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 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 in the works—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 200,000 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. There have been entire sports teams who 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 200,000+ 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 likelihood of a cashless society. That is, there will 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 probably pertained to the emperor worship of the day, 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 or a vaccine).

Believe it or not, 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. The Bible describes 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? Either way, the essence of the event remains intact. While true believers will reign with Jesus during this time, it is likely that the rest of humanity will exist beyond salvation (Rev. 20:6).

After the Millennial Reign 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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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.

Is Everything “God’s Will?”

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One of the most popular sayings of our time is that “everything happens for a reason.” If you think about it, this is a rather general statement. In a sense, everything does happen for a reason. Leaves change colors because their chlorophyll is broken down and transferred into the tree. Tsunamis occur because of strong and sudden motions on the ocean floor. Animals hibernate to help them survive cold weather periods when food is certain to be scarce. These are a few of the countless examples that could be mentioned.

Of course, this is not what people mean when they say, “everything happens for a reason.” What they mean is that some type of force is guiding worldly activities in order to produce a specified outcome. For the mystics among us, this may just be the universe itself or some type of nebulous “cosmic power” within it. On the other hand, those who believe in a type of personal deity (like Yahweh) call this force “God.” It is the latter group—those who believe in God—that I am concerned with here.

Believers often advance beyond thinking there is some type of rhyme and reason to earthly activities and go to the extent of thinking that God causes nearly all of life’s events to happen. Whether we are dealing with a joyous occasion or the most horrific of tragedies, everything is “God’s will.”

Most of us can offer anecdotal examples of this line of thinking. It is extremely common to hear couples say, “it was God’s will that we found each other.” Some believe God made them lose items (like their keys), so that the lapse of time would cause them to get to the supermarket later. There, they saw an old friend or had a timely encounter with a new one. The same could be said on the negative side, where it is easily more harmful. People commonly attribute natural disasters and viral pandemics to divine ordination. I have even known individuals who lost a child to cancer or other diseases and were “reassured” that it was all part of God’s master plan.

These examples are not intended to suggest that God cannot cause things to happen in our lives, or that events should never be understood as “God’s will.” Instead, these examples illustrate an overall mindset: an approach to how we view the various events of life. Some have so overwhelmingly accepted the idea that God, in His sovereignty, is so “in control” that every detail of life must be seen through this lens. This means that God is responsible for both the good and the bad.

In fact, sometimes the bad—like the tragic examples previously mentioned—are flipped upside down and viewed as positive outcomes. And “every good and perfect gift is from above,” right ?[1]

Like any other belief, there must be some type of basis for it. But what?

There are many parts of Scripture that, if distorted, can cause us to believe that God makes everything happen. However, there are some that are especially prevalent. One of the most used—and improperly applied—passages in the OT is Jeremiah 29:11, and it speaks to this very issue. The text reads as follows: “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Many interpret this to mean that, no matter how bad things get, God has a greater plan in store for each of us. In a sense, everything can be seen as being part of this greater plan. God will ensure that we come out of the darkness, that we leave the pain and sorrow behind us, and that we come into a better life.

God always has a better life in store for us. This is exciting news!

As good as that sounds, there is a clear problem to contend with. As the NIV (and others) titles this chapter, this was a “Letter to the Exiles.” Again, to the exiles. This message concerned the Jewish people who would be taken captive by the Babylonians in the 6th century B.C., after their lands had been pillaged. God was assuring His people that Babylon would not be the end of their story. One day they would return to the Promised Land, rebuild the temple and their society, and continue with the purpose for which they were called (Jer. 33:7).

This is what Jeremiah 29:11—and the surrounding parts of the book—is all about.

God is not using this part of Scripture to tell you and me that He has some grand and glorious set of plans for our earthly lives. More importantly, this is not revealing that our good fortune is set in stone or impossible to alter. It amazes me how quick we are to apply Jeremiah 29:11 to our lives, while so many other passages would never be used in such a way (like 44:11)![2]

Having a “hope and a future” certainly sounds better than meeting “disaster,” but personal preference doesn’t determine the meaning of Scripture. The words of the Bible do not change for anyone, regardless of time, place or emotional state.

Please don’t misunderstand me: this verse is just as important as any other in the Bible. It helps to reveal God’s character and His intentions with the Jewish people at that time, as well as adding valuable history about the greater salvation narrative of Scripture. However—and most emphatically—this verse is not about us, and it should not be taken that way. This applies to much of what read in the OT, especially the Historical Books and the Prophets.

If anything, the OT clearly reveals that much of what happens in life is not God’s will. From the Fall of Man, to the Flood, to the Tower of Babel, to the corrupt period of judges and kings, to the exile, to the many decisions made by God’s people (like David having Uriah killed), and so much more, it is clear that not everything is strictly determined.

God’s ultimate plans for our corporate world will not be thwarted, but individuals can certainly make a mess of things along the way.

If there were a NT equivalent of Jeremiah 29:11, it would probably be Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” That is how the text literally reads in most of our translations.

Now, let’s consider what many of us hear when we read it: “God makes every event in my life happen, because it will serve a greater good.”

This is one interpretation, but it simply isn’t an accurate one. Scholars have noted for centuries that a key part of the text may best be translated as “God co-operates for good in all things.[3] This would represent a profound difference in how we understand the text. On the first interpretation, every event that ever happens in our lives must have some divine purpose. On the second view, every event—whether good or bad—can still be an opportunity for God’s activity in our lives. Without question, I believe the second option makes the most sense of things.

It isn’t that God planned someone’s cancer: it’s that He used a negative to build their character. It’s not that God caused the sudden death of a loved one: it’s that He somehow helped to bring about a new relationship through it. It isn’t that God caused someone to become a drug addict: it’s that He worked through them to show others that recovery is possible.

This is the difference between making God the author of evil and affirming that He is—only and always—the solution to evil.

Romans 8:28 is telling us that, even in bad situations, God can still be working some degree of good in it. A perfect biblical example is recorded earlier in Romans. Paul says, “. . . we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (5:3-4). A true believer can even see the value in suffering, though it is often difficult to do so in the moment. Through suffering, God can help produce in us a better faith and a stronger character. This does not occur because God wills our misery, but because we live in a corrupt and fallen world where the forces of evil fight against us (1 Pet. 5:8).

It should also be noted that the good is not necessarily intended to “balance out” the bad. For example, forming a relationship with an estranged child through someone’s death does not replace that person or make it “worth happening.” God co-operates with us to make the best of situations.

This is a good place to pull in some of Jesus’ central teachings on the matter. In my estimation, one of his most powerful parables is found in Matthew 13:24-30. The Parable of the “Tares/Weeds among the Wheat” reveals the way the world really works and how to understand God’s general involvement in it.

The premise of the tale is that a landowner plants good grain in a field, and “an enemy” comes at night and sows bad seed in it. The field of course begins to grow both good and bad crops. Alarmed, the workers run to the landowner to see how best to handle things. Their idea is to gather the weeds and separate them from the wheat. The landowner’s response to this suggestion is perhaps the most important aspect of the story:

“No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn” (Mt. 13:29-30).

Later, Jesus actually interpreted this parable for his bewildered disciples (Mt. 13:36-43). Jesus revealed that he is the landowner, the evil one (Satan) is the enemy, the weeds are the children of Satan, the wheat are the sons of the kingdom, the reapers are the angels, and the field is the world we live in.

This tells us something very important: God is currently allowing the wicked and the righteous to live together, and He is not meting out justice here and now. Instead, justice will finally be done when Jesus returns. In some way, the lives of the righteous and the wicked are bound together and must not be separated here and now. Among the possible explanations is that separating the two now would destroy human freedom. This would condemn those who might later come to repentance and destroy the growth of those who already have.

For the sake of the current discussion, the “landowner’s” verdict means that a great deal of what happens in our world is not “God’s will.” There are plenty of adversarial powers, wicked people, and heinous deeds being done around the globe every day. Sometimes, the “weeds” negatively affect the “wheat.” Though God will ultimately reconcile these issues, we should not typically expect it to occur in this lifetime.

Instead of that, God will determine a precise time to “stop the play,” so to speak.

There is an often-overlooked passage of Scripture that connects to the idea behind this parable, and it is recorded in Luke 13:1-5. There, Jesus addressed two distinct events. The first concerns a horrible massacre that had transpired sometime before that. Pontius Pilate—the Roman governor of Judea at the time—had apparently ordered the slaughter of certain Galileans while they were offering their own sacrifices (13:1). Here was Jesus’ reaction to this event:

“Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (13:2-3).

Ouch! Maybe Jesus will provide a gentler response the next time? The second example concerns another dreadful event, but this one had been more of a natural catastrophe. This time, the “tower in Siloam” had fallen,[4] crushing eighteen people who were working on it (13:4). This is how Jesus addressed the issue:

“. . . do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (13:4-5).

Another crushing retort! Jesus wasn’t one to parse words.

People of that day tended to believe that those who suffered did so deservingly: that they sinned and “had it coming.” In response to the man who was born blind—who, as it were, was told to wash in the Pool of Siloam—the disciples inquired: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (Jn. 9:2). In truth, this idea went back centuries and is particularly obvious in the book of Job.[5]

Unfortunately, it is still alive and well today. It is common for people to believe that those going through times of trial must have done something to bring it on themselves. Jesus was quick to point out that this is not necessarily the case. We do not know if the people who died in the events described in Luke 13:1-5 were horribly ungodly or the greatest of saints, but we do know that neither outcome was “God’s will.”

God did not desire Pilate to have the Galileans slaughtered or for the tower to crush those eighteen unfortunate souls.

Events like these should cause us to evaluate our own lives, particularly if we fall into the trap of believing that only the unrighteous suffer. The bigger point, however, is that neither righteous nor sinful living strictly determines our earthly fates. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people and vice-versa. Ecclesiastes 8:14 notes this reality plainly: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.”

There is a lot more that could be said, but it is time move this post toward a conclusion. When viewed from the perspective faith, everything does happen “for a reason.” It’s just that the reason is often one that does not reflect God’s intentions for our lives. Sometimes the reason is that we live in a fallen world and have broken bodies. Sometimes it’s that evil beings—whether mortal or angelic—are doing evil things. Sometimes things happen not by anyone’s intent at all, but because of oversight or accident.

As Scripture makes clear from front to back, God is not playing the role of puppet master. If God were doing so, I would suggest that our world might look very different. This is certainly true of the biblical narrative, as we would expect to see only good things happening to the faithful and only bad things happening to the unrepentant. The Bible would not tell the story of human brokenness and divine redemption but would only reveal a world of perfect order.

The final thing worth addressing is that we are dealing in generalities: with how God (and our world) works most of the time but not all of it. Certainly, God can (and sometimes does, I think) “will” that things happen. It is even possible to perceive some of these events as “bad” things, such as God’s destruction of humanity through the Flood and Israel’s many defeats. This view, however, has it completely backwards. Those events were never intended to happen; God did not initially “will” destruction to occur but He could not overlook human sinfulness, either.

In this, we see that the issue is not simply black and white. However, Scripture has certainly revealed how things tend to operate. Our world is a fallen and broken mess, where both the “weeds” and the “wheat” are growing together, and God is typically not stepping in to disturb this arrangement. Even still, God is co-operating with those who love Him to bring out some good in even the worst situations.

To view everything—from the joyous events to the incredibly tragic ones—as God’s will is to misunderstand Scripture. This not only fails to fully account for human sinfulness, it also blames God for the work of Satan and warps our very understanding of God’s goodness.

For the faithful, these realities must never be compromised.

 

If you found this interesting, please check out my other blogs on this site.

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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] This comes from James 1:17. Contrary to affirming that God is making evil things happen for “our good,” this verse is intended to distance God from evil. Before that, he stated: “For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone” (1:13).

[2] “Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I am determined to bring disaster on you and to destroy all Judah.”

[3] Vatican and Alexandrian manuscripts, as well as many interpreters in history, note this point. See the Expositor’s Greek Testament on Romans 8:28, for one example.

[4] The Pool of Siloam was believed to be a sacred place by the Jewish people of the day. They would draw water from this pool and take it into the temple during the Feast of Booths, and Jesus even sent a blind man there to wash and be healed (Jn. 9:1-7).

[5] Job’s three miserable “comforters” (a sarcastic title) emphasized this idea repeatedly. Even though the book described Job as an almost unimaginably righteous man, they were certain that he had warranted his demise (22:4-11). To Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, things always worked this way. As Eliphaz said, “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed” (4:7)?

Angels and Men

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There are so many fascinating things about angels. God’s first-created beings truly are powerful and mysterious. They show up throughout Scripture in order to deliver vital messages, perform miracles and save humans in moments of distress. At times, even the ways they choose to appear are shocking. Most of us are at least vaguely aware of these realities, but there is something peculiar about angels that is rarely discussed: they are a whole lot like us.

When I say, “a whole lot like us,” I mean there is a closeness that is difficult to comprehend. To illustrate this point, let’s evaluate a few examples from Scripture.

During the Ascension—when Jesus disappeared into the heavens for the last time—two angels visited those who had witnessed the event. Luke described the fascinating things that transpired:

And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven’ ” (Acts 1:10-11).

Did you notice what the text literally says: that two men stood beside them? Why does it say “men” if we are supposed to be dealing with angels? That’s definitely a bit strange . . .

What’s stranger is that this happens frequently in the Bible. Let’s journey backwards in time to the situation concerning Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Before the chaos ensued, God sent two beings to warn Lot and his family. Genesis introduces Lot’s prophetic visitors very clearly as heavenly messengers: “Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom” (19:1).

Later on, they are again referred to as angels (19:15). We can also be sure these were not ordinary people because of Lot’s reaction to their arrival: “When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, ‘Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house’ . . .” (19:1-2 ). If there should be any remaining doubts that these were indeed beings of a higher power, the text records that they miraculously blinded the men from Sodom, after they had tried to break into the house (19:11).

I don’t know of any human beings who could have accomplished this. These were angels!

As you may have expected, there is more going on here. The same account describes Lot’s two friends just a bit differently: once again as “men.” In fact, this occurs in three different ways:

1) The group from Sodom called them “men” (19:5).

2) Lot called them “men” (19:8).    And . . .

3) The narrator/author of Genesis called them “men” (19:10, 12).

The reasons why the group from Sodom was so interested in the angels is another matter, which I touched upon elsewhere when considering the Sons of God and the Nephilim. At the moment, that is beside the point. If you are thinking that the men referenced in those verses are not the same as the two entities who are elsewhere described as angels, think again. Reading the account carefully, it is obvious that the two “men” who pulled Lot back into the house (19:10) were the same figures who blinded those who were outside of the house (19:11). Moreover, the two “men” that asked Lot who else was living with him (19:12) were the same individuals that claimed they would later destroy the city (19:13). Clearly, that was a supernatural event.

This cannot be right, can it? Is there some type of mistake in the wording, or perhaps an issue with our translation of the Hebrew text? Incredibly, there is not. The word that is translated as “angels” is from the same term (malak) that is used throughout the Old Testament to describe them. Likewise, the term (ish) that is also used to describe them as “men” means exactly that throughout the OT.

In no uncertain terms, Lot’s foreign company are described as both angels and men in this story. The same is true when the two visitors appeared to Abraham, just before that (18:1-15).

In fact, this theme is consistent throughout the rest of the Bible. One example was mentioned earlier in discussing the “men in white clothing” who appeared at the Ascension (Acts 1:10-11). There can be little doubt that these were angelic beings, because they appeared from nowhere and were dressed in white. Appearing in white clothing is an allusion almost exclusively pertaining to heavenly beings, whether that be Jesus, angels, or even those who will be purified and saved.[1]

Speaking of white clothing, this topic reveals another example to consider. The three women who came to anoint Jesus’ body the morning after the Crucifixion also encountered a person wearing white:

“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him’ ” (Mk. 16:5-6).

This time, we are dealing with a neaniskos: a “young man.” Could this mean that certain angels start out younger than others, and that some type of aging or maturation exists even among the heavenly beings? Or, could it be that his particular appearance just seemed a bit more youthful by human standards? It is very difficult to say what the significance of him being a “young man” is within this passage. Whatever the case, it is abundantly clear that he too was not of this world.

We know this because of his white robe, his supernatural understanding of all that had transpired, and because of the women’s reactions to him. The word used for “amazed” (exethambēthēsan) is present only in Mark’s Gospel,[2] and it can also mean “awe-struck” or “greatly amazed.” Regardless, the term carries with it the idea of being shocked to the point of fright.[3] This is evident in their response to encountering the being in white: “They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8).

This was no mere mortal whom they had encountered. The “man” was an “angel.”

Enough already—we get it! Angels are sometimes called men in the Bible. But what point is this supposed to prove? That is indeed the critical question. I think the reason why Scripture describes angels and humans so similarly is obvious; this is not some shrouded mystery that has to be specially deciphered.

The answer is that human beings and angels really are closely connected. We are a lot alike, both in terms of our nature and our physical appearance.

(In case you are thinking that the angels temporarily manifest in order to look like us, I have debunked that in another blog. As far as the Bible describes things, the angels definitely have bodies.)

The closeness between angels and humans can help us to make sense of what is said in Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Could it be that angels are sometimes among us, and that they are able to blend in because they are very much like us?

Another passage from Hebrews that now reads a lot differently is 2:5-9. Within that section, the following is recorded:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet” (2:6-8, NIV).[4]

The point here in Hebrews is that everything in the world was created for human beings to rule, though our disjointed world does not bear that out at present. It goes on to suggest that Jesus remedied that situation on our behalf, and that even he was “made lower than the angels for a little while” (2:9).

This further reveals that the human form is not a drastic and unrecognizable step down from the angelic form. Along with this, we already know that we were made to resemble our Creator!

For simplicity’s sake, we can look at these connections in the following way:

  • God created human beings in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26).
  • Jesus came in our image and likeness (Phi. 2:7).
  • At the Resurrection, Jesus rose from the dead with a transformed human body that resembles the other heavenly beings (angels). He is the “heavenly man” (1 Cor. 15:48).
  • Jesus’ resurrection body is the pattern for the bodies we will one day receive (1 Cor. 15:35-49).

It is curious that, after the Resurrection, Jesus looked human but was different enough that he was not immediately recognizable by his appearance alone. This is consistent with how the Bible describes angels; they look quite human but are enhanced in some way.

When you put this information together, it is obvious that the earthly and heavenly beings resemble one another. In other words, not only were we made in God’s image, but the angels were too. Humans are lower than angels; angels are lower than God; but there are strong similarities among all three. As the previous examples prove, this even includes the way we look.

In closing, none of this is intended to suggest that we are identical to the angels (or God) in either form or power. The heavenly beings performed miracles throughout the Bible that we could only dream of doing. They also possess powers—like slipping in and out of heaven—that we could only dream of having.

However, the Bible also tells us something equally important: the gulf between angels and humans is not as large as most of us have been led to believe. When we see ourselves, we see a strong glimpse at our heavenly counterparts.

Of course, this has tremendous bearing on what it means to be made in the “image of God.” Much more needs to be said about this crucial issue, but that will have to wait until next time . . .

 

 

If you found this interesting, please check out my other blogs on this site.

Looking for a new book to read? Click the links to check out my titles on Amazon:

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

 

References/Footnotes

[1] For some excellent examples of the types of beings who are dressed in white, see the following verses: Mt. 17:2, 28:3; Jn. 20:12; Rev. 1:14, 3:4, 6:11, and 7:9.

[2] See 9:15, 14:33, 16:5, and 16:6.

[3] Strong’s Concordance, 1568: “ekthambeó.”

[4] This is virtually a direct quote from Psalm 8:5.