Does Proverbs Condone Bribery? – Interview with Benjamin Morrison

On this site there is a page where readers can submit questions or suggest topics . Recently I received the following question from a reader in Ukraine:

Outside of proverbs, bribery is spoken against. Inside proverbs we see both direct opposition to it, but also some almost-approving of it. I won’t list verses which speak against it because they’re numerous and easy to find, but I’d like to hear your thoughts regarding verses like these:

A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers.
Proverbs 17:8 ESV

A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
Proverbs 21:14 ESV

Corruption and bribery are major topics here in Ukraine and we’ve dealt with this question a few times.

That’s a great question. To answer it, I reached out to a friend who lives in Ukraine where he serves as a pastor and missionary: Benjamin Morrison.

Ben has lived in Ukraine for 19 years and is the Lead Pastor of Calvary Chapel in Svitlovodsk, Ukraine, and the Director of City to City Ukraine.

We had a great discussion on this topic, which I think you will really enjoy and benefit from. In this video we discuss the nature of the Book of Proverbs, different scenarios in which bribes are asked for or offered – and how to respond in each, as well as some personal stories. Finally we end the conversation on a note of how the gospel helps and empowers us to face corruption and bribery and other things that are wrong in the world. Enjoy!

Reader Questions: Forgiveness for Habitual Sins, Submission to Authorities, & Scripture Memorization

There is a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received the following questions:

Question 1: Does God forgive our repetitive or habitual sins?

In Romans 8:1-4, Pauls says that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Does this mean that there is no judgment, conviction, or guilty verdict for past sins, or does it also include sins committed after the believer comes to Christ, as long as he asks for forgiveness? What about our repetitive and “pet” sins?

The message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has taken the judgment for our sins, the condemnation that we deserved. Therefore, if someone is in Christ – which means to trust in, cling to Jesus and what he accomplished in his sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection, they will not face condemnation for their sins because Jesus has already faced it for them on their behalf.

When it comes to habitual or repetitive sins, one of the places in the New Testament that deals with this question directly is the Epistle of 1 John.

In 1 John, John is writing to believers, and yet he says:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

1 John 1:8-10, 2:1

John also says things like, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:9) Think about it like this: you “practice” things that you want to get better at; you practice your golf swing, you practice the guitar, because you want to improve. John is describing two types of people: one who desires to sin and delights in it, and another who stumbles into sin on occasion but hates it and mourns over it.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The idea is that you become a “whole new animal,” if you will; you go from being a pig to being a sheep. Whereas a sheep might sometimes fall in the mud, the pig’s entire goal in life is to find some mud and roll in it; it’s the pig’s every dream and goal in life. The person who is in Christ has gone from being a pig to being a sheep.

The existence of habitual or persistent sin in a believer’s life is indeed cause for concern. However, it is of even greater concern if it doesn’t bother you. The promise of the Lord to us, is that in Christ and in the power of His strength we can overcome any temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Question 2: Will believers be judged?

Yes and no. Believers will not be judged for condemnation for their sins, but they will be judged for reward for the good things they have done.

Think about it like this: there are judges over criminal courts, who condemn criminals for their crimes, and there are also judges in the olympics who hand out bronze, silver, and gold medals for performances.

We who are in Christ through believing will not be judged for our sins, since Jesus already took that judgment – but we will be judged for our good works unto reward.

This reward seat is sometimes called the Béma seat of judgment. Paul describes this judgment for reward in 1 Corinthians 3:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15

Question 3: Are we still to be submitted to the authorities even if the authorities are against God’s Word?

If authorities demand that we do something which is in contradiction to what God has commanded in His Word, we are to obey God rather than human authorities.

Romans 13 and 1 Peter both instruct believers to obey the authorities that God has placed over us in His providence. Keep in mind that the authorities in these cases were pagan, ungodly, and even cruel and terrible dictators, yet by honoring them, we are honoring God.

However, there are limits to our submission to authorities. Passages like Acts 4 are examples of times when believers disobeyed the authorities when they commanded them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, which was something they could not do because they had been commanded by Jesus to preach the gospel and make disciples.

Question 4: What has been your way of memorizing scripture?

I have never spent much time trying to memorize Scripture, but I have succeeded in memorizing much of it. Here are some things I do which have helped me to do it:

  • Read Scripture regularly
  • Choose one translation of the Bible and stick to it.
  • Quote Scripture often, and speak it aloud.
  • When quoting Scripture, avoid paraphrasing. Try instead to quote it precisely, until you succeed in memorizing it through use.

Thanks for the questions, and I hope those answers help!

For any further questions or topics you’d like me to address, fill out the form on this page: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Reader Questions: End Times and Bible Translation

Last year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received the following questions:

How Do I Watch Your Church Services Live Online?

To livestream services from White Fields Church, the best option is to subscribe to our YouTube channel: White Fields Church YouTube channel. Two of our services are livestreamed, at 9:30 & 11:00 AM on Sundays, and if you click the bell to receive notifications, it will alert you when we go live.

Which Bible Translation is Closest to the Original Biblical Writings, and Why?

Specifically this reader asked me to rank the New Living Translation, English Standard Version, New International Version, & New King James Version.

There are two main factors that go into determining which Bible translation would be closest to the original Biblical writings:

  1. Source documents
  2. Accurate translation of the text

For this reason my ranking would be the following:

  1. English Standard Version (ESV)
  2. New International Version (NIV)
  3. New King James Version (NKJV)
  4. New Living Translation (NLT)

This is not a matter of readability, or preference about the use of language. The ESV, NIV, and NLT all use the same source documents, which use older manuscripts and more manuscripts than those used in the NKJV. The NKJV is mostly the King James Version updated for modern English vernacular, but it uses the same source documents. Those source documents are based on a set of manuscripts compiled in the 1500’s. Since that time, we have been able to gather more and older source documents, which means greater accuracy towards the original text.

The other issue with translation is the literal versus vernacular continuum, and the New Living Translation looses much of the literal meaning of the text in its attempt to be readable in modern English, in my opinion.

I have gone into more detail on Bible translation in a mini-series I did on this blog a few years ago, and I would refer you to that for further reading. In this series I addressed how translation works, the controversial 2011 NIV translation, and the question of whether new translations remove verses:

  1. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 1
  2. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 2: the King James Bible
  3. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 3: Gender-Inclusive Language and the NIV

Is the “Rapture” Biblical?

The “rapture” is the belief that believers, who are alive at some point in time when it takes place, will be “caught up” to God from Earth while still alive.

This is a Biblical teaching, taught by Jesus in Matthew 24:

Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 

Matthew 24:40-41

And by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

Furthermore, I believe that in Revelation 4, what John experienced was a “preview” of the rapture:

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 

Revelation 4:1-2

The question is not so much if the rapture is Biblical, but when it will take place. Will it take place before the “Great Tribulation” (the time of great trouble described in Revelation and elsewhere where God will bring judgment upon the Earth, with the opportunity for people to still repent and be saved), whether it will happen in the middle, or whether it will happen at the end, or that the rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus will happen at the same time.

My view is that the rapture will take place prior to the wrath of God being poured out in temporal judgment on the Earth, in other words: before the tribulation. The reason for this is because there is a pattern throughout the Bible showing that when God brings judgment upon the Earth, he removes the righteous.

Before God judged the world in Noah’s time (which the coming judgment is compared to 1 Peter 3), God spared righteous Noah from the flood. When God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, he removed “righteous” Lot. When God judged Egypt, he made a way for the Israelites to be spared from the judgment.

Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! 

Genesis 18:25

If we have been declared righteous through faith in the completed work of Jesus on our behalf, then we are counted in this category, not because of any merit of our own, but by Christ’s merit accounted to us.

This assumes, by the way, a futurist view of Revelation, which I can address later on if you’d like.

Can you Recommend a “Down to Earth” End Times Study?

I would recommend Chuck Smith’s The Final Act. Pastor Chuck has a great way of making things simple and clear, which is helpful on a topic like this.

Thank you for the questions! 

For any further questions or topics you’d like me to address, fill out the form on this page: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Reader Questions: Christians and the Sabbath

Here on the site there is a feature where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

This question was recently submitted:

The commandments were written by the hand of God and the 4th directs us to keep the Sabbath holy. No one has the authority to set aside or alter any of God’s laws. Please explain with reference to the Bible. I know we are saved by grace and not works and that no one can keep the Ten Commandments but our Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s Laws Fall Into Three Categories

The 613 Old Testament laws fall into three different categories, and are treated differently in the New Testament. The three categories are:

  • Civil Laws
  • Ceremonial Laws
  • Moral laws

For the people of Israel, all three types of laws were blended together. Breaking a moral law had civil and ceremonial consequences. But in the New Testament, by the time of Jesus, Israel was no longer a theocratic nation-state, but was an occupied territory ruled by the Roman Empire. As such, they had to follow the laws of Rome, which in some cases contradicted their Jewish law, such as in the case of capital punishment: Roman law forbade the Jews from carrying out capital punishment against those who broke the Old Testament laws. Only the Romans were allowed to carry out capital punishment. This created a conflict for the Jews, much in the same way that Muslims in Western countries struggle with their inability to live by Sharia law.

The Ceremonial Laws, we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews, all foreshadowed and pointed forward to Jesus, and were fulfilled by Him and in Him.

The Moral Laws were fulfilled by Jesus in that He lived a perfect life, free of moral failure. But unlike the civil and ceremonial laws, the moral laws reflect God’s character, and since His character doesn’t change, neither does His moral standard. In fact, whenever Jesus talked about the moral laws of the Old Testament, he either re-affirmed them or intensified them (see Matthew 5:21-48).

In the 10 Commandments, what makes the 4th Commandment unique is that it is the only one which is a ceremonial law.

The Shadows and the Substance

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17

What the Apostle Paul is telling us here is that the Sabbath is an example of something which foreshadows Jesus.

Imagine if you went out of town for an extended trip, and when you came back, your wife came running out to meet you, but rather than embracing you, she threw herself on the ground and started kissing your shadow. That would be strange, since you – the actual substance – are standing right there!

Or imagine if you were sitting on the couch next to your wife, but rather than embracing you, she instead hugged a photograph of you.

This, Paul is saying, is what it is like when we focus on the shadows rather than the substance, now that He (Jesus) has come.

The Principle and The Purpose

As mentioned previously, the Book of Hebrews shows us how all of the ceremonial aspects of Judaism foreshadowed Jesus and were fulfilled in Jesus. Hebrews 3 & 4 address the Sabbath rest.

The essence of what it says in Hebrews 3-4 is that both the Sabbath day rest and the rest of the Promised Land were not ends in themselves, but pointed forward to the true rest of God which is found in Jesus. Thus, the purpose of the Sabbath is to point us to Jesus, in whom we rest from our labors of trying to justify ourselves before God.

However, there still remains the issue of a “Sabbath principle”: the idea that it is wise and good for us to take a break from our work, and set aside a day dedicated to physical rest and Spiritual enrichment.

It is important to note that for Christians, Sunday is not the “Christian Sabbath.” For a discussion of the significance of Christian worship on Sundays, see these articles:

In summary: the message of the New Testament is that what it means to truly honor the Sabbath is to embrace the gospel and enter into the ultimate rest in Jesus, to which the Sabbath points. Jesus and the salvation He came to provide is the fulfillment of the Sabbath, and honoring the Sabbath means embracing that salvation by faith and living in it.

Thank you for the question!

For any further questions or topics you’d like me to address, fill out the form on this page: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Reader Questions: If Children are a Gift from God, Why Does God Sometimes Give Children to Bad People?

Here on the site there is a feature where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

This question was recently submitted:

A lot of people say children are a gift from God. If that’s true, then why would God give a pedophile children?

It isn’t just people who say that children are a gift from God; God himself says that children are a gift from Him.

Psalm 127:3 says, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” (NASB)

In the 1989 movie Parenthood, Keanu Reeves’ character says something profound:

You know Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog. You need a license to drive a car. Hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming a**hole be a father.

Keanu Reeves as Tod Higgins in Parenthood
Keanu Reeves - best on-screen moments | Gallery | Wonderwall.com
Keanu Reeves in Parenthood

When we lived in Hungary, we adopted a child whom we had guardianship over for years. The process included a gauntlet of intrusive tasks: home inspections, psychological examinations, classes, fees. During a week-long class, one of the other prospective adoptive parents expressed his frustration that it seems unfair people who want to help children in need by adopting them are put through such a rigorous process, when someone who becomes a parent biologically doesn’t have to do anything.

At the same time, we also visited orphanages where children were abandoned because they were either unwanted, or the parents were unable to care for them.

Here in Colorado, our church is involved in helping children in kinship and foster care, who oftentimes end up in these situations because of abuse or neglect.

We’ve known people over the years who would have been great parents, but struggled with infertility, or were unable to have children because of other medical issues.

See: Infertility and the Will of God

It seems like an incredible injustice that many who want to have children cannot, while many who should not have children do. Is God somehow irresponsible in his distribution of children? And if it is merely a natural, biological occurrence, then why does the Bible insist that children are a gift from God?

The Principle

The reason for the principle, that children are a gift, is intended to shape the way we think about human life.

Life, the Bible says, is sacred. Human beings are created in the image of God, and though we are fallen, we continue to bear the image of the divine, even if it is marred within us. Alone out of all creation, this is unique to human beings. This is why it is allowed for human beings to ethically kill and eat animals, but human life is different.

Many ancient people considered children to be a nuisance. God wanted people to treat children as treasures.

This can be seen with Jesus; when his disciples tried to shoo away the children who wanted to come to Jesus, assuming that their master was too great a person to be bothered by annoying little children, Jesus corrected them and said, “Allow the little ones to come to me, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.”

One reason why little children were not valued very highly in ancient society is because they were not able to contribute or produce anything. Furthermore, young children were particularly susceptible to disease and death. So the feeling of many was that once (and if) the child grew to the point where they could be a contributing member of society, then their life would have value. God said: No, children are not a drain, they are a gift.

The principle is that children are to be considered a gift, and human life is to be treasured.

The Curse

As human beings, we are fallen. We ourselves and the world we live in languish under a curse: the curse of sin and death. This curse has far-reaching implications: it means that the world does not work the way it was originally designed to, and neither do we.

The results of this curse include sickness, hatred, envy, strife, selfish and hurtful actions, as well as all kinds of deviant behavior, and ultimately death.

We were not designed to struggle with infertility, we were not designed to abuse others, nor to suffer abuse at the hands of others.

Every human being lives under the cloud of this curse their entire life, and we all suffer from its effects in all kinds of forms. This is tragic. So tragic, that God became one of us in Jesus Christ to put an end to it forever.

Human life is still a gift and is still precious, even though human beings suffer here on Earth.

Identity and Responsibility

To say that someone is a pedophile is to define them by their sin. Rather than saying that God gives children to pedophiles, it would be more accurate to say that God gives children to people, and tragically, some people choose to harm children.

Here is how the Bible explains this:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

James 1:13-15

To ask the question of why God allows people to be parents if he knows ahead of time that they will one day commit abusive acts against their children is akin to taking responsibility away from the sinner and placing it upon God, and this issue gets into the classic Trilemma of Theodicy:

trilemma is like a dilemma, only instead of two issues (di) that are at odds with each other, in a trilemma there are three (tri).

The trilemma of theodicy states that there are three things the Bible states are true about God, which cannot all be true at the same time:

  1. God is loving
  2. God is all-powerful
  3. Evil exists

The argument goes that since evil exists, either: God must not really be loving, or God must not really be all-powerful. Either God is incapable of stopping evil, even though he’d like to – in which case he is not all-powerful, or God is capable of stopping evil, but chooses not to, in which case he must not be truly loving.

The logical flaw in the trilemma

The big flaw in this thinking is that it takes into account only two of God’s attributes: his love and his power.

But does God have only two attributes? Certainly not! God has a myriad of attributes, including that he is: all-knowing, providential, eternal, etc. Simply adding another attribute of God to the equation changes it fundamentally, and removes the “lemma” out of the tri-lemma!

For example, if we say that God is not only loving and all-powerful, but also all-knowing and/or providential, it changes things completely. It means that it is possible for God to allow bad things and use them for good purposes, and even for our ultimate benefit. The fact that God is eternal reminds us that comfort in this life is not the pinnacle of existence, therefore it is also possible for an eternal God to allow temporal hardship in order to work an eternal good purpose. The Bible says this explicitly in 2 Corinthians 4:17 – For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Thankfully, even in the most horrific situations, there is hope:

The Hope

Why is human life still a gift, if a person suffers abuse?

While on the one hand, the human experience is irreconcilably tainted by suffering, human life is a gift because it carries with it the hope of redemption.

The promise of the gospel is that no matter what horrors a person might suffer here on Earth, in this broken world at the hands of broken and evil people, because of what Jesus did, redemption is possible.

And what redemption looks like is a new world, in which all that is wrong is made right: in which injustice and evil are judged, in which an end is put to suffering once and for all.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 22:1-4

Human life, despite its suffering, carries with it the hope of eternal life and redemption.

Speaking of this redemption, Paul the Apostle says:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For in this hope we were saved.

Romans 8:18,24a

The pages of Scripture are full of the story of the people who suffered greatly.

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated… But God has provided something better for us.

Hebrews 11:35-37,40a

May we take hold of this promise and hope by faith in Jesus and what He accomplished for us, so we can experience life and redemption!

If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to address, fill out the form on this page: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Reader Questions: Was Jesus’ Promise in John 1:51 Ever Fulfilled?

Here on the site there is a feature where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

This question recently came in:

In John 1:51, Jesus told Nathanael that he would see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Was this ever fulfilled? If so, when?

That’s a good question, and there’s a great answer!

The passage you’re referring to is in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, where we read about Jesus calling his first disciples. Jesus called Philip, and then Philip went and told his friend Nathanael that “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael was skeptical that the Messiah could be from Nazareth, to which Philip invited Nathanael to come and meet Jesus to see for himself.

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he greeted him in a way that implied that Jesus already knew him. When Nathanael asked how Jesus already knew him, Jesus replied: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

Some scholars say that it was traditional for Jewish people to sit under a fig tree to read the Scriptures, but whatever happened with Nathanael under the fig tree must have been something so personal, and so private that Nathaniel was sure no one could have possibly seen or heard him. The fact that Jesus knew about it was enough to convince Nathaniel right there on the spot that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and he immediately responded by saying: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

This brings us to the text in question.

Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

John 1:50-51

If you look for a story in the gospels in which this happened, you won’t find one. The closest events you will find to this are:

  • Jesus’ baptism, when the Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove and the Father spoke from Heaven declaring that Jesus was His beloved Son in whom He was well-pleased.
  • Jesus’ transfiguration, in which Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in his glorified state, and he appeared with Moses and Elijah, accompanied by a voice from Heaven which told Peter: “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”
  • Jesus’ ascension, when he was caught up to Heaven.

However, while these examples include the heavens being opened, none of them include angels, much less Nathanael or anyone else seeing the angels ascending and descending on Jesus.

So, does that mean that Jesus’ promise to Nathanael was not fulfilled?

No. Rather, to expect this to be the promise of a literal vision of angels is to misunderstand what Jesus is saying, which is actually more significant than promising a vision of angels.

Jacob’s Ladder

When Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see “the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man, Jesus is making reference to a story from the Old Testament.

In Genesis 28, Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, was on the run from his brother Esau, who wanted to kill him. One night while Jacob was sleeping in a field, with a rock for a pillow, God appeared to him in a vision as he slept.

In this vision, Jacob saw the heavens opened up and a ladder, or a bridge, spanning the gap between Heaven and Earth, and “the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12).

You might remember that the people of Babel, in Genesis 11, had tried to “build a tower with its top reaching to the heavens” in order to make a name for themselves and to protect themselves. They had sought to span the gap between Heaven and Earth through their own strength, endeavors, and intellect – and they failed.

What Jacob saw in his vision, was that God alone can span the gap between Heaven and Earth. Whereas we are incapable of reaching Heaven by our own works, God has come down to us from Heaven, in order to lift us up into relationship with Him and eternal life.

If Jacob was in fact reading the Scriptures under the fig tree, could it be that this is the exact passage that Nathanael had been reading, and Jesus was interpreting it for him?

Jacob’s Ladder is a Person

What Jesus was saying to Nathanael in John 1:51 is that HE is Jacob’s ladder! He is the bridge that spans the gap between Heaven and Earth that God pictured to Jacob in that vision! It is in Him that God has come from Heaven to Earth in order to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: to lift us up into relationship with Him and give us eternal life.

Jesus is saying that He has come not just to point the way to Heaven, but to be the way to Heaven.

Now, you might be tempted to think: If it’s a ladder, that means I must need to climb as high as I can, and if I’m strong enough, and if I’ve got enough stamina to make it all the way, then I can reach God. But that’s not the idea behind this ladder. Listen to what Paul the Apostle has to say in Romans ch 10:

But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 

Romans 10:6-9

In other words: the message of the Gospel is not that you have to climb your way up to God, but that God has come down to you! This ladder is not the ladder by which we ascend to God – but rather the ladder by which God has come down to us, to lift us up to Himself.

Jesus is telling Nathanael, and us, in John 1:51 that Jacob’s ladder is a person, and that person is Him! What good news!

If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to address, fill out the form on this page: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Reader Questions: Is the Return of Jesus Near? & What Does It Mean to “Believe in Jesus”?

Here on the site there is a feature where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

These questions were recently sent in:

Do the Signs of the Times Point to the Imminent Return of Jesus?

Considering the things that are currently going on in the world, including locust plagues in Africa, the possibility of famines, economic collapse, civil unrest and nations arming for war, and the pestilence of the coronavirus, do you think this means that the return of Jesus is going to happen soon?

During Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem before he was crucified, he went up on the Mount of Olives, the hill in Jerusalem which stands opposite the Temple Mount, and he gave his famous “Olivet Discourse.”

The View From the Mount of Olives

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

Matthew 24:3-8

Jesus described the coming of the end of the age, which will culminate with His return, as being similar to “birth pains.” The thing about birth pains is they are building up to something, in this case the eschaton – “the final event,” from which we get the word eschatology. The closer we get to the eschaton, Jesus says, the more these “birth pains” will increase in both frequency and intensity.

See: All of Christianity is Eschatological

Here are a few factors to keep in mind regarding these current events and what they mean about the return of Jesus:

  1. We get closer to the eschaton every day. Just as you are older than you used to be, every day we are closer than we have ever been before.
  2. The eschaton is something we should look forward to with eager expectation, not something we should fear or hope to postpone. In Titus 2:13, Paul describes the early Christians as: “in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”. To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote about the return of Jesus in order to encourage them and comfort them (1 Thess. 4:13-18). The early Christians used the slogan, “Maranatha!”, an Aramaic phrase which means, “Our Lord, come!” and is found in 1 Corinthians 16:22 as well as in other ancient Christian writings, such as the Didache. The early Christians did not fear the eschaton, but eagerly looked forward to it, and the knowledge of its coming was a source of hope and encouragement for them, as it should be for us as well.
  3. We should always be ready for the return of Jesus. In Matthew 25, in this same Olivet Discourse, Jesus told two parables: “The Parable of the Talents” and “The Parable of the Ten Virgins.” Both of these parables are about the topic of being “ready” for Jesus’ return. What does it mean, and what does it look like for us to be ready for Jesus’ return? According to these parables, to be “ready” means being busy about the Lord’s work – doing what He has called you to do, not becoming complacent and checking out, taking your foot off the gas because the end is near.
  4. What Jesus would say if you asked him if His coming is near: In Acts 1:6, after His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus’ disciples asked Him if it was now time for Him to restore the kingdom to Israel. He told them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8). If you were to ask Jesus, “Is it almost time for you to return?”, His answer would be the same today: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…to the end of the earth.” In other words: Jesus wants us to be ready always for His return to happen at any moment, and that means being fully occupied with the work of His mission and His Kingdom.

What Does It Mean to “Believe in Jesus”?

In my sermon this past Sunday I addressed the question of what it means to “believe in Jesus” in order to receive salvation and forgiveness of your sins, as the Bible describes.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:30-31

I explained that the kind of belief the Bible is talking about is not merely believing that Jesus was a historical person. No reputable historians deny that. Simply believing that Jesus existed doesn’t make you a Christian.

So does it mean believing that Jesus really died on a cross and rose from the grave? Again, it is possible to ascent to the validity of these historical events without being a Christian.

James explains this in his epistle:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

James 2:19

Rather the word “belief” (pisteo in Greek) in this case means to trust in, to cling to, to rely on someone or something.

To believe in Jesus unto salvation, therefore, means that rather in trusting in yourself, or relying on someone or something, rather than clinging to your own merits to save you – you trust in, cling to, and rely on Jesus and what He did in order to save you.

A friend from church sent this excerpt from the book Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers by Donald Fairbain

On this point, I think the church fathers have a great deal to teach us, because when we today speak of what faith is or whether one has it, we are unwittingly obscuring the face that everyone already has faith. Everyone trusts in someone or something. That is, all people in their efforts to achieve fulfillment or happiness or anything else of value entrust those efforts to someone or something. Many of us entrust our lives to ourselves. Some of us entrust them to a religion or a philosophical worldview. Some of us entrust them to another person. Some of us entrust them to an institution. Christianity insists that for this trust to be salvific, it must be directed only toward Christ. He holds what is truly valuable in life – his relationship with the Father. He has shown the uttermost depths of love for us. He is able through his Spirit to unite us to his Father, to make us adopted sons and daughters. Our lives are infinitely safer in his hands than in our own hands or in the hands of anyone else or any institution or philosophy. He is the one to whome we should look, the one in whom we should trust. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). In light of this, it is perhaps appropriate today for evangelicals to spend less time seeking to nail down exactly what faith is and instead to point other people to the one who is truly worth of their faith, Jesus Christ. Conversion to Christianity is not so much a process of gaining faith where one had none before as it is a process of transferring one’s trust from whatever or whomever one was trusting previously to Christ alone.

Fairbain, Life in the Trinity, p. 188

Amen!

Thank you for reading and sending in your questions!

Reader Questions: Could the Mark of the Beast Be Transmitted Through a COVID-19 Vaccine?

A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll showed that 20% of Americans say that they would refuse a a COVID-19 vaccine, and that an additional 26% are not sure if they would take it.

Among those who are unsure, or decidedly against receiving the vaccine, some fear that the vaccine will have been rushed and not been properly tested, others say they are skeptical about the effectiveness of a vaccine, considering how viruses mutate, and given the relative ineffectiveness of annual flu vaccines.

However, there are also some who are concerned about possibly nefarious motives by governments and influential people, such as Bill Gates.

The suspicion of a sinister conspiracy behind the development of a coronavirus vaccine has been spurred on by comments from Bill Gates on March 18, in which he said that in the future “digital certificates” could trace who had recently been tested or who had received a vaccine. The idea is that those who will have received the vaccine will be allowed to do things which those who refused the vaccine would not be allowed to do, such as shopping, working, and enjoying entertainment or recreation in certain places. By the next day, a rumor had begun circulating that these “digital certificates” would be a microchip which would be hidden in the vaccine. [1]

For some people, this sounded similar to what the Bible says in Revelation 13 about the Mark of the Beast, without which people will not be able to buy or sell, leading to fears that by receiving this vaccine, you might inadvertently receive the Mark of the Beast, which would lead to the loss of your soul.

What is the Mark of the Beast?

The Book of Revelation is a vision that the Apostle John had while in exile on the island of Patmos. In this vision he was instructed to write down the things that he had seen, the things that are, and those that are to take place in the future. (Revelation 1:19)

Revelation is written in the apocalyptic genre, which its interpretation has been the source of much debate and speculation amongst Christians for the past 2000 years.

In Revelation chapter 13, John describes two beasts; one rises out of the sea (Rev. 13:1-10), the other rises out of the earth (Rev. 13:11-18). Here is what it says about the second beast:

Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

Revelation 13:11-18

Throughout the years, Christians have tried to figure out what the Mark of the Beast is and what the number 666 means.

Adding fuel to the fears of a conspiracy is the fact that there is currently a bill before the House of Representatives numbered 6666, as well as a calculation of CORONA (6 letters in the word, and if you take the number of the order of the letters in the English alphabet, they add up to 66).

This isn’t the first time there have been rumors of the Mark of the Beast. Ronald Wilson Reagan (6 letters each = 6+6+6!) was accused of being the beast. Of course this is ridiculous for many reasons, not least of which is that it assumes that the Apostle John, who wrote in Greek, would give us a code which could only be deciphered in the English language (which did not even exist yet).

Many Bible scholars associate the number 666 with Caesar Nero, and there is good evidence for doing this. We know from Suetonius that many people were at the time toying with the numerical values of Nero’s name (Nero 39). This practice, known as gematria, took a letter of the alphabet and assigned it an equivalent number. So, for example, in the case of Greek, the first letter alpha would be given the number one. The second letter beta would be understood as two, and so on. When you take Nero’s name (Neron Kaisar) and transliterate it into Hebrew, the result is the number of the beast: 666. [2]

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the second beast in Revelation 13 was Nero; it could mean that it will be someone similar to or comparable to Nero.

The Mark of the Lamb?

What many people seem to forget when discussing the Mark of the Beast is that in the verses which immediately follow, the Mark of the Beast is juxtaposed with the Mark of the Lamb.

Perhaps some of you reading this have never even heard of the Mark of the Lamb. However, if we really desire to understand what the Mark of the Beast is, we have to understand it in light of the Mark of the Lamb.

Here’s what it says:

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.

Revelation 14:1-5

This is referenced earlier in the book as well:

Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

Revelation 7:2-3

So, any interpretation of what the Mark of the Beast is needs to consider that it must be something equal to and opposite of the Mark of the Lamb.

What are These Marks, and How Will You Know If You Have Them?

Considering how the Mark of the Beast is juxtaposed with the Mark of the Lamb, it seems clear that these two signs are identifiers, which identify your allegiance: either as person of the Dragon or as a person of the Lamb. It isn’t that you become a person of the Beast or the Lamb by receiving a mark, rather: the mark identifies you as what you already are. We see this in Revelation 7 & 14, where the mark given to God’s people is to identify them for who they already are, because they are already united to the Lamb.

In other words, these two marks are two opposite signs marking out two different types of people: the wicked and the righteous.

The Mark of the Beast is an identifier of loyalty and worship, and therefore is not something you could accidentally accept.

In the early 1980s, multiple books came out claiming that Uniform Product Codes (UPCs or “barcodes”) were the Mark of the Beast, since they were tied to buying and selling, with titles like: When Your Money Fails: The “666 System” is Here (1981) and The New Money System 666 (1982). In the late 80s and early 90s there were rumors that it could be something related to credit card companies. These ideas were predicated on the idea that the Mark of the Beast was something that could sneak up on you, and something you could accidentally use.

However, since the Mark of the Beast and the Mark of the Lamb are marks of loyalty and worship, a person will have full cognitive awareness of what they are doing (otherwise it is not worship). In other words, in order to take the Mark of the Beast, you would have to curse Christ and pledge devotion to his enemy – and it’s not something you could do on accident, or without realizing what you were doing.

In many countries, including the United States, it is almost impossible to function (think: buy or sell) without government-issued identification numbers, such as a Social Security Number or a Driver’s License Number. Almost everyone carries a mobile phone which contains a SIM card which can be tracked in different ways. Certain vaccines are required in order for children to attend public school. Whether these things are good or safe or whether the government has your best interest in mind may be valid points of discussion and consideration, but these things are not what the Mark of the Beast is about: it is about identification regarding allegiance and worship, and is therefore not something you can possibly receive against your will, desires, and full awareness of what you are doing.

Don’t Forget the Point of Revelation

It is important to remember that the revelation being given in the Book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus (Rev. 1:1), not the revelation of the Beast!

The point and purpose of the book is not to make us scared about what the Beast is going to do, but to fill us with confidence because no matter what happens, Jesus is going to win!

Any interpretation of Revelation that results in “the beast” becoming the central focus (and dreaded fear) of your eschatology most definitely suggests that you’ve completely misunderstood the book entirely.

Matthew L. Halstead, Ph.D.

Neither the Dragon nor the Beast are the “star of the show” in Revelation, but Jesus, who comes to defeat them and redeem His people.

Let us remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who told us this:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

John 10:27-30

Whether you decide to receive a future vaccine or not is a decision for you to weigh and consider, but based on the clear teaching of the Bible, there is no need to fear that you will accidentally be taking the Mark of the Beast by doing so.

May we instead receive the mark and seal of the Lamb through heart-felt allegiance to Jesus, embracing the gospel whole-heartedly, with hope in the redemption He promises us, no matter what this life or any enemies may bring our way. This is the way of true security and confidence.

Reader Questions: Book Recommendation on Marital Intimacy & Responding to Christian Perfectionism

There is a feature here on the site where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Here are some recent questions that came in:

Book Recommendation on Marital Intimacy

Is there a book or message series you can recommend to help rebuild sexual intimacy in marriage?

I’m sure there are other resources out there, but the one I am familiar with and can recommend is Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage

Responding to Christian Perfectionism

I have a Christian forum at my place of employment. One employee regularly posts statements in line with a ‘sinless perfection’ doctrine and encourages others to listen to Jesse Peterson (which I know nothing about.)  

Essentially, this employee constantly insists that if we are still sinning we are hypocrites and is adamant we shouldn’t listen to others or read the Bible but should just ‘know’ God, we should ‘just be’ (insert confused emoji here), and sin is hate, the only way to receive eternal life is to forgive. I dismiss his theology – he makes no sense – and despite support from the Word of God, he continues his posts – because he doesn’t value the word of God.  

Do you have any thoughts on how I can redirect his skewed theology, while helping the other members of this group also dismiss this line of thinking?

One way to respond might be to point out how this kind of theology has been dismissed and rejected by Christians throughout history. John Wesley, for example, who taught a form of Christian perfectionism at one point (unsurprisingly, when he was younger), later changed his position on the topic.

My guess is that other people on the site probably see the wackiness of what he’s writing and aren’t swayed by it. A smart, simple response will be gladly received by most people in the group therefore, but don’t let the group get focused on responding to everything he says. Don’t let the squeaky wheel get all the grease, in other words. You’ve got bigger fish to fry. Sorry for piling on the idioms!

The most compelling Biblical arguments against Christian perfectionism I can think of are:

  • Romans 7
  • 1 John
  • 1 Timothy 1:15

Martin Luther famously stated that the Christian is Justus et pecator (both righteous and a sinner). We have been declared righteous in Jesus; his righteousness has been accounted to us by grace through faith – and yet, we still sin.

When the Bible talks about salvation, it is important to note that it speaks of it in comprehensive terms: it says that we have been saved (past tense), we are being saved (present continuous tense), and we will be saved (future tense).

We have been saved (think: “It is finished”) from the penalty of sin by what Jesus did for us in the past. We are being saved (sanctification) from the power of sin as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” and yet “it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). And we will be saved, in the future, from the very presence of sin, when Jesus comes and saves us from the very presence of sin.

Romans 7

In Romans 7 Paul speaks about his experience of struggling with sin. Some in the Christian perfectionist circles will claim that Paul is writing about his life before his conversion, but that argument doesn’t hold much water because Paul speaks about his sin in the present tense.

1 John

In 1 John, John says things like, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8). 1 John is a favorite book, by the way, of Christian perfectionism advocates, because of its black-and-white language about righteousness, obedience, and sin. However, it is important to note that John is talking about a pattern of life, not about individual sins.

It’s about what you practice. Think about things you practice, and why you practice them: you practice the guitar, you practice your golf swing. Why? So you can do them better. A person who practices sin habitually and willfully truly needs to ask the question of if they are actually in the faith at all.

In Christ, we have become “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17). A sheep and a pig are two different creations. They both might fall in the mud on occasion, but the pig lives for the mud. The mud is what the pig dreams about, and the goal of its life is to get in that mud! A sheep, on the other hand, might fall in the mud, but that’s not where it wants to be. This is the essence of John’s point about sin and righteous living in 1 John.

I wrote something recently related to 1 John and the topic of Christian perfectionism. Check it out here.

1 Timothy 1:15

In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul says: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

If you read through Paul’s descriptions of himself as he progressed in life and in relationship with Jesus, you’ll notice this:

  1. In Philippians 3, he wrote that according to the law, he was blameless.
  2. Later on, in 1 Corinthians 15:9, he describes himself as “the least of all the Apostles”
  3. Even later on in life, in 1 Timothy 1:15, he describes himself as the chief of all sinners.

As Paul progressed through life, he did not become more and more enamored with himself, but he actually saw himself as more and more of a sinner – yet one who was loved by God and a recipient of His grace.

The reason for this is because, the closer you get to God, the more you become aware of your shortcomings, much like how: the more light there is in the bathroom, the more clearly you see your blemishes in the mirror – and like how, the older you get and the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

The point is not that Christian maturity means thinking less and less of yourself, but that as you become more aware of your flaws, you are more thrilled by the grace and love of God as you realize more and more how much you need it!

The Danger of Christian Perfectionism

The great danger of Christian perfectionism theology is that it places an unbearable burden on a person, and it leads to either pride or despair.

If you tell someone that if they are really in the faith that they won’t sin anymore, then when they are doing well, and not falling into temptation, they will be puffed up with pride and look down on those whom they observe sinning. Conversely, when they (inevitably) do commit some sin, they will immediately be forced to question their own salvation, and if they are even saved at all.

The good news of the gospel is that our salvation is the work of God! It is based on what He did for you, not on the things that you do or don’t do. Even if you slip, the good news of the gospel is that He is holding onto your hand, and He won’t let you go!

Submit a Question or Topic

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Reader Questions: Was Jesus Really Related to King David?

Last year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received this question:

I have been watching an archaeologist/historian video series. She says Jesus could not have been of David’s bloodline because David was Judean from Judea. Any thoughts?

The claim that Jesus could not have been of David’s bloodline because David was a Judean from Judea fails to take into account the fact of the Babylonian captivity.

The Judeans were taken to Babylon for roughly 70 years (it’s “roughly 70 years” because they didn’t all return at once; they returned in waves). Upon return from the captivity, many settled in different places, such as the much more fertile north of Israel, which was also more highly populated and therefore had more work opportunities. Joseph was a builder (“carpenter“ implies wood work in English, but the term used in the Bible implies more that he was more generally a construction worker) and Nazareth was a Jewish settlement right outside of the large Hellenistic city of Sepphoris, where it seems that the Jews of Nazareth went to work every day as laborers.

The lush and fertile north of Israel

Despite their resettlement after the exile, the Jewish people would have kept track of their ancestral hometowns and villages. 70 years is not so long that you would lose connection with your past, especially for ancient people who were more inclined than modern people to keep track of that and value it.

The argument that Jesus could not have been descended from David since he grew up in Nazareth is the same argument made by Nathaniel in John 1. It was an argument which neglected to recognize the fact that while Jesus grew up in Nazareth, his family was originally from Bethlehem, hence the reason Mary and Joseph had to travel there for the census.

Matthew 2 tells us about how Mary and Joseph left Bethlehem because Herod the Great attempted to kill Jesus, fearing him as a threat to his throne. Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to Egypt, and upon their return they moved to Nazareth in order to stay off the radar of the Herod family even after the death of Herod the Great.

Thanks for the question and God bless you!