The Bible has a consistent message from the beginning to end. God is the author, and He knew all things from the very beginning of Creation (Isaiah 46:10). In our previous investigation we considered the following points about ‘satan’ from the Old Testament:

  • ‘Satan’ is a Hebrew word that has been transliterated into English and into the Greek New Testament.
  • The word ‘satan’ means an opponent or adversary.
  • Satan can be ‘an adversary’ for good or for bad purposes.
  • The term ‘satan’ has been applied to the actions of angels, men and even in one instance – God.

For this investigation, we will consider how the word “satan” is used in the New Testament. The words devil, satan and demons occur much more frequently in the NT than they do in the OT, and there is a very important reason for this.

IS ‘SATAN’ USED OF HUMANS?

In the New Testament, is the word ‘satan’ applied to men or women, like it is in the Old Testament?

Yes – Peter! In Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33:

“But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” Mark 8:33

By suggesting that Jesus should avoid going up to Jerusalem to be killed, Peter was being an adversary to Jesus. So, Jesus calls him “Satan” because that is exactly what he was at that moment! Peter tried to stop him, out of love for his Master, but nevertheless, Peter was opposing Christ’s resolve to go through with his painful mission from God. A friend’s appeal would be harder for Jesus to resist than if one of his enemies had suggested it, so Jesus speaks harshly to Peter.

With this basic understanding that “satan” is used to describe an adversary, and in particular anything that opposes the will of God working in our life, let’s look at how else this word is used.

THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

Immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit from God, Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by ‘the adversary’ – satan – also referred to as ‘the devil’ (meaning ‘a traducer, false accuser or slanderer’) We read about this in Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:9-13; and Luke 4:1-13.

“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Luke 4:8

Before considering who or what is tempting Jesus, consider these principles:

  • We know that Christ was tempted just like us, from Hebrews 4:14-15:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

  • How are we tempted? By our own lusts! Temptation is not sin – giving in to temptation is sinful.

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:14-15

  • We are tempted by our own hearts!

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23

  • Just as we find in the OT, the Bible tells us it is the ‘imaginations’ of our heart (human nature) that cause us to go astray. Our nature is our own worst enemy or adversary (i.e. satan)! It is this nature that we battle against in our striving to serve the Lord, as Paul writes:

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
Romans 7:14-25

Remember, that just before Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, he had been given the spirit of God at his baptism (Luke 3:22; 4:1). He suddenly had supernatural power at his fingertips. Any human being, ‘tempted as we are’, would immediately battle within themselves over how to use such power. Is it right to use God’s Holy Spirit to create bread out of rocks for your own indulgence? Is it right to use God’s power for a supernatural rescue? And for Jesus, especially, who knew the expectations of all the Jewish people was that their Messiah would conquer the Romans and restore Israel’s dynasty – was it right to use God’s power to take the Kingdom before the Cross? All these temptations and others occurred in his life at later times, so it was important for Jesus to determine how he would overcome, before he faced these trials.

  • FOOD – It was not right to use God’s power for selfish ends, but it was good to feed multitudes – Matthew 14:15-23
  • SPECTACULAR RESCUES – Jesus did not allow himself to be thrown off a hill – Luke 4:28-31
    • Jesus chose not to use God’s angel army to avoid the Cross – Matthew 26:52-54
  • KINGSHIP BEFORE THE CROWN – Jesus escaped from those who wanted to make him king by force – John 6:14-16

It is possible that the ‘devil’ or ‘satan’ in Luke 4, could be an acquaintance who was suggesting these possibilities to Jesus – but this is certainly not necessary. If Jesus ‘was tempted like us’, his own human nature was very capable of enticing him with all these options and more. Jesus came to ‘destroy the devil’ in his death (Hebrew 2:14-15). His victory also involved never giving into the internal adversary in his life. The New Testament is about Jesus’ ultimate battle against sin – in all its manifestations – in order that he could be the perfect sacrifice that God required to save the world.

SATAN IN PARABLES

The Sower

In the well-known Parable of the Sower, Jesus used “satan” as a symbol for whatever opposes the ability of God’s Word to take root in our lives and produce fruit. 

“And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.” Mark 4:15

The record in Matthew 13:19 uses the Greek word “poneros”, translated “wicked” instead of “satan”, indicating that the adversary is whatever evil, malicious, harmful or lewd thing keeps us from accepting the Gospel message. As we have seen earlier it is our own deceitful heart that does this quite well!

The parallel account of this parable in Luke 8:12, uses the Greek word “diabolos” to explain what hinders the growth of the Word in a person’s life. It is translated ‘devil’ in most Bibles, and we will focus on ‘The Devil in the New Testament’ in a separate study. Suffice it to say here, that in this parable Jesus links “satan” and the “devil”. As we have seen, this represents those things or individuals which make it difficult for the seed of God’s word to take root in our lives. So, the “diabolos” is another way of describing this impediment.

Beelzebub

In another incident the Scribes accused Jesus of being able to perform miracles because he was possessed by ‘Beelzebub’ – a Philistine idol, meaning, ‘Lord of the fly’, or the ‘dung god’. Jesus did not directly correct their false beliefs, but rather showed the ridiculousness of their argument by stating the obvious, in a parable:

“And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?” Matthew 12:26

“And he called them [unto him], and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan?” Mark 3:23

“And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.” Mark 3:26

“If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub.” Luke 11:18

Jesus used parabolic and symbolic language to debunk the Scribes’ theory that he was possessed by the ‘the chief of the devils,’ and to show them clearly his main point, “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” (Luke 11:20) That is, Jesus has power and authority from God over all other forces – imaginary or real, so therefore, his claims of divine sonship are true. He is the Messiah!

HOW DOES SATAN ‘ENTER’, ‘POSSESS’ OR ‘TEMPT’ PEOPLE?

How then can we understand language that seems to indicate that “satan” enters, possesses, or tempts people?

If “satan” is representative of human nature – our fleshly desires that are an adversary, opponent or enemy to following God and His Son – then the following incidents make sense:

Judas the Betrayer

We cannot know for certain what motivated Judas to betray his master, but circumstances right before the Last Supper may have stirred up greed and pride.

In two places the scriptures describe this process as “satan entering him”.

“Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.” Luke 22:3

“And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” John 13:27

By comparing the Gospel records in Mark 14:1-11 and John 12:1-10, we can see that it was Judas who complained about the waste of money when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with costly ointment. Jesus had to harshly rebuke him, and it was immediately after this that Judas “went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.” The anger he felt over the waste/loss of money, and his own hurt pride may have led to his evil decision to betray his master.  ‘Satan’ here could be Judas’ own lustful desires.

It is also possible that the enemies of Jesus (his adversaries) had planted a seed in Judas’ mind that bore fruit after the incident with Mary anointing Jesus. His own wrongful desires and the enticement to follow the schemes of the Pharisees, may be referred to as “satan entering into Judas”.

“Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people. Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money.” Luke 22:1-5

From the passage above, it seems the Chief priests and Pharisees were looking for a weak link in the group of disciples and may have even tried to compromise Peter. Later on, in the same chapter Jesus says:

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:” Luke 22:31

 It should be noted here that the ‘you’ in this passage is plural and refers to the whole group of disciples. Jesus’ enemies were using any means possible to undermine his work. It seems they did get through to Judas. Jesus had been praying that his disciples might overcome! “But I have prayed for thee [Peter], that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Luke 22:32

Satan and Ananias

Understanding ‘satan’ – the adversary – as a representation of human fleshly desires and lusts would also fit with the account of Ananias and Sapphira. This couple sold their land and pretended to give ALL the proceeds to the Church, when in fact they kept some back for their own use. Again, this action was motivated by a combination of greed and pride – wanting to ‘look good’ in front of the others.

“But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” Acts 5:3

Peter goes on to say, “why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart (verse 4), which links the description of satan filling our heart to a decision to give in to the wrongful desires of our heart.

THE ENEMY OF THE CHURCH

The concept that the Pharisees – and other adversaries to the work of the Lord – are referred to as “satan,” helps to explain passages that refer to the enemy of the Church in the First Century.

 “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” Romans 16:20

The believers in the Roman church were encouraged to stay strong and be patient, being assured that God was going to relieve them soon. With persecution by the likes of Emperor Nero who hauled faithful believers off to the Colosseum to face the lions, such encouragement would be well received!

It is also interesting that Paul uses the phrase “bruise satan under your feet”, since one of the greatest prophecies about Messiah in the Bible is in Genesis 3:15, which promises that one day the ‘Seed of the Woman’ [Jesus the Messiah] would bruise the serpent [fleshly thinking that opposes God] on its head, while sustaining a temporary wound to his own heel – an apt description of crushing a snake on its head while it bites you! This Jesus did to his own human nature by never sinning in his life and being faithful to endure a tortuous crucifixion as an innocent man. Death was only a temporary blow to his ‘heel’ as he was resurrected to immortality three days later. As an ‘immortal’ he will never be tempted to sin again – that battle is over! This is how Jesus “destroyed him that has the power of death, that is the devil”! Hebrews 2:14.

There are many instances where the enemies of the Church are referred to as ‘satan’ (2 Cor. 11:14; 1 Thess.2:18; 2 Thess. 2:9; 1 Tim. 5:15; Rev. 2:9; 13,24; 3:9) Sometimes the most dangerous enemy comes from within the group! When the ‘satan’ or adversary talks and acts like a believer ‘transformed into an angel of light’ the result can be devastating for the church. In such cases drastic measures must be taken.

SATAN IN MARRIED LIFE

Practicing abstinence in marriage may have some spiritual benefit, but Paul warns:

 “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (ESV) 1 Corinthians 7:5

This is a good description of the weakness of human nature, that despite the best of intentions and spiritual devotions, a lack of self-control could be disastrous!

So, we are warned and encouraged to be vigilant and mindful of our weak natures that oppose the will of God in our lives. Jesus himself knew this and said, “The sprit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41), so he told his disciples they needed to ‘watch and pray.’

Paul put it this way when speaking about the importance of forgiveness and not holding grudges. “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” 2 Corinthians 2:11

DISFELLOWSHIP FROM THE BODY OF BELIEVERS

If a believer was acting or teaching in a way that was detrimental to the overall health of the church, or endangering their own personal salvation, Paul is inspired to command the church to ‘deliver such a person to satan’. This seems counterintuitive if ‘satan’ was the arch-enemy of God! Wouldn’t you want to protect weak believers from ‘satan’?

 “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 5:5

 “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” 1 Timothy 1:20

And surely you wouldn’t send someone to ‘satan’ to learn NOT to blaspheme!

What then can this mean, and does it relate to what we have seen so far?

When someone is doing something that harms the ‘body of Christ’ – the assembly of believers, or themselves – he or she needs to understand the seriousness of the infraction. Since they are following their own lust or pride, to be ‘delivered to satan’ means to be left to their own devices. Hopefully, when they realize that their thoughts and actions are contrary to the commands of Christ, and when they see the fruitlessness of their behaviour and begin to miss the fellowship of true believers, they will humble themselves, repent and return to God’s family. This was Paul’s hope and the reason for the command.

SICKNESS AND DISEASE

A sad manifestation of our fallen state (sinfulness) is disease and sickness. Paul spoke of a time after we are raised from the dead when this ‘mortal’ and ‘corruptible’ body puts on ‘immortality’ and ‘incorruption’. As such, it is appropriate to refer to such ‘fallenness’ as the work of ‘satan’, since it is sin that leads to death.  

 “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” Luke 13:16

 “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” 2 Corinthians 12:7

In the case of Paul, he knew the Lord was in control, and he asked that the impediment might be removed. We are not sure what his ‘thorn in the flesh’ was, but it was hindering his work, like an adversary or opponent – a ‘satan’. Some have suggested he had weak eyes, as it seems that others penned his words for him in all the Epistles. Paul accepted the Lord’s will in this matter, “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

What then did Jesus mean when he said: “And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” Luke 10:18

The context of this verse is the disciples rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit through them to heal people. Jesus knew that his life, death and resurrection was the solution to the painful affects of the introduction of sin and death in the Garden of Eden, including the devastation of sickness and disease. He could already see the beginning of his victory in the testimony of his disciples. The ‘reign’ of sin (the greatest adversary to mankind) was coming to an end. Through Jesus we will sing the victory song, “Oh, Death where is thy sting? Oh, Grave where is thy victory?!” This is the fall of “satan”, which began with Jesus’ ministry and will be fully accomplished when he returns.

THE INFLUENCE OF SATAN RESTRAINED IN THE MILLENIUM

When Jesus returns to establish God’s Kingdom on earth, he will reign in righteousness and justice over all the nations who survive Armageddon. The immortalized saints will help him rule and administer righteous judgement. As such the effects of sinfulness, lust, pride and corruption will be mitigated. Although there will still be a mortal population on the earth for 1000 years, the influence of sin will be restrained. In symbolic language the Apostle John is inspired to write about this in the following way:

“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Revelation 12:9

When Jesus establishes his throne, all other powers of men (democracy, dictatorship, communism, etc) will be ‘cast out’ of power – symbolically sent as it were from ‘heaven’ to ‘earth’.

 “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,” Revelation 20:2

This is the restraining influence of the righteous reign of Jesus.

 “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,” Revelation 20:7

It would seem that at the end of the Millennium, freedom is once again given to the inhabitants of the earth for some form of ‘self-rule’. Perhaps Christ and the Saints take a step back for a time to see what choices everyone will make.

It would be appropriate to show once and for all, that even with the benefit of righteous rulers, and a correct understanding of God’s ways, peace, a beautiful and restored earth, human nature will still rebel against God and think that ‘they can do better’ and show resentment against the Lord by trying to assert their power over him. History repeats itself one last time before being crushed so that finally “God can be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

CONCLUSION

“Satan” in the New Testament is the same as ‘satan’ in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word ‘satan’ has been transliterated into the Greek and into English. ‘Satan’ is an adversary or an opponent. This adversary can come from our own nature (sinful human nature and it’s associated lusts) that tempts us to disobey God and follow our own ways. We are sometime our own worst enemy!

“Satan” can also be something or someone external to us. It can be an individual who tries to oppose us or hinder our walk of faith – like Peter to Jesus. Also when human nature becomes stirred up in a group (like the Pharisees’ opposition to Christ) then that group or power can be rightly called “satan”.

What the Bible does not teach is that ‘satan’ is a fallen supernatural angel; such a concept would diminish the power of God and call into question His sovereignty.

“I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
Isaiah 45:5-7

Click here for a Discovery Lesson on ‘Satan in the New Testament’.

We will look at the Devil and Demons, separately, in future blogs, God Willing.

It might be a surprise to discover that the word ‘Devil’ doesn’t appear in the Old Testament! The singular word ‘devil’ is not found from Genesis to Malachi.

Why is it that ‘the Devil,’ which is frequently referred to in the New Testament, escapes mention for the 4000 years of recorded Old Testament history? If the Devil is a conniving, supernatural trouble-maker luring people away from God, why would there not be any warnings given about him until New Testament times?

There are 4 references to ‘devils’ (plural) in the KJV, but this is actually the Hebrew word ‘saiyr’ which means ‘shaggy, a he goat, devil, goat, hairy, kid, rough, satyr.’ This same word ‘saiyr’ is translated ‘goat’ or ‘kid’ 53 other times and left untranslated twice as ‘satyr’. The 4 references where ‘saiyr’ is translated ‘devils’ refers to a type of idol that was worshipped, as in Deuteronomy 32:16-21:

“They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods… They sacrificed unto ‘devils,’ not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not… They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities:”

DOES SATAN APPEAR IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?

Perhaps Old Testament believers only knew of this evil being by the name, ‘Satan’?

In the KJV, Satan makes an appearance 13 times in the first few chapters of Job before disappearing from the narrative for the rest of the book. We also read of Satan once in 1 Chronicles 21, once in Psalms 109, and 3 times in Zechariah chapter 3. 

Looking up the Hebrew word ‘satan’ (yes, ‘satan’ is the actual Hebrew word) we find that it means “an opponent; especially (with the article prefixed) Satan, the arch enemy of good:” and Strong’s tells us that the word is translated into English in the KJV as, ‘adversary, Satan, withstand.’

If we look up all the places the Hebrew word – Strong’s H7854 – appears in the KJV, regardless of how it is translated, we find a few more references to add to our list, which give some interesting details on who or what ‘Satan’ is:

AN ANGEL

Beginning in Numbers 22:22, we find an angel standing in the way as an ‘adversary’ (H7854 ‘satan’) to Balaam, in order to stop Balaam from sinning against God! So, a good angel is a ‘satan’ to a misguided prophet!

DAVID

 In the next instance, 1 Samuel 29:4, the Philistines were worried that David might become an ‘adversary’ (H7854 ‘satan’) to them in the battle. So, again we have a good individual, David, potentially being a ‘satan’ to the enemies of God. Remember, when reading the original Hebrew text, this word ‘satan’ would be written as ‘satan’ in all these instances. It’s the English translators who made the decision when to translate this Hebrew word as ‘adversary’ and when to leave it untranslated as ‘Satan.’

DAVID’S NEPHEWS

David worried that his nephews (sons of Zeruiah) were ‘adversaries’ (H7854 ‘satan’) to him because they were trying to talk him into killing Shimei in 2 Samuel 19:22.

N0 ADVERSARIES – THEN 2 ADVERSARIES

King Solomon was very thankful that he didn’t have any ‘adversaries’ (H7854 ‘satan’) at the beginning of his reign (1 Kings 5:4), but because of his sins, God ‘stirred up’ two ‘adversaries’ (H7854 ‘satan’) at the end (1 Kings 11:4, 23,25) – two men named, Hadad and Rezon.

GOD??

In 1 Chronicles 21: 1, we read, “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” However, there is a parallel occurrence in 2 Samuel 24:1 which says, “Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So was God the adversary (H7854 ‘satan’) in this case, moving against Israel because of their wickedness?

Altogether in the Old Testament, it seems that anyone who opposes someone else, for good or bad, can be a ‘satan’. Your opponent is your satan, even if he/she is trying to help you do right.

SO, WHAT ABOUT THE SATAN IN JOB? IS THIS THE DEVIL BY HIS OTHER NAME?

The first two chapters in Job, record conversations between God and ‘Satan’ (H7854 – the same word meaning ‘an adversary’). But then we hear nothing more about Satan for the rest of the narrative! All the trouble that came upon Job is always attributed to God from chapter 3 to 42.

“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:9)

“Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him:” (Job 42:11)

So, who was this Satan that walked ‘to and fro’ on the earth and was with the ‘sons of God’ when they presented themselves before Him?

SONS OF GOD

This phrase ‘sons of God’ can be used to refer to Divine angels as in Job 38:7. However, it is also used of godly humans, when they chose to marry the attractive ‘daughters of men’ in Genesis 6:2-4, meaning that believers chose to marry non-believers, as has happened many times in the history of the world. In the New Testament, the phrase ‘sons of God’ refers several times to the believers (John 1:12; Romans 8:14; Philippians 2:15; 1 John 3:1-2).

It’s important to note that at the end of the book of Job, God rebukes Job’s friends for speaking wrongly about Him, but nothing is said to ‘Satan’. If Satan was the cause of all Job’s trouble, would it not be appropriate for God to address the adversary and set things right? Because of this, some feel that Job’s three friends were the ‘satan’ as they were inwardly jealous of Job and their wrong perception of God’s dealings with humankind and their accusatory words stirred Job up to say things that he later regretted. Their words were more damaging to Job’s faithfulness than the terrible losses he faced. One, or all of them, may have been praying to God against Job at the beginning of the narrative. John Pople has written a helpful book on this subject, “To Speak Well of God”https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34429479-to-speak-well-of-god

GOD HAS NO RIVAL

If you read through Isaiah 45 and 46, you will see that God claims He has no rival. This passage in Isaiah would be an appropriate place to explain that there is a supernatural Devil who thinks he can rival God if there were indeed such a being.

OUR IMAGINATIONS ARE THE ISSUE

Instead, we find consistently throughout the OT, that it is man’s nature that opposes God and leads us into sin. At the time of the Flood, God saw that ‘the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’ (Genesis 6:5) After the Flood, God acknowledges that, ‘the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,’ (Genesis 8:21). There is no mention in the OT of a Supernatural Being drawing people away from the Creator. God blames the violence and wicked thoughts firmly on humankind. Solomon and Jeremiah likewise see the problem of evil stemming from man’s sinful heart:

“What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;” 1 Kings 8:38

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:9-10

WHAT ABOUT THE NEW TESTAMENT?

So, why is it then, that the devil features so prominently in the New Testament? Why is it that God waits 4000 years to tell believers about this powerful being – if indeed, the devil is a powerful being? If man’s own heart was capable of bringing about God’s decision to wipe everyone out nearly everyone in a Flood, have our hearts improved? Would a supernatural ‘devil’ add anything that we don’t already struggle with on our own? Why does the language change in the New Testament? We will look at these questions in Part 2 of this blog.

Click on this link for a Discovery worksheet investigating “Who Are Satan and the Devil in the Old Testament.”

All quotes are from the ESV or the KJV unless otherwise noted.

Today’s modern worldviews have led many to believe that humans are more moral than the “God” of the Bible, while some have dismissed the Creator altogether. Changes in our society that were initially put forward as benevolent and inclusive movements for humankind are now leading to an outright rejection of God! While human beings are portrayed as loving, caring, wonderful people, the “God” of the Old Testament is said to be hateful, uncaring, prejudiced and unfair. Really? Are we more moral than God?

THE BIBLE – INSPIRED OR A FRAUD?

Christianity began as a movement based on the strong foundation that the Bible was the true and inspired word from the Creator of heaven and earth.  Over time, such a view has eroded and many who call themselves ‘Christian’ are now hacking away at the very foundation on which they once stood. Yet the Bible makes the following claims,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:15-17.

“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21

And the Bible accurately predicted:

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Timothy 3:3-4

So, the Bible doesn’t claim to be just the writings of men, but the actual word of God! Either the Bible’s claims of inspiration are true and authoritative, or the whole book is a fraud based on outrageous lies. If the Bible is a fraud, then Christianity has no basis on which to call itself a viable religion.

On the other hand, if the Bible is divinely inspired and God is really who He says He is, then as the Creator and sustainer of our lives He has full authority upon which to set the standards. What standard has He set?

GOD HAS A PURPOSE FOR HIS CREATION

God’s first command to humans was, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,” Genesis 1:28. He stated that He longs for the day when,  “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14. God’s purpose with His creation is to have a family that loves and respects Him, trusts that His guidance is right and reflects His values. Most parents would desire the same for their children. Our Father yearns for a relationship with us as a parent for a child… even His wayward children, and knows what is best for those He created, pleading, “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.” Isaiah 48:17-18 (NIV)

We are wonderfully designed to do many things which are immensely enjoyable and fulfilling. However, as human beings we have struggled from the very beginning to trust that our Creator has our best interests at heart, and because of this, we are no longer in the ‘very good’ condition in which God first created Adam and Eve. We are living in a ‘fallen state’, which is prone to sin.

OUR FALLEN STATE

There are various lists in the Bible, of behaviors that are against God’s values and purpose for His Creation. Everyone of us will surely relate to one or more of the tendencies listed, and realize that without self-restraint, those ‘fallen’ tendencies could cause us to harm ourselves or others. For instance, if someone has a natural tendency to lie and doesn’t try hard to be an honest person, they will deceive and lead people astray, often hurting themselves and others. Or if someone has a fierce temper and doesn’t learn to restrain their emotions, they will no doubt say or do things that will be harmful and destructive and fill their lives with deep regret. If a hot-headed person, a liar, a thief, or a murderer pleads that everyone should just ‘accept me as I am – I can’t change’, this is unlikely to console those they have wounded, or be accepted in a Court of Law.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DESIRES AND ACTIONS

God recognizes that we are in this ‘fallen state’ ever since Genesis 3. He knows and expects that we will make mistakes. He does not consider our ‘desires’ to be sinful – but holds us accountable for our wrongful actions. As it says in James 1:12-15, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him… But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Having a natural desire to do something that is against God’s will is not counted against us, and nor should we count it against others. It is sin when we give in to a wrongful desire and act on it. This is a very important distinction to make! Temptation itself isn’t sin; Jesus himself was tempted like we are, and yet was sinless (Hebrews 4:15). Sin is ‘missing the mark’ that God has set.

While God’s Law states, “the wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23 (KJV), He has also provided the ultimate sacrifice for reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19) – giving His beloved and fully obedient Son over to the brutality of envious men who put Jesus Christ to death. Because Jesus was a sinless man and therefore not deserving of death, he broke the cycle of ‘sin and death’ when God raised him from the dead. This declared God’s righteousness (Romans 3:25-26). When we faithfully associate ourselves with Christ through baptism (Romans 6, Galatians 3), we too have the hope of forgiveness of sins and the promise of a resurrection to life. This is why Romans 6:23 goes on to say, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it – it’s a FREE GIFT – for sinners!

FINDING FORGIVENESS

However… and this is the big ‘however’ that often gets overlooked – sin must be acknowledged, confessed and an attempt made to forsake it in order for us to receive forgiveness.

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Proverbs 28:13

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10

Therefore, if we wish to find forgiveness from God, or if we wish to encourage others to find forgiveness and be granted His free gift of eternal life, it is very important that we recognize our Heavenly Father’s divine standard of right from wrong. To tell someone they can keep on sinning in whatever way – drunkenness, adultery, violence, stealing, etc. , and that God will accept them ‘just as they are’, will mislead them, causing them to lose the opportunity NOW to seek for forgiveness and eternal life. Such misleading… perhaps even by very compassionate, caring people, has occurred in the past:

“You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Malachi 2:17

“Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life…” Ezekiel 13:22-23

DON’T BE DECEIVED

The New Testament warns us not to be deceived about moral issues… which indicates that deception on these matters is very likely! Yet, we are provided with the comforting promise that if we do our part to struggle against sin, and seek forgiveness through Christ Jesus when we fail, we will find grace and mercy.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV)

All these sins can be forgiven in Christ when we seek God’s salvation acknowledging His way is right.

THE BIGGER PICTURE THAT MANY DON’T SEE

Eternal life is at stake for us and for others. If we want to find forgiveness and life beyond the grave, we will try to conquer lustful desires that God has forbidden and do our best to overcome – NOT provide ourselves with ample opportunity for indulgence (Romans 13:14).  There are some desires that humans must fulfill in order to live – like eating food to satisfy hunger. But not all desires have to be satisfied immediately, or at all! There are desires that people have chosen not to pursue for various reasons, and have not only survived, but thrived – IF they have a ‘bigger’ picture in mind. For example, if you’re craving an ice cream sundae, it will be hard to resist unless you are hoping to win the big race the next day, or see lower numbers on your weigh scale. It’s the same with any desire we might want to overcome. Hebrews 11 is full of accounts of those who gave up desires or endured great suffering because they had their eyes on the prize! Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish:” (KJV) If we find it hard to give up something for God, perhaps we don’t fully appreciate the amazing promises God has made for the future. In that case, we may need to do a deeper investigation into what He has offered.

Paul gave up most earthly desires, and faced intense suffering because of his choices, yet he concluded: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

Paul also said:

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” Colossians 3:2-5

It was for the ‘joy set before him’ that Jesus endured terrible suffering on the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2). He gave up marriage and children, owning a home, having a career, etc.. even though these things aren’t ‘sinful’. He had a direct connection to God and knew more than any of us about the amazing future promises, and he was fully confident that living forever in the Kingdom of God was far better that fulfilling any temporal desires. Therefore he was willing to have a short life, full of rejection and deprivation. Now he lives forever and sits on the right hand of His Father! Soon he will be coming back to be the King of the world!

OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO OTHERS

Indulging our desires is not a guarantee for happiness, contrary to what the world tells us, and in many circumstances indulgence leads to misery. And if we want to help others to have a part in God’s promises and find forgiveness, we will recognize the need to speak up for God’s morality in an encouraging, empathetic, humble way, regardless of what laws this world may put in place. In the First Century, the Jewish lawmakers tried to command the disciples to stop preaching the good news about Jesus Christ. They were threatened with imprisonment, beatings and death, and yet, Peter boldly stated: “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

ENCOURAGEMENT

For those who choose to follow Jesus Christ, he encourages us with these words:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?Matthew 16:24-26

To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” Revelation 3:21

If you would like to do a more thorough study on God’s definition of morality in the Bible, especially in regards to ‘sexual sins’, click on the following Discovery Lesson “God’s Morality vs. 21st Century Morality”

All passages are from the ESV or KJV unless otherwise noted.

When Mr. Goodman Went Away


Wikipedia defines a ‘cult’ as “a social group that is defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal.” For many people, the word ‘cult’ evokes scary and dangerous associations of brainwashing, extremism, mind-control, idolizing human leaders, strong emotional pressure tactics, isolation from family and friends, and being ‘robbed’ of ones’ finances. Since Google searches involving the name ‘Christadelphian’ bring up articles labelling this religious group as a cult, some investigation is required.

WEIRD NAME

The name ‘Christadelphian’ does sound strange until one understands that it is based on the Greek phrase ‘Christou adelphoi’ which simply means ‘brothers (and sisters) in Christ.’

“To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:” (Colossians 1:2)

DO THE CHRISTADELPHIANS EXHIBIT ‘CULT-LIKE’ BEHAVIOUR?

In order to answer this question fairly, we must keep in mind that any human establishment with real, living human beings, be it secular or religious, has the potential for some of their members to develop wrong motives and destroy the good intentions and moral standing of others. Human beings are complex creatures that aren’t always able to resist the temptations that come their way, especially if they are charismatic individuals that naturally draw others to themselves. Sometimes their popularity grows faster than their character develops. History is full of such accounts whether it be in world governments, secular companies, schools, families or churches.

The lurking desire for power, control and other selfish ambitions can turn fully committed followers of Christ into deluded, hostile leaders who wreak havoc everywhere they go. Often, such deluded individuals proclaim their motives and actions are based on doing ‘what is best’ for others or the ‘greater good’, when in reality they are only serving themselves. Generally, in religious groups, such members deftly twist the clear commands of Christ to justify their wrongful actions. This was even happening in the First Century when the Apostles were still alive and the New Testament was being written (2 Timothy 2:16-19; Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15). Corruption or insistence on extreme views – whether liberal or conservative – destroys the faith of many and brings heartache and bitterness to others. Corrupt or extreme individuals have at times disrupted individual Christadelphian congregations, just as they do in every other religious or secular organization. Such ‘cult-like’ behavior can occur within any group of people.

Judas Iscariot’s betrayal did not make everything that Jesus taught and did hypocritical, but rather demonstrated that he had not taken Jesus Christ’s principles to heart in his own personal life. In most establishments – secular or religious – you will find people who honestly want to hold to the principles of the group intermingled with those who are unable to overcome their own base desires. Jesus Christ warned that the ‘tares’ will grow with the ‘wheat’ until he returns and separates the two. (Matthew 13:25-30) Paul says, “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

It is always important to examine the foundational principles of an organization – and determine whether its principles are true and valid, or actually contributing to the wrong behavior within the group.

CHARISMATIC HUMAN LEADERSHIP DISCOURAGED

Across the world, Christadelphians recognize the human weakness to blindly follow strong personalities, and appreciate the importance of keeping the Lord Jesus Christ in his proper prominent position. Therefore, as a group they have purposely chosen not to have a paid ministry or Central organization in order to counteract the human lust for power and influence. Each congregation strives to follow First Century practices and teachings. Every member is expected to reason through their beliefs and hold speakers and writers to be accountable to the inspired message of the Bible.

Some claim that John Thomas is the leader of the Christadelphians, but this is misleading. In the 1800’s John Thomas founded the group, but he never claimed Divine inspiration or any special direct channel to God. He is not revered as a ‘prophet’, but gratefully acknowledged as a man who devoted his life to rediscovering the original Gospel message which had been lost during the Dark Ages. Several groups, by various names, throughout the last 2000 years have testified to the same simple Gospel as the Christadelphians do today and many lost their lives for this witness. The Polish Brethren, the Anabaptists, Socinianism, William Tyndale and Sir Isaac Newton all spoke against various Church teachings which they felt were sadly astray from First Century Christianity.

NO EMOTIONAL PRESSURE TACTICS

Christadelphians don’t use highly charged music or emotional appeals to pressure people into “on the spot” conversions. ‘Brainwashing’ and mind-control tactics are never used, instead members are encouraged to personally compare everything they hear with what they read in the Bible. The Bible – both the Old and New Testaments – is the only authority the Christadelphians acknowledge worldwide.

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Acts 17:11 (See also 2 Timothy 3:12-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)

Giving one’s life to Christ is a very personal commitment which requires maturity. Within Christadelphian circles, those who choose to make the decision to be ‘baptized into Christ’ are encouraged to think it through carefully, prayerfully, and articulate a good understanding of the Gospel message. (Acts 8:26-38; 6:36-42)

As much as possible, monetary donations are made in secret without show, and without highly pressurized, emotional appeals. There is no mandatory ‘tithing’ or amounts ‘suggested.’ Members give as they choose to do so within their means.

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:6. See also Matthew 6:1-4)

NO DIRECTIVES TO GO INTO ISOLATION

As Jesus commanded, Christadelphians remain ‘in the world,’ sharing Christ’s message of hope, but keep separate from immoral practices and behaviour.

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one… As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:14-18; See also 1 Peter 4:1-5; Matthew 5:14-16)

There are never any highly charged appeals or directives to isolate in secluded retreats for long periods of time. Christadelphians do run wonderful, weekly Bible schools in the summer that are freely attended and enjoyed by those who want to take part… but there is never any pressure forcing members to attend.

CHRISTADELPHIANS ARE REGARDED AS ‘UNORTHODOX’

We acknowledge that even with these moderating choices in place, there have been some individuals who have lost sight of the principles of Christ and acted in ways that damaged or destroyed the faith of others. However, we feel strongly that the only valid reason for suggesting that Christadelphians, as a whole, are ‘a cult’ is that they differ from mainstream Christianity in their teachings. ‘Sect’ would be a more accurate description – ‘sect is a subgroup of a religious, political or philosophical belief system, usually an offshoot of a larger group.. any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and principles. Sects are usually created due to perception of heresy by the subgroup and/or the larger group.’ (Wikipedia) The early Christians were also labelled a ‘sect’ by the Jewish leaders (see Acts 28:22).

Christadelphians believe that the original Gospel message has been substantially altered during the last 2000 years, as Greek and Roman philosophies, practices and teachings were incorporated in order to make Christianity more appealing to the masses. The New Testament warns us that this was already happening in the First Century and would get even worse.

“…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come… They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” (1 John 2:18-19; See also 4:1-4; Acts 20:29-30)

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-8

WHAT GOSPEL MESSAGE DO THE CHRISTADELPHIANS TEACH?

The original Gospel message was based on two aspects – ‘the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ’ (Acts 8:12; 28:23).

THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST

Christadelphians believe in a powerful Creator God – the Father, who has a Son – Jesus Christ, and whose power is referred to as ‘the Holy Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3).  Through His Holy Spirit power God miraculously caused a virgin to conceive without the involvement of a man (Luke 1:30-35). Through his mother, Mary, Jesus was a direct descendant of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1; Galatians 3:16; Revelation 22:16). This faithful Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, died for the sins of all mankind (Hebrews 2:9-18; Isaiah 53), willingly sacrificing his own life so that believers now have the hope of rising from the dead to immortality just as he did (1 Cor. 15:20-49; Romans 8:29). Having been the first to rise from the dead and receive immortality, the Lord Jesus Christ is ‘the firstborn from the dead’!! (Colossians 1:18; Acts 26:23; Rev. 1:5) He now shares God’s immortal nature (1 Timothy 6:16; 1 Corinthians 15:35-57). He has been ‘given the Name that is above all names’ (Philippians 2:9). Jesus Christ is the Creator of the new creation – a spiritual creation, reconciling men and women to His Father (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 3:10). Presently, he is at his Father’s right hand in Heaven awaiting his return to establish God’s Kingdom on earth and to be the King of the World. (John 18:33-37)

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Christadelphians hold the hope of resurrection which Abraham, Job, David, Isaiah and Daniel also expressed (Hebrews 11:8-16; Job 19:25-17; Psalm 17:15; Isaiah 26:29; Daniel 12:2), when believers will receive immortality, just as our Lord Jesus Christ did at his resurrection when he was made ‘the firstborn among many brothers’ (Philippians 3:20-21: 1 John 3:2; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15). This resurrection and judgment will occur when our Lord returns to judge the living and the dead (Daniel 12:1-3; John 5:25-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 1:5-7) commencing the Kingdom of God, when the Lord Jesus Christ will reign with his saints over the entire earth (Daniel 7:13-27; 2:44-45; Zechariah 14; Revelation 11:15; 5:10; 20:1-6).

Christadelphians are found in most countries of the world, although generally small in number. It is because they hold beliefs differing from ‘mainstream’ Christianity that other religious groups have labelled this movement a ‘cult.’ Misleading associations with this word ‘cult’, scare many away from a careful investigation with their Bible in hand. Sadly, the leaders of the Jewish world also used scare tactics to steer others away from the Christian movement and even from the Lord Jesus Christ.

‘Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ 2 Timothy 3:12-17

God doesn’t change. His inspired Word was recorded for our benefit and since it is ‘breathed out by God’, it won’t change either… it is still perfectly true today! Any attempts to ‘modernize’ Christianity might make it more popular but will only lead people astray from the real Gospel of salvation. Be like the Bereans and examine the Scriptures daily to see if ‘these things are so’. (Acts 17:11)

An excellent podcast interview on this topic is available on Apple Podcasts: “Why the Christadelphians are not a ‘Cult’.

Will Christians be raptured to heaven before Jesus Christ returns to the earth – or will we be taken somewhere else?

Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 are some of the most comforting and encouraging words in the Bible, especially for those who have lost loved ones. He writes, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

It’s quite clear from this passage, that Jesus will return to raise the dead and then gather those who are still alive. These events are also referred to in Matthew 24:30-31, “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Where will we be taken?

In 1 Thessalonians 4, it says that those of us ‘who are left’ will ‘be caught up together’ with them in the clouds… “Caught up” is the Greek word ‘harpazo’ which doesn’t in itself indicate direction whether up, down, east, west, etc. ‘Harpazo’ simply means ‘to seize, catch, pluck, pull, take by force’. It is used in the New Testament when people wanted to make Jesus king and plotted to ‘take him by force’ (John 6:15), or of when a wolf ‘catcheth’ the sheep (John 10:12), or of Paul knowing a man (likely himself) who was ‘caught up’ to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). Philip the evangelist, was ‘caught away’ after baptizing the eunuch and taken to Azotus. So, as you can see, ‘harpazo’ doesn’t indicate direction – it simply means being ‘taken’ or ‘seized.’

In 1 Thessalonians 4, the passage goes on to say that we will be taken away to be ‘in the clouds’ and ‘to meet the Lord in the air’. What is this talking about, if this is not heaven? Why would anyone think that it isn’t heaven? Well, because these events are interconnected with Jesus returning to earth – not believers going to heaven.

In order to investigate the correlation between Jesus’ return, the resurrection, the granting of immortality, and the beginning of the Kingdom on earth, the following ten passages are helpful:

Jesus will call the dead to life.

John 5:25-29, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Jesus’ angels will gather the good and the bad, and then the righteous ‘will shine.’

Matthew 13:40-43, “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Jesus will come ‘with the clouds’ and ‘every eye will see him’

Revelation 1:5-7 “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”

Those ransomed by Jesus will be priests and reign on earth

Revelation 5:9-10 “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

The earth is the ‘inheritance’ of the faithful

Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Psalm 37:34 “Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off.” (see also verse 9, 11, 22, 29)

The saints will be given an everlasting kingdom over all other nations

Daniel 7:27 “And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”

God’s kingdom will break all other kingdoms and ‘stand forever’

Daniel 2:44 “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,”

All nations will serve, worship and bring gifts to the rulers of God’s kingdom

Isaiah 60 “For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste. The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious… they shall call you the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory…Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.”

Jesus will be revealed to the world when he returns to the Mount of Olives with the ‘holy ones.’ This will be the beginning of his kingdom over all the earth.

Zechariah 14 “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle… Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward… Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him… On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem… And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one… Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts…”

We see from these ten references above, that Jesus is returning to raise the dead and grant immortality to his chosen ones. When he shows himself to the world and saves Israel from the nations that come against her, his ‘holy ones’ – the immortal saints – are with him. This deliverance will be the beginning of the ‘little stone’ of Daniel 2 taking over all the kingdoms of the world, and the saints inheriting the earth… not heaven.

So, where will we be gathered to, if not heaven? Why will we be in ‘the clouds’, and meet the Lord ‘in the air’?

The New Testament often speaks of Jesus returning ‘in the clouds’ (See Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7). In Hebrews 12:1, Paul talks about all the faithful believers mentioned in the chapter before, as ‘a cloud of witnesses.’ The ‘clouds’ may refer to all the saints being together. Believers are caught away to be with the Lord and all the others who have been caught away.

Where is ‘the air’?

The Greek word that is used here is ‘aer’. Thayer’s defines it as ‘the air, particularly the lower and denser air as distinguished from the higher and rarer air, or the atmospheric region’. Strong’s defines it as coming from the root ‘aemi (to breathe unconsciously, that is respire; by analogy to blow)’ Therefore the air cannot refer to heaven where God dwells… but must be somewhere in our atmosphere.

Judgment and the Marriage Feast

In other New Testament passages, Jesus told us that when he returns there will be a time of judgment, when the ‘sheep’ will be set on his right hand and invited to ‘inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,’ while those on his left will be told to depart (Matthew 25:31-46). Revelation 19:6-10 speaks of the ‘marriage supper of the Lamb’ – a time for the saints to meet their ‘bridegroom’ and begin an eternal relationship with him. (see also Matthew 25:1-10; Luke 12:36). So, when the angels gather believers from all over the earth, we are not told specifically where we will be taken, perhaps because Jesus wants this wedding feast to be a private event. However, we know that we will be together both with those who have been raised from the dead and those who have been gathered from all over the earth. We know that we will be in the air that we can breathe – somewhere in our atmosphere. Best of all, we know that Jesus is returning to set up an everlasting Kingdom on this earth that will subdue all other governments and bring in a time of peace, righteousness and godliness that will last for 1000 years (Revelation 20). May that day come soon!