Does God Love Humanity More Than His Other Creations?
A question from June:
Does God love mankind more than any of His other creations?
Yes, and no.
Here is the Yes: God loves all His creation because it is His creation. He made it and He has a purpose for it in His great plan of the ages.
Here is the No: God does not love all His creation in the same way. He has a special relationship with humanity because we are made in the image of God, in a way that nothing else in creation (that we know of) is. This also means that humanity, the human race, has a special role in God’s plan of the ages.
Again, there is a sense in which every created thing has a role in God’s great plan of the ages – God’s doesn’t waste anything. Yet, we can say that humanity has a special role, being made in God’s image.
Genesis 1:26-27: God plans to make man in His image.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
This idea of man being made in the image of God is also repeated in Genesis 5:3, 9:6, 1 Corinthians 11:7, among other passages.
- Let Us make man in Our image: An understanding of who man is begins with knowing we are made in the image of God. Man is different from every other order of created being because He has a created consistency with God.
- This means there is an unbridgeable gap between human life and animal life. Though we are biologically similar to certain animals, we are distinct in our moral, intellectual, and spiritual capabilities.
- This means there is also an unbridgeable gap between human life and angelic life. Nowhere are we told the angels are made in the image of God. Angels cannot have the same kind of relationship of love and fellowship with God we can have.
iii. This means the incarnation was truly possible. God (in the second Person of the Trinity) could really become man because although deity and humanity are not the same, they are compatible.
- This means human life has intrinsic value, quite apart from the “quality of life” experienced by any individual, because human life is made in the image of God.
- In Our image: There are several specific things in man that show him to be made in the image of God.
- Mankind alone has a natural countenance looking upward.
- Mankind alone has such a variety of facial expressions.
- Mankind alone has a sense of shame expressing itself in a blush.
- Mankind alone speaks.
- Mankind alone possesses personality, morality, and spirituality.
- In Our image: There are at least three aspects to the idea that we are made in the image of God.
- It means humans possess personality: knowledge, feelings, and a will. This sets man apart from all animals and plants.
- It means humans possess morality: we are able to make moral judgments and have a conscience.
- It means humans possess spirituality: man is made for communion with God. It is on the level of spirit we communicate with God.
- In Our image: This does not mean that God has a physical or human body. God is Spirit (John 4:24). Though God does not have a physical body, He designed man so his physical body could do many of the things God does: see, hear, smell, touch, speak, think, plan, and so forth.
- In Our image, according to Our likeness: The terms for image and likeness are slightly different. Image has more to do with appearance, and likeness has more to do with an abstract similarity, but they both essentially mean the same thing here in this context. We should regard this as repetition for the sake of emphasis.
- Let them have dominion: Before God ever created man, He decreed that man would have dominion over the earth. Man’s pre-eminence of the created order and his ability to affect his environment is no accident; it is part of God’s plan for man and the earth.
- In this sense, it is sin if man does not use this dominion responsibly, in the sense of a proper regard for stewardship on this earth.
- So, God loves all His creation and has a plan for all His creation.
- God has a special love, a special plan, and wants special relationship with humanity, which is uniquely made in His image.
What happened to the Urim and Thummim, the Shekinah glory of God, and the sacred fire of the altar with the temple in Jesus’ day?
In your commentary on Matthew 12:3-8, you say that in Jesus’ time, the Temple did not have the Ark of the Covenant. The temple also lacked the Shekinah, the Urim and the Thummim, and the sacred fire from heaven. I know that the Ark was removed by the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar II, between 604 and 597 BC. But can you explain the other things which you mentioned the Temple lacked in Jesus’ time –the absence of the Shekinah, the Urim and Thummim, and the sacred fire from heaven?
We develop these things from an argument from silence. Now, we are specifically told in rabbinic writings that the Ark of the Covenant was not in what we call the second Temple. This was the Temple originally rebuilt when Zerubbabel, and later Ezra, and later Nehemiah, came from the Babylonian exile after the Persian Empire had conquered the Babylonian Empire. The ruler of the Persian Empire allowed Jewish people to return to Jerusalem, and even supported some of the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. When they rebuilt that second Temple, originally in the days of Zerubbabel, Ezra and then later Nehemiah, that Temple did not have the Ark of the Covenant. There is specific rabbinic mention of that in the days of the Second Temple.
There is also no mention made that they had the Urim and the Thummim. These were somewhat mysterious objects which were used to discern the will of God. Many people think that they were stones of some type, perhaps a white stone and a black stone, one indicating a “yes” answer, and one indicating a “no” answer. The High Priest would put them into the pocket of his ephod and ask God a “yes or no” question, and then pull out either a white rock or a black rock to indicate a “yes” or “no” answer. Now, that’s somewhat speculative. We don’t actually know biblically what the Urim and Thummim were, other than that they were some kind of device used to discern the will of God. We have no mention of those in the second Temple period.
The Shekinah, which would be the cloud of glory, was definitely part of the first Temple. We know this because it descended upon the first Temple at the time of its dedication, and it visibly departed from the Temple before the Babylonians conquered it. We know from the prophecies of Ezekiel that the Shekinah glory of God departed from the Temple. This was, in some way, a visible manifestation of the presence of God.
Finally, you mentioned the sacred fire from heaven. That was the fire from heaven which ignited the altar of God. When Solomon dedicated the first Temple, the fire on the altar was ignited by fire from heaven. They kept that fire burning all through the time of the destruction of the first Temple under the Babylonians. Well, there was no divine fire from heaven which lit the fire for the altar for the second Temple. We know this because, in some cases, the rabbis specifically mentioned that these things were not present. In other cases, it’s an argument from silence. If those things were present, the rabbis would have told us. The Ark of the Covenant, the Urim and Thummim, and these other things were present with the first Temple.
On my bookshelf, I see an excellent book by Alfred Edersheim entitled, “The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ.” I’m sure that book would give a lot more detailed information than I will now. But let me just explain it like this.
There were other aspects of the Temple that were probably rebuilt for the second Temple. They rebuilt an altar of incense; the table of showbread; the lampstand, called the menorah; and the altar of burnt offering that stood outside the Temple. But this is important to understand: They felt that it would be transgressing God’s holiness to rebuild the Ark of the Covenant. There was one Ark of the Covenant. And when that was lost, they did not feel compelled or prompted to rebuild it.
We know this from rabbinic mentions, either specifically, that these items were not there, or, in some cases, we know it from silence. These items were missing from the second Temple, built originally in the days of Zerubbabel, Ezra and then later Nehemiah, and they were not present through the entire second Temple period. That second Temple stood until the year 70 AD when the Romans destroyed it.
What is the kingdom of God? Is it different from the kingdom of Heaven?
This is a question, like many questions having to do with biblical interpretation, for which Christians from different traditions over time have had different answers. So, I’ll give you my answer, and explain my understanding of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is any place where the reign of Jesus Christ as King is recognized, and the benefits of His reign are present. There is a very real sense in which the kingdom of God is on Earth now, in and through God’s Church. But there is an ultimate, greater, perfected sense in which the kingdom of God will be on Earth during the time of Jesus’ demonstrable perfect reign over the Earth. We commonly call that period the Millennium. Again, I’m dealing with things about which there is some measure of debate and controversy amongst Christian circles, so I’m just giving you my perspective here.
There is a real sense in which the kingdom of God is among us now, but it is not an ultimate sense. A somewhat recent theologian has said, “The kingdom of God is already, also not yet.” It’s definitely here, but it’s not here in its fullest and most perfect sense, for which we now still wait. That’s what the kingdom of God is.
Now, is there a difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven? I regard the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven as being the same thing. It was a very common thing for devoted Jewish people of biblical times to substitute words for God. They would not say, “I swear by God;” they would say, “I swear by Heaven.” They would often look for words to substitute for God, because they did not want to run the risk of profaning the name of God. The idea was that if you avoid mentioning God altogether, then you’re never going to profane His name. That’s the idea behind it.
So, they would substitute words for God and one of the words they would substitute is Heaven. Knowing that to be a Jewish custom, in biblical and sometimes modern times, makes it very easy for me to see that “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of Heaven” are just different ways of describing the same thing.
Not all Christians would agree, although I think this is a majority opinion. There have been some people who have tried to make the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven. I have not been persuaded by any biblical evidence that there is a difference. So, the kingdom of God is any place where the reign of Jesus Christ of King is recognized, and the benefits of that reign are in some measure enjoyed. Our homes should be outposts of the kingdom of God. Certainly, every church should be an outpost or an embassy of the kingdom of God; it should be kingdom territory. This is where Jesus reigns, and we enjoy the benefits of His reign. That’s all kingdom of God stuff. Ultimately, it will happen all over the world in a powerful and unique way.
Can a person be saved without believing that the Holy Spirit is God?
Can a person who claims to be a believer, yet does not believe that the Holy Spirit is a Person – that is God – be saved?
First, can a person who claims to be a believer do this? I would say yes, it can happen. Now I wouldn’t be enthusiastic about it. I wouldn’t say there’s no problem about it. No, because this person has a significant misunderstanding, biblically speaking, about who God truly is revealed to be in His Word. That’s a serious thing.
However, it’s important for us to understand that we are not saved by the degree of our theological accuracy. Now, I say this as a Bible teacher and preacher. I am a man who has given my life to understanding and explaining the Bible. I don’t think I’m unique in this regard; I thank the Lord that there are many people who have done the same thing. I believe it’s important for us to know what the Bible teaches. We need to know biblical truth about who God is, about what God came to do, and about the person and work of Jesus Christ. I think that is vitally important. But at the same time, we are not saved by our degree of theological accuracy.
We are saved by our real and loving trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ: who He is and what He came to do for us. A person may be confused, or even wrong, about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and yet still have a real relationship with the real Jesus. It’s just something that can and should be corrected in their life.
I’m not trying to say these things are not important. They should not be corrected and dealt with, and otherwise could lead to serious problems down the road. But concerning the way the question was asked, I would say, yes, it is possible for a person who is wrong – perhaps significantly wrong – about their understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, to nevertheless be saved, because they put a true trust and love in the true Person and work of Jesus Christ.
One more thing. If a person is confused or wrong, that can be different than a deliberate rejection of who the Bible says God is. That is far more dangerous ground. I can’t say how far-reaching the danger might be if someone isn’t right with God unto salvation. However, it is a far more dangerous thing for someone to know what the Bible teaches about these things, and to reject it and go their own way.
Is there Biblical evidence for the argument of 7,000 total years on Earth?
What is the evidence for humanity spending a total of 7,000 years on Earth – 6,000 years before the kingdom of Christ, plus the Millennial kingdom? Are you persuaded by this case?
No, I am not persuaded by that case. I agree that it’s a possibility, perhaps. But since the Bible does not directly present it, I don’t think we should put much weight on it. It’s an interesting idea. Maybe theoretically, it’s true. But again, I like to stick with the ground that says, “We won’t emphasize it, and we won’t regard as true, unless the Bible itself emphasizes it and regards it as true.” I’m persuaded on that point.
Now, of course, people get this from the idea of the Sabbath. They look at biblical history and estimate that it’s about 6,000 years since Creation. And God did say, “Work six days and then have a Sabbath day of rest.” Maybe that 7,000-year period is the Sabbath rest. But again, that’s just making a case by biblical analogy. Nowhere do the Scriptures say that’s the case. It might be kind of interesting to think about and give an interesting an argument by analogy. But the Bible does not clearly state that at all. So I just don’t put much weight in an argument like that.
Can people be saved during the Millennial Kingdom? If so, when will they be resurrected?
For a more detailed study, check out my YouTube series called, “God’s Plan for the Ages.” I have an entire teaching on the Millennium in that series. I deal with this question in greater detail on that video, but I’m happy to answer it here.
In dealing with ideas about the End Times and eschatology, the study of last things, Christians who really love the Lord and respect the Bible come to very different understandings of these things. I’m quite comfortable, biblically speaking, with my understanding of these events. But I do I want to give the impression that my views are universally believed. There are Christians who disagree with my understanding of what we call the Millennium.
I believe that those who will populate the earth during the Millennial period are those who remain on the earth after the glorious return of Jesus Christ, after the Great Tribulation, after what we would call Armageddon, the great last battle. There will be many people, perhaps billions, on the earth who remain, even though there will be likewise billions of dead. So, you begin with that pool of people who survive the Great Tribulation, who survive the battle of Armageddon, who survived the glorious return of Jesus Christ. Take that pool of people and then, I believe Matthew 25 tells us, there will be a dividing of the sheep and the goats. God will take the morally bad among that group and send them to eternity.
The people who are regarded as the sheep, in Matthew 25, are allowed to enter the Millennial kingdom. They aren’t necessarily saved. They aren’t necessarily every individual who has put their faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ – especially what He did for them at the cross and the empty tomb, to pay for their sins and to make them right with God. They’re not necessarily those people, but they would have the opportunity, under the perfect rule and reign of Jesus Christ over this earth, administered through His people who are already resurrected, and maybe angelic beings as well, to become Christians.
So yes, I believe that people can and will be saved during the Millennium. Now, when will those people will be resurrected? Well, they could be resurrected when they die, because there will be people who die during the Millennium. Their lifespans will be greatly extended, so much so that if somebody died at 100 years old, they’d be spoken of as merely a child, but people will still die during the Millennium.
During the Millennial Kingdom, there will be people who aren’t necessarily believers, but good moral people. They will have survived the Great Tribulation, the battle of Armageddon, and the Second Coming of Christ. They are people who were judged fit to enter the Millennium by the judgment of the sheep and the goats. Those people will remain and would have that opportunity to be born again. The resurrection would happen either when those people die, or at the very end of the Millennium, which has a specific marking point with the release of Satan from the bottomless pit, according to the book of Revelation. Following that will be the final judgment of God upon humanity and upon the earth.
I’m unable to attend church. Is it ok that I tithe to local charities instead of to a church?
I’m housebound and not able to attend church, so I divide my tithe between different local charities like the homeless and food pantries. Is this acceptable? I followed it from Matthew 25:35.
God bless you for your charitable giving heart. It’s a wonderful thing that you are caring for the least of these in our midst. And supporting charities like homeless shelters and food pantries is a good thing for you to do. I think it’s important with our tithes and offerings to pray and seek God and allow Him to direct how we should handle such things.
I would just give one gentle word of God. The Apostle Paul, when he talks about giving in 1-2 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, indicates that it is proper for us to support those who minister to us and feed spiritually. Paul indicated that if he had ministered to other people with spiritual things, it was right and appropriate that they returned by ministering to him with material things. Most of the time, I would say that this translates into supporting our local church. But you’ve described how your situation is different, that you’re not in that situation of being able to attend and be a part of a local church, because you’re housebound. I would only ask you to consider this because I really believe that you’re doing a good thing with your giving. You might consider taking some portion of your charitable giving or tithe and sending it towards ministries that feed you and bless you, just because that pattern is given in the New Testament. But I do want to say again, there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing. You might just prayerfully consider this additional aspect. God bless you. God loves the generosity of His people, especially when it’s demonstrated towards the least of these.
If Jewish heritage exclusively passed down maternally?
If being Jewish is inherited by your mother only, what about Ruth, King David, and Jesus?
First, we talk about being Jewish as something that is inherited maternally, not paternally. That is certainly how it is according to Jewish teaching and tradition. But, to the best of my knowledge, you won’t find that in the Bible at all. I’m extremely hesitant to say that God regards Jewish lineage as being passed down through the mother. Maybe God regards it as coming by either the mother or the father, or both. I understand that rabbis today and Jewish tradition for many centuries has regarded Jewish lineage as only being passed down through the mother. But we don’t have anything in the Bible that tells us that. I would be very open to the idea that God sees it differently.
Secondly, yes, there is an important genetic aspect to the Jewish ethnicity. God has a plan and a purpose for the Jewish race in His plan of the ages. However, at least in God’s perspective, one can join the Jewish race. It’s not purely a matter of genetics. One can join the Jewish race by becoming a proselyte. I think that’s what happened with people like Ruth and Rahab, and with some of the other notable Gentile women who are in the genealogy of Jesus.
Do modern-day Jews have to trust in Jesus to be saved?
Will modern-day Jews have anything different offered to them salvation-wise, since they are a chosen people? Or is it now the same thing for them if they do not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior?
God does not have multiple paths of salvation. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6) That’s it. God doesn’t have a Plan B, and He doesn’t have a separate way of salvation for the Jewish people. There may be some slight nuance as to what it means for a Jewish person to trust in Jesus as Messiah, to trust in what He did at the cross and the empty tomb, to be the One Who accomplished their salvation, and made them right with God. But it would only be in a slight nuance.
God’s plan is that humanity would be saved, and that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, including the Jewish people. We want to stay away from the idea that God has a separate plan of salvation for the Jewish people. On what basis they will be judged? On what they did with Jesus Christ. Did they know who Jesus was and what He came to do for them, and yet consciously reject it? Then they’ll be judged on that basis. Did they never hear of Jesus and what He came to do for them? Then they will be be judged on that basis.
God will judge the earth fairly. There is only way by which we can be made right with God, and that is to receive the salvation which He offers us in Jesus Christ. It is through the Person and work of Jesus Christ. There’s nothing in me, in my own works or my own goodness, that can do it. There’s nothing in any other spiritual strategy or plan. It happens in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
If a person denies God in this life, can they repent in the afterlife?
We have absolutely no indication of that biblically. The Bible says that it’s given unto mankind once to die, and then to face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). There is no Plan B. There is no plan for after this life. I know that there are people who preach a doctrine of eternal reconciliation, in some forms of universalism. I very strongly believe that those ideas are simply not taught by the Bible. There is no biblical indication of an opportunity to repent and trust in the person work of Jesus Christ after our life on this earth. I would just say this, if it were true that there is such an opportunity, why did God not want us to know anything about it? That’s why I think it’s appropriate for us to operate on the basis of simply saying, no, there is no second chance after this life.
What are the essential Christian doctrines?
That’s not an easy question to answer, because there are no unimportant truths. But there are some that are more important than others.
I would say the most important truths are those which center around the Person and work of Jesus Christ. I believe that’s an essential Christian doctrine, the person and work of Jesus Christ. And if somebody rejects what the Bible says about who Jesus is, and what He came to do for us, then there’s really no hope for them. That’s essential Christian doctrine. Now, there are many doctrines tied to that basic concept of the person and work of Jesus Christ in some way, but they are not directly that doctrine. I would suggest starting with that as the core and then build out from there.
A good way to review the essential Christian doctrines is to look at the Apostle’s Creed. The Apostle’s Creed is a very ancient statement of Christian belief. It is not exhaustive; we don’t want to pretend that the Apostle’s Creed tells us everything. It has a very brief explanation of atonement. But it’s a good statement of basic Christian belief. So, I would look at those two things: the person and work of Jesus Christ and the doctrines directly relevant to that, and the things contained in the Apostle’s Creed. I think those give us a good starting point.
Sometimes people regard doctrines as essential, because they feel that to deny a particular doctrine would undermine those first things. An example of that is the doctrine of the inspiration of the Word of God, that the Bible is God’s divinely inspired Word. You don’t have to believe that the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant Word to go to Heaven. But you don’t have much reason to believe in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, if you don’t believe that the Bible is the inspired and even inerrant Word of God. You can see how some people make the connections to those essential doctrines.
I would just repeat what I said before: keep it centered on the Person and work of Jesus Christ first of all, and then maybe look at the things contained in the Apostle’s Creed.
Will our sin nature be present with us in Heaven?
No, we will not have a sin nature in Heaven. The Bible is very clear that anything sinful and displeasing to God is put outside of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. So no, we do not bring it with us. We are perfected. We are resurrected. We do not carry a sin nature with us to heaven.
Did Jesus receive a sin nature from Mary?
Jesus never sinned; would He not have received the sin nature from Mary?
No, Jesus did not have a sin nature. We believe in what is called the Virgin Birth, which might more properly be called the Virgin Conception of Jesus. We believe that Jesus was miraculously conceived in the womb of Mary. Some people think that maybe in some way, either biological or spiritual, it is the man’s contribution to the conception of a child which passes on original sin. That’s nothing to make a doctrine about because the Bible doesn’t specifically say it, but people have offered that conjecture. Again, maybe it’s a spiritual thing, maybe it’s some way that we can understand like a physical thing. But Jesus was conceived by a miracle when Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. It was not by any kind of sexual relations at all, but by a miracle of God within the womb of Mary. So, Jesus did not have a sin nature. His conception by Mary in no way made the sin nature a necessity because it was a virgin conception, what we sometimes refer to as the Virgin Birth.
If Jesus’ death was planned by God, why should the Jews be judged for rejecting Jesus?
If Jesus was born to die, then why should the Jews be judged for rejecting Jesus, when His death was planned by God Himself?
God’s plan certainly was that Jesus would be betrayed and rejected by His own, and sent to His death by both the religious leaders and the secular leaders. Remember, it was not only the Jewish leaders but also the Roman leaders, especially in the person of Pontius Pilate, who sent Jesus to His death. But it does not eliminate the guilt of those individuals, because they wanted to do it. In no way did God make the religious leaders reject Jesus and send Him to Pilate. In no way did God make Pontius Pilate reject Jesus and send Him to the cross. You could say that God went to extraordinary lengths to warn and persuade Pilate not to do it. Pilate sent Jesus to the cross because he wanted to; now, he might have been conflicted in his feelings, but ultimately, he wanted to, he decided to do it, and he could have chosen differently.
Now, of course, all of this went along with God’s preordained plan. But God did not violate the choice or the will or the desire of any of these people. It’s the same way today. If God uses the sinful conduct of a human being, God doesn’t have to make that person sin. He only has to allow them to do the sin that they already want to do. That’s why the religious and political leaders in Jesus’ day bear the responsibility for sending Jesus to the cross, even though it was completely within the plan of God. And God brought something good and glorious out of that all.