Ask Me Anything: March 3, 2022
What an interesting time it is in Europe, as there has been an invasion by Russia into the nation of Ukraine. We should pray that God’s will is exercised, in and through His powerful judgment, through His mercy, through His love. We pray that God’s justice and grace would prevail. We pray especially that God’s people, His church, the community of His people, can be a very strong light and a beacon of hope in troubled times.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ does not mean that we are immune to the suffering, pain, and difficulties of this world. We pray that God would preserve us from such things, and we rejoice every time He does. But we don’t have a transactional relationship with God. We can’t say, “I’ll submit my life to Jesus Christ and serve Him, as long as He makes everything comfortable for me and gives me the things that I really want,’ as if God is my servant, instead of me being His servant. We don’t think that way in the Christian life. Times of great turmoil and catastrophe in the world are times for the church of Jesus Christ to provide a beacon of hope, and the message of good news in Jesus Christ.
What is the difference between soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23)?
1 Thessalonians 5:23 – Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s a valid thing for us to consider this aspect of humanity. What are we as human beings? Are we a three-part being of body, soul, and spirit? Or are we a two-part being, with a body and a combination of soul/spirit? This is an area of some controversy, but I believe that the evidence biblically is that there is a distinction between soul and spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 is an excellent example of the distinction between soul and spirit. Now, I don’t know if we can describe in detail what all the differences are. There is no absolutely consistent definition of soul and spirit throughout the Scriptures. There are several places in the Bible where soul and spirit are used to refer to the same thing, the non-material part of a human being. We as human beings are made up of more than our material being. There is also a non-material, spiritual, metaphysical aspect, something that goes beyond the physical aspect.
There are places in the Scriptures where soul and spirit are used synonymously to refer to that non-material part. But there are other places, including 1 Thessalonians 5:23, which seem to make a clear distinction between soul and spirit. I will freely admit that the Bible doesn’t really give us much of a specific definition of what the soul is, as opposed to the spirit. But I will share some thoughts.
I believe that the soul is the non-material part of our being which all humanity shares, no matter what their relationship is with Jesus Christ. In other words, a person can be spiritually dead, dead to true life in Jesus Christ, yet their soul is alive. And they can enjoy non-material things in this world, such as music, literature, ennobling art, and other wonderful, good, soul-ish pursuits. There are non-material things which are commonly enjoyed by humanity, no matter a person’s spiritual condition.
Some people define the soul as that which reflects the mind, the will, and the emotions. Of course, those three things belong to all people; they are common to humanity, no matter the spiritual condition of any individual.
The spirit is the aspect of a person which is made to respond to relationship with God. The true spiritual aspect of a person is in some sense dead before it’s made alive in Jesus Christ. That’s the distinction I would make, although we must recognize that there are several passages of Scripture where the two terms are used to basically mean the same thing. But there are some other passages where there really does seem to be a difference to me.
Should believers refer to themselves as sinners saved by God’s grace?
Is it scripturally correct for believers in Christ to refer to themselves as sinners saved by God’s grace, in light of Scripture passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:16, Galatians 2:20, and Romans 6:6-7?
I think there is some nuance in this. There is a way that a Christian can refer to themself as a sinner, which I think is consistent with biblical truth. And there is another way that a Christian can refer themself as a sinner which I think would be a contradiction, somewhat of a denial of biblical truth.
We must recognize that even though we are no longer characterized and dominated by a sin nature when we are born again. When we’re born again, our sins are not merely forgiven, and we thank the Lord that they are. But beyond our sins being forgiven, we are also given a new nature. The nature we were born with was patterned after rebellious Adam. But we receive a new nature, we become a new person, when we’re born again. Old things have passed away, all things become new. This new nature is patterned, not after Adam, but after the image of Jesus Christ Himself.
Nevertheless, our salvation is not yet complete until we are resurrected and glorified with God in heaven. Until we have that glorification, we will continue to sin. So, we don’t want to act as if we stop sinning on this side of eternity.
As believers, we can and should have a life that’s no longer dominated by sin. We should have a life that experiences victory over sin – not perfectly, of course, but in some measure for certain. But sin will remain until our salvation is complete, and we’re together in heaven. No more sin in heaven will be a wonderful thing. But it will not be until we are in heaven.
In that sense, we can say that we acknowledge that we are still sinners, yet we have been forgiven, justified, adopted. We are on the track to receive the completion of our salvation, our glorification and resurrection. But we will sin until then.
However, if a person uses the terminology that they are a sinner, in the sense that there’s really no difference between someone who is born again and someone who isn’t born again, I think there are some problems with that. For example, sometimes we use the same a cliche that goes something like this. “A Christian is just a beggar telling other beggars where they can find bread.” I understand the sentiment behind that expression. But the Christian is not the same as they were, with the only difference being the addition of spiritual bread in their hand. No; that believer has been forgiven of their sins. They’ve been given the Holy Spirit who empowers them and gives them victory over sin. They have been given a new nature, patterned after the nature of Jesus Christ. They’ve been adopted into the family of God. They’re not just a beggar who has received some bread. Again, I understand the sentiment behind those kinds of cliches or sayings. They’re trying to keep Christians in a humble place, close to their roots. But it’s not technically true.
Here’s another one that’s not technically true. Years ago, I would occasionally see a bumper sticker that would say something like, “Christians aren’t perfect. They’re just forgiven.” Again, I understand the sentiment behind that statement. The sentiment is, look, let’s be humble as Christians; we don’t think we’re perfect. We don’t think we’re holier than thou. I don’t have any complaint with the statement, “Christians aren’t perfect.” Of course, we’re not perfect. I don’t have any problem with the statement, “Christians are forgiven.” Of course, we’re forgiven. In that statement, the one word I have a problem with is, “just.” Christians are just forgiven. Again, we receive all those things in Jesus Christ.
There is a bit of a tension at work here. We don’t want to act as if we have received the completion of our salvation and the elimination of sin in our lives on this side of eternity, but neither do we want to define ourselves by those things.
I would probably err on the side of declaring who we are in Jesus Christ, being adopted into His family, being filled with God’s Spirit, being justified by faith through His marvelous grace, and so on. I would probably err on that side. But I don’t have a problem, if it’s properly understood, with a Christian explaining that they are still a sinner.
Why did Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey?
What is the significance of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey or colt? And what about the palm branches throughout the Old and New Testament?
This question concerns the event known as the Triumphal Entry, also referred to as Palm Sunday. It’s that day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem in something of a parade, and He was riding a donkey or a colt. I think that this was rich with meaning in several aspects. Jesus was riding a donkey or a colt, which was a relatively small, mounted animal. It was not even as large as a mule, and it was certainly not a majestic stallion or a war horse that a conquering general would ride.
First, this is significant because it was prophesied by the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9). And the Gospels make that claim that this was prophesied.
Secondly, it’s important because it shows that Jesus came not as a conquering general. The Romans were very familiar with the concept of what they called, “the triumph.” We might call it the Triumph parade. This was a glorious procession in which a victorious general was presented to the nation of Rome, and he was declared to be great and powerful. There would be soldiers and captured slaves and models of their victories and all kinds of pageantry. At the center of it was the conquering general being presented with these magnificent horses, demonstrating His power. Jesus was something of a mirror opposite to that. He came as a humble King. He came as a servant King. He came as a King that would conquer, most certainly. Jesus Christ has conquered and will continue to conquer and will ultimately conquer, but He conquers through His sacrificial love. He came as a humble King. That’s really a large part of this idea behind the donkey or the colt. It’s a humble animal, although the donkey and the colt had some association with roles loyalty and being a royal mount. But it was it wasn’t the mount of a general or a warlord.
Do palm branches have any Scriptural significance?
An Old Testament association with the palm branches doesn’t immediately come to mind. But I do know that there was a very definite association of palm branches with the Maccabees. They were a group of Jewish separatists and freedom fighters, breaking an independent Jewish state away from the governments of that time who sought to oppress them. In those days, the palm branch was a symbol of a national, independent Israel. I’m sure that that was some of the significance in what we know as Palm Sunday. This messianic hope was placed upon Jesus Christ, and was expressed, at least in some regard, by the idea that He would deliver the people from the Roman government’s oppression.
Should believers give publicly or privately (Matthew 5:16, 6:3-4)?
Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 6:3-4 – But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:16 to let our good works be known among men. I think He is speaking of good works in a very general sense there, such as acts of love, kindness, faithfulness, and goodness, which we would do for other people and with other people. I think that’s fundamentally what Jesus had in mind there.
In Matthew 6:3-4, I think Jesus is speaking more specifically about the practice of giving and being generous with our finances. It’s very important for our giving to be done in a way that would not draw attention or glory to ourselves. When we do good works for the purpose of self-glorification, then Jesus explains in the Sermon on the Mount that we have our reward.
What Jesus spoke about earlier in Matthew 5:16, was doing good works, not for self-glorification, but for God’s glorification. I really think that’s the line. There seems to be something unique about the dynamic of giving financially out of our material substance; it’s easier to do that to the glory of me, instead of the glory of God. And that’s what God wants us to avoid.
In general, there’s a sense in which our good works can and should be publicly known, as they can be examples of things done unto the glory of God. But as much as it’s possible for us, we need to avoid doing good works in a way that would bring any glory or credit or a spotlight upon ourselves. No, instead, we’re to do it in secret, so that God gets the glory.
We need to consider this as well. When our generosity is ostentatious to other people, when it’s out there, in their face, and well known, sometimes it puts the people who are receiving the generosity into a difficult and awkward place. And we never want to do that. That’s not love either. We need to make a distinction between of making things public for the glory of God and making things public for the glory of me.
Why aren’t there more in-depth studies on hermeneutics in the church?
Why aren’t there more in-depth studies on hermeneutics in the church, especially since for pastors, this is a required area of study to be a good workman?
I think part of it the reason is because it’s not always easy to simply explain principles of good biblical interpretation. I think many people are more familiar with the habits of good biblical interpretation, without necessarily being able to explain those habits. And of course, if we’re going to teach something, we need to be able to explain it well.
I think the most important thing to do is to model good hermeneutics by good Bible teaching and preaching. When we as Bible teachers and preachers do a bad job with the text that’s in front of us, I think it really gives people bad examples about how to interpret the Bible. Every pastor or teacher should, by their example, be showing good hermeneutics. But I agree with you. There’s an awful lot of opportunities for us to teach people how to do a better job with understanding hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics is the science or the study of biblical interpretation. How do we understand the Bible? How do we let a passage speak for itself and get a meaning from it that is true, and that is also helpful and applicable for our lives? Those are some of the questions being asked by hermeneutics.
Why isn’t this prevalent? In our modern age, we have in some ways given up on hermeneutics, on any kind of methodology or science of biblical interpretation. It seems like the only thing people care about is what a passage or a verse “means to me.” Look, we need to get beyond this. What a verse “means to me” is not necessarily what it actually means. We need to be able to say, “This is what the passage means.” Now, application of a biblical passage can certainly be much more subjective in our understanding. But it means what it means. It’s not for us to pick and choose what we think is the meaning. So, if we’re going to talk about the Bible, share it in home Bible studies or Bible study discussion groups, I think it’s very important for us to do our best to be people who understand the Bible rightly.
A big part of the work God has given me to do in my life is to produce, improve, and distribute a Bible Commentary. It’s available for free online, and much of it is also available in print. We are thrilled that a lot of people are taking advantage of these resources and my Bible Commentary, the Enduring Word Bible Commentary. No Bible Commentary is going to be a good fit for everybody, but I’m blessed that there are a fair number of people who find my commentary the Bible to be helpful, at least in some way. So, if you need help in your understanding of the Bible, go to enduringword.com. I think you’ll find my commentary to be clear, simple, easy to use, and helpful both for those who have been studying or teaching the Bible for many decades and for people who are new to the Bible. I’ve really endeavored to write with clarity and simplicity, so I hope that I can model good hermeneutics and good biblical interpretation.
Do you believe Russia is Rosh in Ezekiel 38-39?
In the minds of many people, Gog and Magog are associated with modern-day Russia.
Ezekiel 38:1-3 – Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.’”
Ezekiel goes on to describe why God is against him. The princes of these lands, mentioned here in Ezekiel 38-39, come against God’s covenant people, the people of Israel. When I say God’s covenant people, I don’t mean the New Covenant, although the ultimate salvation of Israel is an aspect of the New Covenant. I’m talking about the covenant that God made with Israel, going back to the days of Abraham, and also expressed in the Old Covenant, the covenant made at Sinai.
Here’s an excerpt from my Bible commentary on Ezekiel 38:
The phrase “prince of Rosh” has also been translated as “chief prince,” with the idea that the word “rosh” describes the greatness of the prince, not a place where the prince rules (Rosh). Translators and interpreters do not agree if it should be “prince of Rosh” or “chief prince.”
If Rosh is understood as a name of a people or place, it has no other connection or reference in the Old Testament. There are many who think that Rosh speaks of Russia or the Russians, but the only direct evidence of this is the similar sound of the names.
There is no biblical or historical connection between Rosh and Russia, other than the similarity in the sounds of their name. I don’t think that’s enough to go on to make an identification. It’s much more likely that Rosh there simply refers to a chief prince or a great prince. There is much better ground for making an identification between Gog and Magog with Russia. Gog is a person, and Magog is his place. Gog seems to be a strange enemy of Israel here. Gog and Magog are normally and historically associated with some of the lands that make up modern-day Russia. But I don’t see a connection between Russia and Rosh. The only connection there seems to be is the similar sound of their names.
Is there any significance of Jesus’ tunic not having a seam in it?
Is there any significance of Jesus’ tunic not having a seam in it right before his crucifixion, where the soldiers are casting lots for his clothes?
I’ve heard some people try to make this a spiritualized thing, saying that this seamless tunic speaks of eternity, or something that’s without end. I’ve heard other people tried to make the association that this indicates that Jesus wore expensive clothing; I’m less amenable to that idea.
I think it’s just something remarkable about the clothing of Jesus, that would be noticed by an eyewitness. One of the marvelous things about the biblical record in general, and the record of the Gospels in particular, is how many small details are included, which would only be noticed by an eyewitness. In other words, if you were making up a story, you would never put in such small, seemingly tangential, or irrelevant details such as this.
So, I don’t look for a great symbolic significance to the seamless garments of Jesus, other than to show that it was valuable enough that the soldiers would want to gamble for it, thus fulfilling the prophecy noted in Psalm 22, where prophetically David spoke of people casting lots for the clothing of the crucified Messiah. I’m sure there’s that relevance to it. It indicates that the value was high enough to make it worth gambling for, which was prophetically fulfilled.
Was Joseph the only one in the Bible who had premonitions of the future?
It we take that idea broadly, there were many people who had some premonition of the future. Just about any one of the prophets, for example. Even Abraham was given a premonition of the future in the vision he had of the smoking oven and the burning torch, which God told him would represent in some way the destiny of the covenant people that would come from him. Moses was given direction or premonition of the future; he’s called a prophet. Elijah spoke prophetically. So, there were many people.
I can’t think of many others in the Bible who had dreams that were premonitions of the future. Notably, the wife of Pontius Pilate had a dream, where I believe God spoke to her and warned Pilate to have nothing to do with this righteous person, Jesus Christ, who would be on trial before him. But unfortunately, tragically, Pilate rejected that divine message. He went right ahead with his trial of Jesus Christ. There are certainly people and places who were given what we might call prophetic insight into the future. “Premonition” sounds a little too vague. I think this is God simply speaking to people about the future. Joseph’s revelations were not premonitions, they were revelations from God. And that’s the distinction I would make.
Does the war of Ezekiel 38-39 happen before or after the Rapture?
I’ll give you my opinion on that. I don’t think the Scriptures tell us enough to be clear. This is one of those very interesting prophetic events to which, at least in my mind, there is no firm biblical grounding on a timeline. I’ve seen some people make the case that it happens before the Tribulation. Some people make the case that it happens during the Tribulation, and others at the very end of the Tribulation. There’s also some case to be made that the entire battle happens at the end of the Millennium. But again, there are some complicated issues involved in that.
Ezekiel 38-39 describes how God dramatically delivers Israel from attackers from the north, some of whom made up lands that are at least in part encompassed by modern-day Russia. I don’t think that the Scriptures speak specifically enough for us to really understand and say with any kind of certainty when exactly on the prophetic timeline the battle happens.
Do you think the Rapture will come soon, if World War Three breaks out in the whole Russian-Ukraine war situation?
I’ll give a very succinct answer to this. I don’t think that any particular war or conflict is a sign of the end. But in general, God has given us many reasons to believe that Jesus Christ is coming soon. And we have the specific command from Jesus Christ, that we should watch and be ready for the return of our Savior Jesus Christ. That gives us reason enough to say that we should expect the coming of Jesus Christ.
If you expect that Jesus is coming soon and make yourself ready for His coming, if your life is right, and you’re doing what you can to preach the gospel, love others, and live with a sense of urgency about the present age, then your life is no loss if you go to heaven by natural causes before the return of Jesus Christ. God wants us to live in a state of anticipation and readiness; not maniacal fervor, but certainly anticipation and readiness.
When God said, “I’ll cause My goodness to pass by you,” what did Moses actually see?
I’m going to recommend that you go to my commentary on Exodus 33 for a deeper explanation about this, but I’ll give you a bit of a suggestion from it.
I would say that what Moses saw was the “after-effects” of God’s presence and glory. Think about a comet. It’s a ball of rock, iron, or metal blazing through the sky, orbiting planets and traveling throughout the solar system. A comet has a tail behind it, but the tail doesn’t have much substance. It’s mostly gas, yet there’s a reality to it. The tail of the comet isn’t technically the comet itself; it’s what passes behind the comet.
I would say that, in a sense, Moses saw behind God. God passed in front of him. Moses was able to see the after-effects, after God’s passing. Again, I explain this in my commentary in greater depth, so I recommend that you go there and read the explanation that I’ve given.
But that’s basically what it was that Moses saw. Moses did not see God in all His glory or see His face. Now, the phrase is used, “Moses met with God face to face,” but that’s used as an expression of speech, meaning “with great and tremendous intimacy with God.” But we remember what the Scriptures tell us, “No man can see God’s face and live.” So, Moses didn’t see that. But he saw, if you will, the after-effects, the tail of the comet, so to speak, from the presence of God.
Why does Satan make so few personal appearances in the Bible?
I think it’s because Satan generally knows that a lot of his best work is done in disguise. There are times when Satan wants the direct attention and glory around him. But many times, Satan feels that his best work is done “under the radar,” so it’s not as obvious that he’s at work. I think Satan does a lot of work in this world under the radar, out of obvious view. I think that is a large part of the equation.
If people were more aware of the directness of Satan’s work, they would be less inclined to do the things he would want them to do. Certainly, there would be some people who, the more obvious Satan was, the more they would be attracted to him. But I don’t think that would apply to most of humanity. God has put something of an enmity between us and the grosser parts of satanic darkness. That’s why, the Scriptures tell us, Satan often appears as an angel of light when he does make an appearance.
Was Melchizedek a preincarnate appearance of Jesus?
Bible scholars debate this question. I do not believe that Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus, although I’ll agree it’s possible. I very well could be wrong on this. It’s not something that I really want to fight about passionately. But I lean more towards the category of Melchizedek simply being a very powerful type, or representation, of Jesus Christ, while being a human being just like any of us.
I think there is a case to be made, especially from some of the things that are said about Melchizedek in Hebrews, that he was, in fact, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. But as much as I am kind of blown away by the description of Melchizedek in Hebrews, I don’t think that interpretation is demanded by the biblical text. So, I lean towards the idea that Melchizedek is simply a type or prefiguring of Jesus, and that he was a human being, just as in some ways Moses or Joseph prefigured Jesus but were not actually a pre-incarnate appearance.
In the book of Job, God let Satan do bad things. What rules are Satan and God playing by?
In the big picture, Satan plays by God’s rules. In other words, God has established limitations to what Satan can do. Ultimately, Satan must play by God’s rules. Ultimately, everybody plays by God’s rules. God is God, and that’s just how things go.
Now, what rules does God play by? Well, God isn’t under rules in that effect. But we would say this: God has a plan. God has a purpose. God has a plan of the ages. His plan is, in one respect, to use the Church to reveal His many-sided wisdom to angelic beings, as a lesson to them. Now, that’s not the only purpose in God’s eternal plan, but Ephesians 1 and Ephesians 3 speak of this.
God has an unfolding plan of the ages. God is allowing Satan to do his work, because ultimately, it advances what God wants to do in His unfolding plan of the ages. Many of us instinctively that the ideal world would be a world of innocence, where sin never existed, and there was never any pain or suffering. We think that this would be the ultimate world. I just want you to know that is not God’s idea. God, in His perfect, wonderful plan of the ages, lets us know that greater than the world of innocence is the world of redemption. And you can’t have a world of redemption unless there’s sin and pain and suffering to redeem us from.
How can someone be an agent to lead others to Jesus Christ?
Teresa asks (paraphrase): A dear sister in Christ, who is a new believer, has a much-loved brother-in-law who has pancreatic cancer and liver cancer. His days are very few. How can this dear sister lead her brother-in-law into the arms of God through Jesus Christ?
Friends, this is a very significant question. How can someone be an agent to lead others to Jesus Christ?
First, we need to pray. Teresa indicates that prayer is being offered in this. Thank the Lord for that. Dedicated prayer and fasting needs to be made in such a case. If someone is approaching death and doesn’t know Jesus Christ, we should pray, pray, pray that they would come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, when we have opportunity to speak to them, we must speak to them about putting their hope in Jesus and taking hope away from themselves. Oftentimes when people know that they’re going to die, this is easier. When you know you’re going to die, it’s easy to take hope off yourself. You know that you need an outside hope. You know that you need a Savior. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. But there’s a very real sense in which only those who truly believe that they need a Savior will come to Him. So, to give our lives to Jesus Christ, and to receive the salvation He offers, there must be a sense of need. There must be a turning from sin and self. And there must be a placing of our trust, our faith, our hope, in who Jesus Christ is, and what Jesus Christ did to save us, especially what He did at the cross, and in His resurrection.
I would speak very simply and straightforwardly, covered with prayer. No one can come to God unless they are drawn by the Holy Spirit. People don’t come to God primarily because of the eloquence of a preacher, or the power of the surroundings. If somebody truly comes to God, it’s because the Spirit of God has moved upon their heart. So, prayer plays an essential role in this.
We want to be able to explain to people – as simply, lovingly, and clearly as possible – their need for a Savior, and what God has provided for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ: who Jesus is, and what Jesus did to rescue us, especially what He did at the cross and in His resurrection, at the empty tomb. This is what we need to trust Him. And again, to genuinely put our trust in those things is to remove any trust that we can or want to save ourselves. We must turn away from sin and self.
Teresa, I’ll pray for this friend of yours, a dear sister in Christ, and for Jerry who has this severe form of cancer. And if you’re reading this, pray for Jerry, that he would come to a true abiding living faith in Jesus Christ.