This is the second in a series of columns on the Trinity.
How do we biblically define a term that never appears in the Bible? As Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and others are quick to point out, the word Trinity is conspicuously absent from the pages of Scripture. Therefore, they argue, to embrace such a term goes against the Bible’s clear teaching.
Not so fast. While it’s true the term Trinity is not found in English Bible translations, that doesn’t mean the doctrine is missing in action. We might point out that phrases such as “the second coming” and “receiving Jesus as Savior” never grace the Bible’s pages either. Even so, Christians look forward to the return of Jesus one day, and we enjoy benefits as adopted children of God, having received Him by faith (John 1:12).
So, when we talk about the Trinity, it’s important to show how Scripture describes God as one eternal being in three persons. This is not as easy as it sounds, for the Trinity in some respects is a mystery – a revelation of God hidden in times past but revealed progressively from Genesis to Revelation.
Rev. 8:8 – The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood, 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (HCSB).
The second trumpet
This is the second of four trumpet judgments that affect natural objects, in this case the sea and the creatures who swim in it or sail upon it. The final three trumpet judgments, as we learned in the last lesson, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.
In this second trumpet judgment, John sees something that appears to him as a great blazing mountain plummeting into the sea, resulting in a third of the sea becoming blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea dying, and a third of the ships navigating its waters being destroyed.
Is John’s vision to be taken literally? What is this great blazing mountain? Is the sea a reference to all salty bodies of water around the world, or perhaps simply a reference to the Mediterranean Sea – or something else entirely? What are we to make of the fractional reference to “a third,” which we encountered in the first trumpet judgment? Let’s look more closely.
The second angel blew his trumpet
As a reminder, the “trumpet” each angel blows in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and has special significance for Israel (see The first trumpet for more details). In this case, the sound of the shofar announces the commencement of judgment. This is an important detail that should not be overlooked.
While the Day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2) and Jesus warns His followers to be ready at all times for the unknown day of His return (Matt. 25:13), the judgments God sends upon the world’s wicked are announced in advance. We are not told how much time elapses between the sounding of the shofar and the arrival of these torments, any more than we can say with certainty how much time we have to run for cover after a tornado siren blasts a warning. But it appears that God communicates to mankind through the angels that His mercy is drawing to a close and His hammer is about to fall. Perhaps in these final moments some will repent, although John’s record seems to indicate that the wicked prefer blasphemy to humility in the face of judgment (Rev. (9:21, 16:9b, 21b).
Something like a great mountain ablaze with fire
What is it that John sees? He writes that “something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea.” He doesn’t say “a great mountain,” but “something like a great mountain,” which could mean this is a hidden symbol for his first-century readers or an attempt to describe something he has never seen before – a glimpse, perhaps, into the distant future.
Commentators offer many perspectives:
- Some say this mountain is Satan, lifted up like a mountain in his pride, and burning with hatred for God and his people, who is cast down into the sea of humanity, where he does much harm.
- Others say this is a heresy that does much damage to the church – the Macedonian heresy, perhaps, leveled against the deity of the Holy Spirit, or the Arian heresy against the deity of Christ. Each of these divine persons is one-third of the triune Godhead, so John’s reference to the mountain causing damage to “a third” of the sea finds its significance here.
- Still others argue that it’s best to understand this imagery in terms of the invasion of the Roman Empire by the Goths and Vandals. Rome is fitly represented as a great mountain, as kingdoms and cities sometimes are in scripture. The “sea” in this case represents the people throughout the Roman Empire who suffer as a result of the invaders’ brutal advance on Rome. Over the course of 137 years, beginning in 410 A.D., the Goths and Vandals sack Rome five times and reportedly one-third of the people are killed.
- W.A. Criswell writes that a modern-day fulfillment could be communism, which finds its foothold among restless people. Rather than producing liberation, it brings captivity, hardship, economic depression, despair and death.
- Futurists like Hal Lindsay see this blazing mountain as John’s attempt to describe nuclear warheads.
- Others interpret these verses literally. “The mountain is probably best understood as being a literal large body that fell from heaven. Since the results are literal, it is reasonable to take the judgments as literal also” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 8:8–9).
Whatever the proper interpretation, it’s clear that this judgment impacts many people. Satan is thought by some commentators to have taken one-third of the angelic host with him in his rebellion. Heresies that undermine any of the persons of the Triune Godhead impact the church and its ability to carry the gospel to the world. Wars involving world powers like Rome generate tremendous violence and upheaval. Worldviews that deny the reality of a Creator and Judge, like communism, result in spiritual, political and economic imprisonment. And modern technology has made it possible for a single nation to wreak havoc on much of the world.
Perhaps, as we’ve addressed in previous lessons, these verses are fulfilled in John’s day, and later in church history, and finally in the last days. Jerusalem falls in 70 A.D. and with it, formal Judaism comes to a close. The Roman Empire falls a few centuries later. Heresies do great damage to the church. Warfare causes great loss of life and damage to property and the environment. And in the last days, according to futurists, the Antichrist will lead nearly the whole world astray. In every case there is a common denominator: sin. Mankind’s rebellion against God manifests itself in political leaders who deify themselves; in church leaders who trump scripture with manmade traditions or, worse, heresies; in philosophers who rail against the idea of God and His absolute truths; and in ordinary people who prefer the praise of men to the praise of God.
Maybe we would do well not to agonize over what each symbol in Revelation means, but to look within ourselves at our fallen state and to grasp the only hope we have: Jesus. Ultimately, it will take the destruction of the entire world to purge it of sin and its consequences and to make way for new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3: 10-13).
Next: Hurled into the sea (Rev. 8:8-9)
Previously: The kings … hid in caves (Rev. 6:12-17)
Rev. 6:12 – Then I saw Him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair; the entire moon became like blood; 13 the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; 14 the sky separated like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?” (HCSB)
“Fall on us and hide us …”
The earth’s wicked cry out to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb …” (v. 16). There is an interesting parallel between this verse and other places in scripture where the wicked, who have shunned God in favor of idols made of earthly elements, are left calling upon these elements for help.
One such example may be found in the apostate people of Israel in Jeremiah 2. Take note:
- First, the leaders get comfortable in God’s grace and stop seeking the Lord. “They [the fathers] stopped asking: Where is the Lord … The priests quit asking: Where is the Lord? The experts no longer knew Me, and the rulers rebelled against Me. The prophets prophesied by Baal and followed useless idols” (Jer. 2:6a, 8).
- Next, the people embrace idols. “My people have exchanged their Glory for useless idols….For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:11b, 13).
- Then, they insist they have done nothing wrong; in fact, they celebrate their religious diversity. “[Y]ou have said: I have not sinned” (Jer. 2:35b).
- Finally, God’s judgment falls. “Have you not brought this on yourself by abandoning the Lord your God while He was leading you along the way … Your own evil will discipline you; your own apostasies will reprimand you. Think it over and see how evil and bitter it is for you to abandon the Lord your God and to have no fear of Me…. The stain of your guilt is still in front of Me” (Jer. 2: 17, 19, 22b).
- Rather than acknowledge their sin, confess it and repent of it, the people are left invoking their idols for deliverance. “They, their kings, their officials, their priests, and their prophets say to a tree: You are my father, and to a stone: You gave birth to me. For they have turned their back to Me and not their face, but in their time of disaster they beg: Rise up and save us! But where are your gods you made for yourself? Let them rise up and save you in your time of disaster if they can” (Jer. 2:26b-28a).
In Romans 1 the apostle Paul describes a similar spiral of descent for the Gentile world. Having rejected the evidence for God in creation and conscience, the wicked suppress the truth, embrace unrighteousness, celebrate ungodliness and, as a result, are without excuse. In fact, Paul writes that God delivers them over to “sexual impurity … degrading passions … [and] a worthless mind” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).
As the sixth seal is opened in Revelation 6 and God’s wrath falls on the wicked – both those who boast “a form of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5 KJV) and those who openly embraced paganism – there is clear recognition that God is the author of this judgment. Just as it is clear to the apostate Israelites in Jeremiah 2 and the wicked Gentiles in Romans 1 (“they know full well God’s just sentence,” Rom. 1:32), there is no escaping the reality that a day of reckoning with the Lord has come. Yet they would rather be covered by tons of rock and dirt than cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. The utter depths of man’s depravity are echoed in the mountain caves as the wicked respond to God’s wrath the only way they know how – by calling on the mountains and rocks to hide them.
“The contents of chapter 6 should put to rest the false teachings that God, being a God of love, could not judge a wicked world” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 6:15–17).
From whom do the wicked wish to hide? From “the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (v. 16). Obviously, this a reference to God the Father – the One seated on the throne – and His Son, the Lamb. There is a singular wrath from these two Persons of the triune Godhead. Our sins offend a holy God, who exists as three co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14) and then sent the Holy Spirit to convince lost sinners of their desperate need for Christ (John 16:7-11).
Those who reject God in spite of His gracious offer of salvation have chosen God’s wrath and preferred to cast their eternal lot with “the ruler of the world” for whom hell was created (John 16:11; Matt. 25:41). God is angry at sin – so angry, in fact, that He judged sin in His own Son on the cross. Should not His wrath be poured out on those who both sin and reject God’s provision for forgiveness?
Next: The great day of Their wrath has come (Rev. 6:12-17)
The Bible clearly teaches that God is omnipresent. But what does that mean? Is He physically present in every atom of the universe? Does He inhabit every rock, tree and creature? Pantheism is the belief that God, or a group of gods, is identical with the whole natural world. In fact, the word “pantheism” comes from Greek roots meaning “belief that everything is a god.” While this is a popular view in some religious circles, it is contrary to the Word of God.
When Scripture speaks of God as everywhere present (Psalm 139 for example) it is not claiming that He is materially distributed across time and space, but that He is “simultaneously present (with all His fullness) to every part of creation,” according to Hank Hanegraaff. “Thus Scripture communicates God’s creative and sustaining relationship to the cosmos rather than His physical location in the cosmos.”
The Bible tells us that God exists outside of time and space (Isa. 57:15). He also is a triune God, with the second person of the Trinity (Jesus) becoming flesh and taking up residence with us (John 1:14). In His incarnation, Jesus did not lay aside His deity, but added to it sinless humanity. Because Jesus walked the earth, some rush to the false conclusion that God is a material being. He is not. He is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
This eight-part series addresses common objections to the Bible as the Word of God.
Objection 6: The Bible can’t be true because it depicts a different God in the Old and New Testaments.
Critics argue that the God of the Old Testament is distant, vengeful and harsh, engaging in genocide and punishing the innocent. Meanwhile, they say, the God of the New Testament is loving, kind and gracious, eager to forgive. Further, His Son Jesus is a gentle, meek, selfless and all-too-human being who speaks in adoring terms of His Father in Heaven. Complicating things further, the God of the Old Testament is described as one (Deut. 6:4) while the New Testament hints at a triune Godhead consisting of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can the Gods of the Old and New Testaments be reconciled as one?
God’s nature and progressive revelation
First, it’s important to note that this objection reveals a basic misunderstanding of what the Old and New Testaments reveal about the nature of God. The writers of www.gotquestions.org put it very well: “The fact that the Bible is God’s progressive revelation of Himself to us through historical events and through His relationship with people throughout history might contribute to people’s misconceptions about what God is like in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. However, when one reads both the Old and the New Testaments it quickly becomes evident that God is not different from one Testament to another and that God’s wrath and His love are revealed in both Testaments.”
For example, the Old Testament in many places describes God as “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (Ex.34:6; see also Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:5, 15; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13). In the New Testament, God’s love for mankind is manifested more fully in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Or, consider that in the Old Testament, God deals with the Israelites much as a loving father deals with his children, punishing them for their idolatry but delivering them when they repent of their sins. In much the same way, the New Testament tells us God chastens Christians for their own good. Hebrews 12:6, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, says, “[f]or the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.”
God’s wrath – and jealousy
But what about God’s wrath – and jealousy? Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that God delivers judgment on the unrepentant. He orders the Jews to completely destroy a number of people groups living in Canaan, but only after allowing them hundreds of years to repent (see, for example, Gen. 15:13-16). In addition, God’s order to destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites and others has a divine purpose: “so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20:18).
When the Old Testament describes God as “jealous” (see Deut. 4:24, for example), the word translated “jealous” (qanna) also means “zealous.” God’s jealousy “is an expression of His intense love and care for His people and His demand that they honor His unique and incomparable nature” (Apologetics Study Bible, p. 273). In the New Testament, Paul tells us that “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Jesus Himself often had harsh words for hypocrites (see Matt. 23) and even acted violently against them (John 2:15). He spoke more about hell than heaven, and He is depicted as an angry and wrathful judge in verses foretelling His return (Rev. 19:11-16). Put simply, a God who loves what is good must necessarily hate what is evil.
A Redeemer for a wrecked human race
Throughout the Bible we see a God who patiently and lovingly calls people into a relationship with Him. The entire human race is wrecked by sin, resulting in spiritual and physical death and separation from our Creator (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23; Eph. 2:1). Paul writes that the whole world groans beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). But from the moment Adam and Eve rebelled against God, He provided a way for that broken fellowship to be restored. He began with a promise of a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15); instituted a sacrificial system in which an innocent and spotless animal would shed its blood to atone for – or temporarily cover – man’s sin; and then He sent His Son, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; 3:16). When one reads the entire Bible, it becomes abundantly clear that the God of the Old and New Testaments does not change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).
Is God one – or three?
Finally, what about the one God of the Old Testament and the triune God of the New Testament? There is no contradiction here. While the Bible emphatically declares that there is one true and living God (Deut. 6:4; James 2:19), the Old Testament hints at the triune Godhead, and the New Testament more fully reveals one God in three persons (see Gen. 1:1-2, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; John 1:1, 14; 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; Col. 1:16; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Peter 1:2). An ancient saying sums up the difficulty of comprehending the Trinity but the necessity of believing in it: “He who would try to understand the Trinity would lose his mind, and he who would deny the Trinity would lose his soul.”
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips