Category Archives: Bible
In the famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an albatross (a large sea bird) leads a ship to safety. But soon after their rescue, the main character, the mariner, shoots the albatross, and the ship is again in peril.
To punish the mariner for his churlish action, the ship’s crew forces him to wear the dead albatross around his neck. As he watches the crew succumb to death, the albatross serves as a constant reminder that he is to blame. Today we use the term, “wearing an albatross around one’s neck” to signify a psychological burden, often brought on by one’s own foolish or careless action.
Unfortunately, many Christians today live as if they are that ancient mariner, wearing their guilt around their necks like a big dead bird. I became aware of that recently when, within a span of a few days, I had a friend tell me he still dealt with guilt about things he’d done more than two decades before; another friend confided that she still felt shame for actions committed years before; and another person talked about the anguish he felt daily about the sins he’d committed.
Understand, these are all devout Christians who have been walking with the Lord for decades, who have confessed these sins repeatedly, yet they still function as if they are bound and condemned for them.
I have a feeling these are not isolated cases. But by worrying about, thinking about and feeling guilt and shame about our past sins, we are seriously impairing our ability to live the abundant life Jesus promised.
I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame?
It’s not that I don’t understand where my friends are coming from: I have plenty of sinful behavior in my past and I regret having caused God the pain of my actions. I still suffer from some of the consequences of those actions.
But I no longer feel guilt or shame for them. I choose instead to believe the truth of the words in Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” This is one of the greatest statements in the Bible. I am set free and no longer under condemnation, so why should I feel guilt or shame? And it’s not just the Romans passage that gives me that confidence.
- Jesus came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18)
- God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12)
- Jesus set us free to have freedom (Gal. 5:1)
- God sweeps away our sins and remembers them no more (Isa. 43:25)
- God has taken our blood red sins and washed them white as snow (Isa. 1:18)
- The Lord will never charge us with our sins (Rom. 4:8)
- Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice once for all sins (Heb. 7:27)
There are a number of other scriptures in the same vein – that once we are in Christ Jesus, once we are following him as our Lord – all of our sins have not only been forgiven, they have been removed completely from our account. We are free and we are washed clean.
But, you may argue, you don’t know what I’ve done in my past. No, I don’t, but it doesn’t matter. Really.
What matters as a Christian is not what you have done but what Christ has done for you. No evil of your past can compare with the abundant life of your present or the glory of your future.
If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?
The difference is where you choose to turn your eyes and ears. Will you keep looking behind you at how you have failed, or will you focus on Christ and how he has overcome? Will you look at your weakness, or his power? Will you accept the lies of the enemy, or listen to the voice of the Great Shepherd calling you to the truth?
As a follower of Christ you no longer have to be captive to shame and guilt for your past actions. All you have to do is accept the truth that you are free and no longer under condemnation. If God no longer condemns you, why should you condemn yourself?
The ancient mariner could never get over the guilt of killing that albatross, forced to wander the earth to tell his tale of woe. But as a Christian, your guilt has been removed. Christ died for that guilt so that you, unlike the ancient mariner, can live a life of victory.
Gary Kauffman is Bible teacher, Christian life coach and freelance writer/photographer living in North Augusta, South Carolina.
“What is God’s will for my life?”
That is one of the most frequently asked questions by Christians, often in a voice tinged with anguish, confusion, longing or fear – sometimes all of them at once. It is a legitimate question because as sincere Christians we want to honor God in all that we do. Knowing His will is an important part of that.
The question is often asked by young people in college or soon after graduation, when they realize that the real world awaits. Is it God’s will that I take a job in the secular world or that I go into full-time Christian work? And if so, is it God’s will that I attend a seminary or go onto the mission field? Is it God’s will that I marry that cute girl I saw in church but whose name I don’t even know yet?
But older people ask it as well, sometimes with even more angst because there are families, bills and prestige to consider. Is it God’s will that I go back to school? Is that job offer three states away God’s will for my life? Is it God’s will that I buy a motorcycle instead of car because of the better gas mileage? (Yes, I’ve actually heard that one.)
I’ve wrestled with the question myself and I’m sure you have too. Doing God’s will is important. So what if I told you a sure-fire way to determine God’s no-doubt-about-it will for your life? Interested?
OK, here’s how you do it – read the Bible.
Oh, did that disappoint you? After all, the Bible says nothing about going back to school, or job offers in other states, or marrying cute girls, and is especially silent on the motorcycle vs. car debate.
God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once.
But it is chock-full of passages about God’s will for your life. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
It is God’s will that you:
- Love God with all your heart, soul and strength. It says so in Deut. 6:5 and Jesus emphasized it in Matt. 22:37, Mark: 12:30 and Luke 10:27.
- Love your neighbor as yourself. Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27
- Love one another as believers. John 15:12, 1 John 4:11-12
- Make disciples. Matt. 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:1, Heb. 13:7
- Be generous. Mal. 3:8-10, Luke 6:38, 1 Tim. 6:17-19
- Live in victory. John 10:10, John 16:33, 1 Cor. 15:57
- Keep His commands. John 14:15, 1 John 2:3
- Be thankful. 1 Thess. 5:18, Eph. 5:20
There are a number of other things that are God’s will as well, such as prayer, submitting to one another and being filled with the Spirit. If you are a married man, it is God’s will that you love your wife unconditionally as Christ loved the church; if you are a married woman, it is God’s will that you submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ.
Maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”
The point is, God has made it abundantly clear what His will is for our lives – He’s stated it and in most cases restated it more than once. So before we ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” when facing new situations, maybe we should start by asking, “Am I doing God’s will that He has already revealed to me in His Word?”
If we’re not already loving and being generous and living in victory, etc., then maybe we should concentrate more on those things before wondering about that out-of-state job or the cute nameless potential marriage partner. It’s not that God doesn’t care about those things, or that He doesn’t have a will for those areas of our lives. He does. But it seems rather self-serving to seek His will in the unknown if we’re not already living in His known will.
Plus, there’s a good chance that once we start following His will as outlined in His Word, the path of His will in those other situations, even regarding motorcycles and cars, will become much clearer.
After his resurrection and just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus came up with an interesting option for Christians. He said that if a select few people felt like it, if it wasn’t too much bother, they could tell people about him. This is called the Great Suggestion.
Um, really, no, it’s called the Great Commission and Jesus was hardly suggesting it as an option. He was commanding it, to all of his followers then and now. Yet today, many Christians treat his final words as a nice suggestion that somebody should be doing, as long as it isn’t them.
The Great Commission is found in Matt. 28:18-20, although frequently it’s listed as verses 19-20, and often only verse 19 is quoted. But it is actually verse 18 that is the key to understanding the rest of the Commission. Here’s what Jesus said:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
The very first thing Jesus states is that all authority has been given to him in heaven and earth. Not some authority, not just authority in heaven, but all authority in heaven and on earth – in other words, it’s all the authority there is, anywhere in the universe. No one has more authority than Jesus – not a police officer, not the president, not even your mom (sorry, Mom).
Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.
What does it mean when someone has authority over you? It means they have the right to tell you what they want to have done. Someone in authority, ideally, will be someone who understands the big picture, understands what needs to be done, how to do it, and can give you the order to do so. We have learned to obey authority – if the blue lights start flashing because you chose to ignore the speed limit sign, you’d better pull over. If your boss tells you to get a project done by a certain date, you’d better get it done by then.
Why? Because we have submitted ourselves to these people as having authority over us – and because there will be consequences if we don’t obey that authority. Run from the cops and eventually you’ll be tasered and thrown into prison. Ignore the boss’s instructions and you’re soon standing in the unemployment line.
Yet how do we – how do most Christians – respond to Christ’s authority? Do we say, well, Jesus said it and he has all authority so I’d better snap to it? Or do we say, cool suggestion, Jesus; somebody better get busy on that, and then look around the room to find someone who should be doing it?
Jesus isn’t just telling us that he has all authority in heaven and earth to brag about it. It’s not, “Hey, I got all authority from the Father. What’d you get?” He is telling us this for a reason, and the reason follows in verse 19, which begins with Therefore.
Now, anytime you see the word “therefore” in the Bible you have to ask yourself, what is it there for? Because what follows the therefore is based on what was said in the previous sentence or paragraph. In this case, Jesus is saying that the reason he states his all-encompassing authority is to give us a command – not a suggestion, not an option, but a command.
And that command is to go and make disciples. There are two verbs that are connected here, “go” and “make.” Go means, of course, that you aren’t stationary. You aren’t sitting back waiting for these disciples to magically appear around you. It is an aggressive action on our part. But is that how we generally think of this process? I think most of us sit back, waiting for people to show up at our church and decide to become involved in the church activities. The closest we come to “go” is to occasionally invite someone to check out our church sometime.
So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group.
The second verb is make, and this is a modifier, describing the next word, disciples. Again, make is an aggressive action. Nothing is magically going to appear. It will take time and effort on our part. And notice what we are supposed to make – not more church members, not more people to sit in worship service, not even more people to lead Bible studies or sing on the worship team. The command is to make disciples.
For many years, this verse has been loosely and lightly interpreted as doing evangelism – simply telling people about the good news of Jesus and hoping they would attain salvation. But that is not what Jesus is commanding here. The Greek word for disciples is mathetes, meaning a student or committed learner. The two English words, make disciples, are actually summed up in one Greek word, matheteuo, which is in the imperative form in Greek – imperative meaning it is absolutely necessary, or a command. It also points to the words “make disciples” as the central focus of the sentence. The people to be made into disciples are every ethnos, or people group.
So Christ, based on his absolute authority, is telling us it is absolutely necessary that we go make committed learners of every people group. That hardly sounds like some passive action, or a suggestion.
But Jesus isn’t done yet. He goes on to describe what this disciple making will include. First, we will baptize these new believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then we will teach them. What we’ll teach them is to obey or observe everything he commanded, through his words while on earth and through his revelations to Paul and other writers of the New Testament. In Greek, the word commanded carries the connotation that we are aware of the purpose of the commands – in other words, we don’t just obey blindly, but we do so because we know the purposes behind them. Again, there is an all-inclusive word here – we are to obey everything he commanded; not just the things we like or we approve of, but everything he told us to do.
The magnitude of conveying everything Jesus commanded, including the purposes behind them, indicates more than a one-time contact with someone. It requires more than a casual relationship with someone. It is an ongoing teaching process, one that Jesus took three years to accomplish with his disciples. But many of the early disciples took longer – Silas and Barnabas spent years pouring into Paul, who then spent years pouring into Luke and Timothy and Titus and others.
But just making disciples wasn’t the end goal. The end goal is to make disciples who make more disciples. After all, Jesus told us to obey everything he commanded, and one of those commands is to make disciples. So our disciples will have to obey that command as well.
His final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.
Note also that making disciples is not listed among the gifts of the spirit. The gifts of the spirit are those special abilities that the Holy Spirit has endowed on some, but not all Christians. They are to be used together to build the body of the church. Among the gifts that some, but not all, Christians have are prophecy, teaching, hospitality, even evangelism. But discipleship isn’t listed because it is expected of all believers. It’s not something special endowed to just a few, but a command entrusted to all believers.
When Jesus came to the end of his time on earth, when it came time for him to say one last thing, to give one last command, to in essence to sum up everything he’d been saying all along, he chose to say this. It wasn’t to build big churches, to sing beautiful songs, to develop outstanding church programs, it wasn’t even to simply evangelize. No, his final words were to make disciples – to continue teaching what he’d taught to others, who would in turn teach others, who would teach others, throughout history.
The question now is, will we accept Jesus’ authority? Do we believe that Jesus has the right to tell us what to do? If so, are we willing to take action? Are we willing to enter into the long, involved process of making disciples rather than sitting in church letting words wash over us?
Perhaps the better question is, What authority do we have that exceeds Jesus’ authority to not do what he has commanded?
Years ago in college, I was privileged to see a show by a Christian illusionist. His act amazed and delighted me.
Among his magnificent tricks was placing his full-grown assistant into a box and shrinking it down to 1-foot-square cube, making objects disappear and reappear and levitating. Before each act, though, he would say something like, “Nothing you see here is magic. It is all just an illusion.”
Throughout the performance he kept reassuring us that he was an ordinary man who had no magical powers and everything he did was simply a trick of the eyes. I wanted to scream, “Noooo! I’m not that easily fooled!” I preferred to think the illusionist had some special powers rather than that he was fooling me by doing what any ordinary human being could do with the right training and preparation.
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”
There’s a verse in the Bible that reminds me of that magic show. It’s James 5:17, which begins with “Elijah was a human being, even as we are.”
Remember the testimony about Elijah in the Old Testament? He prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t rain for more than three years (1 Kings 17:1), he was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:2), he lived with a widow and her son and caused her meager food supply to never run out (1 Kings 17:13-15) and then raised her son back to life after he died (1 Kings 17:18-24).
But Elijah was barely getting started at this point. He defied the king and his wicked queen (1 Kings 18:17-18), called down fire from heaven in an awesome display of God’s power compared to false idols (1 Kings 18:21-40), brought the rain back (1 Kings 18:41-44) and outran a chariot pulled by horses (1 Kings 18:46).
Want more? He was fed by an angel (1 Kings 19:5-7), felt God’s presence and heard His voice in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13), prophesied the death of the evil Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 21:20-24), called down more fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10-15), parted the waters of the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8) and was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). And then Elijah appeared with Moses alongside Jesus (Matt. 17:3).
Yep, Elijah sounds just like every other human being I know.
Seeing the assertion from James that Elijah was an ordinary human with no special powers blows my mind, much like the amazing illusionist I saw. I prefer to think that he was some special godly creature.
Because if what James said is true, then it means any of us – including me – should be able to perform at least some of what Elijah did. Seem laughable? In our own power it is, but James’ prologue to his statement about Elijah is, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
What brought about all the miracles and awesome display of power by Elijah? His righteousness. What made Elijah righteous? His utter dependence on God and his willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him (not that he didn’t have doubts – at one point he thought he was the only righteous person left in Israel and expected to die at Jezebel’s hands).
God is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us.
Since Pentecost, all true followers of Christ have his spirit, the Holy Spirit, living in us. He is waiting for us to get out of our own way so he can work mightily through us. Can we raise the dead, call down fire from heaven and part a river? Absolutely not! But the Holy Spirit could through us.
In all likelihood, we won’t be called on to do the more showy works that Elijah did because we’re living in a different time. More likely, the Spirit’s work in our lives will be to give us joy and peace in times of turmoil, to give us the words to speak at the right time and to lead others to following Christ. But he also might give us the power to end travesties like sex trafficking, abortion and lethargy in our churches.
And that, unlike the amazing illusionist, would not be a trick of the eyes. It would be demonstration of God’s power that is as real and available to us today as it was to an ordinary human like Elijah.
Ordinary human beings rock – when we allow the Holy Spirit to move through us!
The other day I read an interesting article about a neat little trick our brains do to us called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Before your eyes glaze over, let me explain this amazing brain ability.
The brain can actually rewire its neurons to help you remember things better and faster. If you think the same thoughts over and over, the brain starts grouping those neurons together to make it easier for you to access those thoughts. It’s part of the learning process that makes it easier, for example, for you recall the facts and processes you need to do your job well.
Here’s the bad part – the brain does the same thing even if we keep thinking negative thoughts. So if you complain a lot or are a worry wart, your brain helpfully starts grouping those neurons together. “You want to worry?” your brain asks. “Here, let me make it easier for you.”
The concept of neuroplasticity has only been around in the scientific/psychology realm for less than 70 years, and is just recently starting to be accepted as a modern discovery of how to help people move from negativity to a more positive outlook.
Since He designed our brains, God he knew they would tend get stuck in a rut of thinking the same wrong thoughts over and over.
Except the concept isn’t modern at all – God revealed it in Scripture thousands of years ago.
Since He designed our brains, God he knew they would tend get stuck in a rut of thinking the same wrong thoughts over and over. But the great thing about neuroplasticity is that works both ways – yes, it can make negative thoughts easier to access, but when we train it with positive thoughts, it also makes positive thoughts easier to reach. So God outlined plenty of encouragement and ways for us to turn neuroplasticity into a rut of correct thoughts.
For example, in Deut. 6:4 we have the Shema, later quoted by Jesus, which tells us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and strength. But it continues with a command that shows the importance of neuroplasticity in positive thoughts.
“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:6-9)
In other words, keep repeating God’s words over and over so that your brain reroutes the neurons to make them easy to recall.
This concept of using the brain’s innate ability is found throughout the Bible.
The more we think about God’s word and His character, the easier our brain will make it for us to keep thinking that way.
In Philippians 4, Paul instructs us to not worry about anything (don’t let negative thoughts dominate your mind so that they’re easy to recall). Instead, he tells us in Phil. 4:8, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.”
In Romans 12:2, he instructs us to not be conformed to the world but instead “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Why? So that we may discern “what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
In the very first Psalm, we find this principle at work: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers. Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” The Psalmists frequently encourage meditating on God’s word and His character: “I will reflect on all you have done and meditate on your actions.” (Ps. 77:12)
So the more we think about God’s word and His character, the easier our brain will make it for us to keep thinking that way. It will allow us to do His will, to not be anxious or worry and to live a life that is an example to others. Thinking about God will become a self-perpetuating habit.
Neuroplasticity may seem like a recent breakthrough in the study of the brain science, but Bible readers have known about it for thousands of years. God has known about this little brain trick all along because He created it.
Parts or all of the Bible have been translated into more than 2,100 languages. But there was one language that almost didn’t get a Bible translation because of the deadly controversy surrounding it.
Translating the Bible into this language was a dangerous task, often ending in the death of the translator. It took almost 200 years before the Bible finally appeared in this language. You might think it was Arabic, given the natural animosity between the Islam and Christianity. Or perhaps Latin, given the early opposition to Christianity by the Romans. Or perhaps Chinese or Russian.
It was English.
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). In the late 300s A.D., Jerome translated it into Latin, which became known as the Vulgate (or common person’s) Bible. It was the standard of the Roman Catholic Church for the next millennium.
John Wycliffe came along with the strong belief that the Bible should be translated into English.
However, despite its name, few common people at that time could read the Vulgate – or read anything, since formal education was only for the elite. That meant only the priests had the knowledge of what the Bible said, and the population had to trust their interpretation of it.
In the 1380s, John Wycliffe came along with the strong belief that the Bible should be translated into English. He began the translation process from the Latin Vulgate. He produced dozens of handwritten copies of the Bible. But the Roman Catholic Church saw this as a direct affront to its authority, and had him excommunicated. His work so enraged a later Pope that 44 years after Wycliffe’s death, he had Wycliffe’s bones dug up, crushed and scattered in a river.
One of Wycliffe’s protégés, John Hus, continued his work. For his troubles, he was burned at the stake in 1415. The fire was ignited using Wycliffe’s English translations of the Bible.
In 1517, Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation and along with it began translating the Bible into his native German. But English was still non grata. While Luther worked on his German translation, seven people were burned at the stake for teaching their children to recite the Lord’s Prayer in English.
William Tyndale befriended Luther and in 1526 successfully printed the first English copies of the New Testament. They were quickly confiscated and burned. Tyndale was imprisoned and finally, in 1536, it was decided that one death wasn’t enough for him – he was strangled and burned at the stake. A year later, two of his disciples, Myles Coverdale and John Rogers, managed to successfully publish the entire Bible in English.
What finally turned the tide in bringing the Bible to the English-speaking world was not a great reformer, but a king who wanted to have his way. King Henry VIII, who famously had eight wives, made a break from the Roman Catholic Church when the Pope refused to grant him a divorce. He formed his own church, which became known as the Anglican Church, which was neither Catholic nor Protestant. Coverdale was hired in 1541 to produce an English Bible for this new church.
The peace was short-lived. In 1553, the Queen known as Bloody Mary assumed the throne and returned England to the Catholicism. Some of the blood on her hands belonged to Bible translators, including Rogers. Coverdale escaped to Geneva, Switzerland, where he continued his work. Finally in 1560 – 180 years after Wycliffe began the translations – the Swiss church published the first English version of the scriptures, which became known as the Geneva Bible.
The Roman Catholic church, recognizing it had been beat, produced their own English version in the 1580s, although since it was based on the error-prone Latin Vulgate, was not considered as accurate as the Geneva Bible. When King James I assumed the throne, he returned England to the Anglican Church. It was under his authority that an Anglican version of the Bible was printed in 1611, which was heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic version. It became the popular King James Version that would dominate English speaking churches for more than 250 years.
When the first Protestants sailed to America, for example, it was the Geneva Bible that crossed the ocean with them.
The Geneva Bible was the first to mark chapters and verses and was immensely popular for the next 80 years, outshining the King James Version for several decades.
When the first Protestants sailed to America, for example, it was the Geneva Bible that crossed the ocean with them, and it remained popular in the new country into the 1800s. But the King James Version was the first English Bible to be printed in America.
After almost 200 years of bloodshed, more than 200 years of peace reigned as virtually all English speakers began using the King James Version. It wasn’t until 1880 that the English Revised Version of the Bible turned some people from the KJV. It was also the first Bible, either Protestant or Catholic, to remove the Apocrypha from between the testaments.
The KJV continues to be the Bible of choice slightly more than half of Americans.
That started a wave of English translations over the next 140 years, including the American Standard in 1901 and the New American Standard in 1971. In 1973, the New International Version was produced and has since become popular in evangelical churches. In 1982, the New King James Version was printed. The English Standard Version joined the popular translations in 2002 and the Holman Christian Standard Bible in 2004. A revision of the Holman Bible, the Christian Standard Bible, was released in 2017.
But more than 400 years later, the KJV continues to be the Bible of choice slightly more than half of Americans. The NIV ranks second (between 11 and 19 percent, depending on the survey), the only other English version that garners double-digit popularity.
Through various Bible apps you can now view dozens of English translations of the Bible. And if you’re so inclined, Bible Gateway app offers the opportunity to read the Bible that started it all, the Geneva Bible.
Gary Kauffman is a freelance writer, photographer and Bible teacher in North Augusta, S.C.
One of the things I’m looking forward to in eternity is receiving a little white stone with a secret name written on it. And some hidden manna.
OK, I’ll admit that this all sounds a little strange, but it’s a promise in the last book of the Bible, the one we’re both fascinated by and a little terrified of, the Revelation of John.
In the second and third chapters of Revelation Jesus speaks to seven churches, saying some positive words along with some rather harsh pronouncements against them if they don’t change their ways. But each warning to the churches ends with a promise to the “victors.”
The victors are those who have persevered in following Christ’s commands through trials and persecutions. Like Paul, the victors keep their eyes on the prize and continue pressing forward. When they come into eternity Jesus has rewards for them. Among the rewards are the right to eat from the tree of life, not being harmed by the second death, authority over nations, white clothes, acknowledgement before the Father, a pillar in the Sanctuary with Jesus’ new name on it and the right to sit on the throne with Jesus.
At first glance, this seems like a strange, perhaps even a bit silly, reward for having endured through to the end and attaining victory.
But the reward that appeals to me the most right now is found in the second chapter where Jesus promises to give the victor a white stone with a new secret name inscribed on it.
“Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Rev. 2:17 (HCSB)
At first glance, this seems like a strange, perhaps even a bit silly, reward for having endured through to the end and attaining victory. Eating from the tree of life, authority over nations, sitting with Jesus on his throne … those sound like real rewards. Who needs a little stone?
But I think that this little stone actually signifies a big concept. The Greek word in this passage that most versions of the Bible translate as “stone” is psephos, which is more accurately translated as “pebble.” The word psephos is used only twice in the Bible, in Rev. 2:17 and in Acts 26:10, where it is translated into English as “vote.” In the Acts passage, Paul is speaking about his former occupation of persecuting Christians, punishing them and throwing them in jail. Then he adds, “When they were put to death, I cast my vote (psephos) against them.”
How does one word get translated as both stone and vote? The answer is found in Hebrew courts of the day. In the courts, those judging the accused cast their vote of guilt or innocence by placing a small colored pebble in a box – black for guilty, white for innocent. Paul is literally saying, “I cast my pebble against them.” In other words, he put a black pebble in the box signifying their guilt.
So in Revelation, when Jesus says that he will give the victor a white pebble, it signifies that the victor has been found innocent. He will not receive the condemnation of the guilty but the reward of eternal life.
But there’s more: The stone will be inscribed with a new name. Obviously, I can’t know exactly what that new name is. It could be Christ’s new name, which he says he’ll give us (Rev. 3:12). However, I believe the name will be a new identity for the victor – sort of heaven’s version of the witness protection program. In 2 Cor. 5:17, Paul tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.”
Even though we get that new identity as soon as we decide to follow Christ, this white pebble becomes the “document” that makes it all official. It is our adoption certificate, proving that we now belong to him throughout all eternity.
It reminds us that what we’re going through is just for a brief time, and if we endure, we will receive rewards that never end.
And the hidden manna? Well, manna was God’s way of providing for the Israelites after the Exodus and throughout their wandering in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. I believe the hidden manna signifies that we will never again have to worry about providing for ourselves. When we persevere and endure, when we become victors, God will provide for everything we need throughout eternity.
The practical application of knowing about the white pebble, the new name and the other rewards during our earthly lives is that it provides hope and motivation. It reminds us that what we’re going through is just for a brief time, and if we endure, we will receive rewards that never end.
I am looking forward to noshing on the tree of life, donning some white clothes, bossing the nations around and scooting in beside Jesus on his throne. But I’m most looking forward to Jesus handing me that white pebble and saying, “Because of my blood, I find you innocent of all wrongdoing.” And then he’ll call me by my new name and invite me to join him for all eternity.
If you’re like me, you have a good mental image of what Moses looked like. He looked just like Charlton Hesston.
Yes, thanks to the iconic movie The Ten Commandments and the networks airing it every Easter season, it’s almost impossible for us to read the story of the Exodus without thinking of Charlton Hesston in the lead. And thanks to the movie, we feel we have a pretty good grip on the storyline.
Amazingly enough, Hollywood embellishes the story! Shocking, I know. There are many inconsistencies with the biblical account, and lots added in. But I want to examine one area where Hollywood simply didn’t embellish it enough – the enormity of the Exodus.
According to various sources, the film used 10,000-14,000 extras to play the part of the Hebrew nation. That certainly looks impressive on the screen, especially during the crossing of the Red Sea. But 14,000 is probably no more than 4 percent of the number of people who actually left Egypt that night.
The odds had to be overwhelming for Moses, even if he looked like Charlton Hesston.
Ex. 12:37 states that about 600,000 men left as part of the Exodus. In Numbers 1, about a year after the Exodus, a census puts the number of fighting men aged 20 and over at 603,550. It did not include the tribe of Levi, but a few chapters later we are told there were 22,000 of them. So that brings the number to 625,550. Notice, though, that this is just the men older than 20.
In most cultures, women slightly outnumber men. If that’s the case, there were probably around 650,000 women. So our total swells to 1.275 million. But that’s just people over the age of 20.
Since marriage was an important institution among the Israelite nation, we can assume a large proportion of these people were married. Just for round numbers, let’s say there were 500,000 married couples. Some are older couples, of course, with grown children, and some won’t have children. But many may also have had four, five, six or more kids under the age of 20. Let’s just estimate, probably conservatively, that there were 1.25 million younger than 20. Now we’re up to 2.525 million people. But we’re not quite finished.
Imagine trying to hustle the entire Tampa-St. Pete area down the road in a single night.
According to Ex. 12:38, a number of other foreigners living in Egypt (and possibly some Egyptians) took off with the Israelites. We have no way of determining how many, but if it was 75,000 (for the sake of round numbers), we’re at 2.6 million. And remember, that’s being on the conservative side. If there were more married couples with young children, the number quickly pushes beyond 3 million.
Holy Moses, that’s a lot of people!
Plus they took all their livestock with them, probably hundreds of thousands of animals, possibly more than a million.
For a modern comparison, the Tampa-St. Petersburg area in Florida and its surrounding suburbs are home to 2.975 million people. Imagine trying to hustle the entire Tampa-St. Pete area down the road in a single night. And then marching through a sea. Followed by wandering in a desert wilderness for 40 years with them.
Some people have disputed the numbers, claiming they may have been inflated by a factor of 10; in other words, instead of 600,000 men there were 60,000. That still puts the total at a hefty 300,000. But every indication is that 600,000 men was an accurate total. They had more than 400 years to multiply and, according to Ex. 1:7, the Israelites were no lightweights when it came to multiplying their numbers.
Remember, too, that the Egyptians were afraid of how large the Israelite population was growing. In fact, the new Pharaoh was concerned that the total number of Israelites had surpassed the number of Egyptians (Ex. 1:9). While actual census data aren’t recorded, some Egyptologists have estimated there were 2.5-3 million Egyptians at the time, so 2.5-3 million Israelites certainly agrees with Pharaoh’s assessment.
The odds had to be overwhelming for Moses, even if he looked like Charlton Hesston. How could he have managed to lead such a large, unwieldy group across a desert wilderness? Obviously, only with God’s help. As the Bible repeats many times, it was God who delivered the Israelites from Egypt.
This is one time where Hollywood underwhelmed us. The real numbers were far greater than Cecil B. DeMille could conjure up, which makes God’s deliverance far more impressive than any movie could ever portray.
Gary Kauffman is a writer, photographer and Bible teacher living in North Augusta, S.C.
Healthy eating is important to everyone, but even more important is healthy Bible reading.
I was reminded of this recently when I came across information about Ezekiel bread. Apparently it’s nothing new, but this particular reference was urging Christians to eschew regular bread in favor of Ezekiel bread. This bread is made from a “recipe” found in Ezekiel 4:9: “Also take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt. Put them in a single container and make them into bread for yourself.”
The idea is that all these things mixed together create a far superior and more nutritious bread than bread made from wheat, especially bread made from refined flour. This reference touted it as being God’s plan to keep us healthy.
That all sounds great, especially since it actually quotes a Bible verse. What could be better than following God’s recipe? But here is the danger in taking things out of context. When God gave this recipe to Ezekiel, it wasn’t because it was a good thing to eat but because it was a bad thing to eat.
God’s Strange Command to Ezekiel
Here is the context of Ezekiel 4: God has instructed the prophet to make a drawing of the city of Jerusalem, set up a model of it being attacked by a foreign army and then he is to lie in front of it on his left side for 390 days – a little more than a year. After that, he gets to change sides! But he’s only going to be on his right side for a mere 40 days.
During this time he is to eat this bread made from the four grains and two legumes. And he is to bake it using human excrement as fuel – that’s right, human excrement. When the prophet protests, God relents and allows him to use cow dung as the fuel source. Whew!
Like lying on his side, this bread recipe also serves as an illustration for the people of Israel. “The Lord said, ‘This is how the Israelites will eat their bread—ceremonially unclean—among the nations where I will banish them.’” (Ezek. 4:13)
That’s right, Ezekiel’s bread was considered an affront to God. Touching or eating anything unclean in those days meant you were basically banished from society until you could make yourself clean again. So Ezekiel was not considering any health benefits coming from this bread.
Although it doesn’t say what about this recipe makes it unclean, it is probably because of the mixing of grains and legumes. In the Old Testament law, mixing of two things was often prohibited – the Israelites weren’t allowed to plant two types of grain together, they weren’t allowed to plow with both an ox and mule yoked together, they weren’t allowed to breed two types of cattle and they weren’t allowed to make clothing from two types of fabric.
While making bread from more than one type of grain isn’t specifically forbidden in the law, the general rule of not mixing unlike things together probably applied to this as well. That is why the bread made in Ezek. 4:9 would be considered ceremonially unclean.
The Importance of Context
This is an illustration of what happens when we decided to focus on one verse without the entire context. We can mistakenly think it means one thing when, in fact, it may mean the exact opposite. Unfortunately, with the advent of verse-of-the-day apps and large video screens in churches showing only the specific verse a pastor is citing, we often see verses out of context.
I have nothing against those apps or video screens, but even when the verse is being cited correctly, we can miss the deeper and richer meaning we get when we view it in context. And sometimes another verse within the context will have an even more significant personal application. That is why it is always advisable to consider verses in context, even from people you trust. This is the healthy way to read scripture.
After Peter’s vision of the clean and the unclean in Acts 10, we as Christians generally believe that the prohibition of eating unclean things has been lifted for us. So there is nothing that prohibits Christians from eating Ezekiel bread (although at around $19 a loaf, the question of stewardship of finances may arise). It may even have all the health benefits it touts.
However, if you hear anyone claiming Christians should eat Ezekiel bread because this is God’s health plan as stated in Ezek. 4:9, advise them to read the context of the reference. And please ask what they’re using as a fuel source for baking.