How We Limit God! — Part 2

Our typical Christian thinking tends to cause erroneous ideas regarding many aspects of the Bible.  One example of this that has popped into view for me recently is with the New Heavens and New Earth that we see in Revelation 21-22.

What has been the way we’ve inevitably thought about “heaven?”  When we die we go to be with Jesus.  We’re like the angels in many ways, i.e. spiritual beings.  Not much goes on in our heaven.  We sit around on clouds with our harps and worship God night and day for ever and ever.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that except I believe it’s incorrect.  Is it any wonder that many non-Christians, as well as believers, look at this paradigm and think, “Boring!”?  With good reason, because I think this idea imposes our very limited understanding on God and misses the bigger picture that He has always intended for us.

To see what may indeed be the truth of this issue, we must consider two ideas.  The first shows up right from the beginning in Genesis 1:28 where God gives Adam and Eve His original mandate for all their descendants:

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

After the flood, which follows a complete breakdown of humanity so that God must begin again, He repeats His command to Noah and his progeny in Genesis 9:1:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

We see from this that God wants His human creation to take dominion over the earth.  That has always been Plan A with God.  Of course, this gets sidetracked once more when men in their infinite wisdom think they know better than God.  They gather in one place to make a name for themselves, and at Babel God scatters them and assigns them to nations (Genesis 11; Deuteronomy 32).

The question is: As a result of mankind’s failure twice to fulfill God’s desire for them to bring the earth into submission, does this then nullify what God wanted for them to accomplish?  Does He decide that’s a bad idea and forgets all about it?

Hold that thought, and let’s look at the second concept we must consider.  This has to do with what the nature of man will be following the resurrection.  Many people argue for the Sons of Seth theory regarding the account of the fallen sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4.  Part of that worldly idea is that angels don’t have reproductive capabilities.  A supernatural limitation is placed on this account.

In the synoptic Gospels we read a statement that Jesus makes which brings many to this conclusion.  Here it is:

Matthew 22:30

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

Mark 12:25

“For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

Luke 20:35

“but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage,”

From these passages it’s clear that at the resurrection, humans who are now in their glorified bodies won’t marry because they’ll be like the angels in heaven.

I maintain that this creates a contradicting situation going forward once we come to the New Heavens and New Earth.  If humankind will never marry in “heaven” because they’ll be like the angels, how will man fulfill God’s twice-repeated mandate once this new earth has come about?

I’m a novelist, so I can do this: “What if…”  Novelists have to propose the what-ifs in order to create a story.  Well, we have a story line here, a Biblical narrative.  We know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  If that’s the case, then He still wants man to multiply and take dominion over the New Earth when we come to that point.

What if the passages above where Jesus says “in” or “when” “at” the resurrection, He means exactly that?  What if Jesus refers to the point in time when the resurrection occurs and it’s limited to a certain season?  What if when God creates the New Heavens and New Earth this brings about another season that changes the dynamics?

When we’re glorified we have no real idea what that means other than we’ll look like Jesus, judge angels, and at that one particular point in time won’t marry.  Who’s to say once we’re placed on the New Earth that God doesn’t enable us to procreate once more?  The earth will be virgin again as it was during the initial creation.  The number of glorified humans will by no means fill up the earth.  Isn’t it reasonable to assume that God will now repeat His command: “Multiply in order to rule and take dominion over this new sinless earth?”

If God doesn’t change—and He doesn’t—then Plan A remains operative.  There will be no sinful, fleshly humans in this new earthly environment.  Yet, if we accept the viewpoint I’m proposing, then man has to procreate to fulfill God’s destiny for us.

There are mysteries that remain.  God has given our frail human brains only a fraction of what we’ll know when we no longer see through a glass darkly.  There are many Bible passages that have been misunderstood over the ages and only clarified at later times.  Perhaps Jesus’ declaration about marriage at the point the resurrection occurs is one of them.

How We Limit God! — Part 1

One of the things I enjoy doing is taking what I’ve learned from my reading and my listening to various teachings and bringing it to others.  This is how knowledge and information are passed on.  In the Christian sphere, it’s how we disciple others even as we have been discipled in one manner or another.

My recent emphasis has been on the expanding of my Biblical worldview through what I’ve gleaned from Dr. Michael S. Heiser in reading several of his books, including The Unseen Realm.  I’m a pretty good parrot.  I absorb information and am blessed with the ability to reformulate it and convey it to others.  The last three teaching sessions I’ve done at my church have centered around what I’ve learned from Dr. Heiser and replaying that to disturb the comfortable westernized, Christianized worldview that so many hold.

At the end of one of these sessions, I was asked a question about what it means for us to be a part of restoring Eden to the earth following the Tribulation and Millennium.  Of course, after the Final Judgment where Satan, all his cohort, and unbelieving humans are relegated for eternity into the Lake of Fire, the earth is purified with fire.

There are a couple of theories about how this happens.  One is that God completely destroys the earth and creates a brand new one.  Another theory is that He takes the existing earth and purifies it with fire.  I ascribe to the second approach.  The reason is that the final result of the Millennium is that all beings that have transgressed against God are dealt with, but the sin resident in the earth remains.  Remember, the earth groans for redemption.  That means it’s essentially seeking relief from the curse and the blood that’s been shed over its existence.  I’m not at all attributing sentience to the earth as the Gaia crowd would.  I’m simply restating the Biblical terminology that Paul uses in Romans 8:19-24.

If the view I take is correct, then God will somehow bring a purifying fire upon the existing earth to bring it the relief it requires from its bondage to decay.  Fire will make all things new; it will basically restore the earth to its original condition following the initial creation.  In its infancy, we know what happened next.  God created man and commanded him to multiply, subdue the earth, rule and take dominion over it.  Of course, the Fall halted that mandate.

After the Flood, God again commanded Noah and his descendants to do exactly the same thing.  He didn’t change His mind about what He wanted.  The earth was effectively brand new once again.  It needed to be tamed.  Man needed to spread out over it and take dominion as God envisioned.  Again, this didn’t happen because of the Tower of Babel incident.  Once more, God’s intent was put on hold.

When the New Heavens and New Earth are finally in place, the question arises, “What next?”  We humans have such a limited perspective.  Prior to the initial creation of the earth, what was God doing all those years backward into the infinity prior to His creating us and our world?  We have no idea.  But, we can look at His work in earth’s creation and what He has intended for mankind to accomplish and know that He’s a busy guy.  God doesn’t sit around on His throne and eat bon-bons all day while His heavenly family simply floats on clouds playing harps and worshiping Him.  Indeed, they do worship Him, but they also have many other activities of which we’re unaware.

He creates various beings, heavenly and human, for a reason.  He enjoys us and the interaction with us in the accomplishment of His divine purposes.  Personally, I think it would be pretty boring for God Himself to just sit around all day doing nothing but hearing the infinite praises of his creation.  My point is that there’s more going on than we give God credit for.

Thus, once we come to the place where we have the New Heavens and New Earth, why should we think that God’s intent will be any different?  Why should we think that He has changed His initial, and once repeated, mandate, to subdue the earth?  Why should we think that once the world has become brand new that we—now in glorified, spiritual bodies like Jesus—will sit on our clouds, play our harps, and join God in devouring heavenly chocolates forever and a day?

Hebrews 13:8 tells us:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

If we believe this, then God’s Plan A for His human—now divine—family is to finally fulfill His original command.  It has never changed.  “You’ve got an entire earth out there to bring into submission according to My will, as I wanted you to do from the very beginning.  Go and do it.”  Only now, because we’ve finally come to the point of trusting God and choosing to follow Him in all things, newly reconstituted humanity will do exactly what He wants.

We have no clue what that really looks like at this point a millennium removed from that task.  However, we can be assured that God will engage us in good and meaningful work because that’s who He is and what He wants for His creation.

Let’s not limit God.  Let’s not take our preconceived ideas that we somehow got through our Sunday school lessons as children, and embrace a false picture of God and the magnificence of what He intends.  Instead, let’s look forward to a meaningful, useful eternity where—yes—we’ll worship God forever, but doing so in the context of an amazing work that He sets forth for us.

Replacement Theology in the Deuteronomy 32 Worldview

When we approach the Bible with what is known as the Deuteronomy 32 worldview, we understand why Replacement Theology is so prevalent today.  Replacement Theology takes the Biblically false view that Israel no longer has a place in God’s plans and purposes because 1) Israel blew it, and 2) the Church has taken her place.

In the minds of those who advocate Replacement Theology, the thinking is that when Jesus came incarnate to the earth as a Jew, He gave Israel one shot at getting His divinity right as the Messiah, the Savior of mankind.  Obviously, Israel didn’t make the grade.  In her failure, Israel was primarily responsible—if not wholly culpable—in Jesus’ crucifixion.  In fact, this view seems to assume that the crucifixion was a mistake and not the major reason for Jesus coming here in the first place.

Because of the belief that Israel has no future from God’s perspective, the Church has replaced Israel as a result.  Advocates of Replacement Theology apparently look back at every promise made to Israel in the Old Testament and attribute them looking forward to the Church.  Thus, God has wholly abandoned Israel, divorced her, and left her bereft with no future hope.

If you’ve read the Bible and actually understand God’s character in some small measure, this perspective is incredibly wrongheaded and even blasphemous.  It impugns God’s nature because it declares God is not a promise keeper.  He lies.  Every promise He made to Israel is null and void, transferred to another entity, the Church.  It takes a very low view of God.

Deuteronomy 32:8-9 is the starting point for debunking this foolishness:

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,

    when he divided mankind,

he fixed the borders of the peoples

    according to the number of the sons of God.

But the Lord’s portion is his people,

    Jacob his allotted heritage.

This takes place after the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11.  Mankind has disobeyed God.  Rather than spreading out over the earth as He instructed a second time through Noah, men gather in Babylon with one language and of one mind: make a name for themselves and build a tower to bring God down to them in order to control Him.  God’s not with that program and scatters all these peoples throughout the known world and brings confusion to their language so they can’t communicate to pull off this nonsense going forward.

What we see in Deuteronomy 32 is God assigning every person to particular territory and placing His divine sons over those nations.  He’s had enough of man and his rebellion and has decided to let him go his own way for a time.  God’s spiritual progeny are to rule over these nations as God would do, i.e. justly, and point people back to Him as the One true God.

At the same time, God calls the nation of Israel into existence.  Israel will be His special nation, His inheritance, through which all other nations will be blessed.  In fact, later in Psalm 89:35-36, in one of numerous such passages, God declares His everlasting promise to Israel that He will never forsake her:

Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;

    I will not lie to David.

His offspring shall endure forever,

    his throne as long as the sun before me.

God’s sons over the nations become corrupt.  We see this in Psalm 82 where God admonishes them for how unjust they’ve become and declares punishment for them.  Power apparently has gone to their heads.  They are created beings just as humans are and God has given them the same free will that He gave us.  Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  That was certainly the case with God’s sons ruling the nations in His stead.

Here’s the setup:  God makes promises to Israel.  They will be His heritage.  At the same time, we now have rebellious spiritual beings—along with Satan—who want nothing to do with God and what He has purposed.  They have their own agenda.  They intend to rule and in so doing will try whatever they can to thwart God.

It’s become clear to them that God will bring the Messiah through the nation of Israel that will bless all of mankind because He will reclaim the nations that have turned from God.  Jesus didn’t come just to atone for original sin, He came to restore all nations to their proper position of looking to God as their life source.  He came that all men might bow their knee before the throne of the Most High God, not to various usurpers of the throne.

If the Church has turned from this knowledge of Israel and God’s intent for her in His ultimate plans, if Israel is relegated to unnecessary status, if Israel is even destroyed by her neighbors, that’s what God’s corrupt sons desire.  If the Church is complicit in this plot, then there’s a two-fer: Israel is destroyed, and God’s chosen instrument to spread His Word is leading people astray from the Truth.  How much better could it be for those spiritual entities that hate God?

Replacement Theology is truly a belief system from the pit of hell.  Those spiritual beings who have initiated it will eventually occupy that most terrible place.  In the physical realm, people who adhere to this thinking are also in great danger.  Following the dictates of other gods brings one into a position of opposition to God and what He’s done through Jesus Christ.  It makes people vulnerable to other false teachings.  They embrace that which is not of God, and as foretold, fall into apostasy.

Our job, as true believers, as those who love the inerrant, infallible Word of God, along with EVERY promise He has made, is to bring the Truth to those who have rejected it.  As easy as it is to ignore those who embrace Replacement Theology, we need to do what we can in order that God would convict them of their sin of rejecting Israel, God’s chosen people, the apple of His eye.

We have work to do until Jesus returns.  Part of how we’re to occupy in the meantime is by countering the lie of Replacement Theology.

Marijuana, Salt & Light

Although recreational marijuana remains illegal at a federal level, many states have chosen to no longer view it as a Schedule 1 drug, i.e. one with the potential for a high level of abuse.  This is the case in my state.  However, it is left up to the individual communities whether or not to allow its sale and use.

The encroachment of marijuana into general acceptance in this current age has many comparing it with alcohol and prohibition back in the 1920s.  There may be some similarities, but I can only view the public’s willingness to approve of altered states of consciousness and impaired thinking as good things being just one more indication of the latter days in which we live.

On a recent Tuesday evening, our city council met to vote on allowing marijuana sales and grow facilities in the community.  Prior to that our church was alerted to this fact and urged by a concerned citizen to attend the meeting and push back against the regulation that would allow, and even encourage, greater marijuana presence in town.  Although this affects everyone, and every believer in our church should have turned out against this, only five of us showed up.

At the initial public comments time on the meeting agenda, several of us spoke against approval of the regulation.  As a pastor answerable to God, one of my points dealt with His condemnation of partaking in anything having to do with sorcery, witchcraft, and drunkenness as seen in the lists in Deuteronomy 18 and Galatians 5; pharmakeia being the operative Greek word behind the occult practices.  In both the Old and New Testaments God has clearly stated how despicable each of these things is to Him.  We’re not to engage in anything that alters our minds or impairs our judgment.  Mind altering drugs lower people’s defenses to the incursion of demonic forces as well as encourage people to further pursue those things which are not of God.  You can imagine how well those points went over with some of the folks on the city council.

It was evident as discussion ensued among the council members prior to the vote that the majority were inclined to approve the regulation to allow marijuana in greater measure to invade the community.  However, due to the fact that several of us came to express reasoned opposition, the regulation was tabled and sent back to a working committee for further consideration.  How they could think further conversation could change the fact that marijuana is a gateway drug, that it will increase the incidents of operating while intoxicated leading to greater policing presence, and that it is contrary to the stated purpose of the council to oversee the health and safety of the community is a mystery.

But, in reality, it’s no mystery.  Lawlessness is increasing dramatically in the world.  As Isaiah 5:20 warns:

Woe to those who call evil good

    and good evil,

who put darkness for light

    and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet

    and sweet for bitter!

Thus, where there might have been a time that the fear of God would have been a factor in the decision of these council members, there was apparently little of that.

In all this, I couldn’t help but think of the incidents of lack of faith in the Bible and where they led.  We see in Mark 6:5-6 that Jesus can do few miracles in His hometown because there was so little faith.  People didn’t believe He was who it was obvious that He was.  Perhaps no one came to Him for healing and that’s the reason He healed so few.

In 2 Kings 13:14-19 we see another incident of lack of faith.  An ailing Elisha is brought into King Joash’s presence.  The king asks for a sign or assurance that Israel will prevail against the Syrians.  Elisha tells the king to take a handful of arrows and pound them on the ground.  He does, but only three times.  Elisha rebukes him, saying that if he had been more fervent and pounded the arrows five or six times, complete victory would have been assured.  As it was, victory would only come three times.

This brings us back to the city council meeting.  If we hadn’t shown up and pushed back against the darkness, it would have prevailed.  It is highly likely the council members all thought it was a good idea to license marijuana in the community.  The fact that five of us showed up and spoke against it was enough to stop approval that night.  A few people of faith, God’s people standing in the gap, was enough to halt progress of the regulation for the time being.  If some number more, perhaps ten to fifteen believers had come, might the outcome have been complete victory for the ways of God?

For that meeting, we’ll never know.  Presumably, we’ll have another opportunity.  The parallel, however, to the Scriptural incidents is striking.  A few people of faith come to Jesus, and He can only do a few miracles.  Only a few arrows are taken in response to the prophet’s words and only partial victory is attained.

The Bible tells us definitively that the time is coming when lawlessness will reign supreme once the true church is removed from the earth in the Rapture.  In the meantime, although darkness is closing in all around, believers do have the means and often the opportunity to keep it at bay.  Edmund Burke’s secular admonition many years ago certainly applies today to the church:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

When the church do nothing, when we fail to stand against evil, it will encroach even more.  How sad that God’s people fail to do that which He has called us to be: salt and light to a lost and dying world.

Ezra’s Conundrum

The story of Ezra returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple has a disturbing account at the end of the book.  The leaders come to Ezra and inform him in Ezra 9:1-2 (ESV) that:

“The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.”

The LEB translation (Lexham English Bible, based on the Septuagint) in this passage says in place of holy race: “holy seed.”  The NIV says “intermingled” instead of mixed itself.

One verse later (v3) Ezra tells us:

As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloak and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled.

Reading these verses from our Western context, we think, “Well, sure Ezra was disturbed.  God had told Joshua and the Israelites when they came into the land that they were to destroy most of these tribes because they were exceedingly sinful in His eyes.”  But does that really explain Ezra’s great angst?  I submit that this explanation is inadequate and our understanding is flawed because our typical Christian teaching doesn’t reach into the past far enough, it neglects to include the supernatural issues that are in play, and it misses the entire context of the situation.

The Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Amorites were all descendants of Noah’s son Ham.  They were also labeled, along with several other tribes descended from Canaan, as Rephaim.  Inevitably, each time the Israelites came upon any of these tribes, God commanded His people to completely annihilate them, i.e. devote them to destruction.  The Hebrew word for this concept is cherem, which means to exterminate.  Again, that seems pretty harsh if we only consider them as sinful people.  Where is God’s mercy?  Maybe there’s something else going on at a deeper level.

To appreciate the context and how the ancient Israelites would have understood the implications in God’s decrees, we have to first go to Genesis 6:1-5:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Modern Christianity attempts to whitewash this passage and take away its supernatural aspect.  The thought of divine beings or angels coming to earth and taking human women as their “wives” is a bridge too far for many people.  As a result, the idea that the sons of God, the bad guys, are Cain’s descendants, while the daughters were from the Godly line of Seth has been promoted.

There is nothing in the Biblical text that can in any way lead us to this conclusion.  Pastors, when they must touch upon this topic, and seminaries, when they reluctantly address it, almost universally declare there’s no way angels could come to earth and reproduce.  The argument often revolves around the statement Jesus made in Matthew 22:30 that angels in heaven don’t marry.  This is a simplistic argument.  It doesn’t address angels when they come to earth and assume a corporeal body.  What do we know about angels in this human form and the functions they have?  Nothing.  The verse also doesn’t say angels can’t marry; it says they don’t marry.  Words mean things.

So, the supernatural meaning of this passage is a distinct possibility.  Beyond that, we must realize that the Ancient Near East was a hotbed of the supernatural.  Moses, who wrote Genesis, knew the neighborhood in which he lived.  He knew that God was a God of miracles and manifestation.  The angel of the Lord came and spoke to him face to face.

To comprehend that the Nephilim were the hybrid offspring of fallen angels and human women wasn’t a conceptual stretch for Moses or anyone else in that period.  In fact, it’s this narrative that shapes the entire Biblical story.  God’s rebellious divine sons wanted to take His place.  Fallen angels intermarrying with humans, corrupting the human bloodline, and killing off humanity so that the Seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 couldn’t bring forth the promised Messiah, were ideas that every Israelite carried with them as God’s chosen people.

How do we get to the Rephaim and the associated tribes that God wanted His people to kill off?  It is speculated that the wife of Ham had Nephilim corrupted blood; whereas Noah, his wife, his other two sons and their wives had the righteous, pure, human blood that God needed when He saved Noah and his family.  But through Ham we have these tribes that God says to cherem—to devote to destruction.

When Ezra prays is Ezra 9:11-12, he reiterates what God has told the Israelites:

“which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore, do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’”

God was very clear.  Don’t have anything to do with these abominable people.  They are unclean.  The deeper story is that their uncleanness is not simply from sin; it is from a corrupted bloodline that must not pollute the offspring of the Israelites.

Regarding the other three tribes of the Moabites, Ammonites, and of Egypt, we have oracles and prophecies that God declares which condemn these nations.  Amos 1:13-15 deals with Ammon; Amos 2:1-3 addresses Moab; and Isaiah 19:1-17 speaks of Egypt.  Each of these transgressed against Israel in vile ways, and perhaps in this instance in Ezra God truly is judging their sins as abominations.  On the other hand, maybe there were Rephaim offspring that had migrated to these countries and at that particular time their people had tainted blood.  Thus, intermarrying with them was particularly forbidden.  God knows.

As a result of these impurities, when Ezra issues a proclamation for all descendants of the captivity to gather in Jerusalem, he says in Ezra 10:10-11:

“You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

Ezra 10:44 finishes up with:

All these had married foreign women, and some of the women had even borne children.

This is tough stuff.  Everyone who has taken a foreign wife is to separate from them; any kids go as well.  If God hates divorce, what’s with this?  These people had placed themselves into a position completely contrary to God’s Word.  The implications for their intermarrying actually went beyond the concept of divorce.  It was a necessity that none of the offspring be considered Jewish because they might actually have tainted blood, i.e. blood resulting from the fallen sons of God in Genesis 6:1-5.

You may have also wondered what the point of listing the offenders was—why bother?  It was very specific, very deliberate.  The names of the offending Israelites had to be made public so that none of their descendants could claim to be an Israelite.  God’s people had to maintain purity within the bloodlines to truly be those through whom Messiah would come.

It was Ezra’s faithful actions in a difficult situation that enabled God to continue with His plans and purposes.  What were these?  To redeem Israel so that through her all nations could be blessed.  And we are.  We owe a debt of gratitude to Ezra that he was a righteous and holy man, totally sold out to God.

Paul’s Mars Hill Declaration of Deuteronomy 32:8

The Apostle Paul was a product of the Ancient Near East.  He understood the neighborhood in which he lived.  He knew there was a supernatural world and worldview that greatly influenced the lives of those to whom he witnessed.  This is fully on display when Paul goes to Athens and engages the Greeks on the Ares rock: the Areopagus, i.e. Mars Hill.

Mars Hill was a place of intellectual pursuit.  Luke in his account says in Acts 17:21:

Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

How the philosophers must have frittered away their days!  They ran here and there for something new, something that would tickle their ears.  And apparently, there was plenty of that around.

But then came Paul.  He comes to this city known for its religiosity.  It’s the center of Greek culture with its rich history of mythology.  The Greek gods were well known and revered.  People lived their lives seeking to know more about them.

I heard a couple of interesting interviews recently between Dr. Michael S. Heiser and—I can put it no other way—a Greek Olympian.  Heiser’s book The Unseen Realm is the basis for much of what I’ve been reflecting in many of these articles lately.  Hercules Invictus has spent his life pursuing knowledge of the Greek gods.  He’s a walking encyclopedia about them.  His podcast is found on The International Pagan Network—yes, there is such a thing.  Better yet: “All pagan, all the time.”

In this discussion—and it really was such; there was no contention or animosity between them—Heiser simply responded to Hercules in the calm, laid-back manner that he does and proceeded to lay out the Biblical view.  He ended up presenting the Gospel in such a non-threatening way that I couldn’t help but pray for the salvation of Hercules.  He reminded me so much of the truth-seeking philosophers of Mars Hill, who inevitably came away empty.

Paul interacts with those around him.  He’s seen the altars, the statues, and the darkness in which these people live.  Because Paul knows the context of that culture, he can relate directly to their situation.  Thus: what is the context?

He states it in Acts 17:26-28:

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”

So, where did Paul get this information?  What is he talking about?

It goes back to Deuteronomy 32:8.  In fact, many Bibles refer to this in a Scriptural reference from the verses in Acts.  Here’s what the verse says:

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,

when he divided mankind,

he fixed the border of the peoples

according to the number of the sons of God.

Paul is clearly declaring that nations are under the authority of the sons of God whom He placed there.  In this Deuteronomy passage, we see that God effectively divorced the nations.  He had become fed up with the disobedience of man and let him have free reign to pursue what they chose.  However, the divine sons of God were supposed to point people back to Yahweh.  Instead, as we see in Psalm 82, they rose up in rebellion and set themselves as supreme deities over the nations.

Yet, God never intended for this to be, and He wanted mankind to seek Him, even from their place in outer darkness, i.e. these nations outside Israel.  Paul affirms that all men are God’s offspring.  It’s through Him that we have life.  We ultimately are to reject the false gods, the usurpers, and come to Him.

This is such a great scene because it puts on clear display what Paul knew about the supernatural realm, what had happened, and what was supposed to happen.  His description intrigued many in that pagan place, and God moved, bringing salvation into their midst.

How fortunate we are that God has not given up on us!  He has not relegated us to wander in the wilderness forever.  Rather, He gives each one of us the means and opportunity to turn to Him and to know the One true God.  How gracious He is, and how merciful!

Called To Suffer

Why is it many people don’t understand that being called to become a disciple of Jesus Christ involves suffering, that rather, they believe it is supposed to be a comfortable life filled with material blessings?

The Lord was quite clear to Saul when He called him on the road to Damascus where he became the Apostle Paul in Acts 9:15-16:

But the Lord said to him [Ananias], “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

In the initial description of how Paul will serve Jesus the rest of his life, the requirement is that he will suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

What must Paul have thought when he heard that?  He was very aware of his past actions.  After all, he had been among the chief persecutors of those who followed this new Way.  He didn’t like it.  It offended him because of his Pharisaical training.  This heretical group—which came to be known as in Antioch as Christians—proclaimed that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.  How could that be?  Every Jew knew the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

If Yahweh was one, then He couldn’t be two or three.  This Jesus had to be a blasphemer and all who followed Him were as well.

But then Paul has a dramatic visitation from God—Jesus Himself!  That turned everything upside down in his life and what he believed.  In that instant, he immediately knew that everything these followers of the Way proclaimed was true.  Thus, if he had persecuted them in his ignorance, surely others would likewise persecute him.

The statement by Jesus to Ananias that was surely transmitted to Paul was something he would have had to wrestle with.  “If I’m going to be the Lords’ instrument to carry the Good News about Him to Gentiles, kings, and all of Israel, and given my opposition, what can I expect from everyone else in response to this radical, new teaching?  I know it’s the truth, and I must pursue it.  Thus, whatever comes my way, I’ll endure and even welcome it for the sake of Christ.”

Was Paul going to suffer?  Indeed.  He chronicles some of his many trials in 2 Corinthians 11:24-29:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

He lived a difficult life for the sake of Jesus, yet he endured because he knew that it was for the truth of God, which he was compelled to proclaim.

So, what’s our problem?  Why is it that so many people think a life lived for Christ should be a bowl of cherries?  How did that thinking come to permeate much of Christianity?

Paul’s tribulations are echoed today around the world.  Christ-followers in what are known as hostile and restricted nations—primarily, but not exclusively, in the 10-40 window—suffer greatly at the hands of those who hate Jesus.  How did such enmity arise?  Doesn’t it seem, in some respects, out of proportion?  After all, don’t all religions lead us to the same place?  Shouldn’t we all just co-exist?

I believe the answers take us back to the rebellious sons of God.  In Deuteronomy 32:8-9, God—for the time being—abandoned all nations because mankind didn’t follow His commands to spread out over the earth.

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
But the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.

Men had decided to disobey by gathering together and building the tower of Babel, a ziggurat intended to bring God down to them under their control.  In this Deuteronomy passage, we see God assigning His divine sons as rulers over the nations that arise following this incident.  Israel as God’s chosen people also comes into view as God calls her out specially in order to fulfill His purposes.

Because God’s sons have freewill just like humans, and have been given the power to rule over nations, this apparently goes to their heads.  We see in Psalm 82 that they rule unjustly:

God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”

Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!

Ultimately, they’ll pay for their transgressions.  In the meantime, every indication we see in the world around us is that they continue to reign over their respective territories.  Every one of these fallen divine sons of God knows his fate.  There will be a day that they will die.  They will likely suffer the second death allotted for Satan and his angels, i.e. the Lake of Fire for all eternity.

Is it any wonder that they try their best to thwart God’s plans?  Each one of them made himself a god over the nation or area he was originally given to rule for God.  It wasn’t what God intended, but He wasn’t surprised.

As a result, we see what could only be called collaboration among these fallen divine rulers in the mutual embrace of Islam over nations, or those that use Hinduism or Buddhism to keep people lost and in darkness.  In these and all other instances of religions that run counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the demonic is behind them.  These are the spiritual rulers and authorities that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

It is these entities, in conjunction with Satan, that bring persecution to the world.

But back to our original question: What is it about Christians—primarily in America—that we don’t understand the life of suffering that Jesus speaks of and instead desire material blessings?

I’ve pondered this in relation to our country.  How is it that we’ve had such freedom, that we haven’t looked like other nations for much of our history?  What is it behind the spiritual veil that has blessed us so immensely, yet now is disappearing so that we’re falling toward the fate of other nations where persecution has been rampant?

Israel is God’s sole possession.  What is America in relation to God’s disobedient sons ruling elsewhere?  There’s no Biblical indication that God has called America out to be His own, as He did with Israel.  Given how God works in delegating, which we see in Divine Council passages like Deuteronomy 32, presumably He assigned one of His sons over the United States when it was formed.  There was much divine intervention in the forming of our nation, much divine providence.

So, what happened?  We speak of God removing His hand of blessing, but what does that really mean?  Did the spiritual ruler God placed over us originally follow his Father’s commands and subsequently fall as his brethren over other nations did?  Given the increasing darkness we see enveloping us daily, it certainly makes one wonder.

Regardless, there is a concentrated effort by spiritual forces of darkness to take out this nation.  We’re seeing it in the increasing apostasy of churches and in the secular marketplace where mention of God—specially Jesus Christ—is considered hate speech.

Part of the apostasy, however, has been in the extreme watering down of the Gospel into prosperity, social justice, and other derivations.  Sin isn’t spoke of in pulpits because that might offend people.  Pews might empty and coffers go unfilled if people are made uncomfortable.  Repentance simply isn’t spoken of when our best life now is on display.

In this atmosphere that closely resembles the world outside the church, why would there be persecution and suffering?  These churches that fall away like this—and there are many—have no connection with the true church of Jesus Christ.  Surely, there must be born-again believers in many of these churches, but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:33:

“Bad company ruins good morals.”

Association with continuing sin has caused, and will continue to cause, many to fall away.  How much easier it is to go along and get along!

As we near the soon-coming Rapture of the Church, those who truly love and follow Jesus Christ will—in this country as in others—be called upon to suffer persecution.  Jesus promises us in John 16:33 as His followers that it’s not easy to be His disciple:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The world is encroaching on the church.  It is becoming the world.  Neither wants hardship and difficulty.  Everyone wants blessings.

Thank God that Jesus has shown us the Truth.  We may indeed suffer for the sake of Christ, but take heart!  Jesus has overcome, and in Him we, too, are overcomers—faithful to the end.

How Does Apostasy Enter the Church?

We know that in these latter days apostasy has entered the church.  Scripture prophesies to that.  Various translations describe this differently as rebellion and falling away, but the NASB in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 says it most clearly:

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,

We’ve seen this happen in church after church, most visibly in the high-profile position of a pastor moving away from the actual Word of God.  This apostasy, however, doesn’t just come top down, it also rises from the bottom up.  Today, I want to briefly discuss this aspect of the phenomenon.

With the end times being much of my focus, I read quite a lot both directly about prophecy in the Bible and about what various people say about it.  Naturally New Age and Eastern ideas and philosophies are a major aspect in the whole concept of apostasy.  The occult plays such a huge role influencing the many world religions that it’s no wonder it has infiltrated the Christian church to a large extent.

There’s a subtlety to occult practices that draws well-meaning people into them.  They can be deceptive; and no wonder, Satan is a deceiver, the father of lies.  Thus, people who love the Lord can be drawn into them a little bit at a time until they’re participating in something they never would have previously dreamed of.  The result may be ugly.

One of the biggest deceptions that has come into the church is yoga.  “I just do yoga for the exercise.”  “It’s Christian yoga and has nothing to do with Hinduism.”  We hear these and similar statements justifying why this occult practice is acceptable.  The problem is that yoga can never be acceptable in a Christian context because it’s all about awakening the occult, Kundalini spirit within the self.  Yoga is completely anathema to Christianity.

The practice I want to particularly comment on in this article is contemplative prayer.  This has entered the church through various practitioners that appeal to women.  I’m aware in my church of a couple of women’s all-day teachings that focused on this in the guise of discerning the voice of God.

As believers in a Pentecostal church, we believe the gifts of the Spirit are for today, and needed more than ever in this increasing time of darkness.  However, I believe that the excesses of charismania have infiltrated to one degree or another good, doctrinally solid churches that embrace spiritual gifts.  In doing so, they’ve brought error.  It’s a fine line.  Am I truly hearing God’s voice, or because I’ve opened myself to the occult through various practices, am I hearing a different spirit?  I’ll admit that our discernment better be fine-tuned to differentiate in this matter.  Yet, we say that God speaks to us through His Word, and He does.  For us to hear Him during prayer shouldn’t be a stretch.  The issue becomes whether we’re adhering to Scripture, where our heart is, and how we’re applying Biblical principles in our lives, or not.

Contemplative prayer can be dangerous because some aspects of it specifically take from the occult.  One of its practices is to empty the mind in order to hear God speak.  Unfortunately, the Bible never directs us to do that.  We’re to meditate on the Word of God.  That means to keep Him at the forefront of our contemplation, never to divorce ourselves from Him.  Frankly, emptying the mind is a Zen practice.  That will never draw us to the One true God.

Another dangerous practice of contemplative prayer is visualization.  Adherents are instructed to visualize Jesus coming alongside them and talking with them.  They’re to conjure up in their minds their image of Jesus and to have Him be a constant companion in their lives.  This reminds me of children who have their little, invisible friend who comes out of the closet when they’re in their rooms and plays with them.  What Jesus is being visualized?  Who is this Jesus in the minds of these folks who attempt to make Him their friend who walks around with them and continually speaks about the things they encounter each day?

Much of the teaching of contemplative prayer comes from the writings of Catholic mystics.  There seems to be much admiration for these forerunners in this practice.  It appears that these men and women achieved an alternate state of consciousness that the contemplative prayer folks want to emulate.  Another way that they seek to achieve this goal is through the repetition of a mantra-like practice.  Rather than blatantly using “Om” as the Hindus do, it becomes Christianized.  The teachers say, “Choose a meaningful Christian word or phrase, such as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Abba’ or ‘God loves me.’” This is to be repeated endlessly as all else is emptied from the mind.  In the subsequent “hearing” state, God is supposed to be able to more easily penetrate our natural barriers.

I seem to have missed that instruction in the Bible.  Who is it that’s actually gaining a foothold in these people’s minds?

I’m aware of a situation that recently happened that I must be extremely vague about.  Someone I have viewed as being a loving, cheerful, extremely pleasant servant of God became distraught and acted completely out of character in accusing someone of having an affair.  The mystery was how this person could literally channel the demonic accusations that were uttered.

I know that this person had fostered several teaching sessions that included contemplative prayer.  In the middle of the night, whether from my subconscious or the Holy Spirit, I couldn’t say, out of the blue in my sleepless state I had these thoughts.  Yes, this is complete speculation on my part.  I simply don’t know the truth behind this situation.  I don’t know how much of these contemplative prayer concepts this person may have embraced.  The one thing I do know is that the accusations were completely baseless.  The person against whom they were leveled would absolutely not have done what was alleged.

Did contemplative prayer open this person to the demonic?  Had the emptying of the mind created a vacuum for a demonic spirit to enter?  Was the Jesus this person was listening to another Jesus?  I don’t know.  It’s worth considering.

What I do know is that the possibility exists simply because the occult practice of contemplative prayer may have been a part of this person’s life.  In these perilous times, we who love the Lord must be on our guard.  Anything that smells unbiblical probably is.  Let us be alert and keep our focus on Jesus as we wait expectantly for His soon return and not engage in practices that God never intended for us to follow.

God’s Divine Family Council

In the Book of Job, we get a glimpse of how God’s Divine Council works.  Somewhere in the beginning, God created the heavenly host.  Whether this was before the account of creation that we read about in Genesis or during, we don’t know.  Since Scripture is silent about God creating His divine family, it’s likely the sons of God came prior to our understanding of the Biblical narrative.  We simply know that they’re present during those amazing seven days.  Job 38:4-7 (ESV) definitively shows us this reality in a passage where God is questioning Job about his human wisdom:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

    Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know!

    Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,

    or who laid its cornerstone,

when the morning stars sang together

    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Morning stars are a reference to divine beings as are, obviously, the sons of God.  They were present when all these creation events took place.  At that time, it appears they were of one accord in that they were joyous at what they saw.

The Divine Council scene first takes shape in Job 1:6-12:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

We see a similar scene immediately following in Job 2:1-6:

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”

These passages contain much fodder for discussion but we’ll limit that to an extent.  Here we see the sons of God coming before Him in what seems to be a regular occurrence.  Naturally God has a purpose.  Even though He is omniscient, He gets input from His divine family.  One of those is Satan.

Much scholarship has been done on this in relation to other Ancient Near Eastern literature.  In this case, where Bible translations attribute a proper name to Satan, the actual Hebrew doesn’t.  It is a description—the satan (with an adjective)—which as we know means the accuser.  It’s only later translations that make the satan into the person of Satan.  Interestingly, the Hebrew shows this particular being in Job isn’t the devil, as much as we’ve been led to believe that he is.  He’s one of God’s servants doing what he’s supposed to do, i.e. check out activity on the earth and report back in an accusatory manner.

The question also arises as to whether this divine being is part of the council or simply one who had access because of his job description.  Additionally, had he already fallen, or does this particular being eventually fall at all?

In any case, God listened to him and took what he said under advisement.  That’s the other important piece to see in this scene.  God says, “Hey, what do think of my boy, Job?”  Satan (we’ll continue propagating that misunderstanding) responds according to the purpose of his name—he accuses—and tells God that this human God thinks is so special really isn’t.  It’s only because God protects Job that nothing bad ever befalls him.  Of course, because Job is so blessed, he’s not going to curse God.  Just wait, however, until the sky falls in on him.  Then watch him fall away.

Surprisingly God is amenable to this challenge.  He knows Job’s heart, and He has the benefit of seeing the end from the beginning.  “Go ahead, Satan,” God orders.  “Do your thing.  Job is faithful and will remain that way.”

We know the story.  Satan literally brings everything plus the kitchen sink against Job.  But here’s the thing: God had given Satan the authority to do this.  In the council, God listened to those who came before Him, then He commanded that they—Satan in this case—carry out what He had decreed.  Only upon God’s order could any of this occur.  And it had to be within the parameters He laid out.  Initially this was: don’t lay a finger on Job.  Subsequently, it was: you must spare his life.

Undoubtedly there are many other purposes for God’s Divine Council, but He has determined that these members of His family in heaven will have access to Him, provide input as to the affairs with which they’re charged, and they must carry out their orders exactly as God has specified.  And that’s the thing: the heavenly host works at God’s pleasure to do those things He wants done.  There is a hierarchy within heaven starting with God at the top.  He’s the CEO.  What He says must be accomplished by His executives, managers, and various employees—who are all family.

In other Biblical passages (e.g. Psalm 82) we see that in times past, because of the free will God gave these divine beings, some number of them fell into sin and rebelled just like His human family.  Here in Job that’s not necessarily in view.  Satan, after all, did what God told him to do.

The Divine Council is a fascinating concept.  The sons of God, the morning stars, the heavenly host, the courts of God, the thrones, the rulers, the authorities, are all integral to God’s workings throughout history seen in the Biblical narrative.  Gaining a perspective on His divine family is intriguing.  It informs us more as to how God works.  We have a much bigger picture of what’s happening throughout Scripture when we begin to see the many references to the Divine Council.  More importantly, we gain a greater appreciation as to God’s redemptive purpose through Jesus Christ for mankind.

Spirit Baptism In the Deuteronomy 32 Worldview

Since reading The Unseen Realm by Dr. Michael S. Heiser, which rocked the way I view Scripture, I’ve begun considering how the Deuteronomy 32 worldview applies to other aspects of what I believe.  Even as Dr. Heiser says that we who have an eschatological view of the Bible look at it through certain systems we’ve acquired, I think that’s also true for other areas of Biblical doctrine.

My bias regarding end times events is through a prophetic lens that strongly believes the Bible teaches us about a pre-Tribulation Rapture.  That’s the system I’ve been taught and through study have embraced.  Someone else may have learned the essentially opposite extreme of amillennialism.

Before I get to the heart of my premise for today, let me recap what the Deuteronomy 32 worldview espouses.

God created a divine family, the sons of God, that we see in numerous Old Testament passages.  He also created a human family.  The intent for both was for them to come together and extend the original creation of Eden throughout the earth.  Both families have free will and both had members that rebelled against God.  This has set up an ages-long spiritual war as God works through His human family to redeem them so that ultimately, in Christ, we who believe in Him will be glorified and be like Jesus as He is; in other words, we ultimately will be divine.  At that point, we will rule and reign with Christ and the two families will come together to resume what God decreed initially to Adam and Eve and then again to Noah: multiply, subdue, rule the earth.  This will be the eventual utopia that man has always sought but can never achieve on his own.  God must be at the center of the effort, and He will be some day.

In the meantime, the rebellious sons of God, the lesser elohim in this divine scheme, currently rule the nations because God gave rebellious mankind over to these divine rebels.  We’re not exactly sure how this came about, but Satan somehow has authority over many, if not all, of these corrupt spiritual rulers over the nations of the earth.  It’s why Satan could legitimately offer Jesus the nations during His temptation in the wilderness if He would bow down and worship him.  Of course Jesus said, to paraphrase, “Nothing doing, My Father has a better plan and I’m going with that.”

What all this leaves us with, however, is spiritual darkness throughout the world with points of light being those who are born again and have chosen to follow God’s way, not the way of the world.

One other review point.  Just as when God dwelt in the tabernacle in Jerusalem, His presence was literally there.  That space was holy ground.  In fact, all of Israel was God’s possession, while the other nations under His corrupt sons were outside the domain that He chose to inhabit.

In the same way, Christ-followers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Our bodies are His tabernacle.  There is truly a specialness about us as believers because we have chosen God and His way.  Non-believers are completely in outer darkness, while we are in the light.

God has given us a task, the Great Commission.  He has instructed us to go out into the world, take the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who don’t know Him, and teach them His way of righteousness and holiness.  The problem is that the vast majority of Christians don’t do this.  Why?  Because, despite the fact that they are saved and the Holy Spirit lives inside them, they have not appropriated the power and authority that God has made available to them.

Now that I’ve hopefully set the stage, here’s where my thesis becomes controversial.  Remember what I said earlier in echoing Dr. Heiser?  We believe what we do because of the system we’ve come to embrace.  There’s a system that says the Gifts of the Spirit ceased at the end of the first century.  This system believes that the Bible is the perfection that Paul speaks of, so those pesky gifts he mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14 aren’t necessary for us.  There’s another system that argues the opposite, that the gifts continue into today and are for today, in fact, are vitally necessary more than ever.

Let’s examine this.  If spiritual darkness is all around us and growing worse because of apostasy in the church and the general coarsening of the culture, if these trends are the result of the activities of the corrupt sons of God in the world and there will be no letting up of this for the foreseeable future, if the trajectory is down-down-down, perhaps something is necessary to address this before God takes the battle to a new level..  Eventually the Rapture of the Church will cause the Restrainer, i.e. the Holy Spirit present in the believers who are snatched away, to leave the earth and lawlessness will increase exponentially.  That’s a whole nother dimension of war that’ll break out at that point.  But for now, we’re here, we’re in the midst of this mess, and we’re not doing so well obeying God’s decree for us.

Far too many churches are without life, without power, without much of anything that looks like obedience to God’s command to bring those in darkness into the kingdom.  I humbly submit in this essay that the reason is because these churches, their pastors, and the people in the pews have embraced a system that makes them powerless.  This system believes that the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is weird, not applicable, and not necessary for today.  Now, believe me, I’m with these folks when we consider the excesses in the charismatic movement.  I’m all over that and look askance at some of the shenanigans that go on.  The problem with too much of this is that it doesn’t point to Jesus; it’s the experience of the gifts.  Some of the things that happen are potentially true gifts from God, but I’m equally convinced that some numbers of these experiences come from the dark side.

But…but…God has made it clear in His Word that He does give spiritual gifts.  He gives them through the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  How do we know we’re baptized in the Spirit?  The same way that the apostles in Acts knew: they witnessed something that showed them, demonstrated to them, that God had done something supernatural.  What was that?  Grit your teeth.  It was the gift of tongues.  Only when believers spoke in an unknown tongue did God’s representatives know by that evidence that others had the baptism.

So, what was the purpose of this?  When believers are born again, they’re saved, but frankly, it’s the rare person who becomes on fire for God.  There’s something lacking.

The purpose of the Baptism of the Spirit is to give Christ’s power and authority to believers.  It’s through this means that they can demonstrate to a dark, lost, unbelieving world that embraces the lies of the corrupt sons of God and of Satan, that the kingdom of God is greater and will prevail.  What do we see in Acts?  The Gospel was preached and miracles occurred.  The power of God works supernaturally both through His Word and through those who have yielded themselves to Him, who allow Him to perform the miraculous.

Listen, the rest of the world knows about the darkness.  Witch doctors, necromancers, curses, spells—these are all real demonic manifestations.  Demon possession, oppression, and harassment are all around us.  People in the third world know this.  We in the west have relegated these things to psychiatry, to our detriment.  The church has yielded its power to the medical profession.  If we went into the world like the men and women in Acts did, in the power of God, i.e. baptized in the Holy Spirit and given over to allowing Him to work through us in power and authority, this world would look a whole lot different.  God probably wouldn’t be to the point of calling in all the chips, snatching the His church away, and bringing the battle to a head in the Tribulation.

But, most people have not embraced the Spirit in this way.  Most believers are content to dwell in their little corner of Christendom generally disobedient to God in the most important command He gave us.  “Tell the world about Me!  Operate in My power, My authority!  Send the powers of darkness packing because I AM greater than all of them!”

Is this important?  Am I passionate about this?  Do I believe that we the church are missing the boat?  Rhetorical questions all.

God will accomplish His ends.  We could do so much more to be a part of His plans if we only say yes and allow Him to work more fully in us.