One of Satan’s favorite tools is to take something that is true and wonderful and twist it ever so slightly to achieve his ends. Because the lie maintains the outward appearance of truth, people get sucked in easily and led to their own destruction.
I believe Islam is like that. It took a lot of the surface-level ideas from Christianity and the Bible, and altered them just enough to make the new lie convincing but deadly. Jesus was a powerful prophet who did miracles, but He is not the son of God (Islam claims). Jesus was captured and sentenced to death, but never was actually crucified. God made Adam and Eve, but not in His own image. Jesus Christ is coming back to rule the earth…but not alone.
Muslims claim someone will rule before Jesus Christ, and then alongside Him. This person is called the Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam.
How long will this Mahdi reign? Interpretations vary somewhat, but the most prevalent view is seven years.
Do we know of anyone else the Bible tells us will reign for seven years? That’s right, the Antichrist.
It is expected that Muslims will flock to this leader, thinking him to be their Mahdi—their prophesied redeemer. (Likewise, Jews will think it is their messiah—a powerful political leader—finally come to rule the world…at least for the first 3 1/2 years.)
What are some characteristics of this Mahdi?
Well, here are a pertinent few, according to Islam:
– He will fill the world with justice and fairness at a time when the world will be filled with oppression, which is war and calamities.
– He will rule for seven years as a fore-runner to Jesus’ Islamic Rule.
– His face shall shine upon the surface of the Moon. (See a video about a supposed Imam sighting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXpScktgvPE. Notice how they think he is a being of light.)
What do we know of the Antichrist from Bible prophecy?
– He will bring unity to the world in a time of war, famine, earthquakes, and economic distress…before demanding worship and dooming his followers to hell.
– He will rule the earth for seven years at a time called the Tribulation. Afterward, Jesus will come down to conquer.
– If the Antichrist is anything like his partner/boss, Satan, he will portray himself to be a wonderful person, even a being of light. Satan becomes an “angel of light” to deceive people (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Talk about fishy business here. It’s becoming incredibly obvious that Satan is going to use the fastest growing religion of Islam to achieve his ends. Very clever you are, Satan, but some of us are onto you.
(Holy Spirit protect me!)
Oh boy, this is a heavy topic, and I have absolutely no idea how this post is going to turn out. It could literally go on for thousands and thousands of words. But I think it’s better that I attempt at least something now rather than wait…
In the Bible, this information is found primarily in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (found near the end of the gospels, such as Matthew 24 or Luke 21) and, of course, the Book of Revelation. You’ll also find tons of information and parallels in Old Testament books like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and a couple others. I find Daniel to be the most helpful and easy to use.
I’ll start by sharing a quick overview of the end times.
Basically, the Bible gives us certain signs to watch out for. They range from the general to the very specific. Some of the general signs include talks of war, famine, and earthquakes. There has been an increase in all three of these areas in the last century. The Bible also talks about increasing corruption and moral decay…yep, you can check that off the list as well. In fact, if we follow biblical precedent, this movement of legalizing gay marriage in America could be signs that judgment is at the door.
However, beyond these are very specific signs we can scope on the horizon. A couple of them have already happened, but most of the rest won’t happen until the seven-year Great Tribulation, which is when pre-tribulationists believe Christians will be gone from this world anyway. What’s important is to see them coming. An analogy one pastor uses is this: If we see the decorations for Christmas going up (Tribulation), then we know Thanksgiving is coming soon (Rapture).
The most important sign that has taken place is that Israel became its own nation in 1948. Before this, for about 1,900 years, the Jews had been widely dispersed with no homeland of their own. Now, they have migrated back to Israel and not only that, they are speaking in their ancient tongue of Hebrew again. This is unprecedented in human history, and it happened within the lifetimes of our parents or grandparents. (I really don’t understand how there could have been Rapture predictions before this point in history.)
So once that happened, the clock started ticking. Things are being set in motion at a faster pace than ever before.
We also know that the Great Commission—God’s command to preach His gospel to all the nations of the world—is all but completed.
Further into the future, we know that certain things are going to take place during the Tribulation (these are just a few of many):
– At some point (probably right after the Tribulation begins), the Jewish people will rebuild their temple in Jerusalem once again. There are currently groups in place to rebuild once they get the OK. They have all kinds of tools, materials, and religious objects on the ready. In fact, with modern technology, they estimate that they could complete the temple within 8 months (in biblical times, it took over 46 years).
– The economic systems of the world will all come crumbling down until eventually, a desperate unifying measure takes place. There will be one world currency—probably a cash-less system—where people must receive the “mark of the beast” in order to buy or sell anything. This won’t happen until halfway through the Tribulation period. Some speculate that this could happen in the form of a microchip implant. While this particular prophetic sign seemed far-fetched even less than a decade ago, we’ve been seeing world economies and currencies crumbling before our eyes, seemingly all at once. Even the big honcho, America, recently saw its dollar downgraded. Experts know that we are stretched far beyond our capacity already, so it’s only a matter of time…
– The world will unify under the leadership of one man. The Jews will think that this is (finally) the coming of their messiah. He will promise peace and harmony, even leading the world toward a single world religion. Of course, we know this person to be the Antichrist. While he may seem like a nice chap at first, he will fully reveal himself and his true intentions at the 3 1/2-year mark of the Tribulation by setting up images of himself (or an “abomination”) in the temple to be worshiped. This is also when the Jews will realize the error of their ways and turn to the true Christ.
Notice that all of these things are going to have positive, practical implications at first. For instance, the one world currency is really going to help clean up the economic mess worldwide. A cash-less system will be hailed as decidedly convenient; no more credit cards or check books to deal with. Perhaps the implant or mark will also store medical records for easy access. It will have all of your personal information stored in one easy place that you can’t lose. Maybe it’ll help stop illegal immigration…
One world religion is going to seem great to the masses. There will be no more divisions or holy wars. “How wonderfully tolerant!” will be the common mantra. Thanks will be given to the Antichrist for being unity to the entire world.
It’s easy to imagine then why persecution of Christians is going to increase to epic proportions. The believers who remain on this earth are going to be the societal outcasts, refusing to get the mark of the beast. The rest of society will write us off as anarchists who hinder progress (kind of like the underground dwellers in the movie Demolition Man). Christians will be synonymous with intolerance, refusing to adopt the one world religion that every “sensible” person has. It’s not hard to imagine; the seeds of these thoughts have already been planted throughout society. It will take full bloom during the Tribulation.
This is the majority view in the church today, and it’s been further popularized by books (and movies) such as Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. One thing that surprised me was that this view was almost nonexistent until the 1800s when John Darby started espousing this belief. That doesn’t necessarily hurt its credibility, but it’s something to keep in mind.
A very important thing to note about this view is that nothing more needs to be fulfilled in order for the Rapture to come. It could happen at any time.
As you can tell from its name, this view states that true Christian believers will not have to go through the Tribulation, but rather will be swept up into heaven “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). We will receive our new, glorified bodies (without which we cannot enter heaven), and go up to heaven along with the believers who have passed away on earth. Some believe there will be massive earthquakes at around this same time, perhaps to open the graves.
Pre-tribulationists point to verses like Matthew 24:40, where it says that two men will be working in a field (living their everyday lives) when one will be taken, one will be left. Also, they point out that in Revelation 3:10, Jesus says this to the church of Philadelphia, which represents the rare “good church” today: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.”
The problem with this view, however, is that it requires some reading between the lines. There doesn’t seem to be an explicit mention of a sneaky Rapture to be followed later (after the Tribulation) by the real second coming of Christ. Even the verse in Revelation 3:10 can be interpreted alternatively as “keeping you through the hour of trial,” as in protecting us through it.
Many parallels are drawn to Old Testament events, such as Noah’s flood. Pre-tribulationists will point out that like the Rapture, warnings were given to the world but most of them just ignored it. Meanwhile, the faithful were busy preparing the ark. When the flood came, it was too late for the rest of the world, and God saved them from the waters (representing the Tribulation).
Post-tribulationists will point out that while God saved them from it, they were still in it. They were just protected throughout.
This view states that the Tribulation is kind of like one final test for believers. While God is trying to win back many of his people—the Jews—we as current Christians must endure until the end. If we die during the Tribulation, we are assured that we won’t taste the second death, and that we will enjoy our eternal lives in heaven.
People who hold this view will point out that there only seems to be one explicitly mentioned second coming of Christ, which will be signaled with trumpets and lightning at the end of the seven-year Tribulation. If you remove preconceived notions from your head about Rapture, they argue, you will see that post-tribulation is the most biblical view.
Matthew 24:29-30 (NIV) says: “Immediately after the distress of those days (other translations call it “tribulation”)….Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven…”
Of course, pre-tribulationists will question whether those verses are referring to the Great Tribulation, or just times of trouble, which we are in now. The problem, though, is that this passage clearly indicates that Jesus is going to come in glory for the world to see, announced by trumpets. This hardly sounds like a secret Rapture, but rather sounds like the second coming of Christ described in other passages as happening after the Tribulation.
Which way do I lean?
I’m going to give a cop-out answer: I really have no idea. On certain days, I feel almost certain it’s pre-tribulation. On others, I swing almost completely the other way. If I write what I think currently, chances are I’ll have to come back and edit this post a million times—even more than I probably will need to already. Both views are biblical, and God seems to have painted this amazingly ambiguous picture that we can’t decipher until after the fact. Perhaps He doesn’t want people giving up on this life and getting lazy. Perhaps He wants us to prepare for the worst (post-trib), or be spiritually ready now rather than procrastinate (pre-trib). Who knows?
What about timing? How much time do we have left?
No one knows for sure, and if they tell you they do (like Harold Camping), they’re deceived. Like honest pastors and theologians will tell you, prophecy is only 100% clear in retrospect. Even in light of fulfilled prophecy in the New Testament, if you go back to the Old Testament passages that foretell those events, you can see why nobody (or very few) could actually see it coming. It makes perfect sense after the fact.
That doesn’t mean I won’t speculate somewhat, however. I do believe that the end times are near. What’s happening around the world economically and politically seems to fall in line with an imminent Tribulation. Look at what’s been going on in Libya, Syria, and countless other places.
I think there’s a chance that we will see big things moving in September of this year. Why? Because talks between Palestine and Israel could take place. Perhaps they will come to some sort of peace agreement, which could set things into motion very quickly.
Furthermore, the timing of Christ’s work seems to correspond directly with the traditional Jewish feasts (found in Leviticus 23). There are seven feasts, and the first four have corresponded with these acts:
1) Passover: Jesus’s crucifixion
2) Unleavened bread: Jesus’s death and burial
3) Firstfruits: Jesus’s resurrection
4) (50 days later) Weeks/Pentecost: The Holy Spirit comes down to earth, 10 days after Jesus ascended up to heaven.
The fifth feast is called the Feast of Trumpets, and it takes place at the end of September.
So what? What’s special about this year? Well, it could be a coincidence, but there is also a comet called Elenin which has been nearing Earth, and it’s scheduled to reach its closest point around late September to early October. Furthermore, it is going to be in alignment with the Earth and the Sun, which in the past (according to NASA models) has corresponded with great earthquakes and tsunamis in the world. Sure, it could be coincidental, but the correlations so far have been hard to ignore.
Consider the parable of the fig tree (Matthew 24:32, Mark 13:28, and Luke 21:29). Obviously, Jesus is not talking about a particular fig tree sprouting, signaling the imminence of the end times. The principal of first mention reveals that fig trees also represent the nation of Israel. If you interpret the parable to mean Israel sprouting as an independent nation, you might take note of the year 1948. Jesus also says that after this fig tree sprouts, “this generation will certainly not pass away.” Now, there is some debate as to what a generation means exactly, but the traditional interpretation is 70 years.
You may notice that the Bible loves to use the numbers 7 (the number of perfect completion) and 70. Whether Jesus is talking about how many times to forgive someone or Daniel is calculating the number of years until Jesus arrived on the scene, these numbers are everywhere. (Note: Daniel 9:24-27 is particularly specific.)
Add 70 years to 1948, and you get 2018. But we also know that Jesus’ second coming takes place after the tribulation, which is 7 years. Subtract 7 from 2018 and you get 2011.
Now, I don’t mean to spread false information or anything, nor do I know how to calculate dates with the Jewish calendar. But the point is, we need to be ready. We need to apply the Word of God urgently to our lives and to others.
“Spiritual warfare is real, guys.” These are the words of a personal friend of mine, who saw firsthand an exorcism taking place during a missions trip. This guy is not a “superstitious,” imaginative, or emotional person. In fact, he’s one of the most logical and clear-thinking people I know. But even he couldn’t deny the reality of spiritual warfare in our modern times.
That got me to thinking and researching. Scripture references abound, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I just go ahead and write what I know. If you want verses for any particular point, please request it in the comment section. (This is my way of saving time when I don’t have a lot, but I still want to post something.) A lot of these points were made by Mark Driscoll anyway in his sermons, so check them out when you have time.
First and foremost…
Not every evil is (directly) from the Devil.
True, he may have been the first to tempt Adam and Eve, but Satan is not the only thing we’re competing against. We also have our own flesh to deal with, which is full of sinful desires. The world is currently Satan’s domain, and he already has a lot of systems in place that we have to guard against. The Bible tells us that Satan is the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 32).
He doesn’t have to personally attack you or even send a demon to do it. A lot of temptation and deception is already in place, whether internally in our flesh or externally in the world.
Satan is a created being who fell from glory.
Some people like to portray it like an epic rivalry between God and Satan, but this is far from the truth. There is the Creator, and there are the created. Angels and humans are both among the created, and Satan is a fallen angel. By definition, that makes him clearly inferior to God.
While there is some speculation that Satan was the leader of praise and worship in heaven (there are mentions of musical instruments with him), we can’t be 100% sure. What we do know is that Satan—in his original sin of pride—rebelled against God and took a legion of angels with him. They were all cast out of heaven, and are allowed to remain for a time before God’s sovereign plan to destroy Satan and his demons once and for all.
Satan is powerful, but very limited.
Satan is undoubtedly gifted in many ways. His greatest skill is tempting through lies and deception. He’s not called the “Father of lies” for nothing.
Notably absent from his repertoire, however, are God’s attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Satan cannot create or do anything outside of the restrictions that God has in place. Satan also does not know everything. He’s keenly aware of much of the past and present, and he also has plans for his future. But he cannot accurately predict anything beyond his own actions and perhaps what is already written in the Bible. (Yes, Satan knows the Bible, though I wonder sometimes whether he’s able to read Revelation.)
Please note that Satan is extremely intelligent and persuasive. Don’t think for a second that Satan isn’t smarter than you or me. He’s not only a higher being than us, but he’s had all of human history to practice his deception. In fact, even true believers are susceptible to his lies unless they are constantly on guard with the Holy Spirit. But we’ll get to that kind of stuff in a bit…
Finally, Satan is only one being. Unlike God, he can only be in one place and attack one person at a time. But he does have a legion of fallen angels (demons) to do his bidding…
Satan is extremely attractive (and prideful).
The Bible describes Satan as being perfect in appearance, fine like the most precious jewels. This contributed greatly to his pride and probably to his appeal. He was so appealing, in fact, that he somehow convinced other angels to follow him away from God’s favor.
Now, the Bible doesn’t really go into detail about all the happenings in heaven and the fall of Satan. Perhaps there was some kind of war, and maybe there wasn’t. I’m sure there’s a LOT more to the story than we will ever know (in this life, anyway).
There are at least 50 million demons, but maybe more.
It is written—or strongly implied—that Satan convinced a third of the angels to leave with him. Considering that in other parts of the scripture, John has a vision of 100 million angels in heaven worshiping God, that means there are at least 50 million demons (x/(100+x) = 1/3). There may be more, considering how many other angels were not present in that vision.
So, if there are over 6 billion people in the world, chances are that a demon is NOT attacking a particular individual. The demons, perhaps, can only attack about 1% of the population at once. Strategically, they are probably focused in on prominent people, whether political leaders, celebrities, or even spiritual threats to their agenda.
Spiritual warfare is very much about tiers and rank.
This isn’t a Rocky type of story, where the underdog can win with sheer will and scrappiness. It appears that the stronger being—whether angel or demon—always wins. So if a person is demonically possessed, it will take a stronger angel to drive it out. In Daniel 10, we see an angel struggling to beat a stronger demon, so he has to get the help of the archangel Michael (who is “the great prince who protects”).
Demons can influence everyone, but they can only possess nonbelievers.
In the Bible, you see numerous instances of true believers being influenced by demons, so we know that it’s possible. Heck, we even see Satan trying to tempt Jesus himself (or attacking godly men like Job).
One thing demons cannot do, however, is possess true Christians. Why is this? Because believers have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He resides inside of us, and no spiritual being is greater.
If I had to break it down into tiers, it goes simply like this:
“S” rank (untouchable): Holy Spirit
“A” rank: Archangels, Satan
Lower ranks: Officers all the way down to lesser demons
Demons are not to be trifled with.
Even if we are true believers, we must proceed with caution when it comes to dealing with the spiritual realm. We need to constantly invoke the protection and might of the Holy Spirit. If we go into the situation with bravado—and dangerously, pride—then we might be setting things up for disastrous results. Demons can possess someone you might be trying to help and endow them with supernatural strength, strange voices, suicidal urges, and other bizarre influences. You don’t want them to harm themselves or you in the process.
Satan knows what he’s doing.
When Satan was tempting Jesus, how did he do it? Did he tell Jesus something like, “Come on, man, let us cut ourselves, shriek, and jump up and down naked while we pull out our hair”?
No, he knew Jesus would see right through him in a second. Instead, he actually used scripture in his futile attempt to tempt Jesus. He misinterpreted passages and took things out of context, but Jesus knew God’s word better to counter it. (Of course, there was no chance Satan would have succeeded, even though Jesus was in the form of a man, but that didn’t keep him from trying.)
Also, in 2 Corinthians 11:14, it tells us that Satan transforms himself into an “angel of light.” He’s not red with horns and a pitchfork, but rather, he uses his attractiveness to fool the unsuspecting. He might borrow from scripture (and slightly distort things) or even use half-truths to confuse those who don’t have the discernment bestowed by the Holy Spirit.
God can use bad things, like pain and suffering, to bring about a greater good. Satan does the opposite: he can use peace, tolerance, and prosperity to achieve his evil goals. He can even use a beneficial thing like science to convince people of error.
False teachers and false religions are tools of the Devil.
As a Christian, it might seem easy to spot false religions. Increasingly, however, the true gospel is becoming compromised to the point where culture and ulterior motives seep in and distort the message.
The Bible warns us of false teachers all the time. Again, do you think that Satan is going to have false teachers preaching, “Worship the devil! Kill your family and slaughter the innocent!”? No, of course not. He knows that people are not THAT stupid. Instead, he’ll slightly alter God’s word, and like a ship sailing a couple degrees off course, we’ll end up completely in the wrong destination.
Spiritual warfare is not outwardly prevalent in America.
You’re probably thinking that outward spiritual warfare doesn’t seem to happen often here in America, and you’re right. It’s somewhat rare. You won’t see many demon possessions or exorcisms taking place around the corner.
But why is this? Well, like I mentioned before, there are a limited number of demons Satan has at his disposal, so he can’t attack everybody. More importantly, Satan only pays direct attention to those who are a threat to his kingdom. And frankly, America is already killing itself spiritually. Satan doesn’t need to bother sending many of his limited troops to attack us directly.
Many liken American Christianity to the church in Laodicea (in Revelation 3), and sadly, that is the ONLY church addressed that didn’t have a single positive quality to it. The other six churches had at least one good aspect, but not Laodicea. To be fair, I’m sure there exist some pockets of “Philadelphia”-type groups or churches who resemble Ephesus (some good), but overall, Laodicea is the model for American Christianity. We are rich and lukewarm, and we don’t even know how lost we are.
One type of church that clearly doesn’t exist in America is Smyrna—the faithful and persecuted church—which was blameless in Jesus’ eyes. That probably exists only in third-world countries or places where it’s difficult and dangerous to be a Christian. They have so much blessing in store for them…
As mentioned earlier, I do believe that Satan targets a few prominent people, whether public figures or celebrities, and they’ll do most of the work for him. But the bottom line is that much of America already has the gun in its own mouth (as Mark Driscoll poignantly illustrates). Why waste precious bullets?
Satan doesn’t want Christians to be reading Revelation.
Revelation, tellingly, is the only book in the Bible that explicitly promises a blessing to those who read it and take it in. However, one of the enemy’s great victories over us is that he has convinced Christians to stay away from this book. It’s “scary,” “impossible to understand,” and “unnecessary” to know as believers. Or at least that’s what people have come to believe. In fact, a faithful brother of mine recently told me that a pastor got fired immediately after preaching once on Revelation. Can you see Satan grinning from ear to ear?
Think about it. If you were Satan, would you want people knowing your future plans and knowing what to look out for? Would you want them to read about your imminent defeat and utter humiliation, being shackled by a common angel? Wouldn’t it worry you that your plans would be thwarted, and wouldn’t your pride be wounded when people read of your hopeless campaign against the Almighty God?
I don’t know about you, but if Satan doesn’t want us to read something, that’s a pretty clear indication that I should be reading it more. I encourage all of you to study it faithfully and receive the blessings promised upon your lives. Plus, many believe we are in the last days, so it might be more relevant than you think to your everyday Christian walk.
The end times is the topic of my next post, but I hope I’m leaving you with something to think about for now.
You may have noticed that I’ve been posting with a bit more regularity these days. I wanted to get the objections finished before next week, which is when I’m starting my seminary classes. That’s right, the time is finally here, and I’m definitely stoked!
For the first half of the semester, I’ll be taking Introduction to Old Testament Studies and Introduction to Pastoral Counseling. From looking at the course schedules, it seems that there will be a LOT of reading and writing involved, so I don’t know how often I’ll be able to keep up with this blog. My goal is to have at least one entry per week, though if I can stick to my original goal of two posts per week, I’ll be very happy. This blog is definitely something I want to keep up, as it helps me think about things a bit more deeply than I otherwise would. Writing always forces me to think, which is a good thing.
These two courses cover areas in which I am definitely mediocre in my knowledge. I need to learn a lot about the Old Testament, and I suck at anything resembling pastoral counseling. I’m good at straight truth-telling, but sensitivity, compassion, and tact are not my strengths!
Which reminds me, I’ve been told that I come across as overly direct or a little arrogant sometimes. For that, I sincerely apologize. I guess I’m not as good at this righteous anger thing as I need to be. There’s part of me that can’t help it because of the inner pride that still resides in me, but there’s also the fact that I’m constantly listening to and reading atheist arguments. I guess because they are so forceful (and let’s be honest, mocking or often condescending), I mirror that tone and can’t help but get a little annoyed myself at times. It’s funny…the ignorance of Christians angers atheists, and the ignorance of atheists angers Christians.
Anyway, as I start seminary, please pray for me if you can remember to do so. Please pray that I will learn everything to the best of my ability and never lose my fire. I want to learn thoroughly and deeply so that I become ingrained with this knowledge. The last thing I want is to earn my M.Div and forget much of what I was taught. That’s what happened in my undergrad years (and apparently, to many pastors I’ve seen), but seminary is too important to make this mistake.
Hopefully, I can continually learn cool new things to bless my readers here. =)
Let the voyage begin!
Logically speaking, the outward behavior of Christian people should be irrelevant to the truth of Jesus Christ. Even true believers who know the gospel are prone to fail once in a while. What matters is what the Bible actually teaches, which is far from what the world sees in Christians.
Still, this objection is still very real to a lot of people, so it deserves to be addressed.
*Taking off the robot hat.
As a human being, it’s easy to discredit a belief system or religion if you see its adherents acting in unflattering ways. It’s just a natural response. In fact, Jesus was well aware of this natural tendency of human beings and instructed Christians to be like salt or a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16), meaning we’re supposed to set a good example and positively influence the world around us. Salt is meant to represent something that not only brings out full goodness (flavor), but also to preserve and keep things from rotting. We are to be holy and uphold morality in a world that naturally degenerates toward sin. A light, obviously, shines and counters the darkness, showing the right path.
Unfortunately, Christians seem to be failing in great measure (though to be fair, some succeed). Instead of drawing people toward Christ, many of us are turning off the world to the message. As Ghandi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
So what exactly is the problem? Let’s start with the root of the problem…
Most “Christians” are not actually saved.
This part should come as no surprise to some people, especially considering my deluge of posts about this topic recently. Sadly, many modern churchgoers—especially in America—believe themselves to be Christian, but are really participating in just another religion. A true relationship with Christ and the changing power of the Holy Spirit cannot be found in them.
Some people estimate that perhaps only 5–10% of so-called Christians in America are actually true followers. This means that the vast majority of people are living by their own flesh, and therefore are just as likely as the rest of the world to succumb to temptations and fall to sin. The problem is, if an atheist person committed some morally questionable act, no one would flinch. But if a “Christian” does it, it sets off alarms and people cry “hypocrite!”
What is it exactly that we do that offends the secular world?
1. An average situation…
Imagine a scenario where a churchgoer is on a business trip with a few of his work buddies. Let’s call him Jim. His buddies decide one night, after a hard day of negotiations, to hit up the local strip club and down a few beers. What is the right response for Jim? Admittedly, he’s in a rough spot.
On the one hand, he could succumb to peer pressure and decide to go along. After all, he doesn’t want to offend them or come across as a Jesus freak, would he? But the problem is, he has just undermined the gospel and any possible platform he might have to share the message in the future. If a month from now, Jim is alone with one of his work friends and brings Jesus up, that friend might be thinking about Jim’s behavior that night at the strip club. His friends might think to themselves, “There’s no difference between Christians and us except we get to save our time and money on Sundays.”
On the other hand, if Jim declines the invitation, he might face added pressure. “Why not, come on man!” This is where he needs a lot of discernment and tact. Jim has to communicate that he doesn’t agree morally to such activities without coming across as pious or overly judgmental. This is an extremely hard line to walk, and most will fail miserably. (It’s probably a lose-lose anyway, practically speaking.) If he condemns the activity too hard, he adds to the stereotype that Christians are condescending and judgmental. If he’s too soft, he’s not standing up for his beliefs and is perhaps being ashamed of the gospel.
As 1 Peter 3:15 says: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
This might mean that Jim will become less popular and that he won’t get invited to future events. They might label him as a party-pooper. So be it. At least he stood up for the truth without compromising and committing the sin of pride and condescension.
From that simple example, what I was trying to illustrate is that Christians either fail by going along with the world or by going against it with pride and spiritual piety.
2. Priests and pastors…
First off, I’ll share this rant by Christopher Hitchens, the militant anti-religious atheist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOamsF5r3TE.
I have to say, this is one of those rare times when I actually agree with a lot of what he says. The church has a lot to be sorry for, especially (historically) the Catholic church. Priests molesting young boys who are entrusted to their care and instruction is abominable. A history of anti-Semitism is not only abhorrent, but it’s strikingly UNbiblical and simple-minded. This kind of twisted behavior can only come about when we take something meant for good—the church—and turn it into a man-made institution, sullied by power grabbing and the substitution of earnest faith with rituals and rites. It’s no wonder so much has gone wrong over the past centuries.
But the Protestant church is not without blemish, either. You have pastors who are more interested in rubbing shoulders with the Washingtonian elite rather than being set apart from this world. There are people like Ted Haggard who embarrass the name of Christ by engaging in an active lifestyle of sexual sin and betrayal. Countless thieves, like Benny Hinn, use the name of God to fatten their wallets by deceiving the naive and trusting.
So what is going on?
It’s simple: they forgot—or never really knew—the Bible. They left the Holy Spirit out of their lives and they carried on alone, puffed up in their own pride and accomplishments (and congregation size).
Catholic priests mistakenly were taught that celibacy was holier than married life, and they chose a lifestyle that so precious few are actually called to. Think about it: Paul in the New Testament lived a celibate life, but he spent every waking minute preaching and arguing for God’s Word. When he wasn’t doing that, he was locked up in prisons and suffering. Do you think he had time to be a husband? Meanwhile, you have modern priests who interact with their parish members time to time and preach, but are left living a fairly comfortable life otherwise. With their weak flesh and idle time, it’s no wonder so many priests fall. Celibacy isn’t the way to go for most people.
Protestant pastors see their churches growing and they think, “Wow, I must be a good preacher!” They don’t spend every day in their Bibles, nor do they guard against the enemy. Pride or complacency (or straight-up being a fraud) opens the door and lets temptation come right in, besetting their lives with sin.
If only people would stay true to God’s word instead of their own insights and willpower. Man-made institutions and systems will always fail.
3. The bizarre and newsworthy…
You hear about it on the news all the time. The “Christian” mother who killed her kids because she thought God told her to (more like a demon). The “Christian” who opens fire on a Jewish crowd, thinking he’s fighting for some righteous cause (nevermind that Jesus was a Jew and that they are still God’s original chosen people).
Side note: Please stop calling Hitler a Christian and using him as an example. It’s ignorant and ridiculous. He was not a Christian, pure and simple. A person might call himself one for political purposes, but when your actions go against the Bible and you even plan on replacing scripture with your own book (Mein Kampf) in every classroom, that is not the work of a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It’s obvious as night and day.
Or how about the parents who beat their adopted children to death because they read from the Bible not to spare the rod? I guess they missed the part about being careful to discipline them. Perhaps they read Proverbs 23:13, which says: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” Common sense (and the countless other times in the Bible that refer to death as the opposite of salvation) would tell a normal person that the “he will not die” part refers to moral and spiritual death. By lovingly disciplining a child and correcting him, the parent is saving him from a future life of debauchery, corruption, and self-destruction. Heck, reading the very next verse should have made it obvious: “Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”
Again, this is just a result of bad biblical interpretation, twisting words to fit our own sinful agendas, or plain and utter stupidity. A wicked person can easily open up the Bible and find a way to justify his or her actions, but this blatant misuse doesn’t demean the actual word of God one bit.
So what can Christians do to fix this?
First, much of the criticism is justified, so we as a body of believers need to take responsibility and do better. Granted, we are judged more harshly than the rest of the world, that’s hard to deny. We could do the same things as a nonbeliever, but be impugned or labeled as a hypocrite for it. Is it a fair standard? Yes and no. Yes, because as true believers, we ARE supposed to be in a process of sanctification, so we simply cannot continue to live as the rest of the world. But no, it might not be completely fair because it’s still a process; none of us ever achieve perfection in our flesh.
Second, so-called “Christians” either need to give their lives over to God or stop calling themselves Christians. The word itself means “followers of Christ,” which entails actually following Christ’s way. They can attend church and call themselves seekers if they want, but they need to get it out of their heads that they’re set because of their false flu-shot salvation.
Third, we all need to bring the real Bible back to the church. Let’s ditch the man-made stuff that distracts from the true gospel—all the unbiblical rules, rites, rituals, and other things that supposedly make you holy. These things give people a false assurance and complacency that is dangerous in light of constant spiritual attack. If people were more biblical, they couldn’t possibly live their embarrassingly immoral lives and cast mud on the name of Jesus to the world.
Ultimately, the goal is not to be liked or to fit in. The Bible tells us straight up that the true gospel will probably bring hate upon us or persecution. But what we can’t do is undermine God’s glory by being poor representatives on earth. We can be hated for standing up for the truth, but we shouldn’t be hated for being hypocrites, thieves, and perverts.
1 Peter 2:11-12 tells us: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Our good deeds might not make an impact now, and in fact, standing up for the truth may bring persecution upon us. But it will bring further glory to God in the end. May we let the Holy Spirit guide us always.
Kind of an odd topic, isn’t it—how to read the Bible? Easy, you pick it up and open it. But this post is more about sharing what I’ve found helpful when approaching the scriptures. There’s some practical advice, but also warnings about having the right mindset and expectations. Understanding God’s word and taking it in properly is hard to do, but hopefully we can improve our chances by keeping some of these things in mind.
First of all, prepare. Try to pray before reading.
This is self-explanatory. We need to settle down from the worries of this world and try to hone in on the Holy Spirit’s voice as we read. For seekers, it might be prudent to just take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus, but also relax. Don’t have a million things going on around the home. If you must, try to get away behind closed doors where you’ll have some peace and quiet.
Where should I even start?
That depends on where you are spiritually and what you’ve read before. But generally, I’d advise people who are unfamiliar with the Bible to start with Matthew. If you’re getting re-familiarized, I’d suggest the same. The reason for this is because Matthew pretty much covers most of the important theological points (though not always in depth), and of course, the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way to salvation, so it’s obviously important to learn about him and his teachings. We learn about heaven, hell, sin, repentance, salvation, the Trinity, and even about the end times. We learn about Jesus’ miracles and parables, and then his death and resurrection. There’s a lot there to read and review, even for those who have gone through it before.
I hesitated to do this, but I’m trying to be helpful here. While every book of the Bible is immensely important, there are certain ones that are more popular on the basis of their content and scope. Some of these are: Genesis (origins, Noah, Abraham, Joseph), Exodus (Moses and the law), Proverbs (wisdom), Job (suffering), Isaiah (prophecy), Acts (early church history, Luke “sequel”), Romans (theologically dense, difficult issues), James (short but practical), and Revelation (end times).
…but please don’t limit yourselves to these books!
Should I take what I read in the Bible as literal truth? How do I know when it’s figurative?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this because the Bible holds a number of different genres in it. Some of it is history, some allegory, other parts are poetry. But usually, it’s fairly clear.
Much of the Bible is a retelling or simple account of actual events that have happened, so those parts are obviously meant to be literal. When Jesus tells parables, they are figurative stories meant to teach real truths. Context and common sense are pretty reliable guides, though we’ll always have a somewhat limited perspective. When it comes to moral truths or teachings, the safe assumption is to err on the side of literal meaning.
Can I trust every word of the Bible? Am I reading the same words from the original text?
This is a question about inerrancy—a popular topic, especially after the works of Bart Ehrman—and my short answer is yes. The Bible you have today is the Bible they had centuries ago. Nothing of significance has been altered. In fact, every time we find an older and older copy, it matches up excellently.
Now, this isn’t to say that there might not be a few differences in nuance or grammar. Having numerous translations pretty much guarantees this. There are also words in ancient Greek or Hebrew that simply don’t exist in English, so scholars have to try to capture the meaning in other ways. This is why having more than one translation (and thank goodness, all of them can be found at biblegateway.org) can be useful for study. For personal devotion, however, sticking with your favorite trustworthy translation is just fine.
Also keep in mind that things were done differently back then. There might be literary style elements to consider, some of them unfamiliar to us in the modern age; one gospel might be strictly chronological while another one might be ordered more thematically. Genealogies tend to include names of the famous (or infamous) of the line while excluding some of the in-betweens. Therefore, you can’t expect to accurately date or calculate time lapses; there might even be differences in genealogies from one book to the other, depending on emphasis.
Furthermore, be aware that certain things like quotation marks didn’t exist. Some things are paraphrased when necessary (especially among the gospels). There was no such thing as bold, italics, and underlining. Instead, emphasis was given by repetition and by spelling out the same concept in a variety ways. If something is mentioned repeatedly, it’s probably important.
What about the parts that don’t make sense to me?
I will say that there are parts of the Bible that won’t make much sense—or will even seem contradictory—unless you know the whole of Scripture. You need to be able to compare it to other passages, reconcile them, then arrive at a solid truth. For instance, in Luke 14:26 when Jesus says you must hate your parents and even yourself to follow Him, use your common sense and realize it must mean something different from your initial reactions. In fact, in other parts, the Bible tells us to honor our father and mother. So are these two passages at odds with each other? Clearly not. We are to honor our father and mother as God commanded, but we must also love God so much more to the point where we’d be willing to leave our parents and defy them if necessary. It’s a strong statement to make, but it’s communicating the simple and consistent point that God should be #1 in our lives. And obviously, it’s not calling you to hate yourself (as God’s beloved creation), but rather to set aside your pride and selfish ambition to follow the true way.
Be wary of this kind of thinking: “How could He say or do something like that?” Remember that if God is real and the Bible is true, it doesn’t matter what your personal opinion about it is. I do promise you that if you continue pressing on in gaining biblical knowledge, it will most likely start to add up and resonate better with both your logical and moral sensibilities.
Try to avoid arrogance or chronological snobbery. Consider historical context.
Remember how you used to think when you were a child? Or even just a few years ago? Didn’t you think you had reached the pinnacle of moral judgment and wisdom back then? Well obviously, none of us have. We are flawed creatures and a constant work in progress. Consciously or not, we are shaped by the world and culture around us, which is often driven by sinful motives and the resulting fallout. Don’t assume that everything you believe today is loftier than what will ever be or was. People will look back someday in the future and scoff at the positions you take on moral issues today.
If God’s Word is true, then it is always true and transcends the current tides of popular opinion. Therefore, logically, the fact that it offends us or is disagreeable can’t possibly be the measure by which we gauge its credibility. The Bible’s aim is not to be agreeable. In fact, it tells us that the word is foolishness to the perishing and that those who hold to the truth will actually be hated for it. If you’re expecting to hear teachings and stories that always make you feel warm inside, you’re in for quite a shock. Sometimes, the words are expressly meant to shock you into life, or to convey harsh truths with a direct and unpleasant tone. Some of the people in the Bible have done horrible things. Not everything is condoned or meant to be a positive example, but rather it is meant for us to learn from others’ mistakes.
For these reasons, I caution against reading the Old Testament until you’re willing to approach it with an open mind and a willingness to consider context carefully. Otherwise, you’ll end up just like the countless atheists and “enlightened” YouTubers who think that Christianity is hopelessly outdated and even barbaric. The world isn’t a bed of roses, and the issue of sin and law is not to be taken lightly. God’s judgment often seems overly severe to the uninitiated, but a deeper look will reveal His perfect justice and even His enormous patience (which vastly exceeds our own).
Try to read with an open mind and check your biases and preconceptions at the door.
Rather than trying to fit the Bible into the shape of your life, try to let it speak to you and mold you. You’ll be surprised at what you find in its pages. In fact, when I started seeing what God actually said instead of what I had assumed or been taught, everything made more sense and became more exciting to me. Don’t brush over the facts that you don’t like or try to rationalize as you read. Be willing to tackle hard truths head-on, rather than taking the easy route that so many others take.
Consult commentaries and Bible dictionaries when you encounter difficulties.
Commentaries can often be helpful, and it’s good to have more knowledgeable people explain difficult passages. But also be wary: even commentaries are man-made. They are simply doing their best to accurately decipher God’s word, so try to be discerning about what you take in. Finding reliable sources is pretty important, but they can never supplant the Bible and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Remember that the Bible is smarter than you.
Whoa there, back it up. What do I mean by this statement?
Well, the way I see, there are two possibilities: 1) the Bible is the inerrant word of God Himself, or 2) the Bible has persisted and succeeded in fooling people for centuries in the face of the highest level of scrutiny ever brought upon an ancient work. The level of scrutiny the Bible has endured far outweighs anything the Qu’ran or Book of Mormon has seen…combined. So the Bible is either perfect because it is God-breathed, or it is exceptionally clever in unprecedented fashion.
Either scenario means that you probably aren’t going to outsmart the Bible. In other words, you’re not going to see something that has eluded everyone else, nor are you going to find a gaping hole that no theologian or scholar has already attempted to address. I’m dumbfounded when I see countless videos on YouTube where people will find supposed contradictions and the passages are literally from the same book or even chapter! Come on, give us some credit. You really think the authors could have been that dumb? (If the Bible was a fraudulent book that had been doctored over time, don’t you think someone could have already removed those “glaring errors” anyway?)
I’m not saying this to be critical for the sake of being critical, but rather it is an exhortation to keep this in mind as you read openly and humbly.
And last but not least…
Read the Bible in big chunks!
You wouldn’t watch a movie 10 minutes at a time and take long breaks in between, would you? Does it make sense to listen to a song a few lines at a time, pause, then resume it after a breather? No, of course not. Whether it’s a movie, song, book, or even a video game, you need to experience it in proper doses to get the full experience.
In the same way, reading the Bible a few verses at a time—or even the old chapter a day—is better than nothing, but you’re not going to get as much out of it. You need to get a sense of the whole picture, rather than taking a small bite and expecting to be satisfied.
Many of us are busy, but really, don’t we all have at least 30 minutes to spare on most days? Cut back on some TV time or something if you have to. I myself am guilty of this as well…leaving God’s word my leftovers! But whenever I actually take the effort to sit down and spend time in the Bible without distractions, I never regret it. Recently, when I read the entire book of Matthew in one sitting, I remember finishing it and breathing out this long sigh of satisfaction. It really was a different experience than my usual chapter here and there.
Not only is the Bible reading experience better this way, but we’ll also tend to understand things better from a wider perspective. Often when you pick a spot to read, you’re missing all the parts leading up to it. For instance, if you read 1 John 5:13 without reading the preceding five chapters, you might think it was all about easy assurance of salvation. You wouldn’t catch all of the tests and measures leading up to that verse.
If you really are pressed for time, then by all means, read a smaller portion carefully. Don’t power through a lot of chapters and miss everything by skimming (even if you read word-for-word, your mind can’t possibly keep up and digest everything). But most of us do have the time to read carefully AND in greater amounts.
All that being said, good luck and enjoy!
For more on this topic, here are some helpful links from which I drew some of this advice:
Is the Bible literally true?
The Gospel is not cool to the world:
Arrogance and chronological snobbery:
Whole sweep of Scripture:
Videos about inerrancy:
There seems to be a new sheriff in town, and his name is Science. Word has it that a logical person can now only believe in things that can be proved and confirmed in a laboratory. Since there seems to be no empirical, testable evidence for the supernatural realm, we therefore need to throw out the whole antiquated notion of some unseen power known as God.
But is this necessarily true? Is this some kind of logical truism?
“I find that science is a way of explaining the natural world, but it has its limits….I can identify no conflict between what I know as a scientist—including all of the details of our own DNA sequence—and what I know about God who created the universe, who put all of these opportunities in place, and had a plan.” — Dr. Francis Collins, physician-geneticist, director of the NIH, and former director of the Human Genome Project.
Hmm, that’s odd. One of the most respected scientists in his field is a devout Christian. How can this be? Is he suffering from some sort of dementia?
Well, in my opinion, Dr. Collins is simply exercising a surprisingly rare kind of rationality. He knows where science is useful, and he also seems aware of where it cannot reach. If the whole enterprise of scientific discovery deals with the natural, observable world, Dr. Collins seems to grasp the obvious concept that science can do nothing to disprove anything supernatural.
So what’s the problem then? If science is not logically incompatible with Christianity, why does this notion persist? Well, that’s something I can’t emphatically answer, but I can at least share my guesses and opinions as always.
Religion seems to have a bad track record of explaining things
In the early days, people used to attribute almost everything to the “god of the gaps” in whichever form he/she took. If it rained, they would thank Zeus (or insert Flying Spaghetti Monster here) for helping their crops. If it rained too much, they got angry with their god or grew fearful. When thunderstorms came, they assumed it was some form of celestial shouting or wrath. If someone was suffering from depression, demons were the cause. If a rainbow formed, they knew it was a sign of peace from God.
But then what happened? Science came along and explained humidity and the cycle of precipitation. People learned more about the mechanisms of thunderstorms (such as the three stages: the developing stage, the mature stage, and the dissipation stage). Technology increased and we became able to detect chemical imbalances or deficiencies, as well as sociological/psychological factors to assist in treating depression. A rainbow became nothing more than a fancy manifestation of light reflection off of moisture.
Then, people looked back and remembered the religious people and said, “Zeus who? God who? Science has shown us the cause.” The scoffing became increasingly widespread, and the religious crowd shrunk back and waited for other inexplicable phenomena to insert their god of the gaps once again.
Science has produced tangible, observable results and benefits
Not only has there been enormous progress in medicine and other natural sciences, but even in our everyday technology and leisure. We own iPhones, laptops, and stay connected with each other through the internet. We drive our fuel-efficient cars to distant locations while a computerized voice speaks, guiding us to take the right exit in a quarter of a mile. All of this is possible because of science.
God, on the other hand, is invisible and mysterious (again, I encourage you to check out this video and make the natural connections…we are the Flatland inhabitants, God is the apple: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VS1mwEV9wA&list=FL7oX58RAnMNM&index=29).
We have militant atheists speaking out against Him, yet they seem to be enjoying their lives just fine. No lightning strikes them down. People say things like, “If God is real, show me a sign! Anything!” And yet, nothing happens. Nothing empirical or observable…so many conclude He must be illusory.
Christianity makes perfect sense, even in light of modern science
If you step back and think about it—as Dr. Collins and many others like him have noticed—Christianity actually fits in perfectly with what we know and observe. Science is indeed useful, but it only increases our knowledge of HOW things work. It does nothing to answer the WHY/for what questions. Coupled together, knowledge of science and the Bible can help to answer both insofar as they are knowable.
For instance, when we learn how rain and thunderstorms come to be, are we really disproving God? No, not at all. All we’re doing is getting a glimpse into His handiwork. We might be able to learn something about the mechanisms God uses to bring about that kind of weather, but it still does nothing to diminish the power and ingenuity it took to originally put those systems in place. We might be able to observe the chemical composition and electrical impulses of love, but that doesn’t encapsulate its entirety. If God created the laws of nature, why wouldn’t He use them to produce the desired outcome? If God made a rainbow as a promise of peace to Noah, why wouldn’t it happen by reflecting light in the water of the air—the very things God himself created in the first place?
Let’s say we were able to somehow recreate some great painting using a computer program. By inserting a painting into the scanner, this program could tell you exactly which paints the artist used, which strokes were made in what direction and with what amount of pressure, the sequence…everything. Does this in any way diminish the artist’s work? In the same way, how does being able to analyze some natural process rob God of His glory?
In Christianity, unlike other religions, we are also told that God made us in His own image. Perhaps part of that entails the powers of creativity and invention (the lesser cousins of creating). It makes complete sense to me that God—who loved us enough to allow us to bear some of His likeness—would want to share the knowledge of this world and not make everything foreign and scary to us. Are we to then turn around and use those gifts as an attack against Him?
Whether (theistic) evolution is true, this remains the same. Mapping the human genome in no way causes us to be on God’s level, but rather gives us a glimpse into His extremely complex and amazing creation. If we can make some medical use out of it, then that’s a sweet side benefit as well.
The very fact that the laws of nature work so well, to me, points strongly to God. The fact that the universe seems exquisitely fine-tuned for life is strong “evidence”…about as much as we can expect in the natural realm to shed light on the supernatural; a 2D slice of a 3D apple, if you will. We shouldn’t expect to be able to see God (or we’d die in our sinful state—Exodus 33:20), nor test Him with arrogant and petulant demands (Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12).
If there was no God, why should we trust our own faculties to be able to arrive at reliable conclusions about anything? Wouldn’t everything we think and feel simply be an adaptation geared toward survival and not truth?
Don’t believe the hype. Science in no way disproves God or the Bible. In fact, the details that we CAN actually test check out just fine. On the whole, the world that we observe seems to point to a Designer, and we as the designed should learn to appreciate what we see rather than trying to take credit for something that’s not ours. Any tangible progress we make is only possible because we were gifted with minds and creativity (and opposable thumbs) from the Creator in the first place.
Albert Einstein, who did not have a personal relationship with God, once said this: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe; a spirit vastly superior to that of man. And one, in the face of which, we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
That was about 50 years ago. Have our egos become so inflated in such a short time that we now believe man’s science to hold the key to the universe?