Hell. Right panel of Haywain Triptych / Hieronymous Bosch, ca. 1516
No one likes to talk about hell any more, although some people have an unhealthy confidence that they know who’s going there.
God reserves that judgment for himself. He deliberately hides all aspects of his plans. Some scriptures make it seem like nearly everyone will be saved. Others make it seem like hardly anyone will be saved.
The Bible speaks with crystal clarity on one point, though. People stand or fall before God as individuals. Not as members of a group. Not because of association with anyone else.
… Read the rest
The Stoning of the Blasphemer / Charles Foster: The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (1873)
In John 8:59, a crowd wanted to stone Jesus. Today I’m going to start there and work backwards for a while. Why, you might ask, would I do that?
Careful writers often proofread from end to beginning. They have worked on their draft for so long they know what it’s supposed to say.
So they read the last paragraph, then the previous paragraph, and so on to the beginning. It shows what they otherwise might easily miss.
Reading familiar Bible passages from the end to the beginning can also show details we have probably read past before.… Read the rest
Christ Cleansing the Temple / Luca Giordano, mid 1670s
We like to think of Jesus as gentle and loving.
Some people even teach that the love of God means there can’t be a hell.
They’re reading selectively and ignoring passages that describe the wrath of Jesus.
In fact, most of what the Bible teaches about hell comes from the lips of an angry Jesus. In one outburst he consigned the entire town where he lived to hell!
… Read the rest
Society acts like it’s a good thing! The church mustn’t.
Have you ever noticed that much of the American church today doesn’t like to mention sin?
Try saying aloud that something is sinful. If you’re not careful about what company you say it in, someone is bound to thunder, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
Why do they always quote it in King James? Simply because they have memorized it that way, and it becomes a handy club to beat up anyone who dares to criticize sin.
They have no clue that their use of the verse amounts to judgment of you, the one who dares to bring up the very idea of sin.… Read the rest
Adoration of the Shepherds / Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo, ca. 1650
Matthew describes the virgin birth of Jesus from Joseph’s viewpoint in Matthew 2. Have you ever studied the first chapter of Matthew? Most Christians probably skip it. It seems like nothing but a boring genealogy.
But let’s pay some attention. Matthew mentions four women in the first six verses. And all four names recall stories of sin.
Jesus had to be born sinless, live a sinless life, and die as a perfect and unblemished sacrifice. Everyone from Cain and Abel onward has been conceived and born in sin.
And that’s not because they were conceived through sexual union.… Read the rest
Would you ever think to compare Jesus to a thief? The Bible does in describing Jesus’ return. More than once.
Living by faith requires living not only in the light of the resurrection, but also in the hope of the second coming of Christ.
In his flesh, Jesus didn’t know when he’d return, but he knew it will be a time when no one expects him.
Jesus himself said, “If the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into” (Matthew 24:43, NASB).”
Paul wrote, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you.… Read the rest
Light of the World / William Holden Hunt (1853)
Do good people go to heaven? No. There aren’t any! Only redeemed people go to heaven, and we’re redeemed only through knowing Jesus.
It takes more than going to church. It takes more than acknowledging Jesus as a historical figure. The living Christ is a real person. He is active in the world—and in the life of every individual.
He does not appear to our physical senses. We can neither see him, touch him, nor hear the sound of his voice. How can we know that we know him?
The Bible has a simple answer: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3, NASB).… Read the rest
The Entombment of Christ / Caravaggio, 1602-03
You haven’t died yet, but you sort of know what to expect. Other people have died. Animals have died. They leave behind a corpse. It draws flies. It rots.
Soon it looks and smells so offensive that it must be put out of sight. We have buried or burned corpses since prehistoric times.
Two millennia ago, a corpse was taken from a Roman cross. The dead man’s friends prepared his body for burial. They had no time to finish the job properly, but they expected he was like any other dead man. They would come back later to finish.… Read the rest
Jesus died between two criminals. Did you realize that he died between two believers? The first one asked, “Aren’t you the Christ?” The expected answer to that question is, “Yes.”
But he was disappointed that Jesus wasn’t acting like he expected the Christ to act. In his hostility, he joined the unbelievers and scoffers and railed against him.
When something goes wrong, who do you blame? Or as the disciples asked about a man born blind, who sinned? They gave Jesus a choice of the man or his parents. The criminal on the cross blamed God himself.
… Read the rest
Adoration (a.k.a. La Notte) / Correggio, ca. 1528-1530
According to an old praise chorus, “Love was when God became a man.” That’s why we celebrate Christmas. Most people who have heard the story, even in the church, have a hard time wrapping their minds around it.
In the popular imagination, God is some distant and perpetually angry deity. He demands everyone do things his way or he will punish them by sending them to everlasting torment. Somehow we have to jump through all the right hoops if we want to get on his good side.
Nothing could be further from the truth.… Read the rest