Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Where Do The Unsaved Go When They Die?

Biblegems #91
Question: When a Christian dies, we believe his spirit ascends immediately to heaven; when an unsaved person dies, does his spirit go directly to Hell---or is there a "waiting" place for them----and are their spirits alive and alert?  Does the New Testament story of the rich man and beggar apply now?

(Note: Because of the involved nature of this question, I have extended the response beyond the 500 words I normally strive for. My apologies.)

According to both the Old and New Testaments, when a person dies whose spirit has not been regenerated (born again) through faith in Jesus Christ the spirit of that person resides in a spiritual region the Bible refers to as Sheol (Hebrew) or Hades (Greek). Unfortunately, many English versions of the Bible inconsistently translate these two terms as “Hell,” or “the grave,” which refer to entirely different things.

The Old Testament has a specific word for “grave” (Heb., qever):
         1 Kings 13:31  After burying him, he said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave (Heb. qever) where the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones.

Sheol, on the other hand, typically refers to the realm, or region, where the spirit of a dead person exists:
         1 Sam. 2:6 The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave (Heb. Sheol—realm of the dead) and raises up.

In Sheol, the spirits of the dead are normally in a state of unsettled consciousness:
         Eccl. 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave (Heb. Sheol—realm of the dead), where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

But they can be emotionally aroused:
         Is. 14:9 The grave (Heb. Sheol—realm of the dead) below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones—all those who were kings over the nations.

They are aware of a confined existence:
         Ps. 18:5 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

In Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Lk. 16:19-31), the unrighteous rich man died and went to Sheol:
         Luke 16:23 In hell (Gk. adehs—Hades, the realm of the dead), where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

As unpleasant as Sheol (or Hades) is, it is not as horrifying as what awaits after the Judgment, where the dead in Sheol are condemned to an eternity of fiery torment in Hell:
         Rev. 20:11, 14-15  Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. …The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades (Gk. adehs—Hades / Sheol, the realm of the dead) gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Of this eternal torment, Jesus said:
         Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell (Gk. geenan—Gehennah, the realm of eternal torment), where the fire never goes out.

The good news is that Jesus came to save mankind from both Sheol and Hell:
         John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taking The Kingdom By Force

Bible Gems #90

Question: How do you explain / interpret Matt: 11:12?  Quote: "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force"?
This verse can actually be translated in two different ways, depending on how the verb bia¿zetai (“suffereth violence,” KJV) is translated. The verb can be understood in a passive sense, as the King James and most translations treat it. On the other hand, bia¿zetai can also be translated in a reflexive sense, as in the NIV, meaning: “has been forcefully advancing.” In that case, the verse means that nothing can stop the Kingdom of God, not even arresting John the Baptist, and that “forceful men” (i.e., “men of courage and determination” like John the Baptist) will be those who enter the Kingdom.1

It’s my belief that the KJV has this one right. The question is what does it mean?

If we had been standing within earshot when Jesus actually spoke these words, we would probably have understood right away what He intended, simply by His tone of voice. Without that luxury, however, we need to compare this passage with a similar statement by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel then compare both with the overall teaching of Scripture.
         Luke 16:16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (NIV)

Here, all the translations agree. And this teaching gives a whole new twist on what Jesus was saying. In both Matthew and Luke John the Baptist is portrayed by Jesus as occupying a pivotal point in God’s plan of salvation. Before John’s arrival on the scene God’s message to the world was encapsulated in the Law and the Prophets. Since John, the message is now focused on the kingdom of God, and everyone is forcing his way into it (i.e., everyone is clamoring to get in because it finally looks attainable!)

Jesus’ statement in the Gospel of Luke is more general than its counterpart in Matthew. But the principle message is the same: Ever since John the Baptist started proclaiming his message about the coming messiah and the kingdom of God, people started coming by the hundreds and thousands to discover how to get into heaven. A revival was taking place!

Our English phrase in Matthew “has suffered violence” does not accurately convey what Jesus really meant, because in Jesus’ language the phrase was used as a figure of speech. When we describe in English a person who is anxiously awaiting some important bit of news we might say, “he is climbing the walls.” We don’t mean that to be understood literally, of course. When Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force,” he is using a figure of speech meaning, “people are so excited about the good news they are running to John and Jesus to find out how to get in to the kingdom of God.

1. (“bia¿zw biazo, bee-ad´-zo; to force, i.e. (reflexively) to crowd oneself (into), or (passively) to be seized: — press, suffer violence.”—Strong’s Greek Dictionary Of The New Testament.) Both the ESV and HCSB have this reading as a possible translation in the margin.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Revelation 8:13 Eagle Or Angel?

Bible Gems #89

Question: I use 2 Bible versions while at church. KJV (on my phone) & ESV. The KJV said angel(s) where ESV said eagle(s). It was in Revelation 8:13. Would you happen to know the reason for that? 

The most accurate reading is "eagle," not "angel." Here's why: 

One of the most daunting tasks Bible translators face is that of looking at the hundreds of ancient manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments and deciding which manuscript is the most accurate—especially when there are minor differences in word choices between them. I recommend reading Bible Gems #59 & #60, which deal with the translation process and the reliability of modern versions of the Bible.

Deciding between the wording of different ancient manuscripts is the case here, in Revelation 8:13. Some manuscripts of the Greek New Testament have the word “aetos” (“eagle” or “vulture”), while others use the word “angelos” (“angel”). If you were a Greek New Testament scholar and Bible translator, one of the guidelines you would use to help determine accuracy would be the age of the manuscript. Typically, the closer a manuscript is in time to the original, the more likely it is to accurately reflect the original.

The oldest Greek manuscript available to the translators of the King James Bible dated from about 900 AD (over 800 years after the New Testament was completed). One such manuscript is called Codex Porphyrianus, which includes the book of Revelation, and uses the word “angelos” (angel) instead of “aetos” (“eagle” or “vulture”).

Since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, Bible Translators now have Greek New Testament manuscripts dating much closer to the original writings of the apostles. Some of these (Codex Sinaiticus, etc) have become the standards of accuracy by which later manuscripts are judged. These older manuscripts use the word “aetos” (“eagle” or “vulture”) in Revelation 8:13.

“So why did later manuscripts change from eagle to angel?”

No one knows for certain. But Bible translator Bruce Metzger suggests that some scribes who were making fresh copies of Revelation from older manuscripts thought they were making a needed correction. Before Revelation 8, announcements from heaven were made by angels. So they changed the word “eagle” to “angel” “to harmonize what is done by the eagle into line with what is ascribed to angels elsewhere” (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament  [New York UBS, 1971], p. 743).

This demonstrates again the beauty of God’s Word. The Bible is without error, as originally given by God:
         2 Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

Even when the Scriptures have been copied and recopied over thousands of years, translated into numerous languages, and updated into a variety of versions—still God’s Word remains faithful and true. The fallibility of man over the long centuries has resulted in only the smallest of inaccuracies, and none of those inaccuracies alter the truth or the message of God’s Word. In fact, as God has allowed archeologists to discover these very ancient Bible manuscripts, the farther away we get from them in time, the closer we are getting to their original form. To God be the glory!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Jesus, The "Firstborn"?

Jesus, the “Firstborn”?

Bible Gems #88

Question: If Jesus is God why is he called the "firstborn" of all creation (Col. 1:15; Rev. 3:14)?

This question is taken directly from a pamphlet that Jehovah’s Witnesses use to train their door-to-door evangelists when responding to Christians who believe in the deity of Christ. The questions on that pamphlet will serve as future Bible Gems questions from time to time, with the hope that it will serve to strengthen our understanding of Scripture on this incredibly important topic.

Several times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as God’s “firstborn.” The classic example is in Colossians:
Col. 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature… (see: Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:18; Heb. 1:6; 11:28; Rev. 1:5).
The JW’s pamphlet also includes Rev. 3:14, although the term “firstborn” is not used there. Rather, the phrase “the beginning of the creation of God” is used, which the JW’s cite to demonstrate that Jesus cannot be both God and the “beginning of the creation of God.”

The word for “firstborn” in the Greek is “protokos,” which can be used either as a noun or as an adjective. Here in Colossians it is an adjective describing Jesus as being ‘first in time,’ and ‘first in rank or importance’ in comparison with the rest of creation. It is the comparison with creation that is in view, not that Jesus Himself is created.

Revelation 3:14 uses an entirely different word: “arche.” This is used as a noun, meaning “head of,” or “ruler,” and again has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus being created by God. Jesus is being compared with creation, not being identified as part of it.

The term “firstborn” in the Bible, when used as an adjective, typically describes the ideas of ‘seniority’ and ‘privilege’ that went along with being a first born male. The firstborn received the larger portion of the family inheritance (Dt. 21:17), and the younger children were expected to serve the firstborn son (Gen. 25:23).

Most importantly, the use of the word “firstborn” for the messiah is actually from the Old Testament, where the term has nothing to do with actual birth, but is used as a title of appointment by God:
Ps. 89:27 I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.

In the other New Testament passages where “firstborn” is used of Jesus, the context always makes it crystal clear that this idea of His preeminence, His appointment by God, His seniority over all things is what in view. Jesus is “the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29); “the firstborn from among the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5); and He is the one whom all the angels are to worship when God brings his firstborn into the world” (Heb. 1:6). All these references recall Jesus’ messianic title, appointed to Him by God (Ps. 89:27).

There is absolutely no contradiction here between the very clear claims of Scripture that Jesus is God and the use of the term “firstborn” as a messianic title, or as an adjective describing Jesus’ supremacy over all creation. Jesus is God incarnate—God in human flesh—and all that God is dwells within Jesus:
         Col. 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…

         John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made… .