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Scripture Studies

The Truth About Hell

dante infernoApart from the fear of dying, another most common fear of people is the notion that they will go to an “ever-burning hellfire” after death. Mainstream Christianity embraces the general belief that when a person is “good” he/she will go to heaven, but those who are “bad” will be sent directly to a place called “hell” (an eternal burning place of “sulfur and fire” where sinners are burned and tortured every-day, forever and ever).

While the idea may seem appealing to theologians, if only to send a chilling reminder to the wicked and unbelievers; how does this concept reconcile with the belief of a very merciful and loving God and yet, could torture people “forever” for their past misdeeds?

It was the 14th-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who popularized the idea of an “eternal punishing” through his satirical novel, “The Divine Comedy” (or La Divina Comedia). As detailed in the book section on Inferno he vividly portrayed how sinners are suffering endlessly in ways that represented ultimate penalty for their sins. (See above art illustration by Gustave Doré of Dante’s hell)

In recent times, however, major denominations seem to have softened their stand on a “harsh” hell, favoring a reinterpretation of hell vaguely as an “eternal separation” from God. Still, the general understanding is that evil people and nonbelievers will live in perpetuity in some state of torment.

But what does the Bible really tell us about hell?

An up close study of the word “hell” in the New Testament will reveal some very direct and unmistakable truths. There are three Greek words translated “hell” in the New Testament, and these words are Hades, Gehenna and Tartaroo.

1. Hades refers to “the grave,” “the pit” or “place of the dead.” A common reference to the grave as resting place for the dead. Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:27 use Sheol and Hades to describe the location of Christ’s body when He was dead for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40).

“For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. (Acts 2:27; compare with Psalm 16:10)

“Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term ‘Sheol,’ which refers in general to the place of the dead” (Ref: The Holman Bible Dictionary 1991, “Hades”).

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“What Happens After Death?”

seasons of lifeIt is a question that boggles everyone’s mind. Philosophers, scientists, and theologians don't seem to agree. Within Christianity, differing and contradictory beliefs abound as to what happens after a person dies. Predominant is the idea that after death, an “immortal soul” or spirit of a person departs from the body to be consigned to a “heaven” or “hell”. Others introduced the idea that a temporary place called “purgatory” exists for nominal souls needing more prayers. Still others believe that after death, the soul will be judged immediately and will be taken to a “temporary” heaven or hell, awaiting their eternal and final locations and without any chance of an appeal.

Is there anyone who can tell us this mystery of life and death? The surprising answer is yes! The Lord Jesus Christ himself died and was buried, and three days after, He was resurrected back to life! 

After His resurrection, He plainly told the disciples, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:26). 

What did Jesus prove by resurrecting to life? Prior to His death, he made a very startling revelation,

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).

Surprising as it may seem, Jesus stressed something very few really understand today: the idea of a future resurrection.

One of the most significant miracle of Jesus recorded in the Bible is the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Lazarus’ resurrection is unique in that while the Bible recorded other instances of people who had been raised from the dead, he had been dead for a much longer period of four days (Jesus was in the grave for 3 days). Upon knowing that Lazarus died, note what Jesus said, “‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” (John 11:11-13)NKJV      

So a clear distinction was made, while the disciples thought that by “sleep”, Lazarus was simply taking a nap, Jesus meant that Lazarus was already dead. Sleep is a biblical metaphor that describes death. In fact, Bible compares death to sleep more than fifty times. As we are “asleep”, we are unconscious; we are not aware of the passing of time or of what is going on around us. That is what death is like as well.

It makes sense that when Lazarus died he was absolutely unconscious, his memory ceased to work for him. He couldn’t tell any thing, except that once he was dead, and now he is alive! He didn’t experience hell or heaven. Otherwise, there was no reason why Jesus needed His “good friend” Lazarus to be pulled out from an eternal state. He was simply “sleeping” in his tomb.

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Back to Basics: Prophecy and You

prophecy youWhy study Bible prophecy? Does, the word of the prophets spoken thousands of years ago, interest you? Does it have a practical application in your life? Why should it even be more important today?

We’re all curious about what the future holds for us personally. And our Eternal and loving God doesn’t want His people to be in the dark and worried with fear of the unknown. So He inspired His word, the Bible, to be a road map for our life’s journeys.

Bible prophecy does indeed satisfy much of our interest about the future, but God has greater purposes for it than just that. There are spiritual applications and benefits as well!

As we study prophecy, you’ll learn God’s intent for giving us prophetic revelations and forewarnings about both the conditions and future of the world that will affect you personally.

What are God’s reasons for wanting us to understand His prophecies? Listed below are some of the purposes of why prophecy is important and how it benefits us personally (interspersed with biblical texts/verses).

Prophecy brings/announces glad tidings or ‘good news’. Understanding prophecy, reminds us of our Commission, as Christ Himself began announcing the good news for a witness followed by various miracles. The “gospel” or good news prepares someone for a calling that is very unique and rewarding: the inauguration and the kingdom of God.  This also makes us ready to sustain the work and of making our calling and election sure, to the end. 

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:24

“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:10-11

Prophecy proves that the words of God are true, verifiable and reliable. With prophecy, God’s words are validated for accuracy and precision. Thus, God’s purposes and plans can be confirmed and demonstrated even for the skeptics and doubters alike. It also establishes that ultimately, it is God who is in control of everything He does. As future prophesied events happen, we will have even more proof of the divine inspiration of the Bible and the reliability of His words.

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The Timing of Jesus' Birth

thenativity-sceneWe are again in this time of the year when majority of the world keeps a very special time they believe commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.

While this celebration is inescapable for most of us, this season can be a real struggle, especially when our difference piques the curiosity of some as they think it sad that we are removing ourselves from the most meaningful time of the year, or is it?

Was Jesus Christ really born on December 25th? If he was not born on that date, can we know for certain when his birth possibly took place? A careful study of the surrounding events leading to the birth of Christ will actually show some vital facts.

On the other hand, plethora of information is just a click away over the internet that will show us undeniable information as to the questionable origin of Christmas celebration. Many people are now beginning to see how the “winter-time” merry-making of December 25 actually predated the birth of Christ—that these were derived from an ancient cultic celebration of the re-birth of the Roman pagan sun-god on the day of the winter solstice or Saturnalia.

History also attested to the fact that the Catholic church heavily borrowed from this celebration in order to entice the heathens (pagans) to embrace a new religion. While this method was successful in preserving “Christmas” as it survived today, the Bible is actually explicit in forewarning us and discouraging such borrowed and sanitized pagan practices.

God’s overriding admonitions in Deuteronomy 12, are very instructive in helping us know how God views all these things:

“When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” Deuteronomy 12:29-32 ESV(see also Jeremiah 10:2-5, Ezekiel 23:37-39, Zephaniah 1:5, 2 Cor. 6:14-18)

But what information do we have surrounding the birth of Christ?

On the surface, the gospels’ accounts of Matthew and Luke revealed little about the time of Jesus' birth. But a careful study of the narratives will clearly indicate two things:

First, that the December 25 date is very untenable and unlikely date for Jesus to be born.

Second, the chronology of the events and familiarity with the Biblical customs pointed to a different but meaningful period.

As a well-regarded historian, Luke, provided a sound and orderly account of the events that removes any doubt as to the time of the birth.

As an overview, Luke introduced us to event leading for Jesus’ parents coming to Jerusalem (Bethlehem). And this was due to a Roman census ordered by Caesar Augustus compelling everyone to return to their hometown (Luke 2:1-4). Both historical fact and logic dictate that such censuses cannot be taken in winter, when temperatures were often below freezing and travelling can be very arduous due to roads’ poor condition. It would be self-defeating for such census to be enforced.

Another least understood factor was the influx of many travelers in and around Jerusalem during this period that made it difficult for Joseph and Mary find a decent "inn" (Luke 2:7). Looking at the historical context, the only possible reason was the fact that it was a pilgrimage-feast (harvest) season (Exo 23:16, Deut 16:16), making it even more an opportune time for Roman census and collect taxes.    

Moreover, Luke in his account about the timing of birth, also noted the presence of shepherds in the fields watching their flocks “by night”. (Luke 2:8). For shepherds to be in the fields at night with their flocks in the bleak of mid-winter December in Israel is unnatural and topographically untenable even when it is only a mild winter. Thus The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary says this passage argues “against the birth [of Jesus] occurring on Dec. 25 since the weather would not have permitted” shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields at night. Other references suggest based on this account that, “Jesus may have been born in summer or early fall. Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, it is likely the shepherds would have sought shelter for their flocks at night” (Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays p. 309).

If it is not possible for Jesus to be born on December 25, does the Bible indicate when He was born?

To unlock this and using the same sequence of events in Luke Chapter 1:5 through 2:8, two overlooked key factors will give us answers.

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Does God Have A Merry Christmas?

parol“Christmas is just around the corner!" So goes one of the often heard words when the month of December comes around. In the Philippines, Christmas begins on December 16 with a tradition that is very unique in our country called “Simbang-gabi”. It is a nine-day Catholic mass celebrated before dawn in the old times presumably to allow farmers attend a Mass before they leave for work. And so today even in the most urbanized city—no arable land to till, people from all walks of life still flock very early in the morning to church services to observe a mass not really knowing what its intended purpose was.

Take note that this tradition did not come from a heathen concept nor is it borrowed from any pagan practice of old. So some people will be justifying, "Hey, who says that we are keeping a pagan celebration?" "This is our tradition—our unique way of keeping the spirit of Christmas!" "We are not worshipping the gods of the pagans like Nimrod, Marduk, Mithra, Baal, Molech, Astarte, Osiris, etc.!" And so people are much confused nowadays as to the real “reason for the Season.”

Those who are trying to follow the biblical way and keep out of this tradition are caught in the middle. We are on the defensive. Our children are the ones who are really on the forefront and exposed to these practices—they are just as confused as those who keep Christmas and not really know its true origin.

Others would now entertain ideas like: "Well, people are sincere in what they are doing, that’s what really matter!” “So what’s wrong with giving a present to your wife, children and even neighbor once on Christmas day?" Others will reason, "What’s wrong with putting those bright and tiny little Christmas light or lantern in our windows or backyard trees—isn’t it pretty?" "Besides, electric lights weren’t invented by those pagans—surely that does not honor their gods!" As they would love to say, "Doesn’t God look at the heart—surely it doesn’t matter whether these practices were rooted from paganism!" "Would God not be pleased knowing that our intentions are pure in choosing a special day to honor his birth?" "The Bible doesn’t say when His birth was, but would it be wrong to choose a date that is already familiar to many?" "After all, the Bible says that we are not to judge people!"

So we find as many reasoning and arguments as there are ways to celebrate Christmas. But the question to ask is: are all these arguments valid? Are we asking the right questions? What is really the point in all of these? Can we now say, "Hey God, we are trying to serve you better, and in doing so we have set aside a day that we thought would be comfortable for us in order to worship you—bless us on this day!" One can actually make hundreds and even thousands of good reasons for keeping Christmas, but the ultimate question to ask is, what did God say in His Words when it comes to worshipping Him? Because if we are really sincere in serving God we will be seeking His will always—not imposing "our" will—in wanting to please Him. To do otherwise, to devise our system of worship in the presence of God’s clear instructions is to commit the sin of presumptuousness which is specifically singled out and condemned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 17:12-13; Numbers 15:30; Psalm 15:30). Hence, a person maybe be sincere, but there's also such a thing as sincerely wrong! It is always better to be guided by God's word.

What do we find in the Bible? Does God have a merry Christmas? Does He really care as to how we conduct ourselves today? Is He concerned about what we are doing today—the customs we use—let alone make our own rules and traditions? So can we now use our many "good reasons" to celebrate Christmas?

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Meanings Behind the Feast of Pentecost

pentecost eventWhy is Pentecost called the feast of harvest? What makes it the day of the firstfruits? In God’s sight, what significance is held by the number 50? Why is Pentecost referred to as Feast of Weeks?

Numbers 28:26 Also in the day of the firstfruits, when you bring a new meat offering to the LORD, after your weeks be out, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no servile work:

Exodus 23:16 And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of your labors, which you have sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when you have gathered in your labors out of the field.

Exodus 34:22 And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

In the Rabbinic tradition, beginning with the Targum (the Aramaic translation of scriptures from the second century of the Common Era [CE] which is better known today as A.D.), Pentecost is referred to as atzeret. This Hebrew word atzeret means “conclusion.” It is because; Pentecost is viewed as the end or fulfillment of the Passover season where the firstfruits harvest takes place. The harvest of the firstfruits, beginning with barley commences with Unleavened Bread and lasted or connects to the wheat harvest in the season of Pentecost where the firstfruits harvest ends.

A Jewish practice acting as a chain that link Passover to Pentecost is the counting of the omer. As a result of this practice, the intervening days between Pentecost and Passover came to be known as the omer period. Counting is done at night after sunset, at the start of a new day.

Before counting is done, a prayer is recited: “Praised are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments commanding us to count the omer.” Then the counting is begun, “Today is the ninth day of the omer, which equals one week and 2 days of the omer.” Others read Psalms 67 after the count is done because the passage contains 7 verses and a total of 49 words.

Having a direct connection to the paschal feast, the analogy of Pentecost to the Christian calling is that Pentecost is the end result of the process of salvation for the firstfruits to  God (saints) which begun at Passover. The first fruits harvest is but a type, a representation of the real firstfruits to the Eternal which is the ecclesia (called out ones).

James 1:18 Of His own will He brought us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Revelation 14:4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whenever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.

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Pentecost: When Was the Law Given at Mount Sinai?

moses tenWhat day was the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai? Is it possible to know what day of the week the Eternal God came down on Mount Sinai?

Keeping track of ancient Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Sinai desert, several evidences appear which seem to indicate that particular day the Torah was given by God at Mt. Sinai.

Moses and ancient Israel came into the wilderness of Sinai and camped before the mountain of God on the first day of Sivan, the third month in the Hebrew calendar.

Exodus 19:1 In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.

2 For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.

Plotting out the day to day happening till the Eternal God came down on Mount Sinai, will give us the day the Eternal God revealed His laws before all Israel.

Events that transpired the first week of the month of Sivan while Israel was encamped before Mount Sinai:

1st Day:  Israel entered the Sinai desert and camped before Mount Sinai. The people pitched their tents and prepared to settle down in proper order and position of tribes in that area.

2nd Day:  Moses went up to the mountain of God to enquire of Him. Having known what God wants, he went down back to camp and met with all the elders and tribal leaders to pass on to them what God desires and asks of the people.

Exodus 19:3 And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;

4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you to myself.

5 Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure to me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

6 And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.

7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.

3rd Day:  The elders and leaders consulted with everyone in their respective tribes to get to know each one’s response to what the Eternal God set before them. Having known the people’s answer, the elders met with Moses to report the people’s answer to what was set before them.

Exodus 19:8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD has spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people to the LORD.

4th Day:  Moses went up again to the Mount to deliver to God Israel’s unanimous consensus to keep and obey all that the Eternal commands/says. God in turn told Moses to tell the people to wash their clothes and bath that day and the next, for on the third day (the 6th day); He will come down on Mount Sinai.

Exodus 19:9 And the LORD said to Moses, Behold, I come to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you for ever. And Moses told the words of the people to the LORD.

10 And the LORD said to Moses, Go to the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes,

11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai.

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