Jesus the Jewish Messiah: Saviour of the World

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.
Moses wrote:

“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.

nativity1Jesus’ 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.

crucifixionAfter 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?

tsunamiSome 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

throneJesus 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)

Peter adds:

…….. 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

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

jesus preachingDuring 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

people in sunGod 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

Group-HugJesus 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.

Emperor Julian

Emperor Julian

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

wolfThe 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?

HopeA 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.

GodsAngelsJesus told the disciples:

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.

©Justinen Creative: Licensed from

©Justinen Creative: Licensed from

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.

Bible Reading GroupWe 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.

Steins depiction of the Tabernacle

Steins depiction of the Tabernacle

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).

Solomon's Temple

Solomon’s Temple

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.

serviceGod 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.

Sodom and GomBefore 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.

genocideSodom 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

jesuss-hugThroughout 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.

refining goldThis 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)

Joseph and his brothersOur 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.

©Lars Justinen: Licensed from

©Lars Justinen: Licensed from

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.

pearlIn 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. born of godThis 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.

barristers-outside-courtWhere 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

satanThe 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.

magpieOften, 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.

temptationJesus 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.

The Revelation

Contents of this chapter

72 Signs of the Times
73 An angel gave John the Revelation
74 The Second Coming
75 The Great Tribulation
76 What is the Rapture?
77 Three views of the Rapture
78 Pre-tribulation Rapture
79 Mid-tribulation Rapture
80 Post-tribulation Rapture
81 How do the two testaments relate?
82 Dispensationalism
83 When was Revelation written?
84 The Millennium
85 The Throne of David and the sacrifices
86 Many areas of agreement
87 A personal perspective
88 John’s vision concerning the history of the world
89 Idealism
90 Preterism
91 Historicism
92 Daniel’s 70 weeks
93 Have the Jews been written out of the end times story?
94 What about the Rapture?
95 Anyone with ears to hear should listen
96 Why would God allow a Great Tribulation?
97 Twenty-One terrible Judgments
98 Timeless imagery or historical chronology?
99 The first resurrection and the Millennium

 71 The Revelation

Three of the four gospels include a record of Jesus telling his disciples that heaven and Earth will pass away (Mat 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). Throughout history many writers have referred to the period immediately before this final, cataclysmic end as the end times or the last days. The OT has many books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Nahum, Zechariah and Malachi), which include references to the “last days,” while the NT Greek language makes a distinction between the last day and the last days. The “last days” is generally accepted as the period of time leading up to the last day, when evil will finally be destroyed. Many believe this period began with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, while others believe it began when Israel became a nation in 1948. Whatever one might think about the time-frame of the biblical last days, the church has eagerly anticipated the return of Christ since His ascension, which will be followed by the end of this present world and the creation of the new heaven and the new Earth.

The NT looks forward to a time when all things will be put under the reign and rule of God, through the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the coming Kingdom. Those who are part of this Kingdom will be immortal beings, with bodies like Jesus’ risen body; they will be those who have been born again (John 3:3) and have put on immortality (1Cor 15:53). This is not a kingdom of disembodied souls. The risen Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning of this new, eternal creation (1 Cor 15:20), but before it can be manifested the old one must pass away.

sower 3In Matthew’s gospel (Mat 13:24-30), Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who plants good grain seed in a field and an enemy who comes along and oversows bad seed into the same field. The farmer instructs his workers to let the good and bad seed grow together because they would disturb the good seed by weeding out the bad. At harvest time, when all the plants have grown to maturity, they can sort the bad from the good and destroy the bad.

The disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable for them, so He told them that the field is the world and the seed represents the peoples of the world; the good seed was sown by Him and the bad seed by Satan. He goes on to explain that the harvest is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels who will sort out the people at the end of time. There will be those who have chosen not to become part of God’s eternal kingdom, and others, who have recognised the Creator as their Lord and Saviour. Just as the weeds are sorted out and cast into the fire, so it will be at the end of the world (Mat 13:39-40). The farmer does not keep the uprooted weeds, they are destroyed by fire, as the angels prepare the Earth for the reign and rule of the Creator.

The Bible is filled with passages concerning the end of this present world. Our Father wants us to take His Word seriously, this world will pass away. However, the prophecies concerning the last days and end times (particularly the Revelation of John the Apostle) can appear quite incomprehensible when first approached. Thankfully, Christians also “stand on the shoulders of giants.” I am deeply thankful that living in this time and space means I have access to the most amazing technology, as well as the wisdom and spiritual insight of thousands of members of the Body of Christ, to help me sort through what could potentially be a quagmire of interpretations of end times prophecies. With all this help I feel I can attempt a very basic outline on how to approach this topic.

Throughout the NT the physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ to Earth is closely associated with the end times. Just like people today, Jesus’ followers wanted to know when the end times would be. Like us, they wanted to know how long God will allow evil to persist. The disciples asked Jesus directly for the signs they should be looking for that would herald the coming of the end times and His return. Matthew tells us:

Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal Your return and the end of the world? ” (Matthew 24:3)

Jesus gave the disciples a summary of things they should look for to signal the approach of the end times. Some people believe Jesus was talking about the nation of Israel and the coming destruction of the temple that occurred in 70AD, which would be the end of the world His disciples knew at that time. However, like the great majority of believers in the church today, I think He was actually referring to a literal end of this physical world, which will be closely preceded by His Second Coming.

72 Signs of the Times

The issue of whether the Lord Jesus Christ will return to Earth is not really debated in the church. The great majority of biblical Christians eagerly await the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the events preceding His Second Coming are extremely contentious. There are a number of events mentioned throughout scripture that are referred to as the signs of the approach of the end of the world, or the “Signs of the Times.” Throughout church history Christians have looked for these signs and many have made attempts at identifying the antichrist mentioned by John (1 John). Jesus calls these signs “the beginning of sorrows” (Mat 24:8) and they are found in both Old and New Testaments. Some of these signs include:

Old Testament
• Israel will be restored as a political state (Deuteronomy 30:3-5; Jeremiah 29:14, 30:3; Ezekiel 36:24-38, 39:29 ; Joel 2; Amos 9:14-15).
• Good will be called evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20).
• The mountains will be made low and the valleys made high (Isaiah 40:4).
• The Lord will reveal His glory and everyone will see it (Isaiah 40:5).
• Israel will be prosperous and become the envy of her neighbours, who will attack her, but God will protect her (Ezekiel 38).
• Many will travel to and fro (Daniel 12:4).
• Knowledge will increase (Daniel 12:4)
• The Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17).
• The sun will be darkened and the moon will become as blood (Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20, Revelation 6:12).

New Testament
• There will be false Messiahs, prophets and religious leaders who will deceive many people with lying signs and wonders (Matthew 24:5, 9; Luke 21:8; Mark 13:22).
• There will be numerous wars and rumours of wars, with international instability (Matthew 24:6-7 and Luke 21:9; Mark 13:7).
• There will be earthquakes, famines, pandemics, signs from heaven and horrific sights on Earth (Matthew 24:7: Luke 21:11; Mark 13:8).
• The gospel will be published and proclaimed throughout the entire world (Matthew 24:14, Mark 13:10; Revelation 14:6-7).
• Christians will be persecuted and hated by their own family members, religious leaders, worldly rulers and almost everyone who is not a follower of Jesus (Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12-16; Mark 13:9-13).
• Hate will be far more common than selfless, godly love (Matthew 24:10, 12).
• Wickedness, murder and crime will increase (Matthew 24:12).
• God will pour out His Spirit on gentiles as well as Jews and people will prophesy, see visions and have prophetic dreams (Acts 2:17).
• People will turn away from the God of The Bible (2 Thes 2:3).
• The “man of lawlessness,” the one who brings doom and destruction, will be revealed (2 Thes 2:3).
• Many people will leave Christianity, having been deluded by myths perpetrated by deceiving, seducing spirits (1Tim 4:1).
• Some false churches will insist on celibacy and restricted diets, which are not teachings from God (1Tim 4:3).
• Life will become very difficult (2 Tim 3:1).
• People will love themselves, money and pleasure rather than God (2 Tim 3:2, 4).
• People will be boastful and proud and scoff at authority and the idea of the God of The Bible (2 Tim 3:2; Jude 1:8).
• People will be ungrateful and no longer respect their parents (2 Tim 3:2).
• People will be unloving and unforgiving and prone to slander others (2 Tim 3:3).
• People will be cruel and undisciplined and hate what is good, rather than listening to God they will follow their own desires and impulses (2 Tim 3:3).
• People will act in “religious” ways but reject the only true God and His power to enable them to be truly godly (2 Tim 3:5).
• People will not recognise the truth but will prefer myths (2 Tim 4:3-4).
• People will reject the idea of a Creator and laugh at the idea of Jesus returning (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Jesus told His disciples not to worry about what they should do or say during this time of upheaval, because His Spirit would guide them and give them opportunities to share the gospel (Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7,11; Luke 21:9,13). He often instructed His followers to keep watch and stay alert for His return (Matthew 24:42; 25:13; Mark 13:9, 23, 33-37, Luke 21:35). He assured them:

….. when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:31)

He also said:

But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. (Mark 13:8b)

This is a powerful metaphor. It gives us a vivid picture of the final days of this present world’s history. Jesus is predicting the events outlined in the Revelation will occur after the commencement of these signs, which are the first of the “birth pains”. As with labour pains, there will be a gradual increase in intensity during the time of distress and suffering, as the new Kingdom is brought into existence. After the initial signs begin, the events will accelerate and become more and more difficult to ignore, as they lead up to the return of Christ.

73 An angel gave John the Revelation

Most of the information concerning the end times is contained in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God disclosed to John when an angel came to him (Rev 1:1) on the Isle of Patmos (Rev 1:9).

John on patmosThis is a book of frightening imagery. John records that the gloriously resurrected Lord Jesus Christ asked him to:

Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter. (Rev 1:19)

John faithfully recorded what he “hast seen” throughout chapter one. Chapters two and three of the book relate to the “things which are”; the state of the church at the time of writing. Then John was transported to heaven to see the things that would happen “hereafter”. The events that John recorded in the following chapters of the book of Revealtion have been viewed by most Christians throughout the church age as the prophetic outline of the final episode of this present world’s history.

Revelation begins with the declaration that God will bless those who read, those who listen and those who obey the prophecy (Rev 1:3). Despite this promised blessing, believers often avoid prophecy, and particularly the book of Revelation, because it is difficult to understand and there have been heated debates over the meaning of John’s vision and Jesus’ words concerning this present creation’s final days.

Revelation has been designated as apocryphal literature in some circles. The Online Etymology Dictionary describes the word apocrypha as:

secret, not approved for public reading,” from Greek apokryphos “hidden; obscure.” (see)

However, the first three verses of the Revelation reveal that this book should be neither secret, nor hidden or obscure. Not only are we blessed by reading, listening and obeying God’s Word in Revelation, but we also discover Jesus instructed John many times to make sure this message was available to the churches. There is no reason for us to avoid studying the Lord’s Revelation, we can read it in the same way we read the rest of The Bible, that is, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 2Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20).

In the very first word of the book we discover it is actually an apokalypsis, which means it is an “unveiling” or “revelation.”  As such, we need to study and seek to understand its message. It is the final message in God’s progressive revelation and a major part of the many passages of The Bible that carry God’s prophetic outline for the end of this world.

During the history of the church, a number of schools of thought have arisen, as individuals and groups attempt to create systematic doctrine based on the unfulfilled prophecies throughout The Bible. One important aspect that influences such doctrine is where one stands on the continuum of whether prophecy should be seen as totally allegorical (figurative/symbolic) at one extreme, or as a hyper-literal, chronological, prophetic progression at the other.

Although no doctrine is ever really frozen and unchanging, the varying schools of thought can generally be distinguished by attitudes and beliefs concerning The Second Coming (Acts 1:10-11), The Great Tribulation (Mat 24:21) and The Millennium (Rev 20:1-7).

74 The Second Coming

© Phil McKay/Licensed from

© Phil McKay/Licensed from

In the 260 chapters of the NT there are about 300 references to the return of Jesus to our beautiful planet. It is no doubt this fact that has led to the vast majority of biblical Christians eagerly anticipating the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to Earth at some future time. While a few groups have claimed the return happened when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost and we now live in the Kingdom Age, the Second Coming is still eagerly anticipated by the vast majority of Christians throughout the world and the various denominations.

A number of scriptural passages indicate that when He returns, Jesus will descend from the sky accompanied by His angels. Matthew records Jesus telling the disciples:

For the Son of Man will come with His angels in the glory of His Father and will reward all people. according to their deeds. (Mat 16:27)

Later Jesus explained:

And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the Earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)

…….And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64b)

These two verse seem to make it clear that the Second Coming is indeed yet to occur, as so far, there is no record of such an event taking place in history.

In the book of Acts Luke describes Jesus’ ascension and has recorded the words of the angels who were there:

….. He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see Him. As they strained to see Him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go!” (Act 1:9-11)

And John adds:

Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see Him—even those who pierced Him. And all the nations of the world will mourn for Him. Yes! Amen! (Rev 1:7)

However, before Jesus returns, The Bible also teaches there will be a time of great tribulation on the Earth.

75 The Great Tribulation

A time of tribulation was referred to over fifty times in the OT with a number of different terms being used. These include the “day of calamity,” “day of wrath,” “day of the Lord’s wrath,” “day of Jacob’s trouble,” “day of vengeance of our God,” “time of trouble” and the “day of the Lord.” All these terms were mentioned in relation to the nation of Israel and could be viewed as having been fulfilled, to some extent, throughout their history. Although some believers insist Israel has been written out of future prophetic evens, many Christians today would contend that Israel’s place in Bible history was not completely superseded by the church, and there is still a future episode for that nation yet to be played out. There are also aspects of many of these OT prophecies that appear to be awaiting fulfilment.

Both Peter and Paul referred to “the day of the Lord” and Paul warned against us believing “that day” had already come. He made it clear, “that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” (2 Thes 2:3) As with the OT references to that day, Peter and Paul both saw it as a day of judgment and great distress. The prophet Amos summed up the OT references to that day when he warned:

What sorrow awaits you who say, “If only the day of the LORD were here!” You have no idea what you are wishing for. That day will bring darkness, not light. (Amos 5:18)

And Peter informs us:

But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. (2 Peter 3:10)

The day of the Lord culminates in the judgment and destruction of this present world. Leading up to this destruction is a time of great tribulation. To understand how the time of trouble in the OT relates to the NT, particularly the Revelation of John, it is helpful to read Daniel’s prophecies concerning the end times. As a rule, most eschatologists seek to find a harmony between the prophecies of both the Old and New Testaments that refer to the end of days. Jesus referred to the book of Daniel (Mat 24:15) when discussing the end times, which could be seen as indicating to His disciples that Daniel is indeed the key to an understanding of end times prophecy. Just after mentioning Daniel, Jesus warned His followers about a Great Tribulation that would come to the world. He said:

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:21-22)

The Great Tribulation is also mentioned in the Revelation:

….. These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14b)

The book of Revelation is generally accepted as the place in which the worldwide disasters and upheavals that have been predicted for the end times are adumbrated. There have been a variety of systematic approaches to interpreting these prophesies and two particular areas are often debated, these are the place of the church and the role of national Israel during this time of universal catastrophes.

The four main schools of thought concerning the Great Tribulation and the end times are Preterism, Historicism, Idealism and Futurism.
Preterism views the scriptures that indicate end times prophecies will be fulfilled in the immediate future as an indication that in Matthew’s gospel Jesus was talking about tribulation for the Jews and that his prophecies and those found in Revelation were all fulfilled before 400 AD. Full preterists do not believe in a future, physical, Second Coming of Christ.

Historicism asserts that most of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, the gospels and Revelation describe the literal, earthly history of the Church Age, as it has been unfolding over the last 20 centuries. Historicists are often concerned with the struggle between what they consider to be the true church and the apostate church. This view was particularly prevalent during the Reformation. Today, historicists are generally amongst the Adventists. This approach does not restrict itself to any particular view of the Millennium, pre-, post- and amillennialists may all be historicists.

Idealism takes a spiritual or allegorical approach to prophecy and tends to view all the imagery of Revelation as non-literal symbolism, which illustrates the battle between the Kingdom of God and Satan. They understand this battle as being an ongoing struggle and consequently view the events described as relevant in all ages. They are neither past, present nor future, rather they illustrate larger principles and ideals in the battle between light and darkness. Some forms of Idealism do not believe in a future, physical, Second Coming of Christ.

Futurism maintains most of the prophecies found in Daniel, the gospels and Revelation will be fulfilled in the future with literal, real world, apocalyptic and global events. Futurists take a plain reading approach to prophecy and although they admit symbolism is used extensively, they stress that the chronology and participants can be seen as literal (eg the tribes of Israel in Rev 7 are actually Jewish converts). In this view there is no doubt that catastrophic, global events will be part of the Great Tribulation, which will herald the end of this present world.

Adherents of all these views are active in the church today, but perhaps the idealist and the futurist views are the most popular. The traditional Protestant and Catholic churches have tended towards the idealist view in the last few centuries (although the Catholic Church adds a few extra teachings (eg purgatory)); however, many who identify themselves as evangelical Christians, now favour the futurist view. Those who hold to the inerrancy of The Bible often subscribe to this view. As Dr Patrick Zukeran explains:

Futurists argue that a consistently literal or plain interpretation is to be applied in understanding the book of Revelation. Literal interpretation of The Bible means to explain the original sense, or meaning, of The Bible according to the normal customary usage of its language. This means applying the rules of grammar, staying consistent with the historical framework, and the context of the writing. Literal interpretation does not discount figurative or symbolic language. Futurists teach that prophecies using symbolic language are also to be normally interpreted according to the laws of language (see).

Thus Bible believing Christians, who hold to the inerrancy of The Bible, would accept the futurist approach as consistent with their attitude to the rest of the scriptures. It is perhaps for this reason that this position has become the most common view amongst what are commonly referred to as “fundamentalist” Christians.

The “ists” of the Christian faith can be quite confusing for the uninitiated. The terms often begin with a specific meaning and then change over time as new meanings are grafted on. American writer, Francis Schaeffer, explains the origin of the word fundamentalist and describes its consequent change in meaning over time. He writes that in the 1920s:

……Bible-believing Christians, under the leadership of such scholars as J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson, issued what they called The Fundamentals of the Faith. Dr. Machen and the other men never thought of making this an “ism.” They considered these things to be a true expression of the historic Christian faith and doctrine. They were the fundamental truths of the Christian faith-doctrine which was true to The Bible……

Soon, however, the word fundamentalist came into use. As used at first, it had nothing problematic in its use either in definition or in connotation.

As time passed, however, the term fundamentalist took on a connotation for many people which had no necessary relationship to its original meaning. It came to connote a form of pietism which shut Christian interest up to only a very limited view of spirituality. In this new connotation, many things having to do with the arts, culture, education, and social involvement were considered to be “unspiritual” and not a proper area of concern for the Christian. Spirituality had to do with a very narrow sphere of the Christian’s life, and all other things were considered to be suspect. Fundamentalism also, at times, became overly harsh and lacking in love, …..

Therefore, at a certain point in this country a new name was entered-evangelical. This was picked up largely from the British scene. In Britain during the twenties and thirties, evangelical largely meant what Machen and the others had stood for in this country-namely, Bible-believing Christianity as opposed to the inroads of various forms and degrees of liberal theology. By the mid-1940s the name evangelical had come into common use in the United States. It was especially used here with the connotation of being Bible-believing without shutting one’s self off from the full spectrum of life, and in trying to bring Christianity into effective contact with the current needs of society, government, and culture. It had a connotation of leading people to Christ as Savior, but then trying to be salt and light in the culture.(49)

In some senses both these terms have become so confused it could almost be argued they no longer have any real meaning. Schaeffer argues that many who would call themselves “evangelical” have abandoned the original evangelical stand of upholding the inerrancy and authority of The Bible, and the term can now mean a range of views concerning The Bible. Apart from fundamentalists and evangelicals there are also the literalists. Unfortunately, this term can also mean different things to different people. However, J. P. Lange states:

The literalist (so called) is not one who denies that figurative language, that symbols, are used in prophecy, nor does he deny that great spiritual truths are set forth therein; his position is, simply, that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted (i.e., according to the received laws of language) as any other utterances are interpreted – that which is manifestly figurative being so regarded.(50)

How one views The Bible has a large influence on how one interprets prophecy. Most futurists tend to be literalists and believe that the Great Tribulation will last seven literal years, a timeframe which has been calculated from verses in Daniel and Revelation (Dan 7:25-26, 9:24-27, 12:7, Rev 11, 12:5-6, 12:14, 13:5-7). This seven year period is understood to be the last seven years of “seventy sets of seven” (70 sevens of years or 70 weeks of years), or 490 years, which are introduced in Daniel 9:24. In Daniel 9:25 and 26, the angel Gabriel tells Daniel that the Anointed One, the Messiah, will be “cut off” after “seven sevens and sixty-two sevens” (a total of 69 x 7 or 483 years), beginning with a decree to rebuild Jerusalem.

Just such a decree was given in an edict by Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (see the book of Nehemiah for details of this episode). According to a number of eschatologists, this was the exact period of time from Artaxerxes’ edict to rebuild Jerusalem, to the time when the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. As Sir Robert Anderson writes:

These seventy weeks represent seventy times seven prophetic years of 360 days, to be reckoned from the issuing of an edict for the rebuilding of the city – “the street and rampart,” of Jerusalem.

The edict in question was the decree issued by Artaxerxes Longitmanus in the twentieth year of his reign, authorizing Nehemiah to rebuild the fortifications of Jerusalem.

The date of Artaxerxes’s reign can be definitely ascertained – not from elaborate disquisitions by biblical commentators and prophetic writers, but by the united voice of secular historians and chronologers.

The statement of St. Luke is explicit and unequivocal, that our Lord’s public ministry began in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. It is equally clear that it began shortly before the Passover, The date of it can thus be fixed as between August A.D. 28 and April A.D. 29. The Passover of the crucifixion therefore was in A.D. 32, when Christ was betrayed on the night of the Paschal Supper, and put to death on the day of the Paschal Feast.

If then the foregoing conclusions be well founded we should expect to find that the period intervening between the edict of Artaxerxes and the Passion was 483 prophetic years. And accuracy as absolute as the nature of the case permits is no more than men are here entitled to demand. There can be no loose reckoning in a Divine chronology; and if God has deigned to mark on human calendars the fulfillment of His purposes as foretold in prophecy, the strictest scrutiny shall fail to detect miscalculation or mistake.(51)

Those who accept this idea also believe that the last “week” of Daniel’s 70 weeks (the last set of seven years) is yet to be completed. This doctrine holds that after the Messiah was crucified, the 70 weeks were cut into by the Church Age, leaving the final, future seven-year period Gabriel introduced in Daniel 9:27 to be fulfilled. These yet to be completed seven years are believed by most futurists to be the coming tribulation period.

A large portion of those who believe Daniel’s 70th week is yet to happen also believe the Great Tribulation will begin after the Church Age, which they perceive as a hiatus that draws to a close when the church is raptured. For these believers the seven year tribulation period separates this first event, which is a secret Rapture (1Thes 4:15-17), when Jesus comes for His saints who meet Him in the air, from the Second Coming, when Jesus physically returns to Earth with His saints (Rev 19:14).

76 What is the Rapture?

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul told the early church :

We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet Him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thes 4:15-17)

Art by Pat Marvenko Smith ©1982/1992, 2005 -

Art by Pat Marvenko Smith ©1982/1992, 2005 –

The Rapture is the “catching up” in the clouds Paul mentions here. The first difficulty we meet when looking at this passage is its timing in relation to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Although some rather confused teachings see this passage as referring to the resurrection of Christ and the saints who rose from their graves at that time (Mat 27:52-53), this idea can be easily dismissed as it is not logical. Paul is talking about a future event and the resurrection most certainly occurred before he wrote to the Thessalonians. Some preterists believe this passage merely refers to the death of individuals. They suggest that when believers leave their mortal bodies behind they put on immortality. In other word, they see this verse as telling us believers are translated, or changed at death and caught up to be with the Lord. There is a great deal of contorting the scriptures to make this understanding viable. However, the Greek word ἅμα, which means “together with“, cannot be ignored. The verse clearly states that the dead will rise first and the living will join them; at some future time they will all be together to meet the Lord in the air. These are not individual instances of a catching away, it is a group who together meet the Lord in the air..

This verse is very easy to understand when simply taken as it is written. Therefore, the great majority of Bible believing Christians look forward to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in the future, at which time they believe He will catch away the saints from the Earth. The main area of discussion surrounds the timing of the Rapture, and there are three main views concerning the point at which the saints are raptured in the unfolding of end-time events.

77 Three Views of the Rapture

The three main approaches to the Rapture are:

• The Pre-tribulation Rapture, which has the catching away happening sometime prior to the beginning of the seven year Great Tribulation period. In this scenario it is most often accepted that the seven year period begins with the signing of a peace pact between Israel and the antichrist.
• The Mid-tribulation Rapture, which holds that the catching away occurs three and a half years into the seven year period. This position is closely linked to the pre-wrath Rapture. Those who hold this position usually believe the seven year period is the tribulation, but that the Great Tribulation begins half way through and lasts for the final 3 ½ years.
• The Post-tribulation Rapture, which sees the catching away happening at the end of (or very shortly after) the Great Tribulation. This position holds that the Rapture is inextricably linked to the resurrection of the righteous dead and the Second Coming of Christ.

78 Pre-tribulation Rapture

Those who believe the church will be raptured, or taken out of the Earth before the Great Tribulation, which they understand as the penultimate outpouring of God’s wrath upon sin, cite the scripture:

….. wait for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivereth us from the wrath to come. (1Th 1:10)

Another scripture quoted by pre-tribulationists is:

Because you have obeyed my command to endure, I will keep you safe during the time of testing which is coming to the whole world to test those living on Earth. (Rev 3:10)

In these verses believers are assured Jesus will keep them safe “during the time of testing.”

Those who subscribe to this understanding of prophecy also refer to the examples of Lot and Noah and their respective families, pointing out that these godly people were removed from the devastation during the past events of God’s judgement on the Earth. In both these judgments, the people of God were taken out and kept safe from the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the Great Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

79 Mid-tribulation Rapture

Those who subscribe to the mid-tribulation rapture emphasise the sharp division in time mentioned in the major eschatological passages concerning the 7 years of tribulation. The mid-tribulation view divides the Great Tribulation into two periods of 1260 days each (from Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 12:7) and sees the Rapture of the church occurring at the mid-point between these two halves. They describe the first half of the seven year tribulation period as the wrath of man, and the last half as the wrath of God, or the Great Tribulation. This position holds that the church will go through the first half, even though it has no part in the last half of the 70th week.

Mid-tribulationists view the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 and the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 as the same thing. To resolve the problems this creates for a pre-tribulation view they place the Rapture in Revelation 14, after the statue (Rev 13:14) and mark of the beast (Rev 13:16). Many writers have examined the trumpets mentioned throughout The Bible and it appears there is enough material on the subject to fill a book. Those who disagree with the mid-tribulation view claim the last trumpet (1 Cor 15:52) and the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:15) are definitely different trumpets that are sounded at different times and point to OT practices to support these claims (see and also see), thus they see no need for a mid-point rapture.

The mid-tribulation view is similar to the pre-wrath view. In this view the Rapture of the saints is placed at some time after the opening of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12) and before the return of Christ with the saints (Rev 19:11-16). According to this view the saints are raptured just before the wrath of God is poured out after the sixth seal.

80 Post-tribulation Rapture

The post-tribulation view sees a single Second Coming of Christ and dismissed the idea of an earlier Rapture. According to this view the church will be kept by God’s grace while it continues on Earth throughout all of Daniel’s seventieth week (the Great Tribulation). After this the saints will be given their glorified bodies in order to meet Christ as He comes to Earth to defeat the antichrist at Armageddon and establish His millennial reign in Jerusalem. They see no need for an interval between Christ coming for and with His Bride and believe the church will be persecuted by the antichrist, but that believers will be protected from God’s wrath as they are kept from the hour of trial mentioned in Revelation 3:10.

Those who subscribe to this view look to the teachings of Jesus in the gospel of John concerning the “last day” (John 6:39, 40, 44) and insist the rapture cannot be separated from the resurrection of the righteous dead, which according to these verses must be on the “last day.” Opponents of this view, point out that the Greek word used in last “day” can mean last “period of time” and may not necessarily mean a literal 24 hour day in every situation (Rom 2:5; Rev 6:17). They state that the meaning must be determined by context and suggest that just as we might say “in his day” and not mean one literal 24 hour period, Jesus may also be referring to a particular period of time at the end of Earth history.

81 How do the two Testaments relate?

The relationship between the Old and New Testaments, which is another area of debate when attempting to understand end times prophecy, has been discussed since the beginning of the Church Age. Augustine (354-430 AD) believed that, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed; in the New Testament the Old is revealed.

Indeed, in retrospect, we do find the OT scriptures point towards the most important event in history, the incarnation of God on Earth, while the NT reveals the mystery of the ages. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul explains:

….. the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—His plan that was previously hidden, even though He made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” But it was to us that God revealed these things by His Spirit. For His Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:7-12)

God, in His wisdom, kept His plan to become the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of humanity veiled throughout the OT, but now that it has been revealed through His Son, His Spirit and His Word, we can detect allusions to His plan all the way through the OT. This mystery is explained in the NT. Paul reveals:

Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

…. the stewardship from God was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:25-27)

In his letters to the early church Paul explains that the mystery of Christ’s universal gifts of salvation and eternal life through His indwelling Spirit had been kept secret until after Jesus was crucified, so that the evil powers worked in ignorance to bring about His death. Paul elucidated the mystery to the Corinthians (above), while to the Ephesians he wrote:

…to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph 3:9-10)

The mystery of the ages has now been revealed, not only to the world, but also to the principalities and powers in heavenly places. God has chosen to do this through those who are called out and consequently commit their lives in service to the Lord Jesus Christ. The church has been given the task of sharing this wondrous mystery with the world and the heavenly rulers and authorities.

Jesus’ incarnation was the turning point in world history. After His resurrection God fully revealed His great plan for humanity. Since then the Holy Spirit has been working to enable us to comprehend our desperate need for both repentance and an acceptance of God’s rightful rule in our lives. What was once a vague understanding of the holiness, mercy and loving-kindness of God was totally revealed when God came to Earth.

The OT has many references to the Messiah, but it was only as Jesus lived His life amongst His disciples and explained the hidden message to them that they fully understood His role in the unfolding of God’s great plan. Luke records:

Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself……..
They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:27, 32)

Most Christians believe there is a need for harmony between the two testaments, but one group that has worked to create an overall, integrated picture has captured an immense following, particularly in the American churches, where their teachings were made popular through the Scofield and Ryrie Bibles. During the past century many futurists, who believe in a pre-tribulation Rapture, have embraced this approach (or aspects of this approach) and it is now prevalent amongst evangelicals throughout the world. This view is commonly referred to as Dispensationalism.

82 Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism looks at The Bible as a series of seven chronologically successive periods or dispensations in history, during which God relates to humanity in a variety of ways. At the core of its teachings this form of futurism has a particular understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and it sees Israel as having a distinctive prophetic future as a nation.

While many traditional denominations teach that the Christian church has inherited all the promises made to Israel throughout the OT (this is referred to as Replacement Theology by dispensationalists and supersessionism by others), dispensationalism teaches a rigid distinction between prophecies concerning Israel and those concerning the church. According to this view, the church dispensation (where man’s relationship with God is through grace (Acts 13:43; Romans 3:24; Eph 1:7; Col 1:5-6; 2 Thes 2:16; 2 Tim 1:9-10; Titus 2:11; 3:7) is seen as having interrupted God’s dealings with the Jews, causing a lengthy pause in the dispensation where humanity’s relationship with God was through the law given to Moses (Romans 6:14-15; Gal 2:21; 4:5).

Dispensationalism teaches that the dispensation under grace began at Pentecost with the beginning of the church (although there is some debate about the specific timing) (see) and has endured for almost 2000 years. It asserts that once the dispensation under grace ends with the Rapture, the Great Tribulation (Daniel’s seventieth week) will begin and restart the dispensation under law, when God will turn His attention back to Israel as the major focus of His work throughout the seven year tribulation period.

According to this view the Great Tribulation will culminate in the Second Coming of Christ with His retinue of angels and raptured saints and the Lord Jesus Christ will then usher in the kingdom dispensation when He begins His millennial reign from Jerusalem (see). Some dispensationalists believe the law, temple, feasts and sacrifices will be reintroduced during the Millennium, even though the Jews will recognise Jesus as the Messiah who reigns from the Throne of David.

One argument for the idea of the sacrifices continuing throughout the Millennium suggests they will serve as a reminder of the enormous cost to the Father in bringing about the reign of His Son on Earth. This reasoning is sound. It may well be the case that some sort of commemorative sacrifice will be made. As there is a war soon after Jesus’ thousand year reign comes to an end (Rev 20:8), and it is not until after the new heavens and new earth are created that death is finally eliminated (Rev 21:4), this is entirely possible.

Dispensationalism emphasises the importance of the church having a constant expectation of Christ’s return and maintains that if Christians are waiting for the Great Tribulation or the antichrist they have their eyes on Satan’s activities rather than on the imminent return of Jesus. It teaches that the next great event in Bible history for the church is the return of Christ for the saints, after which God will withdraw the Restrainer (the Holy Spirit) from the world (2 Thess 2:7). They believe that following the Rapture and the Great Tribulation the Millennium will begin and this will be the time when God finally completes all the unfulfilled prophecies given to the Jews throughout the OT.

Dispensationalists claim the reference to John being caught up to heaven in Revelation 4:1 is a representation of the church being raptured prior to any of the tribulation events. Hence the tribulation will be a time when God turns His attention on Earth, back to ethnic Israel. They speak of Daniel’s “time clock” beginning to tick once again, at the commencement of the Great Tribulation, which is Daniel’s 70th week, begins. Thus, Dispensationalism holds that throughout the OT, God worked through the Jewish people, who were given the law and specific guidelines and promises, and then, after Pentecost, God suspended His work through the Jewish nation during the Church Age, but it will recommence after the church is raptured.

The fact that Israel has now been re-established as a nation, 1900 years after its destruction by Rome, is seen as a major sign of the times by this school of futurism. Some believe that during Daniel’s 70th week (Dan 9:24), which is not only the Great Tribulation, but also the time of troubles alluded to throughout the OT, the Jews will finally recognise Jesus as their long awaited Messiah and all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).

To summarise, Dispensationalism anticipates:
The Rapture – when the church dispensation of grace comes to an end as the church is removed from the Earth (John 14:1-3, 1 Thes 4:15-18, Titus 2:12-13).
The Great Tribulation – when the Jews are once again the focus of God’s work and Daniel’s 70th week is activated under the dispensation of law (Jer 30:7, Dan 9:24-27, Mat 24:21-25, Rev 6-18).
The Second Coming – when Jesus returns with the saints after the Great Tribulation (Mat 24:27-31, Rev 1:7, 19:11-16).
The Millennial Kingdom – when Jesus reigns on Earth with the saints during the kingdom dispensation (Zech 8:20-23, 14:16, Rev 20:1-6).
The Future Eternal State in the new heaven and new Earth (John 10:27-29, Rev 21and 22).

Opponents of Dispensationalism insist God has finished His work amongst the Jewish people. They believe that God sees Jesus as the fulfilment of Israel’s promises and some go so far as to claim that the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer 30:7), which they believe began with the destruction of the temple in 70AD, is both the tribulation Jesus referred to and the direct result of the Jews’ role in the crucifixion of Jesus. They insist the church has completely superseded Israel and that God’s purpose for the Jews has been finalised. Therefore, they claim, He has completely abandoned the nation He created as “His people” and has created a new people, the church. They use a number of scriptures to support their ideas, these include:

I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.” They answered and said unto him, “Abraham is our father”. Jesus saith unto them, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.” (John 8:37-39)

God made promises concerning the seed of Abraham throughout the OT (Gen 12:7, 13:15-16, 15:18, 16:10 etc), but Paul points out in his letter to the Galatians that the word seed is singular, not plural, and actually refers to Jesus. Paul explained this idea to the Galatian church:

God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say “to his children,” as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says “to His child”—and that, of course, means Christ. (Gal 3:16)

Jesus told the Jewish leaders that Abraham’s spiritual children would recognise Him and inherit the promises. He made it clear that the promises were not limited to the nation of Israel. Rather, the promises were for all people and contingent upon Him and His teachings. As John records:

I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys My teaching will never die!” (John 8:51)

The church has an ongoing, lively debate concerning many aspects of eschatology and the place of Israel in the last days is one that influences our age and culture dramatically. Christian Zionism shapes many decisions made by people in power. Whether we agree or disagree with this movement, God is sovereign and His plan will not be thwarted. We must all seek to find His Way through His Word.  Understandably, the book with the most challenges is the Revelation. Our Father has always encouraged His people to study and meditate on His Word (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 119:148; 1 Tim 4:13-16; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 2:2) and the literary style of this final book of The Bible makes this imperative.

83 When was The Revelation written?

There is some debate surrounding the date the book of Revelation was written. Our understanding of biblical prophecy is greatly influenced by when we believe the book was written. There are two conflicting schools of thought here, these can be divided into those who hold to an early date and those supporting a later date. Most traditional sources lean towards the later date, suggesting the book was written during the reign of the emperor Domitian (81-96 CE), and there is much evidence to confirm this. However, many argue for an earlier date, and cite the fact that the Temple is mentioned in Revelation 11 to support their ideas. As the temple was destroyed in 70AD they claim this is proof for the earlier date. As Dr Patrick Zukeran states:

Crucial to the preterist view is the date of Revelation. Since it is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, preterists hold to a pre-AD 70 date of writing. According to this view, John was writing specifically to the church of his day and had only its situation in mind. This letter was written to encourage the saints to persevere under the persecution of the Roman Empire.(see)

The arguments for dates after 70AD, are based on the writings of the early church fathers and information within the scriptures themselves. Dr Zukeran points out:

The church of Smyrna did not exist during Paul’s ministry (60-64 A. D.) as recorded by Polycarp, the first bishop of the city. Laodecia (Rev. 3:14-22) is rebuked for being wealthy and lukewarm. However, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul commends the church three times (2:2, 4:13, 16). It would likely take more than three years for the church to decline to the point that chapter 3 would state there to be no commendable aspect about it. Also, an Earthquake in 61 A. D. left the city in ruins for many years. Thus, it is unlikely that in a ruined condition John would describe them as rich  (see).

It seems discussions on the end times will inevitably continue as believers prayerfully search for harmony within the prophetic scriptures, while seeking to coordinate them with world history. People everywhere have an interest in predictions of the future – horoscopes, weather and economic forecasts are very popular amongst people all over the world. Just as unbelievers listen to predictions with the hope of preparing themselves for what is to come, Christians need to study the Word of God in preparation for the coming last days. These predictions are based on revelation from the Creator and deserve our best efforts in understanding His message to us.

84 The Millennium

A time of global peace and prosperity is anticipated in numerous passages throughout scripture. In the OT Isaiah describes such a time:

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together…. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the Earth will be filled with people who know the LORD. In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to Him, and the land where He lives will be a glorious place. (Isa 11:6-10)

Micah adds:

But in the latter days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow unto it. And many nations shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. and he shall judge between many peoples, and shall reprove strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it. (Mic 4:1-4)

A number of OT scriptures refer to this time of peace as coinciding with the restoration of the Throne of David. At the annunciation Jesus was declared by the angel Gabriel to be the promised King who would sit on that throne. Gabriel informed Mary:

And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son and call His name Jesus. He will be mighty, and will be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David: and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:31-33)

In the light of this announcement many OT scriptures gain new meaning. In Isaiah we find that  the “strong love that the LORD All-Powerful has for his people will make this happen”. Isaiah is referring to a time of “peace without end” when a king sits on David’s throne:

This will happen when the special child is born. God will give us a son who will be responsible for leading the people. His name will be “Wonderful Counsellor, Powerful God, Father who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace.” His power will continue to grow, and there will be peace without end. This will establish him as the king sitting on David’s throne and ruling his kingdom. He will rule with goodness and justice forever and ever. The strong love that the LORD All-Powerful has for his people will make this happen! (Isa 9:6-7)

Following the Great Tribulation the book of Revelation refers to a time when Satan is bound and Jesus reigns on the Earth with the saints (Rev 20:1-6). This sounds very much like the time Isaiah described, when goodness and justice came from the king sitting on David’s throne. Although some see this time as finding it’s fulfilment in the new creation, many Christians refer to the episode, which is detailed in chapter 20 of the Revelation, as the Millennium. This is because it describes a period of a thousand years, which many believe to be the anticipated time of peace on Earth mentioned throughout scripture. John’s description of this time comes near the end of his record:

He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years. When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. (Rev 20:2-7)

A plain reading of this Revelation passage tells us the Millennium is the penultimate age when Christ will reign for a thousand years on Earth before the Day of Judgment. This will be a time when Satan is prevented from leading humanity into sin. However, as Revelation is clearly a book filled with symbolism, attitudes to the Millennium are once again divided. On one hand we find those who view the thousand years as needing a literal interpretation, while on the other hand we find those who choose to see the book as allegorical, and therefore use an interpretive approach. Generally, views on the Millennium fall into 3 broad categories:

Premillennialism is the belief that Jesus will literally and physically return to the Earth at His Second Coming, after which He will reign on the Earth for a thousand years. There are two major forms of premillennialism.

1. Dispensational – which holds to the pre-tribulation rapture view and attributes a special status to national Israel during the Great Tribulation and the Millennium. Proponents of this view reject the claim that this is a new theory, claiming it re-emerged during the 19th century after being overwhelmed by alternative teachings early in church history.
2. Historic – sees itself as the historical view of premillennialism, as opposed to the pre-tribulational view, which they insist is a new theory. This view includes a post-tribulation rapture position and emphasises there should be no distinction between the church and Israel during the Great Tribulation and Millennium.

Postmillennialism holds that Jesus’ Second Coming occurs after His millennial reign, which some believe to be more a Golden Age than a literal thousand year period. Those who accept this view look forward to a Christianised world and a Great Christian Revival before the last days. Many who hold this view understand the Great Tribulation as having occurred during the time of the Roman Empire or roughly between 65 and 313 AD. This position generally takes an allegorical approach to the interpretation of the book of Revelation.

Amillennialism rejects the theory that Jesus will have a literal thousand-year long, physical reign on the Earth. This view is said to have been promoted by Augustine and is the dominant position of Reformers. Their beliefs are summarised by Prof. David J. Engelsma who writes:

.. “amillennialism teaches the church ….. to expect increasing lawlessness in the world, apostasy from the truth in the churches, the establishment of the kingdom of Antichrist over the entire world, and great tribulation for all those who fear God and keep His commandments. To such a world, thus fully developed in sin, will Christ return.” (52)


85 The Throne of David and the sacrifices

Another area of vigorous discussion surrounding the Millennium concerns where the Throne of David is situated during Christ’s thousand year reigns. Some claim the throne will be situated in the earthly Jerusalem, while others insist Christ is already seated and ruling from the Throne of David in heaven.

As mentioned earlier, some also claim the Jews will be carrying on their sacrifices in the Third Temple during the Millennium. This idea is based on a passage in Jeremiah, which is generally accepted as referring to the Messiah.

In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name whereby she shall be called, The LORD is our righteousness. For thus saith the LORD: David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to burn oblations, and to do sacrifice continually. (Jer 33:15-18)

Those who reject the notion of sacrifices during the Millennium remind us the Levitical priesthood was abolished long ago when Christ’s priesthood succeeded it. They point to the book of Hebrews, which outlines the special status of the priesthood of Jesus and informs us that Christ is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews chapters 5-7). These people also insist there is now no need for the OT sacrifices to be performed, as they were but a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice Christ made on the cross. They declare Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice here on Earth, and after rising and ascending to heaven, continues to make intercession in the presence of God, on behalf of the redeemed (Rom 8:34). This view proclaims the Lord Jesus will continue to do this always and therefore a man shall not be wanting before the Lord:

….to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually…


 86 Many areas of agreement

From the preceding discussion it would appear there are numerous areas of disagreement amongst believers concerning the end times; however, there are many areas on which biblical Christians agree. As Dr Zukeran states:

All views believe that God is sovereign and in charge of all that occurs in history and its ultimate conclusion. Except for full preterism and some forms of idealism, all believe in the physical Second Coming of Christ. All views believe in the resurrection from the dead. All believe there will be a future judgment. All believe in an eternal state in which believers will be with God, and unbelievers will be separated from Him. All agree upon the importance of the study of prophecy and its edification for the body of Christ (see).


 87 A Personal Perspective

After many years of study, thought and prayer I am inclined to accept the futurist, pre-tribulational, premillennial approach to end times prophecy, and I feel certain the Jews will play a major role in the Great Tribulation. Some might label this progressive dispensationalism, but I have not really consciously chosen a school of thought, I have just formed a few opinions on what might happen after many years of hearing various views, looking at history and prayerfully reading scripture. As I have never been an official member of an organised church I have not had one particular eschatological view given to me for any great length of time, and I have always read widely and had friends from various backgrounds, so perhaps my views are rather eclectic.

I also believe that God does not force events, as He knows the end from the beginning. He knows what individuals will choose to do and how world history will play out and He works all things together for the ultimate good of believers (Romans 8:28). This to me is true sovereignty. God is far greater than time and space but He is endlessly active within both dimensions. He set His creation in motion, and His ceaseless activities in the world He created are all expressions of His love and holiness. He takes the evil that humankind creates and weaves it into a bigger picture that will be greater by far than any we could ever dream up or even comprehend with our present, finite minds (1 Cor 13:9-12). Our Creator and Father is not a puppet master, pulling strings to make His creatures jump, He has given us true free will – we can choose to perish. However, those who choose His Way will benefit from His Spirit, active day and night in their lives, and they will be part of His preparations for the Eternal Kingdom.

88 John’s vision concerning the history of the world

I see the Revelation as a book that bridges the gap between heaven and Earth. After an assessment of the state of 7 specific churches on Earth (chapters 2 and 3), John was caught up into another dimension – heaven – to see things there that relate to the end of the history of this world. After seeing these things from a heavenly perspective, John needed to explain them in earthly terms, and consequently he used figurative language; but this does not mean we must take the whole book as an allegory. Just like the book of Genesis, the Revelation is about humanity’s history; as the complementary bookend, it is the book that completes the story of God’s dealings with the people He created on Earth.

If we determine Revelation must be viewed as allegory, we then have licence to impose our individual interpretations on the text, making it something quite different for each individual. However, the plain reading approach would view the figurative terminology as an effective tool for conveying information to the reader, which was gained from a heavenly perspective, even though it relates to events that must literally come to pass on Earth in human history.

©Steve Creitz: Licensed from

©Steve Creitz: Licensed from

One of the main reasons I would say I am a futurist and believe I can use a plain reading approach to this book, is because John, when writing the Revelation, stated:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; (Rev 1:1a)

From this verse it would appear that John expected the things the Lord Jesus revealed to him would actually happen in history, in other words, he did not see them as symbolic. Consequently, I am not convinced by the arguments for Idealism, nor can I accept that the Revelation is purely allegorical.

89 Idealism

During the days when I was interested in the Gnostic writings and viewed them as equal to The Bible, I used an allegorical approach to all “spiritual books.” My understanding was that The Bible held deep, spiritual truths and needed to be understood in a “spiritual” way rather than seeking any earthly or “worldly” understanding of the scriptures. It was not important to me whether the historical portions of The Bible were true or not, it didn’t matter, to me spiritual books were about spiritual matters, and ultimately these matters had little to do with our physical existence or world history. All “spiritual books” held deep secrets that would be revealed to the enlightened ones, those who sought out the deeper meanings and esoteric knowledge within their pages.

Idealism also rejects what its adherents call a carnal fulfilment of prophesy and an earthly or worldly kingdom of God. This approach sees the types and shadows of prophecy as relating only to “spiritual” truths. However, Jesus came to Earth and lived the life of a physical person, died a physical death and rose with a body that, despite its transformation, was still a physical body – these facts have changed my opinion on what being “spiritual” is. The Bible is God’s message to humankind; He created us as physical beings who can have a relationship with our spiritual Father. In The Bible the spiritual aspect of our being is always inextricably tied to our physical existence.

There is no scriptural support for the idea that we had a spiritual existence before we had physical bodies (Heb 9:27), and after Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of the Garden of Eden, we no longer had an assured means of prolonging our existence beyond our physical lifetimes (Gen 3:22; Heb 10:27). To insist we see the Earth, our physical bodies and human history as some sort of transient “physical” phase, is to ignore the promise of the new heaven and the new Earth and the resurrection of our bodies. Insisting that prophecy must be understood as simply a glimpse into heavenly or “spiritual” reality is to deny the fact that God has been working in and through human history to bring His physical creation to its time of restoration (Matthew 17:11; Acts 3:21) (the Millennium (Rev 20:1-7)) and renewal (the new heavens and Earth (Rev 21:1)).

After years of adhering to Christ Consciousness as the way (an approach I now understand to be far from the truth of The Bible), I view Idealism, which uses a similar approach to the interpretation of large portions of scripture, as extremely susceptible to human misinterpretation and misrepresentation. To avoid imposing unnecessary, subjective interpretations on the text (eisegesis), it seems reasonable to approach the Revelation using a straightforward, plain reading approach, because to a certain extent, this method can be employed when reading prophecy.

My plain reading of prophecy brings me to the conclusion that the Revelation is definitely about specific events and is not, as Idealism claims, a symbolic representation of the ongoing, titanic struggle throughout the ages of God against Satan and good against evil. The spiritualising of large portions of scripture is too close to my past New Age approach to The Bible for me to place much confidence in its accuracy.

A plain reading approach understands that metaphors are metaphors, poetry is poetry, parables are parables, prophecy is prophecy and history is history. Of course idealists do not spiritualise everything, but they would contend that their approach to prophecy avoids the problem of attempting to harmonize passages of scripture with events in history, which means the book of Revelation is applicable and relevant to all periods of church history. I can see why these points might carry weight, but they do not convince me that an allegorical approach is completely necessary, when one can simply read what the scripture says and take it at face value. As Dr D. L. Cooper writes:

When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise (see).

Proponents of Idealism also view specific times as primarily symbolic. They remind us that ancient peoples often used a more symbolic language when they mentioned time spans. A thousand years need not be a thousand years of historical time, but rather a reference to a long period of time. To insist that scripture must always be viewed through some sort of symbolic code takes away from the adequacy of the Word of God. If there is a need for “secret” or extra knowledge of this symbolic code to understand The Bible it becomes an elitist book, which can only be understood by the more “enlightened” or informed – those of the Inner Circle. The author of the Word knew that it was going to be read by millions of people over thousands of years, He would therefore ensure that it could be understood in a straightforward way by those who did not have access to any earlier hidden knowledge.

The scriptures themselves teach us that The Bible is a book that must be read through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is not human wisdom that gives us the ability to understand God’s message to us through His Word, it is the Holy Spirit who reveals God’s Truth to us through its pages. As Paul explained to the Corinthians:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1Corinthians 2:12-14)

If we insist all references to periods of time must be seen as simply symbols for some deeper meaning (even though there may actually be another layer of meaning present), we remove the possibility of a straightforward reading and turn The Bible into a book for the initiated or more educated – those with gnosis – or superior knowledge. In our modern or postmodern world we could also view the scriptures as needing to be approached using textural criticism and then go on to talk about things like dynamic and formal equivalence, or logos, pathos and ethos; or we can understand that The Bible was produced entirely through, and must be interpreted to us by, the Holy Spirit. As Peter reminds us:

Above all else, however, remember that none of us can explain by ourselves a prophecy in the Scriptures. For no prophetic message ever came just from the human will, but people were under the control of the Holy Spirit as they spoke the message that came from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Of course when using the historical-grammatical method of interpretation we benefit from an awareness of the historical context of the writing, as well as a basic grasp of grammar, as language usage and customs change over time. It is also helpful to understand that different translations of The Bible emphasise different points of view, so it is useful to have access to the Hebrew and Greek texts if and whenever possible. However, when determining whether we need to view the thousand years as anything other than a thousand years, context is helpful. CMI writer Lita Cosner points out:

There are also symbolic numbers in The Bible. Many recognize that the majority of the numbers in Revelation have symbolic meaning (as is typical in apocalyptic writing), and numbers such as 7 and 12 in Scripture often have symbolism behind them – the former representing completeness since Creation Week was 7 days (6 days of creation plus 1 day of rest) and the latter the twelve tribes of Israel, or sometimes in the New Testament the twelve apostles. But if a number has a special significance, that will be plain from the context – sometimes 7 is just 7 (see).

If we decide the Revelation can only be seen as one long allegory, then we would naturally accept that symbolism and symbolic numbers are used exclusively throughout the entire book. However, if we approach the book using a plain reading approach and understand that it is full of symbolism, but that the basic structure and references to people and events can still be viewed as prophecy, then we see the message God is communicating in an entirely different light. Then we can accept that if God wanted John to say Jesus will reign for a very long period of time, John would have written just that, but instead He mentioned a thousand year reign no less than six times in Revelation 20.

The idealist position can also lead to arbitrary interpretations that turn prophecy and biblical history into a muddle of pointless, spiritualized generalizations. God gave us the scriptures as a solid foundation, but the idealist view enables the reader to dismiss the text as purely symbolic.
As Merrill Tenney states:

The idealist view . . . assumes a “spiritual” interpretation, and allows no concrete significance whatever to figures that it employs. According to this viewpoint they are not merely symbolic of events and persons, as the historicist view contends; they are only abstract symbols of good and evil. They may be attached to any time or place, but like the characters of Pilgrim’s Progress, represent qualities or trends. In interpretation, the Apocalypse may thus mean anything or nothing according to the whim of the interpreter.(53)

Constantly searching for hidden meanings and allegorical messages in scripture challenges the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture; scripture was written to be intelligible to its contemporary audience (see). Two thousand years later we have the same expectations, having rejected the Gnostic approach to scripture, I now approach The Bible as a book that is understood in the same way we understand other texts. The meaning is not hidden for only the initiated to uncover, it is God’s straightforward revelation for all who are open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

90 Preterism

There are many scriptures that appear to indicate a “soon” Second Coming of Christ. By seeing prophecy fulfilled shortly after the ascension of Christ, preterism seeks to deal with verses such as:

But the end of all things has drawn near. Therefore be of sound mind, and be sensible to prayers. (1 Peter 4:7)

Perhaps another way to look at this verse would be to see the Lord Jesus Christ as “the end of all things” (Rev 1:8,11; 21:6; 22:13) and accept that He has indeed drawn near during His incarnation and even now by His Holy Spirit. Or alternatively, that the end of the present creation is inexorably approaching. All that was needed for God to complete His plan for humanity’s redemption had been accomplished, the end was now, inevitably, just ahead.

The concept of the Revelation needing to be fulfilled soon after it was recorded appears to be the basic reason people choose this school of thought. To make the rest of the prophetic scriptures fit this idea, a great deal of allegorising is then needed.

Peter understood God’s big picture: God had created the universe and Jewish genealogies demonstrated that the history of humankind could be traced back to the beginning of time. In his second epistle Peter (2 Peter 3:10-13) revealed God would definitely bring this present creation to an end, thus the creation had a beginning and it will have an end. Some of the Greek philosophers of Peter’s day insisted that the world would continue for many thousands of ages (see), but Peter was reminding his readers that the end was indeed approaching.

Another verse favoured by preterists is:

I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34)

As this verse is preceded by a list of events that will herald the end times, the generation that will not pass away could quite feasibly be the one that will exist when the signs of the end times begin, thus indicating that the chaos of the very last of days will not be a prolonged, drawn out time of tribulation.

The beginning of the Revelation also has a number of verses that must be considered before dismissing the idea that this book was primarily addressed to the early church. The Modern King James version begins the Revelation with:

A Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to declare to His servants things which must shortly come to pass (Rev 1:1a)

However, another translation of this passage could be:

A Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show to His servants things which must occur quickly(Rev 1:1a)

In the first version the Greek word τάχος (tachos), has been translated as “shortly” and thus indicates the events will happen soon; but this word can also mean “quickly.” Therefore, this passage could be seen as an assurance that the events the Lord went on to outline in the Revelation would happen quickly; once again we can reasonably predict the Great Tribulation will not be a long, drawn out affair.

However, John goes on to write:

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev 1:3)

While the Lord intends the church to live with the reality of the imminence of His return, there is a tension created throughout scripture, and verses such as these represent just one side of the dialectic. Although every Christian throughout the Church Age has eagerly anticipated the imminent return of their blessed Lord, they have also been aware of other scriptures which must be harmonised with verses such as those above.

The Great Commission (Mat 28:19-20; Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:7-8) creates the ongoing tension. As believers pursue the task set before them of reaching out to a lost world (which will, without doubt, take a great deal of time), they eagerly anticipate the Lord’s imminent return. Jesus told His followers to go into all the nations and preach the gospel. This is not something anyone in 1st century Israel would have seen as a task that could be accomplished quickly. Therefore, throughout history, the body of Christ has continued to work, reaching out to all people, everywhere, with the Truth of the gospel (that by all means we might save some (1 Cor 9:22)); while living in constant anticipation of the return of the Lord and the end of this age (Mat 22:42-51).

I can only praise God that He has been patient with us all (both concerned Christians striving to share the gospel and those yet to understand God’s Truth) and His “soon” has been extended to almost 2000 years, thus enabling millions more believers to be granted a part in His Eternal Kingdom. Like so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, even though I hope He will continue to be patient, so that many more might hear and respond before He calls an end to pain, suffering and death forever, I long for His appearing (2 Tim 4:8).

My main problem with the preterist view is that it appears to ignore Jesus’ words concerning the Great Tribulation. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says:

For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. (Matthew 24:21)

If, as the preterists believe, the Great Tribulation took place during the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, and the Olivet Discourse and Revelation were specifically directed at the Jews, the holocaust could not have taken place. The vicious, drawn out, satanic attack on the Jewish people by Hitler and his servile subordinates was surely equal to the terrifying times Titus oversaw when he destroyed the temple. This 20th century anguish must surely have been equal to, if not worse than, the 1st century anguish.

From my perspective the preterist view lightly dismisses God’s promises to the Jews. preterists see the Jews as the true enemies of Jesus and believe their overthrow by the Roman army was God’s final judgment and rejection of His chosen people. In its most extreme form, preterism tends towards anti-Semitism. The Jews have suffered throughout the ages at the hands of so called Christian people who, believing God had transferred His promises to the church, took it upon themselves to inflict great harm on any Jewish person unfortunate enough to come under their power. Therefore I reject the preterist approach as I am not inclined towards a method of interpretation that would in any way contribute to this form of discrimination.

91 Historicism

If we turn to the historicist view we see its adherents displaying a tendency to interpret the text through the context of their own period, with many viewing the climax of the Revelation as happening in their own generation. This has led to a wide and varied range of interpretations, which appear to be more dependent on world history than scriptural integrity.

There can be no doubt that some of the historicist interpretations of prophecy are very interesting, extremely detailed and well researched and documented. However, the extreme nature of the events recorded in the Revelation will surely prove to be far more intense than any of the panorama of historical events that have occurred in the last 20 centuries, which historicists have tied to the Revelation.

Adherents of this school of thought also use extensive symbolism. A historicist interpretation of the following verse illustrates this point. John wrote:

The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the Earth. And a third of the Earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. (Rev 8:7)

One historicist interpretation of this verse claims that the green grass symbolizes the prosperity that was evident in the small, organized communities of the late Roman Empire, which were destroyed by barbarian invasions; while the trees could symbolize the larger centres of commerce and civilization, two thirds of which survived this invasion (see). Using this method of interpretation one can create almost any scenario to “fit” with Revelation. I see no need for such extensive use of symbolism.

In Revelation 7:14 we discover casualties from the Great Tribulation appearing in heaven, which would appear to indicate that Revelation is indeed the fleshing out of the Great Tribulation Jesus refers to in Matthew’s gospel where He says:

For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. (Mat 24:21-22)

It seems clear Jesus is talking about a time of chaos like no other in the history of the world and a plain reading of Revelation would agree with this prediction. However, historicism portrays this Great Tribulation as a prolonged, ongoing saga of persecution against the people of God throughout the 2000 year history of the church. This does not harmonise with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus described the Great Tribulation as a short, intense period immediately before His Second Coming (Mat 24:30), as the passage above also indicates. Another translation of verse 22 has Jesus saying:

And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Mat 24:22)

Jesus has placed this terrible time in a distinct order of events. He told His disciples:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: (Mat 24:29)

There will be no doubt what is happening, the Great Tribulation will be the worst time in the history of the world, and it will culminate in astronomical catastrophes never before imagined. Some may interpret “cut short” as simply bringing a long drawn out tribulation to an end, but it seems more accurate to view this as a time that is not overly long, certainly not 2000 years. Following this horrific time of tribulation the heavens will be shaken, then the Lord will return to the Earth and “all the tribes of the Earth” (Mat 24:30) will see Him and be devastated as they understand just what He has done for them and what they have rejected.

92 Daniel’s 70 weeks

Another historicist claim is that the four verse prophecy concerning Daniel’s 70 weeks of years (Dan 9:24-27) has already been fulfilled in its entirety, thus the 70 weeks of years are past and there is no future, final week (seven year period). If this were true then the purpose for the 70 weeks, which Gabriel outlined in Daniel 9:24, would also have been fulfilled, and this does not appear to be the case. Gabriel proclaimed:

A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city in order:
to finish their rebellion,
to put an end to their sin,
to atone for their guilt,
to bring in everlasting righteousness,
to confirm the prophetic vision, and
to anoint the Most Holy Place. (Dan 9:24)

This is a succinct summary of God’s plan for the nation of Israel. Unless we somehow retrospectively reinterpret Daniel’s “people” and insist they are the church (the Jews now being simply a national entity and no longer the chosen people of Deuteronomy 7:6), it is clear this decree was given to Daniel’s people, who were the Jews. This is not a conditional prophecy, Gabriel told Daniel God intended that every part of the prophecy would take place in the future. Throughout the past 2000 years the Jewish people have continued to reject Jesus Christ as their Messiah and therefore their rebellion goes on.

God has revealed there can be no end to sin without the cross of Christ, nor is there any atonement or everlasting righteousness apart from Him. For this prophecy to be fulfilled, Daniel’s people, the Jews, would need to recognise Jesus as their Messiah and accept His gift of salvation. At this point in history the Jewish religious leaders continue to reject Jesus as the promised Messiah of the OT scriptures. Therefore, as this prophecy is yet to be fulfilled, I am inclined to accept the view that the 70 weeks have been cut into by the church dispensation, which is a parenthesis that began with the crucifixion, after the 69th week had been completed.

I believe there is good reason to view Jesus’ reference to Daniel as indicating this particular book of the OT holds the key to NT prophecy; particularly Daniel chapter 9, as He refers to the abomination of desolation (Dan 9:27) when He is alerting the disciples to the things they need to watch out for (Matthew 24:15). From our vantage point in history we can look back on world events and see that many of the prophecies in Daniel 9 are yet to be fulfilled. Therefore, the book of Daniel remains a key component in our understanding of end times prophecy.

Following Gabriel’s introduction of the 70 weeks of years in Daniel 9:24 he goes on to say:

Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Anointed One, the Prince, shall be seven weeks: and threescore and two weeks, it shall be built again, with street and moat, even in troublous times. (Dan 9:25)

This verse begins by alerting us to the need for attention to, and discernment of, what Gabriel is about to reveal. He informs Daniel that the 70 weeks will start with an agreement to “restore and to build Jerusalem.”

©Justinen Creative: Licensed from

©Justinen Creative: Licensed from

As mentioned earlier, this building occurred after Artaxerxes Longitmanus sent Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2). The second half of the verse then breaks down the 70 weeks into the first seven weeks of years (7×7=49 years), which were to be spent rebuilding the city in extremely troublesome times and another 62 weeks of years. Verse 26 of Daniel 9 tells us that after the 62 weeks “the Anointed One will be cut off.” Christians identify the Anointed One as the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the fulfilment of OT law (Hebrews 7).

It was at this point in world history that God changed His mode of relationship with humanity. Until this point God’s relationship with His people had been through the law of Moses, which was given to the Jewish people to enable them to live godly lives. The ultimate, eternal Sacrifice, which all the Jewish sacrifices foreshadowed, had been performed, and the Jewish religious practices were now obsolete. From this point on God started a new mode of relating to humanity and the age of grace, the Church Age, began. This new dispensation centred round the New Covenant and the New Commandment announced by the Lord Jesus Christ.

When the Anointed One was crucified, darkness fell across the whole land; the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook and rocks were split apart (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke23:45). This event was the turning point in God’s dealings with humankind. The Jews could no longer expect God to speak to them through priests and prophets and their sacrifices were no longer necessary. They rejected God’s Messiah and they were no longer the focus of His attention. At this point God turned His attention to the church, the Body of Christ. This new body of people is comprised of not only those Jews who recognise Jesus as their long awaited Messiah, it also includes Gentiles, who could from that point on come near to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Creator and Redeemer of humankind.

The second half of Daniel 9 verse 26 contains a warning that “a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city and the Temple,” then the end of the verse mentions a period of fighting and instability. Forty years after the Anointed One was crucified (cut off) the city (Jerusalem) and the Temple were destroyed by the Roman general (later emperor) Titus, in 70AD, and since that time the Jewish people have certainly had extended periods of struggle as they fight to preserve their national identity and religious traditions.

In tears, Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the magnificent Temple that was its heart, as Luke records:

Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.” (Luke 19:43-44)

While Matthew writes:

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Mat 24:1-2)

Concerning the city Josephus records:

…..but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.(54)

Jesus warned Israel that their rejection of Him would have consequences. The prophecies Jesus made were fulfilled to the letter when the Roman soldiers, after burning the Temple to the ground, literally pulled what was left apart, stone by stone, to get to the gold that had covered the Temple walls (55). As the Temple burned the gold would have melted and run down between the huge stones. Josephus tells us that the Roman soldiers were bent on plunder and the gold would have been a rich reward for their horrific day’s work.

Gabriel gave Daniel the divisions in the 70 weeks for a specific reason. The Church Age can quite legitimately be seen as an interval between the 69th and 70th weeks, after which verse 27 introduces the final week (of years). The 70th week is scheduled to begin when a seven year peace treaty between a ruler and the Jewish people is signed. I believe this last week, or seven year period, is the Great Tribulation and the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer 30:7), which will bring Daniel’s prophecy to a close. Half way through the seven years the ruler will break the treaty and turn on the Jews (Dan 9:27), but it seems clear that the final week of years is the time when the goals specified by Gabriel for the 70 weeks (that are distinctly outlined in verse 24) will be fully accomplished amongst the Jewish people.

History is filled with persecutions of the Jewish people. Even today anti-Semitism is rampant and it appears to have led to a total lack of understanding of the situation the Jewish people find themselves in. The Israeli/Palestinian dispute is constantly portrayed in the world’s media and most people have developed strong opinions concerning this conflict. I personally have never been able to take sides in this dispute. I feel for both peoples, as both strongly believe they have a right to live in the Holy Land and both groups desperately need the grace and salvation found only in the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, the Jewish people appear to demonstrate a strong respect for human life. They probably have nuclear weapons and could have obliterated all opposition, but they generally confine their warfare to defensive actions. From the beginning of the 20th century the dispersed Jewish people began to join the Palestinian Jews who had continued to live in Israel over the centuries. For the dispersed Jewish people, this was their final defence against the discrimination, pogroms and brutal behaviour of the peoples of the world. They had been persecuted in almost every country they sought to inhabit. After World War II (when the Palestinian Muslim leaders sided with Hitler against the Jews still living in the Middle East), they made a resolute decision; the nascent Zionist community that had been established in Israel would be their refuge.

I am always amazed at how this particular conflict has commanded such a prominent place in our modern times. There are other conflicts that could attract the world’s attention, but the fact that China has taken Tibet and Indonesia has claimed West Papua are hardly ever mentioned in the world media. Tibet and West Papua have similar sized populations and a great deal more territory, but the struggles of their indigenous peoples are almost completely ignored by the rest of the world. Even though controversy, if not sporadic conflict, continues in both these areas, they are rarely mentioned. The Tibetans and Papuans face Goliaths daily as the mighty nations that have devoured them continue to practice violent atrocities that are rarely, if ever, reported by the media (particularly in the case of West Papua). By contrast, the world’s eyes are constantly on Israel and the peace treaty is an international objective. There is no doubt that peace is what is desired and people who are aware of this prophecy are looking on with intense interest. If the preceding understanding of Daniel 9 is correct, a peace treaty would signal the beginning of the end!

93 Have the Jews been written out of the end times story?

The biblical teaching concerning Israel in the last days is another reason I doubt the historicist and preterist views lead to a correct understanding of end times prophecies. According to Historicism the word “Jew” in the NT is a metaphor for “Christian,” since the latter are the ones that are “truly circumcised,” and Preterism insists the Jews have been completely written out of the end times story. However, Paul was quite clear in his letter to the Romans when he explained that God has set a time for dealing with the gentiles, but He has not abandoned His chosen people, the Jews. He writes:

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say, “The One who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and He will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is My covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people He loves because He chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn. (Rom 11:25-29)

How we view the role of the Jews in the world today, but more particularly how we understand God’s plan for the Jews, has a strong bearing on how we approach the Revelation. All Christians understand that God created the nation of Israel as a national entity as well as a holy people. God called Israel to be an example of His holiness to the world. He made them a great nation so that they would be effective in this work, but they became so caught up in the law and their national, religious and political power they lost their way and stopped trusting in God for their righteousness (Rom 9:32). They had so distanced themselves from God that when He was born into their midst they did not recognise Him.

Acts 1:6-8 reveals the Jews asking for their nation to be restored and Jesus responds by telling them to preach the gospel. He had not created them to be a world power or a religious institution, where men could dominate through their favoured positions; He created the nation of Israel to portray His holiness, but more importantly, to bring about a community into which He could be born into the world. God had carefully prepared the people who would surround and nurture His Son, and also those who would later realise just who He was and leave all to follow Him. The small band of Jews, who had recognised the Messiah during and just after His life on Earth, would be the beginning of a new body of people through whom God would work to proclaim the Truth to the world during the Church Age. But does this mean He has completely abandoned the nation He created?

I find it difficult to reinterpret the promises God made to Israel by insisting they are now meant for the church. There are many OT verses that specifically mention the physical and ethnic relationship of the Jewish people to the patriarchs who received such bountiful promises. There can be no doubt these verses are referring to the Jewish people. Micah proclaims:

Where is another God like You, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of His special people? You will not stay angry with Your people forever, because You delight in showing unfailing love. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! You will show us Your faithfulness and unfailing love as You promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. (Mic 7:18-20)

Even in the NT it seems clear that many promises have definite national aspects to them (Luke 1:46-55; 70-73). However, those who insist there is no future for Israel in the NT often quote Romans 9:6, which says:

Well then, has God failed to fulfill His promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people!

Some claim this verse supports the view that God has no special, future place for national Israel; that His interest has now turned to “spiritual Israel.” However, this verse is really telling us that people will not be part of God’s eternal family because of their genealogy, but entirely through the death of Christ. This does not in any way nullify God’s promises to the nation of Israel, it actually extends them to the gentiles, while reminding the Jews that they must remain people of faith to become part of God’s eternal family.

Christ is indeed the fulfilment of the promises, and it is as we abide in Him that we also share in the promises. However, this does not necessarily cancel out Israel’s future role in God’s plan. Many aspects of the promises and prophecies have not yet been fulfilled, and many of these unfulfilled prophecies appear to relate specifically to Israel as a nation. For this reason I believe there is good scriptural evidence in both Old and New Testaments for some kind of future role for national Israel in God’s plan for the closing chapters of world history.

Christ fulfilled the law (Rom 10:4), and Paul makes it clear that no one could be made righteous through the law (Rom 3:20), but it would appear God has not permanently abandoned the people of the Torah. The Romans passage above (Romans 11:25-29) can be harmonised with the scriptures that see the church as spiritual Israel if we accept the concept of dispensations, or phases in God’s plan for humankind’s redemption. God has fulfilled many prophecies in Christ, but after the Rapture He will finish His work amongst the Jews when the “full number of the gentiles comes to Christ.” The hope of Israel is still the Lord Jesus Christ, their promised Messiah (Acts 28:20). It will be through Christ alone that Gabriel’s prophecy, which was outlined in Daniel 9:24, will be finally fulfilled. The Jews are not just any national entity, they are God’s chosen people, and God will complete what He has begun with the Jews when the Church Age is complete.

Supersessionism would appear to be an unnecessary contortion of the scriptures, where a whole new meaning is superimposed on much of the OT. Christians correctly regard many verses in the OT as referring to Jesus the Messiah, but this does not necessarily mean that God’s chosen people are now exclusively the church. The Jews were the chosen people before the Church Age, and there is good reason to believe they will be the focus of God’s work after the Church Age draws to a close.

Just how this final phase of God’s dealing with the Jewish people is worked out is yet to be seen. I do not believe the role of the redeemed Jews will be any different to that of other Christians after Jesus’ Second Coming, although they may once again inhabit the promised land during the Millennium (Eze 48). The Bible is clear, after the Second Coming there will be no distinction between gentiles and Jews (Romans 10:12, 1 Cor 1:24, 12:13, Gal 3:28, Eph 2:14, 18, 3:6, Col 3:11), we will all be equal members in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection (Romans 3:29, 30). It is also quite clear that there will be no place for the OT law. Jesus has fulfilled the law, its role was to lead us to Christ.

I find I am also in agreement with those who see no further need for sacrifices during the Millennium. There is no doubt in my mind that the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross was much better than any the Levitical priests could make and therefore the cross renders a return to OT sacrifices completely unnecessary. Even the Jewish teachers who questioned Jesus understood that the sacrifices were symbolic, and that there was a better way to serve God. Mark records:

….. the scribe said unto Him, Of a truth, Teacher, thou hast well said that He is one; and there is none other but He: and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices. (Mark 12:32-33)

The whole point of the OT sacrifices was to focus the attention of the people on the fatal consequences of sin. Paul told the Romans that it is because of sin that we die (Rom 5:12, 8:10). Jesus declared Himself to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins when He said:

….. “This is My blood, which confirms the covenant between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. (Mark 14:24)

Paul also taught:

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. (Romans 3:25a)

Paul gives us further insight into the NT understanding of sacrifice when he writes:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

Our living and holy sacrifice is our “natural” selves. God has never required human sacrifice in the pagan understanding of this concept, in fact He abhors this practice. Instead we are to be a living sacrifice as we seek to put to death the natural inclinations and impulses of our fallen nature while pursuing a holy life and spiritual guidance from God through His indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom 6:6-8; 8:13; 13:13-14; 2 Cor 5:17; 7:1; Gal 2:20; 5:16-25; 6:8; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:8-10).

Oswald Chambers writes:

Why did God demand that the natural must be sacrificed? God did not demand it. It is not God’s perfect will, but His permissive will. God’s perfect will was for the natural to be changed into the spiritual through obedience. Sin is what made it necessary for the natural to be sacrificed.(56)

From the beginning of time God fully intended to save humanity by Himself dieing that we might have life. When sin entered the world it became impossible for humanity to reach its potential through God’s preferred path, which was that the natural would “be changed into the spiritual through obedience.” Because of sin humanity could not attain immortality by obedience to the Creator, as the relationship that made this obedience possible had been severed.

God’s ultimate goal has always been the creation of an eternal, holy family with whom He can dwell. He created us in His image but when the fall removed our access to immortality He revealed His alternative plan, which was for the Lord Jesus Christ to lay down His life that we might have eternal life. Now the natural must be sacrificed rather than sanctified and it is in that sacrifice that sanctification is made possible through the blood (life) of Jesus Christ. If we give Him our lives we find a new, fuller life and we are transformed into new people – the eternal children of the Living, Eternal, Father God.

The idea that this one Man, Jesus Christ, would be the substitute who takes the penalty for the sins of the whole world is God’s idea, not ours. This concept is not a human construct, it is a God given Way for us to be remade into people who can have an eternal, loving relationship with their holy Creator. We must humbly come to the cross of Christ and accept His gift. The blood (life) that He shed for us is the means by which we can be imparted with the new life, the eternal life God wants each person to experience. Through Christ’s blood a sinner can become a saint, all the OT sacrifices were shadows of this eternal Truth. Not through pious performances, prayers, fasting or even altruistic lifestyles can we achieve immortality, but through Christ’s blood alone.

As Paul explained to the Romans:

But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, He will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of His Son while we were still His enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of His Son. (Romans 5:8-10)

Although there is no now need for sacrifices or the law, a plain reading of Revelation 7:4 nevertheless reveals God working through Messianic Jews, taken from the tribes of Israel and sealed for His service; thus their genealogical heritage is somehow important during the Great Tribulation. The marvellous truth is that the 144,000 Messianic Jews will be the most amazing missionaries the world has ever seen.

While the Great Tribulation is being played out, as civilisation crumbles and modern society loses all of its technological advantages, the 144,000 Jewish missionaries will be reaching out to the peoples of the world by sharing the gospel message. When people finally realise how fleeting are the rewards of materialism, they will let go of the transitory things of this world and turn back to their Creator in astounding numbers. It is significant that after the 144,000 servants of God are sealed and go forth preaching the gospel, Revelation 7:9 reveals a multitude of believers “out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” It seems the ground upon which the seed of the gospel is sown by these born again Jews during the Great Tribulation reaps a rich harvest of souls for Christ’s Eternal Kingdom. Verse 14 tells us that “These are they which come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This great multitude from all over the world will be saved during the world’s most horrific times. I am saddened to think that so many people will have to experience this time of tribulation and so I continue to hope for a great revival of belief in Christ before the Rapture. Lord God may it be so!

I do not claim to have reached any deep understanding of prophetic scriptures and I look forward to further study, but it seems things are not always black and white. Messianic prophecy and promises are intertwined with prophecy and promises to the children of Jacob/Israel. To simply insist on supersessionism does not seem to deal fully with the issue, but neither would I call myself a dispensationalist, because to my mind this too has some questionable aspects. Thankfully doctrine is a progressive process. The body of Christ shares and debates, considers and prays, and together we grow. I look forward to continuing this journey.

94 What about the Rapture?

After accepting the futurist approach and a role for national Israel during the end times as the most scripturally convincing model, the next decision I needed to make was whether The Bible taught that Jesus would come for His people before the Second Coming. In other words, are there good scriptural reasons to believe there will be a Rapture of the true church before the Second Coming? I believe there are.

When we look to the scriptures we find that Jesus places His Second Coming immediately after the tribulation, Matthew records Him saying:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the Earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mat 24:29-30)

If the saints are raptured at the time of the Second Coming this would have to be after the Great Tribulation. However, Paul assured the Thessalonians they would be rescued from the wrath to come because they serve the living God. Writer Jeff Kluttz points out that this passage contains a well constructed grammatical symmetry. In his book, The Return of the King, Kluttz refers to the Thessalonians passage where Paul writes:

For they themselves are telling people how you welcomed us, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve the true and living God, and to await His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, the One delivering us from the coming wrath. (1Th 1:9-10)

In his letter Paul praised the Thessalonian church members for having turned from idols to God and for their steadfastness in serving and waiting for His Son from heaven. This Son, Jesus, is the One who rescues us from “the coming wrath“. Kluttz sees two parts in verse 10 that complement each other nicely. He points out that the Son, who is being waited for, is the One who will deliver those who are waiting from “the coming wrath (57). He will return not only to complete His work on Earth, but to deliver those who await His return from the final turmoil that will be the result of God’s wrath.

Paul also assured the Romans they would be saved from wrath when he wrote:

But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Rom 5:8-9)

Some futurists claim that being “saved from wrath” means God will keep His people safe, despite the fact that they will remain on Earth during the seven years of the Great Tribulation. Kluttz persuasively points to the gospel of Luke as containing a key passage, which presents the possibility that some people will not just be cared for during the Great Tribulation, but will actually escape it. Luke records Jesus’ words:

Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)

Kluttz suggests:

“That day,” referred to in verse 34, refers to the distress of the great tribulation in the context of Jesus’ teaching. He states of that day that “it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” This is an iron clad statement, using several over-kill words. Jesus’ point is clear: if you live on earth, the great tribulation will come upon you and will affect you. However, Jesus does not presume in his teaching that everyone learning from his teachings will be on earth at that time. He encourages his students in verse 36 to “pray that you may be able to escape” all that will happen in that day. While he had just noted that there could be no escape for anyone living on the earth in that day he also inspires them to pray to somehow be able to escape this coming day. Clearly the possibility exists for someone to escape. And, if these events will fall upon everyone living on earth, then the only way to escape is to not be on earth when that day arrives. (58)

When we look at:

For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1Th 4:16-17)

We see that when the Rapture takes place, the believers will be removed from the Earth to meet the Lord in the air. The dead in Christ and the living believers are removed from the Earth and by implication the unbelievers are left behind. The believers alone are mentioned in this passage and it is the beginning of the time when they shall “ever be with the Lord.” It is indeed a time that is eagerly anticipated by those who love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

Compare the preceding verse to:

Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. (Mat 13:30)

…which Jesus clarifies:

The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Mat 13:41-42)

Here the unbelievers are the ones removed in judgment and the believers are the ones left behind alive on the earth, which has now become the worldwide kingdom of the Son of Man. These verses are not in conflict when we view the Thessalonians passage as referring to the Rapture (the time when Jesus comes to gather the elect before the Great Tribulation) and the Matthew passage as dealing with His Second Coming, when the angels will separate and remove from the Earth those who continue in disbelief; this time leaving behind those who have accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation during the Great Tribulation.

The Rapture is a time of “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) while the Second Coming, in stark contrast, is a time of dreadful judgment (Mat 13:42).

©Pacific Press: Licensed from

©Pacific Press: Licensed from

Right now the saints are eagerly awaiting the glorious return of their Saviour. Hebrews assures us: also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for Him. (Heb 9:28)

This coming is not to deal with sin, because those who have accepted His substitutionary death have had their sins dealt with already; it is a coming for those who eagerly await Him – those intentionally living lives that reflect the teachings of the Lord through His Word. As the Luke passage above indicates, Jesus constantly warned His listeners to “Watch” for His return. In Luke’s gospel He says:

But watch ye at every season, making supplication, that ye may prevail to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:36)

Those who believe in the pre-tribulation Rapture anticipate the saints meeting the Lord in the air and consequently escaping the terrible things that will take place on the Earth during the Great Tribulation (1 Thes 1:10). After the Rapture believers are taken to “stand before the Son of Man” at the believers’ judgment seat, the Bema Judgment, where they are rewarded for perseverance during their earthly lives. Jesus taught:

Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you. (Mat 5:11-12)

Paul adds:

And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)

While Peter tells us:

And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. (1 Peter 5:4)

However, Paul also told the Corinthians:

For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw. And the quality of each person’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it. For on that Day fire will reveal everyone’s work; the fire will test it and show its real quality. If what was built on the foundation survives the fire, the builder will receive a reward. But if your work is burnt up, then you will lose it; but you yourself will be saved, as if you had escaped through the fire. (1Corinthians 3:11-15)

God is a consuming fire (Deut 4:24, 9:3; Heb 12:29). When we stand before our Lord on that day, anything we have built that is not of Him will be totally consumed by His presence. While the believer will be purified by this fire, the unbeliever will perish in the Lake of Fire. The difference is due entirely to the fact that the believer is in Christ, who covers us in His righteousness.

Some might insist that the time for rewards and the time of judgment will occur concurrently. Admittedly this is quite possible, but it seems more scripturally accurate to me that the saints are raptured, transformed, stand before the bema seat to be rewarded (or stripped of their false teachings) and are taken to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9); while those who have rejected the gospel (refusing to listen to the One who can save them from the wrath to come), will live through a time of terrible trial and tribulation. During this time, those who have been “left behind” may yet take advantage of the opportunities God will create for them to see the state of the world without the restraining power of the Holy Spirit at work and finally admit humanity’s desperate need for the Creator’s gift of salvation.

95 Anyone with ears to hear should listen

In a very real sense biblical Christians are the ambassadors of reality in the world today. We are neither optimists nor pessimists, we seek the truth. From our personal relationship with the Lord we understand from His Word that although the world is fallen and humanity is flawed, we have a great hope before us. Sadly, many people refuse to see and hear this reality and are therefore oblivious to the Greater Reality. Jesus often spoke about people refusing to listen to His words, He said:

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” His disciples came and asked Him, “Why do You use parables when You talk to the people?” He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to My teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. (Matthew 13:9-13)

Perhaps when the full nature of humanity’s inhumanity is evident, many who have been deceived by Satan’s anthology of lies will be able to see past the world’s false representation of reality and will seek out the Greater Reality. Certainly this must be what the Father desires (1Timothy 2:4). Jesus talked about His coming to bring light, and this light is also the light that illuminates the mind. Jesus said:

For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all. So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to My teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” (Luke 8:17-18)

Our minds have been darkened by Satan’s lies, but Jesus wants to shine His light into our minds so that we can see and understand the truth of the gospel. I must admit I find it difficult to know what it is that brings people to the point where they actually stop and listen with open minds to the Word of God, and tragically many never do. It is perhaps easier to understand why people don’t listen. Our world is filled with authoritative voices proclaiming Satan’s lies and unfortunately many refuse to even entertain the possibility of a spiritual reality. In our media rich world, numerous intelligent, outspoken critics of Jesus’ message have created an atmosphere of intellectual snobbery around atheism; consequently it is considered by some people to be almost an admission of poor education or a lack of intelligence to believe in anything other than the material universe. However, God’s Word tells us that if we seek Him with all our heart and soul we will find Him (Deut 4:29).

I heard a young woman on television recently comment that because she loved science, she was not at all interested in the supernatural or anything to do with God. The fact that she viewed these two areas as mutually exclusive is almost certainly attributable to the strong naturalist emphasis in the media and public education systems throughout the western world today. She, and thousand like her, appear to have no idea how closed minded this attitude is. There is no doubt that Isaac Newton, Carolus Linneaus, Michael Faraday, Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel and Joseph Lister also loved science, but these men had no difficulty also seeing the Greater Reality. In today’s world people like Dr Raymond Damadian, who invented the MRI scanner, also have no difficulty loving both science and their Creator.

96 Why would God allow a Great Tribulation?

During the present Church Age, the Father has been reaching out to people all over the world in a gentle, loving way. Since Jesus went to be with the Father and sent us the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to be our means of contact with the only true God, He has been lovingly directing His people through His Word and reaching out to the world through His gospel. Just as a parent attempts to bring a child into line with gentle persuasion, our Father has been attempting to bring us into His Eternal Kingdom with love and grace. But eventually, when a child refuses to be turned from their stubborn determination to take a destructive path, the parent uses more forceful tactics, and so it will be with God.

Once the Holy Spirit’s restraining work has ceased and the church is removed, there will be people in the midst of the chaos that will ensue, who were impervious to God’s gentle persuasion. Finally, they will stop and listen to, hear and accept the gospel message, having been driven to the Truth by the brutal, godless reality they find themselves in. Throughout the Great Tribulation God will compellingly reach out to save the lost, but those people who come to Him during this time will suffer terrible persecution, often at the cost of their own lives. This company of martyred, tribulation saints will find a special place in God’s heart (Rev 7:9-17).

I find it difficult to envision a world where the Holy Spirit is no longer holding back the powers of evil, but perhaps this was reality before the Comforter (Restrainer) came to Earth (John 16:7-8). The secular world believes our modern civilisation is the result of human moral evolution, but as Christians we can see it has been the work of the Holy Spirit that has influenced our civilisation. Through the Holy Spirit’s work God drew humankind into a new cultural norm that was greatly influenced by the teachings of Jesus, and it is this that brought about a better world.

New Age teachings would have us believe we all have a spark of God within us. Thus God is perceived as some sort of unified, human, psychic force, which individuals need to nurture and grow. If God is simply something that has evolved, as a human collective subconsciousness, he is nothing more than a human construct and we can make of him whatever we choose. The difficulty arises when different people groups choose to give him different faces. However, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ has revealed Himself as unique; pre-existing all of His creation. He has also revealed that 6000 years ago the creature did not have the moral fibre of the Creator. The Creator had to step into human history to make the changes that were necessary for humanity to regain what was lost by their rebellion.

Today, humanist leaders all over the world are trying to dismantle the Christian foundations upon which our western civilisation is based. The world is rejecting the Creator on a grand scale and the great falling away Paul warned would come has begun (2 Thes 2:3). Although the church and the Holy Spirit are still present in the world, it will become increasingly more difficult for people to actually hear the gospel in the days to come. Many in the church have abandoned the authority of The Bible and are preaching a watered down version of the gospel, which is nothing more than humanism with Christian terminology. It seems impossible that the revival many believers are hoping and praying for to occur will happen, without a mighty intervention from God.

When the Restrainer is removed and the Great Tribulation begins, the 144,000 Messianic Jews mentioned in Revelation 7:3 will be called out as God’s servants to evangelise the unhappy souls who refused to listen to His Word before the Rapture. Along with these Jewish believers there will be Bibles and Christian books left behind for people to consult, but the church will be gone. I have heard Christians state that they are not happy about this, that we are cowards to leave the unsaved behind during such violent and chaotic times.

Anyone with a conscience can understand such a sentiment, but that is exactly what it is, sentiment. It is the same sort of sentiment that makes people question why God has allowed suffering and that Peter expressed when he begged the Lord to avoid the cross (Mat 16:22-23). The truth is, we would never understand how devastating sin actually is if God had not allowed suffering. We are assuming a great deal if we believe we can bring people into the kingdom by our presence when God knows it is time to move on to the next phase of His plan. God’s love will be extended in a very different way during the Great Tribulation. It will be the absence of His presence that will highlight His love. Until that time we must continue to present the gospel to people, but ultimately they are responsible for their responses.

Matthew records what has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse. This discussion took place a few days before the crucifixion, when Jesus and His disciples were sitting together on the Mount of Olives. In this passage Jesus gives the disciples a list of things to watch out for that will be the precursors to His return (Mat 24). He instructs the disciples to keep watch for His return and then He recounts The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Mat 25:1-13).

©Lynne Davis: Licensed from

©Lynne Davis: Licensed from

This parable concerns ten young women who are part of a wedding party. They each have a lamp and they go to meet the bridegroom to accompany him to the wedding feast, but they are left waiting many hours before the bridegroom comes to join them. After the long wait they fall asleep and when they wake up five of the young women find they have forgotten to bring oil for their lamps and while they are searching for a place to buy more oil the bridegroom comes and they are locked out of the feast.

The parable illustrates the point that we are each individually responsible to prepare ourselves for the bridegroom’s coming. The five unprepared women, who had not brought extra oil, tried to procure it from those who had made preparation and had brought extra oil for their lamps. Jesus calls the women who had made their preparation wise. They understood they needed to take it upon themselves to prepare for the time ahead. The unprepared virgins had hoped those with extra oil would share it with them, but the wise women sent them to find oil for themselves.

We must each make our own preparations if we want to be part of the Bridegroom’s wedding feast, we will not be able to depend on another person’s vigilance, we must make preparations for ourselves. The oil in this parable represents the Holy Spirit. Unless we have personally asked God to fill us with His Holy Spirit we will not be able to go with the Bridegroom and will be left behind at the Rapture. The Holy Spirit cannot be procured from another believer, we must personally go to the source for our own supply.

After the Rapture people will continue to be born again and the Holy Spirit will be born into these new believers; but it will be a different world when the Restrainer is no longer holding back the powers of Satan and his minions. These new believers will also be spreading the gospel, but this will be at great personal cost. The graphic descriptions of this time in the Revelation are probably not far from the mark, as demonic powers are manifested and appear throughout the world and the 21 terrible judgments of the Revelation run their course.

Following the 144,000 Messianic Jews, who go out into the world to spread the gospel, there are two witnesses with miraculous powers who also preach and prophesy for three and a half years in Jerusalem (Rev 11:1-14). Then, finally, God will make one last, great announcement to humanity, when He sends an angel to proclaim the everlasting gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be God’s angelic messenger who is the last evangelist, the angel will broadcast to the peoples of the world that the time has come for them to make the most important decision they will ever make. This angel will be seen and heard by every person on Earth and he will declare that judgment is at hand and they must all immediately decide whether they will give their lives into the hands of their Creator and accept His gift of salvation.

©Janet Hyun: Licensed from

©Janet Hyun: Licensed from

John records:

And I saw another angel flying in mid heaven, having an eternal gospel to proclaim unto them that dwell on the Earth, and unto every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he saith with a great voice, Fear God, and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship Him that made the heaven and the Earth and sea and fountains of waters. (Rev 14:6-7)


97 Twenty-One Terrible Judgments

During the Great Tribulation God will pour out 21 terrible judgments upon the Earth. In Revelation 5 we find the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the Lamb that was slain opens the seals which release:

The Seal Judgments
1. The world’s greatest dictator (Revelation 6:1-2)
2. The world’s greatest war (Revelation 6:3-4)
3. The world’s greatest famine (Revelation 6:5-6)
4. The world’s greatest death blow (Revelation 6:7-8)
5. The world’s greatest persecution (Revelation 6:9-11)
6. The world’s greatest ecological disaster (Revelation 6:12-17)
7. The world’s greatest hour of fear … actually the lull before the storm (Revelation 8:1)

Following the seal judgments are:

The Trumpet Judgments
The trumpets of heaven sound an alarm throughout the world announcing the public judgments of God. Each blast ushers in an added judgment.
1. The world’s greatest fire (Revelation 8:7)
2. The world’s greatest oceanic disturbance (Revelation 8:8-9)
3. The world’s greatest pollution of water (Revelation 8:10-11)
4. The world’s greatest darkness (Revelation 8:12-13)
5. The world’s greatest pestilential invasion (Revelation 9:1-6)
6. The world’s greatest army (Revelation 9:16)
7. The world’s greatest storm (Revelation 11:15-19)

These are followed by:

The Vial Judgments
1. The world’s greatest epidemic (Revelation 16:2)
2. The world’s greatest contamination by blood (sea) (Revelation 16:3-7)
3. The world’s greatest contamination by blood (rivers & springs) (Revelation 16:3-7)
4. The world’s greatest scorching (Revelation 16:8-9)
5. The world’s greatest plague (Revelation 16:10-11)
6. The world’s greatest invasion (Revelation 16:12)
7. The world’s greatest earthquake (Revelation 16:18) (see)

At the end of this terrible time of tribulation, during which the Father makes His final call to lost humanity, Jesus will return with the risen and transformed saints for the battle known as Armageddon. The terrible judgments of Revelation are over and the Lord arrives with His retinue to dispatch Satan and his cohort. This is the Second Coming. At this time God’s holy angels will remove from the Earth all those who stubbornly continue to reject the Lord of life (Rev 9:20,21; 16:11), while the newly redeemed tribulation saints, who remain on the Earth, will live on into the Millennium with the raptured saints who returned with the Lord. The tares will be removed from the wheat and the raptured saints will join the followers of Jesus who are left behind this time to live on through a thousand years in which the Lord of lords will reign on the Earth.

In the little book of Jude, we find in a discussion concerning the fate of those who have denied the Lord Jesus Christ:

Enoch, who lived in the seventh generation after Adam, prophesied about these people. He said, “Listen! The Lord is coming with countless thousands of His holy ones to execute judgment on the people of the world. He will convict every person of all the ungodly things they have done and for all the insults that ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” (Jude 1:14-15)

Although some versions of The Bible translate the “holy ones” in this verse as angels, the NT has another word for angels, it is ἄγγελος (angelos). The Greek word in this verse is ἅγιος (hageeos), which means sacred, blameless, ceremonially consecrated, holy (one or thing) or saint. Thus the resurrected and transformed saints will accompany the Lord of lords at the Second Coming, when He returns to bring judgment to the world. These holy ones will not be part of this judgment (as it is the angels who prepare the Earth for the Lord to reign), but they will be in the train of supporters who watch as the Risen Son of God brings about God’s realised kingdom on Earth. Jesus told His disciples:

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with much power and glory. And then He will send His angels and will gather His elect from the four winds, from the end of earth to the end of heaven. (Mar 13:26-27)

In this passage the elect are gathered together “from the end of earth to the end of heaven.” A form of this term is used as an idiom for the gathering of scattered people in other parts of The Bible (Jer 49:36; Daniel 11:4; Zec 2:6), but here we find the phrase used in the context of Jesus’ return from His heavenly abode and with the addition of the reference to the uttermost parts of both heaven and Earth. Thus the Rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4 is the time when God catches away from the Earth all those who are eagerly awaiting His return before the Great Tribulation. The Second Coming happens after the Great Tribulation, when Jesus returns with His elect (now dressed in the finest of pure white linen (Rev 3:4)), who have been gathered together, not just from the Earth – but from one end of heaven to the other, to accompany the Lord Jesus when He returns in judgment.

John records:

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for He judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on His head were many crowns. A name was written on Him that no one understood except Himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and His title was the Word(Logos) of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed Him on white horses. (Rev 19:11-14)

Art by Pat Marvenko Smith ©1982/1992, 2005 -

Art by Pat Marvenko Smith ©1982/1992, 2005 –

The innocent man who was crucified to take away the penalty for our sin will be the One who brings fair and righteous judgment to the Earth.

Looking at events this way these passages are all in harmony. It seems that the scriptural references to the Rapture and the Second Coming are best understood when we view them as containing events that occur on two separate occasions, happening at different times in world history.

98 Timeless imagery or historical chronology?

Despite the fact that the Revelation is filled with graphic imagery, we can still take a plain reading approach to the book. John’s record reads as a chronological unfolding of future events and I see no reason for us to decide God intended it to be viewed in any other way. It is actually the last big prophetic outline for the church and all other prophecy must be harmonised with it. In Revelation 1:19 Jesus tells John to:

Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; (Rev 1:19)

This is a timeline, a progression. To this point John “hast seen” and described the Risen Christ (a description that is remarkably similar to that given by Daniel (Dan 7:9)), who instructed him to write down what he is about to see and send a copy to the churches. The “things which are” relate to seven churches that existed at the time John received the Revelation near the end of the first century. Jesus gives an individual assessment of each of these seven churches in chapters 2 and 3.

Immediately after the analysis of the seven churches a door is opened and John is invited into heaven. He writes:

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. (Rev 4:1)

Although it is not stated explicitly, there is good reason to believe that this is the point in the Revelation chronology at which the believers are Raptured. The “things which must be hereafter” are about to be revealed. After the assessment of the seven churches, which some believe is also a prophetic outline of church history (see), the focus moves to heaven. Pre-tribulationists believe it is at this point in the fulfilling of the Revelation that the church will be taken out of the Earth and will “come up hither” before the terrifying “things” are unleashed. There is strong scriptural evidence to support this claim.

The church is not mentioned again from this point until after Jesus has brought the Revelation chronology to an end, when He is once again instructing John to make sure His message is sent out to the churches. Then He says:

I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. (Rev 22:16)

Some people claim that to see Revelation 4 to 19 as a prophecy that excludes the church means the book becomes irrelevant to the church. Nothing could be further from the truth. The church must be passionately concerned about the eternal destiny of all peoples everywhere. The fact that billions of people will be left behind on an earth where Satan and his minions are ravaging humanity must always concern the church, even though she won’t be involved. Until that time Revelation should serve as an urgent prompt to action. Jesus explicitly sent this message to the church, and the church has a moral duty to work unceasingly to bring the gospel to everyone alive on the planet today. After the Rapture the tribulation saints will be looking very carefully at the book of Revelation.

The words “church” and “churches” occur 22 times in the first three chapters of Revelation (1:3, 4, 11, 20 [twice]; 2:1, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 17, 18, 23, 29; 3:1, 4, 6, 7, 13, 14, 22) but are completely absent from chapters 4 through to 19, when all of the catastrophic occurrences are described. In other words, the church does not appear to be part of the era when God pours out His wrath upon the Earth. In answer to their prayers, the church will have escaped (Luke 21:36).

In Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29 and 3:6, 13, 22 Jesus says:

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches.”

This exact phrase is used seven times in chapters 2 and 3 but in chapter 13 verse 9 we find:

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.

The church is significantly absent from chapters 4 through to 19; however, there is mention of holy people (13:7, 10), and they will be those who accept Jesus as their Saviour during the Great Tribulation. These tribulation saints will endure incredible hardship and be persecuted to the point where there will be no opportunity to create a church in the way the church existed before the Rapture. As the church has been taken out of the world they can no longer be baptised into the body of believers (1 Cor 12:13), but believers will still be indwelt and guided by the Holy Spirit.

If the church is removed from the Earth we could assume they have been transported to heaven, because that is where John was taken. There is good scriptural evidence that this is indeed the case. After John is taken up into heaven he sees:

Twenty-four thrones surrounded Him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. (Rev 4:4)

These elders cannot be angels, as far as we know angels were all created at the same time and are all the same age, so there are no “elder” angels. Also angels are never described as sitting in God’s presence, but the elect are. As Paul tells us:

For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:6)

These elders are described as being clothed in white with gold crowns on their heads. Although angels are often said to be wearing white clothing, Jesus had just explained that the saints in Sardis, who have not defiled their garments, would wear white. He said:

Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. (Rev 3:4)

Nor is there any mention in scripture of angels wearing crowns, whereas the saints are often mentioned as being rewarded with crowns. In 2 Timothy 4:8 there is a crown of righteousness, James 1:12 and Rev 2:10 mention crowns of life and 1 Peter 5:4 adds the crown of glory. All these crowns are rewarded to the faithful and eventually Jesus says:

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. (Rev 3:11)

Throughout the rest of chapter 4 there is a time of praise and worship as those who are born again and are now with the Lord in heaven acknowledge the wondrous work of God in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is good reason to believe these elders are the elders of the raptured church seated in heavenly places with Christ. In Revelation 5 we find:

And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one having harps and golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the book and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation. (Rev 5:8-9)

Jesus redeems people, not angels; these are indeed the redeemed of the Lord. Some commentators surmise that the 24 elders are the 12 Jewish patriarchs and the 12 disciples of Jesus. This may be so as the church will have joined the saints from the OT during the Rapture.

Chapter 5 is concerned with the declaration that the Lamb of God is the only One worthy to open the book that is tightly closed with seven seals. At this point Jesus is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” and His relationship to Israel is now emphasised. All that is about to be released relates to Israel and it is clear the church is no longer the centre of God’s focus on Earth; God has turned His attention back to the Jews.

Chapter 6 records the opening of the first four seals of the book, which release four riders, each on different coloured horses. These bring great disasters to the people of the Earth. The opening of the fifth seal reveals an altar, under which a multitude of martyrs await justice and the opening of the sixth seal leads to earthquakes and other catastrophic events. Then we hear:

And they said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him sitting on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of His wrath has come, and who will be able to stand?” (Rev 6:16-17)

Those who stubbornly refuse to recognise the Truth will finally be forced to admit that this is God’s world; it did not spontaneously burst into existence from chance chemical reactions. But sadly many do not turn in repentance to the God who created them; instead they choose to hide from Him, even though they know He is about to pour out the wrath He has warned for thousands of years would finally come. At this point in the Revelation the great day of God’s wrath is about to dawn on the Earth, but first the 144,000 servants of God from all the tribes of Israel are sealed to protect them from God’s wrath.

Those who claim Israel has no future, believing the Lord Jesus is the fulfilment of all the promises to Israel, must face the fact that the tribes of Israel are central here. Some commentators see this passage as symbolic, and many interpretations have been suggested for the 144,000 Israelis; however, a plain reading approach needs no such interpretations. As mentioned earlier, these Messianic Jews are called to carry the message of salvation to the people living through the Great Tribulation, which is systematically laid out through the next eleven chapters of the Revelation (Rev 8-18). Throughout this entire period there is no mention of the church.

Further judgment is delivered after the seventh seal is opened (Rev 8:1), then after this horrendous seven year period draws to a close, God will call an end to His final, unmistakable attempt to bring people into His Eternal Kingdom. He will have spent thousands of years reaching out to rebellious humanity, graciously offering them the free gift of eternal life, which He procured through His own death on the cross. This final, catastrophic seven year phase will be the climax, and if it were not cut short no one would survive (Mat 24:22). The Lord Jesus will then return with His raptured saints to establish His millennial kingdom.

99 The first resurrection and the Millennium

Since He sent His Son to rescue us from death (2 Cor 1:5; Gal 1:4), we know that those who accept God’s gift of eternal life will be resurrected to life and go on into eternity with the Lord Jesus after the resurrection and Rapture Paul refers to in his first letter to the Thessalonians (1Thes 4:16). It is the timing of this resurrection and the Rapture that has presented difficulties for the church, and it is this issue that took me a number of years to work through. I now believe there are four distinct stages of the first resurrection, and the one associated with the Rapture of the church is but one.

  1. The very first person to be resurrected to eternal life was, of course, the Lord Jesus who, as the Head of the Body of Christ and the “first fruits of them that slept,” (1 Cor 15:20-25) opened the Way into eternal life for the Old and New Testament saints. As such, Jesus’ resurrection was the first stage of the first resurrection mentioned as being completed in Revelation 20:5. In this first phase a number of saints who had been buried near Jerusalem also rose from their graves and went into Jerusalem and were seen by many people (Mat 27:52-53). We do not know the fate of these saints, they may well have experienced a second death as Lazarus did.
  2. The second stage of this first resurrection happens just prior to the Rapture Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians, when those who are “asleep in Christ” are raised from the dead to join the living believers, then all the saints meet the Lord in the air shortly before the beginning of the Great Tribulation (1 Thes 4:15-17; 1 Cor 15:51-52).

    ©Ain Vares /Licensed from

    ©Ain Vares /Licensed from

  3. Following the Rapture of the resurrected and living saints, the two witnesses  are also resurrected and taken into heaven during the Great Tribulation (Rev 11:11), this is the third stage.
  4. Finally, there is the resurrection of the tribulation saints mentioned in Revelation 20:4. When the tribulation saints are resurrected the first resurrection, which is the resurrection of the righteous, is completed (Rev 20:5).

Those who are part of this first resurrection will not be subject to the second death (Rev 20:6), but instead will be given a productive role in Christ’s millennial kingdom which is introduces in Revelation 20:5.

Some people believe we are now living through the Millennium, whether a literal thousand years, or a “long period of time,” this would nevertheless mean that Satan has been bound (Rev 20:2-3) and is consequently unable to deceive humankind. From my observations, in this present age, Satan is very active and has calculatedly sown confusion, lies and intricate counterfeits amongst the peoples of the world throughout the last six thousand years.

In his defence of amillennialism, reformed theologian, Professor David Engelsma claims:

The binding of Satan is the restraint of him in this one respect: he cannot establish the kingdom of Antichrist. (59)

The Bible actually states:

Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. (Rev 20:3)

There is no evidence of Satan being bound throughout the past two millennia. There has been constant deception in the nations throughout the entire period of time from the establishment of the church to the present day. Consequently, there is no reason to believe we are either living through the Millennium now or that the Millennium is something that occurred earlier in church history.

The Millennium will be a time of restoration. It seems feasible to view the Great Tribulation as a time when the Creator dismantles all the evil, ungodly structures humankind has created on His Earth that promote injustice, oppression, war, famine, poverty and inequality. Once again our Father will work all things together to bring good out of the evil times the Great Tribulation will prove to be. After the great demolishing of the rebellious kingdoms of this world, Jesus will establish His kingdom on Earth and He will reign for a thousand years, presiding over the only true theocracy that will ever have existed on this planet. During this time of prosperity and peace, justice and righteousness will prevail and the Earth will be restored to her original splendour.

©Pacific Press : Licensed from

©Pacific Press : Licensed from

Whatever people choose to believe about the book of Revelation the primary message is clear, the Lord Jesus Christ will be triumphant and He will come again to reward his people for their faithfulness to Him. He will also punish Satan and those who follow him. After the devastating time that Jesus called the Great Tribulation and His magnificent millennial reign the “rest of the dead” will be raised (Rev 20:5). John goes on to record:

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Rev 20:12)

Eventually there will be a new heaven and a new Earth with no crying, suffering, pain or death. Those who have placed their faith in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ will have access to both the Tree of Life (Rev 22:14) and the water of life (Rev 22:17).

©Janet Hyun: Licensed from

©Janet Hyun: Licensed from

Human access to the Tree of Life had been cut off at the very beginning of time, thus removing any hope for immortality (Gen 3:22-24). At the very end of God’s Word we find that Jesus has made it possible for anyone and everyone to have renewed access, not only to the tree, but also to the water of life and He has promised eternal life in the new heaven and new Earth to all who will accept His free gift of salvation. John declares:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (Rev 22:17)

Just like the Lord’s Supper, these symbols of life point us to the true source of life, Jesus Christ. The tree and the water do not have miraculous powers, even though they are no doubt physical realities, like the bread and the wine of the sacrament, they are physical reminders of the spiritual reality. Eternal life is found in the Son who has made it possible for us to eat and drink of the eternal life only the Father can provide.

People who have chosen to believe Jesus’ words know with absolute certainty that their eternal destiny is to be with God and His Son in the new creation. Many believers have taken the time to be well informed about this aspect of their lives. By contrast, the eternal destiny of the thousands of unbelievers around them is often an area to which they give little real attention. Most appear to carelessly accept the traditional teachings of their own particular denomination concerning the ultimate fate of the unbelieving dead.

Unbelievers also tend to steer clear of thoughts concerning the afterlife, although some appear to hold beliefs that are largely based on popular culture and mythology. These people usually have an understanding of the afterlife that is a mishmash of half truths and sentimental fables, which occasionally include a sort of human to angel transformation. However, The Bible is clear, the eternal destiny for those who reject God’s gift of salvation is anything but heavenly.

A crucial area that unbelievers should consider is the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead and seen by hundreds of people who testified to this fact. Jesus taught that every person who has ever lived will also be raised from the dead. Believers will be raised to stand before the throne of grace, the bema, after the Rapture and before the Great Tribulation and Millennium; while unbelievers will be resurrected to stand before the Great White Throne of Judgment after the Millennium (Rev 20:11-13).

At times I wonder whether we, as Christians, spend too much time arguing about the place of the saints during the end times, and not enough time thinking about the unsaved. Admittedly there is much to consider when thinking about end times ideas, but Christians have the certainty that whatever turns out to be the actual fulfilment of the many end times prophecies, they will be with their Lord in eternity. The curse of pain, suffering, death and decay will be lifted (Rev 22:3) and they will be given the gift of immortality.

The unsaved have no such promise. Ultimately, being good and kind may bring some into God’s kingdom (Mat 25:31-46, Rev 20:12), but those who have completely rejected God’s Son, despite all His efforts to reach out to them, will be condemned (John 3:18) to the Lake of Fire and the second death (Rev 21:8).

lake of fire


48 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. (1662 – 1714), e-Sword edition.
49 Francis A. Schaeffer. The Great Evangelical Disaster (pp. 96-97). Kindle Edition.
50 J. P. Lange, Commentary of the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (New York: Scribner’s, 1872), 98, quoted in Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 91
51 Anderson, Sir Robert. The Coming Prince. Chapter X.
52 Engelsma, Prof. David J. A Defense of (Reformed) Amillennialism. Standard Bearer, April 1, 1995 – December 15, 1996
53 Merrill Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), 146
54 Josephus, F. The Wars of the Jews. Book VII, Chapter I, Section 1
55 The Romans Destroy the Temple at Jerusalem, 70 AD, EyeWitness to History, (2005).
56 Chambers, O. My Utmost for His Highest. 10th December reading.
57 Kluttz, Jeff. The Return of The King: A Prophetic Timeline of End-Time Events (p. 85). Kindle Edition.
58 Ibid
59 Engelsma, Prof. David J. A Defense of (Reformed) Amillennialism. Standard Bearer, April 1, 1995 – December 15, 1996

What is the second death?

Contents of this chapter

101 Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and Hell
102 The rich man and Lazarus
103 What is the outer darkness?
104 Purification, annihilation or eternal torment
105 The Biblical view of immortal souls
106 The Old Testament
107 The New Testament
108 The Lake of Fire
109 The Justice of God
110 Does ignorance of God’s law excuse us?
111 God gave us stewardship over His creation
112 What purpose does punishment serve?
113 Punishment can be exclusion, exile and expulsion
114 Restorative and retributive justice
115 The apostles are silent
116 The Judgment Seat of Christ

100 What is the second death?

The term second death is used in the Revelation four times:

  1. The first is an encouragement to the overcomers in the church of Smyrna (Rev 2:11). Those faithful servants, who stand fast against Satan, even to the point of giving their lives, will not be hurt by the second death.
  2. The second is an assurance to the Tribulation Saints who do not take the mark of the beast, but are martyred then raised in the first resurrection (Rev.20:6) The second death has “no power” over the saints who have a part in the first resurrection.
  3. The third usage (Rev 20:14) describes the final destruction of death and hell. They are cast into the Lake of Fire where the second death eliminates death (1 Cor 15:26, Rev 21:4) and, we can assume, hell also (there is no reason to believe their fates are different).
  4. Finally (Rev. 21:8) unbelievers are also cast into the Lake of Fire to experience the second death.

The first death is, of course, the death of the body. No one could deny the reality of the bodily death of people, who have lived throughout the ages, but many questions surround the fate of their spirit and soul. Christianity teaches that human, mortal life will end with death, because death entered the world following Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. The Bible tells us that individuals have a choice between two resurrections, two judgments and two eternal destinies following physical death.

graveyardAll of humanity will have been offered the free gift of eternal life, enabling them to be part of the resurrection of the righteous – the first resurrection; the alternative is the unbeliever’s resurrection, after which those who have rejected Christ’s gift of salvation will perish (John 3:16) in the second death (Rev 21:8). Believers are resurrected to eternal life before the thousand year millennial reign of Christ, and unbelievers are resurrected to condemnation and the second death after the thousand years have passed (Luke 14:14; 20:35-36; John 5:29; Acts 24:15; 1 Cor 15:12-13; Heb 11:35; Rev 20:5-6).

As with the eastern and New Age religions, many Christians believe The Bible teaches that humans possess an immortal essence. The popular understanding of this concept is that humans have immortal souls; although Christians who subscribe to this belief claim it is the spirit that is immortal. Those believers, who accept the doctrine of the immortal spirit, broadly accept one of three understandings of the second death. These three views are that unbelievers will experience:

  1. being cast into outer darkness, living eternally separated from God.
  2. a purification or cleansing process in the Lake of Fire, which destroys rebellion and brings unbelievers to faith by an understanding of Jesus’ love for them.
  3. an eternal existence of perpetual torment in the Lake of Fire mentioned in the Revelation.

A fourth possibility for the fate of the unbelieving dead is sometimes referred to as annihilation. Those who subscribe to this understanding, claim the biblical verses concerning the second death indicate that none of the three proposals listed above are scriptural. We are told the second death destroys death and (probably) hell, so that they are “no more”. People who accept the concept of annihilation suggest there is no biblical reason to assume the second death will have a different effect on human spirits, they can legitimately be assumed to be “no more”. People who accept annihilation as the biblical teaching on the second death also believe the doctrine of the immortal spirit is not a biblical concept. They suggest the second death means the absolute, eternal end of life for the unbelieving individual.

The period between death and resurrection for the unbeliever is usually referred to as hell or the grave. Let us examine The Bible’s teachings concerning this period before looking into life beyond the grave. Revelation 20:13 tells us:

The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds.(Rev 20:13)

From this verse we learn that the grave, which is also referred to as the place of the dead, is a temporary abode. Eventually, every person who has ever lived will be resurrected from the grave to stand before their Creator, who will determine their eternal destiny. The Bible looks at two aspects of the grave. Occasionally the sepulchre, the physical structure surrounding the grave is mentioned, but by far the most common use of the word “grave” concerns the place of the dead. This abode is often referred to as hell.

101 Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and Hell

The four words in The Bible that are translated as hell are Sheol, Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus. The last term, Tartarus, is found in 2 Peter 2:4 and refers to a place where angels who have sinned are kept in gloomy darkness until the Day of Judgment. It does not seem to have any relevance for the children of Adam and Eve.

Sheol is used throughout the OT and is generally accepted as the place of the dead, both righteous and wicked. It occurs 65 times in the Hebrew Bible and the KJV translates it as “hell” 31 times, “grave” 31 times and “pit” 3 times. Most modern versions of The Bible translate Sheol as the grave. OT saints hoped to be delivered from Sheol (Psalm 16:10, 30:3, 49:15, 86:13, Prov 15:24, Hos 13:14), but there was no clear OT teaching concerning a fulfilment of this hope. It was not until Jesus had died and risen that a full understanding of God’s provision for human life after death was revealed. Until that time there were only hints and hopes.

Gehenna, in Jewish theology, refers to a place of punishment for immoral people. According to some rabbis this punishment lasted no longer than twelve months, after which sinners were purified and ready to move on. By NT times it is likely that some of Jesus’ listeners would have been aware of this intertestamental rabbinic teaching.

gehenna5The origin of the word Gehenna was the smouldering rubbish dump just outside the walls of Jerusalem. This city dump was situated in the Valley of the son of Hinnom (in Hebrew “ga ben Hinnom”), which was known as Gehenna (a derivative of the Hebrew phrase). Refuse, dead animals and the corpses of criminals considered unworthy of burial were cast into this repellent valley. Most people aspired to a tomb that showed status or at least was part of a family plot (2 Sam19:37), while Gehenna would be reserved for criminals and outcasts. The bodies cast there did not pile up perpetually, but were visibly reduced to ash, and the place it symbolised was never seen by the Jews as a place of eternal torment. No Israelite would expect those who were cast into this fiery pit to live there forever, it was a place of dreadful death and destruction. To be thrown onto this dump would have been abhorrent to Jews, who had clear guidelines concerning the burial of the dead.

The valley of Gehenna was chosen as the Jerusalem rubbish dump because of its grisly past. It was here that wicked, rebellious Israelites had burned their children alive when worshipping pagan gods (2 Kings 23:10, 2 Chron. 28:3. 33:6, cf. Jer. 7:31, 19:5ff). The shameful history of this valley meant it was a fearful place and it came to be seen as the place of the damned in Jewish literature. To be cast into Gehenna would be the worst possible scenario for a person after death and would have brought disgust, shame and dishonour to the dead person and their family.

Jesus only used the word Gehenna when speaking to the people of Jerusalem and surrounding towns, who would be well aware of the city’s dump. These people would never have considered Gehenna as a place where life went on eternally, to them it was a place where all life ended and was completely consumed (or was purified and moved on, if they accepted the rabbinic teachings on the afterlife in Gehenna rather than the OT teachings). Jesus used this word for hell eleven times when addressing a Jewish audience, but this in no way endorsed the shameful practices of the past or the traditions that had grown up around the concept; it would, however, have evoked a sense of horror at the thought of this being the destiny of the wicked dead.

Hades is the brother of Zeus in Greek mythology. He was the ruler of the nether world, which was referred to as the domain of Hades.hades

In Greek mythology Hades was a place for the dead, which was divided into two compartments, one for the wicked and the other for the blessed. In the NT the Greek word Hades is used 11 times (4 times by Jesus and 4 times in Revelation) and it is the equivalent of Sheol in the OT. Hades is often mentioned alongside death (Rev 1:18, 20:13, 20:14) and in Revelation 6:8 Hades and Death are actually personified.

While the Sheol of the OT had generally been thought of as the domain of the dead, the NT reveals that the abode of believers immediately after death is with Christ and God (Lk 23:43, 2 Cor 5:6-8, Phil 1:23, Rev 6:9, 7:9 ff, 15:2 ff) and not in a compartment of Hades. In NT times this Greek word for the place of the dead was often used, but the pagan Greek understanding of this place is not part of biblical teaching.

Jesus used both words, Gehenna and Hades, when speaking of the afterlife for unbelievers. He may well have been alluding to the time before the judgment when He used the word Hades, which is the place of the dead. When relating the final destiny of individuals after the judgement He used the word Gehenna to remind us that the second death takes place in the Lake of Fire.

102 The rich man and Lazarus

In Luke 16 Jesus used the term Hades when He told the story of two men who died and moved on to the afterlife, one was a rich man and the other a beggar called Lazarus. There has been considerable debate about whether this story is actually a parable, an account from real life or prophecy. The story follows four other stories, which are clearly parables, The Bible actually tells us this fact in Luke 15:2. Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son to show the love and grace of God towards sinners. He then turned His attention to the scribes and Pharisees, who had been murmuring against Him about the company He kept. The last two parables regarding the wasteful steward and the rich man and Lazarus are directed towards these self righteous, religious men. Both stories admonish the listeners to prepare in this life for the life to come, while the Lazarus parable adds condemnation for covetousness and pride.

Jesus came up against these religious leaders again and again. While claiming to know God they failed to realise that He was, in fact, standing before them. They were so preoccupied with their own earthly standing they could not see that they were sealing their fate concerning their eternal destinies. In John 8 the Pharisees asked Jesus just who He thought He was, they were highly offended that this “man” could claim to be God. Their hearts and minds were so far from the God they claimed to represent they totally missed the truth; Jesus was not a man pretending to be God, He was God, who had chosen to become a man, so that they could have eternal life and be part of His Eternal Kingdom.

There are those who reason that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is not a parable, because, unlike every other person in a parable, Lazarus was named. Jesus no doubt had a reason for doing this, but the idea that it would indicate we are hearing a story from life is in no way supported by the beggar being given a name. Perhaps Jesus gave a name to this destitute man because, more often than not, beggars remain nameless during their lives on Earth. In this story it is the rich man who remained nameless, while the poor beggar, Lazarus, was given a name. This, in a sense, emphasises the transience of wealth and power on earth. What we do know is that this is not the Lazarus whose amazing story is told in chapter 11 of John’s gospel. The Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead was a man of means; he had a home in Bethany with his sisters, where Jesus often spent time.

©Providence Collection: Licensed from

©Providence Collection: Licensed from

Jesus told this story of the rich man and Lazarus to illustrate the point that money should be used to help the needy, not to support sumptuous, extravagant lifestyles during our time on Earth. The OT had plenty to say about looking after the poor and needy and Jesus was reinforcing this concept. Although they no doubt did give to the poor, Jesus had just admonished the hypocrites for “blowing their own trumpets” while doing so. In order to appear righteous in public, they would have someone blow a trumpet in the street, so that no one could miss them as they gave alms to the poor (Mat 6:2).

In this parable Jesus was emphasising the point that God knows people’s hearts, and their final destiny will depend on how He views them, not on how the world views them. God is not impressed by piety, position, prosperity or power, and perhaps if that is all we seek in this life, we will forfeit true riches in God’s Eternal Kingdom, which is to come.

Many traditionalists use this story to support the doctrine of eternal torment, but it does not actually say the rich man would be in torment eternally. The Greek word for torment used here is básanos and it is only found three times in The Bible. The word means “touchstone” and indicates a trial by testing the purity of something. Such a trial would not go on indefinitely, nor would the Jews, who were aware of the rabbinic teachings on purification in the afterlife, view this as a teaching on eternal torment. This form of trial is aimed at revealing the truth and Jesus was assuring His listeners that an individual’s standing before God will be openly revealed and conspicuously evident in the afterlife.

As with all parables, allegory is utilized throughout the story, but it is clear the main thrust concerns Jesus’ rejection of the sort of religious piety that ignored the spirit of the law and the prophets, while overemphasising more trivial matters (Mat 23:23; Luke 11:2-42). When we look more closely at some of the details of the parable, the use of symbolism is clear. Abraham’s bosom is not actually a place where believers are seated on Abraham’s lap immediately after death, and the fiery inferno in the parable need not be seen as a literal picture of hell. Although the Greek view of Hades included something similar to these two compartments, which was a common concept of hell in Jesus’ time, it was not a concept the listeners would have found in the OT. Some Jewish writings do hold an adaptation of this concept, but Jesus did not reveal the true picture of the afterlife until after His death and resurrection. Even today, most would agree that it is very unlikely believers will ultimately be found seated on Abraham’s lap, while looking down upon those suffering torment in the flames after their death. This is certainly not the sort of heaven we understand from the rest of NT scripture, but it would have been common as the Greek understanding of Hades and the afterlife. As He often did, Jesus was telling a parable, using a well known idea from day to day life, to illustrate a principle.

It is telling that Jesus uses the word Hades here and not the word Gehenna. As mentioned before, Hades seems to be used when Jesus is referring to the place of the dead before the resurrection and judgment, while Gehenna appears to refer to the Lake of Fire, which is the final abode after the Day of Judgment.

God has not made this aspect of the afterlife completely clear in the scriptures. From NT teachings we can discern that the place of the dead for unbelievers is actually a temporary abode, a sort of holding place until the resurrection of the dead on the Day of Judgment (Rev 20:5). Ultimately hell will be destroyed, and therefore it is not an eternal abode. At the end of this present creation the place of the unbelieving dead will cease to exist, it will be cast into the Lake of Fire along with the unbelievers (Rev 20:12-15).

103 What is the outer darkness?

One possibility that has been suggested as the eternal destiny of the unbelieving dead, is that after judgment they will be cast out into a place where they are eternally separated from God, in “outer darkness.” There are three verses in Matthew’s gospel that may be at the root of the idea that the eternal destiny of the unbelieving dead is a conscious, eternal existence in outer darkness. These verses are all records of Jesus’ words and the first is:

But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 8:12)

Next we find:

Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Mat 22:13)

Finally Matthew records Jesus saying:

Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Mat 25:30)

In each of these verses Jesus is instructing the listeners concerning the fate of the Jewish people who have had the light of the OT scriptures, and have heard His preaching, but have nevertheless refused to accept that He is the long awaited Messiah. By rejecting the light of the gospel they are condemned to the outer darkness of ignorance and error concerning God’s divine plan for humanity.

The word “darkness” in these verses comes from a Greek word that means shadiness or obscurity. For those who reject God’s Messiah there is only a darkened or obscured understanding of the great plan of Yahweh to create an eternal family for Himself. In the end, when they finally understand their folly, there is nothing left but weeping for those who refuse to come into the Light, while many will gnash their teeth in anger at God for not doing what they think He should do.

In John’s gospel Jesus gives a further hint about the darkness that influences our thoughts and deeds in this present world. He says:

He who believes on Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:18-19)

John also records:

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow Me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12)

Once again Jesus explained that we can choose to remain in the darkness of disbelief, but He offers each one of us the “light that leads to life.” The darkness of the grave is also referenced in the term outer darkness, but unbelievers will not remain forever in the grave, they will be resurrected for the Day of Judgment. Regarding this outer darkness as an eternal, conscious existence, separated from God, cannot be sustained in the light of 1 Corinthians 15:28, which looks forward to a time when God is all in all. Darkness is often contrasted with light in the scriptures and it usually represents the absence of God’s wisdom and light. Eternal darkness cannot exist when God is all in all. This doctrine also assumes that every person possesses an immortal spirit. We will examine this concept shortly.

104 Purification, eternal torment or annihilation

Apart from outer darkness, the three main scenarios for the fate of the unbelieving dead are:

  1. purification
  2. eternal torment.
  3. annihilation

If we accept that the Lake of Fire is a place of purification we overlook the fact that people can and will reject Christ (Mat 10:33, John 6:64), and it is only those who are in Christ who will survive the final destruction of this present, fallen creation. Adherents of the purification concept are usually called Universalists, and they suggest that purification allows people to see Jesus as God and that all of humanity will naturally accept Him once they have met Him. This is not consistent with scripture. There are numerous passages that speak about there being many who will perish or be destroyed. One such passage is:

For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will send you a prophet, just as He sent me, and He will be one of your own people. You are to obey everything that He tells you to do. Anyone who does not obey that prophet shall be separated from God’s people and destroyed.’ (Act 3:22-23)

The Bible teaches that people will choose to reject Christ. They have free will and they will exercise that free will to go their own way rather than God’s Way. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul discusses the secular world’s view of the gospel. He writes:

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.” So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1Co 1:18-24)

This passage is clear, some people (those headed for destruction) will reject the Messiah, God’s Son. Thus the question remains, “What is the eternal destiny of the unbelieving dead?”

If we are to believe the Lake of Fire is a place of eternal torment, we must make allowances for evil to go on eternally, after God has brought it to an end. God does not see torment as good, He has distinctly revealed in His Word that He takes no pleasure in disciplining His children. Our Creator wants all of humanity to turn back to Him (1 Tim 2:3,4; 2 Peter 3:9) and live righteous lives, but when we refuse He acts reluctantly (Gen 6:6). After describing their appalling behaviour He pleaded with Israel:

Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim? My heart is torn within Me, and My compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash My fierce anger. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy. (Hosea 11:8-9)

God held back from the destruction of Israel many times, but eventually He allowed destruction to overtake the nation when they refused to follow Him. Israel is strategically placed in the Middle East and has always been surrounded by powerful neighbours. God need only loose His restraint on these warlike neighbours to bring about His chastisement on the rebellious nation He created. It is with reluctance that God allows us to suffer and His heart is torn as He lifts His hand of restraint or brings about judgment.

Another area to be considered is that if the “second death” is synonymous with “eternal torment”, it must be some kind of never-ending process. The OT prophet Isaiah declared that death will ultimately be eliminated, it will not exist after God destroys this present creation. Although the Revelation adds the word “second”, it does not mean this death is exempt. Isaiah declared:

He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people shall he take away from off all the Earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. (Isa 25:8)

The second death cannot therefore be something that will continue forever. After it has done its work, death, even the second death, will be swallowed up forever.

As mentioned earlier the doctrines of purification and eternal torment are based on the idea that some part of the human is immortal. Many cultures and religions around the world today believe we have immortal souls; however, many biblical Christians have a different perspective. In one of his newsletters Dr Edward Fudge so beautifully explains:

We are mortal, dependent creatures, who exist at God’s will, through his power and by his grace. Although we consist of earthly elements, we bear the divine image. Yet from Adam forward, we humans have denied our mortal limitations and coveted the place of God.

Dr Fudge presents the case for the last of the three potential destinies for unbelievers listed above. He asserts that unbelievers will be annihilated (see) in the Lake of Fire. I came to this conclusion myself before I found his teachings, and I find it the most biblically convincing. Those who accept this final possibility for the destiny of the unbelieving dead see the words of Jesus in John 3:16 as a literal and correct understanding of the gospel, without the gift of eternal life, unbelievers will perish, completely and eternally. And death will be no more (Rev 21:4). Dr Fudge also asserts that the idea of an immortal spirit is not a biblical concept. Many other religious traditions teach that the soul is immortal but does the Holy Christian Bible teach the concept of an immortal spirit?

105 The Biblical View of Immortal Souls

Dr Fudge contends that the idea of immortal spirits was introduced into the Christian community in the second century by converted Greek philosophers like Tertullian, whose pagan backgrounds were influenced by the doctrines of Plato and Socrates, both believers in human immortality. In the 1st century, Jewish tradition was mixed, however, most Jewish and OT scholars believe that immortality of the soul or spirit is not an OT teaching (see), but rather a philosophical concept included in some extrabiblical Jewish teachings. There is also good reason to believe the NT church rejected the concept of human immortality and it would be difficult to construct such a doctrine from NT scripture.

The OT does not discuss the afterlife in any great detail, leaving Jewish scholars plenty of room for speculation, thus many rabbis stress that Olam Ha Ze, or life in this world, is far more important than Olam Ha Ba, or the life to come (see). Jews are exhorted to concentrate on the here and now, and to strive to live good and productive lives, while appreciating the time on Earth God has given them.

Throughout the centuries since Jesus’ time on Earth, both Jewish and Christian traditions have developed many and varied teachings about the spirit and soul. Contact with other communities of faith has brought the concepts of immortal and even pre-existent spirits into consideration.

Many secular scholars insist the majority of Jewish and Christian traditions are derived almost entirely from Zoroastrianism and other, earlier religious teachings, but once again this idea rests on certain assumptions. The dominant humanist assumption that influences this claim is the assertion that God is a human construct. This assumption is the antithesis of the Christian understanding of God as the Creator, who revealed Himself and His truth to specific individuals throughout time. After carefully preparing a nation, He was born into their midst as a man, so that He could endorse and further reveal that truth, then die and rise to life to redeem humanity.

As a biblical Christian I now understand that God has been revealing Himself to individuals since Adam and Eve first walked with Him in the garden. Over the millennia since that time, when humans filled the earth after the Flood, people groups carried stories of God and His dealings with humanity into the four corners of the world. These communities have then passed the stories down to their descendents with embellishments and alterations over time. However, since God Himself came to Earth, endorsed the existing OT scriptures and instructed the writers of the final, authoritative books of the Word of God, we know where to find the absolute truth concerning spiritual and historical matters. Consequently, we should look to The Bible to discover what it teaches concerning human immortality.

106 The Old Testament

Let us begin at the beginning. In the book of Genesis we find Eve conversing with Satan:

We may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden,” the woman answered, “except the tree in the middle of it. God told us not to eat the fruit of that tree or even touch it; if we do, we will die.” The snake replied, “That’s not true; you will not die. (Gen 3:2-4)temptation of eve

From the beginning of time Satan has been lying to humanity about our mortality. He told Eve she and Adam would not die if they disobeyed God; but death, pain and suffering have plagued humankind ever since they believed Satan’s lie. Another interesting aspect of this exchange is that Eve told Satan she was not to touch the fruit of the tree. This stipulation was not part of God’s original decree (Gen 2:17), thus Eve had made God’s command sound far more restrictive than it actually was.

After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God set in motion the consequences He had warned would follow their disobedience. This disobedience was not so much about them actually eating the fruit, but rather, about them choosing to ignore God’s guidance and believe Satan’s lie. And so God decreed:

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Gen 3:19)

God did not assure Adam and Eve they possessed an immortal spirit that would go on forever. Instead, after their disobedience, they received the explicit declaration that they would return to the dust from which they came. During the creation week the Creator had miraculously transformed this dust into human beings, and although this was distinctly different to the way He created everything else, there was no mention of immortality.

© Bill Osborne: Licensed from

© Bill Osborne: Licensed from

To be more precise, God informed the people He had created that they would eventually return to the dust from which they came. Only a few verses on, we find God ensuring Adam and Eve would no longer have free access to the famous symbol of immortality mentioned in Genesis.

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Gen 3:22-24)

In these verses we discover humans were cut off from the source of immortality at the very beginning of time. This was a direct result of their turning away from their Creator and rejecting His guidance. They had chosen to follow their own understanding and rather than trusting in God’s directions, they believed Satan’s lies. The consequence of their actions was that they no longer had access to the Tree of Life, which was the symbol of immortality. In John’s gospel Jesus tells Thomas “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through Me”. (John 14:6) It is as we live in Christ that this Life is imparted to us and we can once again have access to immortality.

Later in Genesis we find God promising Abram:

….. thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.(Genesis 15:15)

Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, Moses and Josiah were all “gathered to” their people after death (Gen 35:29; 37:35; 49:33; Num. 20:24, 28; 31:2; Deut. 32:50; 34:5; 2 Chron 34:28). This could be understood as a family gathering beyond the grave, but perhaps God had introduced the hope of an afterlife to the children of Adam and Eve as He developed their understanding of the promised Seed (Gen 3:15) and a resurrection and renewed access to eternal life. In the book of Genesis this hope is only briefly glimpsed, and later, when Abraham is discussing the fate of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah with God we find:

And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes: (Gen 18:27)

Abraham appears to express a sense of the transient nature of humanity, which perhaps enables us to view the earlier text as the dead joining their ancestors in death when they go to their graves.

Samuel records:

Jehovah killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to Sheol, and bringeth up. (1 Samuel 2:6)

This is the first clear reference to the possibility of life beyond the grave. In Samuel we find God can kill and God can resurrect a human being. Samuel understood that the Creator is the One who holds life and death in His hands; He created life and He can take it away and bring it back again.

From Job we learn:

Drought and heat consume the snow waters: So doth Sheol those that have sinned. (Job 24:19)

Here we find the idea that the sinner can only look forward to being consumed in the same way snow waters are consumed by heat and drought.

The Psalms also include many verses concerning the fate of the unbelieving dead.

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. (Psalm 2:9)

The writer declares that those who are “against the LORD, and against his anointed” (Psalm 2:2) will be shattered like a pottery vessel – they will return to dust. David also writes:

For in death there is no remembrance of thee: In Sheol who shall give thee thanks? (Psalm 6:5)

And from Solomon we find:

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. (Ecc 9:5)

These verses appear to indicate that there is no consciousness in Sheol.

Also from David we learn:

For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and he shall not be. (Psalm 37:10)

Once again the wicked will “not be,” there is no mention of an ongoing existence. Some may suggest that this statement is from the perspective of those who remain alive on Earth, proposing that while the dead may no longer be evident to the living, they may continue to exist beyond our awareness. The problem with this idea is that it is based entirely on the pre-existing assumption that we actually are immortal beings. This idea is most definitely not evident from the text. David continues:

But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish–like smoke they vanish away. (Psalm 37:20)

Once again the wicked are warned they will perish – this verse actually elaborates on the idea by telling us they will vanish away like smoke. To accept the concept of human immortality one needs to change the understanding of the words “perish” and “destroy” that are used repeatedly throughout The Bible. If we accept that the unbelieving dead continue on in some state of perpetual existence beyond the second death, we must also admit they can never perish, nor be destroyed.

The Psalms continue:

They are appointed as a flock for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; And the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; And their beauty shall be for Sheol to consume, That there be no habitation for it. (Psalm 49:14)

As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! (Psalm 68:2)

But they flattered Him with their mouths, and they lied to Him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they faithful in His covenant. But He, full of pity, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; yea, many times He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath. For He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes away and does not come again. (Psalm 78:36-39)

When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever: (Psalm 92:7)

Let sinners be consumed from the Earth, and let the wicked be no more!! (Psalm 104:35a)

Fire also broke out in their company; the flame burned up the wicked. (Psalm 106:18)

But from Solomon we find:

Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death. (Proverbs 10:2)

In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death. (Proverbs 12:28)

Solomon is extending the hope of deliverance from death. These verses make no sense unless the death mentioned is eternal death. We know the righteous do not live on forever in their mortal flesh. The death from which they are delivered is the second death.

However Isaiah writes:

The light of Israel will become a fire, and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and briers in one day. The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land the LORD will destroy, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. (Isa 10:17-18)

…but with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the Earth: and He shall smite the Earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked. (Isa 11:4)

My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the Earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the Earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed. (Isa 51:5-6)

For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with His chariots like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many. They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD. (Isa 66:15-17)

And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. (Isa 66:24)

This verse is often quoted to make a case for the dead having some form of perpetual existence. However, the verse does not say the carcasses go on living forever, they are dead bodies. In fact this verse reminds me of the refuse dumps that have existed from time immemorial and were still reasonably common during my childhood. There was just such a garbage dump in a Sydney suburb not far from my childhood home, where animal carcasses and rubbish were thrown. If we had gone to “look upon the carcasses” in that dump we would not have seen living animals, instead we would see dead creatures in the process of being completely consumed.

gehenna3I can distinctly remember that the dump smouldered continuously, year after year. At one time the carcass of a circus elephant was added to the perpetually smouldering fire. The elephant was completely consumed, first by the fire that was heaped up around it and was not quenched (as it was continuously being fed with new fuel) and then by the worms that consumed what was left as the fire moved on to more flammable material in a different part of the dump. Eventually, as the fire returned to burn new material deposited over the elephant carcass, even the bones would be turned to ash and ultimately nothing but ash would remain, while the worms and fire continued their work.

In our text we find the worms feeding on the carcasses do not die, their role and that of the fire was to completely consume the dead. As explained earlier (under the heading Gehenna), in biblical times not just animals, but also the bodies of those who were considered unworthy of a proper burial, were thrown on these city dumps to be consumed by the fire and worms. At times the corpses of enemies who had been killed in battle were also disposed of in this way. The worms and fire would be seen to consume all that remained of the bodies of those considered unworthy of a grave. Although the bodies would be completely turned to ash and dust, the fire and worms could go on.

It is worth noting here that this passage does not say that the worms will “never” die. There is a Hebrew word (עוָֹלם ôlām ) that gives further meaning to the word “not” used in this text; the addition of this Hebrew word literally changes the meaning of “not” to “will not ever” or “never.” This word is used in other parts of the OT (Judges 2:1; 2 Sam 12:10; Ps 15:5) but in the above verse the text simply reads, “will not die.”

In Genesis 42:20 Joseph directs his brothers to, “Bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.” Later, when God is giving Moses instructions for the priests of Israel in Exodus 30:20 we read, “When they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water, so that they will not die.” Also we find Zedekiah assuring Jeremiah in Jeremiah 38:24, “Let no man know about these words and you will not die.” No one would assume from these verses that Joseph’s brothers would live forever, nor did the priests Moses was referring to or the prophet Jeremiah suddenly become invulnerable.

As Chris Date points out:

….the promise is not of everlasting life ….. Joseph’s promise was that his brothers would not die by his hand as suspected spies, if they followed his instructions at that time. God’s promise to Moses was that a priest would not die while performing his service, if he washed his hands as part of that service during the course of his natural life. Jeremiah was not put to death by the officials of the king of Babylon before Jerusalem was captured, because he did not reveal the nature of his conversation with Zedekiah until its capture. (He continued to live, but this had nothing to do with Zedekiah’s advice.)

When the statement is recorded in Scripture, that someone or something “will not die,” a specific context is in view; no life is promised beyond that context. And in Isaiah 66:24 that context is the consumption of a corpse. Their worm, it is promised, will not die in that context, will not be prevented by death from consuming its host. This is an assurance that the abhorrent process of decay will continue unabated until the corpse is completely consumed; the worm is promised no life beyond that. (see)

In our verse, Isaiah also refers to the fire that will not be quenched. An unquenchable fire consumes all in its path until the fuel is spent and the fire burns out. The fires that burn in the Australian bush are often unquenchable, when they cannot be put out they continue to burn until the fuel is spent and eventually they die down leaving only the smoke and ashes.bushfire

Jeremiah (Jer 17:27) warned Israel that if they rejected his words and refused to keep the Sabbath holy, a fire that “will not be quenched” would be kindled in the gates of Jerusalem. This prophecy was later fulfilled by the Chaldeans (Jer 52:13) when fire utterly destroyed the city. The fire did the work God had decreed it would do, it could not be quenched until its work was done and it finally went out.

Ezekiel also spoke of an unquenchable fire that would burn the forest of the south, burning every green tree and every dry tree (Ez 20:47,48) in its path. This image is not of an eternal, ongoing judgment, but rather a judgment that will endure until its consuming work is completely accomplished. The emphasis here is that these fires cannot be put out, they will not be quenched; they will do the work God has decreed of consuming the fuel set before them.

Let us resume our examination of OT passages relating to human immortality, in Jeremiah we find:

Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD. I will utterly consume them, saith the LORD: (Jeremiah 8:12-13a)

And from Ezekiel we discover:

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? (Eze 33:11)

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, His desire is for all to turn from evil and live. Ezekiel declared that those who continue in their “evil ways” will die.

Hosea informs us:

But the people of Israel have bitterly provoked the LORD, so their Lord will now sentence them to death in payment for their sins. (Hosea 12:14)

Hosea reiterates God’s original decree, death is the penalty for sin.

Now they continue to sin by making silver idols, images shaped skillfully with human hands. “Sacrifice to these,” they cry, “and kiss the calf idols!” Therefore, they will disappear like the morning mist, like dew in the morning sun, like chaff blown by the wind, like smoke from a chimney. (Hosea 13:2-3)

The prophet Zephaniah gives a vivid description of the end of days:

I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of His jealousy, all the Earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end He will make of all the inhabitants of the Earth. (Zeph 1:17-18)

The word “day” in “the day of wrath” mentioned here is the same Hebrew word that is used for the creation days. This is a literal day when God will swiftly destroy all that is not preserved by His Spirit. The Earth will be consumed and a full end will be made of all evil before God creates the new heaven and the new Earth. God has revealed that He will use His wrath in a powerful and effective cleansing and purification of His creation.

Malachi also refers to the day when fire will burn up “all that work wickedness:”

For, behold, the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. (Mal 4:1)

And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I do make, saith the LORD of hosts. (Mal 4:3)

Both these verses in Malachi mention the activity of a day. On that day all evil and wickedness will be consumed by the fire, so that only ashes remain.

To the very last book of the OT there is no mention of human immortality. The fate of the wicked was quite frequently to be reduced to dust or ashes and returned to the ground from which humans were created. However, there was hope for the righteous in the OT; some were assured they would rise again. Daniel was instructed:

As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you.” (Dan 12:13)

David had a heart after God (1 Sam 13:14). He instructed his son Solomon (1 Chron 28:9) and others to seek the Lord.

O give thanks unto the LORD, call upon His name; make known His doings among the peoples. Sing unto Him, sing praises unto Him; talk ye of all his marvelous works. Glory ye in His holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD. Seek ye the LORD and His strength; seek His face evermore. Remember His marvelous works that He hath done; His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth. (1Ch 16:8-12)

No doubt because of this close relationship with God, David had a sense of life beyond the grave. He believed he would be reunited with his dead son (2 Sam 12:23). Solomon also hoped for life beyond the grave, in Proverbs he writes:

The path of life leads upward for the wise; they leave the grave behind. (Pro 15:24)

For the Jewish people the hope of being reunited with family in the afterlife was also intertwined with the ongoing lives of their descendants and the restoration of the nation of Israel to its pre-eminent state in the Middle East. In Isaiah we find:

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the LORD will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. (Isa 35:8-10)

Throughout the OT a number of godly people expressed hope for life beyond the grave, but the fate of the wicked dead was rather ambiguous. It would be difficult to construct a doctrine of immortality for the unbelieving dead from the OT. However, there are a number of Hebrew words for “the dead” and one in particular appears to relate to departed spirits. This word is rapha and it is used in a number of OT passages (Job 26:5; Ps. 88:10; Prov. 2:18; 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9; 26:14,19). Departed or disembodied spirits are mentioned as gathered together in “the congregation of the dead” (Prov 21:16), but Isaiah explains they are nonetheless subject to eventual destruction. He declared:

Those we served before are dead and gone. Their departed spirits will never return! You attacked them and destroyed them, and they are long forgotten. (Isa 26:14)

By contrast those who “die in the Lord” will rise up and sing for joy:

But those who die in the LORD will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the Earth will rise up and sing for joy! For Your life-giving light will fall like dew on Your people in the place of the dead! (Isa 26:19)


107 The New Testament

By Jesus’ time there were a number of major sects amongst the Jewish people, but the ones we will look at here are the Sadducees and the Pharisees. These two groups are thought to have originated about 200 BC, during the time between the recording of the Old and New Testaments, when the Maccabees ruled in Judah. The Jewish-Roman historian, Flavius Josephus, mentions them, as do a few rabbinic texts, but they are mostly remembered because of their presence in the books of the NT.

Paul was a Pharisee who undoubtedly understood the differences in the beliefs of the Sadducees and Pharisees. In the book of Acts, Luke records Paul using these differences to his advantage:

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees: touching the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees: and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. And there arose a great clamour: and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ part stood up, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: and what if a spirit hath spoken to him, or an angel? (Acts 23:6-9)

From the preceding passage we learn that the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection, angels or spirits, which would appear to indicate they rejected the idea of spiritual beings other than God and therefore the concept of an afterlife and  human immortality. By contrast, the Pharisees believed in spirits, angels and a resurrection, but this does not necessarily serve as evidence for belief in human immortality. It appears the Pharisees embraced the ideas of holy and unholy supernatural entities and godly people being brought back to life, but they did not necessarily believe that every person would continue to exist in some form after death.

There is a great deal of speculation about the beliefs of the Jewish people during Jesus’ time on Earth. Like all people groups, there is no doubt they had a vast range of beliefs within their community. They had been under the influence of Babylonian, Greek and Roman cultures and may have adopted concepts from each of these traditions, but we are here interested in The Bible’s teachings.

A few commentators have suggested that the NT reveals a belief in departed spirits becoming ghosts. Like the Hebrew language, there are a number of words for “the dead” in NT Greek, but the Greek word that has prompted the idea that the NT refers to disembodied human spirits or ghosts is phantasma. It is this Greek word that is used when The Bible records the story of Jesus walking on the water and the disciples’ fearful reaction because they thought He was a spirit (Mt 14:26; Mk 6:49). Some Bible versions translate phantasma as ghost, but a more accurate translation today would be spirit.

Artist/Photographer: Providence Collection ©Providence Collection: Licensed from

Artist/Photographer: Providence Collection
©Providence Collection: Licensed from

There is good reason to believe the disciples thought Jesus was either an angel or a demon, both of which would cause fear and trembling. The Jews had a tradition of demons taking on human form and carrying off children in the night. They certainly did not at first believe it was a human person walking on the water and there is no reason to believe they thought He was the spirit of someone who had died.

There are many verses in the NT, which continue the theme of the eventual, total destruction of the wicked dead that is carried throughout the OT. From Matthew through to Revelation numerous verses depict our ultimate destinies as either eternal life, or death. Paul used the terms death, perish and destruction when discussing the tragic, eternal destiny of unbelievers. A plain reading approach to scripture would view all of these terms as clearly indicating an end of life and not some form of immortality. All the verses that include such terms must be reinterpreted to fit the doctrines of either purification or eternal torment.

When discussing the concept of eternal torment there are a few verses that are usually mentioned by traditionalists to reinforce the doctrine of immortality. Having dealt with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and the concept of Gehenna earlier, we will put aside the contentious parable and verses referring to that odious place for the moment and concentrate on one particular verse in the NT, which is frequently quoted by traditionalists as supporting the concept of human immortality. In Matthew 25:46 Jesus says:

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Mat 25:46 English Standard Version)

The Greek word translated as “punishment” in this verse is kolasis and in NT times this word was commonly used for the act of pruning. It comes from a root word meaning to dwarf or curtail and can be translated as “cut off.” The question a believer must ask is, “What does this eternal punishment mean?”

Dr Fudge addresses this issue when he writes:

Of the 70 occurrences of the adjective “eternal” in the NT, six times the word qualifies nouns signifying acts or processes rather than persons or things. The six “eternal” acts or events are:
1. salvation (Heb 5:9)
2. judgment (6:2)
3. redemption (9:12)
4. sin (Mark 3:29)
5. punishment (Matt 25:46)
6. destruction (2 Thess 1:9).
In four of the six, “eternal” refers to the results or outcome of the action and not the action itself. “Eternal judgment” does not mean that the judging will last forever, but that its outcome will. “Eternal redemption” does not mean that the process goes on without end—for the redemptive work was done once and for all—but that its issue will have no end forever. “Eternal salvation” is the result; we do not look for an eternal act of “saving.” And the “eternal” sin is called that because its guilt will never be forgiven, not because the sinning continues throughout eternity.

Given this regular usage of “eternal” to describe the results of an action or process, we suggest that it is perfectly proper to understand the two disputed usages in this same ordinary way. The “everlasting destruction” (2 Thess 1:9) of the wicked does not mean that Christ will be forever in the process of destroying them but that their destruction, once accomplished, will be forever. The wicked will never reappear. Paul’s phrase “eternal destruction” is in fact a clearer picture of Jesus’ generic term “eternal punishment” in Matt 25:46. This destruction is not accidental, nor is it self-inflicted. It is the penal outcome of God’s judgment. It is punishment, in this instance capital punishment. And, unlike even the capital punishment man may inflict, it is irreversible capital punishment. It is, truly, “everlasting” or “eternal” punishment, “everlasting destruction,” the second death from which there is no resurrection or return forever. It is the very fate we have met time and time again throughout The Bible. The wicked’s destruction will be just as long-lasting as the life of the saved. We give the dualism full weight, in keeping with the regular usage of the word “eternal” with nouns of action and in light of Jesus’ clear statement in Matt 25:46 placing “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” side by side. Never, ever after, in all eternity, will the wicked be.(60)

Matthew 25:46 could then be paraphrased as:

These will pass away to be cut off from life eternally, but the righteous will enter into eternal life.


They will go to the punishment that has eternal results, while the righteous will enter into eternal life. (Mat 25:46)

Once again this verse actually highlights the momentous decision each person must make. We can choose between light or darkness, goodness or evil, God’s Way or Satan’s way, life or death.

©Steve Creitz: Licensed from

©Steve Creitz: Licensed from

The overwhelming tragedy associated with the loss of individual potential can never be overstated; we were each created with a unique, eternal potential, which we can choose to realize – or forfeit. This verse tells us that those who reject the Lord of Life’s offer of eternal salvation will be cut off from their eternal potential forever; they will never, ever realize what they could become in eternity. The punishment for choosing Satan’s lies rather than God’s Truth has devastating, irreversible, eternal consequences.

Many other NT verses indicate that death is indeed the absolute end for those who do not accept the gift of eternal life. Matthew writes:

…whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing–floor; and He will gather His wheat into the garner, but the chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire. (Mat 3:12)

This verse is part of a short diatribe from John the Baptist when he sees the Jewish leaders coming to him for baptism. He warns them that his baptism and their Jewish heritage will make no difference to their eternal destiny; they must bear godly fruit to avoid the unquenchable fire. He is emphasising the need for true repentance that leads to true holiness and he warns them that He who is coming will judge their hearts by fire.

Once again this is the fire that cannot be extinguished; this fire will burn for as long as the fuel remains. There is no indication that unbelievers will be given an eternal spirit that can endure the flames forever, they are spiritually dead and as with chaff, we would expect the fire to totally consume body and soul, leaving only ash. As Jesus said:

And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Mat 10:28)

The word Jesus uses for hell in this verse is Gehenna, the inhabitants of Jerusalem would know exactly what happened to anything that was cast into that awful place (see Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and Hell). They would know bodies were completely consumed by the maggots and fire in the Jerusalem city dump that bore this name, and here Jesus declares that the soul can also be destroyed in the Gehenna of the afterlife this disgusting place had come to represent.

Jesus also said:

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: (Mat 25:41)

This verse reveals that the everlasting fire was actually created for the devil and his angels. Sadly, the unbelieving dead will also find their end in this place. This end will be swift but sure as Jesus tells the people:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

The gospels of Matthew and Mark both record Jesus informing His listeners that they should deal severely with any obstacle that would hinder them entering eternal life. He said:

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43-48)

Jesus references Isaiah 66 when He warns that anything that is likely to take us to hell should be seen as expendable; something that must be dealt with and destroyed, even to the absolute extreme of sacrificing a part of our own body. He uses this improbable case to emphasise the importance of His teaching. This warning reminds me of news reports I have heard that relate stories of people who have been trapped, and are forced to remove one of their own limbs in order to free themselves, so that they might live. In just the same way, Jesus declared it is far better to lose a small part of the body, which will ultimately be transformed into a perfect, whole body, than to ultimately lose access to eternal life.

Once again the word for hell in this verse is Gehenna and the listeners would have a clear understanding of what happened in that place. The continuously smouldering fires would destroy all hope of life. He explains that the worm will not die and the fire will not be quenched; they will effectively do the job of completely consuming absolutely everything that is subject to their destructive work. Whatever the hindrance keeping us from repentance might be, it is a small loss to relinquish it compared to the loss of our body and soul.

Although there is no mention of the spirit being immortal, the righteous in Christ are informed they will “enter into eternal life,” they do not already possess immortality, but must enter into life through the righteousness of Christ. There is no teaching here, or anywhere else in scripture, of God specifically giving an immortal spirit to the lost so that they can enter into eternal torment.

Jesus makes it clear:

For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Also in John we find Jesus’ words:

I tell you the truth, those who listen to My message and believe in God who sent Me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. (John 5:24)

Later in his gospel John records:

Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again”. Martha saith unto him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said unto her, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:23-26)

lazarus risesJesus assured Martha that those who die as believers will be resurrected to eternal life in Him, after which they will never die again. However, after Jesus raised him in this passage, Lazarus did die again, but at the end of time, after the believers’ resurrection, he will never die again. Lazarus, and any other saints who were raised from the dead during Jesus’ time on Earth (Mat 27:52-53), will have experienced a second death of sorts, but this is a very different “second death” to the one that will take place in the Lake of Fire, that death will be eternal. No one will be resurrected to life again after that death, as the consequences of the second death are eternal.

Further on in John’s gospel we find Jesus saying:

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:6)

The listeners would surely have understood this to mean that this burning devoured the branches and there would be nothing but ash and dust remaining. Jesus gave no indication that this fire was unique, holding special properties that meant it did not completely consume the branches. Nor did He say that the branches had special properties that made them indestructible, like the burning bush. A plain reading of this passage would lead us to believe that He was referring to complete and utter destruction.

As we continue through the NT we find in Paul’s writing:

For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned under law shall be judged by law. (Rom 2:12)

Here was the perfect opportunity for Paul to elaborate on the eternal torment awaiting the wicked dead, if he did indeed believe this was the fate of the unbeliever. However, in his letters Paul often declares the unsaved are destined to perish (1 Cor 1:18; 2 Cor 2:15; 2 Cor 4:3; 2 Thes 2:10). This is the same word (perish = Gk apollumi ) that is used by James, when he describes the end for the beauty of flowers and grasses (James 1:11). Like the flower’s beauty, our lives are fleeting; miraculously lovely, but destined to disappear unless we are imparted with the immortality available only to those who accept the gift of eternal life from Christ Jesus. Without this gift of eternal life we will perish, just like the flowers of the field. God’s gift of mortal life in this world is marvellous indeed, but this life is short and fleeting, like the flowers and the grasses.

Later in Romans Paul writes:

For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23)

Here Paul tells the Romans that death is the penalty for sin, he does not mention any change in God’s original declaration to Adam and Eve. We have learned from Ezekiel 18 that this teaching had continued throughout the OT and Paul, as a noted theologian of the early church, is reiterating this teaching. He is completely silent concerning inherent human immortality or any form of eternal torment. It is difficult to know exactly what the common understanding would have been at the time but it is probable that many of his listeners had not been influenced by the Greek idea of an immortal soul and they would therefore presume death was the end for those who were not partakers of the gift of eternal life. Paul certainly did not say anything to make it clear that this was not what he meant by death.

In fact Paul teaches that we are mortal, not immortal, he writes:

But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? (1Cor 15:54-55)

Paul was probably contending with the Greek influence in this passage, as the Corinthian church was in the heart of the ancient Greek world. He was making a definite statement; our bodies are corruptible and our souls are mortal. The sting of death is that it is the end of life: the victory is that we can have everlasting life through Jesus Christ. We are not immortal until we have “put on immortality” through Christ, and only then does death no longer have a hold over us.

The traditionalist might counter that the mortality referred to here is only of the body and soul, not the spirit, but Paul informed Timothy, using the same Greek word (athanasia = immortal ), that God alone is immortal:

He alone has immortality, dwelling in inaccessible light; no one has ever seen Him, as no one is able to see Him; to Him be honour and power forever. Amen. (1Tim 6:16)

Paul told Timothy that only God is immortal. Therefore we can confidently presume he was declaring the need for mortal humans to be born again in order to put on immortality. Paul was informing the Corinthians they should put on incorruptible bodies – their bodies were corruptible and they needed to put on incorruptible bodies; he then moves his attention to their souls, which also needed to be transformed from mortal to immortal souls. This transforming process is the province of Christ alone; no other can take a person who is composed of a corruptible body and mortal soul and transform them into a being with an incorruptible body and immortal soul, fully prepared for an eternal existence. But then the traditionalist may contend that it is the spirit that is immortal.

In another letter Paul explains to the Ephesians:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved. (Eph 2:4-5)

In this verse Paul explains that no one has everlasting life; we are spiritually dead because of our sin natures. We must be brought to life by our spiritual union with the immortal Christ, and it is His spiritual life that will then enable us to endure beyond the death of our corruptible bodies.

When writing to the Colossians Paul declared:

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.

In the Good News Bible this verse reads:

You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; (Col 2:13 King James Version (KJV)/Good News Bible)

The Greek word translated as “quickened” (suzōopoieō) in the KJV comes from two root words, one is a preposition denoting union and the other word means to vitalize. Thus, quickening means to reanimate conjointly with or quicken together with. It is as we are in union with Christ through His Spirit that we are brought to eternal life spiritually. Until this rebirth, our spirits are cut off from God and function as a mere flicker of what they should be. This concept reminds me of the pilot light in my gas heater. It is a small flame that is separate from the main gas jets, but when the gas jets are opened the true flame burns brightly as the connection with the source is fully functioning. The NT teaches us that it is this quickening union that imparts us with immortality, without this union we are spiritually dead and the small spiritual flame that is not directly connected to the source of Life will eventually go out. However, although we are all born mortal, destined for death, those who hear and respond to God’s Son are born again of the Spirit and will live eternally through their union with Him. Jesus announced:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25)

Some commentator interpret this verse as Jesus informing His listeners He will preach to the dead in their graves. This is not apparent from the text. Paul and Jesus both refer to those who do not have a spiritual, reanimating union with the Son of God as dead. These people where not physically dead, they were spiritually dead.

Luke records Jesus’ words:

And He said unto another, Follow me”. But he said, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” But He said unto him, Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)

No one already physically dead could be expected to bury a body. Clearly Jesus is talking about those who are spiritually dead.

As we move on through the NT we find in Paul’s writing:

And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. (2 Thess 1:7-9)

The word for vengeance used in this passage has the sense of bringing justice to the situation. This is not revenge but divine, perfect justice – God will judge His creation according to His perfect justice and all that is outside of His redeeming work will suffer everlasting destruction. To view this everlasting destruction as some sort of ongoing, eternal process is once again to add to the text. Most people would accept that when something is destroyed it ceases to exist, it is broken down into its basic elements and it no longer functions. When this destruction is combined with a consuming fire, there is quite clearly nothing left at all. The result of the destruction Paul is warning about will be eternal.

Paul continues the theme of everlasting destruction:

Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of His mouth and destroy him by the splendor of His coming. This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will 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 Thess 2:8-10)

As stated earlier, when writing to Timothy, Paul declared unequivocally that God alone is immortal. It is only as we love and accept the truth that we can be in union with the Lord of Life, who bestows on us the gift of eternal life and saves us from the way of destruction. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes:

…..He has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. (2 Timothy 1:10)

It is difficult to know how this verse can be read any other way than to see it as a declaration of human mortality apart from union with Christ.

The writer to the Hebrews informs us:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Heb 10:26-27)

While Peter explains:

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?”(1 Peter 4:17-18)

Peter does not go on to answer his question here, but leaves it hanging. This would be a perfect opportunity for the acknowledged leader of the early church to set the ground rules and warn his readers about eternal torment, he does not. Like Paul, Peter is absolutely silent on the subject.

In his second epistle he writes about a number of people who have turned away from “the way of righteousness….. turning back from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” He warns:

But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Pe 2:1)

Perhaps one of the most destructive heresies to enter the church is the idea that humans have inherent immortality. Satan wanted Adam and Eve to believe this lie and he has cleverly planted it in the traditions of the church, even though it cannot be found in the scriptures. Peter goes on to inform his readers:

So you see that the Lord God knows how to save those who are devoted to Him. He will save them when troubles come. And the Lord will hold evil people to punish them on the day of judgment. (2 Peter 2:9)

After giving a vivid description of their activities Peter announces that these false prophets are:

….. springs without water, and mists driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved. (2 Peter 2:17)

If eternal torment were the ultimate end for these people surely something that is so overwhelmingly important, something that should be loudly proclaimed to all, would be clearly outlined here. But any mention of this eternally significant event is completely absent from Peter’s sermons and writing. He writes that they will bring “swift destruction” upon themselves, that “the blackness of darkness hath been reserved” for them and that the Lord “will hold evil people to punish them on the day of judgment.”

Taking these three statements together we have a picture of Peter’s understanding of the destiny of the unbelieving dead. He begins by saying their destruction will be swift – no hint of eternal torment. After passing from this life the unbeliever is kept in the darkness of the grave (Job 17:13) until the end of time. A closer inspection of the Greek reveals this darkness will last until “the end of the age” (2 Peter 2:17).

Next Peter mentions the Day of Judgment (Rev 20:12), when unbelievers are punished. This is the Greek word kolazō, which means to curtail or cut off. What does this punishment curtail if it is not the eternal potential of each person who has rejected the gift of eternal life? This is indeed a terrible punishment, but one which can be avoided. The method of this punishment is “swift destruction.” God will not linger on the Day of Judgment, the die will be cast and destruction (Gk apōleia) will be swift.

Moving on through the books of the NT we come to the epistles of John from whom we learn:

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brothers. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:14,15)

John reiterates the teachings of Jesus and Paul. We are dead until we meet the Lord of love. He goes on to say:

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

James adds:

My brethren, if any among you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

From Jude we discover:

….. Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:7)

We know that the fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah was not an eternal fire in the sense that it went on burning forever and ever. The morning after Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed Abraham looked down upon the valley where these infamous cities had been and all that remained was the smoke rising from the ashes (Gen 19:28). The fire burned only until all of the fuel was spent, but it definitely had eternal consequences. Neither of those cities was ever built again, nor has anyone lived in that place, it remains an example, even to this day, of judgement and total, permanent destruction by fire. These cities were so completely destroyed by the eternal fire it is now quite difficult to determine just exactly where they stood.

When we come to John’s Revelation we find:

The one who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The overcomer shall not be injured by the second death. (Rev 2:11)

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Rev 20:6)

And the devil that deceived them was cast into the Lake of Fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Rev 20:10)

Although I have no feelings of horror at the idea of Satan and his evil cohort being eternally tormented, the word in this verse translated as ever (aion) actually means an age. God may eventually destroy all that is evil so that nothing is left that He does not totally indwell with His holiness. He would then indeed be “all in all,” just as Paul writes:

And when all things have been subjected unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subjected to Him that did subject all things unto Him, that God may be all in all. (1Co 15:28)

Also in the Revelation we find:

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death, even the Lake of Fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the Lake of Fire. (Rev 20:13-15)

Generally, traditionalists accept that this is the point at which death is completely destroyed in the Lake of Fire. As stated earlier, death and Hades (hell) are often mentioned together (1 Cor 15:55; Rev 1:18, 6:8, 20:13, 14) and in the preceding verses we find their fates are united. If death is destroyed by the second death and is “no more” (Rev 21:4) then it is reasonable to assume Hades is also destroyed.

Finally, the people who were not found written in the book of life and thus experience the second death must also be consumed by the Lake of Fire. For them to go on experiencing some form of life, forever in either outer darkness or eternal torment, would surely be a contradiction in terms. They are not found in the book of life because they do not have eternal (immortal) life: they have not been born again of the Spirit of God. They do not have any form of life that will endure eternally and here they experience the second and final death (Mat 10:28).

John continues:

And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. (Rev 21:4)

It seems traditionalists believe mourning, crying and pain will continue eternally in some “other dimension,” outside the new creation, while the second death shall endure forevermore, even though this verse clearly states “death shall be no more.”

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Rev 21:8)

The idea of each person possessing an immortal spirit cannot be supported by either the Old or New Testaments. This strongly held tradition entered the church very early in its history, but surely, now that we have free access to the scriptures and many excellent resources to help us examine them, we can see that it is a tradition that should finally be put to rest forever. In this life every person has a momentous choice to make: our eternal destinies are in our own hands. We can choose to accept the gift of eternal life from the only One able to offer it, or we can settle for the second death in the Lake of Fire. This second death is the end of life, there is no hope beyond this eternal punishment.

108 The Lake of Fire

When John is discussing the people who are cast into the Lake of Fire he always adds the term “second death.” Unless we continue the practice of redefining words, the plain meaning of the scriptures seems to indicate that unbelievers are destined for:

  • the place of the dead (hell), which can be viewed as a type of outer darkness (Mat 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17), the blink of an eye (as described earlier), or a kind of soul sleep.
  • at God’s appointed time they will be raised to judgment (Mat 25:31) at the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29), which occurs after the thousand year reign of Christ on Earth (Rev 20:5).
  • the unbelieving dead will then be judged according to those things that are “written in the books, according to their works” (Rev 20:12). As Matthew records the sheep will be separated from the goats (Mat 25:32-40).

Perhaps those people who have not had the opportunity to consciously accept Christ as their Saviour during their life on Earth will have responded to Him in some other way (Mat 25:40, 45) and they will discover their names have been written in the Book of Life. John records:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Rev 20:12)

Following the Great White Throne judgement (Rev 20:11), the unbelieving dead are cast into the Lake of Fire, where they experience the second death. This death, as we have seen, is the absolute end for Death and (probably) Hell, and it seems reasonable to assume it is also the swift, eternal end for the unbelieving dead. There is no biblical reason to assume human beings possess immortal spirits, nor does The Bible teach that God will distribute immortal spirits specially equipped to suffer eternally. The second death would appear to be final, it has eternal consequences; these tragic souls will never again be raised to life.

I have heard many traditionalists complain that this understanding of the Lake of Fire gives the unbeliever “a way out.” Perhaps they assume God desires the suffering of those who have rejected Him to go on forever, which is the opposite of the biblical understanding of God’s love and forgiveness. Jesus clearly taught that He wants to forgive us and that God is forgiving. Ezekiel 33:11 declares unambiguously that God does not take pleasure in seeing His children choose death rather than life. He is not a vindictive God, as the doctrine of eternal torment infers, He is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, compassionate and abundant in goodness (Ex 34:6, Ps 86:15). We are told in the NT that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness and faith (Gal 5:22). If the manifestation of the Holy Spirit brings these qualities then these are the qualities of the presence of God. The doctrine of eternal torment slanders the character of the God who is thus revealed in The Bible.

109 The Justice of God

However, The Bible also teaches that God is not only loving, He is also just and He will execute judgment. He does not lightly excuse the guilty but ensures justice is done. In the book of Exodus we find:

I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Ex 34:7)

We cannot look at the beginning of this verse without paying equal attention to its end. This is a time to allow scripture to clarify scripture. Ezekiel 18 has a great deal to say about the principle of the sins of the father being visited on the child. Perhaps two verses in particular give further illumination on this subject. Ezekiel tells us:

The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behaviour, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey My decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. (Eze 18:20-21)

How do we reconcile these two passages? It is by looking at the NT that Christians can shine a light on such apparently contradictory OT decrees. From Paul’s writing we know that no one can be saved by their own righteous behaviour, we all need the righteousness of Christ to enable us to stand before the blinding light of the holiness of our Creator and live (Ex 33:20). But when we are in Christ, God’s forgiveness is bountiful, lavish enough for a thousand generations. The underlying truth here is that the children share in the father’s punishment, because they share in the father’s sins, and they both need the Saviour’s gift of salvation.

Ezekiel teaches that any child who turns away from the sinful ways of his father and obeys God will not be punished for his parent’s sin, he will “surely live and not die.” Equally Exodus teaches that any child who goes on sinning like his father, will share the father’s punishment. By allowing the effects of the parents’ sins to take their natural course, infecting and corrupting the hearts of the children, God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children; he does not punish sinless children for the sins of their father unless they continue in those sins themselves.

As Pastor John Piper puts it:

For parents who love their children this is one of the most sobering texts in all The Bible. The more we let sin get the upper hand in our own lives, the more our children will suffer for it. Sin is like a contagious disease. My children don’t suffer because I have it. They catch it from me and, then suffer because they have it. (see)

Many times as a primary school teacher I observed at first hand the negative effects violent or abusive parents can have on their children. Children who grow up in homes where fists are the only conflict resolution method employed, often use this method when dealing with their own problems. Culture, values and disposition can all be passed on to children and grandchildren, but ultimately we are each responsible for our own choices in life.

Romans 3:23 and 5:12 announce that “all have sinned.” Each one of us is responsible for dealing with our own rebellion against God. It is this rebellion that makes us sinners and  blinds us to this truth.

©Kevin Carden: Licensed from

©Kevin Carden: Licensed from

Paul goes on to remind us in Romans 6:23 that sin results in death. To insist that justice must be done in the matter of human sin, and then insist that eternal torment is a just penalty for Adam and Eve’s rebellion (and our own), means one must accept that God originally gave Adam and Eve a clear understanding of the penalty for their rebellion, and then at some point in human history He changed that penalty, when scripture gives no record of this change. The Ezekiel 18 passage above reiterates the original decree, those who sin will surely die and Paul reinforces this concept. If God had changed this decree without making it clear, His actions would contradict a principle of scripture. God was very specific about the consequences for breaking the laws when He gave them to Moses and He was insistent that the prescribed penalty should be rendered, no more – no less.

A quick tour through internet sites on the subject of eternal torment reveals some interesting concepts of justice. One site proclaims:

God does not annihilate people, He respects the creatures he created and their own choice so much that he will never take their life away.

It is difficult to know just what this statement is based on, but it certainly does not appear to be biblical. Another site declares:

Eternal sin must be treated justly with eternal consequences. Since sin is against an eternal God and sin’s effects are also eternal, the punishment therefore must have eternal consequences.

To a certain extent I agree with this sentiment, The Bible teaches that sin will attract eternal consequences, however, as we have already clearly demonstrate, if the second death means eternal annihilation, this is most definitely an eternal consequence. Never again will that soul be brought to life. Tragically, they will be eternally cut off from both the love of the Father and their own eternal potential. However, the above site (and many others) insists that the eternal consequences must be eternal torment, no other possibility is considered acceptable.

Perhaps because my entry into the Christian life was anything but orthodox, my understanding of The Bible is also a little unorthodox, but it is also possible that orthodoxy has lost its way and is clinging to unnecessary, unbiblical traditions that God wants the church to abandon. These contorted vindications of eternal torment appear to have very little to do with biblical teaching.

Yet another site insists:

Would not sin against a holy infinite God result in an infinite sentence of punishment?

And also:

….our sin is deserving of infinite punishment because of the infinite glory of the One against whom it is perpetrated.

These appeals to the idea that we are rebelling against an infinite God and should therefore attract an infinite penalty for our sin do not reflect the scriptural concept of justice. Nor do most countries that have a heritage and culture that grew out of  Christian traditions employ systems of justice that are based on such principles. The status of the victim should in no way influence the extent of punishment for a crime. The perpetrator is not punished more if his or her offence is against a person who is wealthier or of higher social standing (or even one who is an Eternal Spirit). Some jurisdictions do appear to exhibit this sort of reasoning, when they render a far less severe judicial sentence for a crime against a member of their society who comes from a less affluent socio-economic class, while ensuring those of this less privileged part of the community suffer severe penalties for petty crimes; but The Bible does not support this kind of discrimination (see).

A case touching on this principle has recently been decided in the Australian courts. A prominent heart surgeon, Dr Victor Chang, was callously murdered by two men who had been hoping to extort money from his family. The man who fired the shot, which killed the much loved and respected surgeon, had served 21 years of his 26 year sentence when he came before the parole board. The people arguing against his parole attempted to use the surgeon’s standing in the community as a reason for prolonging the sentence and the parole being dismissed; but Australian justice insisted that the status of the victim should play no part in determining the penalty for the crime. The murderer was released after serving the prescribed sentence for his crime, irrespective of the standing of his victim.

The Bible teaches the principle of justice that matches the penalty to the crime. In Exodus we find:

But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise. (Exo 21:23-25)

Scripture is very careful to teach that the status of the person should have no bearing on the penalty, it is the crime that determines the punishment.

You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment. You shall not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty; but you shall judge your neighbour in righteousness.(Lev 19:15)

Another comment from the internet declared:

And wouldn’t limiting the duration of hell diminish the seriousness of sin?

This comment touches on two issues. The first is the duration of hell. Annihilation of the wicked dead would in no way affect the duration of hell. If hell is the place of the dead, this abode will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire after hell gives up the dead at the end of time. The duration of the Lake of Fire is uncertain, but it is reasonable to assume hell will be destroyed along with death in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:14), because there will never again be a need for a “place of the dead.” Some may believe eternal torment refers to people continuing as some form of living dead, following their second death, assuming hell is subsumed or continues to exist within the Lake of Fire. This idea is not found in the pages of The Bible. A plain reading of scripture sees death and hell destroyed.

The second issue this comment touches on is how we understand the seriousness of sin. To believe that the eternal suffering of the wicked dead will serve as some sort of acknowledgment of the seriousness of sin is to totally devalue the death of Christ. It is the death of Christ that shows us the seriousness of sin. The fall of the creation from its perfect beginning and the suffering and death of living creatures and the human population are the products of sin; Christ’s death was the only possible price to pay for that sin. If God was able to deal with sin in any other way He would not have needed to send His own Son to the cross. Humanity could continue in torment in hell for eternity but this would in no way emphasise the seriousness of sin, the voluntary death of the innocent Creator has done that.

The question we must ask at this point is, “What is the offence for which the justice of God demands restitution?” The biblical answer to this question is that the offence is rebellion against the legal authority of the Creator God over His creation. Because of this authority, God had the right to dictate guidelines and laws and Adam and Eve’s rebellion was evident when they ignored God’s direct, specific command. The consequence of this rebellion was that sin became part of the human condition. Humanity was cut off from its original, dependent relationship with God through rebellion, which means we no longer have free and open access to God or eternal life. The Father has informed us that He will not allow sin into His holy presence. Isaiah states:

Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short that He cannot save; nor are His ears so dull that He cannot hear: but your iniquities have caused a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear. (Isa 59:1-2)

In His Word God has decreed that sin and its consequences will cease.

©Rolf Jansson: Licensed from

©Rolf Jansson: Licensed from

Those who dwell in eternity will have renounced rebellion against their Creator, understanding that it is rebellion that leads to sin. Instead they will have chosen to live without sin, so that they can enter into a relationship of obedience to the Creator, through the Lord Jesus Christ. As John writes:

And you know that He was manifested to take away sins and in Him is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin and whoever sins has not seen Him, and does not know Him. (1 John 3:5-6)

God gave Adam and Eve clear guidelines on how they should behave in Eden, and He gave humanity the laws and commandments as sound guidelines for living in the world He created. There is nothing arbitrary about God’s laws. He created a universe that has natural laws, spiritual laws, moral laws and fixed consequences; living according to His laws and guidelines means the consequences of our actions are positive. We can no longer revert to living in ignorance of good and evil. Adam and Eve brought the knowledge of good and evil into the human sphere and we must now make choices that have consequences. The Bible makes it clear that God’s way is the only way to live in harmony with Him. It is He who determines what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is right and just.

110 Does ignorance of God’s law excuse us?

Ignorance of the law can have a mitigating influence, but most jurisdictions will exact a penalty for breaking a law, even if the crime is done in ignorance. Scripture indicates that ignorance of God’s laws can affect the punishment for breaking God’s laws. In the OT the penalty was different for those who broke the law in ignorance (Lev 4:27-28; Num 15:27 ff), ultimately God knows what is in a person’s heart. As Solomon says:

If you say, Behold, we did not know; does not He who searches the heart consider it? And the Keeper of your soul, does He know? And He repays to a man according to his works. (Proverbs 24:12)

In the NT Peter told his listeners that he understood they had crucified Jesus in ignorance, but he instructed them to repent of their sin. God ensured they could be forgiven of even this crime; they had sentenced an innocent man to death (a man who was actually their Creator), but His death had been part of the bigger picture they did not understand at the time (Act 3:17) and forgiveness was still possible. The Father was able to use even this crime to His perfect ends. People had made choices, some definitely not in ignorance, but God foreknew the choices that would be made and worked all things together for good.

Paul also mentioned ignorance of God’s law when he spoke to the Athenians (Act 17:30). He revealed to them that the unknown God they had been worshiping in ignorance was disclosing Himself to them and they need no longer worship lifeless idols. He explained:

Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man. The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now He commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead. (Act 17:29-31)

The main issue here is the need for repentance. We may reject God’s rightful authority in ignorance, but ultimately we will all need to repent of this rebellion. The eventual consequence of our rebellion will be either repentance and forgiveness or the second death; God will bring every person to a point of decision concerning this choice (2 Peter 3:9). I sincerely believe The Bible teaches that even those who are ignorant of their need for repentance in this life will have the opportunity to repent before being consigned to the Lake of Fire. When Paul wrote about his ignorance in his letter to Timothy, he stated that God was merciful because He knew Paul was truly in ignorance:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do His work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve Him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted His people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. (1Ti 1:12-13)

God is merciful towards our ignorance, but at some point He will reveal our need for repentance and ignorance will be removed. Each one of us will then be faced with a choice between continuing in our own way or going God’s Way. In the world today we find willful ignorance in many people. Highly educated and intelligent people cling to their godless beliefs and refuse to examine any alternative to their own worldview. This is hardly the attitude of an open mind. Many choose to ridicule those things they know very little about. The creation/evolution debate is a particularly good example of this. Some people claim they understand creation science, but on closer examination we discover that perhaps a few lines from a website form their view, while they choose to ignore the wealth of scientific evidence that has been made available by numerous highly trained and qualified scientists. Does the choice never to examine any alternatives indicate a weakness in their own worldview?

Satan has been anything but ignorant of God’s rightful authority over him as his Creator. While Satan has been wilfully at war with God, attempting at every turn to thwart the purposes of God and bring evil into the world, The Bible tells us that because we were created as dependent creatures, we also bring evil into the world when we rebel against our Creator’s directions. We have imposed our sin on God’s creation by turning away from our Creator. If the punishment is to fit the crime, could this mean that the Creator would then turn away from us?

The consequence of God abandoning us would inevitably be our total destruction. We were created dependent creatures and if we persist in maintaining our independence from God, we will lose all, because ultimately we cannot exist apart from God. However, until God brings this present creation to a close and those who reject the gift of eternal life experience the second death, we can turn back to God and reconnect with Him, thus reconnecting with the source of eternal life. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Hear what God says: “When the time came for me to show you favour, I heard you; when the day arrived for me to save you, I helped you.” Listen! This is the hour to receive God’s favour; today is the day to be saved! (2 Cor 6:2)


111 God gave us stewardship over His creationbeautiful world

Through our rebellion we have despoiled God’s creation by allowing sin and suffering to enter into our lives and God’s world. At the very beginning of time God gave humanity the responsibility to care for His creation (Gen 1:28; 2:15). Apart from our rebellion there is a crime against God that is best explained by using a parallel for a similar crime in today’s world. Let us consider a group of people who have been found guilty of wilfully destroying every great work of art in a renowned public gallery. If this group had intentionally defaced these treasures we would expect the perpetrators of the crime to be prosecuted. If the vandals were incapable of restraining themselves and unable to hold back their propensity for defacing invaluable treasures, we would ensure they could never come near anything precious again.beach pollutionGod created a universe that is so profoundly beautiful it almost takes our breath away. When sin entered the creation, the defacing of this beauty was incalculable, going deeper than any conservator could ever repair. The only way to restore this damage and prevent any future defacing of the priceless creation God made, is to remove the perpetrators and remake the universe. God tells us that we are all perpetrators of damage unless we turn to Him and resume the role we were designed for.

We not only damage the physical creation, but we also damage our relationships with other people when we are cut off from God. There will be no half measures in the new heaven and the new Earth, only those who have completely relinquished their sin nature and taken on the new nature God wants to give us, will be fit for the new, undamaged creation. The Bible teaches that we cannot remake ourselves, apart from the indwelling Spirit of God we are incapable of making ourselves fit for the new creation. God will not create the new universe to accommodate evil, evil will be no more.

112 What purpose does punishment serve?

As mentioned earlier punishment acts as a deterrent and must fit the crime. If we are to be punished for rebelling against God and our part in the defacing of God’s magnificent creative work, what punishment would be appropriate and what purpose would punishment serve? This is the point at which the traditionalist demands eternal torment for the unbeliever, claiming this form of punishment as the ultimate deterrent.

A deterrent is only effective if the potential offenders believe the punishment will actually be administered. Few unbelievers in today’s world would accept such a possibility existed; therefore, fear of eternal torment is not a compelling argument for acknowledging Christ as the Saviour of the world. The potential convert would also come to the Father through fear rather than because of God’s love. This form of outreach is the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings (John 3:16).

Believers in both the Old and New Testaments were instructed to fear God (Lev 25:17, 36, 43; 2 Cor 7:1), but this fear is better understood as an awe filled reverence of the might and authority of the Creator, a reasonable response to an intelligent understanding of the Eternal Spirit and the Greater Reality. A proper understanding of the love and power of God and His Christ should lead us to praise and worship (Luke 5:22-26; Rev 19:5), not dread and terror.

Although The Bible records numerous times when God intervened with judgement and punishment throughout OT history, this is not the dominant method God employs when dealing with humanity. God has continuously demonstrated His love by blessing and redeeming those who respond to His touch; however, His plans will be executed (Psalm 33:8-11; Is 14:24; Prov 19:21)) and those who chose to rebel throughout the OT scriptures were removed. God has been extremely patient and has not brought an end to humanity’s waywardness by bringing this present creation to an early end, but during this era, unrepentant and obstinate people have had to face the consequences of their rebellion. Throughout the OT God’s plan and purpose was never allowed to be thwarted by rebellious people (Jesus must go to the cross for all of humankind to have the opportunity of redemption). If they persisted in rebellion and posed a threat to the overall good of Israel and God’s plan for humanity, God removed them. Their punishment was often total destruction (Is 1:27-31).

Much of the punishment recorded in the OT was directed towards the Jews who had rebelled against God (Isaiah 42:42). Scripture reveals God’s purpose was always to bring His people back into a right relationship with Himself (Eze 14:6-11). Again and again Israel strayed from the path God had directed her to take and again and again God worked to draw her back (2 Chron 30:8, 9; Is 10:20, 21; 44: 21, 22; Jer 36:3; Hos 14:1-7). God was not punishing His people simply as revenge or retribution for their rebellion, His purpose was always that they would see the error of their ways and return to Him (Ez 18:30-32).

In The Bible punishment is often seen as a form of chastisement and the scriptures recount many cases when God chastised His people for positive purposes. In the Psalms we find:

Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest out of thy law. (Psalm 94:12)

I know, LORD, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course. So correct me, LORD, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die. (Jeremiah 10:23-24)

The NT continues this idea of God disciplining His children. The writer to the Hebrews states:

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:9-11)

The Father uses this positive form of punishment, or chastisement, as a way of turning sinful people into saints. Our God is a purposeful God, He is neither vicious nor vengeful, His actions are always part of His bigger plan. During the last 6000 years He has allowed His beautiful creation to be immeasurably marred by sin, thus the universal laboratory that is the Earth, has vividly displayed the effects of humanity’s rebellion. We live in a world where sin has been permitted to persist almost unchallenged (unless it posed a serious threat to God’s plans for eternity), the results of this living example are painfully clear to all; suffering and sorrow, pain and death surround us.

When people completely reject God’s offer of salvation, the NT informs us that destruction is the punishment God’s justice requires. It is our sin that has brought about the need for God to destroy this present creation and create a new one. Thus destruction will be the penalty for those who persist in rejecting the only Way God has created for us to live without sin and join the new creation, where sin will no longer be the devastating problem it has proven to be in this present creation. The eternal punishment for the unrepentant will be their total destruction before the new heaven and the new Earth are formed.

God has chosen to allow people who have not given themselves into His hands to guide their own lives, in so doing He has permitted humanity to plumb the depths of sin’s appalling consequences.riot

Despite His permissive sovereignty, God has been continuously active in restraining a great deal of evil through His civilising influence on human society. The humanist puts this civilisation down to human reason and an inner sense of right and wrong, which can be cultivated and educated to serve the community. The Bible teaches that there is a certain amount of truth in this assumption, but it also states that this innate sense of respect for human dignity and an understanding of ethical behaviour were given to us by the Creator (Romans 2:14-15).

Despite God’s design, which gave people a limited sense of right and wrong, many people choose to ignore their consciences and consequently they grow more and more incapable of living ethically. The Bible describes this as the conscience being cauterised or rendered insensitive (1 Tim 4:2). An observer of group dynamics would be aware of the reality of gang mentality. We see human nature at its most base extreme in Sodom, where gangs of men roamed the streets raping any new man who ventured into the city (Gen 19). Just one person can infect a whole group with encouragement to do evil. When writing to the Romans Paul laments:

Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 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. (Rom 1:29-32)

Following this passage Paul goes on to explain that tribulation, anguish and destruction are the punishment for these crimes (Rom 2:9, 12; 3:16; 9:22). He describes God’s patience and tolerance in allowing us to continue in our rebellion because “His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin.” Once again God is portrayed as a merciful, longsuffering judge seeking the enlightenment of the unsaved, but eventually:

He will judge everyone according to what they have done. (Rom 2:6)

Scripture teaches that God has allowed this time of rebellion and sadness in a fallen world to continue for a specific reason. Peter explains that God is patiently working and waiting for more people to turn to Him and repent (2 Peter 3:9). During this time God has not been idle, even though it would appear death and suffering dominate our world, He has been working all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), as He uses the trials life in a fallen world inevitably produces, to enable His people to grow. Our God has a purpose in allowing evil to continue for a season, but eventually He will act and His wrath will also have purpose. He will use it to destroy evil and its associated consequences. It is difficult to understand where eternal torment would fit with this understanding of a just and purposeful God.

Eternal torment would serve no purpose for the sufferers, and God, from the very beginning of time, told Adam and Eve that the penalty for their rejection of His guidance and rebellion against His commands was death (Gen 3:3). Death is the end of life, and eventually death itself will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire.

113 Punishment can be exclusion, exile and expulsion

In the OT, when people flagrantly rebelled, God’s punishment was often to exclude them from His presence. God told the Israelites that He would dwell with them in Israel and He brought them into that land. He chose Israel and the city of Jerusalem for His dwelling place on Earth and when His chosen people rebelled against Him they polluted the land, His Land, with their evil (Num 35:33, 34). God created the whole universe, and when He chose a small part of our planet in which to dwell, He had every right to manage it in a way that suited His purposes. When the evil of the people God had chosen to live in His Holy Land became intolerable to Him, and the people refused to repent, God sent them away from His dwelling place into exile in other lands (1 Chron 5:25; Neh 1:8; Ez 39:23,24; Dan 9:7). God’s purpose was not only to teach them that the consequence of their sin was removal from His presence, He also removed them so that they would no longer contaminate His Holy Land.

Jeremiah warned a group of false prophets who persisted in declaring they were prophets of God:

I am against these false prophets. Their imaginary dreams are flagrant lies that lead My people into sin. I did not send or appoint them, and they have no message at all for My people. I, the LORD have spoken! “Suppose one of the people or one of the prophets or priests asks you, ‘What prophecy has the LORD burdened you with now?’ You must reply, ‘You are the burden! The LORD says He will abandon you!’ …. people are using it (their false prophecies) to give authority to their own ideas, turning upside down the words of our God, the living God, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. …. even though I warned you not to use it, I will forget you completely. I will expel you from My presence, along with this city that I gave to you and your ancestors. (Jer 23:32-39)

This is the ultimate punishment, and it is the same punishment God gave to the first murderer, Cain, who was also expelled from God’s presence.

Exclusion from God’s presence is mentioned throughout the OT and it often resulted in the destruction of the exiles (Lev 26:44; 2 Chron 30:7). When the people turned against God and His regulations, He withdrew His protection and blessings and eventually He punished them if they continued in their refusal to listen to Him (2 Chron 36:15-23). At times, after they had been carried away from the Holy Land, a remnant in exile repented of their trespasses and God brought them back into His presence. When God is all in all (1 Cor 15:28) there will be no place for the rebellious to be exiled or abandoned, there will be nowhere that is outside of God’s presence.

114 Restorative and retributive justice

The Bible teaches there are times for both restorative and retributive justice. Throughout The Bible restorative justice is prescribed for offences not causing physical harm to another person. The OT describes specific offerings that were decreed to restore those who confessed their guilt (Num 5:7) to a right relationship with God and a place in the community. Often, if property had been stolen or damaged, recompense was exacted, which could be several times as much as the amount originally in question.

When the crime included personal injury, manslaughter or murder retributive justice was called for throughout the OT. Once again the punishment was meant to fit the crime, and so we find an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life (Exo 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deu 19:21). This penalty may sound harsh today but it not only served as a deterrent, it also limited the punishment to fit the crime. It was against the law to extract a life for an eye or a limb for a finger, and one could not take revenge for murder or manslaughter on the culprit’s family, only the life of the offender was forfeited. The idea of destroying an individual, a whole town or an ethnic group for the crime of another person was totally unsanctioned.

The OT law actually made provision for a person who had killed someone accidentally and was consequently being pursued by the victim’s family or friends. A number of cities were set aside (Numbers 35:6ff) as a place of refuge for people who had inadvertently caused the death of another. This was not a complete acquittal for the offender, as the perpetrator would need to leave family and friends behind and remain in the city of refuge until a trial could be organised or until the death of the high priest (vs 28). There was also provision in the OT for a ransom or pecuniary compensation to be paid in cases of maiming, but not in the case of murder. Murder was always viewed as a capital offence (Num 35:31), but it was the murderer’s life alone that was forfeited, no other person was subject to punishment.

In the NT Jesus introduced a new emphasis on forgiveness rather than seeking revenge. As mentioned earlier His Way is the way of forgiveness. He directed His disciples to forgive, even though they might lawfully insist on justice being done in the case of an offence against them. To illustrate this point He told them:

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! 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. (Matthew 5:38-45)

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage states:

…..we may avoid evil, and may resist it, so far as is necessary to our own security; but we must not render evil for evil, must not bear a grudge, nor avenge ourselves, nor study to be even with those that have treated us unkindly, but we must go beyond them by forgiving them……

This concept was actually mentioned in the OT (Pro 20:22; Pro 24:29; Pro 25:21, Pro 25:22), but Jesus is giving it added significance here. As Henry points out:

… is the second blow that makes the quarrel……let us trust God and his providence to protect us in the way of our duty. Perhaps, the forgiving of one injury may prevent another, when the avenging of it would but draw on another; some will be overcome by submission, who by resistance would but be the more exasperated (61).

Throughout The Bible the principle of justice is that the punishment should fit the crime, irrespective of the status of the victim, and justice should be seen to be done. Our rebellion against God is not an offence causing Him personal injury or death but our rebellion is a form of treason and we are guilty of criminal damage to the creation. There is no reason to believe that these offences should call for a punishment that entails torment that endures for all eternity. This was not the penalty God originally decreed would be exacted for rebellion. God does not use torment as a punishment throughout the OT. Instead we find rebellion against God, for which there was no repentance, brought exclusion, destruction or death (2 Chron 12:7; Ez 18:24).

In the NT forgiveness is called for when the crime does not cause personal injury, or the criminal is not likely to cause public mischief and therefore need to be restrained. The God who asks us to forgive, even when we have a justifiable reason to avenge ourselves on those who have offended us, does not torment sinners for eternity. The second death is just that, a second and final death, from which there is no hope of resurrection. This is the just penalty the God of justice and mercy decreed from the beginning would be exacted for rebellion against Him. This punishment means total exclusion from the new heaven and new Earth He will create in the world to come. We will either be made fit for this new creation, or excluded from it.

115 The Apostles are Silent

If the second death meant eternal torment, and it had been plainly outlined from the very beginning of time – rather than having been based on one questionable verse in Matthew – it could be accepted as the unmistakable consequence of an obviously momentous and catastrophic choice. This is not the case. God distinctly told Adam and Eve the penalty for their sin was death. Throughout the OT there are hints at the possibility of a resurrection after the death that so obviously awaits all people, but the NT informs us that immortality is only given to those who accept Jesus’ gift of eternal life. It also teaches that the alternative to eternal life is to perish by the second death and there is good reason to believe this death is eternal; when life is finally, completely extinguished, it will indeed be an eternal punishment.

If, when they carried the gospel message out into the world throughout Acts, the early church leaders had emphasised the horrendous certainty of eternal torment for all who rejected Christ’s gift of salvation; or they had written about it in their letters, we could say that God had given everyone an opportunity to hear and understand the new options. However, Peter and Paul do not mention eternal torment. Earlier, when examining the case for human immortality, I touched on the teachings of Peter and Paul concerning eternal torment and we discovered they were both silent on the topic. There are many places one would expect them to outline the vivid details of the hideous destiny awaiting those who reject the Saviour’s gift of eternal life, if the alternative was indeed eternal torment, but they do not.

This passage from Paul illustrates the point:

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. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favouritism. When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. (Rom 2:6-12)

God’s anger and wrath are not mindless emotions, He will not be venting thousands of years of pent up frustration. God’s anger and wrath will have the most prodigious purpose, He will finally destroy evil completely. As Revelation 11:18 says, He will destroy those who, through their own destructiveness, have made it necessary for Him to destroy the present creation.

King David had a close relationship with God and in the Psalms he wrote:

For His anger is but for a moment; in His favour is life: weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

John gives us further insight when he records:

For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Rev 6:17)

The OT saints and NT apostles depicted God’s anger and wrath as a short lived, but unimaginably powerful, resolution to the problem of evil. He will use His wrath with swift precision and there will be no need for it to be worked out for eternity. It will perfectly achieve its purpose in “the day of God’s wrath.”

Rather than an eternally drawn out time of punishment Peter tells us our lives are short and fleeting unless we have been born again of the Eternal Spirit.

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, Living Word of God. As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. (1 Peter 1:23-24)

And also:

He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall. They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. (1 Peter 2:8)

He is very clear when he later writes:

But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption. (2 Peter 2:12)

As an aside, this verse always brings to mind a terrifying incident that happened in my hippie days. I was living in a beach house with a friend and we had encountered a group of surfers who lived in a nearby town. My friend invited them back to our place and they arrived one wet afternoon when I was alone in the house. They were anything but friendly. They barged their way into the house and were intent on trouble.

One of the young men was called Ropehead and he decided he was going to rape me. I tried to reason with him but he was like an animal. I told him I had no intentions of giving in to him and he would be facing serious charges if he touched me. He grunted and raged and told me to shut up and lie down. In the end I told them I had a venereal disease that was extremely contagious and after smashing a few things they decided to go elsewhere for some “fun.”

These young men were like a pack of animals. Later, when I read this verse in Peter’s letter, the memory of this incident came flooding back and I knew exactly what Peter was saying. Some people do act like “brute beasts” when they listen only to their own base human instincts and refuse to listen to God’s moral guidelines. These surfers cared nothing for my feelings or wellbeing, they were totally bent on appeasing their own lusts. The fact that they did not hurt me had nothing to do with me, it was all about them. They went as far as they could without bringing retribution upon themselves. However, eventually people who live their lives like brute beasts will “perish in their own corruption,” along with the corrupted creation.

Peter goes on to say:

Their destruction is their reward for the harm they have done. (2 Peter 2:13a)

I was fortunate, the only harm done to me was that I was scared out of my wits and some household objects were destroyed. But people acting like brute beasts, who intentionally harm other people for their own satisfaction, will eventually meet their Judge, and Peter tells us their destruction is their reward. Those who are not prepared to accept Jesus’ gift of purification, so that they are made ready for God’s new creation, will be destroyed along with the old creation. Thus evil will be “no more.”

One of Peter’s sermons is recorded in the book of Acts, where we find:

….. You will not leave My soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your holy One to see corruption. You revealed to Me the ways of life. You will fill Me with joy with Your countenance.” (Act 2:27-28)

Peter is quoting from a Psalm here and is talking about Jesus’ resurrection. He explained to his listeners that it is through Jesus that they can find the “ways of life.” He instructs them to repent of their part in the death of Jesus, who is both Lord and Christ, and then informs them they should:

……. Save yourselves from this untoward generation. (Act 2:40b)

The words “untoward generation” can also be translated as “warped age“. This phrase could perfectly describe our present times. In our current age people are in danger of being so caught up in the world’s passing promises, pleasures and pursuits they may ignore the importance of paying attention to their eternal destinies.

Peter preachingPeter’s sermon resulted in many souls realising the importance of attending to eternal matters and about 3000 people gave their lives to Jesus Christ and received His gift of eternal life.

Later, when Peter and John were going to the temple, they saw a man who had been lame from birth lying at the temple gate and they healed him. The man then went into the temple, leaping and praising God. This caused quite a crowd to gather and Peter once again took the opportunity to preach to the people.

Peter told the crowd that even though they had chosen a murderer to be released when Pilate asked if he should release Jesus, God knew they had done this out of ignorance. He explained that this was a fulfilment of OT prophecies, which actually predicted Jesus was destined to suffer. Peter went on to tell them that Jesus was now in heaven and He would return to restore all things. He warned the people that if they wanted to be part of this restoration they needed to repent of their sins and turn to God. Peter then pointed out that Moses had spoken of a Prophet, whom they would need to listen to, and he declared that this Prophet was Jesus. He cautioned them:

…and it shall be, every soul that will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed out of the people. (Act 3:23)

The captain of the temple guards and some Sadducees heard Peter preaching and were worried. Luke goes on to tell us:

These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. (Act 4:2)

Peter and John had been making and taking every opportunity to share the gospel message with the crowds in Jerusalem, but they said nothing about eternal torment. Instead they told the people that any soul who did not listen to Jesus would be utterly destroyed. They must have mentioned the resurrection of the dead, but there is no mention of the unbelieving dead being eternally tormented or separated into outer darkness.

As noted earlier Peter also wrote:

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 3:7)

And finally he tells us:

And remember, the Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him—speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16)

There is nothing ambiguous about Peter’s understanding of the unbeliever’s destiny. Peter and Paul both make it clear, the second death means destruction; they never mention eternal torment.

The writer to the Hebrews proclaimed:

With His own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. (Heb 9:12)

He then informs us:

… is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment. (Heb 9:27)

After which he warns:

There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume His enemies. (Heb 10:27)

And finally:

…..for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:29)

God’s enemies (Heb 10:27) are those who oppose Him. The Greek word in this verse translated as “enemies” comes from a word meaning opposition. This opposition towards their Creator will be what forces God to fulfil His original decree. Those who disobey Him will not continue to enjoy God’s gift of life, they will die. Our text informs us that they will be consumed when all that is outside of God’s rule and reign is destroyed by the consuming fire of His presence. Only those who are made pure by God’s Holy Spirit can withstand the consuming fire of God’s presence. Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan 3) were able to withstand the fiery furnace that destroyed Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers, those souls who have been born again by His Eternal Spirit will be prepared and purified for His presence and will survive His final solution for evil and its consequences.

116 The Judgment Seat of Christ

Some believers complain that this understanding of the second death would mean that the atheists are right, they will have no existence after their life on Earth. This is not the case. The unbelieving dead will be resurrected to stand under judgement before the Great White Throne. Here they will finally be compelled to listen, and will then understand just what it is they have chosen to reject. There is no biblical reason to believe these resurrected unbelievers will be granted immortality at this point, The Bible does not say they will be given the gift of eternal life, or even eternal death.

We have a very limited understanding of God’s gloriously, wondrous gift of eternal life, if we are prepared to believe that the final realisation of what it is unbelievers will be losing by choosing the second death, rather than life in Christ, is not an unimaginable punishment in itself. But it seems the traditionalists want more, they believe people deserve to suffer eternally for rejecting God’s gift, while the believers enjoy a life of eternal love for accepting that offer.

This is human reasoning at its worst, and in this case, with virtually no scriptural evidence to support such a doctrine. We are imposing this desire for revenge on the God who has declared He loves us and wants to forgive us. To support this doctrine we must contort the scriptures over and over, reinterpreting the plain understanding of the words death, perish, destroy and consume. We all deserve the death God warned from the beginning of time would be the consequence of our rejection of His rule in our lives and His plan for the universe: we don’t deserve the glorious gift of eternal life our loving Father has provided for every individual in and through our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. It is because of His righteousness that we are no longer counted amongst the “wicked” and will be enabled to stand before the consuming fire of God’s presence, we have nothing to boast about. As Paul writes:

For who makes you to differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1Co 4:7)

When Christians stand before the judgment seat of Christ they stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As Paul explains:

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and His gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one Man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. (Rom 5:17-18)

He tells the Galatians:

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. (Gal 3:27)

Adam’s sin brought death to the creation and death “ruled” as our ultimate destiny; but it is not Adam’s sin that keeps us from eternal life, it is our own sin, the sin of refusing to accept God’s way of redemption. Jesus Christ has been divinely appointed as the Redeemer and Judge. At the end of time, after the resurrection of the dead, the destiny of every person who has ever been born will be determined by God’s only Son. He is the just and compassionate judge, and ultimately we will all be faced with one of two alternatives, eternal life through God’s saving grace or the second, eternal death.


60 JETS 27/3 (September 1984) 325_334
61 Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714), Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. E-Sword.

Spirit and Soul

Contents of this chapter

118 Spirit in the Old Testament
119 Significant OT verses concerning the spirit
120 Soul in the Old Testament
121 Significant OT verses concerning the soul
122 Spirit in the New Testament
123 Soul in the New Testament

117 Spirit and Soul

Most Christians would understand that people are composed of spirit, soul and body (1Thess 5:23). Throughout The Bible there are many references to both the spirit and the soul. The body, of course, is the physical, obviously mortal, aspect of a person. The soul is generally accepted as the mind (conscience, reason, memory, imagination and affection), while the spirit is that aspect of a person that links us to God, who is the Eternal Spirit.

It is the spirit that some Christians believe is immortal, even though we often speak of people having an immortal soul. The confusion between the immortal soul and the immortal spirit is really only a problem of terminology. Jesus said we should not fear those who can destroy the body, but we should fear only God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Mat 10:28). Most Christians therefore accept that the soul can indeed be destroyed, it is the spirit that has come to be seen as immortal in many church circles. However, in the previous chapter we have shown that the second death must surely mean the destruction of death, hell and the resurrected bodies and souls of unbelievers, whose spirits are already dead, as they have not been born again (Mat 8:22; 1 Tim 5:6; Eph 2:1, 5; Col 2:13).

In the interest of thoroughly pursuing the biblical truth on this topic, and to ensure we have not missed some vital teaching concerning the immaterial aspect of our human condition, let us briefly examine what the scriptures teach concerning both spirit and soul.

118 Spirit in the Old Testament

In the OT the Hebrew word ruach is often translated as spirit. It comes from the word for wind and, by implication, alludes to breath. As with all language, context is critical in determining precise translation and with ruach, context is vitally important in our understanding of God’s communication to us through His Word.

Ruach can be interpreted as meaning life, anger and at times a region of the sky. Ruach is also translated as breath (or in combination with the Hebrew word chay; the breath of life), mind, air, blast, tempest, whirlwind or wind and even as vain. Described by many as referring to the spirit of a rational being, it is this word in the Hebrew texts that some claim refers to the immortal aspect of a human.

In the book of Joshua ruach is translated as courage in the KJV, but as spirit in the Modern KJV. Thus we find:

And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above, and in Earth beneath. (Joshua 2:11) KJV

And we had heard, and our hearts melted, nor did any more spirit remain in any man, because of you. For Jehovah your God, He is God in Heaven above and in Earth beneath. (Jos 2:11) MKJV

These verses demonstrate the translator’s power in giving us God’s Word. Although it has been helpful to examine the Hebrew and analyse each occurrence of ruach in the OT, in an attempt at brevity, I have almost exclusively restricted the following study to the use of the word ruach when it has been translated as spirit in the KJV.

The first mention of spirit in the OT (KJV) refers to God when:

…the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

The first mention of a person having a spirit is found in Genesis 41:8, when Pharaoh has his spirit troubled by a dream. The next mention occurs when Pharaoh declares that Joseph must surely have the Spirit of God (Gen 41:38).

After this we find people with spirits that are:
• anguished (Exodus 6:9)
• jealous (Number 5:14)
• sorrowful (1Sam 1:15)
• faithful (Prov 11:13)
• sad (1Ki 21:5)
• contrite (Ps 34:18)
• excellent (Dan 2:12)
• haughty (Prov 16:18)
• humble (Pro 16:19)
• hasty (Prov 14:29)
• whoring (Hos 4:12)

In the OT spirits may be broken (Prov15:13), fail (Ps 143:7) or be overwhelmed (Ps 143:4). God can take of the spirit He has imparted to one person and share it out to others (Numbers 11), or the spirit of one person can be imparted to another, as was the case with Elijah and Elisha (2Ki 2:15). A person’s spirit can be preserved (Job 10:12) or make his heart obstinate (Deut. 2:30); people can lose spirit (Josh. 5:1) or God’s Spirit can come upon them to give them miraculous strength (Judges 15:14).

To selected Israelites, God gave the Spirit of:
• wisdom (Exodus 28:3)
• prophecy (1Sam 10:6, 10, Ez 11:5)
• instruction (Neh 9:20)
• guidance (Ez 1:12, 3:22)
• judgement (Judges 3:10)
• grace (Zec 12:10)
• supplication (Zec 12:10)

In Exodus (31:3) God gave Bezaleel His own Spirit, imparting wisdom, understanding and knowledge for the craftsmanship he would need in order to work in God’s tabernacle. God can stir up the spirits of men to do His will (2Ch 36:22) or raise people’s spirit to perform specific tasks (Ez 1:5), and at times people could be transported by the Spirit to different locations (Ez 3:12, 8:3). Ezekiel was lifted up by the Spirit between heaven and Earth to have visions (Ez 8:3) and although God took His Spirit from some people (1Sam 16:14), others were full of power by the Spirit (Mic 3:8). God told the people that it was by His Spirit that His ends are accomplished and “not by might nor by power” (Zec 4:6). Ultimately we are assured that as long as God’s Spirit is with people they need not fear (Hag 2:5).

Job declares man has a spirit within him (Job 32:8) and that God’s Spirit made him (Job 33:4) and is “in his nostrils” (Job 27:3); while Daniel locates his spirit in the midst of his body when he tells us it is grieved (Dan 7:15). David asks God not to take His Holy Spirit from him (Ps. 51:11), but rather to renew a right spirit in him (Ps 51:10). He also proclaims God can cut off the spirit of princes (as opposed to saving the meek). He warns that the rebellious have spirits that are not steadfast with God (Ps 78:8) and that we cannot escape from God’s Spirit (Ps 139:7).

Solomon writes about pouring out his spirit to God (Pro 1:23) and sorrow breaking the heart of the spirit (Pro 15:13). He also praises those who rule their spirit (Prov 16:32), as compared to those who do not; these he compares to a city without walls (Pro 25:28). In Ecclesiastes he declares that much of the daily distractions of life are vanity and vexation of spirit (Ecc 2:17 etc) and that ultimately people’s spirits will leave them and go up, while their bodies return to the dust from which they came (Ecc 3:20-22). He sees people as having no power to retain their spirit (Ecc 8:8) but rather that it will return to God who gave it (Ecc 12:7). Zechariah declares God has formed the spirit of man within him (Zec 12:1).

Isaiah writes of the spirit of Egypt (Is 19:3) but also of his own spirit, which he determines will seek God (Is 26:9). He mentions the spirit of deep sleep, which God brings upon people to keep them from hearing His directions (Is 29:10) and also the spirit of heaviness, for which he recommends praise as a God given remedy (Is 61:3). He speaks of the Spirit being poured out from on high as a prelude to blessings (Is 32:15) and God’s Spirit gathering people together (Is 34:16). He also reveals that God’s Holy Spirit can be vexed (Is 63:10) by the rebelliousness of His people.

Ezekiel laments that some prophets follow their own spirits and “see nothing” (Ez 13:3). He instructs his listeners to make themselves new hearts and new spirits because their transgressions are leading them to death (Ez 18:31). He also makes it clear that people need God’s Spirit to walk in righteousness (Ez 36:27).

At times God sends perverse (Is 19:17) or evil spirits to accomplish His will, by creating division (Judges 9:23) or trouble (1Sam 16:15). Spirits can also be entities who carry out specific functions (1 Ki 22:21 – 24) or make the hair on the flesh of others stand up (Job 4:15). God can put the spirit of a creature into inanimate objects (Ez 1:21) or send unclean spirits away (Zec 13:2).

It is with God’s Spirit that we can expect to live (Ez 37:14) as we are His in both body and spirit (Mal 2:15). The last use of the Hebrew word ruach (translated as spirit) in the OT (KJV) is when God instructs His people to watch over their spirits so that they will not act treacherously (Mal 2:16).

119 Significant OT verses concerning the spirit

There are a number of verses containing the word ruach that are worth examining in full. In the Psalms we find:

Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath (ruach), they die, and return to their dust. (Psalm 104:29)

The Hebrew word here translated as breath is actually ruach. Young’s 1898 Literal Translation renders this verse as:

Thou hidest Thy face–they are troubled, Thou gatherest their spirit–they expire, And unto their dust they turn back. (Psalm 104:29)

Isaiah writes:

The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the Spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. (Isa 40:6-8)

While Ezekiel tells us:

And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Eze 11:19-20)

From the above we find that when God takes the spirit away from people they disappear like a flower that has faded, but we are not told He keeps these spirits in some form of eternal hibernation. There is no concept here of an immortal spirit. However, we discover that those who receive a new spirit will walk according to God’s statues and will be His people.

120 Soul in the Old Testament

The Hebrew word often translated as soul is nephesh. It is used 753 times in the OT and is derived from the word for breathe, thus it refers to a breathing creature. Although it has a broad range of meanings, mostly it refers to the breath, the inner being (emotions, feelings, thoughts and consciousness), the whole person or occasionally a dead body of a person (Lev 21:11). However, this word can also be used when referring to God, from the book of Leviticus we learn that God’s soul abhors those who walk in opposition to His teachings (Lev 26:30).

Nephesh is first used in reference to humans in Genesis 2:7, when God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and he became a living soul(nephesh). However, the same word is used for the other living creatures(nephesh) God created in Genesis 1:20, 21, 24 & 30. Believers understand that our Father God is an Eternal Spirit and The Bible tells us that God breathed life into Adam (Gen 2:7). It is because of this process that some people insist this same quality of life, an eternal life, was imparted to humans. But we find in this verse (Gen 2:7) that when God breathed life into Adam and he became a living soul, the word used is nephesh; he is of the same essence as the creatures.

Thus, in the Hebrew there is no distinction between the living creatures God had already created and Adam, who had the same life imparted to him as the creatures: God gave the same life to Adam that He gave to all living creatures, they were all nephesh. Later in the OT (Ecc 3:19-20) Solomon expresses the view that man and beast are of the same nature and all return to dust. It could be argued that God had made Adam in His image (Gen 1:26-27) but this does not indicate Adam had God’s Eternal Spirit, an image is not the same as the reality.

As we continue our examination of the use of the word nephesh, we find in Genesis that Abram asked Sarai to lie so that his “soul (nephesh) may live” (Gen 12:13), while the phrase, “as my soul (or your soul) lives” is often used throughout the OT as part of a vow or oath (see 1Sam 20:3, 25:26 etc). This seems to indicate from the very beginning of The Bible that there is a possibility of life being taken away from the soul.

In the OT it is recorded that the soul(nephesh) of certain people:
• will live (Gen 12:13, 19:20)
• will bless (Gen 27:4)
• cleaves to another (Gen 34:3)
• longs for a woman (Gen34:8)
• departs at death (Gen 35:18)
• is anguished (Gen42:21)
• must have a ransom unto the Lord (Ex30:12)

Souls can also:
• sin (Lev 4:2)
• desire (1Sam 20:4)
• hate (2Sam 5:8)
• mourn (Job 14:22)
• swear to do evil (Lev 5:4)
• seek God (Deut 4:29)
• love God (Deut 6:5)
• serve God (Deut 10:12)
• touch unclean things (Num 19:22)
• abhor God’s judgements (Lev 26:15)
• loath manna day after day (Num 21:5)
• lust after certain foods (Deut 12:15)
• have a close friend (soul brother/sister) (Deut 13:6)
• keep God’s statutes and commands (Deut 26:16)
• return to and obey the Lord (Deut 30:2)
• long to do something (2 Sam 13:39)
• walk before God in Truth (1 Ki 2:4)
• return to the dead and revive them (1Ki 17:21,22)
• take counsel (Ps 13:2)
• commune with God (Ps 16:2)
• choose death rather than life (Job 7:15)
• draw near the grave (Job 33:22)

Souls can be:
• cut off (Gen 17:14)
• converted by God’s law (Ps 19:7)
• atoned with blood (Lev 17:11)
• enslaved (Lev 22:11)
• bound by an oath (Num 30:2)
• numbered (Num 31:28)
• kept diligently (Deut 4:9)
• dried away (Num 11:6)
• restored (Ps 23:3)
• discouraged (Num 21:4)
• mindful of God’s words (Deut 11:18)
• grieved (Ju 10:16)
• vexed (Ju 16:16)
• in bitterness (1Sam 1:10)
• poured out (1Sam 1:15)
• hunted by others (1Sam 24:11)
• precious in the eyes of another (1Sam 26:21)
• redeemed by God from adversity (2Sam 4:9) and distress (1Ki 1:29)
• delivered (Ps 6:4)
• torn to pieces (Ps 7:2)
• persecuted and taken by an enemy (Ps 7:5)
• pursued by terror (Job 30:15)
• cursed (Job 31:30)
• kept from the grave by God (Job 33:18)

121 Significant OT verses concerning the soul

The use of the word nephesh in the following verses gives further insight into our understanding of soul in the OT.

And though men be risen up to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul, yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with Jehovah thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as from the hollow of a sling. (1 Samuel 25:29)

For what is the hope of the godless, though he get him gain, When God taketh away his soul? (Job 27:8)

He hath redeemed my soul from going into the pit, And my life shall behold the light. (Job 33:28)

For You will not leave my soul among the dead or allow Your holy one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of Your presence and the pleasures of living with You forever. (Psalm 16:10-11)

All the fat ones of the Earth shall eat and worship: All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him, Even he that cannot keep his soul alive. (Psalm 22:29)

The soul that sinneth, it shall die: (Eze 18:20a)

Again, when the wicked turns away from his wickedness that he has committed and does that which is lawful and righteous, he shall save his soul alive. Because he looks carefully, and turns away from all his sins that he has committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. (Eze 18:27-28)

There is no mention in the OT of either the spirit or soul having immortality. Both refer to non-physical aspects of a person (rational essence, emotions, thoughts, desires, life force and intentions) but there is no reason to assume either should be given the status of immortality.

Although traditionally the unredeemed human spirit has been considered immortal, we have observed that the spirit can be cut off (Ps 76:12) by God, He gave it and He can take it away (Ps 104:29). People’s spirits will leave them and go up, while their bodies return to the dust from which they came (Ecc 3:20-22 ), they have no power to retain their spirit (Ecc 8:8) but rather it will return to God who gave it (Ecc 12:7). There is no mention in the OT of the human spirit returning to God as a conscious individual entity awaiting eternal torment after judgment.

The soul is evidently that part of a living being that endows life and the Hebrew word used for this life is the same for a human or an animal. Unless we concede that animals have immortal souls it would appear that the human soul should not be viewed as immortal. The Bible tells us the soul can die, the unbeliever “cannot keep his soul alive” (Ps 22:29) and God can take away the soul (Job 27:8), which is not “bound in the bundle of life with Jehovah thy God” (1Sam 25:29). As Ezekiel puts it, the soul that sins will die.

In Psalm 30:3 David gives us the understanding that there is hope for the soul of the righteous in the OT. In Psalm 16:10 he declares:

For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Also in the Psalms we find:

But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah. (Psalm 49:15)


122 Spirit in the New Testament

The Greek word that is translated as spirit in the NT is pneuma. It comes from a primary word for a current of air, breath (blast) or a breeze and is the rational essence of a human, and by implication refers to the vital principle or mental disposition. Strong’s Concordance claims that it is this aspect of the human that is immortal.

The word pneuma can also refer to a superhuman being such as an angel or demon, as well as God’s Spirit, Christ’s Spirit and the Holy Spirit. This word is used in Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible for the Hebrew word ruach. Pneuma is used about 380 times throughout the NT. Around 90 times, the KJV translates pneuma as Ghost when it follows the word hagios, which means sacred, blameless or holy and therefore it refers to the Holy Ghost.

Pneuma is first used in the NT when Matthew relates the story of Jesus’ birth. He writes:

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18) New Living Translation

Later it is employed in the term Spirit of God:

After His baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on Him. (Matthew 3:16)

jesus-baptismWhile at other times it stands alone but refers to the Holy Spirit:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)

Pneuma is also used when referring to a person’s mental or spiritual disposition. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus encourages spiritual humility when He says:

Blessed are the poor in spirit! For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

However, pneuma can also refer to demonic spirits. Again in Matthew we find:
That evening many demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. He cast out the evil spirits with a simple command, and He healed all the sick. (Matthew 8:16)

Pneuma is employed in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus refers to people who were influenced by God’s Spirit in the OT scriptures.

Jesus responded, “Then why does David, speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, call the Messiah ‘my Lord’? (Matthew 22:43)

It is also used when Jesus compares the role of the spirit and the flesh in the individual’s struggle to obey God.

Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41)

We find it again when Jesus demonstrates His divine awareness. As Mark describes:

And instantly knowing in His Spirit that they reasoned so within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your heart?” (Mark 2:8)

Matthew also uses it when recording Jesus’ complete control over His own destiny:

Then Jesus shouted out again, and He released His Spirit. (Mat 27:50)

In John’s gospel, we find pneuma in the passage relating Jesus’ teaching on the need for people to be born again of the Spirit to enter God’s eternal kingdom. This passage reveals a core understanding of the concept of spirit.

Jesus answered, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

Just after this statement Jesus explained to Nicodemus that; “everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” When Nicodemus asked if he should enter his mother’s womb again, Jesus clearly explained that He was not talking about a physical birth; He was announcing the need for a spiritual birth that can only be accomplished by receiving the Holy Spirit. This would appear to indicate that the human spirit is not immortal, it can perish unless it is born again, through the power of God. We cannot be part of the eternal Kingdom of God unless we are born of God’s Eternal Spirit. Jesus is making a distinction between the spirit with which we are born when we are “born of the flesh” and the spirit that is imparted to us when we are “born of the Spirit.”

Again in John’s gospel we find:

Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'” (When He said “living water,” He was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in Him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into His glory.) (John 7:38-39)

It is the indwelling Holy Spirit that gives eternal life to mortal humans. Our spirit is, in essence, dead (destined for death) until it is imparted with eternal life by the rebirth of redemption. It seems the human spirit can only function in a limited way until it is born again. In like manner an electrical appliance can use the power in batteries to function, although the batteries have a limited life, but when the appliance is plugged into the mains the access to power is limitless. We too have been granted a limited spiritual life, which gives us an incomplete spiritual existence until we are connected to the Eternal Spirit of God by our unification with the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be born again of the Holy Spirit to be fully and eternally connected to the Eternal Spirit of the Creator God.

When He was assuring His disciples He would enable them to have access to the Father’s eternal Kingdom Jesus announced:

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it isn’t looking for Him and doesn’t recognize Him. But you know Him, because He lives with you now and later will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

pentecost1Paul adds:

And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:10, 11)

God’s Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and God’s Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies, when the corruptible puts on incorruptibility and the mortal puts on immortality. Jesus raised people to life while He lived on Earth, but His own resurrection was unique, He did not die again as Lazarus did, because He was raised as an immortal human being. He is the first of a whole new order of beings (Romans 8:29, Col 1:18). Paul told the Corinthians that they were “new creatures” (2 Cor 5:17), who had been reconciled to God through the death of Jesus. He died in our place and in Him our old nature also died, now we live new lives as new creatures spiritually, awaiting the final transformation.

Paul writes:

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.” For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. (Rom 8:10-16)

Paul explained that when we are born again, the Eternal Holy Spirit joins with our mortal spirit and we become God’s own eternal children. To the Corinthians he explains:

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1Co 6:11)

And also:

And so it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul (psuchē),” the last Adam was a life-giving Spirit (pneuma). But not the spiritual first, but the natural; afterward the spiritual. (1 Co 15:45-46)

The distinction between a living soul and a life giving spirit is outlined here. Only Jesus gives life, He gave life to Adam and Eve, but they forfeited that life and through them death came to humanity. Since He has conquered death, Jesus can now give new and eternal life, through the Holy Spirit, to those who come to Him. Paul tells the Galatians:

For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:8)

In Hebrews we find:

Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the Eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. (Heb 9:14)

God alone is an Eternal Spirit. It is only as the Spirit of God lives in us, giving His life to our spirits, that we can have the blessed hope of eternal life (John 3:5).

123 Soul in the New Testament

The Greek word psuchē is often translated as soul in the NT, but also as life. It comes from the word for breath and Strong sees it as the animal, sentient principle only; thus distinguishing it on one hand from pneuma, which Strong believes is the rational and immortal soul and on the other hand from zoe, which is elemental vitality or life, even that of plants. Therefore Strong suggests a correspondence, respectively of the Hebrew to Greek words rûach/pneuma (spirit), nephesh/psuche (soul) and chay/zoe (life).

A number of verses distinctly indicate that psuche cannot refer to an immortal soul. Matthew records Jesus’ words:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul (psuche): but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul (psuche) and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

If you cling to your life (psuche), you will lose it; but if you give up your life (psuche) for Me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:39)

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

Although not in all manuscripts, in some we find Luke’s gospel records:

The Son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save. (Luke 9:56a)

Also in Luke we find:

But God said unto him, Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? (Luke 12:20)

And from John’s gospel:

Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life (psuche), that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from my Father. (John 10:17-18)

Jesus announced He would not only lay down His life, but that He would take it up again. He is the author of life and the only One in the history of the world with the power to do this.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Continuing our examination of the word psuche (soul) in the NT we find:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. (Act 2:41-43)

The word soul in this passage is translated in a number of versions as “people.” I was raised in Sydney and we often referred to souls in this way. We might mention a “poor soul” we had seen, or that a person was a “bit of a lost soul.” This use of the word is made clear by context and it actually refers to the whole person rather than one aspect of the person.

When writing to the Corinthians Paul used the word psuche when he informed them that Adam was a living soul but the last Adam was a life giving Spirit (pneuma). He then explained that we have the natural before we are imparted with the spiritual:

And so it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul,” the last Adam was a life-giving Spirit. However it is not the spiritual first, but the natural; afterward the spiritual. ( 1 Co 15:45-46)

Later he adds that the living soul needs the life giving Spirit to put on immortality (1 Cor 15:54). As we move on to Hebrews we find:

But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved. (Heb 10:39)

The writer to the Hebrews does not tell us that these souls are saved from eternal torment, it appears from this verse that they are saved from destruction.

James also informs us:

…. he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (James 5:20)

While Peter adds:

The reward for trusting Him will be the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9)

Having examined the use of the words rûach/pneuma (spirit) and nephesh/psuche (soul) in the scriptures it appears there is no evidence on which to base a case for the immortality of either the spirit or the soul before the life giving Eternal Spirit gives new life to corruptible and mortal human beings. The OT alludes to the spirit returning to God at death, while the soul remains in the grave. Some of the OT saints hoped for a resurrection to eternal life with God, but this could also be understood as a hope for their descendants to continue enjoying God’s favour, rather than there being any definite teaching on life after death. Thus the Jewish people at the time of Christ were divided on the issue.

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

The Greek concept of the immortal soul had been brought to Israel with the invasion of Alexander following the siege of Tyre in 332BC. Although Hellenisation of the Jewish world influenced lifestyle, culture, architecture and even the names people gave their children and the language they spoke, the Jewish religion continued to be based on the ancient Jewish scriptures and traditions. Consequently, in Jesus’ time, the understanding of hell as a dual abode for both godly and ungodly people must have been common enough for Jesus to use this imagery in his parable about Lazarus and the rich man, but it would not have been accepted as an accurate picture of the afterlife by traditional Jews.

The NT writers give us a clearer understanding of the afterlife than their OT predecessors, making it clear that people are ultimately destined for either eternal life or the second death. Both Jesus and Paul teach that the spirit is virtually dead, until it is imparted with eternal life by the indwelling Holy Spirit, while the soul is the life force that is subject to death and destruction. The only hope the NT writers provide for immortality is the eternal life Jesus is able to offer because He shed His blood on the cross (taking the sins of the world upon Himself) and conquered death by His resurrection.

Human immortality is directly related to the death and resurrection of the Saviour, who has conquered both sin and death. Ultimately, those who accept the gracious gift of eternal life from the Lord of Life will put on immortality. Until that time we are mortal creatures, formed from dust and destined for the death that God, at the beginning of time, warned Adam and Eve would be the result of the sin of rebellion against their Creator.

The Revelation reveals there will be a second death, following the resurrection of the unbelieving dead to judgment. This is the inevitable destiny for those who refuse to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour. This second death is the final and irreversible end of the body, soul and spirit of those who reject God’s wondrous gift of eternal life. God gave each one of us the gift of mortal life without us having any choice in the matter, but by His grace the gift of immortality, or eternal life, is something we can each choose to accept or reject.