Friday, 3/1/19 – Tough Question

“What is Ezekiel’s Temple all about?”

I must admit to not having studied this topic deeply until now, so I’ve enjoyed the dig trying to piece it together.

The questioner is not alone in asking this. Ezekiel’s detailed and as yet unfulfilled vision of a future temple has been the object of much speculation and interpretation for centuries. But let’s back up a bit and take a running start at this…

Although Ezekiel was born into the priestly line (1:3a), he served as a prophet (1:3b). In 597 BC Ezekiel was taken into Babylonian exile. From there he encouraged the captives that God would again restore Israel. His vision of the valley of dry bones (chap. 37) is classic.

20190225_142613Ezekiel was certainly the quirkiest of the prophets. The very first chapter starts with what some have called a UFO sighting! Rather than just announce a message from God, Ezekiel would enact them. These enactments included what reads like a divine abduction which left him stunned for a week (2:12-15), or laying on one side for 390 days, then on the other a further 40 days. While in this position he was told to bake his own bread and use his own excrement as cooking fuel (4:1-13). Another time he shaved his head to dispose of the hair in three specific manners (5:1-4).

In chapters 40-48 Ezekiel describes in detail his vision of a magnificent future temple to which God’s glory has returned. The hearts of the people of Israel have been transformed and Gentiles also have a place in this Kingdom.

20190225_142732What’s particularly puzzling about this is that since Christ’s redemption on the cross no more sacrifice or temple is needed. Indeed in speaking of the Heavenly New Jerusalem John records “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Rev. 21:22).

Yet earlier in the book, to the church in Philadelphia, he writes “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.” (Rev. 3:12). What temple is this? Is it a literal temple? Think for a moment: if this temple is literal then being turned into a pillar must also be literal. Not a happy prospect for eternity in my view.

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But I think I personally at least have come to my own resolution and understanding regarding Ezekiel’s Temple. I believe Ezekiel is struggling to describe as best he can something that to him and to his hearers is indescribable. To do so he is using terms and imagery meaningful to the audience to whom he writes. Much like John struggled to describe his heavenly vision of the glorified Christ. Or better yet as Isaiah and others described the coming Messiah. Contemporaries with Christ expected a Saviour to appear who would overthrow Rome and immediately set up an earthly rule, but God had a bigger more eternal picture in mind all along.

In this vision Ezekiel is assuring his people that God will dwell with them once again. A beautiful temple with restored sacrifice and the glory of God obvious paints this picture to Ezekiel’s immediate audience. Christ expanded further just what the kingdom of God truly is and in the Book of Revelation we have more pictures which boggle our minds but stimulate our imagination. One thing is certain, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9). But by his grace he gives us glimpses. Ezekiel’s Temple appears to be one more such glimpse.

Press on…

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 2/22/19 – Tough Question

How could the Old Testament saints go to heaven when Jesus had not yet died for their sin?

This is actually a second part of the question asked last Friday. (You can link to that here.) As the enquirer put it, “Before Jesus paid our sin debt and made a way to heaven for us, where did people go when they died? How could they go to heaven, if they were not covered by the Blood?

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Sometimes when you are watching a TV program you see a preview of the show in ads through the week. Suppose you watch the show and perhaps midway into its plot it appears that one particular character may have died. But you know that cannot be the case because there is yet a scene which you saw in the preview but have not yet seen in the program where this character is still alive.

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God sees all of human history in this way… not as unfolding linearly in time as we experience it, but as a complete canvass. We move through this canvass like a tiny spot lit by a penlight, but God sees the whole of the painting at once!

When Moses asked God Whom he should say sent him to deliver his people from slavery the Lord answered “I Am Who I Am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” (Exod. 3:13-15). Jesus similarly identified Himself, “Before Abraham was, I am” He said (John 8:58). The author of Hebrews further states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8).

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God us not merely unending, He is eternal… timeless. Just as He exists in all places, so He exists in all times. In fact, time was also a part of creation, “…and there was evening and there was morning — the first day.” (Gen. 1:5).

Our finite minds and time-bound awareness make this concept very difficult to understand. But Paul reminds us, “…Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…” (1 Cor. 13:12). Jesus may have had our limitations in mind too when He said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” (John 16:12).

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Scripture also gives us this curious insight: Looking far into the future… into the goings on in heaven, on earth, and on into eternity, John writes by revelation of the end times and eternal kingdom of God. He speaks of “the Lamb’s book of life” wherein are written the names of all who have put their faith in Christ. He writes, “…the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8).

What an amazing thing! From God’s perspective Jesus Christ made the way to heaven possible even before the first man was created! It is faith in Him that saves … forward looking faith or backward looking faith, but both looking at the One same Christ, the Messiah, our Redeemer, Saviour, and Lord.

Press on…

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 2/15/19 – Tough Question

“Paradise, Heaven, Abraham’s Bosom – I’m confused!!!”

I had to chuckle when I first read this question. It showed me the enquirer was digging deep in God’s Word and mining the sort of questions that have challenged the saints through centuries.

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The question as it originally came to me was this, “When Jesus is on the cross and he says to the thief, ‘’I tell you the truth, today you will be in Paradise with me.’ what exactly is He saying? Because Jesus didn’t go to heaven that day, He spent time in hell…right. And what is paradise, is it heaven or like Abraham’s Bosom?”

Right away I knew I had my work cut out for me. But hey, the best steak is worth the chew! – Right? 

As I researched I was surprised to learn that even the early church father’s could not agree on this. In fact, the topic is far more complex that the question above articulates.

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The term “heaven” appears in the very first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The original Hebrew word used throughout the Old Testament is in the plural “shamayim.” In scripture it is used of the place where birds fly (Matt. 13:32), the place where the stars are located (Isa. 13:10), the realm of angels (Matt.18:10) and where God dwells (Deut.4:39). Paul curiously writes of having been caught up to “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2).

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The term “Paradise” appears in Luke 23:43, 2 Cor. 12:4, Rev. 2:7. The same Greek word (paradeisos) is used for “garden” in the Greek Old Testament, e.g. “the Garden (or Paradise) of Eden.” In Judaism “the Garden of God” also refers to the place where righteous souls go and await the resurrection (See Luke 16:22 “the bosom of Abraham” and Rev. 6:9 souls of the martyrs under the altar.)

To me, all this adds tantalizing tidbits to the question at hand, but I hesitate to get too dogmatic about details.

As to how Jesus could be three days in hell and “today” be with the repentant thief in Paradise, we can add a few more questions…

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If our understanding of Paradise is correct, it seems that a similar construct can be discerned when speaking Hell. Two Greek words are used in speaking of these nether realms: “Hell” and “Hades.” Hell (aka “Ghenna,” “the lake of fire,” etc) is “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41) and will be where the unrighteous go after the final judgement (Rev. 19:20-21; 20:10-15). If Jesus had visited Hell after his crucifixion there would have been no one there! “Hades” (Hadas) makes more sense. This appears to correspond as the opposite to Paradise, it being a place where the unrighteous dead await the judgement.

To the thief on the cross Jesus promised “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Yet when he arose from the tomb three days later He told Mary, “I am not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). More to chew!

Into this mix we must also remember that Christ in his fullness has all His Divine attributes. He is Eternal, and He is Omnipresent. This means He is capable of being all places at all times. But at what point did He again resume that fulness?

Perhaps rather than trying to discern the more difficult aspects of Christ’s statement , I.e. “Today” and “Paradise,” we should focus on His words “you will be with Me.” For me, at least, that is sufficient.

Press on…

Note: This enquirer also had a second question. I’ll tackle it next week! 

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 2/8/19 – Tough Question

“What does the Bible mean by ‘We walk by faith?’”

The exact phrase is found in the King James rendition of 2 Cor. 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
The NIV reads, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” The Amplified version expands it, “for we walk by faith, not by sight [living our lives in a manner consistent with our confident belief in God’s promises]

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In the passage above Paul is writing about the frailty of these earthly bodies and how they are unsuited for eternity. He reminds his readers of the transformation that will come, and that by comparison all present troubles are indeed “light and momentary” (4:17). The believer rests in this hope and thereby “walks by faith, not by sight.

This idea of the Christian walking, or living day-to-day, by faith is found throughout the New Testament.

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Paul knows that in addition to their frailty, these bodies are also corrupt; their natural (fallen) inclinations are always to self and sin. The believer must refuse these, turning instead to the wishes and enablement of the Holy Spirit within. This is that “working out” of one’s salvation Paul spoke of to the Philippians (Phil. 2:12).

To the Galatians Paul wrote,

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal. 5:16-18).

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” Paul writes (v.24). Just as he had said of himself, “I have been crucified with Christ…” (2:20). That “old man” is indeed crucified, but not yet expired. He yells and curses from that cross, even while writhing and growing ever weaker. Paul was well acquainted with this struggle too (See Romans chapter 7).

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Our job is to think twice in all the little decisions of life… to “keep in step with the Spirit” (v.25)… to choose the Spirit over the flesh… each righteous decision one more “step” toward holiness. One day, that “old man” will pester no longer. We will not need to think “twice” for only the righteous thought will remain.

This journey is all by faith–our steadfast reliance upon the Holy Spirit. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Press on…
Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 2/1/19 – Tough Question

“How Can a Loving God send people to a place as horrible as Hell?”

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There are no cell phones in hell.

Say that to anyone under twenty these days and they’ll likely think, “Wow! That really would be hell!” But it gets worse… much worse!

There is no Facebook in hell… no Netflix, no Spotify, no Google, Alexis, Twitter or FaceTime. But is gets even worse still… There is no electricity in hell. There is no light, no day, no stars, no moon. All is darkness in hell. Darkness and fire, worms and regret, weeping and grinding of teeth.

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Jesus pulled no punches when speaking of hell. He said of hell that it was a place of great separation. He said that between heaven and hell “a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.“ (Luke 16:26). He said it was a place of agony, a “blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:42). In parable He described the torment of a rich man who begged “…send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:26). He cited Isaiah 66:24 saying hell was a place “where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:48)

We prefer to imagine there is no hell. In fact, even in writing this blog I’ve had to wrestle the whole way through with my tablet’s spell check. Even it tries to deny hell, choosing instead to type he’ll. But hell is indeed very real place.

On his deathbed renowned atheist Voltaire cried out “I am abandoned by God and man. I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months of life. Then I shall go to hell and you will go with me, oh, Christ, oh, Jesus Christ!” it is a horrible thing to die without Christ, as Jude said, to be among those “for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 13).

So how could a loving God send anyone there?

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Jesus did not come into this world to send people to hell. Jesus came into this world “to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). He came to die in our place to save us so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16b). We must understand this: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:17).

Hell was not intended for people; it was intended for the devil and his demons. Jesus spoke of it as “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Nonetheless hell is populated by many men and women who have turned their backs to Christ… and many more will yet join them.

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You see when one repeatedly refuses the lifeboat there is no place for that soul to go than over the approaching falls. You cannot blame the boatman. If you will not climb into the arms of the fireman there is no place for you than to burn in the flames! You cannot blame the rescuer.

Indeed, there are no cell phones in hell. Nor are there any cell phones in heaven. We won’t need them or desire them there. You do not need one here either in order to reach out and contact Christ. He is right beside you now. Reach out to Him. Make Him your Saviour and your Lord.

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Press on…

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.

Friday, 1/25/19 – Tough Question

How can I be “Born Again?”

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I received a call the other day from a man in crisis. He had just learned that the chest congestion he thought he had was in fact something far more serious. His medical team’s best prognosis still left him eyeball to Eyeball with His Maker in just a few short months.

For the past three days his mind bad been racing. Everything had to be re-evaluated, not in terms of life goals as he was used to thinking, but in terms of eternity! He had not slept more that one or two medicated hours nightly. He had lost his appetite for all but peace of mind, something not on the hospital menu card.

“I need to get well… start going to church,” he said. “I need to straighten out my $@#% life…,” he blushed.. “and speech,” he added. “Gotta quit the smokes too! – Gee, that’s hard.”

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“I seen them movies,” he continued. “Someone goes to some big church meeting… something happens. I went to a church once… they were saying and doing all sorts of things… I couldn’t understand it. I went to this other church too…. They sang old hymns…. The minister guy stood up and talked. I don’t think he mentioned the Bible…. Jesus. Some things come close, but there’s always this part that seems missing.”

Finally, he paused…

“All those are good things to do,” I began, “but you don’t need to wait… you can find that peace now. Set aside all those things you mentioned. There are really only four things you need to understand.” I listed them on my fingers:

1. God loves you. He want to transform you into something wonderful… for eternity.

2. There’s a problem. God is Loving, but He is also Holy. He can’t have anything sinful in His Presence. If we are going to get to Him we are going to have to be holy! But we are not! This is something God cannot overlook, because God is also Just. He doesn’t bend the rules!

I told him about a judge whose son had come before him for sentencing for a crime he had committed. The fine was $500 — which the son did not have. The judge could not let his son go free; if he did, he would not be a just judge. But he loved this boy. What was the judge to do? The judge took off his judge robe stepped down and gave his son the money for the fine. The boy paid the fine and was free. Justice and love had both been satisfied by the grace extended by the father-judge.

“This is what Jesus did,” I explained. “Believing that is the 3rd thing that is necessary.

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Number 4 is the most important thing. Points 1, 2, and 3 have to move from your head to your heart. You surrender your life to Jesus, turn from sin with His help, and let His Spirit transform you. Read your Bible, pray at all sorts of times, share your life with Jesus and learn to hear and obey His Voice.

The gospel is such a simple thing: 1. God loves you, 2. Your sin has separated you from Him, 3. God has made a way through Christ to restore you, 4. You agree, and take Jesus as both Saviour (He paid for your sin) and Lord (you commit to obey Him – you stop calling the shots and instead follow His step-by-step plans and commands).

The jailer… fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He… asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:29-31a)

The next time I visited this man He said he felt calmer… “There’s a different ‘feel’” he said. He has begun a new road, a new life….. He has been “born again!”

You can be too!

Press on…

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer

Friday, 1/18/19 – Tough Question

“Who are ‘the remnant of Joseph’ mentioned by Amos?”

I received this interesting question a few days ago: Amos 5:14-15 mentions “the remnant of Joseph.” Who are this “remnant of Joseph” and when does this prophecy take place? Is this the final judgement?

20190114_080143Chronologically Amos would the first of the prophets, although it appears his call to this service came as quite a surprise to him. “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees,” he confessed to Amaziah. “But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” In the 8th century during the reign of Jeroboam II Amos moved from Tekoa in Judah to the Northern Kingdom of Israel where he prophesied its destruction and the Babylonian Captivity (7:11).

But Amos also foresaw the day when Israel would be restored (9:11-12), a passage cited by James during the Council in Jerusalem as the believers considered God’s grace in extending salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 15:15-18). This grace is still being outworked today. In our world of inequality, greed and power Amos still calls us to repent. On at least two occasions Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. cited Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” in an April 16, 1963 letter from a jail in Birmingham, and in his August 28, 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech from Washington.

To answer this question more directly it appears Amos has in mind the “remnant” (what remained) “of Joseph” (i.e. of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim — Joseph’s two sons who grew to become these two tribes, and now largely consisted of Ephraim.) Others see this as more widely representing all who had faith like that of Joseph.

Many prophecies can be seen to have interpretation for the time in which they were uttered as well as application for a future time. In some cases the prophet is aware of this dual or split focus, while at other times he may not. Many other prophecies have no further fulfillment but stand as testimonies that what God promised He brought to pass.

For my part I must only know that I must be ready at any time for eternity through full reliance on the sacrifice of Christ to bring me safely home forever.

Press on…

Got a question? Use the Contact page and send It to me. We’ll search the Word for God’s answer.