the seeds of Christ’s character in us that are intended to reproduce his life before the world. If the spiritual gifts he has given every believer are not yielded to Jesus so that Christ is accomplishing his purpose in them, then, Luke 8:18 and 2 John 8 teach that we may lose those gifts. In every vineyard unproductive branches are cut off and thrown into the fire to make room for newer, productive branches. Even branches that are producing may be pruned so they will bear more fruit. That’s why even faithful Christians go through times of pruning. God is preparing them to bear more fruit.

 

What do Mormons believe?

Q. With a major presidential candidate being a Mormon, please explain what they believe. Ila Rickards, Louisville, KY

A. Many of my comparisons are supported by an article on pages 46-48 in Facts & Trends, published in Nashville by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, January/February, 2008.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is uniquely the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Ghost), and born to Mary who was a virgin. Although he was born in time as a man-child, he has always been co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As God, Jesus created all things including Satan, a fallen angel. Only Jesus has a glorified physical body in which he will judge and rule over all creation. Salvation from the penalty of all our sins and our entrance into Heaven is a free gift of God without any works on our part and is received by faith in Jesus and his atoning death.

However, according to published Mormon doctrines and articles of faith, there is a hierarchy of gods, each one having been a mortal who earned godhood. This world was created by a council of those gods who decided to make a world and people it. Jesus is the offspring of a mortal mother and a resurrected and glorified (once physical) father who has been exalted to godhood. Lucifer (Satan) is his spiritual brother who wanted desperately to be the savior of mankind. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are 3 distinct Gods with the Father and Son being identical with flesh and bone bodies. The Holy Ghost is different from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost is waiting to take a physical body just as Jesus and the other gods were waiting to take on their bodies before they were born.

Mormons believe Jesus attended his own wedding at Cana where he was married and later fathered children. Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible for every person to be resurrected, but each person will be accountable and punished for their own sins. Salvation (attaining the highest heaven) is not possible outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, belief in Joseph Smith, baptism, and keeping the laws and ordinances of the gospel as interpreted by LDS doctrine. Only a few ultimate sinners will be annihilated. Everyone else will be resurrected to spend eternity in one of 3 heavens. The telestial (lowest) heaven is for the non-religious. The terrestrial heaven is for good and religious people, whereas the (best) celestial heaven is only for Mormons who have fulfilled their requirements for godhood. Failure to obey the LDS Church or to be married in an LDS church will keep a person from attaining godhood. No person will enter the celestial heaven to receive a mansion with God and Christ without the consent of Joseph Smith who holds the keys to the resurrection.

Therefore, anyone can see that Mormons are not trusting in Jesus alone for their salvation. Although they are wholesome and moral citizens, their spiritual understanding clearly differs from Biblical teachings.

 

Why did Jesus die, and what about saved Old Testament people?

Q. Please explain why Jesus had to come and die. What about people who died before Jesus? Angela Foote, Clinton, MS

A. The Bible seems to indicate that God formed the angels just before he began creating the universe. I believe it was also near that time when God spoke a universal law stating: “The wages of sin is death.” Paul recorded that law in Romans 6:23. Since God never made robots, even the angels had the choice to serve him or not. Lucifer, God’s angel of light whom we call Satan, chose to rebel. Isaiah 14 seems to describe Satan’s prideful downfall.

Coming to Eden, Satan posed as a serpent and deceived Eve to commit the first human sin. Since God cannot abide sin, mankind’s fellowship with his holy God was broken. God could have destroyed Adam and Eve right then; however he loved them too much. So, his love drove him to find a way around his own law. He would come, himself, as a man to pay the death sin demands. He announced this plan to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15.

Throughout the Old Testament God was preparing the world to receive him when he came as a man. He brought a nation into being to birth his human self we call God’s son. He sent prophets with clues so we would recognize our Deliverer. He set up a priesthood and sacrificial system so we would realize that sin demands the shedding of blood. But, he said in 1 Samuel 15:22 that he wanted obedient love more than the sacrifices of animals. David wrote in Psalm 51:17 that the sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart. Hebrews 10 says the blood of bulls and goats can’t take away sin. They were a temporary covering, teaching a lesson about the permanent Sacrifice to come. People were saved under the Old Covenant by believing God would somehow save them. Their faith resulted in their heart-love obedience to God. When they died they went to a holding paradise to await God’s promised Redeemer who took them to his home after his death and resurrection.

Galatians 4:4-5 says when the time was right, God came as his own son whom we call Jesus to redeem us from the penalty of God’s laws we had broken. Jesus was born that first Christmas to die in our place that he might pay our sin-debt of death. The first Wise Men were exceedingly wise to understand that he was both king and God, as represented by their gifts of gold and frankincense; but he was born to die as shown by their myrrh.

However, the death of Jesus doesn’t automatically save everyone. Individually, each person must receive that gift by faith – just believing the story of what Jesus did for us – and by responding with that same heart-love desire to obey Jesus as our Lord. Committing our lives to Jesus and trusting his death to satisfy God’s holy demands is what we call salvation. To receive God’s Christmas gift, just tell him you want it more than anything else, and open it by faith!

 

Does the Bible teach that women are saved by bearing children?

Q. What does 1 Timothy 2:15 mean about a woman being saved in childbirth? April Lodge, Evans, GA

A. Paul’s first letter to his young disciple Timothy, whom he had left to pastor in Ephesus, was both for encouragement and practical instruction. After general words of greeting, in chapter 2 Paul gave specific instructions for Timothy to pass on to the women. Chapter 3 deals with men who seek leadership roles. First Timothy 2:15 has traditionally been a challenging verse. The way this verse is often translated, it sounds like women can be saved by having children.

This verse in the King James reads: “Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” Let me share the 3 most popular interpretations of this verse:

This first view most agrees with the context where Paul intimates that Eve forced Adam to sin and came under God’s curse. Here, it is properly pointed out that he word “in” may also be translated “through.” This is seen as an encouragement to women that they will come safely through the experience of childbirth if their heart is set on pleasing God. “It’s true, the woman…disobeyed (God), however she will come safely through her curse if she desires to please God by seriously practicing faith, love, and holiness” (this writer’s paraphrase).

A second view suggests that a woman may gain favor with God by her submission to God’s original plan for the man to head the family. Here, Paul is seen to imply that rather than a woman usurping the man’s ideal role of leadership in their church (verses 11-12), she will please God better by being a good mother and humble home-maker for her husband. I should point out that Paul was not giving a command in verse 12 that women should not teach men; he was stating his own practice. The King James word “suffer” may be translated “urge” or “seek to persuade.” Paul believed in the etiquette of his day that a woman should be quiet in public and let her husband speak for her.

A third possible understanding of this verse may be accepted alongside the above. The context is a reference to the first woman, Eve, although she is not named. The literal Greek rendering of this verse says, “through the child-bearing,” obviously pointing to the birth of Jesus. Although a woman brought sin into the world, it was through the Messiah born to the other woman predicted in Genesis 3:15 that salvation is possible for all people – both men and women. That would explain the change to the plural pronoun in the middle of verse 15.

This is well for us to understand in our celebration of Christ’s birth. God doesn’t hold women accountable for sin any more than men. Romans 6:23 says “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard.” But, through a woman’s obedience the Savior of all mankind has come to bring restoration to God’s favor, if we desire to please him with all our hearts.

 

Do we become angels or ghosts when we die?

Q. When we die, do we become ghosts or angels? Aliki Peltiki, Athens, Greece

A. Neither! The number of angels is constant; they do not die nor have baby angels. We don’t become angels when we die. Angels are a separate race created by God before he made the world. Genesis 2:1 may be a reference to their creation since they are often called the hosts of Heaven. They are also called sons of God and morning stars in Job 38:7, which says they sang and shouted in accompaniment of God’s creative activity. The word “angel” means messenger. They were created to be God’s servants and messengers to men. Hebrews 1:14 says they minister to the redeemed, and Psalm 34:7 says they guard those who fear God. When Jesus said in Matthew 22:30 that the saved will be like the angels in Heaven, he meant that our primary relationships will not be like those in earthly families, but we’ll each be individual children in God’s family.

Ghosts are real, but they are not the spirits of dead humans. Humans never return as ghostly spirits. Revelation 12:9 says when Satan and the angels who followed him in rebellion against God were cast out of Heaven, they came to earth. In John 12:31 Jesus called Satan the prince of this world until he is defeated. In his war against God, knowing he cannot hurt God, Satan attacks humans made in God’s image to keep them from fellowship with their Creator. Since he is not God and cannot be everywhere at once, Satan uses the evil angels who serve him to extend his influence. We call them demons.

Knowing that some people would be deceived by seeing ghosts, believing in reincarnation, turning to psychics, following an evolutionary philosophy, or imagining they have seen aliens and UFOs, Satan has his demons use all these strategies against humans. If he can convince them there are other options after death, then they won’t believe the Bible’s teachings that everyone goes immediately after death to either a heavenly paradise or a hellish punishment. And, Jesus taught in Luke 16:26 that no one can leave Hell. Therefore, we conclude that hauntings are conducted by demons who have the ability to materialize and move objects. People who believe in reincarnation are deceived by Satan’s minions who plant those thoughts in their minds. Psychics and fortune-tellers are either fakes or they receive knowledge from evil spirits. Since these fallen angels have existed longer than we have, they know all about our dead loved ones. They can appear as our departed dead with knowledge we think only our loved ones could know.

In a previous column I referred to Saul having a witch call back Samuel from the dead. She couldn’t have made Samuel appear if God hadn’t sent him with a message for Saul. However, 1 Samuel 28:7 says she was known to consult a “familiar spirit” or demon. That was what she expected to see, but in verse 12 she saw Samuel instead of the spirit she expected. That’s why she “cried with a loud voice”!

When we die we remain the created beings God made us, only with spiritual bodies able to experience eternal punishment or pleasure. Our destination is fixed by how we’ve responded to God on earth. Rarely, God may send saints back for his purpose, but he will never let anyone return from Hell. Trusting Jesus is Hell’s only Escape!

 

Did King Saul go to Heaven since he committed suicide?

Q. Could King Saul have gone to Heaven since he committed suicide? Elizabeth Chambers, Chester, VA

A. The Bible doesn’t tell us whether King Saul was saved or lost. We like to think he was saved since the Lord chose him to be Israel’s first king and he was anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel. That anointing symbolized the Spirit of God upon him. We know he was often tormented by evil spirits which were allowed by God. That shouldn’t shock us! Everything that happens is allowed by God since God is in complete control. God doesn’t cause evil; it’s the absence of good. But, if he allows bad things to happen to his children, Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 promise that it’s ultimately for their good.

In 1 Samuel 28, when King Saul had dead Samuel called up by the witch of Endor, God allowed Samuel to bring Saul a message. However, Sam’s words don’t help us know Saul’s spiritual condition. In verse 16, Samuel said the Lord had departed from Saul and become his enemy. But, in verse 19, Sam said Saul and his sons would be with him the next day. We know that Samuel was saved, and he was in that part of Hades called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) where the saved dead awaited Paradise. That prophecy about Saul’s death came true, but we don’t know where Saul ended up!

First Samuel 31 records Saul’s death as a suicide. But, suicide doesn’t determine our spiritual state. Our eternal destination doesn’t depend on how we die, but on how we have lived. If we’ve lived for Jesus, then no matter if we die in temporary despondency by our own hand, we will be saved. Contrary to some dogma, the Bible does not teach that suicide is the unpardonable sin. That idea came from the erroneous teaching that sin may only be forgiven if it is confessed to a representative of the Church. Of course, one cannot confess suicide after the fact! The truth is that no sin is so great that it cannot be forgiven if a person is saved. First John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin.”

Granted, it is unlikely that a person who is truly saved will commit suicide, because Nehemiah 8 says the joy of the Lord is our strength. However, even saved people can have bouts with depression and mental illness. Sometimes, people feel suicide is their only way of escape. It is, indeed, a sin to take the control of our lives out of God’s hands. Job 1:21 teaches that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Life and death are in his power; however, he will let us cut our lives short, just as he lets us commit other sins when we’re determined to do so. Yet, if we are truly trusting Jesus for our eternal destination, the method of our death will not keep him from saving us. Romans 8:38 promises “neither death, nor life…nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Since 1 Corinthians 3 teaches that our bodies are the temples of God’s Spirit and we are not to destroy them, I infer that we should not commit suicide or assist others to do so. Yet, God’s love is stronger than our weaknesses; his grace is wider than our sins; and his mercy endures forever. If a person was ever truly saved he or she remains saved, because salvation is an act of God. No action on our part, not even suicide, can hinder God from keeping his promise to take us to Heaven when we die.

 

Explain the conflict between Acts 5:13 and 14.

Q. Please explain the conflict between Acts 5:13 saying none dared to join the early Jerusalem believers while verse 14 says multitudes joined them. R. E. J., Suffolk, VA

A. These verses follow the account of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the apostles and fell dead. Acts, chapters 2-4, tells of the success and rapid growth of the early church in Jerusalem right after Pentecost. When folks had needs, believers sold their possessions and gave the money to the church to meet those needs. Ananias and his wife Sapphira envied the honor given to Barnabas who had just sold some property and donated it. They contrived to sell some land and pretend to donate it all while keeping back some for themselves. The Holy Spirit revealed to Peter what they had done; and, when they were confronted, they fell dead.

As Peter explained: The property was theirs to use as they wished. There was no sin in keeping it. There was even nothing wrong in selling the property and donating part of it. Their sin was in lying that they had given all of their proceeds because they coveted that honor. Theirs was a combination of the sins of pride, greed, covetousness, and lying. Even worse, they involved God’s Spirit in their lie by pretending he had inspired them to do what they did.

The reason God struck them dead when he has not struck other people dead for doing the same thing was to set a precedent. Satan was trying to corrupt that church at its beginning just as he did in Joshua 7 for the new nation of Israel. Achan also committed the sins of pride, greed, covetousness, and lying. God ordered that he be stoned to death. Likewise, God needed to impress upon the new church the seriousness of hypocrisy. That sin has plagued every church since Ananias!

As a result, verse 11 means that everyone felt a great fearful respect for God’s words through his Apostles. This allowed God’s Spirit to be in such control that many miracles followed. Then, verses 13 and 14 seem to be in conflict. Verse 13 says, “Of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.” Verse 14 continues, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.”

Since no explanation is given in the text, we can suppose that “the rest” means no more hypocrites. No wealthy pretenders; no more notoriety-seekers like Ananias and Sapphira. Yet, those outside the church admired the honorable natures of believers so that many of them came to be saved. Let this be a lesson to us that God hates the sin of hypocrisy, but he loves a genuine spirit of humility that seeks to bless others in imitation of Jesus. Our actions can either draw people to the Lord, or turn them away!

 

What were the rituals for Pentecost?

Q. What were they doing in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost? J.S., Hampton, VA

A. In Acts 1:4, just before Jesus ascended, he commanded his followers to wait in Jerusalem “for the promise of the Father.” That promise was the coming of the Holy Spirit which Jesus had predicted in John 14. Since every important event in Jesus’ life had already been spelled out in the Jewish levitical calendar, the next event was Pentecost. Jesus had died on Passover and been the first-fruit of our resurrection on the Festival of First Fruits. Fifty days later the Jews would return to Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate the Feast of Fifty Days (Pentecost). That was their spring harvest festival, like our Thanksgiving.

The first chapter of Acts tells us 120 believers, including all the Apostles except Judas, along with Jesus’ mother, brothers and sisters, were “in one accord.” That means they remained together in the upper room where Jesus had last met with them and had led them in his last supper. During this time they prayed, worshipped, and doubtless studied the prophecies, reviewing how Jesus had fulfilled them all. Many would have shared testimonies of what they learned from Jesus.

Jesus had been with them in various post-resurrection appearances over a period of 40 days. The believers didn’t know how long they must wait, but by waiting the remaining 10 days until Pentecost they were testifying that they would wait indefinitely in obedience to Christ’s command. They were unified, obedient, prayerful and faithfully waiting for God’s promise to visit them.

Acts 2 says “When the day of Pentecost was fully come.” That means it was on the actual day of Pentecost when faithful Jews would be involved in the Pentecost rituals spelled out in Leviticus 23. What were those rituals?

At Pentecost, each person brought 2 loaves of bread. They were to be made of mixed grain from all the grain of their Spring harvest. The grain was ground into fine flour with yeast (leaven) added. This was different from the bread of Passover, which was unleavened. Leaven symbolized sin which spreads as rapidly as yeast in dough; therefore, that unleavened bread represented Jesus who was without sin. It was not very palatable since it was flat and hard, symbolizing the suffering of the undesirable Christ. The bread of Pentecost was yeast bread and good to eat. Since yeast is symbolic of sin, this bread represented sinful people. It came from mixed grain, meaning different kinds of people. It was offered as a wave offering before the Lord and then eaten with the Thanksgiving meal of their harvest.

We can see, then, that the 2 loaves of mixed grain represented the Church. Christ’s Church is composed of all people: Jews and Gentiles, who have been dedicated (waved) to the Lord. All our different backgrounds and abilities come together in the Body of Christ. So, it was on this day that the Spirit birthed the Church! As Peter preached later that day, on the day of harvest celebration, the Spirit reaped the first great harvest of the Church. Three thousand were saved!

When the Spirit broke the sound barrier as he came to earth, Dr. Luke could only describe that sonic boom as the “sound of a mighty, rushing wind.” That explosion, like they’d never heard before, caused the whole city to gather outside Mary’s upper room. Then, the Spirit bestowed the power (wind), the purity (fire), and the purpose (tongues) for his Church. May we allow him to equip us today to reach all people for Jesus! And, let’s praise God for the unsearchable riches in his Word!

 

Tell me about early church members

Q. Did local churches in the New Testament encompass a compact area, or were their members spread over a wide area? Joe Keeney, Colonial Heights, VA

A. The early churches were house churches without any buildings to meet in. They met in homes of their attendees. Acts 2:46 says the early Christians in Jerusalem alternated their meetings from house to house, although Acts 12:12 indicates they seemed to have settled on meeting in Mary’s large upper room. This was Mark’s mother’s home where Jesus observed his Last Supper and the Spirit came at Pentecost.

Agreeing with Acts 16:15, tradition says the first European church met in Lydia’s home in Philippi. In Corinth, Acts 18:7 indicates that Paul’s first church there was in the house of Justus, next to the Jewish synagogue. There may also have been a church at Aquila’s house where Paul lived. Later, after Aquila moved, Paul sent greetings in Romans 16:5 to the church that met in his house in Rome. Since the letter wasn’t specifically addressed to Aquila and Priscilla, there must have been other house churches in Rome.

The first churches didn’t have any formal membership rolls. Therefore, our New Testament letters addressed to them were for those who were believers in Christ and gathered regularly with that particular group. In fact, we believe our epistle to the Ephesians was probably a circular letter. The words, “at Ephesus” in Ephesians 1:1, are not in our earliest manuscripts. Therefore, it was probably intended to be passed to all the house-gatherings in that area.

So, to answer your question, “local” refers to whoever gathered regularly with that group. Since travel was difficult, attenders would likely be people who lived nearby. Travelling Christians passing through would look for believers to house them for the night and would certainly be welcomed to share in that home’s worship times. Early believers often ate their evening meals together as we do “pot-luck” dinners today. Afterwards they might read the latest epistle from Paul, James, John, or Peter. Or, they might study how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. And, they would close with partaking of a piece of bread and cup of wine in remembrance of his Last Supper. Special gatherings would be held for baptism of new converts. Baptism was always by immersion because sprinkling was not officially sanctioned until 1311.

Later, when Christians were being persecuted, they identified themselves to other believers by drawing a fish. “Ichthus,” the Greek word for fish, became an anachronism for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” For early believers, their faith was a personal and life-long choice, often carrying serious consequences. However, they recognized the importance of gathering to encourage each other. The writer of Hebrews reminded them in 10:24-25, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

 

Do we invite Jesus or the Spirit to save us?

Q. Should we not pray for Jesus to come into our hearts if it’s really the Holy Spirit who comes in when we’re saved? Brenda Wills, Windsor, VA

A. I understand someone told you that we shouldn’t ask Jesus into our hearts at salvation but, rather, we should invite his Spirit to come in. I think they’re splitting hairs! We both know Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are one. We don’t worship three Gods, but one God who appertains to us in three distinct relationships. Therefore, when you have Jesus, you also have the Father and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus as well as the Spirit of the Father.

Speaking of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is that Spirit.” Romans 8:9 calls him “the Spirit of Christ” and, 1 John 4:13 calls him “his (Jesus’) Spirit.” Galatians 4:6 says he is the Spirit of God’s son. Further, John 16:13-14 records Jesus saying, “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself….He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” If the Spirit doesn’t glorify himself but points to Jesus, surely he wants us to pray to Jesus.

Technically, it is the Spirit who indwells us. However, we’ve always heard – and we tell young children – that people need to invite Jesus into their hearts. We know they’re inviting the whole God-head into their lives asking him to help them live pleasing to him. Children aren’t mature enough to understand the concept of the Trinity, but they know that Jesus loves them and died so they may be forgiven. I don’t think God would withhold his grace from a sincere seeker just because he or she said the wrong words in their plea for salvation.

I would say, “Don’t be overly concerned over this!” There are some battles worth fighting, this one is not – as long as everyone involved knows that salvation is a free gift received when we repent and sincerely ask God to save us because we are trusting in Jesus as our Lord.

 

How long did it take Jesus to gather his Disciples?

Q. Does the Bible give any indication on how long it took Jesus to assemble his 12 Disciples? Nat Fleming, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Yes, Jesus’ first 6 disciples began to follow him informally right after he returned from his temptation 40 days after his baptism. All 4 gospels – Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, and John 1 – record Jesus’ baptism. The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that, immediately after his baptism, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days. God wanted Jesus to be tempted to identify with our needs. Hebrews 4:15 says Jesus was tempted with all the temptations we face.

When John 1:29 says, “the next day” he must be referring to the day Jesus returned from his temptation. He went back by where the Baptizer was still preaching at the Jordan River. Two of John’s disciples heard him say Jesus was the Lamb of God, so they asked Jesus where he was staying. By that, they were hinting for an invitation to visit him at his camp. Jesus invited them, and they spent the remainder of that day with him.

Chapter 1 of John tells us one of the two was Andrew, but the other follower is not named. This is typical of John, the writer’s, modesty. He never names himself in his gospel. Therefore, by his silence we infer that the other disciple who followed Jesus was John, the son of Zebedee. That would tell us why he remembered that it was about the 10th hour. That was the time when John first believed in Jesus. He would never forget that day and hour!

Many ancient manuscripts agree with the King James in recording that Andrew was “first” to find his brother. If Andrew were the first, then we imply – again by silence – that John must have also told his brother James. Therefore, many Bible scholars believe there were 4 who met Jesus that day: Andrew, John, Peter, and James. John’s gospel further tells us these were joined by Philip and Nathanael the next day as they all walked with Jesus back to Galilee.

Accompanying Jesus to Nazareth to meet his family, they learned Mary was in Cana, 6 miles away, directing a wedding. Jesus invited his 6 new friends to the wedding as unexpected guests. That’s why they ran out of wine. They had 6 extra guests – thirsty fishermen who had been in the wilderness with the Baptizer for over a month! Mary must have reminded Jesus that he brought the extra guests, so he should take care of it. That was no problem: Jesus’ first miracle was to make more wine from the huge vats of purification water. Then Jesus and his family went to Capernaum to meet the families of these 6.

Presumably, these followed Jesus off and on for about a year until he walked by their fishing nets one day and invited them to be his permanent disciples. So, he didn’t call them cold – they already knew him when he called them from their nets. From there he went on to collect the rest of his disciples over the next few weeks.

So, to answer your question: Jesus took about a year to gather his apostles, and they stayed with him for the remaining 2 and 1/2 years of his public ministry. Those who were married probably took their wives on some of their trips. Matthew 27:55 says there were women with Jesus’ band who ministered to their physical needs. You and I can minister to Jesus today by our praise, love, and obedience.

 

Did Jesus contradict himself about witnesses validating his ministry?

Q. How can we reconcile John 5:31 and 8:13 concerning the witnesses required to validate Jesus’ ministry? Reggie Lovorn, Philadelphia, MS

A. Jesus was speaking to the Jewish leaders in both of these passages. In John 5:31 when they asked for references to validate his claims, Jesus agreed with them that if he alone testified of himself his testimony wouldn’t be valid. Their traditions required more than one favorable testimony for witnesses to be legal. That was no problem. Jesus said his Father, John the Baptizer, his own miracles, Moses and the scriptures would bear witness of him.

Later, in John 8, Jesus said he was the light of the world. The Pharisees quickly pointed out that he was bearing record of himself, and his testimony could not be accepted. This time Jesus said that even if he testified of himself his testimony was valid because he knew where he came from and where he was going.

Yes, these 2 passages seem to conflict until we place them in their proper settings. In John 8:13 Jesus was actually agreeing with the Pharisees and repeating what he had said in 5:31. There he had said, “There must be two witnesses for a testimony to be legal.” First, speaking as a man in 5:31, Jesus gave additional witnesses to his physical ministry. Second, speaking as the divine Son of God in 8:13, he also gave two witnesses to his spiritual ministry. In verses 16 and 18 he said he and his Father agreed as to his identity and authority.

To reconcile these, we must note that chapter 5 is near the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry when the Jews were questioning the authority behind his physical ministry, i.e., his power to heal. He was not known at that time for his spiritual teachings. At this point the Jews considered Jesus to be a man – extraordinary perhaps – but still a man, or maybe a prophet. Jesus was still working physical miracles to get their attention and gain their trust.

However, chapter 8 is two years later, near the end of his ministry when he must make sure they believed his spiritual message of salvation. By that time, they must not just believe in Jesus as a man or even a prophet, but as the human expression of God himself. To be saved they must believe where he came from and where he was going. In verse 28 he proved that he knew where he was going because he predicted his crucifixion. Therefore, the testimonies of himself and his Father should be all they needed to believe in him.

 

Explain the parable of workers in the vineyard

Q. Please explain the meaning of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 20:1-16.

A. No one else asked this question. In my Bible study, the Lord impressed me that someone needed this lesson; therefore, I asked this question of the Spirit.

This is a story of a man who went out about 6 a.m. to hire workers for his vineyard. He contracted with several men to work 12 hours for the usual day’s pay of 1 dinar each. Later, when he found other men needing work at 9 a.m., 12 noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., he sent them to work also. He promised to pay them what was right. At quitting time, around 6 p.m., he paid them all the same – 1 dinar each. Those who had been hired at 6 a.m. complained that they should have gotten more because they had worked longer. The owner said he did them no harm since he paid them what was contracted. He further said, that if he wanted to help the other men, it was his money to do with as he pleased. Jesus’ bottom line in verse 16 was, “So, the last shall be first, and the first last; for many be called, but few chosen.”

This story is a kingdom parable about salvation and rewards. It’s a continuing application of Jesus’ experience with the rich, young ruler of chapter 19. The word “for” at the beginning of chapter 20 tells us there should be no chapter division here. The emphasis for Jesus’ instruction to this ruler is in the last phrase of 19:21, “and follow me.” Our salvation is not granted on how well we keep the commandments or give our money to the poor, but upon our following Jesus as Lord. Then, Jesus’ application to those who are saved (verse 28, “Ye which have followed me”) is that many who put themselves first will find themselves last when the heavenly rewards are handed out.

As with all Jesus’ parables, different lessons can be learned depending on the spiritual discernment of the hearer. We might see several applications here. You might discern that God gives one special remuneration equally to all who serve him. It doesn’t matter if you start serving Jesus early in life or if you trust him on your deathbed, the reward of salvation in Heaven is given equally to those who trust Jesus. So, our salvation is not based on our goodness or our conception of our worth, but upon the grace of our Host.

Again, Jesus might have been warning the Jews not to be prejudiced against gentiles who come into the kingdom later but accomplish more and are moved to first place. An application for our churches is that those who have labored long for the Lord must not harbor ill toward new converts who take over their jobs and receive honors for their short years of service.

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” That is, not everyone called to salvation will be highly honored. God will decide whom he will choose to honor. Be content with your station in life and future reward that the Lord chooses for you. Rewards are at the discretion of the Owner. Those who only do what they agreed to do for a certain amount will not fare as well as those who give their best but leave the reward to Jesus. The grumblers proved they were unworthy of any more reward. Perhaps, the others, who by no fault of their own had no jobs, were so grateful to work that they accomplished more than the first. Payment for our work doesn’t rest wholly on the amount of time spent, but on our diligence. If the Lord chooses to equip some for special service, and they fulfill their calling in shorter years of time, Jesus may confer on them a higher reward. But, he does no harm to the rest of us who have contracted with him for our salvation. Therefore, let us learn the lessons of humility and faithful service without watching the clock or the reward.

 

Is it a sin to get a tatoo?

Q. Does Leviticus 19:28 forbid tattoos? Will Jesus have a tattoo when he returns in Revelation 19:16? Josh Cantrell, Hampton, VA

A. Leviticus 19:28 says in the King James Version, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” The New International Version calls this tattoos. In Leviticus 19 Moses grouped a number of similar taboos that arose from cult worship practices. These all identified their owners with those false religions. God had forbidden Israel to intermarry with and join the worship of their heathen neighbors. The nations around them cut themselves to mourn their dead and painted good luck symbols on their bodies to ward off evil spirits. That’s what Moses was forbidding. The New Testament teaches that those who die in the Lord will see their loved ones again; and the child of God doesn’t need good luck charms since our destiny is in the hands of a loving God.

Whether tattoos today have similar meaning depends on the individual’s intent. Some people just think they’re neat, like any other bodily accessory. To some tattoos are a thing of beauty; for others they make a statement. Sometimes, tattoos may be an outward expression of one’s faith. However, we would do well to consider carefully that our bodies are God’s creation, made in his own image, and indwelt by his Spirit if we are saved. Therefore, we should be careful about abusing our bodies. Of course, those opposed to tattoos may accomplish similar change while seeing nothing wrong with cosmetic surgery, pierced ears, make up, hair color, wigs and toupees.

We could easily dismiss the above prohibition by reminding ourselves that we’re not under Israel’s old covenant of the Law. But, even under our new covenant of grace God will still judge us by the intent of our hearts. He will look – not so much at what we do with our bodies: how we clothe them, decorate them, or style our hair – but at the worship of our lives. Only that worship directed to glorify Jesus will get us credit in the Father’s sight.

Yes, Revelation 19:16 says, “And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” But, we’re not told this is an engraving or tattoo on Jesus’ skin. It is “on his vesture.” The resurrected Jesus is always pictured as wearing a robe down to his ankles. Perhaps this title will be a glorious radiation emanating from the very presence of Jesus. At any rate, we cannot compare our bodies to the perfect, immortal, and glorified body of the Lord. But, we can compare our spirits and allow God to mature them in the image of Christ.

 

Does God send angels to lie for him?

Q. How do we reconcile 1 Kings 22:19-23 in light of Titus 1:2 that says God cannot lie. Gene Mims, Prince George, VA

A. You refer to an amazing scripture: a one of a kind glimpse into Heaven’s courtroom where God asked advice from his angels. Only Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Stephen, and John had seen God on his throne; but though Job 1 tells about such activity, no other prophet had seen God in counsel with his angels. After hearing various suggestions from the angels, God approved one angel’s plan and gave him permission to lie to King Ahab. That certainly seems to conflict with Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 6:18, and Titus 1:2. Let’s consider the context.

King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were discussing battling a common enemy. Jehoshaphat suggested they inquire of the Lord. King Ahab asked his favored prophets who always agreed with Ahab, and they told him that he would win this battle. However, Jehoshaphat asked for a true prophet of the Lord. Although Ahab hated Micaiah as a righteous prophet, “for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil,” he asked Micaiah his opinion. In verse 15, Micaiah seems to be two-faced, giving the king what he wanted to hear. However, we know that wasn’t his nature. Therefore, we should understand Micaiah as parroting the false prophets since he knew that was what Ahab planned to do anyway. We know Micaiah was speaking sarcastically, because Ahab asked him again and told him to tell the truth this time.

Then, Micaiah told of a vision of seeing God ask spirits for advice on how to entice Ahab to his death. We know these “spirits” were angels because verse 19 says the Lord was surrounded by all the hosts of heaven. That’s a reference to angels. One angel said he could cause all the false prophets to lie to Ahab; and God said, “Go, and do it.” Micaiah said in verse 23, “The LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets.”

I’ll quote you here, Gene: “Whoa!! God has his own CIA! His own MI-6. It’s the Holy KGB!” That’s a thought-provoking scripture. Does that mean that God lies?

Not at all. Although God may use methods we don’t understand, he will always be true to his righteous character. David said in Psalm 19:9, “The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” And, Jesus said in John 17:17, “Thy word is truth.” In fact, anything God does is right, because he’s the law! Romans 9:17 says it was not wrong for God to play with Pharaoh like a cat plays with a mouse, because God had created him for his glory. Second Thessalonians 2:8-12 tells of a similar future situation with the Antichrist and his followers. It was not wrong here for God to lure King Ahab to his death because that’s what God had decreed for him.

Lying prophets are going to lie no matter who motivates them, and people who want to believe lies will listen to them. God has the right to do with unsaved people anything that will accomplish his purpose; but Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 promise that God always plans good for his children.

 

Who will the Antichrist be and what is 666?

Q. Can we know who the Antichrist and False Prophet will be? What does 666 mean? Tommie Thompson, Petersburg, VA

A. Most conservative, premillennial Bible scholars believe the Rapture of the Church is symbolically experienced by John in Revelation 4:1. After that, the Church is not seen on earth until we return with Christ at his Glorious Appearing in chapter 19. Chapters 4-5 describe our worship in Heaven. That means that chapters 6-18 do not pertain to Christians, but they are for those left behind to recognize what God will be doing during the last 7 years we call the Tribulation. Since all true believers will have been taken up to Jesus, there is no way we can know who the Antichrist and False Prophet of chapter 13 will be.

These two are described in Revelation 13 as beasts. The first beast, whom we call the Antichrist, arises out of the sea which means he will be a gentile. The second beast comes up from the land meaning he will be a Jew. This one will be the False Prophet who will lead the Jews to follow Antichrist like a Judas goat leads sheep to the slaughter. These two, along with Satan, called the Dragon, will form an unholy trinity in imitation of God’s holy Trinity. According to 2 Thessalonians 2:7, they may be alive at the time of the Rapture, but they won’t come to world power until after the Holy Spirit’s witness in the Church is removed. By the way, the reason 13 is a superstitious number is because of what happens here in Revelation, chapter 13.

For those alive on earth then, the number 666 will help identify the Antichrist. Revelation 13:18 says, “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”

The letters of the Hebrew alphabet were also used for numbers. In fact, many ancient languages gave numerical values to their alphabet. An example we still use is Roman numerals. The letter X has the value of 10, L means 50, and C equals 100 while M means 1,000. One way Antichrist will be confirmed in the last days by Bible searchers will be that the letters in his name will add up to 666. We would have to know his name and the numerical value of the letters of his language. Yet, that verse and chapter makes it clear that the Antichrist will be one man and not a nation, religion, or impersonal principle. His will be the opposite of Jesus’ character, and he will oppose all people who worship God. Through him, Satan will try to take the world from Jesus who created all things.

The Bible gives signs for us to watch and know when the time is near. All those sign have been fulfilled and many are still being fulfilled today. That makes it urgent that everyone be prepared to meet Jesus favorably by serving him daily as our Lord.

 

Why did Jesus say it would be hard for a rich man to be saved?

Q. Why did Jesus say in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven? I. P. L., Calhoun City, MS

A. Jesus made this observation after telling a rich, young ruler that he needed to sell all he had and give the money to the poor, then come and follow Jesus. The young man refused to do this and went away sorrowfully. Jesus wasn’t telling everyone to sell their possessions in order to follow him. He knew that this particular young man had made riches his god. Notice that Matthew 19:23 doesn’t say a rich man can’t enter heaven, but it says it will be hard for a rich man to enter heaven. That’s because, often, when a person is rich, he becomes self-sufficient. He thinks he doesn’t need God or anyone else.

Jesus may have meant a literal sewing needle’s eye in verse 24 because he said this is impossible. Just as it certainly is impossible for a camel to go through a sewing needle’s eye, it’s impossible for any of us to earn heaven or think we deserve it because of our wealth.

Yet, we remember that Jesus often used physical analogies to teach spiritual realities. Therefore, he may have been referring to the “needle’s eye gate” in a city wall. In Bible countries some walled cities have narrow slits in the wall that allow a man to squeeze through while leaving his camel to graze untied outside the wall. The camel might try to follow his master, but he can’t get through this narrow gate. On a recent visit to Israel, I was told that’s what this verse means. Then, my guide took me to a needle’s eye gate and let me squeeze through it. It would have been impossible for my camel (if I had one) to have followed me! Because Jesus often drew his lessons from things around him, a camel may have been trying to squeeze through a needle gate at that very time.

Remember that eastern teachers liked to shock their hearers with analogies that made them think for themselves. Whatever illustration Jesus was using, we have to interpret this in the context of that young man who had just rejected Jesus because he wouldn’t give up his riches. Jesus was teaching that anyone who makes a god of riches cannot be saved until God is foremost in his life. It’s impossible for a self-sufficient person to squeeze into heaven. But, with God all things are possible. His Spirit can convict a person to forsake material values and seek God in Jesus Christ above all else. The ground around the cross is level, and anyone who trusts in the work Jesus did on the cross may enter heaven.

 

Why don’t Christians keep the O.T. kosher laws?

Q. Christians claim to believe all the Bible. Why don’t Christians keep the Old Testament laws, like not eating pork? H. S., Petersburg, VA

A. I can’t speak for all Christians because some Christians observe certain Old Testament rules. Messianic Jews believe Jesus is their Messiah, but they still keep portions of the old covenant. I still believe the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 are valid guides for everyone; but I don’t keep them to be saved. Let me tell you why I don’t refrain from eating pork as Leviticus 11:7 says.

First, the Jewish rituals of Leviticus were symbols of God’s covenant with the people of Israel. God never intended that non-Jews keep these unless they voluntarily did. Food prohibitions were probably given for health reasons since some meats spoil so easily in hot, desert countries. Remember that the Jews were God’s living object lesson to prepare us for the new covenant.

Second, it’s not wrong for me to eat pork because God removed those dietary regulations for Christians in Acts 10:15. Even after Peter became a follower of Jesus, he considered himself a good Jew. Once, when he was very hungry, he had a vision. He saw all kinds of animals and heard a voice telling him to eat what he wanted. He replied that he had never eaten any ceremonially unclean animals (such as pork). However, the voice said what God has declared clean he should not call unclean. Peter’s primary lesson was not to consider the gentiles unclean and unworthy of the gospel. He would soon be instructed to take the gospel to a gentile named Cornelius in Caesarea. However, I believe this scripture also removes the Jewish dietary restrictions for Christians.

Other New Testament scriptures such as Romans 10:4 and Hebrews, chapters 7 and 10, teach that Christians no longer have to keep Jewish laws to be right with God. The Bible says Jesus fulfilled the law for us; now we’re on the honor system to let his Spirit guide us. When we seek the Spirit’s leading, he applies Scriptural rules individually to our particular circumstances.

 

What did Jesus mean that some people would not die before the Kingdom comes?

Q. How do you explain the seeming contradiction of Mark 9:1, “Some of those standing here will not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God coming in power”? Jim Rank, Prince George, VA

A. We must study Mark 9:1 in the context of the preceding verses of Mark 8. Jesus had fed 4,000 people and healed a blind man. Then, he predicted his own death and resurrection. When Peter rebuked him saying that wouldn’t happen, Jesus said Peter was thinking in human terms. Then, he challenged his followers to be willing to lay down their lives for him rather than deny him. He said when he comes in the glory of his father he will deny knowing those who have denied him. There should be no chapter break there, because Jesus continued his thought in chapter 9, verse 1. Before they died, some of his listeners would even see the kingdom of God come in power.

On first thought, we might indeed see a contradiction here if we think this refers only to the Second Coming of Jesus. All those people have died and Jesus has not returned yet. Can we agree then that, since it has been around 2,000 years since Jesus said that, we must conclude that he wasn’t referring to his Second Coming? The word translated “kingdom” in most versions actually means the regalness of God. Therefore, there are several ways of interpreting what Jesus might have meant.

If we emphasize the word “power” in Jesus’ statement, he might have been referring to Pentecost as described in Acts 2. He told his followers in Acts 1:4 to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. Referring to that event in verse 8, he said they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them. Could this have been the answer to Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6:10 for God’s kingdom to come on earth? The followers of Jesus who were in the upper room on that particular Pentecost certainly saw the kingdom come in power! One hundred twenty believers testified in at least 17 different languages they didn’t know and saw about 3,000 people saved that day.

Or, if we underscore “not taste of death,” Jesus might have been talking in spiritual terms about every believer. He said in John 8:51, “If a man keep my saying he shall never see death.” At Lazarus’ resurrection in John 11 Jesus said saved people never die, but our lives continue without a break in his presence. He told the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus that very day in Paradise. Those believers listening to Jesus in Mark 9 would not ever taste of spiritual death, but they would certainly see the rule of God in heaven.

However, let me hasten to say that the simplest and most obvious answer is probably the best answer to understanding Mark 9:1. If we emphasize the word “see” in verse 1, the very next verse tells about Peter, James, and John seeing the transfiguration of Jesus. In fulfillment of Mark 8:38, those 3 men saw Jesus in the glory of his Father.

So, let’s be careful not to doubt the word of God just because we may not understand something. Jesus said in John 17:17, “Thy word is truth.”

 

Does the Bible teach that the sun revolves around the earth?

Q. Does the Bible say the world does not move and the sun revolves around the earth? My friend says if the Bible is wrong about this, then it’s probably wrong about other things. Charles Richland, Augusta, GA

A. Let me divide your question. You ask, “Does the Bible say the earth doesn’t move?” Yes, such scriptures as 1 Chronicles 16:30 along with Psalm 93:1, 96:10, and 104:5 say the earth is established so that it cannot be moved. However, those verses are not talking about the earth moving through space and revolving around the sun. Those passages refer to God’s creative and sustaining powers. In poetic terms they’re saying that only God had the power to create the earth, and he maintains it. The earth will last as long as God wills it to last. No other god can control the earth or any of its events. By implication that means that all of nature answers to the will of the true God. We should not depend on the stars, our horoscope, or any other imagined power to effect our lives.

Some of those verses even say the earth will last forever. We know that, if God had wanted to completely destroy the earth, he could have done so instead of sending the Genesis Flood to wash it clean. Bible writers were inspired by God’s Spirit to write what they did. They could not know that The Revelation, in chapter 21, would predict a renewed earth that will last forever when it becomes the home of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem.

The second part of your question deals with the Bible portraying the sun as revolving around the earth. Yes, one could conclude that by reading Psalm 19:4-6 which pictures the sun as travelling across the sky. Again, Ecclesiastes 1:5 also seems to say that the sun moves while the earth stands still. But, isn’t it true that to an unscientific mind the sun does appear to move across the sky? God spoke his truths to common men in terms they understood. They would not have understood that the earth is a ball rotating at 1,000 miles per hour and travelling through space at 67,000 miles per hour. But, they could understand the more important lesson of Psalm 19, that all of creation reveals the power of an omnipotent God. And, they could understand the lesson of Ecclesiastes 1 that temporary things cannot give lasting satisfaction.

The Bible is not a physics book because physics was an unknown science when Scripture was written. The Bible is a book of faith by which we allow the Spirit of God to record its principles in our heart language. The truth he writes in our souls can be understood without arguing semantics.

No matter what you say, your friend will go on thinking the Bible is unreliable because the Bible itself says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that an unspiritual person cannot understand the things of God. “For they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Rather than arguing about Bible statements, urge your friend to learn its greater spiritual truths by trusting the central character of the Bible, Jesus. When he does, the Spirit of Jesus will help him understand all God wants him to know.

 

Were the tongues of Acts 10 the same as those at Pentecost?

Q. Were the tongues spoken in Acts 10 given for the same reason as those at Pentecost in Acts 2? Mary Virginia Harris, Church Road, VA

A. Acts 2 records the phenomena of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came in power on the church gathered in Jerusalem. This happened to fulfill what Jesus had promised in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8. Acts 1:4 says this was a promise from God the Father. Therefore, this was the Father’s final confirmation of Jesus and his ministry. God had spoken vocally at the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus. Further, he had authenticated Jesus by resurrecting him. Then, he gave a final validation by sending the Spirit as Jesus had promised.

The tongues at Pentecost emphasized the evangelistic mission of the church stated in Christ’s Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Some 17 different nationalities were present at Pentecost and each was able to hear the gospel in his or her thought-language. We’re not sure if the miracle was in the disciples’ speaking or in the audience’s hearing; perhaps it was both as Acts 1:3 and 6 infer.

A few weeks later, Acts 10 records what we call the gentile Pentecost. Peter concluded from his vision of unclean animals that God wanted him to preach the gospel to the gentiles (those who were not Jews). God sent him to the home of a Roman soldier in Caesarea Maritime. As Peter gave his testimony the Holy Spirit caused those gentiles to speak in other languages. This was recognized by the Jews who came with Peter as a sign that God had also saved the gentiles who were present.

We’re not told that this was unknown tongues. The same Greek word is used here that was used for speaking the known languages of Pentecost. Peter, in explaining this later in Acts 11:15 said, “The Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” If this were the same thing that happened in Acts 2, it was not unknown gibberish. Peter said they were praising God, therefore he had to understand them to know what they were saying. These Romans would have normally spoken Latin or Greek, but Peter obviously understood them in his native Hebrew or Aramaic. Any others of differing national origins would have heard them in their home language as well.

Peter’s defense to his Jewish brethren in Jerusalem tells us in Acts 11 the reason this happened. It proved that gentiles can be saved by faith just the same as those Jews who responded to the gospel at Pentecost. The miraculous sign gifts of tongues, interpretation, prophesying, and healing were given whenever the gospel moved into new territory. Many of those gifts are still given today on the mission fields. God wants everyone to know that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved, as Paul said in Romans 10:13.

 

Can we prove the Bible is inspired?

Q. How can we prove the Holy Bible is inspired? Nina, India

A. The Bible says of itself in 2 Peter 1:21, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” It further claims that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Psalm 119:160 gives David’s testimony, “Thy word is true from the beginning, and every one of thy righteous judgments endures forever.” These internal testimonies simply reinforce what the honest inquirer already knows by personal experience. But, people wanting empirical proof will not accept internal statements or unproven testimonies. Therefore, I take it you’re asking: Can we give them verifiable facts to attest to the uniqueness of the Holy Bible?

Yes, the Bible reveals its inspiration, not only in personal testing, but in the factual truth it states. Jesus, himself, said to the Father in John 17:17, “Thy word is truth.” Over and over, Bible writers recorded amazing truths before there was any knowledge of those facts. Here are some examples of scientific facts that have only recently been proven true. At the time of their writing, these facts were unknown by men.

Psalm 8:8 says there are paths in the sea. In the last century oceanographers attested that migratory sea creatures follow specific paths in their circuits, i.e. the Gulf Stream. It’s only been in the last 500 years that anyone believed the world is round, but Isaiah 40:22 says God sits on the “circle” of the earth. That word means a sphere or globe. The father of our country, George Washington, died by blood-letting when his doctor drained his “bad blood.” But, Leviticus 17:14 says the life of all flesh is in the blood.

Psalm 103:12 says God casts the sins of believers as far as the east is from the west. The writer didn’t know there is a north pole and south pole – only 13,000 miles apart – but no east or west poles. Two hundred years before it happened Isaiah 44:28 predicted that a man named Cyrus would deliver Judah from bondage. Jeremiah 25:11 predicted that captivity would last 70 years. They were captured in 606 BC and released in 536 BC – exactly 70 years – by a man named Cyrus of Persia!

Jesus’ birth by a virgin was foretold in Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14. The star of Bethlehem was predicted in Numbers 24:17; the wise men were prophesied in Isaiah 60:6 and Psalm 72:15. Jeremiah 31:15 predicted the infants murdered at Christ’s birth. Micah 5:2 said Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Hosea 11:1 predicted his flight to Egypt, and Isaiah 9 his ministry in Galilee. The exact year of Jesus’ public ministry was announced in Daniel 9:25. The manner of his death was demonstrated in Genesis 22, Isaiah 53, and Zachariah 12. The exact words and actions at the Cross were portrayed in Psalm 22, one thousand years before they happened. The original language of Isaiah 53:9 predicted his death with thieves and his burial in a rich man’s tomb. His resurrection was foretold in Psalm 16:10, and his ascension in Psalm 68:18. Jude 14 says he’s coming again with thousands of his saints.

Just as every prophecy concerning Jesus’ first coming was fulfilled exactly and literally, we can expect the remaining prophecies of his second coming to be literal also. Revelation 22:20 closes the Bible by warning us to be prepared because Jesus said, “Behold, I come quickly (suddenly).”

 

What did the livestock eat in the wilderness journey?

Q. If the people ate manna during Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wandering, what did the livestock eat? Marion Horner, Colonial Heights, VA

A. That’s a question I don’t believe Scripture specifically answers, but we do know some details that help us make an educated guess. Since the Israelites were slaves when they left Egypt, although Exodus 9:4 and following does mention Israel’s cattle, they may not have had a lot of livestock. Being slaves, they certainly wouldn’t be used to having meat with every meal. The average family’s livestock probably consisted of an occasional ox for pulling wagons or plowing, a few sheep for their wool, a burro here and there, and mostly goats.

Goats were the animal of choice since they provide milk, meat, skin, and hair products. Goats are known, even in Israel today, for finding food when there is nothing but scrubby grass and other scattered plants. What we call “Judas goats” were put at the head of sheep herds to lead the sheep to edible plants even in the desert. Of course, the Sinai Peninsula today isn’t all sand. The Bedouin who live there find enough grass for their small herds.

Since Sinai is on the edge of the fertile crescent – with the potential of being one of the most fruitful places on earth when there’s rain – God could have provided occasional rain to grow grass for the cattle. Also, just because that area is mostly desert now doesn’t mean it was as dry and dusty then. Joel 1-2 tells of the time, 700 years before Christ, when God fulfilled his promise to curse the “land flowing with milk and honey” by withholding the rain and sending pestilence to make the land as it is today. If, as Genesis 13:10 says, the Dead Sea area was once a well-watered plain that attracted Lot, the Negav south of there – and even into the peninsula – may have been more fruitful than it is today.

And, who’s to say the livestock didn’t eat the manna also? They could have gotten moisture from it. I don’t believe the Heavenly Manna was the same as what the Bedouin call manna today, a white substance from the bark of a certain tree. Exodus 16:14 says the manna was found each morning on the ground under a heavy dew. Animals are able to get much of the moisture they need from the dew on the plants they eat. God also gave them water from a rock for both the people and their animals. Hebrew stories are supported by 1 Corinthians 10:4 which implies that the rock that gave water in the wilderness was never so far away that it didn’t continue to provide water for the entire journey. After all, if God could keep their clothes and shoes from wearing out for 40 years, he could also provide water and food for the hosts of Israel and their livestock.

 

Why did Jesus tell his disciples to buy a sword?

Q. Jesus’ instruction in Luke 22:36 for his disciples to buy a sword seems out of character and a contradiction to his rebuke of Peter’s cutting of the ear of Malchus. How do we reconcile this statement? Roddie Chestnut, Colonial Heights, VA

A. In Luke’s account of the events in the upper room following Jesus’ last Passover, Jesus gave instructions for his disciples to continue his itinerant ministry. Several times before, Jesus had sent them on practice preaching missions, telling them what to take with them. However, this time Jesus told them to take a sword with them. With tongue in cheek, he said if they didn’t have one, they should sell their cloak and buy one! You’re right that this seem inconsistent with his rebuke of Peter who used his sword to defend Jesus when the soldiers came to arrest him in the garden.

Of course, the disciples didn’t know that the next time they went on mission would be after Jesus’ death. Here, I think Jesus was warning them that their future missions would be different. Indeed, circumstances did change after Jesus was crucified. His disciples were persecuted, arrested, and all but one of them were martyred for their faith in Jesus. Isaiah 53:12 predicted that Messiah would be numbered with the transgressors; therefore, his followers sometimes would be considered criminals. I don’t think Jesus was commanding his followers to buy swords as much as he was warning them to be prepared for a different way of life after his death.

In the immediate context of the upper room, the disciples thought Jesus was ready to fight off the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom. In verse 38, they replied to Jesus’ remark that they already had 2 swords among them that night. Jesus, knowing they were misunderstanding him, abruptly ended the conversation by saying, “Enough!” Meaning, “That’s enough of sword talk!” Peter still didn’t get the message: He drew his sword later that night possibly thinking he might start the coup by fighting the Roman soldiers who came to arrest Jesus.

Let us not misunderstand what Jesus was teaching. His principles have been the bases for America’s laws and they have made us the most generous nation on earth. Although Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek for the good of the person confronting us, he didn’t do away with the principles of defending ourselves or fighting for people and principles we hold dear. Please don’t forget that young men and women are still fighting for those values today. But, anyone who stands up for Jesus can expect to be splattered with some of the mud intended for him. His followers will always be persecuted by Satan’s followers. There are times when we need to arm ourselves with physical swords, but we should always arm ourselves and our nation with the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God! When we quote and practice Scripture, the Spirit of God accompanies his Word to make it more powerful than a two-edged sword.

Let our prayer on our nation’s birthday be that of Psalm 33:16-20, “There is no king saved by the multitude of an army: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. A horse is a vain thing for safety because he cannot deliver anyone by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in distress. Our soul waits for the Lord: he is our help and our shield.”

 

When will the unsaved be resurrected and what kind of bodies will they have?

Q. First Thessalonians 4 gives us the resurrection order of the saved and 1 Corinthians 15 mentions our glorified resurrection bodies. But, when will the unsaved be resurrected and what kind of bodies will they have? Pauline Cloud, Colonial Heights, VA

A. The Bible teaches there are 2 births, 2 deaths, and 2 resurrections. Those who are born only once will die twice and be a part of the second resurrection, called the second death. Those who are born twice may die only once and be a part of the first resurrection. The 2 resurrections are 1,000 years apart. The 2 resurrections are taught in John 5:29 and Acts 24:15. The first resurrection is for the saved who will be resurrected at the Rapture and reign with Christ during the Millennium. Revelation 20:4-6 describes this. And, “so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

The second resurrection is for the unsaved as described in Revelation 20:5a and verses 12-15. They will be resurrected after the Millennial Reign of Christ and after Satan has been cast into the Lake of Fire. The unsaved will be called to stand before the Great White Throne Judgment of God. I understand the Bible to imply that our spirits are never without bodies. Second Corinthians 5:3-4 teaches that we even have temporary bodies after death and before our resurrected bodies. Therefore, I believe the unsaved will have temporary bodies that will suffer in Hell immediately upon death and before their judgment. Luke 16 teaches this. Then, after their resurrection, they will have recognizable bodies that will not be healed from their previous defects. These bodies will continue to feel the pain of the Lake of Fire, the Second Death, when they join Satan there. Revelation 14:10-11 describes their living death.

I believe 1 John 3:2 teaches that the saved will have glorified bodies like Jesus had after his resurrection. What kind of body did he have? It had the same appearance as Jesus had on earth because his followers recognized him. It looked physical because Thomas examined his scars in John 20:27, and he ate some fish and honeycomb in Luke 24:42. Yet, he could disintegrate from his grave clothes so that they fell flat as John 20:6-8 implies. He appeared in the upper room where the doors were locked, and he vanished from them and from his family at Emmaus. Gravity had no power over his new body when he ascended. From these, I take it that our bodies will be recognizable, possibly even with the healed scars that made us recognizable, but certainly not their former limitations or missing organs. We can eat if we want to, and we can fly wherever we with, perhaps travelling at the speed of thought.

I’ve heard preachers speculate that, since we’ll be like Jesus, we’ll all look like we did when we were 33 years old. But, I’ve heard mothers say they want to hold their babies who died in infancy. I think we’ll appear to look different according to the one who beholds us. It’s my opinion that we’ll look like each friend’s best memories of us!

What will we be doing? Certainly more than choir practice at 3 and harp practice at 4! I think, in addition to our temple service of Revelation 7:15, we’ll be helping God manage his new universe just like Adam helped manage the new world. Of course, by willing our minds, we can return to sit before the Throne, joining all creation in unlimited praise as described in Revelation 4-5.

 

How old was Jesus when he died?

Q. Does scripture tell us how old Jesus was when he died? Ann Mason, Carson, VA

A. Important events in Jesus’ life were set hundreds of years before by the ritual calendar God gave to the Jews in Leviticus. Colossians 2:17 says these holy days were “a shadow (or prediction) of things to come; that is, the body (or life) of Christ” (comments added by author). That gives us a hint to compare those dates with the events in Christ’s life. Sure enough, we can see that Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles; he died on Passover; he was buried during the Feast of Unleavened Bread; he arose at the Feast of First Fruits; and he returned in Spirit at Pentecost.

We believe he was born during Tabernacles in October because the original language of John 1:14 says God “tabernacled” with men. John used that unusual word that applied to the Feast of Tabernacles. That would explain why there was no room in the inn of Bethlehem. Since, all able-bodied men were required to come to Jerusalem for that feast, the overflow would have filled Bethlehem’s inn two miles away.

Jesus had just celebrated Passover when he was arrested that night and nailed to a cross the next morning. That evening and the next day was the actual day of Passover that year. He was taken outside the city wall and buried in the ground at the time when Jewish women swept all leavened bread out into the ground. Leaven represented sin; on the cross Jesus became sin when he took all our sins on himself. He arose when the Jews presented the first fruits of their spring harvest to God in anticipation of more to follow.

Luke 3:23 tells us Jesus was 30 years old when he was baptized at the beginning of his public ministry. Even this was spelled out in Numbers 4:3 that a priest began his duties when he was 30 years old. We can count the number of Passovers and know that he was 33 and 1/2 years old when he died. We get the half year from October, when he was born, to April, when he died. This is confirmed by Daniel’s prediction in 9:27. This is a double prophecy that both Messiah and the coming Antichrist will fulfill. Their covenant with God’s people will be cut off in the middle of the week of years, i.e.., at 3 and 1/2 years.

At the end of their long, hot summers trumpets sounded to call the people back to God. There was no other reason for the Feast of Trumpets. That feast is a reminder for us that, one day when God’s trump sounds and we hear the voice of the archangel, God’s people will be called up to meet Jesus in the Rapture. I believe we’ll go full cycle and enter the Holy City during the Feast of Tabernacles! Revelation 21:3 says, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men.”

Let this remind us that God is in complete control of all life’s events. We should place our life in his hands and pray the prayer God always answers: “Not my will, but thine be done!”

 

How can the Bible promise no more wars in Jerusalem?

Q. How can Joel 3:17 promise no more invasions of Jerusalem in light of her many attacks in recent years? Joel Devallon, Alexandria, VA

A. God’s promises may be divided into several categories. There are conditional promises given for as long as the seeker fulfills his or her duties to God. These conditional, two-party covenants may be withdrawn or renewed based on the individual’s dedication to God. Examples are: God’s promise to Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 11:13-17; to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:12-22; rehearsed to the returning exiles in Nehemiah 9; and repeated again in Malachi 3:7-12. I believe Joel 1:1-2:13 records when God finally turned the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8) into the dessert wasteland it is today.

Likewise, there are unconditional promises which God guarantees no matter what man may do. These may be fulfilled immediately or at some future date. Examples are: God’s promise to Noah in Genesis 8:21-22, and all the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants promising to send Messiah and make the Jews a blessing to the world. Proof of the latter being unconditional was given to Abraham in Genesis 15:12-21. The usual custom for sealing a covenant was for the parties to walk between the halves of a sacrifice reciting their part of the covenant. Then, they sealed their vow by offering that sacrifice to God. Here, Abe had laid out his sacrifices, but God caused a deep sleep to come upon him. While he slept, a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between the sacrifices. Abe didn’t walk between them because he was asleep! The mystery of God the Father, symbolized by the smoking furnace, and Jesus, the light of the world, symbolized by the burning lamp, would fulfill that covenant irregardless of what Abe did.

Sometimes God’s promises may be a double-prophecy which happens soon and will happen again in the future to a greater degree. Examples are: God’s sign to Ahaz in Isaiah 7:14. A young woman in his court would bear a son and, before that son was grown, the enemies Ahaz feared would no longer exist. But, this prophecy was fulfilled again later when Matthew 1:22-23 said it predicted the virgin birth of Messiah. Such is also the case of Daniel 9:27 pertaining to Jesus’ death after 3 and one-half years of public ministry and, later, to Antichrist’s 7 year covenant with Israel being broken in the middle.

It is true that God promised many times to bless the leaders and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many of those are conditional promises as long as they served only the Lord. However, God did give an unconditional promise to Joel, from 2:14 to the end of that little book, of a time when he would dwell in Jerusalem and “no strangers (will) pass through her any more,” meaning, “no profane men will ravage her again.” Joel 3:1 makes it clear that this is a promise for the future beginning with the defeat of Israel’s enemies at Armageddon and continuing through the Millennial reign of Jesus.

 

Did the people of Jerusalem hear the wind of Pentecost?

Q. Was the “noised” of Acts 2:6 the same “sound” at Pentecost recorded in Acts 2:2? Can we link this to the “noise from the city” in Isaiah 66:6? G. M. G., Alexandria, Egypt

A. Let me answer your second question first: No, the “noise from the city” prophesied in Isaiah 66:6 was a reference to the future destruction of Jerusalem. It wasn’t a prophecy of what would happen at Pentecost 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection; rather it predicted a noise of tumult, confusion, and war. I believe this passage was fulfilled when the Roman soldiers destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. Isaiah 66 describes pain after, not before, a man-child was delivered. It mentions punishment because brethren were being cast out and then speaks of blessing because good news came from this. This says to me that, after Jesus was born, the leaders of Jerusalem refused his “brethren” and persecuted them. As a result of this, God called for the destruction of the city. However, from the dispersion of believers at that event, the gospel was spread. One day, Jerusalem will be blessed before the nations.

Now, for your first question: Was the noise of Acts 2:6 the same sound of verse 2? Probably so; however, some commentaries disagree. Some scholars say verse 6 is simply saying when the news spread that something dramatic was happening in the Upper Room, the rest of the city came to see what it was. Yet, those who have compared the Greek words, and newer versions of this text, understand verse 6 as referring to the sound of the wind mentioned in verse 2. When the city heard the sound of a mighty wind emanating from the Upper Room, they came to see what it was and heard the gospel preached in their thought-languages. This was not only a sign for those gathered in the room, but God used it as a hook to draw the city to hear the gospel.

I mentioned the sign for believers. Actually, the phenomena of Pentecost included 3 signs. First, the sound of a mighty wind – not wind, but only the sound of wind – was a sign of the power of the gospel to blow the lost to “Kingdom come” when they believe. Air power – the power of tornados, hurricanes, and explosions – is the strongest power we know. Second, the tongues of flame that settled upon each believer was a sign of the purifying potential of God’s Spirit. When sinners repent and believe the gospel, their sin record is expunged, or purified, just as fire purges silver of impurities. Third, the tongues, or known languages, of Pentecost was a sign of the purpose of the gospel. Christ had commanded that it be preached to all nations.

This is why the Church was established. This is what the Holy Spirit still does with believers. He gives the power to convert the unsaved, to sanctify the saved, and to witness to the good news of God’s love in Jesus.

 

To Whom are First and Second John addressed?

Q. Who is the “elect lady” to whom the epistle of Second John is addressed? Cindy West, Hopewell, VA

A. Both Second and Third John were written by John the Apostle, probably just before or after his exile to Patmos. We know very little about the circumstance for these notes, but we have some educated guesses. Most scholars believe they were written at the same time since they repeat many of the same phrases and especially close the same way.

We believe John stayed on Patmos 2 or 3 years, then he was released when a new Roman emperor took the throne. We know he returned to his home in Ephesus where he was like a pastor emeritus for Timothy who was then bishop of the church. John was probably the presiding elder for all the churches of Asia Minor to whom he sent his Revelation. He may have sent these 2 notes at the same time with his Revelation letters.

Second John is addressed to the “elect lady.” Bible students have argued for centuries over whether this is an individual lady or John’s symbolic name for a church. The latter could be true if he were under persecution and needed to write apocalyptically. Some early manuscripts translate this letter as being to the lady “Electa,” which was a fairly common name. Others have taken the Greek word for lady and said it was written to the “elect Kyria,” which means lady.

If it’s addressed to a particular woman, I think it’s less likely that her name was Electa since he uses the same word at the end to say “the children of your elect sister greet you.” As for this being addressed to a woman named “lady,” or Kyria, that’s possible. Or, John may just be using this address for an unnamed woman whom he calls an elect lady, or a sister in Christ. If this is so, then verses 4, 5, 10, and 13 are to be understood for a particular lady. However, if “elect lady” is a disguised synonym for a particular church, then verse 4 would refer to church members and verse 13 would refer to the church where John was then – probably Ephesus. He encouraged his reader to obey the truth of the gospel, practice Christian love, and beware of deceivers.

Third John was definitely written to an individual, a beloved friend of John’s who may have been sick or elderly. The New Testament and early Christian writers mention several men named Gaius. There was a Gaius from Macedonia in Acts 19:29 who was a travelling companion of Paul in Ephesus. A few verses later in Acts 20:4, from Ephesus Gaius accompanied Paul to Asia. This Gaius is said to be from Derbe. If these are the same man, it may be that he was born in one place but lived in another city. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:14 about a Gaius whom he baptized. He had a church meeting in his house, and Paul stayed with him on his third journey.

However, there’s another Gaius mentioned in first century writings whom John appointed bishop of Pergamos. This is more likely the one addressed in Third John. Paul complimented Gaius and Demetrius, but warned against the pride of Diotrephes. Third John concerns his church as much as the individual. So, we should study both these epistles to draw lessons for all Christ’s churches today.

 

What do Jehovah’s Witnesses believe?

Q. I want to know what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe so I can talk to my friend intelligently. B.C., Colonial Heights, VA

A. Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the Trinity. They believe the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force from God. Jesus was created as Michael, the Archangel, who came to earth as the man Jesus and became the Messiah at his baptism. After his spiritual resurrection he became Michael again.

Charles Russell, who founded the “Russellites” as they were originally called, prophesied that Jesus would return in 1914. When he did not return bodily, Russell said Jesus returned in spirit to Brooklyn, NY, where he heads their organizational headquarters, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

Russell taught that salvation is accomplished by obeying the New World Bible Translation as interpreted by the Watchtower Society and one’s local Kingdom Hall. 144,000 of their most loyal followers will earn the highest heaven, while other faithful Witnesses hope to merit a lower paradise on earth.

They believe Jesus paid the ransom to make salvation possible when he died, impaled on a stake. However, each person must obey Jehovah, plus be baptized and serve faithfully in a Kingdom Hall. They cannot know for sure if they will make it to Heaven or Paradise on earth, so they visit door-to-door and obey their leaders in order to possibly qualify for eternal pleasure. All those who are not loyal to Jehovah are unrighteous. These will have a second chance to believe in the Millennium; those who do not believe will be annihilated. Witnesses do not believe in Hell.

Since Jesus was created as an angel, they believe he is fighting with Satan, who was also created as the angel Lucifer, for God’s favor. They reject churches, big business, and government as being controlled by Satan; so they will not serve in the military, salute the flag, or attend any church or government function. Witnesses are trained to reply with stock answers to all questions and objections when they visit a home. A favorite phrase is to ask if Christians believe we know the way of salvation, why haven’t we knocked on their door?

 

Who was the “man from Macedonia” who appeared to Paul?

Q. Who was the “man from Macedonia” Paul saw in a vision? Acts 16 records his meeting of Lydia, but not a Macedonian man. N. S., VA

A. Acts 16:9 records Paul’s receiving of a vision in which a man from Macedonia urged him, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” Dr. Luke, who was in Paul’s party, wrote in the next verse: “Immediately we made plans to go to Macedonia, knowing that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.” Macedonia, in modern Greece, was on the continent of Europe a short distance across the Aegean Sea from Troas in Asia (modern Turkey). However, Paul’s first European convert was a woman named Lydia! We’re not told that he met the man he’d seen in his vision, unless it was the Philippian jailer, whom he led to the Lord at midnight. Of course, Paul may have seen a male member of the church he would establish in Philippi. Or, maybe the man Paul saw represented all the men and women of Europe who needed to hear the gospel.

However, I believe the scripture answers that question more accurately than our guesses. In verse 10, Luke said that they knew “that the Lord had called us.” I think the man Paul saw in vision was none other than the Angel of the Lord, or Jesus Christ, directing him to preach to our European ancestors. Let each of us always follow the Lord’s leading in everything we do.

 

Why do some churches sprinkle and baptize babies?

Q. Please explain why some churches baptize young children before they accept Christ. It seems to me they have it backwards! Also, if the Greek word, baptizo, means to immerse, why do some churches sprinkle? C. A. Henthorn, Lewisburg, WV

A. Let me answer your last question first. It’s true that, according to Strong’s Greek Lexicon, the Greek word transliterated baptize means to make fully whelmed (completely wet). Of course, that’s done by immersing under water. It may also mean to wash.

We can trace the earliest forms of baptism back to God himself. God gave orders that, with the Old Testament travelling worship tent, before a priest served in the Tabernacle he had his head and feet symbolically washed at the Laver. When Solomon built the permanent Temple in Jerusalem, he replaced the Laver with the 20,000 gallon Brass Sea resting on the backs of 12 brass bulls. Stairs up the side allowed a priest to be fully immersed and dressed in white linen before his Temple service.

Building on that, the Baptizer later immersed those who repented in preparation for their Messiah. We know John immersed because John 3:23 says he baptized in a certain place because there was much (deep) water there. Both Matthew 3 and Mark 1 record Jesus as coming up out of the water after his baptism. Likewise, in Romans 6:4 Paul compared baptism to a burial under water from which we are raised to “newness of life.” Further, remains of early Christian churches dating back to the second and third centuries show baptistry pits in their foundations. Church history records that the early church baptized by immersion until the Council of Revenna in 1311 when the current pope allowed sprinkling in hardship cases.

During the Reformation, some churches who split from the Catholic Church brought that form of baptism with them. Since it is symbolic and has no saving power, it’s merely a matter of convenience. We know that God looks upon the heart and intent of the person being baptized. Those who respond to Jesus in faith are all citizens of Heaven no matter the method of their baptism. However, baptism by immersion pictures a three-fold testimony that (1) we believe Jesus died, was buried, and arose for our salvation; (2) if we should die before his coming he will resurrect our bodies to eternal life; and (3) from this moment we have died to our former life of sin and we are resurrected to new life following Jesus as Lord.

Another ritual brought over from the Reformation is baptizing babies. The original intent of this act was for the parents to give their child to God and so raise him or her that, at an age of accountability, the child would choose to be confirmed and make the Christian faith his own. Over time, this act mistakenly came to mean the child was guaranteed entrance into Heaven whether he personally trusted Jesus or not. Of course, that is not scriptural. Jesus was dedicated in the Temple when he was a baby, but as one old enough to know what he was doing he chose to be baptized. That should be our model. And, every believer ought to be baptized after his or her profession of faith in obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20.

 

What’s the differences in our main protestant denominations?

Q. Please explain the differences in our mainline protestant denominations in America. Tommie Thompson, Petersburg, VA

A. Technically, “protestant” churches are those that have their roots in the protesters who pulled out of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. At the same time that Martin Luther posted his objections to Catholic doctrine and practice in Germany, the Spirit was also moving additional objectors in other European countries. Today, we have made the term protestant generic to refer to any Christian church that is not Catholic.

Presbyterians trace their origin to John Calvin; the Methodists to John and Charles Wesley; and the Lutherans go back to Martin Luther. When King Henry VIII fell out with the Catholic Church, he organized the Church of England, or the Anglican Church. The Episcopal Church is its American counterpart. The Christian Church has one branch that uses no musical instruments and insists that baptism is essential for salvation. Another branch, usually called Disciples of Christ, doesn’t hold to those beliefs. Seventh-day churches worship on Saturday and may get some of their practices from the Old Testament.

There are over 100 Baptist denominations. Some believe there has always been a Baptist church from the first Christian century. Others trace their modern beginnings to Anabaptists who fled persecution in Switzerland and other European countries to settle first around Rhode Island. All true Baptist churches hold 2 essentials in common: salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, and baptism by immersion.

Many of the original “mainline protestants” have splint into splinter denominations due to differences in interpretation and practice. Today, there is a new crop of independent “Community” churches that claim no denominational ties, some of which are called Bible churches or “store-front” churches because many are organized in old store buildings. Most protestant churches have the same essential doctrines: The Holy Bible is their main source for doctrine and practice and salvation is attained through faith in the sacrificial atonement of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Protestants differ primarily in their church government and ritual practices. Those that kept many of the Catholic practices are called “high churches” because they use liturgies usually prescribed by a prayer book. “Low churches” are those with free forms of worship decided by local officers. Catholics, Episcopalians, and Methodists use an episcopal government with bishops and elders over their churches. Presbyterian government is led by a presbytery or council of elders that make church decisions. Baptists and Bible churches use congregational government where members vote on decisions. The authority of pastors, elders, deacons, stewards, and apostles varies according to local church or denominational practices. Many black churches call themselves African Methodist Episcopal, or A.M.E., to signify that their church government is adapted from the Methodist-Episcopal form.

Those churches that baptize by sprinkling brought that ritual from the Catholic church. More strict Bible-based churches baptize by immersion. Some groups consider baptism essential for God’s acceptance while others feel it should be practiced as a voluntary testimony. Most protestant churches do not believe the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, is essential for salvation, but encourage it to remain in God’s favor. “Closed communion” churches offer the ordinance only to their members, while “open communion” churches invite all in attendance to participate. A few churches practice foot-washing as an ordinance, and some charismatic believers speak in tongues and have healing services. Some churches use denominational literature, while others prefer to teach only from the Bible. Protestant churches differ over the role of women in the church and social practices which are determined by their church leaders.

Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Science churches fall outside the scope of typical protestant churches because they use other materials, in addition to the Bible, which they consider inspired to interpret their beliefs and practices. First John 4:1-3 urges believers to test whom we follow: “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God….Every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.”

 

Explain the titles the Bible gives for angels

Q. Why are angels addressed as prince, mighty one, holy one, sons of God, and even lord? I thought those titles belonged to Jesus! P. H. S., Prince George, VA

A. The Greek word for angel is aggelos. It means messenger. The scriptural context tells us whether aggelos is referring to an earthly messenger or a heavenly being. Genesis 1:1 says that on the first day of Creation, shortly before God created the earth, he created the heavens. That’s when he must have made the spiritual beings who dwell in them. Job 1 says the angels sang as God created finished his creation. God created the angels to serve him. Since he gave them minds with the ability to choose, he allowed some of them to rebel with Lucifer, the rebellious angel we call Satan. His unholy minions are called demons. Rather than destroying these, God left them to give us a choice to follow them or serve him.

Angels are mysterious, fascinating beings. One way we learn about them is from their scriptural titles. Daniel 10:13 calls one of Satan’s demons “the prince of Persia.” That same verse also addresses Michael, one of God’s holy angels, as “one of the chief princes.” These titles indicate ranks among angels. This is confirmed in Ephesians 6:12, which may be a listing of the ranks in Satan’s kingdom. The Bible mentions a variety of holy angels: Cherubim, Seraphim, the archangel Michael, the messenger angel Gabriel, the “hosts of heaven” meaning God’s angel army, and the only 2 female angels which are found in Zachariah 5:9.

“Mighty one” is what Isaiah 28:2 calls one of God’s avenging angels. This would indicate that angels are stronger than humans. It also implies that God’s angels are mightier than those who serve Satan. In Revelation 20, an ordinary angel will bind Satan and cast him into the Bottomless Pit.

When an angel is called “holy one,” as in Daniel 4:13, it refers to his origin. He comes from the presence of the Holy One of Israel, Jesus Christ, who is God. That title is used far more often of Jesus than of angels because holiness emanates from the person of God.

Passages like Job, chapters 1 and 38, call angels “sons of God.” They are God’s sons by creation. The Jews are God’s children by creation and covenant relationship. However, Christians are God’s children three-fold by creation, purchase, and adoption.

“Lord” is a title used for one special Old Testament angel, The Angel of the Lord. This angel is addressed in the Hebrew with the definite article. He is the angel who spoke to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3 and to Abraham at Mamre. This angel speaks as if he were God. Indeed, we believe The Angel of the Lord is a pre incarnate appearance of Jesus before he was born of Mary.

We think angels are special because they may enter God’s presence to serve him. In reality, humans are more special to God than angels. We alone are created in the image of God with the capacity to be his friends, share his love, be adopted into his family, and reign with him as joint heirs with Jesus. First Corinthians 6:3 says Christians will judge the angels. God never loved angels enough to die for them as Jesus did for us!

 

Does the Bible predict our present conflicts in the Middle East?

Q. Do you see any prophetic significance in our present conflicts in the Middle East? Rev. Robert Stephenson, Graham, NC

A. Yes, but not so much with the present Iraqi struggle other than its potential to unite the Arab countries against Israel and set the stage for Antichrist’s future government called Babylon. That term is a pseudonym for the prophesied Revived Roman Empire because it will be like ancient Babylon in many respects. End-time prophecy doesn’t specifically mention Iraq, which is ancient Babylon. Dr. Edward Hindson wrote in the National Liberty Journal that future Iraq may be broken into warring factions, be assimilated by Iran, or put under a United Nations mandate. If that’s true, I don’t see any lasting threat from Iraq. One of the possible presidential candidates has proposed dividing Iran into sectarian Muslin territories, moving the Shiites and Sunnis into their respective territories, and forbidding them to cross lines to fight. That might not be a bad idea!

However, I’m watching Iran on the horizon. Iran is modern-day Persia, and Ezekiel 38-39 predicts Persia will attack Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said in his speeches that Israel must be wiped off the map. Already we’ve seen Iran challenging Great Britain by capturing 15 British naval officers for supposedly entering Iranian waters. Right now the United Nations is entertaining sanctions against Tehran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program which could make them capable of nuclear warheads. But, Ahmadinejad has said he will fight anyone who tries to stop his nuclear development.

Ezekiel 38:1-6 predicts there will be a coalition of Magog, Persia, Cush, Libya, Gomer, and Togarmah surrounding Israel from the north, south, and west. Magog was the ancient name of the Scythians who settled in parts of the former Soviet Union called Rosh. Gog was their prince. Gomer and Togarmah today are in Turkey, and Cush (modern Sudan) and Libya are in Africa. All those countries today are controlled by Muslim, anti-Semitic governments bent on Israel’s destruction. The former Russian countries have nuclear capabilities. Combine that with Iran’s potential and you have a reason for the Bible saying those nations will be destroyed by fire and pestilence, possibly from their own weapons. In addition, God promises to intervene to protect his chosen people. He will send a great earthquake resulting in mass confusion and in-fighting causing the destruction of 5/6 of that coalition.

We’re not given a date for this war as to whether it happens before or after the Rapture, but it’s said to happen in the latter years. We can certainly see the possibility of it happening in the near future. I’m sure they will be joined by Hezbollah (the Party of God) and Hamas. Hezbollah in Lebanon is funded by Iran and Syria; Hamas is a Palestinian organization within the former borders of Israel receiving funding from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. Both of these have in their constitutions the goals of a complete annihilation of Israel and the setting up of an Islamic state with Jerusalem as its capitol. The radical Muslims of Hamas now hire suicide bombers to become martyrs by promising earthly payments to their families and exotic rewards in Heaven.

The Bible has never been wrong in its prophecies; therefore, we can look for this war at any time with the Rapture of the saved immediately before or after it. When it does, the stage will be set for Antichrist and the final battle of Armageddon.

 

Please explain the Passover customs.

Q. Why did Jesus leave the Upper Room on Passover Night? I thought Jews were supposed to stay in places with blood on their doorposts. M. D., Richmond, VA

A. You are remembering the regulations God gave for the first Passover in Egypt. Only on that original night did the Death Angel pass over the houses with blood on their doorposts. Any first-born son who ventured outside exposed himself to death. However, since then anyone could walk outside on Passover.

In addition, traditions for observing Passover had changed over about 1500 years. By Jesus’ day, few families carried their lambs to Jerusalem to be blessed by a priest and slaughtered. “Modern folks” bought lambs or lamb meat that was kosher, meaning it had already been blessed and/or processed under the supervision of a priest. At some point, families began using a lamb shankbone or the Passover bread to represent the lamb. Poor people, as Jesus’ band certainly was, might get a little lamb meat to make a stew. They ate by dipping unleavened bread into a common bowl of “sop.”

Customs varied with family celebrations. Not everyone was religious; so, not every Jew kept Passover. Those who did fell into orthodox, conservative, or liberal camps. Even the time of their observance of Passover varied. Most folks dedicated an entire week to the festivities. They might have their Passover meal on the most convenient night of that week. This allowed people to visit around and celebrate with various relatives and friends. Orthodox and conservative Jews held Passover on the 14th day of the month. We believe that was Thursday when Jesus observed it.

Also, Passover was a time for beggars to hit the streets. The faithful, being reminded of God’s blessings, were expected to keep the tradition of giving to the needy or bringing them into their feast. Good Hebrews also went outside looking for Elijah at a point in their seder. He was expected to precede Messiah’s coming. Therefore, it was not unusual for Jesus and his disciples to be walking after their Passover.

What the Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t realize was that a new Passover lamb met all the qualifications that year. A Passover lamb had to be declared by a priest, observed for thee days and found flawless, killed and prepared on Passover, and its blood would cover the peoples’ sins. Jesus was declared a fit lamb by John the Baptist who was the son of a priest and, therefore, a priest in God’s sight. In John 1, he declared Jesus to be the “Lamb of God.” Jesus was observed, not for three days, but for three years; and there was found no fault in him, as Pilate testified in Luke 23:4.

Even more amazing is the realization that Jesus, as God’s Lamb, was actually sacrificed on Passover. The actual time for Passover was Thursday night, but by Jewish reckoning a new day, Friday, began at sunset. Later that same Friday, Jesus was crucified. It’s true: “Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow.” But, he voluntarily became the sin sacrifice for all who claim him as their lamb! Have you?

 

What did Jesus do from age twelve to thirty?

 

Q Can we know anything accurate about Jesus from the age of twelve to thirty? Sid Cook, Colonial Heights, VA

A We call those the silent years because the Bible doesn’t record anything during that private time with his family. However, we can pull together a little of what might have happened from other facts we do know.

Although they didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah like they do today, they did celebrate a boy’s entrance to manhood at age 12. That’s why the visit to the Temple was so important for Jesus (Luke 2:41-50). Although he had been presented in the Temple as a baby, children were not allowed in the Temple beyond the Women’s Court. This was his first visit as a young man. He must have been thinking about his grown-up calling when he said he must be about his father’s business. In fact, he began teaching right then as he answered questions for the priests. He continued that practice with his first and last public acts being cleansing the Temple to try to set his Father’s House in order (John 2 and Matthew 21).

It is probable that Joseph and Mary did not have sexual relations until Jesus became a man at age 12 (Matthew 1:25). Then, they had at least 6 children rapidly. James was the first born after Jesus because he is always named first (Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3). Later, he became the leader of the Jerusalem church and the writer of the epistle bearing his name (Acts 12:17 and 15:13). The other brothers were Joses (short for Joseph, Jr.), Simon, and Judas (the author of the epistle of Jude). Jesus also had at least 2 sisters, but they’re not named. We believe Joseph died soon after that – at least he seems to be dead by the time Jesus began his ministry because Joseph is not mentioned with the rest of the family (Mark 12:46). Maybe the strain of fathering so many children so quickly was too much on him!

If Joseph died early, the support of his family would fall on Jesus, the oldest son. That maybe one reason why Jesus remained home until he was 30; he took over his father’s carpenter business (Mark 6:3). So, he wouldn’t have time for all the unfounded stories of his travelling to England with a rich man named Joseph of Arimathaea and working amazing miracles.

If James were born when Jesus was about 13, James would have been around 17 when Jesus left home at age 30 (Luke 3:23). James was old enough to take over the carpenter business and continue to support the family. Surely Jesus would have trained him for that task. However, James may have wondered why his big brother left home. Mark 3 records that Jesus’ friends thought he was beside himself. In that same chapter his mother and brothers may have felt the same way because they came to take him home. However, Jesus seemed to disown his family when he said, “Who is my mother, or my brethren?” John 7:5 tells us Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him. It must have hurt James when Jesus denied his family. It surely hurt when Jesus was on the cross and he gave his mother into the keeping of the apostle John (John 19:26-27). But, Jesus couldn’t commit her to unbelievers.

So, 1 Corinthians 15:7 tells us that Jesus made a resurrection appearance to his brother James. After that, we find that James believed in Jesus and may have led his brothers to believe. Acts 1:14 says all Jesus’ brothers were in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost.

A Jewish Levite was allowed private time with his family until he became 30 (1 Chronicles 23:3). Then, he must begin his service as a Temple helper or priest. That’s when Jesus began his itinerant priesthood and ultimately offered the supreme sacrifice.

 

How can we tell the “Marys” apart in the gospels?

Q. Please distinguish between the various “Marys” in the gospels. Harold Carpenter, Red Hill, United Kingdom

A. After consulting numerous sources, I tend to agree with the article on the Marys of the gospels by the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids: 1960. Vol. III, pp. 2001-2006). Realizing that 1 in 4 women in Jesus’ day were named Mary, it’s very hard to keep them straight. Mary is our English translation of Mariamne, or Miriam. Some sources attribute the popularity of that name to Mariamne, the last of the Hasmonean family and the second wife of Herod the Great. In spite of Herod’s cruelty, she was beloved by many Jews. The New Testament Marys seem to boil down to 5 women with that name.

1. Mary, the mother of Jesus is also called the Virgin Mary. She is the one named in Matthew 1, 2, and 12; Luke 1 and 2; Mark 3; John 2 and 19; and Acts 1. It is her genealogy in Luke 3 on her father Eli’s side, the father-in-law of Joseph. Many scholars believe Dr. Luke wrote his gospel as Mary told her story to him.

2. Mary Magdalene was not called such until a translator in 185 A.D. changed the phrases “of Magdala” and “the Magadan” (referring to her home town in Galilee) to the adjective Magdalene. This Mary was among the women who followed Jesus and his disciples and ministered to their needs. Most scholars agree that she is not the sinful woman of Luke 7 nor the Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears. She is mentioned in Matthew 27 and 28, Mark 15 and 16, Luke 8 and 24, and John 19 and 20. Those scriptures group into only 3 appearances: When Mary followed Jesus from Galilee, when she was at his cross, and at his tomb.

3. Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus opened their home to Jesus when he was in Jerusalem. She is 1 of 2 women who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears as John 11:2 tells us, but she is not the sinful woman of Luke 7. She is mentioned in Luke 10 and John 11 and 12.

4. Mary, the mother of James and Joses, is identified in Mark 15:40 as being the mother of the apostle called James the Less. She is believed to be the wife of Alphaeus or Cleophas, his name in Hebrew. Comparing Matthew 27 and 28 with Mark 15, it seems that the “other Mary” is also this woman. In addition, we find her in Mark 16, among the “women who ministered to him” in Luke 23, and named again in Luke 24. It is not clear if John 19:25 calls her the sister of Jesus’ mother, or if that phrase refers to an unidentified woman. It was not unusual for sisters to have the same first names and be called by a middle name or nickname.

5. Mary, mother of John Mark, was the sister of Barnabas. Acts 12 identifies her house as the place where the church met at Pentecost, and her upper room is believed to be the same room Jesus used for his Last Supper.

The Internet is full of references to Mary Magdalene as an apostle, the wife or lover of Jesus, the mother of his children, the author of her own Gospel of Mary, and the real author of John’s gospel. Some traditions credit her as receiving visions and special messages from God. But, if it’s not recorded in Holy Scripture, those records are not reliable.

 

What about the so-called discovery of Jesus’ bones?

Q. How should I answer a relative who feels there’s nothing wrong with James Cameron saying he has found the bones of Jesus? She asked: Why be upset over Jesus having a family? Why should we care what others broadcast? Karen Stoupa, Chester, VA

A. Movie director James Cameron recently brought up a 27 year old discovery near the eve of his Discovery Channel documentary. Ten ossuaries were found in a cave near Jerusalem in 1980 with names seeming to resemble: Jesus, son of Joseph; Mary; Mathew; Joseph; Mariamene e Mara; and Judah, son of Jesus. The bones of some 17 different people were mixed in those limestone boxes, and the names were written in 4 different languages spoken by the Jews over hundreds of years. It is unlikely that many of them lived at the same time.

Those names were also very common Jewish names since about 1 in 4 women were named Mary and 1 in 10 men were named Jesus, a derivative of Joshua. There was no tissue to test DNA and no samples from Jesus to compare, but the residue in the “Jesus box” showed that he and Mariamene were not related. Cameron suggested that Jesus and Mariamene (whom he believed to be Mary Magdalene) were married and had the child named Judah. However, reputable archaeologists, 27 years ago, said they couldn’t even be sure the name Jesus appears on any of the boxes because of the difficulty of translating ancient Semitic script.

Why be upset over Jesus having a family? Because it contradicts the Biblical account that Jesus died on the cross when he was about 33 years old. If Jesus had married and had a family, surely God would have had at least one of the 4 gospel eye witnesses tell us. Instead, Isaiah 53:8 predicted Messiah wouldn’t have any children.

If they found Jesus’ bones, then the Bible is a lie when it records his resurrection and bodily ascension. Yet, Paul and Stephen saw Jesus in Heaven at the Father’s right hand. John saw him in the Revelation reigning over God’s creation. This is basic to our belief that Jesus was not an ordinary man, but God in a human body. He didn’t come to earth to live a normal life but to die for our sins. If you believe Jesus was married, had a family and a child, then he did not die on the cross; and he is not the Savior the Old Testament predicted. We do care what others broadcast because we don’t want people to be led astray. The Bible says there is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved!

 

Explain the Kenosis passage in Philippians 2:7

Q. Please explain the “kenosis” passage of Philippians 2. Did Jesus actually lay aside all his qualities of deity when he came to earth? Joe Keeney, Colonial Heights, VA

A. Bible students call that the “kenosis passage” because that word is transliterated from the Greek verb, “ekenosen,” in Philippians 2:7. That derivation of the Greek “kenoo” literally means, “to make empty, to make vain or void.” Loosely translated, it means Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly position and all it entails to come to earth as a man. That seems to be all Paul meant, i.e., the external exchange of heavenly glory for earthly character: from the eternal God to the lowliest of men, a servant. We might be just as well off to leave it at that, because to go any further we raise more questions than we can answer!

That question of how much Godly power Jesus had as a man has been debated for centuries. We can’t answer it in its entirety because we can’t understand God. Also, it tries to separate the Godhead who, even through tentatively divided for our benefit, is eternally One. This is even proven in the “Shema” of the Jews and Muslims. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” The word for God in that verse is Elohim which is plural, meaning three or more. So, that verse the Jews use to disprove the Trinity literally says, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our Gods (plural) is one Lord.”

A simplified answer I can live with is that, as a man, Jesus chose his human limitations. We classify the main characteristics of deity as omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience. For 33 years Jesus chose not to be omnipresent because he was born “under the law” as Galatians 4:4-5 says. That includes the physical laws of time and space. However, he is today omnipresent in his glorified physical body from which he ministers to every believer in time and eternity.

Although he chose not to unveil his complete omnipotence, he revealed some of his divine powers by walking on the sea, healing the sick, and raising the dead – including himself. When the soldiers came to arrest him, a power went out from him that knocked them down. He was and always will be “El shaddai,” God of the mountains, Almighty God.

How much of his omniscience he understood as a man we cannot know. The gospels reveal his human traits in passages like Luke 2:52 where he “increased in wisdom and statue, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus had the natural response of a man when Mark 6:6 says he marvelled at the people’s unbelief. Also, in Mark 24:35 Jesus said only the Father knew the timing of his Second Coming. So, he implied in Matthew 24:36 that there are some things men do not know; and Jesus, being fully a man, likewise may not have known.

As God, of course, in no way did Jesus abandon his complete Godhood. He said he was one with the Father. So, as not to infer imperfection on either his deity or humanity, I prefer to believe that any seeming limitation to his Godly powers was intentional and temporary.

 

Explain Calvinism and Armenianism.

Q. What is the difference between Calvinism and Armenianism? Anita Alcorn, MS

A. These are two opposing views of election held by the Church for centuries. By election we mean how God determines who will be saved.

Calvinists like to remember their beliefs by the acronym TULIP. Total Depravity – Man is totally unable to comprehend salvation. Faith is not the sinner’s gift to God; it is God’s gift to enable man to believe. Unconditional Election – Before the foundation of the world God chose whom he will save. It is not based on any response whatsoever from man, but solely on God’s sovereignty. Limited Atonement – Particular Redemption is another name for the belief that Christ only died for those who will be saved, not for the whole world. Irresistible Grace – This is also known as the efficacious call of the Spirit that draws the elect to be saved. They cannot resist his call and are predestined to be saved. Perseverance of the saints – God has already decreed that all of his elect will persevere to the end and reach Heaven. Calvinistic predestination teaches salvation is all of God’s choice and none of man’s.

Armenianism also has 5 points concerning man’s salvation. Free-will – Every sinner has the free-will to choose if he will respond to the Spirit’s conviction. Conditional Election – God’s election of those who will be saved is based on his foreknowledge of the conditions of who will respond to him in faith. General Atonement – Also called Universal Redemption, this doctrine holds that Christ’s death makes it possible for anyone to be saved if they repent and believe. Holy Spirit Resistance – The Spirit calls but does not force himself on any sinner; therefore, the sinner may resist his call. Falling From Grace – Saints may lose their salvation if they do not persevere until the end. It should be noted that not all Armenians agree on this point. Armenianism may be su

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