Tagged: heaven and hell

Will only a few be saved?

Ninth in a series of short answers to questions about the New Testament.

Consider Matt. 7:13-14: Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.

So, will only a few be saved? And if so, how few? Clearly, the Bible does not teach universal salvation. And Jesus takes great pains to inform us that many will spend eternity apart from Him. Just how many will receive eternal life and how many will perish is not for us to know. The claim of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that only 144,000 will reign with Jesus in heaven is based on a distortion of Scripture. Equally disturbing is the Mormon possibility of “exaltation,” or godhood, and the virtually assured life in some level of heaven for almost everyone else.

But there are some important things Jesus and the New Testament writers taught about salvation and want us to know, among them:

  • Salvation is an everlasting relationship provided by Holy God for sinful man through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (John 3:16-18).
  • Jesus is the only way a person may receive forgiveness of sins and find eternal life (John 14:6). He is the narrow gate — the door (John 10:9).
  • All people are sinners and invite the wrath of God (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). No one deserves heaven, nor can they earn it (Rom. 4:4-5).
  • Christ died for sinners and rose from the dead to conquer sin and death for us (Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).
  • Not hearing the gospel is no excuse (Rom. 1:18-23).
  • Many will be in heaven (Rev. 5:9) and many will not (Rev. 20:11-15).
  • All people will be raised from the dead and judged one day (John 5:28-29).
  • Your eternal destiny is based on how you answer the question Jesus asked in Matt. 16:15: “Whom do you say that I am?”
  • The correct answer is: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).
  • We should be less concerned with how many will be in heaven than we are with whether we are headed there.
  • Jesus came to give us life and offers it freely, if we will receive Him (John 10:10).

Isaiah 26: We Remember Your Name

Isaiah 26: Listen to an audio file

Isaiah 26: Download a worksheet for further study

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah form a single prophecy. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the time in which it is given, it seems best to place it a short time before the attack by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

Key verse:

Isa. 26:13 – Lord, our God, other lords than You have ruled over us, but we remember Your name alone.

Quick summary:

In the context of chapters 24-27, Isaiah uses an analogy of the future destruction of all God’s enemies (chaps. 24-25) to urge the people of Judah to trust Him now (chaps. 26-27). Although God is using the Assyrians as the rod of His judgment against Judah, those who place their faith in the Lord and endure the childbirth-like pains of His correction (vv. 17-18) will rejoice in His salvation: “Yes, Lord, we wait for You in the path of Your judgments. Our desire is for Your name and renown” (v. 8).

Take note:

Some would argue there’s a contradiction in chapter 26. In verse 14 Isaiah declares that “the dead do not live, departed spirits do not rise up.” Then, in verse 19, he states that “your dead will live; their bodies will rise.” How can both be true? The Apologetics Study Bible explains: “This apparent conflict vanishes when the statements are placed in context. He [Isaiah] referred to past oppressors of Israel, the ‘wicked’ who act ‘unjustly’ (v. 10), the ‘other lords’ who had ruled over God’s people and whom God had already ‘visited and destroyed’ (vv. 13-14). These oppressors could no longer attack God’s people. The situation changed with verse 19; in the future God’s people who die will live … a person can have life after death. The fact that Elijah and Elisha brought to life two boys who had died (1 Kg 17:17-24; 2 Kg 4:18-37), and that a dead man came back to life when his body touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kg 13:20-21), indicates that individual resurrection from the dead was known and experienced long before the time of Isaiah” (pp 1024-25).

The Song of Judah (Isa. 26:1-6)

Although Jerusalem will be surrounded in Isaiah’s day, and vanquished a century later by the Babylonians, the day is coming when Israel’s remnant will sing of their glorious reversal of fortune as they enter the impregnable New Jerusalem. The humble will be exalted and the oppressors crushed. Because of Messiah’s presence there, the city figuratively is said to have salvation as its walls and ramparts (v. 1). While other nations will have places in the kingdom, believers in Israel will hold special positions.

The Lord promises perfect (genuine, complete) peace to those who trust Him – now, as well as in the Millennium (v. 3). The apostle Paul reminds us of this great truth in Phil. 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck write, “This availability of inner tranquility encourages believers to continue trusting the Lord (Isa. 26:4) because He is firm like a Rock … and He is eternal” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1074). For other Scriptures that describe the Lord as a Rock, see Ps. 73:26 (“strength” literally means rock); Isa. 17:10, 30:29, and 44:8.

“The Hebrew word for ‘peace’ (shalom) means much more than a cessation of war. It includes blessings such as wholeness, health, quietness of soul, preservation, and completeness. ‘What is your peace?’ is the way Jews often greet one another; and Isaiah’s reply would be, ‘My peace is from the Lord, for I trust wholly in Him!’ Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:6-9 is based on Isaiah 26:3″ (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 26:1).

In contrast with the righteous who enter the city are the arrogant who “live in lofty places” (v. 5); the Lord will bring them down. Those who used their wealth and privilege to oppress the poor will be on the business end of God’s rod of justice. This does not mean that poverty itself is a virtue. Isaiah simply repeats an oft-repeated message that God has special concern for the poor who seek Him (Isa. 25:4; Matt. 11:5; Luke 4:18).

The Long Night of Waiting (Isa. 26:7-18)

Isaiah describes a level and straight path for the righteous, cleared by God Himself. “In the Yukon of old, one man was often sent ahead to ‘break trail’ for others or a dog sled. This passage reminds us that a righteous God has already broken trail for those who follow Him because they are committed to righteousness too” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 424). As a result, God’s redeemed “wait” for Him, “desire” His name and renown, “long” for Him in the night, and diligently “seek” Him in order to “learn righteousness” (vv. 8-9). What a dramatic change occurs in the hearts of men and women when they learn to trust God above all else.

The struggles of Judah returning to God are like the pains of childbirth. Isaiah writes that the nation is writhing in anguish beneath the punishing hand of God. Like a pregnant woman giving birth to wind, Judah experiences emptiness and defeat through its sinful acts. The Hebrew verb in verse 13 translated “ruled over” gives us the noun baal, the Canaanite storm god whose worship caused so much trouble in Israel. But the word also means “husband,” so the message is that God’s people were not faithful to Him, preferring to pursue their lust for idols. The same image is given in James 4:4: “Adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.” Even so, the Lord graciously carries His people through and keeps His covenant. For other comparisons of spiritual struggle to childbirth, see Isa. 13:8, 42:14; John 16:21; Gal. 4:19.
Isaiah’s comment about the dead tyrants who have troubled Judah (v. 14) do not contradict the doctrine of universal resurrection supplied in verse 19 and elsewhere in Scripture (see, for example, Job 19:25-27; Ps. 17:15; Dan. 12:1-3; John 5:28-29, 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 20:11-15). The prophet simply is emphasizing that the rulers who wrought so much terror and destruction on God’s people can no longer do them harm. Lawrence O. Richards comments in The Bible Readers Companion: “Storms of judgment may sweep over our earth. Wars may devastate, and disease may ravage. Famines may decimate the land, while starvation stalks our families. There are indeed dread fates that are to be feared. But these are not history’s last words! At the end of history – both the history of nations and the personal history of each individual – the shout of God’s promise echoes. ‘Your dead will live; their bodies will rise!’ What a truth to hold fast in troubled times” (S. 424).

Resurrection and Judgment (Isa. 26:19-21)

This is a most revealing Old Testament passage on future resurrection and judgment. While these verses focus on the resurrection of the just – the “first resurrection” of which John wrote in Rev. 20:5-6 – Daniel adds that the unjust also will be raised and that all people will experience eternal life or eternal shame (Dan. 12:2). What a comfort these words are to those experiencing warfare, captivity, injustice, and even death. The promise that God will raise all people one day and pronounce final judgment with absolute justice should spur fear in the hearts of the wicked as it does hope in the hearts of the righteous.

Although views differ on the order of events, the New Testament clearly teaches future resurrection and final judgment for all people:

  • Jesus often speaks of His return and final judgment. For example, in John 5:28-29 He says all people will be raised from the dead and experience either everlasting life or condemnation.
  • The apostle Paul writes in detail about the rapture (“catching up” / “snatching away”) of the church in 1 Cor. 15:50-58 and 1 Thess. 4:13-18, as well as judgment and reward for all believers (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).
  • The apostle John refers several times to resurrection and final judgment in the book of Revelation. He alludes to the rapture by not mentioning the church from Rev. 4-18, chapters depicting the tribulation. He also speaks of the “first resurrection,” or resurrection of the just, in Rev. 20:5-6. And he writes in some detail about the raising of the wicked to stand before the great white throne, from which they are cast into hell (Rev. 20:11-15).

Verse 20 urges God’s people to “hide for a little while until the wrath has passed.” “When God is about to take vengeance on the ungodly, the saints shall be shut in by Him in a place of safety, as Noah and his family were in the days of the flood (Ge 7:16), and as Israel was commanded not to go out of doors on the night of the slaying of the Egyptian first-born (Ex 12:22, 23; Ps 31:20; 83:3). The saints are calmly and confidently to await the issue (Ex 14:13, 14)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments,  S. Is 26:20).

Finally, verse 21 gives Judah the assurance that God will deal with her oppressors – Assyria in the near term and Babylon in the long term. Even more, this verse previews the glorious appearing of the Messiah one day to execute judgment upon the earth’s wicked (see Rev. 19:11-21).

Closing Thought

Commenting on the phrase in verse 21, “The earth will reveal the blood shed on it and will no longer conceal her slain,” Matthew Henry writes: “Secret murders, and other secret wickednesses, shall be discovered, sooner or later. And the slain which the earth has long covered she shall no longer cover, but they shall be produced as evidence against the murderers. The voice of Abel’s blood cries from the earth, Gen. 9:10, 11; Job 20:27. Those sins which seemed to be buried in oblivion will be called to mind, and called over again, when the day of reckoning comes. Let God’s people therefore wait awhile with patience, for behold the Judge stands before the door” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 26:20).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Four Reasons to Reject Mormon Salvation

Joseph SmithHere are notes from a recent apologetics workshop I was privileged to lead in Oklahoma. Our love of Mormons — and more importantly God’s love of members of the LDS Church — should compel us to share the following truths with those who sincerely, even passionately, defend the teachings of Joseph Smith.

Every Christian should reject the Mormon doctrine of salvation for four important reasons:

  1. It minimizes Christ’s work on the cross
  2. It is universal in scope
  3. It is works based
  4. It makes godhood the goal

1.  It minimizes Christ’s work on the cross.

What Mormons teach:

  • Mormonism emphasizes Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane rather than the cross; perhaps that is one reason Moroni, not a cross, stands atop Mormon temples.
  • “Forgiveness is available because Christ the Lord sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane as he bore the incalculable weight of the sins of all who ever had or ever would repent” (Apostle Bruce McConkie, The Promised Messiah, 337).
  • Mormon leaders have taught that Christ’s atoning sacrifice began in the Garden of Gethsemane. They have drawn this teaching from two passages: Mosiah 3:7 in the Book of Mormon, and D&C 19:15-19.
  • President Ezra Taft Benson: “It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 14).
  • “… it was in Gethsemane that ‘he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come to him’” (Bruce McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 127-28, 224).
  • “Where and under what circumstances was the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God made? Was it on the Cross of Calvary or in the Garden of Gethsemane? … In reality the pain and suffering, the triumph and grandeur, of the atonement took place primarily in Gethsemane” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 774).

What the Bible says:

  • The New Testament mentions Gethsemane only twice (Matt. 26:36; Mark 14:32) and never attaches  Christ’s anguish there as having anything to do with atonement.
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson write in Mormonism 101: “By emphasizing the Garden of Gethsemane, LDS leaders miss a significant point regarding the atonement. The expiation of sin (making amends for wrongdoing) was not based on the substitute’s perspiration, it was based on his expiration” (p. 145).
  • See Rom. 5:8, 10; 1 Cor. 1:18; Heb. 9:22.

2.  It is universal is scope.

What Mormons teach:

  • Mormon leaders have taught that the atonement of Jesus Christ releases the “human family” from the consequences of Adam’s fall and allows a general resurrection from the dead. It also makes available the forgiveness of personal sins on the condition of repentance.
  • “Everyone, from the most righteous to the most wretched, will be resurrected and will live forever in the next life…. By breaking the bands of death, Jesus Christ overcame death, and all will live again. In this respect, we are saved by grace unconditionally” (What do Mormons Believe, 38).
  • Bruce McConkie explains: “Salvation in its true and full meaning is synonymous with exaltation or eternal life and consists in gaining an inheritance in the highest of the three heavens within the celestial kingdom…. Salvation in the celestial kingdom of God, however, is not salvation by grace alone. Rather, it is salvation by grace coupled with obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” (Mormon Doctrine, 670-71).

What the Bible says:

  • The Bible teaches that not all will be saved (Matt. 7:13-14, 21-23; Rev. 20:11-15), although all will be resurrected and stand in judgment (John 5:28-9; Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:11-15).

3.  It is works based.

What Mormons teach:

  • “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation” (President Spencer Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 206).
  • “Resurrection” is how the LDS Church defines “general salvation.”
  • Bruce McConkie said that salvation by grace alone is the second greatest heresy on Christianity … a “soul-destroying doctrine [that] has the obvious effect of lessening the determination of an individual to conform to all of the laws and ordinances of the gospel” (Mormon Doctrine, 670-71).
  • Apostle James Talmage said “redemption from personal sins can only be obtained through obedience to the requirements of the gospel, and a life of good works….The sectarian dogma of justification by faith alone has exercised an influence for evil” and is a “pernicious doctrine” (The Articles of Faith, 478-80).
  • Brigham Young: “Who will be saved in the celestial kingdom, and go into the presence of the Father and Son? Those only who observe the whole law, who keep the commandments of God – those who walk in the newness of life, observe all his precepts and do his will” (Journal of Discourses, 14:133).

What the Bible says:

  • The Bible clearly teaches that forgiveness of sins and everlasting life are gifts of God, given by grace and received by faith (John 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

4.  It makes godhood the goal.

What Mormons teach:

  • “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become” (Lorenzo Snow, 5th LDS president).
  • Every person is destined for one of six places: 1) outer darkness – for those who did not receive mortal bodies, and for apostate Mormons and other extremely wicked people; 2) telestial kingdom, where the wicked will spend eternity; 3) terrestrial kingdom, where honorable people go, including “lukewarm” Mormons; 4-6) celestial kingdom, consisting of three separate levels, with the top level reserved for Mormon exaltation.
  • Scripture passages misused to prove this point: 1 Cor. 15:40; 2 Cor. 12:2-4).
  • Doctrine & Covenants 131:1, 4 makes reference to the highest level of celestial glory, where Mormon progress may continue. Faithful Mormons reside here eternally with their families, and Mormon males become gods of their newly inherited worlds.
  • The highest level of the celestial kingdom is known as the Church of the Firstborn. Here a Mormon may experience exaltation or godhood.
  • Those in the celestial kingdom not found worthy of godhood will become angels and serve in a subservient role.
  • “Eternal increase” includes the ability to procreate throughout eternity. Just as the Mormon god continually populates his earth, so it is taught that Mormon males and their goddess wives will have the ability to populate the worlds they will inherit.

What the Bible says:

  • Heaven and hell are the only two destinations that await humanity (Matt. 25:46; John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 14:9-11; 19:11-16; 20:10-15; 21-22).
  • In heaven the family of God spends eternity praising Him and dwelling in His glory (not ours).
  • Those who reject God’s gift of salvation are condemned (John 3:18; Rev. 20:15).

Summary

The Mormon doctrine of salvation:

  • Minimizes Christ’s work on the cross and emphasizes His suffering in the garden.
  • Is universal in that “general salvation” means resurrection.
  • Is works-based, meaning the level of heaven one achieves is based on his or her works as judged by Mormonism.
  • Has godhood as its goal.

The Biblical doctrine of salvation:

  • Emphasizes Christ’s work on the cross. The “One who did not know sin” became sin for us  (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • Involves the “whole man” (body, soul, spirit) but not all men.
  • Is granted by God’s grace through faith, apart from human effort.
  • Has Christlikeness – not godhood – as its goal.

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

10 Biblical Truths Denied by Jehovah’s Witnesses

Every Christian should reject the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s (Jehovah’s Witnesses’) claim to be the only true church because it denies 10 key Biblical truths.

1. The Trinity.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “The clergy’s God is plainly not Jehovah but the ancient deity, hoary with the iniquity of the ages – Baal, the Devil Himself” (Charles Taze Russell, Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 7, p. 410).
  • “The obvious conclusion is, therefore, that Satan is the originator of the trinity doctrine” (Let God Be True, p. 101).

The Bible says:

  • There is one true and living God who exists as three distinct co-equal, co-eternal persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The divine persons of the Trinity are specifically mentioned in John 14:26, 15:26; 2 Corinthians 13:13; and 1 Peter 1:2). In addition, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each is referred to as deity in Scripture (John 1:1-3, 10, 14, 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:13; 1 Peter 1:2).
  • The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are described as deity using similar terms: Omniscient (Matt. 9:4; Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 2:10); God (John 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Peter 1:2); Lord (Luke 2:11; Rom. 10:12; 2 Cor. 3:17); almighty (Gen. 17:1; Rom. 15:19; Rev. 1:8); truth (John 7:28; 1 John 5:6; Rev. 3:7);  eternal (Ps. 90:2; Micah 5:2; Heb. 9:14);  powerful (Jer. 32:17; Matt. 28:18; Luke 1:35; Rom. 15:19; Heb. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:5).

2. The deity of Christ.

The Watch Tower says:

  • Jesus is the first creation of Jehovah; Jesus then made all “other” things (see Col. 1:16 in the New World Translation).
  • “… the Bible plainly states that in his prehuman existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God…. The fact is that Jesus is not God and never claimed to be” (Should You Believe in the Trinity? pp. 14, 20).
  • “… the true Scriptures speak of God’s Son, the Word, as ‘a god.’  He is a ‘mighty god,’ but not the Almighty God, who is Jehovah”  (The Truth Shall Make You Free, p. 47).

The Bible says:

  • Jesus is the virgin-born Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-23; Luke 1:35). He is eternal God, the Creator, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit (John 1:1-3, 10, 14; 10:30; Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1:1-3).

3. The personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “… The holy spirit is the invisible active force of Almighty God that moves his servants to do his will” (Let God Be True, p. 108).
  • “The Scriptures themselves unite to show that God’s holy spirit is not a person but is God’s active force by which he accomplishes his purpose and executes his will” (Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 1543).
  • “As for the ‘Holy Spirit,’ the so-called ‘third Person of the Trinity,’ we have already seen that it is not a person, but God’s active force”  (The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, p. 24).

The Bible says:

  • The Holy Spirit is the third person of the triune Godhead (Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19-20). He is described, not as a force, but as a person. Jesus never refers to the Holy Spirit as an “it.”  Further, scripture tells us the Spirit is a divine person because He testifies (John 15:26), guides (John 16:13), leads (Acts 8:29), commands (Acts 16:6-7), appoints (Acts 20:28), intercedes (Rom. 8:26) and speaks (Rev. 2:7). He can be blasphemed (Matt. 12:31-32), lied to (Acts 5:3-4), grieved (Eph. 4:30) and insulted (Heb. 10:29).
  • The Holy Spirit is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son (Acts 5:3-4).

4. Christ’s sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “Jesus died as a ‘ransom sacrifice’ to buy back what Adam lost: the right to perfect life on earth” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).
  • Jesus died, not on a cross, but on an “upright pole, stake or post” (www.watchtower.org).

The Bible says:

  • Jesus died on a cross (Matt. 27:32, 40, 42; John 19:19, 25, 31; 1 Cor. 1:17-18; Gal. 6:12, 14; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 2:8; Col. 1:20, 2:14; Heb. 12:2).
  • Christ’s death on the cross paid our sin debt and purchased our salvation so that everlasting life is received by grace through faith in Jesus (John 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

5. Christ’s bodily resurrection.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “This firstborn from the dead was raised from the grave, not a human creature, but a spirit” (Let God Be True, p. 276).
  • “At death, Jesus’ human body was ‘disposed’ of by God’s power, and Michael [Jesus in his pre-earthly state] rose from the dead as the ‘resurrected Jesus Christ.’ Since angels are invisible, Jesus fabricated physical bodies resembling His original body to convince His disciples that He had risen from the dead. Since 1914, when Jesus’ ‘invisible presence’ on earth began, He has been reigning from heaven, awaiting the future battle of Armageddon in which He will rid the earth of human governments and set up ‘Paradise’ under ‘Jehovah’s Kingdom government arrangement’” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 4).

The Bible says:

  • Jesus rose physically from the dead, and our future resurrection depends on it (Matt. 12:38-40; 28:5-10; Luke 24:39-43; John 20:19-29; Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:4-8, 12-26; 1 Peter 1:18-21).

6. Christ’s physical and visible return.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “Since 1914, when Jesus’ ‘invisible presence’ on earth began, He has been reigning from heaven, awaiting the future battle of Armageddon in which He will rid the earth of human governments and set up ‘Paradise’ under ‘Jehovah’s Kingdom government arrangement’” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 4).
  • “Christ Jesus returns, not again as a human, but as a glorious spirit person” (Let God Be True, p. 196).
  • “Some wrongfully expect a literal fulfillment of the symbolic statements of the Bible. Such hope to see the glorified Jesus coming seated on a white cloud where every human eye will see him … Since no earthly men have ever seen the Father … neither will they see the glorified Son” (Let God Be True, p. 186).

The Bible says:

  • Jesus is coming back physically and visibly one day (Matt. 24:29-31; John 14:3; Acts 1:9-11; Titus 2:13; Rev. 19:11-16).

7. Salvation by grace through faith.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “The four requirements for salvation are: 1) taking in knowledge of Jehovah God and of Jesus Christ; 2) obeying God’s laws and conforming one’s life to the moral requirements set out in the Bible; 3) belonging to and serving with God’s one true channel and organization (that is, the Watchtower Society); and 4) being loyal to God’s organization” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).
  • “Salvation is earned through a combination of faith plus good works. True Christians can have no assurance of eternal life. They must work toward perfection throughout this life, and then throughout Christ’s 1,000-year reign on earth. Next they must pass the final test of Satan (during which Satan is released from the pit to tempt all faithful Witnesses one last time) before God will grant them eternal life. If they fail at any point they are at risk of annihilation (eternal destruction)” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).

The Bible says:

  • Christ’s death at Calvary paid our sin debt and purchased our salvation so that everlasting life is received by grace through faith in Jesus (John 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
  • Believers are eternally secure based on the finished work of Christ at Calvary and the faithfulness of God (John 5:24; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:28-39; Heb. 7:25; 10:14; 1 Peter 1:1-5).
  • All who receive Christ by faith enter immediately and everlastingly into Christ’s kingdom (John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 10:9-10, 13).

8. Consciousness of the soul after death.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “… the claim of religionists that man has an immortal soul and therefore differs from the beast is not Scriptural” (Let God Be True, p. 68).

The Bible says:

  • There is conscious existence after death (Luke 16:19-31).
  • Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10). Heaven also is a place of everlasting conscious existence, and the believer’s soul/spirit goes there upon death (2 Cor. 5:8).

9. Everlasting punishment for unbelievers in hell.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “The doctrine of a burning hell where the wicked are tortured eternally after death cannot be true, mainly for four reasons: (1) Because it is wholly unscriptural; (2) it is unreasonable; (3) it is contrary to God’s love; and (4) it is repugnant to justice”  (Let God Be True, p. 99).
  • “Would a loving God really torment people forever? … The wicked, of course, are not literally tormented because, as we have seen, when a person is dead he is completely out of existence…. And it is also a lie, which the Devil spread, that the souls of the wicked are tormented …” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pp. 81, 88-89).

The Bible says:

  • Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10-15).

10. Heaven as the destination for all believers.

The Watch Tower says:

  • Only 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses will be in heaven. “So this ‘congregation of God’ is made up of all Christians on earth who have the hope of heavenly life. In all, only 144,000 persons finally make up the ‘congregation of God.’ Today, only a few of these, a remnant, are still on the earth. Christians who hope to live forever on earth look for spiritual guidance from members of this ‘congregation of the living God’” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pp. 125-26).
  • “Many millions that have lived in centuries past and who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses will come back in a resurrection and have an opportunity for life. Many now living may yet take a stand for truth and righteousness before ‘the great tribulation,’ and they will gain salvation” (www.watchtower.org).

The Bible says:

  • All believers have God’s promise of a home in heaven, will go there instantly upon physical death, and will return with Christ to earth one day (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 19:11-16).
  • There is no opportunity for salvation beyond the grave (Luke 16:19-31; Heb. 9:27).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

Isaiah 13: Babylon’s Time is Almost Up

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Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapter 13 likely takes place at the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign.

Key verse:

Isa. 13:13:  Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will shake from its foundations at the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, on the day of His burning anger.

Quick summary:

The Lord, who uses Babylon as an instrument of judgment against Judah, will punish the Babylonians for their wickedness. The instrument of God’s wrath will become the object of it.

Take note:

Isaiah’s warning about the brutality of the Medes raises questions about God’s justice. If God is using the Medes to punish the Babylonian leaders and their army, why does Isaiah warn that the “children will be smashed [to death] … and their wives raped” (v. 16)? We will address this issue in the notes that follow.

Prophecies about Babylon (Isa. 13:1-5)

Isaiah plunges headlong into a description of battle complete with banners, cries, and hand signals. While the immediate context of chapter 13 concerns Babylon, Isaiah seems to foreshadow the day in which God will judge the whole earth (see vv. 6-16). Verse 3 illustrates God’s sovereignty. The Lord speaks of “My chosen ones” and “My warriors” who will “exult in My triumph” and “execute My wrath.” These soldiers are serving God and His purposes, whether they know it or not. As D.A. Carson points out, the reference to these warriors is non-moral and does not seek to describe believers (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 13:1). The “army” of verse 4 is that of Medo-Persian troops under the command of Cyrus, who conquers Babylon in 539 B.C.

It is clear that the Lord of Hosts is in command. Matthew Henry writes:

He raises them, brings them together, puts them in order, reviews them, has an exact account of them in his muster-roll, sees that they be all in their respective posts, and gives them their necessary orders…. All the hosts of war are under the command of the Lord of hosts; and that which makes them truly formidable is that, when they come against Babylon, the Lord comes, and brings them with him as the weapons of his indignation, v. 5. Note, Great princes and armies are but tools in God’s hand, weapons that he is pleased to make use of in doing his work, and it is his wrath that arms them and gives them success (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 13:1).

Judgment on the Day of the Lord (Isa. 13:6-16)

In these 11 verses, Isaiah uses the term “the day of the Lord” twice and the phrase “the day of His burning anger” once. Surely, God will use the Medes to destroy the Babylonians. Yet there is a longer view in mind here – perhaps, as some commentators suggest, a foreshadowing of the tribulation that precedes Christ’s return. “Sometimes when a historical day of the Lord was being described, the writer included some references to future end-time judgment and blessing,” according to Robert B. Hughes and Carl J. Laney. “The events described in 13:10-13 go beyond the historical judgment on Babylon in 539 b.c. and suggest the end-time judgments of the Tribulation” (Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, S. 262).

But why make Babylon the focus of current and future judgment? Perhaps because Babylon has long been a rallying point of activity against God, beginning with the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Throughout the centuries, as various dynasties ruled that part of the world, it was viewed as a center of animosity toward God. Even in the tribulation, this will be so, although some consider the apostle John’s references to Babylon to be figurative rather than literal (see Rev. 17-18).

But now we come to a most thorny issue: If what is about to happen to Babylon is from the Lord, and if what is to come about at the time of Christ’s return is from the Lord, then how can a loving God act in a way that results in human horror, pain and agony (v. 8)? How can the Day of the Lord be described as “cruel, with rage and burning anger” (v. 9)? How can the children of the wicked be “smashed [to death]” and “their wives raped” (v. 16)?

There are several observations to be made:

  • Man is sinful. His heart is “more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). All people are sinners (Rom. 3:23).
  • Sin has consequences. All human suffering may be traced to the Fall, including suffering as a result of natural disasters (Rom. 8:22). Even more, the “wages of sin is death,” wrote the apostle Paul (Rom. 6:23). Our rebellion against God leads to spiritual and physical death. In the case of Babylon, the wickedness of its rulers would lead to terrible acts of brutality against her women and children at the hands of the Medes and Persians.
  • God judges sin. Because He is holy, God does not even look upon sin (Hab. 1:13).
  • God’s judgment may be directed against individuals, families, nations and even the whole world.
  • God’s judgment takes on many forms. He may act directly, through angels, through human agents, through armies of wicked men, or even through nature itself. In Isaiah 13, God is going to use the Medes and Persians to judge the Babylonians for their arrogance and wicked acts against His people.
  • God gives ample time for repentance before He wields judgment. The Amorites had more than 400 years to repent before God destroyed them (Gen. 15:16).
  • God takes no pleasure in the death of evil people (Ez. 33:11).
  • God judged our sin in His own Son so that we can be forgiven by God’s grace (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • Those who reject God’s goodness and persist in evil bring judgment upon themselves.
  • The acts of brutality about to be visited upon the Babylonians are the full responsibility of the Medes and Persians, but God will use their sinfulness to bring judgment on the Babylonians.
  • God judges from an eternal perspective. All people will stand before Christ in final judgment one day (John 5:28-29). He will reward and punish based on His holiness and knowledge of all things, including the thoughts and intents of the heart. We have every reason to believe that the truly innocent – babies, for example – will be compensated in eternity for what was taken from them in time.

Gary V. Smith writes that the horrors about to befall Babylon – and later, the world – are best understood as “the immoral pit that sin will eventually lead this violent world to wallow in.” He adds: “The picture is more horrible than what anyone can imagine or describe. The earth will be in disarray as the dependable forces of nature will disintegrate and people will turn to a savage form of debased animal existence. Government, respect, civility, kindness, and hope will totally disappear. The vile evil of sin and its horrible consequences will be in full view, but God will finally eradicate it all from the face of the earth” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 302).

Babylon Will Fall to the Medes (Isa. 13:17-22)

Isaiah now takes the principle that God will destroy proud sinners on “the day of the Lord” and applies it to the kingdom of Babylon in the near term. The reference to the Medes as God’s instrument of judgment is parallel to God’s use of Assyria to punish the northern kingdom (Isa. 10:5) and His sending Nebuchadnezzar to defeat Judah (Jer. 25:1, 9). In each case, God directs the course of history through His use of powerful armies.

The Medes are described as determined soldiers who cannot be bribed with gold or silver (v. 17). They will ferociously destroy their enemies with “no compassion on little ones” or “pity on children” (v. 18). Isaiah likens the destruction of Babylon to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were not rebuilt. Since prophets like Isaiah usually do not know the date of the fulfillment of their prophecies, it’s impossible to know with certainly whether God is speaking through him about Assyria’s defeat of Babylon in 689 B.C. or Babylon’s defeat at the hands of Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, in 539 B.C. It is true that following Assyria’s attack in 689 B.C., King Sennacherib tore down Babylon’s walls, flooded the area, depopulated the city, and turned the city into a meadow.

Closing Thought

J. Vernon McGee comments: “The future Babylon will become a great center on earth. The man of sin, the willful king, called the Antichrist, will reign in that place. It will be destroyed just as the ancient Babylon was destroyed. Babylon is a memorial to the fact of the accuracy of fulfilled prophecy and a testimony to the fact that God will also judge the future Babylon” (Isaiah: Vol. 1, p. 122).

 Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips