Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sermon On The Mount, Or Plain?

Biblegems #216
Question: Matthew 5:1-2 begins the account of Jesus’ sermon "On The Mount," but the account in Luke 6:17, 20 seems to place same the event “in the plain.” Why?

Both Matthew and Luke refer to the same event. The confusion over whether Jesus’ famous teaching took place on a mountain or in the plain comes from the translation process, not from the original language.

The phrase translated into English as “into the mountain” (KJV) or “on the mountainside” (NIV) is the Greek phrase “eis tau oros.”  The term does not imply that Jesus climbed a specific mountain, followed by his disciples and the crowd of thousands. “Oros” can mean “mountain,” or it can mean “hilly area,” “mountain region,” etc. The exact same phrasing (tau oros) is found in Matthew 14:23, 24:16, and is alternately translated as “mountainside” or “the mountains” (i.e., hill country), depending on the context.

The context helps place the meaning accurately. Chapter 4 locates Jesus in the town of Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee (4:13). There Jesus selected his first inner circle of disciples (4:18-22). Using Capernaum as a launch point, Jesus and his disciples travelled throughout Galilee spreading the news of the coming Kingdom of God, accompanied by miraculous healings and spiritual deliverance (4:323-25). This drew large crowds from well beyond Galilee who followed him wherever he went (4:25).

Thousands of people packing the streets and camping out as Jesus moved from town to town and synagogue to synagogue (4:23) created a major difficulty. So Jesus left Capernaum and the heavily populated towns and relocated his base of ministry to the hill country west of the Sea of Galilee. And, as Jesus expected, the crowds followed him there as well.

When we view the same scene through the Gospel of Luke, a few more details emerge that help clarify the picture. According to Luke, once Jesus had relocated to the hilly region on the other side of the lake, he continued to travel each Sabbath to the synagogues to teach (Lk. 16:1-9). After returning from one such outing, Jesus returned to their encampment in the hills, and left the crowd to spend a night alone in prayer (16:12). The next morning he rejoined the crowd, picked out several of them to join him separately, and from that number officially appointed his core group of 12 disciples (13-15).

Jesus then “went down with them and stood on a level place (NIV). There he began to teach what we now call “The Sermon On The Mount.” Jesus was still located in the hill country with the crowd, but he found a level spot from which to teach.

The King James Version translates the Greek word “pedinos” (i.e., “level place”) as “plain,” giving modern readers the image of a wide prairie of the Old West. All that the word really conveys in the original language is a relatively flat spot compared to the surrounding area.

Once again, a little study in biblical context and word usage clears up confusion and apparent contradiction. As the Scripture testifies of itself:

         Ps. 12:6     And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Release From Hell?

Biblegems #215
Question: Won't God forgive people in hell too, eventually, and bring all with Him?

Scripture describes Hell as a “lake of fire” into which those whose names are not written in the “book of life” are “thrown” (Rev. 20:14-15). This one-time event takes place at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15; Matt. 5:22). Up until this Day of Judgment, “death” is the condition of those whose names are not in the book of life, and ‘Hades” (Sheol, in the OT) is the place where the dead reside, awaiting Judgment Day.

The good news is that no one is in Hell yet. The bad news is that once a person has died without having been rescued from Hell there is no further possibility of escape:
         Heb. 9:27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment

Is This Fair?
Scientifically, matter is, practically speaking, impossible to annihilate. You can alter it, like burning a flower to ash, yet the fundamental atoms continue to exist—rearranged in a different form. Theoretically, matter could even be turned completely into energy, yet it would still continue to exist in that new form.

The same principle is true of at least two life forms created by God: angels and human beings. Both were created as eternally existing beings. Satan and his angel cohort rebelled against God (Is. 14:12-14; Rev. 12:9), and also dragged Adam and Eve into his rebellion. In so doing he introduced sin, entropy and death into God’s perfect creation (Rom. 5:12).

Hell provides a permanent end to the rebellion of Satan and the devastating effects of sin he brought upon all creation. And because Satan and the angels are eternal beings, Hell also needed to be an eternal solution. Imagine Satan and his angels imprisoned within the heart of a sun, never able to escape and never again able to exercise any influence upon God’s renewed and perfect creation.

The Human Predicament
Mankind is trapped in the vortex of Satan’s rebellion—and of his future, eternal demise:
         1John 3:8 He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.     

Sin is not only any act of disobedience against God, it is a fatal condition we are born into—like babies born with a deadly addiction from their parents. The fact that death exists at all is a constant reminder of our altered reality:
         Rom. 5:12sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned

Like a planet being sucked into a black hole, humanity has been dragged into Satan’s sin and its eternal, fatal consequences. We are condemned before we are born, with no way of escape. No matter how good or religious we try to be, it is utterly beyond our ability to completely separate ourselves from every sinful thought and action (Rom. 8:3).

But what we cannot do for ourselves, God in His great love and mercy has done through Jesus Christ. The opportunity for rescue from Hell, therefore, is now, in this earthly life. God has thrown out the lifeline, His sinless Son, Jesus Christ, who took our condemnation upon himself, granting us forgiveness and release from sin’s power and consequences. Refusing Jesus is to refuse eternal life.

         John 3:17-18 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Will Earth Exist After Christ’s Return?

Biblegems #214
Question: Will the earth exist after Christ’s return, since the Bible tells us that the earth will be destroyed?

At first glance, 2 Peter 3:7, 10-13 appears to indicate that the earth will cease to exist and an entirely new planet will be created in an entirely new universe. A closer look reveals something a bit different.

Verse 7 says, “…the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”

Notice first the timing: This fiery destruction of the heavens and the earth will take place as part of the Day of Judgment, which follows the Return of Christ and His one thousand year reign on the earth (Rev. 201-21).

Second, the word “destruction” translates the Greek term apoleia, meaning “ruin,” or “waste.” It does not mean, “cease to exist.” Not only so, but it is the “ungodly” who are said to be destroyed in this verse, not the heavens and the earth.

Verse 7, therefore, teaches that the present heavens and earth” will be preserved until the Great White Throne Judgment.

On the other hand, verse 10 has the Day of the Lord in view—the Lord’s Return and the outpouring of God’s wrath upon sinful mankind. According to verse 10, “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire;” and the earth “will be laid bare.” Since we already know from verse 7 that the “present heavens and earth” will be preserved until the Day of Judgment—a thousand years after Christ’s Return—what is meant by verse 10?

The word translated “disappear” in verse ten literally means to either “pass away” or to “pass by.” And the adverb translated “roar” or “great noise” “is especially used of the noise caused by a devouring flame.”[1] So a more contextually accurate translation of verse ten would read:
“But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass roaring by…”

This supports Scripture in general concerning the Return of the Son of Man:
         Mark 13:24   “…‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

Rev. 6:14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

Peter goes on to say that the “elements” will be “burned up” (not ‘cease to exist’) (v. 10) and “melted in the heat” (v. 12). In other words, Jesus’ appearing is accompanied by mountain-flattening earthquakes and worldwide darkness as the heavens almost instantaneously explode into flame with ear-shattering force, then seem to disappear in a rolling, broiling cloud of smoke (like a scroll being rolled up, cf. Is. 34:4) as giant meteors crash to the earth, setting the world aflame and ‘laying it bare’ (v. 10).

The “new heaven” and “new earth” (v. 12) are built on the remains of the original creation, purified by fire. It is still this earth where Jesus reigns during the Millennium:
         Rev. 11:15b “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

[1] The Expositor’s Greek New Testament, vol. 5, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan.), 145

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Longinus—Fact Or Fiction?

Biblegems #214
Question: I ‘ve heard that the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with the spear became a believer and his name is known? Is this true?

The apostle John, an eyewitness of Jesus’ crucifixion, relates that one of the soldiers assigned to Jesus’ cross pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to test if Jesus had in fact died:
         John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

The only reliable source of information we have about this soldier comes from the Bible itself, and his name is not given. It is curious, however, that the Greek word for spear is λόγχη (pronounced, logchay). The name “Longinus” appears to be a Latin derivation of the Greek word for “spear.”

There is a tradition that became popular roughly three hundred years after Jesus’ crucifixion that the soldier’s name was Loginus, and that he became a believer in Jesus at the crucifixion. The evidence behind this account is scant and often contradictory. While there are legends dating back to at least the late 3rd century AD, no compelling evidence is currently available to verify this tradition.

Muddying the waters even further are several highly fanciful stories of Longinus. One legend is reminiscent of the Greek myth of Prometheus. According to a third century legend, Longinus is eternally punished in a cave where a lion comes each day to claw him to shreds, but each night the soldier is healed so that the torture can resume again.

Other ancient legends portray Longinus as a nearly blind Roman centurion who was healed when Jesus’ blood fell on him from the cross, and that his recovery of sight caused him to exclaim “surely this is the Son of God!” (Mk. 15:39). Other legends claim that Loginus’ spear became a highly revered relic of the early church, and that it has been preserved down through history. There are several spears or spearheads existing today that are believed by many to be the spear of Longinus. The one with the best claim to authenticity resides now in the Hofburg museum in Germany.

Myths and legends often have a way of preserving the memory of actual people and events, even though the accuracy of the events may get muddied beyond any recognition. And often such legends have a way of turning their subjects into heroes or objects to be idolized, as is the case with the spear of Longinus. This is where the biblical record stands apart.  

The Gospel accounts record the historical facts of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Even if the Roman soldier who thrust the spear in Jesus’ side did become a follower of Jesus, God’s Word neither idolizes nor demonizes the man or the spear. The Bible records historical events that direct lost men and women to salvation in Jesus Christ. As the apostle John wrote:

         John 20:30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.