Belief Systems

There are basic five states which you can be in relating to the essentials of any belief system, whether it be Christianity, Islam, or even atheism:

Ignorant acceptance:

You can subscribe to a belief system without knowing the details of the belief system. This is not a good state to be in. There are many who identify themselves as Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or whatever without having personally investigated what they believe. Until recently (and maybe still so today), most Americans identified themselves as Christians, but the majority pick that belief system as the default (“I believe Jesus was a good man, and I’m not a Muslim, Buddhist, or pagan, so I guess I’m a Christian.”), not knowing what Christianity is all about.

Ignorant rejection:

You can reject a belief system without knowing the details of the belief system. This is also not a good state to be in. These are those who deny a belief system is true without having investigated what that system teaches. Reasons for denial are subjective: “It doesn’t seem right to me.”, “Almost nobody believes that.”, “Look at how those people behave!”, “I’ve always been told they’re wrong.”, etc.

Knowledgeable acceptance:

You can subscribe to a belief system knowing the essential details of the belief system. This is much better than ignorant acceptance or rejection. It shows you realize the dangers of believing something without any evidence. You may still come to a wrong conclusion on the matter due to incomplete and/or biased investigation, but you are closer to finding out the truth than blind acceptance or rejection.

Knowledgeable rejection:

You can reject a belief system knowing the essential details of the belief system. This is also much better than ignorant rejection or acceptance. Again, you may come to a wrong conclusion on the matter due to incomplete and/or biased investigation, but you are closer to finding out the truth than blind acceptance or rejection.

Compromise:

You can accept some essential parts of belief system and reject others, and you can combine parts of one belief system with another. This is also a form of ignorance and self-deception: calling yourself a believer in something, but not really believing it. You cannot say you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, if you don’t believe the things Jesus said. That is like saying, “I hate hamburgers, but love cheeseburgers. But I prefer my cheeseburgers without cheese.” You can have your cheeseburger without ketchup, lettuce, or onions, but you can’t have it without cheese. Cheese is essential to the cheeseburger. And Christ is essential to Christianity.

The further away you are from ignorance, the less likely there will be compromise, and the closer you will be to the truth.

The Covenantal Context

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…

– Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

We Christians today are experts at taking verses out of context. We do it almost as much as Hollywood or the Name-It-And-Claim-It crowd. We just don’t realize it.

How many of us regularly quote Philippians 4:19 (“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.“), taking this verse as an unconditional promise that applies to all believers? Well, it’s not. Paul wrote this to those who, in spite of their poverty, were sacrificially supporting his work in bringing the gospel to the nations. (To see the context, start reading from verse 10, or better yet, read the whole letter in one go.) Paul was merely repeating what Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-33: “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” So this is not a blanket promise to every believer. It’s only a promise to those who set the kingdom of God above their own needs. In fact, those who don’t work are explicitly told they won’t have their needs met (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

It’s very important to pay attention to context when reading or studying the Bible, but especially when committing verses to memory. Think of how many false doctrines and even whole cults have arisen by lifting an isolated verse out of a passage, or understanding a biblical phrase in light of today’s culture instead of the culture it was written in. But there’s another context that even those of us who have learned to pay attention to context usually miss, and that is the covenantal context.

A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties. The Bible records many covenants made between God and man. There’s the one God made with Noah after the flood, saying He would never destroy the earth that way again. There’s another one He made with Abram to give the “Promised Land” to his many descendants. Later God gave him the covenant of circumcision and changed his name to Abraham.

But the most prominent covenants in the Bible are the ones that we use to label the two sections of the Bible: the old covenant and the new covenant. The old covenant was given to those God redeemed from slavery in Egypt, and the new covenant was given to all those redeemed from sin through the blood of Jesus. These two are distinct, but many times we unconsciously mix elements of one into the other when we try to understand the Bible. This opens us up to doctrinal and practical error. The Galatian believers, for example, left Christ and fell from grace when they added old covenant law-keeping to their faith 1.

While I could go into detail about the various errors that have come from mixing the two covenants, I think it would be more beneficial to compare the two to show why they are incompatible with each other, because it’s better to show why something is wrong then to just say it’s wrong.

It’s true both covenants share some similarities. Both were put into effect through mediators. Both were enacted the same way: through a blood sacrifice (Exodus 24:6-8, Hebrews 9:15-22, 10:29, Matthew 26:28). But the new covenant is much better than the old one, as the writer of Hebrews declares:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

– Hebrews 8:6-7 (ESV)

Why is the new covenant better than the old one? Here are some reasons…

The old covenant was made at Mount Sinai exclusively with Israel (Psalm 147:19-20). No other people had a part in it: not the Gentiles, and not even any other descendant of Abraham. No one but the Israelites were under the Law (Acts 14:16, Romans 2:14), and they shared the promises with no one else (Ephesians 2:12). But the new covenant was made at Mount Calvary between God and anyone who believes in Jesus for salvation, regardless of any earthly distinction (Romans 10:12, Galatians 3:21-22). The new covenant is for both Jew and Gentile alike, and it has much better promises (Hebrews 8:6).

The old covenant was temporal. It provided an earthly inheritance and earthly blessings for Israel, because they were an earthly race and kingdom (Leviticus 20:24). The new covenant provides eternal benefits with no earthly inheritance. We are called strangers and pilgrims because this earth is not our home (Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11). All of our blessings are eternal, and we lack not one (Ephesians 1:3).

The old covenant was of human effort. Israel had to keep the Law to receive the promised blessings (Leviticus 18:5, Romans 10:5). The new covenant is by faith in God’s work (Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:20). Our eternal blessings are assured because Jesus has kept the Law for us.

The old covenant provided not only earthly blessings for those who obeyed, but also cursings and condemnation for those who didn’t (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). The new covenant has no curse or condemnation at all (John 3:18, 5:24, Romans 8:1)! God will never turn His face away from those who are in Christ.

Those under the old covenant would repeatedly seek God’s mercy (i.e. Psalms 4:1, 9:13, 25:16). But those under the new covenant have already received mercy (1 Peter 2:10). Hence, there are no New Testament examples of Christians asking God for mercy. 2

The sign of the old covenant was the Sabbath (Exodus 31:13,17, Ezekiel 20:12,20). The sign of the new covenant is the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:28, 1 Corinthians 11:25). The Lord Jesus is now our Sabbath rest, appropriated by faith (Hebrews 4:1-11).

It should be very evident from these points (and others) that the old and new covenants are not only very different, they are incompatible with each other. You can not be under both covenants. You cannot mix elements of one into the other (Galatians 3:15). You cannot live on the basis of works and grace at the same time. When Peter tried to do so in Galatians 2:11-16, he became a stumbling block for other believers. This is what Jesus was referring to when He spoke of repairing torn clothes and filling wineskins…

“No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.'”

– Luke 5:36-39 (ESV)

If you have been saved, you have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Don’t wear your old, filthy rags “righteousness” at the same time, or try to weave parts of those rags into the garments of your salvation (Isaiah 61:10, Galatians 3:24-27). Just as the Old Testament Law forbade Israel from making clothes out of two different kinds of fabric 3, we are forbidden from mixing works of Law (human effort) with the finished work of Christ to gain favor with God. 4

Keep this in mind whenever you read your Bible. Be aware of which covenant (if any) a passage belongs to. 5 This will help keep you from many errors.

Notes:

  1. Galatians 5:4
  2. In Acts 8:18-24, Peter told Simon to ask God for mercy, but Simon had not received the Holy Spirit himself and therefore was not saved.
  3. Leviticus 19:19, Deuteronomy 22:11
  4. We do not work at all towards our justification, but we do work out our salvation in terms of sanctification. These are not works of the Law but works in the power and direction of the Spirit, and they fulfill the requirements of the Law (Romans 8:2-4).
  5. The new covenant began when Jesus died on the cross. Hence, all of the events before this in the gospels must be understood in context of the old covenant.

Identifying True Christians

Once upon a time there was a great, big wolf, and he hadn’t eaten in days. His last meal was only a couple of small mice… not even enough for an appetizer. You can be sure he was on the lookout for some serious grub!

Suddenly, a flock of sheep caught his eye. As he looked at them grazing peacefully in the distance, immediately his mouth started watering uncontrollably, and his stomach growled expectantly at the thought of fresh mutton. But he was so famished and weak from hunger, he didn’t have the strength to chase down even one small lamb. What was he to do?

Then it came to him. “I know how I can get a plump, juicy sheep! I’ll dress up like one! I’ll put on a sheep skin and calmly walk in among them. They won’t even know! Then I can take my time to pick out the best!”

So the big, hungry wolf put his plan into action. He (conveniently) found a sheep skin in reasonably good shape, and spent a few awkward moments putting it on and adjusting the fit. Then he walked nonchalantly down to the flock. As he approached, none of the sheep raised the alarm. Some even greeted him and welcomed him as a new member of the flock.

It wasn’t long before he had found his sheep – a nice, fat one, more trusting than the rest. (This sheep happened to be one of the first to greet him when he arrived.) In less than a minute, he turned on the helpless creature and started devouring greedily.

At the sight of the behavior of the strange “sheep,” some of the flock were greatly alarmed and tried to warn the others, but those others just said, “He’s new to our flock. He doesn’t know our ways. Give him time to change. You’ll see.”

But the wolf, encouraged and strengthened by his success, and relishing the taste of fresh blood, began attacking other sheep at random, causing them to run this way and that.

Meanwhile, some other wolves happened to be walking by. Seeing what appeared to be one sheep attacking other sheep, one of them said, “I hate sheep! Look how violent they are, attacking each other! Peaceful creatures? Bah! What hypocrites!” So they also ran down into the flock and started harassing the sheep as well.

And so the world looks on Christians today with distain and hatred, because they see the actions of false Christians and think that’s what Christianity is all about. The lies of Satan, the great Deceiver, spread freely, and persecution results.

Real Christians are not those who say they are Christians. You can’t tell a genuine follower of Jesus by which church he goes to, how much he puts in the offering plate, which political party he subscribes to, etc. Real Christians are those who do what Jesus said, and He said things like…

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– John 13:34-35 (ESV)

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”

– Luke 6:35 (ESV)

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

– Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

True Christians are identified by love in action. This love includes doing tangible good to others, as well as warning the lost of the coming judgment, and pointing them to Jesus as the only savior from sin and hell. Some will not listen; others will slander and harm us. But when mistreated, a follower of Jesus does not respond in kind. A true Christian continues to love and do them good anyway, just as our heavenly Father continues to do them good. A Christian can do this only because he submits himself to the Holy Spirit Who enables him to do this. (Without such submission, the true Christian will have difficulty loving as he should.)

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

– Galatians 6:10 (ESV)

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:13

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

– 3 John 11

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

– 1 Peter 3:17

Holistic Bible Study

For I have not shrunk back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

– Acts 20:27 (VW)

Biblical illiteracy is epidemic in the church today. Unlike any other time in history, we swim in an ocean of Bibles, but we don’t make an effort to study them for ourselves. We prefer to trust others to tell us what the Bible says and means. As a result, we’re ignorant of even the basics, and we let every wind of strange and corrupt doctrine sway us.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the rudimentary principles of the Words of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is without experience in the Word of Righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their understanding exercised to discern both good and evil.

– Hebrews 5:12-14 (VW)

Just as with those Hebrews, the typical western Christian is spiritually under-nourished and doesn’t know it. We don’t have a famine of the word of God. We have a famine of hearing the word of God (Amos 8:11).

In the secular world, there are those who are truly health-conscious, and there are those who only think they are. The difference is in how far health awareness affects that person’s way of life and thinking. Those who think healthy do so holistically: eating right, getting plenty of exercise, etc. Those who only think they do limit themselves to one or two healthy habits, if any at all. This is also true in the spiritual realm.

A healthy spiritual life is one where you love God with your whole being (Matthew 22:35-40), you trust and obey Jesus in all areas, you do everything you can to know Him more, you’re constantly on your guard against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and so on. You don’t dabble in worship, or pick and choose when you want to obey. You’d be fooling yourself if you think you’ll make any progress in overcoming the flesh and becoming like Christ if you do so in an only half-hearted manner.

An essential part of a healthy spiritual life comes through regularly reading and studying the Bible for yourself. When you open your Bible, don’t just read your favorite parts, or the parts that seem more important to you. That’s like taking an excess of one vitamin and ignoring the rest, or eating only bread and nothing else. It doesn’t work. Instead, study the whole Bible. This is especially important if you’re a preacher or teacher.

All Scripture is breathed by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The early church rapidly grew as the apostles proclaimed Jesus Christ. All they had was the Old Testament and their experience with Jesus. Even though they used the Old Testament scriptures, they didn’t teach the Mosaic Law – that was not part of the New Covenant. But they did teach about man’s character and nature, about God’s character, nature, and will, and about Jesus Christ from those scriptures.

Now we have the New Testament as well. It contains not only the four gospel accounts, but also much apostolic doctrine and practical instruction. It’s tempting to focus primarily on the gospels. We want to hear what Jesus said more than what the apostles said. Somehow we feel those “letters in red” are more inspired than the rest of the Bible. But all of scripture is God-breathed. What Peter, James, and John had to write is just as inspired as what Jesus directly said. (The same is true of the Old Testament writers.) Just as Moses pointed to Jesus, the Prophet that was to come (Deuteronomy 18:15, Acts 3:22), Jesus pointed to the Holy Spirit who would teach the disciples things they were “not able to bear” at the time (John 16:12-14). Those are the things that the apostles wrote about in the rest of the New Testament. If you focus only on what Jesus said in the gospels, you’ll be missing out on important truth.

It’s very important to read and study your whole Bible. Don’t become fixated on your favorite part or doctrine. Don’t limit yourself to just the basics, otherwise you won’t reach spiritual maturity (Hebrews 6:1-3). Study both doctrine and application. At the same time, pay attention to context. Be aware of the differences between old and new covenants so you can understand what applies to you and what doesn’t. Put your whole heart, mind, body and spirit into becoming a mature Christian.

Know Your Bible For Yourself

So, you want to know what the Bible really says: what it says about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, man, right and wrong, etc.? Then study the Bible. Don’t listen to what a church or some famous preacher or teacher says. Don’t listen to Hollywood, the History Channel, Time magazine, the Pope, Brigham Young, the Watchtower, Joel Olsteen, Billy Graham, Charles Wesley, Martin Luther, John Calvin. Don’t listen to the church fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, etc.) Don’t listen to your pastor. Don’t listen to me. Especially, don’t assume you know it yourself.

There is an incredible amount of Bible disinformation out in the world today, from verses taken out of context to outright lies. You may think you or someone else has the inside scoop on truth, but how will you know unless you lay aside your own biases and study the scriptures on your own, for yourself. Maybe others are correct in what they teach… but then again, maybe not. If you have access to the Bible, then you are responsible to find out what it says.

Have you come across something in your studies that you don’t understand? Maybe it looks like one verse contradicts another? Let the Bible interpret itself. The only contradictions in the Bible are those you haven’t fully studied yet. Read everything in context: Who was the text written to? When was it written? Why was it written? etc. If you have to, look up the meanings of the original words in a Hebrew or Greek lexicon. Find out how the words are used elsewhere. An exhaustive concordance is your friend. As you know your Bible more, you will be able to recognize error (your own or someone else’s) when you see it.

Don’t think you know the Bible… Know the Bible.

“Say These Words…”

During the terrorist incident in Mali this past week, many hostages died. But one hostage was let go after an Islamic attacker told him to recite verses from the Koran. 1 This reminded me of an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown where he was at the wailing wall in Jerusalem. Anthony said he didn’t believe in a higher power. But after finding out he was a Jew, a rabbi quickly grabbed him, strapped on a phylactory, and got him to recite the words of a bar-mitzvah blessing.

I think it’s pretty obvious the freed hostage did not become a Muslim merely by reciting verses from the Koran, just as Anthony Bourdain did not become a practicing Jew and believer in God merely by reciting the words of a blessing. Words are just words. They don’t have the power to do anything… and they are very often said in vain.

Yet many people believe they will get to heaven because they said the words of a “sinner’s prayer” at some point in their lives. It’s as if the words had some kind of miraculous power to save. But this is unbiblical. There is no command or example in the scriptures that show salvation comes by means of saying certain words. 2 Salvation is a gift from God, and it comes by grace through faith. Faith can be expressed by the words of a prayer (written or not), but it is not the words that save. God saves, and He does so in response to from-the-heart faith.

This goes beyond salvation. Living the Christian life is also by faith, not words. Christians do not grow by speaking affirmations, positive words, or blessings. Only God has the power to cause things to happen by speaking them into existence. We don’t. Our part is to trust God in every situation we find ourselves in and to obey Him, leaving the results in His hands.

The saved have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms 3. To believe otherwise is to buy into a lie like the one Eve fell for: God is withholding good from you.

Notes:

  1. http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/11/20/mali-hotel-attack/
  2. The first part of Romans 10:9 is not about repeating the words “Jesus is Lord”, but about testifying to His lordship in your life. But notice the requirement for faith in Jesus (“…believe in your heart…”). This faith requirement is repeated throughout the New Testament, but mouthing words is not.
  3. Ephesians 1:3

What The Good Shepherd Doesn’t Do

The Good Shepherd (Jesus) doesn’t…

… Leave me hungry,

… “Feed” himself at my expense,

… Leave me unprotected from predators and robbers,

… Leave me where I was driven to,

… Abandon me when I stray away,

… Let me stay “weak” or “sick”,

… Consider me just a business burden (as the hired shepherd).

(Ezekiel 34, John 10)

Zombie Ants and the Flesh

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I do not wish to do, that I do; moreover, what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I doing it, but sin that dwells in me.

– Romans 7:15-17 (VW)

Paul struggled with sin, even after he was saved. He wanted to do good by obeying the Law, but he found he was not able to. No matter how hard he tried, he kept doing what he didn’t want to do. It was like he had two natures: one that rejoiced in God’s law, and another that held him hostage to things he now found abhorrent.

Paul was not making excuses for his sin when he said, “It is no longer I doing it, but sin that dwells in me.” He was admitting there was something in him that prevented him from obeying God. It was like he was possessed, …not by an evil spirit, but by his old sin nature. There’s an interesting picture of this in the life cycle of the lancet fluke.

The lancet fluke (dicrocoelium dendriticum) is a parasite that infects different creatures at different stages in its life. Adult lancet flukes live in ruminant animals such as sheep or cattle, but how they get there seems like something out of a budget horror movie.

An adult fluke lays eggs in the bile ducts of its host. The eggs move to the intestines and then leave the animal in the droppings. The eggs remain unhatched until a particular variety of snail ingests the droppings. Once inside the snail, the hatchlings (mericida) replicate into many more sporocysts, and then into larvae called cercariae. These larvae eventually migrate to the snail’s respiratory system where they produce slime balls. The snail sheds these slime balls and larvae as they move along.

Now remember, the adult lancet fluke lives in a cow or sheep. How do the larvae make their way back into these animals so they can complete their life-cycle? I’m glad you asked!

Along comes a particular variety of ant looking for a source of moisture. It finds a larvae-infested slime ball, and eats it. And this is where things get weird.

Inside the ant, the larvae again transform into hundreds of metacercariae that live in the ant’s gut. But after living there for some time, a single metacarcaria leaves its siblings and heads for the ant’s sub-esophageal ganglion where it takes control of the ant’s actions. The ant is now a zombie, unable to function as a normal ant.

During the day, the zombie ant appears to act like a normal ant and works with the other ants. But in the evening, the zombie ant leaves the others, climbs to the top of a blade of grass, and holds on to it with its jaws all night until morning. It then returns to its fellow ants for the rest of the day as if nothing happened. The next evening and the next, it climbs to the top of a blade of grass, until a chance cow or sheep comes by, eats the grass with the ant, and returns the parasite back to a large host. It then fully matures, mates, and produces eggs, closing the cycle of life.

Does the zombie ant truly want to get eaten? Of course not. But it can’t help itself. It is no longer the ant doing what it wants to do, but the lancet fluke that dwells within dictating what the ant’s actions. (Here’s a cartoon version of this cycle.)

I see in these zombie ants a picture of ourselves when we allow our fallen nature to control our thoughts and actions. The illustration isn’t perfect, as the whole human race has been infected since the fall, but it’s close enough. When Jesus saved us, He gave us His Holy Spirit to overcome our sinful fallen nature. But we need to give Him control instead of letting our little parasitic nature run our lives. Like the lancet fluke’s control of the ant, allowing our sin nature to run things leads to death, but letting the Holy Spirit run things leads to life.

Personal Apologetic: Prophecies About Today

When examined closely, modern-day prophecy fulfillment puts an end to the skeptic’s arguments against the existence of God and the inspiration of the Bible. (Perhaps for this reason, the skeptic won’t examine the evidence.) If only a few prophecies were fulfilled, one could say they happened by chance. If they were written obscurely or symbolicly, their fulfillment could be open to any number of interpretations. But we have already looked at multiple prophecies with recent specific fulfillments, and none have failed.

Before moving on in this series, I want to look at one more area: what the Bible says about the conditions of the end times. How does today’s world match up with biblical prophecy?

There are quite a few places in the Bible that speak of the “last days,” such as the following:

But know this, that in the last days, grievous times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding a form of godliness, but having denied its power. …

– 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (WEB)

While these traits have been true of people throughout history, recently they have become much more so, and they are getting worse. We are not moving away from this fulfillment, but rapidly towards it. In fact, every part of this prophecy is true today.

Jesus said the last days would be like the days of Noah before the flood, and the days of Lot before the destruction of Sodom. In both cases, God’s judgment fell swiftly on mankind for their sins…

“As it happened in the days of Noah, even so will it be also in the days of the Son of Man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ship, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise, even as it happened in the days of Lot: they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from the sky, and destroyed them all. It will be the same way in the day that the Son of Man is revealed.”

– Luke 17:26-30 (Matthew 24:37-39) (WEB)

Again, the conditions of today match the conditions in Noah and Lot’s time: evil prevails in men’s imaginations, violence is everywhere, and the wicked have become bold (Genesis 6:5-6, 11-12, 13:13, 19:4-11). History has come full circle, and humanity has become ripe for judgment.

There are also other biblical statements about the future that are true today. When taken together, they prove the reliability and inspiration of the Bible. For example…

  • If the Bible is not true, I would not expect people to travel so much and I would not expect today’s information explosion. But Daniel 12:4 said this would be true of the last days.
  • If the Bible is not true, I would not expect continuing instability in the Middle East. Today, it seems every little thing ticks the Arabs off to the point where they want to destroy everyone else. But the Bible said that would be the nature of the descendants of Ishmael, the father of the Arabs:

He will be like a wild donkey among men. His hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. He will live opposite all of his brothers.

– Genesis 16:12

  • If the Bible is not true, I would not expect false Christs to appear. You don’t see people claiming to be Bhudda, Mohammed, or other religious leaders. But Jesus said there would be people falsely claiming to be Himself (Mark 13:5-6, 22), and we have seen quite a few in the last 100 years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_claimed_to_be_Jesus).
  • If the Bible is not true, I would not expect so many false teachers today (Matthew 24:11). Today we are glutted with cults and prosperity preachers who teach a false gospel to gain material wealth for themselves (1 Timothy 4:1-5). A plain reading of the New Testament shows them to be false (for example, Luke 14:33, 18:22-23, 1 John 2:15-16).
  • If the Bible is not true, I would not expect the world to slander or persecute Christians (Matthew 10:21-22, Mark 10:30; Luke 21:12; John 15:20, 2 Timothy 3:12) or Jews more than any other group of people. Yes, other people groups get persecuted, but that tends to be a regional or local thing, or only for a time. Christians have been crucified, burned at the stake, eviscerated, beaten to death, and slandered for the actions of false Christians 1 for almost 2000 years. Today, more Christians are being killed for their faith than ever before 2.
  • If the Bible is not true, I would not expect the beheading of Christians to be gaining prominence in the world (as seen in ISIS videos). In the first-century church, the most common form of martyrdom was crucifixion. Only 2 of the original disciples died by beheading. But Revelation 20:4 says in the last days, the primary way Christians will be killed will be by beheading. The continuing spread of the sword of Islamic terrorism is rapidly bringing this prophecy to fulfillment.
  • If the Bible is not true, I would not expect people to curse God or speak lightly of Him. Today it’s very uncommon to hear the names of false gods spoken lightly (Thor or Shiva for example), but ‘OMG’ is everywhere. It is a testimony to the fallen nature of man that whatever God commands, man does the opposite (Exodus 20:7). And now more people are expressing actual animosity to the God of the Bible. Even those who say they don’t believe in God slander Him. This fits the prophecies of the end times when men will blame God for suffering the consequences of their own sins rather than doing the obvious: repenting of their rebellion against God and believing in Jesus to be saved from the consequences of their sins (Revelation 16:9,11). God does not want to send people to hell (Ezekiel 33:11, Acts 17:30-31, 1 Timothy 2:1-6, 2 Peter 3:9); they’re going there by their own stubbornness.
  • If the Bible were not true, I would not expect it to mention Jesus coming to gather His elect “from the heavens” (i.e. the sky – Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27). It has only been a little over one hundred years since man has been able to fly. Now we have thousands of people flying in airplanes at any given time around the globe. A few are living in space, and some are planning on moving to Mars. How did the writers of the Bible know man will have left the ground in the last days?

These are just a few of the prophecies foretold in the Bible about the conditions that would occur just before Jesus Christ comes back. They are not self-fulfilled prophecies, for it is those who are against God who are bringing them to pass. Are you ready for Jesus’ return?

Notes:

  1. By definition, a Christian is one who follows Jesus Christ. He said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:27-31). Those who do evil rather than what Jesus said are not following Jesus, regardless of which church they belong to.
  2. This rarely makes the news, and when it does, the news media usually hides or underplays the fact that Christians were the primary target, such as with the recent shootings at Umpqua Community College.

Personal Apologetic: The Restoral Of National Israel – Pt 2

There is a difference between chance occurrence and faith in God. You can rely on what God has said, but you can’t rely on chance. One way to know God exists is seeing Him keep His promises, and one of the strongest examples of God’s promises being fulfilled has to do with the dispersion and latter-day restoral of Israel (Jeremiah 30).

In past articles in this series, we’ve looked at how God foretold the history of His dealings with Israel. He promised blessings on them if they would obey Him, and cursings if they didn’t. Israel chose to rebel, and all of the cursings happened one by one. Israel was eventually scattered throughout the world. And yet they retained their national identity for thousands of years, and came back together as a nation relatively recently… just as God had said. These events are unique: no other nation has had things like these prophesied, let alone fulfilled. What happened to Israel was extremely unlikely. But with the prophecies, written thousands of years before their fulfillment, we see evidence that God is at work.

Whose command was ever fulfilled unless the Lord decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that everything comes – both calamity and blessing? …

– Lamentations 3:37-39

In this article, I want to look at some of the details of recent prophetic fulfillments in relation to Israel, because God is in the details as well.

Returning From The Nations

Because the people of Israel were scattered throughout the world as prophesied, it’s appropriate that their return would also be prophesied as coming from throughout the world, not from just one nation or region. Here are some of those prophecies…

In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I gave for an inheritance to your fathers.

– Jeremiah 3:16-18

“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned within me, my compassion is aroused. I will not execute the fierceness of my anger. I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of you; and I will not come in wrath. They will walk after Yahweh, who will roar like a lion; for he will roar, and the children will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling like a bird out of Egypt, and like a dove out of the land of Assyria; and I will settle them in their houses,” says Yahweh.

– Hosea 11:8-11

‘And,’ says the LORD who rules over all, ‘though such a thing may seem to be difficult in the opinion of the small community of those days, will it also appear difficult to me?’ asks the LORD who rules over all. “The LORD who rules over all asserts, ‘I am about to save my people from the lands of the east and the west. And I will bring them to settle within Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.’

– Zechariah 8:6-8

Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever. Let the redeemed by Yahweh say so, whom he has redeemed from the hand of the adversary, And gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

– Psalm 107:1-3

It will happen in that day that the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners 1 of the earth.

– Isaiah 11:11-12

Don’t be afraid; for I am with you. I will bring your seed from the east, and gather you from the west. I will tell the north, ‘Give them up!’ and tell the south, ‘Don’t hold them back! Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth.

– Isaiah 43:5-6

This is not a prophecy of something that would happen to a community of Jews living in one country or region. It’s global, and our generation is seeing this fulfilled. Large numbers of Jews have come and are coming to the land of Israel from Russia (the “land of the north”), Europe and the United States to the west, and from countries to the south and east. This is much greater than when the Babylonians and Medes and Persians brought some Jews back to live in their own land as their subjects. It’s the long-foretold end of the Diaspora.

As I mentioned in the introduction to prophecy, notice this is not just a passive prediction of future events, but God telling us what He will actively do (i.e. “I am about to save my people…”, “…he has redeemed… and gathered…”, “…the Lord will set his hand…”, “…I will bring…”, etc.).

The Gentiles Help

Through the centuries, the Jews have longed to return to their homeland. When it happened, it was not because they took the land by force. The Jews came to their own land through the decision of gentiles, and this in spite of much continuing hostility to the idea. Gentiles from various nations (including the United States) are still helping the Jews return and rebuild. The Bible shows this was God’s plan all along, and He is fulfilling it in His own time.

Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and set up my banner to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their bosom, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders. Kings shall be your nursing fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers: they shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth, and lick the dust of your feet; and you shall know that I am Yahweh; and those who wait for me shall not be disappointed.”

– Isaiah 49:22-23

Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you: for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor have I had mercy on you. …

– Isaiah 60:10

Eventually these prophecies will be completely fulfilled during the Messianic kingdom, but we have seen the beginnings of their fulfillment.

The Land Restored

One of the results of the curse in Deuteronomy 28 and elsewhere was the land of Israel becoming barren. Zephaniah 2 describes the desolation of the land in detail. This condition continued on until almost the present time. When Samuel Clemens visited, he wrote:

“Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies…. Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village; the riches of Solomon are no longer there to compel the admiration of visiting Oriental queens; the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone, and the Ottoman crescent is lifted above the spot where, on that most memorable day in the annals of the world, they reared the Holy Cross.”

– The Innocents Abroad (1869)

Robert Murray M’Cheyene traveled to the land of Palestine in 1839 and wrote:

“The land is changed; no more is it the rich land of Philistia. The sand struggles with the grass for mastery. The cities are changed,–where are they? The people are changed: no more the bold Philistines,–no more the children of Simeon,–no more Isaac and his herdsmen,–no more David and his horsemen; … ‘Baldness is come upon Gaza.’ The old city is buried under sand-hills, without a blade of grass, so that it is bald indeed. The herds and flocks are innumerable, fulfilling Zeph. 2.”

– The Memoirs of Robert Murray M’Cheyene

But God promised He would restore the health of the land in the latter days, and we see those promises being fulfilled today. Israel is now one of the top exporters of agricultural products in the world.

“Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in Yahweh, your God; for he gives you the former rain in just measure, and he causes the rain to come down for you, the former rain and the latter rain, as before. The threshing floors will be full of wheat, and the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the great locust, the grasshopper, and the caterpillar, my great army, which I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, and be satisfied, and will praise the name of Yahweh, your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and my people will never again be disappointed.”

– Joel 2:23-26

It will happen in that day, that the mountains will drop down sweet wine, the hills will flow with milk, all the brooks of Judah will flow with waters, and a fountain will come forth from the house of Yahweh, and will water the valley of Shittim.

– Joel 3:18

“Behold, the days come,” says Yahweh, “that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the one treading grapes him who sows seed; and sweet wine will drip from the mountains, and flow from the hills. I will bring my people Israel back from captivity, and they will rebuild the ruined cities, and inhabit them; and they will plant vineyards, and drink wine from them. They shall also make gardens, and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they will no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them,” says Yahweh your God.

– Amos 9:13-15

The Economy restored

Israel’s economy has also been restored. It now has the highest standard of living in the middle-east, and was rated as having the most durable economy in the face of crises. This was also prophesied:

Speak up again with the message of the LORD who rules over all: ‘My cities will once more overflow with prosperity, and once more the LORD will comfort Zion and validate his choice of Jerusalem.'”

– Zechariah 1:17

The Land Too Small

Today, Israel is one of the smallest countries in the middle east – smaller than New Jersey, but with a similar population density, even though much of it is arid. The prophecies of Israel’s return also foretold this. For a time Israel will be too small for its inhabitants.

Yes, your land lies in ruins; it is desolate and devastated. But now you will be too small to hold your residents, and those who devoured you will be far away. Yet the children born during your time of bereavement will say within your hearing, ‘This place is too cramped for us, make room for us so we can live here.’ Then you will think to yourself, ‘Who bore these children for me? I was bereaved and barren, dismissed and divorced. Who raised these children? Look, I was left all alone; where did these children come from?'”

– Isaiah 49:19-21

Though I scatter them among the nations, they will remember in far-off places – they and their children will sprout forth and return. I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria. I will bring them to the lands of Gilead and Lebanon, for there will not be enough room for them in their own land.

– Zechariah 10:9-10

Jerusalem’s Wall

In Biblical times, cities had walls to protect them from attack. When the prophecies of the return of the Jews to their homeland were written, we would expect them to mention walls again being erected around their capital city. This was the norm. But today, Jerusalem is an open modern city with no protective walls. This was also prophesied:

And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand! Then I said, “Where are you going?” And he said to me, “To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.”

And behold, the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him and said to him, “Run, say to that young man, ‘Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. …

– Zechariah 2:1-13

A United Kingdom

During old testament times after king Solomon, Israel was divided into two parts. Ten tribes were known as Israel (or sometimes called Ephraim), and two tribes called Judah (which included Benjamin). The ten tribes were known for abandoning God for idols. But the prophecies of Israel’s return say they would come together as a single nation again, which is true today. Eventually they will all seek God.

Yet the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, which can’t be measured nor numbered; and it will come to pass that, in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ The children of Judah and the children of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint themselves one head, and will go up from the land; for great will be the day of Jezreel.

– Hosea 1:10-11

For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.

– Hosea 3:4-5

The Lost Ark

There has been much speculation as to the location of the Ark of the Covenant. Some rabbis say it is under the temple mount. But the Bible says in the last days it will not be found, nor with another one be made.

It shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land, in those days,” says Yahweh, “they shall say no more, ‘The ark of the covenant of Yahweh!’ neither shall it come to mind; neither shall they remember it; neither shall they miss it; neither shall it be made any more.

– Jeremiah 3:16

If the Bible were fiction, I would expect the prophecies to say the Ark would be found to give some hope to Israel. But the Ark has to do with the old covenant, and the old covenant is no longer in effect, having been replaced with the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34, 32:40, Ezekiel 37:26).

Gentile Antagonism

The Bible also says in the last days, when Israel returns to their land, the other nations will be highly antagonistic to them, including the land “to the uttermost north” (i.e. Russia). This is seen in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. Only after the Messiah comes (Jesus Christ) will there be peace.

Other Prophecies

God did not limit His prophecies to Israel. He also mentioned other neighboring nations in the Old Testament, and what would happen to them. Some nations He said He would utterly destroy, and others He said He would restore, and would be present in the last days. I find it interesting that those ancient nations He said He would destroy (such as Babylon) are no longer with us, while those He said would be present in the last days (such as Egypt: Jeremiah 46:26, Ezekiel 29:8-16) are still around today, thousands of years later!

I’ve just skimmed the surface of modern prophecy fulfillment in Israel. The Bible also speaks of Israel becoming a nation in a single day (May 14, 1948), the eastern gate of Jerusalem being shut and no other, Israel’s future monetary unit, and much more. You can read about these prophecies and their detailed fulfillments in the book The Hand of God: Ancient Prophesies- Modern Miracles of Israel, by Bill Heinrich.

This is more than fascinating information: it is very significant for us. The events happening today are the beginnings of the signs of the second coming of Jesus Christ. You can trust God to fulfill what He said would happen. You can be on the side of righteousness by believing in Jesus, whom God has set as judge over the whole world (Acts 17:30-31), or you can reject Him and take the consequences. Speaking for myself, I’d rather trust Him!

Notes:

  1. ‘extents’ in the original language. The Bible does not teach the earth has corners.