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“[The Spirit of God] will convict the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment.”

I wonder how many believers, when they read the book of John, skim right past this powerful statement.  Let’s take a closer look.

The words above in bold are defined below:

  • convict: 1651 elégxō – to convince with solid, compelling evidence
  • world: 2889 kósmos  – an “ordered system,” the universe and its inhabitants
  • concerning: 4012 perí (a preposition) – all-around, on every side, encompassing, used of full (comprehensive) consideration where “all the bases are covered” (inclusively); perí is often translated “concerning” (“all about“)
  • sin: 266 hamartía (a feminine noun derived from A “not” and méros, “a part, share of”) – properly, no-share (“no part of”), loss (forfeiture) because not hitting the target
  • righteousness: 1343 dikaiosýnē (from díkē, “a judicial verdict”) – judicial approval (the verdict of approval); in the NT, the approval of God (“divine approval”), what is deemed right by the Lord (after His examination), i.e. what is approved in His eyes
  • judgement: 2920 krísis a feminine noun (derived from krínō, “to separate, distinguish, judge”) – opinion or decision given concerning anything, especially concerning justice and injustice, right and wrong

What does this mean?  Think about it.

The Spirit of God will convince the world (and technically, any intelligent life in the universe)…  First, the world will learn that there are actions and decisions that don’t count for anything and result in loss, and second, that there are actions and decisions that receive the approval of God and result in what is right.  But most importantly, third, the world will discover how to make a clear distinction between the two concepts.  The Spirit of God will, all-around, on every side, provide the world with a full, comprehensive understanding about what really matters to God.  The Spirit of God will use solid, compelling evidence to convince the world.

Jesus explains His motivation for teaching about what the Spirit of God will accomplish, saying, “these things I have spoken to you, that in me ye may have peace, in the world ye shall have tribulation, but take courage – I have overcome the world.”  The peace Jesus talks about is directly associated with the idea that the Spirit of God is accomplishing His purpose in this world.  If you doubt this, then you won’t have peace, and you are probably running yourself ragged, trying to accomplish His purpose (because deep down you believe the Spirit of God can’t or won’t).

Do you believe that the Spirit of God will succeed in convincing the world and that the tribulations associated with bad decisions and negative behavior will come to an end?

Because of the nature of this blog and my youtube channel (and sometimes Facebook), I get very deep and personal questions from people.  I answer the best I know how and admit that I could be wrong.  “Test everything, hold on to what is good,” is one of my favorite scriptures these days, not only for the way that I receive information from others, but the way in which I expect them to receive information from me.  Many times, in offering a more in-depth response, I need to take a few days or even weeks to respond, because I just don’t know how to answer.  Sometimes I respond with an apology, that I would rather admit to ignorance than send them in the wrong direction for the sake of my pride.  Other times, God teaches me.  Thankfully, God is making me a more teachable person than I used to be.

The following examples are excerpts from private messages on my youtube channel.  I am sharing this because I have learned a few spiritual concepts as a result of searching for answers to the writer’s questions.

Excerpts from the writer’s questions or comments are in bold font.  My responses are regular font.

And in case you are wondering about how the blog title relates to this blog… in many ways it indirectly relates, depending on one’s definition of a “bad thing”.  But the main idea that God showed me is highlighted in red.  I don’t want you to miss it.

“For years I have been programmed not to question the book…”

Whatever you may find in the Bible that doesn’t seem to jive, because His Spirit in you is giving you discernment about words that belong to fallible humans and words that are from God, just remember that God uses scripture to draw people to Himself. This is the important thing – like that saying, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The word of God is written in your heart. Trust the Spirit of God to help you understand if you are being misinformed, even when the information is coming from so-called experts. Remember, religious “experts” decided that Jesus Christ ought to be crucified. They honestly thought they were doing God a favor.

“My whole life is a series of heartaches and the result of that is that my heart has been torned, damaged and broken so many times that it’ll never healed.”

It will NEVER be healed? NEVER? How do you know that? Do you possess all the knowledge of the future? Come on. Have a little bit of hope. At least allow for the slight possibility that your vision of the future is not accurate.

“I never experience happiness or anything positive.”

Perhaps this is a symptom of your false assumption (see the above comment).

“And I’m all alone.”

Feeling all alone, as you do, is not the same as actually being all alone. Feelings change according to perception. Human perception is fallible. If God is everywhere, then you are not alone. If God is the power in the universe that enables you to continue inhaling and exhaling, the force that holds your molecules together and keeps them arranged in a certain order, then God is intimately aware of you. How can you possibly be alone?  The only way your assessment of alone can be accurate is if there is no God. Your next challenge would then be to explain how you exist. If you are truly alone, then by implication, you are self-existent. If you are self existent, then you are God. If you are God, then your loneliness is a sign of weakness. And since God (all powerful, all knowing, ever present) by definition cannot be weak, then you are not God after all, so you are back to where you started in this little adventure in accusing God of abandoning you, instead of swallowing your pride and recognizing that if anyone is at fault, it is highly unlikely that the blame should be attributed to God instead of a fallible human being who trusts her own fallible perception more than God.

Furthermore, if you are God, then your loneliness is a sign of emotional dependence upon others. In order for you to be emotionally dependent upon others, there must actually be others to depend upon. How would you have known there were others or conceived of the idea of depending upon others if no one but you exists? If others exist, then you are not alone. If others don’t exist, then you would have never conceived of the idea that you ought to be able to depend on others for emotional fulfillment. It is not a statement of fact, it is a circular argument that will get you nowhere.

In your statement, “I am alone,” you have acknowledged that your feelings tell you that you are alone. I, too, acknowledge this. This is truly how you feel. Are your feelings based on information that stands the test of scrutiny? No, your feelings are based on fallible human perception. Your next logical step, in dealing with your very real feeling of aloneness, is to explore your perception of WHY you feel alone, instead of accusing God of abandoning you. This would be much more productive and fair toward God Who has NOT abandoned you.

“I can’t help how I feel and where I’m at, Alice. I should know, I’ve tried.”

Please explain to me exactly how you have tried. I don’t deny you have tried. But I could try to fly by waving my arms up and down, when my approach really ought to be to purchase an airline ticket. Maybe your approach isn’t working, because it was never meant to work, it was meant to be abandoned. If your own efforts were the only way to solve the problem (i.e. to lift you off the ground as in my metaphor or to borrow your words, to move you from “where [you are] at”), then maybe you should consider the possibility that you remain where you are because you insist on using an approach that is completely ineffective – devoid of hope.

“…you might say that it’s irrational fear, but that’s how it makes me feel.”

Yes, you are right. Irrational fear is still fear. It has the same affect on the individual as justified (rational) fear. But the source of irrational fear is certainly not God, because God is the inventor of rationality. People are the inventors of fear, because the original cause of this fear is human doubt about the trustworthiness of the righteousness of Who God is and what God does. Seriously, every single fear can be traced back to this cause. If you don’t believe me, try it out. Name any fear and I will tell you how its first cause is human doubt about the trusting Who God is and what God does.

“He hid the truth about eternal damnation from me…”

Yes. In His allowing fallible humans to perpetuate a false view (whether by their ignorance or bad intent), He is ultimately responsible for the amount of accurate information you have/do/will possess. Yes, in His allowing fallible humans to injure you, He is ultimately responsible for the fact that you have been/are/will be injured. So, is God irresponsible? This depends on His reasons for allowing fallible humans to do what could be prevented.

Have you taken this a step further and asked yourself whether God did wrong by NOT intervening on your behalf? If so, what is the basis of your judgment against God? Likely, your reasoning is because God shouldn’t have allowed this, He should have intervened…

What if God has a legitimate reason? If He does, then you are deciding that God is wrong, even though He is not wrong.

You are accusing God of being unjust, but how do you know that God is unjust? What is your proof? Do you know everything? Have you examined every possibility in the universe and found that God has no purpose for choosing to NOT rescue you from harm? Then and only then could you say with certainty that God is irresponsible or unjust or whatever else might explain His decision to NOT act on your behalf.

In contrast, suppose that you were given all the knowledge in the universe, and you discovered that God’s inaction was a decision that ultimately turned out for your good or the good of everyone, including your oppressors? Would you still think He is unjust? Perhaps you would, if you knew everything and discovered that a different approach, one that did not allow for the possibility of your pain and suffering, would have had the same result as the decision God made. Only then would you be right in accusing/blaming God.

But you don’t have either kind of information, do you? You may think you do, because your own ideas seem to make so much more sense, but you don’t know everything.

For example, your own idea might be there is never a circumstance in which one should have to endure beatings and ridicule, and the like. But what if you were required to endure those things for some purpose?

What if a kidnapper were holding your sister hostage and saying that he will not harm your sister but will instead release her to an environment of safety and happiness, so long as you agree to his conditions – your sister will be released IF you give yourself over to him so that he can fulfill his desire to beat and ridicule you. Would you do that for your sister? I should hope that you would love your sister enough to submit to the kidnapper so that she could be happy and safe. In this case, there is a purpose for your suffering that is, in fact, justified given the circumstances, and you agree to it, because you have all the information. You put aside the idea that no one should ever have to endure beatings and ridicule, and the like, because you have found an instance where enduring beatings and ridicule actually results in something good.  Maybe the kidnapper is not justified in wanting to beat and ridicule, but you are justified in your decision to submit yourself to it.

What if God sees the reason that you don’t see, He knows that you can’t see the reason yet, and acts (or in this case, refuses to act) on your behalf because He knows that this is exactly what you would want Him to do, if you actually had all the information?

God demonstrated His love for us by becoming one of us and submitting Himself to humanity’s desire to beat and ridicule Him, even to the point of death. His love doesn’t make complete sense to us just yet, but we do at least have enough information to know that He is FOR us, not AGAINST us. His inaction (like a lamb to the slaughter, even though He could have prevented them from harming Him with just a thought) demonstrates that we are not alone in our suffering. His failure to rescue Himself demonstrates that His decision to allow us to suffer is not self-serving or unnecessary. Perhaps the reason He did not use His power to stop His oppressors was because allowing them to be and do detestable things somehow ultimately results in their repentance and salvation. In this case, (which I believe is THE case), not only is He demonstrating His love for the victims of oppression, but He is also demonstrating His love for the oppressors. It is difficult for us to understand this kind of love, but just because our love is unlike His love, this doesn’t mean that we should redefine His love as “Man’s justice is better than God’s”, as you say.

“[Here I have omitted the question, because it gives too many identifying details about the person who asked it and the relationship to the person the question is asked about.]“

I don’t know. And not having the information that I need in order to answer this question, I am left with two choices.

1. Believe that [omitted] has deliberately chosen to be dishonest , to expose children to a destructive environment for no reason, and to inflict pain.

2. Believe that since I don’t have all the information, and that since [omitted] has demonstrated love in other ways, the best approach is to assume the best about [omitted] – that there is likely some good reason for allowing the children to be exposed to destructive circumstances that lead them to believe things that are not true about [omitted].

“Why would He allow…”

I don’t know. And not having the information that I need in order to answer this question, I am left with two choices…

“It seems that God…”

The operative word is “seems”. Definition of “seems”:

“Used to make a statement or description of one’s thoughts, feelings, or actions less assertive or forceful.”

You are giving an impression of God, not stating a fact about God. The reason you use the word “seems” is that there is a part of you that disagrees with your own impression of God.

The definition of “impression”:

An idea, feeling, or opinion about something or someone, especially an idea, feeling, or opinion that is formed without conscious thought or on the basis of little evidence.

You must realize that your experience does not include, nor does it define all the experiences in the entire universe. That is why you use the word “seems”. Because you know (consciously or unconsciously) that your impression of God is formed on the basis of little evidence.

“No good, loving father would…”

If there is even one instance in all of time where just one “good” father would allow any of the things you named, then your theory is weak. You don’t really even have to have spiritual insight to understand there’s a problem with the argument you are presenting, all you need is basic statistical probabilities, and given the number of good fathers in human history and the number of instances in which good fathers choose to act or not act in certain ways and the number of ways in which children may or may not be exposed to damage, may or may not have knowledge withheld from them, may form favorable or unfavorable impressions of their parents, may or may not be influenced mentally, may or may not be influenced psychologically, may or may not be influenced spiritually, may or may not be given reason to fear, may or may not experience doubt, and may or may not form the ability to trust – all based on the action or inaction of a father. Seriously, all the qualifiers you named times all the fathers in human history equals a number that is probably so big that I could spend a lifetime typing zeros and commas and die of old age before I am able to fully type the number. And beside all that, what is your definition of “good”? This is the real reason you have a problem with the father, you are either not accurately defining “good” or you are making judgments about “good” without adequate evidence.

[The following question is asked by someone who claims to be a believer, who is wondering how God allows deception to continue, and the only answer the person can think of is that God and Satan are one conflicted being.  Then this person feel terribly guilty and afraid that God will punish one who thinks such things.  I did not say so, but I wondered to myself if this is the difference between believer and overcomer.  The following response should clear up any confusion over what I mean by "the difference between believer and overcomer".]

“…when someone is aware of the deception and lie and doesn’t expose it and tell the truth, the person becomes part of the deception and lie.”

I believe that God has answered this through Paul’s letter to the Romans: [and this is a terrible translation of it, BTW] “…for revealed is the wrath of God from heaven upon all impiety and unrighteousness of men holding down the truth in unrighteousness. Because that which is known of God is manifest among them, for God did manifest it to them, for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world, by the things made being understood, are plainly seen, both His eternal power and Godhead – to their being inexcusable; because, having known God they did not glorify Him as God”

Using the definitions of the Greek words in Romans 1:18, this is what I come up with:

“There is revealed…” = apokaluptó: to uncover, the opposite of kalýptō (“to cover”), revealing what is hidden, veiled, or obstructed

“…indeed, wrath of God…” = orgé: impulse, from orgáō (“to teem, swelling up to constitutionally oppose”), settled opposition rising up from an ongoing opposition, proceeds from an internal disposition which steadfastly opposes something based on extended personal exposure, i.e. solidifying what the beholder considers wrong (unjust, evil).

Furthermore, “Orgē implies a fixed, controlled, passionate feeling against sin, a settled indignation to what the beholder considers wrong (unjust, evil), but it is not a sudden outburst.

Put it all together and the message is that God is exposing evil after all. He is exposing evil at a steady and increasing pace, not all at once. He is giving the human race “extended personal exposure” to evil to prove to us that His opposition to evil is justified. I can tell by your comments that you agree with opposition to evil. The heart of your complaint is that God doesn’t really seem to be opposing evil. There is an idea of truth that is not truth, but it poses as truth, because there are “men holding down the truth in unrighteousness”. This group of people that are “holding down the truth” actually understand Who God is and what God does, what Paul calls “both His eternal power and Godhead.” In other words, they understand that the character of God is one that opposes evil and that God has the ability to oppose evil and is, in fact, steadily increasing His opposition to evil. They understand that God’s reason for not doing it all at once is that He is proving that the opposition of evil is the right thing to do.

[Name withheld], you are blessed (abundantly) with the gift of understanding that opposition to evil is the right thing to do. But not everyone has this gift. Not everyone has this understanding. The people who don’t understand why God opposes this or that are angry at God for different reasons than you. They are angry at God for limiting their freedom to live however they want to live, despite the pain and damage that their decisions cause. They must learn that God’s opposition to evil is good and right and necessary.

Back to the Paul’s letter. This group of people that are “holding down the truth” and who actually understand Who God is and what God does but suppress that knowledge in “to their being inexcusable; because, having known God they did not glorify Him as God”. The actual Greek phrases it like this: “not as God they glorified Him.” This puts a new spin on it, because this people group actually glorifies God, but they don’t glorify Him as He is. How do they glorify Him? The short definition of mataioo, the word that Paul uses is “I become aimless, foolish, or perverted”. In this case, even the literal English translation poorly communicates the meaning but digging into the Greek we see that they glorify God as aimless, foolish, or perverted “in the thinking of them”. They actually suppress the truth so effectively that their own thinking begins to conform to what they know to be false!

God darkens their understanding. He gives them over to this process that they initiated, this process of glorifying God “not as God”. So the suppressers of truth end up becoming the victims of their own suppression, so that even they no longer understand the truth.

Why would God do this? I don’t have enough information to answer this particular question. But we do have enough information to know that God is just.  

[This invitation is given based on the claim that the person who asked the question is a believer.  I would never ask such a question of a person who is not yet a believer.]  Are you willing to partner with Him in the redemption of the world? The redemption of the world involves the heartache of those who must endure the consequences of evil so that those who do not oppose evil will come to the understanding that God is justified in opposing evil. To those who have thrown a roadblock of God-not-as-God in the way (making it harder for those who do not oppose evil to get the understanding they need) God responds in them same way that He responds to evil, with steady and increasing opposition, but not in a way that makes perfect sense to us. His opposition is to push them even further down this wrong path they have chosen to the point that they actually believe in this aimless, foolish, perverted God-not-as-God they invented. Perhaps it is not until they are utterly lost that they realize what they have done to themselves and to others. These are likely the “last” to enter in the Kingdom of Heaven. But this is my speculation that could be not quite right.

I’m very confident that God is justified in His doing and not doing things that really bother you. And I’m also pretty confident that His reasons have everything to do with the idea that “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” In other words, we are all in this together, whether we like it or not, because God is not willing to lose a single person.

The real question here is whether you are going to be able to see people as God sees them (including yourself), as so valuable that all the suffering in the world is worth saving them, or are you going to see people as the tools God uses to torment you, for kicks, because He is so evil and because He wants to prove to you how worthless you are.

Seriously, it sounds harsh, but that is how I view your position and understanding. Hopefully you will see that you are standing at a crossroad that will determine how you view the rest of your life – angry and afraid or full of joy and determined. Are you going to join those who believe in God-not-as-God? It is clear you are not counted among those who do not oppose evil. The only other option is to do a U-turn and go back to the basics. Recognize that God has good reasons for everything He does and that those reasons are based upon His desire to reconcile everyone to Himself. You can accept His invitation to join Him in His work, or you can throw in the towel because you think He is requiring too much of you. Either way, He will never leave you or forsake you. But He may decide to give you a push so that you go even further down the wrong path you started down. If you are a believer, you have been given knowledge of “His eternal power and Godhead” as that terrible translation says, and this raises the stakes for you.  Luke 12:48 says, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.”  Be careful and choose wisely.

I have included additional study notes, because I actually spent more time looking into this last question after I responded and found even more insight to the often posed problem – if God is good, why is there evil.  

The first part is my own expanded paraphrase, given each Greek word meaning and usage.  The second part is copy and paste from http://bible.cc, where people can look up Greek words with all the possible meanings, and then scroll down further to find the particular usage of a particular word, depending on the part of speech, the way it is used in the sentence structure, and other factors.  It’s a pain to go through that kind of trouble, but it is also very rewarding, because it becomes more and more obvious that the “experts” in churchianity have an agenda, and the person who goes through the trouble of double checking the truth of what leaders teach is a lot less likely to be led astray.  Anyway, here are the notes, if you want to have a look:

uncovered, brought to light, revealed is settled opposition (that) proceeds from an internal disposition which steadfastly opposes, based on extended personal exposure, solidifying what the beholder considers unjust 

of God from heaven upon each part that applies, one piece at a time:

failing to honor what is sacred – especially in the outward (ceremonial) sense, a lack of respect, showing itself in bold irreverence, refusing to give honor where honor is due

and

injustice, a violation of God’s justice, what is contrary to His righteous judgments

of humanity and its weakness, by which it is led into mistakes or prompted to sin

***

a particular group of people, distinguished from the rest of humanity

by injustice, a violation of God’s justice, what is contrary to His righteous judgments

restrain, hinder (the course or progress of)

divine truth revealed to this particular group already mentioned and to which the reader is referred

 

 

 

 

601 apokalýptō (from 575 /apó, “away from” and 2572 /kalýptō, “to cover”) – properly, uncover, revealing what is hidden (veiled, obstructed), especially its inner make-up; (figuratively) to make plain (manifest), particularly what is immaterial (invisible).

1063 gár (a conjunction) – for. While “for” is usually the best translation of 1063 (gár), its sense is shaped by the preceding statement – the “A” statement which precedes the 1063 (gár) statement in the “A-B” unit.

 

3709 org (from orgáō, “to teem, swelling up to constitutionally oppose”) – properly, settled anger (opposition), i.e. rising up from an ongoing (fixed) opposition.

3709 /org (“settled anger”) proceeds from an internal disposition which steadfastly opposes someone or something based on extended personal exposure, i.e. solidifying what the beholder considers wrong (unjust, evil).

["Orgē comes from the verb oragō meaning, 'to teem, to swell'; and thus implies that it is not a sudden outburst, but rather (referring to God's) fixed, controlled, passionate feeling against sin . . . a settled indignation (so Hendriksen)" (D. E. Hiebert, at 1 Thes 1:10).]

 

2316 theós (of unknown origin) – properly, God, the Creator and owner of all things (Jn 1:3; Gen 1 – 3).

[Long before the NT was written, 2316 (theós) referred to the supreme being who owns and sustains all things.]

 

3772 ouranósheaven (singular), and nearly as often used in the plural (“heavens“). “The singular and plural have distinct overtones and therefore should be distinguished in translation (though unfortunately they rarely are)” (G. Archer).

 

1909 epí (a preposition) – properly, on (upon), implying what “fits” given the “apt contact,” building on the verbal idea. 1909 /epí (“upon”) naturally looks to the response (effect) that goes with the envisioned contact, i.e. its apt result (“spin-offs,” effects). The precise nuance of 1909 (epí) is only determined by the context, and by the grammatical case following it – i.e. genitive, dative, or accusative case.

 

3956 /pás (“each, every”) means “all” in the sense of “each (every) part that applies.” The emphasis of the total picture then is on “one piece at a time.”

 

Cognate: 763 asébeia – properly, a lack of respect, showing itself in bold irreverence – i.e. refusing to give honor where honor is due. See 765 (asebēs).

 

2532 kaí (the most common NT conjunction, used over 9,000 times) – and (also), very often, moreover, even, indeed (the context determines the exact sense).

 

93 adikía (a feminine noun derived from 1 /A “not” and 1349 /díkē, “justice”) – properly, the opposite of justice; unrighteousness, as a violation of God’s standards (justice) which brings divine disapproval; a count (violation) of God’s justice, i.e. what is contrary to His righteous judgments (what He approves).

 

444 (anthrōpos) relates to both genders (male and female) as both are created in the image of God – each equally vested with individual personhood and destiny (cf. Gal 3:28). Accordingly, the Bible uses 444 (ánthrōpos) of a specific man, woman, or class (type, group) of people – i.e. mankind in general, with the added notion of weakness, by which man is led into mistake or prompted to sin: ἀνθρώπων

 

τῶν those that designate a person or a thing that is the only one of its kind; the article thus distinguishes the same from all other persons or things

 

τὴν The article is applied to the repeated name of a person or thing already mentioned or indicated, and to which the reader is referred, as

 

93 adikía (a feminine noun derived from 1 /A “not” and 1349 /díkē, “justice”) – properly, the opposite of justice; unrighteousness, as a violation of God’s standards (justice) which brings divine disapproval; a count (violation) of God’s justice, i.e. what is contrary to His righteous judgments (what He approves).

 

to restrain, hinder (the course or progress of): τήν ἀλήθειαν ἐν ἀδικία, Romans 1:18

Exposition on the Reign of God: Narrow vs Wide

Posted: 1st January 2012 by admin in Uncategorized
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“Taking the bunny trail” is a euphemism associated with getting off subject, wasting time and energy, or pursuing something that will likely be an exercise in futility.  But in studying scripture and/or being open to the Spirit of God, it is sometimes best to explore.  Since my last blog post, I have been traveling down the rabbit trail in the “Kingdom (or reign) of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” sayings of Jesus.  It started with the “narrow” gate or door in Luke 13, as well as the “many” versus the “few” referenced in Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell.  As I read the context, I see much in common with what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, a well-known message Jesus gave to a crowd of people including the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and other messages Jesus taught.  I realize that it is beneficial for me to formulate a “big picture” understanding of how the “narrow” way relates to Jesus’s other teachings.

Many theologians believe that Jesus taught the same or similar messages over and over again, wherever He went.  For example, in Luke 6 we read:

And it came to pass in those days, he went forth to the mountain to pray, and was passing the night in the prayer of God, and when it became day, he called near his disciples [...] and having come down with them, he stood upon a level spot, and a crowd of his disciples, and a great multitude of the people [...] who came to hear him [...]  And he, having lifted up his eyes to his disciples, said: “Happy the poor – because yours is the reign of God [etc...]“

But in Matthew 5, we read:

And having seen the multitudes, he went up to the mount, and he having sat down, his disciples came to him, and having opened his mouth, he was teaching them, saying: “Happy the poor in spirit – because theirs is the reign of the heavens [etc...]“

So did Jesus give His sermon on the way up the mountain or on the way back down?  Do Matthew and Luke have their times and places confused?  Why does Matthew quote Jesus saying “the poor in spirit” while Luke records Jesus saying simply “the poor”?  What is the difference between the “reign of God” and the “reign of the heavens”?  Perhaps Jesus gave the same message, although not word-for-word, twice, once on the way up and once on the way down.  What is important here is the message itself, and how the hearers received it.  One regular blog reader, Mary Vanderplas, sums up the situation nicely in her comments on the previous blog, “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Croissants Falling from the Sky“:

I like what you say about Jesus’ frequent use of metaphorical speech and about the need to interpret such speech rightly. I think you’re right, too, in asserting a connection between the preceding parables in Luke 13 and this text in verses 22 and following, though I doubt that the person’s question was prompted by the parables. It is far more likely that Luke arranged the materials thus as part of his “Travel Narrative,” which begins in 9:51. (Matthew has them in separate places – Matthew 13:31-33; 7:13-14, 22-23; 19:30.) At any rate, I think you’re right to see here a connection between Jesus’ teaching in these parables – which call into question conventional ways of thinking about God’s kingdom – and Jesus’ response to this questioner. Specifically, the images in these parables shatter commonly-held views of how God works, much as the final salvation of God will overturn the expectations of those who assume that they are guaranteed a place in the kingdom.

(*Readers can access most of the texts, in context, that I will examine in this blog by clicking this link.)

The audience consists of a large number of people, whether this is two similar sermons or only one.  Some people might argue against this point, which is fine, but I’m not spending too much time defending the idea in this blog.  (For further information, study internal evidence for a single event with two accounts and reference Matthew 5:1, 7:28 and Luke 6:13 & 17-18 for descriptions of the audience.)  Jesus’s audience can be divided into three groups – the twelve disciples chosen from among Jesus’s many other disciples, the disciples who are not included among the twelve, and the “multitudes” of Abraham’s descendants (possibly including a few curious Gentile onlookers).

Jesus describes what kind of people enter into the reign of God – the poor in spirit, the meek, the hungering, the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness sake, etc.  This is not a list of qualifications or rules for admittance into the reign of God.  Jesus is simply creating a picture of the attributes one might expect to find among those who possess the life He gives.  By human standards, this is a sad, sorry group of unimportant, unsuccessful people.  By God’s standards, these people have discovered their salvation, they are not preoccupied with important positions in life, and they measure their success in the perfect life of Jesus Christ.  This called-out group of people have a function in the world – to be salt and light to the others.  In Jesus’s time, these two words packed more of a punch than they do now, because back then, there was no electricity, hence, no instantaneous flick-of-the-light-switch and no refrigeration to preserve meat (they used salt).  Check out any long-term survival guide, and you will find salt and lighting supplies on the list of must-haves.  There’s a bit of humor in the salt metaphor for the in-your-face-super-religious types of people, that is, salt is essential to animal life, but in excess, it is harmful.

Jesus describes the difference between what people have been taught by religious leaders regarding the law and the actual law itself.  Elsewhere in scripture, Jesus says “It is written,” but here, he says, “You have heard it said…”  For example, Jesus said:

Ye heard that it was said: “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth;” but I – I say to you, not to resist the evil, but whoever shall slap thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other; and whoever is willing to take thee to law, and thy coat to take – suffer to him also the cloak. And whoever shall impress thee one mile, go with him two, to him who is asking of thee be giving, and him who is willing to borrow from thee thou mayest not turn away.

The law to which Jesus refers, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,” was established for these and other good reasons: to maintain through fear of punishment the general peace and order in society, to ensure that the punishment was neither too lenient nor harsh- that it fit the crime, to ensure that wealth or race or social status did not result in legal bias, and to prevent the violent chaos of disproportionate personal revenge.  The Scribes and Pharisees perverted this law through sophisticated arguments, taking the civil laws into their personal lives, applying the “Eye for an eye” concept to exact emotional, physical, and financial retaliation outside of the court system.  It was used as a means of justifying not only racial inequality, but the outright abuse or even death of non-Jews (Gentiles).  Heathens were not considered “neighbors”, therefore the law did not apply to them, and punishment for crimes against them were more lenient than punishment for crimes against fellow Jews. (*See note 1 at end of blog.)

I did not randomly choose “Eye for an eye” as an example of Jesus’s teaching, I chose it because it is a smooth segue into the next portion of the blog regarding the political climate during Jesus’s ministry.  Martin Luther King Jr. was asked in an interview to explain passive resistance, and he replied:

It was the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a doctrine of passive resistance, that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified social action.  It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love. [...] The method is passive physically but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive non-resistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.  It does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.  The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing evil. [It] is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. [...]  The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him. [...] the use of violence in our struggle would be both impractical and immoral. To meet hate with retaliatory hate would do nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Hate begets hate [...] We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love [...]

(*See Note 2 at the end of the blog.)

It is too bad that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t around to influence the Jewish religious zealots of early first century.  But if they didn’t listen to Jesus, they surely would not have listened to King Jr.  The political situation between certain sects of Jews in Jerusalem and the Roman law enforcement was volatile.  Had these people taken Jesus’s dire warnings seriously, they might have avoided the bloody, violent end Jesus described:

[Jesus said,] “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is killing the prophets, and stoning those sent unto her, how often did I will to gather together thy children, as a hen her brood under the wings, and ye did not will.  Lo, your house is being left to you desolate [...]”  And when he came nigh, having seen the city, he wept over it, saying – “If thou didst know, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things for thy peace; but now they were hid from thine eyes.  Because days shall come upon thee, and thine enemies shall cast around thee a rampart, and compass thee round, and press thee on every side, and lay thee low, and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone, because thou didst not know the time of thy inspection.”

When Jesus spoke to the Jewish multitudes, His audience was God’s covenant people, people who God had promised to cleanse of sin.  Their blindness and stubborn rebellion came as no surprise to God.  Yes, Jesus wept, because He knew what was about to happen to them, how they would suffer the consequences of their decision to take up arms against the Roman soldiers.  But Jesus also knew that God’s glorious Plan of the Ages would result in not only the salvation of Israel, but the salvation of the whole world.  Paul explained this concept in Romans 11:

For I do not wish you [the church in Rome, mostly Gentile Christians] to be ignorant, brethren, of this secret – that ye may not be wise in your own conceits – that hardness in part to Israel hath happened till the fulness of the nations may come in; and so all Israel shall be saved, according as it hath been written, “There shall come forth out of Sion he who is delivering, and he shall turn away impiety from Jacob, and this to them [is] the covenant from Me, when I may take away their sins.”  As regards, indeed, the good tidings, [the Jews who persecute Christians are] enemies on your account; and as regards the choice – beloved on account of the fathers; for unrepented of [are] the gifts and the calling of God; for as ye also once did not believe in God, and now did find kindness by the unbelief of these: so also these now did not believe, that in your kindness they also may find kindness; for God did shut up together the whole to unbelief, that to the whole He might do kindness.

If we closely examine Jesus’s words, we can see the beginning of the revelation brought to light by the apostle Paul regarding the future of those Jewish zealots who died between 66 and 70 AD.  For example, Jesus said, “If thou didst know, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things for thy peace [...]” Notice how He clarifies that at this time they did not know the things for their peace.  It may be a stretch for the evangelical mind to see the implications – that Jesus longed for them to know now instead of later.  I realize that this portion of the text, alone, does not fully support the point I am making, but if we keep reading, it will become more obvious.  Jesus said, “Lo, your house is being left to you desolate, and verily I say to you – ye may not see me, till it may come, when ye may say, “Blessed [is] he who is coming in the name of the Lord.”  There will come a day when these people, who persecuted the “few” and rejected the “narrow” gate in favor of the “wide” path leading to destruction, will see their Messiah.  Jesus even prophecies the words they will speak, words which indicate a change of heart.

Some readers may be questioning whether those who died in 70 AD can be rightly identified as the “many” to whom Jesus referred in the Sermon on the Mount, so let’s take a look.  There are three points we should examine.  First, the admonition to enter the narrow gate is immediately followed by a warning against false prophets.  Second, there is an urgency to enter the reign of God while there is still time, before the door is closed, because the reign of God was “about presently to be made manifest”.  Third, the two groups (“few” and “many”) are clearly described: those who enter in before the door is closed and those who are shut out.

The warning against the false prophets is a theme repeated throughout the gospels and scripture in general.  Jesus said that the few would know who the false prophets were based on their “fruits” or results of their actions, and He uses similar language to describe hypocrites and Jewish opponents – it may be that the “many” include all these people groups, who exhibit the same “fruits”.  For example, Jesus says,

Take heed your kindness not to do before men, to be seen by them, and if not — reward ye have not from your Father who [is] in the heavens; whenever, therefore, thou mayest do kindness, thou mayest not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they may have glory from men; verily I say to you – they have their reward!  But thou, doing kindness, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth, that thy kindness may be in secret, and thy Father who is seeing in secret Himself shall reward thee manifestly. And when thou mayest pray, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, because they love in the synagogues, and in the corners of the broad places – standing – to pray, that they may be seen of men; verily I say to you, that they have their reward.

It is obvious, based on the way Jesus describes them, that the “many” are more concerned with appearing righteous than they are with actually being righteous.  Matthew records Jesus’s scathing, open rebuke of the “many”, highlighting their bad fruits for His audience:

On the seat of Moses sat down the scribes and the Pharisees

Jesus identifies the many directly – they are those religious leaders who do the following:

they say, and do not; for they bind together burdens heavy and grievous to be borne, and lay upon the shoulders of men, but with their finger they will not move them. And all their works they do to be seen by men, and they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the fringes of their garments, they love also the chief couches in the supper, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the market-places, and to be called by men, Rabbi, Rabbi. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut up the reign of the heavens before men, for ye do not go in, nor those going in do ye suffer to enter.

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the many were more concerned about the political ramifications than they were with whether Jesus actually was Who He claimed to be.  Instead of using their powerful and influential positions to champion Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, they worried about what they might stand to lose because of this miracle.  They held a meeting, as follows:

[...] the chief priests, therefore, and the Pharisees, gathered together a sanhedrim, and said, “What may we do? because this man doth many signs? If we may let him alone thus, all will believe in him; and the Romans will come, and will take away both our place and nation.” And a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being chief priest of that year, said to them, “Ye have not known anything, nor reason that it is good for us that one man may die for the people, and not the whole nation perish. [...] From that day, therefore, they took counsel together that they may kill him.

What seemingly better way to “shut up the reign of the heavens before men” than to do away with the One Who is ushering in the reign?

Jesus continues to describe the many to His audience:

Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye eat up the houses of the widows, and for a pretence make long prayers, because of this ye shall receive more abundant judgment. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye go round the sea and the dry land to make one proselyte, and whenever it may happen – ye make him a son of gehenna twofold more than yourselves.

Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, how Jesus said:

I say to you, that every one who is angry at his brother without cause, shall be in danger of the judgment, and whoever may say to his brother, Empty fellow! shall be in danger of the sanhedrim, and whoever may say, Rebel! shall be in danger of the gehenna of the fire.

Jesus knew that the judgment of Israel was quickly approaching.  God would very soon remove His hand of protection from them, creating a vacuous space for their enemies to destroy them.  Not only would those who follow the false prophets be subject to judgment by religious leaders (sanhedrim), but they would also be subject to the gehenna of fire (Jerusalem, 70 AD), a spiritual garbage dump.  In this way, the Scribes and Pharisees make the proselyte “a son of gehenna twofold more than” themselves.

Jesus continues to rebuke the religious leaders in the presence of His audience, the masses of Jewish listeners:

Wo to you, blind guides, who are saying, “Whoever may swear by the sanctuary, it is nothing, but whoever may swear by the gold of the sanctuary – is debtor!” Fools and blind! for which [is] greater, the gold, or the sanctuary that is sanctifying the gold? And, whoever may swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever may swear by the gift that is upon it – is debtor! Fools and blind! for which [is] greater, the gift, or the altar that is sanctifying the gift? He therefore who did swear by the altar, doth swear by it, and by all things on it; and he who did swear by the sanctuary, doth swear by it, and by Him who is dwelling in it; and he who did swear by the heaven, doth swear by the throne of God, and by Him who is sitting upon it. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye give tithe of the mint, and the dill, and the cumin, and did neglect the weightier things of the Law – the judgment, and the kindness, and the faith; these it behoved [you] to do, and those not to neglect.

Let me demonstrate how the concepts Jesus taught, if they had been practically applied, could have saved the many from destruction.  Caligula (the cruel and likely insane Roman Caesar) decided that a statue of himself should be set up in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  Petronius, the man Caligula put in charge of doing the deed, was impressed by the fact that the Jewish religious leaders would rather die, and in fact, let the whole nation die, before they would allow Caligula’s statue to be set up in the temple.  Although their angry tenacity seems to be commendable, we must remember that Jesus is “God with us”, and that the Spirit of God claimed the vessels (bodies, hearts, minds) of believers as the new “temple” of God.  The religious system and all its trappings were no longer the dwelling place of God among men.  They had become mere buildings, used by people who imagined for themselves elaborate lists of rules and regulations.  The Jewish religious leaders were unable to recognize that the reign of God was not in the Holy of Holies of their Temple building, the reign of God should have been within them!  How could Caligula possibly set up a statue there?  Caligula’s demands should have been disappointing to them, but it should never have been considered an act worth resisting to the point of the bloodshed and enslavement of millions of lives.  Clearly, they did, as Jesus said, neglect “judgment, and the kindness, and the faith” to let God be the One to judge Caligula’s stupidity.  Consequently, God did just that, because it was not yet the appointed time for the “abomination of desolation” to take place.  (I’ll explain this further shortly.)  Petronius decided to disobey orders.  Caligula found out about it and wrote an order for Petronius to be put to death.  But while the written order was en route, Caligula died at sea because of bad weather.  The letter arrived after the news of Caligula’s death, so Petronius was never executed.  Nevertheless, a rift between the Jews and Romans was created, and it would continue to grow…

Jesus said of the Scribes and Pharisees:

Blind guides! who are straining out the gnat, and the camel are swallowing. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye make clean the outside of the cup and the plate, and within they are full of rapine and incontinence. Blind Pharisee! cleanse first the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside of them also may become clean. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye are like to whitewashed sepulchres, which outwardly indeed do appear beautiful, and within are full of bones of dead men, and of all uncleanness; so also ye outwardly indeed do appear to men righteous, and within ye are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and adorn the tombs of the righteous, and say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” So that ye testify to yourselves, that ye are sons of them who did murder the prophets; and ye – ye fill up the measure of your fathers. Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna? Because of this, lo, I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and of them ye will kill and crucify, and of them ye will scourge in your synagogues, and will pursue from city to city; that on you may come all the righteous blood being poured out on the earth from the blood of Abel the righteous, unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar: verily I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.

 

Jewish zealots violently raided Jerusalem, revolting against Roman rule, and for a while, they succeeded.  They raided the homes of local Jews and stole their food.  The Roman soldiers then destroyed the food supply, and people were dying of starvation.  The Jewish sects were vicious to one another in the fight for survival within the city, and the Roman army reorganized and gathered around the city, just as Jesus said.  The Romans gave the people an opportunity to surrender, but they would not – they were more concerned about the appearance of righteousness (having a temple and an orderly system of religious ceremonies) than righteousness itself (love your enemies… do good to those who hate you, etc).  By the time the Roman soldiers were able to enter the city, they were so enraged that they did not wait for orders; they immediately destroyed the temple and slaughtered many Jews.  All of this took place about within the Biblical generation (40 years) of when Christ made His prophetic pronouncement.  The bad/evil fruits of the false prophets, indeed, led to the destruction of the many who followed them along the wide path.

Jesus’s warning against entering the wide gate, accompanied by His description of the many as “false prophets, who come unto you in sheep’s clothing, and inwardly are ravening wolves”, say “Lord, Lord” but do not do the will of the Father, hear but don’t do Jesus’s words, are not known by the “master of the house”, believe that their association with the master (eating and drinking with the master, the master taught in their “broad places”) will be enough to secure their entrance into life, and are “workers of unrighteousness”.  By now, we should be getting a clearer picture of the many.

In contrast, Jesus’s admonition to enter the narrow gate is accompanied by His list of the attributes of the few, that is, they have a righteousness that “abound[s] above that of the scribes and Pharisees”, “seek first” the reign of God over physical needs, do the will of the Father, are known by the “master of the house”, and the progressive triplet – they come to Jesus, hear Him, and do His words.  We also have a clearer picture of the “few”.

Notice that both the few and the many do works.  The few hear the will of the Father from Jesus Christ and put what they hear into practice.  The many suppose or pretend they are doing the will of the Father, but their works are unrighteous.  The reason for this is not because the few are better or smarter or put forth a greater effort.  If this were the case, then we would have to assume that righteousness is a human effort, achievable apart from Christ.  The possibility of a fallible, spiritually dead human being possessing the inclination or ability to do the will of the Father comes only through Jesus Christ, because it is only through Jesus Christ that the Father reveals His will and establishes His reign in and among individuals.  His kingdom is not about average people trying to attain spiritual perfection.  His reign is a “life” relationship between Himself and His people, and it is also a “life” relationship between His people and others.  It is what Jesus calls “My Father’s will” – a new way to relate to one another and to God because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Robert Guelich, in his book, A Foundation for Understanding The Sermon on The Mount, writes:

Inherent to “my Father’s will” was the christological basis of Jesus Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise for the day of salvation, that brought about a different orientation to the Mosaic Law.  Therefore, any “prophecy” that attempted to apply rigorously the Mosaic Law failed at precisely the same point where the Pharisees broke with Jesus’ ministry, namely, at the implications of his coming for the old order, the Law in Judaism.  Put another way, those seeking to live and to influence others to live under the “Sinai Torah,” the Law of Moses legalistically understood, had not accepted Jesus Messiah and the accompanying “Zion Torah” whose basis was the presence in history of the new age with its message of salvation and reconciliation between God and his own.  They had ultimately failed to hear the “gospel of the Kingdom,” which offered a new basis and power for conduct, “righteousness” as seen in [Matthew 5-7].

Let’s suppose that the early first century Jewish zealots experienced the same, life-changing spiritual birth as the disciples or the apostle Paul.  How might things have gone differently?  Perhaps they would have recognized the events foretold by Jesus as recorded in the gospels and by John in Revelation unfolding before their very eyes.

Jesus said, “Do ye not see all these [temple buildings]? verily I say to you, There may not be left here a stone upon a stone, that shall not be thrown down.”

The disciples asked, “Tell us, when shall these be? and what [is] the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?”

Jesus answered,

Take heed that no one may lead you astray, for many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they shall lead many astray,[...] Whenever, therefore, ye may see the abomination of the desolation, that was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever is reading let him observe) then those in Judea – let them flee to the mounts [...] for there shall be then great tribulation.

(The “abomination of desolation” in Daniel is a prophecy about a ruler causing sacrifices to cease for about three and a half years and the profaning of the temple – if it is to be interpreted literally.)

John, likely comparing the Roman Empire to a beast, writes, that a “beast with seven heads” that “was given to it a mouth speaking great things, and evil-speakings, and there was given to it authority to make war forty-two months, and it did open its mouth for evil-speaking toward God, to speak evil of His name [...]”

According to historical records, Nero Caesar (whose Hebrew numeric name-value is 666 and who was called a “beast” in his time), one of the most ruthless rulers ever, claimed to be the sun-god Apollo and demanded the honor of divinity.  He was the first ruler to institute the persecution of Christians, which lasted from 64 AD until he died in 68 – about three and a half years later.  The zealots rebelled and encouraged the general Jewish population to rebel against Roman rule, to rid Jerusalem of the Roman Empire by force. Eventually the temple was profaned, as described by Jesus in the book of Luke:

And when ye may see Jerusalem surrounded by encampments, then know that come nigh did her desolation; then those in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and those in her midst, let them depart out; and those in the countries, let them not come in to her; because these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all things that have been written. And wo to those with child, and to those giving suck, in those days; for there shall be great distress on the land, and wrath on this people; and they shall fall by the mouth of the sword, and shall be led captive to all the nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by nations, till the times of nations be fulfilled.

What if the zealots and warring Jewish factions had done the works they heard from Jesus Christ?

Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you, that ye may be sons of your Father in the heavens, because His sun He doth cause to rise on evil and good, and He doth send rain on righteous and unrighteous. For, if ye may love those loving you, what reward have ye? do not also the tax-gatherers the same? and if ye may salute your brethren only, what do ye abundant? do not also the tax-gatherers so? ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father who [is] in the heavens is perfect.

What if they had heeded the clear warning to “flee to the mountains” and “depart out” and “not come in to [Jerusalem]” when they saw that it was surrounded by armies?  Normally, when an area is under attack, the safest place to take refuge is within the city walls, but this is not true of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Jesus knew it, and He warned His listeners to enter His reign while there was still time, before the door would be shut to them.  Few people understood this.  Many did not.  This sheds new light on the meaning of what Jesus said to His disciples when they asked Him why He always taught in parables (here translated similes):

To you it hath been given to know the secrets of the reign of the heavens, and to these it hath not been given, for whoever hath, it shall be given to him, and he shall have overabundance, and whoever hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken from him. Because of this, in similes do I speak to them, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor understand, and fulfilled on them is the prophecy of Isaiah, that saith, With hearing ye shall hear, and ye shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and ye shall not perceive, for made gross was the heart of this people, and with the ears they heard heavily, and their eyes they did close, lest they might see with the eyes, and with the ears might hear, and with the heart understand, and turn back, and I might heal them. And happy are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear, for verily I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men did desire to see that which ye look on, and they did not see, and to hear that which ye hear, and they did not hear.

Before I close, I must admit that I do not yet have a complete understanding of some portions of the scriptural texts to which I refer.  Undoubtedly, blog readers will comment or email me concerning apocalyptic language and parables and the like, which is fine, but I’d like to preemptively offer that many prophetic passages in scripture are fulfilled in a progressive, layered manner.  The more I learn and understand, the less tightly I hold to my former futuristic view of many scriptures.  I do not condemn those who hold to the rapture-seven-years-antichrist-one-world-government type of teachings, and although I have increasing doubts regarding such things, I do recognize my own ignorance.  For all I know, they could be right.  Regardless, I feel very confident that the things I have written in this blog are also accurate.

I also want to add that just because there was a first century fulfillment of the few and many and narrow gate and wide path, this does not mean that these scriptures are no longer applicable. Just to give one example, the many – do works “in the name” of Jesus Christ, yet those who rejected Christ and suffered destruction in Jerusalem probably did not claim the name of Christ for their actions.  This is definitely food for thought.

Matthew and Luke retell Jesus’s stories and teachings from different angles.  When I say different, I don’t mean that one is right and other is wrong.  They compliment each other, and lend support to the idea that the warnings Jesus gave to His immediate audience should also be taken seriously by modern-day hearers of His words, especially those who claim to be disciples of the Good Shepherd.  The larger context of His words should not be dismissed just because the immediate context of His words have already played out in history.

Matthew presents Jesus’s words in such a way that should make the religious leaders of today’s institutional church shudder.  Perhaps they were actually included among Jesus’s intended audience.  After all, Jesus knew His words would be recorded and read in future generations, didn’t He?  Jesus knew that people would seek to validate and legitimize their actions by doing them “in His name”.  Jesus knew that His name would be abused by those who want positions of honor and power as wolves among sheep.  Not everyone comes to Jesus in this age.  Not everyone who comes to Him hears Him.  And not everyone who hears Him enters into the life He gives, a perfect, righteous life that results in the hearer actually being willing and able to do the will of God.  The “leaven of the Scribes and Pharisees” is still working its way through the dough of humanity.  However, the kingdom of God or reign of God is “like leaven, which a woman, having taken, did hide in three measures of meal, till that all was leavened.”  The three measures (who I suspect are the believers who are overcomers, the believers who are not overcomers, and the unbelievers) will all be leavened, that is, subjected to His will, which is the only will that results in life – abundant life.

*Note 1: It is interesting that the concept of eternal torment in Hell as “just” punishment makes the practices of the Scribes and Pharisees look absolutely righteous.  In fact, if a Pharisee were to beat a Gentile to death for telling a lie, then he would be more merciful than the god-of-eternal-torment, because at least he brings the punishment to an end.  What does this say about the eternal torment doctrine?  If this were true, then don’t you think that God takes “eye for an eye” to a new and utterly brutal level?

*Note 2: It is interesting that if Martin Luther King Jr. were to have taught his followers to behave like the god-of-eternal-torment, then American history would be much bloodier than it already is.  Is Martin Luther King Jr. better at following the will of God than God Himself?  Why is Martin Luther King Jr. praised for responding to hate with love?  Because it is the right thing to do – what Jesus taught.  If Jesus said, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me,” then doesn’t this mean that God has a loving way to deal with hate?  What does this tell you about the doctrine of eternal torment?

What is the lake of fire?  Many Christians equate the term with the doctrine of eternal torment in hell.  They sometimes call it being “separated” from God’s presence.

In the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Sin Wins, I addressed the first of Chan’s three points regarding the “open gates” in Revelation.  Today, I’ll address Chan’s second point:

Second, there’s nothing in the text that says the lake of fire is intended to purify the wicked.

Although there is much to be said about the lake of fire, what it is, and more importantly what it isn’t, this blog will only focus on Chan’s claim.  Is it true that in the book of Revelation (the only book of the Bible that uses the phrase “lake of fire”) there is nothing to support the idea that its intended use is to purify the wicked?

First of all, this is a loaded question, like the question “When did you stop beating your wife?”  Chan puts words in the mouths of Christian universalists by including in his question the unqualified statement, “the lake of fire is intended to purify the wicked”.  If I were to leave that statement alone, then Chan and others who agree with him could say that Christian universalists believe there are two ways to be saved, by believing in Jesus or by the lake of fire.  They can then dismiss anything and everything thereafter, because they are sure (and rightly so) that Jesus is the only way to be “saved”.  So before I attempt to answer Chan’s argument, I’d like to clarify that Christian universalists do not believe the lake of fire “saves” anyone.  The work of Christ is what accomplishes salvation.

Now, on to the question.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if one reads the scriptures in the modern English translations only, then he or she will likely NOT see much evidence to connect the idea of purification to the lake of fire.  In English, we read, “lake of fire burning with brimstone”, but in Greek, we read, “limnhn tou purov kai qeiou”.

I’m really not trying to get over-technical with this.  It is important that we look at each word, in order to better understand “the Revelation of Jesus Christ”.  The first word, “limnhn” is translated into English as “lake”.  The root word for “limnhn” is “limen”, which means “harbor” and it is associated with the nearness of the shore.  The second word “tou” is translated into English as “of”.  In Greek, “tou” means “this”, “that”, or “these” – a definite article.  The third word, “purov” is translated into English as “fire” and it can also be translated as “burn”.  The word “purov” (and Hebrew equivalent) is used elsewhere in scripture as something other than a literal burning fire.  Here are a few examples:

1. in testing precious metals for purity (1 Pet. 5:4), used to aid a metaphor about faith

2. as a metaphor for kindness toward enemies (Rom. 12:20)

3. as a metaphor (Rev. 3:18) for purification, in reference to spiritual riches

4. the visible manifestation of the Spirit of God (Ex. 3:2, Acts 2:3)

5. the eyes of the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:14)

6. regarding salvation “saved through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15)

The word “kai” in English is “and”, and in Greek it is a conjunction that can mean “also, even, indeed, but”.  Finally, the word “qeiou” is translated into English as “brimstone”.  In Greek, this is a very interesting word, “theion”, which is defined as “divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify, and to ward off disease”.  The root word is “theios”, which means “God”.

If we put this all together, here’s what we get:

In the nearness of the shore, a harbor that metaphorically “burns” is associate with testing, kindness, the Spirit of God, and salvation.  Indeed, the incense of God has the power to purify.

I’m not making this up, people.  It’s all there, for whoever wants to study something other than church-approved doctrine-proofed publications.  This view of the lake of fire is also consistent with another scripture in Revelation:

…he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, that hath been mingled unmixed in the cup of His anger, and he shall be tormented in fire and brimstone before the holy messengers, and before the Lamb (14:10)

The Greek word which is horribly translated in English as “tormented” is “basanizo“, which is defined as, “to test (metals) by the touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal”.  This is not “separated from God’s presence” at all; the scripture specifically states that this testing takes place “before the Lamb”.

I don’t think that the lake of fire is jolly butterflies, flowers, and gumdrops.  The warnings in scripture should be taken seriously.  They are there for a reason.  But I also don’t think that we should ditch the glorious truth that “love never fails” and “with God nothing is impossible” based on English translations and the traditions of men.

Needless to say, I really don’t understand why Chan sees “nothing in the text” to support a redemptive lake of fire.  It’s there for those “who have eyes to see”.

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: In This Life

I have a confession to make.  When it comes to profile pics, I don’t just randomly pick a photo, I look through all my recent photos and choose the best one, or better yet, I take twenty-five pictures knowing that one of them is bound to look better than the others.  The process is called “cherry picking” – selectively choosing the best from what is available.  It is a common practice that may or may not be morally sound, depending on the situation.  And it has a lot to do with inductive versus deductive logic.  What is the difference between inductive logic and deductive logic?  Glad you asked.

Induction:

A process of reasoning that moves from specific instances to predict general principles.

Deduction:

A process of reasoning that moves from the general to the specific.

Suppose you are given a basket of cherries, and they all look perfect.  You might assume that most of the cherries in the orchard look like the ones in the basket.  Or it could go the other way around.  You could be given a basket of small, misshapen, discolored cherries and you might assume they came from a diseased or neglected orchard.  The truth is that the person who picks the cherries can create an image of the orchard based on selection.  And what does all of this have to do with induction or deduction?  It is the way your mind works as you hold the basket of cherries and consider the orchard.  Maybe your opinion of the orchard is based on inductive logic.  If this is the case, then you will go through a process of reasoning in which you base your opinion of the entire orchard (general principles) on one hand picked basket (specific instances).  This is NOT an intelligent way to make sense of the world.  In contrast, you may base your opinion of the orchard on deductive logic.  If this is the case, then your process of reasoning about the orchard will not begin when you are handed a basket, because you won’t be willing to form an opinion about the orchard until you have examined, individually, most or all of the cherry trees for yourself.

In the orchard of theology, it is best to examine every tree.  In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, he advises readers regarding 1 Corinthians 15:22 and similar scriptures,

You’ve got to figure out from the context what “all” means.

I agree with Chan’s statement, that the context of “all” determines just how far “all” extends.  For example, in the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: The Anathema of Scrutiny, I wrote,

My Spanish 1 instructor, Professor Farcau, assigned each student in her class a number and informed the students, “In la clase de Spanish 1, all will give an oral presentation.”  Then, she said, “All who have been assigned numbers one through twenty will present on Monday.”  The students assigned numbers twenty-one and up did not assume that they were exempt from giving an oral presentation, because they had already been told that everyone would give a presentation.  They knew that they would give their oral presentations in a class period other than Monday.

How ridiculous would it be if I thought that when my instructor said “all”, she meant that every human being, from Adam to present day, would be required to give an oral presentation in my UCF Spanish 1 class?  Obviously, the context of her statement tells me to what extent “all” goes, that is, it applies only to the students in Spanish 1.

The problem with Chan’s advice, is that he does not apply it, at least, not in the section of the book to which it refers.  Chan lists four passages of scripture regarding Christian Universalism that he calls “The Big Ones” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 2 Corinthians 5:19, Colossians 1:19-20, 1 Timothy 2:4). Rather than examining each of these scriptures (reasoning from deduction), Chan cherry picks some misleading information on only two of them, and then ignores the other two, instead referencing a basket full of cherries from an entirely different orchard, cherries that are similar to my Spanish 1 class example, where the extent of “all” is limited by the context.  He concludes,

So “all” doesn’t always mean everything or everyone.  And the same goes for 1 Corinthians 15:22, as is clear from the context.  The “all” who will be made alive in Christ refers to believers of all types, not every single person.

While it is true that “all” does not always mean everything or everyone, it is also true that “all” is not always limited to “all types” or some other subset.  Chan draws attention to the truth that suits his argument, while he draws attention away from the other truth that is just as valid.  Proving that “all” is sometimes limited to all types in no way negates the fact that “all” is in fact used many times throughout scripture to mean everything or everyone.  For example,

[...] for all did sin, and are come short of the glory of God [...] Romans 3:23

And we are as unclean - all of us, and as a garment passing away, all our righteous acts; and we fade as a leaf - all of us. Isaiah 64:5-6

Thou [art] He, O Jehovah, Thyself — Thou hast made the heavens, the heavens of the heavens, and all their host, the earth andall that [are] on it, the seas and all that [are] in them, and Thou art keeping all of them alive [...] Nehemiah 9:5-6

All of us like sheep have wandered, each to his own way we have turned, and Jehovah hath caused to meet on him, the punishment of us all.  Isaiah 53:6

Righteous [is] Jehovah in all His ways, And kind in all His works. Psalm 145:17

Let’s have a look at Chan’s “The Big Ones”:

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  1 Corinthians 15:22

[...] that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:19

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20

[God, our Savior] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:4

The context of “all” 1 Corinthians 15:22, is specifically stated, that is, the people group in Adam.  It is a compound sentence which begins with the word “as”, indicating that the first thought cannot stand alone.  The Greek word for “as” is,

5618 hṓsper (an emphatic adverb, derived from 4007 /per, “indeed” intensifying 5613 /hōs, “as”) – “indeed just as,” “just exactly like.”

If all that Paul wrote was “As in Adam all die”, readers would look for what comes next, and if the “next” were not there, readers would wonder why Paul began a thought and didn’t conclude it.  They would ask, “Just exactly like what?”  The context demands that we continue reading in order to understand the point.  It is very similar to the “if/then” sentence structure in logic.  If this happens, then that happens.   The first part of the compound sentence is connected to the second part with the word “so”.  In Greek, the word “so” is,

3779 hoútō (an adverb, derived from the demonstrative pronoun, 3778 /hoútos, “this”) – like this . . .; in this manner, in this way (fashion), in accordance with this description (i.e. corresponding to what follows); in keeping withalong this linein the manner spoken.

If we use common sense to put it all together, we see this:

Indeed, just as, just exactly like “In Adam all die”, like this, in this manner, in this way, in accordance with this description, in keeping with, along this line, in the manner spoken, “In Christ all will be made alive.”

Let’s pretend that Paul wants to write about “all”, but he sees that there is an exception.  Do you think he will take the time to specify the exception?  Yes, he will.  In fact, he does, so we don’t need to pretend at all.  Paul writes,

[...] for all things he did put under his feet, and, when one may say that all things have been subjected, [it is] evident that he is excepted who did subject the all things to him, and when the all things may be subjected to him, then the Son also himself shall be subject to him, who did subject to him the all things, that God may be the all in all.  1 Corinthians 15:27-28

Here, Paul first states “for all things [Jesus] did put under his feet”.  Some people may point out that if Jesus is included in the category of “all things”, then does this mean that Jesus is subjecting himself to himself?  That’s very strange.  So Paul clarifies that there is an exception to the group named “all things” and writes, “when one may say that all things have been subjected, [it is] evident that he is excepted who did subject the all things to him”.  Why would Paul take the time to be so specific and clear about this, a case in which there is a single exception to “all”, but not also take the time to be specific and clear about a case in which there are literally millions of exceptions?

If eternal torment in Hell is true, and the majority of mankind is headed there, why would Paul be so careless as to make the misleading statement, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” without being specific and clear about the billions of exceptions?  Think about it.  Shouldn’t Paul, in order to be consistent, have written, For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive, and when one may say that all will be made alive, [it is] evident that all who do not have faith before death are excepted who will be made alive?

The reasonable response is not to write Paul off as some kind of irresponsible fruitcake but to conclude that Paul says exactly what he means to say, even if orthodox churchianity pitches a fit about it.

This isn’t the only time that Paul communicates the idea that all people will be made alive.  Many of Paul’s writings contain a universalist perspective.  Here’s another example of the Adam/Jesus parallel,

[...] just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.  The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more [...] Romans 5:18-20

Moving right along, now, the context of 2 Corinthians 5:19 in which God is reconciling “the world” to himself,  demonstrates the broad implications of “the world”:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

The skeptic might object, “Aha!  It says ‘anyone in Christ’!  That means the ‘all’ doesn’t apply to unbelievers!”

To this I would reply, “Not so fast.”

Notice first that “one died for all”.  Most believers would take this to mean that Jesus died for the world, for everyone.  Then Paul (and possibly Timothy) writes about a subgroup of the “all”, that is, “those who live”.  What does this mean?  It can’t mean “live” in the physical sense, as in respiration and pulse, because the not-yet-believers during this time also have a respiration and pulse.  So, “live” must be about the life that transcends physical existence, the life to which Jesus refers in His intercessory prayer, “[...] and this is the life age-during, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and him whom Thou didst send [...]“, the life which begins in the faith of Jesus Christ.  Paul reminds the believers that it hasn’t always been this way, that there was a time when they were not yet “a new creation” because they “once regarded Christ [...] from a worldly point of view”.  He states plainly that this subgroup has been “reconciled” through Christ for a purpose.  What is that purpose?  Paul calls it the “ministry of reconciliation”, and they have been given a message to communicate with the world, those who are not in the subgroup, the rest of the “all” for whom Jesus died.  What is the message?  Reconciliation!  Not counting people’s sins against them!

So, Christ did, in fact, die for all – for the whole world, not just a select few, and this is the same “world” that is being reconciled to God through Christ.

This begs the question, was the death of Christ effective?  Did Jesus accomplish His mission?  That’s another blog for another day.  The point here is that Chan would have us to believe that when Paul writes “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” that Paul really means a small percentage of “the world”.  The non-cherry-picking context indicates otherwise.

I really won’t need to spend much time on Colossians 1:19-20, for obvious reasons.  When Chan suggests looking at the context, I have to wonder how he could have missed this.  “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”  Here, we see “all things” qualified for us, that is, “whether things on earth or things in heaven”.  This is such a loaded verse!  I will return to this in another blog.  For now, unbiased readers can see that the extent of this “all” is as broad and inclusive as the Greek language will allow it to be.

Finally, 1 Timothy 2:4 states, “[God, our Savior] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  Chan formulates an argument based on what it means to say that God “wants” something.  I will address this concept in another blog and, for now, concentrate on the “all” argument Chan makes.  The context of 1 Timothy 2:4, does, as Chan asserts, refer to all types of people.  But the context is specific that the PRAYER should be offered up for all types of people.  We should pray for all people, not just the ones we happen to like.  However, we must ask, does God want all types of people to be saved, or just some types of people?  Does this passage exclude people or does it include people?  Does our PRAYING for specific people groups negate the idea that God wants all people to be saved?  Chan admits,

It’s probably the case that Paul wants Timothy to pray for all types of people because God is on a mission to save all types of people.

If God is on a mission to save all types of people, does this mean that some types of people will NOT be saved?  Again, does naming a few particular subsets of the whole, such as the subset called “people in authority”, exclude the remainder of the “all”?  Let’s look at the reason Paul gives for praying for “all” men:

I exhort, then, first of all, there be made supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, for all men: for kings, and all who are in authority, that a quiet and peaceable life we may lead in all piety and gravity, for this [is] right and acceptable before God our Saviour, who doth will all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth; for one [is] God, one also [is] mediator of God and of men, the man Christ Jesus, who did give himself a ransom for all – the testimony in its own times.

Notice it does not say that God wants all “types” of people to be saved, nor does it say Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all “types” of people.  This is Chan’s idea.  One simple way to settle the dispute between Chan’s orthodox view and my unorthodox view is to ask one simple question.

Did Jesus give Himself as a ransom for all people or just all types of people?  More specifically, did Jesus give Himself as a ransom ONLY for those who believe before they die, or did He give Himself as a ransom for everyone?  If we are to take Chan’s argument seriously, we will have to say that Jesus died ONLY for those who believe.  The implications are huge.  We’ve all heard evangelists preach, “Jesus died for you.”  If Chan is right, then evangelists need to stop giving people false hope.  They should preach, “Jesus died for SOME of you.”  Do you think Chan would be willing to adjust his evangelistic message in this way?  If he really believes what he writes, then he ought to do so.  And if he is unwilling to do so, then we ought to wonder why.  Perhaps when he looks people in the eye, the fear of God gets ahold of him, and the Spirit of God enables him to preach the truth, “Jesus died for everyone”, despite his beliefs.

 

Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Now or Never