Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What Is The Third Heaven?

Question: What is the third heaven mentioned by the apostle Paul?

2Cor. 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know— God knows.

There are surprisingly several clues within the context of Paul’s mention of this “third heaven” that shed some light on the subject.

First, Paul uses the term without explanation, as if it were quite familiar to his contemporaries. This is because the “third heaven” was a familiar concept in Jewish circles, made popular by the book of 2 Enoch. While not Scripture, many of the concepts and terms were recognized as accurate and used by such New Testament authorities as Paul, Peter and Jude.

Second, “the third heaven” is experienced in this life through the portal of  “visions and revelations” (v. 1). “Visions and revelations” is a very general expression, and Paul does not specify which of the two was the vehicle for his own experience, and he may not have been sure himself. God reveals Himself in many ways, and “visions” are just one form of such revelations (Heb. 1:1). Twice in the book of Revelation, the apostle John described how his own experience sometimes seemed to engage his physical senses:
         Rev. 19:10  At this I fell at his feet to worship him.
         Rev. 22:8   I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.

Third, the “third heaven” is identical to “paradise” (v. 4). “Paradise” is the biblical term describing where those who die in a righteous relationship with God enjoy life in His presence prior to their bodily resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (1Thess. 4:14-17; 1Cor. 15:52). Jesus promised the thief on the cross next to Him who professed his faith in Jesus as the Son of God that he would wake up in Paradise (the “third heaven”) that very day and see Jesus there (Lk. 23:43).

The “third heaven” could be experienced in both the physical and spiritual realm, even though Paul was not certain whether his own experience was “in the body or out of the body.” The book of Revelation supports this:
         Rev. 2:7  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Likewise, in Luke 16:19-31, Jesus describes Paradise as a beautiful place whose residents, like Lazarus, are fully conscious that they have entered God’s presence after death, and they are aware of those who await Judgment Day in Hades (not Hell, yet) after death. Lazarus and the crucified thief both represent those who Paul describes as having “fallen asleep in” Jesus (1Thes. 4:14, 15).

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Why Jesus Taught In Parables

Biblegems # 278

Question: According to Luke 8:10, Jesus didn’t want anyone except His disciples to understand the parables of the Kingdom of God, so why teach the others in parables at all?

Here is the reference:
Luke 8:9-10  His [Jesus’] disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

          “ ‘though seeing, they may not see;
                   though hearing, they may not understand. “

This is Jesus’ typical response in the Gospels, showing that the quote above is not a fluke but represents Jesus’ intentional teaching strategy about the Kingdom of God. The reason for this has several layers.

Reason #1 Jesus was intentionally fulfilling His role of Messiah as predicted by the Old Testament prophets:
         Matt. 13:34-35  Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
                  I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

The “prophet” quoted here is king David in Psalm 78:2.

Reason #2  Proverbs and parables already had a long history in Scripture as a principal tool for teaching spiritual truth (Prov. 1:1-6). In fact, proverbs and parables were recognized for their value in sifting out those who “despise wisdom and instruction” that leads to a deep understanding of God  (Prov. 1:7).

Reason #3  As our Savior-Messiah, Jesus fulfills the three-fold roles of Prophet, Priest and King. As a prophet in His own right, Jesus communicated what He heard directly from God the Father which, at times, came in the form of parables. As the Lord says in the prophet Hosea:
         Hos. 12:10  “I spoke to the prophets, gave them many visions and told parables through them.”

Reason #4 Jesus used parables to describe the realities of the coming Kingdom of God. In doing so, He also had to help His listeners un-learn misconceptions about the Kingdom of God passed on through religious instruction for generations. They were expecting the Messiah to rally the people of Israel to defeat the Roman Empire and re-establish Israel’s independence, accompanied by an angelic army that would miraculously appear. As Jesus approached Jerusalem on what came to be known as “Palm Sunday,” surrounded by thousands of supporters, with thousands more joining from Jerusalem itself, those exuberant crowds thought the day of overthrowing the Roman yoke had come:
         Luke 19:11  While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.

Jesus used parables to draw familiar illustrations from everyday life that pointed to the Kingdom’s true nature. These stories, then and now, still accomplish their purpose, sifting out those who truly want the truth from those who want to shape the Kingdom of God into a mold they are comfortable with.
         Luke 18:17 “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

New Star Formation And Biblical Creation

 Biblegems # 277

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Aloisi, Ford

Question: How does the evidence of new star formation hundreds of light years from earth fit in with the young universe scenario of biblical creation?

Recently, an image from the Hubble telescope was presented to the public of—
 “a dark cloud (Lupus 3) where new stars are forming along with a cluster of brilliant stars that have already emerged from their dusty stellar nursery …about 600 light-years from Earth”[i]

Astronomers then presented as fact what is only theory, that these “new” stars were actually born 600 light years ago because it took that long for the light from their birth to travel across space to earth where we could see it.

A literal interpretation of creation in Genesis has all the stars of the universe brought into existence and sent virtually instantaneously into their positions in space relative to earth in the one twenty-four hour period of day four, thousands (not billions) of years ago.

How then can we see light that has travelled hundreds of light years from “newborn” stars to earth if the universe is only thousands of years old? Visible starlight is likely the “light trail” left behind as God flung the stars out from a geographic center in space (i.e., “the deep” — Gen. 1:1-2).

The very concept of “new” star formation is based on the assumption that the universe is billions—not thousands—of years old. That assumption is based upon another assumption: that the speed of light is a universal constant—an unalterable “law” of physics.  Based upon those two assumptions, the speed of light is used as a measuring stick to go backwards in time to determine how long it took for starlight from individual stars and galaxies to come into existence from the theorized Big Bang.

The Big Bang itself is a theory based upon the assumption that the universe is billions of years old, which is built on the assumption that the speed of light as a universal constant. That is the definition of circular reasoning, no matter how convincing the complicated math required to calculate the age of stars.

So when we read an article that states—
“…the faint irregular galaxy NGC 3738…about 12 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major (The Great Bear)…is undergoing a violent episode of star formation, converting huge clouds of hydrogen gas — which glow red in the image — into new stars.”[ii]

—we need to keep in mind that nobody is actually watching stars being formed. No one is even watching the birth of stars 12 million light years ago. That is simply an interpretation of data filtered through a whirlpool of circular assumptions.

In contrast to complex, theoretical mathematics and computer algorithms based upon un-provable assumptions, the Creator of the stars has told us how He did it, when He did it and why He did it.
         Ps. 33:6  By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.

If God chose to create stars in various stages of “maturity,” even as He created mature seed-bearing trees, which then produced more seed-bearing trees (Gen. 1:11), it all points back to Him:
         Ps. 19:1  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

[i] (ESO/F. Comeron) Space.com 1/16/13
[ii] Space.com 11/6/12

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Is There Water In Space?

Question: Genesis 1:6 seems to indicate that there is a body of water in space, if it is taken literally. Hasn’t this watery canopy over the earth been disproved, demonstrating Genesis should not be understood literally?

Here’s the passage in question:
Gen. 1:6-8 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. (NIV 2011)

Actually, the concept presented in Genesis 1:6 is far more exotic and intriguing than a water canopy surrounding the earth. Taken literally, combined with the further information provided in Genesis 1:7-8, 14-18, here is a more accurate description of the universe at its birth from a biblical perspective.

Day one saw the beginning of time: “In the beginning…” (1:1). Next, the basic matter of the universe came into existence as a shapeless blob of water containing the elemental ingredients of “the heavens and the earth.” Then God began agitating this newly created material—a process described in verse two as “the Spirit ”— (Hebrew: ruach, which also translates as “breath,” or “wind,” depending on the context) —“hovering” — (Hebrew: rachaph, which also indicates “shaking,” or “agitating,” depending on the context) — “over the surface of the deep”  (1:2). The “deep” was a common Hebrew term for a large body of water. Completing day one of creation, God also provided light, independent of a physical source (1:3-4). So the blob of water and elements were agitated into a rotation equivalent to that of the current earth spinning on its axis, providing a dayside and nightside—“the first day” (5).

Genesis 1:6-8 picks up this account on day two with what appears to be an explosive separation of the watery mass into two parts. One portion of this mass is propelled outward from the other, creating a massive “vault” (or “expanse”) between them. This vast expanse is usually translated as “sky” or as “the heavens,” but verses 14-18 make it abundantly clear that the entire expanse we loosely describe as “space” is what Genesis has in view.

The time frame involved in stretching the vastness of space relative to earth seems to be no more than forty-eight hours (days two and three of creation). Populating this expanse with stars, solar systems and galaxies was virtually instantaneous, "set" in place from the region of earth within the twenty-four hour  period (far beyond the speed of light) of day four (1:14-18). 

Some fascinating facts emerge from this. First, the most fundamental building block of life (chemically speaking) that is found on earth—water—should also be discoverable throughout the universe. It should come as no surprise to find indications of water on comets, asteroids and planets. Second, while we do not know how much water was ejected outward on day two of creation, we do know that the universe has an outer limit. And even if space is still expanding, water will be at its outer boundary like the thinning skin of an expanding balloon.

Scientists frequently express shock and surprise when elements common to the earth, including water, are discovered on the moon, Mars, asteroids or distant planets.
         2Pet. 3:5-6a But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.

What is “forgotten” is that Genesis is God’s revelation to humanity as to how and, more importantly, why He brought the universe and mankind into existence. That’s why…

         Heb. 1:2in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.