Save us from the fire

Christianity without hell

Save us from the fireJohn Shore recently authored a commentary for Patheos entitled, “What Christianity Without Hell Looks Like.” Patheos is a website providing information about various religions.

Reprinted in TIME Ideas and complete with a photo of a dove soaring in the sunlight, the article’s main point is that Christianity without hell “would allow Christians to point upward to God’s love.”

Shore is a popular Christian blogger and author, yet his column features a string of shockingly bad theological statements that nevertheless resonate well in today’s relativistic culture.

Let’s look at just four of his false statements.
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Blood - platelets

The third bowl – Revelation 16:4-7

Previously: The second bowl – Revelation 16:3

The scripture

Rev. 16:4 –The third [angel] poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. 5 I heard the angel of the waters say: You are righteous, who is and who was, the Holy One, for You have decided these things. 6 Because they poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets, You also gave them blood to drink; they deserve it! 7 Then I heard someone from the altar say: Yes, Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments. (HCSB).

The rivers and springs became blood

Blood - plateletsThe third bowl judgment is similar to the third trumpet judgment in which a third of the rivers and springs became bitter (Rev. 8:10-11). Now, however, it appears that all the fresh water is impacted as it turns to blood.

Some commentators who hold to figurative interpretations of this passage see the rivers and springs of water as “learned men” who, like streams, convey “the venom and poison of their errors and idolatries from the spring-head through the earth” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 16:1-7). The water turning to blood signifies the godly vengeance taken upon their lives for the physical and moral harm they have inflicted on the saints. Other interpreters see the rivers and springs as depicting the joys and pleasures of life, which are poisoned by sin.

While these graphic images capture well the corrupting work of sin and God’s judgment upon it, a literal view may be the best, especially if John is describing what takes place inside the walls of Jerusalem during the Roman siege in 70 A.D. We know that water sources became polluted. In addition, death was so widespread that streams of blood literally flowed in the streets. So complete was the devastation that Jewish factions within the walls sabotaged each other’s supplies and fought a civil war within their city’s gates. A local understanding of this vision is easier to fathom than worldwide poisoning of all drinking water. Of course, God is able to accomplish this – either by direct intervention or through indirect means such as natural disasters or nuclear warfare.

The point is clear: Those who persecute the bride of Christ will find judgment that fits the crime.
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Blood

The second bowl – Revelation 16:3

Previously: The first bowl – Revelation 16:1-2

The scripture

Rev. 16:3 –The second [angel] poured out his bowl into the sea. It turned to blood like a dead man’s, and all life in the sea died. (HCSB)

The sea turned to blood

BloodJohn records that the target of the second angel’s bowl of divine wrath is the sea, which turns to blood like a dead man’s. There are two key questions to be addressed here. First, what is meant by the “sea?” And second, what is the significance of the sea turning to blood “like a dead man’s?”

As we have noted in previous chapters, Bible scholars interpret the meaning of the sea differently in Revelation:

  • Some understand it literally to mean the salty bodies of water that cover much of the earth’s surface. The seas turn red by the hand of God, or as a result of divinely orchestrated human battles; some argue that a bacterial “red tide” may be the cause of perishing sea life. The widespread death of people and/or animals in the sea would create a putrid environment that clogs the waterways with coagulating blood like a dead man’s.
  • Others argue for a narrower but equally literal view, saying John is referring to the Mediterranean Sea, or to the waters between Patmos, where John is exiled, and Rome; this would include not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Aegean, Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas. This presupposes that the bowl judgments are poured out on the known world of John’s day rather than on all the earth’s seas.
  • Many preterists contend that the Sea of Galilee is in John’s view since that is where the Roman armies inflict a particularly horrifying slaughter of the Jews during their first-century rebellion against the empire. In fact, the result of the battle is that the sea becomes a floating tide of corpses, severed limbs and bloody pools.
  • Some historicists say the sea depicts the ocean centuries later as the navies of France, Spain and Portugal suffer bloody defeats while defending a corrupt papacy. Matthew Henry suggests the bloody seas may describe “the whole system of [Papal Rome’s] religion, their false doctrines, their corrupt glosses, their superstitious rites, their idolatrous worship, their pardons, indulgences, a great conflux of wicked inventions and institutions, by which they maintain a trade and traffic advantageous to themselves, but injurious to all who deal with them…. God discovered not only the vanity and falsehood of their religion, but the pernicious and deadly nature of it – that the souls of men were poisoned by that which was pretended to be the sure means of their salvation” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, 16:1-7).
  • Still others take a symbolic approach, contending that the sea stands for the Gentile nations, or the restless mass of humanity in general.

Whether this vision is to be understood literally or figuratively, the sea turning to blood “like a dead man’s” conveys the idea of massive and complete death. The waters swell with putrefied corpses. Life’s blood has been spilled beyond the hope of healing. Death, destruction, and decay assault the eyes and inflame the nostrils. This is graphic, violent, sense-numbing death. Even if we take John’s description symbolically, the corruption of people, nations, and institutions is complete. The false doctrines are a stench in God’s nostrils. The corrupt practices of people, governments, and religious institutions are beyond repair; like corpses, they must be discarded. John seems here to be telling us that God’s punishment fits the crime. The wicked are so depraved nothing short of death will vindicate His holiness.
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Judgment

The first bowl – Revelation 16:1-2

Previously: The sanctuary was filled with smoke – Revelation 15:8

The scripture

Rev. 16:1 –Then I heard a loud voice from the sanctuary saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” 2 The first went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and severely painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. (HCSB)

JudgmentIn chapter 15 the angels prepare to deliver God’s wrath against the inhabitants of the earth. They emerge from the heavenly sanctuary dressed in priestly garb and are given bowls filled with the seven plagues with which “God’s wrath will be completed” (Rev. 15:1). As they leave the temple, it fills with smoke generated by the glory and power of God. No one is allowed to return to the sanctuary until the seven last plagues are carried out.

A loud voice from the sanctuary tells the angels to pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth. The first angel, without hesitation, obeys, and the result is “severely painful sores.”
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GOD

Original sin and the Imago Dei

GODIn Colonial days students learned to read from The New England Primer, which featured a number of Christian maxims such as, “In Adam’s Fall, we sinned all.”

This statement, like others in the Primer, incorporated biblical truths into basic education. From childhood, students came to understand that all human beings are sinful and fallen creatures.

While many schools today abandon these truths in favor of relativism, syncretism, and multiculturalism, many Christian parents instill in their children the reality that sin has marred the Imago Dei – or image of God – in their lives.

We use Scripture to explain our depraved state: “We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way” (Isa. 53:6); “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9); and, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

These truths go against the grain of our feel-good culture but are intended to drive us to the foot of the cross, where the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. And for that, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude to our great God.

At the same time, both Scripture and experience remind us that while we await glorification, we must engage in a daily battle between the flesh and the indwelling Spirit (Gal. 5:17).
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Bible Scroll

Revelation 15: Download the free study

Bible ScrollWe are continuing to work through the Book of Revelation with a focus on four major views of the so-called Apocalypse of John. You may read the commentary to date by clicking here.

Whether you’re a preterist, who sees the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era, a historicist, who views the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history, a futurist, who sees most of Revelation as yet unfulfilled, or an idealist, who sees Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, there are important truths the Lord reveals to all of us in this book.

We would do well to approach Revelation with caution — and with great anticipation, knowing God will fulfill all His promises to us. We also should be comforted by the fact that Revelation is the only book in Scripture specifically promising a blessing to those who hear its prophecies and keep them.

With that in mind, and to make it easier to keep our notes together, we have captured the commentary into single Adobe files (pdfs) that you may download, print and share. Click on the links below to capture notes on chapter 15. If you missed the link to notes on any other chapters to date, links are provided as well.

Download the pdf: Revelation 15

Download the pdf: Revelation 14

Download the pdf: Revelation 13

Download the pdf: Revelation 12

Download the pdf: Revelation 11

Download the pdf: Revelation 10

Download the pdf: Revelation 8-9

Download the pdf: Revelation 6-7

Download the pdf: Revelation 4-5

Download Introduction to Revelation and chapters 1-3

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith and polygamy: An inconvenient truth

Joseph SmithDoes it make any difference that Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, married as many as 40 women, some of whom already were married?

Smith’s marital history has been the subject of much debate, but until a recent essay by the Mormon Church acknowledging the founding prophet’s multiple wives, the church has maintained that Smith was happily married to one woman.

The essay explains that Smith was a reluctant polygamist, agreeing to multiple marriages only after an angel threatened him with a sword. Further, the essay notes that Smith was restoring the “ancient principles” of biblical prophets like Abraham, who took secondary wives.

In appealing to Scripture to address the inconvenient truth of Smith’s polygamy, the LDS church offers evangelical Christians a unique opportunity to urge our Mormon friends to revisit the Bible, which takes a back seat to the Book of Mormon and other church documents in LDS theology and practice.

Consider three biblical perspectives: (1) God’s creative intent; (2) His divine accommodation; and (3) His warning against polygamy.
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Heavenly smoke

The sanctuary was filled with smoke – Revelation 15:8

Previously: Seven gold bowls – Revelation 15:7

The scripture

Rev. 15:8 – Then the sanctuary was filled with smoke from God’s glory and from His power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. (HCSB)

The sanctuary was filled with smoke

Heavenly smokeFinally in this chapter John writes, “Then the sanctuary was filled with smoke from God’s glory and from His power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed” (Rev. 15:8). Smoke and clouds are manifestations of God’s presence. At Sinai, the Lord comes to Moses in a “dense cloud” so the people will hear God speak with Moses and believe him (Ex. 19:9). After the tabernacle is assembled in the wilderness, Moses cannot enter the tent of meeting as long as the cloud rests on it and the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-35). God instructs Moses in the way that Aaron must enter the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement so that he, unlike his two sons, will live. God’s reason: “I appear in the cloud above the mercy seat” (Lev. 16:2).

While this awesome divine presence no doubt strikes terror in the hearts of some Israelites, there is a strong element of comfort to be found. As promised, God reveals Himself to His redeemed people at a place of meeting. Much later, when Solomon finishes a prayer of dedication for the newly built temple, fire descends from heaven and the glory of the Lord fills it. The priests are not able to continue ministering for this same cloud Moses once encountered now inhabits the place where holy God has condescended to meet sinful people (1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 7:1-2). Later, in Isaiah’s vision of the Lord, he sees the temple filled with smoke (Isa. 6:4).
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E014090

What should be our attitude toward wealth and health?

Previously: What scriptures do Word-Faith leaders use?

This is the last in a five-part series on the Prosperity Gospel.

Download as a PDF.

E014090As we wrap up this series on the Word-Faith movement, let’s ask: What should be our attitude toward wealth and health?

We should be content with what we have.

Paul experiences many hardships in his ministry – beatings, shipwreck, hunger, cold, imprisonment, and much more. Yet he writes that he has “learned” to be content (see Phil. 4:11-12). Further, he reminds Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).

We should be indifferent toward wealth.

Prosperity is neither good nor evil. But our attitude toward wealth reveals a great deal about us (see 1 Tim. 6:6-10, 17-19).

Agur’s request of the Lord in Prov. 30:8b-9 expresses a proper attitude toward worldly gain: “Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God.”

Jesus specifically warns us against laying up treasures on earth (Matt. 6:19-21) and reminds us that we cannot be slaves to both God and money (Matt. 6:24).
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Chalice

Seven gold bowls – Revelation 15:7

Previously: The heavenly sanctuary was opened – Revelation 15:5-6

The scripture

Rev. 15:7 – One of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven gold bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever. (HCSB)

Seven gold bowls

ChaliceIn verse 7 John writes, “One of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven gold bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.” The King James Version uses the term “vials” instead of “bowls,” as though they are bottles. The Greek word is phiale, which denotes a shallow pan or broad-rimmed chalice. Some commentators call them censers, the receptacles into which coals from the altar are placed and mingled with incense to burn unto God. “The breadth of the vials in their upper part would tend to cause their contents to pour out all at once, implying the overwhelming suddenness of the woes” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Rev. 15:7).

Note that one of the four living creatures gives these bowls to the angels. In Revelation 6 the four living creatures announce the first four seal judgments. The first living creature thunders, “Come!” and the white horse and its rider emerge. The second creature says “Come!” and the rider on the red horse bursts onto the scene. The third creature shouts “Come!” and the horseman on a black horse appears. Finally, the fourth creature says “Come!” and Death comes riding a pale green horse with Hades in hot pursuit. While the living creatures reside closely to the throne of God and lead angels and people in worship, they also are the standard bearers of God’s holiness as revealed in His wrath.
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