Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Previously Married In Heaven

Biblegems #185
Question: For someone who decides to marry more than once (1Cor. 7:39), wouldn’t it be a bit awkward to be in heaven with your multiple spouses. How does that work?

This question echoes the dilemma presented to Jesus by the Sadducees in Matthew 22:24-28 regarding the widow who remarries seven times: Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
Paul writes, “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord…” (1Cor. 7:39. See Biblegems #120). He is stating the biblical principle that remarriage breaks the “bond” between a husband and wife. So the answer to the Sadducees would be that the widowed woman in heaven would only be married to the seventh husband.

Of course, the problem with that is, where does that leave the other six husbands who all thought they would be married to this woman in heaven? What about their happiness? What about the ‘awkward’ moments in heaven when they see each other?

The answer has to do with the nature of heaven itself and our relationship with God in our eternal home. The Scripture tells us that there will be “no more tears” in heaven (Rev. 21:4). Our union with God will be so complete, so perfect and so satisfying that there will be no room for even the slightest twinge of disappointment, awkwardness or emotional pain. “No more tears,” describes a completely new reality of existence where the emotional pain we often suffer here on earth will be as impossible as shadows on the face of the sun.

God has designed marriage to reflect His own complex, relational nature — One God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit — through the complex relationship and intimate union of husband and wife. That very special union, to be healthy and mutually satisfying, requires that both people love the other so much that each is willing to die to their own self interests for the sake of the other. Marriage is not about how much my spouse can bring me happiness, love and fulfillment but about dying to myself to provide that love for my spouse. Marriage is a lifetime of learning to give myself away for the blessing, joy and fulfillment of my spouse, even as “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (Jn. 3:16).

The reason there will be no awkwardness, no tears and no regrets in heaven, even for those who encounter a former spouse, or for those who never married at all, is that in heaven “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them…” (Rev. 21:3). Our intimate union with God will be so complete, so saturated in His selfless love as He “dwells with us” and “lives with us” — and as we selflessly live with Him — that the earthly love of marriage carried into eternity with our spouse will be seen for what it truly is: a beautiful glimmer in the glorious intimacy of God’s measureless love.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blood Moons And Bible Prophecy

Biblegems #184
Question: Are the so-called ‘blood moons’ of 2014-2015 a sign of Christ’s Second Coming? Is God using these celestial events to remind us of the ever-forward movements of His plan?

Since the universe exists as the creation of God for His purposes, all that exists has purpose and meaning. That would not be the case if the universe were merely the result of a chance explosion. The Bible explicitly states that the heavenly bodies were designed by God to serve as “signs and seasons” for mankind,  (Gen. 1:14-17; Ps. 147:4; 19:1-3. see also, Biblegems #116, Christmas In The Stars).

The word “sign” in the Bible typically refers to prophetic events, such as the Return of Christ. Of His own Second Coming, Jesus said:
         Luke 21:25 There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.

Jesus expects His followers down through the ages to be able to understand these “signs”:
         Matt. 16:2-3  He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

Blood Moons, as well as solar eclipses, do appear to be among some of the key “signs” associated with Jesus Return in power and glory:
         Joel 2:30-31 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD (see Acts 2:17-21).

However, before getting too concerned over Blood Moon appearances it should be remembered that these are familiar occurances down through history. This year’ s events—or any year’s events—do not by themsleves represent dire significance. We need to understand these “signs” in the heavens in relation to other signs the Bible indicates will be associated with the Day of the Lord.

According to both Old and New Testament prophecies, there are several “signs”—dramatic and catastrophic events on a cosmological scale immediately preceding the Day of the Lord’s Wrath. Perhaps the most complete picture in one place of this period is found in the book of Revelation:
Rev. 6:12-17  I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There
was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Notice the other “signs” alongside the Blood Moons which the old Testament prophecies indicate as well:
  • Massive, worldwide earthquakes (Jer. 4:23-24)
  • Mountains flattened; land masses twisting out of shape (Jer. 4:23a; Ezek. 38:20)
  • Starlight disappearing (Jer. 4:23b)
  • Stars (meteors and comets?) falling to earth (Matt. 24:29-31; 2Pet. 3:10)
  • Solar and lunar eclipses (Joel 2:30-31)
  • Shift in the earth’s axis (Amos 8:9)
  • Daytime Darkness (Amos 5:20; Zeph. 1:15)
  • The sky appearing to “roll up” in thick, dark  clouds (Zeph. 1:15)

When can humanity expect to see this cosmological disaster happen? As we saw in revelation 6:12, the Blood Moons and related events associated with the Day of the Lord take place with the opening of the “sixth seal.” That means the first five “seals” must take place first. The “Day of the Lord” described by the opening of the sixth seal takes place after the Antichrist has been revealed for who he really is:
         2Thess. 2:3-4 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day [the Day of the Lord] will not come until the rebellion [apostasy — falling away; rebellion] occurs and the man of lawlessness [i.e., the Antichrist] is revealed, the man doomed to destruction…

The Lord’s Return in the sky in great power, according to Jesus, will be accompanied by cosmic upheaval and the destruction of the Antichrist (Matt. 24:29-30; 2 Thess. 2:8). The Rapture of the Church, also according to Jesus, will take place “at that time” as we are gathered from the whole earth “to meet the Lord in the air” (Matt. 24:31; 1Thess. 4:17; 1Thess. 5:9). The Day of the Lord’s Wrath will begin with Jesus’ appearing and our being gathered to Him, at which time God’s wrath described above will be poured out upon rebellious mankind and the earth will be purged of the effects of sin (Is. 13:9; 2Thess. 2:8).

Are the Blood Moons we experience now a sign of Jesus’ Return? Only in as much as they cause mankind to wonder what may be coming upon the earth, and as they cause believers to “watch and pray” in anticipation of Christ’s Return. For every time there is a “blood moon” the media is flooded with speculation and the world turns to biblical prophecy. God in His grace gives us all ample time to turn to Him in repentance and surrender…before it is too late.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Resurrected And Unrecognizable

Biblegems #183
Question: Why is it that those who knew Jesus well could not recognize him after his resurrection?

The Gospel of Luke recounts the experience of two of Jesus’ followers the day after the resurrection who did not recognize him for hours:
         Luke 24:13-16  Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

The morning of the resurrection, Mary and the women with her did not recognize Jesus at first either (Matt. 28:8-10; Jn. 20:14-17). And when Jesus appeared before the disciples hiding behind locked doors, they thought they were seeing his ghost (Lk. 24:36ff.).

The truth is no one expected to see Jesus alive. Regardless of Jesus’ repeated predictions of his resurrection, such a thing was so far outside the realm of believability that the disciples simply weren’t prepared for it actually happening.

All this matters because our expectations have a tremendous impact on our perception of the world around us. I have a rather embarrassing example of this in my own experience. My wife and I were meeting our daughter at the airport following several months when she was away at college. As I scanned the off-boarding passengers, my daughter walked right up to me before both of us realized I had not recognized her! My ‘little girl’ had cut her long hair and now wore it in a very mature looking, sharply professional style. Had she not said, “Hi dad,” she could have walked right on by without my ever recognizing her. I imagine the shock on my face once she got my attention was quite similar to the looks Jesus received when he finally got the attention of his disciples.

So it was with Mary Magdalene, grieving near the empty tomb, thinking it had been robbed. Who can blame her for mistaking Jesus for the gardener? The last person she expected to see was Jesus alive from the dead! But—as when my daughter said, ”Hi dad!”—when Jesus spoke her name and asked why she was crying, Mary’s limited perception suddenly dissolved in the face of reality…in the face of Jesus! “Rabboni!” she cried out, and threw her arms around him in sheer joy (Jn. 20:14-17). So it was with the two on the Emmaus road, and with the eleven in the upper room who thought Jesus was ghost! That, for them, was more believable than a mutilated corpse being resurrected!

The resurrection is unbelievable because it is absolutely unnatural. In fact, it is a supernatural act of God’s mercy as He rescues mankind from the ravages of sin and death and makes us fit for eternal life:

         1Pet. 1:3  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Women And The Empty Tomb

Biblegems #182
Question: When I read all four Gospel accounts of the resurrection I get confused as to who actually visited to empty tomb, who they told about it and when. How do these accounts harmonize?

The important thing to remember when comparing accounts in the Gospels of the same event is that each Gospel writer addresses a particular audience. Consequently, certain details (like the names and number of people first to arrive at the tomb) could be important to one because the audience would recognize the names, but not so important for another where the audience would be unfamiliar with the names.

The human author’s purpose in writing the Gospel also affected what was included in the resurrection accounts. Resurrection Sunday was a very full day, and each Gospel compressed the events, focusing on some events more than others. The beauty of this, of course, is that we get a much fuller picture of that glorious day when we see it through the eyes of all four. God uses the unique perspective each Gospel gives to help us learn about the resurrection as if we were hearing it from four different people.

Here then is a harmony of the Gospel accounts regarding those who first came to the tomb and who they spoke to about what they saw.

The first visitors to the tomb, those who discovered it to be empty, were all women, and there were more of them present than we have names for. One of these women was very well known—at least by name—to the early church at the time the Gospel accounts were written.

All four Gospels emphasize that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb at dawn on Resurrection Sunday (Matt. 28:1; Mk.16:1; Lk. 24:10; Jn. 20:1). Matthew speaks of “another Mary” that was with her (Matt. 28:1), who Mark identifies as “the mother of James” (Mk. 16:1). Mark also identifies another woman in the group that came to add spices to Jesus’ body—Salome (Mk. 16:1).  Luke, who also mentions the two Marys, but not Salome, then adds the name of one more—Joanna (Lk. 24:10). John only gives us the name of Mary Magdalene because she was the one who told the disciples of the empty tomb on behalf of the other women (Jn. 20:1). But it is also John who quotes Mary telling the disciples: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (Jn. 20:2). Clearly, John also knew of the other women at the tomb.

Finally, all four Gospels agree that the women ran to the disciples to tell them what they had discovered (Matt. 28:8; Mk. 16:7-11; Lk. 24:9-10; Jn. 20:2). Mark adds the interesting side note that between the tomb and their announcement to the disciples, the women did not stop along the way to tell others of the empty tomb (Mk. 16:8).

What a wonderful gift God has given to mankind:

         Rom. 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.