From Jesus to Religion-Chapter 1

Chapter 1
Distancing Through Symbols of Mediation

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5).

In this chapter, we will be studying the subversion of the Christian faith and the corresponding distancing of people from God and their ordinary experiences of life. I will attempt to trace this distancing by noting the symbols that people have placed between them and God by organized religion. I understand that this concept may be hard for many to conceptualize. Therefore, I will attempt with the following diagrams to illustrate the process of distancing.

To begin with, I want to stress the fact that distancing is what we might refer to as a group dynamic. Often the individual or the community cannot detect this easily. The reason for this lack of perception, on the part of the individual and community, is because of the amount of time involved in the process of distancing. This process seldom takes place in one generation, but usually takes three to four generations before change becomes noticeable. It is also obvious that this dynamic change affects some individuals and groups more than others and in different ways. However, it would be very difficult to be part of a religious community and not experience in some way the effects of the symbols of mediation and corresponding distancing of God from the everyday experiences of life.

Even after the changes are noticed in a movement, there is very little chance for reformation. The reason for this inability to reform is, by the time the distancing is noticed, the leadership in a movement is benefiting so greatly from the system that has evolved, to change would be unthinkable. It would mean institutional suicide. Therefore, it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reform the existing structures from within. Most reformers end up going outside the existing structures and forming new ones. The Lord Himself said, “You cannot put new wine into old wine skins.”

In Diagram I, I show what this study of distancing seems to be indicating. It shows that the distance between God and man is always equal and the same for the distance between man and his brother.

Therefore, the symbols of mediation that distance us from God also distance us from our brother. The symbols that distance us from our brother also distance us equally from God. If you want to know your relationship or standing before God, just look at the standing and relationship that you have with your brother. By brother, I do not mean a little closed community that one has created in his own image, but the entire body of Christ. That would include all those who believe and have been baptized into Christ. Moreover, if you want to know if there are any mediators between you and God, just look at your relationship with your brother. Whatever mediates between you and your brother also stands between you and God. This idea is based on the fact that my Christian brother is the image of God with God’s Spirit dwelling in him. In this, he is a living symbol of God. Therefore, how I relate to my brother is the way I relate to God. The true test of my relationship with God is not based on the degree of my religiosity or the correctness of my belief system, but rather on my relationship with my brother. God is as far away as your brother. Read the following New Testament passages: (James 3:9, I John. 2:9-11, 3:14, 23-24, Matt. 5:23-24, 6:14, 25:31-46).

In Diagram I, the foundation block represents the relationship of the believer to God and his brother when all the symbols of mediation are destroyed and broken down by a full relationship with Jesus (Eph. 2:14). This relationship is an at-oneness with God and one’s brother. This at-oneness with God took place when Christ atoned for our sin. The proof that one’s sins have been forgiven is an at-oneness with one’s brothers in Christ. Without this at-oneness with one’s brothers in Christ, there is no evidence that one’s sins have been forgiven. In fact, the lack of at-oneness with the Christian community is a sign that one’s sins have not been forgiven (Matt. 5:23-24, 1 John 3:16-24).

Each column and block in Diagram I represents additional forms of distancing or of mediation that stand between God and man and between man and his fellow man. The more mediators that are placed between God and the people, the further God is removed from their everyday experience and the harder it becomes for them to have a personal relationship with Him or their brother. As pointed out above, the effect of mediators varies from person to person depending on the environment and a number of personal characteristics. However, it would be hard to deny that it is quite difficult for the average person not to come to some degree under the spell of the different forms of mediation. The forms of mediation in our diagram will also help us to understand the misdirected faith of so many religious people today. Their faith simply does not penetrate the forms of mediation to reach God, but rather is misplaced in the mediators themselves (see Diagram II, below). In this, men place their faith in the bodyreligious, law, Holy men, institutions, icons, or rituals, etc., which are nothing more than their own good works and idols created by their own hands.
These diagrams can also help us to understand the division in the Christian movement. It is easy to see that as the church adds mediators, it is building a system that would foster alienation and discord among its ranks. It is simply a matter of time before some of its members will begin to reject the different forms of mediation. I believe that much of the system was built to protect the unity of the institution by controlling an unregenerate membership. However, all such systems eventually become self-serving and oppressive. When this happens, it is just a matter of time before some in the group will revolt in an effort to free themselves from the tyrannical system and its mediators.

Vertical Dimension

The institutionalized churches use what we might call the vertical dimension to justify their alienation and division toward their brothers (note Diagram III). The vertical dimension makes a hard and fast distinction between one’s relationship with God and one’s relationship with one’s brother. It then places the emphasis on one’s relationship with God or truth, saying you must be right with God before you can be right with your brother. Of course, in keeping one’s relationship with God, a brother might be totally ignored or even crucified in the name of truth or God’s Law.

This one-dimensional view of one’s relationship with God and man is attacked by the Lord Jesus in a number of places in the New Testament and is shown to be a grotesque error of religious people. For example, there is the story of the Good Samaritan in which the religionists were too busy with the things of God to be concerned with their neighbor. Then there is the story of the disciples picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees who lived in the vertical dimension reacted to this by criticizing Jesus and the disciples for breaking the Sabbath day law. In this, they showed they had more concern for the Law than for the needs of their brother. In their eyes the most important thing was the law or truth; not their brother’s needs (Matt. 12:1-13). In the parable of the Lost Son, we see both the horizontal man who takes too much license with God’s will and the vertical dimensional man who makes the Law the absolute instead of the well-being of his brother. Both of these brothers in the story were outside the Father’s will. Here we must ask a soulsearching question, “Could the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees be living in and from the vertical and horizontal dimensions?” (Matt. 16:5-12).
Most Christians would agree that there is nothing more important than worshiping God, but few seem to understand that the first and highest form of worship is love for one’s brother. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John. 15:8). In the context of this passage, the fruit that glorifies (worships) the Father is the fruit of Christian love and service to one another (Heb. 13:16). No one can truly worship in a vertical dimension until he has come through the horizontal dimension of first loving, forgiving, and accepting his brothers. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).

The vertical dimension itself is a dimension of division, for it divides things that, from God’s point of view, cannot be divided. It was from the vertical dimension that an expert in the law asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus answered the question by uniting the vertical and horizontal dimension knowing that they are wholly dependent on one another and cannot be separated (Matt. 22:3740). However, those who live in a vertical dimension do divide the dimensions and in turn put the stress on the vertical. When this happens they can and do justify any behavior toward their brother in the name of serving God or in the name of truth. On the other hand, there are those who live only from the horizontal dimension who are as far out of balance as those who live solely from the vertical. These are people who practice freedom at the expense of truth. The goal of the Christian should be to live in a third dimension which we might call a Christ-centered dimension, for it is in Christ that God and man becomes one, uniting all the dimensions of life.

The question arises; can we not just overlook the mediators in our brother’s system and be one big happy family? Unfortunately, the answer is no. This is because mediators are not just the things of one’s tradition or culture, which by all means should just be overlooked, but are rather things that are inimical to the cause of Christ and actually distance men not only from their brothers, but from God. Therefore, God’s people should never accept any mediator that men place between them and God. If we do accept the mediators of our brother, we then fall into the error of living solely from the horizontal position instead of a Christ-centered position. However, rejecting a mediator that a brother’s faith has not pierced or outgrown is a far cry from rejecting a brother. If we begin to reject people because of the mediators in their belief system, we ourselves revert back to the vertical dimension, which Christ had freed us from. Here it is important to note that a person may still be a part of a system that has forms of mediation and yet has a faith that has pierced the forms of mediation and is acceptable to God. Mediators who are pierced by faith soon become transparent and then vanish away. However, this is a gradual process, and we should show the utmost patience with those who are struggling to see through the mediators of organized religion (Diagram II).

Those who choose to live in a Christ-centered dimension will soon find those who live in the vertical or horizontal dimensions often misunderstand them. You will find it is quite hard to reject people’s forms of mediation without leaving the impression that you are rejecting them. You will also find that those living in the vertical dimension usually react in a hostile way toward those who reject their forms of mediation. They will probably call you liberal and most likely charge you with compromising the faith. In turn, those living in the horizontal dimension will usually label anything that stands between them and their fellow Christians as legalistic and will also withdraw their fellowship, of course in a more civilized way than those who are in the vertical dimension. One of the laws of liberalism is that you must always be nice. In liberalism, openness becomes nothing more than another form of law or mediation. It is obvious that it is not easy to live outside the vertical or horizontal dimension without mediators. If you do not agree, just look at what those who endorse the vertical and horizontal viewpoint did to the only complete God-centered man (Jesus). They crucified Him in the name of God and justified it by appealing to the vertical and horizontal dimensions. Both liberals and conservatives use Christ to support a value center of law and truth or love and freedom. The Christ-centered person has Christ as the center. Christ embodies the concepts of law, truth, love, and freedom. To be in Christ means to stand in all of these concepts at once. Only in Christ can these things be kept in balance. If Christ is not the center, one of the other concepts will invariably be the center.

                                               The Way of the Cross

It is time for those wishing to truly follow Jesus to leave behind the vertical and horizontal dimensions and enter into the new and living dimension of being in Christ and viewing all things anew (2 Cor. 5:16). “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13). Yes, let us go outside the liberal and conservative camps to a new way of thinking and living in relationship to one another. The good news of the gospel is that we need not divide up into the liberal or conservative camps like this world, nor do we have to live in the vertical or horizontal dimensions. We can now live in Christ. To my brothers in the conservative and liberal camps, I would plead with you to consider that there is a Christ-centered way of looking at all things which does not align with either the liberal or conservative camp. There is the way of Christ.

To those in the Protestant and Catholic camps, I would also beseech you in the name of Christ, to consider that there is another way of viewing things beside the way of your parties. There is the way of Christ, which is to have the mind of Christ. If all those who believed in Christ had His mind, we all know there would be no division among us. In view of the fact there is division, it seems quite obvious many do not have His mind. Let us all seek the mind of Christ and the unity that would come to His church if we all had His mind. We can begin by examining ourselves and by looking at the mediators we have placed between our brothers and ourselves. We must do this for Christ to increase in the world. For Christ cannot increase until these mediators decrease.

From Jesus to Religion (Introduction)

                                                                  Introduction
This book is a study about the phenomena we call religion. It is a study in contrast, for throughout this study we will be contrasting religion in its many forms with the revelation of God we see in Christ and His teachings. For some, this will be confusing and even unsettling because of the many presuppositions people may hold. Some Christians have never looked at their religion in contrast to Christ. They have taken it for granted that the revelation of God in Christ and the Christian religion were one and the same. For those who have made that assumption, I hope this book will serve as a catalyst to further study and reflection.

It is also my hope that this essay will be read widely by the various sects of Christendom who have taken their religion so seriously that they are judging one another as unworthy of the kingdom. In reading this, I hope that one will come to realize that religion must decrease if Christ is to increase. It is my prayer that these sects will come to see religion is the middle wall of hostility that keeps believers in Christ divided and in seeing this, they will begin to discern the difference between religion and faith in Christ.
For many, the hardest thing to do will be to draw a clear distinction between faith in Christ and religion. The line between faith and religion is often ambiguous. However, I believe with

honest reflection, the distinction will be seen by those willing to face the consequence of knowing the difference. Some will reject the difference because they sense the anxiety that comes from trying to live without religion. It is much easier to walk by religion than revelation. Religion has the tendency of taking all ambiguity and uncertainty out of life, and even out of God. Living without the mediation of religion is to live in a state of constant anxiety and uncertainty. Therefore, needless to say, a life without religion has the propensity to help one to trust more in God.

The difference between faith and religion has always been noted by some of the best thinkers in and outside of Christianity. Karl Barth, speaking about the Christian religion said, “This religion, too, stands under the judgment that religion is unbelief…This judgment means that all this Christianity of ours, and all the details of it are not as much what they ought to be and pretend to be a work of faith, and therefore of obedience to the divine revelation [Jesus]. What we have here is in its own way—a different way from that of other religions, but no less seriously-unbelief, i.e. opposition to the divine revelation, and therefore active idolatry and self-righteousness.” Church Dogmatics (1.2 page 327)

The renowned atheist Nietzsche, in speaking about modern Christianity, said,
“One should not confuse Christianity as a historical reality with that one root that its name calls to mind: the other roots from which it has grown up have been far more powerful. It is an unexampled misuse of words when such manifestations of decay and abortions as “Christian church,” “Christian faith” and “Christian life” label themselves with that holy name. What did Christ deny? Everything that is today called Christian. The entire Christian teaching as to what shall be believed, the entire Christian “truth,” is idle falsehood and deception: and precisely the opposite of what inspired the Christian movement in the beginning.

Precisely that which is Christian in the ecclesiastical sense is anti-Christian in essence: things and people instead of symbols; history instead of eternal facts; forms, rites, dogmas instead of a way of life. Utter indifference to dogmas, cults, priests, church, and theology is Christian.” The Will to Power (page 98)
We may not be able to understand everything that Nietzsche is inferring, but we can see that he is clearly making a distinction between Christianity and the revelation of God in Christ.

Next, let us look at what Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Christian philosopher has to say about modern Christianity, which he refers to as Christendom,
“Christendom is an effort of the human race to go back to walking on all fours, to get rid of Christianity, to do it knavishly under the pretext that this is Christianity, claiming that it is Christianity perfected. The Christianity of
Christendom takes away from Christianity the offense, the paradox, etc., and instead of that introduces probability, the plainly comprehensible. That is, it transforms Christianity into something entirely different from what it is in the New Testament, yea, into exactly the opposite; and this is the Christianity of Christendom, of us men. The Instant (5,2).

A modern day disciple of Kierkegaard, Jacques Ellul, adds these provocative thoughts:“How has it come about that the development of Christianity and the church has given birth to a society, a civilization, a culture that are completely opposite to what we read in the Bible, to what is indisputably the text of the law, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul? I say advisedly “completely opposite.” There is not just contradiction on one point but on all points. On the one hand, Christianity has been accused of a whole list of faults, crimes, and deceptions that are nowhere to be found in the original text and inspiration. On the other hand, revelation has been progressively modeled and reinterpreted according to the practice of Christianity and the church. Critics have been unwilling to consider anything but this practice, this concrete reality, absolutely refusing to refer to the truth of what is said. There is not just deviation but radical and essential contradiction, or real subversion.” The Subversion of Christianity (page 1)

“Gandhi could discern the tension between Jesus and Christianity more clearly than Christians. On one occasion a missionary inquired, ‘Mr. Gandhi, what is the greatest enemy of Christ in India today?’ Without a moment’s hesitation Gandhi gave the answer, ‘Christianity!’” Verdict (1987 essay 31)

With such a great cloud of witnesses who seem to be saying that the faith of Christ is something other than modern Christianity, it would seem wise for us to at least give this some consideration and put our own faith to the acid test of truth. In writing on the subject of religion, there is a problem with the term itself. “Any discussion of religion in its plurality of forms is inevitably beset by problems of terminology… Accordingly we have to improvise, sometimes using words in stretched senses to cover two or more related ideas-and thereby risking the wrath of those who can see the semantic stretching but not the communicational need that it serves.” John Hick, “An Interpretation of Religion” (page 9). It would be impossible to give the reader a definition of how we will use the term religion in this study. The study itself defines the term for it is a study in contrast.

It is my belief that this intensive study is of an utmost importance for the Christian movement. In the West, our world views are changing at a rapid pace, and traditional institutions that support the established world views are being questioned and put to the test. Much of traditional Christianity and its institutions, when weighed in the balance, will be found wanting. For this we should praise God, for they never truly reflected the revelation of God in Christ.

The only regret is that it is not Christians who can take the credit for their demise. But Christians can look on this time as an opportunity to share with people the revelation of Christ. This is the time to free the living Christ from the wrappings of worn out old religious forms and traditions. It is the time to turn from our lifeless creeds and theology to the living Christ. It is time to hold out to the world the true and living revelation of God. However, this will be impossible unless we can make a clear distinction between revelation and the worn out forms of religion. We hope that this study will help in making this needed distinction.

To be Continued

Lyle Duell  Lebanon, Maine lyleduell.me lyleduel@gmail.com

The Death of Religion

The Death of Religion[1]

The Christ event, the death and resurrection of Christ, symbolizes many things like the end of the old order and the beginning of the new  “It represented a new way of approaching God and a new and better covenant. However, many fail to see that the first part the equation, the death of Christ marked the end of religion as a way to approach God.  So, we could say that when Christ died, all religion died with him, along with all of its idols.”  In view of this statement, I thought it good to give the readers a working definition of what we mean by religion.

The most common idea that comes to mind when we hear the word religion is one of ceremonial and other worldliness.  However, when we look deeper we begin to see a sense of religion in just about everything we humans say and do.  We see it in our devotion and ceremonialism in regards to our professionalism and nationalism.  Robert D. Brinsnead goes so far as to say, “To be a person is to be religious, because a person is by nature homo religious.”  One man said, “that a man’s religion is his ultimate concern” and we all have an ultimate concern.

We can also understand the word religion in a narrow sense to mean an institution that forms the foundation of a society and gives it the moral fabric that holds it together[2].  Religion as an institution can be created by humans as in the case of the world’s great religions like Buddhism,  Islam, and modern Christianity, or it can be a divinely created religion like ancient Judaism or primitive Christianity.  It can be organized like the great religions around the world, or unorganized like American civil religion or New-Age religion.  It may even take the form of non-religion like atheistic communism, which itself has become a religion.  It is religion in the form of institution that we will be discussing in this article.

From the above we can gather that we can never be completely free from religion in its broadest sense and probably not in any sense of the word.  However, we can strive to be free of bad religion in every sense of the word.  We might say that anything we do or say that does not lead to life is bad religion.

If you didn’t notice, let me draw your attention to the fact that in talking about religion I did not classify primitive Christianity as a religion.  I did this for the simple reason that it is not a religion but rather a way of life.  Jesus Christ never founded an organized religion nor did he intend his followers to fabricate one.  In fact, Jesus’ intent was to destroy religion as a mediator between God and man.  Therefore, primitive Christianity in the first century, like its Lord, stood against all institutionalized religion.  It called upon all men everywhere to cease building the institutions of religion, which is a call for man to stop making idols and to start having a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  The command of God in the gospel is that all men must come out of religion into his Son (II Cor 6:14-18).  This calling out of religion includes modern Christianity, which is a total subversion of primitive Christianity.

In order to understand the degree of this subversion, we must further understand the contrast between modern Christianity and primitive Christianity, the latter we will refer to from now on as the Faith.  We will see from this contrast that the Faith was subversive to all religion and that modem Christianity is nothing more than a total perversion of the true Faith, which we will see has very little in common with religion in any of its form or institutions.

As we begin to observe organized religion, you will begin to see a common thread that runs through all religion.  That thread is that religion is the mediator between man and his absolute.  In some cases, this absolute is God, in others it is an idol.  An idol is anything made by man and exalted by man as his absolute.  This would include ideologies and theological belief systems that have been created to serve him in his understanding of God and reality.  Given time these systems usually are exalted to be absolutes.  When this happens they become idols and men soon found that these systems of belief that were intended to serve and liberate them, have in fact enslaved them[3].  The religious traditions and institutions that he has made to serve him by giving structure and form have become his master.  A modem example of this enslavement to an ideology is Marxism.  First, you have the ideology that was meant to enrich mankind.  Then you have the subversion of it by the followers of the founder.  Then you have the institution that enslaves while claiming to be the perfection of the ideas of its founder.

This subversion and movement away from the founders intentions can be seen equally well in the Christian movement.  The Christian church in its institutional form has watered down and has even subverted the teachings of its Lord to make them and itself acceptable to the masses.  This perversion is often done under the cloak of evangelism and the love of souls.  However, the truth about of the matter is that the institutionalized church loves numbers because it loves power and the status of the numbers.

Subsequently, in order to protect and propagate itself, the institution must also exalt itself to a place of being the sole mediator between its members and their absolute.  It usually also claims the right to invest the authority of mediation on certain sacred people, places, codes, and times.  Thus we have the creation of the distinction between the sacred and the profane.  As long as the institution has control over the sacred, it has a tremendous power over its followers.  It is in this area of distinction between the sacred and the profane that primitive Christianity became hostile to all religion.  For it proclaimed that in the resurrection of Christ, that God had declared all things clean or sacred, for He is the Lord of all things and all people.  In this act of raising his Son, he forever abolished the distinction between the sacred and profane.  Therefore, this act of God is also the abolition of all religion, which raises the question; can one believe in the resurrected Christ and religion at the same time?

We have already made the statement that religion mediates though the channels of sacred people (priests or clergymen), sacred places (temples, shrines, etc.), sacred laws (creeds, theological systems, laws, etc.) sacred times (Sabbath day, Sunday, etc.).  However, when we look at primitive Christianity we see an amazing absence of these sacred mediators.  Instead, we find that there is only one mediator between God and man, and that one mediator is not a religion nor any of its forms of mediation, but rather a man.  “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.  The testimony given in its proper time” (1 Tim 2:5,6).  If we build on this teaching of the apostle Paul, we must conclude that when Jesus Christ appeared, all religion ceased to mediate the presence of God.  In other words, when Jesus came to life, all institutionalized religion was put to death along with all its forms of mediation.  At least in the mind of God.

It was religion and its laws that judged Jesus to be the accursed one, but God reversed that judgment by raising him from the dead and declaring him to be the just one.  In justifying Jesus in this mighty act of raising him from the dead, God condemned to death all religion, placing it in the old order of things that was done away with through Christ (John 19:7,  Col. 2:13-17).  He also shows in this act that the real intent and purpose of the Law (religion) was to point people toward Christ and to bring them to faith in the perfect revelation of God which is Jesus Christ (John 1:17, Gal 3:23-25).  In restoring Law [religion] to its proper place and fulfilling it by his very presence, Jesus dismantled one of the main forms of mediation of religion.  In religion law rules as the absolute.  In the Faith it is the living Christ that rules and we could go so far as to say that his standard of rule is not a written code but rather the well-being of man (Mark 2:27).  When God raised Jesus from the dead and enthroned him at his right hand, He dethroned all religion.  The living Christ has replaced all religion (a system of law or theology).  To be involved in making new laws, religions, or systems of theology, is to stand opposed to the living Christ.

Moreover, where institutionalized religion rules there must also be a sacred group of people to teach and enforce the law, for the profane or common people as defined by religion, have no right to handle the sacred law.  Thus we have the need for the professional clergy that is set apart for the sacred.  However, when we look at primitive Christianity we find no evidence of a professional clergy that was set apart from other members of the community of Faith.  In fact, we find evidence that would contradict and even condemn any professionalization or sacralization of any group in the Christian movement.  The message we find in the New Testament is that in Jesus Christ all men are equal and have equal access to God through the one mediator, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the apostle Peter could refer to all believers as priests of God (I Peter 2:9).

In the act of making all believers priests, God has forever done away with a separate or professional priesthood or clergy system.  In his book entitled “The Church” the Catholic theologian Hans Kung says, “all human priesthood has been fulfilled and finished by the unequal final, unrepeatable and hence unlimited sacrifice of the one continuing eternal high priest.  The perfect self-offering sacrifice replaces all cultic sacrifices offered by men; the perfect priest replaces all human priests” (page 469).  In commenting on 1 Peter 2:4, Kung says, “the word ‘priest’ ” occurs again here, not used in the sense of an official priesthood, and not in reference to the one high priest Christ, but applied through him and in him to all believers.  The WHOLE people, filled by the Spirit of Christ, becomes a priesthood set apart; all Christians are “priests”[4] (page 475). In making all Christians priests, God has made them equal and has forever destroyed the religious concept of mediation through sacred groups of men or women.  In this we again see a marked distinction between religion that promotes a sacred group of men and primitive Christianity that makes all men equal before God.

Religion tells us the temple or Holy Place is the place where man will find and worship God.  In religion the temple or shrine is the symbol of the presence of God.  However, when we turn to the New Testament, we find the very opposite message.  In fact, the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was killed for telling religious people that God does not dwell in earthly dwellings made by man (Acts 7:48).  The apostle Paul proclaimed the same message when he visited Athens.  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples (church buildings) built by hands” (Acts 17:24).

In His polemics with the Pharisees, Jesus contrasted the physical temple in Jerusalem with his own body. In this, he was claiming to be the new temple of God.  No longer would men find God in earthly temples made out of brick and mortar, but now they would find him in a person.  As God dwelled in the physical body of Jesus, He now dwells in the spiritual body of Jesus, which is made up of all that believe in Jesus as their Lord (II Cor 6:16).  This group of people is referred to in scripture as the church.  In the Bible the word church is used to denote a people, never a building.  This is why the apostle Paul could refer to the church as the new temple of God in the new order.  From this it becomes obvious that the only place that God dwells in all of creation, is in the only thing that was created in his image, that is man.  God dwells in our brother and only in our brother.  Therefore mankind and only mankind is sacred.  What we do to our fellow man therefore, we are actually doing to God.  This is why Christians put such a high importance on human life.  This is why we must go to the aid of our brother; for helping our brother is helping God (Matt 25:26).  We that are brothers in Christ should remember this teaching when we begin to tear each other apart in the name of truth.  What truth is more important than our brother?

We also see in religion an emphasis on sacred times.  Both in Judaism and paganism we find a distinct separation between the sacred and the profane in regards to time.  In paganism, the times vary greatly. In Judaism, we find the Sabbath day or the seventh day set apart with a number of additional feast days as the sacred times for the Jewish people.  However, when we turn to the New Testament, we find the distinction between times abolished in Christ.  In the new order in Christ, all time becomes sacred because it all belongs to Christ.  For he is the creator and Lord of all time (Col 1:15-18).

The apostle Paul in writing to Gentile Christians that had been converted out of paganism, exhorted them not to go back to religion by observing special times and days.  “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not Gods.  But now that you know God or rather are known by God how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?  Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?  You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal 4:8-11).  He goes on to say, “therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat, drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col 2:16-17)  Some have misunderstood this passage thinking that Paul was saying that the reality behind the Sabbath was Sunday.  However when we look at the passage in its context we quickly see that the reality behind the Sabbath was not just another or different sacred day, but rather the person of Christ himself.  It is Christ that is the final and perfect rest for the people of God. (Heb 3:7-11).

By Through Christ, God has made all times sacred by entering into ALL of time in the person of His son Jesus.  In everything that Jesus did, he did it to the glory of God.  Therefore, everything he did was worship to the Father.  In this, Jesus demonstrated that God is present in all times and activities.  For in Jesus (God with us), God has entered into the very times and activities where Christ was involved.  In this God was telling us that the everyday and ordinary has become sacred.  Therefore, Christians no longer worship God at a particular time or place, for they worship him at all times in everything they do (Col 3:17).  This also means that our work, play and even our rest is worship to the Father, for we see Jesus involved in all of these things making them acceptable to the Father.  Christians do not come together to worship God in the traditional sense but rather to encourage and to exhort one another unto good works, which is worship in its true sense (Heb 10:24-25).  The good works that we do outside of our meetings are the highest form of worship for the spiritually mature.  Putting the emphasis on coming together to worship God in a sacred place at a sacred time is a digression back to religion and a movement away from God.  Note Herman Ridderbos, “Paul: An Outline of His Theology” (Page 481).

The modern church’s emphasis on corporate worship with its ritual, form, and structure is a move back to religion and an effort to take God out of the everyday or ordinary and place him back into the sacred.  Great attention is given to create the atmosphere that will give the worshiper the sense of the presence of God.  This sends the message that God is somehow more present in this religious atmosphere than in the nonreligious everyday.  It matters little whether the religious atmosphere is created by icons, ritual, esthetics or emotionalism; it all represents a return to religion.  When religion does this, it presents God as the totally other, that is, totally removed from the everyday, a God that must be approached through sacred people and sacred places.  However, in the New Testament we see a very human God that draws close to man in the everyday.  A God who has come among his people in the form of a man.  A God to whom all have equal access.  A God that is near and can be called on in any place and at any time.  A God that has hallowed the everyday with his presence.

Moreover, religion makes worship something you do in a sacred place and is directed toward God.  In contrast, when we look at the Faith, we find that worship is something you do in the everyday and is directed toward God through your fellow man.  “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Heb 13:16)  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)  From this we can gather that true religion and true worship is something that is done in the everyday and has very little, if anything, to do with what the modern church calls worship.  True worship is loving your brother and sharing the message of God’s love with your neighbor.

From all this, we can conclude that religion, instead of bringing or drawing us closer to God, actually distances us from God.  But if this is the case, how do we explain this phenomenon?  How could a faith that started out as a simple way of life turn into a religion?  How could God be taken out of the ordinary and placed back into the sacred? The answer is that the Christian faith was subverted by religion and human wisdom.  The tracing of the evolution of this subversion is beyond the scope of this article.  However, for those who would like a complete treatment of this subversion, I recommend “The Distancing of God” by Bernard J. Cooke and “The Subversion of Christianity” by Jacques Ellule.  These two books will forever change the way you look upon the Christian religion.

[1] This article may help some to see that religion and faith in God are not the same. A person can question religion without questing the existence of God. In like manner, a person can believe in Jesus Christ and yet reject many aspects of the Christian religion.

[2]  Some of the new atheist type have postulated that religion has nothing to do with shaping the morality of a culture. This position is so ridiculous that it’s not worth commenting on.

[3] These idols can consist of ideologies, pseudo-religions like scientism and political ideologies like nationalism, etc.

[4] Hans Kung

The Symbolism of The Christmas Tree

The Symbolism of The Christmas Tree

What is Christmas all about?  Well,  it’s about what you want it to be about.  It can be all about stress and anxiety but remember if it is, it is because you make it so.  You may have allowed the spirit of materialism to cloud your vision.  To me, Christmas is all about giving and children.  I can still remember the excitement, mystery and wonder of those early Christmases.  I remember knelling at the upstairs window with my sister looking for Santa Clause and his reindeer.  I remember the expectation of the coming morning and the excitement of opening the gifts.  I still love to see the grand kids faces as they open their gifts.  I especially enjoy watching the little ones playing with the Christmas paper.  They seem to be more excited about the paper than all the commotion around.

Of course, Christmas is also about the family.  It is one of those sacred days we in America have set aside for family and friends; a day in which we celebrate our families and our friendships.  Christmas is the last wall which separates us from being a total secular culture where nothing is sacred and all is profane.  I often wonder what our culture will look like when the desacralization is completed and there is nothing left of the sacred or the mystery and wonder that went with it.  When was the last time that you experienced some awe and wonder?

You know there is something else I like about Christmas.  I love the music.  It is so positive and up- lifting.  It speaks of hope, love and joy.  One of the main radio channels in our area plays nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  I love the guy who thought that one up.  I’m sure the teens hate him and it must grind on the skeptics among us.  Even they must concede that it’s a welcome change from the noise and the depressing lyrics of modern music.

I guess I should get back to the title of this article “The symbolism of the Christmas tree.”  The pine tree is not a unique symbol to Christianity.  It was used by numerous religious groups as a symbol of eternal life.  Many of these groups might have borrowed the imagery of the tree of life found in the Paradise of God in the book of Genesis.  Unlike other trees, the pine tree does not depend on the seasons of the year for it to produce life.  It appears to be alive when everything around it seems dead.  It is shaped like a cone and points to the heavens and reminds us that life comes from above and is eternal.

Let’s take a look at the ornaments from top to bottom.  On the top of the tree we usually find an angel or a star.  Both are fitting symbols.  The angel represents the messengers that announced the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds in the field “they brought a message of good news and great joy.”  If you use a star, it symbolizes the star of David which symbolizes the Messiah to be born into David’s family.  It is not surprising; therefore, that Jesus is referred to as the bright and Morningstar.  The star, therefore, is the symbol of Jesus. As the Morningstar rules over the night, so does Jesus’s rule over his people.

Then we have the lights, (they used to be real candles) which stands for all of God’s people that are called by the Messiah to be the light of the world.  They are to take the message of giving and hope given by the angles to the entire world and be about the business of punching holes in the darkness of this world.  How is your light shining this Christmas?

It has been our custom to hang on the tree little symbols of our family members and family events that have taken place during the years.  It is a great way sharing and remembering our family history.  But it also symbolizes how our story and the story of all mankind hangs on the same tree of life.  Did you know that the tree of life in the opening story in the Book of Genius is a symbol that points toward Jesus? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us” (1 John 1:1-3).

Final, when we unwrap the meaning of the gifts under the tree we will see that they point to the great gift giver.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1;17)  This Christmas let’s learn the power of a thankful spirit.  Count the real gifts that God has given to you, your mate, your children and your friends.   Did you know that God blesses those that have a thankful spirit?

Have a merry Christmas and a great new year.

Grateful redeemed.

Lyle Duell

 

 

Securing the Future

Securing the Future

We live in very uncertain times.  So how in the world can we secure our future? I don’t have all of the answers to getting a hold on the future, but I do know that there is one thing which you’ve got to get a handle on before you can get a hold on the future.  That is death. The reason for this is that death robs all men of a future. Consequently, some men get a handle on the future by accepting their fate.  In essence, they accept that they have no future in the face of death.

That may seem brave but only if it’s true and only if it’s the only alternative, otherwise it’s foolishness.  Others (the majority) simply deny their death by refusing to think or talk about it.  I personally believe that there is another alternative.  It’s called hope.  You see hope is faith reaching into the future and pulling it into the present.

For faith to work you’ve got to make sure that when you send your faith out into the future that it finds something big enough to overcome death or a place where death cannot go.  When you do this you must be sure that the thing it brings back is powerful enough to overcome the fear of death.  In order to do this your faith must find something or someone who in themselves has overcome death.  You see I have heard from a lot of men who have made promises about securing the future and yet they themselves had no future.  To secure the future we need to have hope and faith in one that has himself secured the future.

Let me share with you a vision of the future that you might explore.  It’s worked for me and millions of others.  This vision of the future is a vision of a man.  Like all visions it is filled with symbolism so put on your thinking hat. Here it is “I (the apostle John) turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:12-18).”

If you have not guessed yet, this is a vision of the resurrected Christ.  When a person has placed their hope in the resurrected one they need not be afraid of death or anything else for someone else has secured the future for them. If the Book of Revelation teaches anything, it teaches that the future belongs to Jesus. God bore witness to this by raising him from the dead.  He was dead and behold He is alive forever and ever.  The gates of death and Hades can never shut in those who believe in the one who holds the keys to those gates. LD

What is Faith and True Spirituality?

What is Faith and True Spirituality?

What is faith? In today’s world, most people think of faith as believing in something such as the existence of God or believing some facts about God. However, in the Scriptures it is more often used as a synonym for trust. What is trust? Is it, a belief or an emotion? It’s both; but it is more. It is a spiritual concept similar to hope and love. The apostle Paul speaks of faith, hope, and love and says the greatest of these is love. All three of these concepts of faith, hope, and love are spiritual concepts that are difficult to understand and this should be expected for they are not logical or reasonable. Now, that is not to say they are unreasonable or illogical, but it is to say they are outside the realm of logic or reason. Once a person experiences these concepts, they then become reasonable to that person. In fact, they actually become more real and rational than the material creation.

Like all spiritual truth, faith cannot be explained with objective truth like a math equation. The reason for this difficulty is that the spiritual is another dimension where most men have little or no experience. When we begin to talk about the spiritual dimension, the majority of men immediately think of religion or morality, failing to see that religion and religious people may or may not be spiritual. At its best, religion can only point one toward the spiritual and at its worst, it can become a vaccination against true spirituality. Others believe that being spiritual is being a moral or a responsible person. The Pharisees were some of the most moral, religious, and responsible people who ever existed, but they were not spiritual. Still others believe that being spiritual is being sinless or a nice guy or gal. Well, it’s not. Some people did not think that Jesus was a nice guy. Remember the people in the temple who were selling their wares and Jesus made a whip and drove them out of the temple area? Nice guy?

The question is, “How can we talk about and know something that we cannot experience directly with our senses?” We do it with the use of stories, metaphors, and similes. This is why Jesus often used stories and parables. One of His favorite expressions was “the kingdom of God is like…” Jesus compares the unseen kingdom of God (Reign of God) with a physical and known thing, which His listeners had experienced. In this, the metaphor or simile became a bridge between the spiritual and physical, uniting the two dimensions.

To explain faith, hope, and love or anything that is spiritual with logic or reason would be like trying to explain the color lavender to a blind man. The nearest you could come to it would be to say that it is like silk compared to wool or it is like whispering compared to yelling. Of course, the atheist would say that because the blind man could not see the color lavender, and we could not explain it to his complete satisfaction, it simply doesn’t exist.

There is no doubt that the spiritual is hard to understand, but it is not impossible. As we seek, we must remember the words of the apostle Paul, that in the realm of the spiritual we will always “see through a glass darkly.” However, by contrasting the spiritual with the known, or pointing out their similarities, we can come to know the spiritual to the degree where we are able to say, we understand the things of God. An example of this is found in First Corinthians 13 where the apostle Paul speaks of love and defines it by comparing it with certain behavior and telling us what it does and does not do. Herein he explains it without the use of logic, reason, or a list of objective truths. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (I Cor. 13:2-8).

After reading Paul’s words, I may not be able to explain love logically, but I can surely recognize it when I see it, and I can also recognize the absence of it. This is an example of tacit knowledge or what we might call background knowledge. The more I practice at picking things out of my background knowledge, the more skilled I become at it. We call this skill discernment. It is discernment that allows a person to pick God out of his background knowledge and say, there He is. Finding God in your background knowledge is the first step toward the kingdom of God.

In view of this, we must raise the question of who is spiritual or a person of faith. Well, we’re back to square one. You cannot explain true spirituality with a list of objective facts. Let’s try some comparisons. Being spiritual is like having a close relationship with a friend whom you love dearly. You trust your friend; you believe your friend, and you would do everything in the world not to hurt your friend. You enjoy being with your friend, and you love talking with them. You want to know more and more about your friend. If you hear someone putting him down, it angers you, and you go to his defense. Do you get it? To be spiritual is to be a friend of God. Everything that was just said about a relationship with a friend, we see in the relationship that Jesus had with His Father in heaven. To be spiritual is to be a friend of God and to be like Jesus. You see; Jesus is a living metaphor of what it means to be a friend of God and to be spiritual.

With the help of one of Jesus’ similes, let me give you a tool to help you discern your spirituality. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” There is little doubt what Jesus is saying about the kingdom of God in this verse, but there is something else inferred. What does the passage say about the person who finds the kingdom? Is it not inferred that a person who has found the kingdom is filled with joy, excitement, and enthusiasm about the Kingdom? The question is, are you excited and enthusiastic about God? If not, most likely you have not found the right God or there something wrong with your relationship with God. It could be that your god is too small or maybe you found the wrong kingdom.

How do you get true faith? Jesus said that faith is the work of God. However, it seems to come to those who humble themselves and seek God. It surely does not hurt to read the story of Jesus in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul says that “faith comes from hearing the words of Christ.” There is something about the words of Christ, which tends to create and strengthen our faith. LD

  1. We now know that there are different parts of the brain that perceive different aspects of reality. These parts of the brain can be developed and underdeveloped by use or the lack of use. This corresponds with what the Scriptures say about mankind. In the Scriptures, mans’ being is made up of three parts. He is made up of body, soul, and spirit. It is inferred in a number of Scriptures that the soulish man, that is the man controlled by his soul (governed by his reason, emotion, or appetite), cannot perceive the things of God. It is the man controlled or governed by His spirit that can understand the things of God. That is the man who has developed the part of his brain that perceives God.
  2. (Mark 4:30-34) Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? (31) It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. (32) Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
    (33) With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. (34) He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
    (Matt 13:44) “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

Conflicting Visions of the Second Coming

Conflicting Visions of the Second Coming

There are two basic visions of eschatology or  the seconding of Christ. They are the ‘thief in the night’ vision and the ‘sign seeking’ vision. Both visions have been with the church since her beginning and will be with her to some degree until her consummation. However, the question is which version is Biblical?

The most important thing in determining if a view is Biblical or not, is to determine what rules of hermeneutics one will adhere to in their study of the text. Hermeneutics is the study or science of interpretation and like all true science it has rules and laws that it follows to guides its study of a text. We can use these rules to help us critique the two versions of the second coming of the Lord.

To begin with we need to study what each view teaches and what is  the biblical basis for their interpretation. Let’s start with the ‘sign seeking’ vision.

This version holds to the view that God has given a number of signs that point to the time of the second coming. These signs constitute the fulfillment of  current events which align with the prophecies. This school of thought uses a  standard referred to by scholars as the pesher hermeneutic or method of interpretation.[1] This method is not new and was practiced even in the days of Christ by the Essenes and other groups. It basically interprets all prophecy as being fulfilled in the life time of the reader. Therefore, the question of whom the author was originally speaking to is not a priority in this version or its hermeneutic. God is speaking to them personally and anything happening in scripture or history is happening specifically to them.  They really don’t care to whom it was originally intended for. You might call this interpretation the ‘me’ interpretation of the Bible for its adherence believes that every prophecy must be fulfilled in their lifetime and God is talking to them personally.

The scriptural basis for this ‘sign seeking’ vision is taken from a number of places in the Old Testament most of which are highly figurative. Scripture such as the book of Daniel, the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24 and also the book of Revelation. However, for the most part this version is heavily dependent on Matthew 24  and without Matthew 24 this vision would have a hard time surviving.

On the other hand the ‘thief in the night’ vision believes that there are no specific signs for the coming of the Lord. This vision emphasizes that Christians should be prepared at all times for the second coming of their Lord, “Look he stands at the door”. Scripture  demonstrates that the Bible is simply teaching us that the Lord’s return is  likened to a ‘thief in the night’ when people are not expecting him. It also corresponds to the latter section of Matthew 24 starting with verse 36 to end of the chapter for its proof text, along with a number of lesser texts.

In view of the importance of Matthew 24 to both visions it would seem logical that it should be the place that we begin to put these two versions to the litmus test of truth.

To do this we need to look at the immediate context of the signs and predictions made in Matthew 24. We would draw this from the verses preceding Matthew 24 and those following immediately after the signs section, which is Matthew 24:1-36

After that we need to look at the overall context of the entire book of Matthew to see if  it lines up with our interpretation of chapter 24.

Now let’s turn to the immediate context of Matthew 24, which is the latter section of Matthew 23. In Matthew 23 we find Jesus giving a scalding criticism of the leaders of the Jewish nation by reminding them of their father’s sins against God and man, but especially against God’s prophets. In verse 32 he said “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.”  In this he was saying that the generation presently living would complete their rebellion against God by rejecting God’s son and killing him, i.e. they will kill the greatest prophet of all, the Son of God.

Jesus goes on to say in verses 35 and 36 that the generation  presently living would receive the retribution for their sins and sins of their fathers’ “so that on you may come all the righteous bloodshed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation”. (Mt 23:35-36).

After that, in verse 37 Jesus turned his criticism from the leaders of Israel to the city of Jerusalem, as the city which kills the prophets. He says to the city in verse 38 “See, your house is left to you desolate.” We are given some help in understanding this in Luke’s gospel, chapter 21:20-24 which is a parallel passage of Matthew 24. There it is clear that the thing that causes the abomination of desolation is the army of Rome laying siege to the city of Jerusalem and then finally destroying it in A.D. 70.

Next in Matthew 24, as Jesus  walked away,  his disciples pointed to the temple and basically  asked “how can this be, for Gods house is in Jerusalem?” In essence, they were questioning his prophecy on the city and the nation.  How could God destroy the city of David and his own temple?

In response Jesus points to the temple and says in Matthew 24:2 “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” They then ask Jesus for signs, which would lead up to this destruction of the temple. Jesus answers their questions about the Temple in verses 2-34 of Matthew 24.

From this short section of Matthew 23 we see that Jesus, in the context of Matthew 24, is talking to his disciples about a judgment which was coming on the nation of Israel in the city of Jerusalem, for their sins. In this prophecy Jesus placed it in the time frame of that generation presently living, “I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. (Mt 23:36)

As we move into Matthew 24 the disciples ask Jesus three questions. “As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Mt 24:3) Their first question is when will these things happen?  What are the “these things” that the disciples are asking about? Well, they are the things he just told them in Matthew 23. The second question is what will be the sign (singular) of your coming, and the third question is when will the end of the age, or the world, happen.

One of the problems with understanding Matthew 24 is how Jesus answered these questions. He uses a code language called apocalyptic literature to veil what he was saying from the outsiders. In other words, he was trying to confuse those that did not understand the Jewish culture and the highly figurative language used by them during turbulent periods of their history. This language is often used to cloak or shroud a message of destruction on the outsiders and the enemies of God. In this case it was the Romans.

In verse 33 of chapter 24 Jesus answered the disciples question about the coming judgment and the signs of the temples destruction. “So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” In this verse Jesus plainly tells them that what he just told them in verse 4-32, were the signs and he clearly tells them that they would see all these signs fulfilled. In fact he goes on to set a time limit on there for fulfillment. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Mt 24:34).

Then in verse 35, which we might call the transition text, Jesus moves from talking about the destruction of the temple to the end is the age or world “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”.  He then contrasts this event with the previous one; the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. The first has numerous and obvious signs and the latter have none. The reason being no one knows when it is going to happen “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Mt 24:36).  This statement would make no sense if Jesus was still talking about the same event of verses 4-35 where he gives a host of signs. If you assume Matthew 24 to be talking about one event then you must take the position that Jesus contradicts himself and is a false prophet.

Jesus then makes three comparisons of his second coming and the end of age or world, with other events Matthew 24 verses 37-44. It will be like the days of Noah, like a normal workday and like a thief coming in the night. In other, words nothing out of ordinary will be happening.

Then Jesus tells three longer parables in a row about his second coming. The first one is the parable of the wise servant, verses 45-51, where he warned that the master could come at anytime, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Mt 24:44). The second parable of the ten virgins warns that it could be sooner than we think (Mt 24:50). The third parable of the talents Matthew 25:14-30 warns it could be later than we think (Mt 25:5). In these parables Jesus covered all the bases: his coming could be sooner, it could be later. The over arching message is that Jesus “will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” In other words as a thief in the night.

Which version and interpretation of Matthew 24 squares best with the overall context of the gospel of Matthew? The Gospel of Matthew is a book showing the unfolding of Gods plan to bring the good news of Christ to the world. This unfolding or revelation shows how and why Gods focus changed from the nation of Israel to the man Jesus and then to a new nation made up of true Israelites assembled out of a people from every nation of the earth (John 3:1-5, 2 Peter 2:9, Daniel 7:13-14).

In the very beginning of his story Matthew tells of the birth of Jesus and puts it in the context of the leaders of Israel rejecting Christ and attempting to kill him. On the other hand the wise men of east which symbolizes the world were seeking him and embraced him as the new king. This story of wise men set much of the story line of the book and history of the Christian movement which we read about in the Book of Acts.

In Matthew’s recording of Jesus returning from exile in Egypt, Matthew sees the return and restoration of the true Israel to the land and the destruction of children in Ramah as the judgment on unfaithful Israel who is left childless[2].  This theme continues in the forth chapter with the new Israel (Jesus) entering the wilderness to be tested as did the first Israel, with the marked difference that the physical nation was unfaithful and the latter was true to his calling.

John Sets the Stage

In the third chapter of his Gospel, Matthew has John the Baptist coming on the stage with a twofold message; one of blessing for those who embrace the Christ and one of judgment on those who do evil and reject him.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”(Mt 3:7-12)

The point cannot be missed, the Messiah is coming soon not just to bless the nation of Israel but to judge it and purify it. In fact the judgment has already started (The ax has already begun its work) as seen in the Ministry of John. The interpretation of this section of scripture has been grossly misinterpreted by associating it with the tongues of fire that appeared over the heads of the apostles on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts two. The two sections have only one thing in common and that is the word fire. The passage in Acts two does not explain the event which was experienced by the apostles in acts two. If anything, they represent the phenomena which took place in the Old Testament when the Temple was dedicated. This would be exactly what we would expect see on the day of Pentecost in as recorded in Acts 2 seeing that the Lord had come to dwell in his new temple, the Church.

The Parables Tell the Story

The parables in the gospel of Matthew, tell the same story of God coming to his people, then rejecting him and the retribution that follows. The first is the parable of the tenants found in Matthew 21:33-46. In this parable Jesus tells a story that parallels what the leaders and the nation of Israel were doing in rejecting him. In essence they were rejecting the creator God who had made them a nation and had given them the land as represented by the vineyard. In verse 41 he tells them the owner (God) responds to their final and complete rejection of Gods rule through rejecting his son. “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and  rent the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” The miserable death would be the desertion of Jerusalem.  Then in verses 43-46, Jesus gives his explanation of the parable. “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but to the one on whom it falls, they will be crushed.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet”.

It is obvious that the Jewish leaders who heard Jesus tell this parable understood that it was spoken about them and not a generation of people that would exist 2000 years later.

The second is the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. In this parable the Lord likens the rule of God or kingdom of God to a King throwing a party for his son’s wedding and sending out his servants to invite people to the party, however, the people he invited began to make excuses, seized some of the messengers and killed the others. Now, we need to remember that in that culture to say no to the Kings’ invitation was unthinkable. It would be a horrendous offence worthy of death. This is exactly what we see in the parable. The King took offense and was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city, (Mt 22:7) Note that there are two groups of people who were slated for judgment by the King; those that were indifferent to the message of the King and those who had killed the messengers of the King. i.e. those that do not accept the invitation offered through his son.

It becomes obvious when we consider the overall context of the book of Matthew that the sign seeking version is not the best interpretation of Matthew 24. Those that use the sign seeking version to interpret this section of Scripture must ignore the basic law of hermeneutics, which says you must consider the context of the passage. The context would include who Jesus was speaking to when he said “all these things shall come upon this generation”.

My conclusion is that Matthew 24 does not support the sign seeking version:  rather in the first section of the chapter verses 1-34 it points to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, with the last section of the chapter pointing to and confirming the thief in the night version. If the sign seeking version is to be established by the Bible it must be done by some other section of Scripture other than Matthew 24. This version and interpretation of Matthew 24 seem to be shared by the early church Father Tertullian who clearly was making reference to Matthew 24 when he spoke of the overthrow of Jerusalem and the temple[3].

[1] Why do Westerners seem convinced that Christ will come on our watch? The truth is, we aren’t the first. The Dead Sea Scrolls are copies of Old Testament books discovered near Qumran, the commune of the Essenes on the rim of the Dead Sea. This reclusive group of Jews from Jesus’ day had several peculiarities. One of the lesser known was a method of biblical interpretation that scholars often call pesher. This method of interpretation requires two presuppositions. First, it assumes a verse of Scripture is referring to the end of time, even if it doesn’t originally appear to be…..Second-and this is the most important ingredient-the pesher exegete interprets his or her current time as the eschaton. Thus, step one is assuming a given passage is actually about the end of time; step two is assuming that time is now.  E. Randolph Richards; Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Kindle Locations 2276-2284). Kindle Edition.

[2] The new Adam has come It is no long the seed of Abraham it has become the seed of Christ. One greater than Abraham and Moses has come.

[3] Jesus was questioned by His disciples concerning when those things were to come to pass that He had said about the destruction of the temple. So He first spoke to them about the order of Jewish events until the overthrow of Jerusalem. Then, he spoke about the things that will concern all nations— up to the very end of the world. . . . Therefore, although there is presently a sprouting in the acknowledgement of all this mystery, yet it is only in the actual presence of the Lord that the flower will be developed and the fruit will be borne. . . . Who has yet beheld Jesus descending from heaven in a manner similar to how the apostles saw Him ascend?. . . . Up to the present moment, no one has smitten their breasts, tribe by tribe, looking on Him whom they pierced. No one has yet fallen in with Elijah. No one has yet escaped from the Antichrist. No one has yet had to bewail the downfall of Babylon. Tertullian (c. 210, W), 3.561).