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What Was the Purpose of Animal Sacrifices?

According to Scripture, sacrifice was instituted and approved by God. But when worship of the true God was abandoned, blood sacrifice was transformed into a way to magically appease, manipulate, and avert the anger of imaginary gods. The apostle Paul wrote:

Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:21-25).

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting (Romans 1:28).

(See the ATQ article, Why Did Ancient Pagans Practice Blood Sacrifices?)

Faithful sacrifice in worship of the true God was reinstated at the time of the Flood (Genesis 8:20-21) and confirmed when God established a special covenant with a man of faith named Abraham.

Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Faith in God’s goodness and grace became the bridge between sinful creatures and a holy God ( Hebrews 11:6-19 ). Abraham demonstrated his genuine faith by his radical obedience. He was willing to offer his long-awaited, precious son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22:1-3). God didn’t dispute or deny human unworthiness, or imply that death wasn’t the necessary price for atonement. It was necessary, after all, for Abraham to be willing to bring Isaac as a sacrifice. But God didn’t require Isaac to die. God Himself provided a sacrifice—a ram (Genesis 22:12-13)—to die in his place.

On the mountain top in Moriah (traditionally identified as the temple mount in Jerusalem), God revealed His grace and mercy in a way that—for Abraham and his descendants—clearly ended the practice of human sacrifice. In the Old Testament law, God clearly forbad that man shed human blood in sacrifice (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).

Since God was now known as both holy and merciful, sacrifice was no longer to be motivated by superstitious fear. It was to be the expression of conscious acknowledgment of guilt, 1 of belonging to God, and of desiring to be restored to fellowship with Him. 2

The Old Testament law ( Leviticus 16 ) introduced the ritual of atonement, in which the life of a goat was accepted by God as a symbolic substitution for the lives of a corrupt people who were individually and corporately worthy of death. But Old Testament sacrifices were not in themselves sufficient to atone for sin. They were sufficient only to point forward to the coming of the Messiah who would die in atonement for the sins of the world. Hebrews 10:4 declares,

It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Further, Hebrews 10:10-14 tells us that “by one offering He (Christ) has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”

One of the main purposes of Old Testament law was to make the people of Israel conscious of the great gap between their own weakness and corruption and the expectations of a Holy God ( Romans 5:12-20 ). Old Testament sacrifices accustomed the Jews to acknowledge their guilt and their need for divine grace and forgiveness. But it was only through Christ’s perfect life and death that actual and permanent atonement was made for the sins of an evil world. By entering His own created universe and assuming the penalty for its sin, His infinite suffering has atoned for the natural and moral evils that resulted from His creatures’ freedom to sin (Luke 22:20 ; John 6:53 ; Romans 3:25 ; 1 Corinthians 10:16 ; Ephesians 2:13 ;Hebrews 9:14 ; 1 Peter 1:18-19 ). Jesus Christ was a human sacrifice, but not a sacrifice offered up by fallen mankind to God. He offered Himself up freely as a sacrifice by God to God for mankind 3 ( John 3:16 ; John 11:27-33 ; Romans 8:32 ; 1 John 4:9 ).

  1. Unlike the sacrifices of the pagans, Old Testament sacrifices had to be offered in a spirit of humility and repentance ( Numbers 15:22-31 ; Isaiah 66:1-4 ; Amos 5:21-24 ). It wasn’t enough that they simply be performed as magical means of appeasement. Back To Article
  2. “The object of the sacrifice is to establish a moral relation between the man as a personal being and God the absolute Spirit, to heal the separation between God and man that had been caused by sin. Now, as free personality is the soil out of which sin has sprung, so must the atonement be a work rooted in free personality as well. Being outside the sphere of moral freedom, the animal may be regarded as innocent and sinless; but for the same reason it cannot possess innocence in the true sense of the word and thus have a righteousness that could form an adequate satisfaction for the sin and guilt of man” (New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p.1100). Back To Article
  3. “Who makes the propitiation? In a pagan context, it is always human beings who seek to avert the divine anger either by the meticulous performance of rituals, or by the recitation of magic formula, or by the offering of sacrifices (vegetable, animal, or even human). Such practices are thought to placate the offended deity. But the gospel begins with the outspoken assertion that nothing we can do, say, offer, or even contribute can compensate for our sins or turn away God’s anger. There is no possibility of persuading, cajoling, or bribing God to forgive us, for we deserve nothing at His hands but judgment. Nor, as we have seen, has Christ by His sacrifice prevailed upon God to pardon us. No, the initiative has been taken by God Himself, in His sheer mercy and grace” (John Stott, The Atonement). Back To Article
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What Would Be a Healthy Response to My Guilt Over Past Sins?

As you look back, you are filled with guilt and remorse over the sin you committed, either as an unbeliever or a backslidden or immature Christian. It’s important to remember that your sin and backsliding or immaturity isn’t unique. Israel as a nation was often unfaithful to her covenant relationship with Jehovah. Peter denied the Lord, wept bitterly, and later was publicly restored (Matthew 26:69-75; John 21). The Lord also reproached the believers in Ephesus because they had left their first love, and He urged them to “remember,” “repent,” and “return” (Revelation 2:1-7).

Even though the Bible tells us we receive a new life when we believe, we are still influenced by the “flesh,” the “law of sin” within us (Romans 7). The old nature is still part of us and continues to affect us (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Ephesians 4:22).

I am a pastor’s son, but I never experienced genuine conversion until I was in my mid-20s. By that time I had already attended a year of seminary. I have many regrets that deeply trouble me. The more spiritual vision we gain, the more we sorrow over the wrongs we’ve done.

Accordingly, there are three facts I’d like you to consider:

First, I doubt that anything you did was worse than the things committed by two of the greatest men of faith, David and Paul. David not only committed adultery, but had a good man killed to conceal his sin. Paul persecuted and murdered Christians. Yet both Paul and David were forgiven, though their past sins caused them legitimate sorrow. Our salvation has nothing to do with the extent of our past sins. It is entirely based on the infinite suffering of the Son of God himself, who fully and willingly bore the consequences of all our evil.

Second, sorrow over past sins has an important function. It softens the heart and engenders humility and compassion, qualities essential to the work of the kingdom. Consider the words of the prophet Ezekiel:

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26 KJV).

All of us need to realize the fools we were before we were willing to surrender our hearts to the Lord.

Third, don’t overlook the power of God’s grace. Even if we can’t repair the damage we have caused, God is able to bring healing and restoration in ways that would be impossible for us to anticipate. We can still pray for the healing and restoration of those we’ve injured.

Remember the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God is always ready to welcome us as long as we are willing to humble ourselves and turn towards home.

 

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What’s the Difference Between Normal Marital Conflict and Abuse?

Every marriage experiences some degree of conflict. Most marriages experience strong differences of opinion. Arguments are not uncommon. Spouses are occasionally grumpy and unkind to each other. Spouses lose their tempers and can sometimes blow up at each other. Everyone is capable of being hypercritical or falsely accusing his or her mate. Small skirmishes for control over a particular issue can break out from time to time. These are all a part of the normal tension and conflict that inevitably arise when an imperfect man and woman join their lives together in a marital relationship.

Marital abuse, whether or not it involves physical violence, is very different. One key difference is that marital abuse is a one-sided, oppressive relationship where one spouse establishes a pattern of unhealthy control. Even though there might seem to be times of peace and affection, these good times linger in the shadows of the subtle or not so subtle controlling tactics an abusive mate uses for the purpose of getting his or her own way.

For example, an abusive spouse may prevent his (or her) partner from seeing family members, going out with friends, or going back to college. He may try to regulate the people his spouse talks to, where his spouse goes, or how and when his spouse spends money. He may demand all of his mate’s attention. He may put his spouse on an irrational guilt trip for talking to or doing things with other people. He may consider his spouse’s needs as an infringement on or a betrayal of his own needs. He may act insanely jealous and falsely accuse his partner of cheating on him. He may constantly monitor and check up on the whereabouts of his spouse. Many are known to lash out and belittle their spouse when they don’t get their own way or when they feel betrayed or abandoned. Others threaten to divorce or to physically hurt their spouse or destroy a cherished possession, all in an effort to intimidate and punish their mate.

While normal marital conflict can at times seem far worse than what it really is, it tends to lessen in time because of the loving foundation of the relationship—“love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). That important foundation is painfully missing in a marriage marked by abuse. Because of the extreme levels of selfishness at work in the heart of the abusive spouse, marital abuse, if not confronted, will only escalate and get worse over time.

Another important difference is that normal marital conflict and marital abuse require different levels of intervention. While some married couples who experience normal conflict may require help from an objective and wise third party, many can eventually work through their differences by themselves within an atmosphere of mutual love, consideration, and forgiveness. Marital abuse, however, is a different story. Due to safety concerns and an abuser’s excessive self-focus and chronic complaints of being a victim, addressing marital abuse and restoring the relationship is a much more difficult and complicated process. It requires outside help from those who can provide guidance, support, and protection for an abused spouse as the abuser is confronted and held accountable.

While most abusive spouses will insist on joint-marital counseling once their pattern of domination and control is exposed, this is the last place to begin addressing marital abuse. For his or her own reasons, neither spouse is ready for the kind of honest and open conversation that is needed for marital counseling to be beneficial. Almost without exception, abusive spouses will derail the counseling process by trying to micromanage it. And most are far from being able to discuss their pattern of control without acting like a victim. On the other side, abused spouses will not feel safe enough to openly share their true thoughts and concerns, let alone admit to any faults they may have. They are understandably afraid that their partners will shut them down, twist their words, or later make them pay. Years of being controlled have also taught an abused spouse to see things mostly through the eyes of her (or his) spouse in order to avoid doing something “wrong.” Marriage counseling will not be beneficial until abused spouses recover the ability to think for themselves and the freedom to show up as a person in the relationship.

Abusive spouses who are truly serious about stopping their pattern of domestic abuse will agree to pursue a path of individual counseling (separate from their spouse). Their individual counseling is designed to increase their awareness and insight into how they try to control their spouse, the damage it has caused to their marital relationship, and why they feel such a deep and pressing need to dominate their partner and maintain a victim mentality. Joint-marital counseling is only possible once abusers stop playing the victim in the marriage, end all of their excuses, and consistently own up to their patterns of control and the harm it has caused. Only then are they ready to have honest conversations with their spouses and to continue their own journey of working through and finding healing and freedom from their own personal wounds and insecurities.

To read more about physical and non-physical abuse in marriage and what can be done to address it, please feel free to order our booklets When Violence Comes Home , When Words Hurt, and When Power Is Misused.

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What’s the Difference Between Sinful Anger and Godly Anger?

Like everything else in our lives, our emotions have been discolored by sin. Most emotions reflect a blend of both self-centeredness and goodness. If we are waiting for a moment of selfless purity to express our anger, it will probably never happen. However, knowing that we are flawed can lead us into deeper dependence on the One who gave us emotions in the first place. The Holy Spirit residing within us helps us monitor and learn from our emotions.

When monitoring our anger, it is important to understand that much of our anger is fueled by a hatred of injustice, whether real or perceived. Anger over injustice reflects the core longing for justice we all share. We are incensed when life seems unfair. We can know, however, if the anger we feel is sinful or godly by considering the provocation, goal, motivation, and timing of our anger.

Selfish anger is provoked when we believe we’ve been treated unjustly or unfairly. We want something, we don’t get it, we feel deprived, and now someone is going to pay for having treated us this way (James 4:1-4). The goal is revenge. When driven by vengeance, we demand that someone pay now for the injustice we’ve suffered. We impatiently demand immediate execution of justice according to our specifications, and refuse to allow time for God to work in the hearts of those who have offended us (James 1:19-20). Our anger becomes a caustic acid intended to burn those we feel have burned us unfairly. When offended, we can be ruthless, hard, unreasonable, and devoid of mercy in our response.

Conversely, godly anger is provoked in us when we witness persistent violations of God’s standards of justice (Psalm 119:53). There is an appropriate time to be outraged over those who hold God in contempt and mar the beauty of His creation. The goal of godly anger is to warn the person who has breached God’s divine law so that once exposed they can have the opportunity to change (Ezekiel 3:18-21). This kind of anger is like iodine, an ointment intended to purge infection and promote healing in the recipient (Proverbs 27:6). It is painful at first, but in the end, it soothes and heals.

Godly anger is motivated both by the love of Christ that works in us to extend His love to others (2 Corinthians 5:14), and by the fear of His coming execution of perfect justice (2 Corinthians 5:11). Godly anger is marked by a confidence in God’s longsuffering character (Psalm 86:15; 2 Peter 3:9), knowing that only He is qualified to carry out vengeance equitably. Godly anger refuses to resort to personal acts of revenge now, but is willing to wait for God’s wrath to be poured out against evil in His good time (Psalm 73:16-19; Romans 12:19).

Because we are to be like Christ in every way (Ephesians 4:1; 1 John 4:17), by implication we are also called to reflect His righteous anger. If we are to stand for the Father the way Jesus did, we need to stand for the things He’s for, and against the things He’s against. Godly anger reflects our Father’s passion for justice. While we rely on Him to execute final justice (Romans 12:19-21), godly anger motivates us to work for fairness and justice on behalf of those who are oppressed (Micah 6:8; Romans 12:17-18). It reflects dependence and confidence in God as the ultimate Judge who always executes justice rightly (1 Peter 2:23).

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What’s the Purpose of Sex?

Of course, sex is necessary for the propagation of the race. But while we are to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28), sex is not merely limited to the procreation of the human species.

Sexual intimacy is designed to reflect the beautiful mystery and intimate union between God and His people ( Ephesians 5:25 ). God gave us sex to arouse and satisfy our innate craving for intimacy, for union ( Genesis 1:24-25 ). A couple who enjoys emotional, relational, and spiritual intercourse with one another will be drawn to celebrate their love through sexual intimacy. That’s why sexual intimacy is exclusively reserved for marriage. Sexual experiences outside of marriage mar our enjoyment of the beauty of sexual intimacy in its proper context as God intended.

The Bible describes the sexual experience within marriage as honorable ( Hebrews 13:4 ). Some of the most beautiful erotic literature ever composed is found in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. For some, the idea of verbally inspired erotic literature is difficult to accept. Yet God has frankly recorded for us His view of the delights of sexual intimacy between a married couple in poetic verse:

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love ( Proverbs 5:15-19 ).

In the Song of Solomon, the husband’s description of his bride’s body ( Song of Solomon 4:1-15 ) and her description of his ( Song of Solomon 5:10-16 ) reveals the joy of love and sexual intimacy that God extols for a married couple. While sexual intimacy between a couple is not to be observed by anyone outside of the relationship, God, the One who sees and knows all, must smile with delight when He sees two of His children enjoying the good gift of sex He has given to them.

God intended sex to be far more than mere pleasurable sensations. He designed it as the intimate union of body, soul, mind, and spirit exclusively shared between a husband and wife. It’s about being open, exposed, naked, and unashamed in the presence of our spouse who finds us desirable and yearns to draw close to us. That’s how God captures our hearts. Being captured by our lover will give us a taste of being caught up in Christ’s love in a way that we feel deeply enjoyed without shame. In essence, sexual intimacy within marriage should draw us to deeper worship of God who initiated sexuality for His glory and our delight.

Enjoying sex with one’s spouse is always to be viewed as a part of the whole marriage relationship. Sex is never to be singled out as some isolated aspect of our being that is disconnected from the rest of the relationship. Rather, sexuality is a vehicle for expressing our identity as a man or a woman made in the image of God. Sexuality pulsates throughout a godly marriage and is not exclusively reserved for the bedroom experience.

A devastating assault on our ability to enjoy sexuality is the perpetuation of the myth, “Sex is just sex. It’s just another biological urge demanding satisfaction.” But that’s not true. God didn’t make sex as a mere physical act. Whether we’re willing to acknowledge it now, or we face the pain of admitting it after the fact, sex is always woven into our view of ourselves, one another, and God. Each of us distinctly reflects the image of God through the lens of our sexuality as either male or female. How we handle this good gift of sex will either enhance the glory of God’s image in us or will mar that glory.

If anyone should be enjoying sexuality, Christians should. We should know better than anyone else that sex was never intended to be an end in itself. It is intended to be a joyous celebration of the intimate love that a man and woman share together in the covenant relationship called marriage. It is designed to be a reflection of the intimate love relationship between Christ and His church ( Ephesians 5:25-33 ).

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When Is a War Just?

Most Christians agree that it is sometimes right for Christians to serve in the military. This consensus is based on the fact that the New Testament declares the legitimacy of government, the necessity of its use of force against evil (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14), and the responsibility of Christians to cooperate with the legitimate power of government (Matthew 8:5-9; Luke 3:14; 6:15; 14:31; Acts 10-11).

During the church’s first 300 years, very few Christians served in the military. The obvious reason for their reluctance to serve was that the Roman government was corrupt, and the military was often used to persecute their own fellow believers. The questions of the degree to which Christians should support war, or the standards by which they should determine whether any particular war is just or unjust only became major issues after the conversion of Constantine and his endorsement of Christianity as the empire’s dominant religion. Following the Edict of Milan (ad 313), Christians began to share in the power of government, and the church’s association with political power soon brought corruption. Rather than continuing to view the teachings of Jesus Christ as their ethical model, many Christians began to look to the Old Testament for analogies that falsely identified Rome with Israel and viewed its wars against pagan enemies as a continuation of Israel’s wars against the Canaanites.

Thoughtful Christians like the influential Augustine of Hippo stood against such rationalizations and declared: “War should be waged reluctantly and with tears in one’s eyes.” Following Augustine,1 the church fathers carefully developed a set of standards for a “just war” based on biblical principles. Here is a summary of these principles:2

Just War Principles

War cannot be just unless all nonviolent options have been tried and have failed.

Just war can only be waged by legitimate authorities, not private individuals and groups.

Just war can be waged only in response to an injury suffered (e.g., an enemy attack) with the motivation of appropriate compensation for the wrong suffered. (In other words, an aggressive war of conquest is by definition unjust.)

War can be just only if there is a reasonable degree of likelihood of victory. To shed blood in unwinnable conflicts is never just.

A war can be considered just only when the peace it seeks to establish will be better than the peace that already exists.

A war is just only when violence committed against the enemy is proportional to the violence suffered at the enemy’s hands. Excessive force is never just.

Just wars never target civilians. The deaths of civilians in a just war must be the unavoidable consequence of attacks on military targets.

Just war principles have always been violated in war. Soldiers caught up in the emotions of battle and hatred of the enemy have murdered, pillaged, and raped. However, Christian just war principles at least tempered the effects of war in the West until modern times.

Tragically, with the rise of secular national states, “just war” theory was swept aside on a massive scale, first in Europe during the Napoleonic conquests, and then in North America during the Civil War. The scale of national violence continued to mount through the 20th century, and Christians have become accustomed to participation in wars that have little concern for justice, proportionality, and safety of civilian populations.

The writer of the epistle of James stated:

What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:1-4).

Christians must guard against allowing earlier Christian collaboration with unjust war to serve as a precedent for their own support of unwarranted violence. Great wars have always involved the tragically flawed decisions of men who turned away from peaceful options, and the violations of just war principles that occurred in these wars always set the stage for further escalation of evil.

It is tempting for Christian citizens of powerful nations to shrug their shoulders and say: “Times have changed. Modern weapons and terrorism have made the principles of just war untenable.” Tragically, many evangelicals have become so accustomed to “total war” that they assume any war their government initiates is necessary.

As we exit a century that has been savaged by human violence and atrocity on a scale far greater than anything the world had seen before3 and enter a new century with even more potential for conflict and destruction, it is high time that evangelical Christians repent their blind nationalism and worship of Caesar and return to their calling as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9; Philippians 2:15; James 3:17-18).

Genuine patriots have never offered unquestioning, unqualified support to leaders who lead them into war. Jesus’ simple statement to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane still applies to individuals and to nations of our day: “Put your sword back in its place, . . . for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

  1. In his treatise Against Faustus the Manichean, Augustine declared: “The real evils in war are the love of violence, the cruel passion for revenge, the blind hatred of the enemy, the sometimes insane uncontrolled resistance to attack, the lust for power and other things of this sort.” Back To Article
  2. “The just-war tradition is as old as warfare itself. Early records of collective fighting indicate that warriors used some moral considerations. They may have involved consideration of women and children or the treatment of prisoners. Commonly they invoked considerations of honor: some acts in war have always been deemed dishonorable, whilst others have been deemed honorable. Whilst the specifics of what is honorable differ with time and place, the very fact of one moral virtue has been sufficient to infuse warfare with moral concerns. The just war theory also has a long history. Whilst parts of the Bible hint at ethical behavior in war and concepts of just cause, the most systematic exposition is given by Saint Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologicae, Aquinas presents the general outline of what becomes the just war theory. He discusses not only the justification of war, but also the kinds of activity that are permissible in war. Aquinas’s thoughts become the model for later Scholastics and Jurists to expand. The most important of these are: Francisco de Vitoria (1486-1546), Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1704), Christian Wolff (1679-1754), and Emerich de Vattel (1714-1767).” (“Just War Theory,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Back To Article
  3. Zbigniew Brzezinski estimated that during the past century, 167,000,000 to 175,000,000 lives were “deliberately extinguished by politically motivated carnage.” See the Discovery Series booklet, Violence: Why It Happens Back To Article
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When Will the Rapture Occur?

The early church wasn’t dogmatic about the time sequence of endtime events. This fact should keep us from being so dogmatic in our interpretation of biblical endtime prophecy that we either become contemptuous of Christians who don’t share our viewpoint, or we make their view of the rapture a test for fellowship. Keeping in mind the need for constraint and tolerance on this issue, we’ll explain why we believe the rapture will take place before the tribulation.

The main support for a pretribulational rapture is the clear biblical evidence for the imminence of Christ’s return — the evidence that the Lord’s return will be without warning ( Matthew 24:36-39,43,45-51;25:13 ) — along with the most reasonable interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 .

Belief in the imminence of the Lord’s return involves the implication that the rapture will occur before the time of great tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24:2 , 2 Thessalonians 2:3 , and Revelation 17:14 . If the Lord’s return is to be truly imminent (without warning), it will occur before this tribulation time. Consider that if the events described in these passages began taking place — bringing about, among other things, the first 3 1/2 years of the Antichrist’s reign — believers would realize that they were in the last days and there would be no element of surprise. If surprise were ruled out, we would say that the Lord’s return will be soon, but not imminent.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , which speaks of the revealing of the Antichrist, must be understood in the light of the statement, “He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ).

It is our view that the “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit working through the church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we believe that the Antichrist will not be openly revealed until the church is taken away in the rapture and its influence of being “salt” and “light” is removed. (It is important to realize that the Holy Spirit will continue to work among the people on earth even after the removal of the church. However, the Holy Spirit will not work through the body of Christ as He is doing today)

We respect anyone who has a strong view of scriptural authority, including our friends whose study has led them to a midtribulational or a posttribulational viewpoint. Our main problem with their viewpoints is the elimination of the possibility of a truly imminent, any-moment rapture.

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Where Is Heaven?

While the Scriptures symbolically refer to heaven as being up and hell being down, all we know for sure is that heaven is a real place that is located in a different dimension of reality than the one in which we presently exist. In Acts 1:9 , for example, we read that Jesus “was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”

Modern science has demonstrated that it would be possible for an almost endless number of “parallel worlds” to be around us without our being able to perceive them because of differences in their atomic structure. The Scripture contains clear evidence that there are a number of “dimensions” of reality. Recall, for example, the occasion when Jesus appeared to His disciples following His resurrection ( John 20:26-27 ). He passed through closed doors, yet He possessed a solid body, as evidenced by His challenge to Thomas to touch His hands and His side.

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Where Was Jesus Before His Resurrection?

Jesus’ clear statement to the believing thief on the cross implies that He was in heaven between the time of His death and His bodily resurrection:

And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:38-43).

Nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian pastor David Brown paraphrased our Lord’s reply this way:

Thou art prepared for a long delay before I come into My kingdom, but not a day’s delay shall there be for thee, thou shalt not be parted from Me even for a moment, but together we shall go, and with Me, ere this day expire, should thou be in paradise.

The term paradise as used in Luke 23:43 can designate a garden (Genesis 2:8-10), a forest (Ezekiel 31:7-9), or (as in 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7) the place of peace and blissful consciousness that exists for the redeemed in the presence of God.

Just before dying, Jesus said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). This implies that when He died He went immediately into the presence of the Father. Both He and the repentant thief were in heaven that day.

On the third day, Jesus was resurrected with a glorified body. But He had not yet ascended to the Father in His glorified body when He encountered Mary Magdalene (John 20:17). Jesus appeared and disappeared during the next 40 days, leaving heaven and appearing on earth in His glorified body, so His ascension wasn’t the first time He had been in heaven since His death. It was merely a deed done publicly to strengthen the faith of His disciples and to clearly demonstrate that His ministry on earth would now be replaced by that of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).

When Jesus told Mary not to cling to Him because He hadn’t yet ascended to the Father, He wasn’t implying that He hadn’t yet seen heaven. He was saying that there would be a time in heaven when Mary would once again be able to embrace Him. Now, however, she must not cling to Him, for His earthly work was done.

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Who Are the Descendants of Abraham?

Who are the descendants of Abraham through whom “all of the peoples of the earth will be blessed”?

Abraham’s physical descendants include both Jewish and Arab peoples. Through his son Ishmael, Abraham gave the world a rich heritage of Arab culture and achievement. Through his son Isaac, Abraham gave the world a Jewish family line that was chosen by God to be a special servant nation. Through Israel God also gave the world a spiritual revelation of Himself that includes the Old and New Testament Scriptures. However the greatest fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the whole world through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) was seen in Israel’s long awaited Messiah and Savior who died for the sins of all people and rose again to offer new life to all who would believe in Him.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as He said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us — to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham (Luke 1:68-73 NIV).

And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed” When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways (Acts 3:25-26 NIV).

Through this Messiah Abraham also has descendants who aren’t part of his physical line. The apostle Paul declares that Abraham’s seed can also be spiritual:

Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7 NIV).

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29 NIV).

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:1-6 NIV).

As these Scriptures show, today’s church represents the spiritual “seed” of Abraham more truly than one who is simply Abraham’s physical descendant without sharing his faith.

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