Who are Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims?

IslamWhen the militant forces of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) recently occupied a large portion of the Middle East and declared the establishment of a new country under an Islamic caliph (leader), it became apparent to the outside world that much of the conflict involved Muslims fighting one another.

Specifically, the continuing conflict involves two major sects of Islam: Sunni (the sect of ISIS) and Shi’ite. This may prompt us to ask, “What’s the difference? Muslims are Muslims, aren’t they?”

Well, yes and no. Understanding the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites may help us grasp the centuries-old animosity between these two major Islamic groups. But make no mistake: Sunnis and Shi’ites gladly set aside their differences when they can join together to destroy their common enemies – primarily Jews and Christians.

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Blood flowed … for 180 miles – Revelation 14:20

Previously: The great winepress of God’s wrath – Revelation 14:19

The scripture

Rev. 14:20 – Then the press was trampled outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press up to the horses’ bridles for about 180 miles. (HCSB)

Finally in this chapter, John records, “Then the press was trampled outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press up to the horses’ bridles for about 180 miles” (v. 20).

Horse in battleCommentators generally agree that the city in question is Jerusalem. It is called “the great city” in Rev. 11:8, as well as “Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” The reason the wicked are destroyed outside the city is that this is where accursed and unclean things are taken for disposal. For example, the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem is where human sacrifices take place in Old Testament times. It is a burning trash dump in Jesus’ day. Even the carcasses of sacrificial animals, whose blood the high priest carries into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, are carried outside the city walls and burned.

But the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is crucified outside the city in order to identify with sinful people. The One who knew no sin becomes sin for us, and the blessed Son of God becomes a curse: “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the most holy place by the high priest as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the gate, so that He might sanctify the people by His own blood. Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace” (Heb. 13:11-13).

Other interpreters see this simply as an allusion to Old Testament purification laws where the unclean are taken outside the camp (Lev. 8:17; 9:11). Still others understand this as a reference to the end-time gathering of the wicked around the city of Jerusalem (Ps. 2:2, 6; Dan. 11:45; Joel 3:12-14; Zech. 14:1-4; and the apocalyptic book of 1 Enoch 53:1). If this is a reference to the Day of the Lord, it likely speaks of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which according to Jewish tradition is the part of the Kidron Valley between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. This is where Joel prophesies that the judgment of nations will take place (Joel 3:12-14). Zechariah places the final battle on the outskirts of Jerusalem (Zech. 14:1-4).

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Was that a miracle?

78058116 (1)An elderly woman tosses aside her walker and sprints around a crowded auditorium amidst thunderous applause. Hundreds of congregants gasp as a faith healer lengthens a man’s shortened leg in the name of Jesus. Throngs of worshipers fall backward, seemingly lifeless, as an evangelist breathes the Holy Spirit on them.

These are common sights on Christian television, meant to convince us that God continues to perform signs, wonders and miracles through His anointed servants.

But are these truly miracles? Is God really at work, or is some charlatan playing on our emotions so we’ll pull out our checkbooks and “release” our faith with a generous donation?

It’s not always easy to tell. Thankfully, Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Frank Turek offer some good advice in their book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. The authors remind us that miracles are possible today – God still deals in the supernatural – but it’s important to separate the miraculous from a host of counterfeits.

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The great winepress of God’s wrath – Revelation 14:19

Previously: The angel had a sharp sickle – Revelation 14:17-18

The scripture

Rev. 14:19 – So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. (HCSB)

The great winepress of God’s wrath

GrapesVerse 19 reads, “So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.” A winepress, also known as a wine vat, is a rectangular cavity carved out of rock or built artificially. Ripe grapes are placed in the winepress and trampled underfoot, with the juice flowing down into a lower receptacle. Usually, a full winepress signifies prosperity, while an empty winepress signifies famine. In this metaphorical reference, however, the fullness of the winepress suggests rampant evil that is now being judged.

The word “winepress” appears 20 times in 20 verses in scripture (HCSB). When it is used metaphorically, it depicts either Israel or God’s judgment:

  • Isa. 5:2 (Israel) – “He broke up the soil, cleared it of stones, and planted it with the finest vines. He built a tower in the middle of it and even dug out a winepress there. He expected it to yield good grapes, but it yielded worthless grapes.”
  • Isa. 63:2-3 (judgment) – The Lord is asked, “Why are your clothes red, and your garments like the one who tread a winepress?” The Lord replies, “I trample the winepress alone, and no one from the nations was with Me. I trampled them in my anger and ground them underfoot in My fury; their blood spattered my garments, and all my clothes were stained.” This passage describes God as a warrior going to battle to defeat the forces of evil.
  • Lam. 1:15 (judgment) – “The Lord has rejected all the mighty men within me. He has summoned an army against me to crush my young warriors. The Lord has trampled Virgin Daughter Judah [like grapes] in a winepress.”
  • Joel 3:13 (judgment) – “Swing the sickle because the harvest is ripe. Come and trample the grapes because the winepress is full; the wine vats overflow because the wickedness of the nations is great.” This verse describes the Day of the Lord, in which Yahweh will utterly defeat His enemies.
  • Matt. 21:33 / Mark 12:1 (Israel) – Jesus says, “Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away.”
  • Rev. 14:19 (judgment) – “So the angel swung his sickle toward earth and gathered the grapes from earth’s vineyard, and he threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.”
  • Rev. 19:15 (judgment) – “A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty.”

Here, in Rev. 14:19, in the trampling of the winepress “lies the true climax of the image of the wine harvest: the liquid that flows from the (red) grapes symbolizes the blood of the enemies whom God has destroyed in his anger” (Roloff, p. 178).

Warren Wiersbe shares the following insight: “Scripture portrays three different ‘vines.’ Israel was God’s vine, planted in the land to bear fruit for God’s glory; but the nation failed God and had to be cut down (Ps. 80:8–16; Isa. 5:1–7; see also Matt. 21:33–46). Today, Christ is the Vine and believers are branches in Him (John 15). But the world system is also a vine, ‘the vine of the earth’ in contrast to Christ, the heavenly Vine; and it is ripening for judgment. The wicked system – Babylon – that intoxicates people and controls them, will one day be cut down and destroyed in ‘the winepress of the wrath of God’ (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 14:6).

Next: Blood flowed … for about 180 miles – Revelation 14:20

Why are there two Qur’ans?

Koran1The Qur’an is Islam’s most holy book. While Muslims believe Allah has revealed many written works, including the Old and New Testaments, these revelations ended with the Qur’an, which supersedes all others.

For all practical purposes, Muslims accept only the Qur’an as the Word of God. They believe Jews and Christians have corrupted Allah’s earlier revelations in the Bible, although they honor the writings of Moses, who was given the Tawrat (Torah); David, the Zabur (his Psalms); and Jesus, the Injil (Gospel).

Where the Qur’an and the Bible disagree with one another, Muslims embrace the Qur’an as true and reject the Bible as tainted.

But what happens when the Qur’an contradicts the Qur’an, as it sometimes does?

A brief look at history and the doctrine of “abrogation” sheds light on the Muslim view of divine revelation.

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Another angel had a sharp sickle – Revelation 14:17-18

Previously: The earth was harvested – Revelation 14:15-16

The scripture

Rev. 14:17 – Then another angel who also had a sharp sickle came out of the sanctuary in heaven. 18 Yet another angel, who had authority over fire, came from the altar, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened.” (HCSB)

Another angel had a sharp sickle

Next, we encounter the fourth angel of Revelation 14. Like the One seated on the cloud, he also wields a sharp sickle and comes out of the sanctuary in heaven. A fifth angel follows him, and this one is said to have “authority over fire.” He calls in a loud voice to the fourth angel, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from earth’s vineyard, because its grapes have ripened” (v. 18).

sickleThis passage echoes Joel 3:9-13 in which grape harvesting and wine pressing are used as metaphors for judgment, and Isa. 63:1-6 in which God treads the grapes in His fury, pressing out the lifeblood of people. The same metaphor is found in Jer. 25:15, 28-31. Judgment also is symbolized by the harvest in Jer. 51:33 and Hosea 6:11. Moreover, it is the Messiah who treads the winepress in Rev. 19:15.

Why are we told about the angel that has “authority over fire?” Perhaps this is connected to the fifth seal in Rev. 6:9-11. Here, martyrs “under the altar” cry out to God for vengeance. Later, in the seventh seal, an angel with a gold incense burner stands at the altar. He is given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The angel takes the incense burner, fills it with fire from the altar, and hurls it to the earth, which results in rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. This also helps prepare the seven angels to usher in the next series of judgments.

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Is the canon of Scripture closed?

holy-bibleSome Christian scholars today cast doubt over the canon of Scripture – those 66 books that the Church has long held to be the complete written revelation of God. They justify their views by claiming: (1) that surviving texts of the Old and New Testaments are corrupt and therefore unreliable, or (2) that early Church leaders deliberately excluded certain books for personal or political reasons.

As Craig L. Blomberg responds in his recent book – Can We Still Believe the Bible? – “there is not a shred of historical evidence to support either of these claims; anyone choosing to believe them must do so by pure credulity, flying in the face of all the evidence that actually exists.”

But what if we discovered an apostolic writing that has remained hidden for the last 2,000 years?

For example, in 1 Cor. 5:9, Paul alludes to an earlier letter to fellow believers in Corinth. We don’t have that letter, nor are we aware of its specific contents. Let’s say, however, that archaeologists unearth a clay pot containing a manuscript dating from the mid-first century and fitting the description of Paul’s letter.

Should the Church welcome 3 Corinthians as the 28th book of the New Testament? Not so fast.

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A survey of Roman Catholicism

Jesus with lambThe Roman Catholic Church traces its beginning to the apostle Peter, claiming he is the rock upon whom Jesus built His church (Matt. 16:18). As the first pope, Peter is followed by an unbroken line of successors stretching to Pope Francis today. Non-Catholics, of course, establish the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church at A.D. 590 with Gregory I, who consolidated the power of the bishopric in Rome.

In any case, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian church, with 1.2 billion members. The Catholic hierarchy includes cardinals and bishops and is led by the bishop of Rome, also known as the pope.

The Catholic Church teaches that it is the one true church divinely founded by Jesus Christ. In addition, it teaches that its bishops are the successors of Jesus’ apostles, and that the pope, as the successor to the head of the apostles (Peter), has supreme authority over the church.

Categories of Catholics

While the Catholic Church claims to be the one true church, Catholics worldwide hold to a diversity of beliefs. Researcher Ken Samples has concluded that there are six primary categories of Roman Catholics:

Ultratraditional Catholics defend historical Catholicism and are critical of recent changes such as those coming out of Vatican II in the 1960s.

Traditional Catholics resist liberalism and modernism within the church, yet they generally accept the reforms of Vatican II.

Liberal Catholics celebrate human reason over the authority of the church; they also question the infallibility of the pope, church councils, and the Bible

Charismatic/evangelical Catholics emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the importance of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit-filled life.

Cultural Catholics are “womb-to-tomb” Catholics – born, baptized, married, and buried in the church. However, they essentially go through the motions of their faith without much regard for its meaning.

Popular folk Catholics predominate Central and South America. They combine elements of animistic or nature-culture religion with traditional medieval Catholicism (Christian Research Journal, Winter 1993).

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The bankruptcy of the prosperity pospel

FEX_018Leaders of the word-faith movement, also known as the prosperity gospel, say they place a high value on scripture. Unfortunately, their unique interpretation of God’s word leads to unbiblical conclusions about God’s design for the Christian life.

A case in point: 3 John 2, which reads: “Dear friend, I pray that you may prosper in every way and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”

As prosperity preachers like Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen would have you believe, this verse expresses the divine view that every child of God should enjoy financial blessing and perfect health. But is that what the passage really means?

Hardly. In the first place, the Greek word translated “prosper” means “to go well,” not to become rich. Secondly, John uses a common greeting to address his friend, Gaius, similar to salutations we place in modern-day letters.

As Gordon Fee writes in The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels, “This combination of wishing for ‘things to go well’ and for the recipient’s ‘good health’ was the standard form of greeting in a personal letter in antiquity. To extend John’s wish for Gaius to refer to financial and material prosperity for all Christians is totally foreign to the text.”

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sickle

The earth was harvested – Revelation 14:15-16

Previously: One like the Son of Man – Revelation 14:14

The scripture

Rev. 14:15 – Another angel came out of the sanctuary, crying out in a loud voice to the One who was seated on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. (HCSB)

The earth was harvested

John picks up the narrative in verses 15-16: “Another angel came out of the sanctuary, crying out in a loud voice to the One who was seated on the cloud, ‘Use your sickle and reap, for the time to reap has come, since the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So the One seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.”

sickleThe harvest in these verses, though not stated explicitly, refers to wheat or barley. The word for ripe (Gr.: xeraino) describes dried heads of grain and is different than the word used of ripened grapes in verse 18.

The phrase “another angel” does not imply that the “One like the Son of Man” is an angel. John simply is continuing his observation from the point of the three angels in verses 6-13. This angel comes out of the sanctuary and heads straight for the One holding the sickle. He bears a message from God the Father, who is seated on His throne in the heavenly Holy of Holies (Rev. 6:9; 8:3; 11:19). The message is simple: The time to reap has come; the earth is ripe for harvest. The One seated on the cloud asks no questions, nor does He hesitate. He swings His sickle over the earth, and it is harvested.

No doubt this is a harvest of people on the earth. But who are they? Commentators differ in their understanding of this passage. Some believe this is the harvest of the just, coming before the harvest of the unbelievers (vv. 17-20); it is distinct just as the wheat harvest is distinct from the harvest of grapes. Others, however, argue that scripture normally speaks only of unbelievers being cut down. Therefore, both the One like the Son of Man and the angel with the sickle are engaged in destroying the wicked; one harvest, two perspectives.

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