Your Share in God’s Promises

Bible Teaching on “The Hope of Israel”

WE talk about hope in everyday conversation. We say “I hope you feel better soon”, or “We hope to go abroad this year” or “I hope the strike will be over by next week”. We mean there is something in the future we should very much like to happen, and we feel cautiously optimistic that it will. Life without hope would be very grim. Even in the worst of circumstances, people like to look on the bright side. A poet wrote: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Hope can give men extraordinary tenacity of spirit-miners trapped by a roof fall, or sailors drifting on a raft, will often fight death for days, convinced that their friends will come to the rescue before it is too late. Sadly, of course, they are sometimes disappointed. It can happen that the rock fall is too deep to tunnel through, or no one knows the ship has foundered. In this case the chance to which they cling does not exist, and their hope is an illusion.

Hope with a Foundation

Hope is a topic that crops up frequently in the Bible. Both in the Old Testament and the New, the writers are full of optimism. They look about them on a dreary and unjust world where so frequently suffering comes upon the innocent and evil men triumph, yet they have tremendous confidence that one day God the Creator is going to turn the tables the right way up. Not only that, but they seem to be convinced that they themselves will have a share in the improvements that will come. Listen to the Psalmist, for example: “Thou who hast done great things, O God, who is like thee? Thou who hast made me see many sore troubles wilt revive me again; from the depths of the earth thou wilt bring me up again . . . I will sing praises to thee with the lyre, 0 Holy One of Israel. My lips shall shout for joy, when I sing praises to thee” (Psalm 71:19-23). There is no doubt about this man’s confidence in the future.

Or Paul the Apostle, in calmer mood, in this passage from his letter to Timothy: “I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” See how assured he is, as he continues: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

This last passage is particularly interesting because it was written from a death cell. The Roman Emperor had turned against the Christians, and the aged Apostle was on trial for his life. There had been a first court hearing, and he was waiting for the second. He knew the outcome already as he penned the letter to young Timothy from his chilly prison. He was going to die. In spite of this gloomy prospect, he is full of hope. Unlike the trapped miner or the shipwrecked mariner, he does not grab at the slender chance that something will turn up-some vital document, or friendly witness, perhaps, to clear him of the charge. His hope transcends the certainty of his death. He is absolutely positive that even after he has died, a God in heaven will bring him back to a new and better life, at the last Day.

Absolute Conviction

The hope of the Bible writers is clearly something much stronger than cautious optimism. They have definite ideas about what is going to happen in the future, and they really look forward to it coming to pass. You probably envy the Apostle Paul his conviction, especially if you are passing through pain or sorrow in your life. You may have doubted in the past that you could ever be sure there is something to hope for beyond the grave. You may wonder, too, what the world is coming to, and what your children and grandchildren are going to inherit when you are gone. Well, take heart. The Bible has the key to the future, both the world’s and yours. It presents a plan that God has been following consistently from the beginning, based on promises He has made. The outline, beginning with Abraham, the patriarch of Israel, and expanding through the Prophets into the New Testament writings, is so clear and logical a child can understand it. It can give you a confidence that will take you through the darkest valley of suffering, and God has provided evidence to support your faith so strong that only the folly of pride could blind your eyes. Read on and see how it all hangs together.

The Promises to Abraham

The beginning of our story is in the Old Testament, the book of the people of Israel. Do not let this put you off. The Old Testament is neither redundant nor out of date. The territory may be unfamiliar, but there is real treasure to be found in these early books of the Bible. Few people have heard, for example, of the promises to Abraham, yet they form the very foundation of God’s master plan. Let us briefly recount them.

Abraham was a remarkable character who lived around 3,000 B.C. in a city called Ur which was in the land we now know as Iraq. He was visited one day by a messenger from the Lord, who told him to leave his birthplace. “Go”, said the Lord, “to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Because he trusted in God, Abraham sold up all his possessions and set off across the desert with his relatives. They came to the land we know as Israel. After he had briefly surveyed the country, the Lord appeared again, and said: “To your descendants I will give this land” (Genesis 1 2:7). This generous offer was particularly pleasing to Abraham and his wife Sarah, because in spite of a long and happy marriage, they had no children. It seemed the Lord was promising them a family, as well as somewhere to live. Some years passed. Abraham continued to camp out in his tent, waiting patiently for something to happen, but there was no sign of a baby on the way, and the native inhabitants of the land continued to go about their business.

One evening the messenger of the Lord appeared again. Abraham seized the opportunity to ask two important questions. “Behold”, he complained gently, “thou hast given me no offspring”. For answer, he was taken outside his tent and shown the sky, ablaze with stars. “Number the stars, if you are able to number them”, he was told. “So shall your descendants be!” The other point troubling Abraham was the matter of the land. “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur . . . to give you this land to possess the angel reminded him. O Lord God”, he replied, “how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (Genesis 15:3-8).

A Solemn Covenant

For answer, the Lord proceeded to make a very solemn agreement with Abraham, after the custom of the time, termed a “covenant”. He was instructed to collect a number of carefully specified animals and birds, which were sacrificed. The bodies were divided and laid on the ground. Normally, the two parties to a covenant would pass between the pieces, thus making it legally binding. In this case, as God was promising something to Abraham, He passed between the pieces. What Abraham saw, in the velvet darkness, was a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, the form in which, so often, God has revealed Himself to His people. Abraham was satisfied. A covenant confirmed in this way could not be broken.

The years flew by. In time, as Abraham grew to know God, the promises were repeated and enlarged. Two themes ran through them unchanged-the possession of the land, and the future of his descendants. It is worth tracing the development, through Genesis 1 3, 1 5, 1 7 and 22. The most impressive promise of the whole series was the last. This one began with an oath: “By myself have I sworn”, said the Lord. It continued on a familiar note: “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore.” It ended in mystery:

“Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:17,18, A.V.).

Notice the change in person from a plural, numerous, “seed” or offspring, to an offspring or seed in the singular. Note, too, his importance. To “possess the gate” of someone is a Hebrew idiom. In ancient times, the gate was the only entrance to a fortified city. It was also the place where the rulers held court. To possess the gate of your enemies was to have complete control. Abraham’s descendant was to be all conquering, and bring universal happiness. Whom did God have in mind? Abraham could only guess, and believe.

Twenty-five years after the making of the covenants, Sarah told Abraham with great excitement that she was going to have a baby. God was keeping His word. Through all that time Abraham never doubted God would give him a son. The Apostle Paul makes this comment about him in Romans: “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20,21). Abraham’s faith was unshakeable.

No Inheritance . . . Yet

The only disturbing note in the biography of this great pioneer is the fact that when he died, he still did not possess the land. God had several times promised it to him, personally, as well as to his descendants. Yet, as the martyr Stephen recounts, God “gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length” (Acts 7:5). He died in a tent, with not even a house to his name. Yet Abraham’s confidence in God could surmount even this final obstacle. Along with his wife and children, says the writer to the Hebrews, he “died in faith not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar” (Hebrews 11:13).

You can see now why Abraham is called “father of the faithful”. God had brought him to the promised land. God had given him a son. If God said he would inherit the land, he believed he would, even though he had to die.

Four centuries after Abraham died, his family had grown into a nation. God had repeated the promise of the and to his son Isaac, and again to his grandson Jacob, so that it ran in the family. Jacob had a second name, Israel. He bore twelve sons, each of whom became the head of a tribe or clan with thousands of members. During a time of famine the family migrated to Egypt and settled there. As they multiplied, the Egyptians grew fearful of their power, and enslaved them. Moses, the great lawgiver, was sent to set them free. After a series of calamities which ruined his country, the Egyptian Pharaoh was forced to let them go, and the Israelites set off across the wilderness to their homeland. Remarkably, this very event had been predicted in one of the promises to Abraham, as you can check for yourself in Genesis 15:13-16.

God’s Oath to Israel

At Mount Sinai, the angel of the Lord made another covenant, this time with the whole people of Israel. Sealed by the blood of sacrifices, it gave them the key to the land of Israel, so long as they kept the wise commandments of God’s Law. Years later, as they stood on the brink of the Promised Land, Moses reminded them that God, after hundreds of years, was about to keep His word. “It is because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand . . . Know therefore,” he went on, “that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:8,9).

That was a staggering statement to make. A typical generation spans something like a quarter of a century. A thousand generations would require up to twenty-five thousand years of promise-keeping! So utterly reliable is God’s word. Certainly a number of God’s promises came unshakeably true, as the Israelites crossed the Jordan for the hills and pastures of their Fatherland.

We pass over several hundred fairly unfruitful years to the time of Israel’s monarchy. King David, well known for his authorship of the Psalms, was, like Abraham, a giant of faith. Something of his love for God and his insistence on truth and right comes out in his writings. Abraham is often referred to in Scripture as “the friend” of God. David was called by the Lord “a man after my own heart”. Both epithets mark off these men as exceptional characters.

During the wilderness journey and their subsequent occupation of the land, the Israelites had worshipped God at the Tabernacle, a tent-like portable building. Now the nation was firmly established with a king and a capital at Jerusalem, David felt it would be a nice idea to build for the Lord a more permanent sanctuary of stone. When he suggested this to the prophet Nathan, he was disappointed to be told that the project must be shelved until his son came to the throne. However, said Nathan, the Lord was touched by David’s concern for His honour, and in return He proposed a magnificent promise for David and his family, very like the one made with Abraham.

The Covenant with King David

In fact it was so solemn a promise, it is referred to as the Covenant with David. And like the promises to Abraham, it combined plain, practical ideas with cryptic statements that must have puzzled David for years. Here is a sample, taken from 2 Samuel 7: “The Lord declares to you”, said Nathan, “that the Lord will make you a house” (v.11). It sounded an odd statement, for it was David who wanted to build God a house. But as the prophet continued, it became obvious that the Lord had in mind a different kind of house: “I will raise up your son after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (vv. 12,13).

So far, the promise could fit neatly David’s son Solomon, who succeeded him on the throne. But God continued, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (v.14). Here was a poser. How could the person referred to be David’s son, and yet have God for his father as well? It was very mysterious. The climax of the promise came at the end: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever” (v. 1 6). The house of David was clearly his family or dynasty. We use the same term in history lessons when we speak of the House of York or the House of Plantagenet.

But what a promise — to have your family line guaranteed a continuous succession to the throne, not just for a hundred years, but for ever! It was a covenant David rejoiced over for the rest of his life: “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord”, he writes in Psalm 89. “I will not violate my covenant”, God had insisted, “Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His line shall endure for ever, his throne as long as the sun before me” (vv. 1,34-36).

Once more, God had made a promise which, upon His honour, He could not break, and King David, like Abraham, died believing the eternal God would keep His word.

We must press on quickly now through five more centuries, pursuing the drama of what the Apostle Peter calls in the Authorised Version “God’s exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4). It is a trail with a happy ending.

The Restoration Promises

David’s son Solomon did build a house for God, a magnificent and costly Temple at Jerusalem that stood for hundreds of years. When he died, a tragic civil war divided the country, and the nation was ruled by two rival kings. As time passed, the spiritual vigour of the people declined and God’s laws fell into disuse. There were revivals from time to time, mainly amongst the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who retained the Temple and the capital Jerusalem. But slowly moral standards declined, and God’s patience became exhausted. Israel’s right to the land depended on their obedience to Him, and they had flagrantly broken the terms of their tenancy. This was the era of the Prophets. True to His name, the Lord showed infinite compassion, raising up special messengers, inspired by the Holy Spirit to warn the people that the way they were following would lead to disaster.

The warnings had no effect. Eventually the ten tribes were invaded by the Assyrians and deported bodily from the land, to be followed a century and a half later by the two tribes, taken away to Babylon. It really looked like the end. As the beautiful Temple was burnt and the palace destroyed, Zedekiah, the nineteenth king to sit on David’s throne, was blinded and taken captive, never to return. What of the promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land? And how about the covenant to David that there would always be someone to occupy his throne? Had God forgotten His promise? Or worse, was He less powerful than the heathen gods of Babylon? The people badly needed guidance.

In that very hour, when Israel’s light seemed to be flickering out, astonishingly, there came the most tremendous outpouring of Promises from the lips of the Prophets. They insisted the calamities that had come were not accidental, but were the judgement of God. There could be no escape from punishment. But still, in the future, there was hope. The nation would not die out. There would be a king to reign on David’s throne. And one day God would send them Messiah, a mighty deliverer, who would bring them back to the land they had left and rule over them in peace for ever.

Isaiah’s Prophecy of Messiah

Here are just three extracts from the promises God made in this period. They are taken from three different prophets.

Isaiah lived before the end, and could see the writing on the wall. “Ah, sinful nation,” he cries in his opening chapter, “a people laden with iniquity . . . they have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel. The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it” (1:4-6). Yet entire chapters of his book are alive with praise and thankfulness at God’s coming deliverance. “Shake yourself from the dust, arise, O captive Jerusalem break forth into singing you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem”, he exults. He sees the people trodden down by vengeful nations, when God appears in fire and earthquake to deliver them: “For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire”. For, he continues, “to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore” (9:5-7).

He pictures in the end this Davidic king presiding over a worldwide empire where all nations live at peace, and God’s laws go out from Jerusalem: “It shall come to pass in the latter days”, he begins, ” . . . out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples . . . nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2:2-4). These prophecies would have seemed impossible to a Jew living at the time of the fall of Jerusalem. Yet the God who keeps His word for a thousand generations was promising them.

Jeremiah and the New Covenant

Our second prophet actually lived through the siege of Jerusalem. He saw the city ransacked and its people taken away. Yet God made Jeremiah some of the clearest prophecies in the Old Testament about the future of His people: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke.”

The old covenant was the one made with the nation at Sinai, which gave them the Promised Land, on conditions. This New covenant replaces the Old: “This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”. Instead of His commandments remaining on tablets of stone, they would be taken into men’s hearts. The people would all know the Lord, he continued, and God would forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

If it all sounded very unlikely to Jeremiah’s readers, setting off for captivity in Babylon, he could cheer them with these words: “Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger . . . I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety . . . I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul” (32:37,41). Time and again Jeremiah repeated this promise of the regathering. And if their faith was shattered at the sight of their king being taken from them, he even had a special reassurance about the throne: “I will cause righteous Branch to spring forth for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. . . For thus says the Lord, David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel” (33:15,17).

“Justice and righteousness”-those words echo the statement we found in Isaiah one hundred and fifty years earlier. Both prophets pictured the line of David as a family tree, from which an illustrious branch would arise, a unique being who would occupy the throne for ever. Sure and firm, too, in both prophets is the Abrahamic promise of the Land, assured to the people in spite of their scattering.

Ezekiel’s Vision of the Kingdom

Finally, we come to Ezekiel, who lived later still. Ezekiel spent all his life as a prisoner of war in Babylon. He, too, had the most wonderful vision of peace and blessing for Abraham’s people: “I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land”, he prophesies; “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses.” God was going to forgive and forget the misdeeds of the nation (Ezekiel 36:24,25). Like the earlier prophets, Ezekiel sings of the coming of the king and the promises to Israel’s ancestors: “They shall dwell in the land where your fathers dwelt that I gave to my servant Jacob; they and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there for ever; and David my servant shall be their prince forever” (37:25). There is no mistaking the clarity and vigor of God’s guarantee to His people. However dark the present, they had something very positive to look forward to.

The Israelites were held captive in Babylon for three quarters of a century. A revolution followed, in which the Babylonian empire was taken over by the Persians. In the first year of his reign the new king declared an amnesty, permitting any members of the tribe of Judah who wished to, to return to their own country. Many did, and began the heartbreaking task of rebuilding their overgrown ruined estates.

Perhaps they wondered hopefully whether the Messiah would appear to make life easier for them. They had, it was true, gone back from captivity, but life was not the same. They groaned under the taxes of their imperial masters, and as the years passed they were invaded and crushed by armies from north and south. The great majority of their brethren remained in dispersion, wandering farther away among the nations. And no king sat on David’s throne.

The Coming of Jesus

A young girl from the tribe of Judah, engaged but not married, sat in her house at Nazareth. Surprised by a knock at the door, she found herself speaking to a visitor who claimed to be an angel of the Lord: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son”, he told her, “and you shall call his name Jesus”. So far, the words are familiar from Christmas plays. But ponder now the remainder of the message: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High”, said the angel, “and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). There is no mistaking, is there, the link with those Old Testament promises? “The power of the Most High will overshadow you”, he concluded, “therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (v.35).

At a stroke, the mystery of centuries was becoming plain. Mary’s son Jesus was a unique being, the only one capable of fulfilling the covenant with David. He was descended from David, through her own family tree. He was at the same time Son of God: “I will be his father”, God had said to David, and the power of God’s Holy Spirit brought Jesus to birth.

Further, Jeremiah had promised, “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of David”, and the angel said Jesus would reign for ever, on that very throne. Finally, because David was descended from Abraham, Jesus stood in the line of Abraham’s promise of a blessing to all nations, as well: “He will save his people from their sins”, was the angel’s explanation of his name (Matthew 1:21), and what greater blessing could there be than to remove the terrible burden of human sin that brings sorrow, disease and death to all men? So, quietly and without drama, the one on whom Israel and the world depended was born in a stable in the city of his ancestor David.

Christ’s Mission

When Jesus began his public preaching at the age of thirty, there was great expectation in Judah. His followers called him Messiah, or Anointed-the coming Deliverer. The title ‘Christos’ or Christ in the Greek of the New Testament is exactly equivalent to the Old Testament ‘Messiah’. Everyone expected Jesus would challenge Rome, set Israel free from her enemies, and take up the throne. His extraordinary miracles of healing enhanced this conviction that he was sent from God.

The people were doomed to disappointment. Jesus remained a wandering teacher and spurned political ties. His enemies, the leaders of Israel, jealous of his popularity, successfully plotted his death. After three years, in which he transformed the lives of thousands by his example and his quiet teaching, he was betrayed and executed as a criminal. The Jews remained in dispersion, ungathered. David’s throne stayed empty. Even the body of Jesus disappeared. It looked as though, yet again, God had made a promise, and it had all come to nothing. For six long weeks, Jerusalem slept.

The Mystery Revealed

Suddenly, the capital was alive with amazing news. Jesus’ disciples, filled with the same Holy Spirit power that had inspired the ancient prophets, were proclaiming that Jesus was alive again. They had seen him, eaten with him, and watched him ascend to heaven. More startling still, they were able to show from those Old Testament Scriptures that everyone thought they knew so well, that the Messiah was always intended to die on the cross, and rise again. Nothing had gone wrong. It was all God’s plan.

“What God foretold by the mouth of all his prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he hath thus fulfilled”, declared Peter the fisherman. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets” (Acts 3:18-21).

All had become clear again. Jesus was the Saviour of Israel and the nations of the world, just as the prophets had said. But he had to come twice. He had to come once to die as the sin bearer, the Deliverer from the great enemy of sin and eternal death. He had to come a second time, to save his people from their oppressors and reign over the world. He had ascended to God’s right hand, but not for ever. He is there “UNTIL” the time for establishing all that God had spoken by the prophets.

With this key, the prophecies of the Messiah open up like a treasure chest. Passages where Messiah’s reigning in victory seem clouded by descriptions of his death become instantly plain. Look, for example, at Isaiah chapters 52 and 53. Chapter 52 describes the joy of Jerusalem as she is delivered by Messiah from her captors.

Chapter 53 predicts in painful detail his humiliating crucifixion. Seen as the two Comings, both chapters make perfect sense.

Or Psalm 2: viewed with one pair of spectacles this passage tells of Messiah’s enemies combining to put him to death. Change the focal length, and you have Messiah once more surrounded by enemies, but this time victorious, as his Father decrees: “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill” (v.6). We could go on, but you will find great pleasure in unraveling the mystery for yourself. That is exactly what the New Testament apostles called the good news — a mystery revealed, a secret, to which they now had the key.

The Need for Christ’s Second Coming

There was another mystery, too, that the apostles were able to solve. You may already be asking the obvious question-Why did God arrange two comings? Why did not Jesus rise from the dead with immortal power, to reign at once on the throne of David? Why should there be a long gap of nearly two thousand years? The answer to that question is particularly important to you and me, and it occupies much of the New Testament.

Let us read the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 3. “The mystery”, he says, “was made known to me by revelation. It was not made known”, he continued, “to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (vv. 3,5,6).

These are wonderful words. A Gentile is someone who is not a Jew. For centuries, God’s word and His promises belonged to the people of God. Now, says the Apostle, the Gospel net has been thrown wider to include people from other nations. Those great promises of the Kingdom when Messiah reigns can be ours, too. “At one time,” he writes, “you Gentiles in the flesh . . . were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13).

Did you notice how this passage illuminates our theme, the Hope of Israel? “Having no hope” was how the Ephesian believers used to be. It is how millions are today, and how you may feel at this moment. But they had learned about the “covenants of promise” which we have been studying. They had seized the Hope enshrined in those promises. Through the blood of Christ, they had been brought near.

A Covenant Sealed with Blood

The best of the covenants of promise God made still lie in the future. We do not know precisely when they are going to be fulfilled. The majority of people who have believed and hoped in God’s promises are already in the grave, and there is a chance we shall die, too, before Jesus comes again. Yet the glorious truth is that even if we die, we can still taste the joy of God’s Kingdom. As the Apostle Paul wrote in his death cell, we can be brought back to life again, to receive “the crown of righteousness which the Lord”, he said, “will award me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing”.

When the Messiah comes he will raise from the dead all those who have died in faith, and give them a strong, immortal body like his own. Abraham will certainly be there, and so will David, and Paul. We can be there, too.

And it is all possible through the blood of Christ, which has brought us near to God. For whether we are Jews or Gentiles, we are sinners. We break God’s laws, and deserve nothing but death. Jesus’ death, the offering of his sinless self in sacrifice, broke the power of the grave for all who join themselves to him. Thus the two Comings are inseparably linked. The cross precedes the crown; the suffering servant becomes the king of kings. And the same land where Abraham waited in his tent and Jesus walked with the good news of the Kingdom, is given to them both with their family around them, to enjoy for ever.

When Peter stood up in Jerusalem at Pentecost and began to explain the mystery of the two comings, he had an urgent message for the people. Let us look at his words again: “Repent therefore”, he cried, “and turn again” (Acts 3:1 9). He was exhorting his hearers to prepare themselves for the coming of Jesus by changing their lives, turning round and going a different way. Earlier that day when the crowds had asked him what they should do, he said to them: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38).

Heirs of the Promise

Once you begin to appreciate the Hope God sets before us in His Word, you want to know how to lay hold of it. You realize as you read more, that He sets a standard for men to follow which you have not begun to reach. If you really want to please God, you will feel the need, like those men in Jerusalem, to have your conscience made clean. The way God has prescribed for us is to be baptized into the Lord Jesus, symbolically washing away in the waters our old life, and starting again as if we were newly born, members of God’s holy people. Then, the New Testament insists, we shall be heirs of those promises of the Kingdom of God: “For in Christ Jesus”, writes Paul, “you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:26).

Imagine that! What a privilege, to be called sons and daughters of God! “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (vv. 27-29). All that Jesus inherits — the land, the throne, the blessing-all will be ours. How exciting and moving it is, to think what God offers us. It is as if we are being introduced already to the new covenant God will make with His people. God’s law is written on our heart, our sins are washed away, and we are enrolled for a place in that age when war and famine, sin and sorrow will be banished for ever from the earth.

Paul uses another figure in Romans 11. He says we Gentile believers are like sprigs of a wild olive tree that have been picked up by God the gardener and grafted into the stem of the olive tree of Israel. We share the rich sap that keeps the life flowing, and we will be there in the time of harvest. “I want you to understand this mystery brethren”, he says, as he explains the long gap between the two Comings: “a hardening has come upon part of Israel”. He means that only a minority of the Jewish people accepted the good news Jesus and the apostles brought; the hearts of the rest were too hard for the good seed of the Kingdom to grow.

But Israel’s hardness of heart is not for ever. “Until the full number of the Gentiles come in”, he continues, “and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written” — and he quotes from one of the ‘Messiah’ passages in Isaiah — “the Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob. And this will be my covenant with them”, he adds, repeating the passage we read from Jeremiah 33, “when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:24-27).

Notice the time period-when the full number of the Gentiles has come in. It has not come in yet. God is still calling us to come into His family. But one day, soon, perhaps very soon, the door will be shut. The Lord Jesus will be here with power to rule over the nations, and bring men to judgement for despising God’s laws.

Signs that God has not Forgotten

How do we know the coming of Jesus is very near? There is one simple answer. Look at Israel! Scattered through the nations for centuries, they have never died out, as they cannot, if God is to keep His word. In our own generation, they have started to go back to their land. In 1967 they took back Jerusalem, or Zion, their ancient capital. And now their enemies are gathering against them. The scene is set for the Deliverer to come to his throne, for God to set His king upon His holy hill of Zion. The signs are all there to strengthen our faith. The God who keeps His covenants to a thousand generations is unbaring His arm again.

Let us finish with a lovely passage, which sums up this great Hope of Israel that we have been thinking about so long. We said it can give us comfort, direction, and courage to face all the storms of life. This is just how the Apostle puts it in the Letter to the Hebrews: “When God made a promise to Abraham . . . he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you'”

Sure as an Anchor

“So,” he continues, “when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we. . . might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:1318). Two unchangeable things: we have God’s Word, which alone should be enough. To make doubly sure, He has given us an oath as well. It means we just cannot doubt the promise will come true. “We have this”, he concludes, “as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (v.1 9).

Men and women who believe in God’s promises are as safe as a ship, tossed on a dark night in an angry sea, secured from all danger by the strong anchor that bites deep into the rock below. Won’t you make this hope your own?

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

The Bible Answer to Human Tragedy

SUFFERING is a problem in life that comes home to everyone. A child is born blind, deformed or mentally afflicted; and the question comes: Why? The child has done no harm.

A man or woman of fine character and in the prime of life is racked with pain in a hopeless disease that can only end in death. Why him? Why her? These are the people who can least be spared.

Millions in the world are suffering semi-starvation and disease in countries with vast populations and little fertility. Others perish or are made homeless in floods and earthquakes. Why should they suffer?

Pain, torture and death have been imposed on helpless millions by the tyranny of man and the destructiveness of modern war. Countless lives are lost in acts of terrorism, by brutality and hijacking. Accidents there have always been, but the scale of today’s disasters and natural calamities is often overwhelming: a passenger aircraft crashes; an oil rig blows up; fire traps hundreds in an underground train. People ask: Why does God allow it?

The questions readily rise to mind and on the surface seem reasonable: yet a candid look at them shows that they carry certain implications. They imply that suffering in human life is inconsistent either with the power or with the love of God: that as a God of love either He has not the power to prevent the suffering, or if He has the power then He has not the will, and is not a God of love. It is assumed that the prevention of suffering as it now affects the apparently innocent is something we should expect from a God of love who is also Almighty. Are these assumptions justified?

Facts of Life
Some facts about life must be taken into account before we try to form a judgement:

  1. Man lives in a universe of cause and effect and the consequences of certain causes are inescapable. Fire burns, water drowns, disease germs destroy. These facts have moral implications. Men live in a universe in which the consequences of what they do are inescapable, and therefore their responsibility for what they do is equally inescapable. Without this burden of ‘natural law’ man could do as he liked with impunity, and there would be no responsibility. God made the universe this way because He is a moral God who makes men responsible beings with freewill to choose how they will act.
  2. Man’s neglect and misuse of his own life has corrupted the stream of human life itself, and left evils which fall on succeeding generations. These, again as part of natural law, may manifest themselves as hereditary weaknesses and tendencies to disease. The very stuff of life may be affected as it is passed on from generation to generation.
  3. The consequences of man’s acts are not only directly physical. The social and political evils which they have created throughout history have left a gathering burden on the generations following. People today are caught in a net of the consequences of past history, and even when they try to right one evil, another is brought to bear: “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22).

Should People be Saved from Themselves?
Taking such facts as these into account, it must be asked, What is it we are really doing when we require God to remove suffering? Are we not asking that God should (a) suspend natural law, (b) divert the consequences of heredity, and (c) turn aside the effects of man’s inhumanity to man? Have we the right to expect God to save men from the consequences of human acts? Would it be a moral universe if He did?

These questions can only be asked of situations when the hand of man is involved. Earthquakes, tempests, famines and floods are called ‘acts of God’ because usually there is no other explanation for their occurrence. So if we look beyond human acts to natural disaster, we find that it falls upon all, innocent and guilty alike. As soon as we begin to question the suffering of innocent victims of these disasters another dilemma is raised. Are we saying that the calamities should be selective in their working, searching out only those who deserve to suffer’?

An Evil or a Symptom?
Underlying all the loose thinking on the subject which has been surveyed so far is one basic assumption: it is that suffering is evil in itself. It is this belief that suffering is the essential evil that lies at the root of Buddhism. The Bible view is radically different: suffering is not evil in itself, but a symptom of a deeper evil. The Scriptures portray suffering as a consequence of sin: not necessarily the sin of the individual who suffers, but sin in the history of man and in human society. Its origin is succinctly put by the Apostle Paul:

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

The sentence upon the woman after the disobedience in Eden says:

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

To the man God says:

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:16,19).

The teaching is simple. With man’s disobedience there came a dislocation in the relationship between the Creator and the created; the relation between God and man is out of joint. The first sin brought a fundamental change which affects all with the evils which are common to man. Death is universal: God does not modify it for the particular individual. The Bible teaching is that men are left to their own ways and the working of natural law, though there may be times when natural disaster is divinely directed as a judgement upon man and for the cleansing of the earth. The outstanding example is the flood in the days of Noah.

At the same time it is true that in the Bible, for those who seek to serve God, suffering takes on new meaning; they are in a new relationship to the Creator, and will learn to see tragedy in a new light. What is it?

A Godly Man’s Experience
The answer may be seen in the example of Job. Here is a devout man who meets with disaster in the loss of his flocks and herds-the source of his wealth; with terrible bereavement in the loss of all his children at one stroke; and then is stricken with a tormenting disease which separates him from men. Yet he says: “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). He recognises the important principle that he cannot claim good as a right: it is not for him to decide what God shall do.

The Agonizing Problem
The time comes, however, when the suffering is so unbearable that death seems preferable. In agony and bewilderment he asks, in effect: Why should a man live if it is only to suffer? Can God, who has made man, destroy him like a discarded plaything?

Job’s friends argue that there is a direct connection between a man’s sin and his suffering and they therefore contend that to suffer so greatly Job must have greatly sinned. Job is convinced of his own integrity: he is human, but he knows that he is not guilty of the sins they try to fasten upon him. Yet he has enough of his friends’ philosophy to feel now that he suffers unjustly. Has God chosen him to be set up as a mark to shoot at? Because, compared with others, his sufferings seem wholly disproportionate to any faults he can confess. To him it seems that his affliction can only mean that God has turned against him, and this moral problem adds to his bitterness. The “tents of robbers” prosper: why should the righteous suffer? If God is judging him, is it right that he should be judged by a standard human nature cannot reach?

The friends utterly fail to shake Job’s conviction in his own righteousness, and at last they cease to argue. But underlying Job’s contention is an ultimate faith in God, in spite of all the questionings, and a belief in God’s justice; and so Job reaches out to the hope that in another life, if not now, God as his Redeemer will vindicate him and be on his side. And so he introduces a new element in the argument when he looks beyond the grave to resurrection and reconciliation. That belief, hinted at in Job, is fully declared elsewhere in both the Old and New Testaments, and it gives a new perspective to the problem. Yet it does not in itself explain why men and women should suffer in this life.

God Speaking to Man
When the friends are silenced and Job has made his final speech, the young man Elihu comes into the argument. He shows that Job in his extremity has impugned the righteousness of God, but he also throws a new light on the problem. God speaks to men (a) through revelation, and (b) through suffering. God, by His own means, is communicating with men and women and bringing them to Himself (Job 33:14-18).

God speaks to men, says Elihu, for their spiritual education, their guidance in life and their preservation from destruction. He “withdraws man from his purpose, and hides pride” from him, leading him away from his own self-assertive course of life, for pride is the source of sin. As to the other means of communication, Elihu says:

“He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain: so that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat. His flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; and his bones that were not seen stick out. Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers” (Job 33:19-22).

The description of suffering perfectly fits Job, and Elihu is saying that even he needs the chastening, reproof, discipline of the Lord-not for the specific sins alleged by his friends, for Elihu does not mention them, but for a more subtle fault. Elihu has already hinted at it, for it is the sin of spiritual pride, and only the experience of suffering can bring it to light so as to convict him of it.

God’s Working with Man
Suffering can, therefore, be part of the ways of God’s working with men for their own development and to bring them to a knowledge of Himself; and the outcome for Job was a new and intimate knowledge of God. He could say:

“I have heard of thee with the hearing of the ear: But now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

This working of God with man must in its nature be individual: only the man who suffers can gain this as a personal experience. The larger problem of suffering remains, and the only answer to be extracted from the Book of Job is that man cannot question the majesty and wisdom of God: He is the Creator and Sustainer of all life, and His works are beyond man’s knowledge. It is this answer which is elaborated with such power and beauty by the Voice from the whirlwind in chapters 38-41. Man can only accept that the ways of God are beyond his judgement.

“Does Job serve God for nought?”
While, therefore, the Book of Job offers no simple answer to the problem of suffering, it has been raised to a wider level. Only by loss and suffering could Job know that he did not serve God for the sake of houses, lands, flocks and herds, or even children. He did not even serve for the sake of his own skin, his health and wellbeing. He worshipped God for Himself, and in spite of all the wild words which came from his stress of mind and body he had an ultimate belief in God’s righteousness and faithfulness. It was only when stripped of everything that he really knew that God was his only refuge, and in that discovery he was triumphantly vindicated against the slander of the Adversary epitomized by the three friends.

Job’s faith in God was put to the test under trial, and by trial it was tempered as steel. It was by his final acceptance of the wisdom of God, and by learning that faith could be developed through suffering, that Job came at last to the fuller knowledge of God.

Some Conclusions
The conclusions to be drawn from what has been considered so far may be summarised as follows:

  1. Man lives in an ordered universe of cause and effect and must accept its consequences; and since sin entered into human life these must involve suffering. The suffering, however, may not be directly related to the sin of the sufferer but may result from the acts of former generations.
  2. At the same time it is the universe of a God of wisdom and love who can guide and control the suffering for those who seek Him in order to bring them to a deeper knowledge of Him.

A Divine Discipline
It is in the light of this latter conclusion that we may understand a passage in the Letter to the Hebrews based on a saying in the Book of Proverbs:

“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Hebrews 12:5-12; Proverbs 3:11-12).

Read in its context, the passage expounds itself. Suffering and loss are common to man, but for the children of God they are directed by their Heavenly Father as a spiritual training, and as such are the expression of His love.

Does God Suffer?
One stage more may be reached in the understanding of suffering. It is that God Himself is involved in the suffering of man, for out of His love He gave His own Son to die for them, and allowed him to suffer too. Jesus was wholly innocent, untainted by sin of any kind, yet he voluntarily laid down his life, suffering injustice and cruelty for the sake of his friends:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:14-17).

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Greater love even God could not have than to give His beloved Son to the suffering of the cross for the redemption of men.

It is true, therefore, to say that even God suffers, and it becomes possible to understand the saying of the prophet concerning God’s relation to Israel:

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them” (Isaiah 63:9; Judges 2:16).

Why Does God not Intervene?
The God of Israel is not a remote, impassive First Cause:

His Holy Spirit can be grieved, He can be moved with yearning compassion. He can love with an everlasting love. All these are Scriptural expressions, and they reveal God as the supreme Personality who can from His holy transcendence enter into the lives of the men and women He has created.

People often ask: Why does God not intervene to stop suffering, to halt war, to prevent disease, etc.? God does, of course, intervene in human affairs; He has shown His power at many times in history. But there is a limit to this intervention: He has allowed man freewill, and He allows man to use that freewill — for good or ill.

God intervened in the history of His chosen people Israel and gave them special opportunities to worship. Him and be His witnesses. He entrusted them with His revelation and with the promises and prophecies of a coming Messiah.

God Sent His Son
So it was that, nearly 2000 years ago, God intervened in the lives and history of man by giving His Son Christ Jesus to share in human suffering to the uttermost in order to bring about redemption from sin and death. Christ came in the life and nature of man; he shared our experience and endured the temptations from within and the afflictions from without that are the common lot of all mankind:

“It became him . . . to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings . . . In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:10-18)

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

In accepting suffering in obedience to the will of God he raised it to a new plane, and showed it no longer as the greatest evil but as a means to an end: for through suffering, in his perfect obedience to God, he overcame the power of sin in human nature, and so made possible resurrection from the dead to eternal life with the Fat~er. In this he obtained perfection, a tried and tested faith, completeness in obedience, wholeness in the love of God and the service of man — an example to all his followers.

Perfect through Suffering
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:21-24).

And “having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). He is the author, the source, the cause, of a salvation men cannot attain for themselves, since on account of his sacrifice men and women who come to him for life are by God’s grace accepted as members of Christ. And so, as Christ rose the third day, there is spiritual resurrection to new life now for those who are baptized into him, and the hope of physical resurrection and a change to immortality in the day when he returns.

“Partakers of the divine nature”
If men and women were to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), raised out of sin to a level where they could truly know God, enjoy eternal fellowship with Him and share His incorruptible life, then God alone knew how this was to be achieved consistently with His own majestic holiness. It was the way which required the gift of His Son to die on the cross.

If, then, God suffered, and if, in obedience to the Father, Christ suffered even to death, the whole problem of man’s suffering is raised to a new level. Without faith in God, suffering is an evil to be endured. With faith, and the example of the Son of God, suffering may purify and ennoble, and be a means by which God brings the sufferer nearer to Himself. It can be truly a divine education, the chastening of the Lord.

“All things new”
If God’s Son suffered, can men expect to escape? But beyond the suffering was resurrection, and beyond resurrection will come the Kingdom of God when Christ will come to reign, taking to himself those who have already committed themselves as his followers.

This time for the kingdom to be set up is very close. But the Lord’s own words and many other prophecies make it plain that the coming of Christ will be preceded by great tribulation for the world, and no doubt also for his disciples:

“For there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:21,22).

But when the Lord Jesus Christ appears, he will cleanse the earth of all evil, put down all sin and selfishness, eliminate disease-and ultimately death. He will reign for God and remove suffering. Then shall be fulfilled the words heard by the apostle John on Patmos:

“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:3-5).

For those who answer the call of God’s love, the way of suffering may be the way of life, and that is the ultimate purpose of the existence of suffering in the world. The call is still going out; there is still opportunity for all who are looking for hope beyond this present evil world, to find it in the ‘good news’ of the Gospel.

CHRIST IS COMING!

BIBLE TEACHING ABOUT HIS RETURN

It was once fashionable in religious circles to say that Jesus Christ would never return to the earth. There are

still plenty of professing Christians who believe that. But there are now many others who have come to believe that the Second Coming is a very important event.

Christadelphians have always taught that the Return of Jesus Christ to the earth is vital to the fulfilment of the purpose of God. This booklet reviews Bible teaching about the Second Coming, both the events that will lead up to that miracle and the reason for the Lord’s Return.

New Testament Teaching

Someone has counted the New Testament references to this great event, and they number 318 occurrences! If you reflect that the number of times the word for Christian love occurs is only 115, you will begin to see the importance of this topic. Nor is it simply the case that only one or two New Testament writers refer to the matter in their writings. Treatment of the subject is widely spread.

Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of God and his Second Coming. His parables, for example, were told to those who thought the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He was like a nobleman who had to go “into a far country to receive for himself a Kingdom and to return” (Luke 19:12). More than once he spoke of the Coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:27,30,37, 39,48; 25:27; 26:64). And when he assured his disciples of his continuing spiritual, but invisible, presence ‘even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), he inferred that then he would be visibly present with them for ever.

The testimony of the Apostles was equally plain. They had been clearly taught by the Risen Lord who, during the forty days before his ascension into heaven, instructed them about the Kingdom of God, the restored kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:3,6). It was the opening theme of his post-resurrection appearances that all the Old Testament promises were coming to their fulfillment in him (Luke 24:27). At the time of his ascension, as he was being taken up from the Mount of Olives into the clouds, God sent His angels to explain

“Ye men of Galilee”, they said to the watching apostles, “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so came in like manner as ye have seen him 90 into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

It is not therefore surprising that when the Apostles began to teach in the streets of Jerusalem, they said that their Lord Jesus Christ was to return to the earth as King. Peter gave the lead when he boldly announced that the grave could not keep Jesus imprisoned. He referred his hearers to a statement in Psalm 110:1, used also by his Lord, to show that he had gone to heaven only until his enemies have been subdued (2:34,35). Note the authoritative use of the Old Testament.

But also note a vital point. Bible teaching is never given just for the sake of informing us what happens next. It always has a deeper intention for we are meant to use the knowledge it confers to prepare ourselves for those coming events:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ . . . Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:36,38).

It should follow that our consideration of Bible truth concerning the Return of the Lord should also cause us to search our hearts.

Other New Testament Writings

But what of the writings of other New Testament authors? Let us look at just one of the New Testament letters, the First written by Paul to the Thessalonians. Notice how he centres his entire message on the truth of the personal return to the earth of the Lord:

“wait for his Son from heaven . . . which delivereth us from the wrath to come” (1:10), “what is our hope or joy? . . . Are not ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (2:19);

“he may stablish your hearts unblameable … at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints” (3:13);

“the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout” (4:16);

“the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night’(5:2);

“I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:23).

You could try extending this investigation, if you wish. The emphasis on the Lord’s Coming continues in all the New Testament letters, but it is always related to practical Christian living. Because the Lord is coming again, there were matters in their lives that required attention! And it is so for us.

Old Testament Teaching

The same person who counted 318 references in the New Testament extended the search to the Old Testament, and discovered 1527 such references to an event in God’s purpose which can be no other than the Coming of Christ as King. Let it be clear that the exact number is unimportant: there is always room for some difference of opinion about the occasional passage. But it is perhaps startling to some readers to consider that there could be five times as many references to the Second Coming in a part of the Bible which has suffered widely from neglect over the years.

The fact of the matter is this: the New Testament can only be understood once the Old Testament has also been studied. The Two Testaments belong together as interdependent parts of God’s revealed truth. What the Old Testament foretells the New Testament fulfils, in part. But a very large amount of Old Testament prophecy remains unfulfilled.

Consider these promises of a King who will reign over God’s Kingdom on earth and ask yourself whether they have ever been fulfilled:

GENESIS: “Thy seed (a descendant of Abraham) shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (22:17,18; see Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:16).

II SAMUEL: “And when thy days (David) be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed (descendant) after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house (a Temple) for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (II Samuel 7:12,13).

PSALMS: “The LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Psalm 2:7,8; Acts 4:25,26);

“He (the promised king) . . . shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth” (Psalm 72:6-8).

ISAIAH: “It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house (His Temple) shall be established in the top of the mountains (at Jerusalem) . . . and all nations shall flow unto it … for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations” (Isaiah 2:2-4);

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever” (Isaiah 9:7);

JEREMIAH: “Behold, the days comer saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch (descendant), and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is the name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:5,6).

The Kingdom of God

Many times God has promised that He will rule the earth. What man has failed time and again to achieve, God will establish. The King will be a descendant of both Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1). He will rule from Jerusalem, on David’s throne (Luke 1:31-33). His Kingdom will be one of justice and righteousness; it will involve Divine education, Temple worship, and the exercise of Kingly power to establish peace on earth (Revelation 11:15-18).

The Kingdom of God was once before established on earth. King David and his descendants reigned upon the throne of the Kingdom of the Lord (II Chronicles 28:5). There was nothing special about the throne itself. The Divine appointment was what mattered and when king after king had neglected God’s law, He brought that arrangement to an end. But even when the prophet Ezekiel announced the end of the Kingdom to King Zedekiah (Ezekiel 21:25-27), he promised that God would restore the Kingdom on earth when he should “come whose right it is”.

The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth has therefore to be understood against that powerful Old Testament background. When Jesus began his public ministry by announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15), he was saying to those who knew the Old Testament promises that he was the promised King. But Jesus had first come to achieve personal righteousness, and to make it possible for others to become right with God.

It is now possible for us to find peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins, by association with the saving work of the Lord Jesus. First we have to understand the Gospel, including Bible teaching about the work and person of the Lord Jesus, and the Kingdom over which he is now the King. Then we have to be baptized as believing adults into his saving Name (Acts 8:12).

Behold Your King!

But what is the Second Coming of the Lord going to be like? For example, would it be possible to miss it altogether and not even be aware that it had occurred? Will it be visible or invisible? Will Jesus be there in person or merely a spiritual presence? And will he come to the earth or only towards the earth?

Jesus Christ rose bodily from the grave. He was not an invisible spirit creature but One who could be seen, handled and held (I John 1:1; Luke 24:39,40). His body was marked by the evidence of his suffering on the cross. Yet he was no longer subject to the limitations of human existence. He could come and go despite locked doors, and on Mount Olivet he ascended bodily to heaven, defying the law of gravity. The disciples had seen him go; he would return visibly. As the angel later said: “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him” (Revelation 1:7). Or as Zechariah the Old Testament prophet had predicted, long before the crucifixion, “They shalt look upon me whom they have pierced and they shall mourn for him” (Revelation 12:10).

So it will not do to say that only those who look with faith will see the Lord. Some will look, see, and mourn (Revelation 1:7). Nor will it do to say that Jesus will come invisibly, for the Lord himself warned:

“Then if any man shall unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs and false and false prophets …” (Matthew 24:23,24).

Nor will it do to argue that the Bible talks of the presence of the Lord, meaning that it will be an invisible one. The New Testament also talks about the revelation of the Lord, using a word that means uncovering or manifesting. In fact, the presence (Greek: parousia) of the Lord turns out to be an especially suitable term. One of the most authoritative Greek Lexicons available says of the word:

“It became the official term for a visit of a person of high rank, especially of kings and emperors visiting a province” (Arndt and Gingrich).

It is such a visit by a King that the Scriptures foretell. The crowds who welcomed King Jesus into Jerusalem, when he sat astride a donkey and they threw coats and palm branches before him, shouted out greetings that referred right back to the Promises of God: “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Mark 11:10). Matthew comments that the rejoicing was a foretaste of what had been forecast by Zechariah the prophet, when he wrote “Behold, thy Kin9 cometh unto thee”.

Now if the initial royal visit was attended by such joy and rejoicing, consider what the next one will be like! The prophet had declared:

“Rejoice greatly, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy king cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation. . and he shall speak peace unto the heathen; and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:9,10).

Dual Fulfilment

This Scripture illustrates a widely used feature of Bible prophecy: its joint short and long-term character. Jerusalem rejoiced at the Kingly coming of Jesus-“lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass”-just as the prophet had said. But their joy was short-lived, for he did not then go on to establish worldwide peace, or commence to rule from Jerusalem over a Kingdom that was to last for ever. Jesus completed enough of the prophecy at that time to demonstrate that he was the Coming One, and to give us confidence that he will return to complete the promised transformation of the earth. Zechariah compressed the two comings in such a way that there appeared to be no interval between them. This has led some people to argue that the Kingdom will never come, because, they say, even Jesus expected it in the First Century, or at most shortly afterwards; It has thus been dismissed by some as an early Christian hope, which has now been superseded by a superior understanding. But when all the Scriptures are studied carefully, it becomes clear that the Coming of Jesus was not to occur immediately after his ascension to heaven.

The Day and the Hour

Any attempt to show the time of his Coming stated, more than once, that Jesus was mistaken about is doomed to failure. He clearly that he did not know:

“Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

As he later said, this was something that the Father had reserved within His own authority (Acts 1:7). But Jesus did know that some long time would elapse before his Second Coming. He told parables to indicate that his coming would not “immediately appear” (Luke 19:11), that it would be “after a long time” (Matthew 25:19), and that there might be some delay for those who were waiting (Matthew 25:3). Like their Lord, his followers were to appreciate that they could “not know what hour” he would come.

The apostles also acknowledged that they could not know the precise time of the great event for which they waited. Peter warned about people who would scoff, as so many have, at the “promise of his coming” (II Peter 3:4). Indeed he poured scorn on their faithlessness, what he called “willful ignorance”-people believing what they wanted to believe, regardless of the evidence. And Paul was in no doubt either, for he went on record as saying:

“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh . . . (I Thessalonians 5:1,2).

Can you complete that quotation? It holds the key to two vital matters concerning the early return of the King. Notice first what the verse above says. There would be general indications available-what Paul calls “times and seasons”-which would help keep the believers prepared. And the verse continues:

“… the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.”

When it happens the Lord’s Coming will be swiftsudden and unexpected. No-one expects thieves to strike. · But they often succeed because people overlook the dangers. It is also the case that speed is vital to a successful robbery, which is why the figure is used by Jesus (Matthew 24:43), Paul (I Thessalonians 5:2), and Peter (II Peter

3.10), to emphasise the vital point. We must be on our guard, watchful, prepared, vigilant. The Lord could come at any time! He will come when we least expect him!

The Times and Seasons

That is why when Jesus explained what was to happen before his Return, he very carefully emphasised the need for watchfulness. Sitting with his disciples one day on the Mount of Olives, from where he would later ascend to heaven, he gave them some general indications of what was to happen prior to his “coming and the end of the world” (Matthew 24:3). This prophecy presents a fascinating challenge, for it combines a short-term prediction about the fail of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, with a long-term forecast of world events.

A list of the predicted events in the three Gospel accounts (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 24), which does not claim to be a structured sequence of prophetic events, shows the following:

  1. The rise of false Christianity and false Christs.
  2. The persecution of true Christians.
  3. Wars and rumours of wars, nation against nation.
  4. Earthquakes, famines and pestilences.
  5. Jerusalem surrounded by armies.
  6. The Jewish nation dispersed.
  7. Jerusalem in non-Jewish occupation.
  8. Tribulation and distress
  9. Signs in the sun, moon and stars.
  10. The powers of heaven shaken.

Notice how believers are warned about the rise and growth of false Christianity. It is the Lord’s first concern. His words were fulfilled by the rapid development of wrong teaching in New Testament times (Acts 20:29), and are being fulfilled again at the close of this age. Elsewhere the message is that the true believers will comprise a very small remnant, compared with those who hold a distorted form of Christianity.

Antichrist

The apostles also warn about this development. Paul was emphatic that there would be manifestations of false Christianity, for he prophesied that the Day of the Lord:

“shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called Cod, or that is worshipped” (II Thessalonians 2:3,4).

The apostle Paul describes the man of sin in language that refers back to the prophet Daniel, who accurately foretold the rise and fall of four empires that exercised power in the Middle East. He traced the development from them to a false religious system, involving the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy, that is opposed to Christ and his true followers. This is counterfeit Christianity, and the apostle Paul describes it as “the mystery of iniquity” which was already at work, and “a strong delusion”.

The other thread of teaching in the Lord’s catalogue of future events concerned trouble. There were to be wars and rumours of wars, both within and between nations; there would be natural disasters and widespread hardship, earthquakes, famines and epidemics; terrors and fearful sights would be in the heavens, causing much fear and distress. People would not know which way to turn for fear of what was about to happen on earth.

To some extent these problems are as old as man. The tendency to war against one another is evident even in the first book of the Bible, and famine features there too. But even within Bible history the atrocities of which man is capable become increasingly ugly, and since then even more widespread horrors have been seen. The powers now available to mankind are enough to make any sane person fear for the future. More than ever before, these words of Jesus are coming true:

“There shall be . . . upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth:

for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27).

Tribulation

The reference to the sea and waves roaring, like others to signs in the sun, moon and stars, may be either symbolic or literal or some combination of both. The prophet Isaiah, for example, wrote about the wicked being “like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt” (Isaiah 57:20). Jesus may have been drawing upon such imagery to describe a world that was full of trouble because it was full of wickedness. He may also have been teaching us to look out for some upheaval of the physical order, like tidal waves, which would also be an indication of the end of the age. Certainly there have been many earthquakes and natural disasters over the past few years, all over the world. The apostle Paul described the whole world order as groaning and travailing in pain (Romans 8:22), like a woman waiting to be delivered of a child. It is thus evident that our present troubles are the birthpangs of a new and better world, soon to begin.

In both Testaments we are told that the tribulation that will come at the end of human government is the final herald of the Second Coming. It will be:

“a time of trouble such as never was” (Daniel 12:1);

“the time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7);

“great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21).

Will the believers waiting for their Lord have to suffer this trouble, or will they be spared? The likelihood is that present-day believers will live through this time of trouble indeed that they have already begun to do so. Jesus promised that for the elect’s sake that time would be shortened (Mark 13:20). But those who finally stand approved before the Judge are those “which came out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).

As that trouble increases, and God pours out His wrath upon the earth, there are indications that true believers will be sheltered from that outpouring. Isaiah describes the great shake-up of human society when God intervenes:

“Come, my people, enter into thy chambers . . hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isaiah 24:18-23; 26:20,21).

We must therefore consider carefully what Jesus said:

“When these things (the signs of which he spoke) begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).

We should not wait until total disaster has struck, and there is no escape route left. It is better to learn the lesson now, that this is the time immediately before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Nation of Sign

There is one great sign which removes all doubt concerning his imminent return. The nation of Israel is back occupying the land promised by God. The history of the Jewish nation has been a guide throughout the ages to the outworking of God’s purposes. They were called as a special people, because of the great promises that had been made to their Fathers. They were given the right to occupy the land we now know as Israel, conditional upon their faithful obedience to God. They were the people whose kings occupied the throne of God’s Kingdom on earth.

They forfeited these rights when, after centuries of indifference, they not only refused to accept the Lord Jesus as their Messiah, but were involved, with the Romans, in effecting his death by crucifixion. Because of that rejection, Jerusalem was overthrown. Throughout the intervening centuries Jews have wandered the earth as a stateless people, hated and persecuted almost everywhere they went, just as Scripture said they would be.

But Scripture also forecast a better future for this nation of sign, not because they would change their behaviour and live to deserve better treatment, but because God would take pity on their plight and act to redeem them. He would remember the promises made of old to the Fathers and act to vindicate His great name. At the lime of the end they would be brought back from the nations and once more be settled in their own land-the land of promise! So the prophets said:

ISAIAH: “The remnant shall return . . the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion” (Isaiah 10:21; 35:10).

JEREMIAH: “He that scattered Israel will gather him” (Jeremiah 31:10).

EZEKIEL: “I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries … then shall they dwell in their land yea, they shall dwell with confidence” (Ezekiel 11:17; 28:25,26).

ZECHARIAH: “I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:8).

And so it came to pass. After nearly two thousand years of dispersion and down-treading, in 1948 the State of Israel was born by the decree of the United Nations, and in 1967 the whole of Jerusalem was repossessed by Jews. It had taken all that time for the words of Jesus to be fulfilled:

“They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

Everything now indicates that the rimes of the Gentiles are rapidly drawing to a close and the Time of the Kingdom of God is once more at hand. The bringing together of troublous times and the return of the Jews to the Land removes any doubt. Shortly King Jesus will return to Jerusalem as World Ruler, to reign over Israel and over all nations. Of all the available Signs of the Times given by Jesus and the prophets, the establishment of Israel-the Nation of Sign – is the clearest witness that the End is now at hand.

The “Rapture”

What then awaits the faithful follower of Jesus? Can he expect to go to heaven with the Lord at his Return? Hardly, for the Lord is coming to reign on earth, from Jerusalem. An elaborate scheme has been devised by some Bible readers which requires hot one Coming but two. According to this, Christ’s Coming would be first for the Church only and would be a secret “rapture”. He would come again with the Church, for the world, and this would be visible and public. In some versions of this theory the interval between the two comings is very small; in others as much as seven years is thought to separate the two events.

There is very little Scripture that can be used to attempt to support these theories, for whilst there are some indications that a separation will occur between companions when Jesus comes (Luke 17:34-36), the main teaching about the circumstances of the Return is that given in Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians:

“The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:16,17)

The phrase caught up is that from which the whole idea of a rapture has evolved; and the links with a supposed seven year period of tribulation have been achieved by the unsatisfactory interpretation of other Scriptures, especially from the Revelation. Clearly there is to be a catching away of true believers, both of the living and the resurrected dead, “to meet the Lord in the air”. They are to form a welcoming party who, with the angels who attend his coming, will make up his entourage. But they go to meet him, not he them. And their destination is made clear in the Scriptures already considered: the Lord and his followers are bound for Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4), “the city of the great king” (Matthew 5:35).

The Lord will come!

In these dying moments of human government, the powers of the heaven will be shaken as men’s hearts fail them for fear. The nations will be engaged in a battle around Jerusalem. Then the Lord will come! Unexpectedly, suddenly, in great power and glory, bringing salvation for those who have faithfully waited and prepared for this central event in their lives; but brining judgement upon all those who have willfully ignored the faithful promises and gracious invitation of God:

“The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power: when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe” (II Thessalonians 1:9,10).

It is vital therefore that we believe what the Bible so clearly promises. We cannot simply “wait and see”, because Jesus is coming to save those who already believe, not to give reasons for faith to those who have had clear evidence, but no inclination for the things of God.

When the Lord spoke to his followers about his eventual return to earth, he focused their attention more on the consequences of his Coming than on the sequence of events itself. To this day we cannot know for sure when Jesus will come. But we know perfectly clearly that when he comes he will call us to account, and ask us how we spent our lives on the eve of his return:

“Take heed … be not led astray … be not troubled . . . take heed to yourselves . . . preach the gospel . . . be not anxious … endure to the end … flee … pray … believe not false prophets … take heed … look up and lift up your heads … take heed to yourselves … watch … BE READY” (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21).

The apostles make the very same points as they reflect on the nearness of the Lord’s Return.

“What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness . . . be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (II Peter 3:11-14)

“Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12,13).

“When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man who has this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (I John 3:2,3).

Take Heed to Yourselves

The Bible is our guidebook to the future, lust as it is our handbook for the present. It alone will show us what God wants us to do. From it we can learn God’s purpose and promises. The first thing is to understand and believe those things that are true. We shall then come to appreciate the need for obedience to God, starting with baptism. And thus we shall be doing what Jesus commanded.

The coming Kingdom of God on earth will transform human experience. We need to learn to live now in harmony with our Creator. The Lord is at hand! It is now an urgent matter for us all to examine our lives, so that we are properly prepared for the Coming of the King.

Raised to Judgement

Bible Teaching about Resurrection & Judgement

The apostles of Jesus Christ travelled the Roman world with a bold and urgent message. Jesus had died; but he had risen from the dead and his exaltation to God’s right hand gave new hope to all who would try to follow his example of obedience. In spite of mocking, derision and persecution, these apostles sounded forth their great clarion call: being witnesses themselves of Christ’s resurrection, they were galvanised into action, publicly proclaiming the hope of resurrection for all true disciples of the Lord.There is probably no better way for us to learn more about this wonderful and comforting Christian hope and the associated teaching concerning God’s judgement of man, than to examine it through the preaching of one of these apostles who had joined the group of witnesses, as “one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 1 5:8). He too was persecuted and imprisoned for the things he preached, but while in custody would not be silenced and continued to speak, even to his captors, of the hope which filled his own heart.

At the Court of Felix

The Apostle Paul was in prison in an outpost of the Empire and distant from the magnificence of the capital city. But there is no doubt that, however unsavoury that prison cell may have been, the provincial governor’s headquarters in Caesarea bore some similarity to the fashionable apartments known to Felix from his earlier life in Rome. With wide-ranging powers he had gathered to himself a court and dispensed what he would fondly and incorrectly call justice with a casualness and sadistic severity equalled, and later exceeded, by the recently enthroned emperor Nero.At Felix’s side was his teenage wife Drusilla, by all accounts a great beauty and just widowed as a result of the death of the Syrian king Azizus to whom she had been married, probably at the behest of her father Herod Agrippa 1, at the tender age of fourteen. Whether the tenderness of her character matched that of her age may be questioned by her premature association with the uncultured Felix long before Azizus’ death regularised the situation. It seemed part of the family characteristics of the Herods to disregard the sanctity of marriage and treat the bond with contempt. Had not John the Baptist been imprisoned and subsequently beheaded by Herod Antipas for his effrontery in criticising him for taking his brother’s wife? (Matthew 14:1-11).

Civilisation Corrupt

The thin veneer of civilisation cloaking corrupt and immoral practices parallels our own modern 20th century western world. Criticism of its ways was as unwelcome then as it is now. Yet it was against this background and before the two most prominently involved that the imprisoned Apostle Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgement to come” (Acts 24:25).It is therefore fitting that we in our day should examine the same principles, recognising in ourselves, as well as in the world of which we form part, the need for more exalted standards of thought and conduct. It is neither comfortable nor fashionable to speak of a time of coming judgement. It seems a subject inextricably linked with the doctrine of hell-fire, which has become an object of derision and the butt of music hall jokes. But while eternal torment deep in the bowels of the earth is nowhere taught in Scripture, judgement is an integral part of God’s programme which will result in the world ultimately being full of His glory.Just like Felix of old, though, if we try to push the subject from our consciousness we shall hardly succeed.Even Felix trembled as he saw the strong connection between his way of life and his ultimate destiny. He was unwilling to mend his ways and strive after the “holiness without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Our own experiences teach us that, whether we like it or not, there is a connection between endeavour and reward; and between disobedience and punishment. It is the guiding rule in the disciplining of children and management of organisations and is summed up in the phrase ‘the carrot and the stick’. Consider the following words, written by the same apostle who stood before Felix and Drusilia:

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11-14).

There is, then, a responsibility incumbent upon those who wish to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to lead lives consistent with, and reflecting the standards he taught. To do this it is necessary to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” now to the extent that we are aware of the certainty of his return. How similar these words are to those spoken to Felix!

Moral Standards — Then and Now

Following God’s ways (righteousness) involves a high degree of self-control. We must each acknowledge that left to his own devices man “is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:20). How often do we hear of the very slender barrier that exists between order and safety in society and mob rule? The well-ordered and cultivated Roman Empire, degraded by men like Felix and Nero, became inevitably prey to the original Vandals and other ill-named barbarous tribes. In similar fashion, as the moral standards of our society crumble and respect for authority evaporates, the streets of our cities become battlegrounds and fighting and fear grow.Nowhere is the quality of self-control or temperance upheld. Instead “each man does that which is right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Just as that was true at a critical stage in the history of Israel, so it is true today. Of course, if there are no standards set, there can be no judgement; or, to use the words of Scripture, “where there is no law, neither is there transgression” (Romans 4:15). Our society, in order to flout the required standards for life set by God, has therefore had to reject the idea of judgement. The catch phrase for our age, as it was for the civilisation whose similar disregard hastened its destruction by flood and tempest in Noah’s day, is: “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32; Matthew 24:38; Luke 17:27).

God has specifically recorded that the wickedness of the world will result in His judgements being unleashed on the earth: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). Our particular study, however, concerns our individual response to the Gospel message and the impending judgement seat of Christ.

Tomorrow we die

This attitude of being responsible to no-one for our actions is increasingly prevalent. Most interestingly, however, when the Apostle Paul describes it, he links it with unbelief about the resurrection:

“What does it profit me?  If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

Clearly, then, the promise of resurrection from the dead should affect the way we live our lives. It is the reward God has promised to those who attempt in their lives now to follow in his ways and commandments. It is therefore necessary for us to understand what hope there is for man at his death.Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, reviewing the works of man and their ultimate value, declared that:

“All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked” (Ecclesiastes 9:2).

His description of the death state is equally succinct:

“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).

This last phrase perhaps expresses two thoughts. On the one hand, as time passes the dead are forgotten, even by close friends and acquaintances; but also a person’s memory ceases when death occurs. It is like many pocket calculators which have a memory function, only so long as power is available. Once that power is switched off, the ability to calculate, to recall from memory, or to display other functions has been removed. This is the condition of man at death, as these words spoken to Adam after his disobedience reveal:

“Thou shalt return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). 

Desire for Immortality

Is this the fact which men and women wish to ignore, hoping it is not really true? None of us likes to think we are in truth ephemeral creatures, like a butterfly existing but for a brief day. Against the broad centuries of history, however, this is the case. Our individual ripples in the pool of life achieve little. Even those men to whom the world ascribes greatness only make slight adjustments in the course of man’s affairs. Yet there is in each of us a desire for immortality — to leave something behind us. Parents see in their children aspects of their own lives being perpetuated and occasionally a child’s life is damaged by the parent wishing to live his own life again through his children. It is probably this desire which has caused men and women to express belief in an essential part of man which can never die.This is a falsehood first uttered in the temptation in the garden of Eden: “Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). This is the great untruth, clung to desperately by many, just as survivors of a shipwreck will attempt to ride a tempestuous sea on the scantiest piece of flotsam available. It is untrue, and if we wish to be true to ourselves we must abandon it and seek to place our trust in those things which are firm and steadfast “like an anchor for our lives. an anchor safe and sure” (Hebrews 6:19, N.E.B.).The Faith of JobThis wish for permanence, to be able to pass on for the benefit of others the lessons a life’s experience has taught, is not uncommon. In the book of Job, when that just man’s suffering intensified the foundation of his faith, he cried out:

“Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!” (Job 19:23,24).

For a man like Job to make such a cry, the message he had to impart must be of importance. He had been attacked by a disease which was loathsome: a living death. On awakening each morning he would contemplate the finality of death and the futility of life. This crystallised for him a supreme hope, and it was this he wished to be preserved for future generations, for it was the vindication of his own steadfastness in adversity:

“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27).

That this was not just a pious sentimentality wrung out of him by the agony of his illness is attested to by God Himself, whose comment on Job is recorded later in the book. He says to Job’s friends:

“Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath” (Job 42:7).

The right things about God which Job had spoken are important for us. He spoke of the living power of God able to redeem sinful men and women. In connection with that redemption, he expressed the hope that he would be present to see and hear God’s judgement of him. And yet Job understood the nature of death as Solomon described it. He spoke of the decomposition of his body, but also believed that the same body would one day stand before God.

Isaiah’s Commentary

If Job was the only Old Testament character to make this claim we might have an excuse to discount his evidence. But he is not. In the prophecy of Isaiah the things we have learnt from Ecclesiastes and Job are repeated. Note first the description of the death state in chapter 26, verses 13 and 14:

“Other lords beside thee have had dominion over us … They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.”

By careful repetition, there is an inevitability about the fate of these men — ‘dead’ and ‘deceased’, they shall ‘not live’ nor ‘rise’. As Solomon had said: “The memory of them is forgotten.”In contrast, however, to this hopelessness, is the position of those who are God’s people:

“Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out her dead” (Isaiah 26:19).

What we have therefore learnt is that though for some it is true that the death state is final, for others, although the death state itself is the same — complete unconsciousness, the “one event that cometh upon all” — there is a hope of arising or being cast forth from the earth.

Daniel’s Prophecy

This categorisation is taken a step further in Daniel’s prophecy where the second group-God’s people-arise to an as yet unknown destiny. The wording used is critically important, as we shall see:

“And many (not all) of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). 

We know sufficiently well from our study that this is the language of Scripture on this subject. ‘The dust of the earth’ echoes the Genesis record of the fate of Adam, Eve and their descendants. Clearly there is to be a separation between those whose destiny is everlasting life and those for whom there will be shame and everlasting contempt.The Sleep of DeathIn common with other passages of Scripture referring to the death of those who will subsequently be raised, Daniel speaks of them as ‘sleeping’. On one occasion, when Jesus was called to the home of a leader of the synagogue whose daughter had died, he was “laughed to scorn” by the professional mourners who had congregated there, when he avowed that the “maid is not dead, but sleepeth” (Matthew 9:24). Had they been familiar with the real meaning of their Scriptures they would have understood that this language confirmed Jesus’ intention to raise her from the dead. This is therefore the way in which God Himself views those whom He intends to raise. For Him they are awaiting the call to re-awaken at the dawning of the great day of righteousness.Daniel’s words are also related to another saying of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgement also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:26-29).

Resurrection is not a commonly discussed subject. Conceptions of what happens after death range across many conflicting theories. Some fondly think of an existence freed from all trammels of this life and this earth, but otherwise purposeless. We should perhaps ask what pleasure such a destiny could give creature or Creator. Side by side with this view is the fear of eternal torment, blazing fires and sulphurous smoke. Common to both ideas is freedom from our present mortal bodies. Whatever our destiny may be, it will involve (so it is said) that part of us which is considered immortal-the essential personality, or ‘the soul’, to use the common designation.

Human Myths and Bible Truth

From our survey of Bible teaching, we know these hazy ideas have no foundation. Instead, and in simple down to earth terms, there is a powerful and compelling truth concerning man’s true state and God’s scheme of redemption:

  1. Man is born mortal, a dying creature inheriting his nature from all his ancestors back to Adam.
  2. Man is sinful. All men are tempted and, with the single exception of the Lord Jesus Christ, commit sins transgressing God’s laws. 
  3. All men die, from illness, accident, murder or old age.
  4. Death is total unconsciousness. No longer energised by breath, the body decomposes to the earthly elements from which it is made.
  5. God will raise from the dead all who know Him and His laws.
  6. By the Lord Jesus Christ, and at his return to the earth, God will judge those who have been raised. Some will be granted immortality. The rest will return to their graves for ever.
  7. The immortalised believers, the saints or sanctified ones, will live and reign with Christ in God’s kingdom upon earth.

Alive at the Coming of the Lord

In this programme, special arrangements have been made for those who will be alive when Christ returns. This was a matter of great concern to believers who could understand the teaching about resurrection and judgement, but thought that it could relate only to those who had already died. Many times in the New Testament the writers were inspired to clarify this. We should be thankful that they did, for the signs of mounting distress in the earth herald the great day God has appointed “in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). We may therefore be among the generation who “shall not all sleep (die), but shall be changed” by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ into the immortal subjects of his divine kingdom.There will also at Christ’s return be men and women (and particularly children) who have not had to decide what their response to the Gospel of truth will be. They will continue to live through the time when “the law will go forth of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:2). Because of the righteous rule of Christ, conditions in the world will improve and expectation of life will increase — possibly equivalent to the times before the flood. Isaiah prophesied:

“Never again will there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed” (Isaiah 65:20, N.I.V.).

But each, child, youth and aged, at their appointed times will die. At the end of this reign of Christ there will be a second day of resurrection, a second judgement and, for those not granted immortality whose names are “not found written in the book of life”, a second and utterly final death (Revelation 20:12-15).The resurrection spoken of in the Bible is a bodily one, just as the era of peace and righteousness to be introduced at Jesus’ return involves this earth on which we live. There is no hazy notion of a spirit world in far off places, as an examination of Jesus’ own resurrection shows. Firstly, he was mistaken by Mary Magdalene for the gardener and had to rebuke her for holding on to him: “Take not hold on me; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John 20:15,17, R.V.). Later, when his disciples were gathered together in the upper room, terrified of the consequences for themselves of his crucifixion, Jesus appeared and they thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus’ answer to their fright puts the matter beyond all doubt:

“Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit (ghost) hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:38,39).

Bodily Resurrection

Similarly, the resurrection at Christ’s return will be a bodily one. Those “that are in the graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth” (John 5:28). It is no use for us to question the ability of the all-creating God to raise decomposed bodies, for He first formed man from the dust of the ground and can therefore re-form many men and women who have since that time returned to the dust from which they were made, trusting in His limitless power.The similarity of the time of resurrection and judgement to Adam’s own experience is very revealing. He was not created immortal. There was a choice before him to obey God or his own desires, and he chose to do that which formed the pattern that all mankind would subsequently follow. He was therefore ‘judged’ by God: “Because thou hast heartened unto the voice of thy wife … cursed is the ground … in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” (Genesis 3:17-19).First of all, therefore, the resurrection involves what the word itself implies — a rising or standing up: not immediately a change of nature, but a reconstituted mortal body ready to appear for judgement. Some will have continued to sin “after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” (Romans 5:14); others will have striven to follow the example of the Son of God, recognising the victory his death and resurrection achieved.

Who will be raised?

There will be many who have lived their lives oblivious of the purposeful power of God and unaware of the promised gift of life made possible through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We should not expect such to be raised. In ignorance of the principles involved, how could they be expected to make an answer before the Judge of all the earth? According to their own lights they will have lived lives, receiving equally with all other inhabitants of His earth the benefits which God showers daily upon us. Those, however, who do have a knowledge of His purpose are placed in a position of responsibility and each “shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).This separation is the “judgement to come” about which Paul reasoned with Felix, and Jesus himself will be the judge.The Just JudgeThe work of judgement has been specifically reserved for Christ by God. How fitting it is that he should be the judge! He was born by the power of God of an earthly mother and thereby shared our human nature. He knows the temptations which cause us to stumble because he was tempted in the same way. Because he had purposed in his heart to be “always about his Father’s business” he conquered each temptation. As a human being in the line of Adam “the one event that cometh on all” came upon him and he was crucified as a result of the machinations of men who were unable to accept his unimpeachable goodness. Because of his life of obedience “the grave could not hold him” and by the same power that brought about his miraculous birth, God raised him from the dead and on account of his righteousness granted him immortality.That release is possible from the previously all-conquering enemy of mankind, as revealed to Job, Isaiah and Daniel was convincingly proved by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of his victory over death, there is a guarantee for his disciples to share in his triumph. Knowing that man by himself cannot live a life of perfect obedience like Christ’s, God has promised that believers can be related to that life and enjoy the benefits which consequently flow.The means of achieving this relationship is baptism based on repentance of sinful ways and acknowledgement of the truth of the Gospel message:

“Know ye not”, said the apostle Paul to Roman believers, “that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5). 

Sweet Reward of Faithful Following

It is impossible to read the Gospel teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and be unaware of the necessity for judgement. Whether openly to his disciples, or in the form of parables to the multitudes that flocked to hear him, Jesus distinctly taught of a day of reckoning for the servants of God. On one occasion he spoke of a nobleman going into a far country to receive a kingdom. (The parallel with his own ascension and promised return to establish God’s kingdom on earth cannot be avoided.) At his return, the servants who had been entrusted with his goods were called to give an account of their dealings in his absence. The endeavours of the faithful servants were rewarded, while the mistrust of the unfaithful servant was punished by taking from him that portion of the nobleman’s goods he had been given to use. Throughout the account, there is an emphasis on the word “faithful”. It is a believer’s faith in the promises of God that will be judged. No-one has lived a life which of itself justifies confidence that a reward has been earned. Jesus himself said:

“When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10). 

In harmony with this, the promise of eternal life is not described in Scripture as something that can be earned. Instead, it is the “free gift of God” (Romans 6:23). Undeserved by its recipients, the gift has only been made possible through the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Basis of Judgement

Abraham, one of the great figures of the Old Testament, is a good example of this principle. He had been asked to do things by God which we would think far beyond the call of duty. One of these was to sacrifice his own son, Isaac (Genesis chapter 22). It was his ability through all these circumstances to be constantly aware of the certainty of a future resurrection (Hebrews 11:17-19) that marked him out as.a man of great faith. It is recorded of him that as a result of his faithfulness God counts him a righteous man (Romans 4:3).This then is the basis of the judgement. We are, perhaps by our association of the word with courts of law, tempted to envisage something of a kind of debate, with an argument of the relative merits of various incidents in a person’s life. Rather we should think of the occasion as an opportunity for the verdict to be pronounced by the one who has been given authority to exercise judgement and who is therefore uniquely qualified to do so. The verdict will not be the result of achievement, for it was the ones who would boldly say, “Lord, Lord, have we not in thy name done many wonderful works?” to whom the Lord directed his dreadful reply, “I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23).As Isaiah had prophesied so long before, God’s requirements are for humble and sensitive servants: “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). Rather, the verdict will be based upon commitment, the knowledge that we are each totally dependent on God’s mercy for all things; in this life and also for the blessings with which the earth will be showered in the kingdom age.

From Death to Life

The judgement is, however, only a part of the process of leading faithful men and women from death to life. God’s intention from the beginning was that mankind should be in His image. His son is and was able therefore to say to his disciples: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 1 4:9). Jesus displayed the wonders of God’s character most perfectly; he was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Many who heard him “wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:22); and it was his own, uncontested claim that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).How different this is from our own feeble attempts to perfect our characters! In different ways we each display a lack of ability to control ourselves. For one it will be an over-hasty tongue, for another a particular breed of covetousness, for yet others the common sin of pride. When we start a process of critical self-examination, the list is endless. Yet God has promised to those who strive to serve Him faithfully a share in His divine nature. Using eloquent language, Daniel describes this result of resurrection and acceptance at the judgement:

“They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

Notice that they shall shine “as the brightness” and “as stars”. This is figurative language describing poetically the translation from mortality to immortality. “God is light”, the apostle John wrote, “and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Daniel was prophesying that those who are raised and accepted at the judgement will then be changed to immortal beings, living and reigning with Christ and displaying, as he does, the characteristics of his heavenly Father.This is the exalted hope which is held out in the Gospel message, the “righteousness” which will be revealed by the “judgement to come” which so troubled Felix, and which will only be fulfilled when the harvest of resurrection is gathered in. Christ, who is the firstfruits of that harvest (1 Corinthians 15:23), is the guarantee that all we have considered regarding this subject is certain to come to pass.

The Day of Opportunity

Felix sent Paul away with the words “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24:25). We can, if we wish, do the same and turn our backs on the good news of the kingdom of God. We may convince ourselves that there will be a “convenient season” at some time in the future, but we shall be wrong. As the apostle Paul said, writing to believers in Corinth:

“Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).These are matters of life and death, and too important to be put off to another day.

The Devil and Satan Defined

“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8).

The Importance Of The Subject

The above quotation from the Bible, stresses the importance of a sound understanding of what constitutes the Devil and Satan. As Christ was manifested to destroy the work of such, it is obvious that we will not understand God’s plan of salvation, unless we have a clear and proper comprehension of what is meant by these terms.

Unfortunately, current ideas upon the subject are astray from the Bible.

It is taught that the devil is a superhuman monster, a fallen angel, who dominates the minds of humanity, inducing mankind to sin. The teaching induces fear of the devil, and also provides an excuse for sin by blaming it on him.

The doctrine is not only unscriptural, but is also a reflection upon God’s love and omnipotence. Would a God of love allow weak, mortal man to be dominated by a powerful, depraved fallen angel if He has the strength to destroy him? And as God is omnipotent, why does He not rid Himself of the devil, if he be a fallen angel in heaven?

Thus logic would set aside the normal teaching of the devil as unsound and unscientific.

And the teaching of the Bible is in conformity with this statement.

It reveals that the devil is a more familiar figure than is normally recognized: not a fallen angel, but a synonym for human nature in its various forms. It teaches that we are responsible for the sins we commit; but proclaims the means whereby sin can be forgiven, and human nature controlled. This is essential for the salvation of each one.

Obviously, therefore, it is necessary for us to know what constitutes the devil, if we are to successfully resist its power.

How the Bible Defines the Devil

The mission of Christ is expressed as follows:

“Forasmuch then as the children (i.e. those Christ came to save) are partakers of flesh and blood, he (Jesus Christ) also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

This important declaration of Scripture teaches that:

  1. Christ came to destroy the devil.
  2. The devil is that which had the power of death.
  3. Christ partook of human nature and died in order to destroy the devil.
  4. In doing so, he delivered others from the power of the devil and of death.

If we can scripturally define that which Christ came to destroy, and that which has the power of death, we shall know what constitutes the devil.

As far as the Bible is concerned, these two lines of investigation lead to one answer: SIN!

Consider the evidence:

(a) CHRIST CAME TO DESTROY SIN. “He put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). “Christ died for our sins” (I Corinthians 15:3). “His own self bare our sins in his body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24). “He was manifested to take away our sins” (I John 3:5).

(b) SIN WAS THE ORIGINAL CAUSE OF DEATH. “The wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). “By one man (not a supernatural devil) sin entered the world and death by sin” (Romans 5:12). “The sting of death is sin” (I Corinthians 15:56).

From this evidence it is obvious that Christ came to destroy sin, and also that the power of death is in sin. It logically follows, therefore, that the devil is a synonym for sin.

The fallacy of the idea that the devil is a fallen angel is clearly illustrated by the definition of the Apostle in Hebrews 2:14 above. How could the death of Jesus encompass the destruction of a powerful, superhuman fallen angel?

It would leave him more powerful than ever!

But once it is recognized that the devil relates to sin, and that sin comes from within, it will be acknowledged that the atoning blood of Jesus is a powerful weapon to defeat and destroy it! It defeats the power of sin by providing the means of forgiveness; it conquers death through the promise of a resurrection to life eternal (I Corinthians 15:20-26).

What Is Sin?

Primarily, sin is disobedience (I John 3:4). The first sin was punished by man becoming related to death (Genesis 3:19), so that mortality became incidental to human nature.

But sin is also used in the Bible with a secondary meaning. Men are said to have been “made sinners” (Romans 5:19), Jesus is described as being “made sin for us” (II Corinthians 5:21), as having “died unto sin” (Romans 6:10), and as about to return “without sin” (Hebrews 9:28).

This secondary use of the word “sin” implies the state of physical imperfection that resulted because of actual transgression in the first instance (Romans 5:12). Men are not “made” transgressors of the law; they become so by actual wrong-doing. Jesus did no sin though he was born into a state of mortality, with fleshly desires that could have led to sin if he had permitted them to gain the ascendency.

Though this state of physical imperfection has been inherited by all (Romans 5:17), men are not held responsible for it. It is not their fault that they possess weak, sinful natures. This is an inheritance from Adam. Men are only held accountable, if they recognize what it is but reject the help of God in controlling and conquering it.

It is weak, human nature to which the Apostle refers when he declares “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and when he wrote that the devil is “that which has the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14). Thus human nature is styled “sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3), for servitude to it leads to sin.

It is because human nature is the cause of sin that Jesus “took part of the same,” as taught by Paul, that “through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

He did this by rendering perfect obedience even unto death, and his spotless righteousness ensured his resurrection unto eternal life (Philippians 2:8-9; Acts 2:24). Thus both in life and in death he conquered the devil (weak, human nature), and opened the way for a similar conquest (through forgiveness of sins) on the part of those who come unto God through him.

Sin In Relation To Human Nature

That sin and human nature are closely related is clearly shown in Romans 7 where Paul discusses these matters at length. There is not the slightest hint to the existence of a supernatural devil tempting mankind; instead, he writes of:

“Sin which dwelleth in me” (Romans 7:17)
“The law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23)
“I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; I can will what is right, but how to perform it I find not” (Romans 7:18) R.V.

Paul found himself constantly exposed to a mental conflict. He desired to perform the will of God, but this brought him into conflict with his own desires, and so strong were the latter that he found himself sometimes succumbing to them. He wrote:

“The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19).

He blamed his failings on the weakness of human nature: “O wretched man that I am!” he exclaimed, “who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) RSV.

The Gospel supplied the answer. He thanked God that victory was assured through Jesus Christ. Through him he could receive forgiveness of sins, the strength to overcome the flesh (Philippians 4:13), and an assurance of a resurrection to eternal life at his coming (I Corinthians 15:22-23, 53-54). No longer did he live in bondage to sin and death. The spirit of Christ in him (II Corinthians 13:5) triumphed over the devil in him (the “law of sin in his members” (Romans 7:23)), and faith replaced fear.

That can be our experience also.

How Sin Originated

At the epoch of Creation, God looked upon all that He had made, “and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Even the serpent was “good” after its kind, for, at that stage, it had not tempted Eve to sin.

But if the description of “very good” applied to all that God had made, where was the devil?

It was non-existent!

Even human nature was then different to what it afterward became.

There is no mention of the devil in the early chapters of Genesis which record how sin entered the world.

They do reveal, however, that man did not remain in his original “very good” state, but developed “evil” inclinations (Genesis 6:21).

What caused the change? The answer is, Sin.

The simple story of Genesis tells how God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, taught them the principles of righteousness, placed them under a law, and set before them the hope of life eternal as the reward of obedience to Him.

But Eve, drawn away by the seductive reasoning of the serpent, broke the Divine law and sinned (Genesis 3:1-7); and afterwards induced her husband to do likewise. Was this caused by a supernatural devil? On the contrary. When all parties were arraigned before the angel of God to answer for their crime, each blamed the other. Adam blamed his wife; Eve blamed the serpent; but the serpent had nobody to blame (Genesis 3:12-14).

It was held soley responsible for the introduction of sin!

If otherwise, why did it not say so? It had a tongue; it possessed outstanding reasoning powers!

It could have blamed the devil!

But it had no one to blame.

Some who recognize the difficulty that this presents to their theory of a supernatural devil, claim that he was there in the form of the serpent.

The fallacy of such a statement, however, is illustrated by the punishment meted out to the serpent, which proves beyond all doubt that it was only an animal:

“Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed ABOVE ALL CATTLE, and above EVERY BEAST of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Genesis 3:14).

By no stretch of imagination could such language apply to a fallen angel.

Through hearkening to the voice of the serpent, the propensities were inflamed in Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:6), and have actively worked in the flesh of man ever since, leading him to sin. Because this was caused through the teaching of the serpent, it became the symbol of sinful flesh (Matthew 23:33); and the atoning death of Jesus (through which the devil can be destroyed – Hebrews 2:14) proclaimed that flesh must be controlled. It is significant that the Lord’s crucifixion was symbolized by a serpent lifted on a pole (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14), for it prominently displayed what is figuratively required of his followers; obedience to God’s law, resulting in crucifixion of the affections and lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:24).

Christ showed the way. His sinless life was a victory over sin’s flesh (John 6:62), and his death upon the cross silenced its impulses as far as he was concerned (Romans 8:3).

In that way he put to death the devil.

Sin Arises From Within

Though originally sin was induced by temptation from without, since then its strongest impulses have been stimulated from within.

The natural thoughts and inclinations of the flesh must be disciplined if we would please God. They form what Paul describes as “the law of sin in our members” (Romans 7:23). In another place, he explains it thus:

“Christ died … that they which live SHOULD NOT HENCEFORTH LIVE UNTO THEMSELVES, but unto him which died for them and rose again” (II Corinthians 5:15).

To ‘live unto ourselves’ is to live in sin; to be under the power of the devil! Christ taught:

“Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing come from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him … that which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from WITHIN, OUT OF THE HEART OF MEN, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these evil things COME FROM WITHIN and defile the man” (Mark 7:18-23).

If all these failings come from within, it leaves precious little for any external devil to do! Notice, also, that Christ taught that mankind are defiled by internal thoughts, not external influences. Obviously he did not believe in a superhuman devil, but warned his hearers against the evil propensities within. Paul likewise taught:

“The works of the flesh are hatred, variance, wrath, strife, seditions, envying, murders, drunkenness, and such like” (Galatians 5:17-21).

This being the state of man, why blame sin on the temptations of a supernatural devil? And that this is the state of man each one can test for himself by a little sober heart-searching. Why do we sin? To gratify self! That is the cause of the world’s ills today. Men do evil things because they want to do them, and not because of the influence of a superhuman monster.

On the other hand, the truth in Christ is designed to transform believers mentally and morally in preparation for the physical change that will take place at Christ’s return, and which will perpetuate those characters in a nature of imperishable glory (Philippians 3:21).

“If ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye, through the spirit (the truth – I John 5:7) do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live” (Romans 8:13).

What the Words “Devil” and “Satan” Signify

The word “devil” has been used as a translation for two entirely different Greek words diabolos and diamonion.

The first word is found in those verses used to prove the existence of a superhuman devil. As a word, it signifies “adversary”, “traducer”, “false accuser”, and “slanderer”. Though it has been generally translated “devil,” it has also been rendered “slanderers” (I Timothy 3:11), and “false accusers” (II Timothy 3:3; Titus 2:3).

In no instance does it relate to a fallen angel, as a careful consideration of the evidence will show.

Diamonion is likewise translated “devil” but signifies “demon”. It is an entirely different word to diabolos, and is used to describe a person possessed with a disease, as we shall show.

On the other hand, satan is a Hebrew word, transliteration into the English language, and meaning “adversary”. The word is often properly translated in that way, in certain Bible passages, but belief in a supernatural devil caused biased translators to render it as Satan in other parts of the Bible.

An example of this bias is found in Psalm 109:6 which reads: “Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.” The bias even extended to turning Satan into a proper noun with a capital initial.

Yet the same Hebrew word is rendered “adversaries” in vv. 4,20,29 of the same chapter! (Psalm 109:4,6,20,29)

It should be so rendered in verse 6. In fact, in the Revised Standard Version the verse reads: “Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser bring him to trial.”

In that version, “Satan” becomes “accuser”, a word that conforms to the English meaning of the Hebrew expression.

Bible usage of the word “satan” shows that it is used of both good and evil adversaries, though the translators have only rendered it as “Satan” where the adversary is obviously a wicked one.

For example, the word appears in Numbers 22 in relation to the angel sent to rebuke the wicked prophet Balaam, but there it is rendered “adversary” and “withstand” (Numbers 22:22,32). In I Samuel 29 and II Samuel 19 it is translated adversaries (I Samuel 29:4; II Samuel 19). In I Kings 5, it occurs in the statement: “There is neither adversary (Hebrew satan) nor evil occurrent” (I Kings 5:4).

The Hebrew word Satan should be rendered consistently as adversary wherever it occurs; in no instance does it relate to a fallen angel.

When God Was Satan

In one event recorded in the Old Testament, even God appeared in the role of satan, or adversary. The incident is described in two places (II Samuel 24:1; I Chronicles 21:1). The former place states:

“The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.'”

However, the parallel account in the latter place records:

“Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.”

In the first quotation, the action is attributed to God; in the second, to satan!

What is correct?

Those who teach that the word satan signifies a fallen angel tempting mankind to sin are faced with a contradiction, or the expediency of teaching that God worked through His arch-enemy!

Both explanations are quite unsatisfactory; and also quite unnecessary.

Let it be understood that the word “satan” means “adversary”, and let it be acknowledged that God was adverse to Israel at that time, and the difficulty is removed.

As an adversary to Israel, God overruled events to bring about circumstances that made David fear opposition against his regime. This caused him to set about numbering his fighting men, which resulted in him placing confidence in them rather than in God. So he fell into sin.

As this incident shows, the word “satan” means “adversary” and the context of each reference determines whether the adversary in question was good or bad, or whether the term related to a person, a government, the lust of the flesh, or an adverse experience. All are represented in the Bible as Satan, but in no instance does it teach that the term defines a superhuman monster tempting men to sin.

The difference between “devil” and “satan” can be summed up by recognizing that whereas the former relates invariably to an evil adversary, the latter signifies merely adversary, the context determining whether it is good or bad.

Manifestations of the Devil and Satan

Though the devil basically relates to human nature, or the lusts of the flesh, it is manifested in various forms. For instance, a government can become a political manifestation of the flesh, if it stands in opposition to the ways of God. Thus Peter wrote:

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).

In this verse, “devil” is diabolos in the Greek, and signifies “false accuser”, and the word “adversary” is antidikos, meaning “an opponent at law”. The “opponent at law”, a “false accuser” of the Christians was not a supernatural devil, but the persecuting civil authorities of the day. They are likened to “a roaring lion” because of their rapacious fierceness. For a similar reason, Paul wrote that he was “delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (II Timothy 4:17). In other words, he escaped the imprisonment that was threatened against him.

Christ also referred to civil authorities as “the devil”. He told his followers: “The devil shall cast some of you into prison; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Certainly this “devil” was not a fallen angel, but those civil authorities who opposed the spread of Christianity.

Concerning the same false-accusing opponents, Paul wrote:

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities (or governments), and against powers (or authorities), against the rulers of the darkness of this world (Greek ages), against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

This statement is frequently used to prove the existence of the devil as a fallen angel, but the greatest adversary and false accusers of the Christians in those days were the Jewish and Pagan authorities. They bitterly persecuted believers, leading Paul to warn them to be on their guard against the “wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11) or false accusers. He had in mind the unscrupulous stratagems of men in authority who were prepared to use any means to obtain a conviction against them. “We are not ignorant of his devices,” he declared (II Corinthians 2:11). He could well write thus, for he, himself, once held such a position, falsely accusing followers of the Lord, “entering into every house, and hailing men and women committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). However, his conversion to Christ changed all that.

The pagan world often slandered, or falsely accused the followers of Christ, and therefore is identified in Scripture as the devil. The unscrupulous opposition believers received from their pagan neighbors could easily have incited them to actions that would not have reflected credit on the Lord whom they attempted to follow. The Apostles recognized the danger, and exhorted them not to succumb to the hostile environment in which they lived. They urged them to talk circumspectly towards those that “are without”, and to use discretion even in the appointment of officials in their congregations. They drew attention to the dangers of setting up a novice in a position of importance in the community: “lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (I Timothy 3:6-7).

Would the devil of theology “condemn” one lifted up with pride? By no means. Such a monster would rather induce him to “stand on his dignity”, and would seek to increase his pride. On the other hand, would not “outsiders” be disposed to condemn followers of the Lord for acts of inconsistency? Of course they would and do. They slander and calumniate those who attempt to maintain a right course of action, and yet momentarily fall. And because this gives occasion “to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (II Samuel 12:14), Paul warned believers to be on their guard.

The “devil” against which he warned them constituted the pagan, social and political world which was ruled by the flesh.

The term “devil” has also been applied to individuals. Christ called Judas Iscariot a devil (John 6:70), and described Peter as “satan” because “he savoured not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33). According to this statement, to savour the things of men (the flesh) is equivalent to being a “satan”.

When the flesh dominates a person to the exclusion of the things of God, he will show opposition to all that Christ stands for. He will be like Judas: a devil, a bitter opponent to ways of righteousness and truth. He will be justly termed “a child of the devil”, a product of the flesh (Acts 13:10). The Jewish leaders in the days of the Lord, provided an example of this. They claimed to be the sons of faithful Abraham and to worship God in truth, but Christ declared: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye do” (John 8:44).

They were men of flesh, being dominated by its lusts, and therefore the progeny of the devil.

When John wrote: “He that committeth sin is of the devil: for the devil sinneth from the beginning” (I John 3:8), he taught the same truth. It has been the lusts of the flesh that have driven men to sin from the beginning. Christ came to “destroy the works of the devil”. He came to destroy sin; and did so by opening a way for forgiveness and salvation. John’s comment should be aligned with the teaching of the Lord Jesus: “From within, out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts,” etc. The sacrifice of Christ is designed to reveal that the flesh must be figuratively crucified if mankind would server God acceptably. Thus Paul taught:

“They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24).

Such deny themselves that they might serve Christ. In so doing, the devil is defeated, for it constitutes the unlawful lusts of the flesh, which war against the requirements of God (Romans 8:7-8; I John 2:15-16).

The world without is identified as Satan. In I Timothy 1, Paul wrote of two heretics: “I have delivered them unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Timothy 1:20). Would the “devil” of popular concept teach one not to blaspheme? Would Paul deliver anybody to such? By no means; rather the contrary. Paul was referring to the discipline of excommunication that he hoped might teach them a lesson, so that they would learn “not to blaspheme”.

Paul’s objective in excommunication were to correct and restore the erring parties, as well as to protect others from their false teaching. He hoped that his action would cause them to review and revise their theories, so that again embracing Truth in its fullness, they might be restored to the congregation (I Corinthians 5:1-5,13; II Corinthians 5:5-7; 7:8-12).

Again, to believers in Pergamos, Asia, Christ declared:

“I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is … where Satan dwelleth” (Revelation 2:13).

Satan’s seat! Satan’s dwelling place! In Pergamos? So Christ taught! How was that possible? Read the context. Notice how strong were the forces of error in that city (Revelation 2:14-16). It contained the headquarters of those who were adverse to the Truth through their errors. Another city, Smyrna, was noted for the “synagogue of Satan” found therein (Revelation 2:9). The term defines a religious community opposed to the truth; but if it is taught that Satan is a superhuman monster, such expressions would mean that he lived in Pergamos (Revelation 2:13), conducted a religious meeting in Smyrna, and also had charge of the prison (Revelation 2:8-13).

Job’s Satan

“Surely the Satan of the book of Job was a superhuman being!” we are often told. He is represented as “going up and down in the earth,” of presenting himself before the Lord, and being in company with other “sons of God.”

“How could he present himself before the Lord if he were not in heaven?” it is sometimes asked. Or, “Does not the term ‘sons of God’ relate to immortal angels?”

In reply, we stress that the book of Job clearly shows that Satan had no power to afflict Job; his sufferings were inflicted by God. God declared: “Thou movest Me against him, to destroy him without cause” (Job 2:3). Job himself, recognized that “the hand of God had touched him” (Job 19:21). The record clearly states that “the Lord brought his evil upon him” (Job 42:11).

In fact, there is nothing superhuman associated with the Satan described in the Book of Job.

This conclusion will be reinforced, when it is recognized that the term “sons of God” does not relate to angels, but is frequently used for mortal believers:

“As many as received him (Christ), to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God … Now are we the sons of God” (I John 3:2).

These references (and others could be cited) clearly reveal that the term “sons of God” relate to mortal believers.

Further, a person is described as presenting himself before God when he engages in worship. An example is provided in Deuteronomy 19 where such is said to “stand before the Lord” when he came before the appointed priests and judges set up in Israel (Deuteronomy 19:17).

Now when these facts are combined together and considered in the light of the term Satan as meaning “adversary”, the first chapter of Job presents a picture of an unnamed adversary of Job, joining with others in worship before God, and accusing Job of hypocrisy. He appears to have been a much travelled man (Job 1:7) with an inferiority complex! A small-minded, jealous associate of the righteous Job, maliciously slandering his name.

The drama of Job has been frequently enacted since then. Even among the company of the Lord’s apostles, called “the sons of God” (I John 3:2), there was found Satan in the person of Judas Iscariot. The Lord described him as “a devil” (John 6:71), because of his impending betrayal of the Lord.

We have carefully examined personally every argument advanced from the Bible to prove the existence of a superhuman devil, and have found none of them conclusive. Such passages as Ezekiel 28:13-15, Isaiah 14:12-15, and Revelation 12:7-9 are constantly advanced, but fail to support the theory when the facts are considered. Ezekiel 28 is “a lamentation upon the king of Tyre” (Ezekiel 28:13-15); Isaiah 14 is a “proverb against the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 14:4,12-15); and Revelation 12 is a prophecy against Rome (Revelation 12).

It is true that Revelation 12 describes a “war in heaven” (Revelation 12:7), but the same chapter also speaks of a birth of a man-child “in heaven” (Revelation 12:1-2), so that the language is obviously symbolic. The devil (false accuser) and satan (adversary) is described as “a dragon” (v.9), “having seven heads and ten horns” (v.3), whose tail drew the third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth!

That this is highly symbolic language, relating to the political order of Rome, is proved beyond all doubt by the explanation given in Revelation 17, which identifies the system with “that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:9-10;18). The city that ruled the world in the days when the Revelation was recorded was the city of Rome.

Obviously, the devil and satan of Revelation 12 relate to the politico-religious system of Rome.

What About the Demons?

We pointed out previously that there are two Greek words translated “devil”, the second of which is the word diamonion. Parkhurst, in his Greek Lexicon, states that this word signifies:

“A lesser god, the spirit of departed human beings who had power to possess a person and so afflict him.”

The word was born of superstition, a superstition still current among many people. Some backward people still believe that certain kinds of illnesses are due to the malignant influence of the spirit of a departed human being, taking possession of the afflicted person.

In some eastern countries, the same idea persists, and doctors find that their use of modern scientific methods is often useless unless the hypothetical “devil”, the creation of imagination and superstition, is first “destroyed” or “cast out”. It is not unusual for modern medical men in the East to thus speak, in all seriousness, of “casting out a devil” when referring to the healing of such an afflicted person. They accommodate their description to an expression which conveys something to the mind of the natives. **

Hippocrates, the physician of ancient Greece, wrote an essay on epilepsy, which was called the “sacred disease” because people believed the priests’ teaching, that epileptics were possessed, and because priests, magicians, and imposters derived considerable revenue from attempting to cure the disease by expiations and charms. The essay was written to expose this delusion, he seeking to prove that this disease was neither more divine nor sacred than any other.

** Norman Lewis in a book on Burma entitled Golden Earth records that such ideas are common among the Burmese.

The Bible, therefore in using such terms as “casting out devils”, merely accommodated its expressions to the current venacular. To “cast out a devil” was to cure an illness. Thus such expressions occur as: “Jesus rebuked the devil … and the child was cured” (Matthew 17:18).

Usually, the term to be “possessed of a devil” has relation to mental diseases. For example, when Jesus asked the Jews: “Why go ye about to kill me?”, they replied: “You have a devil (diamonion), who goes about to kill you!?” (John 7:19-20). The statement, “You have a devil,” is equivalent to the modern expression: “You are mad!”

Though the disciples used the term diamonion, it does not mean that they endorsed the pagan idea of the spirits of departed men inhabiting those on earth, any more than we endorse the literal meanings of words that have a colloquial significance. For example, the word “lunatic” signifies “affected by the moon,” but when we use it we do not have that meaning in mind. We speak of pandemonium reigning when any disorder takes place, but we do not endorse the literal meaning of the word which signifies that the disorder is due to the malignant influence of demons. We talk of somebody being “bewitched,” without believing in witches. We make reference to “St. Vitus’ Dance,” without heeding the actual meaning of the term.

So with the use of the word diamonion. It is used colloquially by the Jews to describe one “possessed” by a disease.

Christ used the language of his day, without necessarily accepting the superstitions involved. He made reference to Beelzebub, the god of the flies worshipped by the Philistines of Ekron, as though this god had a living personality (Matthew 12:27), merely to turn a point of discussion back upon his opponents. He certainly did not endorse belief in the god as a living being.

How To Conquer the Devil

We have shown that the devil relates to the sinful tendencies of the flesh. Such are only active in a living body, so that when Christ died on the cross, this died also. When he rose to life eternal, sin in the flesh had no place in the incorruptible nature to which he was changed (Romans 6:4-7; I Corinthians 15:54).

His sacrifice illustrates the way in which we can conquer the devil. We sin and are in need of forgiveness, and this is obtainable in Christ Jesus. Thus Peter exhorted when preaching the Gospel:

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins …” (Acts 2:38).

By making contact with the Lord Jesus through belief and baptism, we take the first steps in defeating the devil; for in Christ only can we receive forgiveness of sins. John wrote:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our us sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

The forgiveness of sins establishes the basis whereby we can build a life modelled upon that of the Lord Jesus. Through the strength derived from him, we can, in measure, conquer the flesh (Philippians 4:13). Paul taught:

“Christ died for all, that they which live (i.e. in newness of life through baptism – Romans 6:5) should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (II Corinthians 5:15).

Again:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

By following the example set by Christ we are led to a higher way of life, one that is dominated by Divine principles and not the desires of the flesh. In that way, we build into our lives Divine characteristics such as were manifested by the Lord Jesus, and are enabled to live in hope that, at his coming, we will be granted the divine nature that he now possess (II Peter 1:4).

Paul wrote:

“We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (from heaven); who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20).

Immortal life in the Kingdom of God to be set up on earth (Daniel 2:44) is the hope set before us. To attain unto it we must conquer the devil, or sin in the flesh. The first step to that end is an understanding of the purpose of God in Christ, including his conquest of the devil. Let us clearly identify the devil and we will be better fitted to grapple with the problem of sin that faces us. Let us recognize our own weakness, and learn that we can conquer the flesh to the glory of God; and by so doing lay the foundation for eternal life at the coming of the Lord.

Appendix

THE WORDS “DEVIL” AND “SATAN” ANALYZED

Devil is used as the translation for two different words: Diabolos and Diamonion.

DIABOLOS signifies “false accuser”, “calumniator”, “slanderer”, etc.

It has been rendered “slanderers” in I Timothy, and “false accusers” in II Timothy and Titus (I Timothy 3:11; II Timothy 3:3; Titus 2:3).

In no place is it used of a superhuman being tempting mankind to sin.

It is translated “devil” in the following passages: Matthew 4:1,5,8,11; 11:39; 25:41; Luke 4:2,3,5,6,13; 8:12; John 6:70; 8:44; 13:2; Acts 10:38; 13:10; Ephesians 4:27; 6:11; I Timothy 3:6,7; II Timothy 2:26; Hebrews 2:14; James 4:7; I Peter 5:8; I John 3:8,10; Jude 9; Revelation 2:10; 12:9,12; 20:2,10).

In all other places where the words “devil” or “devils” appear, the word in the original is diamonion.

DIABOLOS is thus used to describe a person (John 6:70); slanderous women (I Timothy 3:11); false accusers (II Timothy 3:3); sin (Hebrews 2:14); the flesh (Acts 13:10); the antagonistic world (Ephesians 4:27); persecuting civil authorities (Ephesians 6:11; Revelation 2:10;13).

DIAMONION was the word used to describe a certain disease. It was so used because of the ancient superstition that diseases were attributed to the malignant influence of so-called spirits of dead heroes taking possession of a person. The Bible accommodates itself to the language of the times, without endorsing this false pagan teaching. “Casting out devils” merely signifies curing a disease.

SATAN is a Hebrew word, signifying “to oppose” or “to be an adversary.” The word is translated “adversary”, “resist”, “withstand”, and is also transliterated as “satan”.

It is translated “adversary” in the following places: (Numbers 22:22; I Samuel 29:4; II Samuel 19:22; I Kings 5:4; 11:14,23,25; Psalm 38:20; 71:13; 109:4,20,29).

It is translated “withstand” in Numbers 22:32.

It is translated “resist” in Zechariah 3:1.

It is translated “satan” in I Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:6-9,12; 2:1-4,6,7; Psalm 109:6; Zechariah 3:1,2; Matthew 4:10; 12:26; 16:23; Mark 1:13; 3:23,26; 4:15; 8:33; Luke 4:8; 10:18; 11:18; 13:16; 22:3,31; John 13:27; Acts 5:3; 26:18; Romans 16:20; I Corinthians 5:5; 7:5; II Corinthians 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; I Thessalonians 2:18; II Thessalonians 2:9; I Timothy 1:20; 5:15; Revelation 2:9,13,24; 3:9; 12:9; 20:2,7.

From the above it will be found that the term has been used to describe God when revealed as an opponent to Israel (I Chronicles 21:1), an “angel of the Lord” (Numbers 22:22,32), good and evil men (I Samuel 29:4; II Samuel 19:22; Psalm 38:20), an Apostle (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33), adverse religious communities (Revelation 2:9), sickness (Luke 13:16), evil thoughts (Luke 22:3; John 13:27; Acts 5:3), the flesh (Acts 26:18), the world as adverse to God’s ways (I Corinthians 5:5; I Timothy 1:20), governments (Revelation 12:9; Luke 10:18).

The Cross of Christ

The Bible Teaching about Redemption

When our thoughts turn to the cross of Christ what sort of mental picture do we have? Do we see the cross as something ennobling and glorious? Do we have warm sentimental feelings about crucifixion?

Crucifixion
In reality it was a stark and hideous spectacle. Crucifixion must surely be one of the most monstrous of all human inventions. Scourging sometimes preceded crucifixion. The condemned man was whipped with thongs of leather to which pieces of bone or metal had been attached There were times when people died as a result of scourging. Next the victim was nailed, through hands and feet to a wooden cross which was then lifted to a vertical position and fixed firmly in the ground. Then he was simply left to die. He was not killed — just impaled in a position from which escape was impossible and left there until death overtook him

By sheer animal instinct the man would struggle to keep alive although life meant torture. Under its own weight his body would slump forward constricting the lungs and restricting breathing. But again and again, despite the intense pain in pierced hands and feet, he would heave his chest upwards to draw breath — and keep alive. Ultimately death would come as a relief but only after hours and hours-often days-of indescribable agony. The Lord died after six hours on the cross, and Pilate was amazed that he had died so soon (Mark 15:44)

In the days when the Romans ruled, crucifixion was regarded with revulsion and disgust. The offender — usually a dangerous political enemy or an incorrigible criminal — was raised aloft and placarded before the people as a grim warning that disobedience does not pay. Those who witnessed the ghastly spectacle usually took the lesson.

Of the Lord Jesus Christ it is written that he “endured the cross despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2}. It was such a shameful death that some contended that Jesus could not have been the Son of God because God would never have allowed His Son to die such a vile death.

Jewish Intrigue
The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ was a combined operation — The Jews made the plans and the Romans carried them out

When the Jews first became aware of the presence of the Lord Jesus, they were hopeful and excited. The Romans had robbed them of their independence and they resented it. They wanted a king of their own, and Jesus of Nazareth as they called him, seemed a likely candidate for this office. He seemed to have alI the qualifications!

Although the Lord Jesus was –and still is– destined to be a king, other matters had to be dealt with first. Especially important was the need to preach repentance and personal holiness, as the Lord did early in his ministry in the Sermon on the Mount. The Jewish leaders did not appreciate this emphasis on moral integrity. They felt rebuked not only by his words but also by the awesome holiness of the Lord’s character. Also they were envious of his popularity with the common people.

Roman Suspicion
This popularity was an embarrassment for another reason too. The leaders no longer thought of Jesus as a prospective king, but the common people still seemed attracted to this idea. The excitement of the crowds could make the Romans suspicious, and the Jewish leaders were afraid that they might “take away both our place and nation” (John 11:47,48)

How then could they get rid of him? First they had to persuade themselves and their fellow Jews that there were good reasons for removing this man. The real reasons — envy of Jesus and fear of the Romans — could not be broadcast though attempts to conceal them were not remarkably successful. What then should the “official” reason be? After a deal of bungling because the false witnesses whom they had suborned kept contradicting each other, they found a charge that would make them appear as men of high principle: Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God. Although the claim was true they called it blasphemy, and blasphemy was punishable by death. His fate was determined.

But there was still a problem. The Romans were their overlords, and only those whom the Romans condemned could be put to death — and then only by the Romans themselves. So they had to persuade the Romans to kill him. It would have been no use their complaining to the Romans that Jesus of Nazareth had claimed to be the Son of Cod. The superstitious Romans might even have honored him for this high claim; certainly they would not have thought of it as a capital charge. So with tongue in cheek the Jewish leaders reported to Pilate the Roman governor, that this man claimed to be the king of the Jews, whereas they acknowledged no king but Caesar. He was therefore, they argued, a threat to the Roman government. If you let this man go, they said to Pilate you are not Caesar’s friend. (Remember that not so long before this they would have welcomed Jesus as a king because they wanted to be independent of Rome)

Of course Pilate could see through their guile, yet he was forced to give in to their demand lest he himself should be reported to Caesar for disloyalty

So Jesus was crucified.

Conspiracy against the Son of God
The crucifixion of Christ was no small operation. It is not usually appreciated how many people and how many types of people were involved. Representing the Romans were Herod the king, Pilate the governor, a centurion and some common soldiers Two rival Jewish parties were also involved — Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees consisted largely of narrow-minded intensely religious scribes; whereas the broad-minded, pleasure-loving priests belonged to the Sadducees’ party. Also there was a treacherous apostle named Judas, a seditious killer name Barabbas. and a little army of Jewish accessories in that bizarre assortment of enemies.

See how opposite types were drawn together. Normally Jews and Romans hated each other, and so did the Pharisees and Sadducees. Indeed Pilate and Herod were enemies until the trial of Jesus. It was a strange mixture of peoples that conspired together to put the son of God to death. Differences were sunk because there was a formidable common enemy.

The Challenge of Jesus of Nazareth
The enemy was the only completely righteous man who has ever lived. To each man, to each group of men, he was a person who did not belong. Despite their differences, all these people felt easier in each other’s company than in the company of this man. This motley crowd of sinful people had nothing in common with Jesus, the uniquely righteous man. Jesus was a challenge to the world: his teaching and the quality of his life were a rebuke to all men.

Jesus is still a challenge to the world. All who belong to the world are on the side of the crucifiers. If we belong to the world, we are in the same class as those who crucified Christ. What a shocking commentary on human nature: when the righteous Son of God lived on this earth people decided that they would be better off without him-they plotted to get rid of him! And once they had made up their minds, they would stop at nothing — lies, hypocrisy, illegal trials, bribery, false witnesses, blackmail, torture, murder.

Those who simply blame the Jews are missing the point. The point is that, given the circumstances, any other nation would 0have acted in the same way. Perhaps, in this sophisticated age, the details of the story might have worked out differently. But the motives and the end would have been the same.

Human beings just cannot tolerate a person whose one ambition in life is to obey the laws of God. To express it in another way: human beings reject the standards required by God. They prefer to obey their own human instincts. And what are these instincts? Let the Lord Jesus tell us:

“From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).

And Paul completes the description of human nature:

“. . . Jews and Gentiles . . . are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God . . . there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9-18).

A revolting picture — of us!

Man’s Estrangement from God
The sad story of man’s estrangement from God goes right back to Adam and is told in the early chapters of Genesis. The first fact presented in the Bible is that God is the Creator. He created the heaven and the earth, and everything on the earth, including man. The creation of man is summarized thus:

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

Now consider. Because God is the Creator of heaven and earth and all that they contain, everything belongs to Him. And because He is the Possessor of everything, He is in charge. His word is law. So when God put man into a garden which He had prepared for him, it was altogether reasonable that He should have given him instructions concerning what could be done and what could not be done. (How strange that this should need saying at all!) God’s instructions were:

“Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17).

The Tragedy of Eden
Genesis 3 continues the narrative. It tells of the disobedience of Adam, and the consequences of this disobedience. God pronounced the death sentence upon Adam:

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19).

The effect of this upon the rest of humanity is stated by Paul:

“By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

Like begets like. Adam disobeyed and became a sinner, and all his children follow him in the way of sin. The Scriptures declare, and we know from personal experience, that there is in all human beings a strong tendency to defy the law of God. Adam was condemned to death, and his descendants, the sin-stricken human race-all who are “in Adam”, to use a Scriptural expression-are likewise subject to death: “Death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

Sin and Death
The Scriptures themselves emphasize the fact that man is subject to death because of sin. Romans 5:1 2, quoted above, is just one of many passages that stress this relationship between sin and death. The oft-quoted Scripture, “The wages of sin is death”, occurs in the next chapter of Romans (6:23), and in the chapter after that it is stated that “the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (7:5). And so on . .

Who was right-God or Adam? Obviously God was right. Despite a clear warning, Adam broke God’s law and paid the penalty. Yet the verdict of man is that Adam was right and God was wrong. People do not usually say this in so many words, yet by action and attitude they show that their respect and sympathy are for Adam, not God. They express this attitude in two ways: (1) by condoning sin; (2) by resenting death.

Man’s Just Reward
All human beings demonstrate by their own deeds that they approve of the way of disobedience. Already we have looked at the teaching of Scripture concerning human nature. Many blatantly and deliberately reject God’s laws; others simply do what they want to without ever taking God’s laws into account; others profess to fear God, but find excuses to justify doing what they want to do, instead of what God requires of them. Even the few who really try to serve God feel dissatisfied with their efforts: the gravitational force of sin drags them down.

“All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

All reject death. They resent the death sentence that God pronounced on the human race. To many it seems that, instead of receiving the just reward of their deeds, they are being cheated. Even if he were not a sinner, man could not reasonably claim the right to live for ever. Yet sinful human beings seem to regard death as an unjust and cruel imposition.

Indeed, many people deny that death takes place at all. Although all the evidence points the other way, they say that death is only an appearance-not a reality. When a man dies (they claim) life really begins. They regard death as the gateway to a richer and fuller life.

This is utterly contrary to the teaching of Scripture. As we have seen, the Bible teaches that death is a punishment. It was never intended to be something pleasant and attractive. According to the Bible, when a man dies “his thoughts perish” (Psalm 146:4); and “the dead know not anything” (Eccles. 9:5). To put it simply: death is the cessation of life.

Although man keeps fighting against God throughout his life-by continuing to sin and by rejecting death-God wins decisively in the end, and man returns to his native dust. God did not say in vain, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”.

Why was Jesus Christ Crucified?
Jesus Christ was crucified because the Jews hated him and wanted to get rid of him. This is one obvious reason. But surely God could have stopped them from committing this terrible crime, and at the same time have spared His Son the pain and shame of crucifixion? Obviously God was powerful enough to intervene and prevent the crime. And yet, although the Lord Jesus prayed three times to his Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me. . . ” God did not intervene. If God’s principles were to be upheld and His purpose fulfilled, intervention was not possible. God’s plan required that His sinless Son should be crucified.

But how was God to fulfil His good purpose in a world governed by man’s disobedience and wickedness? God’s wisdom found the way. Whilst it would seem that sinners would triumph in putting Jesus to death, in reality God would surely fulfil His purpose despite man’s wickedness, indeed by turning it to good account. Peter puts it like this:

“(Christ) being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23).

Saving Man from Sin
At the very time that man was doing his worst for God by murdering His Son, God was doing His best for man by using the death of His Son as a means of bringing wonderful blessings to the human race.

Two quotations here remind us what the first of these blessings was:

“Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). “Now once in the end of the world hath he (Christ) appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26).

The death of Christ was therefore God’s way of saving man from sin.

Redeeming Man from Death
We could easily work out for ourselves what the other great blessing is. Because the death of Christ saves men from sin, we should expect it also to save men from death, the consequence of sin. And this is precisely what the apostle John says:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:14-16).

The first part of this quotation refers back to an incident which we hope to discuss later. But the vital message is easy to understand: the death of Christ presents man with an opportunity to live for ever.

Everlasting Life
The basic facts relating to God’s gift of everlasting life, though wonderful beyond words, are not difficult to understand. Think first of the Lord Jesus himself. He died and his body was put into a tomb-a man-made cave, hewn out of a rock. Then, three days later, the great stone that had closed the mouth of the cave was rolled away by superhuman power; by God’s mighty power Christ was raised and came forth to live for ever.

The importance of the Lord’s resurrection is emphasised in 1 Corinthians 15. It is the foundation fact upon which the Christian hope is based:

“Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:20-23).

Like the Lord Jesus himself, his followers will be raised from the dead. Do not miss the fact that the passage quoted also tells us that the resurrection of Christ’s followers will take place when he comes again.

This is not the whole story. After his resurrection, the Lord Jesus proclaimed triumphantly: “I am he that liveth, and was dead . . . ” (Rev. 1:18). But he did not stop there. He continued: ” . . . and, behold, I am alive for evermore.” He was therefore making a double claim:

  1. That he had been raised from the dead; and
  2. That he would never die again.

And so it will be with those “that are Christ’s”. Not only will those who have died be raised from the dead when their Lord returns: they will also receive eternal life, “the gift of God”.

The blessings of resurrection and immortality are therefore promised to the Lord’s followers because he himself surrendered to God’s will and died upon a cross. The facts are clear, though the reason for them involves much that is deep and wonderful.

The Followers of Adam
Think now of Adam as the leader of a great procession. The whole human race is following him along the broad way of disobedience and sin. Many people stride eagerly along this attractive road, and a few tread reluctantly. Most people, however, would neither think of themselves as eager or reluctant followers of Adam. They never release that they are following him at all. They simply do as they please. But pleasing self instead of pleasing God is sinning: so, all unknown to themselves, they are a part of the Adamic procession.

There comes a point when some of Adam’s followers begin to see the unwelcome destination towards which they have been moving. When death looms large before them they start dragging their feet, but all to no avail. Although they are not willing to die, death claims them.

The Lord Jesus was different. He always resisted sin, and he accepted death. Thus he declared by his life and his death that Adam was wrong and God was right.

To accept death as the just reward of one’s sins is exceptional. But to accept death without ever having sinned marks out the Lord Jesus as a unique person.

“The man, Christ Jesus”
If Jesus had an altogether superior nature to the rest of us, the lesson would not have been so impressive. But the Scriptures assure us that he possessed a nature just like ours. It is easy to be misunderstood, so let us spell out the facts in simple language.

The Lord Jesus had no human father. He is called the Son of God because God was truly his Father. The power of God, called the Holy Spirit, caused his mother, a member of the human race, to conceive and give birth to a son-the Son of God:

“And the angel answered and said unto her (Mary), The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

“Like unto his brethren”
The Son of God is now immortal (he partook of “the divine nature” after his resurrection), but in the first phase of his existence he shared our human nature:

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, this is, the devil . . . For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:14-18).

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

The fact that the Scriptures lay so much emphasis upon this truth is the measure of its importance. It is strange that so many people indignantly reject the Bible teaching that, in “the days of his flesh”, our Lord had a nature like ours. His temptation in the wilderness was not play-acting: it was real. The suggestions were attractive. He had to struggle to resist them; and it was likewise a struggle to accept death.

Yet, by resisting sin and accepting death, the Lord Jesus repudiated Adam and came down decisively on God’s side in the great controversy.

Christ’s Conquest over Sin
In his life and in his death, the Lord Jesus had honored his Father and declared Him (not Adam) to be righteous. Thus in character he was perfectly in accord with the will of his Father. He honored God like a true Son. And God honored him, raising him from the dead and making him immortal.

Think now of the Lord Jesus as the leader of another procession-a much smaller one. To his disciples he said:

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

Do you see the picture? In the lead is Jesus himself-going to the place of crucifixion. Following him is a procession of people who have opted out of the Adamic procession. Each is bent under the burden of a cross; each is a volunteer for crucifixion. These have also decided, like their Leader, that God is right. They are going to die with Christ that they might live with him.

Baptism — A Burial with Christ
It is by baptism that people demonstrate that they have decided to become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is stated in Romans 6:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:1-6).

See how the baptism of a believer unites him with the Lord Jesus Christ. He dies with him. In the figurative language of the chapter, he is crucified with him. He is crucified to sin-he renounces his former way of life-and the life that he lives after baptism is a new life, like that of the resurrected Christ.

Changing Sides
To recall a conclusion that was presented earlier: all who belong to the world belong to the people who crucified Christ. We have just seen that baptized believers are crucified with Christ. They must therefore have changed sides. The crucifiers now become the crucified; the persecutors are persecuted.

This change happened dramatically to the man they called Saul of Tarsus. There was a time when he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). So intimately did the Lord Jesus identify himself with his disciples that he intervened and rebuked Saul, saying: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” In response to Saul’s enquiry, the Lord said: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 9:4,5).

When Saul was converted, he was required to suffer persecution. The Lord said: “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). And how he suffered!

Crucified with Christ
Later Saul (whose name had been changed to Paul) wrote to the Galatians:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (2:20).

More light is shed on this subject by another passage from Galatians:

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (6:14).

Paul is involved in two crucifixions here: (1) “the world is crucified unto me; (2) ” . . . and I unto the world.” The second crucifixion is easy to understand. Paul is crucified (figuratively speaking) by the hostile world because he is a follower of Christ. But what about the first crucifixion? Paul-and other believers-are crucifiers of the world. How can this be?

The answer is that, as well as being outside of us and around us, the world is inside each one of us. Human desires are called the world (1 John 2:16). This world within us, which is also called “the flesh” has to be crucified. Thus in Galatians 5:24 Paul says:

“They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”

Disciples must therefore prepare for confrontation with the world on two fronts. They have to crucify, or destroy, their ungodly tendencies; and they have to suffer the hostility of a world that hates them because they hate sin. The hostility of the world shows itself in various ways. Sometimes it takes the form of physical assault; sometimes it is petty persecution; invariably there are indications that the people of the world do not appreciate the company of true Christians.

Representative — not Substitute
The fact that Christ died for our sakes is an important part of New Testament teaching. But let us get one thing clear: although Christ died for us, he did not die instead of us. As we have seen, Christ’s followers have to die with him. This is the meaning of baptism: ” . . . our old man is crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6).

When God pronounced the death sentence on mankind in Eden He was upholding His own righteous law. If He were to waive this sentence, He would, in effect, be saying that sin does not really matter after all. So the sentence of Eden stands and God requires that each of us must die.

Sooner or later death overtakes all men: but God encourages us to recognize our own degraded and hopeless condition and anticipate the death sentence. We must volunteer for crucifixion.

Now think of Christ. He is our representative, who identified himself with the human race in suffering, in temptation, in mortality. Although he never sinned, he carried the great burden of other people’s sins, with their painful and shameful consequences. Isaiah the prophet expresses it like this:

“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa. 53:5-7).

The question is sometimes asked: Why did Jesus have to die such a painful and shameful death? One reason is because he bore the sins of others: he bore the sins of all who identify themselves with him. The pain and the shame of the cross are the just reward for their deeds. The penitent thief recognised that he deserved crucifixion (Luke 23:40,41), and so must all true Christians. By crucifixion our Lord placarded before the world what human nature deserves.

Christ is our representative. He identified himself with human nature in life and in death. And we must identify ourselves with him. With him we must die; and with him we shall be raised to a life over which death has no power.

“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:11,12).

The Brazen Serpent . . . The Lamb of God
In John’s Gospel the Lord Jesus is described as a lamb:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In the same Gospel, the Lord Jesus compares himself to a brazen serpent: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14).

A greater contrast it would be impossible to imagine. Lambs are attractive, innocent and of great value. Serpents are repulsive, vicious, dangerous. If our Lord had not compared himself to the brazen serpent, we would never have dared to do so. How remarkable that both these creatures, the lamb and the serpent, should be used as symbols of the Lord Jesus in his death. This may help us to appreciate that there are truths here which need to be understood. Do not miss the fact that the comparison is with a brazen serpent-a harmless image of a creature with an immense potential for evil.

The story of the brazen serpent is told in Numbers 21. The children of Israel had brought the wrath of God upon themselves by their incessant grumbling about God’s good gifts. God sent fiery serpents amongst the people and many of them were bitten and mortally wounded. Then, in compassion, God instructed Moses to make a brazen serpent and to set it upon a pole in the midst of the stricken multitude. Those dying Israelites who deliberately turned to look at the brazen serpent were healed.

The Law of Moses Could not Save
There are important lessons in this true story. First, it demonstrates the impotence of the Law of Moses to save people from death. And there was nothing that the Law could do to meet this calamitous situation. As we should expect, the God-given Law of Moses was a just and wise code of laws. Those who kept the Law were promised rich blessings. The trouble was that man was simply not good enough to fulfil the reasonable demands of the Law:

“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).

But the rituals and ordinances of the Law of Moses were very instructive. The Law in fact reflected God’s love and concern for man. It was “our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). The Law prepared the discerning Israelite for–and helps us to understand–the atoning work of God in the death of His beloved Son.

Faith, Grace . . . and the Love of God
Until people learn the humbling fact that they are sinners who deserve to die, salvation is impossible, but to those who are aware of their wretchedness these gracious words apply:

“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:21-24)

So the incident of the brazen serpent is a dramatized parable demonstrating that there was no power in the Law of Moses to save humanity from the serpent bite of sin. That is why God provided His only begotten Son.

But why does the Lord compare himself to a serpent, of all creatures? The Son of God came in human form. In character he was perfect, yet he had inherited from Adam a “serpent” nature-a nature which could be tempted to sin. This nature was the cause of the trouble. It had to be cursed and crucified.

To hang a person on a tree, pole, or cross, was a symbolic act. It was the Hebrew way of cursing the one who was “lifted up”. In the words of Scripture: “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. 21:23). In comparing himself to the serpent on the pole, the Lord was teaching that salvation from death could only come by cursing and destroying human nature with its potential for rebellion against God’s authority. The Lord Jesus, an innocent bearer of this rebellious nature, showed what to do with it. He crucified it, and he invited others to do the same.

The Passover
The “Lamb” is another symbol that takes our thoughts back to the Old Testament-to the Passover in Egypt, the beginning of the history of Israel as a nation. First came that series of plagues, culminating in the death of every firstborn in Egypt. There was no automatic exemption for Israel. They were required to kill an unblemished male lamb, eat its flesh and sprinkle its blood upon the lintels and doorposts of their houses. Only if they did this were their firstborn children spared when the Egyptians were destroyed (see Exodus 1 2).

The ultimate outcome of this amazing demonstration of divine power-power to destroy and power to save-was the deliverance of the whole nation from Egyptian bondage. To ensure that the children of Israel never forgot this mighty deliverance, God instructed them to commemorate the Passover annually. Each family procured for itself a lamb, which was slain and eaten in circumstances that would provide a vivid reminder of the deliverance from Egypt. Generations as yet unborn would have reason to thank God for that fateful night.

In New Testament times the Jews were careful to observe this annual Passover Feast. No detail was neglected; indeed they did more than was required. Yet there was no gratitude in their hearts. At the very time that the priests and rulers were making elaborate preparation to keep this feast — a feast designed to show their gratitude for a mighty deliverance — they were plotting to put God’s only Son to death.

A Greater Deliverance
But God was making His plans too. All unknown to themselves, these plotting priests were making preparation for the offering up of the greater Passover Lamb-the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. His death would provide deliverance from a bondage far more grievous than that of Egypt-the bondage of sin and death.

What is the lesson of the Lamb? Pure and precious, it represents the best that man can afford. The best is offered up to God. Everything that is truly good comes from God and belongs to God. Men are required to offer up to God all that is worthy in themselves, and all their treasured possessions and above all life itself. The paschal lamb was not offered instead of the offerer. It represented his best, and was a token of his own complete surrender to God. By eating the flesh of the lamb, the Israelites symbolically identified themselves with it. Its blood was, in a sense, their blood, which means that its life represented their life. By this ceremony they declared that they were not their own-they were offering themselves to God. And God recognised them as His own and delivered them.

So too with the Lamb of God. Conscious of his need for help, he sought it diligently from his Father-and received it. All his virtue and the perfection of his character had come from God and was offered up to God. We are invited to admire his perfection, to identify ourselves with him and through him to offer ourselves up to God. Like Israel of old, God will then recognize us as His redeemed people, “not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18,19).

Identification with Christ
The initial act of identification with the Lord Jesus is baptism. But God knows how foolish and forgetful human beings are, and just as He instituted for Israel the annual Passover lest they should forget, so He has provided Christians with a means of remembering that they are a redeemed people. Lest they should forget that their Saviour died for them, disciples are required to eat bread and drink wine, symbols of the body and blood of their Lord. This rite is a symbol of identification. “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him” (John 6:56). From the days of the Apostles, believers have celebrated this memorial feast week by week.

The brazen serpent symbolizes the destruction of what is evil, and the paschal lamb symbolizes the giving back to God of what is good. Together they sum up all that was accomplished by the death of Jesus, and all that is required of his followers.

Human nature is evil and offensive to God. It must be destroyed. This is the lesson of the brazen serpent. But life itself, and every good gift, has come from God and must be given back to him in sacrifice. This is the lesson of the paschal lamb.

Dedicating our Lives to God
People are reluctant to dedicate to God life and all that is good. Yet how can they be losers when they give back to the Creator that which is already His? The Lord Jesus urged his disciples to believe and act on the principle that “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25).

In life and death Jesus upheld this principle himself and proved it to be true by his glorious resurrection. He invites us to follow him through death to everlasting life. Dare we reject so gracious an offer?

The Miracle of the Bible

The Word of God in Print

The Bible is accepted as one of the greatest masterpieces of the world’s literature. The grandeur of the opening chapters of Genesis and of John’s Gospel, the moving poetry of the Psalms, the fiery denunciations of the Hebrew prophets, the compelling records of the life and work of Jesus, and the apocalyptic mysteries of the Book of Revelation-all these serve together to set the Bible in a class of its own. It is quite unrivalled by any other work, in any language or from any age. But it is more than this: the Bible claims to be the written Word of God.

The World’s most Remarkable Book

The Bible’s contents are of the greatest antiquity. Parts of it are over 3,000 years old and, as any historian worth his salt will tell you, it contains the oldest and the most reliable records of ancient history ever written. Time and again its narratives have been shown to contain a remarkably accurate account of people, of places, and of events of bygone ages. No other book in the world can begin to compare with the Bible for the way it helps us both to understand the past and thereby largely to explain the present.

The Bible’s influence on the history of civilisation has been enormous. As the text-book of two of the great religions of the world (Judaism and Christianity) it has been a source of morality and enlightenment to countless millions down the centuries. Translated into almost 1,500 different languages, it has also been. produced in braille, shorthand and, in recent times, in machine-readable format for use on computers. In an age of rationalism and materialism, when disrespect for ancient traditions has almost become a fashion, the Bible has still managed to preserve something of an aura of uniqueness. It stands head and shoulders above all the very greatest in the literature of the world and has strong claims on our attention and respect.

Big Business

The Bible is also very big business. Ask any of the dozen or so Bible publishers who compete so fiercely for this particular corner of the world’s book market! In the last forty years alone the eight new Bible versions published in English have sold well in excess of 100 million copies. Worldwide sales of the Good News Bible(1976) stand at over 7 million; the New English Bible (1970) has sold over 10 million; about 23 million copies of the Living Biblehave been bought since 1971; and sales of the New International Version topped a million copies within less than a year of its publication date in 1979. Even King James’s allegedly outdated Authorised Version of 1611 still brings in every year over a million pounds in revenue for its publishers. The Bible is without doubt the world’s bestselling book. And if to these mind-boggling commercial publishing statistics are added all the Bibles distributed freely in the U.K. and throughout the world by the Gideons (over 70 million copies) and the Bible Society (a staggering estimated 1,000 million), the numbers of Bibles produced must far outstrip anything ever printed and published in the history of mankind.

“The most valuable thing that this world affords”

Most people know that it has long been traditional in an English court of law for a witness to swear the oath of truthfulness on a copy of the Bible. Many will be aware that in an Anglican wedding the marriage vows are solemnised by placing the ring on a Bible before it is transferred to the bride’s finger. But few will have memories detailed or long enough to know that when a king or queen of England is crowned, a copy of the Bible is presented to the monarch for the swearing of the Coronation Oath, when the solemn words are heard: ” … to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the Law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law: These are the lively Oracles of God.”

There is, in all these ceremonies, a recognition that the Bible is something special, something sacred, something more than just a work of purely human literature. It is, if only in a faintly superstitious way, an acknowledgement that the Bible has an authority greater than that of any man, of the law of the land, and even of the crown itself. But what a different place the world would be if every ruler (and every resident) of each so-called ‘Christian’ country were to obey truly the “royal Law” of God which the Bible contains! Sadly, these token recognitions of respect for the Bible do not generally lead individuals to commit their lives fully to its demands. We need to give the Bible a much more central place in everyday life if we are to demonstrate the truth of the above quotation.

Unread Bestseller

It is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of the modern world that, in spite of its high-volume sales, the Bible is generally so little read. As Sir Frederic Kenyon once remarked: “Bible reading has been a notable characteristic of the English-speaking peoples from the Reformation to the end of the Victorian Age”, and the decline in Bible reading has undoubtedly been “a serious loss to the moral and cultural equipment of the nation to-day”. But why have people continued to buy the Bible while no longer reading it? How can we explain the paradox?

There are many reasons for this general decline in the reading of the Bible; but three principal causes may be identified for consideration here: the growth of certain popular misconceptions, the advent of scientific materialism, and the desire to exclude the miraculous element from religion. Rationalistic criticism of the Bible has succeeded over the last hundred years or so in persuading popular opinion that the Bible has been largely discredited.

It is commonly thought that the Bible contains many errors and internal contradictions which stamp it as the work of fallible men. This view is now the ‘received wisdom’ and, sad to say, very few of each rising generation even bother to check it out for themselves, for surely the experts and majority opinion cannot both be wrong?

An Age of Materialism

In fact, of course, ‘majority opinion’ is notoriously dangerous to rely on; and this popular misconception about the Bible has only grown in the fertile, generally atheistic, soil of scientific materialism. First, we live in the era of the expert — and especially of the scientific expert — whose opinions are rarely questioned by the layman. And secondly, this is an age of materialism, in which man’s ability to provide himself with all the comforts of modern life has brought him to rely largely upon himself, to the exclusion of God and, ultimately, even of his fellow-men. And if God no longer matters, why bother to read what claims to be His Word?

But saddest of all, perhaps, is the growing desire on the part of some, in the wake of this general desertion of Bible-based religion and morality, to make Christianity more ‘acceptable’, by removing from it all trace of the miraculous. It is hoped that this new religion of convenience will satisfy the popular scientific belief that miracles simply ‘cannot’ happen, in spite of what the Bible so clearly teaches.

Modern Scepticism

This then is the sorry state to which popular opinion has brought the world in relation to its attitude to the Bible. But is it not remarkable that all this was foreseen almost 2,000 years ago in the Bible itself? “For”, said the apostle Paul to Timothy, “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth … ” (II Timothy 4:3-4). The world, it seems, is in a kind of vicious circle. For if men will not read the Bible, how can they know for themselves what it contains and whether or not it is true? Like any book, the Bible needs to be read to be estimated at its true worth. The circle has to be broken if faith in its message, and in the God Who gave it, is ever to be restored and sustained.

A “Divine Library”

What then is this book which so many buy and so few take the trouble to read? It is, to begin with, a collection of books — sixty-six to be precise — written by about forty different authors over a period of many centuries. It was brought together gradually until its present form was fixed, after long usage and by common consent, towards the end of the fourth century of our present era. It claims, of course, to have God as its one ultimate author, and we shall be looking at this claim to Divine inspiration a little later on. But the Bible also explains that the variety and diversity of its contents were God’s chosen way of communicating appropriately in different ways to men of every age, as the writer to the Hebrews says: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1).

It was Jerome in the fourth century who described the completed Bible as the “Divine library”, thus recognising that its multiple parts had a single, Divine source. Even earlier, Origen is on record as having this @to say also: “There are many sacred writings, yet there is but one Book. All the writings breathe the spirit of fulness, and there is nothing, whether in the Law or in the Prophets, in the Evangelists or the apostles, which does not descend from the fulness of the Divine Majesty.”

Many of the individual books of the Bible claim for themselves this Divine origin which these early Christian ‘fathers’ so rightly recognised; and this internal hallmark is one of the many elements which have to be taken into account in assessing each separate book’s relation to the Bible as a whole. Referred to together, subsequently, by the plural Greek word Biblia (‘the Books’), the intrinsic unity of the different parts of the Bible was ultimately acknowledged when the same word was later read as a Latin singular, meaning ‘the Book’ and from which our English word ‘Bible’ has come. In this way, even the term by which we now refer to Jerome’s “Divine library” recognises the indivisibility of the Word of God.

The Golden Thread

The unity of the Bible resides not merely in the fact that its many ancient books have been brought together between two leather covers. Once read, it becomes obvious that these books are one in message, principle and aim. In revealing to men the purpose of God with the earth, the Bible presents a single Gospel of salvation from Genesis to Revelation. From the Garden of Eden to John’s vision of the heavenly Jerusalem coming down to earth, the same Divine purpose can be seen to continue unchanged: the glorification of God through the salvation of man. And this golden thread is woven with many other basic strands into the very fabric of the Bible. The mortality and sinfulness of man, the promise of a Saviour, the need for sacrifice and faith, the place of God’s chosen people Israel in the Divine plan, and the coming Kingdom of God — these and countless other themes weave their way through Old and New Testament alike, binding them together and stamping them as the product of a single mind.

The Bible claims to be God’s Book. In its themes and structure, in its purpose and direction, it shows a unity consistent only with an omniscient designer. Coincidence would be a quite inadequate explanation of the beauty and intricacy of the Bible’s texture. Such wonderful design does not happen by chance. Seen under the microscope of the closest examination, the consistency of Bible themes reveals the evidence of God at work. As an earlier writer so aptly put it: “Here is a book written by forty authors, living in different ages, without possible concert or collusion, producing a book which in all its parts is pervaded by one spirit, one doctrine, one design, and by an air of sublime authority which is its peculiar characteristic. Such a book is a literary miracle. It is impossible to account for its existence upon ordinary principles.”

The Miracle of Revelation

To call the Bible “a literary miracle” simply on the evidence of its unified message may seem to be a use of words which devalues the genuinely miraculous. But there are also other indicators of the Bible’s superhuman origin, not least of which is the evidence of fulfilled prophecy. Men often guess about the future, but they cannot predict it with any degree of accuracy — and least of all the distant future. Yet the God of the Bible offers precisely this ability to foretell long-distant events as evidence of His existence and of the reliability of His Word. “Ask me of things to come”, said God through the prophet Isaiah, for “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 45:11; 46:9-11).

Even the Bible’s strongest critics will admit that the Old Testament was in existence long before the birth of Christ. Yet the writings of Moses, of the Psalmists and of the prophets contain the most detailed predictions of the life and work of Jesus. Just look, for example, at Genesis 3:15 and, especially, at Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, and ask yourself honestly how you can explain away the fact that such clear prophecies about Jesus came to be in the sacred Scriptures of the Jews, who do not even yet recognise him as their Saviour. Similarly, it is possible to show that the unfolding misfortunes of the Jews, as well as the fate of the leading nations of the world, were outlined long before they happened, in prophecies of quite extraordinary detail (Deuteronomy 28, Ezekiel 26 and Daniel 2 are just three examples out of many). Yet such predictions are precisely what we should expect from the omniscient mind of a God Who sees the whole of human history in a moment of time. They are clear evidence of the truly miraculous, revelatory character of the Bible.

We need to be clear also about this important point: revelation, if it is properly understood as meaningful communication from God to man, is by its very nature miraculous. Like any miracle, revelation involves the exercise of God’s power, His Spirit; it does not merely ‘happen’ in the ordinary course of events, and it is not achievable by men without the aid of God. The Bible exhibits all these characteristics of a miracle: its writers are continually reminding us that they were the instruments of revelation, not the originators of the message. “Holy men of God spake as they were originators of the message. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit”, explains the apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:21); and even the Lord Jesus himself, “the Word made flesh”, admitted that he too had been the subject of this miraculous work of God: “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, He gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 1 2:49).

This miraculous work, most often referred to as inspiration, can be seen in operation throughout the pages of the Bible. For whether through dreams, visions, prophets, apostles, or angelic messengers, the Spirit of God is presented as the moving force behind the message. It is this, above all, that explains why the Bible has so much to tell us which, as human beings, we simply would not otherwise know. It is the miracle of revelation which brings the things of God into the arena of human understanding. The Bible is the Word of God made print.

The Miracle of Providence

People often wonder when it was that the contents of the Bible were fixed in their present form, and by whom and on what grounds. Implicit in such questions is the feeling that if human selection has decided what is called ‘the canon’ of Scripture, then the choice cannot be relied on as infallible. It is sometimes wrongly suggested in reply that the final form of the Bible was determined by the decision-making processes of church councils from the second to the fifth centuries A.D., and that the canon of Scripture must therefore be faithfully accepted on the authority of the church alone.

Instead, there is clear evidence to show that it was the character of each Bible book, as inspired and revealed, which ensured its more or less immediate inclusion in the growing body of Divine Scriptures, which were committed as they grew first to the Jewish nation and ultimately to the early Christians (Romans 3:2; II Timothy 3:15). There is much internal Bible evidence to indicate that this process went on steadily in both Old and New Testament times alike (II Chronicles 34:14; II Peter 3:15-16). The councils of the Jewish and, later, of the Christian churches did not so much choose what was to be included or excluded from the Bible as confirm what had already been long accepted as the Word of God.

We can rest assured in all this that the contents of the Bible have not been left merely to the fallible choice of men. It is, after all, not unreasonable to expect that an all-powerful God should safeguard through the centuries, by providential means, that which He had already brought into existence by miraculous revelation. “My Word”, said God, “shall not return unto me void.” (Isaiah 55:11).

God’s continuing care for the preservation of His Word has clearly extended also to the manner in which it has been transmitted from age to age. We do not now possess so much as a single original Bible manuscript; and yet the centuries of scrupulously devoted copying which have preserved the text of the Bible as we know it today have done far more than simply safeguard the overall integrity of the Divine message. For God has ensured, through the labours of generations of gifted and painstaking men, from the early Jewish scribes to the later Massoretes and the monastic copyists of the Christian era, that the text of His Word has remained remarkably free from substantial change or corruption. In this respect too the Bible is without parallel in ancient literature.

The discovery in 1947 of the Dead Sea Scrolls has illustrated in particularly spectacular fashion just how accurately the manuscripts on which our English Bible is based correspond with copies from a much earlier date. The miracle of providence enables us to say with confidence that we have a Bible text “so near to the original as makes no difference in any vital respect”.

“Every man in his own tongue”

When the miracle of ‘tongues’ enabled the apostles on the Day of Pentecost to preach the Gospel in many foreign languages to thousands of Jews from all over the Roman world (Acts 2:1-11), it was a sign that Christianity was on the march. Not many years later, too, the apostle Paul — whose mission as the apostle to the Gentiles was to evangelise the nations beyond Judea (Acts 9:15) — was supernaturally gifted with the ability to preach in many languages (I Corinthians 14:18). These were clear indications of the important role that the translation of God’s Word into foreign languages would have to play in later years in the spread of its influence into the lives of millions who could not understand the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek in which God’s prophets and apostles were inspired to speak and write.

An inspired text does not, of course, require an inspired translator for its meaning to be accurately conveyed into another language. And once the text of the Bible had been completed and the Spirit-gifted apostles had passed off the first-century scene, it was necessary only that this collection of Divine revelations be preserved for subsequent generations to read or to translate for others to read also. The knowledge of languages and the ability to translate them are skills which can be learned over a period of time and without direct miraculous aid. Yet the history of Bible translations, from the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Old Testament in the third century B.C. to the many English translations of our own twentieth century, is a testimony to the providence of God in helping men to learn and practise their human skills so well.

The life stories of great scholars like John Wycliffe (1320-1384) and William Tyndale (1494-1536) in particular bear all the hallmarks of Divine oversight. By their dedication and scholarship they were able to translate into English the very thoughts of God, which had hitherto been jealously hidden from the common people in the Latin of the Romish priesthood. Privations, persecution and even torture were unable to prevent the diligent labours of such men from spreading the understanding of the Word of God more widely than ever before.

The advent of printing with movable type (1454) — perhaps the greatest, and certainly the most far-reaching technological innovation of all time — was also the spur to many others who followed them. It made the Bible available on a scale previously unimagined, and helped to realise Tyndale’s ambition to make even the humble ploughboy familiar with the text of Scripture.

The sudden growth in the number of copies of the Bible in existence was quite phenomenal in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And when the translation commissioned by King James I (the so-called Authorised Version) was published in 1611, the Early Printing Press printer’s craft and the translator’s skill were brought together in such a providential way as to give the English-speaking world a Bible version which has never yet been surpassed for style and quality. In presenting the A.V. to their readers, too, the translators provided a fitting summary of that combination of human diligence and providential care by which the Word of God has been broadcast to the masses. For, they explained, “having and using as great helps as were needful … we have at length, through the good hand of the Lord upon us, brought the work to that pass that you see”.

The Revised Version of 1885 may reflect a fuller knowledge of ancient Hebrew vocabulary and of earlier Greek manuscripts; the Revised Standard Version of 1952, the New English Bible of 1970 and the New International Version, of 1979 may put the Word of God into language more comprehensible to the man in the street. But the fact remains that the Authorised Version, along with all genuine translations,* is a monument to Divine providence; through all such versions, even with all the problems inherent in the transfer of meaning from one language and idiom to another, the Word of God still sounds clear and true. Through the translator’s expertise, the inspired word of apostles and prophets “has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the earth”. “There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (Psalm 19:4; Romans 10:18).

*Paraphrase versions, such as the Living Bible and, in part, the Good News Bible and the versions by J. B. Phillips, cannot be classed as genuine translations, since their concern is not so much to transfer the sense of the actual words used in the Hebrew and Greek texts as to expound the meaning in an ‘easy-to-read’ style, with a consequent loss of accuracy.

A Challenging Claim

The Bible comes before us, then, demanding to be heard as the Word of God. “Thus saith the Lord”, and phrases like it, are an integral part of the fabric of the Old Testament. To remove all those parts of Scripture claiming Divine inspiration for themselves, or recognising it in others, would leave but little remaining. The apostle Peter’s claim that the Jewish Scriptures were produced when “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21) is either true or it is a pious fraud. But when we realise the extent to which the Lord Jesus Christ himself — not to mention his apostles — recognised that same Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God, there ought to be no doubt that the attitude of a true follower of Christ should be the same. “Have ye not read?”; “It is written”; “What saith the Scripture?” — these were favourite phrases of the Master when referring to the largest part of what we now know as the Bible.

Significantly too, the Lord Jesus claimed no less of an inspired authority for his own words (John 17:8); he promised his apostles that they too would be supernaturally guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26;15:26-27; 16:1 3-15); and the early Bible Christians took it as a foundation doctrine that “all Scripture (both Old and New Testaments by then) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable … ” (II Timothy 3:16).

Such a challenging claim by the Bible about itself leaves no middle way for our personal reaction to its message. We must either accept or reject it. For if the claim is false, then the Bible’s message is of no real value, and the Gospel of salvation it contains is but a figment of man’s imagination. But if the claim is true, then the Bible’s message commands obedience and its Gospel offers the true hope of life beyond the grave. The Bible’s claim is no academic exercise: it is a matter of life and death.

The Critics Confounded

There have, of course, always been those who have preferred to reject rather than to accept the Bible as God’s Word. The serpent in Eden successfully undermined our first parents’ faith in the spoken Word of God with a question which has been heard on the lips of many a hostile Bible critic since: “Yea, hath God said … ?” (Genesis 3: 1). The wicked king Jehoiakim, who cut up the written Word of God and sought — unsuccessfully — to destroy it (Jeremiah 36), has had his counterparts among the unbelieving in almost every age. Yet the Bible has survived, while its critics have passed away.

And the Bible has survived not just in the sense of having been preserved as a physical object: it has also retained its remarkable integrity as the text-book of a saving faith. Each new generation of critics has raised or, more often, re-used, alleged Bible difficulties or discrepancies. Yet all such ‘problems’ are capable of perfectly reasonable solutions which commend themselves to men and women of good will. More frequently too, in recent times, the discoveries of archaeology have shown many criticisms of the Bible to be wrong. “Moses”, we were once confidently told, “could not have written the Pentateuch because he lived before the art of writing was developed”; Belshazzar, Sargon and the Hittites were all said to have been fictitious Bible figures; and the census of Caesar Augustus at the time of the birth of Jesus, mentioned by Luke, was dismissed as inaccurate. Yet in all these examples, as in countless others, the Bible has been corroborated by further scholarly research.

The sad fact is that most criticism of the Bible goes hand in hand with an unwillingness to respond to the demands of its message, and is often based on preconceived theories which are themselves unproven or unprovable. Such ‘willing ignorance’ is a personal tragedy for those involved as well as for those who are taken in by it. The Bible can certainly stand the most searching examination but, as has been so rightly said before, “it does not yield its treasures to its critics”.

“The voice of God to every man”

Speaking of the completed Bible, the third-century Christian teacher Origen had this to say: “Even at the present time the words of fulness speak in Holy Scripture to those who have eyes to see the mysteries of heaven and care to hear the voice of God”. This reflects the Bible’s own rule of approach, based on the condition laid down by Jesus: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8; Revelation 2:7). The apostle Paul told the Athenians that God “now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30); but that command is heard in our day through the medium of print and no longer by Spirit-guided prophets and apostles. The Bible is the Word of God made print by miraculous and providential means, and God requires men to listen to His voice in its pages. Yet He does not compel them to do so. “To this man will I look”, says God, “even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).

In this age, when the printed Bible, available in a multitude of tongues, is the unique source of revelation about the mind and will of God, the daily prayerful reading of His Word is the only way men can now hear His voice. The rich rewards that flow from such a regular audience with God need to be experienced to be believed; but there are examples enough in Scripture to make it worth trying for ourselves (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2-3).

“Converting the soul”

God has set His Word in the earth to produce fruit to the glory of His Name (Isaiah 55:10-11), and this is achieved by men and women learning of His thoughts and ways and responding to them. The aim and object of the Bible, therefore, is first to inform, and then to reform mankind. This is what the Psalmist means when he says:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

Conversion — from the natural,sinful ways of man, to the spiritual, righteous ways of God — is the first essential step on the road to salvation. As Jesus himself said:

“Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

The all-important task of the Word of God is to bring men’s hearts, through humility, back to God. When that process has begun, a man can be spoken of, in the words of the apostle Peter, as “being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of,God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Peter 1:23).

A Word of Power

It would be a mistake to suppose that the Word of God has somehow suffered a loss of its redemptive power by its reduction to print, and that it is necessary for the Holy Spirit to reveal its meaning directly to us before we can understand the Bible. As another writer has well said, “The Bible is essentially rational, but because of its divine authorship it is instinct with power possessed by no other book, and all parts are profitable”. This view is confirmed by Paul’s important statement to Timothy, that “the holy scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (II Timothy 3:15), for the words “are able” could be translated “have power”, the original Greek word being related to the English word ‘dynamic’.

The Bible reveals to the enquiring reader “the knowledge of God”; and the truth contained in it is sometimes referred to as the “power of God” or “Spirit”, because it came by the Holy Spirit and is itself therefore “quickening”, or able to make alive that which was dead (John 6:63; Ephesians 6:17; II Peter 1:3; I John 5:7) R.V. Though we are now required to manage without the direct, personal ministry of apostles like Paul, we are still commended, as the Ephesian elders were, “to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build (us) up, and to give (us) an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). The “lively oracles” of God (Acts 7:38) are in no sense a dead letter. God’s Word “has still its ancient power”.

A Sense of Purpose

The power of the Bible is enshrined in its Divine origin and is demonstrated in its various effects in the lives of men and women. Prominent amongst such effects is the Bible’s ability to bring a sense of purpose into life itself. The Gospel message contained in the Bible is essentially concerned with God’s future plans for the earth and for mankind. The Bible is the record of God’s continuing activity, centred in the work of His Son Jesus, and leading ultimately to man’s redemption. The knowledge and conviction of the “great and precious promises”, relayed to us in the Word of God, impart purposefulness into man’s otherwise aimless existence. There have been many down the ages who have experienced in their own lives the sense of direction felt by the Psalmist when he wrote:

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

And for those who, through their understanding of that Word, come to follow the example of the “Word made flesh”, the aim and object of existence becomes, as his was, to do God’s will, as it is written “in the volume of the book” (Hebrews 10:7).

A Source of Comfort

“Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope”. (Romans 15:4)

So wrote the apostle Paul in Romans 15:4. In such a troubled world as ours, Paul’s words have an even more apt significance than the apostle may have known. The Bible not only opens up for us, as it has done down the centuries for generations of its readers, some of the otherwise disturbing mysteries of life and death; it also brings that most necessary commodity in times of distress: peace of mind. That peace which Jesus promised his disciples can be ours to the full through the pages of God’s Word (John 14:27). No personal problem is without its solution in the Word of “the God of all comfort” (II Corinthians 1:3); and beyond all the difficulties and concerns of personal life, the Bible holds out the reassurance of that most certain antidote for all the world’s greatest ills: the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:11; 3:20-21). When we read of that great promise in the Bible and are convinced of its imminent fulfilment, we can “comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:1 8).

“The words of eternal life”

The Lord Jesus Christ was, as always, giving good advice when he told his contemporaries to “search the scriptures” (John 5:39). The exhortation was not lost on Peter and a few of the other disciples, for they recognised that there was no other source of saving knowledge apart from the words that came from God. “Lord”, said Peter as spokesman of the Twelve, “to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68). Peter’s moving confession of faith in Jesus was thus bound up inextricably with an acceptance of his message as the Word of God — even though he and the early disciples did not then fully understand everything that Jesus said.

Today, as always, it is possible, like the shallower disciples of Jesus in John 6:67, to “go away” from God by neglecting, ignoring, or rejecting that eternal life which is contained in the Bible, the Word of God in print. Towards the end of his long prayer for his disciples in the Upper Room, recorded in John 17, the Lord Jesus prayed specifically for those who would later come to believe in him through the words of his disciples (v. 20). The Bible is God’s answer to that prayer. Will you open your ears to the saving words of God’s Book? Or are you going to deny the miracle of the Bible?

“Will ye also go away?”

–REG CARR

“The Bible is more than a historical document to be preserved. And it is more than a classic of English literature to be cherished and admired. it is a record of God’s dealing with men, of God’s revelation of Himself and His will. It records the life and work of him in whom the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among men. The Bible carries its full message, not to those who regard it simply as a heritage of the past or praise its literary style, but to those who read it that they may discern and understand God’s Word to men.”

— From the Preface to the Revised Standard Version

Bible Reading Tables are available. If followed daily, they will take the reader twice through the New Testament and once through the Old Testament in the course of a year.