Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Heavenly Portals

Biblegems #87
Question: Are those who have passed away and gone to heaven able to see EVERYTHING we do on earth?

In the opening verses of Isaiah God calls upon the whole created universe to witness how Israel has rebelled against Him:
Is. 1:2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me

Although this is a figure of speech, it is also part of a rich biblical concept where the created universe is presented as consciously witnessing with intense interest the great spiritual battle waged on planet earth. This concept of God’s created order beyond planet earth witnessing what takes place here is picked up frequently in Scripture:
         Deut. 4:26 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed.

In Psalm 50, when God calls upon “the heavens above” to bear witness as He is about to judge His people, we discover that “the heavens”—meaning the angels—“proclaim his righteousness.”
         Ps. 50:4-6 He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my consecrated ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is judge.

In the New Testament, the apostles Paul and Peter also call upon heaven and earth to bear witness to God’s dealings with mankind. As Paul writes in Ephesians, those who belong to Christ are already in His presence in the heavenly realms, even while still physically here on earth:
         Eph. 2:6-7 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
         The flip side of this is necessarily also true, that the inhabitants of “heavenly realms” where Jesus now dwells are quite aware of our actions in their midst, even as the creatures of the sea are very aware of the actions of humans who are swimming in their realm.

In fact, the apostle Peter tells us that those in heaven now are cheering us on to finish our earthly race, waiting at the finish line to welcome us in:
2Pet. 1:10-11 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The impression one gets in reviewing these passages is that all creation is watching the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation on earth in much the same way as spectators watch a baseball game or tennis match from stadium seats.
         Heb. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When Does "I am" Mean "Yahweh"?

Bible Gems #86

Question: When Jesus uses the phrase “I am,” how can we tell when He is intentionally referring to Himself as God?

The most famous use of “I Am” by Jesus as a reference to Himself as God comes from John 8:58: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

Jesus made this claim to the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees while in the temple courts (Jn. 8:2-3). In using the phrase “I Am” this way, Jesus was calling their attention back to the account of the burning bush in Exodus where God identified Himself as “I Am”:
         Ex. 3:13-15  Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
         God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

The Jewish leaders understood Jesus correctly when He applied one of God’s titles to Himself, and…
         …they picked up stones to stone him… (John 8:59).

But there are, of course, many other times, especially in the Gospel of John, when Jesus uses the phrase “I am.” The question is, when is He intentionally referring to His own deity?

The tool for discovering that is Context. For example, when the High Priest asks Jesus if He is the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One, Jesus answers:
         Mark 14:62  “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Not only does He use the phrase emphatically, but He connects it to a reference in Daniel’s prophecy of the Messiah, the Son of Man, entering God’s presence (Dan. 7:13).

Context also strongly suggests that Jesus was very intentional when He used “I am” as the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:35), the “light of the world” (Jn. 8:12), as well as many other references (Jn. 8:18, 24, 28; 9:5; 13:19; 15:5, etc). These verses identify Jesus with God the Father, with His home and His eternal nature.

Although Jesus used the phrase in common, everyday speech without any special connotation of His Divine nature (Jn. 13:18; Matt 26:18; Lk. 9:44), there is no mistaking His meaning when He says:
         John 14:6  I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me

Jesus is Yahweh, the great “I Am!”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

To Sin Or Not To Sin…

Biblegems #85

Question: How would you reconcile 1 John 3:6, 8, 9 and 1 John 1:8? According to 1 John 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (KJV). In other words, everybody—including Christians—sins. Yet, according to 1 John 3:6, 8, 9, those who abide in Jesus do not sin (6, 9), and those who do sin are of the devil (8). How does all this make sense?

Let’s begin with 1 John 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

The wording in this verse, both in English and in the original Greek, is straightforward. There is no fancy parsing of verbs, no unique translation of unusual Greek words. In fact, this teaching in First John is an answer to false teachers who were claiming that spiritually “enlightened” Christians are above sin and that, even if actions others would consider sinful are committed, they are not sinful for truly “enlightened” believers. This is the kind of self-deception John was fighting against in the early church.

John is spelling out an axiom—a spiritual truth: We all sin at times, and to claim otherwise is self-deceptive and reveals that a person is deviating from the Truth of God’s Word.
When we get to John chapter three we encounter examples of how sin enters the Christian’s everyday experience. To describe this, John leaves behind the straightforward language of a spiritual principle and uses more active and descriptive language. This gets a little technical, but hang in there—it’s worth it!

When John says, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him,” the word translated “abideth” is a present active participle, meaning ‘who ever is presently, actively abiding’ in Jesus does not commit sin.’ In fact, the phrases “sinneth not” and “sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him,” translate the perfect active indicative tense, meaning ‘does not continue to see Jesus or perceive Him.’

In simple English, John is saying that you cannot be engaged in a sinful action and, at the same moment, be in close communion with Jesus. Nor can a genuine born again follower of Jesus live in a state of perpetual sin. The two are mutually exclusive. Modern translations convey this better to the modern ear than the KJV can:
         1 John 3:6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him (NIV).

1 John 3:8-9 continues this line of reasoning. Verse 8 literally reads, “He who is doing sin is of the devil.” John is saying, either you are doing the Lord’s work or the devil’s work, and Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work—so choose whom you want to serve! If you truly love Jesus you cannot continue serving in the devil’s camp!
This is one of those passages in Scripture where the finer points of Greek grammar do not translate smoothly into English, and where the differences in English usage between 1611 (KJV) and today complicate matters further. But, in the end, it is only a complication, not a contradiction, and God’s Word once again shows itself to be not only true but—
         …living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb. 4:12 NIV).