I was reading in John, and during Jesus’s discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus makes a statement that gave me pause, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13)
Immediately I thought, “Wait, what about Elijah, or potentially Enoch?” They may not have descended in the same way as Jesus, or had a special nature as he did, but they ascended physically and yet seem to be ignored in this exclusive statement.
Great observation! Here are some important things to consider, which can bring clarity to this statement from Jesus:
Which Heaven is Jesus Referring To?
In ancient thinking, the word “heaven” was used in three ways (and it often used in these same three ways in our modern vernacular as well).
The “first” heaven = the sky, or the atmosphere, i.e. the place where birds and planes fly.
The “second” heaven = outer space, or the stratosphere: the place beyond Earth’s atmosphere, where stars and other planets are located.
The “third” heaven = the abstract use of the word, which designates not a geographical location, but the spiritual plane in which God and other invisible spirits dwell.
Paul the Apostle speaks of being caught up to the third heaven, in what was either a vision or perhaps even a near-death experience, in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Paul also speaks of the “heavenly places” in Ephesians as the place where Jesus is seated with the Father.
And yet, we know can surmise from different passages in the Bible, such as Luke 16 and others, that those who died in faith prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus did not go to “heaven” in the sense of the immediate presence of God, rather they went to Sheol, the dwelling place of the dead, where they awaited either the completion of their redemption or the final judgment of God.
In this case, it would seem that when 2 Kings 2:11 says “And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven,” it means that his body was caught up into the sky, not that his soul was taken to the immediate presence of God.
This would make sense in light of the rest of the text in 2 Kings, in which the “sons of the prophets” who witnessed this take place insist that they go and recover the body of Elijah that was picked up in this whirlwind. With Elijah and Enoch, though their souls were taken from this Earth, they would have gone to “Abraham’s bosom” (the part of Sheol reserved for those who died in faith – see article linked above).
Jesus’ point in John 3:13 is that Nicodemus should listen to what he has to say about Heaven since no human person has ever gone to heaven, yet he (Jesus) is the only person who has come from Heaven to Earth, and is therefore uniquely qualified to give accurate insight and explanation into Heavenly realities.
“Ascended” versus “Taken Up”
Another possible explanation is that when Jesus says that he is the first who will “ascend” into Heaven, he is correct in the sense that he will ascend by his own power and volition, whereas Enoch and Elijah were “taken up” by God, not by their own power or will.
Hopefully these explanations helped. If you see anything I missed, please leave a comment – and keep on studying God’s Word and asking questions as you go!
Recently [a friend and I] were talking about the event in Mark where Jesus encounters the Syrophoenician woman and the way he interacts with her – which can seem very cold or harsh. We did also read, but not focus our discussion, on Matthew’s account of it. My student leans toward Jesus’s behavior representing a racist shading to his approach.
I was wondering if you could speak into this, but also it may give an opportunity to speak into how this affects our modern lives.
Great question. I know many people have found this passage puzzling or even disturbing.
The passage in question is found in Mark 7:24-30 and the story is also told in Matthew 15:21-28. It involves a time when Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, which is in modern-day Lebanon. During his time there, unsurprisingly, he encounters a woman who is a Gentile (non-Jew), who appeals to him as the “Son of David” (a Messianic title), and asks that he heal her daughter. Jesus initially rebuffs her request, saying that it would not be right for him to give the bread which belongs to the children to dogs. She pushes back, saying that dogs are willing to eat the crumbs which fall from the children’s table. Jesus is impressed by her faith and persistence and heals her daughter.
Dogs and Puppies
If you’ve ever been to developing countries, you may have noticed that there are two kinds of dogs: street dogs and pet dogs. One of the biggest challenges for me when I visit places like Ukraine or Mexico is that I like to run for exercise, but there are sometimes street dogs who instinctively chase after people who are running!
Street dogs are often dangerous and diseased. They present a real threat to anyone walking down the street. Pet dogs, on the other hand, are companions who can become part of a family: “fur babies”!
This same distinction existed in Jesus’ time. In the Middle East at this time, especially because of the way that waste was disposed of in open dumps, there were packs of feral street dogs who roamed the streets and presented a very real danger to the people. On the other hand, people also kept dogs as pets, and part of the family.
The Jewish people were in the habit of referring to Gentiles (pagan, non-Jews) as “dogs” – essentially referring to them as “street dogs” who were diseased and dangerous, and therefore to be avoided. As you can imagine, this kind of thinking would have been entrenched in the minds of Jesus’ disciples, having grown up as Jews in Israel.
So when Jesus refers to this woman as a “dog” – part of what he is doing is playing into the Jewish culture of that day – which would have been held by many of his disciples – which considered the Gentiles to be “street dogs.” However, instead of using the common word for “dogs,” Jesus uses the word for “pet dogs” or “puppies.” By doing so, think about what he is saying: he is essentially saying, “Yes, many people where I’m from (including some of my disciples) might consider you a diseased and dangerous street dog, but I view you as a pet dog, i.e. one who can become a beloved part of the family.”
By saying this, Jesus was challenging the way that his disciples thought about Gentile people. They would have been looking around there in Tyre, wondering, “Why have we come here to these ‘dogs’ – these filthy, disease ridden people? And Jesus is saying, “No, these are people who can become a beloved part of the family.”
Was Jesus Ethnocentric?
In Matthew’s account of this story, Jesus states that he has come to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Does that mean that Jesus was ethnocentric, or perhaps a Jewish nationalist?
By calling this woman a “pet dog” he was insinuating that she could live in “the house” and be part of “the family.” These latter two metaphors are used throughout the Bible to describe the people of God. Following the metaphor, Jesus is describing that she, as a Gentile (not part of God’s covenant nation of Israel) could be brought into the house and become a member of the family. This is similar to what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 11, where he talks about how Gentiles have been “grafted in” to the “olive tree” of God’s people, which began with Israel.
God’s plan for salvation, throughout the Bible was for the whole world. In John 3:16, Jesus makes it clear that his mission is a global mission, for God so loved the world.
However, God’s plan for global evangelization was to work through Israel to the world. Israel was to be God’s missionary people, a light to the nations. In fact, in Deuteronomy, God tells them that the purpose of the Law of Moses, was so other nations would see who their God was by observing the goodness of those Laws. Israel was to be a lighthouse to the nations. This is why the Psalms and the Prophets talk about how the nations will rejoice, and the nations will come to the Lord. The word “nations” is synonymous with Gentiles.
However, many times Israel fell short of this, becoming ethnocentric and nationalistic, and taking their “chosen status” as a mark of superiority over others instead of what it was meant to be: the mark of them being chosen to carry out God’s work of bringing light to the Gentiles.
Jesus’ focus was to Israel, because it was through Israel that God wanted to reach the world. He had come as the Jewish Messiah and in fulfillment of the Jewish ceremonial system: as the ultimate prophet, priest and sacrifice, to fulfill all that was written in the Hebrew Scriptures. After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature, all the nations, and to take the gospel from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria(!), and to the ends of the Earth.
In the ancient world, it was common for each nation, and sometimes for each town or tribe, to have their own God. However, the God of the Bible claimed to be the God of all the world, and Jesus claimed to be the Savior of all the world. He was not just one of many ways to come to God, he was the way, the truth, and the life – and no one can come to the Father besides through Him. (John 14:6)
This was considered scandalous in the Roman Empire, where their governing mentality was that anyone can believe anything they want as long as they don’t claim that their god or religion is right and somebody else’s is wrong. That is very much like today’s modern Western culture, actually! But the Christians could not comply with this: the God of the Bible is not just a local deity, but the creator of the entire universe, and Jesus was the savior of the entire world.
Jesus’ focus on Israel was a missional strategy and calling, not a qualitative judgment on either Israel or other nations. In fact, multiple times in the Gospels, Jesus points out how a Gentile showed more faith that those in Israel.
What Does this Mean for Us Today?
There is no place for racism or ethnocentrism with God. This is not to say that you cannot or should not be a patriot, or someone who loves your country. What it means is that we recognize that other nations are made up of people created in God’s image, who have the same intrinsic value and worth. Since they are loved by God, they should be loved by God’s people. There is no place for any sense of superiority or disdain, when we recognize that we were also “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind, but God…made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:3-4)
In Christ, we are now part of a new humanity, the “family of God,” in which there is no longer Jew nor Greek, and we will be part of that great multitude in Heaven made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation, which will worship before the Throne. To be chosen by God is to be chosen to be part of His mission to bring the truth of His love and grace to the world.
In regard to God’s treatment of Eli in 1 Samuel 2-4, I’ve always been disturbed that Eli was included in judgement because of his sons.
1. Aaron was not condemned to death because his sons offered “strange’ fire. 2. Eli raised Samuel to be an upright man of God; he must’ve done something right.
I know that perhaps Eli’s heart was not right with God as the text does not elaborate and it does not say that he asked for forgiveness or repented. His admonition of Hannah for being drunk may also reflect that he did not possess the compassion and empathy that reflects God’s character in his servants. Still, I was hoping you might point to other portions of the Bible that explains Eli’s punishment more effectively rather than trying to “read between the lines” and dangerously make up what’s not written.
Still, this has always made me ask if my heart is in the right place and whether or not my faith in Jesus’ redemption is truly “genuine enough”
For those who might need a refresher on the story, Eli was the high priest at the time recorded in the beginning of 1 Samuel. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, served as priests in the temple, but they were corrupt, stealing, embezzling, and committing acts of sexual immorality by abusing their positions of power with women who came to the Tabernacle to worship. As a result of their actions, not only was the Tabernacle profaned, but people avoided coming to worship because of the presence of these wicked priests.
The reason for God’s judgment on Eli is outlined in 1 Samuel 2:27-29, in which a prophet tells Eli that he is going to be judged for the sins of his sons because he did not do enough to stop them from doing these acts. In 1 Samuel 2:29, God states that Eli honored his sons more than he honored God, and it is for this sin that Eli is being judged. Although Eli had scolded them, he did not do anything besides talking to them. Eli’s responsibility is two-fold, since he was both their father and their boss – as high priest. Eli should have fired his sons or carried out some sort of disciplinary action, and it is for this reason of allowing these things to take place and not doing anything about it, that Eli received God’s judgment.
I’ll never forget that one of my mentors fired his own son in law over an act of impropriety in the church. It must have made for a very awkward Thanksgiving, but at least he was not following in the sin of Eli.
The sin of Eli was covering up the abuse of his children
Allowing them to stay in power
when he knew they were taking advantage of ppl
Caused God to remove Eli
We must call out abuse
Even when it’s in our own families or party or churches
Two Important Thoughts About Judgment: Temporal Judgments and the Mercy of God
It is worth noting that the removal of both the priesthood from Eli and his life were temporal judgments, rather than eternal or spiritual judgments upon his soul. I think it is likely that Eli, recognizing his shortcomings and sins, and knowing the promise of God to send a savior to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), he would have cast himself upon God’s mercy and received forgiveness. Temporal judgments, in other words, do not preclude eternal salvation.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the very nature of justice is that it entails getting what is deserved. Mercy, on the other hand, is not getting the judgment that is deserved. So, for God to judge Eli for his failure to lead well as high priest, is fair. On the other hand, when God chooses to give mercy, such as in the case of Aaron, that is His prerogative. As Paul puts it in Romans 9:18: “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy.” Mercy is never deserved, nor can it be demanded or expected. God reserves this right, and does so for His purposes, which we may never fully know on this side of eternity.
Knowing this helps us understand both the reasons why sometimes God doesn’t save us from the consequences of our sins even when He forgives us of them, and it helps us marvel all the more at the undeserved grace and mercy of God towards us!
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.
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!
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!
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:
Accurate translation of the text
For this reason my ranking would be the following:
English Standard Version (ESV)
New International Version (NIV)
New King James Version (NKJV)
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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:
A 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:
God is loving
God is all-powerful
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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, andif 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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
Here are a few factors to keep in mind regarding these current events and what they mean about the return of Jesus:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
Thank you for reading and sending in your questions!