Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Does God Overlook Evil?

Biblegems #199
Question: What is meant by the apostle Paul’s statement in Acts 17:30 where he says that “in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands people everywhere to repent”? Isn’t this “overlooking” of evil precisely what many people today accuse God of doing?

The answer to this question is found in the meaning of the word translated “overlooked” in its immediate context, and in the context of Scripture as a whole.

Immediate Context
“Overlooked” translates a form of the Greek word “opheilo,” which carries the idea of indebtedness. As used in Acts 17:30, Paul is saying that God did not hold the human race immediately accountable for the pervasive sin of idolatry. We owed Him our total love and loyalty and chose instead to give that love to things made with our own hands. God had, therefore, ample justification for passing judgment for our offenses against Him, but withheld that judgment. And by withholding judgment evil has been allowed to continue.

This is not the first time in the book of Acts this theme has come up.  Paul had earlier pointed out how God has allowed the nations to determine their own course rather than follow God’s will in determining their place in history:
         Acts 14:16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way.

God’s purpose is to give mankind time to see the error of self-determination and repent. Instead, man’s persistent rebellion results in a history of warfare, death and destruction that we conveniently blame on God.

General Context
Acts 17:30 highlights a truth found woven throughout the Bible—God is love, and His mercy runs in advance of His judgment. Because He does not exercise judgment upon us right away, our disobedience enslaves us to a never-ending cycle of self-destructive behavior until repentance breaks that chain.
Rom. 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

The Day of Judgment is coming, however, and the man God sent to save us from that judgment by sacrificing his own innocent life in our place—Jesus Christ—is also the one who will collect on the debt owed from those who reject him.
         Rom. 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished
Imagine you advance a contractor a million dollars to build a beautiful home on land you own, with the intent that the contractor move in with his family when it is completed. Instead, the contractor uses the money to buy classic sports cars.  You have every right to demand immediate payback. Instead, you give the contractor time to repent and make things right. You “overlook,” for the time being, the debt that is owed, although the day of recompense will certainly come! 

2Pet. 3:9-10 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Revelation 21:1 The End Of Oceans?

Biblegems #198
Question: Does Revelation 21:1 teach that in the new earth there will be no more oceans?

Fortunately for those of us who love the water, Revelation 21:1 is likely not a reference to the disappearance of earth’s oceans. There are a couple of supporting evidences for this conclusion.

The first evidence is found in the word for “sea” (Gk. thalassa). "Thalassa" is in the singular, not plural. It is not referring to all the oceans and lakes in the world, but only one. The phrase “the Sea” would refer to the principal body of water people lived closest to, such as the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea or the Sea of Galilee. That body of water envisioned in Revelation 21:1 would probably be the Mediterranean Sea, which formed the western boundary of Israel.

It is important to remember that earth’s geography will be dramatically altered by the cataclysmic events of the End Times. A third of the earth’s land mass will be destroyed by fire (Rev. 8:7). A massive meteor will crash into an ocean, creating a multi-megaton explosion that will destroy much of the world’s shipping, sea life and cause, in effect, a deadly nuclear winter over a third of the planet (Rev. 8:10-12). Elsewhere, the Euphrates River, among others, will be dried up beneath a broiling sun (Rev. 16:8-12). Mountains will be flattened, cities turned to rubble, and islands will be swept beneath Tsunami ocean waves by global paroxysms of devastating earthquakes (Rev. 16:18-20). In all of this upheaval, “the Sea” (Mediterranean?) will disappear.

Finally, at the return of the Lord Himself…
2Pet. 3:10b The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 12b … That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.

The second evidence is found in the context of Revelation 21:1. “No more sea” is described as a feature of the “new” heaven and the “new” earth. There are two words in the NT Greek for “new.” Neos would be the word used to describe one thing replacing another. However, the word used in Rev. 21:1 is kaine, which means “fresh,” or new in quality, as opposed to “new” in the sense of time (neos). In other words, the new heavens and new earth are not a replacement but rather the original creation that has been “laid bare” will be renewed and made fresh and whole.

The original creation will be wiped clean (“rolled up”; “laid bare”). The earth that was “destroyed and the elements that were “melted” will be refashioned  into a heavens and earth fit for man and all God’s creatures, complete with ocean, lakes, rivers and woodlands, yet eternally free from sin, evil and death.
         Is. 66:22-23  “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Genesis 6:3 “120 Years"—Age Limit Exceptions

Biblegems #197
Question: Why are there so many exceptions to the 120 year age limit in Genesis 6:3?

Genesis 6: 3 (NIV) reads: Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.” Exceptions in the Bible of people who lived beyond that “ceiling” include Noah (Gen. 9:28); Sarah (Gen. 23:1); Abraham (Gen. 25:7); Ishmael (Gen. 25:17); and Levi, Koath and Amram (Ex. 6:16-20).

Several Bible interpreters have understood this 120-year limit as referring not to the number of years a person would live, but to God granting the human race 120 years to repent before the Flood. This was the position held by Luther, Calvin, Schofield and, more recently, Henry M. Morris (The Genesis Record). The primary reason behind this interpretation seems to be the very concern raised by the question above. If God put a 120-year age limit on mankind, how can the exceptions to that limit be explained?

Good principles of biblical interpretation, however, eliminate the problem. The two most applicable principles are 1) Context, and 2) the most Natural Sense of the wording.

The context preceding Genesis 6:3 reveals that the average life span of mankind in the pre-Flood world extended to nearly 1,000 years. This was not an exception but the rule. The context following the Genesis 6:3 statement reveals that mankind’s average lifespan in the post-Flood world dropped immediately and dramatically to less than a150 years, followed by a steady decline to an average of 120 or less by the time of the Exodus.
         Deut. 34:7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.

That steady decline continued to where a person living to 120 years is considered extremely old.

This broad context telling the story of the decline of the human lifespan as a direct result of God’s judgment shows the plain meaning, the “Natural Sense” of Genesis 6:3 to refer to an imposed limit on human lifespan, not to a 120 year pre-Flood window for repentance.

God’s 120-year lifespan limit is not a prophecy; neither is it a commandment or a decree, so it is not to be interpreted as a binding law of the universe. If “his days will be a hundred and twenty years” was meant to be understood as a new, inviolable law of nature, then all people would have to live all the way up to 120 as well as not exceed 120 years. Rather, the “natural sense” of the text is that 120 years is the maximum norm. Exceptions are simply that—exceptions, and only serve to highlight what is normal.

By the time of King David, even 120 years seemed nearly out of reach for most people, as it is in our own day:

         Ps. 90:10   The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

No Liars In Heaven

Biblegems #196
Question: When the Bible says that liars will not be able to enter the Kingdom of heaven does that mean any one who ever lies? And what about those Bible characters that lied with God’s approval?

I am guessing the question is based from memory on the following verses:
1Cor. 6:9-10  Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

While lying, per-se, in not mentioned in this list, it certainly could be. After all, Jesus equated lying with the “native language” of the devil:
         John 8:44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

But the real point of the question is this: Are there certain behaviors, such as lying, that can keep a person out of heaven—even if that particular sin is only committed once? The answer is “no,” that is not what 1 Corinthians 6 teaches.

Paul’s statement in 1Corinthians 6:9-10 is “the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The list that follows provides examples of who would be classified in God’s eyes as “wicked.” That list is describing a life-style, a person’s chosen life-path. The “sexually immoral” describes those who have adopted this behavior as a way of life. The same is true of idolaters, adulterers, and the rest in this list.

These behaviors describe people who have adopted a “wicked” (lit., “unrighteous” or “unjust”) lifestyle. It is who they are and what they have chosen to be, not simply an act they commit. This “wicked” or “unrighteous” behavior pattern carries with it a powerful “truth suppressant.” By repeating these behaviors people increasingly suppress the truth about God that is within all of us from birth (Rom. 2:15) and evident all around us in creation (Rom. 1:18-19). The sad reality is that all humanity is guilty of this wickedness in one form or another. The good news is that Jesus took upon Himself the punishment we deserved:
         1Pet. 3:18a For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

When a person accepts by faith what Jesus has done on his or her behalf God takes the judgment of “wicked” away, replacing it with a judgment of “righteous.”
         Rom. 4:5 However, to the man who…trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

The statement in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 serves as a reminder to believers in Jesus to not engage in behaviors that belong to the old, “wicked” life Jesus saved us from. That old life was the path of sin, judgment and death, whereas the new life in Christ is the path of a clean conscience and the Kingdom of God.

Which path are you on?