Father, I come before you in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Lord, you know all things. They are all before you like an open book. Who can hide their heart from your presence and your eye? The deeds of the most clever men are exposed before you. Your omniscience knows know bounds - and if it were not for grace, I would be of all men most terrified. But there is grace, abounding and glorious, poured out upon the weakest of men, and abounding to your glory.
Father, I praise you and I worship you; I thank you for all that you are and all that have done. There is no one like you in Heavens and on the Earth or under the earth. You are the King and there is no other. You are Savior and you share your glory with no one. Father, this day you know me and my great need of grace. Why am I here except that you called the weakest among men, the most ignoble among brothers, and that by your grace, often times, the lesser teaches the greater? That is always my case and I praise you. I worship you. Father, help us today, to the wind with eloquence, to hell with brilliant intellect, Father. Let the truth go forward. Let me be changed that the state of your church be more glorious. I pray for grace upon grace and mercy upon mercy for myself and for those who read my blog. Help us, Oh God, and we will be helped; and we will boast in that help in Jesus' Name. AMEN!!!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Kingdom Of God

       Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world: “Jesus answered: ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm’” (John 18:36).

       According to the words of Jesus, God’s kingdom will only be established after the final Judgment. “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then, the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ ” (Matt. 25:31-34).

The kingdom of God will not mingle with the kingdoms of this world, for this world is in total darkness and is also under another government, which is an evil government. Therefore, those that Jesus bought from this world are transferred to another place: “…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and TRANSFERRED US TO THE KINGDOM OF HIS BELOVED SON” (Col. 1:12-13).

Up to the final judgment, the devil declares himself to Jesus as the lord and king of this world: “And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours. And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Luke 4:5-8).

Another occasion, Jesus declared that the devil has his kingdom filled with demons, in this dark world. “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?” (Matt. 12:25-26).

Jesus reveals in the Gospels that this world is a pit full of wicked demons; and that He Himself came to teach that there is a kingdom of light, which is not here on earth. “…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:12-13).

Paul makes it very clear that this world is Satan’s domain of death: “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil: and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:14-15).

Jesus in his sinless death on the cross, destroyed the power of death by His resurrection, and now has the keys of hell to set free the ones that are captive to death. “I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades”  (Rev. 1:18).  TILL CHRIST’S CROSS, THIS WORLD WAS SATAN’S DOMAIN OF DEATH. “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).

The Old Testament, then, was buried deep in Satan’s domain of death. The covenant of the Law, given at Sinai, could only be a covenant of death, for death reigned. Let us hear the apostle saying: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; FOR THE LETTER KILLS, BUT THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE. But the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, etc” (2 Cor. 3:5-7). We may ask: If the Old Testament was given while death reigned, and if the tablets of the testimony, given by Jehovah at mount Sinai, are the ministry of death, Jehovah worked for the devil; or did the devil work for Jehovah?

If the devil pronounces himself king of this world, how could Jehovah also call himself king of this same world, while death still reigned? “For the Jehovah Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth” (Ps. 47:2). “For Jehovah is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm. Jehovah reigns over the nations” (Ps. 47:7-8). “Jehovah reigns, let the peoples tremble” (Ps. 99:1). “Who would not fear Thee, O King of the nations?” (Jer. 10:7)

In order to be known as the king of this world, Jehovah founded a kingdom… of the dead: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Are there two thrones in this world? Are there two kings in the abyss? Has God descended from His glory to reign in this dark kingdom together with the devil? To complicate this kingdom of the dead of Jehovah even further, Jesus says: “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man” (John 3:13). If Jesus was the only one to come down and also to go up to heaven, where has Jehovah come from? Jehovah affirmed that he had come down, and would kill everybody in order to increase the domain of the devil.

In Heb. 2:14-15 we find that the domain of death is of Satan; and if Jehovah kills, he, then, feeds into this domain. Jesus came down to snatch men from death and from the evil one.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

The Father has never descended from heaven, but He has sent His Son.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Moses And Elias In The Lord's Transfiguration

          One other record that is sometimes a source of confusion on the topic of whether the dead are actually living today or not is the record of the Lord’s transfiguration. In this record we have Moses and Elias appearing together with the Lord and from this sometimes people conclude that these prophets must have been alive in order to appear in the scene of the transfiguration. As we will see from a careful examination of the text this needs not to be the case. The record of transfiguration is given in the gospel of Matthew from verses 1 to 9 (we can also find it in the gospels of Mark and Luke). There we read:

Matthew 17:1-9

“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid." When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the VISION to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

        In this passage it appears that Moses and Elijah had a conversation with Jesus and the question is: does this mean that these two prophets were alive, though at least for Moses we read explicitly in Deuteronomy 34:5-6 

Deuteronomy 34:5-6 

 “So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Bethpeor”

 And in Joshua 1:2 God said: 

 “Moses my servant is dead”

          According to what we have seen in the main article the dead are NOT alive now. They are all sleeping waiting for the resurrection. The only one that was dead and is alive now is the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead. Therefore Moses could not be alive and physically speak with Jesus on the day of transfiguration. The resurrections had not happened and thus Moses was not alive on that day. What then happened in the transfiguration? The key word to understand this is the word “vision” in Matthew 17:9, where Jesus told the disciples to “tell the vision to no man”. When Moses and Elias spoke to Jesus this was a supernatural vision and therefore didn’t require nor it meant that these two prophets were alive at that time. We can understand this even better by looking at the New Testament occurrences of the Greek word that is translated as vision here. This Greek word is the word “όραμα” (horama).

Occurrences of the word “horama” - vision in the New Testament  

The case of the Paul and Ananias

In Acts 9:10-12 we read: 

“Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. "And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

           Paul had seen Ananias in a vision, without Ananias even knowing it! The Lord told this to Ananias afterwards. In other words the fact that a person appears in a vision does not mean that this person is there physically. God can use his image to communicate a message to somebody. But this does not mean that this person is there at the time of the vision. In turn, the fact that Moses and Elias appeared in the transfiguration vision does not mean that they were there physically nor it means that they were alive at the time of the vision.

The case of Peter and the sheet with the various animals

Acts 11:5-10 (see also Acts 10:17 and Acts 10:19)
“I [Peter] was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. “When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four–footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. "And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ "But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ "But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ "Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.

           The great sheet, led down from heaven and its content was shown to Peter in a VISION. We all understand reading this passage that God didn’t have to physically get all these animals, put them in a table and present them to Peter. We understand reading the word “vision” that what Peter saw was something that God showed to him and didn’t require the physical presence of these animals. The conclusion is the same as previously with Ananias: the fact that something or somebody is shown in a vision does not require its physical presence in the vision. It is a picture that God gives to communicate a message to the one to whom He shows the vision.

       In the same way we need to understand that the fact that Moses and Elias appeared in the transfiguration vision, does not mean that these two prophets were alive or physically present in the vision.

The case of Peter and his deliverance from the prison

Acts 12:6-10 

“And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and tie on your sandals"; and so he did. And he said to him, "Put on your garment and follow me." And he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.”

         Now this is NOT a vision. An angel came and literally woke up Peter and delivered him from the prison. This did require physical presence of the angel and it was a physical presence. Look now what Peter thought initially:

         “And he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.”

         Peter thought initially that what was happening was NOT TRUE BUT IT WAS A VISION. This makes a contrast between a vision and reality: Had this incidence been a vision it would not be physically real. If it was physically real then it wouldn’t be a vision. When Paul saw Ananias healing him in a vision, it was not physically real i.e. Ananias was not there nor he actually healed Paul at the time of the vision. When however Ananias went, knocked Paul’s door, put his hands on Paul’s eyes and healed him it was no longer a vision but it was physically real.

        Applying this to what happened in the Lord’s transfiguration we are told that this was a vision i.e. it was something that God showed, a message that God wanted to convey, and it was important for this message to have Elias and Moses appearing there. But God didn’t have to make these prophets physically alive in order to have them in the vision. Their appearance in this vision didn’t require their physical presence there.

The case of Paul and the man of Macedonia

Acts 16:9-10

  “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

         Now did this man of Macedonia come all the way from Macedonia and stood there literally? Nobody of us thinks so. Right? We all understand that since the text says that he appeared in a vision it was not there literally, physically. In the same way, and though we may be repetitive, it is again obvious that Elias and Moses didn’t have to be physically there to be shown in the vision of the transfiguration. God can present whatever and whoever He desires in a vision in order to convey His message. What is presented in a vision does not have in any way to be physically there.

The case of the Lord speaking to Paul

Acts 18:9-11

“Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; "for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city." And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”  

        Now the person speaking here is very important, because it is the Lord Jesus Christ. This person IS ALIVE for God raised Him from the dead. He is the only dead that is alive now and he appeared to Paul in a vision telling him to continue preaching the gospel in Corinth. I have no reason whatsoever to argue whether Jesus was physically there or not, for Jesus is ALIVE and has a spiritual body with supernatural abilities. This is a case much different than any other one.

The case of Moses and the burning bush

Acts 7:31 

“When Moses saw it [the burning bush], he wondered at the sight [Greek: horama]: and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him,”

         This is the only case where the word “horama” is translated “sight” and not “vision”. Reading the detailed record of this incident in Exodus we see that “God called unto him [Moses] out of the midst of the bush” (Exodus 3:4) and a whole conversation took place between God and Moses there (see Exodus chapters 3 and 4). Some visions are shown in the night, may be in the sleep, as in the case of the Lord speaking to Paul to continue his preaching in Corinth and in the case of the Macedonian through whom the Lord told Paul to go and preach the gospel there. Others again happen with the eyes wide open, as in the case of Peter and the sheet with the various animals. What is important to understand is that a vision is a supernatural way which God can choose to communicate a message to His people. The fact that something appears in a vision does not mean that it is physically there. What appears in a vision is important in relationship to the message that God wants to convey. It is part of this message. Visions can also be shown to me and you. As it says in Acts 2:17:

Acts 2:17

  “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions[Greek: horaseis, from the same root as horama] and your old men shall dream dreams: ”

      We understand that these visions, are supernatural messages that God can show to us and whatever is involved there does not have to be physically there not to physically exist at all for us to see it.

         We could go on and examine the usage of the word vision in the Old Testament but I think we have exhausted the subject. We know from the Scripture that Moses and Elias appeared in the transfiguration in what was a vision. From what we have seen, it is I believe obvious that the fact that they appeared in this vision does not mean require nor it means that they were alive during the time of the vision.  

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lazarus And The Rich Man

             We have seen up to now that the Bible clearly teaches that the dead are dead, i.e. they are without consciousness, waiting for the resurrection. This we recognise is against the traditional view that believes that though somebody dies “his soul continues living”. We have however seen, from a multitude of Scriptures, that this traditional view cannot be correct, as it contradicts Scripture. There are though a few passages of the Bible that being misunderstood are used by tradition to support its doctrine of a supposed life immediately after death. One such passage is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, given in Luke 16:19-31. There we read:

Luke 16:19-31

"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, ‘for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’"

             Now before we say anything about a passage, especially one that seems to contradict many other passages, we need to study its context. To whom did Jesus say this story ? This we can easily find by looking at the verses that precede the above passage. Starting from Luke 16:1 we can see that the Lord spoke to His disciples and gave them a teaching that ended with the following conclusion: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. ” (Luke 16:13) Now to this the Pharisees that were around responded as follows: “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him” (Luke 16:14). Then Jesus moved on and replied to them:

Luke 16:15-19

  “And He said to THEM [the Pharisees], You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.”

              I have intentionally included verse 19 in the above. Because this is part of the same talk that started in verse 15 and was addressed to “them”, them being the Pharisees. It was to them that Jesus tell the story of Lazarus and the rich man. He was not giving there a sermon to the people or a teaching to his disciples (though they were present). In contrast His eyes were looking at the Pharisees and His words were addressed to them. It was only after He completed this story that He turned again to the disciples, for we are reading in Luke 17:1 “then He said to the disciples….”. In other words, looking in chapter 16 as a whole we can see that what the Lord said in that chapter was addressed to two different groups of people: what he said from Luke 16:1 to 13 was addressed to the disciples with the Pharisees hearing. To this the Pharisees reacted deriding him. Then from verses 15-31 (which also includes the story we are looking at) He turned to the Pharisees and addressed them. When He was done with them, He turned again to the disciples (Luke 17:1).

            It was therefore to the Pharisees that the Lord addressed the Lazarus and the rich man story. Now looking at this story we may feel very perplexed as there are elements in this that are not seen elsewhere in the Bible. Let’s see some of them:

         i) The rich man died and went to Hades, where he was apparently tormented. As it appears from the passage he was still conscious as he could see, feel and speak. Moreover he had still sympathy and concern for his brothers and he wanted to warn them. This description of Hades and the state of the dead is in obvious contradiction with many Scriptures, some of which we give below:

Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, 10 

"But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living KNOW that they will die; BUT THE DEAD KNOW NOTHING, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; NEVERMORE WILL THEY HAVE A SHARE IN ANYTHING DONE UNDER THE SUN. ....... Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might FOR THERE IS NO WORK OR DEVICE OR KNOWLEDGE OR WISDOM IN THE GRAVE (Sheol) WHERE YOU ARE GOING."

Psalms 6:5 

“For in death there is no remembrance of you: in the grave (Hebrew: Sheol, Hades in Septuagint) who will give you thanks?”

Psalms 31:17

  “let them be silent in the grave (Hebrew: Sheol, Hades in Septuagint)”.

Psalms 115:17 

“The dead do not praise the LORD, nor any who go down into silence. [Septuagint: go down into Hades i.e. Hades = silence]”

Psalms 30:9

  “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it declare your truth? ”

Isaiah 38:18-19

  “For the grave [Sheol] cannot praise you, death can not celebrate you: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for your truth. The living, the living, he shall praise you, as I do this day: the father shall make known your truth to the children. ” (NKJV-KJV)

          As it is obvious from the above, Sheol (in Hebrew) or Hades (in Greek) is a place of silence and non-consciousness. There is no tormenting or refreshing there. There are no feelings of sympathy and there is no knowledge there. There are really more than 70 occurrences of the words Sheol and Hades in the Bible and nowhere do we see in them the characteristics we see in the above story. Really in our story we see the rich man in Hades, speaking, feeling, having sympathy and being tormented. Why is that? Before we see the why, let’s also see some other points of this story. Let’s focus on the poor Lazarus.

                ii) So for poor Lazarus we read:

Luke 16:22 

“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom”

           Once again this sentence contains strange references, unprecedented in the Bible. Indeed, there is no other Biblical reference to “Abraham’s bosom” and to angels bringing people there. There are as we said more than 70 occurrences of the words Sheol and Hades in the Bible that define Hades, literally the grave, as the place that all dead – without distinction – go. But we never read of an “Abraham’s bosom” there, nor do we read that the poor or the just go to a different place than the rich or the unjust. Why is Jesus making such references that have no parallel in the Scripture and in fact contradict it in many points?

          The answer can be found by going back to the context: to whom was Jesus addressing this story? As we saw this was not intended to be a general teaching on the dead but it was addressed specifically to the Pharisees that scorned him because he was teaching that there is no way to work both God and money. This audience we read were “lovers of money”, “covetous” and they “were justifying themselves among men”. The Pharisees had, as we can read in other places in the Scripture, traditions that didn’t have anything to do with the Word of God. They believed things that were foreign to Scripture and made the Word of God of no effect. Mark 7:1-13 give us some insight on how far from the Bible this sect was:

Mark 7:1-13

  “Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash theirhands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?" He answered and said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honours Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men––the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do." He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. "For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ "But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban" ––’(that is, a gift to God), "then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, "making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do."

              The last phrase “and many such things you do” shows that the above were not the only instances where the Pharisees were clearly deviating from Scripture. In fact, as it happens many times today, they had replaced the Word of God with their traditions. In fact, as it happens many times today, they had replaced the Word of God with their traditions. Their teaching were not teachings coming from the Scripture but traditions with no base on the Bible and in fact traditions that were blatantly contradicting the Bible. Now why do I say all these things about the Pharisees? The reason is simple: because though the “bosom of Abraham” and the other strange things that appear in the rich man and Lazarus story do not appear anywhere else in the Bible, and in fact contradict other references in the Bible, they do appear in the traditions the Pharisees believed. Here is what the Catholic encyclopedia tells us about the beliefs of the Jews of the 1st century (ephasis added): “In the Holy Bible, the expression "the Bosom of Abraham" is found only in two verses of St. Luke's Gospel (16:22-23). It occurs in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus the imagery of which is plainly drawn from the popular representations of the unseen world of the dead which were current in Our Lord's time. According to the Jewish conceptions of that day, the souls of the dead were gathered into a general tarrying-place the Sheol of the Old Testament literature, and the Hades of the New Testament writings (cf. Luke 16:22; in the Greek 16:23). A local discrimination, however, existed among them, according to their deeds during their mortal life. In the unseen world of the dead the souls of the righteous occupied an abode or compartment of their own which was distinctly separated by a wall or a chasm from the abode or compartment to which the souls of the wicked were consigned. The latter was a place of torments … -- the other, a place of bliss and security known under the names of "Paradise" and "the Bosom of Abraham"

          See in the above the emphasis to the “Jewish conceptions of that day”. We are not speaking here about Scripture based traditions that originate from God but “traditions of that day”, “popular representations of the unseen world”. The Bosom of Abraham, the just being in it, the angels bringing them there, the punishment of the unjust, the chaos between these two places and the other points we read above as the view of the Pharisees, have no parallel in any other part of the Scripture except the story of the rich man and the Lazarus. In other words: WHAT THE LORD USED IN THIS STORY, SPEAKING TO THE PHARISEES, WAS WHAT THE PHARISSES THEMSELVES BELIEVED TO BE HAPPENING AFTER DEATH. He used their own story to pass his own message. We can understand the Lord’s point in the conclusion given in the last sentence of the above story:

Luke 16:31

“If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”

            Obviously the rich man hadn’t heard, which is to say hadn’t followed, the Moses and the prophets, the Word of God, and ended up tormented. He was an unjust rich and his richness didn’t help him to avoid getting the tormenting share. On the other hand the poor man, though he was poor he was a man that followed the Word of God, the Moses and the prophets, and because of this ended up in Abraham’s bosom. And this is exactly what the Lord wanted to tell to these Pharisees. In Luke 16:13 he told the disciples “you cannot serve God and mammon”. Then Luke 16:14 tells us: “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him”. These people were lovers of money and they were not keeping the Word of God, the Moses and the prophets. In fact as we read elsewhere they were making the Word of God of no effect. Yet, they thought that somehow they would be saved – which according to their (false) traditions meant that after death they would go to the “Bosom of Abraham”. Then the Lord, using their own weapons, their very own traditions, turns to them and gives them a story where the poor ended up in the Bosom of Abraham because he kept the Word of God but the rich and unjust – like they were – ended up in torment. The riches were not sufficient to save him from this. Only keeping the Word of God could do this. It is a teaching to covetous Pharisees that in short tells them: “don’t think that riches will save you. What will save you is to follow the Word of God (the Moses and the prophets)”. To tell them this, the Lord used one of the most effective ways: their own language i.e. the language of their traditions about salvation and condemnation.

          To conclude, the Lord didn’t intend with this story to give a sermon on what happens in the afterlife, as many have taken His words to mean, ignoring the context and the Pharisees beliefs that elsewhere the Lord judged severely saying that they bring the Word of God to no effect. What the Lord did, was addressing the Pharisees, using their very own beliefs about the afterlife to tell them that what matters is not riches but keeping the Word of God. He used their own framework, their own beliefs about afterlife, to add his own conclusion. He could choose another framework to say the same thing. But few will doubt that the most effective way to speak to somebody is using a language that is familiar to him. And this is what the Lord did: he spoke to them using their picture of the afterlife as a framework, adding to it the message He wanted. It is very sad that many have taken this framework, these wrong Pharisaic beliefs, and turn them into a doctrine about the dead. This is indeed a doctrine but a Pharisaic one. We hope that this article will help the reader to draw his own conclusions.  

Monday, March 5, 2018

Decision Making And Its Effects: An Example From Paul's Trip To Rome

           I would like in this article to go together with you to Acts 27. There we find Paul and some disciples that accompanied him, being en route to Rome. Paul was going there as a prisoner to appear before the Caesar. Starting from verse 7, we read:

Acts 27:7-10

“When we had sailed slowly many days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, the wind not permitting us to proceed, we sailed under the shelter of Crete off Salmone. Passing it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea. Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them saying, "Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives."

          It was a difficult trip. Finally they arrived into the port of Fair Havens. Winder was approaching. The phrase “sailing was now dangerous, because the Fast was already over” probably places the events around October, the month of the fast of the Atonement. As the Scripture says, Paul advised them that to carry on the trip was going to be dangerous. As he said it would be dangerous not only for the cargo and the ship but also for the lives of those in the ship. Then the verse that follows tells us:

Acts 27:11

“Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.”

           Though Paul had a true perception of the seriousness of the situation and what was going to happen, he was not the boss of this ship! The boss was the centurion, a Roman, most probably heathen. He was commanding the ship in which there was an able number of believers. Has it ever happened to you that you are in a “ship” with others, believers and/or unbelievers, where the one that commands the “ship”, the one that makes a particular important decision is not you? You may know the outcome but the only thing that you can do is to advise. You can say “I believe we must not sail. I see that we are going to have major problems”. But sometimes there are competing voices too and the one that is making the decision instead of heeding to the right voice, he does what the opposite voice says. What do you do then? Do you jump out of the ship? Sometimes you may be able to do this and it may even be the right thing to do. But this does not happen always and there are cases where this simply cannot happen. You cannot jump out of your family for example because a member made a not wise decision with his life. You can advise, you can say this is going to be dangerous and not wise. But, after an age, you cannot take the steering wheel of their life and make them do what you want them to do. On the other hand everybody in the family (to use this good example) must understand that though “it is their life”, they are not ships sailing alone. Both they and the other members of the family are all in one ship. And if a member of the family decides to unwisely sail this is going to affect everybody in the family, for everybody is in the same ship! I’m not sure whether you understand what I’m saying. Those who have kids or have grown to a good functioning family I think they understand what I’m speaking about. God does the same for us too. He gives us advices, He tells us where to sail and where not to sail, but if we don’t want to heed to Him but heed the opposing voices then guess what: we are going to have trouble. In this case, God is not indifferent because after all it is “our lives”. In contrast, He is sorry about it because after all He is in the same ship with us. Returning to Acts, what we have here is a slightly different case in that the believers, that know what is the wise thing to do, are subject to somebody else to a Roman centurion who heeds not to their voice of wisdom but to the voice of the owner of the ship. Let’s read further to see what happened:

Acts 27:12-14

“And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to set sail from there also, if by any means they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete opening toward the southwest and northwest, and winter there. When the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their desire, putting out to sea, they sailed close by Crete. But not long after, a tempestuous head wind arose, called Euroclydon.”

“The majority advised that they carry on!” Is it the majority that we heed or what God says? It all may seem well and rosy, it may be that we have a south wind blowing softly and we may suppose that we have obtain our desire but sooner or later things may change. In fact, sooner or later things WILL definitely change, if God has said so! As it happened here: not long after, a very strong wind started blowing and trouble had just started:

Acts 27:15-26

“So when the ship was caught, and could not head into the wind, we let her drive. And running under the shelter of an island called Clauda, we secured the skiff with difficulty. When they had taken it on board, they used cables to undergird the ship; and fearing lest they should run aground on the Syrtis Sands, they struck sail and so were driven. And because we were exceedingly tempest–tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands. Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up. But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. "And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. "For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, "saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ "Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. "However, we must run aground on a certain island."

               Finally the things turned out as Paul had told them before they left the port of Fair Havens. Trouble started a little after they started sailing again and it didn’t seem to get any better. Rather it got worse and worse. Where were the believers at that time? There, in the ship. Was it their fault that the ship had sailed? No. Paul had told them no to do so. However this didn’t exclude them from the suffering. They were in the same ship as those who made the decision. There are ships that we sail together with others. In some of them we are the “governors”. In other ships others are the governors. When unwise decisions are made then everybody that is in the ship is going to be affected, even if he knows that this was an unwise decision. Therefore if it happens to have the steering wheel of that ship for a specific decision heed well to the instructions and make sure the ones that you follow come from the Lord. Because otherwise, trouble will not only be your portion but also the portion of the other ones that are together with you in the ship. To give you a practical example think again about your family. You may be a young man or woman contemplating marriage with the so and so person, because “you are so much in love with him or her!” Everything seems so rosy! But young man, I’m speaking to you heart to heart: marriage life is much much more than just “being in love”. Being in love is good but will not take you that far. What will take you far, what will make your marriage to blossom, is character. Your character and the character of the other. Is the other a Christian that honestly loves God? Is he/she a person with values and principles? What are his values concerning work and family for example? Is he a person that takes his responsibilities or he is hiding from them behind others? These are the things that you will live with and if something of them is not there then the “being in love” state will end within weeks and the problems will start. Problems that will be like huge waves and you will be like a small ship in front of them. But this small ship will have inside not only you but also all those who really love you. Thus you have to hear them and in fact you have to ask their advice. For this is not a trip that you are doing alone. It may be that some from your family have seen something that they don’t like. They tell you not to sail. I don’t know whether they are right or not. But you have to very seriously take them into account. You may think: “this is my life. I’m going to do what I want to do.” This is false. It is your life but you are in a family. You are in a ship with others and your decision will affect them. If you are not sure therefore stay in the port and do not leave it till you become sure that this is the right thing to do and you also see the others to be positive about it.

            Back to Paul, somebody could ask: why the Lord allowed all this trouble to happen? Couldn’t He that stopped the winds in the sea of the Galilee also stop the Euroklidon ? After all it was His own people who were in danger there - together with others. As we see the Lord didn’t do this. What He did was to give advice before sailing started. Once it started then it happened what He said it would happen: trouble. Sometimes some people start sailing, thinking “if it does not work then the Lord will save me”. And well, yes this may happen and it happened here too: the Lord saved them. He saved EVERYBODY in the ship. BUT He didn’t save them from the trouble. They hadn’t eaten for days, they were sailing in high seas, the ship was finally destroyed. This was not the will of God! It was not His will to go through such trouble! That’s why He told them from the beginning not to leave the port. Yes it may be that the Lord will save you but if you sail without heeding to His advice be sure: you are heading for much trouble. You may save your life but the consequences of the trip will be there. Pay attention therefore to the following: before you decide to leave the Fair Havens make sure you heed to what is the advice of the Lord. He wants ONLY THE BEST for you and though He may save you from the high seas that unwise decisions may bring and you will take a lesson out of them and they will finally work for good, it is not I believe in His will to go through them in the first place.  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

He Became To Us

           A simple look to the thoughts and ideas of many Christians suggests that the idea of righteousness by works, i.e. self-righteousness, is very well rooted in many Christian minds. However, the Scripture does not support this idea. Indeed, what the Scripture points out is not our ability to achieve a right standing before God but the sacrifice of Christ who achieved this right standing for us. I Corinthians 1:30 tells us about Christ's accomplishments on our behalf:

1 Corinthians 1:30

  "It is because of him [meaning God] that you are in Christ Jesus....."

As we see, it is BECAUSE OF HIM, meaning God, that we are now in Christ Jesus. It is not because of our worth or our abilities but because of the grace, love and goodness of God that we are in Christ Jesus. In the preceding verse (verse 29) Paul says "so that no-one may boast before him [meaning God]” and then it continues:

1 Corinthians 1:30

  "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore as it is written "let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

            Jesus Christ became to us all these things. He became (past tense). It does not say that WE became to him. Instead HE became to us. He became wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Do you know why we are righteous, redeemed and holy before God? Because Jesus Christ became to us all these things. When did He become ? When you believed. When you believed with your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confessed Him as Lord (Romans 10:9), you were declared righteous, you were saved, you were sanctified. I know, it would have been very logical if God had told us:

           "Look, you will do this and that work and then you will be saved, become righteous etc." Although there are many that teach exactly that, the Bible does not teaches it. What the Bible tells us is that to become righteous and saved you need to believe with your heart i.e. to truly believe, in the Lord Jesus Christ and His resurrection and stay in the faith. We are saved by faith through grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

              In whom shall we boast therefore? Not in our works and achievements but in the Lord who “who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30)  

Amazing Grace

            The good news contained in the part of the Word of God addressed to the believers after the day of Pentecost is that Jesus Christ met all the required conditions so that by confessing Him as Lord and by believing that God has raised Him from the dead you are righteous and saved. This is really good news, is not it? Ephesians tells us:

Ephesians 2:8

  "For BY GRACE you are saved through faith: and this not from yourselves: it is the GIFT of God: Not by works, so that no-one can boast"

Also Romans 10:9-10 

“That if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

And Acts 16:30-31 

“Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Also: Romans 3:20-24, 28

  "Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by the works of the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin. But now the righteousness of God, apart from the law has been made known, to which the law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. For there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ......Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law"

         The above passages state that our salvation and our right standing before God, i.e. our righteousness, are not based on how many good works we did, do or will do but on the grace of God. According to the above passages, even if you kept all the law you could not be righteous before God; for as we read: no-one can be righteous before God by the works of the law. And it also says that "all have sinned". Even if you had never sinned in your life (which I’m sure it is not true) there is still Adam's sin which passes down from generation to generation. But praise God, another way has been provided by which we can be righteous before Him. This way is called grace. Yes, someone had to work for all these gifts to be made freely available to us. However, this was neither you nor I but the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 3 tells us about the accomplishments of Jesus Christ:

Romans 3:23-26 

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 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."

         The redemption is IN CHRIST JESUS, not in what you and I achieved. This is very important if we want to understand the relationship we have with God. Our relationship is based upon the grace of God and the accomplishments of Jesus Christ, NOT upon our worth, works or achievements. We are righteous before God twenty four hours a day. The reason is that this right standing was given to us by grace. It was given to us as a result of the unmerited favor and love that God has for us. It is "righteousness of God", NOT righteousness from ourselves i.e. self righteousness. This "of" denotes the source of this righteousness. This source is neither you nor I but God. Galatians 2:16 also tells us:

      "know that a man 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: for by the works of the law no-one will be justified."

         Once more we see that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ! If it was by works, I could say: "Look I did more than you. I deserve it more than you." No-one deserved something from God. It was God who, motivated by His love for us, sacrificed His Son so that by believing in Him we can be righteous and saved. That's really grace! Amazing grace!  

God Loves Us

         Does God love me and how? This is a question that has been asked by countless people, countless times. The answer the Bible gives to this question is that God not just loves us but He loves us more than anybody else could ever love us. Let’s see this from the Word of God.

1. God loves us - He gave His Son for us.

           To see God’s love for us, let’s start from 1 John 4:9. There we read:

"This is how God showed his love among us..."

           Love, when it is honest, is always manifested in actions. Here the Word of God tells us that indeed God loves us and that His love was shown, was manifested. How? The answer is in the remaining of the verse:

1 John 4:9 

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him."

           God showed His love to us by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world that we might live through him. Along the same lines, John 3:16 tells us:

"For God so loved the world that he gave........"

          As we said above love always takes actions, giving, and God, because He loved us, He gave! What did He give? Let’s carry on reading:

John 3:16-17 

           "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 the world through him might be saved."

         God, for no other reason than love for us, He went so far as to give His Son to die for us, so that by believing in Him to have eternal life. Romans 5:6-10 demonstrate this point even more clearer:

Romans 5:6-10 

          "For, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him. For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having being reconciled, shall we be saved through his life."

            See the phrase “God demonstrates His own love for us”. How does God demonstrate His love for us? He not only gave His Son for us, but He gave Him when we were still sinners, ungodly, completely unworthy of any such sacrifice! The same we also see in Ephesians 2:

Ephesians 2:1-3 

         "As for you, you were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk when you followed the ways of this world, and of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient; among whom all of us also lived at one time, in the cravings of our flesh, following the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath."

             I have marked in the above passage several words that are in past tense to give emphasis to the fact that for the man who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and His resurrection the state described above is PAST. We were dead in trespasses and sins and objects of wrath. But we are no longer any of these! The state described in these verses is for us history, not reality! It is a state out of which we were delivered! But how were we delivered, by whom and why? Ephesians 2:4-9 give us the answer:

Ephesians 2:4-9 

"BUT because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - by grace you are saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us up with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast."

            The word “BUT” that opens this passage makes a contrast between what precedes it (verses 1-3) and what follows it (verses 4-9). Verses 1-3 gave us the pitiful state in which we were before we believed. As we read there, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” and “objects of wrath”. But God, “because of His great love for us”, changed all these: now instead of “dead in trespasses and sins” we are “alive with Christ” and instead of objects of wrath we are seated together with Christ in the heavenly places! From God’s perspective, it is already done! And why did God do this? "BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE FOR US......EVEN WHEN WE WERE DEAD IN TRANSGRESSIONS"!

2. God loves us - He made us His children.

         Another passage that demonstrates how much God loves us is given in I John 3:1-2:

"How great is the love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God and that is what we are. The reason that the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved now we are the children of God..."

             That we are children of God is also what Galatians 3:26 tells us: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus”! And as the above passage makes it clear, this is a proof of how much God loves us. Really “how great is the love the Father has given to us”.

3. God loves us - He trains us.

             We saw above that God, because of how much He loves us, He made us His children. And as a loving father trains and disciplines his children, so also and much better does God. As Hebrews 12:6 tells us:

Hebrews 12:6 

"the Lord disciplines those He loves..."

              Discipline may not be what we like but it is what we need! That’s why only those who really love us care enough to discipline us. And that’s why God disciplines us too: because He loves us and cares for us.

4. God loves us - Nothing can separate us from His love

       Next and last stop in this short journey in God’s love is Romans 8:38-39:

Romans 8:38 – 39 

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels [what kind of angels? fallen angels, angels of Satan], nor principalities, nor powers, nor present things, nor future things, nor height, not depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. "

          God loves us and there is absolutely nothing, no power, no principality, nothing present or future that could separate us from His love. He loves us and He will never stop loving us. This is the truth of God’s Word.

5. God’s loves us – conclusion.

             To conclude this article: we saw from the Word of God that God loves us and this is proved by the fact that He gave His Son for us, doing this even when we were sinners and ungodly! It would be a huge sacrifice to do this for people who were righteous and good. But we were not any such people. We were sinners, ungodly, dead in trespasses and sins. Nevertheless this did not stop God: He loved us and because of His love for us , He gave His Son for us while we were still sinners, so that by believing in Him can become alive in Christ and seated up with Him in the heavenly places.

             Furthermore we saw that because God loves us, He made us His children. And as a caring Father disciplines his children who loves so also and much better does God.

             Finally we also saw that God’s love for us is so GREAT and there is nothing that could separate us from it. To say it differently: there is nothing that could ever make God to stop loving us!  

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Breastplate Of Righteousness

Further understanding of the role of righteousness is given in Ephesians 6. There it speaks about the armor of God that was given to us to fight the spiritual war:

Ephesians 6:13

  "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to withstand, and having done all to stand."

        I would like to point out two things in this verse. First, the armor is of GOD. It is NOT an armor that you constructed. Rather, it is an armor that has been constructed by GOD. Second, it is YOU that put on that armor. God will not put it on for you. God made it available. Now you have to put it on. These two things are important for correct understanding of the next verse. There it states:

Ephesians 6:14 

"Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around you waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place....."

           It is this second piece of the armor, the breastplate of righteousness, on which we will concentrate our attention here. The various parts of the armor, as they are described in verses 14-17, have not been given a name by chance. God has a reason for everything He says. So, we must ask ourselves what is the job that a breastplate is designed to do? I believe that most of us know the answer: in an armor the breastplate protects the breast. As you know, the heart, a vital instrument for our lives, is located in the left side of the breast. Therefore, one of the most important jobs of the breastplate is to protect the heart. Biblically, the word heart means the inner part of the mind; the inner being of a man. What is in our heart determines what we are. As Proverbs 4:23 tells us:

"Above all else guard your heart; for out of it are the issues of life"

           The Word of God calls us to guard our hearts more than anything else and when it says heart the actual reference is to the inner part of our minds. Indeed, what is in the inner part of our minds, what is in our heart, determines "the issues of life". No wonder therefore, that it is exactly this part at which Satan aims his darts. If his darts manage to pierce the heart i.e. the inner part of our being, then this is exactly what he wants. One of the weapons that Satan frequently uses to fire his darts into the heart of sincere and devoted Christians is none other than condemnation. Condemnation is one of his best weapons since it makes the heart, the inner part of our beings, ill. It is a powerful weapon of Satan to corrupt our fellowship with God. I John describes the effects of this disease which affects many Christians.

1 John 3:21 

"Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God."

         Pay careful attention to that "if". Note also that the reference is to the heart. Condemnation is a serious disease that affects the heart, the inner being of a man. When there is condemnation in our hearts then there is no confidence before God and if there is no confidence before God, then I really question of the fellowship that we are able to have with God. The will of God is to "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). It is however impossible to rejoice in Him when you do not have confidence before Him. Nevertheless, Satan will not manage to bring condemnation into our lives IF (and only if) we use the armor of God for our defense. So the question is what is the piece of the armor of God that protects the heart? Ephesians 6:14 tells us:

"Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around you waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place....."

            This piece is the "breastplate of righteousness". But which righteousness is this? You see, we are accustomed to reading this verse using a preconceived idea of righteousness by works. Thus, we think that the righteousness referred to in that verse is our self-righteousness. We say "if I am good enough and do good works then I'll be righteous". However, we forget that the Bible says "therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by the works of the law" (Romans 3:20). The righteousness here is not our self-righteousness but the righteousness of God. The full armor has been made ready for us by God. It is the "armor of God". It is not an armor that we constructed. The Word does not say "Make up the armor". It says "put on the full armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11). If the armor is of God, whose then is the breastplate of that armor? It is God's. Whose therefore is the righteousness that is the breastplate? Is it your self-righteousness gained through your good works? No! It is the righteousness of God, as indeed the whole armor is of God, and so therefore is each separate piece. You did not make up the armor. You just put it on. In the case of righteousness this means that you place deep in your mind, in your heart, that you are righteous before God BY GRACE ("righteousness of God") and thus you do not try to achieve a self-righteousness standing before Him. It means that you understand that before Him "no-one will be justified by the works of the law" (Romans 3:20) and that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace" (Romans 3:23-24). You must accept that grace is grace and works are works. You must understand that when the Bible says grace does not mean grace with some works. As the Scripture says: "And if by grace it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Romans 11:6). Then, you will have "the breastplate of righteousness in place" (Ephesians 6:14). Otherwise, you will leave your heart unprotected and be vulnerable to the disease of condemnation. Satan will trap you through his cunningness because you are not wearing the full armor of God but something that you yourself made up. You are wearing the breastplate of self-righteousness instead of the breastplate of righteousness of God. However, the breastplate of self-righteousness has been declared faulty by the Word of God. No wonder therefore that if you put on that “breastplate” you will be vulnerable to the Satan-caused disease of self condemnation. On the other hand, when we protect our hearts with the true breastplate of the righteousness of God then that which the Scripture says in Romans 8:1 will be fulfilled in our lives:

Romans 8:1 


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Prayer As A Weapon Against Temptation

        In fighting temptation, regardless of its type, prayer is a weapon that we cannot do without it. The purpose of temptation is to ensnare us and to draw us away from God. Prayer, fellowship with God, is the exact opposite: it keeps the channels of communication with our Father open. Oh what comfort and love comes from the Father and what support to those who resist the enemy find when they go to Him in prayer.

The night the Lord Jesus was captured, in the garden of Gethsemane, he told to his disciples:

Matthew 26:41

“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Luke 22:40

“And when he was at the place, he said to them, Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

And Luke 22:46

“And he said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

       Temptation is described here as something the disciples could enter into and the proper response would be to pray. Thus prayer and temptation are put against each other:

      “Pray, lest you enter into temptation”, the Lord said. Obviously if they did not pray they would indeed enter into temptation. Prayer, fellowship with God, keeping the channels of communication open and receiving from Him through prayer the needed encouragement and support, is a shield of protection against temptation.

This does not necessarily mean that the temptation will not come. But what it for sure means, is that when/if it comes it will find us steadfast in the faith and not ready to fall into its trap.  

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Forms Of Temptation In The Parable Of The Sower

         Having seen in the article “the means and forms of temptation” the forms that temptation can take (especially the trials through affliction and persecution and the trap of obeying the desires of the old man, the flesh) we can also see these categories in action in the parable of the sower. There are two categories in the parable of the sower that though they heard and received the Word they did not bring forth the desired fruit. And the question is why?

1. Temptation in the second category of the parable of the sower

      Concerning the second category of the parable of the sower, Matthew 13:20-21 and Luke 8:13 tell us about it:

Matthew 13:20-21

  “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; “yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he is offended.”

Luke 8:13 

“But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.”

         As we see, the people of this category heard the Word and they initially received it with joy! In other words they were very enthusiastic about the Word. But then the temptation, the trial, came, and its form was tribulation and persecution for the Word’s sake i.e. because of the Word these people were persecuted. And there they lost the game. Instead of persevering, holding on to the Word they had originally with so much joy received, they stepped back and fell away. If you are a young believer full of zeal for God: though it may seem that the devil is nowhere around you, this will not last forever. The temptation, the trial, will come. You will need to persevere, holding on to the faith and the Word which with so much joy you received. As the Word tells us:

Hebrews 10:35-39

  “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of patience, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “For yet a little while, and he who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”

          Affliction may take various forms. I have seen people falling away, abandoning the faith, because their parents or relatives and friends confronted them and rejected them because of their faith. Of course persecution may take more severe forms too, like being thrown into a prison or being tortured for your faith. It can also result in death, like it happened for Stephan and James the brother of John. For you and all those who are tried the Word says:

Romans 16:19-20

“For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.”

and 1 Peter 5:8-10 

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are experienced in your brethren that are in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”

          Hold on to the faith and do so till the end. Put your life and situation on the hands of God and be ready to go through whatever may come up, yes even ridicule and torture. God is with you. He will strengthen you. He will encourage you. Just like He did with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Just like He did with Paul in the prison, when he was persecuted by the Jews (Acts 23:11). As Paul said: “as we become partakers of the sufferings so also we become partakers of the comfort that comes from God” (2 Corinthians 2:1-7). The comfort that comes from Him outbalances whatever ridicule or torture a man may bring to us.

2.Temptation in the third category of the parable of the sower

        Concerning the third category of the parable of the sower, we read about it in Mark 4:18-19:

“Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

And Luke 8:14

“Now the ones [that] fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”

          These men heard the Word, understood the Word yet became fruitless. Why? Because they left the door of their heart open to the thorns of “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19), which entering in, choked the Word. As we have already seen James saying:

James 1:13-15

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

and 1 Timothy 1:6-9 tells us

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.”

            Something to note: The same effect as the temptation of riches and the lusts of other things have also the cares of this world. They also bring fruitlessness. Therefore if you want to be a Christian who brings forth fruit, i.e. a real Christian and not just a Christian by name, you should remove the thorns of the cares, riches and pleasures of life and prevent them from coming back again. You need to take action. You need to change, and God will help you in this if you really want it. The temptation in the third category of the parable of the sower does not come through persecution and affliction by the devil. Here the temptation takes more subtle forms, which however require again our resistance. Caring about what this world cares (“the cares of this world”), wanting riches or lusting after other things are very dangerous. They are thorns that have to be removed. As we saw Paul saying:

Romans 13:14

“put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to [fulfill its] lusts.”

“Make no provision for the flesh” means that we should not take care of the flesh and its desires. Instead we should feed ourselves with the pure milk of the Word so that we grow through it (1 Peter 2:2).  

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Tempter

 On the contrary to the tests coming from the Lord, the temptations, the trials with evil and traps whose purpose is to harm us, are thing whose originator is not God but His enemy and our enemy: the devil. Here is what the Word of God tells us concerning the one that is behind temptation:

 Matthew 4:1

 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

 Matthew 4:3

“And when the tempter came to him [Jesus], he said, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

 Mark 1:13

 “And he [Jesus] was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.”

 Luke 4:2

 “Being tempted for forty days by the devil.”

 Luke 4:13

 “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him [Jesus] for a season.”

 1 Corinthians 7:5

“Do not deprive one another, except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

 1 Thessalonians 3:5

 “For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.”

 Revelation 2:10

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer: behold, the devil shall cast [some] of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

 As we said, many believe that the temptations and the trials with evil are coming from God i.e. that He brings evil in our life to make us better. This however is not true. The tempter, the one who tempts with evil, is not God but the devil and he does it either directly or indirectly. Let us now see the forms and the means that a temptation may take on the next article. Enjoy the reading    

The Means And Forms Of Temptation

 1. Temptations coming through people who oppose God and His Word

           Jesus and his disciples came many times face to face with this type of temptation and ill-thought trial:

 Matthew 16:1

 “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and tempting him asked that he would show them a sign from heaven.”

 Matthew 19:3

 “The Pharisees also came to him, tempting him, and saying to him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?””

 Matthew 22:18

 “But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you tempt me, you hypocrites?”

 Matthew 22:35

 ”Then one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,”

 Mark 8:11

 “And the Pharisees came out, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him.

 Mark 10:2

“And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce [his] wife?” tempting him.”

 Mark 12:13-15

 “And they send to him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch him in his words. When they had come, they said to him, Master, we know that you are true, and care about no one; for you do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, Why do you tempt me? Bring me a denarius, that I may see it.”

 Luke 11:15-16

 “But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven.”

 John 8:3-6

“And the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman caught in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they said to him, Master, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what do you say? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.”

 Acts 20:19

“Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears and temptations, which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews.”

 1 Peter 4:12-13

 “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”   As we see from these passages, a way through which the devil tempts/tries the people of God is through other people and through persecution and affliction for the Word of God. We will examine how to deal with this type of temptation, later in this article. But first let’s see the other forms a temptation may take.

   2. Temptations coming through one’s own lusts

The lusts of the flesh is another way through which somebody can be tempted:

   James 1:13-14

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

 1 Timothy 6:9

 “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and [into] many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.”

          In this category the source of temptation is a man’s own lusts i.e. desires of the old man that are followed through, as for example the desire to be rich. Notice the definite in the above passages: these passages do not say that when you are drawn away by your own lusts and enticed you will perhaps fall into temptation. No! What they say is that you will, definitely, be tempted. Similarly they do not say that if you desire to be rich you may, perhaps, fall into a snare. No! What they say is that you will, surely, fall into a snare, the same snare that drowns men in destruction and perdition! As Paul also tells us:

 Galatians 5:17

 “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”

 Romans 8:7

 “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.”

          The temptations of this category is something that we decide to enter, drawn away and enticed by our flesh, the old man. The result? Again let us keep the high volume of the Scripture: sin, destruction, perdition, death. Following through with the desires of the old men is a very serious matter with the most serious consequences. Let us not deceive ourselves, thinking perhaps that because we are saved by grace this means that we are now free to go ahead and follow the desires of the old man and somehow escape the consequences. Galatians 6:7-8 tells us:

 “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

 What should we do then? The Word is again very clear:

 Romans 13:11-14

“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to [fulfill its] lusts.”

 Ephesians 4:20-24

 “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

“the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God,bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”

 And Proverbs 4:23

“Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”

   In all these passages the main acting part is not God but us. It is us that are called to put off the old man and put on the new. It is us that are called to renew our mind and it is us that are called to guard our heart with all diligence. Yes without God’s help there is not much that we can do. But God’s help come to those who are willing to follow Him. Let us not deceive ourselves that somehow we will be fruitful Christians, while at the same time our hearts and minds go behind the lusts of the old man. This is not possible! It is indeed black and white. It is either the one (God) or the other (the world). A mixture will not work!

 3. Temptation coming directly from the devil

          In Matthew 4:1-11 we find the devil speaking directly to Jesus. But how did he do it? The answer is in the spirit, by “revelation”, so to speak. I would like to devote some time to this category, as, due to the ignorance that exists, we frequently see people attributing to God whatever comes from the spiritual ground. But it is not like this. I used to believe that since I’m a Christian the devil cannot speak to me. But he can – he did it in the case of Jesus. If we decide to ignore this possibility and consider everything that comes from the spiritual ground as coming from God, then we are opening a door to the devil to drive us astray by giving us false information, which we believe, because we think - since it so clearly comes from the spiritual ground – that it comes from God. Empirically I have observed this happening when people grave for something; they grave for something so much that when they pray about it they can hear only the answer they want. In other words, they are not neutral, wanting to do the will of God, whatever this will may be. In contrast, they just want to get a confirmation for what they so much desire. They are lusting for something, thus opening a door to the devil to give them false “spiritual” information, which when followed will lead them to great troubles. That’s why you have to judge what you receive as spiritual information with the Word. Does what you have supposedly heard from the spiritual ground align with the Word of God both in its content and in the way it flows? If not, you should reject it without question. Sadly many brothers do not check what they have supposedly heard from the spiritual ground to see whether it squares with the Word. For example, I have seen people who say that are Christians committing adultery, divorcing their Christian spouses and marrying others (who also say that are Christians), and, as if all these were not enough, they justify their actions by saying that allegedly God told them to do so! Could God ever tell them to do something like this? NO! How do we know it? Because such a guidance would be entirely opposite to the Word of God! What truly happened, and the Word very clearly and plainly explains it, is that they didn’t watch out and were drawn away by their own lust and enticed, thus opening the door to the devil. If really somebody told them to act like this, it was not God but the devil. The Word of God is therefore the measure against which any information that comes from the spiritual ground should be measured and evaluated. Jesus also did this when he used the Word of God to fight Satan and his temptations. His answers were all starting with “it is written”. 

        Concerning the superiority of God’s Word against any “revelation”, even if it comes in an extraordinary way, Paul was very clear:

 Galatians 1:8

 “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

         Even if an angel from heaven - and obviously such an angel would be a fallen angel, an angel of darkness, as exactly Satan is – came down and started preaching to them a gospel different than the one Paul, through revelation of Jesus Christ, received and preached to them, this angel would be accursed. Getting information from the spiritual ground is not enough. This information has to also come from the right source of the spiritual ground. Else it is a temptation and an attack of devil. And to know to source of the information, you have to evaluate it against the only valid measure: the measure of the Word of God.