Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Does Going To Church Matter To God?

Biblegems #176
Question: Isn’t going to church a cultural expectation? Does going to church really matter to God?

The biblical concept of the church is one of the richest topics of the New Testament. The church is the bride of Christ; the Temple, of which individual believers are the living stones; it is the “one new man” of Ephesians; it is the body of Christ comprised of all who believe in Jesus:
         Eph. 1:22-23 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church [lit., “the congregation”], which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.  

The word “church” translates the Greek New Testament word ecclesia, which means “assembly” or “congregation.” It is also the term used most often in the New Testament to describe the body of Christ. God’s view of the church is His people congregating or assembling together.

When Jesus said to Peter “…on this rock I will build my church (lit. “assembly” or “congregation”), and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18) he was envisioning His followers down through future history gathered together. In other words, His followers congregating in His name would never cease to exist. When persecution broke out against Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem the “church” (the “assembly” or “congregation” of Christians) was scattered (Acts 8:1). And when Saul set out to persecute Jesus’ followers he sought them out in homes where they “gathered” together:
         Acts 8:3 But Saul began to destroy the church [lit., “the assembly” or “congregation”]. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.

Biblically, “going to church” pictures a group of believers in Christ joining together to worship God, to be taught the Word of God, to develop relationships through fellowship, to share the gospel with the unsaved, to baptize those being saved, to share meals and the Lord’s Supper together, and for prayer:
         Acts 2:41-42 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Paul established church groups throughout the Roman Empire, complete with a leadership structure (Acts 14:23). His New Testament letters intentionally addressed the local congregations—the “churches” in Corinth, Colossae, etc., as was the case with John in his letter to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3).

The “church”—God’s gathered people—is the vehicle God ordained to reveal His wisdom to the universe:
Eph. 3:10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms

Does going to church matter to God? Absolutely! When you gave your life to Jesus you gave yourself to so much more:
         Heb. 12:22-23 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven

See you in church!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Rapture and the Unsaved Dead

Biblegems #175
Question: If the dead in Christ rise first and those believers living at the time are caught up to join them in the sky (1 Thess. 4:16-17), what happens to the unsaved dead?  Do they stay buried, or join ones left behind on earth?

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is the classic New Testament passage describing the return of Jesus Christ and the rapture of the church. It is in these two verses where we learn that those who already died as believers in Jesus will receive their resurrection bodies at the moment of Christ’s physical return to earth, immediately followed by believers still living on the earth who likewise receive their resurrection bodies—people who will never experience death. This is what the church has called the “rapture.”

This climactic event in God’s timetable of the redemption of mankind triggers four more critical events that conclude God’s grand plan:

1) The outpouring of God’s Wrath, where Satan and the Antichrist
are defeated and the earth is laid waste (Rev. 11:18; Rev. 19:19-20).

2) The reign of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem for one thousand years (the Millennium), during which the earth is restored and its survivors live in peace, health and under the righteous judgment of Christ:
Rev. 20:4-5 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

3) The temporary release of Satan, who instigates mankind’s final rebellion against God in a massive attack against Jesus’ seat of government in Jerusalem. Satan is defeated forever (Rev. 20:3, 10).

4) The Final Judgment (also called the Great White Throne Judgment), where all who have lived and died without Christ are bodily resurrected and condemned to an eternity in Hell (Rev. 20:11-15).

The Bible teaches that the souls of those who die without Christ spend their existence in Hades (Old Testament: Sheol) until the Final Judgment. Their bodies, of course, as with believers, decay until they are resurrected. For believers, the resurrection occurs at Christ’s return. For nonbelievers, their resurrection occurs at the Final Judgment following the millennial reign of Christ. Then, at last, death and Hades are both destroyed in Hell, “the Lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14) and God creates a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…” (Rev. 21:1).

It is important to remember that all of mankind is condemned. It is not Jesus who condemns us but our own sinful condition. God wants no human being to suffer the torment of Hell (2Pet. 3:9).

         John 3:16-17 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Baptism For the Dead?

Biblegems #174
Question: Why do Mormons practice baptism for the dead, and does the practice have any foundation in Scripture?

Much more important than any current or past practice built upon this verse is what the verse itself actually says and what it actually means, as best as can be determined from the evidence of the passage in its context.

1. 1Corinthians 15:29 is the only verse anywhere in the entire Bible that refers to a ‘baptism for the dead.’ However, this verse does not teach a baptism for the dead. This is a narrative reference, not a tutorial statement or doctrinal statement. What’s more, the apostle Paul uses this phrase in the form of a rhetorical question. Doctrine cannot be legitimately based upon a question.

2. The context of the verse is all about the resurrection of the dead. Specifically, Paul is refuting those who say there is no resurrection of the dead by demonstrating how illogical such a belief is for those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. He uses a series of “if” / “then” arguments, such as ‘if there is no resurrection then you are still dead in your sins’ (17). He uses this same “if” / “then” argument in verse 29: “if there is no resurrection…” then “what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?” The answer? There would be no baptism for the dead if there is no resurrection.

What does that imply for doctrine? Paul is simply making the logical point that if there is no resurrection then the practice of baptism itself would be meaningless.

3. A fundamental rule of biblical interpretation is that ‘Scripture interprets Scripture.’ The Bible consistently and exclusively teaches that a person is baptized as an outward sign of repentance for his or her own sins. Nowhere does the Bible ever teach any form of proxy baptism (i.e., being baptized on behalf of someone else), as for example, taught by Mormonism.
         Acts 2:38  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.      

4. Finally, the phrase “baptized for the dead” would be more accurately translated “baptized with reference to [the resurrection] from the dead.” The word “for” in our English Bibles translates the Greek word “huper.” Normally this would be translated “for,” but it can also be translated “with reference to” when the context requires it, as is the case here. Since Paul’s entire discussion in chapter 15 is focused on the resurrection of the dead, it is the resurrection of the dead that he has in view in verse 29.

• Verse 29 does not teach baptism on behalf of those who have died.
• No doctrine should ever be established on the weight of one Bible verse, all the more so a verse that is a question and that teaches no doctrinal truth.
• The context of the verse is about the resurrection, not about baptism for the dead.
• Proxy baptism is contrary to the entire Biblical doctrine of baptism.
• The wording in the Greek NT of the verse itself is consistent with the context of 1 Corinthians 15, and with the biblical teaching of baptism as a personal response to God’s saving grace.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why Bethlehem?

Why Bethlehem?

Biblegems #173
Question: Since the Messiah’s birth was prophesied in Micah 5:2 to take place in Bethlehem, the location was obviously important to God. Why?

The birth of Jesus the Messiah in Bethlehem was very important to God for several reasons.

No one can predict where he or she will be born. Only God could plan where the Messiah would be born and then ensure that it would take place as prophesied and promised:
         Is. 44:24-26 This is what the LORD says—your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense, who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers

Micah’s prophecy is God’s promise; and God always keeps His promises:
         Ps. 145:13b The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.

God had promised already that the Messiah would be an heir of king David (2Chron. 21:7; Is. 16:5; Is. 22:22; et.al.). By the time Jesus was born the line of Kings in Israel had been disrupted through civil war and the splitting of the nation into north and south, eventually being reduced to a province of the Roman Empire. David’s descendants had been scattered all over Israel. Jesus’ ancestral home was the town of Bethlehem, where king David had been born (1Sam. 17:12; Lk. 2:4). When Caesar Augusts required the Jews to register in their ancestral home towns for an upcoming census (Lk. 2:1-6) he was unwittingly authenticating Jesus’ lineage as a “son of David.”

Bethlehem also has great symbolic significance that conveys some important spiritual truths. “Bethlehem” literally translates as “house of bread.” While we don’t know why it was first given this name in antiquity, it stands to reason that the area was known for its crop of grain that provided flour for bread. “The house of bread” indicates a place where people will never go hungry. Jesus picked up on this theme, wedding it to the account of the bread (manna) that fell from heaven during the Exodus and tying it in to His mission as the Savior of mankind:
         John 6:33, 38, 51 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. …For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. …I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Everything about Jesus’ earthly life was carefully planned by God, right down to the little village where He would be born:
         Mic. 5:2  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
                  though you are small among the clans of Judah,
         out of you will come for me
                  one who will be ruler over Israel,
         whose origins are from of old,
                  from ancient times.’”