The Essential Nature and Revealing Activity of God.
In the beginning, man walked with God. But since the fall, God revealed Himself, first in ancient times through holy prophets, led by the Holy Spirit, and chosen as instruments to reveal His nature and plan of salvation; and then through His Son, Jesus, the Christ. Jesus demonstrated the love of God, unveiled the good news of the kingdom of God, and purchased salvation for all mankind through His death on the cross. Jesus appointed apostles to spread the Good News of salvation, and the Father empowered them with the Holy Spirit, so that all things in heaven and earth could be brought under His authority.
In all of this, from the days of the patriarchs to this day, the Holy Spirit of God has been at work, revealing the nature and plan of God in the minds and hearts of men, motivating them in their consciences to turn to God. He inspired His chosen vessels to speak and record His words in the Holy Scriptures, again revealing the essential nature of God. From His Word, we find that God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, immutable, and eternal, and we see that the attributes of God’s character include love, righteousness, holiness, integrity, justice, mercy, truth, patience, kindness, and faithfulness, just to name a few. These attributes and the power of God are revealed and realized in the lives of those, who, by faith, trust in Christ for the remission of sins, and receive His Holy Spirit.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
The nature of God and how He reveals Himself to us is the whole foundation for our existence. Our purpose, our entire reason for being here, rests on God’s sovereign will and His intense love for us. He created us for His glory, but even more than that, He created us for deep and personal relationship with Him. Even though His creation resisted His will, He created a means to redeem all that was lost by sending His Son. And He intends to keep those He redeems by the power of His Holy Spirit. It is all about relationship with the Father. He reveals Himself to us because He loves us and wants us to maintain a relationship with Him. He wants us to walk with Him as Adam did in Eden.
When sin entered into the world, man was separated from God. The death that occurred in Adam was a spiritual death. God provided a temporary means of atonement for sin through the sacrifice of animals, but it was not a lasting and complete restoration that could provide freedom from guilt and freedom from the power of sin. The ultimate plan of God was to send His perfect Son to become a holy sacrifice, and to do exactly what no other sacrifice was ever able to do. He would not only pay the debt that would reconcile all sin for all mankind, providing complete remission from sin, He would also defeat sin, and the power it has over us. He would give His life on a cross, but would then also take up His life again, return to the Father, and reign victorious over God’s kingdom forever.
God revealed this plan through the Old Testament prophets, and when the time was right, the Son emptied Himself of God’s glory, and came to us in the flesh. The Holy Spirit conceived Him, and He was born of a virgin. He became “God with us.” He was both God and man. Although He did not display the full glory of God, His nature was unchanged. He came from God, and had no other Father but God. He was the man who came from heaven to fully restore the relationship lost between man and God.
The restoration of the relationship with God meant that sin would have to be eradicated in the lives of men and women, and spiritual rebirth would have to take place. When Jesus began His ministry here on earth, He preached a message of “Good News.” It was the message that God sent Him to free us from our sins, and bring us into His Heavenly Kingdom. The eradication of sin and the spiritual rebirth come through Jesus. By believing in Him, and receiving Him, as Savior and Lord, we are cleansed from sin and born into the family of God. This is the saving mission of Jesus – to deliver us from the bondage of sin, and bring us back into relationship and fellowship with God. Jesus accomplished it by His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and His resurrection to new life.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
The saving mission of Jesus is the primary focus of everything that God has been doing since the very beginning. It has been the plan of God from before the foundations of world, and was revealed even at Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. God announced to the serpent, “… I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The mission of Christ is, in essence, the message of the Bible, and introducing Christ and His message to the world is the work of the church. It will remain the primary focus of everything God is doing in the world until Christ returns. The work of Christ is to save the lost and bring them into His Kingdom. And leading them to Him is the work of all who receive Him.
The Scriptures talk about overcoming the flesh, and “crucifying” the flesh, with its passions and desires – putting it to death. Entire purification of “the flesh” therefore requires something more; it requires total consecration – a conscious decision to be set apart in devotion to serving God, the cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit, and a continual walk with Him. This is known in the Scriptures as sanctification. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit to purify you completely, and make you a holy vessel, ready to be used by God.
Jesus’ work on the cross was God’s gift of salvation. But there was another gift to be given – the gift of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said about Jesus that “He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” fire being a symbol of purification and sanctification. Jesus prayed on the night before his death that God would sanctify His disciples, purifying them and setting them apart to make Him known in the world. And Jesus, just before His ascension, told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the gift that the Father promised – the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, flames of fire appeared over each of them, testifying to the purifying work of God in them, and that they were indeed sanctified as God’s instruments. The Holy Spirit also empowered them to be bold witnesses for Christ, enabling them to testify even in the languages of the people throughout the world of that day. But that was just the beginning. As the church quickly grew, the Holy Spirit also brought unique spiritual gifts as He filled the lives of each believer.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to edify, or build up, the church. They are practical gifts that enable believers to minister and serve effectively, and bring unity to the body of Christ. This is the means by which the Holy Spirit administers the church.
The gifts include gifts of prophecy (forth-telling the word of God), messages of wisdom and knowledge, evangelism, teaching, exhortation/encouraging, service, leadership, government, showing mercy, giving, faith, miracles, healing, discernment, speaking in languages, and interpretation of languages. Gifts are given as the Spirit sees fit. He may give just one, or any combination of gifts to the believer; but all are to be exercised in love.
While these gifts do indeed testify to the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer, the fruit of the Spirit is actually the true and undeniable evidence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The believer who consistently displays these attributes is filled with the Holy Spirit.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
The work of the Holy Spirit, both in the individual lives of believers, and the church as a whole, is essential in several ways. His work is what enables individuals, and the church, to remain pure and holy. He is the seal and guarantee of our eternal inheritance. He is the one who enables our witness to be powerful and effective. And He is the one who equips us with godly attributes and gifts to function and serve each other in the body of Christ
Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized, marking the beginning of His ministry. John’s baptism was one of repentance from sin, but Jesus entered into baptism even though He had no sin to repent from. He told John the Baptist that He was doing it “so that all righteousness would be fulfilled.” It was right for Jesus to do it. And if Jesus considered it right and important to do, why would anyone claiming to be Christ-like think it is not important himself? Jesus also commissioned his disciples, commanding them to make disciples and baptize them.
The term “baptize” means to immerse or dip, and we know that Jesus went “into” the Jordan River when He was baptized. Immersion was the mode of baptism for the early church, and is the still the practice in the church today.
Baptism for us is a public statement of a believer’s repentance from sin and regeneration in Christ. It symbolizes the believer’s death to sin, and being raised to new life in Christ. As a symbol and testimony of faith in Christ, baptism has no “saving power,” and there are clear exceptions to being baptized. The thief on the cross, who was crucified with Jesus, entered paradise with Christ, even though he was not baptized. But any believer, who has the opportunity to be baptized, should be baptized.
Jesus ordained the Lord’s Supper on the night before He was crucified. He reinterpreted the meaning and symbolism of the Passover Seder to refer to His death as the redemption for God’s people. The broken unleavened bread was now to be a remembrance of His body broken on the cross, and the Cup of Redemption was to be a remembrance of His blood that was poured out to purchase our salvation. Partaking of these is not only a remembrance or memorial of Jesus’ death; it is also a symbol of unity and participation with Him, and in Him.
Jesus also ordained the washing of feet on the night before He was crucified. He wrapped a towel around Himself, poured water in a basin, and began washing His disciples’ feet. When He finished, He said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
The only person who would wash another person’s feet was a servant. Jesus was teaching his disciples to be humble servants of one another. The example Jesus set in washing their feet was to be a symbolic reminder of that. So He told them that as He has washed their feet, they also should wash one another’s feet. He was specific about it. He ordained this practice because He wanted His followers to remember to serve each other humbly.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
The ordinances of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and foot washing are highly significant symbols of our faith, our relationship with Christ, and our relationship with fellow Christians. When we experience and celebrate them, we are following Christ’s example, being obedient to Him, and making our faith and participation with Him known publicly. Jesus knew we needed reminders like these, and He knew that we would be blessed as we participate in them. These ordinances are essential to church life, and help believers to examine their relationship and walk with the Lord. They bring us close together, and especially, they bring us close Christ.
When God presented Adam with the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He was told that He could eat of any fruit except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He was told that the day he would eat of it, he would surely die. He was given a command, a warning, and a choice. Life was great for Adam, and he had no reason even to bother with the forbidden tree. He had everything to sustain him, and everything to enjoy – both physically and spiritually. But he always had a choice. He was given the free will to choose, and for a time, he stayed away from the forbidden tree.
It took outside intervention to cause Adam and Eve to consider the tree. But when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, the temptation, even though it was presented deceptively, was nevertheless presented as a clear violation of God’s command. And when they gave in, sin was born in the world. It was a conscious and willful transgression, and sin was born in them.
Everything was about to change for mankind. The results were devastating, both physically and spiritually. Their recognition of nakedness was only the beginning. They were banished from the life-sustaining garden (most notably, the tree of life), and thrust into a world where the ground was cursed. They would experience toil and pain, and worst of all they would be separated from God. They were removed from the surroundings of life, and placed into the realm of death. Had they stayed away from the fruit, they would have lived forever, but now they would experience death – again both physically and spiritually. Physical death would come later, but their spiritual death occurred the moment they were separated from God. It was not a death that meant they no longer had a spirit, but rather that sin had corrupted it. It was in a state where they could not continue to relate and fellowship with God the way they did before. Man was no longer holy.
Everything changed for mankind that day. Sin had entered in and serious damage was done at the core of man’s being. What the Bible calls “the flesh” had taken preeminence over God’s command; and therefore, the flesh – man’s chemistry, feelings, desire, etc. – in order to satisfy its desires, was calling the shots instead of God. And now he was operating with a compromised conscience, a hardening heart, and an empty soul, as well. Man was on his own. He had put his flesh ahead of God’s perfect design. The fact that Adam, who had the best of everything, gave into his flesh, was proof that the flesh of every descendant of his would be vulnerable to sin, because their flesh would come from his. So as subsequent generations followed, now with the additional burdens of the curse and the accumulating consequences of sin, both physical and moral decay followed with them. And this is what every generation since Adam has had to deal with.
We aren’t born with Adam’s sin, nor do we inherit any guilt from it, but we are born with a nature and a flesh like his. We call this a “depraved” nature because it’s the same thing that caused Adam to tend toward sin that causes all men to tend toward sin. It’s the reason we all affirm what the Bible says: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And that’s why this nature is often referred to as the “sinful nature.”
Sin is the violation of God’s standard, and we become guilty of sin when we willfully violate it or become aware that we have violated that standard. But since we are born with a conscience, and God has revealed His nature and His will throughout history and in so many ways, we are all without excuse. Virtually everyone, except young children, recognizes sinfulness to some degree. And, as you would then expect, we all also recognize the vulnerable nature within. But we always have a choice whether or not to sin.
Human sinfulness is the end result of an unchecked flesh. By moral teaching and discipline people are often able to have some control of this deranged nature, but this alone can never be enough to completely master it. Human nature is weak, and God’s standard is high. There are many ways to fall. Sin comes from many angles. Sin isn’t just in hurtful things we do, but also in neglecting things we should do. And as if that were not enough, there are sins of the heart.
Moral teaching and discipline by themselves have never been enough to overcome the flesh. Violence, hatred, and sin continues to rage in the world, even though the vast majority of people claim to believe in God, and most claim to live by religious or moral standards. How tragic! Sinfulness and the nature prone to sin can be overcome. The Scripture says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature (flesh) with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” But clearly, many do not live like that – many are deceived.
The worst of it is that there are eternal implications for those who continue in sin. A time of judgement is on God’s agenda, and the time we have here on earth is all the time we get to respond to the salvation and complete cleansing that God offers through Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. Once our time on earth is finished, we face eternity with the choices we have made while on earth. Our destiny is not predetermined before we are born; it is determined here and now by our own free will. There are only two eternal destinies: eternity with God in heaven, and eternity in darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
Sin and sinfulness are the source of every problem that exists in the world today. Every death, every disease, every heartache, every pain! Every conflict, every violent act, every abuse! Abandonment, hunger, poverty, misappropriation, hatred, persecution, perversion, etc! They all have their root in sin. No peace treaties, no new laws, no political solutions, no social programs, no generous donations, no miracle drugs, no technology, etc., can put
In order to meet the need, God’s gift of salvation had a lot to accomplish. It had to reconcile the heavy debt and penalty of sin. It had to remove the guilt of sin. It had to renew and restore man’s spirit. It had to repair a seared conscience. It had to enable power over the marred human nature. And it had to restore the relationship with God.
God’s heart was to forgive, but forgiveness alone could not accomplish all that. God is also righteous and just. The price had to be paid to redeem the debt before man could be released from the penalty of sin, and he would have to be justified and acquitted of his guilt to be pronounced clean and completely free of the sins committed. But that was still not enough. Dealing with the damaged condition of man’s spirit, conscience, and heart required spiritual regeneration.
Regeneration is spiritual rebirth by the Spirit of God. It renews and restores the spirit, mind, and heart so that we can relate to God and walk with Him in spirit, and it enables us to tap into the wisdom, nature, and power of God. This is where it becomes possible to overcome the tendency to sin. And because it is rebirth by God’s Spirit, regeneration is in fact the means by which we become children of God – “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or of a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Salvation then effectively deals with our past sins and with our spiritual condition. But it is important to understand that it does not deal with the human nature. In salvation we have spiritual resources to help us to overcome temptation, doubts, and trials, but the human nature is still there with its weaknesses, passions and desires. The tendency toward sin remains within us. So while God’s plan of salvation is thorough to save us, and even to empower us to overcome, human nature is still a significant factor to contend with. If sin creeps back in, guilt returns and it has to be dealt with all over again.
It is the tendency of human nature along with the staggering price for sin that made it necessary for God to send His Son to become the ultimate sacrifice for sin. The penalty for sin was death, so atonement for sin required a death as payment. But who should die on behalf of someone’s sin to save him? A death was required, but if the goal of salvation is to save and restore life, general human sacrifice was certainly not the answer, especially in light of the fact that mankind’s nature now was to tend toward sin. How many lives would it cost as people continued in sin?
God provided a temporary solution with the sacrifice of animals. God’s standard was to sacrifice the first and the best of their animals to atone for their sins – the purest and most costly they had. And while it did indeed make payment for their sins, many of the other goals of salvation could not be realized. The Hebrew writer says that sacrifices had to be “repeated endlessly year after year” because they did not “make perfect those who would draw near for worship.” He continues, “If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Remission of sins and the power to overcome sinfulness was impossible with animal sacrifice. The sacrifice of animals was only a shadow of what was to come.
To fully accomplish all that was needed to save mankind completely, God the Father sent His Son, His purest and most costly Lamb, to die as the ultimate atoning sacrifice for all sin. The Father sent His Son to empty Himself of God’s glory, become completely human, and live a perfect and sinless life so the full payment for the sins of mankind would be valid when He gave His life as the sacrifice. He was not only sent to defeat sin, but also to defeat death in resurrection. Referring to Jesus Christ, the Hebrew writer says, “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God … because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are made holy.” As he continues (all quotes here are from Hebrews 10 NIV), he also points to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ sacrifice: “The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: ‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’ Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” Jesus came to save the world from their sins. Complete salvation is in Jesus Christ alone.
To receive and experience this free gift of salvation there are several important steps you have to take. (1) You have to believe that Jesus is that ultimate sacrifice for your sin as described above. (2) You need to humbly confess your sin, agreeing with God that you have offended Him and violated His Will. (3) You must repent and turn from your sin. (4) You have to receive Christ, inviting Him into your heart and making Him Lord of your life. If you take these steps with genuine faith, and you approach Him with a contrite spirit, He will faithfully cleanse and purify you from all your sin. Assurance will fill your heart as His Spirit confirms in your spirit that you are indeed a child of God.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
Salvation through Jesus Christ is God’s gracious gift of love to a sin-sick world. He offers it to all, but only those who accept the offer experience the freedom of being pardoned and declared “not guilty,” the transforming power of regeneration, and the blessing and joy of being a child of God. We carry this message of salvation. As disciples and ambassadors of Christ, we are living examples of what it means to be children of God, and we are commissioned to extend this offer to our community and to the world.
To be holy means to be free from sin. It is purity of life. Salvation deals with the problem of sin head on. It provides cleansing from sin and restoration of purity. And it enables power and resources to deal with the old nature in regeneration. Because of this, Christians have no valid reason to be overcome again by sin. What is the armor of God for that Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians? Truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer, are all spiritual weapons that enable us to stand. And that’s really just a short list. We should be well equipped as children of God to face any kind of trial, including temptation that arises from the human nature. For temptation, God even promises to provide “a way out so you stand up under it.”
The Scriptures are full of warnings to stay away from sin and evil. There are even long lists of specific sins to be avoided to make it clear. What is all this for, if not to maintain holiness? One of these lists in Galatians 5, ends with, “ I warn you as I did before, that those who live like that will not inherit the kingdom of God,” and the context clearly refers to those in the church. Jesus also often told people to “go and sin no more,” and He gave plenty of warnings to the wicked generation of His day and to the Pharisees. Jesus came to save people from their sins, not to have them continue in them.
But Jesus also sent the Holy Spirit to sanctify. The Holy Spirit is the greatest help in living in holiness. Living and walking by the Spirit empowers you with His attributes to live a holy and godly life, free from sin, overpowering the human nature. Purification through the cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit in sanctification therefore provides the fullest extent of God’s blessing and resources that a person can have in this life.
The Church of God is the pure and spotless bride of Christ. She will be presented pure and holy to Christ. True believers can, have, and must avoid sin. Again, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
Holiness is essential for the Christian. There is no room for sin. Drawing near to God and staying near to Him is imperative. The best thing you can do is consecrate yourself wholly to God and ask Him to sanctify you, and baptize you with His Holy Spirit.
When Peter made that confession of faith in Christ, the Church had not yet been established. On the Day of Pentecost, however, Peter stood among the thousands who were gathered there and proclaimed: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” That message cut to the heart of the people and they believed. They repented and were baptized and three thousand were added to their number that day. This is the day the Church was established and it was established on the same confession of faith that Peter had made to Jesus much earlier – that Jesus was the Christ.
As people believed in Him, repented, and received Him as Lord and Christ, they were added to the Church, becoming members within it. It was the Spirit of God convicting the hearts of the people as the Apostles spoke that led them to receive their Messiah. It was the presence and work of God that drew them and gathered them together into His Church. Luke writes, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Everything is the same today. It is the Lord who continues to add to His Church daily those who are being saved. Membership is through salvation in Jesus Christ alone.
The first Church had no building, but they gathered together in the temple courts every day. They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They would break bread together in their homes and they were happy and praised God together. And they gave generously and made sure everyone’s needs were met. It was a natural and blessed environment, and it grew like wildfire. People were being saved every day. This is how the Church of God is to be characterized today. It is the gathering of those who have received Christ for joyful praise and worship, prayer, breaking of bread, fellowship, teaching and learning, giving generously, meeting needs, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to those who are lost.
The Church of God is also characterized in other ways in the Scriptures. It is the body of Christ, with Jesus as the head and each of the members with individual gifts and functions working together. It is characterized as the pure and holy Bride of Christ. Paul speaks of the Church as God’s field, God’s building, and the temple of God. Peter says we are “living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a spiritual priesthood” – “a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation.” John, in the Revelation, saw the Church in the vision as “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” Later he saw it as “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” And the writer of Hebrews calls it Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, the assembly of thousands of angels in joyful assembly, the church of the firstborn.
In all of these, Jesus Christ is the head, the capstone, the cornerstone, the husband, and Lord of the Church. He is the founder and foundation of the Church. Jesus is the head and the Holy Spirit administers the Church, equipping its members with gifts, calling them to serve, and revealing God’s wisdom and the truths of His Word to them. But it is all for a purpose. It was God’s purpose from before the creation of the world that all things in heaven and on earth would be gathered together under one head, Jesus Christ. That is what the Church is all about – the gathering together of all who will come under Jesus, the Head.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
Becoming a member of God’s Church, means receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and being born into His family. As we gather together, proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, we are the joyful assembly of God’s people – we are the Church of the Living God. We are spiritually bound together in Christ as members of His body. Our worship, our service to one another and to Him, and our witness to the community, must be genuine and full of the love and holiness of God as a natural extension of who we have become as children of God. The fruit of the Holy Spirit, His gifts, and His power must be evident in our lives, in our homes, and as we come together. And His purpose, to bring all things in heaven and earth under Jesus Christ, must be realized as the Church grows and integrates those whom the Lord adds to her number.
Clearly, Jesus intends to hold the Church together and keep unity in it through the work of those who are called to these special tasks. The body has to remain consistent with the mind, will, and desires of the head, and so it is with the body of Christ. The body of Christ must function according to Jesus Christ the Head, and it is these ministers who have the role of perfecting and maintaining a consistent functioning body. They are the vital organs that, through truth and love, keep the body healthy and growing in Christ and free from being infected by outside agents.
Apostles, in the formal sense, were those who had personally been with Christ and were specifically commissioned by Him to establish the Church and its ministry. They were the ones who were sent to convey the original teachings and message of Christ. The office of apostle ceased with the death of the original twelve disciples, Mathias, and Paul.
Prophets are actually preachers who encourage, strengthen, and comfort in bringing God’s Word to the Church (see 1 Corinthians 14:3). In New Testament times, some did in fact at times foretell the future (Agabus in Acts 11), but primarily they preached, “forth-telling” the message of God to build up, exhort, and comfort. These are preachers.
Evangelists are those who are called to convey the gospel message to bring those who are lost to faith and salvation in Christ – and sometimes also to establish new congregations. They typically do not have a permanent congregation to minister in, but travel from place to place specifically seeking to reach the lost.
Teachers are those who convey the truth of Christ and God’s Word by enlightenment. They stimulate the minds of the congregation to knowledge and understanding. They reveal the orderly and logical truths, principles, and commands in Scripture, and help to bring meaning and practical application to them.
Pastors are the shepherds of the Church – those who feed the flock of God. They are the overseers of the local congregation. The term bishop means the same thing, and actually the terms elder, bishop, overseer, and pastor are used interchangeably. And also, in the Ephesians 4 passage at the beginning, the term pastor and teacher both refer to the same person and office as well. There may be overlap in all of these offices as several spiritual gifts may be given to an individual and a minister can perform more than one office.
There is one other office that we find in the Scripture. It is the office of a deacon. A deacon is one who serves, assists, or helps the other ministers or the congregation. This is an important role, as a deacon’s faithful service extends the capabilities of the ministry, and provides effective ministry to the congregation. There are no specific responsibilities given for a deacon in the Bible, but the qualifications are very nearly the same as that of an elder in the church. A deacon, therefore, can be asked or expected, according to his or her gifts, to do the same things any other minister in the church can do.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
The Scriptural offices of the Church are essential to keep it healthy and growing, and to protect it from being divided and destroyed by false teaching. Jesus gives and apportions gifts through the Holy Spirit and calls men and women to these leadership roles to lead, feed, and serve His flocks in truth and love.
Jesus’ prayer wasn’t simply that the eleven with Him that night would be unified, but that they, and all those who hear their message, would become one in Christ and one in God. He prayed that they would become integrated in God in complete unity – that they would be in God, and that God would be in them. And it was all for a purpose. It was so that the world would believe and know that the Father sent Jesus and loves those who come to believe in Him. Here’s the text:
John 17:20-23 NIV
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Christian unity is God’s will for the entire Church and it is essential to effectively convey the message of Christ and the love of God. It binds us together in Christ and in God, and it is a witness to the world of God’s love. This goes along with what Jesus told the disciples earlier that evening when He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It says that love for each other is the glue of Christian unity, and that it is a display, like a billboard, for the entire world to see.
This has a powerful effect. It is like a magnet for people who are starving for true love and searching for God. They see the real thing – real love – and they see God. And since Christian unity is saturated in love and in God, it enables us to reach out and connect with people who are different from us – people of different culture, race, gender, class, and economic status – people who God loves. His love in us enables us to overcome our prejudices, bias’, and fears. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And in his letter to the Ephesians, he says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” This is the church of God, assembled and integrated in unity, in love, and in God.
Unity, however, is not automatic in the Church. God has certainly provided everything we need for unity to flourish, but it is still a matter of our cooperation with His will. Jesus commanded that we love one another. It is a matter of obedience. Paul, again in Ephesians says, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope when you were called- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” God is over all, through all, and in all; and He gave Christ and the Spirit, but we have to make the effort to keep the unity. It is a command, a task, and a calling that requires humility, gentleness, patience, and love. And these require the Holy Spirit to be present and active in the lives of regenerated believers.
This passage also indicates that Christian unity is centered on some fundamental truths that cannot be compromised. There is one body, not many denominations. There is only one Holy Spirit, no spirit guides or others to listen to. There is just one hope, salvation in no other than Christ. There is one Lord, Jesus Christ alone. There is one faith, not many ways to God. There is one baptism, only the baptism of repentance and regeneration in Christ. There is only one God and Father in heaven, no other gods to run after. These basic truths and the unwavering authority of the Holy Scriptures in which they are revealed and defined form the basis around which we are unified.
What we see in churches across the globe today is not necessarily this pristine picture of unity. Human structure, institution, and ideology have gotten in the way in many cases. When these take precedence, the Spirit is quenched, love dies, and the message gets lost. Where the active influence of the Holy Spirit and devotion to the fundamental truths central to unity are absent, true Christian unity is not possible. Real Christian unity, however, exists and flourishes in those churches and among believers that are Christ centered, that walk in the Spirit of God, and exercise the love of God. It is a present reality in the universal church of God. “ … So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5)
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
Christian unity is not an option for genuine Christians. It is a characteristic of the body of Christ. It is a natural byproduct of being one in Christ, one in the Holy Spirit, and one in the Father. We are one with anybody who is one in God as we are one in Him. Love for one another is the glue of unity as well as the sign to the world that Jesus brought the love of God into the world, and that it is available to all who would believe and come to Him. We have to keep in step with the Spirit of God and make sure love and unity prevails in the Church. We have to resist allowing institution, organization, and errant philosophy to quench the Spirit and the love that keeps us one. And we must reach others, in love, to bring them out of bondage and darkness, and into the body of Christ.
The whole concept of Christian stewardship stems from our relationship with God. Jesus confirmed the Father’s command when He said we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbors as ourselves. He is essentially saying that we are to love Him with everything we are, and everything we’ve got. This is a liberal and demonstrative love that is to be generously manifested in the way we express ourselves to God and to those around us. It must come from deep within, emotionally and spiritually, from the heart and soul – the very core of our being. It must come consciously, thoughtfully, and intently from the mind. It must come physically, actively, and materially from our strength. As we become one with God in Christ Jesus, the true demonstration of love for God and love for those around us becomes a natural expression. And as we walk in the Spirit of God, our understanding of God’s sovereignty, compassion, and generosity become evident. He guides us and molds us to become like Him – to use all that He gives us lovingly and wisely for His glory and His kingdom.
God has entrusted us with so much in this life, and if He entrusts us with it, He expects us to be wise and faithful with it. The more we have the more we are responsible and accountable for. Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25) illustrates that God expects us to make good use of what we are given, and that we will have to give an account for it.
God also wants us to be generous. In fact, God loves it when we are generous. Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 9 (vv. 6-7,12-13): “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. … This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” God loves it when we give generously from the heart. God prompts us in our hearts to give to help those in need, and when we do, we glorify Him. It creates an expression of thanks and praise to God. God Himself is generous, and He wants us to be like Him.
Financial resources are no different than any others that God entrusts us with. Everything already said here applies the same way to finances. In essence, they come from God, we are entrusted with them, we are responsible and accountable to use them wisely and faithfully, we are to use them lovingly and wisely for God’s glory and His kingdom, and we are to help others, giving cheerfully and generously from the heart. But God has given us a model for the portion that we are to give to God.
Throughout the Old Testament, God guided those who desired to worship Him faithfully, in offering a portion of their possessions to Him. It was always to be from the “first” and the “best” of their possessions in honor of God. Anything less than that was unacceptable, even offensive, to God. Whether it was a sacrifice, an offering, or a tithe, it was to be from the best of the first-fruit of their labor.
The tithe is a tenth of what is received. This was the model of the LORD’s portion throughout the Scriptures. When Abram defeated the king of Elam, he brought a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of the “Most High God.” When Jacob had his encounter with God at Bethel, he vowed that if God would watch over him and provide for him, he would give God a tenth of everything he received. God instructed the nation of Israel to bring their tithes to Him. Jesus said to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21). And He told the Pharisees that they should not only give the tithe, but they also should not neglect justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42). The first tenth of what we receive is the tithe – it is the LORD’s portion. In honor to the “Most High God,” what we give back to Him must be the first and the best.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
The reason people have difficulty with stewardship, generosity, and tithing is because they have a false understanding of God, and a false understanding of what belongs to Him. Genuine Christian stewardship is only possible if you recognize that everything belongs to God, and that we are caretakers entrusted with what He has given us. It is only possible if we love the LORD with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbors as ourselves. It is only possible if we submit ourselves to God through Jesus Christ, and make Him Lord of all we are and all we have. And it is only possible if we walk in the Spirit of God. All of what we give to God, and all of what we do for Him, for others, and for ourselves, must be honoring to God. What we give must be submitted from the heart. It must be done generously and cheerfully. It must be the first and the best of what we have received. In Malachi (3:8-12), God said that when we hold back in giving (tithes and offerings), we rob God. But when we give from the heart, He pours out His blessings.
The Bible is the inspired Word of God. The ancient prophets and apostles were inspired to record all that the Spirit of God led them to write. We have an example of this in Jeremiah 30:1-2 “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.’”
But not everything that they were led to write was a direct quote from God. There are many things that are recorded in the Bible that are historical or circumstantial in nature that give details, perspective, and context without any quotes preceded or concluded with, “Thus saith the LORD.” The Spirit of God, however, led them to write all of these things.
Whether God spoke to them and told them exactly what to say or write, or whether they were giving an account of what they saw happening, or simply expressing praise to God, they were inspired to record these things, being led by the Holy Spirit. Yes the Scriptures were written by men, and even from their own perspectives and personalities, but nevertheless, they were completely inspired by God. Listen to Peter as he describes how the Scriptures came about. “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV) The Bible is clearly not just another book written by men. It is the collection of writings that were inspired by the Holy Spirit to convey and reveal Divine truth and knowledge.
The collection of the original autographs, written in the original languages, is the inspired word of God. Manuscript copies of the originals have been marvelously, even miraculously, preserved and have proven the Bible to be the most well attested and accurate of any ancient literary work ever – by far. The skeptics who claim that the Bible is full of errors, modifications, and contradictions have no foundation for their claims, especially in the scope of the manuscripts. Translations to modern languages present other issues, however.
While the translations in modern languages are certainly useful, convenient, and mostly sufficient to convey the Word of God, the original meaning is not always immediately apparent in them. Study leading back to the original languages and history is sometimes needed to recover the meaning. It would be difficult, therefore, to say that translations are inspired in the same sense as the original autographs. But it is important to understand that because the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit, the very same Spirit who inspired them can help us in our understanding of them as well. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would remind them of everything He said. So even with some of the difficulty in translation, the Holy Spirit can, and does, reveal the truth that God intended.
The Scriptures, however, are actually not fully comprehendible without revelation by the Spirit of God. The spiritual nature of God’s words go beyond mere human understanding. Notice what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The Scriptures come from the Spirit of God, and can only be fully understood with His revelation. Heresy and false teaching are the result of interpreting the Scriptures without the Spirit.
Most of the references to the “Scriptures” in the New Testament are pointers to the Old Testament. But the New Testament is inspired Scripture just like the Old Testament. Peter reveals that Paul’s letters are to be considered equally as “Scripture” with all the others. Listen to what he says in 2 Peter 3:15-16. “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” So the letters of the apostles are also Scripture, and God-inspired, as much as those of the Old Testament prophets. The same is true for the gospels, as the message of the gospel is referred to as the “word of God” over and over again throughout the New Testament.
Everything we find in the Bible, all the prophecy, all the instruction, all the history, all the triumphs, all the failures, all the prayers, all the praise, all the teaching, all the revelation, all the wisdom, are inspired by God through His Spirit to lead us to Him in Jesus Christ, and to equip us to serve Him. It is God’s life-giving Word, and all of His authority is embodied in it. Paul, in explaining this to Timothy, said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV) There is nothing important in life that God does not address in the Bible.
God’s Word is God’s witness. It is His authority and power. It breathes life and reveals truth. And it brings cleansing and transforms hearts and minds. The Bible is not just a book – words on pages, written by brilliant men. It is the living, breathing, Word of God. The Spirit of God, speaking through the Hebrew writer says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV) God speaks through the Bible. He speaks with authority, and He speaks to the center of your being.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
The Bible is one of the ways God speaks to us. God’s words hold within them the same authority and power that created the universe, the heavens and earth, and all life within it. When we read the Word of God, we allow God to penetrate and work in our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And when we speak the Word of God, God penetrates the hearts, minds, and souls of those who listen. The Scriptures are life-giving, and we have to recognize that we cannot live except “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” By His Word, we are challenged and moved. By His Word, we are changed and reborn. By His Word, we are shaped and molded to be like Jesus. By His Word, we are equipped to serve Him. And only by His Word, do we receive His reward and spend eternity with Him in His Kingdom. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and light for my path.”
During His earthly ministry, Jesus was always talking about thekingdomofGod. He described it in illustrations and parables, and He had a lot to say about its spiritual nature. Jesus said, “ThekingdomofGoddoes not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because thekingdomofGodis within you.” (Luke 17:20-21) The kingdom is not visible in a material sense, but there is a way in which it can be seen. Listen again to Jesus. “I tell you the truth, no one can see thekingdomofGodunless he is born again.” (John 3:3) A spiritual rebirth is required. You have to be reborn in spirit before thekingdomofGodbecomes visible to you.
The apostle Paul adds some clarity here as he explains that “thekingdomofGodis not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) And to the Corinthian church he said, “flesh and blood cannot inherit thekingdomofGod.” (1 Corinthians 15:50) The kingdom of God is spiritual and can only be grasped by the spirit.
In His conversation with Pilate, Jesus makes it clear that this kingdom is outside the constraints of this world. That by itself is an amazing thing to say. But He also reveals that He “is” the king of that kingdom.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36-37)
Jesus reveals that the reason He was born was to testify to the truth that “He” is the reigning king of this other-worldly kingdom. And everyone who receives that truth (in other words, everyone who receives Him as king) is one who listens to Him. These are His servants. They are the subjects of His kingdom. Jesus is revealing that He is the king of God’s kingdom.
Note also that this is all present tense. Jesus doesn’t say that He will be a king. He says, “I am a king.” He says, “My kingdom is …” And as quoted earlier, He said, “the kingdom of God is within you.” There’s no waiting for a future coronation of Christ or a future kingdom here on earth. His kingdom is not of this world, and He is already the reigning king. Moreover, Jesus clearly demonstrated His spiritual authority as king in the present.
“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdomof Godhas come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28) His kingdom has come indeed.
From the very beginning, God had always wanted to have a people (actually He wanted all mankind) to honor and serve Him as king. Notice what He told the children ofIsraelin Exodus 19:5-6: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God made it clear that He wanted to reign over a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But the people kept wandering away from God. Many generations later, when Samuel was their priest and judge, the people decided they didn’t like the way they were being led. They wanted a king like all the rest of the nations. When Samuel brought it to God, notice how He responded. “And the LORD told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.’” (1 Samuel 8:7) God was their king, but these people were stiff-necked and rebellious, and they failed to recognize Him.
It wasn’t until David became their king that God revealed that He would give them a king who would reign forever. From that time on, the prophets spoke of the coming eternal king and the grandeur of His kingdom. So when the time came for the Christ to appear, the people were filled with anticipation. They were hungry for Him. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of thekingdomofGodis being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.” (Luke 16:16) People came by the thousands to see Him and be touched by Him. The people were clamoring to enter His kingdom.
But entering His kingdom means receiving the truth of who He is. It means receiving Him as king and being spiritually reborn by God’s Spirit. This is essential because without that, we have no hope of finding fellowship with God, and discerning His will. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) How can you do His will, if you don’t really know His will? And how can you know His will, if don’t really know Him? Many of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Jesus’ day rejected Him. To them He said, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering thekingdomofGodahead of you. (Matthew 21:31)
The kingdom of God is open to all who receive Jesus as king and serve Him faithfully. When a centurion asked Him to heal his servant, he trusted Jesus’ authority by just asking Him to say the word. From Matthew 8:10-12, “When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone inIsraelwith such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” The kingdom is not just for Israelites; it is for people of every tribe, language, people, and nation who serve Him faithfully in spirit and in truth.
Finally, the present manifestation of His kingdom in this world is the church. The apostle Peter writes to the church, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” (1 Peter 2:9-10) That last sentence makes it clear that the present people of God were not always His people. He called them out of darkness. But they are now a holy nation. When he calls them a royal priesthood, he is saying they are not just priests who serve him, but also royalty. They are a kingdom of those who are both kings and priests. The apostle John, in reference to Jesus Christ, writes, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever!” (Revelation 1:5b-6) This is the kingdom of priests and holy nation that God has desired from the days of Moses (and actually from the beginning). This is thechurchofGod. And the church is the earthly the manifestation of that kingdom – thekingdomofGod.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
Jesus is the reigning king of God’s spiritual and eternal kingdom. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. He is the King of kings, and the King of priests. “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Ephesians 1:22) Notice it is “for” the church. He is appointed as head for the church, but has also allowed us to share in His kingdom. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:31-32)
As the people of the kingdom, we have become God’s kings, priests, and servants. As kings, we have to exercise spiritual authority so that the power of God is made apparent in the church and in this world. As priests, we have to lead people to God, bringing them God’s word, and guiding them in worship and spiritual devotion. And as servants, we must honor Him, obey Him, and serve Him faithfully in whatever He calls us to do.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)
Jesus was clear about the fact that He would return and take those who followed Him to the same place where He was going – the place that He was going to prepare for them.
We get a little more confirmation of this immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven as the disciples were gazing into the clouds. A pair of angels appeared to them and said,
“Men ofGalilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
Later, the apostle Paul makes an emphatic statement about what the Lord Himself said concerning some more specific things about His “coming.”
“According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)
Paul (according to the Lord’s own word) says that when the Lord returns, there will be a resurrection of the dead. He says the dead in Christ will rise first, and then those who are alive will then also be caught up to meet Him in the clouds and in the air. It is significant to note here are that this is all happening in the air and not on the earth, and that he says we will be with the Lord forever. There is no mention of establishing a kingdom on earth.
The resurrection, however, is not just for the Christian believers; it will include all who have died, both righteous and unrighteous. Jesus said, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28-29 NKJV) Jesus said here that the “hour” is coming. It is a singular “hour” when all who are in the grave will be resurrected – those who are righteous will be raised to life, and those who are unrighteous raised to condemnation. The word translated “hour,” or “hora” in Greek refers to a very short time. It is usually translated as “hour,” but it can also be “an instant.”
There is only one resurrection. Paul, in his testimony before Felix, the governor ofCaesarea, said, “there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” (Acts 24:15) His testimony is that there is a single resurrection of “both the righteous and the wicked.” And the prophet Daniel also explains, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)
Jesus, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, reveals how this will work – that those who are gathered before Him will be separated into two groups. This is clearly after the resurrection of all the dead. Everyone is gathered all together – all nations – all who are living, and all who were dead.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)
To those on His right, He will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) To those on his left, He will say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41) He concludes the parable, saying, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46) Jesus’ “coming” clearly includes the judgement of all the living and the dead, and of both the righteous and the unrighteous.
The resulting life for the righteous, or punishment for the unrighteous, are eternal. These exist eternally in separate places – eternal bliss for the righteous in the place prepared for them by the Lord, and eternal torment in the place prepared for the devil and his angels for the unrighteous.
Peter adds some more details in his second letter, in the third chapter. He wrote this specifically to encourage the believers because the Lord’s coming was taking longer than many had thought. So this was entirely and specifically concerned with the “coming” that the Lord had promised. He also notes, as Paul did, that this teaching came by the Lord and Savior. He said this was a reminder of the teaching of prophets, the Lord Himself, and the apostles. He begins with this.
“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” (2 Peter 3:3-7)
Peter adds the fact that the destruction of the present heavens and earth by fire, and the judgement and destruction of ungodly men, is a part of His “coming.” He likens it to the destruction by water in Noah’s time.
Interestingly, Peter tells his readers that the scoffing and sarcastic questioning, “Where is this “coming” he promised?” is an indication of the last days. The fact that they were already being badgered with this means that “the last days” had already begun. The writer of Hebrews concurs with this right in the beginning of his letter too.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Notice in verse 2, he says, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” The “last days” had commenced back in the days of the apostles and is still in progress today.
The same questions and scoffing happens all around us today. The famous philosopher, Bertrand Russell, as well as many others, claimed Jesus didn’t come back as He promised He would. Russell even read the Bible and quoted Scripture to prove his point. We also have evolution theory that claims, “everything goes on as it has in the beginning.” The humanists and evolutionists “deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water,” and that, ”by these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.”
These are indeed “the last days,” and we have been in these “last days” for two thousand years. While that may seem like a problem to some, it really is not. Peter continues in verse 8 with this.
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
Two thousand years for the “last days” is no problem in the Lord’s timing. If we have a problem with that, it is only because we lack understanding in His promise and timing. If there is any delay, especially from our perspective, it is only because the Lord is wanting as many as possible to come to repentance. So there is a divine purpose in all that is happening, especially in what we might perceive as a long delay. It really is not long at all.
The “day of the Lord,” however, will come; and when it does, it will come unexpectedly.
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” (2 Peter 3:10)
When the Lord “comes,” the heavens, the earth, and all the elements will be destroyed by fire. In verse 11, he says, “everything will be destroyed this way.” And He says it again (this is the third time) in verse 12: “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.” But Peter concludes with a reference to the place that Jesus said He was going to prepare. In verse 13:
“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13)
The place Jesus said He would prepare for His followers will be ready for occupation. Peter calls it “the home of righteousness” in the new heaven and new earth.
All of what Peter said here was in the context of the “coming” of the Lord. And all of what I have touched on from Jesus and Paul in the context of Jesus “coming” makes no reference to a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, a seven-year period of tribulation, multiple raptures, or a future Antichrist. The coming of Christ, along with destruction of the present heavens and earth, and the final judgement, requires none of these.
The idea of a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth comes from a supposed “literal” understanding of Revelation 20:1-10. Without going into volumes of detail, let me simply say that nobody – absolutely “nobody” – understands the apostle John’s Revelation literally; no one ever has, and no one with any credibility ever will. The Revelation is full of symbolism, and even those who claim to take it literally, readily talk about who the beast and the Antichrist are, and a host of other things from the Revelation, relative to events in the newspaper, and what they think they mean for the future. Revelation 20 is just as full of symbolism as any other chapter in this apocalyptic letter. Trying to read it literally simply leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Here is one example. While the text talks about the dragon being bound and locked away for a thousand years, and the souls of those who were martyred coming to life and reigning with Christ for a thousand years, nowhere does it say that the reign with Christ is on earth. If you take it literally, verses 1 through 7 all take place in the Abyss or in heaven.
We have already talked about how Peter said, “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day.” The thousand years in this passage is not to be understood literally. There are other references in the Revelation to things that are in multiples of thousands that are not literal as well. The 144,000, and the subsequent 12 tribes of 12,000 each, in Revelation chapter 7, are not a literal numbers. Neither are the dimensions of the New Jerusalem in Revelation chapter 21. The text says it is 12,000 stadia in length, height, and width. What kind of city would be like a cube 1,400 miles long, 1,400 miles high, and 1,400 miles wide. That is literally what the text says, but it is more a representation of the grandeur, perfection, and completeness of theHolyCity, the new Jerusalem, thechurchofGod, than any literal dimension. The “thousand years” is God’s perfect and complete time. There is no literal thousand-year reign with Christ on earth.
It is also incorrect to read into this passage that there will be a future rapture of the church preceding a one-thousand-year reign with Christ, and followed later by a resurrection of everybody else. The passages discussed earlier contradict this notion completely. Since Revelation 20 is clearly wrapped in symbolism, it must be understood in light of the clear and unambiguous statements of our Lord, the prophets, and the apostles – not the other way around. Understanding the first resurrection here to mean being raised to new life in Christ at the point of salvation, and having power over sin, makes a whole lot more sense in this passage, and in light of the rest of the Scriptures, than any literal interpretation.
Concerning “The Antichrist,” the term does not exist in Scripture as a proper noun. The only references in Scripture to the antichrist are in two of John’s epistles. Here is what he said about the antichrist.
“Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:18-19)
Again, the last days, even the last “hour,” was already at hand in John’s day. He said this was the case because “even now many antichrists have come.” Why are people waiting for “The Antichrist” to appear in the future? Antichrists, and actually many of them, have been around for a very, very long time. But notice how he describes these antichrists. He said, “if they belonged to us, they would have remained with us.” That means that these antichrists must have come out of the church. Antichrists, therefore, are not necessarily high profile political figures – although that is also possible – but they are actually church leaders. Jesus warned his disciples that false prophets and false “Christs” would come and deceive many. It makes sense that in order to deceive those in the church, it would most likely have to come from within; and John is acknowledging that that is what was already happening. This was a clear indication to him that the last hour had come.
Another identifying characteristic of an antichrist is that he denies that Jesus is the Christ. John goes on a few verses later, saying:
“Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist-he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:22-23)
It seems strange, maybe even doubtful, that someone in the church could get away with going around saying simply that Jesus was not the Christ. It clearly had to be handled in a deceptive way. Such a person had to be someone of influence and respected; and he had to be able and knowledgeable enough to convince people that he was teaching the truth. Some must have been able to deceive believers into thinking that someone else was the Christ or even that they themselves were Christs. This kind of thing still happens in cults today, so that is probably what was happening back then as well. Another possibility is to convince people that you are an equal of, or substitute for, Christ. That may even be the most appealing deception possible.
John described one other characteristic that identifies an antichrist. He said:
“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 John 4:2-3) And similarly, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 7)
Both of these address the deceptive teaching of the “Gnostics.” They taught that Jesus never actually came in the flesh – that He was only a spirit. Many were deceived by this. They believed that the flesh was corrupt and separated from the spirit; and what they did in the flesh had no consequence to their spirit.
While John’s teaching about “antichrist” is significant and important, this is all that is said in Scripture specifically about it. And while this teaching is connected as a precursor to Christ “coming” again, it is clear that this has already long been fulfilled. There is no future beast called “The Antichrist” to wait for. Antichrists are not secular political tyrants. They are religious leaders within churches that have been deceiving believers for ages.
Finally, there is the question about when the coming of Christ will occur. Nearly everyone, these days, seems to agree that the answer cannot be known. Even the Jehovah Witnesses have been mistaken about it enough times now that they are no longer making claims about when the end will come. However, there are still plenty of people waiting to see the “signs of the times.” And there is plenty of talk, and many books, about a soon-to-come “tribulation.”
Many of the ideas about this come from misunderstandings about Jesus’ discussion with his disciples on the Mount of Olives regarding the destruction ofJerusalemin Matthew 24 (also Mark 13, and Luke 21).
As the disciples marveled about the temple and the buildings of the city, Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2) Shortly after that, the disciples asked, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) They were asking specifically about “when” the city would be destroyed, and what the related “sign” would be. They realized that a catastrophic event such as that would mark the end of the present “age,” and most probably be connected with Jesus finally “coming” to power as the eternal king ofIsrael. Keep in mind that they had no clue that Jesus was going to be dying on a cross a few days later and that He was going to be returning to heaven. Since Jesus was clearly talking aboutJerusalembeing destroyed, the disciples were reasoning that the “age” of rule by temporal kings regardingIsraelwas coming to an end. It would be truly amazing, even miraculous, if the disciples would, at this time, be able to discern that Jesus was talking about a “second coming” or even somehow the “end of the world.” It makes no sense – either in context, or logically.
The word “age” here is also important because they are asking a specific “when” question. It is the word is “aioonos” in Greek, and it means, “age.” It is a time reference pointing to a deterministic period. It does not mean “world,” and cannot be accurately translated as “world.” If the disciples were asking about the end of the “world,” the word in the Greek would have been “kosmos” or “oikoumene.” Peter used “kosmos” when he talked about the destruction of the “world” by water in Noah’s day (2 Peter 3:6). But that is not what Matthew wrote here. The original language is very clear. The question the disciples are asking is regarding “the end of age.”
The fact that the King James Version translates this as “the end of the world” has caused many to literally read the subsequent discourse by Jesus in that context. A lot of people have been confused and misguided by this (including me in my teenage years). These questions were not regarding the end of the world; and Jesus was not answering questions about the end of the world.
Jesus’ discourse addressed the destruction ofJerusalemand specific events and “signs” that would lead to that destruction. Jesus gave them lots of details. He gave them a very thorough answer. But he also gave them time markers. He would add comments like, “such things must happen, but the end is not yet,” or “all these are the beginning of birth pangs.” He also kept referring to the disciples directly concerning what would be happening to them as these things took place: “you will be handed over and persecuted,” “when you see the standing in the holy place.” These are all things that would be happening to them in their lifetime.
Jesus eventually completes the answer to their “when” question. He says, “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matthew 24:33-34) and “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36). Although they could not know the precise day or hour, Jesus’ disciples would experience all of what Jesus described here – all of it. These are Jesus’ words: “this generation will not pass until all these things have happened.”
A lot of people are confused by this, thinking that these things that Jesus had just finished describing could not have happened yet, and certainly not within that generation (a generation being forty years). ButJerusalemwas indeed destroyed within that generation. It was destroyed in 70 AD; and historical writings of that time confirm that the vast majority of the events and signs that Jesus described here have been fulfilled, especially according to the detailed histories of Josephus.
Some have said that the word “generation” can alternatively be translated as “race” instead, trying to extend the meaning to an end of the Jewish race and prophetic of end-of-the-world events. This also is poor knowledge of Greek. The word translated as “generation” is “genea” in the Greek text; and this is exactly correct, referring again to time. To get “race” out of it, the word would have to be “genema,” meaning actually “offspring.” While only one letter is different, the meaning is entirely different. No one familiar with Greek who intends to say “race” or “offspring” would use the word “genea.” And it could not have been a textual mistake where a letter was dropped either. The parallel texts, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32, also use “genea,” exactly the way Matthew does in this text. The word cannot be “race,” and those who insist on using it this way clearly have an agenda. The word is clearly “generation.”
The signs from Matthew 24 are regarding the events surrounding the destruction ofJerusalemin 70 AD. This is confirmed history. And Jesus was completely unambiguous about the fact that all of what he said would happen would take place within the lifetime of the apostles. This is all fulfilled prophecy.
There is no pre-tribulation rapture of the church, no seven year tribulation, no Antichrist to wait for, no reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years, no re-establishment of the Jewish nation, priesthood, and temple, etc. Everything has been fulfilled with one exception. The only thing that has not yet happened is Christ’s final return. That will be the final consummation. There will be a resurrection of all the dead; and all, both the living and the dead will gathered in heaven for judgement – the righteous to everlasting life, the unrighteous to everlasting punishment.
Practical Application in Personal Life and Ministry:
The return of Christ is a moment I eagerly await. The watching and praying is not watching for signs and praying for prophesied events in the world to take place. It is living a holy life – walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, and serving Him faithfully each and every day. As that Day approaches, the work that God has called us to has to continue. More souls need to be added to the kingdom, and the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ has to reach every generation until the day He returns. The glorious bride, the church of God, is being made ready to be received. “What a day that will be!”