Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Blog

I've started a new blog, "Mark's Bible Briefs."  You can access it from the link in the right-hand column.  Check it out.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rushing Through Our Religion

Ours is a fast-paced society, of course, and we have many things to do.  Too many things, if it causes us to delay, postpone, shorten, or hurry through our service to God.  Having preached for many years, I heard many complaints if my sermon "went too long"--i.e., more than the allotted hour we give for worship on Sunday morning.  The length of worship is not all that critical, of course, but the demanded brevity of our worship does make me wonder about the depth of our commitment to Christ.

Perhaps people weren't quite so busy in ancient times, though I'm not convinced of that.  However, I do find it interesting that, at times, they appeared to be capable of spiritual endurance the likes of which we rarely see today.  In Nehemiah 8:3, we discover that Ezra "read from it (the Law)...from morning until midday."  That would have been about six hours.  "And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law."  When people want to learn the will of the Lord badly enough, they'll do whatever it takes, including listening for several hours.  Not long after that, the children of Israel "read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God" (Neh. 9:3).  That's 12 hours.  When was the last time any of us spent 12 hours in a day reading God's word, confessing our sins, and worshipping Him? 

I like their attitude, too:  when Ezra opened the book of the Law of God, "all the people stood up" (Neh. 8:5).  And "all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law" (v. 9).  Here is reverence to God, and contrition.  When the holy words of Jehovah are spread before a heart convinced of its own sin, then indeed, there is spiritual pain and remorse.  It's a good thing, and we need more of it.

The Lord is ready for us when we are ready for Him.  If we can barely stand to give Him one hour a week, how do we expect to enjoy an eternity of worshipping Him in heaven? 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Posts

I've had some new posts recently on my New Testament Chapter Summaries blog, if you are following that and would like to read them.  I'm thinking that I'll have a little more time to write here in China than I had in Korea, so by the grace of the Lord, I'll be making more posts in the coming weeks.  Hopefully, I'll feel up to it.  I haven't been able to find my depression medication yet here in China, but I'm not totally out of what I had; I've just been spacing it out, and actually, another professor happened to have a bottle of one of the medications that I take so he gave it to me.  So far, I haven't felt overly terrible and I'm praying that I won't.  Anyway, please keep checking back for various posts.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Two Wolves--An Old Cherokee Tale

I think I have this on my Current Events blog, but I wanted it here, too.  It's a nice little tale, and so true.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.

"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Revelation 20

(Author's note:  As I did recently with a post from my New Testament Chapter Summaries, I wish to put this post on Revelation 20 on my main Bible blog so that readers who have been slow, or amiss, in reading that blog will be able to study this much-discussed Biblical chapter.  Hopefully, this article will whet the appetite of more readers, who will then go to my Revelation blog and give further attention to the matters written there.)

The overthrow of Satan (vs. 1-9)--There is very little that is easy about this chapter and I won't pretend that there is. I hesitate not in saying that I do not know all of what is being conveyed here, but I do think the basic ideas are clear; let us be reminded of Revelation 1:3 which pronounces a blessing on anyone who reads the book. If total understanding of this chapter is lacking, then there could be no blessing accruing from it. So there are some wonderfully comforting thoughts here which can inspire and solace us. And while I may not know all of what this chapter means, I do know what it does NOT mean, and it does not teach that there is going to be a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. This chapter says nothing about a reign of Christ on earth and, in keeping with the very nature of apocalyptic literature, the 1,000 years is almost surely symbolic as well. The whole concept of a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth is taken from this one passage; there is no other passage in the Bible that even remotely hints of such a thing. To build an entire system of Biblical interpretation on one passage, and one that is in the midst of the most symbolic, figurative book in Scripture, is shaky hermeneutics indeed. It should not be done. What does the Bible say, clearly, in other locations? Figurative passages should be interpreted in line with the plain passages, not visa-versa. And if the 1,000 years in this passage is literal, then why not the key to the bottomless pit, the great chain, the binding of Satan (and is he a dragon or a serpent?). To be consistent, these things should be interpreted literally as well. But no one does this.

The major thrust of this passage is the final defeat and overthrow of Satan. As I noted in the last chapter, the enemies of God and His people are introduced in chapter 12. In that chapter, Satan comes forth. In chapter 13 come the two beasts, and in chapter 17, the harlot. Then, in reverse order they are all defeated--the harlot in chapter 18, the beasts in chapter 19, and now here, in chapter 20, Satan is finally and forever conquered. That's the point of this chapter, not the 1,000 years. If verses 4-6 of Revelation 20 were not in the Bible, no one would ever have conceived of a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. Again, as best, it is very, very poor scholarship and handling of God's word to base a system of theology on three verses in the Bible. Yet, premillennialism is a materialistic philosophy; people love the things of this world and want God to give this earthly junk to them for as long as possible. That's just not what the Bible teachers. We are not love this world or the things thereof (I John 2:15). Our treasures are to be placed in heaven, not the earth (Matt. 6:19-20). God is spirit, not flesh, and the true reality, true happiness, eternity, lies in spiritual matters, not physical. We simply must get our minds and hearts out of this world and into the next one.

Ok, given that, what does Revelation 20 mean? As repeated ad infinitum in this blog on the book of Revelation, how would John's beleaguered readers in 95 AD understand the passage? They would see their greatest adversary, the devil, effectively stopped from deceiving the nations (via emperor worship and the Roman Empire). An angel bounds Satan with a chain (vs. 1-2) and casts him into a bottomless pit for 1,000 years (vs. 2-3). The limiting of Satan's power is obviously in view here, not his final destruction, and that's the main point. John's readers perhaps--and I have no intention of being dogmatic or absolute here--would see this as Satan no longer being able to deceive the nations through the emperor worship demanded by the Roman Empire. Frequent reference has been made in earlier chapters to the "kings" and "nations" and their obsequious obedience to Rome. That's going to end. The 1,000 years may refer to a complete period of time (10x10x10), or it may mean the completeness of the destruction of the Roman Empire and not a time period. Be that as it may, after the 1,000 years--the ability of the devil to no more "deceive the nations" (via Rome, v. 3)--he will be "released for a little while" (v. 3). The Roman Empire is not the end of the work of Satan.

But it was the problem that John's readers faced. And with Rome "bound," the oppressors are defeated and the oppressed are victorious, enjoying total victory with Christ. Who the "they" are in verse 4 is unclear; perhaps the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since the godhead ultimately works in tandem in judgment. The victory and reigning of those "who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands" (v. 4) is called "the first resurrection" (v. 5). The "rest of the dead" (v. 5) perchance refers to the faithful of God who had not lived under Roman domination. This is difficult, I make no bones about it, but I always come back to John's readers--they are the ones who need comfort here so the message applies primarily to them. They did not serve Rome, they were willing to die for the Lord, and thus they will reign with him. Over them, "the second death has no power" (v. 6). Again, this passage says nothing about a reign of Christ on earth; indeed, the martyrs were already in heaven (Rev. 6:9).

But Satan is relentless (vs. 7-10). After the Roman Empire, Satan was "released from his prison" (v. 7)--he still plagues us today, and will continue to "deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth" (v. 8). These nations are called "Gog and Magog," who have been enemies of God's people since Ezekiel 38 (the only other location in Scripture in which they are mentioned). They attempt to make war against the saints and persecute them (v. 9), but "fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them" (v. 9)--we are saved by Him, not by ourselves. Satan and his emissaries are then "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone" where "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (v. 10). Folks, Satan is not in hell right now; he's on the earth. Hell is reserved for him, too. This is not just the teaching of this passage, but other, plainer, passages elsewhere (cf. I Pet. 5:8). Satan will ultimately be defeated where he can tempt us and destroy our souls no more. What greater, more comforting knowledge is there than that? Emphasizing the 1,000 reign in this chapter completely misses the magnificent promise of the final defeat of our greatest enemy.

The great white throne (vs. 11-15)--God is there on that throne (v. 11-12), and "the dead, small and great" will someday stand before Him (. 12). No escapes the final judgment. The "books" (the Bible) were opened, as well as the Book of Life; that these first books refer to the Bible is evident in that all will be judged "by the things which were written in the books" (v. 12). And we will be judged "according to [our] works" (v. 12)--there is indeed a part man plays in his own salvation. Again, all, even those who are dead at the time of the final judgment, will face God. When that judgment is over, there will be no more death, and no more Hades, which is apparently the resting place of the soul before the final judgment (v. 14). The saved will be with God (as described in the next two chapters) and the lost will be "cast into the lake of fire" (v. 15). God's people will live forever; God's enemies will live forever, too--but not in His presence.

I do believe I've captured above the general essence of Revelation 20, "general" being the point of apocalyptic literature anyway. The specifics have been debated since the book was released to the public almost 2,000 years ago. The earthly 1,000 year reign has been propagated ever since, but again, I find no warrant for such a doctrine anywhere else in the Bible. Indeed, when it speaks clearly, without a figure, inspiration tells us of heaven, not the earth. Victory, a heavenly home with God for eternity, is what we await.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Historical Certainty of the Gospel

(Author's note:  I have just published this same article on my A Journey Through the Bible blog, but not all of my readers peruse every one of my blogs.  But I want this one read by a wider audience so I wish to add it to my main Bible blog as well.)

Luke 1:1-4--"Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed." Luke's prologue is one of the most interesting, and faith-building, paragraphs in the Bible. As an historian, Luke has been proven true on all matters of which he can be tested; historians only reject his gospel and book of Acts because of the miracles he records. This is simply prejudice, not evidence. I want to do a little word study of this section, looking at a few of the terms Luke uses and how they forcefully proclaim the historicity of his writings.

"Which have been fulfilled" (v. 1). The KJV has "most surely believed." The Greek is a form of the word plerophoreo, which is variously translated (in the KJV) as "be fully persuaded," "be fully known," and "make full proof of." In other words, there is an absoluteness of belief because the life of Jesus is something "fully known" and supported by "full proof." God never asks us to believe something without evidence.

"Eyewitnesses" (v. 2). From the Greek word autoptes. It means an eyewitness, seeing with one's own eye. The apostles didn't simply listen to tales made up by Mother Goose. They saw Jesus and everything recorded about Him in the gospels. Our English word "autopsy" derives from this Greek word. What does the doctor do in an autopsy? He sees with his own eyes the cause of death, so that there will be no doubt.

"Having had perfect understanding" (v. 3). The ASV has "having traced the course of all things accurately." The Greek word is akribos, which is variously translated "diligently, circumspectly, perfectly." The idea is exactly, accurately, diligently. Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit, of course (that's the only way he could have truly had "perfect" understanding), but such inspiration did not preclude a Bible writer from doing research. The Lord knew that future historians would demand such, and thus Luke is at pains here to indicate that he did a thorough investigation of that which he wrote, talking to eyewitnesses, getting the facts "from the very first." What else can an historian do?

"That you may know the certainty" (v. 4). Greek, asphaleia, which is found only three times in the New Testament. The other two instances it is translated "safety." Both of those other two examples, however, also imply certainty and absoluteness (Acts 5:23; I Thess. 5:3). The word has the meaning of firmness, stability, certainty, undoubted truth, safety from one's enemies. Luke wanted Theophilus to know that his faith stood on a firm foundation, that it was true of a certainty, and that there could be no fear from enemies of the gospel.

Everything about what Luke writes in this prologue indicates the absolutely true nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no hesitancy, there is no doubt, there is no speculation--this is historical fact, Luke says, I researched it diligently from the very beginning, I talked to those who were there, I know what I'm talking about, and you can be certain of its truth. That's Christianity.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Israel Has No Part In God’s Plan Today

     The nation of Israel remains, and will remain, in the news today. The Near East is one of the world’s hot spots, and rightly or wrongly, Israel is one of the reasons why. It is quite common for televangelists and other preachers within Christendom today to argue that God gave the Jews the land of Palestine forever, intended for them to live in it, and thus the Jews, Biblically, have every right to that land today and Christians should support Israel. Whether Christians should support Israel can be debated politically, but the other three points are dead wrong. God did not give the Jews that land forever (or, until the end of time), He did not intend for them to live in it, at least not beyond the Christian age, and the Jews have no Biblical right to that land today.

     Folks, read my next statement very carefully and let your mind wrap around it for a little while because it’s going to take some time for it to sink in. According to true, New Testament Christian theology, there shouldn’t even BE any Jews in the world today! God wants everybody to be a Christian; He doesn’t want this mass of unconverted Jews out there who still reject His Son, Jesus Christ. How can Israel today be in God’s plan if there aren’t even supposed to be any Jews left? Didn’t Jesus die to make EVERYBODY a Christian, back then and ever since?

     The Old Testament prophets pointed their people to Jesus, to the spiritual Israel, the church. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls the church the “Israel of God.” Old Testament, physical Israel was a type of New Testament, spiritual Israel, the church. The Jews were selected by God to be the people through whom the Messiah would come (Gal. 4:4). Thus, Abraham and his descendents were given the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1-3), and God delivered a constitution to the nation of Israel through Moses (Deut. 5:1-4). This was a tremendous honor that God gave to the Jews—to be the people through whom the Savior of the world would come, and to be custodians of His word. What other peoples were granted such a great, great privilege? Obviously, none, and the Jews should have been infinitely grateful for the honor God bestowed upon them. But once they delivered the Messiah into the world, the role Jehovah intended for them to play was finished. Jesus is the Savior of all, and God wants all men to be saved (I Tim. 2:4). And that salvation can only come through Jesus.

     The Jews rejected Him. They weren’t supposed to, but they did. Ideally, every single, solitary Jew and Gentile was/is to be converted to Jesus. There should be no Jews, Muslims, Buddhist, Shintoists, etc. If God had HIS way, everyone would be a Christian. So all the gifts and promises God made to the Jews were fulfilled and ended in Christ. They had the rich blessing of bringing Him into the world; they should have had the humility and thankfulness to accept Him and become Christians. They did not. But just because they didn’t, doesn’t mean God still has a plan for them. He destroyed their system of theology (as written in the law of Moses) in 70 A.D., something Jesus predicted in Matthew 24, and such destruction was a result of their mass rejection of Him (read the chapters leading up to, and including, Matthew 24). The Jews, Israel, have no more part to play in God’s designs for humanity. The only thing God wants for mankind today…is for everybody to become a Christian.

     If today’s pro-Israeli televangelist today is correct, then the apostle Paul is a heretic. He wrote in Romans 10:1, “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.” No, Paul, God did NOT want the Jews of your day to be saved. You see, God still has a plan for Israel 2,000 years after your time, Paul, and that means that He planned for the mass of Jews over the last 2,000 years to reject Jesus, be lost, and go to hell so that He could fulfill whatever designs He has for Israel in the 21st century. So, Paul, whatever YOUR heart’s desire was—that the Jews might be saved—was certainly not in GOD’s heart because, if you had had your way, Paul, and if all the Jews had turned to Christ, become Christians, and been saved, then there wouldn’t be any Jews left 2,000 years later to build an Israel that God could use!

     I really cannot think of a more unBiblical, un-Godly doctrine than the teaching that God still has a plan for Israel today. Because if that’s true, then again, God intended for the mass majority of Jews over the last 2,000 to reject Jesus and be lost. And go to hell for eternity. That was His plan?? That, of course, makes every Biblical statement about the love of God for all of mankind and His desire for all men to be saved just so much bunkum. I would think it would be revolting to God to imply that He deliberately intended for millions of people to be lost so He could fulfill some sort of plan 2,000 years after the death of Christ.

     There is no plan, in the Bible, for Israel today. Or, I’ll take that back, there IS a plan, and that is for all Israel (Jews) to be saved through Jesus Christ. But that was the plan…from the very moment man first sinned and God put a scheme of redemption into operation (Gen. 3:15). It was the plan before Abraham, to Abraham, under Moses, under the prophets, under Jesus, under Paul…and it’s the plan today. The only plan. And to say otherwise, in effect, makes God a liar by saying that He did NOT want all men to be saved.

     How can so many supposed “Christians” be so pro-Jewish?