In the Bible, Satan is referred to as “the ruler of this world,” (John 12:31, 14:30) and even “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.
How then can Jesus say that “all authority in Heaven and on Earth” has been given to him (Matthew 28:18)?
In this week’s Sermon Extra, Pastor Mike and I discuss the authority of Satan, and what the Bible has to say about it: Did Adam and Eve hand over “regency” of the Earth to Satan in the Garden of Eden? And how does this relate to the scroll that only Jesus can open in Revelation 5?
Furthermore, we discuss the claim of Richard Dawkins and others, who say that Jesus’ death on the cross was “divine child abuse,” since the innocent Son of God was sacrificed by the Father – and how the deity of Christ changes everything when it comes to understanding the meaning of the cross.
Recently a reader of this site reached out asking for my thoughts about this question:
If Jesus came to save sinners, then why didn’t he come before the flood in the time of Noah?
It’s an interesting question. If God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to save sinners, then why did he wait so long? Could more people have been saved if God had sent Jesus sooner – and if so, then why did He wait as along as He did to send Jesus?
The Nature of Justice and Mercy
First of all, it is important to remember the nature of justice and mercy. Justice means giving someone exactly what they deserve: no more, no less. Mercy, on the other hand, means not giving someone the judgment they deserve for the wrong things they’ve done.
In his book, The Cross of Christ, John Stott explains that God not only must do justice because He is God and is obligated to do justice, but that God desires to do justice because it brings Him satisfaction to act justly, and that acting justly is part of His glory, goodness, and righteousness.
However, God also desires to show mercy. The difference between justice and mercy, however, is that mercy is not owed to anyone.
Showing mercy to those to whom He chooses to show mercy is God’s prerogative (Romans 9:15, Exodus 33:19). He is not obligated to give it to anyone. If God were to give us what we deserve, the result would be judgment.
God Did Not Leave Himself Without Witness
In the time of Noah, though many people perished in the flood, it is important to remember that those people had a chance to repent and be saved from the flood.
2 Peter 2:5 tells us that Noah was a preacher of righteousness, and 1 Peter 3 tells us that Jesus preached through Noah to those who were disobedient in his time. As Noah built the ark, which took a very long time, he was apparently preaching a message of righteousness and repentance. However, it would seem that no one heeded his warning.
In other words, the people who died in the time of Noah did not perish for lack of opportunity to be saved from the flood, but because they were in knowing rebellion against God, and they refused to accept the offer of salvation which was extended to them via repentance and heeding the warnings of Noah.
It is helpful to be reminded of a biblical view of anthropology here: contrary to the modern assumption that people began as animists (worshipers of nature), who over time then began worshiping a pantheon of abstract deities, and eventually “evolved” into monotheism – the biblical view of anthropology is different. According to the Bible, people didn’t discover God, rather: from the beginning people knew God and walked with God, until they knowingly turned away from God.
The Bible begins with a description of the first humans as monotheists, who knew God. Polytheism and animism then came about as a result of the devolution of sin. As Paul explains in his letter to the Romans:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Here’s what’s really interesting: Genesis 5 tells us that there were people alive at the time of Noah who had lived at the same time as Adam! Namely: Jared and Methuselah, if you run the numbers, were alive when Adam was still alive. Because of the length of the lives of early people, the people at the time of Noah’s flood were either contemporaries of Adam, or were only removed from him by one or two generations. This means that they could have heard first-hand accounts from him.
Could People Go to Heaven Prior to Jesus’ Death and Resurrection?
Simply put, prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, those who died in faith went to a place called Abraham’s bosom: a place of comfort for those who died in faith while they awaited the fulfillment of their redemption by the Messiah. The way to receive this salvation and redemption was to humble oneself before God, cast yourself on His mercy, and put your faith in His promise to bring salvation through the promised Savior (as opposed to saving yourself by your good works).
Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4 that “in the fullness of time, God sent His Son.” That phrase “in the fullness of time” implies that it happened “at just the right time.”
Those who lived in the time of Noah did not perish for lack of information, nor for lack of opportunity, but because they “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness,” “loved darkness more than light,” and rejected God’s calls to them (through Noah) to repent and be saved. Perhaps it is for this very reason that the people in the time of Noah are mentioned several times in the New Testament, so that modern people would be warned not to follow in their footsteps.
The good news of Good Friday is that “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Because of that, we can rest from our labors of trying to justify ourselves, and we can revel in hope, because not only were our sins imputed to Jesus, but his righteousness was imputed to us.
This is what it means when it says: “For our sake, He (God) made Him (Jesus), who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
It’s the most astonishing exchange of all time: for those who receive Him (John 1:12), all of your sinfulness was placed on Him, and in return all of His righteousness was accounted to you.
Jürgen Moltmann puts it this way:
“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” (from The Crucified God)
Moltmann goes on to say:
God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.
May your Good Friday be filled with reflection upon, appreciation for and response to what Jesus did for you on Calvary, the ultimate expression of God’s love for you!
According to the late Ray Dillard, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, one of the great themes of the Bible is the question of whether the covenant with God is conditional or unconditional.
It is this question and this tension which drives the Old Testament.
There are places where it seems that God says to his people: “It’s conditional. You have to obey me. I’m a holy God. I can have nothing to do with sin. If you want to be accepted by me, or have a relationship with me, then you have to obey me.”
There are other places where it seems that God is saying: “No matter what you do, I am going to be faithful to you. I will be there, I won’t give up on you, I will save you.”
So which is it?
In a way, you could say that the entire Old Testament is one big plot thickening, in which the big question is: Can we have a relationship with God? And if so: is our relationship with him conditional or unconditional? Is it that we have to fulfill something, or is it that he loves us no matter what?
So what’s the answer?
The answer is actually not found in the Old Testament. It it when we get to the cross of Calvary that the answer is revealed.
The answer is… YES.
It’s not one or the other, it’s both.
The covenant with God is BOTH conditional and unconditional.
In the death of Jesus on the cross you find that you have to take both the conditions of the covenant and the unconditional nature of God’s love seriously at the same time.
Jesus satisfied the conditions of the covenant on our behalf so that God could accept us and love us unconditionally.
…and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
– Matthew 27:29
Today is Good Friday, the day on which some 2000 years ago Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to a Roman cross just outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus wore a crown of thorns?
Clearly, the Roman soldiers put it on his head to mock him. Jesus had been hailed “King of the Jews”, so the Romans considered him an insurrectionist.
But there is a deeper meaning.
Back in Genesis chapter 3, we read about what happened when sin entered the world. When by their rebellion and disobedience to his commands, people first told God, “we don’t trust you and we don’t want you – we know better than you what is best for us” – as sin entered into the world, it brought with it a curse: the curse of death.
This curse affected all of creation, and amongst the various effects of this curse, we read:
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you
– Genesis 3:18
Do you see the symbolism of the crown of thorns? Thorns, the symbol of the curse of sin and death, were placed upon Jesus’ head because on the cross Jesus was taking our curse upon himself, so that we might be set free from it.
He hung on a wooden cross. Why? Because in his death, he was taking our curse – the curse of sin and death – upon himself.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”
– Galatians 3:13
In the same way, the crown of thorns symbolized our curse, which Jesus took upon himself on the cross, so we could be redeemed.
Have a wonderful Good Friday, reflecting on the fact that “It is Finished!”
And don’t forget: Sunday is coming…