The resurrection of Jesus is the central part of Christianity. If Jesus had not resurrected from the dead, then our faith is useless, and we are still dead in our sins. It would mean we should all find something better to do with our time and energy. This is why it is so important that we know with confidence that the resurrection truly took place. And we need to be able to share the evidence for the resurrection with others, whether it is unbelievers to whom we are witnessing or to our children whom we are raising in the faith.
There’s a beautiful hymn that says, “He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” That is true, but in the wrong order. We know He lives because of the evidence, and because of the evidence we believe in Him, and because we believe in Him, He lives in our hearts. We believe in Jesus because He proved He was the Son of God, because He was crucified, and because the tomb was empty three days later. How can we have confidence that Jesus really resurrected from the dead?
1) The women found the tomb empty. That early morning on the first day of the week, the women were returning to the tomb of their beloved Jesus to further prepare His body for burial. They even questioned how they would move that big stone away. But when they got there, they found the tomb empty! They encountered an angel who told them the good news - that Jesus is risen! They immediately ran back to tell the other disciples.
How can we believe they really found the tomb empty? Maybe they just went to the wrong tomb? Well, when the women announced the tomb was empty, Peter and John raced to see for themselves. They too found the tomb empty. So if the women went to the wrong tomb, then Peter and John went to the wrong tomb as well. It is not logical to think they all went to the wrong tomb. They would not have forgotten in three days where their beloved friend had been buried. Besides, if they had gone to the wrong tomb, once they announced Jesus had risen, the authorities would have wasted no time going to the correct tomb and showing them the body. So we know they weren't at the wrong tomb.
Granted, the accounts of what happened at the tomb is different across the four Gospels. In Matthew, two Marys see the tomb opened by an earthquake with an angel sitting on top of the stone. They meet Jesus on their way to announce it to the disciples. In Mark, the two Marys plus Salome find the tomb already open with an angel sitting inside. There’s no mention of their encounter with Jesus in the garden. Luke just says “women” went to the tomb to find it empty with two angels standing. He also doesn’t mention their encounter with Jesus. John says only one Mary goes to the tomb to find two angels sitting in the tomb. He mentions how he and Peter race to the tomb and that Mary encounters Jesus on her way to tell the others.
With these variations, does that mean the resurrection didn’t happen? Not at all. It means four people are giving their account of the same event. Though they include different lists of people, they agree women went to the tomb early in the morning. Though they describe differently how the tomb was opened, they agree the tomb was open and empty. Though they describe the angel differently, they agree there was an angel who announced Jesus had risen. Though they describe what happens as the women go to tell others differently, they agree the women were instructed to tell others and that they did.
What we find in these accounts is natural variations of different people observing the same event and recalling this same event from their own perspective, writing style, and recollection. This does not invalidate the event.
When I taught high school apologetics, I used the example of assigning them to write an essay about last weekend's high school football game. Each student would have different details based on their experience of the game, whether they were on the football team, a cheerleader, in the band, or just a spectator with a younger sibling. Their essays better have differences or I would know they had cheated. But they better agree on the essentials, like who won, the time of day, the location, the size of the crowd, etc., or I would know they had not actually been there. That is what we find in the variations of the Gospel accounts.
2) There is a drastic change in the disciples. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples all scattered. When He was crucified, only John was at the foot of the cross. When the women went to the tomb, they were hiding out in the upper room. They were understandably afraid of what the religious leaders would do to them. But after the resurrection, the disciples boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God and that Jesus resurrected from the dead. They were no longer afraid to be called one of Jesus’ followers; they were now willing to be persecuted and killed for these claims.
But what if they made it all up? After all, people from other religions die for what they believe. We have to consider a very important thing about human nature. People will lie to get out of trouble, but they won’t lie to get into trouble. If the disciples made this up, it cost them everything – their families, their jobs, their homes, their safety, and their lives. People may die for something they think is the truth, but they will not die for something they know is a lie.
What if they stole the body and told everyone He resurrected? The religious leaders were very concerned that this might happen. That’s why they posted guards and sealed the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). But when the soldiers came back and told them what happened, the religious leaders bribed them to lie and tell everyone the disciples had stolen the body. This could get the soldiers killed for not fulfilling their duties. So the religious leaders even promised to bribe the officials if they got in trouble.
But why bribe the soldiers if the body were still in the tomb? This confirms the tomb was empty. And for the reasons above we know it the disciples did not steal the body. They were too afraid to be seen at the trial of Jesus, so they’re certainly too afraid to overpower the Roman guards posted at the tomb in order to steal the body of Jesus so they can stage a resurrection they didn’t think was going to happen. Besides, whatever lie the religious leaders wanted to spread about the empty tomb, it couldn't explain the resurrection appearances.
3) Jesus appeared to multiple people on multiple occasions. The resurrected Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), to the disciples in the upper room two separate times (Luke 24:33-43 and John 20:26-29), and to seven of the disciples while fishing at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-23). The resurrected Jesus also appeared to 500 people at one time, to James (his brother), and to Paul on the road to Damascus (1 Corinthians 15:6-8).
These were clearly appearances of a resurrected Jesus because we know Jesus truly died on the cross (see The Death of Jesus for more on that). If He had not died on the cross, then these appearances would be of a beaten, bruised, and bloodied Jesus who somehow managed to unwrap the linen burial cloths, roll away the stone, and escape the grasp of the guards, all while in that kind of physical condition. When the disciples saw Him in that state, they would not have fallen at His feet in worship, they would have rushed to His aid.
So maybe these were these just hallucinations? Hallucinations do occur, but they will trigger only one sense at a time. So you may think you see something, or think you hear something, or think you feel something, but not all at the same time. With the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, He was walking, talking, touching, eating, and still working miracles (for the disciples to catch a boatload of fish).
Furthermore, the same hallucination will not occur for multiple people at the same time. As Paul said, there were more than 500 people seeing, touching, and hearing Jesus at one time. Besides, if these were hallucinations, the religious leaders would have simply gone to the tomb and retrieved the body to remind everyone that they had killed Jesus. But they didn’t do that because the tomb was empty.
4) There is evidence of the resurrection in the reactions of those who did not believe in Jesus. Before the resurrection, Jesus’ half-brothers did not believe He was the Son of God (John 7:5). Can you imagine growing up in the house alongside Jesus, knowing the circumstances of His birth, yet not believing He was God? After the resurrection though, His half-brother James became the founder of the church in Jerusalem, while His half-brother Jude authored the book by his name. James was later martyred for his faith in Jesus as God. The change all happens because they had seen the resurrected Jesus.
There is the drastic change in the life of Saul. He was present for the stoning of Stephen and was headed to Damascus to arrest and imprison others who followed this man Jesus who, in Saul’s mind, was destroying Judaism. After Saul encountered the resurrected Jesus, he completely changed his mission. He went from hunting down followers of Jesus to bringing new followers to Jesus. He went from being the persecutor to being the persecuted. He went from hating Gentiles to bringing the message of salvation to Gentiles. And this change cost him everything – his family, his job, his home, and eventually his life – but it gave him so much more – eternal life. Such a drastic change can only be explained by the resurrection of Jesus.
There is also the reaction of the religious leaders. No matter how hard they tried they could not stamp out the work that Jesus did, and they could not stop the spread of the name of Jesus. In Acts 3 when Peter and John healed the lame man in the name of Jesus, the religious leaders were furious. They arrested and beat Peter and John to intimidate them into silence. Here’s what happened:
The religious leaders could not deny that a miracle had taken place in the name of Jesus. And they could not prove to the disciples that Jesus had not resurrected - which is further confirmation the tomb was empty. And they could not deny the resurrection appearances. So they settled for beating Peter and John to get them to stop preaching the name of Jesus. But as we know, that would not work either.
There are also many extra-biblical writings that confirm Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Tacitus, a first-century Roman historian, wrote in his account of the burning of Rome by Nero:
“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.”
While Tacitus does not believe himself that the resurrection really happened, he does give evidence that the claim of the resurrection, this “mischievous superstition,” began in Judea and by the time of Nero, had spread to Rome. It tells us how quickly word spread about this man Jesus Christ who had been crucified under Pilate and who had resurrected.
There is sufficient evidence to know with confidence that Jesus resurrected from the dead. No alternate theory can explain the empty tomb or the resurrection appearances. This is why we follow Christianity. No other religion has a God who sacrificed Himself on your behalf and resurrected from the dead. No other religious leader would be willing to lay down his life for all people, even those who killed him. No other religious leader is even qualified to lay down his life on our behalf. Only Jesus could.
As Jesus said to Thomas, “You believed because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Though we cannot see His hands and touch His side, we have the testimony of those who did.
May you believe today, and by believing you may have life in His name. Because Jesus has risen, He has risen indeed!
Though it might seem obvious that Jesus died on the cross, there are many people out there that doubt this point. Granted, the reason why they want to question the death of Jesus is because you can’t have a resurrection without death. And the resurrection is everything to Christianity. If Jesus did not resurrect, as Paul states, our faith is useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). By questioning the death of Jesus, a person can unravel the resurrection and thus unravel all of Christianity. So let’s explore this idea. How can we know with confidence that Jesus really died on the cross?
1) First, the idea that Jesus didn’t die on the cross is really insulting to Romans. The Romans perfected the art of killing. They built their empire on it. They invented new and creative ways to kill people. They killed for entertainment and sport. Besides, Jesus and the two thieves were not the first people the Romans had crucified. In fact, in 71 BC Spartacus, a Roman slave, led a slave revolt in Italy. They were defeated and he and many of his fellow slaves were crucified, their crosses lined up along the roadside of the Appian Way. So the Romans have been crucifying people for decades at this point. Given all of this, it is quite unbelievable to imply the Romans would not have effectively killed Jesus or would not have known if Jesus were dead.
2) Second, we must consider the physical torture Jesus endured. By the time Jesus is sent before Pilate He has been awake for two days and has already been hit and beaten during the trial with the high priest. After the crowds chanted for Pilate to crucify Jesus and release Barabbas, there is one small verse that simply says, “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.” (John 19:1) What a short verse to describe such a horrible, gruesome thing. It sometimes makes it tempting to read right passed it.
In our modern vernacular, we use “scourge” to mean something that just causes suffering and pain. But we must consider the historical context as it was written. In Roman times, a scourge was a whip usually made out of leather with multiple endings with stone, bits of rock, or shards of pottery tied to it, something like this picture. It was used to inflict severe punishment on a criminal. This was no switchin’ from your momma. The purpose of this device was torture, to rip the flesh off of the bone, to weaken a person so they would die faster.
Add to this the crown of thorns stuck in Jesus’ head and you can see what level of pain and torture Jesus went through before His execution. Was this effective at torturing and weakening Jesus? Absolutely. How do we know? Jesus was too weak to carry His cross up to the hill where He would be crucified (Luke 23:26). At Golgotha, He is then nailed to the cross and lifted up. Even though Jesus had endured such excruciating pain, this did not kill Him. And it didn’t alone kill the two thieves on the cross beside Jesus.
The Romans didn’t employ execution methods that were quick and painless for the prisoner. They wanted long drawn out, excruciating methods for killing the accused. When a person was crucified, they were able to live for some amount of time by pushing their body up so they could still breathe. They could do this until they were too weak to push themselves up, and then they would eventually suffocate. This is the significance of the soldiers breaking the legs of the thieves on the crosses beside Jesus. They needed to hurry up this process so the bodies weren’t hanging up there during the Passover Sabbath. Therefore, they would break their knees so they could no longer push themselves up, speeding up their death.
Keep in mind all that Jesus endured and what physical condition He was in when He was lifted up on the cross.
3) Third, now we can look at the evidence of Jesus’ death.
When we consider everything Jesus endured and the evidence of the people watching the crucifixion, it is clear Jesus died on the cross in accordance with God’s perfect timing, the Scriptures, and Jesus’ own prophecies. The religious leaders and Roman soldiers may have thought they were in control of this and were responsible for killing Jesus, but God was still in perfect control.
Jesus could have done the very thing the people were taunting Him to do – He could have come down off of that cross and turned the tables on the executioners. He could have called down legions of angels to rescue Him. He could have done any number of miraculous things in that moment. But the most miraculous thing is that He chose to die. That was the true miracle. His love for humanity and His obedience to God the Father conquered over His desire to avoid the cross. He chose the moment that He would allow them to take Him. And He chose the moment when He yielded up His spirit.
I pray that you take a moment to consider the price He paid to show His love for you.
I am in the process of finishing up my second book which tackles the existence of suffering. But while in some conversations on the topic, I’ve encountered a challenging idea that I wanted to address here. Many people struggle with the perceived conflict of a good, loving God and the existence of evil and suffering. The explanation for how those two coexist encompasses the concept of man’s free will. We have the ability to make our own choices and thus at times we must face the consequences of those choices. Now, this reasoning doesn’t account for all types of suffering; there are many examples of suffering that is not due to our actions. But many times our suffering comes as the cost of making the choice to disobey God or the choice to sin. Not always, but sometimes. In those cases, our suffering may simply be the natural outflow of our actions. For example, if you choose to smoke your entire life, then the natural consequence may be that you develop certain types of cancers and diseases. That would be a natural consequence of your free-will decision to engage in that activity. Biblically, we could use Samson as an example of that. He chose to stay entangled with deceitful women and therefore eventually paid the price by being betrayed by one of those women.
Sometimes our suffering is a result of judgment for our free will choices. When your free-will choice is to violate the laws of the state, then you will face punishment for those crimes, which involves pain and suffering. Biblically, we know that God does judge against wickedness and sin. He passed severe judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah for their wicked ways. They freely chose to walk in disobedience, therefore, they faced suffering as a consequence of those choices. I see this constantly with my children. Out of their free will, they may choose to jump on the couch. They then face the natural consequence of falling and getting hurt, as well as the consequence of punishment when they get spanked for jumping on the furniture.
Why Free Will?
If God gave us free will to choose how we respond to Him yet knew we would suffer from our choices, then why did He give us free will in the first place? The short answer is that God wanted us to love. He didn’t make us to be robots only responding in obedience because we were forced to or obligated to. God desired loving fellowship from His creation. But to have love, it must be freely chosen and freely given. We can understand that in our earthly relationships as well. Love from another person is only real if the person has a choice to love or to not love. It is the same way with God. However, when we choose to not love God and to not walk in obedience then we suffer the consequences.
This line of reasoning can help us understand that God can exist even though there is suffering. However, recently I have encountered a new question in relation to this argument. What about when we die? As Christians, we share with people how in Heaven there are no more tears, no more pain. So is there free will in Heaven? If you answer yes, then why is there suffering here but not in Heaven? It says we are capable of having free will but not having suffering. But if you answer “no,” then apparently God does want robots programmed to obey Him. It says He would require people to love Him once they are in Heaven because He would have removed their free will.
On the surface it appears to be quite the conundrum. To answer this we must understand the doctrine of salvation. Even though there is a distinct moment of salvation for a believer that is not where it stops. Granted, the process of salvation may appear in some churches today to mean walking down to the front of the church and signing a membership card, but that is not it either. The process of salvation involves three phases: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Justification is a one-time work of God resulting in the believer’s salvation. The sinner confesses their sins before a just and holy God and receives the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ. In that moment, they are declared innocent in God’s judgment over sin; they are justified through the payment made by Jesus on their behalf. Once the believer has been justified, then sanctification begins.
Sanctification is a process, beginning with justification and continuing throughout life. If justification is the starting point of the line that represents one’s Christian life, then sanctification is the line itself. At the point of justification, the believer becomes a “new creation” and the old things are to pass away (2 Cor. 5:17). What does that mean? It means we are no longer to live as slaves to sin but to live as God’s forgiven child. Paul describes this in Romans 6 as reckoning ourselves to be “dead indeed to sin, alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are not to let sin reign over us as though we are to obey its lusts. Instead we present ourselves as instruments of righteousness before God. However, we still live in a sinful and corrupt world. The threat of sin and temptation of the lusts of the flesh are all around us. Therefore we must daily die to ourselves, to put away those fleshly desires and to desire the righteousness which is from God. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” It is a continual thing where God is changing our hearts to no longer desire the sinful things of this world. He transforms us to desire the things of God.
What Does This Have to Do with Free Will?
What does this have to do with free will? Well, whether you have become a believer or not, you still have free will to choose disobedience or obedience to God. But once you have become a believer, your desires have changed to truly want to do the things of God. You now desire to please God instead of please yourself. According to Romans 8:5, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” Paul explains this again in Galatians 5:16-17, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” There is this battle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit – and they are diametrically opposed. Once you have received justification in salvation then you are in the Spirit. The sanctification that follows is the process of growing the believer to desire the things of the Spirit. You can still freely choose disobedience but the desires of your heart are now to do the will of God instead of your own will.
But that is much easier said than done! The great apostle Paul even tells of this struggle. “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” (Romans 7:19-20) So Paul, having been justified, now desires to do the will of the Lord but because there is still sin here, he struggles and fails – as do the rest of us! It means I am not unique in my struggle of things of the flesh against things of the Spirit. He wants to do good, to obey God; and he wants to not do evil, to not disobey. Yet because of the presence of sin still in this world he finds himself doing the opposite. It is here where the believer longs for the final phase of our salvation: glorification.
Glorification: Our New Nature
Glorification is God's final removal of sin from the life of the believer in the eternal life. God’s glory will be realized in us; instead of being mortals burdened with sin nature, we will be changed into holy immortals with direct and unhindered access to God’s presence. It is the culmination of sanctification. We will no longer have that human nature that our spirits continually fight against. We will have a completely new nature.
We often think about it as one day receiving our glorified bodies that are free from disease, weakness, and frailty. But what makes those bodies free from disease, weakness, and frailty is existing in the absence of sin. And now we can start to see how we have free will in Heaven, yet no suffering there. Revisit the struggle that Paul describes. We desire to do good. We want to obey. But because of sin, we struggle. We are tempted, and we fail. What if those fleshly lusts and temptations were no longer around? What if you were free from the presence of sin? Then we can fully accomplish our true desire in our heart – which is to obey God and walk in His ways.
Look at the words from Hebrews 12:1-2 calling us to live our lives in godliness. The author says to, “Lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” So what if there were no weights anymore? What if there were no sin to easily ensnare us? Then we can live in that full godliness, in full obedience unto Christ. When we make those choices to walk with God, then there is no place for suffering. There is no suffering sin’s natural consequences if there is no sin. There is no suffering punishment for disobedience if no one disobeys. There is no need for trials to grow our faith and lead others to salvation if our faith is fully realized and all have salvation. There is no need for pain from discipline if we are all walking rightly with God. We will be unencumbered by the flesh to freely choose that which we truly desire, which is God. We will have free will and our will is to obey God. We will have no suffering because we will no longer stumble in our choice of obedience due to the presence of sin.
How do you feel about the word doctrine? What about the word theology? Doctrine is defined as “a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Theology is the study of God and His relation to the world. To folks today both of those sound pretty boring. Principles? Studying god? System of belief? Who cares as long as I feel something during worship? Why study about God when I sense His presence? Can’t we just be led by the Spirit without having to drag it down with doctrine, study, principles, and theology? The resounding answer to each of those questions is no. Absolutely not.
John 4:21-24 talks about how the true worshipers will worship God in spirit AND in truth. Why must it be both? Because if you are not worshiping in truth then you are worshiping a god of your own creation. You are worshiping what you want God to be and how you want God to relate to you. And that most likely is a false god. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I believe that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of the child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” The most important thing you can do is study God. If you are going to devote your life to Him and worship Him, then you ought to know whom it is you are worshiping!
There are many examples in the Bible where the people are indeed worshiping in their “spirit” but certainly not in truth. But one of the clearest illustrations of where that leads is found in Exodus 32. Most of you are familiar with the general description of the story; it is where the Israelites have decided to make for themselves a golden calf to worship while Moses is still on the mountain with God. The last thing the Israelites had done (in Exodus 24) was commit to following the Lord and being obedient to Him. They participated in a ceremony of sacrifices and offerings committing themselves to this covenant. Moses, his aids, and the elders then witnessed the very glory of the presence of God. God’s presence covered the mountain like a cloud and His glory was like a consuming fire. But the people got impatient. In only a month’s time, they decided to make a god for themselves who would lead them. So Aaron, the future first High-Priest of the Israelites, gathers their jewelry, melts it down, and forms with an engraving tool a golden calf. They declared that to be their god – as the one who had led them out of Egypt!
Aaron announced that they would have a feast and offerings unto the Lord. They built an altar, made a feast to the Lord, and “rose up to play.” This phrase includes drunken and sexually immoral activities that went along with pagan worship. Yet they were doing this "to the Lord"? The Israelites not only made a false idol but were mixing false idol worship with worship to the true God (also known as syncretism). What an insult to the true God! Even if Aaron thought they were simply adding this golden calf to their worship of God, he was still violating the commands of God to have no other gods besides Him. You can’t add something to God and think that is ok. This shows us how important it is to worship in spirit and in truth. We might think, well, hey they were still worshiping, right? But that was not worshiping in truth. And worshiping in something other than the truth is idol worship. It makes a mockery of God. And God's response, had Moses not pleaded for mercy, was to destroy them for their sin. His wrath burned hot against them, and He was going to consume them. It shows us how serious this sin was. Sometimes it seems impossible that so soon after receiving the commandments and revelation of God that the Israelites could sink so low to mold a golden idol for themselves. But the Christian experience today is oftentimes the same. It might reveal something of the superficial nature of one’s faith how quickly they turn away from the truth. How often do we think we can set aside truth, that boring thing called doctrine and theology, to just worship in spirit? But it is our doctrine and theology that makes our worship in the spirit either honoring or dishonoring to God.
Because Moses delayed in those 40 days on the mountain with God, the Israelites abandoned the God who had rescued them, provided for them, sheltered them, and protected them. How long does it take us in our pain or in the perceived silence of God for us to turn away from him? How quickly do we turn back to our old ways of sin or our own strength and desires when we get impatient with God? How we handle God’s ordained delays is a good measure of our spiritual maturity. If we allow those delays to make us simply to take our eyes off Him, then we drift into sin. But if we allow such times to deepen our faith and strengthen our walk with God, then those times are of good use.
Granted, we don’t typically melt down our jewelry in idol worship but we can turn our hearts away just as easily. How can we consider this at play in our own culture then? How often do “churches” do worship that is only in spirit and not in truth? This is why we must be discerning about what we are taught and in what spirit we are worshiping. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul talks about the ability to discern false prophets and false teachings. He says, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” Satan, false prophets, and false teachers will disguise themselves as light. Satan wants the bad to appear to be good so that we will be all the more tempted by it. We are to therefore judge the spirit to see from where it came. John states in 1 John 4, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
We see this discernment in the people of Berea when Paul came and preached the Gospel to them. They are praised for searching out to know if what Paul had taught was true. But they didn’t just sit around and think about it and decide based on their own feelings. The Bereans didn’t say, “Well, this just feels right to me.” Or “I had this great moment of experience and elation when I heard Paul talking so I’m going to follow what he says.” Not at all! We must then ask the question, “Based on what are we discerning?” In other words, in order to judge whether a line is straight or not, you must know the characteristics of a straight line. We only know when something is crooked because we have a concept of what straight is. Likewise, you can only judge whether or not something is from God if you know what things from God would be. We can’t judge based on our own concepts or ideals, we must judge them against something accurate, against some standard, to know whether it is from truth or not. So how did the Bereans do it? In Acts 17 it says they searched the Scriptures daily. They examined the Word of God every day to check it against what Paul was teaching. Keep in mind, at this point in time, the “Word of God” was only the Old Testament. They were doing that "boring drudgery" of studying God’s Word, reading the Scriptures, checking their doctrine, and assessing their theology. And they were called noble for doing it. That is why it is so important for us to do the same – studying God’s word, reading the Scriptures, checking your doctrine, and assessing your theology.
They were doing that diligent work to make sure they didn’t just seize upon some new teaching because it sounded nice, or made them feel good about themselves, or didn’t make them feel too guilty about their sins. They checked the Scriptures. They judged the Spirit in which Paul taught against the Spirit of God. And for that reason, it says that many of them believed. And that belief, I feel sure, was a confident belief that would not be swayed by persecution or doubt because they had rightly judged those teachings against the truth. And they saw that it was the truth.
In our culture, though, the whole idea of discernment and judgment has such a bad connotation. For some reason, saying you have “judged” something will get you labeled something not so nice. It’s as though our culture as declared that judging and being judgmental are the same thing, but they’re not. Judgmental is defined as “tending to judge people too quickly and critically.” But judging is defined as “forming an opinion through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises.” Those are two entirely different concepts. We have to judge things, and honestly we wouldn’t want to live in a culture that did not judge things. We judge things by examining the evidence and considering the facts. We make judgments like that every day – is that car going to stop at the intersection? Is this meat safe to eat? Is what this person telling me the truth? But in those judgments, we must know by what standard we are judging, what evidence and facts we are considering. In spiritual matters, it means we must have sound doctrine, theology, and Biblical understanding so that we too can rightly judge things against the Spirit and Word of God. Judging by your own feelings and opinions will not get you to the Bereans, it will get you to the golden calf. But judging according to the Word of God will strengthen your faith and ensure you are continuing to walk in the true light of God.
Many people question the validity of the Bible because of the accounts found in the Old Testament. Honestly, it was on that point, that someone first really challenged my faith. I’m sure you’ve heard questions coming from the same point of skepticism. How can you believe Jonah was really swallowed by a whale? Did Moses really meet God in a burning bush? Did God really create everything in six 24-hour days? Those are certainly valid questions, particularly for an unbeliever to ask. However, there are many things in the Scriptures that unbeliever will not understand, as Paul tells us in two of his letters to the Corinthians.
But where I struggle when I encounter this disbelief in Old Testament occurrences is when it comes from a believer, someone who already believes in the supernatural and accepts the Scriptures as being the inspired Word of God. There is a real issue when a believer still wonders how Jonah survived in the whale, how Noah built the ark, and whether Adam really could name all the animals. It seems they want to find a naturalistic explanation to those things. And that usually results in their searching for some “new” understanding of Scripture. Or they just decide to only believe in the New Testament and the life about Jesus and the church, as if you can separate the two. But Jesus said Himself that He came not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). If He is here to fulfill something, then that something must be a real thing. Jesus fulfilled the law given to Moses and He fulfilled the prophecies given by the prophets. Therefore, if you begin to unravel the reality of Moses, the Prophets, and the rest of the Old Testament, you start to unravel part of the identity and purpose of Jesus. You cannot separate the Old Testament from the New Testament.
So why is it that the believer may struggle with the Old Testament accounts? If we truly believe in the virgin birth of Christ, that Lazarus was raised from the dead, and Zacharias was mute for 9 months, why do we doubt the accounts of Jonah, and Daniel, and Noah? If Jesus could change water into wine, calm a storm with a word, and walk on water, why can He not create according to Genesis? If we as believers do have such confidence in the New Testament, then maybe we should consider what the New Testament has to say about the Old Testament.
The author of Hebrews describes how God made this universe and everything in it out of nothing, ex nihilo (Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”) which takes us to the opening line of the Bible; that in the beginning God created everything. Then in the genealogy of Jesus, Luke lists Adam as the first man created, describing him as the “son of God” (Luke 3:23-28). Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, in his book uses Adam as a reference point in the genealogy of Enoch. Both of these men saw Adam as a real historical person, the first man created by God from whom all others descended, including Jesus.
Throughout many of Paul’s writing, Paul refers to Jesus as the “second Adam,” which only makes sense if there were a “first Adam.” In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul writes, “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.’” He is referring to a literal person of Adam as the first man and the literal person of Jesus as the life-giving spirit, or the last Adam. He says again in his first letter to Timothy, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Why would Paul say all of this if Adam and Eve were not literal, physical people formed in the beginning according to Genesis? He explains it more fully in Romans 5:12-19:
Even John the apostle in 1 John 3 reaffirms Adam and Eve by discussing the sin brought in the next generation. He discusses the sin of Cain when he murdered his brother. He is discussing it as a real historical event found in Genesis 4. If we accept that Paul, Luke, John, and Jude were writing words inspired by God and that they had apostolic authority to preach the truth of Jesus Christ and provide sound doctrine for us to follow, then we must accept their teachings of Adam and Eve as literal, physical beings that were the first male and female specifically created by God. This ought to rule out any origins theory that includes any of type of evolutionary progression of man – whether it’s from apes or just from a Neanderthal pre-historic semblance of man. If you’re struggling with that because it came from Paul, Luke, John, and Jude then consider what Jesus Himself says about the creation of man and woman.
Jesus even talks about the account of Cain and Abel. Matthew 23:34-35 “And Jesus said, ‘Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.’” You can read the same account in Luke 11:49-51. And the event is affirmed again in Hebrews 11 and 1 John 3.
Jesus affirms the account of Jonah. Matthew 12:39-41 “But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.’” This can be found in Luke 11:29-32 as well. He says in Luke, “For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation…The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.”
In the book of Mark, Jesus upholds the prophecies of Daniel. In Mark 13:14 Jesus says, “So when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” And he refers to the life of David as he is fleeing from the rage of Saul, “But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” (Mark 2:25-26).
What about Noah and the ark? Did the flood really destroy things and was it really over the whole earth? First, take a look at what it says in Genesis 7: And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.
It says repeatedly that “all” things were destroyed, “every” thing that had breath, “all” living things so that “only” Noah and those on the ark remained alive. That seems pretty clear to me that the intent of the flood was to literally destroy everything that was not on the ark. Of course that’s the Old Testament description. What does the New Testament say? Jesus said in Matthew 24:37-39, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Jesus used the flood of Noah to compare to the Second Coming. Do you think some will be spared in the Second Coming? Or that only a portion of the world will be aware of the Second Coming? Jesus is using the analogy because both the flood and the Second Coming will be global and will affect all living things. Jesus said that the flood took “all” of them away just like the coming of the Son of Man will do. The same comparison is used in 2 Peter 3:1-7. Peter says in the days of Noah that “the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.” Peter also says in 1 Peter 3:18-20 that only “eight souls” were saved through water, meaning all other souls perished who were no on the ark. And he affirms again in 2 Peter 2:4-10 not only the global judgment of Noah, where only Noah, “one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness” was saved, but also the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, “condemned to destruction” where God only “delivered righteous Lot.”
All of these people and their real histories are recorded first in the Old Testament, honored for their faith in Hebrews 11, spoken of by Paul and Peter in the founding of the early churches, and most importantly, reaffirmed by Jesus in the New Testament. Why do we struggle then with believing what is written to us from the Old Testament? I know in the church now, this is not considered the “popular” belief. But are we called to base our doctrine on what is popular or on what is in God’s word? If we believe as fact that the virgin Mary gave birth, Jesus cast out demons, and Peter made a lame man walk, then why can we not believe that God parted the Red Sea through Moses, He conquered Jericho through Joshua marching around the city, He took down Goliath through David’s slingshot, He judged the sinful world saving only the righteous through Noah, and He spoke every living thing into being out of nothing, uniquely made reproducing each according to their kind, and that He formed man from the dust of the ground in His own likeness and image and breathed life into him. In Martin Luther’s day, the church compromised what the Bible clearly taught. So he nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the church to call them back to the authority of God’s Word. In the same way, the church today has, by and large, neglected what the Bible clearly says in the Old Testament. It’s time to call the church back to the authority of God’s Word, beginning with Genesis 1.