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Purpose of Angels-Aliens

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It is truly astonishing how many strange things have happened on planet Earth. As I say in God Made the Aliens:

“The universe we inhabit is full of mystery, and there are many questions for which we will probably never have satisfying answers. More incredible things have happened on our own tiny planet than we will ever know about, much less be able to fully comprehend.”

This site involves all of those 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.

Will you join me in following the truth, wherever it may lead?

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.

It is this very motivation—man’s desire to rule itself—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 only intensified after Christ’s coming and will continue to do so as history 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?

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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.)

Titles Available from Brian M. Rossiter

The following books are available in both paperback and eBook versions. I have provided brief descriptions of the books below, but the full-length descriptions can be read by viewing them on Amazon. You can also preview each book by clicking the “preview” tabs. Also, be sure to check out the many blogs on this site!

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God Made the Aliens reveals the incredible parallels that exist among the heavenly beings of the Bible, the visitors described in other ancient traditions, and the “aliens” of ancient astronaut theory. Along the way, it uncovers myriad ways that extraterrestrial entities have shown themselves to the world.

There is a hidden world around us . . .

Spiritual Things describes that heaven is separate realm of existence, and how the heavenly beings are able to step into our world to interact with us. This books discusses the following topics and many more:

-What it really means to be made in the image of God.
-How we experience angels, and what role they have in our lives.
-The true nature of spiritual beings.
-What the Bible says about the afterlife.

The Death Myth investigates what the Bible actually says about the afterlife, and carefully explains how an honest reflection on the traditional Christian view of death will show that this view is often misguided.

This traditional view—that the deceased persist and live on as conscious immaterial souls—is a doctrine that while tenable may not cohere with scriptural truths about the nature of the soul and body, the timing of the resurrection, and the meaning of salvation. 

Does the Bible really teach that? Missing Verses discusses 15 popular Christian beliefs that do not align with biblical teaching. This includes topics like:

-All Sins are Equal

-Everything is God’s Will

-People are Suffering in Hell

-Angels Don’t Have Bodies

This text is ideal for group study and all small group settings!

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Be sure to check out my writings on this site, such as my most recent article about 2 Thessalonians 2 and the “Deluding Influence.”

2 Thessalonians and the “Deluding Influence”

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The Bible, especially the New Testament, teaches that there will be a conclusion to the human story: an “end of the age,” as it were. There are numerous expectations that we are called to be aware of, which I have previously discussed here.

In this article, I want to examine one specific part of these end time prophecies: the “deluding influence” of 2 Thessalonian 2:11. More than that, I want to offer something of a thought experiment that speaks to our overall belief about the end times.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:11, the apostle Paul made the following claim: “For this reason God sends them a deluding influence so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” Here, Paul was clear that there will be a “deluding influence”—literally, a “working of delusion”—that enters the world at a specific point in time. The statement is situated in the context of Christ’s return and the events that will surround it. We are dealing with the very end: the last things that will happen on earth.

Though it says that God will send the delusion, this should be understood as God giving people over (God’s “permissive will”) and ensuring they are susceptible to it. Those who believe “the lie” and fall for the deluding influence will already be hard-hearted and unrepentant. We know this because the emergence of the “lawless one,” or the Antichrist, will prove this:

“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (1 The. 2:9-10, my emphasis).

The lawless one will use counterfeit miracles to deceive people, and those who are deceived will be given over to fall for the deluding influence. It all works together.

Paul was speaking of a lie that will top all lies: a Great Deception, if you will. This would effect the entire world and cause the deceived to completely fall under Satan’s persuasion. There is little doubt that this is directly connected to the “mark of the Beast” described in Revelation 13.

My question is this: how many Christians truly believe this will happen? I don’t mean in some abstract, “yeah the end will come someday,” sort of way. I mean in the sense that we could see it happening in front of us, right here and now.  

Would we be able and willing to see the Great Deception, if it did come in our lifetimes? Are we even open to the possibility?

It is difficult to think of an example that would check all the boxes and provide an ideal glimpse at what the “lie” and the “deluding influence” will look like. However, I think it is possible to use a real-life example of something that can at least serve as an adequate representation.  

For the sake of discussion, let’s consider the current pandemic and the global response to it.

Before doing so, I want to make something clear: I am not saying that Covid-19 and the collective global reaction is, to a certainty, the “deluding influence” or Great Deception that is spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2. My point is that it may fit the criteria quite well. At minimum, it provides a case study of what we should be looking for: a global issue that wreaked health and economic havoc everywhere it went but was propelled by lies and a historically unprecedented overreaction (at best).

Notice that I said it was an overreaction “at best.” At worst—but, to me, the more likely scenario—there has been far more at work. There are lies present within almost every part of the narrative, ranging from global entities like the World Health Organization (WHO), to those leading national response teams (like Dr. Anthony Fauci), to smaller levels of government (state and local) and most definitely in the media coverage. Some of these entities have made the rules, while others have simply played the game and followed along.

It all started with a massive lie, coming from the Imperial College in the UK. Neil Ferguson’s model–released in mid-March of 2020—concluded that 500,000 people in the UK and more than 2 million people in the US would likely die from Covid-19, if extreme measures weren’t taken to stop the spread of the virus. Obviously, it was thought to be at least as devastating in other countries (like the 100,000 that were proposed to die in Sweden by June). They also said that roughly 3.5% of all people who got the virus would die, and the WHO and other authorities peddled this figure as well. That was a huge number to project, and it has turned out to be FAR too high. We now know it was completely outlandish and absurd, really.

In May of 2020, just two months after making his phony projections public, Ferguson resigned from his role as advisor on the coronavirus.

It was the Imperial College model that largely helped to jumpstart the hysteria and cause countries around the world to begin instituting widespread lockdowns.

The narrative was almost immediately given a few fresh wrinkles, taking an interesting (and strategic) turn. “It’s not about what the virus will do to you,” they said, “it’s about what it will do to someone else if you give it to them.” As a complementary piece, we were told that many people will be “asymptomatic”—meaning, they would have the virus without showing many (or any) symptoms—but would still be able to spread the virus to much more vulnerable people.

And just like that: We all became carriers. Like the virus that turned everyone into zombies (“walkers”) from the TV series, The Walking Dead, Covid had infected the entire population. As such, we needed to operate as though every person was a walking petri dish.

We were even told that we had to do all of this, in order to keep the hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Of course, that never happened (save for a few areas). Instead, the hospitals were economically decimated and countless people have suffered (or died) because they were unable to receive care for non-Covid matters.

The effect of the Imperial College model, combined with the “it’s about others” and the “asymptomatic spreader” narratives, resulted in nothing short of an epic catastrophe.

Businesses were closed. Schools were dismissed from all in-person activities. Elective procedures were almost completely eliminated and, as a result, many hospitals have permanently closed their doors. Sporting events, concerts, and all mass gatherings were banned. Air travel came to a screeching halt. We were all told to practice “social distancing” at approximately six feet and that contact with one another was just too risky.

It didn’t take a genius to see what this would do to our societies. Anyone with a level-head and a clear mind understood that the “cure” would be much worse than the “disease.” Some thinkers immediately began crafting articles and books to show the tremendous problem, such as the brand-new book, The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe. Also, Alex Berenson’s Unreported Truths about Covid-19 and Lockdowns has been exposing lies for months now.

Of course, thousands of other “experts” have been against these measures from the beginning. Unfortunately, they are rarely covered or have even been censored. More than 6,000 experts have signed an anti-lockdown petition, citing its “irreparable damage.” Even the good folks at the WHO finally reversed course, stating the lockdowns were a very poor idea. Our extreme reactions—which the WHO strongly urged, mind you—were not only excessive but extremely costly. They now estimate that world poverty could double within the next year. One official warned:

“Look what’s happened to smallholder farmers all over the world. Look what’s happening to poverty levels. It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.”

Again, this should have been obvious from the beginning. I believe that it was well known and that most who were pushing the fear knew it. But acknowledging this early on would have prevented the use of the virus for myriad political, economic and societal purposes.

Even now, huge numbers of businesses remain totally closed and a lot will never reopen. The authorities still demand that we walk around with some type—any type—of facial covering. Sports teams play in empty stadiums (if they play at all). Kids suffer the effects of remote learning, which includes malnutrition, radically impaired education and a lack of social development.

We now have numerous RNA vaccines being injected into the public—made available at “warp speed”—that we are told will save the human race from a virus that poses virtually no threat to healthy people. Healthcare companies (like Pfizer) and tycoons (like Bill Gates) will stand to massively cash in on the endeavor. Will everyone be asked (forced) to get it? Looks possible. Either way, what health concerns will arise from this new and relatively unknown type of vaccine? What kind of precedent does all this set?

Don’t worry about it. Don’t ask any questions.

It is important to note that none of these measures had ever been taken before. There is still no clear reason as to why the world has treated this particular virus so differently: so very differently. Before we knew virtually anything about the virus and its effects, we were told to expect a “new normal.” No matter what, the world would be—must be—forever changed.

But why must the world be forever changed, and how did certain authorities and media outlets know that would necessarily be the result?

Much more could be said, as the lies, position reversals and overall misinformation seem to know no bounds. I have included a litany of reasons below this article as to why we should all be highly skeptical of the current death count in the US, for example. But this should provide enough information for the matter at hand.  

So, what is the tie in with the “deluding influence”?

If you put this in the context of 2 Thessalonians 2, we find a sobering connection. We have the following parallels between the “deluding influence” and the virus/response:

-It has radically influenced not just a part or parts of the world, but the entire world. Both the virus and the lockdowns have sent the globe into chaos. This has never happened in our history, especially not on this scale.

-It was based on a total lie: a faulty model that never had any basis in reality. The Imperial College model was a fraud, and it was predicated on the idea that we would do nothing at all to slow the spread or protect people (which was not going to happen).

Additional lies emerged, when it became obvious that people weren’t dropping over as if this were Ebola. We were told it was about “someone else” and not us, that everyone should be viewed as a carrier, and that staying an arbitrary distance away from people and wearing any type of face covering were imperative steps to stop the spread.

Now, we find ourselves with wrecked economies, with radical increases in suicide, depression, domestic abuse, and substance abuse, and with a much greater reliance upon our governments and world leaders to control our lives: to “take care of us.”

Most importantly, we are massively pliable. We are ready (and apparently willing) to do whatever we are told, as long as it is done in the name of “safety.”  

This all gets at the bigger issue, and my central purpose in writing.

My main concern here is not per se with the virus, the global response to it, or even the clear discrepancies (putting it mildly) involved, though these elements are extremely important. Instead, my main concern is with what my fellow Christians are expecting.

I wonder how many of us are even open to seeing the deluding influence, like Paul described in 2 Thessalonians 2:11.

I have encountered numerous believers who completely dismiss all notions that any event—much less, this event—can be related to the “end times.” In fact, numerous pastors and teachers have attempted to call me out personally, because I have challenged the reporting of the virus and our radical response. I am a “conspiracy theorist” for merely questioning the powers that be. This, even as the “powers that be” (like the WHO) have slowly come to admit that our response to the virus was perhaps completely misguided.

Strange how that works.

However, I think the scrutiny should go in exactly the opposite direction. If a Christian can observe a global phenomenon—complete with all the problems I previously mentioned—and not even raise an eyebrow, this tells us something very important about them.

It tells us that they would never be open to a global deception, the literal existence of an Antichrist figure, a satanic world power or anything else. People of this stripe cannot, in principle, accept that a massive deception could sweep over the world and cause us to believe “the lie.” Any such event would always be a “conspiracy theory.” Always.

But it tells us something even deeper, doesn’t it? Being closed off to the existence of the “deluding influence” reveals a complete rejection of all end time events in Scripture. In other words, they don’t really believe any of it will happen. Hence, they can toss out entire chunks of the Bible and ostracize those who make the mistake of taking them seriously.

In closing, I would like to make a solemn suggestion: If you doubt that the Great Deception (or other end time events) can happen in your lifetime, you’d better hope that it doesn’t. Because, if it does occur, you will almost certainly be taken in by it.

. . . And there may not be any more “conspiracy theorists” around to point a finger at.

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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

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End note: Why Should we Question the Covid-19 Death Numbers?

It is now almost unanimously reported that more than 400,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.  This is not just purposely misleading but is flatly wrong. There are many reasons we can be sure of this.

First, the testing has been a disaster. Numerous sports teams have displayed false positives, as have countless people from around the country. Even my governor (OH-DeWine) magically tested both positive and negative in the same day! Any honest person knows there have been serious problems in this capacity.

Second, the CDC itself came out weeks ago saying that a very small percentage (only about 6%) of Covid deaths were brought about from the virus alone. That is not necessarily uncommon, since most who die from influenza (the flu) or pneumonia have other  underlying illnesses. The truly uncommon part is that most who die “from Covid” have about 2.6 other major underlying conditions (comorbidities). Plus, the overwhelming majority of deaths have been in the elderly community, those who are ≥65 and especially ≥85.  

All this means that, for those who died from Covid, they were sick and frail to the point that the virus simply pushed them over the top. They were waiting for something to take them, which the flu, pneumonia or bronchitis probably would have. In other words, most these people (sadly) were going to die from something in this general time frame.

(Grown up moment – This is how life works. People who get old and sick die, and Covid has mostly claimed those who fit into this category. If you are even relatively young and healthy, you have almost nothing to worry about.)

Third, there is the way the deaths are being counted. The CDC officially classifies Covid deaths as “All Deaths Involving Covid-19.” That’s a HUGE net to cast, especially when you consider that there are additional categories that smash Covid together with pneumonia and/or the flu. So, was it Covid that killed them . . . or was it pneumonia, or the flu, or one of the patient’s probable major underlying illnesses?

These questions are rarely asked. Instead, the death will be listed as Covid (and only Covid) in terms of how it’s reported to the public.

(By the way, it still appears that the yearly flu has magically accounted for almost no deaths this year: about 6,700, according to the CDC. I wonder where those tens of thousands of deaths went?)

Further, the number of pneumonia deaths—“Deaths with or without Covid, excluding influenza”—STILL exceeds the number of “Covid related” deaths! Think about that.

Fourth, we have also known for a long time that hospitals have a serious financial interest in declaring a death a “Covid death,” especially if a ventilator was used. The head of the CDC admitted this, and even left-leaning news outlets like the USA Today “fact checkers” have. If it is at all possible to claim a Covid death, many healthcare facilities are going to do it. (Especially since the lockdown destroyed their incomes by not allowing elective procedures.)

Fifth, many people were literally killed because certain governors mandated—as Cuomo in NY certainly did, and Whitmer in MI seems to have done—that nursing homes take Covid patients. Similarly, some facilities forced people onto Covid floors that no doubt resulted in non-Covid patients acquiring the virus. This doesn’t even include the list of states (and the FDA) that banned the use of hydroxychloroquine on Covid patients, which a lot of people feel would have saved many lives. Thousands of people who died from Covid did so unnecessarily. It was essentially murder.

Sixth (and last), there is the anecdotal evidence that almost all of us are aware of. Whistleblowers and concerned doctors and nurses from all over have been screaming—even risking or losing their jobs—about how we are recording deaths. The list is far too long to mention. God as my witness, I’m not sure I personally know a medical professional who believes this whole ordeal is on the up and up. Those who assert that it is typically have a clear political interest in doing so. (Keep the fear going, drive down the economy, harm Trump, use it to gain power, etc.)

Given all these factors, we’re supposed to just accept the death count they’re giving us?

Bottom line: Even IF we can trust that the testing was correct in the deceased individuals, AND that our healthcare facilities have been completely honest/accurate with their death certificates, the simple truth is that another comorbidity may have been the main cause. Most were also in the category of “old and infirm,” and would have passed in this general time frame regardless.  The middle-aged to younger crowd has little to worry about, especially children.

Reporting that 330,000+ people have died from Covid (!) is not only misleading but is a farce. It is just a continuation of the scare tactics we have seen from the beginning.

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Did Jesus Favor Peter?

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For centuries, the character of the apostle Peter and his relationship to Jesus has been the subject of much discussion. In fact, Peter’s place in the New Testament (NT) has even proven to be a divisive issue between Christians of various backgrounds.

I am not going to make these disagreements the central point of this article, though most of what I cover will speak to these matters. Rather, I am mainly concerned with evaluating Peter’s relationship with Jesus and how people of faith might appropriately understand one of the NT’s most important characters.

And make no mistake about it: Peter is easily one of the most important characters in the NT, if not the entire Bible. The Gospels—primarily the “synoptics”[1]—affirm that Peter was one of three apostles who Jesus took into his inner circle. Of the twelve apostles Jesus called, only brothers John and James (sons of Zebedee), and Peter were given this distinction. Since Jesus was actually a cousin to John and James (Jn. 19:25-27)—together called the “Sons of Thunder” (Mk. 3:17)—Peter’s acceptance as a non-relative was both powerful and telling.

Being part of Jesus’ inner circle meant that Peter would be privy to things that most the other apostles were not. Peter was able to see Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mk. 5:37-43). In the Garden of Gethsemane—before Jesus would be apprehended and taken to his eventual demise—Jesus selected only Peter, John and James to accompany him to a private place of prayer (Mk 14:32-34).

Most notably, Peter was brought to attend Jesus’ Transfiguration (discussed later).

If we look at the book of Acts—which is really the second part of Luke’s Gospel—Peter is given priority throughout the entire first part of the book (cc. 1-12). He clearly plays a prominent role in the first church council (Acts 15) and is considered to be a pillar of the church. While the authorship of these books tends to be hotly debated, Peter is also traditionally credited for writing two letters of the NT: 1 and 2 Peter.

Between the Gospels, the book of Acts, and 1 and 2 Peter, no one can deny that Peter’s life and teachings cast a large shadow over the narrative of Scripture.

Of course, being given such an in-depth glimpse at Peter’s role in Jesus’ ministry and the life of the early church reveals some blemishes, too. On one occasion, Jesus gave Peter some of the harshest words recorded in the NT:

“Jesus turned and said to Peter: Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Mt. 16:23)

The only other individuals that Jesus directly associated with the workings of Satan were the corrupt scribes and Pharisees (Jn. 8:44) and Judas (Jn. 6:70), whom would betray him to his death.

What caused Jesus to use such harsh words with Peter?

In short, Peter enjoyed his privileged position as a close disciple of the most famous rabbi of the day (and history). Peter wanted no part of Jesus giving his life away, because that would mark the “end of the ride,” so to speak. As a result, Peter took the great Rabbi aside and reprimanded him:

“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!” (Mt. 16:22).

In doing so, Peter not only broke with showing his rabbi respect but was essentially trying to convince Jesus not to fulfill his purpose on the Cross. Hence, Jesus returned Peter’s rebuke in stern fashion.

Curiously, this event came very shortly after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah (Mt. 16:13-20). No sooner did Peter ace his most important test that he blew the next one. This is a common theme for Peter. On another occasion, he saw Jesus walking on rough seas towards their boat and asked if he could come out to meet him (Mt. 14:22-32). Peter actually began walking on the water like Jesus until his own fear seized him and he began to sink. Jesus delivered a harsh pronouncement:

“You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

[On a humorous side note, he did something of the sort again later. Seeing Jesus on the shore, Peter proceeded to excitedly jump half naked into the water to swim to him! Personally, I envision Forrest Gump’s response after seeing Lt. Dan, seen here.]

Then there was Peter’s comment during the Transfiguration. Though he had been taken to observe one of the most miraculous events in Jesus’ ministry, he couldn’t help but put forth an absurd—though probably well-intentioned—comment. After seeing Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus on the mountain, Peter proposed that they should all stay up there instead of returning to continue Jesus’ ministry: “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Lk. 9:33). The notion was so misguided that even the Gospel writer, Luke, made a special comment about it (9:33)!

That’s right: the proposal was bad enough that Luke’s commentary on the event was forever ingrained in Scripture!

In a sense, these events serve as a microcosm of Peter’s character. He was exuberant about Jesus and was often the first to react. On the other hand, this compulsion sometimes revealed his lack of faith and understanding.

To return to Peter’s most serious shortcomings, let’s examine the most famous example. Peter denied his association with Jesus three times, after Jesus had been taken captive by the Roman authorities. Questioned every which way about his involvement with Jesus, Peter thoroughly denounced him (Lk. 22:54-62).

It is popularly believed—even among certain scholars—that Jesus reinstated Peter after the Resurrection. This event is called the “Restoration of Peter.” While meeting with the apostles on the seashore, Jesus asked Peter three times if he “loves” him, to which Peter responds that he does love Jesus. To some, this means that Peter had redeemed himself for his three denials.

However, other thinkers (including me) view this differently. Jesus used a form of the term agapaó, which often represents a very strong form of love (as in John 3:16). Peter responded with a form of the term phileó, which can functionally be the same but may represent a lesser intensity. The first two times, Jesus uses agapaó and Peter responds with phileó. On the last occasion, Jesus now switches to phileó, thus perhaps suggesting that he had lowered the bar.

This may have been Jesus’ way of saying, “Peter, do you even have affection for me?”

As numerous scholars have pointed out, it is true that the terms agapaó and phileó were often used interchangeably within the Gospel of John. But in the context of this one exchange, it seems highly unlikely that the words have no deeper meaning. The difference in terms sticks out like a sore thumb, frankly. More than that, the text specifically notes that Peter “was grieved” when Jesus questioned him the third time (21:7). If Jesus was simply smoothing things over and reinstating Peter, Peter himself didn’t get that impression.

One does not become grieved if they feel good about the conversation, right?

Even when Peter was selected to privately join Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane—a privilege that only he, John and James were given—Peter came up short. Jesus specifically told his three closest followers to “Stay here and keep watch” (Mk. 14:34). Jesus ventured off by himself to pray for a short time and returned to see the three men fast asleep. He specifically called out Peter, saying, “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?” (Mk. 14:37).

Besides these examples, Peter was also called out for hypocrisy by the apostle Paul. Paul explained in his letter to the Galatians:

“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:11-13)

With all this said, it would be incredibly unfair to leave our discussion of Peter on this note. It is true that he was whimsical, sometimes spiritually dim, and that it took him a long time to truly figure things out.

But figure it out, he did.

Acts reveals that Peter performed many great signs and was an extremely well-respected leader of the church after the Ascension. In fact, people believed so much in Peter’s ability to heal that they brought the sick into the streets in the hopes that his shadow might fall on them (5:15)!

Further, Peter very bravely went before the Sanhedrin, declaring: “We must obey God rather than men” (5:29). The risk of being imprisoned and persecuted was no longer a concern for Peter. Finally, there is very strong evidence that Peter was ultimately martyred for his faith. There is no greater display of faith than martyrdom.

So, what is the verdict to the original question: Did Jesus favor Peter?

To me, the answer is both yes and no. There is no refuting the fact that Peter was part of Jesus’ inner circle. As such, this was certainly an indication of the closeness he shared with Jesus and that he was going to be used for special purposes. Jesus engaged with Peter at some of the most critical times in his ministry, inviting him to private occasions and allowing him to see the Transfiguration. Clearly, he even empowered Peter to perform signs and miracles, as evidenced in the book of Acts.

However, did Jesus favor Peter to the extent of making him the leader of the entire church and giving him control over heaven and earth? No, not by a long shot.

While it is important to note that Jesus gave Peter the “keys of the Kingdom of heaven” after he correctly recognized that Jesus is the Messiah (Mt. 16:19), this cannot be viewed in isolation. Just two chapters later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus in fact tells his collection of apostles that they all have power to “bind” and “loose” things in heaven and on earth (Mt. 18:18). The “you” statements are plural!

After the events described within the first portion of Acts, the apostle Paul clearly takes center stage and does so for the remainder of the NT. This is even true in terms of authorship, with Paul having about 6-7 times the number of biblical writings than Peter.

If Peter was intended to be the sole head and authority of the early church, it doesn’t seem that everyone else got the memo. Despite his privileged position within Jesus’ inner circle and in Acts 1-12, the plain truth is that Scripture does not elevate Peter above all other followers of Christ (particularly John, James and Paul).

Going a step farther, Jesus mentioned that, “ . . . whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn. 14:12). Those who follow Jesus—those within the church—are given the power in the Kingdom. The Holy Spirit empowers all who believe.

Along those lines, one reason Peter’s life was so important is because he was very much “one of us.” Peter was excited about his relationship with Christ and, though he slipped up on more than one occasion, he never stopped actively seeking God and relying on His grace. To me, this is exactly what his dialogue with Jesus on the seashore was all about (Jn. 21:15-19). While he did not give Jesus the perfect response, Jesus still invited him to continue the journey of spiritual growth.

More than that, Jesus did not cast him aside. He told Peter to keep going: to keep working at his faith. Jesus ended his dialogue with this clear message to Peter: “Follow me!”

Fellow believers should view Peter with respect and admiration, appreciating his relationship with Christ and his role in the early church. He became a fine man of faith who was willing to give his life for the sake of getting Christianity off the ground. However, to view him as having powers that exceeded the rest of the apostles or as the first in a mortal line that would have dominion over the church is clearly a step too far.

We can truly appreciate the person of Peter without turning him into something that neither he nor the rest of the earliest church intended.

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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


References/Footnotes

[1] The “synoptic Gospels” is a name given to Matthew, Mark and Luke. The name means “seen together,” and reflects the fact that these three accounts share a great deal of similarities (events, order of events, parables, etc.).

Is Jesus “Nicer” than Yahweh?

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Without question, one of the more common objections raised against the Christian faith is that the Old and New Testaments differ in their portrayal of God’s character.

For many people—believers and non-believers alike—the God of the Bible underwent a type of “personality makeover.” Somewhere between God’s dealings with the Jewish people and Jesus coming to bring salvation to the world, the Creator “changed.” This has shaped the appearance that God is described in the OT as an angry, malicious and bloodthirsty deity. The famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, once summarized the “outsider’s perspective” on the matter:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”[1]

The lavish language aside, this basic sentiment is not radically different from how many people understand the “God of the Old Testament.” The implication is that God is depicted in the New Testament as a far more compassionate, forgiving and tolerant deity. In other words, Jesus is “nicer” than Yahweh.

But is this really what the Bible teaches?

I want to suggest that this is not the picture painted by Scripture at all. But before proving this point, it is necessary to look at what some may call the “uglier” realities of the Bible. These are the very examples that are sometimes used to prove how vicious the God of the OT was/is. Though believers often attempt to gloss over these events—because it’s simply easier to—that is a problem in and of itself. I will return to this point near the end.

At present, let’s examine some of these OT passages and see how they portray God. One of the best places to start is early in human history, with something very well known: The Great Flood. This event is sometimes sugar-coated but rest assured that it was a brutal reality. Genesis 6 reveals that humanity had, in very short order, come to be insufferably corrupt. This was so much the case that God became “grieved” and regretted having ever made our race (6:6). The cumulative effects of the “Nephilim[2]—made possible by the “sons of God”—and human sinfulness were sufficient in forcing God’s hand. God decided that enough was enough, and that it was time to wipe the slate clean in dramatic fashion: “The Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them’ ” (6:7).

Except for Noah and his family, the Lord “blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land” (7:23). It is difficult to imagine the calamity seen by those who were perishing.

While plenty of other undesirable events occurred thereafter, the next example takes us well into the time when God was dealing with a specific group of people: with His people (Israel). After the death of Moses, a young leader named Joshua was appointed in his stead. Joshua was left with the daunting task of leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. But first, they would have to run through a virtual gauntlet of groups that already inhabited Canaan and its surrounding territories. What transpired was a brutal military campaign for the ages. It began in Jericho, where two Israelite spies had formerly scouted the city. It is recorded that the prostitute, Rahab, and her family were spared from the insurgence (Jos. 6:17).

However, no one else was quite as fortunate. After marching around the city for days on end and blowing their trumpets, the walls of the city finally fell (6:20). Afterwards, this is what the Israelites did: “They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” (6:21). Everything living was eradicated. Not a single man, woman, child, or even animal was left breathing.

This was not a one-time event, either. Joshua 12 records the multitude of lands and rulers—thirty-one kings in all (12:24)—that were conquered along with way to possessing the Promised Land. Much of the time, this certainly involved tremendous death and destruction.

Further, God did not spare His own people when they rebelled. Joshua 7 describes a man named Achan, and the horrible fate he and his family suffered. The Israelites were frequently told not to carry off with them the spoils of battle (6:18). However, after the destruction of Jericho, a man named Achan took for himself a beautiful robe, two hundred shekels of silver, and a gold bar weighing fifty shekels (7:21).[3] The entire community proceeded to take Achan—along with all his sons and daughters, his cattle, and everything he owned—and destroy him. They stoned both Achan and his family before burning their bodies (7:24-26).

Did his family even have anything to do with Achan’s act? We simply don’t know, but it didn’t seem to matter either way.

To drive the point home, consider just a couple more examples. The book of Numbers depicts a very strange event in which Korah (a Levite)—along with all who took part in his uprising to rule Israel—was either miraculously devoured by the earth or destroyed by fire from heaven (16:1-35). More alarming is the fact that God initially wanted to destroy the entire congregation for “Korah’s Rebellion” but didn’t at Moses and Aaron’s desperate request (16:20-24).

Apart from this, God forced the entire generation of Israelites to wander in the wilderness until they had expired.[4] Elsewhere, Scripture records that David, before he was made King of Israel, was celebrated for being a great warrior: “The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’ ” (1 Sam. 18:7). How could David—a man God said was “after My own heart” (Acts 13:22)—have been adored for killing thousands of people?

There are a great many other examples we could look at, but these make the point.

It is critical to understand that, as the Bible explains ancient history, the cities and groups the Israelites (or God) destroyed were neither “innocent” of wrongdoing nor morally virtuous. In fact, some of these cultures valued their own children so little that they were willing to offer them as sacrifices to their gods.[5] Such groups had no business influencing God’s people or living with them, and they typically reciprocated (or instigated) acts of aggression toward Israel. Those within the Israelite community who perished were attempting to put them at risk and thwart God’s plans for the world. That could not be permitted, either; there was too much at stake.

Still, who can deny the brutality involved? Few of us are willing to read through these parts of Scripture, much less try to imagine what the events were really like. Consider the carnage: the screaming mothers, the wailing children, the mangled bodies left littered on the streets . . . you get the idea.

Maybe the “God of the OT” really was a monster. Perhaps we should be glad that Jesus came and changed our understanding of God’s character!

Perhaps, but no. This could only be true if God’s character really did undergo a change after Jesus’ arrival. However, and most emphatically, it did not. When we carefully read through the Gospels and take a hard look at the person of Jesus and his teachings, we see God’s character revealed in a way that is remarkably consistent with the OT descriptions.

To put it mildly, Jesus did not tolerate willful foolishness, debauchery, hypocrisy or sinful behavior in general. Though his aim was always to correct and lead others out of darkness, he was quick to give his audience a heavy dose of reality. He regularly referred to the corrupt religious leaders as “whitewashed tombs,” a “brood of vipers,” “hypocrites,” and even children of the devil.[6] Jesus called his own apostles out as well, even claiming once that Peter—a person within Jesus’ sacred inner circle—was attempting to do Satan’s bidding (Mt. 16:23). Jesus of course famously overturned the tables in the temple, because it had been turned into a “den of robbers” (Mt. 21:13).

Furthermore, Jesus—being both God and man—cannot be divorced from certain other acts described after he returned to heaven. A couple named Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead on the spot for withholding money from the church (Acts 5:1-11). The corrupt Judean King, Herod Agrippa I, was likewise destroyed by an angel of the Lord (Acts: 12:23). These are just some of the more notable events that could be mentioned from the NT.

Above any of this, Jesus also discussed the end results of godless behavior in ways the OT barely broached. Earthly death is a result of Adam and Eve’s sin,[7] but it was not the only result (and certainly not the worst). There is a “second death” that each of us would be heading towards (Rev. 21:8), without God’s miraculous intervention and our subsequent commitment to follow Him. Jesus spoke frequently about this reality, calling it “Gehenna.”[8]

To you and me, Gehenna is hell: the place prepared for fallen angels and unrepentant human beings (Mt. 25:41). He often warned others about the dangers of hell, telling them it would be like “outer darkness” and a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 25:30). Jesus even suggested that it would be preferable to amputate our appendages than to continue on a path leading the hell: “. . . it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire” (Mk. 9:43).

Without question, the punishment of everlasting destruction in Gehenna far exceeds anything endured by those in the OT.

Being struck down, devoured by the earth, destroyed by a flood, or anything else, pales in comparison to the nightmare of hell. It was not the first death that Jesus asked people to be concerned with but the second: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28).

Obviously, I have not described the loving and compassionate nature of God. That is not the matter at hand, but it should be noted that God—in both the Old and New Testament—is consistently described as being incomparably caring. Certainly, there are stern consequences for sinful behavior but the lengths God goes to in order to spare individuals and save humanity are difficult to comprehend.[9]

The purpose of this article is to show that, while God is consistently loving and benevolent, both testaments of the Bible depict divine wrath and judgment in equal measure. If anything, the NT descriptions of hell are far more ominous than the punishments we find in the OT.

The bottom line is that God did not change as time went on. Jesus is not “nicer” than Yahweh.

In fact, Jesus is Yahweh: one of the three persons that Christians collectively call “God.” The Son of God became incarnate in the man Jesus but, before that, he created the world (Heb. 1:2) and governed the people of Israel. Both the OT and NT are describing the exact same God, and the portrayal of God’s character is incredibly consistent throughout.

If that is true, why do so many people—even those who profess Christianity—believe that the Old Testament portrays God in a much scarier and more vengeful way than the New Testament?

There are several reasons involved, certainly. In my opinion, the root cause of this misunderstanding is that believers have—for far too long and far too often—ignored the “unpleasant” aspects of the NT and Jesus’ ministry in general.

It is easy to embrace the “For God so loved the world” and “eternal life” parts of John 3:16 but it is harder to accept the alternative it describes, which is to “perish.” To be sure, John meant this in an everlasting since. The sad reality is that the Gospel Message has been watered-down to the point that we no longer see the complete character of God or even acknowledge some of its most pivotal points.

Among these is the crucial reality that Jesus came to save us from something: being cast into hell. The results of sin not only lead every human being to physical death, but will cause the unrepentant to partake in the second death. 

While we must never cheapen or downplay the sacrifice Jesus made to save us from this demise, we must also never forget that the very same Jesus has vowed to sentence some to Gehenna upon his arrival.

That may not be “nice,” but it is most certainly just. 

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] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 31.

[2] The existence of the Nephilim and the sons of God require a separate explanation of their own. I refer you to my online article, “The Sons of God: Giant Makers” and pages 92-104 of Spiritual Things.

[3] The silver would have weighed about 5 pounds and the gold would have been the equivalent of about 1¼ pounds; a valuable prize indeed!

[4] See Numbers 14:33 and Joshua 5:6.

[5] Leviticus 18:21, for example, specifically forbade Israel from sacrificing their children to Moloch (or any other god), as the Ammonites and certain other Canaanite groups were doing.

[6] See Matthew 23:27, 33 and John 8:44.

[7] See Genesis 3:19 and Romans 5:12-21.

[8] Of the twelve times Gehenna is directly referenced in Scripture, eleven are attributed to Jesus. The remaining reference was made by Jesus’ half-brother, James (Ja. 3:6). The basic concept is discussed in myriad other ways throughout the NT, and by most all of its authors.

[9] For every time someone was harshly dealt with, there were countless wrongdoings God had endured. God is within His rights to stop the human project at any time, but never has. Even after the Fall, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the endless cycles of sin during the time of the judges, the kings, and the prophets, the mass rejection of Jesus, the murder of God’s Messiah, and the innumerable everyday acts of lawlessness, God has stuck with humanity. This central truth and reflection of God’s loving nature must be factored in when evaluating the kinds of topics taken up in this section.

What is the Rapture?

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In my last blog, I discussed the most critical issues surrounding the end times and which events believers should be especially aware of. These are the “end time essentials,” as I understand things. Though I discussed the issue of Christ’s return and the resurrection, there is something else that should specifically be covered: The Rapture.

Over about the last decade, one of the more memorable stories I can recall focuses squarely on this issue. I remember this story because it was humorous, but also because it illustrates a belief that is common within the church. One of my female co-workers (at that time) told me about the strange Saturday that her daughter, Ellie, had endured. To briefly summarize, the entire family had been outside working in the yard and playing for most of the day. At some point, Ellie ventured off from the rest of the family and was playing on her own. Meanwhile, the others slowly dispersed to engage in other activities. Mom went to the store. Brother went to the basement for a nap. Dad went out to a distant part of the yard to work in the barn.

When Ellie finally returned to the house, no one else could be found. Everyone seemed to have disappeared.

After some time, they had all found their way back home and into the living room. That is, except for Ellie. Now, she appeared to be the one who was missing. After frantically searching the house, she was finally discovered hiding in the blankets of her closet. Her face red and disheveled, she sobbed relentlessly. But why was she crying? Was she just afraid of being alone?

Not quite. After Ellie began to calm down, she tearfully revealed the cause of her distress: “You left me all alone and I couldn’t find you anywhere. I was afraid everyone had been raptured away!”

While Ellie’s belief that her family had simply been zapped out of existence may seem strange to some, others would find it entirely reasonable (depending on their denominational background, of course).

And this illustrates the mystery of the Rapture.

Like so many other issues, there is an element of truth involved that is unfortunately covered over with misinformation and wishful thinking.

But first things first: what is the Rapture? It may surprise you to know that the Bible never once uses this term. Never once. However, like the word “Trinity” or “Easter,” the basic concept of the Rapture is based on Scripture. We ultimately derive the word “Rapture” from the Greek word “harpazō,” which Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. There, he was describing the order of events that will occur at Christ’s return: “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

The word translated as “caught up” is a form of harpazō, and this is the term that would later be translated in Latin as rapturo. Naturally, from rapturo came the English term “rapture.”

This generally describes how the term came to be, and it most essentially means to “catch,” “steal,” or “carry off.” However, the form of harpazō used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 literally reads, “we will be carried off.”[1] Specifically, Paul intended it to say that believers—at the Parousia, the Second Coming, or Christ’s Return—would be lifted up into the sky to meet the King of Kings as he once again enters our world.

Certain denominations see Jesus’ words in Matthew 24—which is the first part of the “Olivet Discourse”—as describing the Rapture, when his apostles asked about what would transpire at the end of the world. He told them the end and his return would arrive with the haste of a flood (Mt. 24:37-39). Interestingly, Jesus then provided two vivid examples of what this will look like: “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and the one left” (Mt. 24:40-41).

However, is this sudden separation of people—of believers and non-believers—what Paul explained in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18? Predictably, there is disagreement on this issue. Scholars coming from backgrounds that tend to ignore (or at least downplay) the apocalyptic aspects of Scripture believe that Jesus was not talking about the same event that Paul was. The case is that Jesus was describing people being taken in the context of the Great Flood. There, the ones who were “swept away” were actually the unrighteous. Therefore, they see the people “left behind” at the mill or in the field as the saved and the ones taken as the unsaved. In other words, you “want to be left behind” in Jesus’ example but not in Paul’s.

(For a couple examples of this perspective, click here or here.)

I have looked at both sides of this, and I tend to believe that Paul and Jesus were describing the same event. We could easily invert the Flood analogy, and it would make better sense to do so. At the Flood, Noah and his family were taken away (in the Ark) and those who were left on the earth perished. In Paul’s example (1 The. 4:17), it is also the righteous who are taken off the earth and the unrighteous who remain. To me, this is a much more natural connection.

It also seems very out of place to view the ones who are taken in Jesus’ examples as the unrighteous. Where did they go? How does that square with Paul telling us that believers will be caught up to meet Christ? This view appears to pit Jesus against Paul and confuses the entire issue. But I digress . . .

Elsewhere, Paul explained that not all will sleep (die), but all will be transformed (1 Cor. 15:51). That transformation—or the reception of new and glorious bodies—will occur at Christ’s return. Lastly, Revelation more vaguely describes this event in 20:4, where the dead “came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” As we already saw, Paul stated that the living believers will also join them (1 The. 4:17).

All these teachings are describing the day when Christ will return to raise the dead, separate the righteous from the wicked, and give all believers their resurrection (or “spiritual”) bodies.

So far, so good. Now, here comes my patented “but”. . .

If this was all that is intended when people say “Rapture,” then the doctrine would rest on a firm foundation. Remember, “Rapture” is even derived from the word Paul used (harpazō). Unfortunately, this is not what people of the 21st century often mean.

A number of Bible teachers and authors have introduced—and even popularized—certain concepts about the Rapture that, well, simply aren’t true. Unfortunately, these false views have gained quite a lot of traction over the years. I suppose the Left Behind series of books is as much the culprit as anything else, but this can be traced to the 19th century origins of dispensationalism (not that it’s all wrong).

A lot of believers have gotten the impression that, on a future day, people will suddenly vanish from sight while the rest of the world just sort of hums along. The saved are zapped out of worldly existence while the unsaved sit back and ponder where they went. If you recall, this is exactly what caused little Ellie to suppose that her family had been Raptured away and that she had been “left behind.”

Ellie errantly believed—through someone’s misguidance—that the Rapture will bring about a division between two groups: those who disappear into heaven, and those who just stay behind to live in what the band Duran Duran called, the “Ordinary World.” The rapture will definitely bring about a massive separation between two groups (the godly and ungodly), but the latter will not carry on with life as usual.

Neither Paul nor Jesus suggested that life will simply continue as normal after believers are caught up. Far, FAR, from it. Such a view completely fails to account for the fact that Christ’s return will coincide with a rise in earthly turmoil and even the emergence of the “man of sin” (2 The. 2:1-12). I discussed these issues in my blog about the end times.

Jesus’ earlier statement about the men in the field and the women at the mill is also referenced as evidence of this view; one was taken and the other left. However, this totally misses the point that Jesus was making. He was not saying that the ones who were left just go right on their merry way after the others had vanished. Instead, Jesus was describing the way this will occur. Remember, directly before those two examples Jesus mentioned that the end will come like a flood.

People will be carrying on with life and many (not all) will not expect that anything is amiss. Then, BOOM; fast and furious, the end is upon us! The same principle applies to the people in Jesus’ examples. Those who are taken to meet the Lord in the air will be taken suddenly and—as far as the unsaved are concerned—completely unexpectedly.

This will not be a “secret” event, either. That is another false view.

To the contrary, Christ’s coming will not go unnoticed by anyone: “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt. 24:27). Revelation adds that every eye will see Jesus coming (1:7).

These points are connected to another fallacy concerning the Rapture: the belief that Jesus will return not once, but twice. On this view, the first return will be to whisk the church off to heaven to avoid the tribulation altogether—which is typically believed to be 3.5-7 years of time—and the second return will be to judge the rest of the world.

The truth is that Christians will not be whisked away to live in heaven upon his return. In fact, and as I have consistently pointed out in my writings, living in heaven is not something that any of us will ever do. Our future is the resurrection and life in the new heavens and new earth.

Rather than going to live in heaven at that time, Paul indicated that believers will be caught up to meet Christ in the sky and then return to earth. From that point on, we will remain with Jesus. We know this in part because of Paul’s word usage. The term he used for “to meet” is apantēsin. It is used only three times in the NT, and each time it refers to meeting someone and then returning with them.[2] This is like going out to meet a newly arrived official so you can travel back with them. Believers will be what Ben Witherington III calls “the royal entourage.”

Further, the belief that there will not be a “second return” of Christ (or a third coming) is consistent with what Revelation 20 reveals, where the first resurrection is for the saved and the second will only include the lost; “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection!” There is no “third coming” for another judgment, because those who are not taken alive or resurrected to be with Christ will—at that very point—stand condemned.

Instead, those remaining are the type that Revelation 6:6 describes: “They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’ ”

Imagine realizing that you were wrong: completely wrong. The Christian faith really is the right one. The Bible really is true. Jesus really is Lord. But you were holding the wrong hand when the dealer finally turned the cards. You lost Pascal’s Wager.

It doesn’t get scarier than that.

This is a tragic reality, no doubt about it. I would suggest, however, that it is a tragic necessity. As Jesus explained in his Parable of the Tares, the wheat and the weeds must ultimately be separated. There must be a day when God judges the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31).

Otherwise, what is all this for? What are we heading towards?

And that is exactly what the Rapture is about. As C.S. Lewis once said, “When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.” When the Lord of Lords returns, the world as we know it will be no more. Those who have followed Christ and carried their crosses will either be raised from the dead or instantly “caught up” in the air to meet him.

This is what we can accurately call the “Rapture.” That is, so long as we don’t assert that believers will disappear into heaven (especially forever), that it will be a secret event, or that life will simply go right along for the rest of the world.

[Brief Note: There is a great deal that could be said about how this meshes with the various views about the period of Tribulation, the Millennial Reign, and other details that primarily come from the  book of Revelation. These are important considerations, but they warrant their own discussion. These details are typically where Christians truly diverge on the sequence of the end time events. For the sake of preserving clarity, I have not covered this in greater detail at this time.]

This brings us to the final (and most critical) consideration, which should not be a point of debate among believers.

The Rapture and other end time discussions should cause us to evaluate our lives. In fact, they were designed to do that very thing; that’s why apocalyptic writings are such a large part of the Bible (especially the NT).

I seldom make such extreme claims, but sometimes extreme claims are warranted. The single most important question in all of existence is this: which side are you on? Will you experience the Rapture with joy and excitement, or will your feet remain firmly planted on earth as you watch others ascend to meet the Lord? Will Christ’s return be the greatest moment of your life or the realization of all your worst nightmares?

We all had better ask ourselves these questions. More than that, we’d also better answer them.

 

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] Harpagēsometha is the future, passive, 1st person plural form of harpazō. It is used only once in the NT. See this link for more information.

[2] The other two uses are in Acts 28:15 and Matthew 25:6. In both instances, people were travelling out to meet others so they could escort them back with them.

End Time Essentials

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“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Mt. 24:42).

There is probably not a more enigmatic and debatable topic in all of Scripture than the end times. What events will transpire as the human story moves towards its grand conclusion? How should believers interpret the world around them, especially as the return of Christ draws near? What will happen at the “end of the world?”

Aside from being mysterious, the end times may also be the single-most important matter we could consider.

Certainly, there have been particular traditions and individuals that displayed an unhealthy obsession with the end times. Some have nearly been driven mad in their efforts to “crack the code.” Every religion has its lunatics (or heretics), and Christianity is no different.

However, a concerning number of people have taken the complete opposite approach, choosing to ignore the sections of the Bible that deal with the end times entirely. The Methodist Bible commentator, Adam Clarke, capped off his tirade about the book of Revelation in the following way: “I repeat it, I do not understand the book; and I am satisfied that not one who has written on the subject knows anything more of it than myself.” I cannot tell you how many believers I have encountered over the years that feel the same way. There are even entire denominations that essentially spend no time—zero, zip, nada—discussing the events that might transpire at the climax of our history. To them, the issue has very little bearing (if any) on the Christian life. People of this stripe wish to remove the topic of the end times as a surgeon would remove a tumor.

Some figure that “the end” will come long after they are dead and buried. Others have come to believe (like Clarke) that we just can’t make any sense of these teachings in the first place: that apocalyptic literature (especially Revelation) is simply incomprehensible. What matters is now. “Now” matters so much, apparently, that there is no point in considering “later.” The overall sentiment seems to be: “Jesus will come back someday, and that’s all we need to know.”

The first part is certainly true . . . but is the second? Can we really just dismiss an entire genre of biblical literature as “unessential?” Can we disregard everything the biblical authors said about the end times?

I suggest that we can only do so at our own peril. In Revelation, Jesus urges his followers to investigate these matters for themselves: “Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:7). While this is nowhere else stated specifically, the reality that so many parts of the Bible cover this topic should be all we need to know. The fact is, apocalyptic literature is so pervasive within Scripture—especially the New Testament—that it is impossible to disregard without sacrificing our understanding of the biblical narrative at large.

Of course, when examining all that the apocalyptic texts reveal, why would we want to overlook them? Can we even afford to?

While it is true that these passages and books can be difficult to understand at points, there are several teachings that are quite clear and should play a significant role in our understanding of both the present and the future. The Bible reveals to us certain expectations that we might call “end time essentials.” While the deepest details of these themes are not known to us, the general teachings can be easily discerned. I have done my best to sort these teachings in a logical—and not necessarily a chronological—order, and this does not reflect their importance. All these events and people are equally important in terms of what will occur at the climax of human history.

We will begin with what has broadly been called the Great Deception.” Paul introduced this concept in 2 Thessalonians 2, which is a small treasure trove of end time topics. Paul said that, near the end, “ . . . God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false . . .” (2:11). This deception is connected to the workings of the Antichrist (discussed next). This means that we can expect there to be a massive lie before the end. This lie will be of exceeding power and magnitude. Sadly, it will be strong enough to deceive many who were merely self-proclaimed believers. Jesus described this group in Matthew 7:21-23.

Along with the Great Deception is the possibility of a cashless society. That is, there could realistically be a point when there is a one-world currency (of some sort) or no need for currency at all. While the Bible does not directly tell us this, it strongly suggests it. Revelation’s “beast from the earth” will cause all people to receive the “mark of the beast,” which will prevent anyone from buying or selling without it (13:16-19). Basically, one must have the “mark” in order to function in society. While this certainly pertained to following Rome and worshipping its emperors, it also seems to point towards something that will occur in the last days. Some have speculated that this could be something involving purely digital currency, or even some type of bodily mark that one must get (like a microchip, a vaccine or a digital tattoo).

While their may be a physical token involved with the mark of the beast, it is most specifically about being sucked into a system of beliefs. It’s about having Satan’s laws in our minds (head) and carrying them out in our actions (hand), rather than having God’s laws in those places.

As an important note, we are well on our way to having the technology to put tiny tracking devices–much smaller than a conventional microchip–within the human body. There can be no doubt that our world has now come upon things that would perfectly fit the description of the mark, and a cashless society is only a question of when (not if).

Strongly connected to the previous two concepts is the Antichrist. In several places, the Bible speaks of an individual who will deceive the world through his satanic power. The “spirit of antichrist” has been in the world for ages (1 Jn. 4:3), but this person marks the fulfilment of such a figure. Paul—also in 2 Thessalonians 2—refers to this person as the “lawless one” (2:8). Like Satan, he will come in the guise of virtue, performing counterfeit miracles that will make us believe he is holy (2:9). To the contrary, he will oppose everything that is good, holy, virtuous and just. As the prophet Daniel said: “He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws” (7:25). While this figure was certainly embodied in the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes,[1] it probably points forward to someone that will perfectly fulfill the prophecy. The Antichrist is the man whom the Lord Jesus will destroy at his coming (2 The. 2:8).

Speaking of overthrowing the Antichrist, one of the clearest and most essential teachings in Scripture is that Jesus will return to our world. The Second Comingor the “Parousia”[2]—is imperative, otherwise the entire Christian faith is a sham. Scripture reveals that the booming voice of the archangel will sound and the heavenly trumpets will blow (1 Cor. 15:52, 1 The. 4:16). Then, Christ will be revealed from heaven. Jesus announced that his return would be a world-altering event that could not be missed: “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt. 24:27). Indeed, every eye will see Jesus coming (Rev. 1:7). Almost every event that will take place at the climax of history involves Jesus’ return.

If you don’t believe in this event, you are wasting your time with anything else.

Just as Jesus was raised from the grave, so shall we be. This mass event is often called the General Resurrection. At Christ’s coming, those who have died will be brought back to life in bodily form (i.e. “resurrected”). In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Paul clearly described what this event will be like: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” Daniel spoke of this time hundreds of years earlier, stating the those who “sleep” in their graves will be raised to life (12:2). Famously, Jesus told Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (Jn. 11:24).

*Note that the resurrection– not living in heaven as a disembodied spirit–is the biblical hope of the afterlife. I discuss this issue here.*

After the resurrection will come the Final Judgment. Jesus spoke of this event on many occasions, making it known that all people will be judged according to their deeds (Rev 22:12). Acts 17:31 reveals that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness.” Paul made this event clear: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Without question, there will come a day when each one of us must stand before God and be righteously judged. This evaluation will literally determine the rest of eternity.

Will we reign with Christ, or share in Satan’s punishment?

Speaking of punishment, the Bible also affirms something commonly called the Great Tribulation. Daniel spoke of this period, saying it will be “a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (12:1). In some views (like the “futurist” view), this Great Tribulation speaks to a short period of intense suffering that occurs prior to Jesus’ return. Certain others see this period as having been fulfilled when the Roman Empire leveled Jerusalem and God’s temple in 70 A.D.. In reality, both are probably true. Predictive prophecies often have multiple fulfillments, with each event pointing towards something greater down the road. Jesus was quite possibly explaining both events in Matthew 24. Revelation 7:14-17 seems to be describing the last days, stating that those who come out of the “great tribulation” will proceed to reign with God forever.

The Millennial Reign is less clear than the previous beliefs, but not because it “may or may not” happen. Some see this as a time after Christ’s return when believers will reign with him during some (or all) of the Great Tribulation. The questions come about when trying to find a chronological spot to put the event, and in estimating its duration. Revelation 20 reveals that those who remained faithful and did not receive the mark of the beast came back to life and reigned with Jesus for a “thousand years” (20:4). Prior to that, Satan will be bound to the “abyss” for the duration of that time. Is the “thousand years” to be taken as a literal 1,000 years, or as a symbolic period of extended duration? It may even be possible that the millennial reign is a time that has already been occurring, after Christ’s death and resurrection. In many respects, this would make better sense of how Christ’s return is described to us throughout the NT and how the events of the end times are said to unfold in general.

After the Millennial Reign–however that is viewed–will come the destruction of evil. Satan will rally his immense forces and unrepentant humanity in one final push to overthrow Christ and his people (Rev. 20:7-8). However, they will prove to be no match for God and will be defeated (20:9). This is the appointed time that the demons had alluded to, before Jesus cast them into a herd of swine (Mt. 8:28-34). Wicked humanity will then be cast into hell (Gehenna) to join Satan, the demons, the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 20:10-15).

Finally, we come to the ultimate hope of the Christian faith and the very last events of our time: the creation of a new heaven and new earth. Long before the coming of Christ, the great prophet Isaiah was told about God’s plans to form a new creation (66:22). Predictably, Revelation describes this in greater detail: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:1-2). In this new world, and within the “new Jerusalem,” God Himself will live with us. There, we will have no more cause for mourning, or crying, or pain, for “the first things have passed away” (21:4).

Ultimately, the message of the end times is one of hope. Hope, not dread. (That is, for those who truly follow Christ).

With the previous issues (the “end time essentials”) in mind, one bit of context should be mentioned. It is absolutely true that believers from all generations have viewed their time as “the end.” Certainly, many groups had good reason to believe that. Believers around the world marveled when Germany’s Nazi regime exterminated hoards of people during the Holocaust, about 6 million of them being God’s first chosen people (the Jews).

They also stood in awe when the U.S. dropped not one, but two atomic bombs on the nation of Japan. I wonder how many thought about Revelation’s description of the “Beast from the Earth”: “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (13:13). Those living during the Middle Ages had many reasons to believe they were living at the end times, not least of which was the death of about 1/3 of Europe’s population by the “Black Death.” It is no mystery that the early church expected that Jesus would immanently return, and they saw their extreme persecution and the Roman destruction of the temple (70 A.D.) as clear indicators that they were living in the last days.

The truth is, many of these things should still be considered as end time events. One mistake people often make is to see the end times strictly in futuristic terms, as though every single event must occur in the months or years preceding Christ’s return. This is not the case. Rather, the entry of the Son of God into the world revealed that “the end” had begun: “But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the world” (Heb. 1:2).

In this sense, we can accurately say that we have all been living in the last days for about 2,000 years now. There have been Antichrists, false prophets, counterfeit miracles, powerful delusions, and beast-like powers throughout the ages. I mentioned some of these earlier on. In this sense, many prophecies concerning the end times involve multiple fulfillments.

History repeats itself, as each figure or event transpires but points forward to one that will occur in the very last days.

With this being said, we cannot make the mistake of viewing all prophecy as being fulfilled. We have not seen the Antichrist, the false prophet, the grandest counterfeit miracles, the powerful delusion, or others. If we had, Christ would already have returned.

Further, we must never come to believe that our generation cannot be the last or that Christ will not return soon. Remember this: some generation will be one that sees the Second Coming firsthand. Some generation will be alive at the end.

Could it be ours? Yes, certainly. It is irrefutable that no generation has ever been closer. I would add that no generation has ever seen as many of the pieces line up at one time.

Perhaps we would do well to think about big events—global events—that will have bearing on all of us; people, powers, lies, and deceits that have universal significance. I believe that is what all this has been building towards. The Gospel itself has been advanced throughout most (not all) of the world, which Jesus specifically referenced as something that would precede his coming (Mt. 24:14).

And so, it is vital that we watch the times carefully. Someone will only accept that the end time events are indiscernible—or that they cannot happen in our lifetimes—at their own peril. If we are not looking, we may find ourselves unprepared.

Worse, we may have strayed onto a path from which there is no return.

Perhaps this is why Jesus gave us this powerful command: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Mt. 25:13). Jesus will return, and many things will precede his arrival. It may even be that some of the wheels are already in motion.

Keep watch.

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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] The name Epiphanes means “manifest.” Believing he was the earthly manifestation of Zeus, Antiochus IV Epiphanes viewed himself as “God manifest.” He desecrated the holy places and destroyed the Jewish temple in 169 B.C.

[2] The term “Parousia” is a Greek word that most literally means “presence” or “coming.” Often, it refers to Jesus’ return, as seen in a text like 1 Corinthians 15:23.

What Day is the Sabbath?

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Not far from where I live, there is a well-known car dealership that does something unusual by industry standards: they close every Sunday. On most of their radio commercials, they finish with a catchy tag line that says, “Closed Sundays, ‘cause it’s the right thing to do!” While they don’t directly say it, the obvious implication is that they are a Christian-run company that thinks it best to give their employees that day off every week. While most of us are aware of certain other companies that follow suit on this practice (like Chick Fil A and Hobby Lobby), this illustrates something very important. Though the “resting” part of things has mostly gone by the wayside, worshipping on Sunday is as much a Christian tradition as anything we could imagine; it is most definitely the norm.

For nearly two millennia, believers have been meeting to worship the Lord on what has been deemed by most as a sacred day. Sunday is believed to be the day that Jesus rose from the dead, and so it represents something of a “Christian Sabbath” for the church. But notice that I said for nearly two millennia, and that it has been deemed to be a sacred day. The truth of the matter is that many of the earliest Christians did not worship on the first day of the week, and those who established that Sunday should be the new Sabbath arrived on the scene after Christ and the apostles.

While those statements may appear to be provocative, it is much less controversial to say that Jesus and the apostles kept the Jewish Sabbath—the seventh day—and not Sunday. Of course they kept such a custom; they were all Jews! We are told that Jesus’ routine was to worship on the Sabbath (Lk. 4:16). Acts tells us that Paul also did so, with one purpose being to reveal Christ to his fellow Jews (17:2). Acts further reveals that others in the Christian community were meeting on the Sabbath, with Luke, Paul, Silas and Timothy joining them on at least one occasion: “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled” (Acts 16:13).

We do not have a biblical record of the other apostles doing so after Christ had departed, but they most certainly did during his ministry. There is no biblical basis for believing that they traded in the seventh day for the first, so it stands to reason they continued to meet on the Jewish Sabbath.

Not only is the Bible devoid of any suggestion that the apostles regularly worshipped on Sunday—even after the resurrection of their Rabbi and Lord—it also lacks any indication that Gentiles (non-Jews) were expected to do so. That’s right: there is not a single verse of Scripture stating that the Sabbath had become obsolete, that it had been replaced, or that Sunday should be recognized as an official—much less the official—day of worship.

To be sure, there are examples that some point to in order to prove otherwise. Jesus’ statement that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” is just such a verse (Mk. 2:27). However, this has nothing to do with eliminating the Sabbath. Rather, it was about keeping it the right way. Many of the Pharisees of that time had turned the Sabbath into a day of misery. This included adding numerous restrictions that were never commanded by God.[1] Jesus’ response was an affirmation that the Sabbath was made as a day of rest rather than a day involving more work than the others!

1 Corinthians 16:2 is also referenced as proof that Sunday worship had replaced the Sabbath. This was a command to personally set aside items (“put by himself,” literally) for the overall church collection. It says nothing about passing around a tithe dish—or anything of the sort—nor does it suggest that everyone would even be assembled together for worship.

Finally, Revelation 1:10 is occasionally mentioned, because it talks about being “in the Spirit” on the “Lord’s day.” Though some would later come to refer to the “Lord’s Day” as the first day of the week, there is no indication that the author intended this. The expression is not used elsewhere in the NT but is virtually paralleled in the OT. There, however, it refers not to Sunday but to the Sabbath (Is. 58:13). Still others look at the “Lord’s day” of Revelation 1:10 and see a reference to the time of the Lord’s visitation and judgment, which is elsewhere called the “day of the Lord” (Jl. 1:15, for example). Whatever the case, it is simply unclear what was really intended in this verse.

This is obviously a small selection of passages to choose from. Even if any of them provided evidence that Sunday had replaced the Sabbath, we would not have a lot to go on. This would leave us with an odd phenomenon, to say the least. The Sabbath was the most holy day of the week for the Jewish people for hundreds of years. They were prohibited from both working and making others work, and from carrying on with “business as usual” every time it rolled around each week. From sunset Friday evening to sunset Saturday evening—neither of these names for the days of the week existed at that time, mind you—the Jewish people turned off their normal lives and dedicated their every action to God. At least, that was the command.

With this in mind, it seems almost incomprehensible that the Sabbath would be altered in some way without Jesus and the apostles making it abundantly clear. After all, the Son of God was no doubt involved in giving the Israelites the commandments long before becoming incarnate in the man Jesus. He knew, above everyone else, how important the Sabbath was in the Jewish faith.

Before moving on to other matters, one more thing should be mentioned. Though it is celebrated that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning, that is not entirely correct. Though the Gospels are clear that the tomb was empty when his followers arrived near daybreak on the first day of the week (Lk. 24:1-3), the reality is that Jesus rose before that. In fact—and according to how we reckon time—he could have risen at almost any point between sundown Saturday and first light on Sunday. The Jewish Sabbath would have ended near dark on Saturday, so Jesus would have rested in the tomb for parts of the three required days described in Scripture (Mt. 12:40). Biblical scholar, Ben Witherington III, explained the problem with pressing a literal three-day period (24 hours each) into this issue:

“The problem with this sort of modern reasoning is that it assumes the Gospel writers intended always to write with precision on this matter. In fact the phrase ‘after three days’ in the New Testament can simply mean ‘after a while’ or ‘after a few days’ without any clear specificity beyond suggesting several days, in this case parts of three days, would be involved.”[2]

With all this in mind, it may be more historically accurate to say that Jesus conquered death on Saturday night. For obvious reasons, I don’t see many churches holding late night services! While this is not likely to change anyone’s opinion on the matter one way or the other, it is certainly worth bearing in mind.

If there is no command within the NT that eliminated the Sabbath—much less a command to transfer it to Sunday—when and how did this change take place? The first part is easier to answer, though neither are simple issues. The short answer to when the Sabbath stopped being kept and was officially “replaced” by Sunday worship is that the Roman Emperor Constantine decreed the change. On March 7th, 321 A.D., “Constantine the Great” made a proclamation that made Sunday the official Roman day of rest.[3] As both the Emperor of Rome and the great patron of the Roman “Catholic” Church, this had a profound impact on the Christians living in Rome.

The change had several significant implications. It meant that merchants would not be permitted to trade, that most administrative establishments would have to close, and that farmers alone were permitted to work (in recognition that certain farm activities were impossible to set aside).[4] Since Sunday—which was then connected to the Sun God, Sol Invictus—had already been a day of celebration and thanks within Rome, it seemed like a natural fit to replace the Jewish day of rest.[5] With the tremendous power wielded by the Roman Empire, this legal decree came to dominate much of the Christian world. In fact, it has persisted within the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and most Protestant denominations ever since.

However, it is not quite that simple. Many will assert that the practice of keeping Sunday sacred was, by that time, a longstanding tradition. Of course, if that were indeed the case, why did Constantine need to make the decree to begin with? You don’t make an imperial decree for something that is already the standard practice. However, it is true that Christians in certain areas had adopted this belief well before that time. The second century apologist, Justin Martyr, once referenced this custom:

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits . . . Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.”[6]

There were many other Christian voices from the first few centuries of the church who left similar records, Tertullian and Ignatius being a couple prominent figures. However, we also know that believers in other areas of the world continued to keep the Sabbath, because those in Rome and Alexandria found it strange that others were still following what they believed to be a Jewish custom.[7] In fact, we have an extensive record showing that large numbers of Christians outside of Rome continued to observe the Sabbath until sometime in the 5th century.[8]

Further still, we also know that some Christians—as early as the first century—had ceased worshipping on the Sabbath out of necessity. In a sense, Christians had been forced out of various synagogues because of their obvious differences in beliefs. Specifically, Christians were often unwelcome because they did not adhere to the laws given under the old covenant, but their acceptance of Christ as Messiah was certainly a major problem as well. This predicament was no doubt part of why the Council of Laodicea (364 A.D.) much later equated Sabbath keeping with “Judaizing,” or unnecessarily abiding by Jewish customs:

“Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday (Sabbath), but shall work on that Day: but the Lord’s Day, they shall especially honour; and as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.”[9]

While smaller groups may have begun worshipping on Sunday towards the end of the first century, the practice was by no stretch ubiquitous within the church. Early on, Christians ceased official worship on the Sabbath but did not cease to recognize the day altogether.

Now, the question of how this change became official and gained overwhelming popularity within the church is an entirely different matter. It certainly did involve both the expulsion of Christians from the synagogues and Constantine’s decree. However, something much larger was at work. With Constantine converting (debatably) to Christianity and the faith eventually becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire, history would be forever changed. In short, the Roman Empire controlled most of the known world and came to be the dominant influence in Christian thinking.

Some of the most influential councils in church history—like the First Councils of Nicea and Constantinople—occurred under Roman supervision. Naturally, the most prominent theologians of the area were present at these councils and were Roman citizens. Doctrine was confirmed, and even the Bible itself was ratified—or “canonized”—into its official form during these councils. Clearly, not everything that occurred during that time was corrupt or counter to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles; many important things were accomplished during this time, and God certainly worked through the Roman emperors and their underlings in a variety of ways.

Of course, so might have Satan. It was also during this time that the very writings they officially canonized were often turned on their heads and warped into something nearly unrecognizable.[10] The point is, we could easily take one of two positions—both of which could even be false—on the matter. The first would be to believe that God worked things out so that Sunday came to replace the Jewish Sabbath out of reverence for Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The second would be to view Sunday as a counterfeit: an unauthorized change that had its crooked origins in the earliest times of church history.

Whichever view you are prone to adopt, a case can be made in both directions.

So, what does this mean for those of us living in the 21st century? Should we keep the Sabbath, like Jesus and the apostles? Should we hold Sunday to be sacred, as many Christians began to do after the time recorded in the NT? I would like to offer a few thoughts on these questions. The first will deeply bother some readers but is true with regards to the what Bible tells us. The Sabbath was never abolished by any command given by Jesus, the apostles, or anyone else with the authority to do so. As prototypical Jewish believers, these figures worshipped on the Sabbath and almost certainly kept the day holy in every necessary way. None of them abandoned the fourth commandment or began worshipping on Sunday, and they certainly didn’t tell anyone else to do so.

As far as the Bible is concerned, the Sabbath never resigned or passed the baton to Sunday. 

That must mean that we should still be worshipping on the seventh day, and ceasing our labor between Friday evening and Saturday evening, right? There was a time that I would have said yes to both parts. In fact, I tried to persuade others of the necessity of doing so. However, further study and personal experience led me away from this practice. Just as it had for many of the Jews living at (or before) Jesus’ time, attempting to keep the Sabbath “holy” became an onerous burden for me. I missed work, missed events with friends and family, and had essentially refined myself to house arrest between Friday evening and Saturday evening. I could not work, make others work, or enjoy the usual pleasures of a normal day; this would have made the Sabbath mundane and ordinary, if not even profane.

Many have experienced these difficulties, and some find it impossible to get this time off from their jobs on a weekly basis. By the end of my Sabbath keeping days, I came to anxiously await its departure each week. This was precisely the opposite of what it was supposed to be about. Try as I might, I could never live up to my perceived expectations for the Sabbath. More importantly, I could never keep the day holy in the biblical sense.

But that leads to a significant point. In truth, it was the lack of a single NT command to observe the seventh day that reinforced my decision. While the Sabbath was not abrogated by Christ or the apostles, there is something equally important to realize: the Sabbath was never given to the Gentile converts as a required observance. Going back to the formal institution of the Sabbath, it was often mentioned that the practice was specifically given to Israel: “The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever . . .” (Ex. 31:16).

This is crucial information, particularly when we fast-forward to the era described within the NT. For the most part, the Gentiles—those who were not ethnically or religiously Jewish—of the day knew very little about Jewish laws and customs. Jewish law and the expectations of the old covenant were extremely complex realities, particularly for those who lived outside of that community. When the apostles (especially Paul) tried to relay the significance of Christ’s coming to the Gentiles, they took great pains not to overload them with Jewish verbiage or unfamiliar concepts. This is clearly demonstrated by the decision of the first church council. After much debate, James (Jesus’ half-brother) addressed the group with a verdict:

“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (15:19-21).

No, this is not the only set of commands that Gentile Christians were (or are) expected to keep. However, this shows the delicate situation that James and the apostles—who were steeped in Jewish customs—found themselves in. It would have been incredibly easy to suffocate new believers with a yoke that they could never have carried (15:10). It is interesting to note that James even mentioned the Sabbath in his verdict, but not as one of the commands given to the Gentiles.

There are two other passages of Scripture that speak directly to this point. The first is Romans 14, and it addresses the friction that existed between Jewish Christians and Gentile converts. The debate between these two groups concerning the Mosaic Law–an immense number of laws given to Israel through Moses–was both fierce and divisive [11]. Among the matters that came up was whether Christians need to keep “special days,” such as the festival days (which were also called “sabbaths”). Paul addressed the friction, giving the believers in Rome this message: “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5). Once more, Witherington succinctly summarized how the weekly Sabbath was involved:

“Paul does not specifically mention sabbaths here, but presumably this is because he wants to include the notion of any and all special days, including festival days and the Day of Atonement as well as sabbaths (cf. Gal 4.10; Col. 2.16).”[12]

As I will discuss momentarily, the Gentile Christians would almost certainly have understood these instructions as including the weekly Sabbath. The matter of observing special days also came up in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which dealt with an abundance of theological problems (collectively called the “Colossian Heresy”). Apparently, one of these heresies involved the belief that Christians must abide by certain philosophical principles, including holding certain days as sacred. Paul cleared this issue up, saying:

“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—these things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (2:16-17).

Just as he had told the believers in Rome, Paul strongly discouraged the Colossians against being intimidated into observing certain days or regarding those who do as being superior.

Some have posited that in saying “Sabbath day” Paul was talking about the yearly festivals—like the day of Pentecost or the Feast of Tabernacles—and not the weekly day of worship. That seems rather unlikely, mainly because Paul specifically mentioned festivals as a separate issue. Moreover, this interpretation implies that the Gentile Christians clearly understood the difference: that they would have automatically perceived that Paul was talking about the festivals and not the seventh day of each week. Almost as a matter of certainty, most of the Gentiles would not have possessed that kind of knowledge about the OT or the Mosaic Law.

Instead, the word “Sabbath”—being used in any capacity—would most naturally have been understood as the weekly day of worship. This hits on the vital part of what is said in both Romans 14 and Colossians 2. In discussing the entire matter of festivals, Sabbath days, and the importance of special days in general, Paul never once delineated between the weekly Sabbath and any other day. He never told them to make sure they still worshipped and rested on the seventh day of each week, even though he did tell them not to worry about regarding other days as sacred.

By not making a clear distinction, the Gentile Christians almost certainly would have lumped the weekly Sabbath into the mix.

At best, Paul was giving them no reason to think otherwise. It is highly unlikely that Paul would have acted so lax about the matter if he still wanted them to observe the weekly Sabbath. Personally, I find it to be unthinkable that he would have done so.

From what we can glean from the NT, the Gentiles were never instructed to keep the Sabbath as a mandatory practice. It simply cannot be responsibly deduced from what we are given in Scripture.

This just leaves one important question: if Christians are not required to observe the Sabbath, should we be worshipping on Sunday? Clearly, I have already shown that Sunday worship is nowhere commanded in Scripture. Though it is not required, neither is it wrong to do so. I realize some would disagree with that,[13] but no day of the week—including either Saturday or Sunday—was explicitly given as a necessary religious observance under the new covenant. It is good that we meet on a consistent basis (Acts 2:46), and Sunday is a natural fit for many within our various societies.

With that being said—and please keep this in mind—no one should feel especially pious because they “kept Sunday sacred” or look down upon others for not doing so. Sunday is not sacred within the Bible, and I do not believe that God will take issue with those who did not celebrate it as such. Likewise, those who continue to keep the Sabbath should not look down on those who do not. Worship is pleasing to God whenever, wherever, and by whomever, it comes. While this at least provides my personal view on the matter, it is up to each of us to make our own decisions. Here, we can take Paul’s instructions to the believers in Rome that each person needs to resolve this for themselves (14:5).

Whatever you decide, just be sure to follow another of Paul’s commands: “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way” (14:13).

 

 

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

God Made the Aliens: Making Sense of Extraterrestrial Contact

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

 

Footnotes:

[1] For a couple examples, no one was permitted to walk more than about 3,000 feet (⅝ of a mile) from their home (Acts 1:12) or even heal someone in desperate need (Lk. 13:10-17).

[2] See Witherington’s article, “It’s About Time—Easter Time.”

[3] See Schaff’s, History of the Christian Church (Volume), 380.

[4] See the article, “Constantine Decrees ‘Sun-Day’ as Day of Rest.”

[5] Ibid.

[6] See “1 Apol. LXVII in Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus.”

[7] “The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria.” Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book 7 (ch. 19). This source also adds that cities and towns in Egypt were meeting on Sabbath evenings.

[8] I refer you to two sources on this: Socrates, “Ecclesiastical History,” (Book 7, chap.19) and Lyman Coleman’s, “Ancient Christianity Exemplified,” (ch. 26, sec. 2, p. 527).

[9] See Charles Joseph Hefele’s, A History of the Church Councils from 326 to 429: Volume 2, 316.

[10] In my book Spiritual Things, I discuss many areas where standard Christian teachings radically differ from what the Bible says on those issues. See pages 84-90 especially. These issues include what happens at death, the embodiment of heavenly beings, and others.

[11] The belief that Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah was obviously extremely divisive. However, the role that the Mosaic Law should play in believer’s lives was perhaps even more difficult to reconcile. These two factors were the primary reasons why Christians were expelled from the synagogues, but were not the only reasons.

[12] Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 336.

[13] The Seventh-Day Adventists, with whom I am very well acquainted, believe that Sunday worship and the eradication of the Sabbath are both of satanic origin. I do sympathize with this perspective, if nothing else because Sunday was not instituted by God but by man. However, I differ on the ramifications of observing Sunday. To some within the denomination, Sunday worship is even considered to be the “mark of the beast” that will condemn individuals at the end times.