Contents of this chapter
48 Tough love is no longer necessary
49 What about natural disasters?
50 The Day of Judgment will Come
51 He has the whole world in His hands
52 I tell you the truth
53 A New Covenant
54 God’s mercy extends to all people
55 Love one another
56 Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing
57 Why so much suffering?
58 The final episode in God’s plan for His family
59 God’s standards are not the world’s standards
60 Is civilisation a thin veneer?
61 Sin will destroy us
62 A temple for the Lord
63 Jesus revealed God’s eternal plan
64 Sin brings suffering, pain and death
65 Repent and turn to God
66 Jesus was particularly critical of hypocrites
67 Dealing with the results of sin
68 Christianity is a religion based on forgiveness
69 Jesus also came to destroy the works of the devil
70 The intermediate state
47 Jesus the Jewish Messiah: Saviour of the World
Throughout the OT we follow the narrative as God creates and prepares His chosen people, Israel, for the most important event in world history. Many antagonists, who oppose Christianity, point to the apparent brutality and violence God used as He brought Israel into her land, claiming this as evidence for an absence of the love God claims to hold for humanity.
During the period of time when God was settling Israel in His Holy Land, He relentlessly directed the Israelites to remove the contamination that had filled the Canaanite world. Just as the amputation of a gangrenous limb also removes sound tissue, God must surely have removed the innocent along with the wicked, but this extreme measure would not be carried out again.
As a rule, God has allowed brutal cultures throughout the world to continue without His direct intervention (see), although the scriptures give us reason to believe He will intervene when the depravity is extreme (Gen 15:16, Lev 18:25). However, when He chose Canaan as the geographical location to establish His people, He could not allow the culture He was about to create to be contaminated by the horrific pagan practices of the people occupying the land.
“All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled. So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now. Whoever commits any of these detestable sins will be cut off from the community of Israel. So obey My instructions, and do not defile yourselves by committing any of these detestable practices that were committed by the people who lived in the land before you. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 18:27-30) (see also Deut 20:16-18, Lev 18:21).
When He brought Israel into the Holy Land, God the Creator was preparing the ground for His own incarnation, which was to be the fulfilment of the prophecy made to Adam and Eve at the beginning of time (Gen 3:15). The removal of the people of Canaan, whose worship included burning their own children alive in the fires of Molech (see), is vividly described in the OT. The record of the elimination of the Canaanite cultures is, however, descriptive, not prescriptive. God did not instruct the Israelites to go out and conquer and destroy other peoples as an ongoing practice (Deut 10:15-20). His commands were specific and limited to destroying the despicable cultural practices contaminating the Holy Land God had chosen. Despite this cleansing, these practices would nevertheless prove to be an ongoing problem for the Israelites. God’s purpose was to prepare a holy environment where the nation of Israel could prosper and grow in the land He had chosen for Himself. After this time all other wars the Israelites were involved in were for self-defence.
As mentioned earlier, we find abundant evidence for the Flood, written graphically over the surface of our whole planet. This evidence serves as a constant reminder of humanity’s propensity for violence and evil. Before God called Abraham to be the father of the nation He would shape and relate to uniquely (Gen 12:1-2), the people in Canaan did what was right in their own eyes (Proverbs 14:12) and the result was a total breakdown in decency, mercy, compassion and justice in that region. The universal culture that was destroyed by the Great Flood incisively demonstrated the depths of depravity humanity can reach when people reject God. God brought that world to an end, but when Israel entered the Holy Land, God chose to remove only the Canaanites and their culture to make way for His people.
As a primary school teacher I often used behaviour modification techniques to help students who found it difficult to spend a full day cooperatively participating in classroom activities. Human society is constantly confronted with the need to shape and change unacceptable behaviours in community members and we have devised numerous ways of seeking harmonious and constructive solutions to the problem of antisocial behaviour. However, when children are involved, drastic measures must sometimes be taken.
There are times when the overwhelming needs of abused children must override the desires of their parents and these children are removed to safer places, in the hope that their home environment or their parents’ behaviour will improve. This is not ideal, but it is sometimes the best solution for the innocent children of abusive parents. Our Father has also been forced to take drastic measures when some cultures completely lose any sense of human decency.
From the time of the Fall, God has been patiently working out the Way for people to regain what was lost through their rebellion against Him. God is an Eternal Spirit and He has an eternal perspective. His perspective of human life includes an eternal reference, as He sees the individual in their fully realised, eternal state. When innocent lives are lost, people without this eternal perspective can see nothing more. But when one is born again of the Eternal Spirit the eternal perspective begins to grow and the truth gradually becomes clear, when God removes the innocent into eternity, He lifts them from pain and suffering into His loving arms.
The rebellious people God removed from Canaan, before establishing Israel there, had taken depravity and violence to the ultimate extreme; sacrificing their children to their gods was acceptable behaviour in their culture. God permanently removed the children from this horrific environment and He destroyed the culture to prevent these pagan practices becoming part of the new nation He was creating. Despite this extreme measure there were some Israelites who nonetheless followed the ways of the people they had usurped (2 Kings 23:10).
Throughout the OT God dwelt with His people, first in a tabernacle in the wilderness, and then, after occupying Israel, He directed the construction of the temple for Him to inhabit. God announced His desire to dwell amongst His people in a holy place (Exodus 25:8), and eventually He was born into their midst.
Jesus’ birth fulfilled over 400 OT prophecies concerning the coming of the promised Seed, the Messiah. Jesus lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death and victoriously rose from the dead to finally enable the restoration of humanity to their intended place, as immortal children of the Eternal Living God. Because of His life and sacrifice, God can now be called our Father.
48 Tough Love is No Longer Necessary
During the OT era God’s tough love was necessary to ensure the right environment was in place for His only begotten Son to live, die and rise again. God was working out His rescue plan for humanity, and although He desires good for humanity, ultimate good at times demanded God’s drastic intervention. At times God had no alternative other than to brutally enforce His will on rebellious people. Despite this, the Israelites constantly polluted God’s message, so that when Jesus was eventually born into the world He created, only a handful of people in the nation He had carefully prepared and established even recognised Him as their God.
After the death and resurrection of His Son there was never again a need for God to act harshly towards those who opposed His perfect plan. The true sacrifice Lamb had been slain (Ex 12:3-6; Rev 5:12, 13:8) and God no longer needed to hold back the excesses of humanity with direct action through human intermediaries. God never again called for the complete removal of a group of people. After Jesus’ resurrection He sent the Restrainer into the world and it is He who now holds back the forces of evil who seek to thwart God’s work (2 Thes 2:7). The Holy Spirit is now abroad in the world, enabling the peoples of the world to hear God’s Way of forgiveness and love and His wondrous plan for humanity.
49 What about natural disasters?
Some people believe that God causes natural disasters in the world today as judgment on those who turn away from, or work against Him. This is not apparent from the NT scriptures. The Lord actually spoke about this idea when He was informed about a murder Pilate had committed. As Luke records:
About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple.
“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” (Luke 13:1-5)
The Lord addressed this common misconception by informing His listeners that we are all sinners and will all perish unless we repent. The Father does not single out people now to punish, the punishment will come when those who refuse to repent perish.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Mat 22:44, 26:64, Act 2:33, 5:31 etc) who has committed all judgment to Him. As John recorded:
….. the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son…..(John 5:22)
While Luke writes:
For He has set a day for judging the world with justice by the Man He has appointed, and He has proved to everyone who this is by raising Him from the dead.” (Act 17:31)
From these scriptures we learn that God is not acting in judgment towards wrongdoers today. Natural disasters affect all people, God is not using these occurrences to punish sinners. Jesus was clear, we all deserve punishment. Those who are saved by grace are pardoned because of Jesus’ death, not their own works. We live in a fallen world where death and suffering are an ever-present reality. God is reserving His judgment for the Day of Judgment, when the Lord Jesus Christ will be our Judge.
50 The Day of Judgment will Come
Jesus often spoke of the Day of Judgment. It appears we will all give a full reckoning for our actions and words on that day. In the gospel of Matthew we find Jesus alerting the Pharisees to this truth; after they had been speaking lies about Him He warned them:
And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. (Mat 12:36)
…….. He knows how to rescue godly people when they are tested. He also knows how to hold immoral people for punishment on the Day of Judgment. (2 Peter 2:9)
There are two judgments mentioned in the Bible. The godly people will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10) to receive, not a judgment for their sins (as they have been forgiven), but rewards. This judgment will be similar to the one that was made in Paul’s day, when prizes were awarded to competitors at the end of a race. In NT times, when athletic competitions were conducted, prizes were awarded by the judge who was seated on a bema (the Greek word for judgment seat). At that time civil judgment was also made from this judgment seat (bema). In sporting competitions the judge not only awarded the prizes but was also responsible for ensuring competitors obeyed the rules of the competition. The Judgment of believers is often referred to as the Bema Seat Judgment, as this is the Greek word used when referring to the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul refers to the Christian life as demanding the same sort of self-discipline needed of an athlete. He informs his readers that they are also working towards a goal, just as an athlete in a race (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 2:5; Phil 3:13-14), and that they will reap rewards far greater than any earthly prize.
However, the people Peter refers to as immoral, those who refuse forgiveness in Christ, will be held until the Day of Judgment before the Great White Throne (Rev 20:11). Therefore the judgment of those who have rejected Christ’s gift of redemption is referred to as The Great White Throne Judgment. It is before this throne that judgment will be made, the eternal destiny of the unbeliever will be revealed and the sentence pronounced.
As stated earlier, it appears God does not deal out punishment on people during this present time of grace. He may, however, remove His protective hand from people and allow them to experience the natural consequences of their own sin. As people pursue what is right in their own eyes, they grow further and further away from the promptings of God and any comprehension of His Truth. In his letter to the Romans Paul declares:
…..God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator Himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. (Romans 1:24-25)
God no longer needs to control the behaviour of rebellious people in order to fulfil the demands of the law. During the OT He was working towards the time of the incarnation. Since Jesus has comprehensively accomplished the work that was needed for God to offer eternal life to every person who chooses to follow Him, the Father no longer needs to judge and control the nations to prepare a place for the Messiah’s birth.
After Jesus’ triumphant work on Earth and victorious ascension, God continued His work through the Body of Christ by His Holy Spirit. This work is now to broadcast the truth throughout the world and every individual will be given full opportunity to choose to either draw near to or turn away from their Creator.
However, Paul told the Thessalonians that the lawless one would deceive many who will perish, because they choose to believe the adversary’s lies. He warned them that Satan would:
….. use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. (2 Thes 2:10)
God has created us with free will; our eternal destinies are in our own hands. This is God’s world and He has determined that we must live according to His Way, but He has given us enough information to know how to live under His blessing. Those who refuse to love and accept God’s truth may indeed be abandoned by God to Satan’s lies, the consequences of their own ill conceived lifestyles or the evils of fallen humanity. This is not limited to the trials of individuals; without the one true God’s merciful guidance, whole communities and nations can be torn apart by factionalism and revenge. Where Jesus’ teachings on the need for salvation, love and forgiveness are abandoned, humanism and other religious traditions have no power to overcome Satan’s deceptive alternatives.
At the end of time, when we face the judgment of God, we will have had every opportunity to be amongst those who stand before Christ at the Bema Seat Judgment. However, on Judgment Day many will find themselves before the Great White Throne.
51 He has the whole world in His hands
It is quite conceivable that in the world today God at times abandons people, withdrawing His protection and blessing from those who work against His plan to save humanity; He need do nothing other than allow unbalanced and uncontrolled natural forces to be set loose. He holds this universe together and we have no idea what He holds back. As Paul wrote to the Colossians:
For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on Earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col 1:16-17)
God created this world with intricate and complex systems that are interrelated and often co-dependent. Until this present time our planet has been robust enough to withstand our pollution and mismanagement, but God may allow our human greed and disdain for His creation to reap catastrophic consequences. Without His guidance and intervention we may cause our planet’s meteorological systems to become unbalanced and the ensuing changes could well cause unprecedented climatic conditions.
Alongside the ever-present consequences of the Fall, western culture is moving away from a biblical belief in the life and work of Jesus Christ and the moral vacuum this has caused will play a part in the end times. Despite the humanist-led move away from trust in Him, the Holy Spirit is presently active in the world as the salt and light of humanity (Mat 5:13-15), working on the hearts and minds of inquiring people to open them to God’s Truth. It is His role to convict people of sin. Without the Holy Spirit activating the consciences of people, a sense of what is truly right and wrong from God’s perspective would be lost. Jesus told His disciples:
But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. (John 16:7-8)
Although this world is in God’s hands, His Word tells us that a time is coming when God will completely lift His restraining hand and devastating spiritual forces will be unleashed (2 Thes 2:7). These evil forces will bring about a time of unprecedented darkness, and along with increased natural disasters and human immorality, this lifting of God’s protection will herald the end of this age (Matt 24) and the coming of the Day of Judgement.
52 I tell you the truth
Paul told the Romans that God may abandon people when they trade the truth about God for a lie (Romans 1:25). Truth is something our modern world has a great deal of difficulty with. Many modern scholars (even some of those teaching in church seminaries) insist truth is relative. They would contend that truth can be adjusted according to culture, perspective or disposition. Although modern society has generally abandoned the concept of absolute truth, God has never vacillated from this ideal. Jesus often began His discourses by saying, “I tell you the truth,” and He also proclaimed He is the Truth (John 14:6).
If we abandon truth, trading it for the lie that there is no Truth, we become slaves to that lie and God may abandon us to a path of increasing deception. God has ensured we have access to His Truth: through His Holy Spirit we have access to both the Living Word (Logos) and the written word (rhema). We can trust Him to lead us into all truth. Jesus promised that His truth would set us free. As John records:
Jesus said to the people who believed in Him, “You are truly My disciples if you remain faithful to My teachings. And you will know the truth, and the Truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
The freedom the truth of the gospel brings is beyond measure. Knowing the Truth means we understand God has a plan and in His Word He has given us enough information about that plan to live lives that are pleasing to Him. We can either accept His plan and become part of His program or trade the truth about God for the lies our modern culture holds dear. Our merciful God has given us this time of grace to make a wise decision, but the Day of Judgment will come, He has declared this to be so, and He is the Truth (John 14:6).
In his letter to the Romans Paul describes God’s incredible patience with people. He laments that stubbornness will lead people to reject God’s grace and Truth and on that day of God’s righteous judgment the punishment will inevitably be administered.
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honour and immortality that God offers. But He will pour out His anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. (Rom 2:4-8)
53 A New Covenant
During the OT era it was the Law of Moses and the words of the prophets that guided people. After Jesus came, God revealed the law’s role was to show us our need of God’s Son and Holy Spirit, it is through their work that we are able to live lives that are pleasing to the Father. While He was on Earth Jesus announced His new, freely available Way of living, when He ushered in the New Covenant (Heb 8:6-12), proclaiming forgiveness of sins and love for one’s enemies as the Way for the future. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that:
If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. (Hebrews 8:7)
Jesus made it clear that John the Baptist, as the last of the OT prophets, was announcing the coming of a new Way of serving God and relating to our fellow humans. The time for priests and altars, sacrificial offerings and law keeping had passed when the Good News was proclaimed. Luke records Jesus’ words:
“Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in. (Luke 16:16)
Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice when He gave Himself as our sin offering: all the OT requirements have been met in Him (Mat 5:17). It is finished (John 19:30).Throughout the OT era God gave the Jewish people a full understanding of His righteous requirements, but the NT writers revealed that we cannot keep the law. During the time God guided people by the law and the prophets, He knew they could not possibly keep the law, consequently He instituted the sacrifices and offerings. These elaborate rituals enabled people to maintain their relationship with Him. The continual need for substitutionary sacrifices also acted as a constant reminder that the penalty for sin is death. As Paul explains:
For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with Him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for He was looking ahead and including them in what He would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, for He Himself is fair and just, and He declares sinners to be right in His sight when they believe in Jesus. (Rom 3:20-26)
54 God’s mercy extends to all people
God exists beyond time and space; He created both and is not bound by either. Therefore God’s righteous judgment and merciful gift of salvation extends to all people who have ever lived, or will live, before He calls an end to sin, suffering and death. Based entirely on the fact that Jesus would be the ultimate sacrifice for their sin, God was able to offer His gifts of forgiveness and eternal life to those who lived before Jesus was born. Paul wrote:
David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who
are declared righteous without working for it: “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. (Rom 4:6-7)
David lived a thousand years before Jesus, but God is able to judge the hearts and minds of the people born before Christ and ascertain their response to His call. He can also judge the hearts of those who have never heard the gospel and is able to determine their reaction to His touch. Peter informs us that God is kardiognostes or heart-knowing, therefore He knows what is in the hearts of every person (Acts 15:8) and Paul adds:
Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know His law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life. (Rom 2:14-16)
No one is beyond God’s grace, God knows the hearts and minds of every person who has existed, or ever will exist (John 16:30). He reaches out to every person and can gauge our responses to His call, we either turn to or turn away from our Creator. Jesus introduced a new way of responding for those who want to trust and obey the Father. During the OT era, drawing near to God meant living by His law and listening to His prophets. Jesus introduced an entirely new era and ushered in an entirely new way of drawing near to God and worshipping Him. He explained:
……. the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth….. (John 4:23)
55 Love one another
Jesus also introduced a New Commandment, which He announced is to “love one another” (John 13:34). A completely new era began with the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it was because of Jesus’ death and resurrection that God, who created us to love Him, is able to dwell within us by His Holy Spirit (1 John 4:16). Jesus can make our spirit a holy place because He has dealt with our sin, thus the Spirit of God can indwell us. When His Spirit lives in us we are able to love God through His Spirit (Mark 12:33; Romans 8:28; 1 Cor 8:2-3; 1 John 5:1-3).
After reading about Peter denying the Lord three times (just before Jesus’ crucifixion (Mat 26:34-75)), most people would doubt whether the apostle was actually suitable for the task of leading the church. However, when Jesus had risen from the dead He did not upbraid Peter for his lack of faith and devotion, instead, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. Matthew Henry comments:
….He does not ask, “Dost thou fear me? Dost thou honour me? Dost thou admire me?” but, “Dost thou love me? Give but proof of this, and the affront shall be passed by, and no more said of it.” Peter had professed himself a penitent, witness his tears, and his return to the society of the disciples; he was now upon his probation as a penitent; but the question is not, “Simon, how much hast thou wept? how often hast thou fasted, and afflicted thy soul?” but, Dost thou love me? It is this that will make the other expressions of repentance acceptable. The great thing Christ eyes in penitents is their eyeing him in their repentance. …..Before Christ would commit his sheep to his care, he asked him, Lovest thou me? Christ has such a tender regard to his flock that he will not trust it with any but those that love him, and therefore will love all that are his for his sake. Those that do not truly love Christ will never truly love the souls of men, or will naturally care for their state as they should; nor will that minister love his work that does not love his Master (48).
Loving God is the beginning of the journey. When we choose to love God we are open to His guidance, and He shows us our need for the sin that separates us from Him to be dealt with. Only Jesus can deal with that sin, because only He has been assigned by the Creator for that role. Once we accept Jesus’ gift of salvation, we understand God’s love for us and His love sets the tone for our relationships with others. We must learn to love others as God loves them. This is not a sensuous love, it is what the Greeks called agape love. It is a love that, like God, seeks the beloved’s ultimate good. Our Creator designed and made us with human affections that at times seem absolutely pure, but unless these affections are filtered through His love, we will not be seeking the ultimate good for the objects of our love. This ultimate, eternal good, is their reconciliation with the Creator, which in turn gives them access to eternal life.
Sin not only affects our relationship with God, it also influences our relationships with other people. Jesus proclaimed:
“You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Mat 22:37-40)
Through these verses we see the heart of God. He is a God of love and we must make sure the God we claim to represent as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is the God who has revealed Himself as love. By loving others we fulfil the law (Rom 13:8), this is now God’s unambiguous direction for us to live holy lives that are pleasing to Him. God has called us to demonstrate His love, and by His Spirit He enables us to make this our priority. This love must be exceptional, not the sort of love the world practices, but a love that demonstrates the love of God. Jesus instructed:
If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. (Matthew 5:46)
The love Jesus taught His disciples is the core of the Christian Church and it is this holy love that has changed the world. From historical documents we learn that very early in church history Christian charity was noticed and emulated by other faiths. It was most certainly noticed by the Emperor Julian, who reigned around the year 360AD. He wrote a letter to Arsacius, the polytheistic high priest of Galacia, instructing him to practice the same sort of charity and good works the Christians demonstrated.
Julian was Constantine’s nephew and like all emperors he was also Pontifex Maximus, chief priest of the state religion; but unlike his uncle, Julian took his role as head of pagan worship seriously. During his two year rule he made attempts to take the empire back to its pagan roots by developing a pagan priesthood and ordering the building of new pagan temples and the refurbishment of those that had fallen into disrepair under Constantine. After seeing the effect Christian charity had on people, he decided that caring for one’s neighbour was an excellent way to present the pagan gods in a better light and attract followers to his revitalised pagan religion (see).
56 Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing
The teachings of Jesus have played an incalculable role in shaping modern society. While history provides us with endless accounts of people claiming to be Christians, but carrying out appalling acts in the name of Christ, there is nothing in Jesus’ teachings that mandates either forcible conversion to the faith or coerced adherence to biblical doctrines. Instead, the saved are asked to love the unsaved and be an example of goodness to those around them. The teachings of Jesus Christ are diametrically opposed to wanton bloodshed and Jesus, knowing human nature, warned there would be interlopers; He called them wolves in sheep’s clothing (Mat 7:15).
Jesus was very clear when He stated:
You have heard the law that says, Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Mat 5:43-48)
Many people who have called themselves Christians throughout history have not followed these direct instructions from the Lord. This brings into question their actual standing in Christ. We may call ourselves Christians, but unless we are actually following the teachings of Jesus and show by the love in our lives that we are born again, we are not actually Christians in the biblical sense of the word (Luke 13:24-27, Mat 7:22-26, 1 John 3:14-18). Jesus warned that it was not what we claimed about ourselves that would enable us to enter His kingdom, it was how we lived our lives.
On the Day of Judgment it will be actions and deeds that identify the true believers, Jesus said:
Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. “Not everyone who calls out to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your name and performed many miracles in Your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.’ (Mat 7:20-23)
Although many countries in the western world have based their laws and ethics on Christian principles, the NT teaches that there is no such thing as a Christian country. A person becomes a Christian by making a personal, individual decision. This decision enables them to become part of the Body of Christ, the universal church, but this is not an organisation, it is something only God can see and it is not bound by denominational parameters or national boundaries. Nor does membership of a denomination necessarily indicate a person is a member of the Body of Christ, only those who are born again are part of God’s eternal kingdom (John 3:3).
True Christianity (Christianity that is based on and reflects the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ that are revealed in God’s Word) has actually contributed to science, education, health care, government, the judiciary, prison reform, the end of slavery, human rights and even animal welfare; as it provides a philosophical basis of mercy, justice, compassion, equality and personal responsibility. According to the teachings of Jesus, every member of society should be treated as the object of God’s love; Jesus gave no grounds for exclusion. Neither ethnicity, nor gender or age, was to be considered when sharing the love of God with a neighbour. Every person is equal before the Father and Creator.
Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy:
God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth, which is, There is only one God, and Christ Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God. Jesus was truly human, and he gave himself to rescue all of us. (1Ti 2:4-5)
Our Father wants us to extend His love to all people everywhere. For us to portray God as anything other than a loving Father is to miss the core of Jesus’ teachings. There will be a Day of Judgment, a time when our Father calls an end to all suffering, pain and death. Then He will destroy this world that is terminally tainted with sin and create a new heaven and a new Earth, but until that day we are called to love. Until that time God patiently holds back His righteous judgment because He wants everyone to be part of His eternal kingdom. As Peter informed us:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the Earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (2 Peter 3:9-10)
57 Why so much suffering?
A common question in our present, post Christian culture is, “How could a loving God allow people to suffer?” The people who ask this question usually assume they care more about the people around them than the God of the Christian Bible. Such ignorance is understandable in today’s humanist culture. However, God must surely find it far more heart wrenching than us to see His beautiful creation, and particularly the people He created in His own image, so burdened with pain and suffering, but He is allowing this time of sorrow to continue for our benefit.
God regards people from an entirely different perspective to these kind-hearted unbelievers, He is concerned with the eternal destinies of the individuals He created. He has allowed each one of us to see the devastating results of sin now, so that we can make an informed choice for eternity. He has also assured us that this time of pain and suffering will pale into insignificance in the world to come (Luke 18:30; 2 Cor 4:16-18). Jesus and the disciples were far more focused on the world to come than many liberal theologians would lead us to understand.
When he was in prison contemplating the possibility of execution Paul wrote:
Christ means everything to me in this life, and when I die I’ll have even more. If I continue to live in this life, my work will produce more results. I don’t know which I would prefer. I find it hard to choose between the two. I would like to leave this life and be with Christ. That’s by far the better choice. But for your sake it’s better that I remain in this life. (Philippians 1:21-24)
God is focused on eternity and on bringing people to Himself, He does not wish anyone to miss out on realising their eternal potential. The only thing now standing in the way of people receiving God’s gracious gift of eternal life is their own choice. God has shown us the Way by coming to Earth and revealing His truth. We can choose to believe God’s truth (that Jesus sacrificed His life so that each one of us can live eternally), accept Jesus as our Saviour and be part of His eternal kingdom, or we can reject His glorious gift. We can choose to believe Satan’s lies, which ultimately lead to suffering and death. This world of pain and suffering will not go on indefinitely, but for this short time, God has allowed suffering and lies to persist to show what a world without His holiness must become.
Jesus was quite sure about the source of the lies we believe. He told some Jewish people who refused to believe His words:
For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe Me! (John 8:44-45)
By constantly rejecting God’s gentle touch, people allow their spiritual awareness to become so atrophied they can no longer hear their Creator speaking to them, they hear only Satan’s lies. In this 21st century world, The Bible and the teachings of Jesus are often ridiculed and any understanding of the fact that we are created beings, rather than the sole creators of our own destinies, is widely decried. The sad truth is that without God’s gift of eternal life we “will surely die.” God has made it clear – with His gracious gift we are destined for an eternal life in a new heaven and Earth with Christ our loving Saviour – apart from Christ there will be no life (1 Cor 15:28).
58 The Final Episode in God’s Plan for His Family
This present time of grace will eventually come to an end (Mat 13). There is still a frightening future awaiting humanity. God has revealed His intention to finally destroy everything that is evil, everything that is not under His sovereign reign. Jesus authoritatively stated that:
….. Heaven and Earth shall pass away…. (Mat 24:35a)
This will be a total cleansing, leaving nothing but that which has been made pure through Christ. Pain, suffering and death will be dealt the final blow.
The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will remove from His Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. (Mat 13:41)
In the Revelation we find:
….. the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. (Rev 11:15)
However, Peter tells us:
Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of His command, and He brought the Earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then He used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and Earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the Day of Judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. (2 Peter 3:3-7)
Peter gives us the outline of God’s plan; God created a perfect world and tragically, humans caused sin to contaminate it, infecting all of God’s creation. Eventually human sin became so violently devastating, God caused the Great Flood to cleanse the Earth of the contamination humanity had created, destroying all but those who remained loyal to His commands. Once again the human family grew and dispersed, but people were still tainted with a sin nature and this problem needed to be addressed.
After the Flood, God called out first a nation (Gen 18:19) and then a body of believers to spread His message of grace and salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, who will return to complete God’s plan. Scoffers may ridicule this idea but those who listen to His Word and accept His rescue plan will live on through God’s final solution for evil, when ultimately the present universe will be destroyed by fire; but out of this fire will rise a phoenix, a new creation, untainted by sin and death. Peter goes on to say:
But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new Earth He has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13)
Our Father is reluctant to destroy this present creation (2 Peter 3:9), but humanity has shown again and again that to be outside the reign and rule of the Creator eventually brings hate and oppression, injustice and cruelty. Our Father has a plan and He will bring it to fruition, even though it will cost Him more than we can imagine.
We don’t have to look far to discover that even those who begin with the best of intentions often end up discriminating against some members of their society, and numerous times throughout history revolutions have simply led to new tyrants in the seats of power. We cannot turn fallen humanity into altruistic communities without God’s intervention.
Outsiders looking on may believe they would not tread the same path as newly self-elected dictators. They believe they would not end up seeking to dominate others, but this is often just self denial. Survival of the fittest is an ever present reality when it comes to human society and very few people are truly prepared to completely sacrifice their own ideals or comforts for the greater good. The Bible points out that a community will function without the strongest members seizing control of resources if the Creator is given the role He is meant to have. In the biblical model for community, leaders should be gentle, hospitable, generous, peaceful, sober and honest (1Timothy 3). When the Lord Jesus is acknowledged as the head and each member is viewed as equal before Him, there is a good chance those who are first amongst equals will exercise the attributes Paul outlined in his letter to Timothy.
We were not designed to live apart from God; we were designed to live in fellowship with God and follow His ways, and it is in living according to the Way Jesus revealed that we find our full potential individually and as a community. When we have a loving relationship with God we can live in the way we were designed to live. Living in harmony with others can be difficult, even for committed Christians, especially when cultures clash. However, having a common agreement on expectations and behaviour does make this easier. It is reaching this common agreement that is the challenge. Christians have been given that common agreement in God’s Word and in the ideal Christian community differences can be resolved by prayerfully turning to the Word for guidance.
We are also more likely to make wise choices for ourselves and our fellow humans if we make those choices within God’s influence. Of course there is no doubt that many people who are not Christians make some good decisions and are mostly loving and kind, but that is because God created us to be so (Mat 7:9-11) and He gave us our consciences to help us understand right and wrong. As Paul points out:
Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know His law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. (Rom 2:14-15)
God has also designed the world powers to function according to His guidelines for justice and the rule of law (Romans 13). People need rules to guide them if they are to live harmoniously, side by side. Whether it’s a country, commune, classroom or convent, rules (or laws) give people clear boundaries and individuals can find freedom to act respectfully and responsibly within the agreed form. Most western societies have their roots in Christian principles and although unbelievers would contend that human culture independently developed the ideas of justice, mercy and forgiveness, biblical Christians recognise that these concepts were sown into our cultures through God’s direct intervention from the very beginning of time. These are not human constructs, they are the result of God’s direct guidance and supervision.
Even though Christians have the Creator guiding them, they are still prone to making mistakes. The followers of Jesus continue to contend with what The Bible calls their sinful natures (Romans 8:4-5). In the light of Jesus’ New Commandments it is obvious that Christians often fall far short of God’s ideal. However, the main difference between believers and unbelievers is that believers know and trust the biblical Jesus, who is the Truth. They also understand the truth of the gospel message, which tells us we are all sinners, but Christians know they are sinners saved by grace.
It is because of this grace that the followers of Jesus seek to live lives that are pleasing in God’s sight while they remain on this planet, and they confidently expect to be part of God’s new creation because God is able to make them holy. As Paul explained to the Corinthians:
You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)
Paul was able to face hardship and the threat of death because he kept his eyes on Jesus. It is this sort of faith that keeps believers from despair in the face of adversity. Although they don’t always act according to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit, Christians understand that this is because the Holy Spirit indwells their “fragile clay jars” and sinful natures can still dominate. Consequently, the body of Christ is composed of imperfect people, but they are people who have a relationship with their Creator and they understand that this is God’s world and He has the right to dictate the standards He expects of the people He created. Believers must readily acknowledge that they need God’s Holy Spirit to enable them to live lives that are in line with God’s standards, while striving to live holy lives and love others as God loves them.
59 God’s standards are not the world’s standards
The Bible teaches that God’s standards are different to worldly standards. In his letter to the Romans Paul declared that everyone has sinned and that we all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). John also wrote:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
Jesus told His disciples that after He ascended to be with the Father He would send them a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the divine Trinity (see). When talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit Jesus said:
…..when He comes, He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in Me. (John 16:8-9)
In His Word, God tells us that if we reject the gospel message we are not living the way He designed us to live. God has gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate this message to us. The Eternal God was born into the world, taking on mortal, human flesh, so that He could preach the gospel of God’s love to humankind and give His life so that we could experience that love and receive His gift of immortality. Jesus explained that because He had come from God to proclaim the truth, sin would henceforth be defined as rejecting Him and His message of universal sin and humanity’s need for salvation. He said:
They would not be guilty if I had not come and spoken to them. But now they have no excuse for their sin. Anyone who hates Me also hates My Father. If I hadn’t done such miraculous signs among them that no one else could do, they would not be guilty. But as it is, they have seen everything I did, yet they still hate Me and My Father. (John 15:22-24)
He also said:
I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” (Luke 5:32)
In the opening chapters of this book we explored the consequences of Adam and Eve’s rejection of God’s command. In the Garden of Eden there was only one “thou shalt not,” when Adam and Eve did what they were expressly commanded not to do they severed their relationship with God and sent humanity on an entirely different path. Death entered the creation and there would be only one way to regain access to eternal life.
Jesus came to explain that everyone needs God’s forgiveness and He also revealed that God has provided only one Way for us to receive that forgiveness (John 14:6). It is only as we acknowledge our need and accept God’s forgiveness through Christ that we can be cleansed from the sin that will keep us from eternity. The people who hear His voice and respond to His love are the ones who can acknowledge they are sinners. It is only when we recognise God’s right to make demands on our lives and the fact that we are separated from Him without Christ as our Saviour that this becomes evident.
60 Is civilisation a thin veneer?
Most people who keep an eye on world news would be aware of the incredible potential for civil unrest when justice systems break down or there are no police to enforce laws. The horrific potential for a Lord of the Flies type regression to savagery, where groups lacking any rule of law descend into barbarism, is not uncommon. The three deaths that took place at some stage in the riots and looting in Melbourne, Australia, during the police strike of 1923 illustrate this point (see). Civilisation can appear to be a thin veneer when order breaks down or the basic necessities of life are scarce.
Anyone who has eyes to see can recognise that evil is an underlying reality in our world. We need to act wisely to protect ourselves from criminal activity. We have locks on doors and do not roam the streets late at night in certain districts. Children are regularly abused and in our modern, “civilised” world, many are sold into slavery, and this sort of behaviour is not limited to the third world, where people are often very poor and struggle to meet the demands of raising children (see). One need only look at the greed and corruption that is endemic in governments, multinational companies and world leaders to see that often philanthropy is simply a means of being re-elected or a way of boosting self-esteem.
Many non believers would see themselves as “good people,” and point to others as the perpetrators of the world’s problems. This is not the biblical view, God tells us that we are all tainted with sin, we all need God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to deal with our own selfish, sinful natures, and Paul tells us that this is not a battle that is ever conclusively won in this life. There is no place for self-righteousness or complacency in the body of Christ. In his letter to the Romans he explains this problem.
I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:19-25)
Paul made it clear that even though this battle is a part of our daily lives and we are far from reaching our destination, we should continue to strive towards the goal of expressing God’s love and holiness:
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Phillipians 3:12-14)
61 Sin will destroy us
Sin and repentance are challenging concepts for people to come to terms with in today’s world. Like many words from the Christian lexicon people outside the church have a partial but skewed idea of the biblical understanding of sin and repentance. Even within the church sin has been presented in a variety of ways. Sin is mentioned nearly 400 times in the KJV Bible and from the beginning of time people have been aware of its reality.
Sin is basically rebellion against God; The Bible teaches that this rebellion separates us from God and inevitably leads to death – sin will destroy us (Ez 18:24, 30; 33:12-13; Prov 13:6; Heb 10:27; 2 Peter 2:3, 12; Jude 1:10). God made us dependent upon Him for our very existence and when we refuse to acknowledge this dependence (as Adam and Eve did) and choose to follow our own desires, we step out of God’s Way and begin to sin. The OT speaks of a “sin against God.” Jeremiah was asked:
“What is our sin against the LORD our God?” And God instructed him to
…. give them the LORD’s reply: “It is because your ancestors were unfaithful to Me. They worshipped other gods and served them. They abandoned Me and did not obey My word. And you are even worse than your ancestors! You stubbornly follow your own evil desires and refuse to listen to Me..” (Jer 16:10-12)
Sin in the OT was clearly a refusal to listen to God’s prophets and follow His law. However, in the NT, the writer to the Hebrews explains that it is no longer disobeying the law that is evidence of rebellion against God, but rather a hardened heart and unbelief towards the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ:
…. Moses served faithfully when he was entrusted with God’s entire house. But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the One who built everything is God. Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.
That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today when you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested Me in the wilderness. There your ancestors tested and tried My patience, even though they saw My miracles for forty years. So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from Me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ So in My anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter My place of rest.'”
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.
Remember what it says: “Today when you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.” And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard His voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when He took an oath that they would never enter His rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed Him? So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter His rest. (Hebrews 3:2-19)
We each have a choice, we can listen to and accept the message God has sent to us through His Son, or we can harden our hearts and rebelliously reject His Word. Our Father has done all that is necessary to make us aware of the fact that He desires a relationship with every person who exists (Luke 20:36; John 1:12; 11:50-52; Romans 8:14-15; Gal 3:26; 1 John 5:19-20), it was for this reason that He designed and created humanity.
62 A temple for the Lord
Although God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden after they turned away from Him, Exodus 25:8 tells us that He desired to dwell amongst their descendants. To this end He gave detailed instructions on how they should construct the tabernacle so that He could “tabernacle” (encamp) amongst them in the wilderness. God then organised the Jewish people to enable Him to encamp in the midst of the nation He had created (Numbers 2) as they travelled to the Holy Land He had selected for His chosen people.
John carries this theme forward into the NT, where we find once again the one true God tabernacled with His people, when Jesus took on human flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) amongst them (John 1:14). Right now our Father is calling humanity into fellowship with Himself through His Son. As Paul declares:
God is to be trusted, the God who called you to have fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. (1Co 1:9)
The fellowship to which God is calling us is like no other. God manifested His presence to the people of Israel at Mt Sinai (Ex 20:18-22) and informed them of His intentions to bless and guide them (Ex 20:1, 24). Our Father dwelt in the midst of His chosen people in the tabernacle they constructed in the wilderness, after which He caused a temple to be built in Jerusalem for Him to inhabit (2 Sam 7:13).
The Lord Jesus Christ took on flesh and tabernacled in the midst of the nation of Israel. After His ascension He sent the Holy Spirit, through whom He is creating an eternal temple to inhabit; this temple is composed of His followers, those blessed by a unique relationship with the Creator of the universe. As Paul explained to the Corinthians:
Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? (1Co 3:16)
Paul also explained to the Ephesians that this new temple would be composed of saints from throughout time. Until then the Jews viewed themselves as the only true followers of the one true God. Jesus opened the door for anyone and everyone to be part of the family of God and Paul announced to the Ephesians:
Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ. For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people from the two groups.(Eph 2:11-15)
Paul goes on to explain:
Together, we are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself. We are carefully joined together in Him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through Him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit. (Eph 2:20-22)
Sin prevents people from fellowshipping with God. God will not inhabit a temple that has not been sanctified and made holy by His Son.
63 Jesus revealed God’s eternal plan
During His ministry on Earth Jesus revealed the next phase in God’s plan for His creation. Human beings are distinct from all other creatures, God made us in His own image (Gen 1:26) to become His children. From the very beginning, God designed human families and He intended them to function with a bond of familial love and trust.
God also ordained marriage as a covenant relationship (Mal 2:14), so that the earthly family He designed would be a type of the eternal family of believers He is creating.
God made Adam and Eve sexually complementary, He created them male and female and He blessed their unique union with children. Marriage is a divinely ordained relationship in which two people can produce the most miraculous of all human creations – another human being (Gen 4:1). God has designed marriage as the core of the human family and it is this relationship that God points to as the core of the eternal family. Throughout The Bible, believers are referred to as the Bride of the Redeemer. It is the marriage covenant that God refers to when He describes His relationship with the body of believers who come back into relationship with Him through His Son. This is a relationship based on love.
In the OT we find:
For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is His name: and the Holy One of Israel is thy Redeemer; the God of the whole Earth shall He be called. (Isa 54:5)
While Paul writes to the Corinthian church that they have a covenant of love with Christ:
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one Husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)
And to the Ephesians he writes:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)
Finally John’s record of the Revelation reveals:
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev 19:7-9)
God designed families as the foundation of society. He gave people the ability to love and nurture family members and when He came to Earth He often referred to the eternal family He was creating (Mat 5:9, 45; 7:11; 18:3; Luke 6:35, 20:35-36 and see John 11:52). Jesus told a gathering of people that His mother, brothers and sisters are those who do the will of the Father (Mat 12:48-50; Mark 3:33-35). The Father created earthly families to demonstrate the love and trust that will be the central core of the eternal family. It is this bond of familial love that will unite redeemed humanity to the Eternal Father: those who are born again discover within themselves a deep love and trust for God the Father. This is the same sort of love and trust children have for parents who love, nourish, protect and provide for them.
After the Fall the bond of love and trust Adam and Eve had enjoyed with God was drastically severed, leaving the human family cut off from their Creator, but God had already put a contingency plan in place. From before the beginning of time He had already decided how He would bring the people He created back into His family and it is only through love and trust that people will respond to the Father and become part of God’s eternal family. Jesus’ incarnation facilitated the reforging of the bond that unites us through love with our Creator and we are now able to call the God of all creation our Father. As Paul explains:
For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus. And now He has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Saviour. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. (2 Timothy 1:9-10)
God has laboured long and hard to create the eternal family He desires. Some unbelievers say this sounds more like the megalomaniacal indulgence of a somehow incomplete entity. Perhaps these people have never longed for a child. One is not incomplete without a child to love, but the desire to express that love is deep and strong and I can’t believe it is purely selfish. God has made it possible for fallen humans to fellowship with Him as a loving Father by dealing with the problem of sin. This problem is our problem, not His. We are the ones who lose by rejecting this offer. God will not lose, He simply wants to give, as a loving Father longs to give to a child. We are the ones who have turned away, but by taking on the sin issue, God has made it possible for us to return and be part of His eternal family. As the apostle John puts it in his gospel:
God created everything through Him (Jesus), and nothing was created except through Him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. ….. He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made His home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son .(John 1:3-14)
64 Sin brings suffering, pain and death
Sin is not something that God can easily dismiss, otherwise He would not be God. God is holy, this makes God’s absolute purity and sin totally incompatible. For God to say there is nothing wrong with sin, His whole nature would need to change and God is unchangeable (Hebrews 13:8). God sees sin for what it is; sin leads to suffering, pain and death.
The origin of all sin is a turning away from God. A biblical understanding of this rebellion is that in turning away from God we inevitably turn towards the evil one. As Paul puts it:
You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) (Ephesians 2:2-5)
Refusing to acknowledge and deal with sin makes it impossible for us to draw near to God. Sin (or our inclination to trust our own ideas rather than God’s Way) can and will control us. The very first person to be told that sin was waiting to control him was Cain. When Cain and Abel brought offerings to God, Cain’s offering of produce from the ground was found to be less pleasing than Abel’s offering of a fat lamb. The Bible is not absolutely clear as to why Cain’s offering was less acceptable than his brother Abel’s, although the NT gives us a hint that Abel offered with faith in his heart and by implication Cain did not (Heb 11:4). John tells us that Cain had been living a life that was more in tune with the enemy than with God (1 John 3:11-12) and Cain’s attitude to God was clearly revealed by his response to God’s rebuke.
The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:6-7)
God told him he should take control of sin but Cain continued in his rebellion against God and went on to become the first murderer. Cain showed no repentance and was eventually banished from the presence of the Lord. This was a punishment Cain found almost impossible to bear (Gen 4:13), but it was the inevitable consequence of sin, a person who persists in sin moves themselves further and further away from the possibility of communion with the holy Eternal Father.
God knows where sin leads and He has made it clear from the beginning of human history that sin must be dealt with or it will overwhelm human society. God has chosen to deal with sin individual by individual, He ensures each one of us has an opportunity to repent (that is, acknowledge that sin is a destructive force within our lives and our communities), turn away from sin and turn back to Him. God is the only One who can see the real motives and intentions of people (Romans 8:27) and therefore God is the only One who can judge rightly, and according to His judgment we each need to avail ourselves of His gracious gift of salvation.
God doesn’t hide sin and pretend it doesn’t exist, this ignores the problems sin creates, God uncovers and confronts sin. He can do this because He is a competent and just judge and at times, in the OT, when sin began to completely overwhelm human communities, God conclusively dealt with it. We can trust that when God reveals and judges sin He passes a just sentence on sinners.
Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah He sent His angels to determine the true extent of the sin of the people who lived there. God knew those who had gone beyond the possibility of a return to Him. Wickedness develops its own momentum and the wicked lose their ability to hear God’s call.
Abraham was concerned that God might destroy the righteous along with the wicked and he questioned the Lord:
Surely You wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, You would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely You wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the Earth do what is right?” (Gen 18:25)
God assured Abraham that He would not destroy the righteous and He removed all the people who listened to His messengers and obeyed Him before destroying the cities.
This conversation between the Lord and Abraham reveals God’s intentions; He was determined to deal with this overwhelming manifestation of evil, not allowing it to flourish and pervert His creation. The wickedness that had become endemic in the cities of the plain was like a stinking cesspit before the Creator, which He chose to tolerate no longer. These cities had reached the point of no return and their destruction was swift, but before this destruction God took the righteous people out of harm’s way.
Another aspect of sin is that it tends to be contagious, if left unchecked it can spread throughout a population and eventually the people no longer have any sense of God’s Way. Nazi Germany is a good example of this. Many of the German people had been so swayed by the propaganda they had been systematically fed, they could no longer see the Jewish people as fellow humans.
Sodom and Gomorrah may have had a devastating influence on the ancient world if God had not intervened. This is God’s world and He did not allow corruption to overtake it again as it had before the Great Flood. In such a world the innocent suffer horrifically and any awareness of God’s Way is completely lost; rather than seeking holiness, people encourage each other to do evil. Paul outlined this truth in his letter to the Romans when he wrote:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom 1:18) ….. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Romans 1:32)
Sin has consequences, it dramatically damages relationships, families and communities; it cannot be lightly dismissed as of little consequence. The modern attitude to sin is that it is actually about people enjoying themselves; this short-sighted view of rebellion against the Creator inevitably brings pain and suffering. A perfect example of this is sex outside of marriage. Young women often suffer and babies are aborted because people are simply “enjoying themselves.” This is just one of the many ways people choose to rebel against the Creator’s design and purpose.
Thankfully God has made a way for sin to be recognised as the destructive force it is and be conclusively dealt with. Without an understanding of the destructive power of sin there is no way for it to be truly eradicated. For God to simply dismiss sin would not only allow it to flourish and overwhelm all that God called good, it also flouts the concept of justice.
The penalty for sin recognises its destructiveness and ensures the wicked do not go on forever receiving the same benefits as the righteous. Sin must attract a severe penalty to show how severely it has damaged humanity and God’s good creation, but God has ensured this penalty does not mean the end of humanity or His majestic creation. Our Father, in His infinite mercy, has continued to give sunlight and rain to both the just and the unjust (Mat 5:45) during this time of grace. Above all God has Himself met the legal requirement for our sin and can now offer forgiveness to those who recognise sin’s destructiveness and sincerely repent. Without repentance there is little chance the sin that waits to ensnare us will not reoccur. As Jesus said:
It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ (Luke 24:47)
65 Repent and turn to God
Throughout the OT God called His people to repent, telling them that sin would bring about their destruction unless they turned away from their sins. Ezekiel writes:
Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign LORD. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! (Ezekiel 18:30)
As the NT opens we find John the Baptist carrying this same message of repentance. Matthew records him saying:
Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. (Matthew 3:2)
Jesus and the disciples repeated the message. Mark records:
So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. (Mark 6:12)
Sin is the act of turning away from God, and The Bible teaches it is this that will eventually destroy us. God has revealed we each hold personal, individual responsibility for our sin in an eternal sense. Jesus unveiled the eternal consequences sin brings for each person. He unambiguously taught that we will perish unless we repent and turn to God. He is not saying that those who sin will immediately drop dead, He is pointing out the eternal consequences of holding on to rebellion against God. As Luke records Jesus’ words:
And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. (Luke 13:3b, 5b)
The biblical word for repentance in the original Greek is metanoia, which means we are going in the wrong direction, we need to turn right around and head in God’s direction. We all need the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live holy lives that are pleasing to God. The Holy Spirit cannot indwell a person who is not prepared to turn away from their past life by first recognising their own sinful nature and then determining to allow God’s Spirit to take over their being and turn them towards their Creator. As Paul explains:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Gal 5:24-25)
Living in a fallen world has inevitable consequences for everyone. We were all born with bodies that are mortal and will die, and we are surrounded by people who, like ourselves, are less than perfect, but God allows the trials of this mortal life to test and purify believers. Paul told the Romans:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.(Romans 5:3-4)
Peter likens the trials God allows believers to endure to the purifying of gold.
This process is called testing, and it is through this testing that the impurities in the metal are either skimmed off or burned away (Proverbs 17:3), leaving the rich beauty of the pure gold to shine through.
…..and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God’s power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time. Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:4-7)
Both Peter and Paul remind us that a Christian must walk through this vale of sorrows with an eternal perspective. Although pain, suffering and death accompany us on the way, we are destined for glory when we are in Christ.
Genesis relates the story of Joseph, who had endured many trials, but nevertheless understood God’s greater plan. Like most people (even those who know and trust God), Joseph showed his human nature when he indulged himself by taking a small revenge and playing games with his brothers before revealing his true identity to them. Eventually, he assured his brothers, who had sold him into slavery, that:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. (Genesis 50:20)
Our Father is able to engineer the negative things that happen in this life to produce positive results. Although there is no doubt God would prefer His creation was not marred by sin, He is able to use the evil sin has produced to help us grow into better people and bring about a greater good.
However, God has revealed His intention is to restore His creation to its original perfection. Death, suffering, pain and decay became an intrinsic part of the fabric of this world when Adam and Eve sinned – God intends to remake the very fabric of His creation – but first He must remake the people who will inhabit it. To do this He has given us one Saviour and one Way. Peter explained this to the Jewish crowds who surrounded him after he healed a crippled man. He said:
Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and He will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. For He must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through His holy prophets. (Act 3:19-21)
At present God is patiently allowing time to flow on so that many more people have the opportunity to repent. But He will not allow evil to continue forever.
As mentioned earlier, Peter assures us that:
The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9)
Jesus is creating a whole new order of beings, those who are born again (John 3:3). These people will be prepared to let go of this world: they will move on into the new creation, having understood that the things of this world were destined to pass away. To put God’s Eternal Spirit into people who have not been born again would serve no purpose, the old person would destroy the new. It is only through repentance and rebirth that we can be made ready for God’s Eternal Spirit. Jesus explained this through a parable.
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved. (Mat 9:17)
Jesus paid the price for our sins and anyone who chooses can turn to Him if they are prepared to accept that sin is a reality in their lives that needs to be dealt with. Paul explains:
Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin. (Romans 4:7-8)
Jesus did not ask Christians to spend their lives identifying the sins of others. He was very clear that it is our own sin we should be dealing with.
For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
Immediately after this speech Jesus reminded His listeners that they should also be aware that not everyone will receive His message. Many people will cling to their sinful natures and the gospel will be rejected. He told His listeners that although we should not judge we need to exercise discernment.
Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you. (Matthew 7:6)
It is clear that not everyone will accept God’s truth concerning sin. Many people have violently opposed God’s message and this violence is often accompanied by virulent denials of the pearls of wisdom Christ came to impart.
In our post-Christian world we find the sharing of the gospel message more often meets with rejection than acceptance. As our culture moves further and further away from its Christian roots the moral guidelines that have underpinned our culture are being eroded and people are being given less opportunities to hear the gospel. But we know that this “falling away” from the Christian base of western culture is also one of the predicted signs of the end of days (2 Thes 2:3).
The church is also being tested. As the concept of a state religion is abandoned, genuine faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour is not something our new, progressive culture generally admires. Faith is now more likely to be a personal, conscious decision than it was in the 20th century. Many believers see this as a good thing, insisting the church does not need “pew sitters.”
66 Jesus was particularly critical of hypocrites
The Greek word that is translated into English as “hypocrite” means an actor. God is not impressed by people who “act” in a pious fashion. Jesus taught that people who act in a “religious” manner, with the intention of impressing others around them, are especially abhorrent to God (Mat 6:1-4, 7:5, Luke 11:39-52, 13:15). Being “religious” is not what God wants from His children, He wants us to love Him and to love others as He loves them, this is the true badge of a godly church. God certainly wants people to be holy and live according to His guidelines; it is as we do this that we grow into our own ultimate potential. However, being “holy” does not mean acting in a pious fashion, while scorning the sinful nature of others (Luke 18:10-14). Being “holy” means we understand that everyone, including ourselves, is subject to the ungodly impulses of our sinful natures, and then admitting that we need our loving Lord to help us keep our eyes on God and His Way.
In the end it was the religious leaders who worked so hard to have Jesus crucified. When the Chief Priest and his retinue led the people to demand the death of the Jewish Messiah (John 19:6) and implored Pilate to pronounce a death sentence, they could not actually carry out the execution themselves (John 18:31), had they done so the Jews would have stoned Jesus to death. They were so far from the Truth they failed to realise that their actions would cause a number of OT prophesies to be fulfilled when the Roman soldiers crucified their Creator on a wooden cross (Is 53:5, Ps 22:14-18, Zec 12:10, Num 21:7-9, John 3:14-15).
Far from recognising and announcing the long awaited Messiah, the religious leaders used their positions to hold on to privilege and power. Jesus was threatening their power base and although they claimed to represent God on Earth, they did not recognise Him when He was in their midst. This should stand as a constant reminder to all Christians. God is not interested in our church organisations or outward demonstrations of piety, He is looking into our hearts and minds. As we relate to God through His Holy Spirit, we cannot avoid the deep truth that our human natures are actually sin natures. We want our own way rather than God’s Way and often our very best efforts in humanitarian endeavours have selfish motives.
67 Dealing with the results of sin
The well known Christian message is that Jesus died as a sacrifice to make atonement for our sins (1 John 2:2). The concept of sin in today’s world is a watershed in an individual’s worldview. Those who believe sin is a reality have often accepted Jesus’ teachings, but even if we reject the gospel the unavoidable fact is that the results of sin are vividly evident in the world around us, and if we are honest, within our own hearts.
A question most people must face at some time is, “How do we deal with the results of sin?” Modern western culture is divided on how society should judge antisocial behaviour. While some say offenders have no choice (they are hard wired from birth to do the things they do) and should not suffer the consequences of their behaviour, some shock jock enthusiasts insist that if there really is a God, He should send some sort of destructive ray from His heavenly abode to zap out of existence any person considered unworthy to live in their version of a civilised society.
Anyone who has worked with criminal offenders has usually discovered that many of the people who commit crimes have had terrible lives, often suffering abuse and violence at the hands of the very people who should have shown them just what love is. It is not surprising, when hearing the stories of these unfortunate victims of dysfunctional families, that they learn antisocial behaviour from the early abuse they suffer. Despite this, simply dismissing criminal behaviour will not deal with the problems it creates, nor enable the perpetrators to discover their own best potential. Insisting offenders are hard wired for antisocial behaviour does not help them to find a more peaceful way of living and the nature/nurture question has not been categorically resolved. Offenders need to understand the consequences of their actions and be given strategies to change their destructive ways – sin must be seen as the destructive force it actually is.
Where justice is not properly pursued the innocent can suffer appallingly. We see evidence of this reality all over the world where judicial systems fail to protect women because penalties for rape are inadequate and the police do not seriously pursue offenders (see). Justice is necessary to ensure everyone has a chance to live in peace. In most cultures punishment is designed as a deterrent and should be seen to fit the crime. This notion of fairness is common in most societies; people who commit crimes should be seen to pay some sort of compensation so that they understand the effect their behaviour has had on their victim or the society in which they live. For the common good, some offenders definitely need to be incarcerated until they are able to live without causing harm to others, but most western societies would agree that prisons should not be breeding places for even worse behaviour, they should be institutions that help people discover another way of living, even though some may choose not to change their behaviour.
From a biblical perspective, God has shown us that people can change and He is immensely patient with people. He gives them ample opportunities to repent during this life – to turn away from their wicked and destructive paths and live new lives in Him. How we live in this life has a direct influence on our eternal destinies and in the end we will all stand before God for judgement (Romans 2:3).
68 Christianity is a religion based on forgiveness
Most western legal systems were built on the notion of universal justice and the idea that once a person faces the court, s/he is innocent until proven guilty. Both of these concepts can be found in the Old and New Testaments. Throughout The Bible we find instructions outlining the principle that those who commit serious crimes should expect to pay a price that fits the crime. However, in interpersonal relationships the NT way is to forgive those we perceive as wronging us. Jesus was quite explicit in this teaching, He said:
….. if your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sin against you seven times in one day, and seven times he turns to you saying, I repent; then forgive him. (Luke 17:3-4)
It is because of God’s forgiveness towards us, and the fact that we now have an entirely new life in Him, that Christians are expected to extend forgiveness to others. Jesus clearly taught this principle:
Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:35-37)
There is no place in the Christian’s life for personal revenge. If someone has wronged us or one of our loved ones, we can forgive them, even if their crimes mean they are committed to a term of imprisonment (see). Forgiveness is something that not only releases the offender into God’s hands, but also the victims and their families are less likely to be consumed by the hate a lack of forgiveness can bring, and they may even use the pain and grief produced by the crime to help others (see) .
In OT times the Jewish people were instructed to love their neighbours and not to seek revenge (Lev 19:18) and Jesus re-emphasised this precept as a central core of His Way. The Bible teaches that the consequences of evil will ultimately be met by those who continue to practice iniquity (Deut 32:34, 35), if not by the law or natural consequences in this life, then ultimately from the hand of God, who alone is destined to avenge the injustices of humanity. It is not our place to avenge wrongdoing. Certainly we must bring people to justice and their crimes may attract a punishment, but this punishment is from the state, we have not mandate to become God’s avengers. The NT teachings are very clearly about restorative justice, recognising that wrongdoers can choose to change their ways by repenting and it is clear that Jesus recognised that repentance may need to be an ongoing choice for some people.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul instructed the people to put aside enmity and replace it with kindness and forgiveness. He wrote:
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Eph 4:31-32)
This is not a “natural” response to another person who has harmed us in some way. This way of dealing with wrongs that are perpetrated against us takes an act of will. Jesus has instructed His followers to make that act of will, and forgiveness and empathy are now considered an admirable part of modern, western cultures. It is my contention that this is the case because Christian ethics have influenced western cultures for thousands of years. Not all cultures in the world today see forgiveness as admirable; some see it as a sign of weakness and are more inclined to promote revenge. In some cultures revenge killings can go on for generations, destroying communities and nations. However, sin cannot be dealt with by simply promoting Christian values, despite the fact that these values can transform cultures, sin must be acknowledged individually and dealt with conclusively.
69 Jesus also came to destroy the works of the devil
The Bible teaches that sinners are actually “of the devil.” John makes this clear when he writes:
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)
Satan’s vicious work on Earth began when he deceived Adam and Eve and he has continued throughout time to attempt to thwart the purposes of God. God the Father is in the process of creating an eternal family through His Son, and Satan is bent on destroying that family. If we are not committed to God’s Way we are subject to Satan’s influence and will be condemned along with him.
Christians can also be the subject of Satan’s deception. In one of his letters Peter advises:
Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. (1 Peter 5:7-9)
The writer to the Hebrews gave us further insight when he proclaimed:
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could He die, and only by dying could He break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could He set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. (Hebews 2:14-15)
When Satan deceived Adam and Eve they rejected God, followed Satan’s advice and brought sin, suffering and death into the world (Rom 5:12). Because of this Satan had the power of death (Heb 2:14), but Jesus took away that power through His sacrifice on the cross and triumphal resurrection. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who now holds the keys to Hades and death (Rev 1:18) and He is working to bring an end to death forever (Rev 20:14).
The Bible declares we are of the devil when we follow his ways rather than God’s ways. Even though many people today would find this concept either highly amusing or offensive it is the truth from God’s perspective. When Peter tried to prevent Him from going to the cross, Jesus told Peter he was inspired by Satan. Matthew records:
From then on Jesus began to tell His disciples plainly that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem, and that He would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day He would be raised from the dead.
But Peter took Him aside and began to reprimand Him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to You!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from Me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to Me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Matthew 16:21-23)
Peter thought he was protecting Jesus, but the Lord knew the Father’s plan for humanity and He had a greater purpose in mind that Peter could not see at the time. When we do what seems right in our own eyes, as Peter did, often we are actually falling into Satan’s snares. We think we are “doing our own thing,” or the right thing, following our own paths and determining our own destinies, and to some extent we are. However, our eternal destinies are actually either one of two possibilities, we will live eternally with God or we will perish with Satan (John 3:16, Rev 20:10-14).
The Good News is that even though Satan has an army of fallen angels to assist him in keeping people from God’s family, Jesus came to destroy his work. At present God is holding back the powers of evil that are active in the world. There will, however, be a time when the Holy Spirit no longer restrains evil (2 Thes 2:7) and the current time of grace will come to an end. Although the modern world views him as a mythological character, The Bible teaches that Satan is a powerful entity who is at war with his Creator. Revelation reveals:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. (Rev 12:7-8)
Satan is mentioned from the beginning of The Bible to the very end. He is called the serpent when he first makes his appearance in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1) and the primeval, or ancient serpent at the very end (Rev 20:2). Throughout The Bible he is also referred to as Lucifer, the devil, Beelzebul, Belial and the dragon. Peter calls him our adversary, he writes:
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)
The understanding that Satan is an adversary is illustrated by the two most common of his names. Satan literally means “adversary,” it comes from the Hebrew verb שׂטן, sāṭan, which means “to lie in wait” (as an adversary); thus the Greek words Σατᾶν (Satán) and Σατανᾶς (Satanás) are derived from it and also mean “adversary.” The Greek word for devil διάβολος (diábolos) also means “adversary” or “accuser.” Although Satan seems to spend a great deal of time accusing the brethren (Job 1 and 2, Zech 3:1), Christians have a strong and proven weapon to use against him – faith – and Jesus promises to support and uphold believers in their struggles against the adversary.
It is generally accepted that Satan is a fallen angel but The Bible does not actually say this explicitly. Some commentators believe Ezekiel 28:13-14 refers to Satan when it mentions a beautiful, guardian cherub who was given musical instruments and had direct access to God. We usually assume cherubs are some kind of angel and they appear often in The Bible as representatives of God’s presence. The Ezekiel passage goes on to say that although this cherub was created as a perfect being, iniquity was found in him (Ezekiel 28:15), which adds strength to the contention that God’s creation was originally perfect.
Revelation 12 informs us that Satan was cast out of heaven and Jesus also refers to Satan “falling from heaven” (Luke 10:18). No doubt this occurred after Satan’s rebellion, but the timing of this event is not clearly stated. Along these lines Peter writes that there are angels who have sinned against God (2 Peter 2:4) and John adds that the devil has sinned from the beginning (1 John 3:8). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that Satan can come to us as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14); this is one of the reasons we need discernment and God’s guidance when dealing with the supernatural.
As Satan’s major activities appear to be attempting to counterfeit and thwart God’s works, he must have incredible self assurance, arrogance and pride to presume to stand against the Creator, but he has never resiled from this path, and it seems he has become almost the antithesis of all that is good and wholesome. He takes the good things God created and turns them into trashy, shallow pastimes. He seeks to inspire hate and lust rather than love, he is the father of lies rather than truth and his pride is the direct opposite of the humility we need in order to recognise we are the creatures and not the Creator.
As Christians we know two important truths, Satan has no power over the saved (1John 4:4), and he never was nor ever will be equal to God. Satan is a created being who rebelled against his Creator and he will ultimately be completely vanquished (Rev 12 & 20). When people turn away from God Satan is always there to fill the gap. In a very real sense Satan and his minions (and God’s holy angels) are the only extra terrestrial beings that have ever visited the Earth. While modern scientists waste billions of dollars looking for extra terrestrial life (as children on the planet die from hunger and disease), many are totally blind to that life when it is already here amongst us.
Often, when sitting in the garden watching the magpies (our Australian version – Gymnorhina tibicen), I have observed them tilting their heads from side to side in obvious concentration, as they listen for prey underground. It wouldn’t matter how hard I concentrated, I could never detect grubs in the soil under our lawn, no matter how intently I listened. The magpie has an ability humans don’t possess, it can easily detect the presence of creatures that are totally indiscernible to humans. In just the same way those who are not attuned to the existence of supernatural entities are totally oblivious to their presence.
Once this extra sense is turned on a whole new world of reality is opened up, and this is only the beginning of the journey, as not all supernatural entities are benevolent. It took me a number of years to learn the importance of discernment, after I realised there was a world of spiritual beings surrounding me. Demons and angels are constantly present in our world, whether we are aware of them or not, but only Jesus has power over them (Mat 8:29; Mark 1:35, 39; 3:14-15; Luke 4:41; James 2:19). He alone can keep us from the evil one (John 17:15), as Satan and the fallen angels who accompany him are all created beings and are therefore subject to their Creator.
Most people assume Satan has immortality, but what God has created, He can also destroy. When attempting to understand Satan’s eternal destiny the following two passages from the OT may be worth examining. Some commentators believe these refer to Satan.
You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendour. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries; so I brought fire out from your midst; it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes on the Earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever. (Ezekiel 28:14-19)
I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:11-14)
There is a possibility that Satan and the fallen angels may suffer for a time and then be completely annihilated. For a creature that has enjoyed great power, who views himself as immortal, the death sentence would be a devastating punishment. But God is perfectly just, and perfect justice may be served by Satan experiencing the full portion of the pain he has caused, his life may be “prolonged for a season and a time” so that he will experience torment in the Lake of Fire (Mat 25:41) before he forfeits his life at the final punishment, capital punishment.
Throughout world history Satan has been the ruler of the dark powers who work to deceive and lead people astray. Paul warns the followers of Jesus to be ready for the battle. He writes:
Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (Eph 6:11-13)
In The Bible we find Satan continually endeavouring to tempt people to reject God’s guidance and Word. He tempted Adam and Eve and they listened to His lies and doubted God’s Word, with devastating consequences. When he tried to tempt Jesus by misrepresenting God’s Word, Satan was answered with Scripture.
Jesus patently demonstrated His respect for the power and authority of God’s Word by addressing Satan with quotes from the scriptures. Matthew records:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights He fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But Jesus told Him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Then the devil took Him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If You are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order His angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.'”
Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.”
Next the devil took Him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to You,” he said, “if You will kneel down and worship me.”
“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only Him.” Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. (Mat 4:1-11)
Our modern society refuses to even acknowledge Satan’s existence. He is therefore able to work powerfully throughout the world deceiving and at times even indwelling people. Luke tells us:
Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. (Luke 22:3-4)
Since the resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Holy Spirit has been holding back the powers of evil, but in the last days, when God withdraws the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, there will be a time of great chaos and turmoil in the world. Those who have opposed Jesus’ teachings will finally have their way; they will have a world without “God botherers” bothering them. Paul explains:
The secret power of evil is already working in the world now. But there is One who is stopping that secret power of evil. And He will continue to stop it until He is taken out of the way. (2 Thes 2:7)
God’s ultimate plan is to bring Satan’s influence over the world to an end, but at this present time He appears to be allowing Satan to tempt and oppose humankind so that the true nature of people’s hearts and minds may be tested. Before the Father determines the time is right for this present world to be brought to an end and Satan’s activities are completely terminated, there will be a short period when the Restrainer is removed and Satan’s activities will be at their most powerful. Before we examine the Biblical teaching on the end times there is one other area to consider.
70 The intermediate state
The Bible’s teaching on the fate of believers between death and the resurrection can be difficult to fathom. Although believers are assured they will ultimately be with Christ in His kingdom, where He is preparing a place for them (John 14:2), opinions differ on the place of the believing dead. In theological circles, the time between the death of the physical body and the resurrection of a believer is called the intermediate state.
The concept of the tripartite nature of human beings is alluded to throughout the scriptures (1 Sam 1:15; Ecc 6:9), but Paul gives a more direct teaching on the subject when he writes to the Thessalonians:
…and the God of the peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be kept blameless in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ; (1Th 5:23)
While the writer to the Hebrews adds:
For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two–edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
Some believe that the spirit and soul of believers go to be with the Lord immediately after death and later, at the resurrection, they are reunited with their transformed, resurrected bodies. Others believe the soul “sleeps” until the resurrection, this idea is based on 1 Thessalonians 4:14, where Paul writes about those who “sleep in Jesus,” although this appears to contradict Jesus’ words when He assured the criminal who was crucified next to Him:
I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise. (Luke 23:43).
There are also those who believe heaven is not a physical place and claim we do not need physical bodies to be present there. This group suggests that disembodied saints are present as soul and spirit with the Lord in heaven until they are reunited with their bodies, which have been “sleeping” in the grave awaiting the resurrection. However, we do not know if angels have some form of physical bodies in the place we call heaven. They certainly appear with visible bodies when they interact with people throughout The Bible (Num 22:31; Judg 6:11ff; 13:3ff; 2 Sam 24:16; 1 Chron 21:15-30; Zech 1:9ff; Mat 28:2-7; Luke 1:11-20; Luke 1:19-38; Luke 2:9-14; Acts 5:19). We do know that God is Spirit (John 4:24), but we also know that Jesus took His resurrected body with Him to heaven (Acts 1:9–11); therefore He, at least, probably has a physical body in the heavenly dimension.
To resolve the issue of the two apparently contradictory scripture passages related to the intermediate state, it seems quite reasonable to speculate that, as God is not bound by time and space, Jesus could take believers to be with Him “today,” while earthly time moves on thousands of years in a Rip van Winkle fashion. After death, believers may step out of time and then back into time for the first resurrection before the Rapture. We could all die and be immediately resurrected and raptured on the same “day,” at the same “time,” even though from our earthly perspectives our deaths could be hundreds, if not thousands of years apart. For God to explain this concept to a world where the idea of time as a dimension had not yet been developed, He may have used the word “sleep” as a metaphor for stepping outside of our current state of conscious existence into timeless reality.
This understanding of the intermediate state lasting no more than a blink of an eye for everyone throughout history could also apply to unbelievers. The place of the unbelieving dead may not be within time as we understand it, but could also be beyond time. Unbelievers may be resurrected immediately after they die and the concept of a place of the dead (where the deceased are held until their resurrection) may be just that, a concept, which was useful until the deeper reality of life after death could be more fully explained after Jesus’ resurrection. Whatever may prove to be the case we will all be resurrected to stand before our Creator when Jesus returns.
For both the believer and the unbeliever, the state of being that exists between death and the resurrection is a temporary state. Beyond this present Church Age, which is the period of time when God is bringing in the harvest of souls for His Eternal Kingdom (Mat 9:37, 38; 13:30, 39; Mark 4:27; Luke 10:2 John 4:35), is an eternal destiny that The Bible describes in prophecy and Jesus refers to as eternal life (John 3:16). For those who believe the gospel and consequently accept God’s gift of salvation, that destiny is filled with hope and love. However, the eternal destiny for those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ is an area that every unbeliever should seriously examine. Jesus explained that those who do not receive the gift of eternal life will inevitably perish (John 3:16).
Every person alive owes it to themselves and their loved ones to be well informed about what Jesus Christ had to say concerning life beyond our present state of existence. Jesus is the only person who has made the claims He makes about His authority to inform us of this vital aspect of our existence. He is also the only person who has been to the grave and returned to life, announcing He had made a Way for His followers to do the same. The issue is not which version of His story we choose to believe, because there is only one that has God’s stamp of approval, and that is The Bible’s version. The issue is about the person Himself, we can either accept that Jesus was who He said He was, God incarnate, or we can reject Him and His gifts of salvation and eternal life.
48 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. (1662 – 1714), e-Sword edition.
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