"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" The Olivet Discourse - II (24:29-51) INTRODUCTION 1. In our previous lesson, we covered the first half of Matthew 24... a. Commonly called "The Olivet Discourse", since Jesus was on the Mount of Olives when He delivered it b. A challenging passage of scripture, believed to discussing... 1) The destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 A.D. 2) The second coming of Christ, which is yet to occur 3) Or both events, described either in turn or intertwined 2. I've proposed the entire chapter foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, based first upon the setting leading up to the discourse, which includes... a. Jesus' words spoken in the temple 1) His parables about Israel's rejection of Him - Mt 21:28-32, 33-46; 22:1-14 2) His condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees - Mt 23:27-36 3) His lamentation over Jerusalem - Mt 23:37-39 b. Jesus' prophecy spoken about the temple - Mt 24:1-2 c. The questions of the disciples, which when Mark and Luke's account are considered, appear to be: 1) "When will these things be?" 2) "What will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?" -- Cf. Mt 24:3; Mk 13:4; Lk 21:7 3. We saw that in verses 4-29, Jesus describes... a. What will "not" be the sign (other than the gospel preached to all nations) - Mt 24:4-14 b. What will be the sign - Mt 24:15 1) The abomination of desolation spoken by Daniel - Dan 9:26-27 2) Which Luke explains to be Jerusalem surrounded by armies - Lk 21:20 c. What to do when they saw the sign - Mt 24:16-28 1) Those in Judea were to flee to the mountains to avoid a great tribulation 2) They were not to be misled by false christs or false prophets [Up to verse 29, Jesus described a local, escapable judgment to befall Jerusalem. He does not describe the worldwide, inescapable judgment taught elsewhere in the Scriptures. But with verse 29, some believe Jesus now addresses His second coming (cf. J.W. McGarvey's Four-Fold Gospel). As we continue with our study, I propose that the destruction of Jerusalem is still under consideration...] II. THE OLIVET DISCOURSE (continued) D. WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT... 1. Events to occur "immediately after the tribulation of those days"... a. Cosmic disturbances - Mt 24:29 1) The sun will be darkened 2) The moon will not give its light 3) The stars will fall from heaven 4) The heavens will be shaken b. The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven - Mt 24:30 1) All the tribes of the earth will mourn 2) They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory c. The elect will be gathered - Mt 24:31 1) For with a great sound of the trumpet, angels will be sent 2) They shall gather the elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to another 2. Such events certainly sound like the second coming of Christ, but consider two reasons why they may not be referring to Jesus' coming at the Last Day... a. The events were to occur "immediately after the tribulation of those days" ("in those days, after that tribulation") - Mt 24:29; Mk 13:24 1) They are connected in time to the tribulation described in Mt 24:15-28 2) This "coming" of Jesus was to occur at the conclusion of the siege of Jerusalem b. The events are similar to those used to foretell God's judgment of other nations 1) Babylon - Isa 13:1,6-13 2) Egypt - Isa 19:1-2; cf. Eze 32:2,7-9 3) Tyre - Isa 23:1; 24:21-23 4) Edom - Isa 34:4-6 5) Nineveh - Nah 1:1-5 6) Israel - Am 8:9 7) Judah - Jer 4:5-6,23-28 3. For such reasons, I suggest that even in Mt 24:29-31... a. Jesus refers to the destruction of Jerusalem b. Like other Jewish prophets, Jesus uses figurative language to depict: 1) The judgment to befall the wicked (in terms of worldwide destruction) 2) The provision made for the righteous (in terms of the gathering by angels) c. Jewish prophets foretold God's judgment upon such nations... 1) Using figures of worldwide destruction, even though the judgment was local 2) Perhaps because such judgments foreshadow God's Final Judgment to come upon the entire world at the Last Day [The rest of the chapter includes...] E. ADMONITIONS TO BE PREPARED AND PRODUCTIVE... 1. The parable of the fig tree - Mt 24:32-33 a. New branches and leaves indicate summer is near b. When you see these things (Jerusalem surrounded by armies), the time is near 2. It would happen before "this generation" passed away - Mt 24: 34 a. Some define "generation" as a race of people (i.e., the Jews) - cf. McGarvey, B. W. Johnson b. But note its use by Jesus just prior to this discourse - Mt 23:33-36 (esp. 36) -- The destruction of Jerusalem came to pass within forty years! 3. The words of Jesus will come to pass - Mt 24:35 a. Heaven and earth shall pass away one day - cf. 2Pe 3:7,10 b. But Jesus' words will by no means pass away -- With v. 35, some believe Jesus now talks about the second coming; but Jesus is using an illustration to demonstrate the surety of His words - e.g., Mt 5:18 4. Of that day and hour, only the Father knows - Mt 24:36 a. They might discern the general timing with the advance of armies toward Jerusalem b. But the day and hour when the siege would begin, only the Father knew -- So don't delay when the "sign" appears (Jerusalem surrounded by armies) 5. It will be like the days of Noah - Mt 24:37-39 a. In the days before the flood... 1) Noah knew what was coming and was preparing, but people continued with their normal activities 2) Only when it was too late did the people know b. Prior to the siege of Jerusalem... 1) Many people probably thought the conflict would end peacefully, and so lived their lives accordingly 2) But once the siege began, it was too late 6. Some will be taken away - Mt 24:40-41 a. When the city was stormed, 97,000 Jews were taken captive b. Some to be killed by beasts in Roman theaters, some sent to work in Egypt, others sold as slaves -- Flavius Josephus, Jewish Wars (as quoted in Barnes Commentary on Matthew) 7. Therefore, watch! - Mt 24:42-44 a. You don't know the hour of the Son of Man's coming b. Don't be caught off guard, like the master of a house who did not know when a thief would break in c. Be ready, for the Son of Man will come when you not expect Him -- The siege of Jerusalem might begin promptly, so flee Judea quickly when you see the armies surrounding Jerusalem! 8. The parable of the faithful servant and the wicked servant - Mt 24:45-51 a. The faithful servant is blessed if doing the master's will when he comes b. So the disciples of Jesus are admonished to be productive CONCLUSION 1. Admittedly, there is much in "The Olivet Discourse" that alludes to our Lord's second coming at the Last Day... a. But that is no different than the prophecies by other Jewish prophets who foretold God's judgment upon other nations b. It was a common motif used by Jewish prophets, we should not be surprised to see Jesus using the same -- And rightly so, for God's judgments upon nations in the past are types and shadows of the Final Judgment to befall the entire world when Jesus comes again 2. In addition to the setting leading up to the discourse, there is the natural flow of the discourse itself that leads me to conclude it is entirely about the destruction of Jerusalem... a. Jesus' disciples are told what will not be the sign - Mt 24:1-14 b. They are told will be the sign that His coming is near - Mt 24:15 c. They are told what to do when they see the sign - Mt 24:16-28 d. His coming in judgment (the fall of Jerusalem) is described in terms reminiscent of other Jewish prophets who foretold of God's judgments upon various nations - Mt 24:29-31 e. Admonitions are given for them to be prepared and productive in the meantime - Mt 24:32-51 So I view "The Olivet Discourse" to describe a local, escapable judgment which occurred as Jesus foretold in 70 A. D. However, there is still the worldwide, inescapable judgment at the Last Day - cf. 1 Th 5:2-3; 2Th 1:7-10; 2Pe 3:10-12 Are you ready for that Day? The admonitions to be prepared and productive are very similar: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up." "Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?" "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless;" - 2Pe 3:10-14
"THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW" The Olivet Discourse - I (24:1-28) INTRODUCTION 1. A challenging passage in the Bible is Jesus' discourse on the Mount of Olives... a. Given shortly after He left the temple with His disciples b. Recorded in Mt 24:1-51; Mk 13:1-37; Lk 21:5-36 c. Commonly referred to as "The Olivet Discourse" -- Our focus will be primarily on Matthew's account - Mt 24:1-51 2. It's difficulty is apparent as one considers the diversity of interpretations offered... a. Some maintain that it is entirely about events preceding the Lord's second coming b. Others say that it is entirely about events related to the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D. c. Yet many believe it contains reference to both of these events 3. Even those who say it refers to both events differ as to when a particular event is being described in Matthew's account... a. Some say that verses 4-28 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, and verse 29 begins the discussion about the Lord's second coming (cf. J. W. McGarvey, The Four-Fold Gospel) b. Others contend that verse 35 begins talking about the second coming c. Others say Jesus switches back and forth throughout the discourse 4. I have trouble with Mt 24 describing both events in the light of Lk 17... a. Where Jesus is talking about "one of the days of the Son of Man" - Lk 17:22-37 1) Note: He alludes to the fact there is more than one "day of the Son of Man" 2) I.e., the Lord will come in judgment in ways prior to His final coming at the Last Day b. In the discourse of Lk 17, Jesus uses language similar to Mt 24, but in ways that do not allow for a simple division of Mt 24, either at verse 29 or 35; notice... 1) Lk 17:26-29 is parallel to Mt 24:37-39 (found after verses 29,35) 2) Yet Lk 17:31 is parallel to Mt 24:17-18 (found before verses 29,35) 3) And then Lk 17:34-36 is parallel to Mt 24:40-41 (found after verses 29,35) -- If Jesus is describing just one event in Lk 17 (which I believe He is), then He is likely describing just one event in Mt 24 [At this time, I view "The Olivet Discourse" in Mt 24 as depicting the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D., though it certainly foreshadows His second coming. To see why, let's start with...] I. THE SETTING OF THE OLIVET DISCOURSE A. THE WORDS OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE... 1. His parables depicting Israel's rejection of Him, and its consequence a. The parable of the two sons - Mt 21:28-32 (cf. v.31-32) b. The parable of the wicked vine dressers - Mt 21:33-46 (cf. v.42-45) c. The parable of the wedding feast - Mt 22:1-14 (cf. v.7-9) 2. His condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees a. Who would fill up the measure of their fathers' guilt -
Mt 23:29-32 b. Who kill, crucify, scourge, and persecute the prophets, wise men, and scribes He would send to them - Mt 23:33-34 c. Upon whom the blood of all the righteous would come, upon that very generation - Mt 23:35-36 3. His lamentation over Jerusalem a. The city who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her - Mt 23:37a b. The city unwilling to accept the love shown her - Mt 23:37b c. Whose house would be left desolate - Mt 23:38-39 B. THE PROPHECY OF JESUS ABOUT THE TEMPLE... 1. After his disciples were showing Him the buildings of temple - Mt 24:1 2. Declaring that not one stone would be left upon another - Mt 24:2 C. THE QUESTIONS OF THE DISCIPLES... 1. In Mark's gospel, two questions are asked - Mk 13:4 a. "When will these things be?" b. "What will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?" 2. In Luke's gospel, the two questions are similar - Lk 21:7 a. "When will these things be?" b. "What sign will there be when these things are about to take place?" 3. In Matthew's gospel, the second question is worded differently - Mt 24:3 a. "When will these things be?" b. "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" 4. Observations regarding these questions: a. Matthew wrote his gospel for a Jewish audience 1) He likely recorded the questions as asked by the disciples, who presumed the destruction of temple would mean His coming and the end of the age 2) Jewish readers of the gospel would likely have the same conception b. Mark and Luke wrote their gospels to Gentiles 1) To avoid possible misunderstanding by non-Jewish readers, they worded the disciples' questions to reflect what the discourse is actually about 2) I.e., the destruction of the temple and the sign when its destruction would be imminent [When the setting leading up to "The Olivet Discourse" is carefully considered, the subject of Jesus' words become clear. The destruction of the temple is the matter under consideration, not the second coming of Christ. Now let's proceed to examine more closely...] II. THE OLIVET DISCOURSE A. WHAT WILL "NOT" BE THE SIGN... 1. Be careful that none deceive you, claiming to be the Christ - Mt 24:4-5 2. Don't be troubled by wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilence - Mt 24:6-8 a. Such things will come, but the end (destruction of the temple) is not yet b. They are only the beginning of sorrows (not the sign of the end) 3. Anticipate persecution and hard times - Mt 24:9-13 a. You will be killed and hated for His name's sake b. Many will be offended, betray one another, and hate one another c. False prophets will deceive many d. The love of many will grow cold because of lawlessness e. But he who endures to "the end" will be saved -- "the end" refers here: 1) Not to the second coming (implying one must live until Christ comes again) 2) Nor to the destruction of Jerusalem (implying once one has survived that event, one's salvation is secured) 3) But to the end of one's life - cf. Re 2:10 4. The gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world - Mt 24:14 a. As a witness to all the nations b. Then the end (the destruction of the temple) will come 1) This would end the Jewish sacrifices, and other remnants of OT worship 2) That which was nailed to the cross, abolished by Jesus' death, would pass away - cf. Col 2:14-17; Ep 2:14-16; He8:13 -- Was the gospel preached to all nations prior to the destruction of the temple? Note what Paul wrote prior to 70 A.D. - Ro 10:16-18; Col 1:23 B. WHAT WILL BE THE SIGN... 1. The "abomination of desolation" - Mt 24:15; Mk 13:14 a. Standing in the holy place (the holy city Jerusalem) b. As foretold by Daniel - cf. Dan 9:26-27 2. When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies - Lk 21:20 a. Luke therefore explains the "abomination of desolation" b. In 70 A.D., Roman armies surrounded and besieged Jerusalem prior to destroying it and the temple -- Thus Jesus answers the disciples' question: "What sign will there be when these things are about to take place?" C. WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU SEE THE SIGN... 1. Those in Judea are to flee to the mountains - Mt 24:16-22 a. Don't delay by going to your homes and getting your clothes b. It will be a difficult time for pregnant and nursing mothers c. Pray that your flight be not in winter (when travel is difficult) or on the Sabbath (when city gates are closed to travel) d. For there will be "great tribulation", though shortened for the elect's sake 1) Luke specifies the nature of this tribulation - Lk 21: 23b-24 2) A Jewish general taking captive by the Romans just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 offered this summary: a) All the calamities which had befallen any nation from the beginning of the world were but small in comparison with those of the Jews b) In the siege of Jerusalem, no fewer than 1,100,000 perished (it was during the time of the Passover, when more than 3,000,000 Jews were assembled) c) In surrounding provinces 250,000 were slain d) 97,000 were taken captive, some killed by beasts in Roman theaters, some sent to work in Egypt, others sold as slaves -- Flavius Josephus, Jewish Wars (as quoted in Barnes Commentary on Matthew) 3) The "elect" were Christians, spared by a shortened siege a) The Jews in the city engaged the Romans in battle b) Titus, the Roman general, being called to return to Rome, proceeded to end the siege and stormed the city (Barnes Commentary) 2. Don't be misled by false christs and false prophets - Mt 24: 23-28 a. Even those who show great signs and wonders to deceive b. For the coming (judgment) of the Son of Man will be like lightning across the sky 1) Do not expect to find Him in the desert or in inner rooms 2) When He comes in judgment, it will be swift - cf. Lk 17: 22-24 c. Where the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered 1) Alluding to Jerusalem surrounded by armies 2) This is the "sign" to warn them it is time to flee Jerusalem and Judea! CONCLUSION (Part One) 1. So far, all this depicts a local, escapable judgment... a. Where Jesus warned those in Judea of what is to come b. Where they are given a sign to let them know when to flee -- Indeed, many believe that up to verse 29 (or 35), Jesus is foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem (and its temple) that did occur in 70 A. D. 2. It certainly does not fit a worldwide, inescapable judgment... a. As will characterize the second coming of Christ b. As Paul and Peter taught Christians throughout the Mediterranean world - cf. 1Th 5:2-3; 2Th 1:7-10; 2Pe 3:10-12 3. Our next study will continue "The Olivet Discourse", starting with verse 29... a. Which certainly sounds like the second coming of Christ b. But is it? Or was Jesus still describing events pertaining to the destruction of Jerusalem? Eusebius (ca. 300 A.D.) in his "Ecclesiastical History" wrote that Christians heeded the warnings of Jesus in Matthew 24, and fled Jerusalem when it was surrounded by the Roman army. May we likewise heed the words of Jesus and not be misled by false prophets and false christs, not be troubled by wars, famines, pestilence, earthquakes, or even persecution, but endure to the end by remaining faithful to Him, and look forward to His final coming at the Last Day!
Lost Symbols, Mystery Cults, and the Christian Faith
|by||Dewayne Bryant, M.A.|
Stephen Langdon is at it again. Described as Indiana Jones in a tweed jacket, Langdon is hard at work in Dan Brown’s latest novel, unraveling the secrets left behind in Washington, D.C. by America’s Founding Fathers. He races against time to prevent an international crisis, save a dear friend from meeting an untimely demise, and uncover secret truths that will help men become gods—all in a day’s work for the fictional Harvard symbologist.
Ten months after its release, The Lost Symbol still hovers near the top of the N.Y. Times bestseller list for hardcover fiction. Like his previous novel The Da Vinci Code, Brown once again delves into unorthodox religious viewpoints. In The Da Vinci Code, Langdon stumbles across a society that includes Gnostic beliefs and goddess worship. His latest thriller finds the principal character bringing up the ghost of the ancient mystery cults in his encounter with Freemasonry. While Brown does not take orthodox Christianity head-on as in previous novels, he does offer something of a historical rewrite of the ancient religious landscape.
Brown refers to the ambiguous “ancient mysteries” constantly throughout his book, but does not specify exactly what he means. It seems to be a general description of esoteric wisdom found in ancient religion ranging from the mystery cults to the later Gnostics, but also includes universal spiritual truths found in all the world’s religions. Unfortunately for Brown, his attempt to lump Christianity in as a participant in these mysteries not only shows his lack of familiarity with Christianity, but with other religions and the ancient mystery cults as well.
Brown asserts that Christianity is home to the same religious teachings found in other religions, all tracing back to ancient esoteric wisdom like that of the ancient mystery cults, which are labeled as such because of secret ceremonies (Nash, 1992, p. 115). The problem with this is that Christianity was not secretive. It was celebrated openly and quickly reached the ears of government officials ranging from regional governors to the emperors of Rome. Official persecution of Christianity began only a few short decades after the death of Christ. Within 80 years, the Roman governor Pliny the Younger of Bithynia (in modern day Turkey) complained to Emperor Trajan that the Christian influence in his territory was so strong that pagan temples had been nearly deserted due to a lack of worshippers (Letters, 10.97).
The task of the apostles was to preach the message of Christ crucified for all (cf. Acts 4:9-11), while Paul discusses the “mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3; cf. Ephesians 3:3-7) in epistolary form, intending his work to be read aloud and shared with others. In the Eleusinian mysteries, celebrated near Athens, death was the punishment for anyone who revealed its secrets. The Greek playwright Aeschylus was attacked and nearly murdered by an Athenian mob while acting in one of his own tragedies because the audience suspected him of revealing the cult’s secrets.
Through the mouth of the character Peter Solomon, Brown says, “The Bible is one of the books through which the mysteries have been passed down through history. Its pages are desperately trying to tell us the secret.... The ‘dark sayings’ in the Bible are the whispers of the ancients, quietly sharing with us all of their secret wisdom” (p. 491). This vanilla spirituality quickly runs headlong into a particularly thorny problem, often referred to as the “scandal of particularity.” Simply put, this is the idea that a particular God has revealed Himself to particular people at particular times and has a particular way of doing things.
Brown asserts the basic similarity of all religions to the point of stating that all religions are little more than cosmetically altered versions of the same spiritual truths. The blending of religions in Brown’s novel is not something foreign to Christianity only, but to other world religions as well. Each one makes mutually exclusive claims that cannot be reconciled with other faith traditions. Christianity claims Jesus is the Son of God; Islam says He is a mortal man. Religions such as Judaism, Islam, and Christianity claim belief in a personal God, while Buddhism is an “atheist religion” of sorts with no belief in any deity. In order for Brown’s reconstruction to be true, each religion must give up so much of what makes it unique that essentially they all become nondescript and amorphous.
Brown seems to read modern notions of religion and spirituality backward into history. Presenting America’s Founding Fathers as believers in some kind of universal spirituality would no doubt have been strange, if not offensive, to many of them. While a few of them may have been deists, even these believed in a personal God who was active in America’s founding (cf. Miller, 2005; Miller, 2008). The vast majority of the Founders, as well as the population at large, professed Christian belief (see Bancroft, 1837, 2:456; Morris, 1864).
As in previous novels, Brown commits several major blunders, which seems to have become standard operating procedure for his writing. One of these concerns one of America’s most famous works of art. A fixture of the novel is a fresco in the Capitol Rotunda titled The Apotheosis of George Washington. Completed in 1865, artist Constantino Brumidi’s masterpiece shows Washington ascending to heaven, surrounded by figures reminiscent of the Muses from Greek mythology. When viewing this scene, the protagonist Langdon says it describes Washington “being transformed into a god” (p. 84, ital. in orig.). This point will later shed light on the purported beliefs of the Freemasons—taken from the ancient mysteries—that humanity has within it a spark of the divine and is capable of virtual self-deification. In doing so, Brown seems to confuse the differences between the definitions of apotheosis as they are used in theology and art. In theological parlance, the term does mean to attain the status of deity. In art, it means to depict a subject in exalted fashion. Figures so depicted are often those who have become immortalized as national icons and who are revered because of their personal virtue and importance in the national consciousness. Other great works of art apotheosize historical figures ranging from the Greek poet Homer to Venezuelan statesman Simon Bolivar to Confederate general Robert E. Lee, yet no one is arguing that the artists of these works were trying to conceal secret spiritual truths in their masterpieces.
America’s Founding Fathers are a favorite target of critics who deny the role of Christianity in the country’s origins. Another of Brown’s historical errors is his claim that Jefferson’s version of the Bible was presented to every member of Congress in the first half of the 19th century (p. 491). He makes a point of mentioning Jefferson’s excision of the virgin birth and the resurrection in an attempt to illustrate his point of saying that America’s Founding Fathers all believed in the hidden spiritual message of Scripture and warned of interpreting the Bible literally. While Jefferson is famous for combing through the Bible and excising anything that hinted of the supernatural, his version of the gospel accounts was presented to first-time congressmen in the first half of the 20th century—not the 19th—because it distilled the essential moral teachings of Christ. This is clearly evident in its full title: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Writing in a letter to John Adams on October 12, 1813, Jefferson indicates that his motive for assembling his version in this manner was because he wanted to offer the “pure principles” of Jesus’ teaching, which constituted the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man” (1813). It should also be noted that in this letter, Jefferson demonstrated knowledge of Gnostic beliefs, which he called “nonsense.” It is that very knowledge which several of Brown’s novels praise.
One of the best examples of Brown’s gross religious ignorance is his connection of the word “amen” to the name of the Egyptian god Amun (p. 358). Brown is not the first to make this assertion. This kind of connection is typical among third-rate Bible critics who fail to do meaningful research and try to make connections simply based on the sounds of words. The standard Greek lexicon defines the Greek word amen as “let it be so” or “truly” (Danker, 2000, p. 53), which comes from the Hebrew word ’amen, also meaning “truly” (Brown, et al., 1906, p. 53). The word is thoroughly Hebraic and has absolutely no connection to the Egyptian god, whose name means “hidden” (Allen, 2010, p. 186)
One On-line review of the book says Brown “loves showing us places where our carefully tended cultural boundaries—between Christian and pagan, sacred and secular, ancient and modern—are actually extraordinarily messy” (Grossman, 2009). The relationship between paganism and Christianity is indeed messy for those unwilling to examine that relationship with clarity and precision. It seems to be en vogue to simply ignore the distinctive elements of particular religions, lump them together into an amorphous blob, and declare them all virtually equivalent, regardless of any claims to historicity.
The distinctive truth of Christianity will not permit itself to be classified among mythological writings because it is not mythological in character. Though the gospel accounts are routinely described as “myth” their character is closely related to ancient biographies and is distinctly different from mythology, which never concerned itself with recent historical figures (Keener, 2009, pp. 75-76). Even the ancients generally believed that their myths had no connections to actual history.
Dan Brown is an inventive writer. His stories are fast-paced and engaging, and his conspiratorial plots are entertaining. Though he is a skillful author, Brown continually presents an axe to grind against Christianity. As was seen in The Da Vinci Code, Brown is willing to manipulate the evidence to make his case. Brown’s carefully crafted language is similar to a conspiracy theory: the reader is guided along a predetermined path that offers no room for alternative explanations. Like all good conspiracies, each piece of evidence hangs tenuously upon another. Each interpretation is precariously balanced on the next. Should any one piece be removed, the entire edifice comes crashing down. The Lost Symbol, like Brown’s previous work, is similarly vulnerable at many points where he has misinterpreted or manipulated the evidence. In each of his books the “fall of the house of Brown” is inescapable, and The Lost Symbol presents no exception.
REFERENCESAllen, James P. (2010), Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Bancroft, George (1837), History of the United States (Boston, MA: Charles Bowen).
Brown, Dan (2009), The Lost Symbol (New York: Doubleday).
Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs (1906), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson).
Danker, Frederick William, ed. (2000), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), third edition.
Grossman, Lev (2009), “How Good is Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol?” Time, September 15, http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1923182,00.html. Accessed March 3, 2010.
Keener, Craig S. (2009), The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Jefferson, Thomas (1813), “Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, October 12, 1813,” The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827, Library of Congress, [On-line], URL: http://tinyurl.com/38dmuqm.
Miller, Dave (2005), “Deism, Atheism, and the Founders,” http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/650.
Miller, Dave (2008), “The Founders: Atheists & Deists or Theists & Christians?” Reason & Revelation, 7:45-R, December, http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/240010.
Morris, Benjamin (1864), The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007 reprint).
Nash, Ronald H. (1992), The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow From Pagan Thought? (Richardson, TX: Probe Books).
Pliny the Younger (no date), Letters, trans. William Melmoth, http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_text_plinyltrstrajan.htm.
God's Just Destruction of the Canaanites
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
In the 1930s and 40s, the Nazi regime committed state-sponsored genocide of so-called “inferior races.” Of the approximately nine million Jews who lived in Europe at the beginning of the 1930s, some six million of them were exterminated. The Nazis murdered approximately one million Jewish children, two million Jewish women, and three million Jewish men. The Jews were starved, gassed, and experimented on like animals. In addition, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime slaughtered another three million Poles, Soviets, gypsies, and people with disabilities (see “Holocaust,” 2011 for more information). Most sane people, including Christians and many atheists (e.g., Antony Flew, Wallace Matson), have interpreted the Nazis’ actions for what they were—cruel, callous, and nefarious.
Some 3,400 years before the Holocaust, the God of the Bible commanded the Israelites to “destroy all the inhabitants of the land” of Canaan (Joshua 9:24). They were to conquer, kill, and cast out the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Exodus 23:23; Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Joshua 3:10). After crossing the Jordan River, we learn in the book of Joshua that the Israelites “utterly destroyed all that was in the city [of Jericho], both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword…. [T]hey burned the city and all that was in it with fire” (Joshua 6:21,24). They also “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (Joshua 8:26), killing 12,000 men and women, and hanging their king (8:25,29). In Makkedah and Libnah, the Israelites “let none remain” (Joshua 10:28,30). They struck Lachish “and all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword” (10:32). The Israelites then conquered Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, and Hazor (10:33-39; 11:1-1). “So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded” (Joshua 11:12).
God had the Israelites kill countless thousands, perhaps millions, of people throughout the land of Canaan. It was genocide in the sense that it was a planned, systematic, limited extermination of a number of nation states from a relatively small area in the Middle East (cf. “Genocide,” 2000; cf. also “Genocide,” 2012). But, it was not a war against a particular race (from the Greek genos) or ethnic group. Nor were the Israelites commanded to pursue and kill the Canaanite nations if they fled from Israel’s Promised Land. The Israelites were to drive out and dispossess the nations of their land (killing all who resisted the dispossession), but they were not instructed to annihilate a particular race or ethnic group from the face of the Earth.
Still, many find God’s commands to conquer and destroy the Canaanite nation states problematic. How could a loving God instruct one group of people to kill and conquer another group? America’s most well-known critic of Christianity in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Thomas Paine (one of only a handful of America’s Founding Fathers who did not claim to be a Christian), called the God of the Old Testament “the Mars of the Jews, the fighting God of Israel,” Who was “boisterous, contemptible, and vulgar” (Paine, 1807). Two centuries later, Richard Dawkins (arguably the most famous atheist in the world today), published his book The God Delusion, which soon became a New York Times bestseller. One of the most oft-quoted phrases from this work comes from page 31, where Dawkins called God, a “racist, infanticidal, genocidal…capriciously malevolent bully” (2006). According to one search engine, this quote (in part or in whole) is found on-line approximately one million times. The fact is, critics of the God of the Bible are fond of repeating the allegation that, because of His instruction to the Israelites to kill millions of people in their conquest of Canaan, the God of the Bible has (allegedly) shown Himself to be an unruly, shameful, offensive, genocidal, “evil monster” (Dawkins, p. 248; cf. Hitchens, 2007, p. 107).
Was God’s Campaign Against Canaan Immoral?How could a supremely good (Mark 10:18), all-loving (1 John 4:8), perfectly holy God (Leviticus 11:44-45) order the Israelites to slay with swords myriads of human beings, letting “none remain” in Canaan? Is not such a planned, systematic extermination of nations equivalent to the murderous actions of the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s, as atheists and other critics of Christianity would have us believe? In truth, God’s actions in Israel’s conquest of Canaan were in perfect harmony with His supremely loving, merciful, righteous, just, and holy nature.
Punishing Evildoers is Not UnlovingSimilar to how merciful parents, principals, policemen, and judges can justly administer punishment to rule-breakers and evildoers, so too can the all-knowing, all-loving Creator of the Universe. Loving parents and principals have administered corporal punishment appropriately to children for years (cf. Proverbs 13:24). Merciful policemen, who are constantly saving the lives of the innocent, have the authority (both from God and the government—Romans 13:1-4) to kill a wicked person who is murdering others. Just judges have the authority to sentence a depraved child rapist to death. Loving-kindness and corporal or capital punishment are not antithetical. Prior to conquering Canaan, God commanded the Israelites, saying,
You shall not hate your brother in your heart…. You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…. And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself (Leviticus 19:17-18,33-34; cf. Romans 13:9).The faithful Jew was expected, as are Christians, to “not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39) but rather “go the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41) and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). “Love,” after all, “is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10; cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Interestingly, however, the Israelite was commanded to punish (even kill) lawbreakers. Just five chapters after commanding the individual Israelite to “not take vengeance,” but “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), God twice said that murderers would receive the death penalty (Leviticus 24:21,17).
The Wickedness of the Inhabitants of CanaanThe Canaanite nations were punished because of their extreme wickedness. God did not cast out the Canaanites for being a particular race or ethnic group. God did not send the Israelites into the land of Canaan to destroy a number of righteous nations. On the contrary, the Canaanite nations were horribly depraved. They practiced “abominable customs” (Leviticus 18:30) and did “detestable things” (Deuteronomy 18:9, NASB). They practiced idolatry, witchcraft, soothsaying, and sorcery. They attempted to cast spells upon people and call up the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).
Their “cultic practice was barbarous and thoroughly licentious” (Unger, 1954, p. 175). Their “deities…had no moral character whatever,” which “must have brought out the worst traits in their devotees and entailed many of the most demoralizing practices of the time,” including sensuous nudity, orgiastic nature-worship, snake worship, and even child sacrifice (Unger, 1954, p. 175; cf. Albright, 1940, p. 214). As Moses wrote, the inhabitants of Canaan would “burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:30). The Canaanite nations were anything but “innocent.” In truth, “[t]hese Canaanite cults were utterly immoral, decadent, and corrupt, dangerously contaminating and thoroughly justifying the divine command to destroy their devotees” (Unger, 1988). They were so nefarious that God said they defiled the land and the land could stomach them no longer—“the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Leviticus 18:25). [NOTE: Israel was an imperfect nation (as all nations are), but God still used them to punish the Canaanites. God warned Israel before ever entering Canaan, however, that if they forsook His law, they, too, would be severely punished (Deuteronomy 28:15ff). In fact, similar to how God used the Israelites to bring judgment upon the inhabitants of Canaan in the time of Joshua, He used the pagan nations of Babylon and Assyria to judge and conquer Israel hundreds of years later.]
The Longsuffering of GodUnlike the foolish, impulsive, quick-tempered reactions of many men (Proverbs 14:29), the Lord is “slow to anger and great in mercy” (Psalm 145:8). He is “longsuffering…, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Immediately following a reminder to the Christians in Rome that the Old Testament was “written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” the apostle Paul referred to God as “the God of patience” (Romans 15:4-5). Throughout the Old Testament, the Bible writers portrayed God as longsuffering.
Though in Noah’s day, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” and “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5), “the Divine longsuffering waited” (1 Peter 3:20). (It seems as though God delayed flooding the Earth for 120 years as His Spirit’s message of righteousness was preached to a wicked world—Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5.) In the days of Abraham, God ultimately decided to spare the iniquitous city of Sodom, not if 50 righteous people were found living therein, but only 10 righteous individuals.
And what about prior to God’s destruction of the Canaanite nations? Did God quickly decide to cast them out of the land? Did He respond to the peoples’ wickedness like an impulsive, reckless mad-man? Or was He, as the Bible repeatedly states and exemplifies, longsuffering? Indeed, God waited. He waited more than four centuries to bring judgment upon the inhabitants of Canaan. Although the Amorites were already a sinful people in Abraham’s day, God delayed in giving the descendants of the patriarch the Promised Land. He would wait until the Israelites had been in Egypt for hundreds of years, because at the time that God spoke with Abraham “the iniquity of the Amorites” was “not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). [NOTE: “The Amorites were so numerous and powerful a tribe in Canaan that they are sometimes named for the whole of the ancient inhabitants, as they are here” (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, 1997).] In Abraham’s day, the inhabitants of Canaan were not so degenerate that God would bring judgment upon them. However, by the time of Joshua (more than 400 years later), the Canaanites’ iniquity was full, and God used the army of Israel to destroy them.
Yes, God is longsuffering, but His longsuffering is not an “eternal” suffering. His patience with impenitent sinners eventually ends. It ended for a wicked world in the days of Noah. It ended for Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham. And it eventually ended for the inhabitants of Canaan, whom God justly destroyed.
What About the Innocent Children?The children of Canaan were not guilty of their parents’ sins (cf. Ezekiel 18:20); they were sinless, innocent, precious human beings (cf. Matthew 18:3-5; see Butt, 2003). So how could God justly take the lives of children, any children, “who have no knowledge of good and evil” (Deuteronomy 1:39)? The fact is, as Dave Miller properly noted, “Including the children in the destruction of such populations actually spared them from a worse condition—that of being reared to be as wicked as their parents and thus face eternal punishment. All persons who die in childhood, according to the Bible, are ushered to Paradise and will ultimately reside in Heaven. Children who have parents who are evil must naturally suffer innocently while on Earth (e.g., Numbers 14:33)” (Miller, 2009). God, the Giver of life (Acts 17:25; Ecclesiastes 12:7), and only God has the right to take the life of His creation whenever He chooses (for the righteous purposes that He has). At times in history, God took the life of men out of righteous judgment. At other times (as in the case of children), it was taken for merciful reasons. [NOTE: For a superb, extensive discussion on the relationship between (1) the goodness of God, (2) the contradictory, hideousness of atheism, and (3) God bringing about the death of various infants throughout history, see Kyle Butt’s article “Is God Immoral for Killing Innocent Children?” (2009).]
CONCLUSIONThough the enemies of the God of the Bible are frequently heard criticizing Israel’s conquest of Canaan, the fact is, such a conquest was in complete harmony with God’s perfectly loving, holy, and righteous nature. After patiently waiting for hundreds of years, God eventually used the Israelites to bring judgment upon myriads of wicked Canaanites. Simultaneously, He spared their children a fate much worse than physical death—the horror of growing up in a reprehensible culture and becoming like their hedonistic parents—and immediately ushered them into a pain-free, marvelous place called Paradise (Luke 16:19-31; 23:43).
REFERENCESAlbright, William F. (1940), From the Stone Age to Christianity (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins).
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Do Babies Go to Hell When They Die?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=1201.
Butt, Kyle (2009), “Is God Immoral for Killing Innocent Children?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/article/260.
Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin).
“Genocide” (2000), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.
“Genocide” (2012), Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/genocide.
Hitchens, Christopher (2007), God is Not Great (New York: Twelve).
“Holocaust” (2011), Encyclopedia.com, http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Holocaust.aspx#1.
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Miller, Dave (2009), “Did God Order the Killing of Babies?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=2810.
Paine, Thomas (1807), “Essay on Dream,” http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/paine/dream.htm.
Unger, Merrill F. (1954), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Unger, Merrill F. (1988), “Canaan,” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Failing to Count the High Cost of Leaving the Faith
|by||Bert Thompson, Ph.D.|
For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been.” — John Greenleaf WhittierAs we make our way through this pilgrimage we call life, each of us faces opportunities and challenges that require not only forethought and decision, but commitment and dedication as well. At times we think carefully, choose wisely, and act forcefully. At times we do not.
While it is true that there exist scenarios in which a personal failure may be due to circumstances beyond our control, often it is true that the responsibility for failure rests solely with the individual. It seems to be a part of human nature that we readily empathize with the person who works hard, gives his best, and yet still fails. But it is just as much a part of human nature that we disdain the person who—in the heat of battle—simply quits, gives up, and walks away. That person never will experience the sweet taste of victory, the joy of success, or the innate pride of having given his all. Truly, the saddest words are, “It might have been.”
Nowhere is the truth of this adage more evident than in our relationship with our God. And nowhere is failure more tragic, or the results more permanent. Within the pages of both the Old and New Testaments there are numerous accounts of people—or nations—that simply quit, gave up, and walked away from both their faith and their God. The results were nearly always disastrous to them personally. Sadder still was the effect their personal loss of faith had on family, friends, neighbors, and even future generations. It is a simple fact that many who leave the faith fail to count the high cost of doing so.
Every person familiar with the Old Testament is aware that one of its central themes is that of the evil results of spiritual apostasy. From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Malachi, heaven’s warning was this: faithfulness would bring spiritual life and God’s blessings, while unfaithfulness would bring spiritual death and God’s wrath. Ezekiel declared: “When the righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and comitteth iniquity, and dieth therein; in his iniquity that he hath done shall he die” (Ezekiel 18:26)
Moses often warned the Israelites of the horrible effects of apostasy (see Deuteronomy 8:11-14; 4:9; 28:62). God was willing to help them possess the land of Canaan (Exodus 23:30; Deuteronomy 10:22). But more than once their sins reversed God’s promised blessings. Eventually their apostasy caused God to allow them to be dispersed. In fact, no nation has ever been disseminated so completely. The Northern Kingdom was captured and taken from Canaan by the Assyrians c. 722 B.C.. These people never would return to Israel as a group, and eventually were scattered around the world. The Southern Kingdom, Judah, was taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and despite the vast number of people exiled, only a remnant would return 70 years later.
Truly, God’s people had failed to count the high cost of leaving the faith. That failure even affected generations yet unborn. Moses and the other prophets understood what so many of the general populace did not—obedience is important because it is the only possible demonstration of faith (James 2:18); without faith, no one can please God (Hebrews 11:6), and without obedience, there is no faith.
Turning to the New Testament, the story remains much the same. During His tenure on Earth, Jesus warned that some, in temptation, would fall away from the faith (Luke 8:13), and even went so far as to note that some branches [disciples] would be pruned from Him as the vine and burned (John 15:1-6). We know that, indeed, some of the early Christians did leave the faith. The apostle Paul observed that Demas forsook him and his own faith, “having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10). Some abandoned Christianity, reverting to their beloved Judaism, and in so doing “fell away” (Hebrews 6:4-6; Galatians 5:4). In fact, it was prophesied that prior to the return of Christ at His second coming, a great apostasy would occur (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; cf. 1 Timothy 4:1ff, 2 Timothy 4:1ff.).
Paul observed that the things written in the Old Covenant had been penned “for our learning” (Romans 15:4), and that the old law was to be our “schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24). It should come as no surprise, then, to see Paul catalog in 1 Corinthians 10 a number of instances in which the Israelites apostatized—as a warning to those who would follow so they could avoid making the same mistakes. Through the years that followed, however, there have been those who have ignored the inspired warning, and who subsequently have abandoned the faith. Why is this the case? And what has been the cost?
WHY DO CHRISTIANS LEAVE THE FAITH?
First, some fall away because they neglect their own spiritual welfare. The Scriptures are clear regarding the fact that Christians have been provided a “great salvation” that should not be neglected (Hebrews 2:3). When a person does what the Bible commands him to do to be saved, he enters the kingdom (i.e., the church) as a newborn enters an earthly family—in need of milk for sustenance and tender care for survival. The apostle Peter spoke of such people as “newborn babes” who were to “long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Paul discussed those whom he had fed spiritually “with milk, not with meat” because they were not yet ready for such (1 Corinthians 3:2). But just as the neonatal child eventually grows into adolescence and adulthood, so Christians are to mature in their faith. Peter observed that one of the responsibilities of being a faithful child of God is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). There are those who never would dream of neglecting their physical needs such as food and rest, yet who nevertheless carelessly neglect their spiritual needs. They do not attend worship services regularly (Hebrews 10:24-25). They make no effort to cultivate personal habits of diligent study and meditation (2 Timothy 2:15). And, they ignore biblical commands to assist in the salvation of others and thus bear fruit as a Christian (John 15:1-10; Romans 7:4). As a result, they grow disinterested in spiritual matters, and eventually drift away completely.
Second, some leave the faith as a result of persecution. In His parable of the sower (Matthew 13), the Lord revealed that on occasion a person “endures for a while; and when tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, straightway he stumbles” (13:21). In Luke 14:27-32, Christ gave several examples intended to emphasize the importance of counting the cost of discipleship. No doubt some are drawn to Christianity because of the “abundant life” it ensures in the here and now (John 10:10), and because of the promise of an eternal life with God in the hereafter (John 3:16). They fail to realize, however, that “all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). When persecution arises—from family, friends, or the world—their faith becomes like the seed that fell on the shallow soil with a layer of bedrock underneath. It sprang up quickly, but soon was destroyed by the heat of the midday Sun.
Third, some abandon the faith because they fall prey to false teaching. Faithful Christians will take heed how they hear (Luke 8:18), and be careful to compare all that they hear to the Word of God (Acts 17:11). In Matthew 22:23-33, Christ rebuked the Sadducees because of their ignorance of the Word of God, and attributed their manifold errors to such ignorance. In both 1 Timothy 4:1ff. and 2 Timothy 4:1ff., Paul foretold of a time when some would fall away from the faith because they succumbed to the doctrines of false teachers (cf. also 1 John 4:1). In this day and age, when there is a different religious group represented on practically every street corner, and a different televangelist on practically every television station, it is all the more easy to fall victim to human doctrines that are at variance with the Word of God. Such doctrines have snared many, and caused them to lose their souls.
Fourth, it cannot be denied that many have left the faith because of suffering in their lives, or in the lives of those they know and love. Sadly, we today do not inhabit a world reminiscent of the Garden of Eden; rather, we live in a world ravaged by the effects of man’s sin (Genesis 3:16ff.; Romans 5:12; 8:20ff.). Planet Earth is ravaged by natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes that often take an awful toll on both property and human life. Our bodies and minds are ravaged by an increasingly long list of maladies such as cancer, heart attacks, and Alzheimer’s disease. Christians are not somehow immune to such occurrences. Christ observed in the Sermon on the Mount that God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). It is a scriptural teaching that while we are the recipients of many blessings, we also are affected by calamities from time to time. One of the messages of the book of Job is that Jehovah does not necessarily shield His people from tragedies.
As He ended His Sermon on the Mount, Christ told a parable of two men, one of whom He labeled as wise for building his house upon a foundation of rock, and one of whom He labeled as foolish for building his house upon a foundation of sand (Matthew 7:24-27). The Lord’s point was two-fold: (1) trials and tribulations will come; and (2) in order for faith to stand firm, it must be rooted in God’s Word. Sometimes the trials and tribulations are literal disasters such as those Christ discussed in His parable—floods, winds, and rains. Sometimes, however, the trials and tribulations are mental or spiritual assaults upon our faith that arrive in the form of persecution, the effects of disease upon a loved one, or the death of a family member. Unfortunately, on occasion such assaults raise questions in the mind of a Christian concerning the benevolence and omnipotence of God. Deep-seated emotions are stirred and the seeds of doubt begin to sprout, eventually coming into full bloom to replace what was once a vibrant, living faith. Faithfulness turns into faithlessness, and a soul is lost.
There are, to be sure, numerous other reasons why Christians leave the faith. Some place their confidence in men, only to see that those they trust also have feet of clay. Some fall away because they do not have a steady diet of association with other Christians, and exposure to the world on a daily basis causes their commitment to God to wane. Some lose their faith as a result of fellow Christians whose actions may be well-intentioned, but who are harsh and inappropriate. More than one soul has had his fledgling faith bludgeoned and destroyed by an insensitive, tactless saint under the banner of defending the faith or righting a wrong. Regardless of the reason(s), the fact remains that as they are on their way to heaven, some Christians lose sight of the goal, become distracted or disinterested, take a detour, and end up leaving the faith altogether. But at what cost?
THE HIGH COST OF LEAVING THE FAITH
The Cost to the Individual HimselfIn addressing the apostasy of certain Christians, Peter lamented:
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse than the first. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them. It has happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:21-22).The apostle paints an ugly picture with his vivid description of the end state of those who leave the faith. Peter’s observation that in the case of these apostates, their “last state is become worse than the first,” is fitting indeed. Think of the burden of guilt that will follow them all the days of their lives. These are people who once knew the serenity of salvation. These are people who once understood the promise of an eternal life in heaven. These are people who once enjoyed the friendship and fellowship of other saints. But now, all of that is gone, having been freely relinquished and subsequently replaced with the knowledge of eventually spending an eternity in the absence of God in an eternal hell (2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 21:8).
As the days pass by in their own fleeting fashion, what will run through the mind of the apostate? In more private moments, as he sits quietly on the park bench on a beautiful spring day, or looks pensively out the bay window of his house at the gentle rain as it falls from heaven, will his knowledge of what he knows he should do, but refuses to do, not eat away at his inner peace? Will he not remember passages such as James 4:17: “To him that knoweth to do right, and doeth it not, to him it is sin”? Will he not remember Paul’s statement Philippians 2:10-11 that “in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, or things in heaven and things on the earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father”? While his outward appearance may exhibit a confident attitude of indifference toward his present spiritual state, his true inner self may languish in the knowledge that he once was saved, but now is lost.
The Cost to FamiliesIn Romans 14:7, Paul commented on the human condition when he noted that “none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself.” How true an observation that is. Hermits are few and far between. Man rarely does well when isolated from others of his kind. As God looked down from His heavenly estate on the first man, Adam, whom He had created, He remarked, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Nothing has changed since that initial divine diagnosis.
From the beginning to the end of our pilgrimage of life, we interact socially with those around us. We move beyond childhood and adolescence to adulthood. And as is often the case, we fall in love, marry, form a home, bear and rear children, and possibly even become grandparents or great-grandparents. Although at times we wish they did not, the truth of the matter is that more often than not the decisions we make, and the actions that stem from those decisions, inevitably affect those we love the most. Certainly this is true in a spiritual context.
For example, Peter noted that the effects of a godly wife upon her husband might be responsible for bringing his soul to the Lord. “In like manner, ye wives be in subjection to your own husbands; that, even if any obey not the word, they may without a word be gained by the behavior of their wives, beholding your chaste behavior coupled with fear” (1 Peter 3:1-2). What a sobering thought—that one person, through behavior tempered by a reverent fear of God, ultimately might influence a sinner to come to salvation.
Yet what is the corollary to this concept? If faithfulness produces such wonderful results, what results might unfaithfulness produce? Does not practical experience answer that question in a thousand different ways? Consider, for example, the following scenario. A young man grows up, becomes a Christian, falls in love, and marries a lovely Christian woman with whom he has two children. But during the children’s impressionable years of youth, the man and his wife grow indifferent about their own spiritual conduct and welfare, and eventually leave the faith. Church attendance stops. Fellowship with Christians is severed. Years pass. Then, at the persistent urging of a friend, this couple attends a lecture on the Bible and man’s responsibility according to it. The message moves both the husband and wife to repent of their years of spiritual apathy. They ask for, and are granted by God and their fellow Christians, forgiveness. They then begin their Christian life anew.
But what of their two children? These are the children who for years witnessed the callous indifference of their parents toward spiritual matters. These are the children who rarely, if ever, were taken to worship God, or attended Bible class. These are the children whose Bible knowledge would fit into a sewing thimble, because during the years when they should have been receiving spiritual instruction at home, their parents were not even capable of sustaining their own faith, much less imparting that faith to their offspring.
Their parents have returned to God. But experience tells us it is highly unlikely that these children ever will. Because of the parents’ unfaithfulness at a critical time in their children’s lives, the opportunity to impart a living, active faith to those children during their most impressionable years has been lost forever. And what, then, will become of this couple’s grandchildren and great grandchildren? Is it not true to say that likely they, too, will be reared in an atmosphere of indifference, apathy, or outright unbelief? Thus, the spiritual condition of not one, but several generations, has been affected adversely as a result of unfaithfulness on the part of parents who failed to count the high cost of leaving the faith.
The Cost to the ChurchOn occasion, however, it is not just physical families that suffer due to a member’s unfaithfulness. Sometimes the spiritual family of the church suffers just as well. The sin of a single individual can have severe repercussions for those around him. Paul applied this principle when he urged the Christians at Corinth to discipline one of their own members who was living in adultery. He warned: “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6).
Suppose, just to choose one example, that the local evangelist commits adultery and leaves his wife and family. First, there is little doubt that the church’s reputation will be damaged. As he works in a local community, a preacher’s influence is exhibited in a variety of ways, and his actions, rightly or wrongly, often are interpreted by non-Christians as representative of what Christians in general should be like. The fact that he has been unfaithful not only to his wife, but to his Lord, may well have a negative impact on how the church is viewed by those who are not members of it, and yet who under other circumstances would have been kindly disposed to it. This is true of any Christian, not just one who is continually in the public eye.
Second, such circumstances will provide “grist for the mill" of those who are always searching for reasons to revile the church and its individual members. When he wrote his first epistle to the young evangelist Timothy, Paul urged that his instructions be carried out so that there would be “no occasion to the adversary for reviling” (1 Timothy 5:14). When Christians leave the faith, it supplies ammunition for those who have set themselves against God’s work through His church.
Third, there are weak and new Christians to consider. As they see a man who was once a faithful Christian fall into sin and abandon his faith, it can have a devastating effect upon theirs. The Proverbs writer suggested: “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint” (25:19). The new Christian, or the one who is struggling already, may reason as follows: If a man who is a seasoned child of God has lost his way and left the faith, then what hope is there for me? The initial unfaithfulness of a single individual may, on occasion, set off a chain reaction that decimates the body of Christ in a way no one could have imagined.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-37).While it is true that some Christians fall away, it does not have to be so. Peter provided instructions from the Lord for the Christians of his day, and then reminded them: “Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).
Conveniently Redefining Design
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
According to the General Theory of Evolution, about 14 billion years ago “all the matter in the universe was concentrated into one very dense, very hot region that may have been much smaller than a period on this page. For some unknown reason, this region exploded” (Hurd, et al., p. 61). As a result of the alleged explosion of a period-sized ball of matter, billions of galaxies formed, and eventually planets such as Earth evolved. Supposedly, the evolution of galaxies, and every planet, moon, and star within these galaxies, all came about by non-purposeful, unintelligent accidents. Likewise, every life form that eventually appeared on Earth purportedly evolved by mindless, random chances over millions of years. Some life forms “just happened” to evolve the ability to reproduce asexually, while others “just happened” to develop the capability to reproduce sexually. Some life forms “just happened” to evolve the ability to walk along vertical ledges (e.g., the gecko), while others “just happened” to evolve the “gift” of glowing (e.g., glow worms). Some life forms “just happened” to evolve the ability to make silk (e.g., spiders), which pound for pound is stronger than steel, while others “just happened” to evolve the ability to “turn 90 degrees in under 50 milliseconds” while flying in a straight line (e.g., the blowfly; Mueller, 2008, 213:82). Allegedly, everything has come into existence by random chances over billions of years. According to the General Theory of Evolution, there was no Mind, no Intelligence, and no Designer that created the Universe and everything in it.
Ironically, though atheistic evolutionary scientists insist that the Earth and all living things on it have no grand, intelligent Designer, these same scientists consistently refer to amazing “design” in nature. Consider an example of such paradoxical language in a recent National Geographic article titled, “Biomimetics: Design by Nature” (Mueller, 2008). The word “design” (or one of its derivatives—designs, designed, etc.) appeared no less than seven times in the article in reference to “nature’s designs.” Evolutionary biologist Andrew Parker spoke of his collection of preserved animals as “a treasure-trove of brilliant design” (Mueller, 2008, p. 75, emp. added). After interviewing Parker, National Geographic writer Tom Mueller noted how the capillaries between the scales of a thorny devil lizard are “evidently designed to guide water toward the lizard’s mouth” (p. 81, emp. added). He then explained how “[i]nsects offer an embarrassment of design riches” (p. 75, emp. added). Mueller referred to nature’s “sophistication” and “clever devices” (p. 79), and praised nature for being able to turn simple materials “into structures of fantastic complexity, strength, and toughness” (p. 79). After learning of the uncanny, complicated maneuverability of a little blowfly, Mueller even confessed to feeling the need to regard the insect “on bended knee in admiration” (p. 82). Why? Because of its “mysterious” and “complicated” design. Brilliant and well-funded scientists around the world admit that living things perform many feats “too mysterious and complicated to be able to replicate.” They are “designed,” allegedly, with no “Designer.”
But how can you get design without purpose, intelligence, and deliberate planning? The first three definitions the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary gives for “design” (noun) are as follows: “1a:a particular purpose held in view by an individual or group...b:deliberate purposive planning... 2:a mental project or scheme in which means to an end are laid down; 3a:a deliberate undercover project or scheme” (2008, emp. added). After defining “design” as a drawing, sketch, or “graphic representation of a detailed plan...,” the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language noted that design may be defined as “[t]he purposeful or inventive arrangement of parts or details” (2000, p. 492, emp. added). A design is preceded by “deliberate purposive planning,” “a detailed plan,” or an “inventive arrangement.” A design is the effect, not of time, chance, and unintelligent, random accidents, but of the purposeful planning and deliberate actions of an inventor or designer. A designer causes a design to come into existence. Thus, by definition, design demands a designer, and one with some measure of intelligence.
Whereas National Geographic highlights the field of biomimetics and encourages readers to “learn from what evolution has wrought” (Mueller, 2008, 213:75, emp. added), mankind would do better to mimic the actions of a noble inventor/designer from the mid-1800s. Samuel Morse, who invented the telegraph system and Morse Code, sent the very first telegraph from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland on May 24, 1844 (“Today...,” 2007). His message consisted of a brief quotation from Numbers 23:23: “What hath God wrought!” (emp. added). Samuel Morse unashamedly testified to what everyone should understand: design demands a designer. Morse’s code and the telegraph system were the immediate effects of a designer: Samuel Morse. But, the Grand Designer, Who created Morse and every material thing that Morse used to invent his telegraph system, is God. Morse recognized this marvelous, self-evident truth.
National Geographic purports that nature “blindly cobbles together myriad random experiments over thousands of generations” in order to produce complex, living organisms that the world’s “top scientists have yet to comprehend” (Mueller, 2008, 213:90). We, on the other hand, choose to believe that, just as a painting demands a painter, and a poem a poet, the world’s amazing designs, which continually stump the most intelligent scientists on Earth, demand an intelligent Designer.
Hurd, Dean, George Mathias, and Susan Johnson, eds. (1992), General Science: A Voyage of Discovery (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall).
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2008), [On-line], URL: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary.
Mueller, Tom (2008), “Biomimetics: Design by Nature,” National Geographic, 213:68-91, April.
“Today in History: May 24” (2007), The Library of Congress, [On-line], URL: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/may24.html.