Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Animals In Heaven

Biblegems #213
Question: Do animals go to heaven when they die?

At the close of the  beloved Christmas film “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the family is gathered around the Christmas tree singing Auld Lang Syne. A bell tinkles on the tree and the youngest daughter says, “Look daddy! Teacher says that every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” To which her father replies, “That’s right!”

There is an appropriate place in all of our lives for a little fantasy, and children especially, whose developmental growth often takes shape in the realm of imagination, can safely navigate from such stories into the realm of reality as a healthy process of maturation. Sometimes our understanding of heaven needs to make the transition from fantasy to reality, from what we imagine and hope to what the Bible actually says. Fortunately, the Bible has much to say about heaven.

The Bible speaks frequently about resurrection from death, and always in exclusive reference to human beings:
         John 3:5-7  Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

Since animals were not created in the image of God with a spirit, they cannot be raised from the dead to eternal life. Once resurrected, human beings will continue their personal, physical and spiritual existence forever:
         1Cor. 15:42  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable

That being said, it is also true that there will be animals in heaven, just not resurrected animals that had previously lived and died. We know that in the new heavens and the new earth all creation will be restored to a pre-sin / pre-Fall state in which disease, death and entropy will cease to define existence:
         Rom. 8:21creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay (i.e., entropy) and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

The created universe will be restored as a manifestation of heaven in the physical realm. The resurrected redeemed human race will exercise dominion over the earth without the use of brute and deadly force throughout eternity. Men and animals will peacefully coexist.

         Is. 11:6-9  The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dream Angels

Biblegems #212
Question: Why do angels often use dreams to communicate with people, as with Joseph? Wouldn’t it be more challenging for us to trust a dream than a waking encounter?

Matt. 1:20, 24 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

More often than not, angelic appearances throughout Scripture do take place when the person is awake. Angels communicating by means of dreams is repeated in Joseph’s experience (1:20; 2:2, 13, 19, 22), yet this is unique in the New Testament. In Acts 2:17, where Peter quotes the prophet Joel regarding the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Scripture states, “your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” This may refer to angelic communication, or it may refer to the Holy Spirit manifesting Himself directly to the believer in a dream.

Even Old Testament examples typically represent the Lord speaking personally to individuals during a dream rather than through the medium of an angel:
         1Kings 3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (see Gen. 20:3; 31:24).

However, Genesis 31 records a vivid conversation between an angel and Jacob in one dream that recalls an earlier dream in which Jacob had witnessed angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. In the first experience God Himself spoke to Jacob in the dream. But the second time it was an angel who communicated with Jacob:
         Gen. 31:11-13 “The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’”

God has spoken to mankind through angels who have appeared in various forms, including wind and fire, sometimes through visions, and most of the time appearing human:
         Judg. 13:3, 6 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, “You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. …Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name.
Joseph and Jacob are among the few in Scripture to whom God has sent an angel to communicate His will during a dream. Why would God choose to communicate with these two men while they slept, when in nearly every other instance He sends His angels to those who are awake? Was it something about their personality that made them more receptive to spiritual guidance while they slept?

Scripture doesn’t say. What it does say is that God in His great love for us directs His angels to guard and guide His people in the most effective ways possible:

         Ps. 91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What Angels Don’t Know

Biblegems #211
Question: The Bible says that angels long to understand the mystery of God’s plan of salvation. Was Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and Joseph of the Incarnation, and Jesus’ coming as earth’s Savior and future eternal king, unknown to the other angels?

Behind this question is this verse from 1 Peter:
         1Pet. 1:12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

It is true that Gabriel apparently understood a great deal about Jesus’ divine nature and his role in God’s plan of salvation (Lk. 1:31-33; Matt. 1:20ff.). And it also appears that angels can learn from and exchange information with each other much as humans do:
         Dan. 8:13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?”

But the “things” Peter referred to “into which angels long to look” refers to something more than the basic outline of God’s plan of salvation. There is a knowledge based upon our experience in Christ that no angel can ever enter into. We know, for example, that a select group of people in heaven will have a song of praise unique to them:
         Rev. 14:3 …and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 

In a similar way, the experience of true followers of Jesus is unique. It is so unique that no angel can ever identify with it, but only observe it with awe and wonder. Consider just this brief list:
·      No angel’s sins are forgiven by Jesus’ shed blood (Eph. 1:7).
·      No angel is ever made a new creature in Christ (2Cor. 5:17).
·      No angel is the “temple” of the indwelling Holy Spirit (1Cor. 6:19).
·      No angel will ever be resurrected from the dead (1Cor. 15:21).
·      No angel will be made like Christ when He Returns (1Jn. 3:2)
·      No angel will be among the children of God revealed in glory before all creation (Rom. 8:19).

Even though Gabriel is ranked very high among the other angels—the “rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10)—his announcement to Mary was that of a messenger. And one day, when Jesus is established on His throne over all creation with His people, the church, serving as kings and priests forever at His side, it will be the angels who will receive from us the full message of God’s wonderful grace—

Eph. 3:10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Biblegems #210
Question: Why did Gabriel punish Zechariah for disbelieving his message about Elizabeth getting pregnant in her old age, yet did not punish Mary for disbelieving his message that she would conceive a child as a virgin?

The two examples of Gabriel’s apparent contractor behavior are both found in the Gospel of Luke:
         Luke 1:18-20   Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

         Luke 1:34-35  How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

First, it is important to recognize that Gabriel’s role is simply that of a messenger. Everything he communicates to both Zechariah and to Mary comes from God, not himself (Lk. 1:19).

Second, the very fact that the two conversations with Gabriel are presented back-to-back shows that God wants us to see how He responded differently to Zechariah and Mary. They are examples for us in how we respond when God speaks to us.

The truth is, Zechariah did not believe the message delivered by God’s angel Gabriel:
         “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Lk. 1:18).

Translated more literally, his question reads: “Against what am I to know this?” In other words, “What evidence do you have to convince me this is true?” Zechariah did not trust the message. Beyond that, he did not trust the messenger Gabriel. He did not believe his was experience was real, so Zechariah demanded that Gabriel prove himself.

Compare this with Mary’s question: “How will this be…since I am a virgin?” (Lk. 1:34) In other words, “How will this happen—what process will get around the fact that I am a virgin?”  Mary did not doubt she was actually speaking with an angel, nor did she doubt that what the angel said would come to pass. She was simply curious as to how God was going to get around the normal process involved in conception.

Now, you and I might feel a bit sympathetic toward Zechariah—that perhaps nine months without being able to talk was a bit harsh on God’s part. After all, conversations with angels are not exactly an everyday experience! But God obviously expected Gabriel’s appearance to be proof enough of his reality and the genuineness of his message. You can almost hear the offense in Gabriel’s voice that Zechariah doubted him and demanded a sign: “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news” (Lk. 1:19)!

The problem is this—Zechariah, a religious leader, was considered “righteous” in his lifestyle (Lk. 1:5-8). Yet when God showed up in the presence of an angel Zechariah did recognize Him! He was typical of many in his day (and ours) who live a clean, religious life but who do not really know God Himself. They live by “works” rather than by “faith,” and therefore demand proof when confronted with God in the spiritual realm. This is what grieved Jesus so much as He sought to open the eyes of the spiritually blind:
Luke 11:29   As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.

Well, for you and me the sign God promised—the sign of Jonah—has been given! Jesus Christ, the virgin-born Son of God sacrificed His life on the cross, taking the punishment for the sins of the world upon Himself, and God raised Him from the dead!

Do you believe?