Does God Design Your Pain?

While surfing on Facebook the other day, I came across a photograph. Unfortunately the complicated maze of legal restrictions regarding photos and copyright create hesitation on my part to post it, even if it was an internet meme. But the picture seemed to be implying that God is responsible for whatever horrible things have happened to us in the past. It seemed it was concocted by atheists, and was jeering at a Christian attitude of somehow relating awful childhood experiences to God’s plan for an individual’s life.

It is unfortunate that such attitudes actually exist within Christianity. Much of it springs from a system of beliefs known as “Theological Determinism”, which is the child of Calvinism. For those that do not understand these terms, theological determinism is the teaching that all choices, from the minute decisions as to whether or not you will eat an apple versus an orange to the horrifically evil choices a person makes such as rape are foreordained by God. The concept is even stretched to include coincidences and random events which occur in space, so that if a man falls from a building and breaks his legs this was something God meant for.

Calvinism on the other hand is the belief system which adheres to a view of salvation known as “TULIP”, which was originally founded by John Calvin [1509-1564], who was a french pastor and theologian in Geneva that lived during the Protestant Reformation. The acronym ‘TULIP’ stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Calvinists today can sometimes vary in their beliefs regarding TULIP, and perhaps even how far they carry the issues relating to determinism, but either way Calvinism is largely responsible for such beliefs as those mentioned above, that being whether or not God has foreordained the painful experiences of your life.

TULIP itself will be covered in other articles. This question however of ‘Theological Determinism” as it relates to the charges set forth in the previously mentioned internet meme is the primary point of interest in this post. The question boils right on down to whether or not God designs your pain. Regardless of what has happened to you, the first thing you need to come to an understanding of is that God is not responsible for it. He is not in the background micromanaging every little thing that happens on this earth, to the point where he has planned for some one to fall off a building to become a paraplegic. These ideas are doctrines of devils, and are used by the adversary of souls for a similar purpose as the doctrine of eternal conscious torment.

One of the most obvious passages of Scripture which these ideas contradict is actually one of the most famous passages of the Bible. Most believers could probably quote it blindfolded, and if they can’t they’ve probably heard it mentioned before because of its fame. The passage itself reads “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16. 

Such monstrous teachings that God designs or schemes for horrid things to happen to people runs contrary to his character of love. For instance, love is an attribute which leads people to reach a state in which they would never do anything to hurt the person whom they love. Otherwise it becomes clear that they do not actually love the person as they claim to. No one in the right mind would interpret a man hiring an assassin to kill his wife as an act of love. In fact, people usually look at such conspiracies to commit murder as a heinous crime, and tend to hold those who sought to orchestrate such things accountable for their actions.

In the above mentioned passage, you might observe that the first words of the text read “For God so loved the world.” According to this text from the book of John, God’s love covers the entire world. Every man, woman, and child on this planet is loved by God. Those who have lived in the past, and those who have lived in the future are also loved by the Lord. From the worst criminal and the basest of sinners to the most righteous of saints, all are loved by God regardless of their actions. The words “the world” are statements which are blind to class, race, and actions.

That love for us all is manifested in the sacrifice which is mentioned in the text “That he gave his only begotten son.” Diligent Bible students recognize this to be a reference to Jesus Christ, and especially part one of ‘How To Study The Bible’ gave a partial explanation of such a position. God’s love for the entire world resulted in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, indicating clearly that it was meant for all, and according to the rest of the passage it opened the door so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is the only limitation or condition rather for the benefits of the death of Christ, that a person accepts and follows Jesus.

Since God loves everyone, and love excludes the deliberate orchestration of some one’s suffering, it is therefore impossible that God foreordains anyone’s pain. Whatever horrible things have happened to you personally, I can tell you with a certainty that to suggest that God was orchestrating them is to contradict the Bible. Yet John 3:16 isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of truth which is about to sink the ship of theological determinism.

1 John 4:16 declares, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Love is so strong an attribute of God’s character that he is literally defined as ‘love’, indicating that it has a huge connection to his nature. Thus it is literally against God’s very nature to foreordain the suffering of all mankind. As if this were not enough, you have to ask yourself about other descriptions regarding God’s character found in the pages of holy writ.

These concepts must be questioned in the light of Biblical requirements. For instance, there are many statements across the Scriptures which encourage us to trust in God. Several of them can be found in Psalm 34:8, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 30:5, Psalm 91:2, and Psalm 62:8. But the question boils down to, “how can you trust the theological determinist’s picture of God?” A God who foreordains evil in this world and for people to fall off of buildings to become paraplegics [or even die] is not worthy of trust.

For all you know, such a God is scheming for you personally to experience some rather terrible tragedies. The only reasoning behind any of it that you would be given by a supporter of this thinking is that some unknown good may come of it, since it is apart of God’s plan, in addition to a vague reference to God’s sovereignty. Essentially the explanation boils down to, “God is doing it because he can.” Since the theological determinist’s version of God is essentially out to get you because he can be, which is evident from him hurling people off of buildings through foreordination to turn them into paraplegics, any and all trust in him is virtually destroyed. It is smashed to pieces underneath the boot of Calvinism’s evil ideas. Therefore it is impossible to follow the Biblical commands to put trust in God.

Further evidence against this type of thinking may be derived from the book of Psalms. Around chapter 145 there are descriptions of God’s goodness. In particular, it seems to be distributed universally. The text reads, “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” – Psalm 145:9. Is foreordaining for some one to raped ‘good’? No one in the right mind would answer ‘yes’ to that question. This is because most human beings are keenly aware of the fact that sexual assault is known to be devastating.

By default, acting good toward some one implies that you are not seeking to harm them. Where as causing some one harm is automatically associated with the opposite by most thinking people. Therefore it is illogical to suggest that God is scheming for people to be raped, fall off of buildings, or get murdered, or have any number of other horrible experiences occur in their life. This is especially the case in view of the fact that the Scriptures teach that God is good to all, and the orchestration of such events would be the opposite of good.

Such things are also the opposite of ‘righteous’. By default, rape and murder are things which mankind knows intuitively to be evil. Evil, sometimes referred to as wickedness, is the opposite of righteousness. It is often characterized by acts that are selfish and that cause a great deal of harm to others, such as those originally listed. Again back to the man who hires an assassin to kill his wife. As stated, we generally view such an act as a heinous crime. People tend to look at both the man who hired the assassin as well as the assassin as being guilty of the crime, and thus it is generally prosecuted as such, where both are held accountable for their actions by the law. This is because orchestrating for something evil to happen is equally as evil as partaking in the act in and of itself.

As another illustration, take a novel written by an author which includes questionable content. It is of an extreme violent nature, even reaching to the point where you wonder whether or not there is something wrong with the author. This is due to the extreme scenes described, which fill you with revulsion and cause you to want to stop reading the story. In like manner, supposing God were the full-blown author of ‘the story’ taking place on earth, micromanaging every event the way a story-teller controls things, then wouldn’t you start to ask some questions about God?

All you have to do is look around you to see how messed up that story actually is. Rape, murder, genocide, torture, and warfare fill our planet. Some of the evil on this planet is even of an extreme nature, such as human trafficking. How can God be good and be micromanaging these events at the same time? There is an obvious contradiction between the fact that God is righteous and the idea that he has foreordained evil. If a person orchestrates evil, this implies that they are evil. If a person writes a fictional story with extreme content which is questionable, we see something as being wrong with them. If a person orchestrates the assassination of their wife, we see it as a crime.

As shown below, the Scriptures declare that God is good, that he is righteous, and that he is holy. How can God be foreordaining evil and any of this be true? In all reality, such a teaching is against the plain testimony of the Scriptures, which tell us that God would never foreordain evil. He would never have planned for it to have happened. This is against his very nature, which is love!

“The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” – Psalm 145:17. 

“The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof. Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” – Psalm 97:1-2

“Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” – Psalm 45:6-7

You might even observe that Psalm 45 especially destroys this thinking. It says of God that he “lovest rightouesness, and hatest wickedness.” If he hates wickedness, why on earth would he foreordain it? Why would he foreordain for something to occur which he absolutely hates and has no pleasure in? Instead, why not foreordain for the entire planet to be righteous and holy and for this mess on earth to have never started? Are we really expected to believe that God is micromanaging, controlling, and planning for events which he absolutely hates? If he hates it so much, why not foreordain things in the opposite direction? This is especially a paradox in view of the fact that Calvinists have a tendency to claim that evil has been foreordained for the glory of the Lord, but if that is the case how can this be made to harmonize with his obvious hatred of evil found in the Scriptures?

God is not the author of evil, neither is he the author of your pain. Such teachings run contrary to plain Scriptural declarations regarding the character of God, not to mention the concept of free choice. Neither does the claim that God supposedly foreordains even the random coincidences where a person falls from a building and breaks their legs hold any water in Scripture. I know of not a single passage from Genesis to Revelation which even remotely implies this. No doubt, this is a false conclusion drawn from misinterpreted passages in the new testament which use the word “predestinate.” This however will be addressed in other posts.

The foreordination of an individual’s suffering should also put questions into one’s mind as to whether or not God is abusing his children. Those familiar with Scriptural descriptions of his character might recognize that there are many passages which describe God as a Fatherly figure. Many times he is called “God the Father”, “heavenly Father”, or simply just “the Father.” [Jude 1:1, 2 John 1:3, 1 John 2:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Luke 11:13, James 1:17.] Is God an abusive Father who beats his children simply because he can and he has the authority and power to do so, or is he a Father who is kind and loving?

This label of ‘Father’ in a general sense paints a picture of a tender family tie. I would suspect that it is intended to convey God’s love to human minds. Family ties are some of the closest that human beings can have on earth, and are even stronger than friendships. It should be clear that God is trying to tell us something about who he is and how much he loves us through his use of such relations as a comparison of who he is. But Calvinists and Theological determinists would have us believe that God is an abusive Father, one who strictly for his own glorification will foreordain some one to fall off of a building or scheme out terrible events in human history such as the Nazis’ rise to power and their use of concentration camps to murder millions.

How can some one love and serve a God like this? Disgusting pictures such as these can only elicit hatred and revulsion from thinking persons. Were I an Agnostic I would seriously question the logic of such a picture of God, and would more than likely leave Calvinists with this response: “If that is the kind of God you serve, than I don’t want anything to do with him.” In that case, my rejection of Christianity would’ve been complete. Since I am not an agnostic, and I do not hold to these beliefs, I can still say that a theological determinist’s position is contrary to the Character of God as revealed in Scripture and that those who hold to these ideas had better re-evaluate the foundation for their thinking.

So far as free choice is concerned, not one single reference to free will in Scripture ever suggests that a person’s choices are foreordained by God. For instance, in the book of Joshua there is a common reference to free will which directly uses the word “choose.” It states, “choose this day whom ye will serve” right before a contrast of options is given. The text contains not one single reference to the choice itself being per-determined or foreordained, and therefore you might logically conclude from such passages that free will is independent of foreordination. In other words, there is no evidence from the Scriptural references to free will that God micromanages every choice that you make.

Other passages which reference this concept include Revelation 22:17 which says “whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” and “therefore choose life” in Deuteronomy 30:19. Again these statements clearly mention free will apart from outside influence, and therefore it is incorrect to assert that God foreordains all choices that a person makes. By default, if God is not foreordaining every choice, than you cannot within reason claim that God meant for whatever painful event occurred in your past.

“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” – Joshua 24:15

“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” – Revelation 22:17

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” – Deuteronomy 30:19

If evil was done to you, it was the product of a person’s free will to choose wrong. It came about because we’re all free moral agents, capable of choosing between good and evil. Therefore good and evil are mingled together in this world, which results in bad things happening all the time. Anything horrible that has happened to you personally which was done to you by another was not something God personally brought about, but was the sole actions of the person responsible alone.

Which brings up the point of personal responsibility. The Bible brings out this concept clearly in Ezekiel 18 and 33. This is through passages which clearly reference wicked men turning from their ways and living an upright life, and righteous men doing the reverse, with God rewarding each accordingly. There are similar statements in Ezekiel 33, in addition to some references to accountability regarding a refusal to give a warning message when one sees a spiritual ‘sword’ coming. In addition to these passages, one would only have to read every text across the Scriptures dealing with the fate of the wicked to learn that God clearly holds us accountable for our actions.

There is a problem not seen by those who advocate such ideas as Theological Determinism, and this boils right on down to the question of moral accountability. How can God hold you accountable for something which he himself foreordained you to do? Foreordination implies that a person is fixed on that path, and that they could not have gone in the opposite direction. A Calvinist I was conversing with even admitted that something which God has predestined cannot be resisted by the person who was foreordained to commit the act.

It is therefore unreasonable for God to hold you accountable for anything if everything you do is schemed out by God, since in this case God himself would be actually the one who originated the act. How can you be held accountable if you couldn’t walk contrary to the plan? According to Calvinistic thinking, you were destined to commit the wicked acts, and you couldn’t have acted differently. A person who holds to this thinking could almost blame God for every wrong act they commit.

In the larger scheme of things, these issues of accountability should put the question of whether or not God has foreordained your pain into proper perspective. Supposing something terrible was done to you by another individual, God holds that person accountable for their actions, as though they committed it out of their own free choice. Essentially the suggestion is that they did it according to Scripture, rather than God being the architect of the event. I would have to conclude in view of these facts that the meme that I had encountered was produced by false ideas regarding Christianity.

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When To Leave Your Church

In recent times, I’ve come across a number of articles from Christian websites giving instruction on a sensitive topic. That of course being, “when to leave your church.” The overwhelming majority of them seem to carry a rather unified message, claiming that the primary legitimate reasons to leave a church surround doctrinal matters. Although occasionally something to the effect of, “the church becomes more about politics than Jesus” or “transformation is absent” show up on some lists. Most seem to be against leaving because somebody said or did something unpleasant to you, building their case on a list of stock arguments derived from Biblical instruction on forgiveness and reconciliation.

First, it needs to be acknowledged that the Bible is silent on the subject of exchanging churches. In other words, it doesn’t comment on church “hopping”, “shopping”, or any of the other pejorative terms attached to jumping around from church to church. Usually Christians speak negatively about this because they’re unreasonably concerned that it will quickly become “church stopping”, where you cease going to any church entirely. I’m not convinced this is something which will happen, as it would depend heavily on the determination of the individual to find what they’re looking for in a church and the will power involved in sticking with any church-going. Neither has any real evidence that this is the case been brought to the table.

A certain text in Hebrews, which speaks of “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” [Hebrews 10:25] negatively targets “church stopping.” Although to read this as though we’re bound to one particular church, and if we leave it for another we’re somehow doing something wrong would be a stretch. Verses 26-27 beneath it reference sinning “willfully” after having received the knowledge of the truth, as well as a “certain fearful looking for of judgment.” The Greek meaning of the term “forsaking” seems to mean something more like total desertion, rather than the occasional disappearance. To forsake the “assembling of ourselves together” would then obviously be to avoid any assembly of Christians together, rather than simply switching churches.

G1459
ἐγκαταλείπω”
egkataleipō
eng-kat-al-i’-po
From G1722 and G2641; to leave behind in some place, that is, (in a good sense) let remain over, or (in a bad one) to desert: – forsake, leave.

There are a variety of reasons that people are motivated to leave a church. Probably the most Biblical on the list is surrounding doctrinal issues. I can think of scenarios in which churches corporately adopt heretical theories, in which case leaving would be a move that has great value. This would protect you from falling into the same errors, since you’re not invincible and it may not be wise to willfully listen to error sermon-after-sermon. People also leave because some one said something to them which was offensive.

Since there is no perfect church, leaving because of one or two incidents may only cause you to be greeted with disappointment. In such cases, thicker skin is needed on the part of the Christian. This may also be where forgiveness comes into play, as leaving in a fit of rage may suggest that the person is holding a grudge against the church or the person in the church. Scripture obviously speaks of forgiving others and seeking reconciliation with those you’re in conflict with all over the place. So, to the credit of those who online have written against leaving a church because of conflict with a person they certainly have some points in this area.

However, it should also be noted that there are times where hitting the “forgiveness” and “Reconciliation” buttons is just a little bit too simplistic. For instance, Christians often think that forgiving a person and resuming regular association with them are one and the same, and that reconciliation is absolutely required in all circumstances. The assumption seems to be that otherwise you have not truly forgiven the person. The problem with this thought process is that it ignores the potential for a person to simply just want to get away from bad behavior in the church.

As one example I make citation of myself. I have been a Christian for around 7 years now. During that time, when I related to a brother in Christ that I wanted to be an author the person crushed my dreams. They responded by saying, “no one will read your books” and “we have enough literature.” Another person told me, “go get a real job!” These are very discouraging things to say to a person who wants to be an author. In general, I do not allow my memory of this experience to lead to anger towards the individuals. But I recognize I don’t want to be around them or share my dreams with them. Why might this be the case? For the simple fact that I recognize this sort of behavior doesn’t make a person desirable to associate with.

I would not leave a church for such an encounter by itself. But the point I’m attempting to illustrate here is that when some one demonstrates themselves to act in an unpleasant fashion, it is only reasonable to avoid that individual. This prevents you from having further negative experiences with this person. When the Bible speaks of reconciliation, I do not believe it is forbidding these kinds of scenarios — Christians would be bound to experience repeat abuse by very manipulative and hostile people within the church.

With that thought in mind, while one or two comments require thicker skin to deal with what if the person’s behavior persists? People generally have unrealistic pictures of Christians as being inherently good people, when in actual fact they’re sinful and fallen like everyone else. This means that you will find bullies in the church as you would outside of it. Think of some one intentionally harming you every time you attend church. They put you down verbally every time they see you. They use the concept of “reproof” as their weapon to hurt you, over-criticizing everything you say and do. You cannot talk to them on the phone or in person without them finding something to chastise you for. They go out of their way to deliberately crush your ministries, saying things to you like “haven’t you done enough for the Lord!?” They act the naysayer whenever you’re trying to win souls for Christ, telling you that “that person will be too challenging!”

Avoiding them and simply not talking to them seem like viable options. But what if you can’t? What if it happens during gatherings where this individual is present? What if you cannot even be in the same public place with this person with it happening? Much to the dismay of those who believe there are few legitimate reasons to leave a church, I personally wouldn’t stick around in that kind of a situation. In this context, simply “forgiving them” and seeking to be “reconciled” are simplistic responses. There is no confronting such a person, as you would be placing yourself in a situation to receive further abuse. You cannot avoid the person either for reasons previously dwelt upon. Thus in such circumstances I would see this as a valid reason to leave a church, or to jump from church to church, until one finds a safer environment.

Other reasons I would consider pretty good stem on the overall behavior of the Church. What if the Church is acting in a manner which comes off like a cult? Christians who believe their particular churches to be orthodox in all of their doctrines would find such a thing unthinkable! How could their Church ever act the way cults act? The problem here is that generally when Christians think of cults, the picture they have is the one fed to them by the counter-cult movement within Christian Apologetics. Due to the work of this movement, people tend to think of the term “cult” as applying primarily to groups that are unorthodox in their doctrinal views. The theological sense of the term might constitute a solid reason to leave a church, but this is hardly different from leaving for doctrinal reasons.

When I think of cults I think of Jim Jones. We’re talking about a man who killed his followers with poisoned Kool-Aid. It should be noted that groups like his maintain control over their followers through manipulation, coercion, mind control techniques, and other unsavory means. Such groups also do not like critical thinking of any kind. It should be noted that any attack on critical thinking within a Church is questionable, as Christians should be free to research something from the Bible for themselves. They should be just as free to understand the foundations of why the Bible and Christianity is true, especially in a world filled with a myriad of religions and ideas. Attempting to stifle any investigation into these questions because you think it isn’t faith comes off an awful lot like you’re attempting to hide something, and you don’t want other Christians thinking critically about what you say.

Stifling investigation into the truthfulness of doctrinal questions is a cult-like behavior. If your church is actively doing this, than I would say it is time to leave. I recently have left my own local church and have begun searching for another because I felt like critical thinking regarding doctrinal issues was unwelcome. It was typically branded as “looking for excuses”, as if there was no legitimate reason to be asking questions. I have not left the Christian faith, neither have I changed positions on anything I’ve written about on this blog. But I felt like I needed to get away from the boot of those who would not allow me to critically examine the truthfulness of some of the things I had been taught. Especially since they could not abide adopting an alternative viewpoint on issues which were not questions related to the salvation of Christians. They actively made these questions of salvation, and branded the alternative views as those which would cause Christians to be lost.

Coercion also comes to mind. I am aware of one particular Church that had taken the issue of Vegetarianism to such an extreme that it was made essential for the Christian’s salvation. There are a number of Biblical texts which this thought would contradict, in addition to an overwhelming lack of evidence that becoming a vegetarian is explicitly commanded in the Bible. If a Christian wants to be a vegetarian or a vegan, there is nothing wrong with that choice. But they should not be running around turning it into an issue of morality when it isn’t. It is unfortunate that at least four members of this Church attempted to coerce a close friend of mine into becoming a vegetarian based on this false doctrinal premise. How they arrived at such extreme conclusions is something which I still have failed to grasp, especially with the lack of Scriptural support. With that thought in mind, if a Church is using coercion you really should consider using the ‘exit’ door.

Questionable beliefs that lead to rash behavior also come to mind. “Fanaticism” might be a better term in this instance. I am thinking specifically of people who believe that a visit to the hospital or doctor constitutes a denial of faith and is somehow displeasing to God. This furnishes a pretty sound example. This kind of thinking is typically termed “tempting God” in the Biblical record. The best example of which is found in Matthew 4:5-7, where Jesus is taken to the top of the temple by Satan and told to jump off of it on the grounds that God’s angels would hold him up. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” was Christ’s response. If a Church decides that common sense should be thrown in the garbage and therefore they shouldn’t see a doctor, have medical insurance, or go to the hospital in times of medical emergency than perhaps its time to leave that Church. Extreme beliefs like this that are outright fanatical and rash can be very dangerous and it isn’t safe for a Christian to associate with those who hold to such thinking.

Beyond what I’ve listed, if you start to observe mind-control techniques used in your local church, manipulation, or anything akin to Jim Jones-style behavior you need to get out of there. There is no legitimate reason to suggest that a Christian should stick around in such a situation. I feel that these constitute valid reasons to leave which do not seem to receive as much attention as the doctrinal side of things and are worth consideration.

My Experience With Intelligent Design & An Overview Of The Movement

I was first exposed to the concept of Intelligent Design [ID], as well as Creationism, during my Junior year of High School. It was at this point that I was taking Biology class, which was beginning to cover the Theory of Evolution. We as a class were shown a video, that I thought might be a propaganda hit piece, which was geared to paint Intelligent Design as “repackaged creationism.” The overall aim in the video was to push the agenda that Intelligent Design doesn’t belong in our schools, and therefore should not be taught in the Science classroom. I recall a statement made by my High School Biology teacher suggesting that Creationism specifically had come about during the 1970’s, and had been refuted. Unless my memory is failing me, I seem to remember my Biology teacher making the connection between Creationism and Intelligent Design.

In spite of the fact that the commentary was entirely negative, I still found the concept of Intelligent Design compelling, and wasn’t entirely swayed by the conclusions of the video. I wanted to know more, and did in fact engage in some limited research. I agreed with the conclusion that life was far too complex to have arisen by what I would later term “naturalistic processes”, and was immediately skeptical of Neo-Darwinian Evolution from the start. Yet in some ways I didn’t fully grasp how to dig into the matter thoroughly, and therefore I did not hear about the concept of “Irreducible Complexity” until after my conversion to Christianity.

During those days of my Junior year, I adopted a position of “Agnosticism.” My brief classification of myself under those beliefs was based largely due to an imperfect understanding of what an Agnostic actually is, derived from a series of conversations between a few perhaps misinformed teenagers during lunch and in-between classes. I was told by a friend that an Agnostic is some one who believes there might be a higher power, but that you are not able to really identify who or what that higher power is. This might be a fairly close definition, but I think still somewhat off. Without really understanding all of the issues involved, I adopted the title merely because I liked the way it sounded in view of the direction the Intelligent Design concept was causing me to swing.

I was slightly discouraged from the concept however when I ran into criticism of ID, particularly using a repackaged variant of the “problem of evil” argument. Nevertheless an awareness of the idea was in the back of my mind, and it opened the door for later research. Fast forward to five years or so after my conversion. A concern about encounters with Atheists has recently motivated me to dig into Apologetics. Somewhere in the midst of all my reading, I stumbled across Intelligent Design again.

I learned that my High School Biology teacher either lied to us or was deceived herself. It was clear that Creationists often criticize Intelligent Design because it doesn’t necessarily land you on the God of the Bible. By contrast, Creationism is geared as a defense of the Bible whereas Intelligent Design takes no stance on the issue. Key Creationist beliefs, such as a 6,000 year old Earth, belief in a Global-Flood, or a literal 24-hour creation week are totally left out of the discussion. In fact, not all of the proponents of Intelligent Design are Christians. Some of them are Agnostics! Some “FAQ” sections of their websites have even stated that you don’t necessarily have to make the deduction that simply because something is intelligently designed, therefore it was supernaturally created.

The Intelligent Design Movement or “IDM” is obviously steering clear from religious questions, focusing instead on scientific investigation. As I devoured scores of Creationist and Intelligent Design Articles, the differences between the two became clear to my mind and I quickly discerned that there was something wrong with what I had been taught in High School. In fact, before I had thought of the possibility that our teacher was deceived herself the thought that they were lying to us crossed my mind. These obvious differences between the two movements were conveniently left out, and we as High School students were indoctrinated to believe that one is a repackaged version of the other. We were spoon-fed what is tantamount to a conspiracy theory that Intelligent Design is a backdoor to get Creationism into Science classrooms, yet my research into the history of the movement showed that it developed independently of Creation Science and well before some of the court rulings banning it from being taught.

I thought that the video shown might be a propaganda hit piece, but I never thought that I would find confirmation! I feel violated, and I even wonder what else in that class was nothing more then an attempt at indoctrination! A friend of mine from Church remarked that the education system is designed to indoctrinate you into naturalism. While I don’t claim to be able to be able to prove such a statement, it certainly makes sense in the light of my own personal experience and the fact that almost all of my friends swung towards Atheism or similar beliefs. I can hardly describe how horrified I actually am!

Yet it’s obvious that their attempts at indoctrination had the exact opposite of the desired effect, because at the time it only triggered me to look into it. Today I know why such a hit piece would be produced. Intelligent Design is powerful and very compelling, and it has convinced me to drop doubts about God’s existence that I at times have struggled with. While it doesn’t necessarily prove the Bible to be true, it certainly falsifies Atheism. In spite of statements by the IDM that you don’t necessarily have to bring in the supernatural, it is something that I personally found very encouraging.

It would seem that the mere fact that I found it encouraging is something which would be used by Intelligent Design’s opponents to make the ridiculous assertion that it is religion and not science. But such an objection would merely be spewed forth on philosophical grounds and not as an evaluation of the actual empirical evidence. In my research thus far, I’ve learned that the “repackaged creationism” label and the “not science” claim are common Darwinian rhetorical strategies and tactics, aimed at maintaining control over the public.

The question then remains, if it doesn’t bring in the supernatural why is it encouraging? How useful is Intelligent Design for the Christian? The work of the ID Movement actually ends up lending Scientific support for one of the classical Apologetics arguments for God’s existence, that being the “Teleological argument” [argument from design.] Thus, it’s research and findings are certainly useful out to a certain point. The fact that it doesn’t bring in the supernatural necessarily or land a person on the God of the Bible definitively means that from here you have more work to do so far as providing evidences in support of Christianity’s truthfulness.

In addition, the IDM has no problem with vast amounts of time for the earth’s age. It’s lack of support for a literal six-day creation week and a global flood means that if you rely on the IDM alone to build your case in support of your beliefs you could end up having more than a few weak spots. This goes back to a previous analogy I gave when addressing Apologetics websites regarding a toolbox. Ultimately this is just one more tool, like a wrench or hammer, to put in your Apologetics toolkit. But it isn’t the sole argument, and it should be remembered that ID Scientists never intended the concept of Intelligent Design to be used as an Apologetic for Christianity.

It should also be noted that thus far Intelligent Design seems to posses the capability of withstanding criticism. In researching some of the arguments raised against it such as the concept of evil design, the panda’s thumb [“sub-optimal” design objection], “who designed the designer” argument, and pre-adaptation/Type-III secretory system arguments I’ve not found them particularly compelling. For instance, “evil design” is a purely theological objection. Somebody merely makes citation of something like viruses or something in nature which appears designed to kill and all of the sudden this simply must refute design.

I find it strange that critics feel as though they must combat Intelligent Design, a strictly empirical approach, with repackaged versions of classical Atheist arguments. Evil design and “who designed the designer” are just dressed-up versions of the “problem of evil” argument and the old schoolyard charge of “who made God”, both of which have been demolished by Christian Apologetics. If such arguments couldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of the Apologetics community, what makes the critics of ID think such strictly theological charges would stand up in this case?

Apparently evil design is only an argument against the goodness of the designer, and therefore doesn’t stand as a convincing case that the life form is not designed. It should also be noted that unless one understands the complete picture of the purpose behind the design, how can one within reason term something “evil”? Spiders for instance are fairly complex creatures, but they also trap and kill insects and are often poisonous. This might seem like evil design on the surface, yet without it perhaps the insect population would explode out of control and become a pretty serious problem. Thus you have something engineered as a population control mechanism, which in this case is not inherently evil. It would more testify to wise planning on the part of the designer rather than wickedness.

Not understanding the full reason of why something was designed can certainly lend to a case of the appearance of evil, but a more complete understanding might perhaps alleviate some of the issues in question. Although not applicable in all cases of apparently evil design, such an argument would theoretically account for some of the problem without bringing theological responses to the table. But even so, there are seemingly evil designs produced by human beings, weapons of warfare [and even mass destruction] being one example. Although designed to kill, they were still designed. Hence “evil” doesn’t really refute the fact that something is the product of design.

It seems more like somebody attempted to throw this charge out in the vain hope that it would present problems for Christians potentially encouraged by Intelligent Design, but in actual fact Christianity is fully-capable of accounting for such things through the fall of man and sin’s impact on the overall creation. Thus a Christian wouldn’t be too discouraged by rehashed Atheist attacks.

Since I linked back to responses to some of the other arguments, I won’t dwell at length on some of the other issues in question. As I personally haven’t found the criticisms compelling, Intelligent Design is therefore something which might be a useful tool in your kit. But it should always be used alongside other arguments and with plenty of research for support. As an article from bethinking notes, you shouldn’t engage in discussions on these issues with those outside the faith armed only with a surface understanding of the issues in question.

Earlier in this article, I noted that my Biology teacher suggested that Creationism came about in the 1970’s and has been refuted. I feel compelled to write about my exploration of creationist articles as well, and so some of the science and reasoning will be addressed in a forthcoming article. But suffice it say I’m not buying into the claims of my Biology teacher in this area either. Making vague references to something being refuted without giving citations or real evidence for support isn’t as convincing of a case as it sounds on the surface.

A Review Of Apologetics Websites

I’ve never been one to flee from deep research. Regarding Conditional Immortality, I once built a document containing up to 63-64 pages worth of content in E-sword notes. I have a tendency to thoroughly investigate material when a subject captures my attention, and I’ve always found joy in reading. Lately, in my research I’ve begun turning my attention to Apologetics based materials, especially websites with apparently endless amounts of articles, videos, podcasts, and recordings. Perhaps there is more content related to this subject than I could reasonably study in a lifetime’s worth of investigation.

Therefore my probe into the subject has yielded a wealth of data. Much of it will impact future posts on this blog, but for the time being I felt I might share with you some of the websites from which I have been reading. However, I do not do so without leaving you with a disclaimer. I do not endorse everything that these websites teach. As an example, surrounding the creation vs evolution debate you will find that some of these websites promote old earth creation/theistic evolution-based positions. I personally do not agree with this. Some of them also attempt to support the concept of eternal conscious torment through logic. While the arguments are certainly interesting, I do not agree with or endorse these positions either. In fact, some of this material will be countered on my blog at a future time.

But in all reality, as I recently wrote, you should be thinking these issues through for yourself. Apply discernment and critical thinking skills to any information which comes in, and allow no man, no matter how good his arguments appear, to be brains for you. If something does not harmonize with Scripture, reject it. Some may ask, “why link back to the websites at all, if you know they teach error or messages you don’t agree with?” Those with whom I am personally acquainted may especially feel compelled to ask such questions. The facts are however that these websites are featured because they contain information which is useful for defending Christianity as a whole. They cover a wide variety of topics related to these issues, and thus their overall value should not be denied so far as a useful tool in a defense of the faith.

There are multiple tools for different jobs. Some good examples are a wrench, screwdriver, hammer, drill, and so on. You wouldn’t use a wrench or a screwdriver to nail boards together. These websites are similar. Some of them have information and arguments that others do not. Others seem to be geared towards specific topics [such as the Creation vs Evolution debate]. If something is focused on a particular topic, you would not want to search it for answers refuting the way skeptics use the so-called “lost-books”, neither would you find much in the way of information actually training you to do Apologetics yourself. Think of the websites as tools for your “Apologetics toolkit” to be applied to the needs of differing situations and questions.

That said, the first website on the list is “Answers In Genesis” [AiG for short.] AiG is a fantastic website. I’ve made it my “go-to” website for issues surrounding creation vs evolution, although I’m aware of several others which cover this topic that I’ve yet to thoroughly explore. There are dozens of articles on their website covering this topic, and also some which are a decent introduction to Apologetics as a whole. They even wrote a superb article about giants in the Bible, which is a question few Apologetics websites will touch. In fact, AiG is the only one that I’ve seen actually address this issue. Although much of the information is technical, they also have a scholarly research journal which can be useful for keeping yourself up to date on some of those issues.

The next one on the list is “Apologetics Press” [AP for short.] Like AiG, AP has a wealth of articles on the creation vs Evolution debate. It also has quite a few articles going over “alleged discrepancies” in the Bible and God’s existence among a treasure trove of other articles. In addition, there are several books which the website owners have produced and made available for free download in PDF file format. I’ve yet to read them all the way through for myself, so I won’t recommend them right off the bat, but they may have their uses.

The third website is known as “Reasonable Faith.” Reasonable Faith is run by a man named William Lane Craig, who I would classify as a very good Apologist. At the same time, he swings more towards the theistic evolution side of the question within Christianity. Nevertheless, he offers interesting logical arguments for God’s existence with scholarly papers written explaining and defending them for perusal on his website. You will also find articles defending the existence/historicity of Jesus and his resurrection, which is a powerful argument in favor of Christianity. There are many other podcasts, videos, recorded lectures, and so on available on his website as well. Although I’ve yet to view any of them, as watching media hasn’t been something that I’ve typically classed as fitting my learning style. In spite of his bent towards Theistic Evolution, I’ve found high-quality materials covering other topics on his website.

There is also “Cold Case Christianity” run by a man named J. Werner Wallace. He is a former Atheist and “cold case detective” who applied his investigative skills to Christianity and the Bible to determine if there was enough evidence to reasonably hold religious beliefs. I suspect this was an attempt to discredit the Bible, which ultimately wound up with him becoming a Christian Apologist. I’ve found a wealth of information on this website dealing with the question of Biblical manuscripts, the historicity of the Bible, and other topics. Many articles can be downloaded in PDF format, which makes it easy to save the information for later use.

Logically Fallacious” is another website I’ve found uses for. You will find that this website is not particularly geared towards defending Christianity per-se, but it has it’s uses in this direction. This is because as the name suggests, it covers the subject of Logical Fallacies. Logical fallacies, or mistakes in reasoning, are often made by those who oppose Christianity. They thus have their uses in responding to criticisms leveled at the Bible or Christian belief by Atheists or other skeptics. Logically Fallacious is actually an in-depth database of logical fallacies. So, it is fantastic website for educating yourself in this direction or for use as an online encyclopedia of logical fallacies.

Cross Examined” is another website which I’ve found to be invaluable. I’ve been especially blessed by the “blog” section of the website, which includes many well-written articles on a variety of topics including the “Problem of Evil”, God’s existence, Manuscript/Lost Books-related issues, Faith vs Science issues, and many other helpful topics. Some other websites I’ve found and used came from the “Resources” section of this website, which has a “links” page opening the door for you to explore the content of other Apologetics based websites. Cross examined also has a smartphone app, which is very powerful for times when you need fast answers and good for when you have some time to kill.

Finally, of the four websites where I started my research [one being AiG], I’ve decided to feature the last two to close things out. One is known as “Bethinking.” Bethinking is excellent because it allows you to compare other religions with Christianity, engage with the debate on varying issues, and explore a wide variety of topics. It includes articles, audio recordings, and videos thus hitting various preferences. Those who don’t like reading could find the website equally as helpful as those who do in view of these facts. The last is RZIM, which is the website of Ravi Zacharias’ ministry. While there are articles on this website, I’ve found the better content in audio or video format, which has often caused me to spend more time with other websites as I prefer to read rather than watch or listen. There however is also a forums set up where people ask the RZIM team Apologetics related questions. This is very helpful if you’re seeking answers to specific issues, or want direct feedback about a question.

These websites are just a small taste of what I’ve been reading. When you actually take the time to sit down and look, the sheer amount of blogs and websites that are out there covering Apologetics related materials is almost overwhelming. I have found myself “swimming” in information, unfortunately perhaps more than I actually have the time to read through. I hope that you might be as blessed by these websites as I have been, and that you can see the truthfulness of Christian belief through them.

Thinking For Yourself

In the post titled “A Radical Suggestion“, I’ve outlined an approach to dealing with concepts such as the pre-tribulation rapture, the debate about the rapture’s sequence [pre-trib, post-trib, or mid-trib], and other issues related to end times teaching. I want to develop these suggestions further, and expand this concept well beyond the rapture. It should be noted that teachings with regards to final events are not the only doctrinal positions for which there is massive debate within Christian circles.

Some other examples come down to issues such as the three major schools of thought on final punishments. The traditional view of eternal conscious torment, Conditional Immortality, and Universalism form these three schools. With regards to Prophecy, some of the major schools of thought include Historicism, Futurism, and Preterism. Not to mention those who follow “Progressive Christianity” type thinking have thrown out prophecy entirely, claiming that it is not predictive in it’s character. There is even a debate between those who hold to Calvinistic type beliefs and the Arminian school of thought, with others leaning towards Molinism.

Variation doesn’t just exist surrounding prophetic interpretation, but perhaps virtually every doctrine within Christianity. It would seem there are beliefs within the faith that are as numerous as there are denominations. On the one hand, this may not be as confusing as the variation regarding prophetic interpretation. Most choose to listen to their pastor rather than conducting their own research, or they study with a sort of spiritual “Confirmation Bias.”

The challenge really comes down to deeply entrenched beliefs. Regardless of whether or not the Bible discredits them, people will read them into the Bible. Even to the point of ripping passages out of context, interpreting the text with Esiegesis, and focusing in only on texts that support their thinking while ignoring everything else. I would even dare say that such beliefs lead to accusing the opposing side of doing those very things, whether they actually are or not. People have a tendency to build justifications for practices and beliefs which they may know are wrong, but which they have no desire to abandon.

In view of such a deep entrenchment within people’s thinking, I don’t imagine that those who hold to particular beliefs such as: the pre-tribulation rapture, Calvinism, Preterism, Eternal Conscious Torment, Universalism, or “Progressive Christianity” will be willing to accept my challenges and radical suggestions. I can expect within reason that they would either be offended, or take it on but because of a “spiritual confirmation bias” come back with evidence that supports their thinking every single time. No doubt, such persons are not confused about the variation of beliefs within Christianity. They’re so convinced of their deeply held beliefs that the word “entrenched” couldn’t describe the situation better, as this definitely implies a deliberate effort to fortify those beliefs against any attempts at discrediting them from the Bible.

My attention is more on the seeker after truth. I define this as a person with an open mind and heart. We’re talking about somebody who is seeking to know what the Bible teaches, without bias from any particular church dogma. That seeker after truth is a person not only willing to do the research and think for themself, but to surrender ideas they hold to which may not have a foundation in the Scriptures, and to lay aside practices which may not be inherently right. This person might also be willing to start literally from square one.

I want to issue something of a rallying cry to Christians everywhere. That cry is simply to think for yourself. Do not allow anyone, whether it be a pastor, elder, blogger, or some prominent teacher to interpret Scripture for you. Understand that during the days just before the Protestant Reformation, the Church taught that only the priests were competant to explain and interpret the Scriptures. Remember that such a teaching gives the church power over the lay people. It also creates a situation where in effect, you may end up following the clergy over the Bible.

We should not follow the opinions of the “learned” within Christianity as though they’re absolute truth. Neither should our pastors be placed in a similar position, where they’re given a level of trust that should be attributed to God alone. Instead all teachers, whether pastors or theologians, should be thoroughly fact-checked by the Scriptures. Their sermons and teachings should be subjected to a high level of scrutiny to determine whether or not there is truth in it, lest one be in danger of accepting doctrines and ideas potentially threatening to one’s salvation. Although lies may not be around every corner, every precaution should be exercised and discernment should be practiced rather than adopting the position of a “doctrinal sponge” where everything is accepted blindly without critical thought.

Some have at times gone to the opposite extreme. Instead of total reliance on the minister, they’ve generated theories which are not in God’s word. Speculation and theorizing have been indulged in by many, who perhaps might be seeking something to gratify the imagination over Scriptural truth. Much of this is borderline Esiegesis, but it should be noted that this is more likely what Scripture targeted when it spoke negatively of “private interpretations.” God is the source of the true interpretation of the Bible, and hence we must always come to him in prayer in order for the Holy Spirit in order to properly interpret the word of God.

But thinking for yourself when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture is important. You should not allow others to investigate, pray, research, and think for you. Satan may work in this way to control the minds of the people, locking Christians into false beliefs and deceptions through the use of some prominent Theologian whose teachings are accepted as authority over the Bible. No doubt, Christians should faithfully study the Scriptures to discern if things they hear at Church are true, practicing discernment. But also doctrines that are spread wide throughout Christianity should pass the Bible test.

To test a doctrine, you must study it carefully and prayerfully. The Bible should be approached without a “spiritual confirmation bias” where you’re ready to gather up evidence to support your pre-existing beliefs. In fact, every preconceived idea about a subject should be laid at the door of investigation. Then and only then can you arrive at accurate conclusions when researching any subject from the Bible. As originally suggested, lay aside all Bible commentaries. Even reference works should be set aside if you have the slightest suspicion that they may color your interpretation of the Bible. Any other books, sermons, or articles which speak on the subject should be set aside as well.

Begin with the key verses used to support a particular belief or doctrinal view. Lay aside all interpretations that have been read into the passage and research the context, pay close attention to the exact words to see if a text as been read Esiegetically, and carry out a comparison with other texts found elsewhere in the Scriptures. Use the lexicons which your concordance or Bible software may come equipped with to see if there is anything behind the Greek or Hebrew which helps to address the way the text has been perverted. You might also write out a list of key words or terms which are along the same subject matter and carefully research every Bible passage you can find which speaks about the subject. In this manner, through careful self-study, you will have a better grounding for your beliefs.

 

A Radical Suggestion

Lately I’ve come to rely on the WordPress.com Reader, which has left me sifting through large amounts of blog posts daily as I try to engage in conversation with other bloggers. Having a special interest in Bible Prophecy as can be seen by what I’ve been posting on my own blog lately, I’ve found myself upon occasion searching up terms like “End Times”, “Matthew 24”, or “Second Coming.” A vast sea of ideas and beliefs about these subjects can be found on Word Press alone.

The concept of the Rapture, the seven years of tribulation, and the debate as to when the Rapture will take place have stuck out prominently to me as I’ve searched through the various posts on Word Press. Reading some of this material, at times it feels as if my heart sinks. I have a burden for my Christian brethren who hold to these beliefs about the final events of this earth’s history. In fact, this is why I’ve put as much emphasis on it as I have in my commentary on Matthew 24.

There is a very real danger to these ideas, especially the concept of a pre-tribulation rapture, which is not sensed by those who hold them. It is based on the idea that they will be extracted from this earth by God, and therefore will not have to endure the persecutions and deceptions of the last days. This would leave them unprepared to engage in conflict with these things, which would hit them in such a manner that it would be as if these things had never been revealed in Scripture. Some have been burdened, worried that they might be “left behind” when the Lord returns, while others would be raptured away to heaven.

The debate as to whether or not the Rapture will occur prior to the tribulation, in the middle of the tribulation, or after the tribulation at times has caused much confusion to honest Bible Students seeking to understand Prophecy for themselves. Combined with the cryptic nature of some of these Prophecies found in the books of Daniel & Revelation, as well as the gospels and other books of the Scriptures, the task of attempting to understand final events can often seem daunting.

I want to propose some radical suggestions. If the Rapture of the faithful prior to the tribulation, and this concept of seven years of tribulation are apart of your belief system than you might be upset by what I’m about to say. Unfortunately sometimes toes need to be stepped on when the truth is spoken. This would be therefore your official disclaimer. Otherwise you might be blessed by my suggestions, especially if you’ve been confused about these issues.

For those that are confused, I would first counsel you to abandon the Rapture entirely. Lay aside all of your preconceived ideas about it, and anything you may have heard from the pulpit with regards to this subject. Just the same, I would suggest that you set aside any ideas about a seven-year period of tribulation, a future one-man hitler antichrist, a rebuilt Jewish temple, and the entire chronology of events you’ve always heard about. [Whether or not it will be pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post tribulation.] Ask yourself some questions, “is any of this really true? Is this what the Bible really teaches about the end of the world?” My counsel to you essentially boils right down to the request that you stop approaching the Bible with the assumption these things are taught in Scripture.

Afterwards, I want you to lay aside all Bible commentaries and books you may have purchased about last day events. This includes novels, especially the left behind series by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins. But any novels or movies about the end of time need to be set aside. Your next task from here will be to set aside all sermons on this topic, YouTube videos, audio recordings, and even presentations you have attended in person at your own church. You do not want to study your Bible through the eyes of your Pastor, Theologians, or ‘teachers’ that you may have heard. Otherwise you will end up simply accepting their views as ‘truth’ whether it is or is not, and may not be able to see things in Scripture as they actually are.

From there your task is to sit down with your Bible and a Concordance. The search engine E-sword comes equipped with is also a good option. Begin with earnest prayer for light on the matter and commence a deep dive into your Bible. Use the Concordance or Bible search engine to find everything you possibly can in the Scriptures that has any bearing on the subject of last day events or the second coming of Christ. Then I want you to line up every single passage before you form your conclusions, and watch how each text adds details to and complements the other. Research everything you can possibly find in the Bible on the matter. Especially view proof-texts which are used in Support of these teachings with a degree of skepticism. Ask yourself, “is this really what the verse is saying?” Check to see if such passages have been studied in context, read with Eisegesis [reading something into a text which isn’t there], or studied in view of other passages.

Once you finish, ask yourself the same questions as you did at the beginning. “Is any of this really true? Is this what the Bible really teaches about the end of the world?” When you come to the Lord in prayer over the matter ask him repeatedly and persistently if these views are true and found in the Scriptures. These prayers should be combined with your in-depth Biblical research project on the matter.

If you struggle to understand prophecy because of its cryptic nature, than focus on the plain passages of the Bible first. Not every prophetic text in the Scriptures is highly symbolic. A good place to start would be the gospels, going over Christ’s teachings in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John regarding the second coming and the end of time. When you come across a passage of Scripture which seems to support these views, compare it with other passages to see if an alternative explanation can be found. This would not be to get around it’ but instead to determine if the text has been interpreted properly.

It all boils down to this. If you’re confused about it, stop being so reliant on teachers in your church or particular denomination and research it for yourself. Do your own thinking, and stop reading the Bible through the lens of what others say about it. For those that have held a strong belief in this school of prophetic interpretation my only suggestion for you is take a look at the evidences which will be posted on this blog countering those viewpoints and study them prayerfully.

This has been addressed already through these two pages, and this article. In addition, my commentary on Matthew 24 presents some limited evidence against this thinking in parts 1 and 2. If this is your traditional thinking about Prophecy, if you’ve long-held this belief and look at it as gospel truth, than I only ask that you take a candid look at the evidence which I do and will present on this blog, and reconsider your position.

Matthew 24 – Part 3

“Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.” – Matthew 24:15-18

“Then let them which be in Judaea” the word ‘Judaea’ in this sense is key. It helps to pinpoint the original context of the instruction that follows, that being the statements regarding the housetop and clothes. The word ‘Judaea’ according to Strong’s concordance Greek Lexicon, as shown below, is in reference to a region of Palestine. Christ was suggesting that once the recognized sign was seen, that being the armies which were to surround Jerusalem as shown in the previous post, then his followers were to flee.

It is interesting to note that Jerusalem was attacked and sieged twice in the years after Christ’s death on the cross. The first was conducted by a Roman general named Cestius, who attacked and surrounded the city. When everything was favorable for him to take it, he and his armies retreated without explanation. The Christians who were living in the areas surrounding Jerusalem and inside the city itself at this time recognized this as the sign Jesus warned about [Luke 21:20-21, Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14] and fled the region into the mountains just as Christ had given instruction. Flavius Josephus, in his book “Wars of Jews” writes of this occurrence regarding Cestius’ retreat. The translators of his book, who are apparently Christian, seemed to also recognize a fulfilment of this particular prophecy in question when it comes to Josephus’ descriptions of the event.

In addition, Josephus also describes soldiers led by Titus planting their ensigns and worshipping them outside of the temple gate. Roman ensigns were known to have an eagle on them, which had some connection to idolatrous worship. The translators of Josephus’ book evidently also recognized in this a fulfilment of the words of Christ found in Matthew 24:15. It is important to keep these historical fulfilments of prophecy in mind, as they help to add context to the phrase “Judaea” found in verse 15.

G2449
Ἰουδαία
Ioudaia
ee-oo-dah’-yah
Feminine of G2453 (with G1093 implied); the Judaean land (that is, judaea), a region of Palestine: – Juda.

“7. It then happened that Cestius was not conscious either how the besieged despaired of success, nor how courageous the people were for him; and so he recalled his soldiers from the place, and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world. But when the robbers perceived this unexpected retreat of his, they resumed their courage, and ran after the hinder parts of his army, and destroyed a considerable number of both their horsemen and footmen; and now Cestius lay all night at the camp which was at Scopus; and as he went off farther next day, he thereby invited the enemy to follow him, who still fell upon the hindmost, and destroyed them; they also fell upon the flank on each side of the army, and threw darts upon them obliquely, nor durst those that were hindmost turn back upon those who wounded them behind, as imagining that the multitude of those that pursued them was immense; nor did they venture to drive away those that pressed upon them on each side, because they were heavy with their arms, and were afraid of breaking their ranks to pieces, and because they saw the Jews were light, and ready for making incursions upon them. And this was the reason why the Romans suffered greatly, without being able to revenge themselves upon their enemies; so they were galled all the way, and their ranks were put into disorder, and those that were thus put out of their ranks were slain; among whom were Priscus, the commander of the sixth legion, and Longinus, the tribune, and Emilius Secundus, the commander of a troop of horsemen. So it was not without difficulty that they got to Gabao, their former camp, and that not without the loss of a great part of their baggage. There it was that Cestius staid two days, and was in great distress to know what he should do in these circumstances; but when on the third day he saw a still much greater number of enemies, and all the parts round about him full of Jews, he understood that his delay was to his own detriment, and that if he staid any longer there, he should have still more enemies upon him.

End notes

(30) There may another very important, and very providential, reason be here assigned for this strange and foolish retreat of Cestius; which, if Josephus had been now a Christian, he might probably have taken notice of also; and that is, the affording the Jewish Christians in the city an opportunity of calling to mind the prediction and caution given them by Christ about thirty-three years and a half before, that “when they should see the abomination of desolation” [the idolatrous Roman armies, with the images of their idols in their ensigns, ready to lay Jerusalem desolate] “stand where it ought not;” or, “in the holy place;” or, “when they should see Jerusalem any one instance of a more unpolitic, but more providential, compassed with armies;” they should then “flee to the mound conduct than this retreat of Cestius visible during this whole rains.” By complying with which those Jewish Christians fled I siege of Jerusalem; which yet was providentially such a “great to the mountains of Perea, and escaped this destruction. See tribulation, as had not been from the beginning of the world to that time; no, Lit. Accompl. of Proph. p. 69, 70. Nor was there, perhaps, nor ever should be.”–Ibid. p. 70, 71.” – Flavius Josephus, Wars of The Jews, book 2, Ch 19 [with translator’s note] 

“1. AND now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple (24) and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator (25) with the greatest acclamations of joy. And now all the soldiers had such vast quantities of the spoils which they had gotten by plunder, that in Syria a pound weight of gold was sold for half its former value. But as for those priests that kept themselves still upon the wall of the holy house, (26) there was a boy that, out of the thirst he was in, desired some of the Roman guards to give him their right hands as a security for his life, and confessed he was very thirsty. These guards commiserated his age, and the distress he was in, and gave him their right hands accordingly. So he came down himself, and drank some water, and filled the vessel he had with him when he came to them with water, and then went off, and fled away to his own friends; nor could any of those guards overtake him; but still they reproached him for his perfidiousness. To which he made this answer: “I have not broken the agreement; for the security I had given me was not in order to my staying with you, but only in order to my coming down safely, and taking up some water; both which things I have performed, and thereupon think myself to have been faithful to my engagement.” Hereupon those whom the child had imposed upon admired at his cunning, and that on account of his age. On the fifth day afterward, the priests that were pined with the famine came down, and when they were brought to Titus by the guards, they begged for their lives; but he replied, that the time of pardon was over as to them, and that this very holy house, on whose account only they could justly hope to be preserved, was destroyed; and that it was agreeable to their office that priests should perish with the house itself to which they belonged. So he ordered them to be put to death.” – Flavius Josephus, Wars Of The Jews, Book 6, Ch 6

The instruction to flee to the mountains, much like the abomination of desolation, has been recognized by some as having a duel application. The 1st being as noted, where Christ’s followers were to flee to the mountains before the destruction of Jerusalem. The second being for us today, that as we see the garbage of the last days occurring we’re to flee into the mountains. This is a possible conclusion, given the overall context of Matthew 24 surrounding the original question of the disciples. It would especially be applicable as one observes the future fulfilment of the abomination of desolation taking place. At that point, it may be time for God’s people as well to flee into the mountains.

The word “Judaea” however places the instruction of Jesus found in Matthew 24 under a more direct context of the destruction of Jerusalem. This was shown from its Greek meaning to be a region of Palestine, which is certainly not a place that most of us live [unless you happen to be reading this blog post from modern-day Israel/Palestine.] Therefore the instructions with regards to clothing and not taking anything out of your house would logically have this context as well. Note especially that you can draw this point by a comparison with similar instructions found in Luke 21:21-22.

It is interesting to note that the word translated as “clothes” in the King James Version has been translated as “coat” in the ISV, “cloak” in the ASV, and “cloke” again in the RV. All three texts in question have been produced below, along with the Greek meaning of the word which offers some explanation of this. The reality is that the word “Clothes” as found in Matthew 24:17 was referring to perhaps specific articles of clothing, in this sense taking time to secure these items rather than fleeing when time was of the essence. Especially the words “return back” stick out, as the suggestion carried by these words is that the Christian was not to return to acquire anything, but to flee immediately.

“Anyone who’s on the housetop must not come down to get what is in his house, and anyone who’s in the field must not turn back to get his coat.” – Matthew 24:17-18 ISV

“let him that is on the housetop not go down to take out the things that are in his house: and let him that is in the field not return back to take his cloak.” – Matthew 24:17-18 ASV

“let him that is on the housetop not go down to take out the things that are in his house: and let him that is in the field not return back to take his cloke.” – Matthew 24:17-18 RV

G2440
ἱμάτιον
himation
him-at’-ee-on
Neuter of a presumed derivative of ἕννυμι hennumi (to put on); a dress (inner or outer): – apparel, cloke, clothes, garment, raiment, robe, vesture.

The calamity originally foretold, that being the destruction of Jerusalem, was apparently such a situation that time should not have been spent in attempting to acquire things. But instead their flight was to occur immediately. It is probable that as we approach the final events of this earth’s history, Christians may not have time to gather their things together, but instead should simply flee without delay.

It should be noted that similar instructions appear in Luke 17:31-32. Only aspects involving the retrieval of articles of clothing are missing, with instead a warning to “Remember Lot’s Wife.” In Genesis 19:17-26, there is a brief account of this particular story. Lot and his family were told specifically to not look back at Sodom and Gomorrah, neither were they to remain in the plain, but they were to escape for their lives. Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. It is likely that she was still attached to the city, and looked back with the thought or hope of returning. This attachment logically caused this episode with being turned into a pillar of salt.

It should especially be noted that verses 28-30 of Luke 17 add context stating, “Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the son of man is revealed.” Verse 30 especially places these Scriptures into an end times/second coming context. These words of Jesus in verses 31-32, and the statements in Matthew 24:15-18 are both essentially saying “do not turn back for anything when you make your flight.” This would perhaps be the best way to summarize the overall point of the instruction.

And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” – Matthew 24:19-22

Verse 19 targets those who are pregnant or who are nursing children, hence “them that are with child, and to them that give suck.” A “woe” is pronounced on them that are in this state during the destruction of Jerusalem. Given verse 15, which references “Judaea” [a region of Palestine] the destruction of Jerusalem would be the overall context of this woe or warning.

The statement with regards to the Sabbath which follows is especially interesting. The Christians living in Jerusalem were to pray that their flight was neither in winter, nor on the Sabbath day. The majority of Christians today believe that the Sabbath [that being the 7th Day or Saturday] was nailed to the cross. There is of course no harmony whatsoever with this thinking, and the fact that Jesus instructed his followers to pray that their flight from the destruction of Jerusalem was not to take place on the Sabbath. Such instruction clearly implies an assumption on the part of Christ that it would be kept at this time, and therefore the Christians should pray that they would not have to flee on the Sabbath.

The word “For” in verse 21 suggests that the reason for the previous two passages worth of instruction was that there would be “great tribulation.” It should be noted that the wording of this statement from Christ shares some similarities to a passage in the book of Daniel, which references a “time of trouble.” I’ve underlined both texts below in order to make the striking similarities between these verses stick out.

“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” – Matthew 24:21

“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.” – Daniel 12:1

In view of the overall context of Matthew 24 from the disciples’ original question, there are two ways in which I would apply verse 21.

  1. To the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
  2. To the time of trouble foretold in Daniel 12:1.

These applications harmonize with the original context of Matthew 24 found in verses 1-3, and the immediate context found in verses 15-16. The logical deduction also is that when the words “Immediately after the tribulation” are used in Matthew 24:29 later on, Jesus had the same period in view. At this point, it should be noted that some Scholars and Bible students have connected this tribulation foretold in Matthew 24 to the 1260 day prophecy which makes an appearance at various locations across the Scriptures. One of which is of course Daniel 7:25. [Stay tuned, posts on this are forthcoming.]

I have no quarrel with those who hold to these beliefs. If you personally hold to this thinking, and can produce sufficient and convincing Scriptural evidence to make your case, it perhaps can be added to the numbered list above of applications for verse 21. If you connect the 1260 days to the tribulation foretold in Matthew I’m open to you making your case in the comments section of this post. But points 1 & 2 in my mind are quite solid and will probably remain. The shared wording between Daniel 12:1 & Matthew 24:15 coupled with the overall context gives too much support for such a position to be reversed at this point in time.

The point arrived at next is the shortening of the days, which appears in verse 22. It is noted that the time of trouble, or “great tribulation” is predicted to be “shortened.” This is done strictly for the salvation of the elect. Evidently the time of trouble is so bad that if it were allowed to continue going on nobody would have salvation because of the intensity of the ordeal. With salvation obviously in view from the phrase “there should no flesh be saved” [unless this statement is targeting the literal preservation of one’s life] the statement in regards to the shortening of days is not a literal shortening [a day going from 24 hours to 6 hours], but instead a statement targeting the overall length of the ordeal.

“Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, behold he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.” – Matthew 24:23-26

Verse 23 clearly mirrors earlier instruction given near the beginning of the chapter, with regards to those who would claim to be Jesus. [Matthew 24:4-5.] In this sense it seems to be applied to those who would claim to have seen him here or there. Christ here tells us not to believe anyone claiming that Christ is to be found at specified locations here on earth, as though he has already come. In the verses that follow, he goes so far as to target some very specific things, such as the desert or secret chambers.

Evidently this wording implies attempts by the powers of darkness to counterfeit the second coming. Their efforts take on the appearance of showing up here or there, and having been seen at this or that location. But in reality this does not come close to matching the direct manner of the second coming. It should be observed that in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we’re told that he shall “descend from heaven with a shout” with the “voice of the archangel” and the “dead in Christ shall rise first.” 

The event which follows is that “then we which are alive and remain are caught up together with them [being the dead in christ] in the clouds.” Therefore it is logical to conclude that Christ will not touch the ground, that we will not have to go out of our way to some place where he has come secretly [hence “secret chambers”], and that there will not have to be a major effort on our part to go find him. The book of Revelation even goes so far as to suggest that “every eye will see him” [Revelation 1:7.]

The statement which follows in Matthew 24 suggests that false Christs and false prophets shall arise, both of which were warned about in previous passages. They’re described as showing “great signs and wonders”. Then the words which follow are, “insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” The word “great” is an obvious statement of size and intensity, indicating the seriousness of the signs and wonders produced by the false Christs and Prophets. The miraculous phenomenon produced by these persons will be so great that the very elect, if not grounded in Scripture, could be endangered by it.

In the book of Deuteronomy, we’re essentially told that miracles alone are no test as to whether or not some one is a true or false prophet. Matthew 7 provides the test of the fruits, and Isaiah 8:20 admonishes us to test everything by our Bibles. We should not accept the messages of anyone professing to be a prophet unless we’re certain that they pass Scriptural tests of the prophetic office. [Deuteronomy 13:1-4.]

Zero back in on the phrase “great signs and wonders” and “the very elect.” For a moment, contemplate these statements. Most Christians regard some one such as Joseph Smith with a high degree of suspicion. In fact, very few ‘modern prophets’ last long before receiving the title of “false prophet.” Their messages tend to not survive debunking by believers. Yet these prophets foretold by Christ are such a threat at the end of time that “if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” The implication is that something much more sinister than old Joe Smith is around the corner, something which Christians of long-standing who’re normally suspicious of anyone professing to be a prophet may be deceived by.

Than it is of the utmost importance that we practice discernment. It starts with us testing those who preach from the pulpit and by us gaining a thorough knowledge of the word. Then when some one comes and tells us something different from the Bible, we may instantly know where they’re in error, when they’ve read a text with Esiegesis, and when something has been taken out of context to support error. Unfortunately, in a previous post I’ve detailed how we as Christians are in trouble in this area.

“For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” – Matthew 24:26-28

The flash of lightning is bright, visible, and powerful. It comes with the roar of rolling thunder, making it equally audible. During some thunder storms, I personally have witnessed a bright blue flash penetrate the curtains and windows of my home at night as it lights up the sky. This representation of lightning is obviously meant to convey the idea that the second coming is not a secret, it is not some hidden thing in which Jesus will show up in some guy’s secret chambers, or show up here or there.

It will be loud, visible, audible, and so powerful that everyone will see it. [Revelation 1:7.] Lightning is probably one of the most powerful object lessons from nature Christ could have drawn to paint a proper picture of his second coming. The people who every once in a while appear on the scene claiming to be Christ do not in any way come close to the sheer power of the event, which according to other Scriptures as we will see will rock this earth and strike terror into the hearts of those who do not obey the gospel.

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The next statement of Christ seems cryptic, and not easily understood. What did he mean when he said, “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together”? The term “eagles” bears some similarities to descriptions found in the book of Revelation, particularly around chapter 19, which is also speaking about the second coming of Christ.

In verses 17-18 specifically, we find statements which help unravel the meaning of Christ’s apparent cryptic language. “And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.” – Revelation 19:17-18. 

In these texts the “fowls” [which are birds] are invited to feast on the flesh of kings, captains, mighty men, and horses. The language employed here yet again paints a picture of birds feasting on carrion. This is even verified as you scroll down to verse 21 in which you find the statement, “And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.” – Revelation 19:21

While a sword in the symbolic language of the Scriptures often represents the word of God [Hebrews 4:12], it is clear from other texts of Scripture that the wicked will be slain during the second coming. In 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, Jesus is described as taking vengeance in “flaming fire” on “them that know not God and obey not the gospel.” This mirrors the way that the man of sin is slain by the “brightness of his coming.” [2 Thessalonians 2:8-9]. The reason behind the ‘super of the birds’ in Revelation 19 and Christ’s illustration of birds feasting upon carrion in Matthew 24 is simple. It is because the wicked will be destroyed at this point, slain and then reserved for their final punishment at a later time.

These texts of Scripture make it clear that there is no universal salvation. The entire world will not be converted before the coming of Christ, as some have taught in times past. But instead those who persistently refuse the gift of salvation offered by Jesus and his death on the cross will eventually be slain at the climax of this earth’s history. The choice that we have is one road or the other.


Part 4 will pick up from verse 29.