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Purpose of Angels-Aliens

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This site involves all the things we struggle to comprehend. From what happens at death, to biblical giants, to evidence for God, and most things in between, I cover it all. The goal is truth: plain and simple.

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Hell in the Bible

In a time when the apostate church is in full swing, it is now more pressing than ever to defend obvious biblical teachings. At least, what ought to be obvious. You know, the sorts of things that even those with a basic commitment to Scripture should accept. However, the unbelief that now characterizes many churchgoers and “Christian” leaders is utterly astonishing. While paying homage to the Bible, they fiercely reject much of what it has to say.

Anyone familiar with my writings knows that I have a massive axe to grind with those who directly dismiss clear biblical teachings, choosing instead to fill their “itching ears” with the doctrines of men.

The topic at hand is definitively one of those instances.

With that said, let me cut to the chase and state that hell is real. It’s vividly described in the Bible, and not simply as a metaphor or a cute teaching tale. Furthermore, it’s certainly not something that “we create here on earth,” nor is it some kind of synonym for “evil” or “sin,” as scholar Tim Mackie—with the Bible Project—has recently (and heretically) taught.

I repeat: hell is a real existence. Or, I should say, it will be a real existence. But I’ll get to that.

The doctrine of hell is without question one that is founded upon the words of Jesus. Biblically speaking, Jesus introduced the full-blown view that the wicked and unrepentant will suffer in the afterlife. Certainly, the OT contains some references to this reality (like Dan 12:2) but they are scarce; God simply had not revealed much about the issue to that point. The same could be said about demonic activity, the nature of the resurrection, many of the end time events, and others.

It was Jesus’ entrance into the world that really shed light on what hell is and what it’s going to be about. The unavoidable truth is that Jesus spoke about hell far more often than most biblical “authorities” of the 21st century would ever care to admit.

When he discussed hell, Jesus’ term of choice was “Gehenna.” This term comes from the Hebrew Ge Hinnom, meaning “valley of Hinnom.” It was originally located southwest of Jerusalem, and was utilized by the Ammonites as a place to sacrifice their own children to the god Moloch. It is likely that even the Israelites participated in this heinous practice over the centuries! It later became a garbage heap where refuse was seemingly always burning. Jesus referenced this location as an indicator of the kind of place that will await the ungodly after judgment. It is a place of evil, terror, suffering and fiery destruction.

In all, Gehenna (geenna) appears twelve times in the NT and Jesus is responsible for eleven of them (James 3:6 is the other). While many translations and believers of our time tend to equate Hades with hell, it is not accurate to do so. (I speak about Hades in this blog, when dealing with the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.) Theologian Robert P. Lightner correctly points this out for us, saying: “Whereas Hades is the intermediate state, Gehenna is eternal hell. Wherever it is used in the NT, it always means the place of eternal damnation.”[1] Hades is the realm of the dead, and Gehenna is hell.

Of course, I disagree that there is any such thing as an “intermediate state,” where deceased people roam as disembodied spirits before the return of Christ. That belief forms the basis of The Death Myth.

But let’s press on . . .

For easy reference, this link will show you all the places where Jesus used the term Gehenna and how he did so.

Jesus—and other biblical characters—spoke about Gehenna in other ways as well. Gehenna is the “lake of fire,” the place of ultimate destruction, or the place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The Book of Revelation calls a sentence to Gehenna the “second death.” It’s the only avoidable type of death, and we should do so at all costs:

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (21:8)

Jesus spoke about the same reality in Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Yes, “hell” here is—you guessed it—Gehenna (not Hades).

What is hell like?

As I already touched upon, the Bible describes hell as a place of fiery torment. It is seen as a “lake of fire and brimstone”:

“And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

Jesus adds in Mark 9:47-48 that the fires of hell are never “quenched” or “extinguished” (sbennumi). Regardless of what happens to each individual, hell will stay lit endlessly. If nothing else, for Satan and his minions. (I discuss more about the duration of hell later on.)

On top of involving fiery destruction, the Bible also reveals that hell is a place of absolute darkness, where one remains permanently estranged from God.

Jude 1:13 and 2 Peter 2:1 describe this aspect of damnation by adding a different wrinkle to the concept. Take the Jude passage, which discusses the fate of the ungodly (some of whom were masquerading as believers):

“They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.”

Notice also that the “blackest darkness” is said to have been reserved for the wicked. The term for “reserve” is téreó, and it suggests that this darkness is being “guarded” or preserved for a later time. Sounds like when Jesus said “the place prepared” for Satan and the demons, right?

When discussing the issue of believers who continue in sin, the author of Hebrews makes a powerful contribution to this discussion:

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:26-31, my emphasis).

This illustrates that some who claim to follow God, only in word but not in deed, will experience the same punishment as the unrepentant. In fact, perhaps a worse punishment (2 Pet. 2:20)! This of course means that nonbelievers will also be condemned.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul echoed the teachings of Hebrews and adds an interesting detail about the nature of hell:

“He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (1:8-9).

Besides affirming that the unrepentant will be punished and “shut out from the presence of the Lord,” Paul specifically notes the duration of this existence: it is “everlasting.” Some translations render this term as “eternal” instead, being that the Greek word used here (aiónios) can be viewed that way, too.

This leads naturally to the question, how long does hell last? In all honesty, this opens up into a rather large and intricate discussion; one that I cannot cover in full detail here.

What I can say is that, in general, the term carries with it the idea of something happening in an “age-long” way. That is, a perpetual occurrence that may never cease OR will only cease when it has accomplished its task. “Everlasting” anything is largely a contextual idea. In the case of the many places where Scripture talks about inheriting eternal life or salvation (like Mk. 10:30 and Jn. 3:16), the context suggests a never-ending duration. We are saved for all time.

Likewise, the addition of the phrase day and night “forever and ever”—literally, “to the ages of the ages”—in Revelation 20:10 certainly suggests that hell will never cease to burn for the unholy trinity of Revelation. That is, for the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.

Personally, my view is that the “everlasting” nature of hell involves a punishment that 1) Always fits the crime/s (and so varies from being to being) and 2) Lasts as long as necessary (to complete its course). This view eliminates the possibility of strict annihilationism, whereby “hell” is reduced to the person simply ceasing to exist or being “burned up in a flash.” At the same time, it allows for a more moderate form of annihilationism, which would be the idea that punishment varies between entities and that it may not always last—as salvation does—“forever and ever” or endlessly.

Both the duration and the severity of the punishment each (unsaved) person will endure in hell is dependent upon their individual deeds and rebelliousness.

I think this is also consistent with the clear biblical teaching that all human beings will be judged according to their deeds (Rom. 2:6, Mt. 16:27, Rev. 22:12). We can be sure of this much: At the Day of Judgment, God will render to all people a totally just verdict of either punishment or reward.

When will hell be experienced?

The Bible unequivocally describes hell as a future existence. That’s right: no one—not Hitler, Pol Pot, Jeffrey Epstein (if he’s dead?), or any demon—is currently living in hell. Here are a few reasons why we can be sure of that.

First, Jesus encountered demons who flatly confessed that their destruction lay ahead of them, at an “appointed time” in the future: “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Mt. 8:28).

Second, Jesus specifically told us that hell is a place “prepared”—that is, not currently in use—for Satan and the demons: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Earlier in the passage, Jesus makes it clear when this will occur: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory” (Mt. 25:31a).

Unless the “secret Rapture” already occurred and took far fewer people than its advocates advertise (note the sarcasm), Jesus has not returned. Hence, Satan and the demons are not presently living in hell.

Third, Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds (or Tares) explicitly tells us that no one is going to be sentenced to hell (or anywhere) prior to the Great Judgment:

“Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:40-42).

This is also explained in Revelation 20, where the unrepentant are thrown into the “lake of fire” after  Satan, the beast, and the false prophet are sent there. (For more on the beasts of Revelation 13, see this blog.)

Other examples could even be examined, like the aforementioned Jude 1:13 and 2 Peter 2:17. Again, the “blackest darkness” is reserved for the ungodly.

What do we need to know about hell?

As I have mentioned several times already, one thing we need to know about hell is that it’s going to be a real location for the wicked and unrepentant. Hell is not a metaphor, a symbol, or a parallel expression for some other term (like evil or sin). It’s also not simply mortal death. Rather, it is the inexpressible fate of the evil spiritual forces and the ungodly people who followed them in life.

With this said, it is also important to note that neither Jesus nor the biblical authors were “hell obsessed,” or anything of the sort. They took absolutely no pleasure in talking about the issue, because Jesus came—at least in part—to ensure that hell does not need to be our end.  

That leads to the second critical thing to know: hell is completely avoidable.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross enabled those who believe to be pardoned and spared—yes, I said spared—of the wrath that would otherwise be set upon us. Romans 3:25 reveals that Jesus was “displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (NASB). By “propitiation,” it means “a sin offering, by which the wrath of the deity shall be appeased.” Jesus’ atonement enables the faithful to avoid the wrath that is coming upon the rest of the world. This is not about escaping the world before the great Day of Tribulation, as “secret Rapture” proponents assert. Instead, it is about ensuring that we do not “perish” through the “second death.” That is the end-result of rejecting Christ.

Natural death must come to all who die before Christ’s return, but spiritual death will come only to those who reject God and refuse to follow Him.

Unfortunately, the plain truth is that many people have, are, and will always choose not to follow Jesus. In doing so, they will be unable to avoid this most grievous penalty for their sins.

In closing, there is another point I would like to note, and it’s something I fear a lot of people have almost no grasp of. Because of that, they do not understand why the Bible speaks about hell or why it will be necessary. There are evil people in this world, and some almost incomprehensively so. Our world is filled with pedophiles, murderers, rapists, sex traffickers, those who sacrifice children (yes, do some digging and you’ll see), and every other vile thing imaginable (and unimaginable).

Many are unable to see the horrific nature of such things because they are not directly affected by them.

But I ask you: should there be no recourse for these heinous acts? Does mortal death sufficiently account for the “repayment” that God has promised for those who have killed and persecuted His people? I have heard many say that they “can’t believe in a God who would send someone to hell.” My reply is always the same: I can’t believe in a God who wouldn’t.

Hell is a biblical certainty that, while terribly unfortunate, is utterly necessary. To believe otherwise is to reject what is abundantly clear in Scripture.

Looking for a new book to read? Check out my books below:

God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact

Spiritual Things: Exploring our Connection to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm

Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn’t Teach

The Death Myth: Uncovering what the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife

References and notes:


[1] Lightner, R.P. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theolog y. Ed. Walter A. Elwell.2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996. See pg. 548.

Does God Have a Body?

*Caution* What you are about to read represents an extremely unpopular view that likely goes against whatever your pastors, professors, and most cherished spiritual voices have told you.

My earlier article asking, “Do Angels Have Bodies?”, has probably received more views than anything else I have written thus far. For whatever reason, the topic just seems to appeal to a broad spectrum of people. Obviously, I share this enthusiasm on the issue.

But the matter pointed me towards its logical connections. If the angels are heavenly beings that live in God’s presence, and they have bodies, what about God? Does God have a body, too?

On its face, this is an absurd question to ask. The reason is that God—as the Bible and Christianity proper both explain things—is not one person but three. God is “triune.” Hence, the term “Trinity.” This means that the question needs to be rephrased. Here is what we really need to ask: Do each the three members of the Godhead (or Trinity) have bodies?

Do the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all three possess bodies or are they unembodied and immaterial? As odd (and unfortunate) as it is to say, a lot of professed Christians aren’t even aware the Jesus was raised with a transformed body and that he still possesses one. That’s right: Jesus rose from the dead with a different type of body and he returned to heaven in this resurrected state. I talk about this matter in this article, for those who are interested.

Here, I want to go beyond the biblical certainty that the Son of God has a body and ask about the other two members of the Trinity: the Father and the Spirit. I am abundantly aware that the consensus answer to this question—from scholars and lay people alike—is that neither the Father nor the Spirit are embodied. In fact, it goes completely without saying in many people’s minds. But I want to suggest that this may not be the case: that the standard narrative may not be the correct one.  

In truth, a deep study of Scripture has led me to believe that all three members of the Trinity possess bodies.

Just hear me out . . .

I have many reasons I wish you to consider, so I am going to do something unusual (for me). I am going to make a numerical list of reasons, in order to prevent confusion. Further, I am doing this because I believe that each point can stand on its own. So, let’s get started.

Reason #1: Jesus at the right hand of the Father. The prophet Daniel spoke of the “son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” and being led into the presence of the Ancient of Days (7:13). Jesus spoke of himself in this way (Mk 14:62), and Acts depicts Jesus returning to the right hand of the Father after the Ascension (2:33). Before his death, Stephen saw Jesus standing “at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). Here’s the point: this requires the Father to occupy a spatial location. Put another way, the Father exists in a specific place and is spatially extended. The Father lives in heaven, and the Son alongside Him at the “right hand.” This requires that both the Father and the Son have tangible form.

Reason #2: The Father “in heaven”: Jesus began the Lord’s Prayer with the words: “Our Father, who is in heaven . . .” Notice that Jesus did not say, “Our Father, who is on earth” or “who is everywhere.” Rather, he said that the Father is in heaven. The repeated references in the Bible to “God’s throne” (Heb. 12:2) also indicate that the Father is connected to a particular place: the throne! Like the previous point, this reveals that the Father has spatial location and would necessarily have some type of form. This means that God’s omnipresence is typically not explained properly. It is not about the Father literally existing in all things and in all places. That would be Thomistic . . . err I mean, pantheistic. Instead, it means that God has knowledge of all things and all places, and can affect them. Big difference. Again, the Father is in heaven and will one day live with us on the new earth.

[As an aside, this could well be soon. See my blogs here, here, and here for more about the end times]

Reason #3: Coming and going. I have one final point in this vein, and then I will move on. The Bible explains the existence of the Godhead in several ways, and one of them involves how the three divine persons come and go. The Son was sent by the Father to earth (Jn. 8:18), and then Jesus returned to the Father after accomplishing his mission (Jn. 16:28). Jesus and the Father send the Holy Spirit to believers (Jn. 14:15-16), and He can depart from the morally disobedient (1 Cor. 6:18-19). In order to come, go, return, or be sent, one must already exist elsewhere. The Son of God couldn’t “come” from heaven if He already existed on earth, and He can’t “return” at the Second Coming if He is already here. The very concept of being sent or returning implies, once again, spatial location and, hence, some type of form or tangibility.

Reason #4: Nothing to see here? The Gospel of John makes a particularly stunning statement in 6:46: “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father” (my emphasis). Let me get this straight: the Father can be seen? Like, He has form and substance? Yes, apparently so. If you disagree, take it up with the apostle John after the resurrection.

Reason #5: Moses saw God, too. Have you ever noticed the second half of Exodus 33? In no uncertain terms, it states that Moses saw God (presumably, the Father). However, it was in an incomplete way, which I think justifies John’s previous statement that “No one has seen the Father” except the Son. Step by step, Exodus reveals how this happened:

“The LORD continued, ‘There is a place near Me where you are to stand upon a rock, and when My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen’ (33:21-23).”

Here, we find God talking about “passing by” Moses, covering him with His “hand,” showing His “back,” and plainly stating that Moses cannot (nor can any mortal) see His “face.” This, and the entire chapter, reads as literally as possible. Even if you think this was the Son of God that Moses was seeing, it does you no good. This would simply verify that, prior to the Incarnation, the Son of God had—you guessed it—a body.

Reason #6: God in the Garden. Among the many things that Genesis reveals about our existence is that God once walked with human beings: “Now they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (3:8).

Sure, many people now take Genesis to be almost entirely figurative. That is, in the places where they want to (like the “days“).

The truth is that almost all theologians—from left to right, and everywhere in between—exercise subjectivity when it comes to Genesis. Ultimately, some may reject that God literally “walked” through the Garden of Eden, but they have no problem viewing other aspects of Genesis 1-3 as historical. God creating the “heavens and the earth” was a real event. Adam and Eve’s sin and the judgment it produced were real events. The effects of the Fall were real (and remain all around us today). But God physically strolling through the Garden? Hah, that’s a child’s tale! Clearly metaphorical!

Reason #7: The Image of God. Contrary to what is often taught, being made in the “image of God” unquestionably has a physical component. The very language and comparisons the Bible uses to describe this issue leaves absolutely no doubt, for those who are willing to allow Scripture to speak for itself. I have included a lengthy explanation in the appendix (below) proving this case. Please see the appendix, and I will now move on to the next points.

Reason #8: We’ve got “spirit!” By far the most common argument from Scripture suggesting that God (the Father) is incorporeal is John 4:24: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” That settles it: God is immaterial, unembodied, spaceless, and all the like!

But allow me to make things uncomfortable. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul spends most of the chapter talking about the resurrection of Jesus and what it will mean for us. Specifically, he details that Jesus rose with a transformed body: a tangible, honest to goodness, body. The rest of the NT is consistent in this fact as well. Curiously, do you know what Paul calls this fully embodied Jesus? He calls him a “life-giving spirit” (15:45).

Yes, Paul called the risen and embodied Jesus a “spirit” (pneuma), which is the same term used for both the Holy Spirit and the “ministering spirits” (angels). 

Furthermore, calling the third person of the Trinity the “Spirit” of God only makes sense if the Father and Son are embodied. Think about it. If “Spirit” equates to “unembodied being”—as most of us have been taught to believe—then it cannot also be that the Father and the Son are unembodied beings. We cannot have it both ways, as the distinction would make no sense.

In fact—and this is a very important point—all three persons of the Godhead are described as a “spirit” within the Bible! The Father here; the Son here; and obviously the Holy Spirit is throughout.

Furthermore, there is even reason to think that the Holy Spirit may have some kind of form. Remember, we just saw that the word “spirit” was used to talk about the risen Jesus. We also know that angels have bodies—as I prove here—and they are called “spirits” (Hebrews 1:14). Shockingly, the Holy Spirit even appears at Jesus’ baptism in bodily form. For sake of time, I refer you to my explanation of that event in this footnote.[1] Admittedly, there is not as much to go on concerning the Holy Spirit (compared to the claim that the Father and the Son are embodied). However, these are valid reasons why we should be open to it.

Reason #9: What is “spirit”? The previous section reveals something astonishing: something that should cause us to rethink John 4:24. Scripture typically describes spirits not as beings without bodies but as beings of higher power, intelligence, and ability. That is exactly what John 4:24 was saying, I believe. God is the supreme being of power, intelligence, and ability, and we must worship Him as such. We must worship God with the utmost sincerity and intentionality. Or, as Jesus put it: “in spirit and in truth.”

Reason #10: The plain reading of Scripture. In his review of Paul Helm’s book, Eternal God, William Lane Craig—one of the most popular Christian thinkers of our time—explains how the Bible describes God:

“The biblical writers consistently speak of God as in time, but, Helm quite correctly points out, they with equal consistency speak of God as in space, too, and yet the vast majority of theologians and philosophers do not construe divine omnipresence as God’s being spatially extended, but consider Him as transcending space.”[2]

Here, both Helm and Craig affirm something important: while they admit that the biblical authors describe God in certain ways, modern theologians often reject their thinking. That is, they reject the Bible in favor of their own philosophical understandings about God.

A being that occupies space (i.e. is “spatially extended”) necessarily has tangible form.When you boil it down, this means that the Bible describes God as being embodied while “the majority of theologians and philosophers” (including Craig and Helm) do not. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is a problem.

Bonus Reason: Just being anthropomorphic. Like God’s “walk” through the Garden of Eden, all the places where Scripture describes God as having human-like traits or characteristics are labeled as “anthropomorphic.” When God is described as having hands, feet, or a body in general, we are told that we can never—ever, ever, ever—take these descriptions literally. Abraham imagined that God appeared with a body. So did Jacob. So did Moses. The same applies to those places where God appears to change His mind or when He is surprised by events that take place. I explain more about these aspects in this footnote.[3]

Make no mistake about it: labeling such events as “anthropomorphic” is really done to persuade us that we aren’t seeing what we are plainly seeing. Even though the Bible clearly says X, we should listen to our trusted interpreters—who “know better”—and believe Y or Z.

Conclusion

I must confess that the tone of this article is a bit on the edgier side. The reason why is that I have repeatedly heard the “educated” people within the church declare—with absolute certainty and plenty of gusto—that “God is immaterial!” Unfortunately, I have discovered over time that far too many of the (almost) universally accepted “truths” of the Christian faith are not derived from Scripture; they are man’s “truths,” not God’s.

I just provided proof that some of our most esteemed theologians admit that they ignore the plain truth of Scripture, opting to force their own philosophical or theological worldviews into the Bible. I have documented many places where this occurs, and I take no pleasure whatsoever in pointing it out. Instead, I view this reality as a devastating development: as one of the many ways that Satan has infiltrated the church since its inception. What a wonderful deception, too; “Base your faith on the words of the biblical authors, but feel free to disregard their descriptions whenever you’d like.”

After all, why should people who profess that the Bible is the “word of God” trust its authors to accurately describe reality? A bit archaic, don’t you think?

But let’s bring this to a close before it requires a book cover! I have listed ten reasons (with a bonus reason) why we should really question the standard view that God is immaterial and unembodied. More than question it, I think the evidence against this view is rather overwhelming.

This essentially comes down to the same old issue that I always seem to run into, whether I am talking about the state of the dead, the nature of the heavenly bodies, the gift of tongues, and so many others. The question is, do you trust the Bible?

Do you actually believe in what the biblical authors revealed to us through divine inspiration?

The simple truth is that most professed Christians do not, and this is perhaps especially true of the church’s highest thinkers. They claim to trust in Scripture, only to proceed in thrusting their own thoughts and desires into its pages.

If you are allowing the biblical authors to explain reality to us, you would naturally conclude that the Father and the Son—before and after the Incarnation and Resurrection—have bodies of some type. They have heavenly bodies. I even suggested that it’s fair to inquire about the Spirit, also.

Trust your eyes. Trust what God has revealed to us through Scripture. If we are doing this, we may find that our beliefs look very little like those being thrust upon us.

For those interested in these types of discussions, I invite you to check out my book Spiritual Things: Exploring Our Relationship to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm. It is chock-full of information about the angelic form, what happens when we die, the spiritual forces of evil, and so much more. The appendix (below) includes a section of this book.

Appendix: What does it mean to be made in the Image of God?

Here is a full-length description of how the Bible answers this question. This is taken from my book, Spiritual Things, pages 42-44.

Welcome to Sunday school 101; human beings were made in the image of God. Obviously, this does not come as a surprise to anyone. The problem is that the vast majority of people who claim to believe this do not fully. Sure, we are somehow “like” God, but that statement comes with more than a few caveats. Every time this enigmatic statement has come up in my presence—whether that be at a church, a classroom, or elsewhere—I have heard the same general commentary on the issue. While most people do not tend to go into detail, there is almost always a local leader or theologian who is eager to clear it up for everyone. Typically, their explanations go something like this: “We are image-bearers, which means that we are in many respects like God. We are rational beings who think. We are personal agents. We love, and we have relationships. We experience a plethora of emotions and feelings. Yes, we are like God . . . but this has nothing to do with physical appearances.” Indeed—this has nothing to do with appearances. That is the standard narrative.

Though I probably do not need to provide many examples of this type of thinking, because most of us have heard something of the sort before, I want to provide a few to show my point. The first comes from the extremely prominent medieval Sephardic philosopher, Maimonides. In his third of the Thirteen Principles of Faith, he left no doubt about what Jewish followers should believe about God:

“I believe by complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is not a body, is not affected by physical matter, and nothing whatsoever can compare to Him [or be compared with Him].”[4]

While this view was out of step with many of his contemporaries, Maimonides would have found himself in good company among most Christian thinkers of the time. Speaking of Christian thinkers, the respected Scottish theologian, James Orr, once summarized the way in which we bear God’s image as follows:

“It lies in the nature of the case that the ‘image’ does not consist in bodily form; it can only reside in spiritual qualities, in man’s mental and moral attributes as a self-conscious, rational, personal agent, capable of self-determination and obedience to moral law.”[5]

Certainly, this assessment is quite true in many respects. It is well articulated and meaningful. Existing in God’s image does have much to do with “spiritual qualities,” mental and moral attributes, rationality, agency, self-determination, and obedience. I have no qualms with those descriptions, and I would doubt that most Christians do. Of course, there is still the matter of the first line of his statement.

I recently came across another, more contemporary, example while reading Dr. Glenn Sunshine’s book, The Image of God. At the onset of the book—before making the positive case—he discusses what being made in the image of God does not mean. As you can imagine, the issue of God’s corporeality is among the first on the list:

“The image of God is not found in human beings having a body like God’s . . . Scripture is clear that God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24) and the only body He has is Jesus’. This is why the second commandment bans the use of images in worship: by their very nature no image can convey the essence of an invisible, non-corporeal being. Images thus conceal more than they reveal and they encourage us to think of God as less than and other than what He has revealed Himself to be.”[6]

Though I will discuss John 4:24 in due time, it is worth mentioning now that this text is nearly always used as the key piece of evidence that God is incorporeal. Sunshine’s appropriation of the second commandment is highly questionable, particularly because man was made in God’s image to begin with. If images “conceal more than they reveal”—and are, thus, a negative thing—why would God create other beings in His image? Setting that aside, this is a clear example where all tangible associations between God and man are dismissed at the onset of the conversation. There just isn’t a connection there; case closed.

We should find it curious that this issue is thought to be “settled” within the church. In reality, it never has been. David Clossen—writing on behalf of the ERLC of the Southern Baptist Convention—summarized this ambiguity clearly:

“Although ‘image of God’ has become ubiquitous in Christian literature and conversation in recent years, it has not been robustly defined. Perhaps this is due to the lack of agreement throughout church history on what exactly constitutes the image of God, which no doubt stems from the fact that Scripture declares but does not elaborate on the axiom in detail.”[7]

As I will show, it is false that Scripture provides little detail on the matter. However, he is correct in saying that the “image of God” is not robustly defined and has not actually been agreed upon throughout church history. Biblical scholar, D.JA. Clines, put the issue this way:

“It appears that scholarship has reached something of an impasse over the problem of the image, in that different starting-points, all of which seem to be legitimate, lead to different conclusions. If one begins from the philological evidence, the image is defined in physical terms. If we begin from the incorporeality of God, the image cannot include the body of man. If we begin with the Hebrew conception of man’s nature as a unity, we cannot separate, in such a fundamental sentence about man, the spiritual part of man from the physical. If we begin with ‘male and female’ as a definitive explanation of the image, the image can only be understood in terms of personal relationships, and the image of God must be located in mankind (or married couples!) rather than the individual man.”[8]

With this in mind, I have to wonder why people have tended to believe that “God’s image” should refer only to non-physical qualities. Who ever said that is the way we should view this whole issue? On whose authority does this belief rest? Is there a particular biblical text that demands this: some mandate that dictates our interpretation? I once simply assumed that there must be. I was taught that God has to be understood as an immaterial, unembodied being at both college and seminary, after all. I have read a lot of truly distinguished scholars who have said the same thing. This is why some have noted that Christian theologians have historically relied more on extra-biblical philosophical and theological sources than the biblical texts themselves.[9] As I will suggest throughout the book, this has led to the denigration of the physical body and a more dualistic understanding of the image of God within mainstream Christian theology. As is often the case, my view shifted on this matter when I finally took the time to research it for myself. There are really a number of reasons why I feel that we should question the idea that bearing God’s image is an entirely immaterial issue. But first things first: what does the Bible actually say about this?

There are quite a number of terms that are associated—in some way, shape, or form—with the image discussion throughout the Bible. It only seems fitting that we should begin with the central term itself: the word “image.” The Hebrew term tselem is what we primarily translate as the word image, and it (or one of its variants) is used seventeen times throughout the Old Testament.[10] Honest scholars have long pointed out that, as the biblical authors would have understood things, this term carried both a spiritual and a physical aspect to it.[11] Most notably, tselem is used very early on in the book of Genesis, when it describes the creation of our world. It is here that we are first told about our true identity: where we are told that a being greater than ourselves made us. Perhaps more amazingly, we are also told that we somehow resemble this being; “God said, let us make man in our image . . .” (1:26a). Naturally, there is more to the statement, but we will get to that. Certainly, this is a major declaration. What should we make of this: being made in God’s image? To thoroughly answer that question, we need to investigate both where and how it is used elsewhere.

It may come as a surprise to some, as it first did to me, that the word tselem (image) is most often used to describe something that physically resembles something else. It is used to compare idols that have been fashioned in the image of some false deity (2 Ki. 11:18), like the well-known god Baal (2 Chr. 23:17). These were made to look exactly like how they perceived the gods to look. When the Philistines were considering returning the Ark of the Covenant to Israel, they wondered what kind of guilt offering they should return along with it. They found it fitting to send five gold tumors and five gold rats, since those plagues had struck them after taking the Ark (1 Sam. 6:4). Subsequently, they were told to make models (“images”) of the tumors and rats, in an effort to avoid being punished by Yahweh (6:5). The tumors should look like tumors, and the rats like rats. In a much more obvious way, the book of Ezekiel describes how God’s people saw pictures of the Chaldeans on a wall and began to lust after these images (23:14-16). The word “images” used in that reference pertained to exact replicas of living people; the pictures looked just like the Chaldean people. They were essentially portraits.

Clearly, tselem is used to describe several different relationships, but it is not the only term that is used to compare such things. The Hebrew demuth is what we typically translate as “likeness” within the Old Testament, where it is used twenty-five times. Generally, demuth translates as “likeness” or “similitude.” In my way of thinking, this term means “to very strongly resemble” someone or something. As with tselem, demuth is used primarily to make tangible comparisons. King Ahaz once had an altar built that bared the same likeness as one that was built by the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pilesar (2 Ki. 16:10-16). Ahaz, or his men, looked at the Assyrian altar and copied the blueprint. The Jewish people constructed items in the same likeness of cattle that served as temple furnishings (2 Chr. 4:3). The people looked at cattle and created precise models of them. These types of comparisons may have had something to do with the function of the objects being described, but there can be no doubt that the “likeness” described in these instances had something to do with literal appearances. They weren’t comparing statues to cattle because they grunted or chewed their cud; they compared the two because they looked the same.

The most significant way that demuth is used, however, is when it compares us with God. Genesis tells us on more than one occasion that we were made in the “likeness” of God. The first reference is in 1:26, which was previously quoted. The second reference is often overlooked, but it may be more significant than most of us realize. The early portion of Genesis 5 recounts God’s creative act of making Adam. First, it is restated that God created Adam in His own “likeness.” We all knew that much. However, the statement made just two verses later is literally mind-blowing. Genesis 5:3 records the following: “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth (emphasis, mine).” Did you notice what just happened there? Seth is being compared to Adam with exactly the same descriptive language that is used to compare Adam with God. In other words, Adam was like God just as Seth was like Adam. The actual language of the Old Testament tells us that we are similar to God in the same ways that our children are similar to us. Our sons and daughters are born in our likeness, and we were made in God’s likeness.

The words “image” (tselem) and “likeness” (demuth) appear to be words that comprehensively compare one thing with another. Though some thinkers have considered the two to be quite different in function, the most natural understanding of these terms is in a complementary way; both stress the similarities that certain beings or items share with others. Now, please don’t misunderstand me—I am not saying that either of these words discuss items or agents that are identical in all ways. We are not exactly like God in any way, shape, or form. We have not His power, His intelligence, His compassion, His creative ability, His wisdom, or anything else, in even close to equal measure. That being said, we should not underestimate the importance of these terms, either. Though neither one tells us that we are exactly like our Creator, both terms reveal that we are very, very muchlike Him. We have some measure of His power, His intelligence, His compassion, His creative ability, His wisdom, and a variety of other features. Perhaps we also possess some measure of God’s physical appearance.

This may well be true when we look at the Old Testament descriptions, but surely the New Testament defines our similarities with God differently. Those texts will urge us to view the “image” and the “likeness” exclusively in terms of immaterial attributes and characteristics, right? To provide an answer to that question, we will need to thoughtfully evaluate the Greek terms that parallel the Hebrew words we previously examined. As we saw with tselem and demuth, there are basically two Greek terms that are of primary interest to us here: eikn and homoióma.

Let’s take these terms in order, beginning with eikn. The word eikn is what we primarily translate as “image,” so it is essentially the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew tstelem. In all, either it or its variants are used twenty-three times throughout the New Testament. To me, it is not really the number of usages that is noteworthy; the ways in which the term is used is much more telling. For example, Jesus used the word eikn when he was asked whether he and his fellow Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. The question was a reasonably loaded one, being that it had become the practice of Roman emperors in those days to demand worship as a deity. In some sense, it could be thought that paying money to Caesar was the same as paying him homage as a god. Famously, Jesus took the coin and, looking at the “image” of Caesar imprinted on it, told his questioners to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”[12] Right away, we see the power of the term. The image on the coin was a replica of the emperor. The picture physically looked like Tiberius Caesar. In the same vein, the word eidolón—which is from the same root word as eikn—is used to discuss idols throughout the New Testament. It, too, is used to describe the items crafted to physically resemble the false gods of the Greco-Roman world.

The word eikn is also used in some of the most powerful statements about Jesus’ divinity in all the Bible. In Colossians 1:15, Paul told his fellow believers that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.” Paul made a strikingly similar statement in 2 Corinthians 4:4, where he revealed that Jesus is the “image of God.” The idea that God is “invisible” will come up again later but consider what these statements mean about Jesus. When people saw Jesus, they saw the Father, who is otherwise unseen. Seeing Jesus—who was embodied in human flesh, and later embodied with the first of the resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:49)—was like seeing the Father. The Gospel of John records Jesus’ statement: “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say ‘show us the Father’?” (Jn. 14:9). Just before that, Jesus told the apostles that seeing him and seeing the Father were one and the same (Jn. 14:7).

I wonder: what should that tell us about the Father? An “image” is only an image if it references something else that could potentially be seen. You cannot have an image of something that has no appearance. This is precisely what caused the well-known Anglican archbishop, Richard Chenevix Trench, to say that the term eikn “assumes a prototype, of which it not merely resembles, but from which it is drawn.”[13] As if that statement is not telling enough, the renowned biblical scholar, F.F. Bruce, recorded the following: “(eikn) then is more than a ‘shadow’; rather it is a replication.”[14] You see, the term that was used to describe the ways in which we resemble our Creator was not supposed to subtly compare the “spiritual,” interior qualities we possess. Rather, it was meant to describe the fact that we are copies of the great, uncreated Prototype. It describes the fact that we are not merely shadows of God but are something closer to being replications of Him. The early Church Father, Irenaeus, displayed his agreement with this notion in his highly-influential work, Against Heresies:

“Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to be conformable to, and modelled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God. Now the soul and the spirit are certainly a part of the man, but certainly not the man; for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul receiving the spirit of the Father, and the admixture of that fleshly nature which was moulded after the image of God.”[15]

We are not God, nor are we exactly like Him. But—and this is an emphatic but—there is no denying that we strongly resemble our Creator. As Irenaeus alluded to, this resemblance even includes our physical existence.

What about the Hebrew term demuth—is there a Greek parallel for that as well? Yes, there is. This is where the previously mentioned word homoióma reenters the conversation. Like demuth, translators typically interpret homoióma as “likeness,” but it can also be viewed as “image” or “similitude.” The term is only used six times throughout the New Testament, which is less than one-fourth of the times its Hebrew equivalent is used in the Old Testament. Of those six occurrences, four are found in Paul’s letter to the Romans; clearly, it had special significance there. It is first used in 1:23, when the Gentiles are shamed for having traded the worship of Yahweh for the worship of images of other human beings (emperor worship comes to mind at that time) and even animals. 5:14 displays a more figurative usage of the term, as it describes those believers who had not sinned in the “likeness” (or, in the way) that Adam had. 6:5 seems to keep with a more symbolic interpretation in that it compares the way we will take on the “likeness” of both Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The final use of the term in Romans is found in 8:3. Here, we are told that Jesus was sent “in the likeness of human flesh.” This sounds identical to its usage in Philippians 2:7, where it is said that Jesus was made in the “likeness” of man. Finally, the book of Revelation uses the term homoióma just once, where it describes the physical appearance of the locusts in John’s vision (9:7). These six examples provide us with some very important information. The first thing it tells us is that the term homoióma—like the other terms we have looked at—can certainly work in a more figurative way. It can be used to compare the actions or characteristics of two things in ways that don’t necessarily have anything to do with appearances. However, it typically does not function in such a way. Instead, homoióma, and the other biblical words comparable to it, are most often used to describe the outer appearance of things.

The point of evaluating the previous terms that we translate as “image,” “likeness,” or in other ways, should be rather obvious by now. When the biblical authors made these associations, they typically intended us to take the terms at face-value; an image is really a tangible replica or a copy of something else, and a likeness includes a physical comparison between two things. I have just shown a plethora of places where these words are used throughout the Bible and, for the most part, they describe the physical form or appearance of the items they pertain to. With this demonstrated, there can be little doubt that many interpreters have attempted to “over-spiritualize” the idea of what it means to be made in both the image and the likeness of something else. In doing so, they have stripped away the most basic (and intended) meaning of these words. To many Christians, we only vaguely resemble—both in form and in function—the God that we are said to strongly resemble. As a result, we have lost a very important part of what it means to be made in God’s image, and according to His likeness.”


[1] Luke recorded that the Holy Spirit “descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove” (3:22, my emphasis). Nearly all interpreters acknowledge the peculiarity of this statement. The word used there for “bodily” (sómatikos) is used only twice in the entire NT, and never again by Luke. The only other usage is in 1 Timothy 4:8, which says that “. . . bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” This is probably referencing an earlier verse (4:3), which reveals that false teachers were instructing believers not to marry and to abstain from certain foods. When you connect the dots, there is no denying that both uses of sómatikos are describing tangible bodies. This means that the Spirit’s appearance at Jesus’ baptism was corporeal. The text, then, is not telling us that the Spirit literally became a dove and descended upon Jesus. Rather, it is telling us that the Spirit descended in the manner that a dove would: hovering, then resting.

[2] Craig, William L. “A Review of Paul Helm’s Eternal God”. Reasonablefaith.org. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/divine-eternity/a-review-of-paul-helms-eternal-god/

[3] Dr. Bruce Ware, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, provides a perfect example of what I am talking about in this video. He admits that the Bible describes numerous occasions when God appears to “change His mind,” or do something other than He would have. But here is his specific reason why he doesn’t believe this should be taken literally: “He (God) doesn’t literally change His mind because of what that would mean, at that is He doesn’t know in advance something that’s going to take place, and so [sic] learn something and then changes His mind.” In other words, those instances in the Bible cannot be taken literally because Ware has an a priori understanding that God cannot change His mind or learn something. It’s a completely circular argument. Does the Bible describe places where God changes His mind? No, because God can’t change His mind.

[4] See “Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Jewish Faith.”

[5] James Orr, “God, Image Of.”

[6] Glenn Sunshine, The Image of God, Loc. 104-116 (Kindle Version).

[7] ERLC stands for the “Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.” See the article, “What does it mean to be made in God’s image.”

[8] D.J.A Clines, “Tyndale Bulletin 19” (53-103).

[9] A very useful source on this matter is Richard Middleton’s, The Liberating Image.

[10] Strong’s Concordance, “tselem.”

[11] For a good example, see John Day’s From Creation to Babel, page 14 in particular.

[12] Matthew 22:20, Mark 12:16, Luke 20:24.

[13] See Strong’s, 1504.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 5.6.1.

Is Israel God’s “Chosen” People?

The Old Testament reveals that God took a specific people as a covenant partner: a chosen nation that would fulfill the promises made to Abraham. This nation took the name divinely given to the great patriarch, Jacob. We call this nation Israel.

No person of Christian or Jewish faith can doubt this fact. Nearly the entire OT tells the story of Israel and how they both overtook the land of Canaan and established themselves as a country. At no point is there any mystery or debate: Israel was God’s chosen nation, His covenant partner, and the recipient of Abraham’s blessings. This is an unassailable fact of Scripture.

The question is, are they still God’s chosen people? Does the current nation of Israel continue to enjoy this unique status?

My aim in this article is to explore these incredibly important questions. The way we view the nation of Israel has much to do with how we interpret God’s plans in our world and the very meaning of salvation. I will examine these matters in three distinct ways, and as briefly (but meaningfully) as possible.

First, I will look at how Israel is described within the OT. Second, I will examine how the people of Israel are depicted in the NT, when Jesus entered the scene. Third (and last), I will discuss the country of Israel that exists today, inquiring as to whether or not it remains God’s chosen nation.

Part One: Israel in the OT

Every time I work my way through the OT, I am taken aback by how insufferably corrupt God’s people were much of the time. Over and over again, the people rebelled against God and proved themselves to be lousy covenant partners. Where to even begin with the examples?

Almost immediately after being rescued from Egypt, the Israelites began a campaign of disobedience. They complained about a lack of food (Num. 11:4). They grumbled about not having enough to drink (Num. 20:5). They doubted the leader God had chosen for them, even plotting to usurp Moses’ position (Num. 16). They even lamented being saved from Egyptian captivity in the first place (Ex. 16:3).

This was obviously a very grateful community.

When God took the Hebrew people to Mt. Sinai to establish a covenant with them, it took them no time flat to dismiss the miracles they had seen and to fashion a bovine statue for themselves (Ex. 32). Here, again, God had to be persuaded not to destroy the entire lot of them (save for Moses). The people had finally proven to be so unfaithful that God left them wandering in the wilderness for forty years, so that the whole generation could perish (Num. 32:13).

After not wanting to obey God’s commands to overtake the land of Canaan, the new generation entered and possessed the land under Joshua’s leadership. From there, things finally went swimmingly. Or, not . . .

The period recorded in the Book of Judges may have been the most corrupt time in Israel’s history, though the competition is stiff. Judges reveals an endless cycle of sin, judgment, repentance and (temporary) restoration. The phrase, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord,” can hardly be missed. They did evil, and then did some more. Every time a Gideon or Deborah helped to put Israel back on track, they turned around and blew it. This exercise in futility culminated exactly how we would expect: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (21:25).

They did as they saw fit, not as God commanded.

After sufficiently rejecting God as King and getting human kings of their own, the same narrative continued to play out. Saul was an abject failure who ended up dying in the least regal way imaginable: suicide (1 Sam. 31:1-6). David and Solomon fared much better, in general, and took the nation of Israel to its highest point. However, David and Solomon both failed God in horrible ways. David had Uriah killed in order to take his already-impregnated wife (2 Sam. 11), and Solomon’s almost unparalleled sexual appetite also led him into spiritual adultery (1 Ki. 11). As for the nation overall, they couldn’t even get along with one another, much less stay faithful to God. Israel and Judah split into two kingdoms in 930 BC and remained so for centuries to come.

Probably nowhere in Scripture is Israel’s wickedness depicted more clearly than through the prophets. Nearly every prophet—whether Major or Minor—preached against Israel and/or Judah’s debauchery. One of the central themes was that the people had become spiritual prostitutes: God’s chosen bride was nothing more than an adulterous whore. These are their words, not mine. Take just these two examples, among countless that could be used.

“You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you” (Ez. 16:32-34).

And . . .

“Look at the shrines on every hilltop. Is there any place you have not been defiled by your adultery with other gods? You sit like a prostitute beside the road waiting for a customer. You sit alone like a nomad in the desert. You have polluted the land with your prostitution and your wickedness” (Jer. 3:2).

This is truly a miniscule sampling of the immoral carnage at play in the OT. Israel’s moments of faithfulness would take much less time to chronicle.

The simple truth is that Israel is depicted as both a rebellious child and an unfaithful prostitute throughout most of the OT. I am not exaggerating; I mean most of the OT. If you doubt this, you didn’t read the previous section and probably haven’t read either the Historical Books or the Prophets.

The image of God dragging Israel by the hair of her head is the only thing that does it all justice. God took His people, kicking and screaming, to the Promised Land. After that, things continued in much the same way.

Part Two: Israel in Jesus’ Day

Judges proved to be a disaster. Kings were ineffective, on the whole. Prophets were largely unable to stir the people to holy living (at least not for long). Would the long-awaited Messiah be able to spark a different feeling among the Jewish people?

Anyone at all familiar with the NT knows that the answer is no. It is important to note that multitudes of Jewish believers did accept Jesus and chose to follow him. Thousands of people appeared to hear him, sometimes too many to keep in order (Lk. 12:1). Like today, a remnant of people chose to follow the Lord (while others just showed up to be fed).

However, Jesus butted heads with the Jewish authorities—the “church leaders” of the day—constantly. Having watched this for centuries, the Son of God could not suffer their corruption. Everything was for show and their faith was hollow. The only “leading” they did was to lead people astray. The Gospels also reveal repeated plans to murder Jesus, all coming from the religious elite. Ultimately, they succeeded, as the chief priests cried out to Pontius Pilate with the words “Crucify him!” and “we have no king but Caesar.”

When Jesus conquered the grave, they made up stories about how it never happened. The disciples “stole the body,” don’t you know? He didn’t really appear to scores of people on a multitude of occasions.

They followed up by persecuting the apostles and many of the converts they had made, both among their fellow Jews and the Gentiles. Being consistent with their shouts to Pilate, the religious elite supported Rome in persecuting Christians. I would argue that the corrupt Jewish authorities may even have been the initial fulfilment of the “beast from the earth” in Revelation 13, and that Jerusalem was the Great Harlot of chapter 17.

Maybe all this is why Jesus called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Mt. 12:34), “whitewashed tombs” (Mt. 23:27-28), and children of the devil (Jn. 8:44). Maybe this is what spurred him to deliver these fateful words to the Jewish nation:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mt. 23:37).

Yes, the Son of God had watched this go on for centuries. He watched them hurl insults at God’s chosen leaders, disobey divine commands, persecute the prophets, treat one another contemptuously, live decadently, and commit spiritual prostitution like it was a religious duty. This culminated in the murder of Jesus—their Messiah—when he came to them.

As I said in the last section, if you think this is an uncharitable take, then I strongly urge you to revisit the Gospels. Jesus was actually harsher than I have been. That, I can assure you.

Part Three: Israel Today

Admittedly, this part is by far the most difficult to explain. We do not have a set of Gospels or an inerrant account with which to evaluate the matter. Instead, the identity of the nation of Israel in our present time is passed through the funnel of 21st century politics and (mostly) unreliable reporting outlets.

Let me just offer a few things for your consideration, most of which do not involve a great deal of speculation.

The first is that God has provided approximately zero prophets or leaders—much less a Messiah, if not Jesus—to the Jewish people in roughly 2,400 years. The Minor Prophets ended their ministries somewhere toward the end of the 5th century BC (with Malachi) and no universally recognized figures have come since then. This raises some serious questions for those of the Jewish faith. What is there now to go on? What is the expected future for those who rejected the ministry of Jesus?

If you look around, you’ll see that modern Jews have no real answers to such questions. I do not say this pejoratively but as a matter of objective fact. As a quick example, I have listened to Dennis Prager on and off for many years now. He is a conservative radio host who has done many good things (like PragerU), and he is also a devout Jew. He has authored biblical commentaries and is a very capable OT scholar in his own right. While firmly believing in the afterlife, Prager is unable to provide virtually any biblical reasons why there would be one. Instead, he ends up relying on logical arguments based on assumptions about God’s character, the lack of justice in the world, or the way he sees reality functioning.

In the end, it boils down to affirming the existence of an afterlife out of sheer desire. Prager wants it to be so but cannot validate the view within his scriptures. I am by no stretch targeting Prager, either. A vast number of Jewish Rabbis hold to some vague—and I mean very vague—idea of the afterlife, and others reject it altogether.

This is a microcosm of the greater issue, which is that the OT does not contain the complete set of truths that God has revealed to the world. It is half of the story, at best.

  • It does not end (in Malachi) with a way of providing atonement for the sins of the world.
  • It does not provide insight on what to do when the temple no longer exists in Jerusalem (which it hasn’t since AD 70), particularly as sacrifice is concerned.
  • It does not provide much information about the afterlife, or what anyone should have expected after the time of the prophets.
  • It does not reveal or chronicle the coming of the Messiah, who is spoken of in its very pages.

The OT, in and of itself, provides an incomplete picture of reality. It leaves us on a gigantic cliffhanger: a cliffhanger that was resolved entirely within the NT writings and the work of Jesus Christ. The NT provides explanations for how sin was once and for all destroyed, for who the Messiah is, for how we can explain the evil forces of our world and the heavenly realm, and perhaps most importantly, for where everything is heading and how it will conclude.

For the last 2,000+ years, the Jewish people have been living partially in the dark because they rejected the light that entered the world.

One final point should be mentioned in this section. There is much debate about the current state of the Middle East, especially the relationship between the Jews and Palestinians. This is a highly complex and layered issue, to say the least. What I can definitively tell you is that a huge number of the Jews living in the region are not religious Jews. These are not people sitting by the Jordan River singing praises to Yahweh and studying the Torah.

Don’t believe me? Contemplate these numbers, concerning Israeli Jews over the age of twenty (in 2020):[1]

  • 43% self-identify as secular
  • 22% as traditional but not very religious
  • 13% as traditional-religious
  • 11% as religious and 10% as ultra-Orthodox

This means that about 65%—that is, almost 2/3—of adults living in Israel are either atheists/agnostics or would only affirm a very basic belief in god.

This should absolutely stun you. But it gets worse.

The practice of Israeli Jews attempting to displace Palestinians—often claiming a “divine right” to the land—is extremely prevalent. They burn down houses, verbally and physically attack families, and make life a living hell for them. A lot of these Palestinians have had family ties to the land for centuries and some are even practicing Christians. There are countless videos on the web of these mobs breaking into houses and attacking Palestinian families. Many people have reported that these events are often done out of resentment toward Jesus and because the intruders believed it was “God’s will” that Jews possess those buildings and lands.

The acts of violence in this capacity are not few and far between, either. Instead, they’re incredibly common. As I showed, many—though certainly not all—of the Jews living in Israel are non-religious and often despise Christians. This does not mean the Jewish people living in Israel have not been targeted by Palestinians and other groups. They certainly have at times. I am saying that, in this particular case, it “takes two to tango.” Israeli Jews have played a major part in the violence of recent times.

People of faith from the US (and elsewhere) need to know this, and it should make us re-evaluate a lot our beliefs.

You won’t hear many pastors say this (though here is one), but it remains true: The nation of Israel that has existed since 1948 is not the same Israel that was guided by God throughout the OT. The connection exists only in two primary ways: 1) The name “Israel” and 2) The common rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

Conclusion

Given the complexity of this topic and the firm allegiance that many have to the belief that Israel remains God’s chosen people, I have assuredly ruffled many feathers in this blog. Some will no doubt believe that I am being rather uncharitable. I would like to emphasize that I have almost exclusively allowed the Bible and the statistics to speak about the nation of Israel. If anyone thinks I am being “anti-Semitic” or sacrilegious—and I am neither—then just know that the Jewish people who wrote the OT must have been too.

Israel’s own prophets condemned her as a spiritual prostitute.

God condemned her as an unfaithful and unworthy bride.

Jesus announced her murderous nature, and then proved it through the Crucifixion.

Candidly (and regrettably), I spent most of my early Christian life believing that the Israel of today—the one founded in 1948—continued to have a special status with God. Like so many others, I believed that to be against Israel (for any reason) meant to be against God. I believed that, despite their prominent atheism and (mostly) strong detestation of Jesus, they were still the “chosen” people of Yahweh.

Certain things never smelled right to me—like why those who flat out hate Jesus can still be divinely cherished—but I sat those concerns aside. I errantly drank the Kool-Aid of Christian Zionism, disregarding what the Spirit was telling me and accepting what too many mainline evangelical leaders were preaching.

Here, I wish to call others away from operating with this worldview. Don’t spend even one more day with it. Why? Because there are many who need to be saved. The nation of Israel needs Jesus. All the nations of the world need the risen Savior. We are doing the Jewish people a disservice—and ignoring the Great Commission—in affirming that salvation is possible apart from Jesus.

Paul made this clear, when speaking about his fellow Jews:

“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them(Rom. 11:13-14, my emphasis).

Paul hoped to “save some of them,” meaning by persuading them about the truth of the gospel. He knew that, as things stood, their rejection of Jesus would result in condemnation. The view that people—whether Jew or Gentile—can outright reject the Son of God and be saved is heresy, plain and simple. Such a view is really the anti-Great Commission; a doctrine aligned with the spirit of antichrist, not the Christ.

I want to implore those of you who have read this blog to re-evaluate things. Do your research. Look into this for yourselves. It seems not only possible but highly probable that many Christians have accepted a false bill of goods about Israel and their current place in God’s economy.

It might well be that the people of Israel are the same as every other group of human beings on earth: the same as you and me. Maybe they are fallen and in need of salvation. Maybe they are only “chosen” if they follow the Chosen One, who is Jesus Christ.

Perhaps they, too, need to repent of their evil deeds, accept Jesus as their Savior, and walk in the light.

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Footnotes

[1] “Vital Statistic: Latest Population Statistics for Israel (2020).” Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed Jun 9, 2021. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/latest-population-statistics-for-israel


A Tale of Two Churches

Paul once prophesied that a day would come when many lose faith and apostatize. In refuting the idea that the Lord’s return had already occurred, Paul said this: “No one is to deceive you in any way! For it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction . . .” (2 The. 2:3).

I have written about the Antichrist—the “man of lawlessness”—here, but the first part of the verse is the topic at hand. Paul clearly said that, before the end, the “apostasy” would take place. This term (apostasia) is used just twice in all the NT, and it refers to a “defection” or “revolt.” Acts 21:21 is the only other time it’s used, where it refers to leaving the customs of the Mosaic Law. Likewise, the apostasy Paul is referring to is a defection from the Christian faith: a “falling away” of the church.

Jesus spoke about this, saying: “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Mt. 24:10-11). It is also echoed in a text like 2 Timothy 4:3: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” In my last article, I discussed some of what these “itching ears” are being taught.

There will be a time when many fall from the faith and the church splits into two groups: the Bride of Christ and the apostate church. In fact, I believe we are seeing this play out right in front of us. Certainly, false teachings and apostasy have always existed but both have picked up a speed of late rivaled only by light itself.

The late archbishop, Fulton Sheen, described the apostate church with stunning accuracy more than seventy years ago. In his 1948 “Signs of the Times” sermon, he said this about the church that would be governed by the Antichrist and established through Satan:

“He will set up a counter-Church which will be the ape of the Church, because he the Devil, is the ape of God. It will have all the notes and characteristics of the Church, but in reverse and emptied of its divine content. It will be a mystical body of the Antichrist that will in all externals resemble the mystical body of Christ. In desperate need of God, whom he nevertheless refuses to adore, modern man in his loneliness and frustration will hunger more and more for membership in a community that will give him enlargement of purpose, but at the cost of losing himself in some vague collectivity.”

I invite everyone to take a moment to truly reflect upon this statement. It’s both powerful and prescient.  

The final phrase stood out to me, in particular: “ . . . enlargement of purpose, but at the cost of losing himself in some vague collectivity.” This almost flawlessly epitomizes the members of the apostate church. They are part of something, but also nothing.

This is not about those who loosely claim to be “religious” or would say, if specifically asked, that they “believe in god.” Such people carry no spiritual weight and are not even thought to. Rather, the apostate church is about those who outwardly carry the banner of Christianity and seek to be its representatives.

This is a church full of people, many of whom are actively involved in local congregations (if not functioning as pillars). These are pastors, youth pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, vestry members, communications coordinators, and a host of other roles. They set up websites and perform online ministries. They lead small groups and arrange gatherings. This church is rich in congregants who are eager to “do church together” and invite others to join in. They sing songs and pray lengthy prayers. They offer a wealth of ways that one can worship God and participate in fellowship. Their lives revolve around Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings, and unscripted times when the need arises. They are nothing if not dedicated.

But I am reminded of God’s message to Israel, as recorded in Amos 5:21: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.”

All the things listed above are true and yet, somehow, this church is bereft of power. It’s vapid and empty; truly hollow. It’s the luscious fruit that turns to mush when you take hold of it; deceptively rotten. There is shine but no substance. It is a lamp that bears no light—a heap of salt without flavor. Their spiritual roots go no deeper than their deepities. This church boasts a nebulous concept of love, at the expense of its ability to seek justice. It teaches people to be “nice” but never to be courageous. It favors agreement over clarity and comfort over truth. It fears death but despises life. Secular experts are its prophets and apostles. Its priests wear lab coats and create deceptive models. It values knowledge over wisdom, possessing little of the former and none of the latter.

This church’s members have Jesus on their lips but Caesar in their hearts and minds.

I could go on, but we cannot allow these poetic descriptions—though realistic—to detract from the point. The apostate church is not some abstraction or a cautionary tale of what may “someday” come to be.

Make no mistake about it: the apostate church is here.

It exists all around us. If you wish to see it, simply read the latest article of your mainstream Christian publication, or listen to its biggest voices take to radio or television. Hear them tout the Covid vaccine gospel, stating that “Jesus would advocate” for them, that they are a “gift from God,” and even that the aborted children used in the creation and/or testing of the vaccines are comparable to Jesus giving his life for the world. Learn how they have opened their doors as vaccination centers and rallied members to go out into their communities, not proselytizing for Jesus but seeking souls for the likes of Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates. Watch them partner with secular groups to desecrate one of the world’s most famous statues of Jesus, projecting upon it the words “Vaccine Saves” rather than “Jesus Saves.” Observe their outer mask that says nothing of Christ but simply reads, “vaccinated.” At the same time, they condemn the “conspiracy theorists” who raise serious concerns about the origins of the virus, our possible role with it, how it has been reported, and what agenda may really be pushing the narrative.

[All this, as deaths and injuries from the injections are proving to be a serious problem. The issues with reporting the cases and deaths have been known from the onset, and the overall story has never added up. I discuss these things throughout this blog, especially within its endnotes. Please check this out, you will find it interesting]

Watch them unabashedly support the abomination of God’s marriage covenant. See them ignore the many who were murdered, maimed, or financially destroyed by the “peaceful protests” of 2020, while echoing false narratives about events that literally pale in comparison. Watch them blissfully ignore the incalculable death and despair brought about by the lockdown measures our governments have thrust upon the world. So long as we “crush the virus”—and the lockdowns have done no such thing—the collateral damage is irrelevant. Observe them as they promote globalist health agendas and a one world religion. Read their scientific doctrines about how God’s glorious act of creating humanity was accomplished through evolutionary processes that neither directly involve God nor could even have anticipated our existence.[1]

More to the point, see how their “Christian perspectives” align with those from the secular world on virtually every consequential matter.

Maybe that’s the ultimate indictment. The apostate church is nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the world because it’s just like the rest of the world. Ironically, its religious zeal has caused it to merge with a community that despises God and worships Caesar. But there certainly is an “enlargement of purpose” in this “vague collectivity.” They have joined the masses—become one with the world—at the expense of losing their Christian identities.

As Jesus put it: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mk. 8:36)?

The good news is that the true church, the Bride of Christ (or the remnant), cannot fall. It will not be overtaken. It cannot be destroyed by the media, corrupt politicians, optional Christianity subscribers, the spiritual forces of evil, or anything else in the cosmos. Many will (and are) defecting from true faith but this act is resulting in the purification of the Body of Christ. The church is being pruned, and the dead branches will be bundled and burned.

When Jesus returns, he will indeed find faith on earth. It will not come from the non-believing world or the apostate church that mirrors it. Jesus will find faith in his beautiful Bride, the glorious and holy church that has no spots, wrinkles, or blemishes (Eph. 5:27).

While the apostate church will be awaiting its destruction, the true Bride will be anxiously awaiting the return of the Bridegroom. The marriage supper of the Lamb will certainly occur, and blessed are those who are invited to it.

s

Looking for a new book to read? Check out my books below:

God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact

Spiritual Things: Exploring our Connection to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm

Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn’t Teach

The Death Myth: Uncovering what the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife

Footnotes


[1] As one of countless possible examples, consider evolutionary creationist, Kenneth Miller. In his book, Finding Darwin’s God (272), he said: “mankind’s appearance on this planet was not pre-ordained”, and that we are, “an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out.” If you’re wondering how that squares with God directly creating man in His image and as the pinnacle of Creation, it doesn’t.

Optional Christianity

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I could have called this blog “Lukewarm Christianity,” but there is far more involved here than apathy.

As time goes on, and I get a better and better pulse for what passes as “Christian” in 21st century America (and beyond), I cannot help but mourn in my spirit. Though I am certainly not comparing myself to the prophets and apostles of Scripture, I feel that I at least share the same sadness and astonishment that they felt in their respective eras.

They had to watch their fellow Jews and Christians fall from faith. They witnessed the rise of hollow religion: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mt. 15:8). They saw many not only apostatize but become reprobates. The prophets watched as the people rebelled against God, rejected their messages, and put them to death. The apostles watched the Jewish leadership cheer at the death of Jesus, proclaiming “we have no king but Caesar!”

I—like those of you who are reading this, even if you don’t realize it—am watching the church erode around me: right before my very eyes. It has become feckless and neutered of its power. When you get down to it, this isn’t simply the corruption of an institution; it is the splitting of the most spiritually powerful institution in world history. 

There are now two clear and definable churches that exist in the world: the Bride of Christ (or the remnant) and the apostate church. We might compare these two establishments to the righteous and wicked “women” of Revelation. One gave rise to the Holy One and the other martyred God’s holy ones. One is pure and the other adulterated. While this stark contrast once applied to the Jewish people, it now applies to the Christians. The existence of these two churches is something I will exclusively cover in the next article.  

At present, I want to touch upon one of the primary reasons why the corporate Body of Christ has come to such a pass: why it has so clearly devolved into two different bodies.

Though it has been a lengthy process, the 21st century manifestation of the church has been massively tainted by false teachings. It has embraced heresy wherever you look. One of those problematic heresies is that following God’s commands is optional. Put another way, our part with Jesus in no way depends upon our obedience. The obsession—coupled with the bastardization—of the doctrine of “salvation by faith alone” has much to do with this issue, to be sure.

However, the church’s overall dearth of theological understanding, lack of conviction, and absence of genuine zeal cannot be reduced to a false view about faith and works. While this may be a large piece of the puzzle, it is still but one piece.

In “Q and A” form, let me show a few ways that this frequently plays out.

Q. Should we use our time, energy, and resources for God’s Kingdom? A. Absolutely. But the effort spent on these things plays no role in salvation.

Q. Are works involved in salvation? Do I need to do anything? A. Absolutely not. Simply believe and it’s done!

Q. As a follower of Jesus, do I need to be baptized? A. Well . . . you don’t need to be baptized, but you probably should.

Q. Must I actively read the Bible and be informed about the Christian faith? A. “Must” you? No. Knowledge doesn’t factor into salvation. But you should certainly try to be informed.

Just in these examples, I guarantee that some readers are already festering frustration. I am supporting works righteousness, right? Aren’t I attempting to make Christianity into a to-do list, rather than a matter of simple belief? (I point you to this article about faith and works).

At present, let’s take this another direction.

Consider this in a personal way. What if you truly believed that the things above ultimately have no role in your salvation? That is, whether you do them or not—and to whatever extent—it would neither qualify nor disqualify you from being saved.

How would you live? Would you leave sin and strive to be more like Christ? Would you give of your time and resources? Would your life be about spiritual transformation and reaching others for the Kingdom of God?

While most of us know the true answers to these questions, some will of course puff out their chests and say, “Yes. I would do all this even if I didn’t need to.”

Nonsense. But let’s look at this one more way. While so many other things could be included, ask yourself what the result would be if we taught new Christian converts the following things:

1) You are saved apart from your personal obedience.

2) Salvation is 100% about what Jesus did and 0% about you do.

3) Baptism is suggested but not necessary in salvation.

4) Spreading the gospel and making disciples is also suggested but not necessary in your salvation.

Unfortunately, we don’t have to ask what the result “would” be.

Vast numbers of church leaders have been teaching others these very things for eons. I have seen it firsthand, and in far too many church settings (though certainly not in all). I have read it in books and articles, heard it in sermons, and I have most definitely observed it via innuendo. One could write a book about all the common beliefs held within the church that are not scriptural!

In that vein, a fundamental—but often ignored or contested—teaching of the Bible is that people are not good. In fact, we are fallen and helpless apart from God’s activity in our lives. We inherit both the nature and body patterned after Adam, but we will need to be transformed into the image of Christ and receive a body like the one he rose from the grave with (1 Cor. 15:45-49). The Bible sets a high bar for morality, and there is a distinct reason for that: people tend to do only what is required. That is, most of us will do the bare minimum.

Give your child the option of cleaning their room once a week or once a month and see which they choose. Tell someone they can make the same salary by working either twenty hours a week or forty and see which they choose. Tell them it doesn’t matter how much work gets done when they are clocked-in and see how much they accomplish. Even the present—and completely corrupt, I might add—virus crisis is proof of this. The government has given people so much money to sit on their duffs that countless places cannot find employees. Why go to work if I can get paid to entertain myself? As one CEO recently put it: “If I was in my 20s and didn’t really have a career path laid out, I’d stay home and make the $18.80 an hour playing PlayStation until four o’clock in the morning.”

Scripture sets a high bar because God knows people, and He knows them much better than we do. God knows that people, in general, will seek out the lowest possible bar. It is human nature to do so. This is especially true if the same ends can be achieved by whatever means.

And that is exactly what we are dealing with, here. When the church tells its members that things are optional—that their salvation will not be affected, one way or the other—we all know how that will end. We now have swarms of misled people that either fail or refuse to do things because “they don’t need to.” They don’t actively engage the culture for Christ. They don’t worry about making converts, much less disciples. They put off being baptized or never do it at all. They neglect to do good deeds, to the glory of the Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16). “Technically speaking,” it’s all optional.

The damage that has been done cannot be calculated.

But the result has been a sifting process: a separation of the wheat from the chaff. We have an apostate church that views Christian living as optional. “As long as I believe that Jesus died for me, nothing else is needed. I am saved.” Thus, we have a license. This is a license to sin. It’s a license for spiritual apathy. It’s a license to live like Adam rather than Jesus.

Paul faced this mentality and flatly rebuked it: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Rom. 6:15). James faced it, too: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (2:14).

The root of the problem can be answered with one point, which should serve as a reminder to us all: God does not make suggestions; He gives commands.

We are commanded to do good works.

We are commanded to be baptized.

We are commanded to be transformed into the image of Jesus.

We are commanded to preach the gospel and make disciples, baptizing them also.

We are told that, without carrying our crosses (Mt. 16:24) and following these commands (Jn. 14:21), we will be among those gathered and burned (Jn. 15:6). As Jesus once remarked:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt. 7:21-23).

In this sobering reality, we see the terrible cost of “optional Christianity.” The lie will result in the condemnation of many, and it is a lie belonging only to the apostate church and the satanic powers in charge of it.

That doomed and defective church is the topic of the next article.

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Looking for a new book to read? Check out my books below:

God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact

Spiritual Things: Exploring our Connection to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm

Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn’t Teach

The Death Myth: Uncovering what the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife

Is Baptism Necessary?

Check out the short video I made on this topic. Subscribe to my channel to see all new videos, except this one (which was banned!)

Baptism has forever been one of the church’s most sacred sacraments. Even so, right now—today—a tremendous number of people who have professed their belief in Jesus are facing a major dilemma: do I need to be baptized? They are wondering, is it really necessary for salvation and will I be condemned without doing it?

In truth, people throughout the centuries have faced this quandary and many have no doubt anguished over it. This is very, very unfortunate. The reason is that the question, “Do I need to be baptized if I believe in Jesus?” should never exist. It shouldn’t be debated and puzzled over.

There should not have been doubts about the necessity of baptism over the last two thousand years, nor should there be any now. The answer is an emphatic “yes.”

All who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior need to be baptized, and as soon as possible.

If we are allowing Scripture to guide us on the matter, this teaching becomes irrefutable. The problem, of course, is that the Bible has often taken a back seat to human wisdom. Consider the following passages. Note that I have placed bolded italics at critical spots in each of them, so my emphasis!

“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

“The one who has believed and has been baptized will be saved; but the one who has not believed will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). Note the second part too, which excludes the possibility that baptism (without belief) can save.

“In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12).

“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

1 Peter 3:20-21 makes this parallel between the Flood and baptism: “In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” Baptism is an outward pledge—a symbol—of our allegiance to God.

There is a clear parallel between having our sins washed away and being baptized. It’s not surprising, then, that from these passages the church derived its creedal statement: “We believe in one baptism for the remission of sins.”

It is certainly worth noting that being baptized is a sign of following in Christ’s footsteps. Prior to truly beginning his ministry, Jesus first knew that even he needed to be baptized. When John asked him why he had come to be baptized, Jesus replied: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15).

We learn from the Gospel of John that Jesus’ disciples were also baptizing people, even more than John the Baptist (Jn. 4:1-2). And why wasn’t Jesus baptizing them? John the Baptist plainly revealed the answer to this question: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt. 3:11).

These passages are straight to the point. The practice of the apostolic church was to preach the gospel and then baptize those who believe. This was not seen as two wholly separate events, as it is by most churches of our time. It was not about bringing people to Christ and then scheduling a baptism for the third quarter of the year, next November, or if the person ever feels like doing it.

The apostles and earliest disciples took new converts right to the nearest spot where baptism could be done, without delay. Acts 2:41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Belief and baptism were really seen as one continuous act.

There are many more passages that could be mentioned, but this should prove the point. As far as the Bible explains things, those who believe must be baptized.

BUT . . . don’t you know about the thief??

Without fail, some will point to the thief on the cross and proclaim, “See, see! The criminal was saved without being baptized!” Apart from being about the only example in Scripture one could point to—the ultimate “proof text,” as it were—there are two powerful reasons why this objection is completely baseless.  

The first is that there was literally no way for the criminal to have been baptized. Was Jesus supposed to say, “Hey, even though we are both suffering beyond all compare and have only hours to live, let’s get you off that cross so you can get dunked!”? Would the Roman guards have agreed to that, anyway? These are rhetorical questions. If ever there were such a thing as extenuating circumstances, this was it.

Can’t God save one man, in an incredibly unusual situation, without him being baptized? Does that really have to apply to all people? I think not.

The second reason is that the new covenant had not officially begun until Jesus died on the cross. As Jesus said, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30); he had fulfilled Scripture and the old covenant requirements. This is why the temple vale was immediately torn in two (Mt. 27:51). Afterwards, those who follow Christ were commissioned—by Jesus himself—to preach the gospel of salvation and baptize those who believe:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).

Again, baptism was being done prior to Jesus’ resurrection (as mentioned earlier). But it certainly took on an intensified purpose and became an imperative after the Resurrection.

Now, is it still the case that someone might come to Christ but be physically unable to be baptized? In a word, NO. Or, at least, almost always no. I remember baptizing my dying grandmother just a month or two before she passed. She had terrible COPD and severe osteoporosis. Her bones had become so brittle that they could break if she simply bent the wrong direction too quickly. Still, she received Jesus and knew she needed to be baptized. She was sprinkled with water and asked to recite her baptismal vowels.

There are very, very few cases where someone who believes cannot be baptized. As the old saying goes, “where there’s a will there’s a way.” God can provide a way, just as He did along a desert road when Phillip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The man was compelled, there and then, to be baptized. It’s as though he just knew it must follow his acceptance of Jesus as Lord.

Those who are trying to find justification for not being baptized are simply making excuses. This speaks far more about their faith and heart condition than anything else.   

That said, it is important to note once more that baptism means nothing without faith. Someone can easily go down into the water as a sinner and simply come up as a wet one. The baptism part is unconditionally connected to the faith part.

Here and now, I strongly encourage anyone reading this to do those two things. 1. Believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and accept him as your Savior. Then . . . 2. Go and be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Don’t rely on excuses or attempt to find logical explanations to get around being baptized. Simply obey the commands of Christ: believe and be baptized. Do this today! Further, this is something believers should want and be compelled to do. Believing in Jesus should propel us toward obeying him, and this encompasses being baptized.

Jesus was baptized. The apostles were baptized and baptized others. Jesus commanded all his followers to be baptized and to baptize others.

This is one of those biblical issues that does not leave a lot of room for disagreement or debate.

In the end, can I say that it’s impossible to be saved without being baptized? In a sense, it’s like asking if someone can wait to repent until they are on their death bed. I can’t say yes or no to a certainty, and such judgment will not be up to us anyway (thankfully). 

What I can say, on both matters, is that no one should try to find out.

F

Looking for a new book to read? Check out my books below:

God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact

Spiritual Things: Exploring our Connection to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm

Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn’t Teach

The Death Myth: Uncovering what the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife

The Greatest Denomination

When I was young, there was an entertaining TV series called Highlander. The main premise of the show was that the protagonist, a man named Duncan MacCleod, was an immortal being who battled other immortals for global supremacy. As the theme goes, certain individuals were blessed to be immortals and only found out about this power upon their first death.

The recurring catchphrase of the show was as compelling as its many electric fight scenes: “In the end, there can be only one!” The “one” was of course a reference to the final immortal. When this person had finally defeated every other immortal opponent, he or she would reign for eternity as the ultimate warrior.

Taking out the obvious issue of trying to physically eliminate all competitors, the myriad church denominations of the world sometimes engage in a type of spiritual battle for ultimate supremacy. They vie for the crown of being the truest representation of what the Bible intended the church to be and, as expected, there can be only one!

In a moment, I will show that this issue has literally existed for as long as the church has. However, I have been tracking the matter for quite some time and it seems clear that the battle is heating up. As our world continues to devolve into further lunacy, certain churches struggle to stake their claim as the “true” or most complete denomination on earth.

It must first be mentioned that most denominations who seek to convince others of their supremacy do not typically state things so plainly. They don’t come out and say, “We are the greatest denomination and you must be a part of it to be saved!” No, it’s rather more subtle than that most of the time.

For a few examples, I have summarized several trains of thought that exist today.

“We are the true church that traces its lineage back to the apostles themselves. We are the spiritual descendants of Peter, whom Jesus gave headship over the church. Apart from us there is no salvation.” (CCC 846)

“We are the ‘remnant church’ of the last days. We are the church who keeps the commandments of God.”

“We are the church that exercises the full gifts of the Spirit, because we speak in tongues. We ‘have the Holy Spirit’.”

“We are the church who is dedicated to holy living. We proclaim the necessary teachings about sanctification.”

If you read between the lines—and these views are typically spelled out in the details of their beliefs and on the pulpit—what they are saying becomes clear. If you are not part of “our” denomination—be it Roman Catholic, Adventist, Pentecostal, 3CU, etc.—then you are on the outside looking in.

If you aren’t part of the Church Jesus allegedly founded through Peter, then you aren’t part of the church at all. If you aren’t part of the remnant church who “keeps God’s commandments,” then you are (by default) not truly keeping the commandments. If you don’t speak in tongues, then you don’t fully have the Spirit in your life. If you aren’t involved in the holiness churches, then you aren’t concerned enough with holy living.

All this creates an “in group” and an “out group.” For all intents and purposes, if you aren’t a part of a particular denomination then your salvation is uncertain (at the least). Certainly, many churches do not hold to such teachings. The truth, however, is that more do than you may think. Again, if you read between the lines.

“We aren’t ‘saying’ . . . we’re just saying .”

I want to bluntly and flatly state that any such view should be anathema.

All notions that salvation can be limited by the location of our church, by who we rub shoulders with, or by any human control whatsoever should be completely condemned.

Why? Because Scripture clearly teaches that there is indeed one church: the corporate body of believers that are unified by our common faith in Jesus and our commitment to live out the faith through action. There is no if you are also part of this denomination, or if you also focus on this collection of teachings,” or anything of the sort.

There is no “if.” There is no “also.”

Paul often discussed what it meant to be a part of the church. That is, the global body of believers (often spelled with the “little c”) and not a specific denomination. As previously mentioned, this issue arose at the very onset of the church’s existence because something like denominations were already forming. The fabric of denominationalism was not sown at the Great Schism or even as a result of the Protestant Reformation. The spread of denominations has certainly intensified over time but it has always been observable.

In numerous epistles, Paul described the friction that existed between the “circumcision group” and the Gentile converts. The circumcision group was comprised of Jewish converts that continued to believe that the laws of the old covenant needed to be kept. Many of these were laws that Paul specifically addressed as being fulfilled in Christ (Col. 2:16-17). But it wasn’t enough that they try to keep the laws. These individuals tended to force OT law keeping down the throats of the new Gentile converts, creating a serious problem in the early church.

At one point, Paul even “opposed Peter to his face” because he had ceased keeping unnecessary aspects of the Jewish law but capitulated to the circumcision group when they were around:

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of some men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and separate himself, fearing those from the circumcision” (Gal. 2:11-12).

This is one example of how mini “denominations”—ways of classifying believers—were forming; there was the group who believed you had to keep the Mosaic Law and the group that did not. This may not fit with a truly robust definition of a “denomination,” but it certainly fits the basic criteria. There was an “us” and a “them,” and the two struggled to even keep company (as Peter’s hypocrisy illustrates).

But there is further evidence of different factions springing up at the earliest times. In 1 Corinthians, Paul addressed groups who wanted to classify themselves by leader:

“My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 1:11-12).

Paul’s response was succinct and powerful: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul” (1:13)? The passage continues by further emphasizing that baptism had indeed been another (but connected) source for the divisions (1:14-17).

Paul’s point should have been clear enough. Being part of the church is not about who preached to you or who baptized you; it was about the one whom the preaching revealed and whom all believers are baptized into. No matter how you came to believe, who baptized you, or who your church leaders are, all are under the Lordship of Jesus himself.

One cannot “divide Christ.”

This is made clear in other texts, too. Take what Paul said to help heal the friction between the Gentile converts and the circumcision group in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The concept of being “one in Christ Jesus” is consistent throughout Scripture (Eph.2, 1 Cor. 12:12-31).

Being a member of the body of Christ (i.e. the church) is not dependent upon age, race, gender, location, or time period. It’s also not dependent on your pastor, your priest, what form of catechesis you go through or even what denomination you claim to be a part of.

Then what is it that makes people “one in Christ Jesus” and a part of the church? Well, it’s the same thing that enables salvation. Romans 10:9 reads: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Now, this commitment of faith was also expected to be manifested through action. Faith and works go hand in hand, and Jesus told his followers that anyone who follows him must  “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24).

Scripture details other essential teachings that unite all believers in the church. On these issues, deviations are not permitted. Many of these formed the basis for the later Ecumenical Creeds, which were intended to be “catholic”—that is, universal—in nature.

These essential beliefs are sometimes called “kerygma,” a Greek word that literally just means “proclamation” but came to refer to the core teachings of the gospel. Paul described some of these in 1 Corinthians 15:

“For I handed down to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (15:3-5).

One cannot be a Christian—a part of the greater church body—if he or she willingly and knowingly denies these teachings. To subtract any part of this is to mutilate the gospel message. If Jesus had not accomplished these feats, then he simply wasn’t God’s Messiah. Thankfully, Jesus did fulfill all these requirements.

The central point in all these examples is, again, that being part of the church depends absolutely nothing on what denomination you are involved with. Sure, there are heretical groups (like unitarians) that do not confirm the essential teachings of Scripture, such as the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, and others. We should not only avoid such churches (if you can call them that) but should make every effort to repudiate their claims.

However, those represent a very small percentage of denominations. Most traditions affirm the teachings of Scripture previously mentioned and are largely separated by non-essential matters. I invite you to look into the fundamental beliefs of a broad spectrum of denominations. You will find that the parallels far outweigh the discrepancies.

And frankly, this is exactly what we should expect.

If you think about it, the global church body can only be logically connected by our central beliefs. Believers have existed from scattered countries around the world for most of the last two millennia. Being part of “the church” cannot be reduced to what denomination one aligns with or it’s precise governmental structure, what their preferred worship style is, who their leaders are, how they view the elements (bread and wine) of the Eucharist, how frequently they fast, or anything of the sort.

Such things are either transitory or preferential. This is not to say that preferential or non-essential beliefs don’t matter, or that such things cannot (at times) infringe upon essential beliefs.

It is to say that, given the time and distance that separates the faithful, it could only be a commitment to the essential teachings of Scripture that ultimately unites believers. Nothing else could reasonably transcend time, culture, socio-political boundaries, church leadership, and similar factors.

The church’s identity is found in its head, who is Jesus.

Do you believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, that he died for our sins, conquered the grave, and then ascended to the right hand of the Father?

Do you carry your cross and live by the essential teachings of Scripture, to the best of your ability?

These matters are what define a true believer. This is what secures one’s place in “the church.”

And the church is the greatest denomination ever.

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Looking for a new book to read? Check out my books below:

God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact

Spiritual Things: Exploring our Connection to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm

Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn’t Teach

The Death Myth: Uncovering what the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife

Revelation 13: Two “Beasts” and a “Mark”

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Intro

“But they shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the chief priests answered” (Jn. 19:15).

Few topics in the Bible have generated more intrigue over the last two thousand years than the “beasts” of Revelation 13. More than that, the “mark of the beast” has perhaps been the most enigmatic topic in all of Scripture. In this article, I want to try to make some sense of these difficult issues and provide a foundational way that we can understand them.

Before getting to the beasts and the mark of the beast, let’s dispense with the clearest topic involved: the identity of the “dragon.” In no uncertain terms, the “dragon” is Satan. This is clear from the text itself, and there is virtually no debate among scholars—of any period—about this point. The dragon is Satan.

That was easy! But what about the two “beasts” of Revelation 13? These definitely require a more thorough explanation.

Part 1: The Beast from the Sea

The first beast John saw is said to come from “the sea” (13:1) and is best understood as a worldly empire. The sea was thought to be a place of great evil in Jewish tradition,[1] which stands in contrast to the holy realm of heaven. Biblically, the sea also often represents the world of the Gentiles prior to the coming of Christ, since they were viewed as paganistic and as not participating in the true faith of Yahweh. By extension, this world of the Gentiles came to represent antagonistic socio-political powers.

“The sea” suggests a force whose origin and power are unholy in nature. In general, you might liken this to a totally corrupt political power. This does not suggest that there is not a religious aspect at play. Rather, it means that the only gods it recognizes are false gods.  

This had clear meaning in the world that the early church found itself living in. Rome ruled the known world, and emperors even came to view themselves as deities who demanded worship. As time went on, the Roman authorities became very hostile to those who would not accept the emperor as a god or were seen as religious troublemakers. Nero Caesar—Rome’s fifth emperor—played an especially destructive role in the Christian community.

It is said that the beast had “a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority” (13:5). It is this leader that is so often called the “Antichrist.” According to ancient historians, Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire was utterly brutal and lasted forty-two months (Nov 64-Jun 68). Why is that significant? It’s important because Revelation also states that the “mouth” of the beast exercised its power for forty-two months (13:5). Interestingly, this is the length of time earlier prophesied by the prophet Daniel concerning the “fourth beast” and it’s “little horn.” [2]

For these reasons, and his connection to the number 666 (discussed later), Nero was almost certainly the man Revelation portrays as the leader who emerges from the sea beast. At the least, he is the one whom John wanted his audience to compare this evil figure to.

Besides persecuting God’s people, the sea beast receives great adoration: “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” (13:4). All inhabitants of the known world worshipped Rome and it’s evil rulers, unless they were written in the book of life.

A final—but crucial—aspect of the sea beast is that one of its “heads” acquires a mortal wound which, incredibly, was healed (13:3). There are a few possible explanations for this. I explain these options for those interested in this footnote,[3] but suffice it to say that the Roman Empire (and possibly even Nero himself) can be easily connected to the “fatal wound” of 13:3. This is a quick look at the sea beast and it’s evil ruler, but both will continue to come up.

Part 2: The Beast from the Earth

The second beast comes from “the earth,” or literally from “the land.” We are immediately tipped off to the fact that this beast wields significant religious power. More specifically, it’s a false system that masquerades as genuine religion: “It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon” (13:11b). Jesus is called the “lamb of God” in Scripture, certainly designating his sacrificial power but also the mild manner in which he came. The “lamb” reference clearly alludes to something that looks virtuous and unassuming but is definitively not.

This beast comes in a “gentler” form than the sea beast but still speaks with the voice of the dragon. This is in direct alignment with the works of Satan, who “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).

The earth beast is also called the “false prophet” (Rev. 20:10). Its sole purpose is to promote the sea beast in its efforts to glorify the dragon. The earth beast directs people to the sea beast, who in turn does the dragon’s bidding. In effect, we have a religious power that is aiding a vast political power.

The two beasts are joining forces to do the dragon’s work. 

Quite intentionally, Revelation is suggesting that this trio forms an “unholy Trinity” that seeks to replace the triune God in people’s hearts. For its part, the earth beast performs false miracles in order to deceive the people of the world, and it possesses the power to cause those who refused to worship the image of the first beast to be killed (13:14-15).

This appears to apply most directly to the corrupt Jewish authorities of the day. Not only had many of the Jewish leaders refused to accept the Messiah, they also joined with the Romans in putting him to death and persecuting his followers. This was even true of the high priest (Caiaphas), who stood as the top representative of the Jewish religion. I wonder: does the high priest have a parallel figure today that stands—by his own, self-proclaimed authority—as the figurehead of the church?

In their affirmation that “Caesar is king,” the false religious beast (from the earth) was giving power to the empire beast (from the sea). This would have been rather obvious to those Christians living during the persecution of the first century.

Would such an alliance be obvious to us today?

Part 3: The Mark of the Beast

Within the earth beast’s mission, we see one of the most historically enigmatic prophecies in all of Scripture:

“It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666” (13:16-18).

What could this “mark” be alluding to? In order to fully answer that question, we must look at the Old Testament for a moment. On at least five occasions in the OT, the Jewish people are commanded to place God’s laws on their hands and on their heads.[4] This was the most sacred duty—contained within the Shema—for those who worshipped Yahweh. They were instructed to instill God’s laws in their lives: “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads (Dt. 6:8).

This was not intended to be taken literally, though many Jewish leaders did so (Mt. 23:5). Instead, this was a symbolic gesture of one’s allegiance to God. Binding the laws to the forehead meant ingraining them into the mind. What about the right hand, though? In Scripture, the right hand symbolizes honor and power. For example, notice that Christ ascended to the “right hand” of God (Mk. 16:9). However, it can also represent the actions we undertake.

When Revelation talks about the “right hand,” it is talking about carrying out the actions of our will: acting upon what is in our hearts and minds.

This reveals the beast’s agenda. In opposition to putting God’s laws in your mind (forehead) and carrying them out in your actions (right hand), the earth beast forces people to put the dragon’s laws in their minds and express them in their actions. Without becoming a part of the beast’s program, you could not fully participate in society. This certainly became true for Christ’s followers, many of whom were essentially exiled from normal life within the empire under penalty of death. The choice was simple: either get with “the program” or pay dearly.

But what about the number 666?

In a general way, 666 designates an ultimate falling short of God’s goodness. Seven is the holy number of perfection throughout the Bible and is used repeatedly. But there is a deeper meaning, here. Many coin inscriptions of the day venerated the emperors, and some containing the name Nero Caesar—the Roman emperor who massively persecuted Christians in the mid-late 60’s—added up to 666 when evaluated in the Hebrew numerical value system. Revelation follows suit with certain Jewish groups that used cryptic number systems (called “gematria”) and words, in order to get a point across to the learned members of the audience without making it obvious to the Roman authorities. As a word example, both Revelation and 1 Peter refer to Rome as “Babylon.”[5]

Moreover, certain manuscripts of the book of Revelation have the number of the beast as 616. But why? If you added up the value of similar inscriptions from the eastern part of the Roman Empire—which varied slightly from the others—you would come up with 616 rather than 666. Whatever the case, this is clear evidence that Revelation’s Antichrist was either supposed to be Nero or was pointing to a figure that would resemble him.

(Now, as I discuss at the end, Nero would have been a typological fulfillment of the Antichrist figure. He likely points forward to another ruler that will arise at the very end times.)

The corrupt Jewish leaders were forcing others to worship the Roman Empire, and the “mark” is the clearest evidence of that. While coming in the form of genuine religion, they were carrying out the plans of Satan. Even Paul was doing this, prior to his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). This is exactly why Revelation tells us that the earth beast “looked like a lamb but spoke like a dragon.”

Part 4: Application for Today

What should we take from all this?

This discussion of the two beasts—and the “mark” imposed by the earth beast—leads to two key takeaways for those of us living today.

This first takeaway is that the mark of the beast is not one single, solitary thing. Let me be clear: I believe that the end time events could well involve a physical token for those who have rejected the truth and have chosen to worship Satan instead of God. We need to be vigilant of such a thing, which may already be in the works.

However, the mark wouldn’t just be a barcode, or just be a microchip, or just be a vaccine, or just be a digital tattoo, or just be any one thing.

Indeed, the mark is much more than one physical display of allegiance; it is an entire system of things. The mark is a lifestyle and a comprehensive mindset. It’s something that designates the total will and desire of those who follow Satan, just as the “seal of God” designates the will and desire of those who follow God (7:3, 9:4).

The mark of the beast is an unholy collection of lies and laws that the deceived “tie to their hands” and “bind to their foreheads.”

This includes both believing (head) and doing (hand) the will of the dragon, in all ways of life. For a few relevant and timely examples, it may include things like promoting abortion, supporting violent riots in the name of “social justice,” accepting deceptions about health and safety, embracing a “new normal” and a “global reset,” idolizing “experts” and agenda-driven leaders, voting for individuals who will implement evil policies into law, buying into the globalist agenda and—lest we forget—labeling all opposing perspectives as “conspiracy theories” that must be censored. I have little doubt that those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah were similarly ridiculed.

Essentially, accepting the mark of the beast means accepting the “Caesar” of the day as your god. This applies to people of all generations.

This leads naturally into the second takeaway. The parallels between the time leading up to the Roman persecution and our present age cannot be missed. Prior to Jesus’ arrival, many from within the Jewish leadership had either abandoned or purposely attempted to suppress the belief that the Messiah would come. This is evident by how many Jewish believers rejected Jesus, especially in the higher ranks.

Before Jesus’ sentencing, the chief priests—the Jewish leaders who should have been pointing others to the long-awaited Messiah—showed exactly where their true allegiances were. They had sold out to the cultural leaders of the day and had lost all sense of spiritual time. Maybe the Messiah will come someday. Even so . . . “We have no king but Caesar.”

Anyone who has been paying attention would know that a similar thing is going on within the church in 2021. The identical thing, really. Many no longer believe the Messiah will come (again): that Jesus will not return. Those who should be pointing to this event are instead placing their trust in man. It’s about whatever the culture says: whatever those in authority tell us to do. Many religious authorities are even suggesting that the church must merge with all religions and the principle powers of this world, in order to “move forward.”

A united world, holding hands in perfect solidarity, is the pipe dream of the future. For many years, this utopian dream was the express property of the secular world. Now, it is quickly becoming the church’s great hope as well. Throw out the primacy of any one religion. Be sure to be “inclusive,” affirming that all lifestyles have equal moral footing. As we are so often told these days, “we’re all in this together!” All we need to do is rely on the “experts” and those in charge. All we need to do is seek a united world—one that does not recognize religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any of the like.

You know, novus ordo seclorum . . .

It is this very motivation—man’s desire to rule itself (just like Satan)—that once gave us the Tower of Babel and a host of horrors throughout the centuries. Globalism is the goal, plain and simple.

We need one government, one currency, one religion emerging from the many, one governing set of rules, one fight against climate change, one uniform response to pandemics, and so forth. As Pope Francis recently put it, these things represent the “new way” or the “new things of the Spirit” that the “God of surprises” has in store for us.[6] This is the way “forward,” we are told.

But I don’t see progress in any of this. I see a rather familiar mantra: “We have no king but Caesar.”

Conclusion

How, then, can we ultimately understand the two beasts and the mark of the beast? I believe we can see human history as a giant building period. The powers of darkness were with Adam and Eve in the Garden and have never left. Satan’s work, while dealt a crushing blow after Jesus’ coming, is intensifying as our age reaches its climax.

The dragon’s agenda, the mark of the beast, the “secret power of lawlessness” (2 The. 2:7) and the “spirit of antichrist” (1 Jn. 4:3) have been present in our world for a very long time now.

In this sense, people have been accepting the mark of the beast for the last two thousand years (and more, really). We must always remember that the words of Scripture were not recorded simply for those living in the last days of earth but were relevant to people of all generations and locations. What happened to the Christians in the first century served as a fulfillment of Revelation 13 but also points forward to what will occur at the very end times. The events of the first century served as a “type” or a precursor to what will occur before Christ’s return.

There will be an empire that joins forces with a false religious power to persecute believers. A wicked ruler in the manner of Nero will appear. People will be forced to receive the comprehensive “mark of the beast,” and those who receive it will be turned over to Satan.

Revelation 13 and the mark of the beast is not solely about the past or the future, but about both.

Of course, it’s also about the present. Today, we all face the choice of worshipping God or worshipping Satan via our commitment to false religion and the evil rulers of our present age.

The question is, can we see where this critical choice intersects with our reality and with our time? Will we be able to see the events leading up to Jesus’ return, OR will we choose to be the modern-day chief priests and point to another lord?

While the fools will follow Caesar, the wise will live by a very different credo.

“We have no King but Jesus.”

Looking for a new book to read? Check out my books below:

God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact

Spiritual Things: Exploring our Connection to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm

Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn’t Teach

The Death Myth: Uncovering what the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife

Footnotes


[1] God’s flooding of the earth and the destruction of humanity (save for Noah’s family) has etched the raging seas as a place of great terror in Judeo-Christian thought. As another example, Psalms 74:14 and Isaiah 27:1 refer to a creature called “leviathan,” which was characterized as a terrible sea creature and an alias of Satan.

[2] Daniel describes this exact time period, when discussing the “fourth beast” (Rome) in his vision: “He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time” (7:25). Time, times and half a time equates to about 3-1/2 years, or 42 months.

[3] One explanation is rooted in the belief that Nero himself (or perhaps later, Domitian) would return and assume the role of the Antichrist. Such was his reign of terror that many believed him to be almost indestructible or at least able to conquer his own death. Another, more likely, view is that Nero’s death brought about a terrible wound for the Roman Empire in general. His death introduced a devastating period where the normal government was suspended and the reign of emperors was broken (for a short time). However, the Roman Empire recovered from the “wound” and reassumed its dominance in the world. It is even thought that Christ’s work may have fatally wounded the beast (Rome), though it continued to live afterwards. For more on these views (and others), check out the many commentaries on this page.

[4] See Exodus 13:6, 9 and Dt. 6:8-9, and 11:18.  

[5] See Revelation 14:8, 16:19, 17:5, 18:2, 10, 21 and 1 Peter 5:13. Since Babylon was the evil OT empire that destroyed the temple and exiled God’s people, they came to stand as a symbol for other wicked empires. In the first century, that meant Rome. It also points forward to the final empire that will persecute God’s people prior to Christ’s return.

[6] This terminology is used throughout Pope Francis’ new book, Let us Dream. See especially Part Three: A Time to Act.  For a look at why this is so deeply problematic, see Taylor Marshall’s video, “One World Religion.”

What is the Resurrection?

Part I

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (Jn. 11:25).

One of the most powerful proofs that Jesus is the Son of God was his ability to raise people from the dead: to “resurrect” them. Not only was he raised from the dead by divine power, Jesus was able to do that for others. His friend Lazarus discovered firsthand what it’s like to die but, more importantly, what it’s like to be brought back to life: “. . . Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (Jn. 11:43-44).

Further, Jesus also raised Jairus’ daughter and a widow’s son from the dead. Even his apostles raised individuals back to life through the Spirit’s power.

Long before the time of Jesus and the apostles, the prophet Daniel clearly stated the truth about the final judgment and the resurrection: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (12:2). Even before Daniel, the prophets Elijah and Elisha raised people from the dead,[1] and someone was raised merely by touching Elisha’s bones (2 Ki. 13:21)!

The Bible is both clear and consistent in its teachings about our ultimate hope. To be “resurrected”—that is, to be brought back to life in bodily form—is the goal of our faith.

(Strangely, this magnificent expectation is not at all what many within the church focus on when discussing the afterlife, but I will get to this problem in Part II)

The resurrection of the dead is not simply an historical issue, either. Rather, it is one of the most pivotal aspects of the end times and Christ’s return. What Jesus did for Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son, he will one day do for each of us. At Christ’s coming, believers will corporately be raised from the dead and given new bodies. It is just as Jesus once told the Jewish leaders: “Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (Jn. 5:25).

In two of the most robust teaching sections of the New Testament, the apostle Paul discussed the resurrection in great detail. In 1 Thessalonians 4, he described the order of events that will occur at the climax of human history: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (4:16). He goes on to specify that living believers will then be “caught up” (“Raptured,” as some call it) to meet him in the air.

It is this event—the resurrection—that should be the chief source of hope and encouragement for believers. As Paul said, this belief is what makes us different than “the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (4:13).

Praise be to God that we can live in hopeful expectation of Jesus’ return and our own victory over death!

The second section to mention is 1 Corinthians 15, which is easily the most exhaustive discussion of the resurrection in the Bible. In 15:42-49, Paul points out that all believers will receive a resurrection body and that those bodies—those “spiritual bodies”—will be like Jesus’ (not Adam’s); they will be “imperishable,” “glorious” and “powerful.”

Just as Jesus was raised with a transformed body, so shall we be. For more on Jesus’ resurrection body and what ours will be like, see my blog here.

Part II

Thus far, I have explained what the resurrection of the dead is about. To be sure, this alone is more than worth focusing solely upon and stands alone as its own topic. There are, however, many important considerations that stem from it. I will now look at some of these issues and return to the “problem” I promised to address at the beginning of the blog.

To get us started, ask yourself this basic question: Is there any purpose to the resurrection? On it’s face, this might seem like an absurd thing to ponder; of course there is a purpose to it! I just discussed the purpose of the resurrection, right? On closer reflection, however, it is an incredibly reasonable—and even necessary—question to ask.

The reason is that many within the church believe in a view of the afterlife that stands in direct opposition to the resurrection.

I have covered this issue extensively, both in blog and book form. Broadly speaking, the most common belief about the afterlife is that, when we die, our “inner soul/spirit” survives the death of the body and proceeds to live elsewhere. The “elsewhere” part is not overly important at present, but those interested in the possibilities can look at this blog.

Besides the fact that this is not the scriptural perspective on things, this view is especially problematic when it comes to the issue of the resurrection. Consider this: If it is true that we each possess an immaterial soul that will consciously persist at death, what is the point of the resurrection? Why is it necessary?

The very purpose of the resurrection is to be brought back to life, and in bodily form. If you recall Jesus’ earlier words in John 5:25, the dead will “hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” If the dead in Christ are already functioning as disembodied beings (i.e., are alive), it is literally impossible for them to be brought back to life. It is literally impossible for them to hear Christ’s voice and to live again. This would be like waking someone up who wasn’t asleep, taking a bath with no water, or combing your hair after shaving your head.

It can’t be done.

More than that, believing that deceased people are living in heaven, hell, or anywhere else, is to make Jesus into either a liar or a very confused person. Neither can be true of the God-man.

As more time has passed since I first truly evaluated the subject of the afterlife, I find myself even more perplexed about the state of things. You would think this is a simple concept to grasp: there are living people, and there are dead people. The dead are not living; they are dead. To be dead most specifically means to not be alive. Nevertheless, a huge percentage of believers don’t see this connection and, furthermore, are not taught to see it.

But there is one more brief point worth making. Since resurrection is, in the biblical sense, a concept that deals exclusively with bodily existence, its entire purpose is lost if you don’t need a body to live in the first place. If we can live as disembodied beings, then the addition of the resurrection body at a later time is completely unnecessary. In short, why add the body?

How can you bring people “back to life” if they are already alive, and why give them bodies if they were doing just fine—perhaps living in heaven, even—without them?

There is simply no reasonable answer to these questions. That being the case, what we are left with are irrational explanations. For example, scholars have suggested that death itself does not concern the soul or human consciousness.[2] Instead, when the Bible says “death,” it is only referring to the death of the body. We don’t die, as in “cease to consciously exist.” Only the body does that, but the soul continues right on without it.

There’s scarcely a stitch of biblical or rational support for this belief, but it’s the type of thing one must assert if they are going to hold to the typical view of the afterlife. When dealing with those who believed that the human soul survives the death of the body and lives on its own, the esteemed Reformer and scholar, William Tyndale, had this to say:

“And ye, in putting them [the departed souls] in heaven, hell, and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection . . . And again, if the souls be in heaven, tell me why they be not in as good case as the angels be? And then what cause is there of the resurrection?”[3]

He was right: what cause would there be of the resurrection, if the dead are already living? Tyndale’s rhetorical question accurately shows that there would not be any “cause” or point to it. The central purpose of resurrection is to raise people back from the dead, not to give more life to the living.  

In the end, the resurrection is the great aspiration of the Christian faith (Phi. 3:10-11). Jesus’ return—along with our being raised from the dead and given transformed, “spiritual bodies”—is the corporate hope that the Bible describes throughout its pages.

Most emphatically, it is the hope of the resurrection—and not the hope of living in heaven without a body—that should have us eagerly awaiting our Lord. Any teaching to the contrary may be called many things, but “biblical” would not be one of them.

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Looking for a new book to read? Check out my books below:

God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact

Spiritual Things: Exploring our Connection to God, the Angels, and the Heavenly Realm

Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn’t Teach

The Death Myth: Uncovering what the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife


[1] See 1 Kings 17:21-22, 2 Kings 4:34-35.

[2] For two examples, see J.P. Moreland and Gary Habermas’ book Beyond Death (228) and N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope (171).

[3] William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s dialogue.  Parker’s 1850 reprint (book four, chapter four, 180-81.)