Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gems from the North (10) - Standards

Social theory requires a unified, authoritative concept of good and bad, right and wrong, efficient and inefficient. To be consistent, it must affirm the existence of known or at least knowable standards, and it must also affirm that there is a sanctioning process that rewards the good (or the efficient) and penalizes the bad (or the inefficient ). If the standards are affirmed without also affirming appropriate sanctions, then there is no way for society to insure justice. There is also no way for it to insure progress. Modern Christian theology has denied both biblical law (the standards) and God’s historical sanctions. It has therefore sought the standards of society elsewhere.

Dispensationalists have generally avoided even discussing social theory. They recognize their theological dilemma and have prudently remained silent. Neo-evangelical social scientists have spoken out in the name of Jesus, and have sounded very much like a cassette tape of some abandoned political program of a decade earlier. Amillennialists have generally done what the neo-evangelical premillennialists have: baptized secular humanism, meaning politically liberal humanism. They have generally adopted the worldview of the professors who certified them at humanist universities. There has to be a better way. Christians will never beat something with nothing (Premillenialism and Social Theory p.208,209).

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gems from the North (9) - Continuity of Evil

The kingdom of God grows little by little. Meanwhile, God’s sanctions against evil societies break the continuity of corporate evil.

God’s kingdom and Satan’s are locked in mortal combat. Both kingdoms seek continuity. Both seek victory. Neither is ready to surrender to the other. But the terms of battle, like the terms of surrender, are covenantal. This is not a battle that will be decided in terms of political power or any other kind of power. It is not a power play. It is an ethical battle in history based on rival covenantal commitments. If it were a power play, the conflict would have ended in Eden. There are, however, negative corporate sanctions that are applied by God in history to His covenantal enemies. These sanctions are applied because of corporate covenant-breaking by people in history. He breaks the continuity of corporate evil. He may replace one society’s corporate evil with another society’s corporate evil, but He does not allow the compound growth of the same social evil.

Meanwhile, He shows kindness unto thousands of generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments. This is God’s compound growth process for covenant-keeping in history. Little by little (with occasional discontinuities), God’s kingdom expands over time (Millenialism and Social Theory p. 284).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Gems from the North (8) - Sanctions in History

What I argue in this book is that law, historical sanctions, and eschatology are uniquely linked together in ways denied by virtually the whole of the modern Church. God’s stipulations (laws), God’s historical sanctions, and God’s kingdom triumph in history are a unit. This is not to deny that God’s absolute predestinating sovereignty is what guarantees His kingdom’s historical triumph, or that Christians, as members of God’s Church, are not God’s kingdom representatives in history. But the great debate has come over the inextricable relationship between biblical law, God’s historical sanctions, and cultural progress over time. Yet most modern covenant theologians expressly deny this connection (Millenialism and Social Theory pp.39-40).

Nevertheless, the program of the Church is peaceful positive displacement, soul by soul. God wins, Satan loses: soul by soul. Who brings the necessary negative corporate sanctions? God does, not through the Church but through such means as pestilence, plague, and war. The Church is supposed to pray for God’s negative discontinuities in history against entrenched corporate evil. This is why God gave us His imprecatory psalms to sing and pray publicly in the Church (e.g., Psalm 83). Here is the biblical program for cultural transformation. First, the Church is to bring continuous positive sanctions into a covenant-breaking culture: preaching, the sacraments, charity, and the disciplining of its members (a negative sanction by the Church, but positive for society: it keeps other Christians more honest). Second, the Holy Spirit must also bring positive discontinuities into individual lives: conversion. This is at His discretion, not ours. Third, a sovereign God in heaven must bring His discontinuous, corporate, negative sanctions against covenant-breakers in history. Notice, above all, that it is God who brings negative corporate sanctions in society, not the Church. The Church is an exclusively positive agent in society. I stress this because of the continuing misrepresentation of our position on social change by critics, both Christian and pagan (Millenialism and Social Theory pp.134-135).
God advances his kingdom in three ways. The Church disciples christians. The Holy Spirits brings unbelievers to salvation. God brings negative sanctions against societies that reject him. The sanctions ensure that evil does not get out of hand.

To complement the praying of imprecatory Psalms, we need a prophetic voice to warn of God's judgement (sanctions) against societies that choose evil.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gems from the North (7) - God's Sanctions in History

Gary North is one of the few theologians who deals seriously with the working of God's sanctions in history.

Without visible sanctions in history, there can be no public testimony to the truth or falsity of any assertion regarding the effectiveness of any proposed system of social organization. The theorist must be able to offer evidence from history that the application of his logic in history will have the positive results that he promises This is not philosophical pragmatism; this is biblical covenantalism: the nations can see the benefits that come from obeying God’s law. They can also see the righteousness of this law-order (Deut 4:4-8). The work of the law is written in their hearts (Rom 2:14-15). Righteousness does not produce bad fruit: “For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Luke 6:43).

In any free society, visible sanctions must be imposed in terms of a publicly announced system of law (Deut 31:10-13). These public sanctions must be predictable. This is what law enforcement is all about: the imposition of negative sanctions against publicly proscribed behavior. Try to run a family or a business without law and sanctions. It cannot be done. But if you accept (“sanction”) the idea that a legal order’s sanctions can Iegitimately be random in terms of fundamental law, you have accepted the legitimacy of tyranny and arbitrary rule.

Nevertheless, Christian theologians insist that there is neither a required system of biblical civil law nor corporate sanctions imposed by God in terms of this binding legal orders The rejection of the idea of the reality of God’s corporate covenantal sanctions in history parallels the rejection of the idea that biblical covenant law is supposed to govern society formally. Those who deny that biblical law is God’s required corporate standard also hasten to assure us that God does not bring negative sanctions against societies that ignore this standard (Millenialism and Social Theory pp.197-188).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gems from the North (6) - Decentralization or Terror

God, being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, can afford to allow self-government to men and angels. God is not dependent on His subordinates, so He has the ability to delegate responsibility. Because He is absolutely sovereign, He can safely delegate partial sovereignty to His representatives. This is the great mystery of God’s sovereignty: God is totally sovereign, yet He delegates authority. Those under His authority are responsible
to Him.

Satan, in contrast, imposes only one covenant. He imitates God’s sovereignty, but he cannot imitate it to the extent that he can afford to decentralize. He imitates it as a creature must, centralizing power rather than delegating it. Satan’s system of control is a top-down bureaucracy. It has to be. He is not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. He has to rely on his subordinates to provide him with information and to execute his commands. Yet they are all liars and rebels, just as he himself is a liar and a rebel. He has to manage incompetents. So he must use terror and coercion to achieve his goals. This is why Satan’s model is always the State, which has the power of the sword, of life and death.

Satan’s attempt at God’s cosmic personalism results in the personalism of the tyrant who seeks to substitute his will for the will of his subordinates. Satan is a rebel against lawful authority. So are his followers. He therefore dares not allow his subordinates freedom. He must control them from the top down, which means that Satan’s system of rule is power-oriented, not ethics-orientated. He exercises power in history through terror; God exercises power through service. Jesus Christ is the archetype servant in history; Satan is the archetype tyrant and terrorist. Thus, Satan has to centralize power. He could govern his hierarchy in no other way.

Initiative remains at the distant top. How can Christians conduct an organized campaign of cultural conquest without becoming either a scattered occupation force or a top-down bureaucracy? Only by honoring the principle of decentralization, meaning local initiative with a bottom-up appeals court for settling disputes. This means that Christians must also honor the principle of lawful jurisdiction. Each institution, as well as each individual, has an exclusive God-given area of lawful authority. To violate these boundaries is to invite tyranny. (Millenialism and Social Theory pp.324,325)

Private Enterprise

Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot.
Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk.
Only a handful see it for what it really is - the strong horse that pulls the whole cart. (Winston Churchill)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Gems from the North (5) - Faith in Bureaucratic Power

Here is the inescapable social message of all forms of premillennialism, dispensational and historic, but without the sugar-coating: only a pure power play by God from heaven directly to earth is sufficient to create a Christian civilization. In this sense, the premillennial escape religionists are at heart power religionists. They see the history of civilization only in terms of pure power: (1) escaping anti-Christian political power today, thereby abandoning any attempt to build a Christian civilization; but then (2) exercising total, centralized political power during the millennium...

In his book, A Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell makes this observation regarding fundamentalism, which he says is committed to an unconstrained (perfectionist, no trade-offs) view of society: “Fundamentalist religion is the most pervasive vision of central planning, though many fundamentalists may oppose human central planning as a usurpation or ‘playing God.’ This is consistent with the fundamentalist vision of an unconstrained God and a highly constrained man.” Sowell is correct on both counts. What he does not perceive is that the fundamentalist (i.e., premillennialist) defends a constrained vision of society and man today, on this side of the millennium, because Christ is in heaven and His enemies are on human thrones. On the other hand, during the millennium, Christ will sit on an earthly throne of total power. Then the fundamentalist vision switches to an unconstrained view: totalitarian power with a vengeance – God’s vengeance.

A Christian bureaucracy will rule the world. But this will still be a world in which Christians do not exercise independent authority on their own responsible initiative in terms of God’s law. They will simply obey detailed orders handed down from a master bureaucrat, Jesus. This debate is not over bureaucracy; it is over how powerful it should be, who runs it, and when.

Today, both the humanists and the premillennialist agree: humanists should run it.(Millenialism and Social Theory pp.151,152)
One thing has changed since 1990. Premillenialist Christians are happy with the power religion of George W Bush.

Gems from the North (4) - Cartoon

The preface of Millenium and Social Theory has a Herman cartoon that sums up the issue.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gems from the North (3) - Bad Eschatology

The reason why there has been so little serious in social theory is bad eschatology.

Both premillennialism and amillennialism deny that there will ever be a Christian civilization prior to Christ’s Second Coming...

A few premillennialist and amillennialists have offered very cogent criticisms of modern humanist culture, but these critics have never offered a uniquely Christian alternative to the humanism they reject. This exclusive negativism has the effect of discouraging their followers. This lack of a legitimate cultural alternative has persuaded most Christians to shorten their time horizons. They lose hope in the future: present-orientation.

If there is no cultural alternative to humanism available in history, then the only reasonable Christian response is to pray for either the Rapture (dispensationalism) or the end of history (amillennialism). (Historic premillennialists and post-tribulational dispensationalists believe that the millennium will come only after Christians have gone through Armageddon and the Great Tribulation. I have no idea what they pray for.)

Premillennialist and amillennialists share a commitment to a coming cosmic discontinuity as the Church’s great hope in history: deliverance from on high (and in the case of premillennial dispensationalism, deliverance to on high).....
This affirmation of a coming cosmic discontinuity cuts the ground from under the Christian who would seek to discover a uniquely biblical social theory. It also undercuts the incentive for social action. Social action becomes a holding action at best and a kamikaze action at worst.

The Church is believed to be incapable of changing history’s downward move into cultural evil. Social action is therefore adopted on an ad hoc basis: solving this or that immediate local problem. Effective Christian social action supposedly can accomplish little; therefore, it requires neither a long-term strategy nor a systematic concept of ethical cause and effect. Political power, not ethics, is viewed as historically determinative. Power is seen as a necessary evil today. Christians are supposedly never to exercise political power in the “Church Age.” Either they cannot or should not exercise it (possibly both).

The result is predictable: the absence of Christian social theory.(Millenialsm and Social Theory (pp 94-95).
This is an amazing situation. Most Christians are commited to this world going down the gurgler. They have more faith in the power of evil than in the power of the Holy Spirit to change human hearts and through changing human hearts to transform society. It is fairly easy to see who benefits most from pessimistic eschatology. I presume that tells us something about where it came from.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Gems from the North (2) - Social Order

I became a Christian in 1974, just a few months before sitting the final exams for my masters degree in Economics. One of the papers dealt with in Marxist economics. In my exam paper, I wrote that Marxism failed because if failed to create the new man that socialism promised. With all the zeal of a new Chrisitan, I did a little rant declaring that Christianity was the answer to the problems of economics, because the cross and the gospel made “new man” a real possibility. The new birth made by possible by Jesus can accomplish what Marxism has failed to do.

A few months later, one of my lecturers (not a Marxist, but an atheist) challenged me about what I had said. I listened carefully because I presumed that he was the one who had ensured that I was awarded a final grade based on my full years work, rather than one based on my preaching in the final exam.

This non-Christian man said that it is fine to say that the Christianity is the answer, but to be persuasive, I would need to show what society would be different, if everyone did become a Christian. He challenged me to start thinking about that issue.

We did a literature search and found almost nothing. There were a couple of books by Christians offering "warmed-over" socialism, but nothing else (he could see the difference). The best we could find was a couple of books applying Islamic principles to economics. They were at least an example of what could be done. That was a shocking discovery.

I went on to do other things but the question of my lecturer continued to haunt me. What would society look like if every member of society was a Christian?

Gary North was the first writer that I encountered who was actually grappling with this issue. The thing I found refreshing was that he took the Bible seriously and attempted to apply its principles to economic and political issues.

The following quote explains his perspective on why these things are important.

It has been almost two thousand years since the birth of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world....... What is also remarkable – or not so remarkable, as this book will demonstrate — is that two millennia after the Incarnation of God’s Son in history, His followers have no idea what a saved world ought to look like. They have no blueprint for a uniquely biblical social order. There is no comprehensive body of materials that would point to a solution to this question: “How would a Bible-based society differ from previous societies and present ones?” Hardly anyone is even asking the question. Hardly anyone ever has. (Millennialism and Social Theory, p.16).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gems from the North (1)

Gary North has the rare privilege of being ignored by evangelicals and hated by liberals and. The evangelicals plaster him with the latest pejorative label and then turn their backs. The liberals use him as an example of the danger in their fear-mongering, “Christian ayatollahs are coming to get you” books. This treatment is unfair, because neither group have ever bothered to read his books. The following quote never gets quoted.

Gary North in an excellent economist (having earned a Ph.D without forgetting how to think or losing his love of the scriptures), a knowledgable theologian and political theorist (having worked as a staffer in Washington). He has written an enormous number of books covering a wide range of topics (he must write faster than NT Wright). He is the publisher of a long-running investment newsletter, got lost on Y2K, but has bounced back.

I have always found his books stimulating. I do not agree with everything he says. I am uncomfortable with his excessively polemic writing style, but he always makes me think. I have not read all his books, but everyone I have read has left me challenged. In my view, a Christian economist who has not read his work is only partially educated.

I have just finished re-reading Millennialism and Social Theory (1990). This book is not very well known, but it raises some important issues that very few Christians have thought about. In the next few posts I will put up some quotes from this book and comment on the issues raised.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Subprime Crisis

Many economists were surprised by the the subprime crisis. The best explanation I have seen is in this clip by John Fortune and John Bird.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

After Life (24) - The Devil and his Angels

This is my last post on hell. For completeness I will comment on what happens to the the devil. I am not totally sure what happens to him. The passage that describes his fate at the end of the age is hard to interpret.

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur… They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev 20:10).
This verse comes after the last judgment, so it describes his final fate. The lake of burning sulphur symbolises destruction and death (cf Rev 21:14-15). This would imply his death and destruction. The second part of the verse is more difficult.

The greek word translated as “tormented” is “basanizo”. It can mean torture. However, its other meaning is a testing by touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced when rubbing it with either metal. I see nothing in God’s character to suggest that he is interested in torturing the devil. He would gain no pleasure from it and no purpose would be accomplished. When a word has two possible interpretations, we should choose the one that is most consistent with God’s character. Therefore “basanizo” should be translated as “testing”.

The word is used in several places in the book of Revelation. I think testing is the better translation, because God never tortures, just for the sake of tormenting. Rather, he allows people to experience the consequence of their choices. This testing should sharpen up their choices, so they make better choices in the future. This is the purpose of all the judgments describe in Revelation.

Getting back to Rev 20:14, I am not sure why God would still be testing the devil after life on earth is complete and I do not understand why this testing would go on for ages. The verb “bansnizo” is future passive indicative. One possibility is that the conjunction is “but” and the verb “he will have been tested”. John might be saying that the devil will be destroyed, because he has been tested day and night for several ages (and found wanting.)

This interpretation seems to be confirmed by Hebrew 4:12.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.
This message seems to be very clear. Jesus will destroy the devil.

In the end, I do not need to know what happens to the devil. Maybe God has left it unclear because he does not want me to know. Nevertheless, I presume that the devil does know his fate and is trembling in fear.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

After Life (23) - Eternal Death and the Gospel

Knowledge of eternal death should be a great spur to the preaching of the gospel. If all men and women are to be saved eventually, it does not really matter if they hear the gospel. Unfortunately, this is not what the Bible teaches. Since we know that those who reject the gospel are destined to eternal destruction, we should be proclaiming the gospel with great urgency. However, preaching the gospel is best motivated by love. We have a great salvation to offer, so we should want every person on earth to experience it.

Jesus did not command us centre our preaching of the gospel around the second death. His comments in the parables of Lazarus and the Rich Man, suggest that he though it would be a waste of time.

He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment'...... Abraham said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead' (Luke 16:27,31).
When Jesus sent out his disciples to preach the gospel, he told them what to say and do.
As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give (Matt 10:7-8).
Jesus’ message centred on the glory and wonder of the kingdom. Their actions were intended to demonstrate that wonder. He did not tell them to warn people about death after death. Our focus should be the same. We should answer people who ask, but our presentation of the gospel should not be based round pain and finality of “eternal death”. We should focus on the glory of the kingdom and what Jesus has done.

The full series on hell can be found here.

The full series on the After Life is here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

After Life (22) - Eternal Torment???

The one New Testament passage that could be interpreted to mean eternal torment is Revelation 14:9-12.

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.
However, this passage does not refer to events in eternity, but to life on earth. The expression “in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb” is misleading. The literal meaning is “in the sight of the Lord”. John is saying that Jesus and the angels see this event, it does not occur in their presence. Other aspects of this passage make this clear. The third angel is preceded by two who announce the proclamation of the gospel and the destruction of Babylon the Great. These events happen on earth. The saints are still enduring, but they will not need to endure in eternity. People are still dying (Rev 14:13), so the passage cannot be a description of eternity.

John warns that the judgments coming on earth at this time are so terrible, it will be like the days of Sodom and Gomorrah (fire and brimstone). Those who worship the beast will have no rest. The smoke rising forever is a declaration that these events will be so bad that they are never forgotten. Smoke is not the fire. Smoke continues after the fire has ceased. The memory of this event on earth will continue after it is complete.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

After Life (21) - Darkness

Darkness is an interesting image, because it does not fit neatly with the image of fire. Fire produces light, so fire removes darkness. Jesus is not using these expressions literally, but to bring out different aspects of what these people will experience.

And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness (Matt 25:30).
Darkness is the absence of light. This image reminds us that nothing can exist apart from God. Those who are shut out from God’s presence will be shut out of existence. Darkness is an image of nothingness. Those who reject Jesus will have no choice but to depart from his presence and go into nothingness.

Jesus used stark images lide fire and darkness to describe the seriousness of the situation, not to give a literal description of what hell would be like.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

After Life (20) - Fire

Fire is anothe image used to describe the future of those who reject Jesus. This takes various forms.

  1. Fire
    But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire ((Matt 5:22).
    Fire can symbolise several different things. Fire causes pain to human flesh. Fire purifies gold and silver. Fire also causes destruction. We cannot just assume that Jesus chose the image of fire to symbolise painful punishment. Jesus might have chosen fire as a symbol of destruction. The link with Gehenna suggests that he was thinking about the fires in the Valley of Himmon that were used to destroy rubbish.

  2. Fiery Furnace
    As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 13:40-42).
    The weeds are thrown in the furnace because they are not wanted. They are destroyed, so that their seeds cannot spread and grow.

    When I was young we often burnt the stubble and straw once the crop of wheat had been harvested. Dry straw burns really fast. When it is burnt there is almost nothing left. There is almost no ash, because the straw is totally destroyed. The image of the fiery furnace implies that those who cause evil will be totally destroyed.

  3. Eternal fire
    If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. (Matt 18:8).
    The fire is eternal, but the person who is figuratively thrown into the fire is not. They will be destroyed by the fire. The word eternal is used to emphasis the fact that this destruction is permanent.

  4. Lake of fire
    Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14).
    A lake of fire does not make sense, if taken literally, because lakes do not burn. The water of the lake would eventually evaporate or put out the fire. If fire symbolises destruction, then the lake intensifies the image. The lake of fire symbolises signifies total destruction.
    Death is not a physical thing, so fire cannot harm it. The idea of Hades being thrown into a fire does not make sense. However the idea that death and Hades will be destroyed makes real sense. Death has no place in eternity so it must be destroyed.

    The ideal that the lake of fire is a symbol of destruction is confirmed by the expression “second death”. Death means the end of something. When a body dies it decays and rots until it has disappeared. Death is a symbol of destruction. When something dies life comes to end. Those whose names are not written on the book of life will experience a “second death”. This death will be fatal.

    I find it odd that some people want to take the lake of fire literally see people burning in the lake for ever. That can only happen if these people stay alive, which implies that the second death does not kill them. A literal lake of fire requires a symbolic second death.

Friday, December 14, 2007

After Life (19) - Contrast with Salvation

Many scriptures use the word destruction or destroy to describe the opposite of salvation or eternal life. The Greek word for destruction (apolia) is sometimes translated as lost or perish, so the emphasis is slightly hidden.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish (destruction) but have eternal life (John 3:15,16).

The man who loves his life will lose it (destruction), while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25).

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18).

For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (destruction) (2 Cor 2:15).

They perish (destruction)because they refused to love the truth and so be saved (2 Thes 2:10).

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Heb 10:39).

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy (James 4:12).
In all these passages, those who are not saved are destroyed.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

After Life (18) - Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12).
Earth is an interesting place. Although it is created and sustained by God, it is possible to live on earth in separation from God. After the last judgment, a life lived in separation from God will not be possible. The new heavens and the new earth will be full of his presence and his holiness is so awesome and terrible that anyone who has not been spiritually renewed will not be able to bear to be in it. They will have to flee from God, because the pain of being in his presence will be too awful for a human being to bear. The problem is that there will be no place for them to go where God is not present. They will choose to go into the destruction of nothingness, because they cannot bear to be in the presence of God.

Those who have rejected Jesus will not have to be sent away, but will choose to go. However, they will also know that they have been created for eternity. They will get a glimpse of eternity, yet realise that they cannot be part of it. To know that you were created for eternity, yet know that that you cannot go there, will be a terrible experience. That is why there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. The choice of nothingness over eternity will produce enormous anguish.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

After Life (17) - Descriptive Words

The safest way to understand what happens to those are condemned at the last judgement, is to look at the descriptive words used in the New Testament. Before looking at other images used, I will examine some clear descriptions.

  1. Eternal punishment.
    Then they will go away to eternal punishment (Matt 25:46).
    Those who reject Jesus will face punishment, but this verse does not describe the nature of the punishment. Rather, it emphasises the finality of the judgement. There is no second chance. Those who reject Jesus can never escape from the fate they have chosen.

  2. Separation from Jesus
    Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matt 7:23).
    The worst aspect of this punishment is that people will be separated from Jesus. If everything that is good and wonderful in this world is fulfilled in Jesus, being separated from him is absolutely terrible.

  3. Destruction
    Jesus warned that those who reject the gospel face destruction.
    Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it (Matt 7:13)
    While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled (John 17:12).
    The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life (Gal 6:8).
    Their destiny is destruction (Phil 3:19).
    The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Pet 3:7).

  4. Everlasting destruction
    He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (2 Thes 1:8,9).
    This is the clearest description of what happens to those who do not know Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction.

    Everlasting destruction is an interesting expression. Once something is destroyed it does not exist. It cannot be destroyed again and again. Everlasting destruction cannot be destruction over and over again as that does not make sense. The passage is describing a destruction that lasts forever. Those destroyed will never be restored or recreated again. Their destruction is final. They will cease to exist forever.

The common idea in all these expressions is "destruction". The future of those who reject Jesus is eternal separation from God, and apart from him there can be no existence. Those who are not renewed by faith in Jesus will be destroyed because they cannot bear to be close to him.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

After Life (16) - Valley of Himmon

The most common image used by Jesus to describe the fate of those who reject him is the word in the Greek New Testament translated as “hell". “Gehenna" is not a Greek word, but a transliteration of two Hebrew words. “Ge” is the Hebrew word for gully, gorge or valley. “Himmon” is a foreign word and is probably the name of a Jebusite man who lived in Jerusalem before the Exodus (Jos 15:8). Gehenna (Ge Himmon) is the name for a valley or gulch outside the city of Jerusalem.

The Valley of Himmon was a place where children had been sacrificed to Molech and where Baal had been worshiped (Jer 32:35). In Jesus time, it had become the rubbish dump for the city of Jerusalem. Fires in the valley burned continually for the destruction of garbage. Sulphur was put on decomposing garbage to reduce the spread of disease. So when according to Matthew, Jesus said,

It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Matt 5:29; cf Matt 5:30;18:8; 18:9).
He was really saying,
It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into the rubbish dump.
The rubbish dump is place where stuff is discarded and destroyed. Things that are no longer required are sent there for destruction. They have no value, so they can be destroyed and forgotten. The rubbish dump is not a place of torture or torment.When Jesus said that a person’s body would be thrown in the rubbish dump, he was saying that they were of no value to anyone. Their body could be destroyed and forgotten.

Monday, December 10, 2007

After Life (15) - Hell

When I did a Bible study about the nature of hell, I was greatly surprised. I had been taught that hell was a fiery place, where those who rejected Jesus would be tormented forever. My first surprise was that the scriptures give very little information about what happens to those who are condemned at the last judgment. There is very little about their eternal destiny in the Old Testament and the New Testament letters do not add much more. To learn about the destiny of the lost, we have to go to the gospels and the words of Jesus. It is almost as if God only trusted his Son to speak about this subject.

Even Jesus did not tell us that much about the about what would happen to those who reject the gospel. The word “hell” is only used once in Luke’s gospel and twice in Mark’s. It is not used in John’s gospel at all. Clearly Jesus did not spend a lot of time talking about “hell”. We must be very careful that we do not try to add more detail than he has provided.

My second surprise was that “destruction” of those who reject the gospel is the most common theme in the New Testament. Those who are shut out of God’s presence will be not be tormented forever, they will be destroyed. In the next few posts, I will explain why I reached this conclusion.

The New Testament does not describe hell in detail, but uses a number of images to describe what it is like. These images cannot be taken literally. Hell cannot be both fire and darkness, because fire produces light. It cannot be a furnace and a lake. Rather, Jesus used a variety of images to describe different aspects of what happens to those who reject Jesus. These images must be interpreted carefully because they can be understood in several ways.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

After Life (14) - Beyond Earth

Our future life may not be limited to this earth. The universe that we live in is absolutely enormous. There are probably thousands of other planets similar to earth. In the Parable of the Minas, each was servant was given one mina to look after. Jesus described what would happen to the servant who had turned his mina into ten.

The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities' (Luke 19:16-17).
The person who is faithful with what the King has entrusted to him will be put in charge of several cities. The implication of this is that at least some Christians, will be put in charge of several cities as part of their eternal reward. Others may be put in charge of small kingdoms. Some of these cities and kingdoms will be on earth, but there may not be room for them all. However, I suspect that some Christians may be in charge of cities and kingdoms on planets and stars in other parts of the universe. With spiritual bodies, limitations on space travel will be gone. God may use his people to fill the whole universe with life.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

After Life (13) - Where

Where does our future life take place? Some say on this earth, while other say their will be a new heaven and a new earth somewhere else. Here are some scriptures.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Pet 3:10-13.
Peter says that the heavens (ouranos) will disappear (v.11). Here he must be referring to the sky, however it is not clear how the sky disappears. It may be that the glory of Jesus appearance is so dazzling and bright that the sky cannot be seen. The expression “destruction of the heavens by fire” (v.12) is interesting, because Peter does not use the usual Greek word for destruction. The literal meaning of the word he uses is “loosen”. The sky being loosened up by fire may just mean that the universe is shaken up.

Peter says that the elements will be “loosened by fire” (v.10) and “melt in the heat” (v.12). This suggests a real transformation, but may not mean total destruction. The earth and everything in it will be “laid bare” (v.10). This suggests a lot of destruction, but it does not mean that the earth will be totally destroyed. It also has a sense of things that are hidden being exposed.

Peter’s message is that the earth and the atmosphere will be really shaken up by Jesus return, but he does not seem to be saying that the universe will actually disappear.

Both Peter and John speak of a new heavens and a new earth.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them (Rev 21 1-3).
These references do not explain whether the word “new” is used in the sense of “totally different” or in the sense of being “totally renewed”. I suspect that it is the latter. The whole universe will be so totally transformed by Jesus coming that it will appear to be totally new.

We must also remember that once we have spiritually bodies, we will be able to see the spiritual dimension of the universe as clearly as we now see the physical dimension. And because the spiritual dimension is vastly more important than the physical, it will appear to be totally different. It will be like God has taken the lid off the universe so we can see everything.

The only way that I can think about this is to imagine an ant living in the middle of my lawn. All he can see is enormous columns of green grass and the brown soil it grows in. He may see some of the microbes in the soil and the structure of the worm holes more clearly than I can, but essentially he lives in a two dimensional world of green and brown. If the ant could come up to my level and see the world from where I see it he would see a totally different world. He would see mountains, trees, animals and stars that he had never seen before. Although nothing had changed, he would feel like he was living in a totally new world.

When we see this world in both the physical and spiritual dimensions, our experience will be similar, although the contrast will be even greater. The best way to describe such an experience in human words might be to be as a new heaven and a new earth.

Friday, December 07, 2007

After Life (12) - Description of Eternal Life

The Bible tells us what this heavenly Kingdom will be like.

  1. The saints will be clothed with spiritual bodies (1 Cor 15:44).
    He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit. Rom 8:11).
    It is hard to imagine what a spiritual body will be like, but all the limitations of our physical bodies will be gone. Our new bodies will be imperishable. They will not deteriorate, and will be impervious to pain and sickness. This will be a glorious existence. We shall bear the likeness of the Lord's glorious resurrection body (Phil 3:21). Our present bodies are not adapted for the state of things that will exist in the heavenly Kingdom so they will be changed.
    I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand (John 10:28).
    The expression "eternal life" is used 36 times in the New Testament This makes it a better expression for describing our future life the heaven.
  2. We will still be human. Our spiritual bodies will bear a resemblance to our physical bodies, in such a way that other people will be able to recognise us. We will be able to communicate with them.
  3. There will be glorious fellowship among the saints. We will be able to share with the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all those who have been redeemed. At present our friendship is limited by time and by the number of people with whom we have contact. In heaven we will have infinite time to develop friendships with numerous people. There will be thousands of other people with similar tastes and interests and many more with different ones. The extension and the perfection of friendship will bring great blessing to everyone.
  4. There will be no marriage during the eternal life.
    Those who are considered worthy of taking part in this age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels (Luke 20:35,30).
    To many married couples this seems rather strange, but in heaven we will actually have deeper fellowship with all people, than we now have with our spouses. And though we are not married, we will actually have a deeper relationship with our spouses. However, this does suggest that family will not be an important institution in the future life. God will be the Father of all.
  5. God’s people will possess powers that are unknown at the present time. This will partly come from the intimate fellowship with God, but at the same time, our faculties will be expanded.
    So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; (1 Cor 15:42-43).
    Our powers of perception and reason will be vastly increased. This will lead to a constant increase in knowledge and understanding. The spiritual world will contain immense mysteries for the saints to study and explore. The vast increase in knowledge will be used for the glory of God in his Kingdom.
  6. Authority will be exercised on God's behalf by the saints in the heavenly Kingdom. The extent of the authority given will depend on the responsibility shown in this present life. In the parable of the ten minas, Jesus said that the most trustworthy servant would be given ten cities to rule, once the master returned (Luke 19:17). He had cared for only ten minas, yet he was given ten cities to rule as his reward. Those who have exercised their authority responsibly here on earth will exercise great authority in eternal life.
In all this we see the tremendous mercy of God. Salvation is a free gift from God. Those who are chosen to belong to the kingdom of heaven receive the privilege as a free gift. Even the good works they have done have been prepared beforehand by God. All the tremendous blessings described here are totally undeserved. Only a gracious God could give such a wonderful gift.

More here

Thursday, December 06, 2007

After Life (11) - Eternity with God

The word that is used the most in reference to our future life is "kingdom". Jesus said that the righteous shall inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for them since the foundation of the world (Matt 25:34). Speaking of the future life, he said,

The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt 13:43).
And I will confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me (Luke 22:29).
Our future life is not just a state of eternal bliss, where the saints bask in God's glory. It is a kingdom in which they rule with Christ. Our life on earth is a time of training to prepare us for ruling with Christ.

Adam was placed by God in the Garden of Eden, but that was not to be his final resting place. Once he had learned to care for the garden, he was to go out and subdue the rest of the earth. In the same way, our time on earth is a period of training, in which we learn how to rule. The Kingdom of our Lord is an eternal kingdom, which will continue after the last judgment in the spiritual realm (2 Pet 1:11).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

After Life (10) - Language Limitations

We have a problem with understanding the heavenly realm because we live in a three dimensional world (four, if time is included). All our categories of thought are shaped by the world in which we live. Our language is inadequate for describing the spiritual dimension to life. The New Testament uses physical images to describe the spiritual dimension, but these will always be inadequate to describe something that is beyond description.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).
Our human minds are not even capable of understanding what this universe looks like when perceived from the spiritual dimension as God sees it.

When we think of heaven, we tend to think of a place where God dwells. The problem is that God is spirit, so he is not confined to one place. The heavenly realm is not a three dimensional world like the one we live in, so the idea of “being somewhere” does not mean what it means here on earth. The same applies to expressions like “third heaven” or “highest heaven”. These phrases do not mean that the heavenly realm has layers like a multi-level building. Up and down do not mean the same in a spiritual world as they mean in this physical world. The expression “highest heaven” is just an attempt to describe the total difference between the physical world and the spiritual world.

The description of the heaven realm in Revelation 21 should be understood in the same way.
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man's measurement, which the angel was using (Rev 21:15-18).
John is trying to describe the wonder of the spiritual realm using human words, but they are inadequate for this purpose, so we need to be careful how we interpret them. Length, width and height will not mean much in the spiritual world, so they should not be taken as a literal description. The walls were 144 cubits thick by “man’s measurement”, but thickness does not really mean anything in the spiritual world. Jesus proved this when he appeared to the disciples hiding behind physical walls in a locked room after his resurrection. Thick walls could not keep Jesus out.

John reminds are that these dimensions are “man’s measurement”. He is using human categories of thought so that he can communicate to us, because that is all we can understand, but earthly categories cannot fully capture the glory of the heavenly realm.
The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass (Rev 21:19-21).
I doubt that gold and emeralds will have much value in the future life. Peace and love and truth will be the important values. The problem is that the human mind cannot conceive of a place where love and peace have replaced height and width as the core dimensions. Using precious jewels was a way of describing the indescribable using things of value to a human mind.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

After Life (9) - Heaven

Most Christians believe that when they die, they will go to “heaven”. Therefore it is quite surprising to find that the word heaven is rarely used to for our future life in the New Testament.

The Greek word for heaven, "ouranos" is used in a number of ways in the New Testament.

  1. The atmosphere is often referred to as the heavens. “Ouranos” is the normal word for describing the sky.
  2. God is also said to dwell in the heavens, especially the highest heavens. The word heaven is used to describe the spiritual realm.
  3. The word heaven is only used to twice to describe the dwelling place of those who inherit eternal life (Matt 5:12 and Col 1:5). However, even in these verses it describes where our reward comes from more than its location.
    Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven (Matt 5:12).
The word heaven is generally used in the New Testament to describe the spiritual dimension of life. This spiritual dimension exists now. Through the Holy Spirit, we can interact with the spiritual dimension now, even if we cannot fully see into it. Heaven is not a place we will go to in the future. God’s will should be done on earth as it is in heaven, now.

Monday, December 03, 2007

After Life (8) - Two Classes of People

There will be two classes of people at the last judgment.

  1. People who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ will be judged on whether they have accepted or rejected him. Those who have placed their trust in Jesus will go to eternal life. They are the ones whose names are written in the book of life (Rev 20:12,15). Those who have rejected Jesus will be condemned (Matt 10:32,33; John 12:48; 2 Thes 1:6-10).
    Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (John 3:18).
  2. Those who have not heard the gospel will be judged on the basis of what they have known of God's ways. Every person has some knowledge of God. His power and divine nature is made plain in creation, and his requirements are revealed to each one by his conscience (Rom 1:20; 2:14,15).
    All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law (Rom 2:12).
    In the same way those who have not heard the gospel will be judged apart from the gospel, on the basis of the truth they have known. (This applies especially to children.)
More here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

After Life (7) - The Nature of the Judgement

The Bible makes a number of important points about the last judgment.

  1. The judgment is a definite future event. Each person will appear before God, where their eternal destiny will be determined and manifested (Rom 2:5).
    He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he appointed Acts 17:31).
  2. The man appointed to be judge is Jesus (Acts 10:42).
    The Father judges no one, but has trusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father (John 5:22,23).
    Jesus is the right person to be the judge of all mankind. He is a man, so he understands all the trials and temptations that we face. No one will be able to say that Jesus does not understand the reason why they have sinned. He knows all things, so he will be able to judge perfectly. Jesus will be absolutely fair, and because he is full of mercy, he will treat everyone with compassion. He is the best person we could possibly have as our judge. His personality, character and experience make him ideal for this role.
  3. The last judgment takes place at the general resurrection, immediately after the second coming. It does not take place when we die, so it is not going on now. Jesus will return and the last judgment will follow (1 Cor 4:5; Acts 17:31).
    The Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done (Matt 16:27).
  4. All humans must face judgment. No person who has lived on earth will be immune (Matt 25:31-46; Matt 13:37-43; Romans 14:10,12; 2 Tim 4:1). Jesus will judge both the living and the dead.
    We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).
    The angels will also appear for judgment (2 Pet 2:4). Satan will also be judged (Rev 20:10.
  5. People will be judged according to their works while on the earth. Judgment will not be based on what people may claim to have done, but on their actual deeds as God sees them. The good deeds or sins of parents will not count; each person will be judged on the basis of their own life (Rev 22:12; 1 Tim 5:24,25).
    God will give to each person according to what he has done (Rom 2:6).
  6. Both the character and deeds of each person will be revealed to God. Each person will have their whole life revealed in a moment of time. They will see themselves as God sees them. Every word, deed, and thought, and all secrets will be revealed (Rom 2:16). No one will feel unfairly treated, because Jesus will see them as they really are. They will know that their fate is deserved.
    Men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matt 12:36).

Saturday, December 01, 2007

After Life (6) - Final Judgement

The last judgment is the great watershed between history and eternity. The second coming marks the end of history. The final judgment marks the beginning of eternity. Each person will be judged on the basis of all that they have done while living on earth, and will receive their reward in eternity. There is a picture of the last judgment in Revelation 20:11-13.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.
Every person will stand before the judgment throne of Christ. All that they have ever done will be revealed to them from the records that have been kept. The books are probably not literal, but each person will see their whole life pass before their eyes. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life will be saved.

All people will rise and face Jesus. Those who have been in Hades will be brought before his throne. Even the sea will give up its dead. This is the general resurrection that was spoken of by Jesus in John 5:28,29:
Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
All people will share in this resurrection. But only those whose names are in the book of life will rise to true life. The rest will rise to condemnation (Acts 24:15; John 11:24).