Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: prophecy

Echoes of invention

The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) gradually began to downplay some of the distinctive teachings of Daniel Warner, leading some of those who believed strongly in those teachings to leave the church. In 1980, Daniel Layne left the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) and assumed the leadership of those who had separated from that group.

Layne accepted Warner’s prophetic revelations, adding a little more from Revelations chapter 8. The space of about  a half hour was interpreted as half a century and the starting date as 1930 when they believed the mother church had fallen into apostsy. Counting 50 years from then brings one to 1980 and Daniel Layne, when the seventh trumpet is said to have sounded.

This group calls itself the Church of God (Restoration). It may be better known to many as the Gemeinde Gottes as it has had a special appeal to German-speaking Mennonites in Canada and Bolivia.

A friend recounted observating a conversation between a minister of this group and a minister of another denomination. The Gemeinde Gottes minister stated that he had given his heart to the Lord the first time he was called and that as far as he was aware he had never sinned.  Another man, who had been silent up to that point, said: “That thought itself is sin!” That brought the conversation to an abrupt end.

The prophetic interpretations of Warner and Layne are examples of eisegisis, of reading into the Bible what you want to find there. The year for a day interpretation of Daniel’s 1260 days is generally accepted as the inteded meaning. The dates of 270 and 1530, however, have no significance in history and appear to have been picked to make things work out to the desired end. The century for a day interpretation has no support in the Scriptures, or elsewhere. It appers that Warner began with the 1880 date and worked backwards. The 50 years for half an hour interpretation of Layne is equally meaningless, simply an attempt to explain his 1980 defection.

I’m not meaning to imply that Warner and Layne were scoundrels, intentionally deceiving their followers. I think they were as gullible as their followers. Unfortuneately, gullibility is nowhere listed as a Christian virtue. It would have been much better if they and their followers had been like the Bereans, searching the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:11). That is called exegisis, when we search the Scriptures to see what they say, rather than seeking a verse or two that we can use to support our cause.

Herbert W Armstrong was a master at eisegisis, and there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that he was a scoundrel. The church he founded has renounced his teachings and changed its name. Nevertheless, there are ten or twelve denominations carrying on his message. It seems that when one has the persuasive skills to make a teaching based on twisted Scriptures seem credible, it takes a long time for the echoes to die awy.

How to invent a church

Let’s say that I am a young man on fire for the Lord, thrilled by what God has done for me and eager to share this good news with others. But I can’t find a church that sees things exactly the way I do. What shall I do?

Well, if my name is Daniel Warner, here is what I do. I assume all the churches that exist are spiritually dead, not necessarily all the members, but the churches themselves. Moreover, it seems that since the apostolic age there has not been a church with the true light that God has given to me. And lo and behold! The Old testament prophet Zechariah said that this is the way it would be. There would be a long period of darkness, “but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light” (Zechariah 14:7). This can only mean one thing, now is the evening time of the world, the light has returned and it is up to me to spread the news of the evening light.

Searching the Scriptures a little further, I find in the 7th chapter of Daniel the prophecy of the little horn which shall make war on the saints for a time, and times and half a time. This little horn can be nothing else but the Roman Catholic Church which began in 270 AD. A time, and times and half a time means three and one half years, taking each day for a year, and counting 1260 years from 270 AD, gets us to 1530 AD, when Protestantism overthrew the power of Catholicism. But then the book of Revelation, in chapter 11, speaks of God’s two prophets, the Spirit and the Word, lying dead for three and one half days. Now, in this case the days must represent centuries.

That would bring us to 1880, which is the year I am living in right now. Do you see? There it is prophetically foretold that this year the restoration of the work of God, and His Church, would begin. And that ministry has been committed to me.

The above information has been culled from Birth of a Reformation, Life and Labors of D. S. Warner, written by Andrew L. Byers and published in 1921. Mister Warner’s handling of Scriptures seems more than a little suspect, but he succeeded in gathering a considerable following, known today as the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).

There were prolific songwriters among the early leaders of this church, among them Daniel S Warner himself, Andrew L Byers, Benjamin B Warren, Charles W Naylor, Dennis O Teasley and Clara M Brooks. The melodies are catchy, some of the messages are standard evangelical fare, but many carry a distinctive message that may escape the notice of the unwary.

For instance, the song Once Again We Come, by C W Naylor, is a celebration of the coming of the evening light, and contains the lines: “Thou hast led us safely on, To the blessed light of the present day, Where the darkness now is gone.” Once one knows that the darkness refers to the centuries when the church of God had ceased to exist and the blessed light of the present day refers to Daniel Warner’s Church of God, the song loses its charm.

Daniel Warner believed that he had received the second work of grace, a second work of the Holy Spirit which eradicated the root of sin from his life and enabled him to live without sin. He earnestly believed that when others received this second blessing it would unite their hearts in Christian unity. This is the meaning behind his song The Bond of Perfectness. Though the second work of grace is not actually mentioned in the song, the idea of sinless perfection is really what the song is celebrating.

There you have it; inventing one’s own church is quite simple. Far too many people have done it and are still doing it. Of course there are big problems with most of the churches around us, but Daniel Warner’s method is not to be recommended as a solution. A better approach would be to ask, where is the church that Jesus said He would build?

Jezebel

These things saith the Son of God, . . . I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. Revelation 2:18-20

There was a church of wonderfully consecrated and dedicated believers in Thyatira. All was well, except that they were paying too much attention to that woman Jezebel and as a result some were falling into serious sin.

There have been many more Jezebels since the end of the first century AD, of both genders. But I would like to nominate Ellen G White as a prime candidate for this role in our era.

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I believe William Miller gets a bum rap. He really believed he had calculated the exact date of our Lord’s return. Twice. After the Lord did not return on schedule for the second time, William Miller admitted he had been deceived and abandoned the Advent movement altogether. Ellen G White stepped in to take the leadership, and her prophecies always came to pass.

Or so she said. Christ didn’t return on the appointed date? Of course He did! Although He didn’t return to earth as first thought, He entered into the sanctuary in heaven to cleanse it in preparation for His return to earth. And so on. She had an explanation for everything. Her expositions of the Scriptures and the coming return of the Lord, written in numerous books, became known as the Spirit of Prophecy.

I once got into a discussion with an Adventist about the meaning of Matthew 25:46 — And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. We were both aware that everlasting and eternal were translations of the same Greek word. I understand then that everlasting punishment will have the same duration as eternal life. My friend did not agree, for the Spirit of Prophecy said that everlasting means temporary, not eternal. And there our discussion stalled; I would not accept the testimony of Ellen G White and he would not accept the words of Scripture except as explained by Ellen G White.

I bought a set of My Bible Friends some forty years ago. In every story there were elements reported as fact that I could not find in the Bible. That gave me an uneasy feeling and those books didn’t last long in our home. Years later, I told my Adventist friend that I hadn’t been sure whether those insertions were imagined by the writer of the book, or if they came from Ellen G White. “They come from Ellen G White,” was his reply.

Some of those things may have been removed from later editions, but many lasting impressions have been left on those who were raised with Seventh Day Adventist Bible Story books. Like the idea that the smoke of Abel’s sacrifice rose straight up to heaven and the smoke from Cain’s sacrifice clung to the ground. I suspect that comes from Ellen G White, but I’ve never wanted to wade through her writings to find out for sure. (In  other instances, God showed his acceptance of a sacrifice by sending the fire to consume it. I doubt that the sacrifice of Abel was any exception.) I do know that the idea that the star of Bethlehem was the light emanating from the angel host comes directly from Ellen G White.

Did Ellen G White truly mistake her imagination for prophetic messages from the Holy Spirit, or was she knowingly trying to deceive? My best guess is that she really believed herself to be the channel which God used to reveal His truth to the world. In any case, there is a seductive appeal to her explanations that appear to explain many things in the Bible without requiring the seeker to actually search the Scriptures. Her influence has reached far beyond the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and its many splinters.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church publishes a wide array of attractive books for all age groups. Perhaps even more serious than the propagation of Ellen G White’s false prophecies, is the subtle inducement these books give for an imaginative approach the Scriptures that leads readers to be moved by the contents of their imagination rather than the contents of the Bible.

The fulness of the time

Galatians 4:4: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son.

This phrase, “the fulness of the time,” indicates that Jesus came at the most opportune moment in history. What were the conditions that made this the right moment for the Saviour to come into the world?

The last king of David’s line was carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar. Since that time Judah and Jerusalem had been vassal states in turn of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. Herod the Great became king in 37 BC, the first king of Judah since the Babylonian conquest. However, Judah was now a province of the Roman Empire and Herod was not a descendant of David. In fact he was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, not Jacob (later named Israel).

The great empire of Alexander the Great was split into three parts after his death and there were many years of war between the three kingdoms. Judea suffered much from these wars, as did the other parts of the empire, but the Greek language was firmly established as the common language over all the conquered territory.

The Hebrew alphabet was the first phonetic alphabet, but consisted only of consonants, the Greeks added vowels. Now there was a common language and a complete, easily learned, writing system that could be used to spread the gospel. The Old Testament was translated into Greek and this was the version of the Scriptures in common use in the time of Jesus.

When the Romans conquered southern Europe and Asia Minor, they built roads to link all the Empire. In addition, they established the rule of law and placed Roman detachments over all the territory. Now the whole Empire was readily accessible by the Roman highways and travel was safer than at any time in the past.

All the conditions were now in place for the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the Empire by itinerant preachers and by the written word.

“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times” (Daniel 9:24-25).

If we date the beginning of the seventy weeks from the time Artaxerxes commanded Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city, then the baptism of Jesus and the beginning of his messianic ministry was exactly the beginning of the seventieth year of Daniel’s prophecy. God had been at work amid the confusion and strife of the preceding centuries to prepare the world for this moment – the fulness, or fulfilment, of the time.

What does the Bible say about — the Bible?

Before going too far, we should understand the Bible used in Jesus’ time. The Old Testament was not a book like we use today, but consisted of a number of scrolls, grouped as the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. The Law consisted of the first five books of the Bible, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, the books written by Moses. The Prophets were the scrolls containing Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the scroll containing the minor prophets, from Hosea to Malachi. The Writings consisted of the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles. This group was sometimes called the Psalms as that was the first and the largest scroll in this group.

Thus when New Testament writers refer to the Law, they are referring to that whole group of scrolls, not only to the part of it which contained laws. Likewise, when referring to the Prophets, they meant all the scrolls in that group, including those which we consider historical writings. Since all the writers of Scripture were considered prophets, The Law and the Prophets included the whole Old Testament. Jesus once said: “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me,” meaning the whole Old Testament. The quotation is found in Luke 24:44.

One more historical fact needs to be mentioned: these scrolls had all been translated into Greek about 200 years before Jesus’ day. All the quotations from the Old Testament that are found in the New Testament come from this Greek translation. This explains some differences in names: Eli for Elijah and Elias for Elisha. In addition, Jesus is the same name as Joshua, Mary the same as Miriam and James the same as Jacob.

The apostles clearly understood the whole of the Old Testament writings to be divinely inspired. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

The Word of God is eternal and unchangeable. “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). “ For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Parts of the Bible can be understood by non Christians, but to truly understand it, one must have the Holy Spirit. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Corinthians 4:3).

One verse written by the Apostle Paul has given rise to the idea that the Bible is all a jumble and it is up to us to put things together in the proper order: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The Apostle Paul was not telling us that the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle and we need to puzzle out what piece goes where. What he is actually saying is that we should handle the truth honestly and correctly. The Apostle Peter gives a corrective for the modern misinterpretation of Paul: “As also in all his [Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter uses the word wrest, which means to twist, or tear apart. Also note that Peter is already considering the epistles of Paul to be part of the Scriptures.

Peter also writes: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Differences in interpretation of the Scriptures are not the fault of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the writers and who will also inspire our understanding of what was written.

The fulness of times

Solomon’s reign was the golden era of Israel.  All the promises of God were fulfilled in the natural sense.  The son of David built the glorious temple and God showed His acceptance by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices.  Solomon’s reign was a reign of peace over all the territory promised by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  News of the wisdom and wealth of Solomon spread everywhere.

Israel never again regained the glory it had known in Solomon’s time.  The kingdom was divided, there followed good kings and bad kings, the people often tended to idolatry.  Through it all there remained a belief that this land had been given them by God and the temple remained the spiritual focal point of the people of God.

Finally the accumulation of disobedience and sin was too much and God permitted the people to be taken into captivity and the temple to be destroyed.  The prophets had foretold this devastation, but they also told of a time of restoration.  Often these promises included the Gentiles in God’s plan.

The people returned from Babylon, rebuilt Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple.  According to the Babylonian Talmud, the new temple lacked five things found in Solomon’s temple: the Ark of the Covenant; the sacred fire sent from God to consume the sacrifices; the Shekinah or pillar of smoke and fire showing God’s presence; the spirit of holiness (or prophecy); the Urim and Thummin by which God had made known His will.  Yet the temptation to worship the gods of the heathen was gone and the true worship of God was restored.

Zerubbabel was the first governor after the return from Babylon.  He was of the lineage of David, but could not be king because Judah was now a vassal state of Persia.  The lineage of David’s descendants was faithfully recorded in expectation of the day when a son of David would again sit on the throne.  Shortly after the return, the canon of Old Testament Scripture was completed with the inclusion of the histories recorded by Ezra and the prophecies of the last prophets.

The destruction of the temple had left a void in the worship system of the Jewish people.  Synagogues appeared during or shortly after the Babylonian exile and have continued ever since.  There is no command in the OT for weekly worship, nor instruction on how to organize or conduct such meetings.  Synagogue is a Greek word that does not appear in the Old Testament, except in Psalm 74:8 of the AV where it is used to translate a Hebrew word.  The synagogue was a place for weekly meetings on the Sabbath day when the Scriptures were read and expounded.

Other events happened on the world stage that caused great distress to the Jewish people.  Alexander the Great conquered a territory extending from Greece and Macedonia south to Egypt and eastward to northern India and Afghanistan.  He established many new cities in the conquered territories, all named Alexandria.  Kandahar, Afghanistan was one of those cities and appears to retain some trace of his name.  Trade throughout the empire was stimulated and Greek became the common language of trade.  Upon Alexander’s death, his empire was divided in three and ongoing wars between the competing empires often involved battles for control of Judah.

During this time, Jewish leaders saw the need for a Bible in the Greek language and 70 scholars gathered in Alexandria, Egypt to make this translation.  This is called the translation of the seventy, or Septuagint, and is the Bible quoted by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.

The next great empire to rise was Rome.  Julius Caesar conquered southern Europe, including Greece, and extended the empire as far south as Egypt.  The Greek language remained the international language of commerce throughout the Roman Empire.  Rome added something new that enhanced trade and travel — a well-developed road system connecting all parts of the empire and rigorous law enforcement that made trade and travel much safer than ever before.

Now the “fulness of times” had come.  The stage was set for the appearance of the Messiah, the true Son of David who would establish an eternal spiritual kingdom that would never end.  This was not the Messiah the Jewish leadership was looking for, yet the evidence was all there in the OT prophecies for those who could see.  Now was the time for the fulfilment of the salvation of which the OT sacrifices had only been a symbol and for the blood of the spotless Lamb of God to sprinkle the heavenly mercy seat.

When this was done and the earthly temple and kingdom had again been taken out of the way, the good news of salvation could be carried to people throughout the Roman Empire.  A common language existed, there was a translation of the  Old Testament Scriptures  in that language and a protected road system to facilitate travel.  A system of weekly meetings for reading and expounding the Scriptures in the synagogues became the familiar model for worship services of the early church.

So many events, which had seemed to be meaningless tragedies at the time, are now seen as the hand of God preparing the way for the coming of His Son into the world, the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the church.

The tabernacle of David

There was only a river between the Israelites and the Promised Land.  But that river was in full flood mode, filling the whole valley and spreading beyond the banks.  Joshua told the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant to march straight into the water and told the people to follow.  It wasn’t until the priest’s feet touched the water that a path opened through the flood and that great mass of people crossed over on dry land.  It was clear to all that God was leading, His Shekinah presence visible as a cloudy pillar above the mercy seat on the Ark.

A few days later, the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant were again on the march, walking around the fortified and walled city of Jericho, the people following silently behind.  We know the story, once around the city for six days, seven times the seventh day, and the walls collapsed inwards.  Once again it was evident that God was leading.

On both of these occasions, the people sanctified themselves before God led them in such miraculous fashion.  Several generations later, the people were manifestly unsanctified, yet thought that if they took the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines God would surely give them the victory.  This was a lapse into pagan thinking, that somehow they could manipulate their God into doing what they wanted.

It didn’t work.  The Israelites were defeated and the Ark captured by the Philistines.  Now the presence of God above the mercy seat was manifested: the statue representing the god of the Philistines toppled, breaking in pieces and wherever the Ark went the Philistine people suffered plagues.  The Ark was returned to Israel in a manner clearly showing God was in control.  His power was shown again in the deaths of the Israelites who presumed to open the Ark and look inside.

The Ark was removed from the tabernacle of Moses to be taken into battle against the Philistines and it never returned.  Eli, the high priest died upon hearing of the capture of the Ark and his place as spiritual leader was taken by Samuel, who was not of Levitical or priestly lineage.  All the time of Samuel’s ministry and through the reign of David, the Ark remained separated from the tabernacle of Moses.

When David captured Mount Zion and made it his home, he installed the Ark in a new tabernacle he built on Mount Zion.  King David put on priestly robes and offered sacrifices to sanctify the new tabernacle.  No other sacrifices were ever offered at the tabernacle of David.  In their place, a form of worship was established that included songs, prayers and preaching (this is the true meaning of the word rendered “record” in the AV).  Meanwhile, the high priest continued offering the daily sacrifices before the tabernacle of Moses located at Gibeah, a tabernacle that did not contain the Ark and the mercy seat.

Solomon built the temple on Mount Moriah, brought the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies and established the priests in their functions.  It is notable in Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple that he included all mankind in the promise of salvation: “For they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm” (1 Kings 8:42).

It is also notable that when the walls of Jerusalem were built, Mount Zion was outside those walls.  Yet the memory of David’s tabernacle upon Mount Zion, where God dwelt above the mercy seat among His people without the sacrifices and rituals of the law, thrilled the heart of the prophets.  “Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken” (Isaiah 33:20).  “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this” (Amos 9:11-12).

Many years later, the followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem, in the shadow of the temple, to consider whether Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and follow all the laws given to Israel.  James, the brother of our Lord, recalled those prophecies and saw their fulfilment in the salvation of the Gentiles and came to this conclusion: “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.  And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, after this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.  Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.  Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God” (Acts 15: 14-19).

Further thoughts on Pentecost

I used to think that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in visible form as tongues of fire while they were gathered in the upper room.  This impression may have come from a Bible story book, a Sunday School lesson or some other illustration.  It seems a common impression.

I now have serious doubts about that picture.  For one thing, Acts 1:15 tells us that the number of disciples wan one hundred and twenty.  Was there an upper room somewhere with enough room for such a crowd?  There were women in that number.  Does it seem likely that a mixed group of men and women would gather in the living quarters of the apostles?  (Verse 13).  If they were somewhere in a residential area, how did a crowd of thousands suddenly gather around them?

The gospel of Luke ends with these words: “And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.”  (Luke 23:43).  Acts 2:46 says: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”  Their meeting place was in the temple, not the upper room.

I think the problem was that I understood the temple to consist only of the building where the sacrifices and ceremonies took place.  I now understand that there was a huge walled courtyard around three sides of this building and this courtyard was considered part of the temple.  Other groups met for prayer in the courts of the temple, benches were provided for such meetings.  No doubt the disciples designated a certain place in the courts as their meeting place.

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).  The wording here is so close to Luke 23:43 and Acts 2:46 that there should be little doubt the place where they were gathered “with one accord” was the temple.  This explains how it was possible for a crowd to gather around them almost immediately.

There is significance also in that the birth of the church, the new people of God, took place in the holy place of the old people of God.  This temple would be destroyed before many more years had passed, but the people of God would continue to exist, in a new form.

“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come” (Acts 2:20).  Matthew Henry and Adam Clarke understand Peter’s use of this prophecy from Joel to refer to the eclipse of the light of the Old Covenant kingdom.  Both the civil and the sacred light of the Jewish nation were about to be extinguished, and the light of the gospel would shine over all the world.

Pentecost

This is Pentecost Sunday.  What is it all about?  The conception among non-Christians is that this day commemorates the day when the original disciples began making incoherent noises and blamed it on the Holy Spirit.

Before we get into what really happened on that day, let’s look at the historic background.  It begins with that first Passover in Egypt, the exodus of the descendants of Jacob (the children of Israel), and the crossing of the Red Sea.  Seven weeks later they gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai as God descended in fire on the mountain and called Moses to come up the mountain to speak with Him.  Then God spoke the Ten Commandments in a voice that caused the mountain to shake.  This day was ever after commemorated as the feast of weeks (a week of weeks), and later was called Pentecost (fifty days) in Greek.

The giving of the law transformed the descendants of Jacob into the people of God.  God wrote the law on tablets of stone; those tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant which eventually was placed in the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple.

At the dawn of the New Testament era the tablets of stone had long ago disappeared and the worship and religion of the Children of Israel had become corrupted.  God’s only Son, the long anticipated Messiah came into the world and gave His life on the cross as the true Lamb of God just before the Passover.  Then He completed the victory over sin and Satan by rising from the dead.

On the day of Pentecost, God descended once more in a visible fire – tongues of fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples.  The disciples then began to speak to the Israelites around them in intelligible languages, languages which they had never learned or spoken before but which were fully intelligible to the hearers.

This was a sensational happening and thousands of people gathered in amazement.  But the real miracle, the real significance of Pentecost, was the giving of the Law – not on tablets of stone this time, but on the hearts of the believers.  The prophets had long foretold such a happening and this is the true significance of Pentecost, not the outward signs and wonders but the transformed hearts.  This event transformed the frightened, demoralized disciples into the people of God, bold and fearless men who scattered in every direction from Jerusalem and “turned the world upside down.”

It is clear from the account in the Book of Acts that the disciples were speaking real languages that were understood by others.  The Apostle Paul also understood speaking in tongues to be real languages, since he gave instructions that no one should speak in tongues in church unless there was someone who would interpret.

The apostle gives three clear guidelines in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 concerning speaking in tongues in church.  First, no more than two or three should speak in an unknown tongue, each in turn.  Second, if there is no one to interpret, then those who would speak in another tongue should be silent.  Third, women are not permitted to speak in church.  This last rule may have a wider application, but the apostle most certainly meant it to apply to speaking in tongues.

The Apostle Paul did not condemn speaking in tongues, gave no commandment to cease and desist, he just gave three easily understood rules to govern the practice of speaking in tongues, and this seems to have been pretty much the end of speaking in tongues in the early church.

What we need today is not a revival of speaking in tongues.  That would be to value the package more highly than the contents.  What we truly need is a revival of Holy Spirit-filled Christians with the Law of God engraved on their hearts.

Do the saved go to heaven when they die?

I used to think that when a Christian died he or she was ushered straight through the pearly gates into heaven.  I guess I got that from the popular cultural perception of how Christians believed.  Ten years ago, the picture that I had was challenged on Scriptural grounds, and my thinking has changed.

Today I believe the answer to the question posed above is “Yes, but not right away.”  Let me explain.

In Matthew 25, verses 31 to 46, Jesus explains how it will be on the great day of judgement at the end of time.  All nations (people) will be gathered before Him and He will separate the sheep from the goats.  Those classed as sheep will enter heaven and those classed as goats will be cast into hell.  This picture makes no sense if the saved were already in heaven before this time.

The Bible is more concerned that we should have a genuine saving relationship with God in this life than in telling us exactly how things will be in heaven.  But we are told that in heaven we will have resurrected bodies, much like the body of Jesus after he rose from the dead.  In 2 Timothy 2:18 the apostle Paul writes a strongly worded condemnation of those who would teach that the resurrection is past already.  That bodily resurrection will not occur until the return of Christ in glory for the final judgement.  Revelations 6:9 speaks of souls under the altar, waiting for the resurrection day.

Two Bible passages are often misinterpreted, giving rise to the thought of an immediate entrance into heaven.  One is in Luke 23:43, where Jesus said to the thief on the cross: “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  The other is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-31.  Here the rich man awakes in “hell” and Lazarus in “Abraham’s bosom”.

It helps to understand that “Paradise” and “Abraham’s bosom” were terms commonly used by the Jews to describe the place where the righteous would await the end of the world and the bodily resurrection.  It was pictured as a beautiful and delightful garden, where nothing would disturb their peace.  The “hell” mentioned in Luke 16:23 is actually Hades, the place where sinners await the final judgement.  It is not the lake of fire and brimstone, yet appears to be a thoroughly unpleasant place.

Another clue that this is only a temporary arrangement is found in the possibility of communication between Hades and Abraham’s bosom, though the finality of the separation is already established.  It is hard to imagine that the saints in heaven will be in such proximity to the lake of fire and brimstone.

It appears from the protestations in Matthew 7:22-23 that there will be those in Hades who are convinced that a great injustice has been done to them.  They will say, “ Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?”  And Jesus will reply that they had not done those works at His bidding, by His Spirit or by His power, and deny ever having known them.

I now believe that this picture of a temporary wait in Paradise or Hades before the resurrection is what the Bible teaches.  This in no way detracts from the promise of heaven.  In fact it makes it more real.

I never did find the popular image of wraithlike saints floating on clouds and strumming harps really that attractive as a long term future.  This old body and this old earth will pass away, but the Bible promises a bodily existence in a place described as a new earth.  The heaven sketched in the Bible appears to have some resemblance to our present existence, with the absence of all that now causes pain and sorrow, and in the presence of our Lord and all the holy saints and angels.

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