Now, we must turn our attention directly to the implications of the interpretation we have been examining. As we have said earlier, these implications are fundamental to present day Christianity and how we as Christians are to act and live in this world. To say that Bible prophecy has been totally fulfilled is to change the way we live, the way we worship our God, the way we study and have fellowship with one another, and the very image of our religion that we show to the unbeliever.
To any person who is not emotionally dedicated to a futurist or dispensational interpretation of Biblical prophecy, the straightforward logic and consistency of the past or preterist interpretation must ring true and must be convincing through its completeness and simplicity. What does this mean for us today, then, if we are living after the end of the world? If we have always held a futurist point of view, many questions begin to occur to us as we consider this new positioning and as we assess the new or different expectations we must now have.
After some thought, questions about these implications begin to sort themselves into several major areas of concern. We wonder about the nature of heaven and of hell. What about the Judgment Day, and the reward of eternal life and of eternal punishment? What about sin and righteousness? What about pain and joy in this life? What about the present nation of Israel? How should we live and what should we be doing?
All of these concerns are important and we shall examine them shortly, but there is one overall implication that is important to understand first.
The World has Ended A New Worldview
We have established that the meaning of the prophetic end of the world relates not to this physical universe or planet, but to the world of the Jewish nation as Gods holy people. This was the world or age that came to an end with the spiritual second coming of Jesus Christ in vengeance against those people who would not accept him.
A question often asked is, If Jesus is not coming again in the future, what real difference does that make in our lives today? This question is not academic. It is at the heart of the difference between a futurist interpretation as opposed to a fulfilled interpretation. The result of our individual interpretation of Gods word is a viewpoint of the world and our place in it. Our universal point of view is utterly different depending on our way of interpreting prophecy.
In any futurist interpretation, no matter whether it is a pre-, post-, or a-millennial one, there is one common taken-for-granted concept. The world and universe as we know it will be destroyed in an end time event by God and all humanity will be judged and sentenced. This is the essence of interpreting Bible prophecy as still unfulfilled in our time.
So many Christians today, holding this futurist concept as a given, live their lives with the firm expectation (and fear) of their universe coming to an end at some time, perhaps within their own lifetimes. Although many honestly look forward to this event, it is essentially a pessimistic viewpoint about our world. Why pessimistic? Simply because the essence of the futurist view is that God is not totally present with humanity at this time, and that, regardless of whether it will be replaced with another, this world will be destroyed. What kind of attitudes and activities can humanity have in such a doomed world, cut off from Gods presence?
Let us take for an example the relatively conservative a-millennial interpretation, which generally does not give credence to a thousand year reign and says that the Church is a kind of intermediate earthly institution and phase (sometimes called the church age) that will last until Christ comes at the end of the universe and replaces it with the true Heaven. With that understanding, the Christian must live somewhat impatiently in the Church, not holding this earthly life in very much value (or feeling uncomfortable if he does), because he is looking forward to that time of the end when Christ will come and establish his great Kingdom of Heaven. Until then, the only legitimate activity of these brethren is to evangelize the unbelievers of the world according to the great commission of Matthew 28:19-20, so that they, too, can be saved before the end comes.
While spreading the news of Christ is certainly an important and honorable mission, it is really the only legitimate activity for a futurist to accomplish in this present world. Any consideration of this planet, this earthly civilization, or anything else would be unimportant and perhaps even an impediment to the commission to evangelize, for this world and everything in it is to be destroyed! Why should the Christian be concerned with human affairs, governments, or environmental concerns? Why be concerned with anything other than evangelizing when he believes in and is anticipating the end of the world, universe, and time? Even within those denominations and congregations who hold this worldview, we do not see the kind of total dedication of all their lives and resources to evangelizing the world and preparing for the end events that we would expect them to engage in. Why?
To a Christian who understands that the end has already passed and that the Kingdom is present and whole, the picture of life on this planet is vastly different, and an entirely new worldview is put into its rightful place. This is an inherently optimistic viewpoint or worldview, for now we understand that this physical world and the humanity God placed on it will continue on into the future without suffering a cataclysmic end. We are truly living in a new heaven and a new earth, open to us and to whosoever will. This opens the door to the real and important process of trying to make this human world and physical planet a better and more righteous place to live for ourselves and for our descendants on into the far future.
An Ever-present God
It also makes a vast difference when we realize that God is not away somewhere far beyond the sky where we can never in our earthly lives know him as he is. We now understand that not only is God present here with us, but we know that he lives in us spiritually and we live in him. How does this happen? It is simple and it is sublime.
We read the words of God in the Bible and we change our lives to reflect Gods will for us. In other words, we obey God by living righteous lives. Jesus Christ is The Word (John 1:1), and whenever we read the words of the scriptures and change our lives to live accordingly, then the words live in us we have Christ in us and we have the Holy Spirit in us and we have the Father (for this is the way we come to the Father, through Jesus Christ the Word). It is not some kind of body possession magic, but rather a spiritual change in us as we begin to change our lives to reflect Gods will for us.
God, we now realize, is our everpresent companion and our source of wisdom and our guide through life. Is this not what Paul meant when he urged the believers to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)? We no longer have to feel alone and comfortless, for he has been with us from the beginning of our Christian walk.
Some have understood and accepted this concept of a spiritually present God while still looking for a future meeting with him. They would agree that God is with and in us spiritually, but they insist he is yet to come to us in the event they call the second coming of Christ. We must ask ourselves the question, if Christ and God are here with us and in us now, why are we still looking for him to come to us in the future? If Jesus is knocking on our door and we open it and let him into our lives, why do we still look out the window and wonder when he is going to arrive? We know he is not going to come back as a physical man, for he achieved all he intended to achieve in that form before. To come back physically would be to deny the power and validity of his original actions to become a man, die, and be resurrected. He would have to give up his position as the high priest if he were to regain the earthly form.
This only leaves his presence as a spiritual being, and this we now know, is exactly how he is with us today! It is clear that the Kingdom was established, and that the Christians received the presence of God on Pentecost. From that day forward, even for ever and ever, the Christian saints have taken and possessed the great Kingdom of God. It is, however, a spiritual kingdom, not ever a physical one except in the sense of the flesh and blood of the people who comprise it.
God is even now King of kings and Lord of lords, but the world of nonbelievers will never perceive his true Kingdom and they will never know its power and glory except for the absence of that power in their lives. Although they walk the earth in physical bodies, they will be without the presence of God they will not be alive spiritually, or as John put it, they live in death (1 John 3:14).
Let those of us who believe in God understand, finally, what the Jews, the disciples, and even, at times, the apostles failed to understand about Jesus and his Kingdom. That Kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36); it is utterly spiritual in nature. God is ever-present in our lives, and we are walking the streets of gold right now.
In Ezekiels final prophetic vision, he gives a name to the great city which is the spiritual Kingdom of God. It is a name that describes the most fundamental aspect of that kingdom the constant presence of its king. The book of Ezekiel concludes in chapter 48:35 by saying:
and the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.
The Time and Nature
We have spoken of the Christian avoiding condemnation by God. Does this mean that Christians are never judged? What about this Judgment Day that is also a prominent feature of the popular view of future events? What do the scriptures say about judgment and the believer? Perhaps a fulfilled interpretation is just a rationalization a way to wiggle out of being judged by God Almighty?
It is easy to confuse two different things when we study the idea of judgment in the New Testament. We know that the Bible speaks of God judging all men in general. We also know that God conducted a specific and purposed judgment in anger and vengeance against those who were persecuting his people.
There are many references in the scriptures to a day of judgment. We have seen how these phrases were used to represent Gods terrible judgment of the old Jewish nation many times in the Old Testament, and finally in the events of the war in A.D. 67-70. For instance, in 2 Peter 3:7, Peter says:
the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
This was the destruction of those ungodly men who had rejected the Christ. The present heavens and earth were those peoples, authorities, and lands involved in that prophecy. They would be negatively judged by God in the events of the war which would destroy them and remove them from the path of the Church.
Similarly, in 2 Timothy 4:1, Paul says:
I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom .
When Christ and the saints (who comprise his Kingdom) would appear to the Jews, it would be a judgment event. The phrase who shall judge is more literally rendered who is about to judge. It was just about to happen the judgment day was at hand for the Jewish nation. It was as Jesus told his apostles in John 12:31
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.
This judgment event was to happen in that time, not our time, and certainly not in our future.
Do all references in the Bible to judgment by God refer to this specific judgment of the old Jewish nation? No. There are many passages that deal directly with what we might call general judgment of humans by God. The confusion occurs when we mingle these concepts with the idea of the day of judgment that refers to the judgment of the persecutors in A.D. 70.
What, then, does the Bible say about the manner and the timing of Gods judgment of us? First, let us hear Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
This leaves no doubt that every human being will be judged by Christ. We must appear before him in his role of Supreme Judge of our lives. But when does this occur? Because of the reference to things done in the body, this passage could lead us to assume that the judgment occurs only after our physical deaths. We must read and compare other passages for further enlightenment. In Romans 8:34, Paul reaffirms Christs role as the judge:
Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died more than that, who was raised to life is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Here, we see Christ not only as the one who condemns unrighteous men, but we also see him in his role as an intercessor. Who is he interceding for? For those who are believers in and obeyers of him. When does this intercession and judgment occur for the believer? In the first verse of this chapter, Paul makes this statement:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)
This is a very powerful and important statement. In chapter 7 of this book, Paul had been describing the futility and frustration of trying to live under the old Law of Moses. With the first verse of chapter 8, he begins a wonderful description of the present condition of the saved Christian believer. Paul states that the Christian (them which are in Jesus Christ) are not condemned. This simply means that they are not judged negatively by God. If, as many believe, the Christian is not yet judged and is only to be judged in a future judgment event, then this statement could not be true, for here, Paul has already announced the verdict for the believer as accomplished fact!
Is this passage merely a promise of future positive judgment? Paul said that those in Christ were not condemned now! Right then, as Paul was writing this down for the congregation in Rome, those Christians were in a condition or a state of not being condemned by Christ.
This would seem to indicate that the Christian is not actually judged. We know, however, that all men must come before Christs judgment seat. How can we finally resolve this puzzle?
To understand the nature and time of the general judgment of human beings, there is one scriptural passage that stands out in its clarity and comprehensive view. That passage is John 3:16-21. It is the scene where Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus. Verse 16 is one of the most beloved and widely quoted verses in the entire Bible, but the verses that follow it contain the essential definition of Godly judgment of mankind.
Before we read the passage, however, we should note that in both the KJV and the NIV, the word translated condemned is from the Greek word krino and means judged or judgment. For clarity, then, let us quote this passage with the word judged properly substituted for condemned.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not judged, but he that believeth not is judged already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (Joh 3:16)
Here, again, we see that the Christian believer is not judged. Also, we see in this passage that negative judgment (or condemnation) is not something yet future for the unbeliever! John states that the unbeliever is already judged. What does this tell us about the time and nature of judgment? It is simple and it is logical. The judgment is tied to the human beings decision to believe in and accept Jesus Christ, or not to.
John goes on to explain this plainly in verses 19-21:
And this is the judgment, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Jesus Christ is the light of truth. It is the decision we make as human beings to accept Jesus Christ or not to accept him that constitutes the actual judgment of us. In other words, we are judged on our belief in, acceptance of, and righteous lifestyle in Jesus Christ. If we deny Christ, we are not judged in some far future judgment event or day. Jesus said, he that believeth not is judged already! It is not necessary to add that that judgment is one of condemnation.
If, on the other hand, we accept Christ, then we are no longer subject to judgment, for we have just passed the test! This is why he says there is now no condemnation for those in Christ.
In our earthly lives, we are used to the concept of a human judge and a presentation of two sides to any particular situation that is brought before a court and judge for trial. We must hope for the truth to be brought forth in the trial through the machinery of legal rules, presentation of evidence, and the testimony of witnesses. We know, however, that we are humans who are not omnipotent, who make mistakes, who at times intentionally lie or hide truth, and who must rely on such things as evidence and testimony to make a judgment which we hope is correct. This is one reason the statue of Justice on the courtroom is blindfolded. We hope that our justice is impartial and fair.
God, however, is omnipotent. He does not need to be presented with a case involving evidence and testimony. He knows what we have done and what the thoughts and intents of our hearts are (Hebrews 4:12). There is no escaping this constant awareness by God of our lives. We decide whether to do evil or obey God, and he does not need to deliberate on what we did he knows now!
Because of this situation, unlike a human courts judgment process, we do in fact judge ourselves when we decide to do good or to do evil. Our actions directly determine Gods response Gods judgment of us. This is why Jesus states this definition of judgment in the way he does. This is why Paul says in Romans 8:1, there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. He did not say there was no condemnation to humans in general. Those who avoid condemnation are those who are in Christ. This is present tense and limited to a specific group of people! A little later in Johns gospel, in chapter 5:24, Jesus says it again:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment [KJV: condemnation], but is passed from death unto life.
Here again, we see that the person who believes is no longer subject to judgment and is not condemned. Also note that the Christian believer has eternal life. We have passed from death unto life! This is spiritual death and life. Christians have eternal spiritual life right now.
Is eternal spiritual life and the condition of not being subject to judgment an unconditional situation? Can the believer ever become subject to judgment once again? This is an important question and it must be honestly answered. Many teach that salvation, once attained, is unconditionally retained.
We remarked at the beginning of this section that perhaps the fulfilled interpretation was a way for some who find the concept of Godly judgment distasteful to wiggle out of judgment and responsibility for our earthly activities and attitudes. It will be seen that this is not true. If anything, comparing the preterist implication of living a righteous life to the commonly held idea that Christian men and women continue to sin every day, places more responsibility on Christians today. It removes false excuses and makes very plain the path of purity that we must follow right now in this life.
It will be seen that the individual Christians position of positive judgment is conditional, based on that persons decision to remain righteous in the sight of God, or to turn to evil. It is just like our own civil law. If an otherwise upright citizen commits a crime, that crime is punished regardless of the persons past law-abiding life. Positive judgment by civil law is conditional on our living a law-abiding life. Positive judgment by God is also conditional on our living a righteous life. The difference between these two laws is that God is never in error in his judgment of us and he sees and knows all that we do, whether right or wrong. There is no possibility of getting away with the crime of unrighteousness. At the same time, we are not subject to a legalistic set of rules and laws like the Jews were. We live under the law of love.
It is plain that judgment for us as Christians is past, unless we decide to turn to evil and leave our inheritance of life and love behind us, placing ourselves under condemnation once more. Positive judgment is ours now, and future negative judgment is completely avoidable.
Confusion in this area is almost always a result of the meanings we give to the words we use. We will look much more closely at the meaning of terms such as sin, righteousness, and purity, and whether it is possible or practical to live a truly righteous life, later in this chapter.
The important thing we must understand about the term judgment and the manner in which that term is used in the New Testament is to separate the concept of personal judgment from that of the Day of Judgment, which was Gods vengeance against the apostate Jewish nation that had rejected the Christ.
This Is Life Eternal
We have established that eternal life (spiritual, not physical in nature) is a gift from God that Christians have and enjoy at the present time, not merely a promised reward for our future. This can pose somewhat of a semantic problem if we consider the meaning of the words have now and promise.
One might say that eternal life is not truly had until it is fully experienced, therefore it is always in that sense a promised gift. What is truly at issue here, however, is not the experiencing of eternal life in its timeless fullness, but rather the right to enter eternal life with God and the actual entrance into it. This is what God bestows or does not bestow on a person.
As we have just seen, God has already instituted judgment of humanity and does not condemn the men and women who choose to believe and live in Jesus Christ. If we have experienced and passed the judgment, then the results of the judging are also ours now. For the unbeliever, it is a sentence of spiritual death. For the Christian it is all the rewards of being adopted by God into his spiritual family (Romans 8:14-17), and as Paul says in verse 17
Now if we arc children, then we are heirs heirs of God and CO-heirs with Christ .
This is not a future tense promise. Paul confirms that we are heirs. The inheritance is ours in fact and right now, for the testator of the will, Jesus Christ, has died and the will was enacted (Hebrews 9:15-17)!
This means that the promised rewards of heaven and eternal life with God are in our possession at this present time. The most basic of these rewards is eternal life itself, for this is the manner in which God takes pleasure in his children to have them with him always.
This spiritual family structure is the nature of eternal life. It is a much richer concept than simply existing forever. It means living as a member of the greatest and most encouraging and rewarding family that has ever been, the family that is the true model for all human families, the family of God himself. It is based on and steeped in the active ingredient of all successful families love. For we have as our Father, the person who is the very source of love itself. As John says so simply, God is love. And John recorded Jesus prayer to the Father of love in John 17:3
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
A major implication of the fulfilled prophecy interpretation is that Gods work has been finished. It is finished, completed, and whole now, and it has been so for some 2,000 years. There is no part of Gods work or plan, described in the Bible for us, that is not completed no work left undone for future times.
What is Gods work? In Genesis 3:15, God speaks to the serpent who has tempted Adam and Eve and tells it:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
This promise and declaration in the very opening scenes of the Bible describes Gods work with mankind. It is Gods plan. It means that God would create a way or a method for man to overcome the self-willed sin that began with Eve in the garden. God would overcome sin through a human being (her offspring), in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Christ would crush sin by making it possible for men and women to be forgiven and so be reconciled to God. The serpent would strike his heel in that Jesus suffered death to accomplish this reconciliation. This great plan of God is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who made the sacrifice and became The Way to God.
In Luke 1:70-74, that writer restates Gods promise that:
we should be saved from our enemies .
It would not do much good for God to provide reconciliation to humanity through his Son, and then allow all those who chose the Way of Christ to be murdered by their worldly enemies. This is why in Romans 16:20, Paul tells the brethren who were then suffering under persecutions:
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
This allusion to the promise in Genesis is a direct reference and prophecy of the coming destruction of the Jewish nation and the removal of that mortal threat from the Church in the events of A.D. 6770. Paul said soon, and that is just what he meant!
And that is all of the plan! It is really very simple in its form and we, unlike the men and women of Bible times, are in the enviable position of being able to see the entire and whole structure and scheme of Gods work with humanity. Why? Because we live in the times after its completion. We are able to see the entire play in all its vast scope and importance, and most exciting of all, we are beneficiaries of that plan!
We are able to take advantage of all the sacrifices and all the labors and pains of those who went before who were part and portion of that plan during its time of action. They longed to see the wonderful days of perfection that is, when Gods plan would be perfect, or totally completed and whole. We live in those glorious days now, and the doorway to God is open for whosoever will. That doorway leads to eternal life for the believer who enters it and lives a life of righteousness in the sight of an ever present God.
The Victorious and Ruling God
This also means that God has, in fact, overcome and destroyed all of his enemies, both physical and spiritual. If we say that Gods plan is incomplete in our time and that the events described by the Revelation are yet future, then sin still rules and spiritual death still rules, for God is not yet victorious. It would limit Christs sovereignty. We know, however, that God is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is totally victorious now and he reigns over all men right now and forever more. In 1 Corinthians 15:25-26, Paul states of Christ:
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
If the last enemy to be destroyed is death, then after death is destroyed, there are no more enemies and God is totally victorious. Has death been destroyed? Yes! As we have noted, Paul knew even then that Christ had overcome death by his sacrifice on the cross. In the very next verse, Paul says:
For he has put everything under his feet.
And in 2 Timothy 1:10, he speaks of Jesus Christ:
who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
It is clear that God is victorious. Why then do many people still look for the war against evil and the final victory as envisioned in the book of Revelation to occur at some future time? God is either victorious and the King of kings, or he is not! The problem is in the perception of the symbolic nature of that book. The battle of good vs. evil was a spiritual battle that was won once and for all on the cross of Christ.
What about Sin, Evil, and Pain?
Some would point to the fact that sin and pain and evildoers still exist on earth and in our times. These things are not even the exception, but seem to be the rule in modern human life. How can we say that God is victorious over these things and have them still plaguing the world of mankind?
The answer is that God never promised or intended to remove sin and evil from life. It is important to understand that it is not the existence of sin that God overcame, but rather the reign of sin in the lives of those who choose to renounce it!
It was not always so! In Romans 5:17, Paul says:
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, now how much more will those who receive Gods abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
Before Christ, all men were condemned mankind had no method or way to be reconciled to God. After Christ, his sacrifice brings eternal life to all men. The phrase all men here is conditional, however. Christ brings the life, but men must accept it by obeying God. These all men are the ones who accept and follow Jesus Christ! They are the recipients of eternal life and sin no longer reigns in their lives, but it does not say that sin no longer exists. In chapter 6:11-12, Paul goes on to say:
count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
Sin is still with us on this planet and in this time. It must be so in order for human beings to have a choice and so to choose God over Self. This is Gods great desire and his pleasure: to have human beings choose him on purpose. Without a real alternative in the choice of self, sin, and evil, this cannot happen. When we obey God and accept his tremendous grace and turn away from sin in our lives, we enter into his family as adopted children. What a tremendous privilege that is!
Sin is still there all around us, but we are holy separated out from the evil world and eternally alive in the heavenly spiritual realm with God, our Father.
The concept of free will choice also comes into importance when we consider the question of pain and sickness in our earthly lives. Why is the Christian still subjected to pain and afflictions of the flesh? There are several factors to consider here.
First, we know that pain, death, and disease were introduced into the life of mankind not because of malice on Gods part, but rather, due to mans disobedience of God in the Edenic paradise. The existence of fleshly corruption and death is a direct result of mankinds sin.
The Christian, however, is freed from sin and its wages. It would seem correct to assume that anyone becoming a Christian should be freed from pain and sickness. Why do we still suffer these things? It begins to make sense when we realize that to be unaffected by these things, we would also be necessarily unaffected by physical death, just as Adam and Eve were in their initial, perfected condition. It is obviously not a part of Gods plan to have Christians live eternal physical lives with no physical suffering or pain.
One logical reason for this is that miraculous health (and certainly the lack of physical death) in only those who become Christians would constitute an empirical evidence for the existence of God and for the authority and sanction of Christianity as the true religion. That is to say, no one would have any doubts concerning God and Christ. It would be completely obvious that being a Christian is the only way to go!
This scenario sounds just like what we might wish for, but we must think it through and realize the implications that would have for mankind and our relationship with God. It is the nature of that relationship that is vital and at stake here.
God certainly has the power to intervene in his created world and cause miraculous things to happen. We know he has done so in the past, documented by the inspired writers of the Bible. Why he does not do so now, and especially in the case of physical suffering of Christians, is a matter of interference in the free will choice of human beings.
Unlike our ancestors, we are collectively and generally a society that thinks and evaluates our universe in a scientific or empirical manner. If we have factual, confirmable evidence for the existence of something, it is documented and accepted as fact. If God were to provide any evidence for his own existence, in any verifiable, scientific, or empirical way, his fundamental relationship with man would be irreparably damaged.
Mankind would no longer have a choice whether to believe in God and Jesus Christ. We would become as slaves to an utterly overpowering overlord. God respects those he created in his image too much to allow anything to jeopardize that freedom to choose. As hard as this seems, miraculous healings and the prevention of catastrophe to believers is one sure thing that would interfere with Gods plan of having free willed beings choose him on purpose. It would bring that plan to a crashing end.
We live in the universe which God set up with certain fundamental laws of nature, and our physical lives are bound up in that natural system. When Jesus Christ prayed to the Father about his flock of believers in John 17:15, he did not ask God to remove them from the physical world or its troubles and evils:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one [literally: keep them out of the evil].
Although we know that the apostles had the authority and power through God to heal miraculously, we also know that Paul had some kind of physical ailment, and that he prayed three times for God to remove this pain from him. Gods answer to him (in 2 Corinthians 12:9) is very revealing:
But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christs power may rest on me.
It is not always Gods will that his human servants should be free from physical pain and distress. Gods true concern for us is not for our physical bodies, which will soon fade away, but for the spiritual body which is the true form of man. His grace in providing salvation for the spiritual body is sufficient for us. David understood this when eternal spiritual life was but a promise from God. In Psalms 119:50, he sang:
My comfort in my suffering is this: your promise preserves my life.
On the eve of their redemption from the Jewish enemy, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 :
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
The light and momentary troubles Paul spoke of were the terrible tribulations that the Christians were suffering at the hands of their persecutors. This included torture and death. Paul understood that the proper focus for our minds and hearts is not on the temporary physical body and world, but on the eternal and victorious spiritual realm of God. This is where our treasure lies.
Finally, we should recognize that pain and suffering are not truly worthless. It is a difficult realization that these things are actually necessary to our proper growth and to the shaping of our attitudes and values. Without adversity in our lives (to greater or lesser degree) we would be unable to appreciate the value of health and the importance of the spiritual life as opposed to the temporal nature and relative unimportance of the physical life. Also, we would not be spurred on to overcome adversity and pain. Some of the greatest accomplishments and triumphant growth have been achieved by persons who had to overcome such things. Surely, in our own lives, we can think of how adversities have changed us in ways we would never have changed without the bad times. Let us be cautious in wishing for the utopian, manmade concept of no pain or calamity whatsoever. We might find the reality of that path leading to the dissolution of what makes us more than mere animals or passive automatons.
The Nature of Heaven
This brings us to a question of the nature of heaven as most people think of it. Is there such a thing as a heavenly realm that we as humans will inhabit after our physical deaths?
Two things are made very clear by our studies so far. First, we know that we are in the spiritual realm of heaven right now. We are in the same place as God and Christ, and we know that this place is eternal and unchanging. Ephesians 1:19-20 and 2:5-6
and his [Gods] incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms .
[God] made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus."
Secondly, we know that we as Christians already possess eternal life. Again, let us read 1 John 5:13:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Now, to live in the heavenly realm where God is and to live there forever (eternal life) is really the essence of most peoples idea of heaven. What is thrilling and wonderful to the Christian who understands the nature of prophecy as fulfilled is that these conditions hold true for him right now in this earthly life it is not something still to be hoped for, off in the future! We do not have to worry about whether we will be allowed in the gate when the final time comes, for now the spiritual scales have fallen from our eyes and we realize that we are inside that wonderful realm already!
What, then, is going to happen to us after our physical death? The simple answer is that spiritually, our relationship to God will not change. Our spiritual state is established and settled. This means that we will never die spiritually and when the shell of our physical body dies, our spirits simply continue on in the presence of our loving God. Jesus told Martha in John 11:26
And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Jesus was not speaking of the physical body, for we know it will die without exception. Neither did he say we would die and then be resurrected in the future. The person who believes in the Christ and lives by Christs words will never die. He was speaking of spiritual life. To the Christian who understands this, physical death holds no terror. It becomes truly unimportant! Oh, how different the case is for the unbeliever!
What, then, about the picture of heaven that most of us have nourished for so long a place of eternal pleasure and comfort and the possibility of direct verbal contact with God, in other words, the harps, clouds, and pearly gates concept of Heaven?
As to the nature of our activities and our environment after biological death, the Bible is not specific. It says very little about this, most likely because it is beyond our ability to comprehend it. We are limited by our physical forms while we live on this planet, and we cannot, perhaps, sense the universe in the manner we will be able to after we are no longer encumbered by these shells of skin and bone. There will, surely, be a change in our capacity to comprehend Gods universe and to accomplish things we cannot even begin to visualize now, but we simply do not know. All we can deduce from what the Bible says is that this aspect of things is not important to understand right now, and perhaps impossible.
There are glimpses and hints of the nonphysical realm, however. One small window on this existence can be found in 2 Corinthians 12:2, where Paul is using a story of a righteous man he knew, a man who likely had passed on into spiritonly life, as an example of someone to boast about rather than for Paul to boast of his own works. He says of this person:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know God knows. And I know that this man was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
Obviously, this existence or realm is not compatible with our physical forms in this three dimensional universe. Scriptures indicate that should we as human beings come into direct contact with the true form of God himself, we would not survive the experience. When Moses was speaking with God on the mountain, he saw a representation of him in the fire of the burning bush, the pillar of cloud, etc., but in Exodus 33:20, he asks the Lord directly:
show me your glory. And the Lord said, I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you...but, he said, you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.
John confirms this in 1 John 4:12:
No man hath seen God at any time.
Although we know God as a person and live in his spiritual kingdom, the unknowable nature of God and the vast and surpassing knowledge he represents is mentioned many times in the Bible, such as Jobs words in Job 26:7-14.
[God] spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing...and these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?
We are obviously constrained by our own forms to understand these things only partially until we are released from our physical bodies. Although we wonder about that existence, we should realize that we cannot completely comprehend it now, and that it is not imperative that we do.
What is important is the tremendous knowledge and understanding that the Creator of the Universe has adopted us as members of his personal family. God is with us now and we live with him in his realm now and we will continue to live with him in that realm forever, even if presently we see only that portion of it that we can comprehend from behind earthy eyes.
If this understanding is something of a disappointment to some, it is likely because of an emotional attachment to the picture of heaven that is found in the symbols of the last two chapters of Revelation. We must come to a more mature understanding of these things, however, and realize that the marvelous images of the city and the streets of gold are but representations of the true city, which is the spiritual congregation of God and his children, the Christians. If we see the gleam of gold, we should really see the warmth of love. Where we see the waters of life, we should really see the clear and flowing words of Christ that save us and give us eternal life in his presence.
We must realize that the things which are symbolized are much greater and much more wonderful than the symbols themselves!
We know that God loves us as his own children, and, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:9 (quoting Isaiah 64:4):
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.
Santa Claus is a wonderful character that children are loathe to give up as they mature, but how much greater a thing to the child is the reality of the love of the parents and family which the symbol of Santa Claus represents. We must mentally trade in our symbols of heaven for the real thing spiritual communion with God and eternal spiritual life. How wonderful a thing that is, and how it changes our attitudes about life right now!
The Nature of Hell
If heaven is a spiritual realm or state of being, then what are we to make of the idea of hell and the terrible punishments to be delivered to the unrighteous and unbelievers?
First, let us determine the origin of this word and what its meaning was to those who used it. The word hell is translated from one Hebrew word and from two Greek words. Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew sheol is used. This word simply means the unseen state. Originally, the Hebrews understood this as simply the abode of the dead. Later, it grew to include the concept of a place of punishment.
To gain a more accurate view of the nature of sheol, we can turn to the New Testament. The Greek word that is used in the same way as sheol (and also translated hell) is hades. Like the Hebrew word, hades means the unseen world. Moulton gives it the meanings: invisible abode, mansion of the dead, and lowest place or condition as well as a place of punishment.
In the Gospels, we are in a place in time where the old realm of sheol or hades was still in effect. Jesus speaks of it in terms familiar to the Jews in his parable (Luke 16:19-31) of Lazarus and the rich man. In this parable, Jesus gives us an interesting glimpse into the nature and arrangement of that old unseen world of hades, where all the spirits of dead men and women were relegated.
The spirit of the poor but righteous Lazarus was in a place of comfort into Abrahams bosom. It was a place or state of being where Lazarus, and presumably all other righteous Jews, were comforted and were actually in the presence of the spirit of Abraham and all the others who had pleased God in their earthly lives. This realm of comfort and succor is referred to by Christ (Luke 23:43) as paradise.
In contrast, the rich man was in a place specifically called hades where he was in constant torment (Luke 16:23). The reason he was there and Lazarus was in the place of comfort was due to his evil heart and haughty affluence as opposed to the good heart and terrible sufferings of Lazarus while they were fleshly men. They had been judged and sentenced, one positively and one negatively. They were separated by a great gulf fixed fixed by God and his terrible judgment, and impassable for any other creature.
When we examine the actions of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, and read what is said about his relationship to hades and death, we begin to understand that hades was a temporary arrangement for the spirits of mankind who had passed from the fleshly life. This was no physical realm, but rather a spiritual one. The rich man requested that he be raised from the dead so that he could warn his kinsmen. His fleshly body was gone. It was his spirit or soul that was conversing with Abrahams spirit.
When Christ was crucified, his spirit also went into this realm of hades, or the unseen realm (unseen because it is spiritual in nature) . He resided, of course, in the same place as Lazarus and Abraham the paradise side of this spiritual realm. This event is the most remarkable aspect of Christs death and resurrection, for it is the actual sacrifice Christ made. His physical death was only part of the event. Much more important was his spiritual death his separation from the Godhead! This meant that for the first time, God had separated out a part of himself. That part that we call the Christ entered into the place of waiting for spirits of physically dead men. No person had ever escaped from that place called hades (from either of its two sides). Jesus Christ was the first one to do so. He raised himself up from the hadean realm and returned to the Father to the Godhead he had left. In Acts 2:27, Peter quotes David concerning Christ:
Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [hades], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
God gave Christ the power to come out of the hadean realm. In John 10:17-18, Jesus tells the disciples and other Jews:
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.
This is why Christ can say to John in Revelation 1:18:
I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades [hell in KJV].
Christ held the keys because he had defeated spiritual and physical death. He not only had been physically resurrected, but he had lifted himself out of that spiritual death in the realm of hades. Now, just as Christ has been resurrected to spiritual life, he unlocks the door for us to be resurrected in baptism to spiritual life with God.
Now that Christ has done this, what happened to these old waiting places of hades and paradise? Are we still subject to them after physical death? The answer is no. These were temporary systems to provide a place for the spirits of men until the time of Christs resurrection.
Many people equate hell with the symbolic lake of fire in Revelation. This does not stand up to examination. In the tremendous events of the Day of the Lord, we see an interesting event, represented as always in symbols and including the symbol of the lake of fire. We can see very easily why the lake cannot be the same thing as hell or hades when we read Chapter 20:13-14
and death and hell [hades] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
It should be plain that the realm of hades is not the same thing as the lake of fire if hades is cast into that lake. Hades was destroyed in this event. Death, also, was destroyed. We know that Christs resurrection was the destruction of death spiritual death for all men who will accept him. This event means that the old system of a spiritual waiting place was done away with at the time of the fulfillment of all things. On the one hand, there was no more need for a paradise, for now, all who accept Christ dwell spiritually in Gods direct presence as a part of his family. God was not present in paradise (Lazarus was in Abrahams bosom, not Gods), but now we are all reconciled to him and have the privilege of being in his spiritual presence.
The hadean realm was no longer necessary either. Now, all men are judged and sentenced immediately. The Jews who died under the Law of Moses had to be judged by that Law. Their condition could not be resolved until Christ fulfilled that Law. Once fulfilled, all men are judged on their belief in and life in Christ Jesus.
So what is the consequence of negative judgment for mankind after the resurrection? If hades has been done away with, could we assume that the lake of fire is the real and eternal hell?
This interpretation would be nearly correct, but it is not quite the proper meaning for that symbol. Just what is the lake of fire that is, what does it symbolize? The plain answer can be found in Hebrews 12:29
For our God is a consuming fire.
How is God a consuming fire? He reveals this in a passage in Jeremiah 23:29
Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
and in chapter 5:14, he tells the prophet:
I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.
The words of God are what burn like fire, judging all mankind. Jesus Christ is The Word of God, of course, and he is the prime focus of the faith that judges us. He represents the stated will of God. If we do not believe and obey Gods words, then we are burned by a spiritual fire we are separated from his presence and his approval.
In the symbolic picture of Revelation, the old systems that existed under the Law of Moses, including the realm of hades, were thrown into the lake of fire. They were made of no more effect by the words of God that brought forth a new heavens and earth.
So, we see that the symbol of the lake of fire is not to be taken literally as physical any more than any of the other symbols of the Apocalypse. The symbolic lake of fire represents the ongoing (everlasting) judgment of mankind by the words of God.
Are there, then, any scriptures or passages that do concern an eternal place or state of punishment that we could call the real hell? Yes, there are. To examine these, we must locate those passages that use the other Greek word mentioned above that is commonly translated hell. That word is Gehenna.
In Luke 12:4-5, Jesus tells the crowd:
I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.
This hell was Gehenna. It was not a physical place, for it is not possible for physical humans to cause anyone to go there. It is a spiritual place that only God can cast a person into. The name Gehenna, however, is taken from a real, physical, place on the earth.
Running south and west of Jerusalem is a rocky ravine called the Valley of Hinnom. In ancient times, it was a place where people practiced witchcraft and worshiped the god Molach by sacrificing their children with fire (as related in 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6). It was a place of abomination which was, according to Moulton, afterwards polluted with every species of filth, carcases dead bodies of malefactors; to consume which, in order to avert the pestilence which such a mass of corruption would occasion, constant fires were kept burning.
It was this Hinnom that became the word Gehenna. It was a terrible place the most frightening and repulsive wasteland that the Jews knew. As such a prime example of physical desolation, decay, and destruction, it came to stand for any terrible and punishing place that was similar in nature, either real or imagined.
It was an obvious term to use to suggest the eternal spiritual wasteland of Gods rejection. This is the term we must look for in the New Testament to learn about the real hell.
Although many passages refer to Gehenna, most are concerned not with the nature of that realm, but with the consequence of entering or remaining in it. For instance, in Matthew 23:15, Jesus lambastes the insincere Pharisees because of their zealousness in gaining converts, whom they would then corrupt with their legalistic and prideful religious teachings and lifestyle. Jesus tells them:
You make him [the convert] twice as much a son of hell as you are.
These were physically alive men, not yet relegated to the waiting realm of hades, whom Jesus says are sons of hell (Gehenna). That is, they were even then away from God, existing in spiritual separation from the God they claimed so exclusive a right to. They were walking and talking, yet they were living in death (1 John 3:14). Later in verse 33, Jesus angrily indicts them:
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
Here, as in other places, the word condemned refers to the actual judging of them, so the thrust of this passage is the inevitability of a negative judgment (and its related sentence) to these selfish and vain people.
It is certain that there is a hell. What is not made plain or clear in the scriptures is the exact form or nature of that existence. The Bible is only concerned with the effect of Gehenna hell (the results of being in that state). We said earlier that due to the spiritual nature of the heavenly realm, it is likely that an adequate explanation of its nature is simply beyond possibility for human beings, constrained as we are in a three dimensional physical form. The same thing is likely true for the spiritual realm of Gehenna. The only thing we know about it is that it is separation from God. This is the essence of true hell. In God is nothing imperfect or sinful (1 John 1:5; 3:5-11). Those things exist only away from him. If we are engaged in sin and evil, then we exist in the true spiritual hell, even if we are still physically alive. Hell is not just an ominous threat, somewhere off in the future. It is here right now and, sadly, more humans are currently in it than are in the heavenly realm with the Father.
Some envision hell as a place of eternal torment, others as an existence of utter loneliness in the deep black of an empty universe. No matter how we picture the realm or state of hell or how we expect it to be, it is enough to know that it means being cut off and cast out of the presence of our God. After physical death, we would, like the foolish virgins (Matthew 25), then have no access, no way back into the glorious Kingdom that we willingly refused.
Those who walk out of or refuse to enter that Kingdom actually disinherit themselves from Gods family and his gifts of inheritance. Like the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, they left the family and went off into a foreign land. Now they are enduring an indescribably destitute spiritual existence. They may be wealthy and powerful in this world, but riches of the physical life are only temporary. Like the rich man in Luke 16:23-24, the spirits of these people will one day wake up and look about with dismay and wonder at the terrible condition they are in. If they do not wake up soon enough, they would be like the prodigal son who never came back to the loving family lost in that foreign land, a peasant and slave forever.
What Happened to The Resurrection?
For many believers, a Christian reward that is anticipated and hoped for is the resurrection that is supposed to occur at the end of time. We have examined the subject of resurrection in connection with the attainment of eternal life and in discussing many of the passages examined in Part One, but let us consolidate this information and be certain that we understand the implications of fulfilled resurrection.
Let us first restate the nature and format of resurrection as described in 1 Corinthians 15:35-44. Some of the disciples had obviously been asking Paul about the resurrection and trying to find out what kind of physical body or form they would have after that event. His answer (in verse 36) shows how wrong it was for them (or us!) to expect physical fulfillment of these things:
How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body . So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
It is plain that the resurrection was not to be one of physical bodies of any kind. In verse 50, Paul makes that point very plain:
I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
If the resurrection is one of spirit rather than flesh, then it does not depend on the passing of the flesh for its occurrence. We know that many people are spiritually dead even though their physical bodies are walking around breathing, eating, and speaking. So, when does the spirit of a person attain this resurrection Paul speaks of? He tells us in
Dont you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
We are linked to Christ through the spiritual aspect of our baptism. If Christ died, so did we. If Christ is resurrected, then so are we. Was Paul speaking of something yet future for him and the other believers? No. In verse 11, he states:
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The phrase reckon yourselves means this is how you should understand your condition. The words to be indicate the reckoning was of their present condition. They were dead to sin right then, and they were alive unto God right then. So, too, are all Christians now.
The resurrection is spiritual. There will be no physical resurrection that is not promised. It is plain that the spiritual resurrection occurs when we leave the darkness of being separated from God and, through the mode and the medium of baptism, cause our spirit to be raised into his glorious presence. It is in this condition of resurrection to spiritual life that we eternally exist if we claim God as our God, for he is not a God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:32).
Let us not forget Christs words to Martha in John 11:25
I am the resurrection and the life .
Jesus did not tell her, I will be the resurrection He said, I AM.
The Nature of Peace
One of the rewards of heaven is the great peace we are promised. If we reside in the heavenly realm now, what can we say about peace and how it is evident or integral in our lives today? We know that peace on Earth is a somewhat rare commodity, and that in our own lives, things occur that are not peaceful.
One of the reasoning given by modern day Jews to disallow Jesus Christ as the Messiah is that God promised peace and unity when the Messiah comes and that peace and unity in the world are obviously lacking. Jesus, therefore, could not have been the Messiah promised.
These people make the same mistake that the Pharisees and others made during the time of Jesus earthly life. They were looking for a physical king and a physical kingdom to be established by the Messiah and they assumed he would destroy their physical enemies for them (specifically the Romans). Such a physical kingdom and activities was not the purpose of Christ. He came to fulfill the old law, the prophecies, and to set up a completely spiritual kingdom comprised of those who accept and obey him, and live righteous lives. When the Jewish nation of that time rejected him, they became the enemy themselves, rather than the victims.
They did not understand (as so many still do not) that the kingdom and all the attributes of the kingdom are spiritual in nature. When God as the Word lives in us, we do right things and avoid doing wrong things. When we live righteous lives, we remove ourselves from spiritual judgment and condemnation by God.
The rewards of Christianity are spiritual in nature. We know that we have eternal spiritual (not physical) life with God. We also know that God gives us joy and peace, but these are founded in the spiritual nature of heaven, as well. What does this mean?
Previously, we discussed the existence of sin and pain in the world and the reason God allows it to remain. God overcame the reign of sin in the world, not its existence. In the same manner of thought, we can say that non-peaceful things still exist in the world and we as Christians will have things happen to us that are not peaceful in our daily lives. The nature of peace that God gives us is something much deeper and more fundamental than daily feelgood feelings and a laconic smile on our face regardless of our circumstances.
If we are his children and remain faithful to God, he removes us from negative judgment and we are inheritors of his estate. What we inherit is eternal life with him. This is not something we have to worry about and plead for. We have these things not in promise or in trust, but in fact. They are assured! It is like the difference in having a pension while you are working versus collecting the actual pension funds. There is peace in the security of actually having that which is promised.
This is the peace that God gives us. It is the knowledge that whatever happens to us in our earthly lives, God will not abandon us and we still possess our lives in him, even when earthly circumstances for us are not peaceful. The kind of peace God gives is spiritual in nature because it has to do with his spiritual gifts to us and our relationship to him who is a spirit (John 4:24).
Many are fond of quoting Paul in his letter to the Philippians (ch. 4:7), where he says:
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and
minds through Christ Jesus.
This is not a magical peace that we cannot fathom which settles upon us like a cloud of anesthetic. It is a kind of peace which cannot be understood but only by those who do not possess it! We as possessors of that peace do understand it, for it keeps or guards our hearts and minds. It is not physical, but rather spiritual in nature. Its source is in our knowledge and it deals with our thoughts and our attitudes and how those relate to God. It settles us in the surety of Gods gifts to us and gives us incomparable comfort in knowing that we are home with our Father, no matter what happens to us in this life. The unbeliever cannot understand this peace we have, for we possess it even in the midst of personal adversity! It is the kind of peace and joy that comes from true security.
The unbelieving world does not have true spiritual peace. In Romans 8:6, Paul tells us this:
For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
What About Miracles
If we believe that our present situation is exactly the same as that of the New Testament writers, one of the easiest and most unfortunate mistakes we can slip into is the expectation of receiving for ourselves the special gifts of the Holy Spirit that are described in the New Testament. There is no question that the New Testament Christians had special or supernatural gifts. If we say that we are religiously and spiritually in the same condition or situation as those believers were, then we, too, should possess these gifts in the same manner. These things include special healing powers, the ability to speak in unlearned foreign tongues, the ability to prophesy, the ability to interpret such prophecies, receipt of special wisdom or knowledge, and power to produce other miracles including the raising of the dead.
The self- deception of those who desire and claim these kinds of gifts today is truly unfortunate and quite harmful to the cause of the Church. It is plainly stated in the scriptures that these gifts were limited to that time of persecution in which the New Testament letters were written. They were temporary and they vanished away once the Church became victorious over its enemies in AD. 70. There simply are no miraculous or supernatural gifts for Christians today. Our faith and the Word of God itself are sufficient for us.
Let us examine some important passages in the scriptures that show the nature, and the time of possession, of the miraculous gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins by saying:
Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant .There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
In verses 8-10, he goes on to describe many of the diverse gifts, and emphasizes the importance of each member of the church playing a specific role by using their individual gift. In chapter 13, he reminds them that the key to all the gifts is the attitude of love that they must have. Then, in verses 8-10 of chapter 13, Paul states:
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
These things were not meant to be a permanent part of the church. They were in place only for a time a short time until, (as the KJV properly renders it):
that which is perfect is come
This perfect thing which the saints were waiting and struggling for, was the fully redeemed Church, as it would exist after the prophecies were fulfilled. It would be perfect and their enemies would be powerless to destroy them. During that present time, however, these people were suffering great tribulations at the hands of those enemies. In the beginning of this letter to the congregation at Corinth, in chapter 1:7-8, Paul told them:
Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[1Co 1:7, NIV]
That day of our Lord was, as we have seen, the revealing of Jesus Christ to the unbelieving Jews in the actions of the Roman army. It was for this event that the believers were waiting and it was during this waiting time that the gifts were necessary for them. Gifts such as prophecy served important functions of informing and comforting the saints during the times of persecution and danger. After the church was redeemed from their enemies, and all the prophecies were fulfilled and finished, the gifts were no longer needed and were no longer given to men. It is just that plain and straightforward.
Unfortunately, this is one area where many people have a great deal of emotional commitment and dependency. We want magical healing to occur, so it is easy to rationalize the New Testament references of healings to apply to ourselves, even though we live in a totally different situation and time. Simple logic tells us that if miraculous healing was available for Christians today, then no Christian would ever become sick or die (for God is no respecter of persons). Let us put aside this misconception and come to the understanding that spiritual health, rather than physical, is the object of Gods concern for us.
What About Israel?
Due to the modern day popularity of futurist interpretations of the scriptures, many people are looking for fulfillment of those scriptures in the current events that are taking place in the Middle East. Where does modern day Israel fit in to the scriptural prophecies? Is not the rebirth of the Jewish state of some relevance and importance in terms of the Bible and the promises of God?
As tempting as this scenario is to many people, the simple answer is no. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that has anything to do with these people and their establishment of a political/religious state in Palestine in modern times. When we understand that the prophecies in the Bible have only to do with the destruction of the then living enemies of Christ and of his Church and the victory of the spiritual Kingdom over those enemies, we also understand that we cannot stretch the prophecies of the Bible to include far future events that have nothing to do with those times.
In establishing Christianity, God established a permanent, spiritual kingdom. He disinherited all human beings who did not accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Those Jews who did not convert were cast out into that outer darkness spiritually cut off from God. That is where they, and anyone else who does not accept Christ, live today. The Jews of modern day Israel are mostly not descended from the Jews of Biblical Palestine. Even if they were, these people are in terms of the Bible and prophecy no different from any other nonbeliever. Christians are the true spiritual Jews today and all others are the true spiritual Gentiles cut off from God.
Whether there is or is not a Jewish state in Palestine today is completely irrelevant in any Christian religious sense. In terms of Biblical prophecy, it simply does not matter what the people in Palestine do. In terms of Gods will or plan for them, the only thing that matters is whether or not they decide to accept Jesus Christ as the way to spiritual salvation. Like any other people, they must be baptized in order to be spiritually circumcised and enter the true family of God.
This understanding also falsifies any teachings that state or imply that the Jews of today have a separate or different way to be reconciled to God other than by becoming Christians. Some ecumenical teachers, including the Catholic church, do not support the concept of supersessionism the idea that Christianity supersedes or takes the place of Judaism. The arguments are made from scriptures that refer to a remnant of Israel that would be saved (Romans 11:5). It should be obvious to any Bible student that this remnant was comprised of those Jews who converted to belief in Jesus Christ and were saved from the destruction of their people and nation in AD. 70.
The analogy made in Romans 11:13-24 of the olive tree is enlightening. If the unbelieving Jews were still reconciled to God due to their heritage as Jews, then they would not need to be grafted back onto the tree (representing reconciliation with God). The Gentiles could be grafted onto the tree if they accepted Christ. The same condition that applied then applies now to the Jews. They could be grafted back onto that tree but only if they accept Jesus Christ. There is simply no other way. Jesus himself declared this in John 14:6
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Where many become confused on this issue is in the use of the word Israel. Used to signify the Jewish or Israelite nation under the old covenant and that nations holy nature, set apart as a special people of God, the meaning of the word Israel changed when the Messiah came to fulfill the prophecies and institute the new covenant. After that time, the true Israel, the true Jews, were those who accepted the Christ. God did not reassign the name Israel to the Christians, but rather, the unbelievers who once properly wore that name removed themselves from the true spiritual race or nation of Israel, thus disinheriting themselves. The name Israel no longer applied (religiously) to the unbelieving Jewish nation after they rejected Jesus, and it does not Biblically refer to anyone claiming Judaism today.
Let us be completely clear on this issue, for it is easily misconstrued. This point of view does not constitute anti-Semitism. It is not an invective on those who call themselves Jews in the modern world. What it does consist of is a judgment or condemnation passed on all human beings who do not accept the Christ. This judgment comes from God, not from men. It is the essence of Biblical judgment. Those men and women who are believers in Jesus Christ must always contain and profess an attitude of love and caring for the unbeliever, whether Jewish or any other faith or nonfaith. The concern we should have is for the conversion of the souls of all those who do not know or profess Jesus Christ. This attitude cannot coexist with any form of anti-Semitism or hatred of any kind. We live and act through the medium of love. The only thing the Christian should be against is unbelief.
Living a Righteous Life
You shall be perfect.
Perhaps the most important implication of the fulfilled prophecy interpretation is the understanding that we have an immediate and inescapable responsibility to live righteous lives from the present moment forward.
For the futurist, the final judgment is by definition an event in the future. Regardless of what else one subscribing to this view may say concerning the necessity of living a righteous life today, their righteous living is carried out in order to pass a judgment test at some future time at the end of the universe. This view opens the possibility, however strongly it may be denounced, of engaging in unrighteous or sinful activity in the present and still being able to repent and stop that activity in time for the Judgment Day.
It is a gamble of the most dangerous and unlikely kind, and yet, it is the kind of view most people have firmly implanted in their minds. We might think, I try to be good, but if I fail I can still repent and get back in Gods good graces before it is too late, unless I am unlucky enough to be surprised by the Second Coming and the Day of Judgment, or by my own death.
To the Christian who understands what Christ has said about righteousness and perfection, such a scenario is nonsense and very dangerous. It implies a window of opportunity to the weak and uncommitted believer who is unsure of the nature of righteous living and sin. It is a temptation into pleasing Self rather than God with the dangling carrot of a chance to repent later.
Some profess that once initial salvation is attained, the Christian cannot lose that salvation into eternal life, no matter what kind of life he leads after the saving event.
We know, however, that God demands a righteous life of every Christian from the time that person becomes a member of Gods family onward into eternity. It is not a matter of positioning, training, or proving for a future test of judgment, because the acceptance and adoption of a righteous lifestyle (based on belief in Christ) is the essence of the actual judgment that occurs right now.
To state this major implication plainly in a scripturally accurate manner, however, is to make a statement that many people would reject out of hand as absurd. It is a statement that we must consider and that we must research and fully understand for the simple truth is that Christians must be perfect.
How, it will properly be asked, can any human being, no matter how sincere and hard working, be considered perfect? As with many other important words we have examined in the Bible, this one must be understood in the manner in which it was intended. It is easy to jump to the wrong conclusions and then base much of our relationship with God on the incorrect interpretation we develop from the wrong conclusions!
Before we examine this concept, let us see how such a statement is supported by the scriptures themselves.
In Colossians 1:28, Paul states that his reason for preaching Christ:
That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
In Hebrews 10:14, we read:
For by one offering, he [Christ] hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.
In 2 Corinthians 13:7-11, Paul says:
Now I pray to God that ye do no evil .And this also we wish, even your perfecting .Be
In Matthew 5:48, Jesus tells the disciples:
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Let us note here that whatever this perfection is, we as Christians are commanded to attain this quality to the same degree as God himself. What is this quality?
In many scriptural instances, the use of the word perfect or perfection refers to the ideas of completion, attaining an end, or being fully accomplished or developed. The Greek word translated perfect in Matthew 5:48 is teleios. In this instance, Moulton gives the meaning: perfect in some point of character, without short coming in respect of a certain standard.7 What is this standard or point of character that we must not come short of that we must be equal to God in attainment of?
In 1 John 3:3, John states:
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure.
Here we have almost the same statement as Jesus gave, except using the word pure. Now we see that the Christian is instructed to purify himself and to do so to the point where he is just as pure as God himself is! How pure or perfect is God?
Earlier in chapter 1:5, John says:
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
and in chapter 3:5, he makes it explicit:
and in him is no sin.
Here is the point we have been pursuing. To be perfect in Gods sight, or to be pure, we must be just like he is in terms of the standard being used: we must not have sin in our lives. If we are sinful and impure, then we have failed God and he cannot tolerate us, for in him is no sin. This is the essence of Biblical perfection.
This, too, sounds impossible to us, for who can remain in such purity? Are not men and women prone to errors and mistakes? Are we not tempted? We can become discouraged reading such passages when we believe that perfection or purity is unattainable. It tends to leave us with a kind of frustration that causes us to distance ourselves from parts of the Word while accepting it in other ways. We say that this holy perfection is a goal to be striven for, but that we can never escape our own human imperfections entirely.
One thing we should ask ourselves at this point is, would God require something of each of us that we are not capable of accomplishing? It is very certain that he requires sinlessness in his children. Let us listen to Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?
or Ephesians 5:3
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.
And John speaks very plainly in 1 John 5:18
We know that whosoever is born of God does not sin.
And in 1John 3:6
Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth hath not seen him neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.
Many people have had a great deal of trouble with this passage in 1 John. The way this has been interpreted by most teachers is that the idea of sin here is the continual practice of sin in ones life. They would read verse 9 as: he cannot continue to practice sin. In other words, one might commit the occasional sin, yet not be practicing sin continually in ones everyday life.
If we take this view, are we not, however, reading into this passage something that is not there something that seems to be so necessary to make Johns words practical and possible for us that we think it simply must mean this?
Does this not introduce absurd difficulties of a legalistic nature, such as trying to determine how many sins and of what frequency constitute being un-Christian? Is this not a rationalization around the simple statement by John that Christianity and Sin are incompatible?
We know that God is perfectly sinless. We know that God expects his children to be righteous and pure to a degree equal to himself, which is total righteousness and purity. We know that John teaches that sin is not a part of Christian life. In fact, John says that this is the very manner in which we distinguish the Christian from the nonbeliever (the children of the devil v.10): the Christian does not sin!
How can we resolve this apparent difficulty? It is only possible by coming to a correct and fully researched definition for the words we are tripping over in this study, the words sin, and righteousness; for it is usually our assumptions of what these words mean that cause us to stumble and doubt the simple statements of the Bible. This is, indeed, a crucial study to our understanding of the nature of our lives in the fulfilled and eternal Kingdom of God.
Many people find a basis for their uncomfortable assumptions about sin rooted in one particular Bible passage. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus says:
You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
We read this passage and wonder how we can ever escape sin when it would seem that even the contemplation of sinful things is sinful! As Christians, can we not even conceive the idea of a sin in our minds? If this is so, then we can never be sinless.
With such an assumption, we make a fundamental error: that temptation to sin is equal to sin itself
This is what many conclude from this passage, and thus is a great burden of guilt carried around by many good and righteous people who believe that each and every time they are tempted or even think of a sinful thing, they have sinned (and are therefore imperfect).
However, when we analyze the passage this way and plainly state the assumption that temptation equals sin, we can almost immediately sense that this cannot be correct!
In the preceding fourth chapter of Matthew, in verses 1-11, we read the story of the fasting and temptation of Jesus by the devil. Jesus was tempted with all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendor. If we accept the assumption we made about chapter 5:28, we must conclude that Jesus sinned at the moment he perceived the various temptations! This is obviously not the case. Jesus was and is always pure and sinless perfect in the sight of the Father. Hebrews 4:15
For we have not a high priest who is not able to sympathize with our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
It is plain that neither contemplation nor temptation to sin constitutes sin itself, or else Christ sinned and we have no escape from sin. But what is the actual boundary of sin versus notsin? Can we determine this and make sense out of Matthew 5:28? Let us begin in James 1:12-15, where we read:
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin, and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
We see that James separates temptation from sin and he gives us another interesting and useful definition: temptation equals lust and enticement, and these things do not equal sin. Sin only occurs when the lust has conceived.
What exactly does this mean? We might naturally think that the conceiving of lust is the actual performance of the sinful deed (adultery, stealing, etc.), but Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 that the sin occurs prior to the actual deed!
In Galatians 5:16, Paul says:
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
This correlates with the passage in James. Again we see that something must happen after the initial lust or temptation that would cause us to be at odds with the Spirit (which is sinning God cannot tolerate sin).
Paul gives us another key to the puzzle in Romans 6:12
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body that you should obey it in its lusts.
So, we can assume that obeying sin is the same thing as this conceiving or fulfilling of lust and temptation, but when does the obeying take place? The final clue and the resolution to our study is found in Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit from joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
This remarkable passage tells us that the omniscient God is able to know everything about us, even our very thoughts and intents. Now, these two items are not the same thing and therein lies the answer to our dilemma.
When we are tempted and enticed with a wrong or sinful thing, we think about it. That is, the concept enters our mind and we consider it. Perception of sin and consideration of sin are equal to the part of this process we termed temptation. After we have thought about the enticing and tempting sin, we make some kind of decision about it. We develop a specific intent within our heart our mind.
Here is the crucial point the point of sin versus no sin. It lies at the moment of commitment to fulfill the temptation or commitment to reject it! Now, this is entirely a mental or spiritual process no physical actions have yet taken place! In fact, without this mental determination to proceed, the actual physical deed cannot happen. This is what we must understand in order to have a complete, rich, useful, and nondeceiving definition of the word sin.
It is a persons mental commitment that forms the fulfillment or conception of lust or temptation into actual sin, regardless of whether or not the actual deed occurs. When a person commits sin, they commit TO sin in their mind, and the all knowing God is aware of these intents.
The point Jesus makes in Matthew 5:28 is the sin has already taken place at the point when a person commits to it in their heart, for sin is spiritual in nature before it is manifested in a physical action. Sin is the transgression of a Law Gods spiritual law. That law for us is the Law of Love. If we harbor an intent in our mind to do evil, it is incompatible with love, and that makes it sin. Let us not confuse intent, however, with consideration or perception. We can think about evil things without committing to them.
With this in mind, it is easy to see that the phrase in Matthew 5:28, to lust after her, is used in the sense of a lust that has already conceived that is, the person has already committed to the adultery in his heart. Jesus was (and is) concerned with more than his disciples actions. He is concerned with all of our heart and the way we structure our attitudes and our will.
This understanding also puts away any concerns or incorrect assumptions we might have about another common objection to the concept of being perfect or sinless. Many will point out the fact that no one is humanly perfect. How can we ever escape making human errors and mistakes? Of course, no human can escape the common flaws and failures of everyday life. This is obviously not the subject of Biblical sinlessness and perfection . God is not concerned with our physical mistakes, or even our mental lapses or times when we are simply thoughtless or negligent, except for the moment when we become aware of our shortcomings and make decisions concerning our future actions.
God is concerned with the intents that we make on purpose in our heart. For instance, if a Christian makes a mistake and somehow hurts his brother, he should upon realizing the mistake, first form the intent, and then act on the intent, to make amends and help the brother whom he inadvertently hurt. This comes from his attitude and intentions of loving his brother. If his intentions were simply to not care, or to take some evil pleasure in the pains he caused his friend, he would certainly have sinned.
It is easy to understand that God wants and expects us to be sinless. What is also certain is that it is not only possible, but practical! Far from being unavoidable, the fall into sin is no match for the will of the Christian. We have a promise of God found in 1 Corinthians 10:13
There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
And in Hebrews 2:18, we read of Jesus:
For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
James says something interesting in his chapter 1:2-4
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the trying of your faith works out patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire wanting nothing.
The joy comes not from being tempted, but rather because we know we can overcome the temptations, no matter what or how many they are. In doing so, we become a completely new creature from the old one who did not want to refuse evil temptations. Ephesians 4:22-24
That you put off according to your former conduct, the old man, which is corrupt according to the lusts of deceit, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth.
In the spirit of our minds, we become new and renewed. We become righteous. This word is very simple to define. It is self defined. It means we do what we know is right, and do not do what we know is wrong! In simplest words, this describes the process we have been studying of choosing to fulfill lusts or choosing not to.
What is right and wrong for us is not defined in a legalistic manner, but, instead, is based on what we truly believe is right or wrong and what our attitudes and intentions are concerning those things. We might disobey a civil law and claim we did not know it was wrong, even though we did know it, and perhaps the civil authorities will believe us and not punish us for the transgression. God, however, knows what we truly believe and understand in our hearts. If we do what we believe is wrong, God is surely and certainly aware of it.
It is also important to point out that choosing to avoid wrong things is only one side of the process. Many picture the righteous Christian as someone who has been deprived of things, activities, and pleasures in our earthly life. How shallow and wrong a view this is of the Christian lifestyle!
There are many positive temptations in human life as well as negative ones. We are not asked to choose deprivation! We are asked to choose between two different and incompatible lifestyles. When these lifestyles are fairly compared, the righteous life is far richer, more rewarding, and full of joy and fun than the unrighteous world can ever imagine. It is easy to choose love and rightness over evil and selfishness, for in doing so, we do not lose we gain!
This righteousness is not, then, an unattainable goal, but is made joyfully simple by basing all our attitudes and actions in the allinclusive Law of Christ the Law of Love. Love automatically filters out sin. Sinlessness is not a legalistic system! As Colossians 3:14 says:
And above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.
This is important, for many will misunderstand, believing that we must follow some complicated and tedious rule book of laws like the Jewish people did. The simple principle of Love is the true spirit of the old Law and it is the essence of Christian righteous life. It is simple and elegant and it fills the believer with joy and peace.
It is Gods will that we be set aside as people who are different from the world because of what we do and do not do. We are holy, which means separated out. Paul affirms that we can accomplish this in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification that you should abstain from fornication that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel [body] in sanctification and honor, not in the passion of lust....For God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
Gods will is plain, and he would not will us to do a thing if we were not capable of it. We do have the power, through God, to remain pure and sinless! Let us hear Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down...every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
We must shift our frame of reference concerning the meaning of sin. Sin is not unavoidable. It is easily avoided when we keep our hearts founded and rooted in love. It is not being prideful or irreverent to say that we as Christians are sinless and perfect. This is exactly what God wills and expects us to be, and we are sinless as long as we are in Gods family.
One other common objection to this understanding of righteousness must be addressed here. Many, upon considering the concept of the sinless or perfect Christian, turn promptly to the passage in 1 John 1:8 that states:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
This passage is used to justify the continued presence of sin in the lives of Christian men and women. Taken out of its context, it seems to fly in the face of the other statements John makes in the very same book, both before and after this statement. But, John is not speaking of continual, daily, and unavoidable presence of sin in our lives.
This passage must be placed in the context of the surrounding verses. Once it is so restored, we can see that John is describing a process that people go through to become reconciled to God.
In verse 8, when we as human beings first come to God, we have sin in our lives. If we deny this, we are liars. This is like the before picture of the person. In verse 9, John describes the next step in the process:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jo 1:9)
Only at this point in the process has the person become reconciled to God. Only after confession of the sins in our life will God forgive those sins and cleanse us completely from sin.
Now, in verse 10, we see the after condition of the former sinner:
If we say that we have not sinned we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Now the sins are past tense in the life of the new Christian. Johns point here is that if, after being forgiven, we pretend that we were never really sinners in the first place, then we are liars and God is not in us.
Can a Christian sin? Only by leaving the Christian family behind and going out into that outer darkness, that foreign land where God does not dwell. In the next verse (chapter 2:1), John states:
My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
This brings us to the final point concerning sin. It should not be inferred from this study that once a person becomes a Christian, there is no longer the possibility for that person to sin. It is still possible for a man to sin, even after becoming a believing and obeying Christian. We retain the gift of free will that God gave us. We can, after choosing right, change our mind and choose wrong. When this happens to a child of God, it is a serious and important matter.
As we discussed previously, nothing impure can remain with God (1 John 1:5, 3:5; Revelation 21:27). If a Christian chooses to do wrong and thus sin, he must by definition leave God and his family, the Church, to do it. If that person should turn away from God and sin once again, the sin is just as impure as it ever was.
The Kingdom is pure and unblemished, and to sin we must go outside that great realm out beyond the great and high wall of Revelation 21:12 and into the outer darkness where sin can exist. We know that nothing can enter into that Kingdom which defiles it (Revelation 21:27). It is perhaps best explained by the great parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:1 1-32.
The son had everything inside his fathers realm, but his selfishness and greed necessarily took him away from that realm and into a foreign land where he found only trouble and despair. Although his father still loved him and wished he would return, he could not bestow upon his errant son either his love or the wealth of his land, for the son was not present. By his actions, the son disinherited himself by removing himself from the world of his father and family.
This is how we are when we take the step of deciding to do what we know is wrong and sin. We leave our father and his realm and go off into another land where he cannot help us. To regain our inheritance, we must do like the prodigal son and return to God. It is our great fortune that God is like the father of the parable. He still and always loves us and will welcome us back if we come with true repentance. We have an intercessor with God his name is Jesus Christ. God promises to allow us back into his perfect presence and to forgive us of the stains of the sin we committed. We become righteous and spiritually perfect once more. John said, he who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
We are reconciled to God by the grace of Christ, our intercessor (1 John 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25), and once more we begin to live a holy, pure, and perfect life.
This possibility of sin is always present, but it is not common or everyday occurrence. Such an event of sin would be a great tragedy in the life of a child of God, and not an expected or commonplace thing.
The road into the Kingdom of God is narrow and requires commitment. There is another road that leads out of the Kingdom and it is wide and easy to travel, for it requires that we satisfy nothing but our own selfishness. God, in his great wisdom, has left our free will intact. We must choose to be sinless and we must continue to choose it throughout our lives.
It is our great privilege to be able to choose. However, the choice is not a casual one to be made and unmade daily. Anyone who vacillates between sin and contrition on a continual and frequent basis cannot be truly repentant of sin at all.
Let us understand what sin is and shift our reference to expect sinlessness in our lives and to look upon true sin as a tragic fall that does not have to occur.
As long as we remain pure, we remain a part of that great and victorious Kingdom of God in the words of Ephesians 5:27
A glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing Holy and blameless.
And let us remember the words of Paul (Romans 6:2):
How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
It is true, Christians are perfect. Not as men use that term, but as God uses it. We are still human and we make mistakes, but we choose to do what we know is right, and we are righteous and pure in the sight of God, through the grace and the love of Jesus Christ.
The Role of Christianity But what then, shall we do?
In Hebrews 12:22-23, the author writes:
But ye are come [literally have come] unto mount Sion and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.
Here is a picture of the state we are in. It is a glorious kingdom and a loving family. God wishes all men and women to enter into it, but he gives free will choice to everyone.
For those who are members of this great congregation of spirits, what then shall we do in this present world? We know now that this planet will not be destroyed in some future cataclysm, and we know that God is present with us in this life and in this time. We know that we have already passed the great spiritual judgment and stand before God in state of righteousness. We know that we have the knowledge of Gods completed plan and we have the peace of God. We know that we live in the spiritual state of heaven with him even while we walk this earth. How, then, shall we live our lives and what attitudes, values, activities, and interrelationships should we have with the rest of the
Surely our worldview has changed. We are no longer waiting for that terrible universal destruction and the cessation of all human activities, works, and societies. In the ongoing human world, we are the living vessels that contain the true fulfillment, happiness, and knowledge of God and his great victory over sin and evil.
Surely we must live our lives as a testament to that condition and worldview, and we should certainly bring as many others as we can into that spiritual body of Christ whosoever will. We must be the lights on the hilltops, living our lives as a testimony to our joyous and complete condition.
Realizing our present peace and joy, we must live our lives accordingly, spreading the effect of these things to other lives as a witness to our spiritual inheritance. There is no greater or more powerful evangelism than the example of a righteous and joyous lifestyle. We must praise God continually with our lives.
Unlike the attitudes of many a futurist, we must not run from the world. We must participate in it fully and with the purpose of influencing all of the activities of mankind toward God and righteousness.
One of the most important things we must do is reexamine our religious traditions and make certain that all of our actions and institutions accurately reflect our knowledge of our current state. We should not be afraid to examine the manner in which we worship God, the songs we sing to him, and the way we interact with one another within the Christian fellowship. The face we present to the unbelieving world must be one of involvement, joyfulness, energy, and of optimism rather than one of rejection, fearfulness, apathy, or defeatism.
The inheritance of futurist interpretation is pessimism, fear, and a retreatist/defeatist attitude toward involvement in the world of mankind. Its tendency is to acquiesce to the moral decline of todays world, assuming it is leading naturally to its self-destruction, to hide and to hope, and to fear the tribulations perceived to be imminent.
The attained inheritance of prophecy fulfilled and life in the present Kingdom is liberation from fear, optimism for the future as well as the present, and the exhilarating joy of being triumphant over evil. It is peace of the most satisfying kind, for it is true assurance of the possession of eternal life and the presence of God in our lives. It is a mandate to become involved in improving the world we live in and to bring others to God through the witness of the joy and fulfillment we exhibit in our everyday lives.
Understanding that Gods plan is complete and all prophecies fulfilled in the past actions of Jesus Christ, we affirm the inspiration of the Bible scriptures, which futurism places into serious question.
We replace hope and longing with the one thing that is superior to hope we receive and possess the thing that is hoped for! We have the perfect Kingdom of God and we are his adopted children right now.
We know that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). What is the primary image of God? God is first and foremost a creator. His tremendous labors of the first six days brought forth a created product: the entire sidereal universe.
If we are like God and our structure is of the same image or makeup as he is, then we, too, must be creators. This is something we do so naturally that we do not often perceive it as special or as a quality we share with God. Our ability to create, however, is one of the attributes that sets us apart from the instinctual animal world.
Certainly, God holds the knowledge of original creation and he holds the keys to life and death. As human beings, we are limited by and restricted to our physical bodies. These are themselves created forms and cause us to sense time and make us to be bounded by the laws of physics and of entropy. Within these limits or boundaries, however, we do create.
Man is the inventor. We think ahead and conceptualize what we wish to form, and then we fabricate it. We create objects, of course. Some of these things are useful and are applied to good and productive ends, while others are unproductive or are used evilly. We create more than just things, however. We create systems and societies, the most basic and important of which is the family.
If we base these in righteousness and love, they flourish. If founded in selfishness or abuse, they fail. This simple principle applies to all of our created systems from families all the way up to the governments under which we all live.
If, then, we are creators, living in the glorious Kingdom of God and following his example and form, perhaps we as his children should make it our business and the work of our lives to go into this world in which we live and to create. Create things that are consistent with a righteous and loving worldview. Create families that are good, loving, and who know and respect God. Create businesses that serve people in truth and quality rather than greed and deceit. Create institutions of service and politics that are honest and direct, and that help and serve humanity rather than becoming self-feeding bureaucracies that fail human needs.
Create all the elements of life from simple family relationships to the grandest structures of society all in the moral framework of Godly righteousness.
This kind of Christian moral influence was once a prominent feature of the United States of America. In recent times, this influence has waned. Where once it pervaded society and kept in bounds those immoral elements of the world, it now seems that our society caters to those who would have immorality be made legitimate. This is usually accomplished or excused with the use or abuse of the concept of freedom of speech.
Perhaps it is time for the Christian world to awaken to the need to create or recreate a moral human world. In this land, at least, we can speak freely and influence the system toward the righteous form we know it should be.
Let us, then, put aside the pessimism that says the world is doomed and that we should not concern ourselves with it. Let us renounce the fatalism that believes that the immoral world forces are bound to win the battle of influence and control in our government and our society. We must not underestimate the influence of committed and active Christian men and women who are busy creating a better human world creating not only objects and structures of everyday life, but creating a new world made of rightness and founded in real love of all mankind. This is not an idealistic fantasy, for the power behind such efforts on our part is the Almighty God of the universe. This loving and caring comes directly from the nature of God himself, manifested through us, his children, to the rest of the world.
We are created in the image of God. We, too, should and must create. We are not of the world, but we are in it and it is here to stay. Let us recognize our nature as creators and use that power for power it is to direct the world we live in to a higher and healthier plane.
The story is not almost over - it has only just begun!
Spiritualizing the Scriptures
Some who have considered the fulfilled eschatology or preterist interpretation of Bible prophecy we have been studying in this volume have brought forth as a criticism the necessity to spiritualize so many of the things in the Bible. We have seen that Christs second coming, although tied to momentous physical events, was essentially spiritual in nature. We have seen that Heaven or the Kingdom of God is a spiritual realm, not a physical or fleshly one. We have seen that our resurrection was from flesh to spirit and that our fleshly bodies will not be a part of the eternal spiritual kingdom once we physically die. We know that God is a spirit being.
Yes, it is true that this understanding or interpretation forces us to accept these things as spiritual in nature rather than physical. This is not a weakness of interpretation, nor does it cause problems in interpreting the Bible. Instead, it is great strength and clarity. Spiritualizing the scriptures is the true key to understanding them and making them consistent and logical, for they are spiritual in essence.
For some people, this is a jarring or an uncomfortable transition to make in understanding Christianity. If these things are at first strange to us or seem counter to our earlier traditions and beliefs, think how uncomfortable and jarring it must have been for the first believers, the common men and women of Judaism, who had to set aside the strict and revered regulations and rituals of the Law of Moses that had been drilled into their culture and lives from the day they were born, passed down to them from thousands of years of traditional belief and lifestyle. For the new Christians, it must have felt very strange indeed, at first. They realized, however, that these things concerning the Christ and his spiritual kingdom were too important to let any earthly tradition or belief get in the way. They abandoned the old traditions and changed their lifestyles.
Nevertheless, they had a great deal of trouble understanding Jesus when he spoke not of earthly things, but of spiritual ones.
In the third chapter of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus about being baptized into the Kingdom of God. In verses 5-7, he says:
I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying .
Nicodemus, the learned Jew and member of the Sanhedrin, did not understand that Jesus was speaking of spiritual rather than physical birth. In verses 9-10:
How can this be? Nicodemus asked. You are Israels teacher, said Jesus, and do you not understand these things?
When Jesus was brought before Pilate, the Roman asked him whether he was the King of the Jews. In John 18:36, Jesus answered him:
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."
The Jews, the Romans, and even at first, Jesus own disciples and apostles could not understand that the kingdom and everything in it was spiritual in nature, not a literal physical kingdom on the earth. In Matthew 20:20-28, James, John, and their mother came to Jesus and asked for the privilege of the two brothers to sit at his right and left hand (places of great honor and prestige) in his kingdom. Jesus tells them:
You dont know what you are asking Can you drink the cup I am going to drink? We can, they answered.
They simply did not understand the spiritual nature of the Kingdom or the spiritual implications of the terrible events that were about to take place. In the passage beginning with John 11:21, Martha speaks to Jesus concerning Lazarus, who had just died. Beginning in verse 23, Jesus says:
Your brother will rise again. Martha answered, I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day
How many people will even today give the very same answer as Martha gave to Jesus! Was Martha right? Was Lazarus dead only to be resurrected to life at some future last day? Jesus answered her immediately with these words:
Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
Martha did not understand. Jesus was the resurrection not for physical death, but for spiritual death. Lazarus was spiritually alive in Jesus Christ. If anyone believes in Jesus and lives accordingly, that person, though physically mortal, will never die spiritually. Jesus groaned in the spirit and was troubled, not at the physical death of Lazarus (for he would soon raise Lazarus body and his spirit was alive in Paradise), but Christ was troubled that even those closest to him could not understand the spiritual nature of his work and his realm.
Those who would make all Biblical things literal and physical must come to a deeper understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. To spiritualize these things is not an errant human invention. It is the true nature of God, his Kingdom, and the prophecies relating to him and his people.
In John 4:24, Jesus told the Samaritan woman:
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
And in chapter 6:63, he tells his disciples:
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.
It is not the preterist interpretation that, superimposed upon the Bible, causes us to assert the spiritual nature of God and his Kingdom. It is the plain statements of Jesus Christ and the other inspired authors of scripture and the knowledge we have about the time statements and the nature of Biblical prophecy that dictate to the Bible student the form of his or her interpretation of the Bible. It is only from an honest effort of interpretation, unencumbered by ones own traditions, that we are compelled to come to the understanding that all of the Bible has been fulfilled, and that the nature of God and his Heaven is not physical, but spiritual.
The interpretation or point of view described in this volume is not a novel or original one. Many thousands of Christians over the centuries have understood the preterist or fulfilled in the past nature of the prophecies of the Bible. This view, in part or in whole, has been naturally accepted by many teachers, preachers, priests, and theologians.
The basic reason it has not been a common point of view in western civilizations is due to the essentially Jewish or Hebrew nature of the prophecies and of the language used in those prophecies. The part of the first generation Christian church that was comprised of former Jews was actually small compared to all the Gentile converts, and after the dust of the war events of A.D. 70 settled, many of the formerly pagan Gentile believers had little background in Hebrew history and religion. These people found the prophetic passages in the writings they had received to be unfamiliar and puzzling. The Apocalypse had been written to explain the importance of the events of the war. After that war, many did not understand the symbols or the spiritual nature of those prophecies, and there were no longer any miraculously gifted teachers who could explain these things to them. This led many to assume that these fantastic scenes were still future some tremendous cataclysm at the end of time and the physical world. This is the point of view an assumption handed down to most of the Gentile world of believers today.
In more recent times, the preterist viewpoint was displaced in a large way when dispensational preachers such as Scofield began to teach the doctrines of millenialism and rapture about a century ago. Such displacement of truth is as old as Christianity. Jesus Christ warned the seven churches in the first part of Revelation about the Gnostic movement, which was at that time a popular corruption of Christianity involving a mixture of truth with mystic nonsense and pagan perversions.
Christianity requires change. The new Christians were not to be like Lots wife and turn their gaze back to the old way of life, but were to change their lives when they encountered and accepted the truth. As Jesus told some of them in John 8:32
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Knowing the truth changes us it makes us free from untruth and sin. The truth is too important to let old and incorrect habits drag us into the kind of error the Pharisees and the other Jews made. If our perceptions prove to be imprecise, let us humbly adjust them and go on into a new and more complete understanding. We must not be afraid to open all the doors and examine every doctrine.
This preterist or fulfilled interpretation is not the wishful thinking of some who would try anything to rationalize around the traditional picture of the tribulation and end-time events commonly taught. As we have seen, it is a viewpoint founded solidly in scripture and totally consistent within itself, unlike any other interpretation. Another writer once compared the fulfilled interpretation to a puzzle where all the contents fall into complete harmony and all the parts fit and when things fit it is a sort of prima facie evidence that they are in the right place. It is indeed evident on its face that the prophecies have been fulfilled and we live in the perfect Kingdom. The prophecies fit the events of history with precision. The words of Jesus Christ and the Apostles declared the imminence of the coming fulfillment and the spiritual return of Christ.
The traditions of men, no matter how long held or by how many a number, and no matter how sincerely held, are no substitute for the truth. Tradition is no substitute for the words of God when those traditions conflict and deny Gods words. Jesus stated he would return within the lifetimes of some of his disciples. That is just what he meant. If the tradition of man says that Jesus did not return to those disciples, then mans tradition must be rejected.
With great care and respect for the tremendous Word of God, let us truly rightly divide the word of truth
(2 Timothy 2:15).
Some would say that one persons interpretation of the Bible is just as valid as another persons view. We must understand, however, that there can only be one truth, not many. There is a Greek word, dokimos, which we would translate as discern. Moulton gives this word the definition: to decide upon after examination. This is a good definition to use for the word interpretation. An interpretation is what you decide a thing means after you have examined it. Many fail to adequately or fairly examine the scriptures and history, and in failing to properly examine they are destined to adhere to other peoples opinions or to a scheme which is illogical and inconsistent with all scripture. We must remain cautious, flexible, and thorough in our handling of interpretation, and we must be truly discerning. There is danger in dogmatism and in the traditions of men.
It is a part of human nature to tenaciously cling to our beloved traditional beliefs. If we find it difficult to set aside beliefs and interpretations about the Bible that entail a future coming of Christ, a rapture in the sky, a fiery destruction of the universe, a singular Judgment Day event, and a heavenly realm unavailable to us in this life, it would be the result of a failure to understand the spiritual nature of so much of the Bible. Traditional ideas are often comfortable and comforting. It is fearful to release our mental and emotional hold on them. It is fortunate, indeed, that in this case we can release these old beliefs with confidence and with joy, for now we understand that the truth is better.
God is with us now. Heaven with him is now. Judgment is now, and we have passed it. Sin no longer reigns. Our spirits will never die eternal life is ours right now. Yes, the truth is sweet! It is just as David sang to God in Psalms 119:100-104
I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me. How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
Bitter or sweet, the truth is always better. How wonderful it is that the truth we see today is very sweet indeed!
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