Saturday, April 3, 2010

Traditional Doctrine of Hell Evolved from Greek Roots



by Babu G. Ranganathan

Although I am a conservative Christian (Reformed Baptist), I no longer believe that the Bible teaches or supports the traditional view of hell with its doctrine of eternal torment or suffering.

The Bible does teach eternal punishment, but that eternal punishment ultimately is not eternal suffering.


Although the wicked in hell, for a period, will suffer consciously for their individual sins, the ultimate penalty for sin itself will be the eternal literal death of soul and body and the eternal loss to immortality. That is what the Bible means by their eternal punishment. It is not the "punishing" that is eternal but, rather, the "punishment."


If pain is necessary for punishment then why do some societies have the death penalty? When a murderer is put to death he does not feel pain. If he did then he wouldn't be dead. One thing for sure is that a murderer put to death by society no longer feels pain from society. Does that then mean that society did not punish him?


God's righteous wrath is not an end in itself but a means to an end - that end being the eternal literal destruction or death of the wicked. God will not allow sin to exist for eternity by keeping sinners alive for eternity in hell. Eternal torment is not necessary for God to satisfy His eternal justice.


But, what about those passages in the Bible which say that the wicked will go into "eternal fire" and that in hell there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth forever," and other similar passages that seem to teach eternal torment? We shall examine, in this article, those and other passages from the Bible in the light of the context of Scripture and by comparing Scripture with Scripture.


Few in society realize just how much ancient Greek philosophy influenced early Christian thought on hell.


The ancient Greeks believed and taught that the human soul is immortal and indestructible. When early Christianity adopted this belief then it became only logical to believe that those who go to hell must suffer eternal torment.


More than anyone else, the early Church bishop Augustine influenced early Christianity's adoption of this ancient Greek belief about the nature of the soul. Augustine was a great admirer and follower of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato even after converting to Christianity. It was Plato who systematically formulated ancient Greek belief and thought concerning the nature of the human soul.


The Bible, however, teaches that man by nature is completely mortal and that immortality is a gift of God to be realized only on Resurrection Day for those who have put their faith and trust in God's Son Jesus Christ for salvation because Christ's death on the Cross fully paid for our sins and His resurrection from the grave is the guarantee of future immortality for all who believe in Him.


Interestingly, even Adam and Eve were not created as immortal from the beginning. That is why there was placed the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden of Eden.


Some have argued that because man was created in the image of God then all humans must possess an immortal soul. However, being created in the image of God doesn't necessarily mean that we must possess every attribute or even possible attribute that God possess. For example, God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent - but we are not. The Bible is clear that immortality is an attribute that will be given only on Resurrection Day for those who have put their trust in Christ for salvation.  


In Genesis 2:17 God told Adam not to eat the fruit of a certain tree (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) and God also told Adam that if he did eat of it he would die on that very day. Specifically, God said to Adam, "For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." But the Biblical record shows that Adam did not physically die on the very day he disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit. Because Adam did not physically die on the very day that he disobeyed God most Christians believe that God was referring to spiritual death and not physical death.


However, in the original Hebrew, in which the Old Testament was written, the grammatical tense of the word "die" in Genesis 2:17 is in the imperfect mood. The imperfect mood denotes a process. Thus, what God was actually saying to Adam is that he would start dying on the day he ate the forbidden fruit. The literal translation from the Hebrew of what God said to Adam is: "Dying you will die." God was not, therefore, referring to spiritual death but to physical death. The fact that God later prevented Adam and Eve from having access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24) so that they would not live eternally in sin proves that God was referring to physical death and not spiritual death.


There are good Scriptural reasons to believe that the soul also is physical but distinct from the rest of the body, but that is another subject. Whether physical or not physical, man's soul, along with the rest of man, was created completely mortal and that is the primary point being addressed here.


The penalty for sin, then, is the death of both soul and body so that man will not live eternally in sin. Not only is God not cruel in His eternal justice, but a holy God will not allow His moral creatures to exist eternally in sin. God will not immortalize sin and evil by making the wicked in hell immortal! All of this contradicts the traditional doctrine and teaching, taught in most churches, about the wicked having an immortal soul and body in hell.


What about "eternal fire", "unquenchable fire", "weeping and gnashing of teeth forever", the account by Jesus about the Rich Man and Lazarus, and other similar passages in the Bible that seem to teach eternal torment? The key, in many cases, is in understanding the context in which these and other similar phrases are used in various parts of Scripture.


For example, figures of speech such as "unquenchable fire" are used in the Bible to mean that the process of destruction is unstoppable or irreversible. We see an example of this in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel 20:47-48 where God says that when His judgment comes on the land even every green tree will burn and that the fire "will not be quenched". Obviously, those trees are not still burning. It is important to understand just why God uses such terms in Scripture as "unquenchable fire".


In the Bible, there were some judgments of God in which His wrath was quenched or stopped such as in the case when Moses interceded and pleaded before God for the rebellious Israelites in the desert. When Moses did this God stopped or quenched His wrath against the rebellious Israelites. Thus, when God says, in Scripture, that the wicked in the end will be destroyed with unquenchable fire what He simply means is that nothing can intervene to prevent Him from carrying out His wrath fully through to its completion. Over and over in the Scriptures God is described in judgment as being a consuming fire. God's righteous wrath in judgment is not an end in itself but a means to an end.


Unlike the burning bush in Exodus that Moses observed was not consumed by the fire but was preserved by God, the Scriptures teach that God, in the end, will not preserve the wicked in the fire of hell but instead will completely consume and destroy them!


Contrary to popular belief and interpretation, the phrase in Scripture "where their worm dieth not" is not a reference to the undying human soul or conscience. We have already seen statements in Scripture that God will destroy, not preserve or keep alive, the bodies and souls of the wicked in the Day of Judgment. The worm and fire were figures that people in Jesus' time could readily identify and understand because in that time the dead bodies of those who suffered dishonor in society were all commonly thrown into a certain valley where fire and worms devoured these bodies. Jesus simply seeks to convey, in figurative language, that in hell (gehenna) neither the fire nor the worm will cease until the wicked are totally consumed or destroyed!


The word "forever" is another example. In Scripture the word "forever" does not always mean endless or eternal duration. For example, in Exodus 21:6 (KJV Version) we read that certain people were to be servants "forever". Obviously this cannot mean eternity. The word "forever" or "everlasting", in the original Hebrew and Greek languages of Scripture, simply means the entire length or duration of something. If that something is immortal then the word "forever" or "everlasting" must mean eternity. But, if that something is mortal or temporary in nature then, obviously, the word "forever" or "everlasting" cannot mean eternity.


What about where the Bible says in Revelation 20:10 that the devil (or Satan) will be tormented forever and ever? Before answering this question, I wish to point out that Bible definitely teaches the devil will be consumed and destroyed.


We read a description of Satan's ultimate and eternal destruction in Ezekiel 28:14-19. Although this passage is immediately addressed to the ancient King of Tyre (verse 11), it is clear from the context of the passage that God is speaking to Satan (the evil spirit behind the King of Tyre) because the descriptions given cannot fit that of any human being or human king. 

We read in verses 14 and 15: “Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.” This passage is referring to the devil when he was Lucifer (a good angel or cherub) before he sinned against God.

And, then we read in verses 18 and 19 what God says to the devil: “… therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.” 

Another good Bible translation (the NIV) puts verses 18 and 19 this way: " ... So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations that knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more."

A similar and parallel passage is found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah 14:3-20. God is speaking to the King of Babylon, but it is clear from the context of the passage that he is talking to Satan (the evil spirit behind the King of Babylon) because, again, the descriptions given cannot fit that of any human being.  

If Ezekiel 28 teaches that the Devil will be destroyed (consumed) and be no more, how, then, do we explain Revelation 20:10 which says that the devil will be tormented forever and ever?

The first point to realize is that Revelation is a book filled with symbolic language, and, therefore, the book is not to be interpreted literally. The book itself tells us not to interpret it literally. In the very first verse of the very first chapter we read, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God (the Father) gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John" (Revelation 1:1). The word "signified" in the passage comes from a Greek word meaning "signs" or "symbols."

Bible scholar, theologian, and an attorney-at-law, Edward Fudge makes these comments:


“In these closing chapters of Revelation, even the word torment itself is sometimes a symbol for total destruction and death. The wicked city Babylon is pictured as a woman whose judgment in chapter 18 is “torment and grief,” which turns out to be “death, mourning, and famine,” and she is “consumed by fire.” It is not unthinkable, therefore, to understand torment of the devil, beast, and false prophet as death and consumption by fire which are never reversed” (“No Need to Waver” by Edward Fudge quoted from the Internet site Rethinking Hell http://www.rethinkinghell.com/).

When the Bible talks about eternal judgment, or eternal damnation, or eternal destruction, it is in reference to the result and not the process! It is not the punishing that is eternal but rather the punishment! It is not the destroying that is eternal but rather the destruction! It is not the dying that is eternal but rather the death. Just as eternal redemption in the Bible does not mean that the process of redeeming is eternal but rather its result (no one would be saved if the process of redeeming were eternal) so too the eternal judgment of the wicked refers to the result of their judgment being eternal and not the process.


The example, however, that indisputably settles the issue is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude 7 says that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah "are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." The word "example" in the verse comes from the original Greek New Testament word "deigma," and wherever any form of this Greek word is used in the New Testament it means an example that is visible to the eye. Now in what way were Sodom and Gomorrah an example of destruction by eternal fire? They were an example in the fact that these cities suffered total destruction (annihilation) and they also suffered irrevocable destruction because they would never exist as cities again.


One may attempt to argue that the souls of Sodom and Gomorrah are burning forever in hell now, but if that were the case then Scripture cannot use the destruction of these cities as a visible example of judgment by eternal fire, since that is not something that one can observe. When one gives an example of something to another it must be by its very nature visible or observable. After all, the purpose of the example was for living humanity on earth to see what judgment by eternal fire means. Besides, the belief that the souls of the wicked will burn eternally in hell is based on the unbiblical assumption that their souls are immortal or indestructible.


What about Revelation 14:9-11 where it says: "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night"? Doesn't this passage in Scripture prove eternal torment? No. We also read in Isaiah 34:10 that while Edom was burning day and night the smoke of the city would ascend up forever and ever. Does that mean that Edom would never stop burning? Of course, not! The language simply signifies that the burning of Edom will ultimately end in permanent (or irrevocable and eternal) destruction. We know that Edom doesn't exist anymore. Similarly, we are to understand the same from the passage in Revelation 14:9-11. The smoke of their torment arising "forever and ever" in the passage does not mean that the torment of the wicked will never end. The language simply signifies that the torment of the wicked will lead to their permanent (or irrevocable and eternal) destruction. During the process of their destruction the wicked will be tormented but that process will ultimately end in their eternal annihilation, which is what is signified by the use of the figure of smoke arising "forever and ever". This is the only interpretation of Revelation 14:9-11 that would be consistent with how the rest of Scripture uses such language and with what the rest of the Scriptures teach concerning the final and ultimate end of the wicked.


The context of Holy Scripture teaches that the eternal punishment of the wicked is ultimately their eternal annihilation and not eternal torment or suffering as the traditional doctrine of hell teaches. As one preacher has put it: "Eternal punishment is the eternal loss of life, not an eternal life of loss".


Eternal life in Scripture has the same meaning as immortality (i.e. Romans 2:7) which Christians will possess only in the future on Resurrection Day. Various Scripture passages teach immortality and eternal life to be a future possession for Christians. Why then did Jesus use the present tense when saying those who believe in Him have eternal life? The answer is that sometimes in the Bible the present tense is used to describe future events for the purpose of demonstrating their certainty. Scripture says God "calleth those things which be not as though they were" (Romans 4:17).


The Bible says Jesus Christ "hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). The opposite of eternal life (or immortality) is eternal death (the eternal and literal death of soul and body) - not eternally living in torment and suffering! "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting (eternal) life" (John 3:16). The issue is not what we think eternal punishment ought to be. The issues are God's character, God's definition of ultimate justice, and God's eternal purposes.


That the Lake of Fire (in the Book of Revelation) stands for annihilation is indisputable because Revelation 20:14 states that the Lake of Fire is the second death. What is the second death? Well, it is certainly not spiritual death because those cast into the Lake of Fire (i.e. the wicked on judgment day) were already spiritually dead. The difference between the first death and the second death is that the first death is temporary since everyone, the righteous and the wicked, will be resurrected in the Last Day to face final judgment. The book of Daniel tells us that the righteous and the wicked will all be resurrected on the same day. The second death, on the other hand, is eternal (or permanent) with no resurrection to follow. Only the wicked will experience the second death. It is not the punishing that is eternal but rather the punishment (the cessation of being) that is eternal and permanent. The wicked will experience the second death (permanent cessation of being) only after they suffer consciously for their individual guilt and sins.

In Ephesians 2 the Apostle Paul says that believers were once dead in trespasses and sins but were made (or raised) alive with Christ and raised to sit together in heavenly places. Paul is talking about physical death and life. What Paul is saying is that believers were once under the sentence of death because of their sins but because of Christ’s resurrection (and they were raised with Christ they will live eternally. How was Christ raised? Physically. The resurrection hasn’t happened yet but Paul puts it in the past as because of its certainty. Paul even says (in the past tense) that believers have been seated with Christ in heavenly. This, too, hasn’t happened yet but is certain.

We must base our views of hell and the after life on what the Bible teaches, not on tradition or mere human philosophies and opinions. We must not impose our philosophy of what God ought to be upon Holy Scripture! Not many people realize the fact that in the New Testament there are different Greek words for the word "hell." But unfortunately the English Bible translates these different words for hell as one word, and this has been a cause of much confusion for those who wish to study the subject. The New Testament Greek words for hell are "Hades" and "Gehenna" and they both have different meanings. Hades means the unseen world of the dead and is only a temporary abode. It has nothing to do with punishment or reward. It is equivalent to the Hebrew word "Sheol" in the Old Testament in its meaning. Gehenna, on the other hand, is the abode of eternal punishment of the wicked.  

Scripture teaches that both the wicked and righteous will be resurrected, but only the righteous (in and through Christ’s redemptive work) will obtain immortal bodies. The wicked will not inherit immortal bodies. They will be judged for their sins and in hell will suffer consciously for their individual sins before they are eternally destroyed in body and soul. 

What about Daniel 12:2 where we read that the wicked will awaken to shame and everlasting contempt? The word “contempt” here is translated in other parts of Scripture as “disgust” or “abhorrence.” GJ Griz pointed out that in Isaiah 66:24 “the word is used in the context of disgust expressed by onlookers as they view the dead bodies or corpses of those slain in battle.” On Judgement Day when the wicked are destroyed, their destruction will evoke everlasting contempt in the minds and memories of the righteous.

The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 has often been used by many Christians, especially preachers, as a depiction of the punishment that the wicked will suffer in hell. But this is not the case. In the first place when Jesus refers to the Rich Man being in torment in the flame of hell the Greek word for "hell" in the passage is not "Gehenna" (the place of final and eternal punishment), but rather it is the Greek word "Hades" (which in Scripture is the temporary abode of the dead). The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, like the other series of parables before it, was used of the Lord to illustrate or depict the end of the rule of the Pharisees and to depict the end of the Jewish Era and dispensation (as represented by the Rich Man being in torment) and it was also used of the Lord to depict or illustrate the elevation of Gentile Christendom (as represented by Lazarus). Actually, Lazarus represented the poor Jews of Jesus' time who were ignored by the self-righteous religious leaders of Israel and he also represented the gentiles who, although rejected by the Jewish leaders, would nevertheless be accepted into the bosom of Abraham through their new found faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. The religious leaders of Israel had lived only for themselves and ignored the spiritual needs of the spiritually sick and starving people around them.  

The concept that Hades was a place divided into two compartments, one of suffering for the wicked and the other of bliss for the righteous, was a Jewish belief that had developed during the Intertestamental period, the period of time in between when the Old and New Testaments were written. Thus, this particular view of Hades was not canonical, that is it was not something that God Himself had revealed to the Jews through Scripture. There is no evidence in Scripture that Hades is a place where the wicked suffer while awaiting their final and permanent judgment in Gehenna. Such a concept of Hades developed as a result of ancient Greek influences on Jewish thinking about the nature of the soul. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus was simply borrowing this popular Jewish folklore of Hades to use as an illustration to make a point to the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day, but He was not necessarily endorsing the folklore as being doctrinally valid or correct. There are various passages in the Old Testament, such as in Psalms, that tell us that there is no consciousness in Sheol (the Hebrew equivalent of Hades in the Old Testament). 

Some argue that the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is not a parable because Jesus did not formally introduce it as a parable. But, Jesus did not always formally introduce His stories as parables, and there are various examples of that in the Gospels. Now, it is true that in His parables Jesus used things that actually existed to fill in for illustrations and figures, but in the particular case of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus the Lord used a popular existing Jewish myth about Hades for the purposes of constructing a story. Jesus simply used the Pharisees' own superstitious belief about Hades against them!

Why didn't Jesus rebuke the Pharisees' belief about Hades as being wrong? Jesus didn't go around always rebuking every wrong doctrine. For example, in Jesus' time it was a common Jewish belief (from the influence of Greek philosophy) that souls could commit individual sins before birth. That is why we read in John 9:1-3 that Jesus' disciples believed a certain man was born blind because he may have committed some great sin before his physical conception in the womb. Jesus didn't respond by telling His disciples that such a belief is doctrinally wrong but instead healed the blind man. 

Many Christians find it difficult to believe that the soul as well as the body can die. The soul, they say, can live on and be conscious even after the body decays into the dust. Christians generally believe that Jesus confirmed the existence of consciousness in hades because of what He said to the repentant thief who also was dying on a cross beside Him. But it must be kept in mind that in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament there were no punctuation marks such as commas. The punctuation marks found in our English Bibles, for example, were provided by the translators. So depending upon where the comma actually is in a sentence can change the entire meaning of the sentence. The passage in Luke 23:43 of the English Bible is translated with the comma before the word "today" so that Jesus is saying to the repentant thief, "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise." It gives the meaning that the thief would join Jesus in paradise on that very day. But what if the comma in the sentence is placed after the word "today." Then the sentence that Jesus said would read, "Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with Me in paradise." It changes the entire meaning of the sentence. Then Jesus is not necessarily saying that the repentant thief would join Him in paradise on that very day. The Bible repeatedly refers to Christians who had died as being "asleep" indicating that their death is only temporary since they will one day be resurrected to immortality and eternal life.

But if there is no consciousness for the dead until Resurrection Day why did the Apostle Paul say that he desires "to depart, and to be present with Christ" (Philippians 1:23). In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul defines that to be absent from the body and be present with the Lord means to be clothed in our resurrected bodies. Paul didn't mind death because he knew that the very next conscious thing he would experience after death would be joyful and perfect eternal fellowship with Christ at the Resurrection. This is why the early Christians thought so much about the resurrection, because they knew that is when they'll see the Lord again and have eternal fellowship with Him. 

Why is the resurrection so important if the person (the soul) doesn't actually die with the body? Why is the resurrection so important if the souls of Christians will already be with Christ and enjoying fellowship with Him even after death of the body. Why are most Christians so big on Christ rising from the dead on Easter Day if He really didn't die at all but only His body?

A very important question arises that needs to be answered. If Jesus Christ was truly God how then could He completely die (in body and soul) since the Scriptures teach that God is immutable (unchanging). In answer to this question it is important to understand that everything about God, including His immutability and His very existence itself, is dependent upon His moral nature. God's immutability is conditional upon His moral nature. In fact, it would be theologically safe to say that the only thing about God that cannot change at all is His moral nature. Thus, it is only God's moral nature which is truly unconditionally immutable. In the context of Scripture, when God says "I am the Lord. I change not" (Malachi 3:6) it is in reference to His moral being and nature. Whatever God can do or cannot do is governed by His moral constitution or nature. For example, the Scripture says in Hebrews 6:18 that it is impossible for God to lie. Thus, when Scripture tells us elsewhere that with God all things are possible it must be understood from the context of comparing Scripture with Scripture that only all things are possible with God which are not contradictory to His moral nature. In other words, God is only as immutable as His moral nature allows Him to be. What does all this mean? It means that when God the Son (Jesus Christ) took the legal guilt and liability for our sins on the Cross then His divine moral nature required that He die since the penalty for sin is death. As He had to be true to His moral nature the Son gave up His life. It is precisely because of the immutability of His moral nature that Christ (Who is God) died when He took the guilt of our sins! Because He was God Christ's death had infinite value so that it was not necessary for Him to remain dead for eternity in order for His death to satisfy the full penalty for our sins.

If Jesus was truly God and He died completely (in both body and soul), how then could He have raised His own body from the grave as He said He would. There are two possible answers. One is that when His soul was given back its life Christ then entered His own body and raised it up from the grave. The other possible answer is in understanding what Jesus said about His authority over His own life and death. Jesus said that the Father had given to Him authority to lay down His life and to have His life raised from the dead (John 10:11-18). Shortly before Jesus died He exercised this authority by entrusting to His Father His spirit (not the Holy Spirit in this case but rather the spirit which is the principle of life, the breath of life). Remember His words on the Cross, "Father into Thy hands I commend My spirit" (Luke 23:46). By doing this He gave authority for death to overtake Him on account of our sins for which He died but He also had delegated His right and authority over His own life to the Father to raise Him up from the dead. In this way Jesus was very much responsible for both His own death and resurrection. What great love and condescension the Son of God subjected Himself to on our behalf! The reader is urged to examine in more detail the Biblical fact of Christ's Godhood and Deity in the author's Internet article: Christ Was Begotten - Not Created.

By no means is the doctrine of conditional immortality new teaching. A minority of Christians, of various denominations, have held to this view of hell throughout the centuries. Even some very prominent Christians of the past have held to this view and there are a number (albeit a minority) of Christian theologians and scholars in the present who hold to this view. However, this view on hell, unfortunately, is known so little outside the Christian community and even inside the Christian community for that matter.

Many of the early Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther, held to the view that man, by nature, is entirely mortal (including the soul), but the great Reformer John Calvin opposed this view and specifically wrote against it and insisted that all of the Reformers present a united front. An excellent Internet site containing information on all of this is: Champions of Conditional Immortality In History.

I highly recommend to all readers Dr. Edward Fudge's thoroughly biblical and scholarly work "The Fire That Consumes". The book is foreworded by the great evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce. This book should be required reading in every seminary and Bible school!

I encourage all to read my larger article "The Bible Vs. The Traditional View of Hell" at my website http://bgrnathan.blogspot.com/2010/04/bible-vs-traditional-view-of-hell.html for more comprehensive and in-depth coverage of this subject. Other questions and arguments, not raised here, are answered thoroughly in my larger article. I also hope that this information will shed new light in reading the New Testament, particularly the Gospels.

 





Second Coming of Christ Misunderstood (7th edition)

by Babu G. Ranganathan

Not all prophecy in Scripture has been fulfilled yet but the second coming of Jesus Christ was totally fulfilled in the first century. The second coming of Christ had to do with the destruction of the Jewish Age and the establishment of Christ's Kingdom.

Jesus said that some of His disciples will not finish preaching through all the cities of Israel before He comes back (Matthew 10:23). Jesus said that some who were living during His time would not die before they see the Son of Man (Jesus Christ) coming in His Kingdom (Matthew 16:28). Jesus said that "this generation" will not pass away before all these things concerning His second coming are fulfilled (Matthew 24:34). He was talking to the people of that time and the generation of that time. He was saying that they (not us) would be witnesses to these things happening.

Some have argued that Jesus was talking about His glory that His disciples would behold when they reach the top of, what now is known as, the Mount of Transfiguration. But that had nothing to do with Jesus coming back to establish His Kingdom. Besides, as one commentator put it, it’s obvious that the people who were with Jesus would be alive for the little time it took for Him to go up the Mount and come back. It wouldn’t be a big deal for Jesus to say that some of those who were with Him would still be alive by the time He returns from His trip up the Mount.

Jesus wasn’t referring to His trip up the Mount and back when He said that some would not see death before He returns. He was referring to His second coming. That's when He would establish His Kingdom. All this means that the second coming occurred in that generation, not in a generation some thousands of years later.

Jesus said that when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies and is destroyed that would be the time of His second coming. This already happened between 63 A.D. and 70 A.D. (seven years). Jesus said that the Gospel will be preached to every nation before He comes. The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 1:23 that the Gospel had already been preached to all nations (that is all nations of the then known world of the Roman Empire and beyond). One of the reasons that this Gospel was to be preached to all nations was in order to be a witness to them that God was through with Israel as a nation for its ultimate disobedience. The end of the world that Jesus was talking referred to the end of the age, not the end of the physical world. The word "world" in the passage comes from the Greek word "aion" meaning "age". The other Greek word for "world" is "cosmos" which refers to the physical world, but that's not the Greek word that's used in Scripture in reference to when Jesus returns. Jesus was referring to the end of the Jewish Age. That is why Jesus Himself said the "axe is laid at the root" (Luke 3:9) meaning the destruction of the nation was near.

God is still committed to His elect individual Jews who turn to Christ for salvation. But, He is through with Israel as a nation. The last time God prophesied that the Jews would return to the land was fulfilled after their return from the Babylonian captivity. During the Babylonian captivity the Jews were spread throughout all the nations of the Babylonian empire.

Furthermore, almost none of the Jews in modern Israel are descendants of the original Jews of Palestine thousands of years ago. Most of the Jews in Israel today are descendants of Europeans who had converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages (known as Khazar or Ashkenazi Jews).

What about the land? Weren’t the Jews promised an eternal inheritance to the land? It is vital to understand that God's promises concerning the land to the Jews in the Old Testament were conditional - only so long as they continued to obey Him were those promises concerning the land binding (read Deuteronomy 28). Their ultimate disobedience in their rejection of Christ would forfeit them any claim to the land.

We read in the Book of Joshua 21:43, 45: "And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which He swore to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass." Thus, there is no promise concerning the land that still awaits any fulfillment.

The Bible teaches that Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ inherit the same, not different promises, because in God’s eyes they are one spiritual seed (Ephesians 2:11-21 and 3:5-6).

The modern state of Israel today has the right to exist like any other nation, but it does not have the right to territorial conquest and control in the name of Zionism.

Most evangelical Christians, who are dispensationalists, are still seeking for an Israel that the New Testament says is the spiritual body of Christ made up of both Jew and Gentile believers in Jesus Christ and, again, who together (as one seed) inherit the same (not different) promises (Galatians 3:14-16).

The New Testament refers to the Christian church as the "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). There is good reason to believe that some of the Old Testament descriptions of God's future dealings with Israel are already being fulfilled spiritually in and through the Christian church which is made up of both Jew and Gentile believers in Christ inheriting the same (not different) promises.

Evangelist John L. Bray made this interesting point in one of his newsletters:

"The prophet Amos (in the Old Testament) had prophesied the future building of the Tabernacle of David to receive the saved of the heathen (Amos 9:12). In a special counsel of the apostles and other leaders, James (in the New Testament) declared that this prophecy was fulfilled as gentiles were being converted through the preaching of the gospel and were becoming the spiritual house of God (Acts 15:13-19). This was called 'the true Tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man (Hebrews 8:2)' " (Evangelist John L. Bray in Biblical Perspectives, December 1, 2009).

Thus, this proves that the Christian Church (both Jew and Gentile believers in Christ) are the recipients of God’s Old Testament promises. It is also proof that these promises are to be understood spiritually, not literally. It is not a literal future millennial tabernacle in view here, as the Apostle James clearly describes and explains in the passage.

God’s unconditional promises in the Old Testament were not made to national Israel but to all His elect (true Jew and Gentile believers in Christ), so this is not Replacement Theology, as some would say. God’s elect Jews are now united with His elect Gentiles in the Christian Church. Therefore, the promises made to His elect Jews are fulfilled now by the Christian Church. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 9:6, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” In the context of the passage, Paul was explaining who would inherit the Old Testament promises of God, and Paul said it would be the Church, the true Israel, the spiritual Israel.

As for national Israel, God had brought it to a permanent end for its ultimate disobedience in rejecting Christ. Jesus Himself prophesied judgment against the nation.

Many evangelical Christians believe (wrongly) that the "Great City" in the Book of Revelation, which God destroys in His wrath and which is referred to figuratively as “Babylon,” is Rome. They believe it is Rome because the city is described as being surrounded by seven hills.

However, Jerusalem, also, is surrounded by seven hills. The proof that Jerusalem is the city and not Rome is found in Revelation 11:8 where we read, "And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the Great City, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified".

Was the Lord crucified in Rome or in Jerusalem? The wrath of God against Jerusalem for its apostate Judaism is what the early portions of the Book of Revelation are all about.

Jesus said that every eye will see Him at His return (that is everyone in Jerusalem at the time of its destruction) will know that Jesus was ultimately behind Jerusalem’s judgment and destruction for its ultimate rejection of Him as Messiah. The word "see" in the passage comes from the Greek word "eido" which can also mean "see" in the sense of understanding or comprehending like when you say to someone "Do you 'see' what I mean?"

In the Old Testament when Babylon was destroyed the Scripture says that the stars of heaven fell and the Sun and moon turned their color. This is known as apocalyptic language in Scripture. Whenever a very major event affecting Israel happens such language is used. The Book of Revelation uses similar language also. Revelation is to be interpreted symbolically, for the most part.

The Book of Revelation, like the rest of the New Testament, was originally written in Greek so sometimes we must go to the Greek language to have a more precise understanding of certain words.

In the very first verse of the very first chapter we read, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God (the Father) gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John" (Revelation 1:1, KJV). The word "signified" in the passage comes from a Greek word meaning "signs" or "symbols". Thus, Revelation was meant by Christ to be interpreted symbolically, not literally. And notice, the passage says that these things "must shortly come to pass," (not thousands of years later).

The Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem from 63 AD to 70 AD (seven years) and totally destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish temple, as Jesus predicted. In the middle of those seven years ancient historians like Josephus record that Jews who believed in Christ had an opportunity to escape Jerusalem so that they would not be killed. These Jews escaped to Pella in Jordan. This is what Jesus meant by saying in Matthew 24:41 that two women would be grinding with a hand mill and one would be taken and the other left, because the one who will be taken will be a believing Jew in Christ who will escape the horrific judgment that would fall on Jerusalem.

But, didn't Jesus say about the temple that not one stone would be sitting on another when it's destroyed? How is it then that in the temple remains now there are still stones laying intact on each?

What Jesus said about the temple, that one stone will not rest upon another, must be understood as hyperbolic language (exaggeration, which is a useful tool and form of verbal expression in society). There are other examples in Scripture of hyperbolic language. The context of Scripture (of what all of Scripture teaches on any issue is always the key to proper and accurate interpretation).

The ancient Jewish historian Josephus was allowed by the Romans to describe and write about what was happening in Jerusalem at the time of its siege and destruction by the Roman army. Among the things Josephus describes are the miraculous signs that occurred in Jerusalem prior to its destruction. All of this was prophesied by Jesus.

The famines and earthquakes that Jesus said would precede His return also occurred during the first century and some of these are recorded in the New Testament (i.e. the Book of Acts). Jesus was simply saying that things would continue, just as they did before, that there would still be earthquakes, famines, even marriages, before He comes to establish His Kingdom. He didn't mean that these things would increase in frequency. He wasn't saying, for example, that marriages would increase in frequency before He returned!

What about the supposed covenant of peace with Israel made by the Anti-Christ that the Book of Daniel talks about? There's no covenant of peace with Israel. As the great and eminent Bible commentator of old John Gill says about Daniel 9:27: "... but this is to be interpreted of the Roman people, spoken of in the latter part of the preceding verse; who, in order to accomplish their design to destroy the city and temple of Jerusalem, made peace with many nations, entered into covenant and alliance with them, particularly the Medes, Parthians, and Armenians, for the space of one week, or seven years; as it appears they did at the beginning of this week". Daniel 9:27 says the covenant is with "many". It has nothing to do with a covenant with Israel.

Before 70 A.D. Jews who became Christians still had to follow the religious rituals and traditions of the Jewish ceremonial laws (i.e. Scripture teaches that Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and whose father was Gentile, was circumcised, and that by the leading of the Apostle Paul himself. Because Timothy's mother was Jewish, according to Jewish law that made Timothy Jewish). So, even though Timothy had become Christian, the Apostle Paul still made sure to get him circumcised. Christ's Kingdom had not been established yet. But, Gentiles, who during this time became Christian, were not under obligation to follow the religious customs, rituals, and traditions of the Jewish ceremonial laws (Acts 15:20).

In the Book of Hebrews the writer says that “we are receiving a Kingdom”. The Kingdom had not yet been officially established before the destruction and judgment on Jerusalem which Jesus prophesied and which occurred in 70 AD.

After 70 A.D. and the establishment of the Kingdom none of the ceremonial laws applied even to the Jews who had converted. All the Jewish ceremonial laws came to a permanent end.

Now, the Kingdom is growing and will one day fill the earth. The Scripture teaches that at some point in the future the final judgment will occur. All the wicked will be once and for all destroyed and the Son will give the Kingdom over to the Father and God will be all in all.

Before 70A.D. believers who died remained in a state of death ("sleep"). After 70 A.D. all believers who had died (over the centuries) had their souls resurrected and united with their new and eternal bodies prepared for them in heaven, as Scripture teaches. Christians who are alive now, when they die, will not remain in a state of death (or "sleep") but, instead, their souls will instantly be changed (become immortal) and their souls also will also be united with their new and eternal bodies which, Scripture says, is reserved for them in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1). This is the on-going process of the Rapture.

The Apostle Paul says in in 2 Corinthians 5:1 that Christians have an eternal body (not a temporal body, but an eternal body) reserved for them in heaven (obviously the heavenly body is being kept for the time when their souls are resurrected).

In the context of Scripture Satan is now bound for a “thousand” years only to the degree that he cannot deceive all the gentile nations as he once did. Outside that limitation, Satan is as free to do his mischief as before.

The Millennium is symbolic and stands for the growth of Christ's Kingdom now. The number "thousand" is used symbolically just as when God says in Scripture that the cattle on a thousand hills are His. Of course, He owns more than the cattle on a thousand hills. It means all belongs to God.

In the Book of Daniel it says that Christ's Kingdom will be like a rock cut out of a mountain not by human hands (Daniel 2:34), and that this rock will grow into a mountain that fills the whole earth (Daniel 2:35). Christ's Kingdom doesn't fill the earth suddenly but gradually. Christ said that His Kingdom would be like the leaven in bread which spreads gradually throughout the whole bread (Matthew 13:33).

Christ's Kingdom has always been spiritual, not political. It wasn't political then, it's not political now, and it's not political in the future. Christ rules spiritually in the hearts of men. This rule will affect politics, but the rule itself is not political.

Almost all evangelical Christians today have absolutely no deep understanding of Christian doctrine, theology, Scripture, including prophecy!

They only want thrills and the frills. They're looking for a literal, glitzy, Kingdom like the disciples in Jesus' day thought He would establish.

And just as the Jews of Jesus' day wrongly understood His first coming, Christians of today wrongly understand what Scripture means by His second coming.

The Old Jerusalem of Judaism has been destroyed in 70 A.D.and the New Jerusalem (Christ's Church) now stands forever in its place. The modern state of Israel today has every right to exist but only like any other nation. Modern Israel has nothing to do with Bible prophecy or Scripture.

Revelation says that the New Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2). We know from other Scriptures that the Bride of Christ is the Church, Christ's Kingdom permanently replacing the old Jerusalem of Judaism under the law. In Revelation 22:15you will read that outside of the New Jerusalem are evil doers - that's the world. We are in the world but not of it. The New Jerusalem is not a physical city where outside of its doors are evil doers. That's not how to interpret the passage.

In fact, unlike the time of the Babylonian captivity hundreds of years prior, the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was so complete and thorough that even the genealogical record of the priests and their lineage was totally destroyed. God has totally put away Judaism and Israel as a nation once and for all. Today's Judaism and modern state of Israel are not recognized by heaven's God.

The true temple of God now is the body of believers in Jesus Christ, as Scripture says in various New Testament passages.

What, then, did Jesus mean when He said "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8). The "earth" here is none other than Israel. "Heaven and Earth" sometimes in Scripture is in reference to God's spiritual relationship with Israel. The "new heavens and the new earth" are a picture of the new covenant, of the relationship of God with spiritual Israel (which is the Church made up of both Jew and Gentile believers in Christ).

"In 2 Peter 3:10 we read that when Jesus returns (Peter refers to it as the "Day of the Lord," which in other Scriptures is in reference to Christ's Second Coming), the heavens will pass away and the earth shall be dissolved. This is not referring to the physical earth or heavens. Even dispensationalist Christians believe that the physical heavens and earth will remain when Christ returns and establishes His millennial Kingdom. So, dispensationalists must have a big problem with this verse, but non-dispensationalist Christians have no problem. In the Old Testament, sometimes, when God would make pronouncements to Israel, He would refer to Israel as "Earth" (Isaiah 1:2). The word "earth" in the passage of 2 Peter 3:10 symbolizes national Israel and Judaism and the word "elements," in the passage, represent the ceremonial beliefs and tenets of Judaism. The Apostle Paul uses the same word "elements" in the Greek to refer to religious beliefs and principles (Colossians 2:20). The "heavens" represent God's relationship to Judaism. All this will be permanently done away with upon Christ's return accompanying the destruction of the Jewish Temple and Jerusalem (which occurred in 70 A.D.)

Here is what Gary DeMar says: "Jesus does not change subjects when He assures the disciples that "heaven and earth will pass away." Rather, He merely affirms His prior predictions, which are recorded in Matthew 24:29­31. Verse 36 is a summary and confirmation statement of these verses.(6) Keep in mind that the central focus of the Olivet Discourse is the desolation of the "house" and "world" of apostate Israel (23:36). The old world of Judaism, represented by the earthly temple, is taken apart stone by stone (24:2). James Jordan writes, "each time God brought judgment on His people during the Old Covenant, there was a sense in which an old heavens and earth was replaced with a new one: New rulers were set up, a new symbolic world model was built (Tabernacle, Temple), and so forth."(7) The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant with new leaders, a new priesthood, new sacraments, a new sacrifice, a new tabernacle (John 1:14), and a new temple (John 2:19; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21). In essence, a new heaven and earth.

C.H. Spurgeon puts it this way: ""Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under a new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it." (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).

What about the argument of double fulfillment of these prophecies? The doctrine of double fulfillment would not apply to what Christ says about His return and end times because the time frame given by Christ and by Scripture preculudes the possibility of a double fulfillment in these matters. Jesus said it would be in His generation and be witnessed by those to whom He was speaking.

Also, a double fulfillment would mean that believing Jews would inherit separate promises from believing Gentiles and the Scripture teaches in Galatians and elsewhere that Abraham's spiritual seed is one and indivisible and that both Jewish and Gentile believers inherit all of the same promises together.

What about Zechariah 14 where we read that Christ would split the earth in two upon His return? Matthew Henry in his famous commentary says that Zechariah 14 is to be interpreted symbolically and spiritually. Read what he says in his commentary.

The context of all of Scripture has to be considered before we say something is symbolic or literal. As was mentioned earlier, there are many Old Testament prophecies that have been fulfilled spiritually in the New Testament through the Christian Church (i.e. compare Amos 9:12 with Acts 15:13-19)

Since Christ Himself says in Revelation 1:1 to interpret Revelation symbolically then that's how we must interpret the Zechariah passage also.

In the very first verse of the very first chapter we read, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God (the Father) gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John" (Revelation 1:1, KJV). The word "signified" in the passage comes from the original Greek New Testament word meaning "signs" or "symbols". Thus, Revelation was meant by Christ to be interpreted symbolically, not literally.

The "last days" are over. The Apostles said that they were living in the last days. That was two thousand years ago! What they meant is that they were living in the last days of Judaism that was still recognized by God.

This view that Christ's second coming occurred in 70 AD during the destruction of Jerusalem is known as Preterist (or fulfilled) eschatology. There is much, much more to be said on this subject. Please check out the various articles, views, and interpretations concerning preterism at: http://www.preteristarchive.com

Also, the reader is encouraged to read "The Bible Vs. The Traditional View of Hell" at: http://bgrnathan.blogspot.com/2010/01/bible-vs-traditional-view-of-hell.html. Some truths I share in that article will help the reader to understand better what has been said in this article.

The author is greatly indebted to the writings of the Rev. John L. Bray (Christian evangelist) for coming to know and understand this view of biblical prophecy. Evangelist Bray is now retired but his book "Matthew 24 Fulfilled" continues to be enjoyed by readers. The book may be ordered through American Vision.

Christ Was Begotten - Not Created!

by Babu G. Ranganathan

The Christian faith teaches that just as Adam and Eve were two persons but one flesh so, too, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three Persons but one God. The Lord Jesus Christ was both God and man. When Jehovah says in Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD." The word for "one" comes from a Hebrew word meaning composite oneness (not singular oneness), like when the Bible describes Adam and Eve were one. There is a Hebrew word for singular oneness, but that word is not used for Jehovah in Deuteronomy 6:4.

The Trinity is three divine Persons united with one nature and purpose.  When the Bible talks about one God, the "one" does not mean one person. It's not a singular oneness. It is a composite oneness. The three Persons of the Trinity are united in divine essence and purpose (not divided) like the gods of polytheism. 

But was not Christ begotten of the Father? Yes, but this does not mean He was created or made from nothing. You and I were begotten of our parents, but our parents in no way created us just because we were begotten of them. Our life, and our very souls, had already existed in our parents before they had begotten us. In fact, we really existed from the time of Adam and Eve even though we were begotten many centuries later. How is that so? Well, did not God finish His work of creation on the seventh day according to Genesis? If that is so then we had to have existed in some form from the time of Adam and Eve since God was no longer in the routine business of creating anything after the seventh day of creation week. In the case of Christ it is completely logical to say that He existed from all eternity in some form in the Father before He was begotten as God. In fact, in John 1:18 Scripture teaches that Christ is the "only begotten God" (this is the literal translation from the Greek New Testament). The word "begotten" in the passage comes from a Greek word from which we get our English word "generate". To "generate", in the context of how the word is used here, means to "bring forth" out of pre-existing substance, whereas "to create", properly, means to "bring forth" out of nothing. Just as sunlight is generated (begotten) from the Sun but is not created by the Sun, so, too, Christ was generated (begotten) from the Father but was not created by the Father. Amen!! and Amen!! 

After Christ was begotten of the Father the Father then through Christ (His only begotten Son) made all the universe (John 1:3, Colossians 1:15-16). And, of course, much later in time Christ was also begotten as man. In John 8:58 we read the words of Christ "Before Abraham was born I AM". It is clear from the use of the words "I AM" in this context that our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was claiming eternality which only the true God can claim. It is important to understand that, although Christ existed from all eternity within the Father, He was generated (or begotten) as God only once. In other words, God the Father was not eternally generating His Son. The traditional concept or doctrine of the eternal generation of Christ does not make any sense anymore than it would make sense to say that a human father is continually generating (or begetting) the same son over and over again. Christ is eternal, but His generation from the Father is not eternal. 

But if Christ was God how, then, could He die? The Scriptures teach that God can and did die. We read in Revelation 1:17-18 "... Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen ..." The title "First and the Last" is from the Old Testament and it is a title that belongs only to Jehovah (or God). Thus it is none other than Jehovah (or God) Who is saying that He died. We know from the context of the first chapter in Revelation that it is none other than Christ who is speaking here. No one has the power to kill God, but God can, if He so chooses, give up His life so long as it is for a morally right cause and purpose. Just as it is not morally wrong for one human being to sacrifice his life for another so it is not wrong for God to sacrifice His life for those whom He created. This is exactly what God (the Son) did on the Cross. Philippians 2:5-8 tells us that Christ gave up equality (positionally) with God (the Father) when He became a man and dwelt on the earth. Although He was still God even after He became man, He gave up the rights that He possessed as God when He lived on earth. That is why when He was on earth He was fully dependent upon His Father to perform miracles. 

But, if Christ was equally God along with the Father and the Holy Spirit then why did Christ say to His Father in John 17:3 that the Father was the only true God. The word "only" in the passage must be understood in its proper context. Christ was not comparing the Father to Himself when He said the Father was the only true God. Rather, Christ was comparing the Father to the pagan deities that the gentiles of His time worshipped when He was on earth. In comparison to these pagan deities Christ was saying that the Father was the only true God. This has to be the meaning or otherwise we will have a contradiction in the Scriptures. For Scripture also teaches in 1 John 5:20 that Christ is "the true God and eternal life." It is important to understand the words of Scripture in the context of what all of Scripture teaches on any given issue or subject of doctrine. 

Doesn't Hebrews 1:4, at least in the King James Version, say that Christ was made better than the angels? The word "made" in the passage is better translated as "became". Christ became better than the angels. Again, at His first coming as Man the Scripture teaches that Christ humbled Himself. He was made (or became) lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:9). Hebrews 1:3 teaches that after Christ made purification for sins He sat down at the right hand of God (the Father). That is when He became better than the angels because God the Father had restored to His Son His original position. It was after Christ died for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God (the Father) that God the Father restored to His Son His preeminent position again (Philippians 2:6-9). This is what Jesus meant when shortly before He went to the Cross He prayed to His Father "And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine Own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was" (John 17:5). Christ is still both God and Man, but as Man He became exalted above the angels after He finished His work on earth. Of course, in His essential divine being and nature, however, Christ was always superior to the angels. 

The Scriptures clearly teach that Christ is God (e.g. John 1:1; Hebrews 1:8; Titus 2:13). In Titus 2:13 Christ is referred to as "our great God and Savior." In Revelation 1:8 the Lord Jesus Christ Himself makes the claim that He is "the Almighty." It is clear from the context of the chapter that it is Christ Who is speaking. Certainly, the Scriptures do not teach Christ to be a false God as is the case with the Devil who is called "the god (or ruler) of this world." Ephesians 2:2 says that the worldly make the Devil their god and so did believers before they were saved: "in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." The Devil is a false god and a creature. Christ, on the other hand, is true God and Creator. We read in John 1:3 that without Christ (Who is also called the Word) "not anything was made that was made." Obviously, then, Christ was not made or otherwise He would have had to have made Himself which makes no sense. Colossians 1:17 teaches that Christ "is before all things and by Him all things consist (are sustained)." And Colossians 1:18 says about Christ that "He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence." No creature must have the preeminence in all things. That position belongs only to Jehovah (God) alone, and, thus, Christ must be Jehovah (God) in order for the Scriptures to declare that He must have the preeminence in all things. Glory to God! Only God is capable of fitting such a description! 

In certain references of Scripture the Father as God may have preeminence because the Father is the Head of Christ just as Adam was the head of Eve and had a certain preeminence and priority in relationship to her. But, this does not mean that Eve was inferior to Adam. So, similarly Christ is not inferior to the Father even though the Father is the Head of Christ. Of course, while on earth Christ could say that the Father was greater because positionally speaking Christ had humbled Himself in the incarnation by becoming a man and subjecting Himself to the law. 

Why does Jesus say in Mark 10:18 "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." Is Jesus not clearly stating that He is not God? No. Jesus was telling them to make up their minds about Him. Why call Him good and not believe that He is God as He claimed to be? After all, Jesus claimed to be the Son of God which means He was God. As Son of Man He was man (a human being) and as Son of God He was God, two natures in one Person. As it was pointed out earlier, in John 8:58 Jesus says "Before Abraham was born I AM". He claimed eternality which only God possess. Only God existed from all eternity. In the Old Testament Jehovah referred to Himself as I AM. Jesus didn't say that "Before Abraham was born I was". Jesus said, "Before Abraham was born I AM". 

A question often raised is how could God Who is infinite become incarnated as finite man. The answer is that in the miracle of the Incarnation the infinite God grafted onto Himself finite human nature. The finite didn't contain the infinite, but rather the Infinite contained the finite. Just as a one gallon tank can't hold ten gallons but, yet, a ten gallon tank can hold one gallon so, too, the infinite God (Christ) circumscribed and united to Himself finite human nature when He condescended to become Man. Colossians 2:9 tells us concerning Christ that "in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." The full essence and nature of deity dwelt within His human frame so that He was both fully God as well as fully man. Because of the unique union of His humanity to His deity Christ had full access to all the attributes of His deity - omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence to use under the Father's direction and will. 

It is precisely because Christ was God in human flesh that His sacrifice on the cross for our sins had infinite value in the sight of God the Father. It is because Christ was not created or made but, rather, was the eternal and only begotten Son of the Father that it was truly a painful and enormous sacrifice for God the Father to give up His Son over to cruel suffering and death on the Cross for our sins. That is why it is written, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him (His Son Jesus Christ) should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). As Son of God, Christ was fully God and as Son of Man Christ was fully man. The Scriptures use both titles "Son of God" and "Son of Man" in referring to Christ because He was both. 

What about Hebrews 1:9 where the Father says to the Son "...therefore God, even Thy God..." Why does the Father say "Thy God" to the Son if the Son is equally God with the Father. How can the Father be God to His own Son and the Son also be God? The great Reformed theologian and Christian writer Arthur W. Pink gives us an understanding to this paradox. In the context of the passage in Hebrews 1:9 the Father's statement to the Son is made after the Son's incarnation and when the Son assumes the throne to His eternal kingdom when it is established. The Son's human nature (in the incarnation) was created by the Father so the Father in that respect was God even to His Son. But in His divinity Christ was equally God with the Father. 

Another passage that is often misused by those who deny Christ's deity is 1 Thessalonians 4:16 which reads: "For the Lord Himself (referring to Christ) shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God ..." Because the passage says that Christ will descend with the voice of the archangel some teach that Christ, therefore, is an archangel. But the passage also says that Christ will descend with the trump of God. Does that then make Christ a trumpet? I hope not! The passage is simply saying that the archangel will be involved in introducing the second coming of Christ. It is not saying that Christ is the archangel! The word "angel" itself means "messenger" or "one who is sent" in Greek, the language of the New Testament. The Hebrew Old Testament also has this meaning. The context determines the nature of the messenger. In the Old Testament, for example, the "Angel of the Lord" is understood as being none other than Jehovah. This is seen from the context. Even though the word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible the meaning is there in Scripture. Just because a word is not found in Scripture doesn't mean the meaning of that word is not there. For example, the word "theocracy" is not found in Scripture but its meaning exists in Scripture since Israel in the Old Testament was a theocracy which means a nation ruled by God. Even though the word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible the meaning is there in Scripture. Just because a word is not found in Scripture doesn't mean the meaning of that word is not there. For example, the word "theocracy" is not found in Scripture but its meaning exists in Scripture since Israel in the Old Testament was a theocracy which means a nation ruled by God. 

But isn't the concept of God being a Trinity found in pagan religions? Well, even pagan religions have some elements of original truth even though that original truth may have been perverted by Satan (the Devil). Satan is a copy cat. The Devil takes what he knows is true, perverts and twists it and plants the perverted and twisted forms of the truth in human societies and cultures. Satan didn't invent the concept of the Trinity. Satan already knew that God was a Trinity from the beginning of creation, but Satan planted a perverted and twisted concept of the Trinity into the pagan religions that existed before Christianity so that future generations can be deceived into believing that the Trinity is of pagan origin when it really is not. The Bible teaches that the Devil is a master at such tactics. The pure, unperverted, and uncorrupted truth of the Trinity, however, is found only in the Christian Scriptures. 

What about Colossians 1:15 where Christ is referred to as the "Firstborn of all creation"? Doesn't this mean Christ was created? No! The very next verse (verse 16) tells us why Christ is called the Firstborn of all creation. It's not because He was created but precisely the opposite: because He is the Creator of all things. The preposition "of" in the original language of the Greek New Testament can also be translated as "over." In other words, Christ Who is God the Father's Firstborn is over all creation because it was through Christ that the Father created all things (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16). The term "firstborn" in Scripture is the title given to the one in the family who inherits everything. It is a positional title more than anything else. In the Old Testament God had referred to David as being His "firstborn" even though David was the youngest of the children in his family. This was because David would eventually rule over all Israel. Thus, God used the term "firstborn" as a title of position. In reference to Christ, it is important to understand that the title "firstborn" does not imply that Christ was simply the first among other divinely begotten sons of God. John 1:18 makes it clear that Christ is God's only begotten. So God had no other divinely begotten sons. In the case of Christ the title "firstborn" is used simply to describe His position in relation to creation - that He is Supreme over all creation. 

What about Revelation 3:14 where Christ calls Himself "the beginning of the creation of God." Doesn't that teach Christ was created? No! The word for "beginning" in the passage comes from the Greek root "arche" which means "origin" or "source." In other words, Christ is the beginning (the origin or source) of God's creation. It doesn't mean that Christ Himself was created! 

How can Jesus be God while he Himself prayed to God? How can Jesus be God when Jesus is called the Son of God? The word "God" is a name. That name belongs equally to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is why Christ said to His disciples, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). 

My last name is "Ranganathan". My father's last name was "Ranganathan" (he passed away). When I talked to my father, while he was alive, it was "Ranganathan" talking to "Ranganathan". How could "Ranganathan" talk to "Ranganathan"? Because both, my father and I, were "Ranganathan". 

But, doesn't the Bible say there is only one God? The Bible also says Adam and Even were one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Does that mean that Adam and Eve were one person? Of course, not! They were one because they shared the same nature. So, too, Jesus and the Father are two Persons but one God because they share the one Divine nature. They are also one in fellowship and purpose. In both these ways Jesus and His Father are one God. There is one God but that one God exists in Three distinct Persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is more than Person in the one God. That is why God says in Genesis 1:26, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (notice the plural language, "us" and "our" used in the passage). The plural language here cannot refer to God speaking on behalf of Himself and of the angels because the angels did not create man and, furthermore, the angels do not share the image of God. 

The word "God" is a name. That name belongs to the Father, Son, and Spirit. When the name "God" is mentioned in Scripture without specifying the Son or the Spirit it is usually understood as referring to the Father.

In John 1:1 shouldn't Christ be referred to as "a" God because there is no Greek article? No. The absence of the Greek article does not necessarily mean that the letter "a" is to be substituted. The context must demand it. There are various places in Scripture where the Father is referred to as God without the Greek article (i.e. John 1:6) but no one would refer the Father as a God because there is no Greek article. In any case, there are definite passages in Scripture where Christ is referred to as "the God", that is with the Greek article (i.e. Hebrews 1:8).

I've actually had someone tell me that it doesn't matter if Christ is referred to as "the God" in the Greek New Testament Scriptures because even the Apostle Paul and Silas (who were mere men) were referred to as "the Gods" by pagans in the Greek New Testament Scriptures. But it's one thing for pagans to assert something since pagans can be wrong about what they believe, and the pagans were wrong when they believed Paul and Silas to be "the Gods", but it's quite another thing when the Apostles themselves who wrote the Holy Scriptures assert that Jesus Christ is "the God." Just because what pagans believe and say is recorded in Scripture doesn't mean that's what Scripture is teaching! After all, the lies of the Devil are accurately recorded in Scripture but that doesn't mean Scripture supports or teaches those lies. On the other hand, when the very Apostles who wrote the Greek New Testament Scriptures, by the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, assert and teach that Christ is "the God" we are not then talking about what pagans believe or say but rather what the Spirit of God Himself is saying through the Apostles. And what the Apostles say and teach we must not reject! The fact is Christ, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is equally the God. There are no two Gods (a little God and a big God as the cults teach). Neither are there three Gods. Rather, there is one God in three distinct Persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible clearly teaches in various passages that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God and, yet, the Bible also teaches there is only one God. Thus, what we are to understand is that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three divine Persons Who share one divine nature and Who are also one in purpose and fellowship. As Christians we may be one with God in fellowship and purpose but we are not one with God in sharing His eternal and divine nature. The Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are one in both their divine nature and in their fellowship, communion, and purpose. 

It is very unfortunate that so many in the cults have distorted and twisted what the Scriptures teach regarding the Person and work of our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. True Christians throughout history, regardless of denomination, have always agreed on the primary and foundational truths regarding the nature of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Where Christians have differed throughout history is in matters of secondary doctrine. The reader can find helpful materials at his or her local Christian bookstore to become better equipped to argue against the cults.
 

Is Avatar Scientific?

by Babu G. Ranganathan

We hear it all the time. "Mother Nature" designed this or "Mother Nature" designed that. Wow! (A moment of silence, please...). The latest and popular film, Avatar, is a worship of Nature.

But, just because something exists in nature doesn't mean it originated from nature. If all the chemicals that make-up an earthworm were scattered and left to themselves, "Mother Nature" would have no ability to re-organize them into a worm again. It takes an already existing worm to bring about another worm.

Although it has been shown that some amino acids, the basic building blocks of life, can come into existence by chance, it has never been shown that the various amino acids can come together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules. The only reason why amino acids come together into a sequence in the cells of our bodies is because they're directed to do so by an already existing genetic code or program (DNA) which also is made up of molecules arranged in a precise sequence.

If there weren't any already existing DNA and protein molecules, poor "Mother Nature" would be helpless to make any DNA and proteins.

In the midst of arguments over evolution and intelligent design, it is amazing how many in society, including the very educated, believe that scientists had already created life in the laboratory. No such thing has ever happened.

All that scientists have done is genetically engineer already existing forms of life in the laboratory, and by doing this scientists have been able to produce new forms of life, but they did not produce these new life forms from non-living matter. Even if scientists ever do produce life from non-living matter it will only be through intelligent design or planning so it still wouldn't help support any theory of life originating by chance or evolution.

Recent news reports suggest that scientists may be close to creating artificial (synthetic) life. None of this is happening by chance but by intelligent design and planning. Why, then, will many not give credit to God for the original DNA and life?

In the case involving synthetic (artificial) life, scientists don't actually create or produce life itself from non-living matter. What scientists do in this case is create (by intelligent design) artificial DNA (genetic instructions and code) which is then implanted into an already existing living cell and, thereby, changing that cell into a new form of life.

If the cell had evolved it would have had to be all at once. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years to become complete because it would be highly unstable and quickly disintegrate in the open environment, especially without the protection of a complete and fully functioning cell membrane.

As mentioned earlier, it has been shown that some of the basic building blocks of life, amino acids, can come into existence by chance, but it has never been shown that the various amino acids can come together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules. Even the simplest cell is composed of millions of protein molecules. An average protein molecule may have five hundred amino acids arranged sequentially. Larger protein molecules may have thousands. The simplest cell has millions of complex protein molecules!

Without DNA there cannot be RNA, and without RNA there cannot be DNA. And without either DNA or RNA there cannot be proteins, and without proteins there cannot be DNA or RNA. They're all mutually dependent upon each other for existence! The cell is irreducibly complex. It could not have gradually evolved! Evolutionists generally believe that it took one billion years for the first life form or cell to have evolved. That belief, although still taught as gospel in many elementary and secondary schools, cannot be sustained by modern science.

Once there is a complete, living, and fully functioning cell then, of course, the genetic program and the complex biological mechanisms exist to direct the formation of more cells. In a complete and living cell, the cell membrane allows for certain raw materials and molecules from the environment to enter into the cell. Once inside the cell, the genetic code and other complex biological mechanisms direct these raw materials or molecules to form into more cells with their own genetic code and complex mechanisms. The question is how could life have come about naturally on Earth when there was no already existing code or directing mechanism in Nature.

If humans must use intelligence to perform genetic engineering, to meaningfully manipulate the genetic code, then what does that say about the origin of the genetic code itself!

The great British scientist Sir Frederick Hoyle has said that the probability of the sequence of molecules in the simplest cell coming into existence by chance is equivalent to a tornado going through a junk yard of airplane parts and assembling a 747 Jumbo Jet!

We tend to judge something as being simple or complex by its size. So many of us assume that because the cell is microscopic in size that it must be simple. Not so! Size is relative, but not complexity. If you were as big as the Empire State building you would probably think that the tiny cars and automobiles on the street were simple and could easily happen by a chance combination of parts. However, we know that is not so.

Natural laws are adequate to explain how the order in life, the universe, and even a microwave oven operates, but mere undirected natural laws cannot fully explain the origin of such order.

Science cannot prove how life originated since no human observed the origin of life by either chance or design. Observation and detection by the human senses, either directly or indirectly through scientific instruments, is the basis of science and for establishing proof. The issue is which position has better scientific support. Both sides should have the opportunity to present their case.

If some astronauts from Earth discovered figures of persons similar to Mt. Rushmore on an uninhabited planet there would be no way to scientifically prove the carved figures originated by design or by chance processes of erosion. Neither position is science, but scientific arguments may be made to support one or the other.

Many think that natural selection in nature is proof that we had evolved. Natural selection does occur in nature. However, natural selection itself does not produce biological variations. Natural selection can only work with biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. It is a passive process in nature. Natural selection is simply another way of saying that if a biological variation occurs which is helpful to an animal or plant's survival then that that variation will be preserved and be passed on. Of course, nature does not do any active or conscious selecting. The term "natural selection" is simply a figure of speech.

Also, natural selection only applies once there is life and not before. In other words, natural selection is not involved in any pre-biotic, non-living interactions of chemicals.

Evolutionists believe that random or chance mutations in the genetic code (caused by random environmental forces such as radiation) will produce the favorable evolutionary changes necessary for natural selection to act upon.

However, there is no evidence that random or chance mutations in the genetic code are capable of producing greater biological complexity (vertical evolution) among natural species. Mutations are only capable of producing horizontal evolution (variations within natural species). In any case, most biological variations among natural species are due to new combinations of already existing genes and not mutations.

What about “Junk DNA”? The latest science shows that "Junk DNA” isn't junk after all! It's we who were ignorant of how useful these segments of DNA really are. Recent scientific research published in scientific journals such as Nature has revealed that the "non-coding" segments of DNA are more than just useful; they are vital in regulating gene expression (i.e. how, when, and where) genes are expressed.

Recent research also shows that repetitive structures in DNA are vital in forming the chromosome matrix, which, in turn, enables chromosomes to be functional and operative.

Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot arise by chance, so it is far more logical to believe that the DNA and biological similarities between species are due to a common Designer rather than common ancestry through evolution by way of random mutations. The Creator simply designed similar functions for similar purposes in all the various forms of life.

DNA similarities within a true species can be used to establish relationship because within a true species the various individuals can interbreed, but this not the case across true species. Therefore, similarities across true species cannot be used for establishing biological relationships. 

What if we should find evidence of life on Mars? Wouldn't that prove evolution? No. It wouldn't be proof that such life had evolved from non-living matter by chance natural processes. And even if we did find evidence of life on Mars it would have most likely have come from our very own planet - Earth! In the Earth's past there was powerful volcanic activity, which could have easily spewed dirt-containing microbes into outer space, which eventually could have reached Mars. A Newsweek article of September 21, 1998, p.12 mentions exactly this possibility.

Just because the right conditions exist to sustain life doesn't mean that those conditions can bring life into being by chance.

We know from the law of entropy in science that the universe does not have the ability to have sustained itself from all eternity. It requires a beginning. But, we also know from science that natural laws could not have brought the universe into being from nothing. The beginning of the universe, therefore, points to a supernatural origin!

All of this simply means that real science supports faith in God. Again, science cannot prove that we are here by chance (evolution) or by design (creation). However, the scientific evidence can be used to support one or the other. It is only fair that evidence supporting intelligent design be presented to students alongside of evolutionary theory, especially in public schools, which receive funding from taxpayers, who are on both sides of the issue. Also, no one is being forced to believe in God or adopt a particular religion so there is no true violation of separation of church and state.

What we believe about our origins will influence our philosophy and value of life. This is no small matter!

As a religion and science writer, I encourage all to read my Internet article "The Natural Limits of Evolution" at my website www.religionscience.com for more in-depth study of the issue.

The Institute for Creation research (www.icr.org) has many good articles, books, and resources from Ph.D or Master's degreed scientists who believe in creation and who believe that true scientific supports creation.