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Resurrection in Jewish and Christian Thought

The notion that humans who have died can be resurrected by God is found in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and al...

Sunday, May 22, 2022

When I go the distance, I'll be right where I belong!

For me, Michael Bolton's Go the Distance has always evoked deep and profound spiritual longing. As you read through the lyrics below, think about what salvation through Jesus Christ means for each and every one of us as an individual:


"Go The Distance"


I have often dreamed, of a far off place

Where a hero's welcome, would be waiting for me

Where the crowds will cheer, when they see my face

And a voice keeps saying, "This is where I'm meant to be"


I'll be there someday, I can go the distance

I will find my way, if I can be strong

I know every mile, will be worth my while

When I go the distance, I'll be right where I belong


Down an unknown road, to embrace my fate

Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you

And a thousand years, would be worth the wait

It might take a lifetime, but somehow I'll see it through


And I won't look back, I can go the distance

And I'll stay on track, no, I won't accept defeat

It's an uphill slope, but I won't lose hope

Till I go the distance, and my journey is complete


But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part

For a hero's strength is measured by his heart


Like a shooting star, I will go the distance

I will search the world, I will face its harms

I don't care how far, I can go the distance

Till I find my hero's welcome, waiting in your arms


I will search the world, I will face its harms

Till I find my hero's welcome, waiting in your arms

Michael Bolton - Go The Distance Lyrics | AZLyrics.com

These lyrics make me think of a passage from Paul's second letter to Timothy. He wrote: "As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing." - II Timothy 4:6-8

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Death, Pestilence, and Destruction Around the World Today!

The title of this post could be the opening line of most newscasts and many sermons. Indeed, our obsession with gloom and doom is legendary and pervasive! Let's face it, we tend to focus on the bad, the failures, the tragedies - the more spectacular, the better! Apparently, the good stuff is too commonplace and mundane. The car wreck that results in horrific death deserves our attention more than the millions of folks who safely navigate their way to their destination on a daily basis. Death has priority over birth. Mourning is more compelling than joy and celebration. The Apocalypse is more exciting than folks beating their swords into plowshares and every teardrop being wiped away from our eyes!

Fortunately, over the last few years, the folks in most of the newsrooms around the United States have recognized the value of devoting the final story of the newscast to something positive/uplifting/inspiring in nature. I guess it finally dawned on them that the focus of the newscast was just too depressing and negative for viewers! "We've got to give them something to pull them out of the nosedive that our other stories have provoked!" In other words, they have finally seemed to grasp the truth of the old adage: "Better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness."

Likewise, for too many of our preachers, the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse are just too good to ignore! Antichrists, war, famine, pestilence and death are more interesting than Christ, peace, plenty, healing and life! Horrific beasts, plagues and blood flowing in copious amounts are more riveting than the Good News about Jesus Christ and what comes next! Unfortunately, all too many of our pastors delight in expounding upon the gory details of punishment and warning us about the horrific consequences of our sins. For them, the notion of God zapping someone is more compelling than the notion of God lifting someone out of the mire and saving them!

They forget what Paul wrote to the saints of Philippi so long ago. He instructed them to "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." (Philippians 4:8) Likewise, he wrote to the saints at Rome: "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death." (Romans 8:1-2) Paul concluded his thought here with one of the most uplifting passages in the entire Bible. He wrote: "I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

What about you? Are you ready to embrace a different perspective? Are you willing to focus on the positive things around us, and the good things that have been predicted for our future? OR Are the pain, suffering and torment simply too compelling to abandon? Do you prefer sadness to joy, and warning to encouragement? In this regard, it seems to this blogger that we all have a choice to make. This is entirely a matter of perspective. Will we choose to look up or will we choose to stare into the abyss?

Monday, May 16, 2022

CGI's Response to the ACOG Covenant Dilemma

In response to my article about the dearth of Armstrong Church of God literature addressing the differences between the Old and New Covenants, one of the Church of God International's leadership team forwarded me a copy of an old booklet on the subject that was out of print. The copyright date on the booklet was 1992, and it was titled "The New Covenant – Does It Do Away with God’s Law?" The booklet purports to answer the following questions: "Did Christ do away with the Ten Commandments?  Was the law 'nailed to the cross?'  Are Old Testament laws about the Sabbath, clean meats, tithing, and annual holy days 'done away?'  Did Christ make Christians free from any obligation to obey God?  Need Christians just 'believe' on Christ, but need not fulfill requirements of any of God’s laws?"

Of course, those of you who have read my posts on the subject will understand that these questions seek to argue the topic by erecting a straw man to attack - instead of addressing the actual relationship of the New Covenant to the requirements of the Old! No, Christ didn't "do away with the Ten Commandments" - he fulfilled them! No, the Law wasn't "nailed to the cross" - the "record of the charges against us" (based on our failure to keep God's Law) was! No, the Sabbath, clean meats, tithing, and Holy Days weren't "done away" - Christ fulfilled them! No, Christ didn't free Christians from any obligation to obey God - He made it possible for us to obey the spirit of the Law! Christians must believe in Christ and accept him as their personal Savior and walk in newness of life as Christians!

As for the CGI booklet, oddly enough, it begins with a "television evangelist" espousing the correct perspective on the New Covenant! According to the booklet, the evangelist said: "Clinging to the legalism of the Old Covenant is like walking around outside in the sunshine, trying to see where you’re going with a flashlight." The televangelist then went on to say that "The Old Covenant was complex, but the New Covenant is simple." He continued: "Christ gave only TWO LAWS! One: ‘Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and all your mind,’ and two: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself!’" In other words, CGI was ridiculing the TRUTH about the New Covenant in this booklet!

The booklet then attempts to answer the question "What Was the Old Covenant?" Laying aside the fact that it attributes the anonymously authored epistle to the Hebrews to the Apostle Paul, CGI does acknowledge that there is a distinction between the two covenants by quoting Hebrews 8:13 (In that He [Christ] saith, ‘A New Covenant,’ He hath made the first old.  Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away). This was followed by, yet another set of straw man loaded questions: "Why did Christ come as a Messenger of a 'New Covenant?'  What was wrong with the old one?  Was it flawed?  Did God make a mistake?  Was the Old Covenant a harsh, cruel, rigorous set of dos and don’ts; a legalistic, complex system of laws that were impossible to obey; a heavy burden on the backs of poor, suffering people who could never measure up?"

Having served the purpose of misdirecting the argument, the questions were followed by a definition of the English word "covenant." However, it appears that the author's primary objective in nailing down the fact that a covenant is an agreement between two parties "to do or not to do a certain thing" was to demonstrate that the covenant is NOT the Law. And, while we could all easily acknowledge the truth of this assertion, it is strange that so much effort is put into making the distinction since the author immediately went on to admit that the Law was part of the "terms" of the Old Covenant! Even though, we know that the Torah did not appear as the five books we recognize as part of our canon until hundreds of years after Moses' death, the CGI narrative is that Moses laid out God's Laws, statutes and judgements and the people replied: "All that Thou hast spoken we will Do!" For their obedience, God promised to bless them. Moreover, if they failed to obey God's Laws, he promised to curse them! According to the author of the booklet, "The Ten Commandments formed a foundational part of the Old Covenant, but the laws Israel agreed to keep included dozens of other points, included in 'statutes' and 'judgments,' or written laws (statutes), and oral decisions rendered by God’s appointed judges (judgments)."

The next section of the booklet was titled "A Proposal of Marriage." In this part, the author likened the Old Covenant to a marriage contract between God and the people of Israel. However, as the author pointed out, Israel proved to be an unfaithful wife. The author concluded: "So the flaw was not the law, or any part of it.  It was not even the covenant which was flawed – but the people!  Theirs was the fault.  They rebelled, broke their word!  God’s law is perfect; His covenant was beautiful.  They were the problem!"  The author then proceeded to quote a number of verses that underscore that God's Law is perfect, holy, just, good, and righteous. Once again, so far - so good (we have no problem acknowledging that this is consistent with what appears in Scripture). The problem arises when they conclude that this is WHY God decided to offer a New Covenant. Unfortunately, the author only quotes a portion of the appropriate passage from the epistle to the Hebrews in this context.

In the book of Hebrews, we read: "But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said: 'The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.' When God speaks of a 'new' covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear." (Hebrews 8:6-13) So, from God's perspective, we see that there were a number of problems with the Old Covenant. According to this passage of Scripture, the New Covenant would be based on 1) a superior priesthood, 2) better promises, 3) a more intimate relationship with God's Law, 4) a better understanding of God and his will, and 5) the complete forgiveness of their wickedness and sins. Thus, this passage makes clear that the New Covenant would be superior to the Old and would render it obsolete!

How was a more intimate relationship with God's Law and a better understanding of Him and His will accomplished? Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets perfectly on our behalf. Christ explained the spiritual intent of the Law and condensed it into two great principles (Love for God and love for neighbor). Christ became the sacrifice for sins that the Law required and replaced the Levitical priesthood. Christ became the ultimate Sabbath rest for the people of the covenant - allowing them to rest from their own works. Christ circumcised the hearts of the people of the covenant and transformed what it meant to be clean and unclean. And, finally, Christ commanded his followers to love each other and live a new life in him, and he sent them the Holy Spirit to help them to perform these tasks.

The final segment of the booklet is titled "A Spiritual Law - Eternal Promises." In this section, the author reverts to the favorite prooftext of Amrstrongists regarding a Christian's continuing obligation to observe the tenets of the Old Covenant (Matthew 5:17-18). So, let's take a closer look at this very abused passage of Scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So, if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matthew 5:17-20) Once again, Christ came to this earth to fulfill or "accomplish" the Law's purpose! And, having accomplished that, he has also wiped away all of our sins and paid the penalty for them (death). Likewise, he has transformed the Law (which is made very clear in the remaining verses of chapter five) and made it possible for our righteousness to surpass the righteousness of the Jewish teachers and Pharisees and enter God's Kingdom. NOTHING in the Law was done away - it was FULFILLED/ACCOMPLISHED and TRANSFORMED!

CGI, however, refuses to acknowledge these truths about how the Law relates to Christians under the New Covenant. Instead, they insist on attacking the straw man which they have carefully constructed. They say: "Yet some preachers seem to believe that because Christ 'fulfilled' the law, you and I no longer have to obey it! In other words, they twist what Jesus said to mean 'Think not that I am come to destroy the law – I merely came to do away with it!'  This is more than merely stupid – it is blatantly dishonest! You have seen, with your own eyes, that anyone who claims Christ abolished the law is either completely ignorant of God’s Word, or deliberately lying!" Nevertheless, I am saying that Christians aren't bound by the dos and don'ts of the Old Covenant. I am NOT saying that Christians aren't obligated to obey the Law of Love which Christ commanded his followers to observe. I am NOT saying that Christ came to do away with the Law. I am saying that he came to accomplish its purpose and transform it for the purposes of a New Covenant (one that Scripture says is UNLIKE the Old Covenant). So, who is twisting what Jesus said? Who is displaying ignorance of God's Word, or deliberately lying? I'm beginning to understand why this booklet was taken out of circulation!





Thursday, May 12, 2022

Unity in God's Church

The Christian Church has dealt with strife and division within its ranks for almost two thousand years now, and there have been many unsuccessful attempts over the same period to foster or impose unity on those discordant ranks. Why? What has caused all of this strife? Why have all of the Church's efforts to stifle this discord and promote unity within its ranks met with such utter failure? and Why has God allowed this situation to exist?

To begin to answer these questions, we must first clearly define the objective, UNITY. Indeed, the failure to clearly understand the concept of unity has been one of the principal reasons that the Church has never achieved it! Now everyone understands that "unity" indicates that everyone is united or acting as a whole, but most of us don't seem to comprehend what that implies for the individuals who make up that whole. In other words, for a bunch of individual humans to be united as a whole requires each one of them to commit to a common objective/goal. In Biblical terms, this is expressed as "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" [Amos 3:3, KJV] Notice too some of the other English translations of this verse: "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" [NIV] "Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?" [NLT] "Can two walk together without agreeing where to go?" [BSB] Hence, if a group of individuals cannot agree on their objective at the beginning of their joint venture, they will NEVER achieve unity!

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read of an instance when Jesus Christ was accused of casting out demons by Satan's authority [Matthew 12:24]. Continuing, however, we read that "Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.'" [Verse 25, NIV] Once again, the clear implication being that there must be agreement about the objective on the front end of any venture that is going to have any hope of success. Christ went on to explain: "If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." [Verses 26-30] Hence, any individual who has not accepted the common objective of the group on the front end will NEVER be in harmony with the other members of the group! He/She will NEVER be able to work together with the other members of the group and coordinate with them because he/she is working toward a completely different goal/objective!

Moreover, the Church has always had individuals who have not shared the goals/objectives of the wider community. Jesus Christ likened them to weeds that have been sowed among the grain [See Matthew 13:24-29, 36-43]. Because of the pulls of human nature, some folks have inevitably succumbed to lust, envy, and selfish ambition, and strife and disharmony have been the consequence of that failure [See James 4:1-3]. Unfortunately, others have taken their eyes off of God and have begun to look to human leaders with the same result [See I Corinthians 1:10-13]. We must also understand that people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and dispositions will only become unified through a spiritual process that requires time to change and mold individuals into a harmonious whole [See Ephesians 4:1-13]. Likewise, we must all come to acknowledge that some of the differences which naturally exist among any group are not detrimental to achieving the primary goal of the group [See Romans 14]. Finally, we must also realize that harmony within the Church can sometimes be harmful when the shared objective is amiss. Although the entire Corinthian Church had decided to tolerate/accept a member's incestuous adultery, Paul warned them that they had all allowed themselves to be corrupted by what they had tolerated together as a community [See I Corinthians 5].

Thus, we see that conflict within the Church was clearly anticipated by Christ and his apostles. Indeed, all serious students of the New Testament are aware of Christ's instructions for dealing with problems that arise between brethren [See Matthew 18:15-20]. Likewise, most of my readers are familiar with Paul's instructions to the saints at Rome: "I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them." [Romans 16:17, NIV] In this connection, I found the commentary of Pastor Scott Harris of Grace Bible Church in New York to be very helpful in understanding exactly what Paul was talking about in this passage. After pointing out that Christ had said there would be these discordant voices within the Church, the Pastor observed: "Paul is specific here that the divisions and hindrances he is talking about are arising because there are those that are contrary to what Paul and the other apostles have taught. There are people that make professions of faith in Christ and become part of a church. They can even exhibit a lot of good qualities and could become part of the church leadership. But there is a problem within their hearts and minds. They love themselves more than the Lord Jesus Christ and His people. They think themselves to be wiser than the word of God. They pervert Biblical doctrine and twist the scriptures to fit their own desires. They end up being contentious to one degree or another and try to persuade people toward their personal view." [See Dealing with Dissension] And, unfortunately, these types of people will often accuse the folks who are pointing out their shenanigans as the ones who are sowing discord!

So, after reviewing some of the scriptures associated with the subject of unity within God's Church, we can see that the Church has always had to deal with issues of disharmony and strife within its ranks. Moreover, many of those same scriptures make plain that the Church will continue to deal with these issues until Christ returns to this earth. Hence, it is incumbent upon those of us who constitute the Body of Christ to be aware of the sources of these divisions and discordant voices and to deal with them in the manner which Christ and his apostles specified in Scripture. In other words, it is futile to try to pretend that these forces do not exist within the Church or to think that we can impose unity on the members of God's Church. Instead, we must strive to deal with the situation as it exists and strive to achieve the unity that we understand will take time, patience, and determination. And, finally, we should not blame God for our own propensity to be opinionated, quarrelsome, and arrogant!   

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Terms of the New Covenant

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Jesus Christ said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20, NIV)

The Greek word translated here into English as "fulfill" is "pleroo" (pronounced play-ro-o). Moreover, I think that the way that Blue Letter Bible outlines the word's usage in Scripture is particularly applicable to its usage in the passage quoted above. They outline its Biblical usage in the following terms: "to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full - to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally...to render full, i.e. to complete - to fill to the top: so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure, fill to the brim - to consummate: a number - to make complete in every particular, to render perfect - to carry through to the end, to accomplish, carry out, (some undertaking) - to carry into effect, bring to realization, realize - of matters of duty: to perform, execute - of sayings, promises, prophecies, to bring to pass, ratify, accomplish - to fulfil, i.e. to cause God's will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God's promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment" [See G4137 - plēroō - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org)]

In previous posts on this blog, we have noted how Christ accomplished this fulfillment of the Law by 1) keeping it perfectly, 2) distilling it to its essence [LOVE - for God and neighbor], 3) revealing God's intent and will in various provisions of the law - clarifying and expanding their meaning [e.g. anger as it relates to murder, lust as it relates to adultery, revenge as it relates to forgiveness and mercy, physical circumcision of males juxtaposed to spiritual circumcision of the heart, a physical Sabbath rest juxtaposed to resting from our own works in Christ], 4) revealing the meaning of the symbolism of the rituals outlined in the Law, 5) inaugurating a new priesthood, and 6) offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins - becoming the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Likewise, we noted in previous posts how Christ also fulfilled the writings of the Prophets [See Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 17, 23, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17, 13:14, 35, 21:4, 26:54, 56, 27:9, 35, etc.] Hence, we see that NOTHING really disappeared from the Law or was abrogated/done away with by Christ. Instead, he made clear that both the Law and the Prophets FOUND THEIR FULFILLMENT IN HIM! In other words, Christ represents the culmination or filling up of the Old Testament/Covenant!

Which brings us to the point of this post: What then are the terms of the New Covenant? Christ's Golden Rule is a good starting place in answering this question. We read that Christ told his disciples: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." [Matthew 7:12] Later, when asked what the greatest commandment was, Christ replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." [Matthew 22:37-40] These observations of Christ's about the Law set the stage for the "new" commandment which Christ gave to his disciples. We read in the Gospel of John that Christ told his disciples: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other." [John 15:9-17]

Hence, we see that Christ identified the principle of love as encompassing the entirety of the Law, and then made it part of the terms of his New Covenant with his followers! However, unlike the Old Covenant, the people who are made a party to the New Covenant were required to live their new lives according to the Spirit of the Law as an expression of their gratitude for what Christ had done on their behalf - NOT as a means to receive the promises which Christ alone has made possible for them to receive! As Paul characterized it, "we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." [Romans 7:6]

Indeed, in that same letter to the Romans, Paul makes plain the relationship of Christians to Torah laws. First, he makes plain that both Jews and Gentiles have sinned - transgressed the Law. [Romans 3:10-12] Continuing, he explained:  "But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." [Romans 3:21-31] In his letter to the Galatians, Paul makes this even more clear. He wrote: "We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified." [Galatians 2:15-16]

All of this, of course, underscores the fact that Christ is at the center of everything related to the New Covenant. Indeed, it is through his perfect performance of the requirements of the Old Covenant on our behalf that we are made a party to the New Covenant! This is made clear by the first part of Christ's discourse to his disciples referenced earlier in the Gospel of John. He told them: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 'I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." [John 15:1-8] Hence, even though Christians are saved by their faith in Christ, Jesus made clear that they are expected to bear the fruits of righteousness in him. And, once again, both Paul and John made clear that this was accomplished by Christians practicing love [Romans 13:8-10 and I John 3:11-19].

This moral requirement of the people who are parties to the New Covenant is also made plain in what Paul had to say about one of the other primary tenets of that covenant: baptism. Once again, he wrote the saints at Rome: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God." [Romans 6:1-10] So, Christians were expected to live moral lives after baptism - even though they were saved by grace, not by the works of the Law. Moreover, that baptism was made a part of the terms of the New Covenant is underscored by Christ's final instructions to his disciples recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. He told them: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." [Matthew 28:19-20]

What are the other provisions of the New Covenant? Well, Peter told the people who were soon to become the foundation of the Church that they should REPENT and be baptized [Romans 2:38]. This is consistent with the moral behavior that Paul said would be expected of people after they were baptized. It is also consistent with those folks receiving God's Holy Spirit to help them in their new walk and to place God's law of love in their hearts. Of course, the other primary ritual associated with the New Covenant is known by many different names, but its place within the Christian faith is almost universally recognized - that is the ceremony known as the Communion, Eucharist, Lord's Supper, New Testament Passover, etc. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), we find that Christ instituted a ceremony whereby his followers would drink some wine to symbolize the blood which he would shed for them and eat some bread which would symbolize his body which would be broken for them [Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22]. Christ also instructed the saints at Corinth about the proper observance of this New Covenant ceremony [I Corinthians 11}.

Moreover, just as the Old Covenant was based on certain promises (blessings for obedience), the New Testament makes clear that the New Covenant is based on better promises [Hebrews 8:6]. (Although Christ also makes clear that Christians will share in his inheritance of the promises originally made to Noah, Abraham, and David.) What are those better promises? The most important promise is that Christ's sacrifice would accomplish the forgiveness of our sins. The Prophet Isaiah predicted that Christ would effect the forgiveness of our sins and reconcile us to God [Isaiah 53]. Under the terms of the Old Covenant, a system of animal sacrifices had been instituted to deal with Israel's sins. Under the terms of the New Covenant, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ accomplishes the complete removal of sin and reconciles the sinner who accepts that sacrifice to Almighty God.

In the epistle to the Hebrews, the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice is contrasted with the animal sacrifices of the Old. We read in the ninth chapter of that letter that, as the High Priest of the New Covenant, Christ offered himself as a superior sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 9]. We are informed there that just as the High Priest entered the tabernacle each year to offer the blood of animals, Christ "did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." [Verses 12-15] Continuing, the anonymous author of the epistle wrote: "For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." [Verses 24-28]

What is the promise that this sacrifice makes possible? The gospel of John frames that promise in what is probably the most often quoted passage of the New Testament. We read there: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." [John 3:16-17] Paul framed the promise in these terms: "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." [Romans 6:22-23] He also explained the process of how this promise of eternal life would find fulfillment in his first letter to the saints of Corinth [I Corinthians 15]. Christ even tied this promise to the Eucharist when he said, "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day." [John 6:53-54]

Finally, Christ implied in some of his discourses and parables that he would one day return to this earth and establish a literal kingdom on this planet [Matthew 24, Luke 19, Revelation 19, etc.]. Moreover, an angel explicitly promised his disciples that he would one day return to this earth in the same manner in which they had seen him leave [Acts 1:11]. There are also a number of scriptures which indicate that Christians will have the opportunity in this life to improve the position they fill within that kingdom by the effort that they put into growing the moral character which God and Christ expect of all of his followers [Matthew 20:20-28, 25:14-30, 37-40, Luke 6:22-23, 35, II John 1:7-8, etc.].

And, after reviewing all of these Scriptures, we can finally summarize the terms of the New Covenant: 1) Christ has fulfilled all of the requirements of the Law for humankind, 2) By doing so and offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins, he has cleansed us of our sins and reconciled us to God, 3) Christ has also magnified and distilled the Law for us and commanded us to love each other as the symbol of our participation in the New Covenant, 4) Christ has commanded us to repent of our past sins and has instituted two rituals [Eucharist and Baptism] associated with the New Covenant as a physical representation of our faith in him and acceptance of the work he has done on our behalf, 5) Christ has promised us eternal life with himself and the Father, and that he would one day return to this earth, and 6) He has given us the opportunity to be rewarded for the effort that we put into developing the moral character which God expects of us anyway. These are the terms of the New Covenant.


Thursday, May 5, 2022

A Global Pandemic

According to official sources, the United States will soon pass one million deaths from Covid-19 (some independent sources claim that it has already reached and surpassed that number. (see CDC COVID Data Tracker) Globally, the official tally is now over 6.2 million deaths! (See WHO Coronavirus Dashboard) Moreover, there is very good reason to believe that the official numbers are low, perhaps very low!

Currently, the United States is averaging almost 65,000 new cases and 334 deaths per day. Globally, we're averaging over half a million new cases being reported each day. Of course, no one really knows how many cases go undiagnosed and unreported. In other words, we know that this pandemic has been horrific, but it probably is (and has been) much worse than the official tallies indicate!

We've also known for some time now that older folks and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus. Likewise, we've known for some time that restrictions on large public gatherings, the wearing of face masks, the maintenance of social distancing, and timely testing reduces the transmission/spread of the virus. A number of vaccinations have also been available to most folks in the United States for over a year now.

Even so, we continue to have folks who profess to be Christians - who profess to have God's Holy Spirit - who profess to have the love of God dwelling within them - who refuse to practice any of the measures which public health professionals have identified as being useful in battling the spread of this disease and protecting the vulnerable. Instead, they complain about infringements on their rights, talk about civil disobedience, insist that the severity of our situation has been overblown by fearmongers, and claim that their selfishness is evidence of their faith in God. Talk about calling bad that which is good, and good that which is bad! 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Is that Christian?

A situation recently came to my attention that underscores the lack of Christian compassion, kindness, and love that is all too often so apparent within Armstrongism. Some disabled folks who were interested in Armstrong theology and wanted to keep the Feast of Tabernacles were intentionally ignored and denied any assistance from church members in helping them to follow what they now firmly believed to be God's will in the matter. Apparently, church members were discouraged from helping them because of the fact that they were handicapped, and church leaders were afraid that they would have to look after, watch, or keep track of them! Later, when one of the same handicapped individuals had injured his toe and needed a ride to seek medical attention, no offer of help was forthcoming from the "saints" in question.

In this connection, a couple of scriptures came immediately to my mind:

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. - I John 2:10, ESV

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. - I John 3:16, ESV

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? - I John 3:17, ESV

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” - Matthew 25:41-46, ESV

The Apostle James defined pure and undefiled religion as being willing "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction." - James 1:27 Jesus Christ once told his disciples that "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:35) Paul told the saints of Galatia that "the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23) Finally, Paul also wrote the saints of Corinth: "If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing." (I Corinthians 13:2)

These ACOG folks just don't even begin to understand what it means to be a Christian! They are all puffed up about the "TRUTH" which they possess, but they are blind to the heart and soul of the religion they profess to represent! I'm thinking that all of the Sabbath and Holy Day keeping of men who refuse to help a brother/sister in need isn't going to help them very much on Judgement Day - What do you think?

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Armstrongism Covenant Dilemma

In reviewing a recent CGI sermon titled Is It a New or Renewed Covenant? by Jan Kowalczyk, I was reminded about the dissonance inherent within the theology of Armstrongism relative to any discussion the Old and New Covenants. Indeed, it occurred to me that the title of this message seemed to epitomize their dissonance on the subject. In other words, if one accepts the fact that there is a "New" Covenant, doesn't that designation imply/suggest that the "Old" Covenant has been abolished or superseded? And, if the Old Covenant has been abolished/superseded, how can we justify our continued observance of some of its provisions (e.g., clean and unclean meats, Sabbath and Holy Day observance, tithing, etc.)?

Now, because of my own background in Armstrongism, I was aware that a great deal of time and energy had been devoted to arguments over Law vs. Grace and explaining why Christians were still obligated to observe certain provisions of the Torah. Nevertheless, after reviewing the corpus of Worldwide Church of God literature at the online Herbert W Armstrong Searchable Library, I was surprised to not find a single book or booklet devoted to the topic. Indeed, there was only ONE Plain Truth article by Raymond Cole (December 1958) titled The New Covenant - Does It Abolish God's Law? and Two Good News articles - one by Garner Ted Armstrong (June 1976) titled Has the New Covenant Been Made Yet? - the other by Herbert W Armstrong (December 1978) titled THE PLAIN TRUTH ABOUT THE COVENANTS. I was frankly shocked. How could they have so thoroughly avoided directly confronting the issue of the Old and New Covenants? Did they consider their many forays into the traditional Law vs. Grace debate to have sufficiently addressed the subject of the covenants? OR Had they intentionally avoided the topic because of the obvious difficulties it presented for their theology?

In Raymond Cole's article, as the title suggests, the thesis was that the New Covenant had NOT abolished the Law which had been made a part of the terms of the Old Covenant (at least not all of it). Moreover, it was framed in terms of the familiar debate. In his opening paragraph, Cole wrote: "It is commonly assumed that the old covenant was the ten commandment law-that the new covenant contains only grace and promises, but no law." Cole went on to stress that the Old Covenant had been a kind of marriage between God and Israel, and that God had had to eventually divorce Israel because of their continuous sinning (breaking of the law which was part of the terms of that contract/agreement). In terms of the New Covenant, Cole believed that Christ had "not yet completed His work of confirming the covenant." He went on to observe that we must: "Bear in mind that the new testament or will of Jesus Christ has been in force since His death. But His testament or will has conditions of obedience which we must meet before we can inherit the promises. The Greek word for 'testament' also means 'covenant.' Since the new testament involves our agreement to fulfill these conditions, it becomes a covenant -and that new covenant will not be confirmed with us-we won’t inherit the promises-until we are first made immortal and have God’s nature so we can’t sin (II Peter 1:4). Since 'sin is the transgression of the law' (I John 3:4), one of the conditions to eternal life involves quitting sin-and KEEPING THE COMMANDMENTS!"  

In the first Good News article to actually address the issue of the "New" Covenant, GTA had carefully gone through the various covenants recorded in the Old Testament before finally addressing the subject of the New Covenant. For him, the entire question came down to one of timing - that is when the New Covenant would actually begin. The thesis of GTA's article is nicely summarized by a couple of brief paragraphs. He wrote: "Millions erroneously believe that the New Covenant of which Jeremiah spoke is already in full force and effect on this earth today. But many clear prophecies in the Bible tell us otherwise!" Armstrong went on to assert that "Millions assume the time of the 'New Covenant' began with Christ's human ministry on the earth. They carelessly assume that all 'Christianity' is under the terms and conditions of the New Covenant today, which, they erroneously think, frees them from any obligation to obey God!" In other words, for GTA, the New Covenant hadn't even begun yet, and Christians were consequently still obligated to observe at least some of the terms of the Sinaitic or Old Covenant!

When Herbert Armstrong finally addressed the topic, not surprisingly, he approached the subject from yet another perspective, but he gave a nod to what had previously been written by his surrogates. He opened his article by underscoring the importance to the Church of understanding the Old and New Covenants. This was followed by a somewhat peculiar discourse where he emphasized the distinction between a testament and a covenant (both English words are translations of the same Greek word in the original manuscripts). Like Cole before him, he emphasized that the Old Covenant between God and Israel was like a "marriage contract," and that it was contingent upon their obedience. Then, like his son, he observed that the New Covenant had not yet been fully implemented. He wrote: "The Old Covenant is ended...Yet the new covenant HAS NOT YET BEEN MADE! Its terms and conditions have been revealed to us through Christ. We ministers preach it. And even though as a final MARRIAGE COVENANT it has not been made that is, in contract language, signed, sealed and delivered, those whom God has called are privileged to have God's law written in our hearts, to have the life-begetting sin-overcoming Holy Spirit to open our minds to spiritual UNDERSTANDING, to guide us in God's ways, and. within us, to EMPOWER us to overcome Satan and DO THE WORK OF GOD!" He concluded by warning his followers not to confuse the Old Covenant with the Old Testament and asserted that "the Worldwide Church of God is based on THE WHOLE BIBLE!"

In Mr. Kowalczyk's sermon (referenced above), the very notion of a "New" Covenant is attacked. For him, the problem isn't completely resolved by talking about when the covenant is/was inaugurated. Instead, he proposes that the current dispensation be regarded as a modification or renewal of the terms of the Old Covenant. For him, the "Old" Covenant wasn't abrogated/repudiated/revoked/repealed - it was merely altered or adjusted by Christ to ensure that God could keep the promises he had made under the initial terms of the covenants outlined in the Torah! To be sure, Mr. Kowalczyk believes that two of those changes/alterations were significant (1. Christ as the one and only sacrifice necessary for its implementation, and 2. that Christ's sacrifice had made the forgiveness of sins possible (something that he asserts was impossible under the terms of the original covenant).

In times past, I posted here an article titled The Two Covenants which sought to differentiate between the Old and New Covenants without resorting to the tired arguments of Law vs. Grace and parsing the meaning of Paul's discourses on the topic. And, although that article generated a great deal of interest and commentary, most of my Armstrongite friends remained unpersuaded by it. In fact, in this brief review of their pronouncements on the subject, we begin to see why they have been so reluctant to address the topic, and why the few times they have ventured to do so have been so tentative and muddled! Indeed, it has become clear to me that the reason Armstrongites have been so reticent about commenting on the two covenants is that the very act of doing so presents inherent problems for their narrative about incorporating certain elements of the Old Covenant into the obligations of Christians operating under the New Covenant! In other words, if there really is such a thing as a "New" Covenant (and its terms are currently binding on Christians), then it necessarily follows that the "Old" Covenant (and its terms) have been replaced with something different - that the terms and conditions of the contract between God and man have changed!

That this is the case is thoroughly supported by both testaments of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. First, a New Covenant was anticipated in the pages of the Old Testament. It was anticipated in the prediction of a future confrontation between the woman's and serpent's offspring (Genesis 3:15), and God's promise to Israel that he would one day raise up a prophet for them like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). Likewise, it was implied in many prophecies related to the coming Messiah (Isaiah 9:6-7, 11, 53, etc.). The New Covenant is also explicitly predicted by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-33). Indeed, the fact that the New Testament (as we know it) did NOT exist in the First Century, and that the apostles and early Church preached Christ exclusively out of what we now refer to as the Old Testament is proof enough that the Old anticipated the New!

In the New Testament, however, the reality of the New Covenant is made even more explicit! The gospels make plain that the New Testament/Covenant is represented in Christ's blood (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20). Moreover, the Apostle Paul confirmed the symbolism which Christ had established for the Eucharist in his first letter to the saints of Corinth (I Corinthians 11:25). Moreover, in his second letter to those saints, Paul contrasted the OLD with the NEW. He wrote: "It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever!" (II Corinthians 3:5-11, NLT)

Paul's assertions here about the nature of the New Covenant contrasted with the nature of the Old Covenant is the point that confounds Armstrongites more than any other and is largely responsible for their avoidance of the subject of the two covenants. They quote the passage that Christ came NOT to destroy the Law or the prophets (Matthew 5:17-20), and it literally blinds them to the very thing which Christ accomplished in inaugurating the New Covenant. They can't see that he didn't abolish the Law - that he FULFILLED it and the prophets for us! Moreover, Christ transformed the Law for us by distilling it into two great principles (Love for God and love for neighbor). Hence, under the terms of the New Covenant, Christians are obligated to keep the spirit and intent of the law going forward - not to get bogged down in trying to observe all of the dos and don'ts that were part of the terms of the Old Covenant! Christ instructed his apostles to "Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you." (Matthew 28:20)

And, for the record, the original Greek word translated into English as "NEW" means NEW - it doesn't imply renewal or revision/alteration/modification of that which previously existed! According to Strong's, the Greek word is "kainos," and it implies something that is new, recently made, fresh, unused, unprecedented and novel! - See G2537 - kainos - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org) In other words, the Greek word is the antithesis of that which is old, antiquated, or archaic. Hence, the use of the word in this connection in the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament sets up the contrast with that which is old!

The stark contrast between the terms of the Old Covenant and those of the New Covenant are further underscored by the accounts of the Jerusalem Council recorded in the book of Acts and Paul's epistle to the Galatians (an event which is not ignored by Armstrongists, but that is often dismissed by them as not having any bearing on the subject of their continued observance of certain provisions of the Old Covenant). Nevertheless, for objective students of the Bible, these two accounts make very plain that the Church decided that Gentile Christians were not obligated to observe the provisions of the Old Covenant!

In the book of Acts, the account opened with a summary of the circumstances which prompted the Church council at Jerusalem. We read there: "While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: 'Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.' Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question." Acts 15:1-2) After a long discussion, we are informed that Peter stood up and said: "So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus." (Verses 10-11) Later, James also addressed the assembly, and concluded that "my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” (Verses 19-21) Moreover, we are informed that the overwhelming majority of the assembly concurred with what Peter and James had said - as evidenced by the letter that was eventually addressed to the Gentiles (verses 22-31).

In his epistle to the saints of Galatia, Paul recounted his memories of his encounter with the original apostles in similar terms. He wrote: "In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do." (Galatians 2:9-10) Later, when Peter visited him, we are told that Paul confronted him with this statement: "You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” (Verses 15-16) Hence, for Paul at least, it was clear that Christians were under no obligation to observe the tenets of the Old Covenant! He told the Colossians that there was nothing inherently wrong with Christians observing some of those provisions - as long as they didn't try to impose them on others as necessary obligations under the New Covenant (Colossians 2:16-17).

Finally, if we didn't have any other scriptures to reference on this subject, the epistle to the Hebrews would be sufficient to demonstrate that the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant! In the seventh chapter of that epistle, we read that Christ represented a different priesthood from the Levitical one established under the terms of the Old Covenant. In fact, we read there that Jesus is a guarantor of a "better" covenant. Likewise, the ninth chapter of that same epistle opens with the statement that the "first covenant between God and Israel had regulations for worship and a place of worship here on earth." (Verse 1) The first implies a second. Continuing, we read: "Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant." (Verses 13-15) Once again, contrasting the two covenants, the anonymous author of the epistle informs us: "That is why even the first covenant was put into effect with the blood of an animal. For after Moses had read each of God’s commandments to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, along with water, and sprinkled both the book of God’s law and all the people, using hyssop branches and scarlet wool. Then he said, 'This blood confirms the covenant God has made with you.' And in the same way, he sprinkled blood on the Tabernacle and on everything used for worship. In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf." (Verses 18-24)

Hence, we can see that Scripture makes plain that there is a clear distinction to be made between the provisions and parties to those of the Old and New Covenants. In other words, the view that the New Covenant is merely an update of the Old is inconsistent with what is revealed in Scripture. Moreover, while it is clear that the provisions of the New Covenant are not yet universal (thus, they have certainly not reached their full extent or application), it is also clear that God has already abrogated the old agreement, and Jesus Christ has already instituted a new one. Scripture clearly reveals that the New Covenant is currently in force and will remain in force throughout eternity! 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

GOD IS PROGRESSIVE!

I just listened to a sermon by CGI's Seth Forrestier titled Progressive Christianity. The thesis of his message was that the Christian religion is inherently progressive in nature. This, of course, was juxtaposed to the reality that many Christians today consider themselves to be both politically and theologically very conservative in their opinions and beliefs. Forrestier, however, pointed out that the objective of the Christian life is improvement and moving toward perfection - that Jesus Christ has redeemed us from our sinful past. In other words, Christians definitely should NOT be averse to change or desirous of wanting to return to their previous sinful lives!

In thinking about the very logical and meaningful points that Seth was making, it occurred to me that most of us also tend to emphasize the conservative nature of God - that God: doesn't change, seeks to restore His government to this earth, and humanity to a right relationship with Himself. Nevertheless, although that view of God has obvious merit, it also ignores a great deal of the other things that both Scripture and Creation reveal about the progressive nature of God. For instance, the Bible reveals to us that God decided at some point to create the material universe and humanity - that's a major change by anyone's standard. Moreover, the entire notion of saving humanity from their sins is progressive in nature. Moreover, the fact that the material world is constantly evolving and changing is the antithesis of conservative. In other words, Scripture and nature teach us that God is always moving forward - toward the fulfillment of His plans/objectives.

Indeed, as Forrestier pointed out in his message, Christ's parables of the pounds and talents suggest that God does not want his people to tread water and just seek to conserve what has been entrusted to their care. In other words, these parables of Christ clearly imply that God expects his people to grow/add to what he has entrusted to their care! Hence, just as we can see value in seeing God's laws and purpose as immutable/unchanging/eternal, we should also be able to see the value of viewing God's nature as progressive! Unfortunately, we tend to be very dualistic or black/white in our thinking. We tend to see things in terms of either/or - conservative or progressive. We ignore shades of gray and tend to be color blind. In the language of logic, this is referred to as a FALSE DILEMMA! In other words, we tend to limit God to our own narrow understanding and views of these things. Nevertheless, as is consistent with the theme of this blog, God is NOT limited or contained by the things that limit and contain us! 

Monday, April 25, 2022

HOW CAN A CHRISTIAN TEACHER FACILITATE AND ENCOURAGE LEARNING?

My last post questioned the focus of most Christian churches on sermons or homilies delivered by one individual and asked whether it might be more effective to encourage everyone in the congregation to participate in the worship service. As a former teacher, I have always known that student participation in the lesson is one of the best ways to facilitate and encourage learning. In this regard, it is interesting to note that one of the primary leadership positions within the Christian Church identified in Scripture is that of the teacher (see Acts 13:1, I Corinthians 12:28-29, Ephesians 4:11).

In ThoughtCo's article on How to Facilitate Learning and Critical Thinking, they identify several strategies that the most effective teachers regularly employee in their classrooms. They recognize and acknowledge that different people learn differently, and that everyone responds to variety. They observed: "A number of instructional methods can help a teacher move away from standard lesson delivery and toward facilitating a true learning experience. Teachers can vary methods to respond to different learning styles." They went on to clarify that "Varying instruction means using different methods to deliver lessons to students." Moreover, it is interesting to note that all of the different instructional methods which they identify in the article were employed by the Great Teacher and founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ!

What are some of those strategies and methods that Christ used during his earthly ministry which are identified in the four canonical gospels? 1) Christ used role-playing when he sent his disciples out to heal and preach his message (see Matthew 10, Luke 10), 2) The Synoptic Gospels inform us that Christ used parables (stories) to illustrate the points he was trying to make (see Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 13, etc.), 3) Jesus made extensive use of field trips to facilitate and encourage learning (see Matthew 8:23-27, 12:1-8, 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36, etc.), 4) Jesus often asked questions to facilitate critical thinking and discussion (see 100 Questions Jesus Asked), 5) Christ often used real world connections to make his lessons more relatable to them (see Matthew 24:1-3, Luke 13:1-5, 20:24, John 2:1-12, etc.), 6) Christ used allegories to teach his disciples about himself and his mission (see John 10:1-18, 15:1-8, etc.), and 7) He even occasionally delivered a sermon or lecture to get his point across to his disciples (see Matthew 5). In other words, the gospels demonstrate that Christ employed a number of diverse methods/strategies to teach his disciples the things that he wanted them to learn.

Hence, having such an example from that Great Teacher, why is it that so many of the folks who profess to be teachers in God's Church deliver one lecture after another? How is it that these folks aren't employing any of these other highly effective strategies to facilitate their students growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? Do they think that their oratorical abilities exceed those of Jesus Christ? Imagine the self-conceit implicit in someone lecturing to their congregations for anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes once a week, every week, all year long! Do they really believe that they are facilitating and encouraging learning by doing this over and over again? What do you think?

Sunday, April 24, 2022

What's wrong with everyone participating?

Unfortunately, many Christian worship services in 2022 are built around a sermon, sermonettes, or homilies. Sure, most congregations also sing a few hymns and/or have some kind of featured devotional music. Likewise, at a minimum, most congregations have an open and closing prayer. Some worship services also include an opportunity for the individual members of the congregation to request prayers for blessing, healing, protection, guidance, etc. Many worship services take up an offering to support the work and ministry of the Church. And, although it is NOT universal, many Christian worship services provide an opportunity for members to participate in the Eucharist. Nevertheless, for most, the primary focus of the modern worship service is a single speaker delivering a lengthy message.

Is that what happened in the early Church? More importantly, is that the kind of service that God expects and appreciates? Does God want the majority of the folks he has called into his church to be passive hearers or active participants? Did God really intend for one or two folks to be the focus of his Church's worship service?

We've mentioned before that the Greek word translated into English as church (ekklesia) denotes an assembly of called out individuals. In other words, the notion of people coming together as part of a community of believers is implicit in the term used to describe the Church! It is literally a coming together of Christ's followers to help and support each other (Ephesians 4:16).

Now, so that no one will be able to say that Lonnie is advocating against sermons in Church worship services, I want to make clear that sermons/homilies are a completely Scriptural feature of Christian practice. Indeed, we are informed in the book of Acts that Peter delivered an important sermon on the day that the Church began (Acts 2:1-41) Even so, we should also note that this same account informs us that ALL of the believers who were present that day were active participants in the meeting. We read: "Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability." (Verses 3-4)

Moreover, in Paul's first letter to the saints at Corinth, he provided us with some insight into what a worship service was like in a church which he had played an integral role in founding. Apparently, there was widespread participation in the service - so much so that it had become raucous and unwieldy (as Paul advocated for a more orderly service). He wrote: "When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say. But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately. Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people." (I Corinthians 14:26-33) In other words, sounds like they were doing a whole lot more than listening to a sermon or two!

Likewise, the first Christian catechism, The Didache, talked about teachers, apostles and prophets in the Church. And, at the time it was written (late First or early Second Century), it appears the Eucharist was a part of EVERY worship service (not quarterly or just once a year). This document also makes clear that Christians were already regularly meeting together on Sunday, and that they were in the habit of giving "thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions."

A little later, in the Second Century, Justin Martyr described a Christian worship service in these terms: "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need." (From his First Apology)

Hence, from all of these various writings from the early Church, it appears that worship services were much more participatory back in the day! While sermons were certainly not unheard of in those days, we are left with the distinct impression that many different folks were contributing to the worship service. There were readings from both Testaments, confessions, many prayers, speaking and interpreting other languages, prophecies, lessons, collections, and a host of other practices that make most of our services seem very narrow and boring by comparison! In light of these revelations, is it possible/probable that a more varied and participatory worship service might be more beneficial for Christian worship services in our own day? And, if they were, is it possible that we might not have as many folks falling asleep during service or avoiding them altogether? What do you think?

Friday, April 22, 2022

The Testimony of Jesus Christ

In the book of Revelation (KJV), we find "the testimony of Jesus Christ" referenced a number of times: 

"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw." - Revelation 1:1-2

"I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." - Revelation 1:9

"And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." - Revelation 12:17

What does that short phrase mean? What was/is the testimony of Jesus Christ?

According to Strong's, the Greek word translated into English as "testimony" is "martyria" (pronounced mar-too-ree'-ah). See G3141 - martyria - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org) The same word also appears in the English Bible as "witness," "record," and "report." The same source informs us that the term denotes the evidence given by someone, or that which one testifies. We are further informed that the term is often employed in connection with the message/testimony of a prophet.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the future prophet referenced by God in the Torah. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read that God told Moses: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." (18:18) Hence, it would appear that John's association of the word "testimony" with the message of a prophet in the book of Revelation is intentional/deliberate!

This association is further reinforced by a verse that appears later in the text. In the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, we read: "And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Verse 10) In the Amplified Bible, the same verse appears as "Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he [stopped me and] said to me, “You must not do that; I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers and sisters who have and hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God [alone]. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy [His life and teaching are the heart of prophecy]." The Greek word "pneuma" is translated into English here as "spirit," and it conveys the sense of being the essence of the thing (prophecy). See G4151 - pneuma - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org)

Moreover, in the light of these connections, it is interesting to note that Christ said that he came to this earth to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17)! Indeed, all four gospel accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ dwell on his fulfillment of both the law and the prophets. In the Gospel of Luke, we are even informed that Christ specifically told the Jews that he had fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy about the very message/testimony which he was to deliver! We read there: "And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:17-21)

Further, in the Gospel of John, we are informed that John the Baptist had this to say about the message/testimony of Jesus: "He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. (John 3:31-34) Later, in the same account, Christ said that he had not received his testimony from men (the clear implication being that he had received it from God), and that it was intended to SAVE those who heard it! (John 5:34, 37-38) Hence, we see how Christ's life and message/testimony was the culmination of the Law and the prophets.

Moreover, not only did Christ fulfill the requirements of the Law in the way that he lived his life on this earth, but Scripture also informs us that Christ magnified the Law and distilled it into its very essence through his teachings/message. In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we read how Christ magnified the meaning and intent of the Law. And, in the twenty-second chapter of the same book, we read how Christ summarized the law into two great principles: Love for God, and love for neighbor (verses 37-40). Hence, with this understanding, we are given greater insight into exactly what is meant by that reference to spiritual Israel in the book of Revelation - those who "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."

Thus, we finally begin to fully comprehend and appreciate what is meant by "the testimony of Jesus Christ." We finally begin to comprehend and appreciate the central role that Jesus and his message play in the story of the Bible! We finally begin to understand and appreciate that Jesus is THE WORD OF GOD, not the book that tells us about him! We finally begin to understand and appreciate that Jesus Christ is the brightness of God's glory and the express image of his person (Hebrews 1:3)! And, finally, we begin to understand why Christ closed his earthly ministry with these instructions to his disciples: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Verses 19-20)

Do you have the testimony of Jesus Christ? If so, what are you doing with it? Are you among those who keep the commandments of God? If so, how are you keeping them? Are you busy with scrupulously adhering to a list of dos and don'ts? OR Are you loving the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself?  


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

GOD WANTS YOU TO BE WOKE!

Taking a page from the QAnon playbook, the Far-Right's latest talking points are full of defamatory buzzwords like "pedophile" and "groomer." Yes, just when you thought that the "culture wars" currently raging in the United States couldn't get any nastier, they have! Apparently, these Ultra-Conservatives have decided that the most effective way to motivate their base to vote (and appeal to Independent voters) is to attack the "WOKE" establishment's grip on educating our children.

These folks love to talk about how our children are being indoctrinated with Leftist "Woke" ideology. More particularly, they don't like the fact that their children are being taught tolerance for LGBTQ folks and gender affirmation. For them, teacher's and Disney are busy sexualizing young children and making them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. Their argument is framed in terms of putting the parents in charge of their children's education. In other words, parents have to protect their innocent children from the harmful ideas being pushed by these "groomer" educators! However, if indoctrination is defined as the process of teaching someone to accept a set of beliefs without exposing them to any alternatives, I think that it's fair to ask "Who's trying to indoctrinate who?"

Never mind that NO ONE is advocating for pedophilia or is trying to convert children to the "gay lifestyle." Never mind that exhibiting love, tolerance, and acceptance for folks who are different from us is widely recognized as being an emotionally and socially healthy/beneficial exercise! Never mind that all children are born with genitalia and their little brains are continually being flooded with hormones, or that sexuality is an integral part of being human! Never mind that LGBTQ folks will always be around, and that things like sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual hygiene/disease, and the morality surrounding issues related to human sexuality are things that confront all of us (including our children). How naive is it to assume that we can "protect" children from these things? How irresponsible is it to ignore these things and act as if they don't exist? Have these folks never heard of "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it?" (See Proverbs 22:6)

Currently, another favorite target of these folks is what they refer to as "Critical Race Theory." Ask them what that means or entails and you're likely to get a blank stare in response, but it does tend to tap into the fears of a bunch of folks that Anglo-Saxon culture and values are under attack. More often than not, this kind of talk manifests itself in the way that issues like slavery and race are talked about in classrooms. Indeed, this is what most of these blimpish politicians are talking about when they refer to their political opponents as being "WOKE." In this connection, you tend to hear things like "I don't want my <white> children to be made to feel like they are responsible for slavery or racial injustice!" In other words, let's not talk about anything that makes us uncomfortable, might contribute to rectifying past injustices, or serve to ameliorate current racial tensions!

I did a Bing search for the term "woke," and it pulled up the following definition: "alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism." What's wrong with that? Didn't Christ say that he wanted his followers to be alert to the needs of the disadvantaged among them? (See Matthew 25:31-45) Didn't Christ instruct his followers to be alert and watchful? (See Matthew 24:42-49) And what was the purpose of the story about the Good Samaritan or the Samaritan woman at the well? (See Luke 10:29-37 and John 4:4-26) Did they have anything to do with prejudice/racism? Didn't James say that Christians should minister to the needs of the disadvantaged among them? (See James 2:16) Didn't John say, "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" (See I John 3:17) And aren't all of these sentiments in line with long-established biblical principles? (See Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Proverbs 19:17, Isaiah 58:7-10) Hence, in light of what Scripture says about these things, I would think that the choice between the adjectives "woke" or "blimpish" would be a simple one! What do you think?

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Resurrection in Jewish and Christian Thought

The notion that humans who have died can be resurrected by God is found in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and all modern Jewish and Christian sects profess a belief in some form of resurrection for the human dead. Indeed, the concept is so integral to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures that it is embraced by both those who hold that the soul is immortal and those who believe that humans are wholly mortal. Nevertheless, although the notion of a resurrection enjoys almost universal acceptance among the various Jewish and Christian sects extant in the world today, the way that it is presented in their Scriptures does seem to present some real challenges for those who adhere to the most widely accepted notions among them of an afterlife.

In their article on "Resurrection," the Jewish Encyclopedia states: "Like all ancient peoples, the early Hebrews believed that the dead go down into the underworld and live there a colorless existence (comp. Isa. xiv. 15-19; Ezek. xxxii. 21-30)." - See RESURRECTION - JewishEncyclopedia.com The Hebrew word for this "underworld" was "sheol." Moreover, the same source (Jewish Encyclopedia) had a great deal to say about the way this term is employed in the Hebrew Bible. In their article on Sheol, we read: "It connotes the place where those that had died were believed to be congregated. Jacob, refusing to be comforted at the supposed death of Joseph, exclaims: "I shall go down to my son a mourner unto Sheol" (Gen. xxxvii. 36, Hebr.; comp. ib. xlii. 38; xliv. 29, 31). Sheol is underneath the earth (Isa. vii. 11, lvii. 9; Ezek. xxxi. 14; Ps. lxxxvi. 13; Ecclus. [Sirach] li. 6; comp. Enoch, xvii. 6, "toward the setting of the sun"); hence it is designated as (Deut. xxxii. 22; Ps. lxxxvi. 13) or (Ps. lxxxviii. 7; Lam. iii. 55; Ezek. xxvi. 20, xxxii. 24). It is very deep (Prov. ix. 18; Isa. lvii. 9); and it marks the point at the greatest possible distance from heaven (Job xi. 8; Amos ix. 2; Ps. cxxxix. 8). The dead descend or are made to go down into it; the revived ascend or are brought and lifted up from it (I Sam. ii. 6; Job vii. 9; Ps. xxx. 4; Isa. xiv. 11, 15). Sometimes the living are hurled into Sheol before they would naturally have been claimed by it (Prov. i. 12; Num. xvi. 33; Ps. lv. 16, lxiii. 10), in which cases the earth is described as "opening her mouth" (Num. xvi. 30). Sheol is spoken of as a land (Job x. 21, 22); but ordinarily it is a place with gates (ib. xvii. 16, xxxviii. 17; Isa. xxxviii. 10; Ps. ix. 14), and seems to have been viewed as divided into compartments (Prov. vii. 27), with "farthest corners" (Isa. xiv. 15; Ezek. xxxii. 23, Hebr.; R. V. "uttermost parts of the pit"), one beneath the other (see Jew. Encyc. v. 217, s. v. Eschatology). Here the dead meet (Ezek. xxxii.; Isa. xiv.; Job xxx. 23) without distinction of rank or condition—the rich and the poor, the pious and the wicked, the old and the young, the master and the slave—if the description in Job iii. refers, as most likely it does, to Sheol. The dead continue after a fashion their earthly life. Jacob would mourn there (Gen. xxxvii. 35, xlii. 38); David abides there in peace (I Kings ii. 6); the warriors have their weapons with them (Ezek. xxxii. 27), yet they are mere shadows ("rephaim"; Isa. xiv. 9, xxvi. 14; Ps. lxxxviii. 5, A. V. "a man that hath no strength"). The dead merely exist without knowledge or feeling (Job xiv. 13; Eccl. ix. 5). Silence reigns supreme; and oblivion is the lot of them that enter therein (Ps. lxxxviii. 13, xciv. 17; Eccl. ix. 10). Hence it is known also as "Dumah," the abode of silence (Ps. vi. 6, xxx. 10, xciv. 17, cxv. 17); and there God is not praised (ib. cxv. 17; Isa. xxxviii. 15). Still, on certain extraordinary occasions the dwellers in Sheol are credited with the gift of making known their feelings of rejoicing at the downfall of the enemy (Isa. xiv. 9, 10). Sleep is their usual lot (Jer. li. 39; Isa. xxvi. 14; Job xiv. 12). Sheol is a horrible, dreary, dark, disorderly land (Job x. 21, 22); yet it is the appointed house for all the living (ib. xxx. 23). Return from Sheol is not expected (II Sam. xii. 23; Job vii. 9, 10; x. 21; xiv. 7 et seq.; xvi. 22; Ecclus. [Sirach] xxxviii. 21); it is described as man's eternal house (Eccl. xii. 5). It is "dust" (Ps. xxx. 10; hence in the Shemoneh 'Esreh, in benediction No. ii., the dead are described as "sleepers in the dust"). - See SHEOL - JewishEncyclopedia.com

Although the Jewish Encyclopedia makes clear that the notion of a resurrection was directly related to the Messianic hopes that arose within the Jewish community, their article on "Resurrection" also makes plain that there was a great diversity of opinion extant within the Jewish community of Christ's day on this subject. After discussing how the concept was portrayed in various Jewish apocryphal writings, it was noted that: "All these believed that the soul would sleep in Sheol till the judgment, but several Alexandrian writers about the beginning of the common era held, like Ps. xlix. and lxxiii., that the spirits of the righteous entered on a blessed immortality immediately at death. This was the view of the author of the Wisdom of Solomon (iii. 1-4; iv. 7, 10, et al.), of Philo, and of IV Maccabees. Finally, the scope of the resurrection, which in previous writers had been limited to Israel, was extended in the Apocalypse of Baruch and in II Esdras to include all mankind (comp. Baruch, xlix.-li. 4; II Esd. vii. 32-37)." Indeed, the article makes clear that all of the Apocryphal writings that were written by the Pharisees asserted that there would be a resurrection.

The article then went on to summarize the beliefs of the three main sects of Judaism extant in the days of Christ in these terms: "The Sadducees denied the resurrection (Josephus, "Ant." xviii. 1, § 4; idem, "B. J." ii. 8, § 14; Acts xxiii. 8; Sanh. 90b; Ab. R. N. v.). All the more emphatically did the Pharisees enunciate in the liturgy (Shemoneh 'Esreh, 2d benediction; Ber. v. 2) their belief in resurrection as one of their fundamental convictions (Sanh. x. 1; comp. Abot iv. 22; Soṭah ix. 15). Both the Pharisees and the Essenes believed in the resurrection of the body, Josephus' philosophical construction of their belief to suit the taste of his Roman readers notwithstanding (see "B. J." ii. 8, § 11; "Ant." xviii. 1, § 5; compare these with the genuine source of Josephus, in Hippolytus' "Refutatio Hæresium," ed. Duncker Schneidewin, ix. 27, 29, where the original ἀνάστασις [= "resurrection"] casts a strange light upon Josephus' mode of handling texts). According to the Rabbis, Job and Esau denied resurrection (B. B. 16a, b). Whosoever denies resurrection will have no share in it (Sanh. 90b). The resurrection will be achieved by God, who alone holds the key to it (Ta'an. 2a; Sanh. 113a). At the same time the elect ones, among these first of all the Messiah and Elijah, but also the righteous in general, shall aid in raising the dead (Pirḳe R. El. xxxii.; Soṭah ix. 15; Shir ha-Shirim Zuṭa, vii.; Pes. 68a; comp. "Bundahis," xxx. 17)."

In terms of the Hebrew Scriptures, we know that the notion of a resurrection is broached in the fourteenth chapter of the book of Job. It is also suggested in the sixteenth Psalm - a Michtam of David. We read there: "No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety. For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever." (Verses 9-11) In the book of Isaiah, we read: "But those who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy! For your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people in the place of the dead!" (Isaiah 26:19) Likewise, there is an explicit mention of it in the twelfth chapter of the book of Daniel. We read there: "Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace." (Verse 2) There are also a few instances of physical resurrection recorded in the Old Testament (I Kings 17, II Kings 4, II Kings 13) And, although the language is highly symbolic and clearly refers to a resurrection of the fallen nation of Israel, there is Ezekiel's vision of "The Valley of Dry Bones." In the thirty-seventh chapter of that book, the prophet is shown a valley full of dry bones that came together and were covered with tendons, muscles, and flesh, and then reanimated. In other words, a physical resurrection of the dead is used to portray the spiritual restoration of Israel. Hence, we see in these (and many other passages) that the notion of a resurrection was not unknown to the Hebrew Scriptures.

What did Jesus and his followers do with these notions about a resurrection? Before we address that question, a few remarks about the actual language employed in the Greek New Testament is necessary. As with the Hebrew word "sheol," the Greek word "hades" suggests the grave or "the realm of the dead." - See G86 - hadēs - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org) In other words, once again, the term itself suggests that ALL of the dead (righteous and wicked) go to the same place when they die. Hence, it is from Sheol or Hades, that the dead are raised (resurrected) back to life. Indeed, the Greek word that is translated into English as resurrection is "anastasis," and it literally means to make one stand up again! - See G386 - anastasis - Strong's Greek Lexicon (kjv) (blueletterbible.org) 

Now, with that background, we are ready to return to our question about how Christ and his followers addressed the subject of a resurrection. First, it should be noted that Jesus directly confronted the Sadducees' rejection of the notion. In the Gospel of Mark's account of the confrontation, we read: "Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: 'Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.' Jesus replied, 'Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven. But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.'" (Mark 12:18-27) Hence, we see that Christ clearly sided with those who believed in a resurrection.

In his book Paul and Jesus, James Tabor discoursed on what this confrontation with the Sadducees also revealed about the resurrection beliefs of Christ and his followers. He wrote: "what they show is that within the Jesus movement the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age was understood as the release of the dead from Sheol, or Hades, clothed in a new spiritual body no longer subject to death or decay. Resurrection involved transformation to a higher order of life, no longer differentiated as male and female, and thus no birth or death. The idea of resuscitating corpses or reassembling decayed flesh and bones long perished or turned to dust did not even enter the picture. Metaphorically one could speak of 'those in the graves' coming forth, but since the 'grave' ultimately referred to the underworld of Hades or Sheol, even those 'buried' at sea come forth: 'And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done' (Revelation 20:13)." Continuing, Tabor observed: "The Jewish notion of resurrection of the dead never means disembodied bliss, or even 'life after death,' but always a re-embodied life. This is quite different from the Greek idea of the immortal soul being freed from the mortal body and experiencing heavenly bliss. For Plato death is a friend, offering release from the prison of a mortal body, whereas for Jews and Christians death is an enemy that sends one to Sheol forever, until God intervenes and raises the dead in their new form."

Moreover, when we consider the fact that the focal point of all four canonical gospel accounts is the story of Christ's own resurrection after his crucifixion and burial, it is no wonder that Christ and his followers would embrace the Jewish notion of resurrection! Indeed, Christ's own resurrection is a central theme of the entire New Testament! Even so, serious students of the Bible, are also aware that the other writings of the New Testament mention another resurrection for Christ's followers.

And chief among those other mentions of a resurrection is the one found in the fifteenth chapter of Paul's first epistle to the saints at Corinth. After reiterating the importance of Christ's resurrection, Paul noted that some of them were claiming "there will be no resurrection of the dead." (Verses 1-12) He went on to point out just how illogical that was in light of what they knew about Christ's resurrection (verses 13-20). Paul followed this with a brief discourse on how sin and death came to humankind through our ancestor Adam, but that the hope of a resurrection had come to us through Jesus Christ (verses 21-22). Then Paul gives the Corinthians a timeline for when that resurrection fits into the larger picture of God's plan (verses 23-28).

A little later, in the context of these remarks about resurrection, Paul addresses the mechanics of how that resurrection will happen; and he makes clear that those who have died will be resurrected with very different bodies than the ones they possessed in their present lives (verses 35-44). Paul continued: "The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man. What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies." (Verses 45-53)

This, of course, reinforces what Tabor had to say about early Christian notions about resurrection. For Paul, the resurrection clearly entailed putting on a new body. In other words, there would be no return to the physical body that was buried in the ground at death. In similar fashion, in the apostle's first epistle to the saints at Thessalonica, Paul wrote about the resurrection in this wise: "And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever." (I Thessalonians 4:13-17) And, once again, we see that dead believers will be stood up out of their graves when Christ returns (this is NOT something that happens at death).

In the book of Revelation, this is referred to as the first resurrection. We read there: "And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years." (Revelation 20:4-6) Later, after the thousand years is finished and a Satanic rebellion is crushed, we read that John saw "a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:11-15)

Finally, we know that these beliefs about the resurrection survived into the period immediately following the deaths of most of the apostles because of a passage in the anonymous epistle to the Hebrews and several passages from Clement's epistle to the Corinthians. In the sixth chapter of Hebrews, we read that the resurrection is one of the foundational teachings of the Christian Church (Hebrews 6:1-2). Likewise, in Clement's epistle to the Corinthians, we read: "Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. Let us contemplate, beloved, the resurrection which is at all times taking place. Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on. Let us behold the fruits [of the earth], how the sowing of grain takes place. The sower goes forth, and casts it into the ground; and the seed being thus scattered, though dry and naked when it fell upon the earth, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its dissolution the mighty power of the providence of the Lord raises it up again, and from one seed many arise and bring forth fruit." - See First Clement: Clement of Rome (earlychristianwritings.com) And, after citing the mythical Phoenix as an emblem of our resurrection, Clement wrote: "Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those who have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise? For [the Scripture] says in a certain place, 'You shall raise me up, and I shall confess to You;' and again, 'I laid down, and slept; I awaked, because You are with me;" and again, Job says, "you shall raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things.'"

Now, as I related at the beginning of this treatise, almost all of the various modern sects of Judaism and Christianity embrace some notion of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Nevertheless, as we can all see, the widely held beliefs relating to the immortality of the soul and an afterlife in heaven or hell present some real problems for them vis-a-vis the doctrine of the resurrection. To be sure, many of those sects have generated very reasonable explanations about how the concepts of the immortality of the soul and its attendant notions regarding an afterlife can be made to mesh with the Scriptural teaching of the resurrection, but the fact that they deviate from the original thinking of the authors of Scripture on this subject cannot be denied or dismissed. Yes, Jewish and Christian views have evolved on this subject as a consequence of their interactions with other religions and cultures and the elaboration of their own theology down through the centuries that the Christian Church has existed, but we cannot escape the fact that the conception of the resurrection embraced by early Christians is fundamentally different from what a majority of modern Christians believe about the afterlife!


Sources cited in this post:

JewishEncyclopedia.com

Strong's Greek Lexicon at blueletterbible.org

Tabor, James. Paul and Jesus. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2012.

The New Living Translation of The Holy Bible

First Clement by Clement of Rome at earlychristianwritings.com