Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Judgment Day For Christians?

Biblegems #270

Here are the two verses in question:

         John 5:24  “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

         2Cor. 5:10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

These passages refer to two different kinds of Judgment. John 5:24 refers to what is also known as the Great White Throne Judgment. Those who die without having their names recorded in the book of life must appear before the Lord at this judgment to hear the verdict of eternity in hell (i.e., “the lake of fire”):
         Rev. 20:11-12, 15  Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it… 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
John 5:24 teaches that those who trust in Jesus now have already “crossed over from death to life.” Jesus’ followers will not have to face the Great White Throne Judgment at all! In full agreement with this teaching, 1 Corinthians 6:2 points out that Jesus’ followers will sit with Jesus, exercising judgment over unsaved humanity and rebellious angels:
1Cor. 6:2  Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

“The judgment seat of Christ”  (2Cor. 5:10) is where Jesus’ followers must account for the way we put our earthly lives to use, good or bad.
         Rom. 14:10c—12  For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. …“ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

This judgment for believers is not about eternal life or eternal damnation, but about how we manage the resources God entrusts to us in this life. This has a direct bearing on the level of responsibility entrusted to us in the Kingdom of Heaven. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:15-46), here is what Jesus says of those who invested the resources entrusted to them by the Master while he was away—
Matt. 25:23  ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The judgment seat of Christ” is where Jesus’ followers will be appointed to their roles and responsibilities for eternal life in heaven, based upon the way we conducted our lives here—after we put our faith in Jesus.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Bible & The Handicapped

Biblegems #269

Here is the passage in question (NIV 2011):
Lev. 21:17  “Say to Aaron:  ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand,  or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, 20 or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the LORD. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.

From our contemporary perspective, where concern for the needs of the handicapped in society has rightly come to the forefront, this does seem both unfair and stigmatizing. However, this passage says nothing degrading or disrespectful about people with handicaps. Neither does Leviticus teach that the physically challenged are not allowed to worship God. Rather, the purpose of the instructions in this passage is aimed at highlighting God’s absolute perfection, which separates Him from all mankind, and how God Himself makes people holy (including the handicapped): “I am the LORD, who makes them holy” (Lev. 21:23).

First, this passage concerns only the descendants of Aaron (v. 17), of the tribe of Levi (Ex. 4:14), whose exclusive role was to serve the nation of Israel as priests:
         Deut. 18:1          The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the LORD, for that is their inheritance.

Moses placed Aaron as the tribe’s first priest:
         Num. 17:3 On the staff of Levi write Aaron’s name, for there must be one staff for the head of each ancestral tribe.

Second, everything associated with the worship of God in the tabernacle (and later, the Temple) was required to be as free of imperfection of any kind as possible so as to reflect God’s perfect holiness. This applied to the furniture, the equipment, the sacrifices of grain or meat, and to the priests themselves.
         Lev. 22:9   The priests are to perform my service in such a way that they do not become guilty and die for treating it with contempt. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.

Any tool, bowl or item of any kind dedicated to the Lord for use in the Temple worship that became damaged, or used for something other than what it was dedicated for, had to be destroyed. Likewise, only those of the tribe of Levi who represented the healthiest of mankind could serve as priests who entered the sanctuary. The reason for this is explained in the book of Hebrews:
          Heb. 8:5  They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

Just as an architect’s blueprints must accurately foreshadow in two dimensions the completed three-dimensional building it represents, so too the Temple and all that pertained to it formed a blueprint in three dimensions of life in the Kingdom of Heaven. In that future kingdom there will be no more sin, no more physically, mentally or emotionally challenged, no more imperfection of any kind. And that is good news, because it is God’s greatest delight to do for mankind what we cannot do for ourselves:
         Col. 2:17  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Book Of Enoch

Biblegems #268

Jude 14-15  Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.

Enoch was Cain’s first son, and also the name of the world’s first city, which Cain named after his son (Gen. 4:17). The prophecy of Enoch mentioned in Jude is found in First Enoch (the first book in a collection of five known today as Ethiopic Enoch).  While the writing of the existing manuscripts dates back to the 3rd century to 1st century B.C., the original content is presumed to extend all the way back to Enoch himself.

The Book of Enoch was widely read in Jewish and Christian circles in New Testament times, and portions of all but Book Two have been found among the other ancient Dead Sea scrolls in the Qumran caves. First Enoch, or “The Book Of The Watchers,” quoted by Jude builds on the account in Genesis 6:1-4 of the “sons of God” uniting with the “daughters of men,” resulting in the offspring of giants. The “sons of God” are identified in Enoch as a band of angels (called “Watchers”) who are captured by angels sent from God and imprisoned until the Final Judgment. Jude’s quote from First Enoch (see above) refers to the Day of the Lord and the outpouring of His wrath upon rebellious mankind prior to that Final Judgment Day.

While the Book of Enoch is not inspired Scripture, God in His sovereign wisdom did inspire Jude to quote from it. God used a book that was popular among Christians in the first century, including the apostles, to convey certain truths about the End Times. That does not validate everything written in the Book of Enoch. On the other hand, the New Testament does refer to a specific group of angels who:
Jude 6  did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day

And of—
         1Pet. 3:19b-20a  imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

         2Pet. 2:4   For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (Lit., “Tartarus,” which means “pits”) and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.

This descriptive language borrowed directly from First Enoch compares Enoch with the crucified and risen Christ. Enoch had been sent to the rebellious, imprisoned angels to pronounce God’s judgment. When they asked Enoch to beg God’s mercy on their behalf, God responded with the same declaration of judgment. In 1 Peter 3:19, Jesus, crucified but made alive by the Spirit, preached” (Lit., “made a proclamation”) to these imprisoned spirits: He is the true Enoch (by comparison) who walks with God, and has overcome sin, death and all the demonic powers of evil. In the words of the apostle Paul:
         Phil. 2:10   that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Identifying “the Spirits in Prison”

Biblegems #267

Question: Who are the “spirits in prison” mentioned in 1 Peter 3:18-19, and what was “preached” to them?

Here is the passage in both the KJV and the NIV (2011), with the most pertinent section underlined:
         1Pet. 3:18-19   For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison (KJV).      

1Pet. 3:18-19 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits (NIV).

Interpretations of this passage have historically fallen into three general categories:
Interpretation #1       Between his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus went to the realm of the dead in spiritual form and preached to Noah’s contemporaries. Some in this group believe Jesus offered salvation to the spirits of those who died in the Flood. Others in this group believe Jesus’ proclamation was to officially condemn the unbelievers of Noah’s time. A third view within this group is that Jesus preached good news to those of Noah’s day who had already been saved.

         Interpretation #2       Jesus, in His pre-existent, spiritual state, came from heaven to the sinful generation of Noah’s day and preached repentance, which they ignored.

         Interpretation #3       After His death on the cross and burial, Jesus went in the Spirit (either Holy Spirit, or in the spiritual realm) to the disobedient spirits (fallen angels) of Noah’s day, described in Genesis 6:1-4, and proclaimed his victory over sin and death.

The word “spirits” in Scripture can refer to humans, angels, God, or the demonic. Context generally determines what kind of spirit is in view. The context of 1Pet. 3:20 makes it clear that Jesus made His proclamation to spirits “who were disobedient long ago in the days of Noah….” Jude also refers to this same group of imprisoned spirits as “angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6).

The New Testament, then, points to a specific group of angels who are imprisoned by God until the Day of Judgment for their disobedience in the days of Noah. These spirits are not in hell (Gk. gehenna), which is currently empty (Rev. 20:10ff.), but in a special prison called Tartarus:
         2Pet. 2:4   For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell (Gk. tartarus), putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment

The only such distinct group described in Scripture in Noah’s day would appear to be “the sons of God who went to the daughters of humans and had children by them” (Gen. 6:4). Following His crucifixion, Jesus was made alive in the Spirit and went to these imprisoned angels, proclaiming His victory over sin, Satan and death!