Life in the Resurrection

The Vine

Throughout time humans have wanted to understand more about their meaning and purpose in life. Such questions are extremely important and cannot be separated from questions regarding identity, origin, and destination. We must understand something about who we are before we can understand why we are here; it is very difficult to have any grounding in who we are if we do not understand from where we have come and to where we expect to go. Christians understand, based on God’s revelation in Scripture, that all people are made in God’s image to share in relationship with God and each other to God’s glory (Genesis 1:26-27, John 17:20-23, Romans 1:19-20). What do the Apostles envision as our ultimate destination? What do they have to say about life after the judgment day?

The New Testament does not reveal as much as might be expected about life after the judgment: most discussions of the afterlife focus on the Judgment and the day of resurrection. Nevertheless we are given a few glimpses into what that future life may involve.

In John 5:28-29 Jesus spoke of a day in which all will come out of the tombs: those who have done good will experience the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil will experience the resurrection of judgment (or condemnation). While Jesus focused on the day of judgment and resurrection we do well to note how He envisions life afterward in terms of resurrection: the redeemed experience a resurrection of life, while the condemned experience a resurrection of judgment. Thus we may know that eternal life is life in the resurrection, life after life after death. Paul explains the nature of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-48 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10: the return of the soul to the body and the transformation of the “psychical” body into the incorruptible, immortal “pneumatical” body. In this way we gain the victory over death.

In both Romans 8:17-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul looked forward to the glorification of Christians by God. God’s glory was manifest in His presence; in a former covenant Moses’ face shone because he was in the presence of the glory of God, and so how much more amazing and awesome will it be for us to receive the fullness of God’s glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7-11)?

Paul continued to look forward to unfulfilled expectations in Romans 8:18-25. He spoke of the creation yearning to be set free from its bondage to corruption, just as the sons of God yearn for the adoption as sons, the “redemption of the body.” While Christians remain part of the creation, Paul makes a distinction between “the creation” and “we ourselves” in Romans 8:23; in Romans 8:24-25, Paul made evident that the hope of which he speaks is not yet present reality, and yet Paul assured Christians that they presently had eternal life spiritually and presently were adopted as sons of God in Christ in Romans 6:3-11, 8:9-17. This hope of redemption cannot be spiritual life eternally; the “redemption of the body” is therefore best understood as a reference to the resurrection to come (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Paul therefore extended hope that the creation itself in some way would obtain redemption when Christians receive the glory of God.

Peter’s future expectation in 2 Peter 3:7-13 is often held in tension with Paul’s in Romans 8:18-25. Peter envisioned a judgment of the present creation in fire leading to the dissolution of matter (2 Peter 3:7-10, 12). And yet Peter declared that Christians await a “new heavens” and a “new earth” in which righteousness dwells based on the promises of God (cf. Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:15-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6). The sum of God’s Word is truth (Psalm 119:160); while it may be that we do well to understand Romans 8:18-25 in terms of 2 Peter 3:7-13, we must at least remain open to the possibility that we are to understand 2 Peter 3:7-13, to some degree or another, in terms of Romans 8:18-25. Peter never suggested that the purification by fire means the end of the created order for eternity; on what basis should we believe that God will ultimately fully give up on and abandon His creation?

The most complete picture of life in the resurrection, even if given in a figure, can be found in Revelation 21:1-22:6. After Satan is cast into the lake of fire and the day of judgment has transpired (cf. Revelation 20:7-15), John saw a new heavens and a new earth, for the former had passed away (Revelation 21:1). In this picture of the new heavens and the new earth he saw the heavenly city, new Jerusalem prepared as a bride, coming down out of heaven (Revelation 21:2). John heard a voice declaring that the dwelling place (tabernacle) of God is with man; they will be His people, and He will be their God; there would be no more crying, pain, or distress (Revelation 21:3-4). John was then granted a more detailed vision of the bride, the wife of the Lamb, the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (Revelation 21:9-10). John saw it given the glory of God, described in terms of bejeweled walls and foundations and golden streets (Revelation 21:11-21). He saw no temple in it, nor source of light, for God and the Lamb are in its midst, and His glory gives it light (Revelation 21:22-23). John was then shown the river of the water of life with the tree of life on either side of it (Revelation 22:1-2). In that place the servants of God worship Him and dwell with Him face to face (Revelation 22:3-6).

The visions granted to John are symbolic and metaphorical and yet cohere well with the picture seen in the rest of the New Testament. We are given no indication God is giving up on His creation: according to Paul, sin and death have led to the corruption and decay of the creation, and once those are fully defeated, the creation can be redeemed from its curse (Romans 5:12-21, 8:17-25). Even if the present creation is purified as through fire, refined and then made anew, the goal is never elimination and separation from the creation. The people of God, seen in glory in terms of a bejeweled city, come down from heaven; God dwells with man, not the other way around (Revelation 21:1-10, 22-23). The end is as the beginning: humans dwell in face-to-face communion with God, in the presence of the tree of life and the river of the water of life (Genesis 2:4-24, Revelation 22:1-5). Those who have done good and have obtained the resurrection of life will experience eternity in the resurrection body, transformed for imperishability, incorruption, and immortality, and will receive the full glory of God, to worship Him and bask in His presence forever in the new heavens and the new earth.

Humans are made in God’s image; God desires to maintain relationship with mankind. We see this manifest in the picture of the end: the redeemed are made perfect, given immortality and imperishability in the resurrection body, and are portrayed as remaining in the presence of God for eternity. We are looking for that new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. We look forward to maintaining face-to-face communion with God, to know as we are known. In the end we return to the beginning. We do well to live accordingly, seeking to glorify God in our lives, ever more conforming to the image of the Son, and thus obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Dreams and Visions

The Vine

Humans have been enchanted by dreams and visions for millennia. We want to believe that our dreams may unlock hidden meanings and mysteries in life; cultures throughout time have featured many attempts to interpret what dreams might mean. Science has proven rather dismissive of dreams and visions, attempting to understand them in terms of our brains processing data while we are unconscious. How should Christians understand dreams and visions?

As in all matters of spirituality we do well to first explore the purpose of dreams and visions as seen in the pages of Scripture. In both Old and New Testaments God has communicated to certain people in dreams and visions.

The Scriptures record many instances in which God communicated to people in dreams. In some circumstances God directly spoke to people in dreams, most often about a specific situation the person was facing at the time. God warned Abimelech about taking Sarah as a wife in a dream (Genesis 20:3-7), and likewise warned Laban against harming Jacob in any way (Genesis 31:24). When Solomon was in Gibeon God appeared to him in a dream and asked what he wanted; the wisdom for which Solomon asked in a dream was given to him in reality (1 Kings 3:5-28). The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream three times: the first to give him confidence so as to marry Mary, the second to warn him to get away to Egypt to avoid Herod, and the third to warn him away from living under Archelaus (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 19-22).

God also sent dreams to his servants and to rulers which required interpretation but spoke of things that would come to pass. Joseph and Daniel were both justly famous for having been given dreams and the ability to interpret dreams. Joseph’s dreams about his family were able to be understood without difficulty in interpretation (Genesis 37:5-11). He was able to interpret the dreams of others, and they all involved what would take place in the immediate future: the cupbearer’s restoration, the baker’s execution, impending abundance and then famine in Egypt (Genesis 40:1-41:37). Daniel was able to see and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream through the revelation of the God of heaven, and it spoke of the kingdoms to come (Daniel 2:1-46); God would give Daniel dreams and visions of beasts with a similar interpretation (Daniel 7:1-8:27).

William Blake Ezekiel's Vision ca 1803-5 Boston Museum

Visions are often closely related to dreams; God would send both, and while many visions were in dreams, other visions took place while a person was conscious or semi-conscious (Numbers 12:6, Daniel 1:17, 2:28). God granted visions to many people for different reasons; nevertheless, they all were corroborated by events which would take place or by other forms of revelation. God provided assurance of His covenant with Abram in a vision (Genesis 15:1ff). In the days of Eli and Samuel there was no frequent vision; nevertheless, God gave a vision to Samuel in which He summoned him thrice and prophesied doom for the house of Eli (1 Samuel 3:1-15). Isaiah and Ezekiel saw visions of God in heaven (Isaiah 1:1, 6:1-13, Ezekiel 1:1-28); most of Ezekiel’s prophecies featured some sort of vision. In the New Testament the Transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John is called a vision (Matthew 17:1-9). Peter is given a vision of unclean animals; the Lord Jesus told him to kill and eat; after Peter protested, Jesus told him that what God has cleansed he is not to call common (Acts 10:9-17). Peter was initially perplexed about the vision’s meaning, but through revelation from an angel and the Holy Spirit he discerned that God was calling him to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and other Gentiles; the vision was the first in a series of revelations which made it clear that God had cleansed the Gentiles and granted them the repentance that leads to life (Acts 10:17-11:18, 15:7-11). The Bible ends with a grand vision, the Revelation of God given to John, setting forth the impending struggles of believers and the victory of God in Christ through images simultaneously fantastic and yet consistent with what the people of God beforehand had experienced (Revelation 1:1-22:21).

Just because something was a vision did not necessarily make it unreal. There is great continuity between the heavenly scenes seen by Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John; Paul speaks of having been taken up into Paradise, the third heaven, in which he saw things unable to be described in human language (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened and he saw horses chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:15-17); the servant may be seeing a vision, but the vision proves more real than what we imagine reality to be.

Therefore it is evident that God did communicate with people through dreams and visions in Biblical times. That communication, however, was not always for the best, nor was every claimed dream and vision really from God. In 1 Kings 22:19-23 Micaiah son of Imlah described a heavenly vision he saw in which God revealed how He would entice Ahab to meet his doom: a lying spirit from God would enter the prophets to deceive him. The prophets warn the people about those who have claimed to receive dreams and visions from God but do so falsely (Jeremiah 23:32, 27:9, 29:8, Lamentations 2:14, Ezekiel 13:9, Zechariah 10:2). Paul warns Christians about giving heed to those who trust in visions and give devotion to angels but do not hold fast to the Head who sustains His Body, the Lord Jesus (Colossians 2:18-19).

As Christians we do well to be careful about claims regarding dreams and visions. We have every confidence from Scripture that whatever messages God would communicate in dreams and visions would be consistent with what He has revealed through other means and would work to encourage and sustain Christians in Christ; yet on what basis should we expect Him to continue to communicate in such ways? He has made known His will for mankind in Christ and has communicated through the witness of the Apostles all things we need in order to accomplish His purposes (Acts 1:8, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). We do well to heed the wisdom of the Preacher:

For in the multitude of dreams there are vanities, and in many words: but fear thou God (Ecclesiastes 5:7).

May we all honor and revere God and seek to accomplish His purposes in Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Resurrection

The Vine

From death comes life.

This statement is paradoxical yet proves true in our lives. As one day, month, or year ends, another begins. A fire consumes a forest, and new growth is given an opportunity to rise. One creature is killed and eaten so that another creature might live. And so it is with Christianity and its teachings regarding the resurrection.

“Resurrection” involves the idea of coming back to life after death. In the Old Testament, the prophets Elijah and Elisha bring dead people back to life through the power of God (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:18-37, Hebrews 11:35). In the New Testament, Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus from the dead as well (Luke 7:10-17, 8:40-42, 49-56, John 11:1-45). In all of these circumstances, a person was physically dead and then brought back to physical life.

Yet every “new” day, month, or year will also pass away. “New” plant growth goes old and dies as well. Creatures who eat other creatures might be eaten in turn but will certainly meet their end in some way or another. All of the people above who were resurrected died again as well.

Yet God, in the New Testament, makes a promise regarding a better resurrection, one that does not end in yet another death. This resurrection is considered most properly as “life after life after death,” and Jesus is considered its “firstfruits,” the first of an intended many (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20). We can gain understanding about this resurrection by considering the descriptions of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-17, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-53, and John 20:1-21:25.

Jesus died physically on the cross but remained alive spiritually in Paradise until the third day (Luke 23:43-46). As the Gospel accounts demonstrate, God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day: the tomb was empty, for Jesus’ soul/spirit were united again with His physical body. Over a forty day period Jesus frequently appeared to His followers, establishing that He was no phantasm but flesh and blood, although changed, since He apparently transcended the space-time continuum. He then ascended to heaven with the promise of returning as He departed (Acts 1:11).

Paul established Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as the fundamental core of the Gospel in which we stand (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Those who deny the resurrection from the dead ultimately deny Jesus and Christianity, for if the dead are not raised, Jesus was not raised, and if Jesus was not raised, then our faith is futile, we are lost in our sins, and of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

And yet Paul assures Christians in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 that Jesus is risen from the dead, and we can have confidence that in Jesus those who belong to Christ will rise when He comes. According to the New Testament, Jesus will return one day (e.g. Matthew 25:1-46). When He returns, all of the dead in the grave will hear His voice and come out (John 5:28-29). This resurrection, by necessity, involves the re-animation and/or re-constitution of the physical body: that which was from dust and had returned to dust will begin to come to life again from the dust (cf. Genesis 3:19). Since the “psychical,” or natural body, the one empowered by the breath (Gk. psuche) of life, is perishable, corruptible, and mortal, it will then be transformed to be the “pneumatical” or spiritual body, the one empowered by the soul (Gk. pneuma), and thus imperishable, incorruptible, and immortal (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:35-54). In this way the dead will rise first and those who remained alive will then be transformed (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and such is the redemption of the body earnestly desired in Romans 8:18-25. From this point on the righteous will be forever in the presence of the Lord, having gained the final victory over sin and death through Him (1 Corinthians 15:55-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).

From Jesus’ death comes life: spiritual life through faith in Him and the salvation which comes through His blood, and the promise of eternal life in the resurrection with Him (cf. Romans 5:6-11, 6:3-7). The resurrection changes everything: there is more to life than this existence, death and evil can be overcome, and we can maintain hope in the ultimate realization of God’s intentions for His creation. Through the resurrection life gains its meaning as preparation for eternity. Let us praise God for the hope of resurrection in Christ Jesus and place our trust in Him forever!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Work

The Vine

“We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).

It is perhaps one of the greatest of the divine mysteries: God has summoned us sinful, weak humans to participate in His work and to advance His purposes.

The Bible makes known the great things which God has done in order to save us and to advance His purposes in His creation. He created the universe and all that is in it (Genesis 1:1-2:4); He sent His Son to live, die, and be raised again in power so that we could be delivered from our sins and overcome death (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 1 John 4:7-11). The pages of Scripture abundantly attest to God’s love and covenant loyalty powerfully demonstrated by His power.

Meanwhile God has expected people to labor for His purposes. God had a particular type of tent, the Tabernacle, where He intended to manifest His presence to Israel; He even had plans for it, and yet He expected the Israelites to build that Tabernacle themselves, and that according to the pattern He would show them (Exodus 25:9). In Christ God has maintained His power for salvation in the message of the Gospel (Romans 1:16); in Acts there are examples of the great efforts made by the Holy Spirit and angels so that people could hear, believe, and obey the Gospel, and yet it was to be preached by God’s people, not by the Holy Spirit or the angels directly (e.g. Acts 10:1-47).

Teachings of Jesus 30 of 40. parable of the talents. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible

Jesus explains the importance of work in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. He envisions the time between His ascension and before His return in terms of servants given differing amounts of talents, a very large sum of money; they are expected to go and make more money by trading them (Matthew 25:14-18). Jesus’ returned is envisioned in terms of settling accounts with these servants (Matthew 25:19). In this story the one given five talents makes five more talents, and the one who was given two made two more, and they both were welcomed into the joy of their master (Matthew 25:16-17, 20-23). A third servant was given one talent, but he buried it in fear; the master was angry with this servant for his lack of effort, and he is cast out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:18, 24-30).

The message of the parable might be jarring but it is evident: the followers of Jesus are expected to work to advance Jesus’ purposes until He returns. While everyone has equal value in God’s sight, not everyone is equally talented; how many abilities one has is not a basis of boasting but a stewardship of responsibility. Each is to use the abilities (or talents; the word derives from the form of money in the parable and on the basis of the parable) God has given him or her to serve (1 Peter 4:10-11). One with few talents need not despair when seeing another with more talents; one with many talents has no right to slack off because others have fewer talents. Our reward comes from how effectively we have used those talents for God’s purposes. If we bring others to Jesus, well and good; if we “obtain interest” by growing and exercising in our own faith, that is also sufficient (2 Peter 3:18). But any servant of Jesus who does nothing with his talents out of fear or insolence will be cast into the outer darkness, another way of speaking about hell!

Serving the Lord Jesus, therefore, is not to be taken lightly. What Jesus has said in Matthew 25:14-30 may not sit well with some of the doctrinal positions of man but makes complete sense when we understand the true nature of faith. Those who believe in Jesus are not merely to accept the reality of His existence, but to believe that He is Lord and Christ (John 3:16, Acts 2:36). If He is Lord, we are not; we cannot continue to walk in our ways and really believe that Jesus is Lord. To believe that Jesus is Lord demands that we put our trust in Him, and the only way our trust can be manifest is in what we do. So it is that Jesus considers believing in Him the work of God which He would have us to do (John 6:29): faith without works is dead, for faith must be manifest in how we think, feel, and act (James 2:14-26). One who claims to believe that Jesus is the Christ of God, the Lord, but does not get busy in His Kingdom is not really trusting Jesus, not really seeking His purposes, and without repentance will be cast into the outer darkness as an unprofitable servant!

God does not want us to be cast out; He wants us to serve Him as His children and servants of the Lord, and if we do so, we will obtain the same rest as He enjoyed once He created the world (Hebrews 4:1-11). God is Sovereign, omnipotent, sufficient to do all things, and yet in His purposes He has given it to us to work in His Kingdom, entrusted us with the Gospel of His Son, the message of salvation, and expects us to grow in His grace and knowledge through actively serving and obeying Him. May we participate in God’s work so as to participate in His rest to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Reciprocity

The Vine

“Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful. And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:36-38).

“You get what you give.”
“You reap what you sow.”

Many such nuggets of commonly received wisdom testify to the principle of reciprocity. Reciprocity refers to providing benefits to others with the expectation of receiving benefits in return.

Jesus speaks to the premise of reciprocity in Luke 6:36-38. You get what you give: if you judge and condemn, you can expect judgment and condemnation in return. If you refrain from such judgment and condemnation, you will be spared judgment and condemnation. As you measure out to others, you will receive in turn; thus, if you are merciful, you will receive mercy, but if you prove merciless, others will act mercilessly toward you.

Jesus is primarily speaking about how we relate toward one another. There are times when judgment is appropriate (1 Corinthians 15:1-13), and yet it must be done with humility, love, care, and not without introspection (Galatians 6:1-3). Have you noticed that the way you treat others rebounds to yourself? It can be positive or negative, and it is far from coincidental.

We do well to have the perspective David maintained about his existence:

“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14).

David did not presume that anything he had was really “his”; he knew that all he was and had were gifts from God, and so giving to God was not nearly as magnanimous as would be imagined, since he was simply giving back to God what was His own.

This perspective helps us to understand what God’s purpose is, at least in part, as He blesses us. He does not provide us blessings merely for our own use and enjoyment; our abundance is not designed to merely satisfy the desires of the flesh, to spend on our passions (1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19, James 4:1-3). Instead God blesses us so that we have an opportunity to give (Ephesians 4:28). Our lives, our resources, and all that we are represent a stewardship from God; we must exercise them for the benefit of others, and not merely ourselves (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Helping the homeless

We are better able to understand God’s promises to us when we understand everything through this perspective. God wants to give us everything and to bless us abundantly (John 15:7, Romans 8:32). He does not want to give us such things so that we can hoard up wealth, luxury, and excess; such is entirely inconsistent with the life and pattern of Jesus and the Apostles (2 Corinthians 11:23-30, 1 Peter 2:21-25). Instead He wants us to be vessels through which He can accomplish His purposes, and thus we are to give as we have prospered, bless as we have been blessed, and know that as we give and bless, we will receive greater gifts and blessings from God, and thus able to continually serve as a benefit and refreshment to others (1 Corinthians 16:2, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:14).

We are sorely tempted to live for self and trust no one, and yet God calls us to trust Him and His purposes in faith. We are to seek His Kingdom and righteousness first and trust that He will provide life’s necessities (Matthew 6:33). We are to trust our fellow members of the body of Christ, the church, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, building up and strengthening others, and trusting that others will rejoice and weep with us, build us up and strengthen us as we are in need (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28).

We do well to remember Paul’s premise:

But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6).

Paul has great confidence in the principle of reciprocity. Whatever you sow in abundance you will reap in abundance; whatever you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly. Judge much, and you will be judged much. Show much mercy, and you will receive great mercy. Give bountifully and you will never lack; give sparingly and you will never have enough. Paul says such things because he has come to know the great love and grace of God, for God is able to make us abound in His grace, provide for our sufficiency, and ultimately save us and give us His glory in the resurrection, well beyond anything we deserve (2 Corinthians 9:8-10).

We must decide how we will live. Will we live full of judgmentalism, hostility, miserly, and selfishly? We will reap condemnation, suffering, alienation, and poverty. Will we live full of mercy, grace, blessing, and giving freely? We would then reap mercy, grace, and untold blessings from God in Christ. May we be a blessing to others, manifesting God’s grace and mercy, and trust in the great provisions of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Salvation

The Vine

And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Salvation, or being saved, represents a major aspect of the identity and message of Christianity. “Salvation” and its associated terms are used so freely and frequently as to become automatic and even trite. Many speak about how they “got saved,” and “Jesus saves” is one of the most common ways people attempt to communicate the Gospel.

“Salvation” is widely known and recognized, but how well and deeply is it properly understood and internalized? Many people think of salvation entirely in past terms, involving initial conversion and little else, and guaranteed without any caveat or possibility of loss; such a view is spoken of as eternal security or “once saved, always saved.” Others think of salvation primarily in future terms, involving the return of Jesus and the day of Judgment, and maintain great trepidation about their prospects of salvation; perhaps we can describe such a view as “if saved, barely saved.” Some presume God is the only Actor in salvation; others seem to presume that God’s salvation is mostly dependent on humans. Therefore, even though most people recognize that “salvation” and “being saved” are important aspects to Christianity, there is a lot of dispute and little agreement on what it means to be saved in Christ.

What is salvation? The basic concept, as expressed by Thayer in his definition of the Greek sozo, is “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction.” You do not participate in this kind of saving at a store; the core idea of salvation is “rescue.” When the New Testament speaks about salvation we do well to think in terms of rescue.

Coast Guard rescues 4 from Lake Michigan 140620-G-ZZ999-001

The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands the recognition by all people that they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and on their own are not capable of regaining their standing before God (Romans 3:1-23, Ephesians 2:1-3, Titus 3:3). While in the world we are all sinful, weak, ungodly, and hostile toward God; in His love, grace, and mercy, God provided the means of reconciliation back to Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 5:6-11, Ephesians 2:4-18, Titus 3:4-8). Thus our salvation is really our rescue: we could not save ourselves, so God proved willing to rescue us through Jesus. This good news about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and lordship was proclaimed throughout the known world in the first century.

Many who heard this good news recognized its truth and sought to respond accordingly (Acts 2:37, 16:30). The Apostles expected them to believe that Jesus is the Christ, to confess that belief, to change their hearts and minds so as to follow Jesus in repentance, to be immersed in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of their sins, and to follow Jesus as disciples (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:38, 16:31, Romans 10:9-10, 1 John 2:3-6). Such people responded in faith to God on account of what He did for them (Ephesians 2:8-9); they recognized that they could not save themselves but knew that they needed to entrust themselves to God if they wanted to be saved, and trust demands response and effort (Romans 1:5, 6:14-23, James 2:14-26). We understand this in terms of rescue: if a person is drowning and is tossed a lifesaver, he or she must grab ahold of the lifesaver if s/he will be rescued. No one thinks they have rescued themselves simply by grabbing ahold of that lifesaver; they know their rescue was dependent on the efforts expended to get that lifesaver to them and to bring them to safety. But if they had not grabbed the lifesaver, they would have drowned!

The moment of conversion leads to “initial” salvation; at that point the Christian has been restored in relationship and reconciled back to God through Jesus, and is part of the “saved” (Acts 2:47). Even so there remains a real sense in which salvation is not yet complete. Peter captured this sentiment well in 1 Peter 1:3-9: the Christians of Asia Minor were “born again to a living hope” through Jesus’ resurrection and were being “guarded through faith,” yet “for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time,” standing firm and going through trials of faith so as to obtain the “outcome” of their faith, “the salvation of your souls.” Peter does not deny the reality of what we call “initial” salvation yet clearly is looking forward to the full consummation of salvation when the Lord Jesus returns: our “final” salvation.

We can again make sense of this picture by means of “rescue.” A drowning person who has taken ahold of the lifesaver has, in a sense, been rescued, but remains in great danger while still in the water. Their rescue is not complete until they are taken out of the water and given medical attention. If at any point the person let go of the lifesaver they would be back in the same danger they had been in before and could still perish!

Thus it is in Christianity as well. Despite the smooth words of many preachers the New Testament provides many and clear warnings about the dangers of falling away after receiving “initial” salvation: Matthew 7:21-23, 25:14-30, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22, among others. This does not mean God does not want to or is not able to save Christians; God wants all to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). Instead, as can be seen throughout the history of God’s involvement with mankind, the people of God have frequently rebelled against Him despite His faithfulness and covenant loyalty, and have received the consequences of their disobedience (Romans 11:17-22). Our rescue is not permanent or final until we have reached the end of our race and have obtained the crown of glory from God in Christ; we must persevere to the end (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

God does want us to be saved, and despite our propensity toward rebellion He has gone to great lengths to accomplish salvation for us (Romans 8:31-39). If we seek to follow Him according to His purposes we ought not live in perpetual fear of imminent condemnation; He loves us and is more powerful than the forces working against us (1 John 4:3-4). God is presently accomplishing our rescue in Christ, delivering us from the dangers of the world so that we may conform to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, 12:1-2). We can know in Christ that we are saved now when we obey Him according to His purposes revealed in the New Testament; but we also must know that our salvation is not yet complete, for we have yet to obtain the glorious inheritance which comes as the outcome of our faith (Romans 6:15-23, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Let us entrust ourselves to God in Christ and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Kingdom of God

The Vine

And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said,
“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, ‘Lo, here!’ or, ‘There!’
For lo, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).

From the beginning the Kingdom of God represented an important aspect of Jesus’ preaching and teaching: Jesus exhorted the Israelites to repent and change their ways because the Kingdom was at hand, and Matthew describes Jesus’ proclamation as the good news of the Kingdom (Matthew 4:17, 23). In His parables Jesus described the way the Kingdom worked: its message preached as a sower sows a field, its judgment awaiting as the separation of wheat and tares, its growth as the mustard seed, its preciousness as a box of treasure or an incomparable pearl (Matthew 13:1-46). Yet ever since many have found Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom confusing or challenging. Of what sort of Kingdom does Jesus proclaim? When was it to arrive? Who is in it? What comes of it?

First and foremost, what is a kingdom? A kingdom is that over which a king rules. On earth we generally understand kingdoms in terms of territories: for example, the United Kingdom is the land over which the Queen of England nominally rules, primarily over the island of Britain, Northern Ireland, and a few other dependent territories. Those who inhabit the lands of a kingdom find themselves under the rule of its king.

Thus in a similar way is the Kingdom of God: it represents all that over which God rules. Jesus proclaims the rule of God in His good news, or Gospel. Nevertheless Jesus features prominently in the Kingdom of God, for according to the Psalms God would appoint His Son to reign over His people (Psalm 2:1-12). The Hebrew word which is transliterated into English as Messiah (and from Greek into English as Christ) means the Anointed One and was understood to refer to the King (1 Samuel 16:11-13; so Psalm 2:1-12, Acts 2:36). Thus, to declare Jesus to be the Messiah or the Christ meant to declare Him to be the King. When the high priest asked Jesus whether He was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus affirmed as much, and declared that he would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the power of Heaven (Matthew 26:63-64); before being stoned the Christian Stephen received a heavenly vision and cried out that he did indeed see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56). In these statements both Jesus and Stephen make allusion to Psalm 110:1-7 and Daniel 7:13-14; in these texts God is seen as giving power, authority, and a kingdom to “one like a son of man.” This is why Jesus can say that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth after He ascended in Matthew 28:18; this is why Peter confidently declares that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ in Acts 2:38; and this is why Paul makes it known that God declared Jesus to be the Son of God in power through His resurrection in Romans 1:4. On account of His death, resurrection, and ascension Jesus was exalted by God the Father, fully declared the Son of God, His Anointed One who would rule over the nations, the one like a Son of Man to whom God the Ancient of Days would give an everlasting kingdom of which there would be no end, standing at the right hand of the throne of God until all enemies are made His footstool.

00058 christ pantocrator mosaic hagia sophia 656x800

The Kingdom of God in Christ is the reign of Jesus. Since Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, in the widest sense possible, everything is under the reign of Jesus and is subject to Him (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42, 47-50, 28:18, Philippians 2:9-11). Nevertheless, since the Devil still prowls around as a roaring lion, and makes war on the saints (1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 12:1-17), the Kingdom of God in Christ is most often associated with those who submit themselves to Jesus’ rule and follow after Him (Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23, 31, Romans 14:17), as it is written:

[God the Father] who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Colossians 1:13).

Paul speaks of the Christians in Colossae as having been translated, or transferred, into Jesus’ Kingdom in the past tense, as something which had already happened. For that to be the case the Kingdom had to already exist! Thus the Scriptures teach that the Kingdom of God in Christ is here and now (cf. ibid. Revelation 1:6, 9).

Jesus’ Kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world; His reign transcends all other rule. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16); He rules from Heaven over everything. The Kingdom has no earthly territory or headquarters, for it is not of this world (John 18:36). The Kingdom is not discernible with eyes of flesh; it is within our midst, represented by all those from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people who confess Jesus as Lord, described collectively as the Church of Christ, Jesus’ Body (Ephesians 1:20-23, Colossians 1:18).

Thus the church is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in Christ on earth today; those who comprise it demonstrate their true citizenship by seeking to serve Jesus as Lord every day in their lives (Philippians 1:27, 3:20-21). They serve as they await the day when the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of God in Christ, when death the last enemy will be put under Jesus’ feet, when Jesus returns all power and authority to God the Father, and when the people of God assemble around His throne in the resurrection of life, when God’s will is fully done on the “new earth” as it is in Heaven, and God is “all in all” (Matthew 6:10, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Thus the Kingdom of God is here, and Christians look forward to inheriting the Kingdom in its fullness (Matthew 25:31-46, Acts 14:22, 2 Peter 1:11). Jesus, the Lord, reigns. Maranatha; our Lord, come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Foundations

The Vine

If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3)

As Jesus of Nazareth was concluding His instruction popularly called the “Sermon on the Mount,” He spoke directly to His disciples and the people about the type of foundation upon which they should build their lives. Those who hear the words Jesus speaks and does them are like a wise man who builds a house on the rock; those who do not hear, or those who hear but do not do them are like a foolish man who builds a house upon the sand. When the storm comes, the house built upon the rock will stand; the house built upon the sand will collapse, and its fall is great (Matthew 7:24-27).

Jesus understood the importance of foundations for humans in their lives. Our foundations are the very deeply held assumptions and beliefs which informs how we view the world. Everyone has these foundations and they are not established in a vacuum: they are informed by how we were raised, by our educational system, by our peers, and by society at large. From these foundations we establish what we believe is right and wrong and act accordingly; we establish expectations about life and how it will go and act accordingly.

While many aspects of these foundations are individual by nature and by necessity, societies and cultures have such foundations as well. They are informed by the views and efforts of the authorities of the day: possibly government figures, but more likely philosophers, educators, scientists, psychologists, theologians, and those who curate art and media. In these ways general expectations are laid down for how a given culture will view the world and various forms of thought and behavior.

Western culture has experienced profound changes over the past two hundred and fifty years in terms of how these foundations are laid and on what authority. Western culture was established on the Greek philosophical and Judeo-Christian theological/ethical/moral traditions. Now many are enamored with reason and science and have come to the belief that through rationalistic, “objective,” scientific analysis we can come to a better understanding of anything. On account of these trends the preacher and theologian have been discounted as having much of worth to say whereas the doctor, scientist, and other such “experts” are asked to weigh in not only on their areas of expertise but also in terms of ethical and moral questions. Many are actively attempting to establish a moral construction without reference to God. Meanwhile cultural forces are attempting to pick and choose which aspects of Judeo-Christian ethics and morality “make sense” and remain “relevant” for twenty-first century life while pejoratively dismissing the rest as “primitive” and “outmoded.”

In such an environment we must ask: what has happened to the foundations? What confidence can we have in our foundations? If God is not the foundation, what can be? All endeavors to establish a secular ethic or morality end up featuring relativism or utilitarianism or a mix of both: after all, if the ethic or morality is not grounded in God, what is ethical or moral is up to individuals or a cultural consensus of individuals. Those attempting to establish an “objective” understanding of metaphysics are running into the same challenges anticipated by their Greek philosophical forebears 2400 years ago: what really is the good, or the just? How can “the good” be objectively established? On what basis can we have confidence that we can understand “the good”? The best answer that can be given is that “the good” is to do what is in the best interest of the general welfare for the most people, which is a benevolent form of utilitarianism. Even then there can be no proof adduced for such a view; it only holds as long as people agree to hold onto it. Thus any form of secular ethic or morality ends up being “groupthink,” unable to be anchored in any “objective” reality, and subject to the caprice of the majority.

Such is why Christians continue to affirm the importance of foundations and to look beyond themselves for the foundation. Secularists may pejoratively dismiss the idea of God as the anchor and ground of ethics and morality, finding such a view insufficiently “objective,” but the revelation contained in Scripture gives the Christian no other alternative. The Bible is clear: God is, so all else can be. God is the Creator, the Beginning and the End; He did not just create us but also loves us, continues to sustain and uphold the creation by His power, and seeks the welfare of His people in covenant loyalty (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Psalm 136:1-9, Colossians 1:15-18, Hebrews 1:3). In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Through His Word He created all things and sustains mankind (Deuteronomy 8:3, Psalm 33:6-9). There is no consideration of a distinction between the “physical” and “metaphysical” properties of God’s Word; the “metaphysical” informs the health and integrity of the “physical” (Psalm 19:7-11)!

To this end God’s ethics and morality are not portrayed in Scripture as just some nice ideas or some fixed arbitrary standard for us to follow but as much of the principles that uphold the creation as those of gravity or motion. That which is good is part of the structure of the universe; that which is evil corrupts, degrades, and causes disharmony and distortion in the creation (e.g. Hosea 4:1-3).

God’s Word is the foundation of the creation; thus it is right and appropriate for the words of the Word of God to be the foundation for what we think, believe, feel, and do (John 1:1-14, 18, Colossians 2:1-10). A Christian’s view of right or wrong must be informed, first and foremost, by what God has declared to be right and wrong, and only then applied to his or her particular context (Galatians 5:17-24). The way the Christian looks at the world is to be informed through the revelation of God in Christ; the philosophies of the world merit commendation or censure based on their consistency with the standard of God in Christ (Colossians 2:1-10).

Science may describe many of the mechanics but can never explain ultimate causes or reasons. Science cannot explain why something is reckoned to be “right” or “wrong.” All scientific and secular attempts to explore metaphysical questions, absent from a foundation in God, are destined to be myopic. God in Christ as the Creator of the heavens and earth and faithful in covenant to His people, enthroned upon love and justice, is the only way to truly make sense of the world in which we live and the lives we experience. Let us establish our lives on the Lord Jesus Christ and not the prevailing (and shifting!) secular consensus of the day!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Why Should Someone Choose Christianity?

The Vine

People today are inundated with various belief systems and truth claims: major religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and others make claims about God and reality; philosophical systems, such as modernism, postmodernism, communism, scientism, etc. attempt to make sense of the world as is. What should people accept as true? Should people believe in one of these religions or systems or mix and match according to what makes sense to them? Many people are left baffled and confused by all of these belief systems and truth claims and often despair of coming to a knowledge of truth. How, after all, can truth really be known when there are so many options?

Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). His earliest followers believed that He was the source of truth, knowledge, and wisdom, that they should be rooted in Him and His truth and from His perspective then attempt to understand other truth claims (Colossians 2:1-10). So is this true? Why should someone choose Christianity over these other belief systems and truth claims?

What we believe and why are shaped and framed by many factors including the culture in which we are born and live, the influence of our families, friends, and educators, and our experience with people and their beliefs. Many people are Christians because they were raised to believe in Jesus or were befriended by someone who followed Jesus and were persuaded to follow Him. Jesus did expect His followers to model love and faithfulness and knew that many would be attracted to Him because of that behavior, and such is well and good (Matthew 5:13-16, John 13:35). But why should we or anyone else understand the world the way Jesus did?

In short we do well to understand the world the way Jesus did because it makes the best sense of the reality in which we presently live and gives life hope and meaning. Life on earth is simultaneously beautiful and ugly, astonishing and horrifying: we can see both great beauty and horrific ugliness in the creation and in the human spirit. The story told in the Bible best explains how this could be: God created the heavens and the earth as very good yet it was corrupted by the introduction of sin and death through Adam (Genesis 1:1-3:21, Romans 5:12-18). The beauty of God’s creation can still be seen, but so can the corruptions of sin, decay, corruption, and death.

This paradox is seen in humanity as well: at times people can do amazingly good and beautiful things for one another, and at other times people can do horrifyingly terrible things to one another, and sometimes it may involve the very same people! The Bible speaks of how people have been corrupted by sin in their thoughts, feelings, and actions, and thus is it not within them to properly direct their own ways according to what they think is right (Proverbs 3:4-7, Jeremiah 10:23, Romans 3:10-23). People therefore are not generally good with a few flaws; we are corrupt down to our innermost being, living for pleasure in malice and envy, hating others and hated in turn (Ephesians 2:1-3, Titus 3:3). Humans would like to think that as long as their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds all will go well with them; nevertheless we can understand from our own legal and penal systems that once declared a transgressor in one aspect of the law, we are transgressors no matter what (James 2:9-10). On their own humans cannot solve their sin problem or the problem of evil that exists all around them: you cannot legislate evil away, educate evil away, or any other attempted solution people have tried to avert evil. Humans like to think their philosophies will make the world better; when applied most zealously they have only compounded human suffering (e.g. Communism).

On our own we humans have no hope (Ecclesiastes 1:2-12:8, Ephesians 2:11). Yet according to the Bible God loved us enough to do in Christ what we could not do for ourselves: in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection Jesus offered Himself up for our sins, suffering evil to the full, and overcoming both sin and death in the resurrection (Romans 5:6-11, 6:1-10, 8:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 1 Peter 2:17-25). The only way to overcome evil was to suffer it without giving into its force or power; the only way to overcome death is by entrusting ourselves to the God of the living. Since Jesus humbled Himself God exalted Him, declaring Him Lord and Christ, that is, Lord and King, declaring that all should serve Him (Acts 2:36, Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus is in control; therefore, we are not. Jesus is risen from the dead; we have confidence that there is more to life than this life, and we will be held accountable for what we have done (Acts 17:30-31).

In Jesus we have hope and meaning in life. Today we can be part of God’s Kingdom in Christ, to participate in His work, and maintain confidence in obtaining the resurrection of life on the final day in which the mortal body will put on immortality to be where there is no more pain, no more misery, where righteousness dwells (1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Colossians 1:13, Revelation 21:1-22:6). No other religion or belief system maintains such a belief or confidence; nowhere else can one find such a coherent explanation of both life in here and now and life in the hereafter in a way that honors the value of the present while maintaining hope for the future. In no other belief system is the problem of evil, sin, and death recognized for what it is and for such a solution to be as forthcoming.

These things were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26): Christians make the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure, who lived in the days of Tiberius Caesar, condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, but raised from the dead by God, of which His disciples were witnesses. Ever since Jesus of Nazareth has been a compelling figure and His claims demand consideration. We should choose to follow Jesus because He lived as God in the flesh, proved willing to die for our sins, was raised on the third day in triumph, ascended to the Father, reigns from heaven, and will return to judge the world. Let us follow Christ and obtain the resurrection of life!

What Makes Life Worth Living?

The Vine

Modern life is busy and full of distractions. There are many demands on our time: school, work, friends, parents, and many other commitments; we also like to take some time out for entertainment and maybe even some sleep! When we keep such a frenetic pace it becomes easy to get distracted and spend all of our time on the day-to-day efforts of existence and forget about what makes life really worth living.

We know deep down that life is not about “things.” Life should not be about money, our job, our car, or our status. We know we should not allow life to pass us by while we just wander along with headphones in our ears and our eyes buried in our smartphones. Social media are great, but social media are not real and leave us hungering for more. It is easy to try to find meaning through pleasure, but even the best pleasures in life still leave us lacking.

Relationships and being part of something greater than ourselves make life worth living. That is why we yearn for good and strong connections with our family, friends, and others. The search for relationship is what drives social media. Too many try to find relationship through sex, drinking parties, or shared drug use; such people are looking for the right thing but are trying to find it in all the wrong places.

Our search for relationship and meaning is not surprising. The God who created us is Himself in relationship: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, sharing in love (John 17:20-23, 1 John 4:8). God has made us in His image; therefore, we seek after relationship with Him and our fellow humans made in His image (Acts 17:24-28, Romans 1:18-20). Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son, described this search for connection, relationship, and meaning in a powerful image in John 15:5-9:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

Jesus speaks of a grape vine. As the branches of a grape vine can only bear fruit when connected to the vine, so we can only truly reflect Jesus and God’s intention for us as His creation when we are connected to Him. As the branches all share the connection of being part of the vine, so people can find true connection and true relationship not only with God but also with each other when connected to Jesus!

At The Vine Bible Study we hope to facilitate these connections. We come together weekly to learn more about the Father and the Son through the revelation of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, and we share in this together to foster relationships with one another as well.

We understand that modern life poses a lot of challenges and difficulties. As students you are learning about the world and trying to make sense of what it all means, where you fit in, and how it all can connect with faith and be informed by faith. The Vine Bible Study is a time for you to be able to talk about the challenges you are experiencing. We at The Vine Bible Study are not afraid to dig deeply into Scripture or to grapple with the many difficult questions often brought up in our twenty-first century environment. We want to create a space where you feel comfortable talking about these difficult questions with the assurance that you are not being judged for wondering or even doubting about matters of the faith and where you can feel confident that you will be equipped with the best insights from Scripture as they relate to these important questions.

The Vine Bible Study is your study. Topics for study are chosen by you and your fellow students. Every The Vine Bible Study session is opened and closed with prayers with opportunities for you to make your prayer requests known. After the opening prayer, the floor is open for student questions, comments, difficulties, or concerns; in past sessions we have discussed topics like creation and macro-evolution, homosexuality, and recent world events. If a session of The Vine Bible Study is taken up with student questions and discussions, well and good; if not, we continue to previously decided study topics or books. Subjects have included the basics of Christianity, the book of Ruth, and the book of Revelation. The Vine Bible Study is not designed to be just another class or just another Bible study, but a place of connection and refreshment for you to be able to learn more about the Scriptures, work through the challenges that come at the intersection of the faith and life, and to be encouraged and equipped with applications of the Bible’s message to your life and circumstances.

The Vine Bible Study is a work of the Venice church of Christ; we welcome everyone of any and every faith tradition to join us as we seek to come to a better understanding of what God has revealed in the Bible, discuss how we can properly apply God’s message to our lives, and find greater connection with God and with one another. These connections, after all, are what make life worth living. We look forward to seeing you soon at The Vine Bible Study!