Live from Älgarås, Sweden!
- I’m gathered here with pastors and Christian workers. (One of our group will stop by in this session).
- It’s an interesting and momentous time to be in Europe, where today the Russian Federation has invaded Ukraine. It’s the most serious military event in Europe for many, many years.
- I really don’t have much to say to the specific situation. I think that there are a lot of voices out there speaking to the unfolding events, and I am grateful for many of them.
- I also think there is an ongoing need for the general spiritual health and building up of God’s people in and through His word, and that will remain our focus.
How Many Heavens Are There?
How many heavens are there? How does one learn about them in the Bible?
The passage that raises the thought is 2 Corinthians 12:2:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
What did Paul mean by the third heaven? Here’s the quick answer:
The third heaven doesn’t suggest different “levels” of heaven (although this is what some ancient Jewish Rabbis believed). Instead, Paul used terminology common in that day, which referred to the “blue sky” as the first heaven, the “starry sky” as the second heaven, and the place where God lived and reigned as the third heaven. This is noted by commentators such as Adam Clarke and others.
In many languages the words for “sky” and “heaven” are the same.
Biblical uses of the ideas behind the “three heavens.”
- First Heaven
In several places, the Bible uses the word “heaven” (at least in the original Hebrew or Greek) just as we would use the word “sky” or what we might call the “blue sky.”
- Genesis 6:7 and Matthew 6:26 – birds of the air/sky/heavens
- James 5:18 – Elijah prayed, and the sky/heavens brought rain
- Second Heaven
Deuteronomy 4:19 – the night sky as a “heaven”
And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the LORD your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.
- Third Heaven
Deuteronomy 10:14 – speaks of the highest heavens
Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it.
Psalm 148:4 – speaks of the heavens of heavens
Praise Him, you heavens of heavens,
And you waters above the heavens!
Hebrews 4:14 says that when Jesus ascended to heaven, He passed through the first two heavens
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
- One More Point: Heaven is an Actual Place
Hebrews 8:1 – Heaven is an actual place
Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,
So, when Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:2, he simply spoke of the heaven where God lives.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
Jesus walked on water, and the disciples thought it was a ghost (Matthew 14:26). Does this prove that ghosts are real?
Matthew 14:26- And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
I don’t think that it at all proves that ghosts are real. We would define “ghosts” as the dead coming back to Earth, and walking or dwelling or moving among living people, as some sort of spiritual projection.
No, I don’t think that it proves that ghosts are real at all. All it proves is that the disciples had a superstitious belief in what is said to be ghosts. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the idea that the dead can live or walk among us as ghosts, in any sense. That idea is completely foreign to the Bible.
At the very end of the book of 1 Samuel, I believe that God sent Samuel back on a very specific mission, to announce judgment to King Saul, but I wouldn’t describe it as a ghost. There was no mystery to it at all. Saul knew who it was. The medium who called up Samuel knew what was going on and received much more than she ever bargained for as the result. Also, Samuel came to bring a very specific announcement of judgment.
When Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, you wouldn’t define those as ghosts; they seemed to have a bodily appearance. So, we just don’t see this idea of ghosts appearing in the Bible. No, all that Matthew 14:26 demonstrates is that the disciples had a superstitious belief in ghosts, not one that was informed from the Scriptures themselves.
Is the parable of the ten virgins prophetic?
Matthew 25:1 – “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.”
Yes, I think it is prophetic. In the passage, Jesus specifically points to it having a prophetic meaning. I will refer to my Enduring Word Bible Commentary on Matthew 25.
In this passage, Jesus is following up from Matthew 24, where He gave a parable that was meant to emphasize the need for believers to be ready for the coming of Jesus. He flows right into Matthew 25, with another parable stressing the same point.
I strongly believe that the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 is prophetic. However, we need to be careful not to read too much into this parable. For example, when you look at the parable of the ten virgins, you see that five were wise and five were foolish. That doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific proportion of believers who will be found faithful at the end. The main point of parables is to give a general sense, not minute detail in meaning or interpretation. The general sense of the parable of the ten Virgins is very clear: there’s really no dispute about it. The general sense is, “Be ready,” just as Jesus says here in verse 13.
Matthew 25:13 – Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
That’s really the lesson for us. So, yes, I do think it’s prophetic. But we run into some trouble when we interpret the parables by assigning a highly theological significance to each individual point, instead of just understanding them as a whole.
When the Bible talks about Magog, is it referring to Russia?
Yes, probably. Gog and Magog are a ruler and the people or nation of the ruler. Most commentaries that I’ve read agree that Gog and Magog refer to what we would call the nation or the community of Russia. I can’t say how much of that would align with the exact geographical boundaries of Russia today. I haven’t heard a compelling argument that it means anything other than Russia, its leaders, and its people.
How should we discuss Creation and the age of the Earth with children?
How do I approach what the Bible says about Old Earth, New Earth, dinosaurs, and millions of years, especially when talking about it with children?
I believe that the most straightforward understanding of the Bible lends itself to seeing a young Earth. Now, I’m not going to define a young earth by a specific number of years. I’ve heard estimates, such as the classic Ussher chronology, that the Earth is about 6000 or 7000 years old. Of course, there are other chronologies where people suggest the Earth’s age is 10,000 or 20,000 years. But there’s a big difference between those relatively low numbers and the multiple millions or billions of years that are understood under Old Earth conceptions.
I don’t know about you, but I am grateful for scientific discovery. And I say to scientists, go out and learn, and do the very best you can. I believe that the more you learn, the more you know, and the more it will bring you into alignment with the truth. I do not at all think that the problem is that science knows too much. If there is a problem to be said about this, it’s that science doesn’t know enough, and that it needs to keep digging.
Proverbs 25:2 – It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
Part of our human glory is expressed in the simple pursuit of knowledge. That’s a good thing, and we want to encourage scientists to do that. At the same time, we recognize that there are things in this universe that God has concealed. It doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t search after the answers, but that the answers are just not going to be known, at least not for a long time.
I would teach about these things in an open way to children. I know that there’s debate among Christians on this, but in my own home I would just say that some people say that the earth is very old, but we believe that the earth is relatively young; but there was time enough for the dinosaurs and other things.
I don’t let those things bother me; I’m comfortable putting them side by side. I don’t think that we should make children suspicious of scientific discovery and research. Although, let’s face it, there are more than a few scientists who are worthy of skepticism. But we shouldn’t reject those general principles of seeking out after science and its principles.
Are there different types of prophets and prophecies?
Is there one definition in Scripture for prophet or prophecy? Are there different kinds of prophets or prophecies?
I would say there are different kinds of prophets or prophecies. There were prophets that God gave to the Church who were on a foundational level. Ephesians 2:20 says that God has laid a foundation in and through the apostles and prophets.
Ephesians 2:20 – having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.
Once God has laid that foundation, I don’t think we need to lay further foundations on top of it. It just doesn’t work that way. There was a calling and office of foundational apostles and prophets. That is never going to be replicated. You will not have a prophet who speaks with authority to the entire church worldwide today. We have a Bible for that today. We don’t need an extrabiblical authoritative voice, in the sense of being authoritative for all believers and binding their conscience. That was different with the prophets of the Old Testament and the New Testament who were called by God.
Now, since we have the completed canon of God’s revelation, I do believe that God has people that He uses to give forth prophetic words. I don’t particularly like to call such a person a prophet, it because I think it makes people weird when they receive such a title. If I introduce myself as “Prophet David Guzik,” you would have reason to just look at me very differently than if I just referred to myself as David Guzik, or Pastor David Guzik.
In our modern time, prophets are subject to the measure of truth among Christians, which is the Bible itself. Therefore, these modern-day prophets do not speak with universal authority. I would absolutely reject the idea that any prophet would speak today with equal authority to Scripture. It is not going to happen. The Bible excludes it.
Is street evangelism effective?
I’m looking to understand more about evangelism. I find myself feeling skeptical about street evangelism, and those indicating that saying a prayer counts them as saved.
I understand your skepticism about street evangelism. I would say that there’s always some place for street evangelism. It has value as being a proclamation of the Gospel, of course. But if in general a culture isn’t receptive to street evangelism, then maybe more effort should be put into forms of evangelism that are more likely to be received by the culture. When a missionary goes into a new country, they look around and consider how they could, with honesty and integrity, develop an evangelist connection to the people there in culturally relevant ways. They also find out which methods aren’t culturally relevant.
I don’t put a big emphasis on street evangelism. I respect the people who do it, and I do think there is a place for it. But I think it is more for the purpose of providing Christian witness, which has its place and is important, than it is actually an instrument of effective evangelism.
You express skepticism about the idea of a prayer counting people as saved. On the one hand, I know what you’re talking about. We don’t want to encourage or cultivate or promote the idea of a superficial conversion or commitment to Jesus Christ. Not at all. However, we do believe what the Bible says:
Romans 10:13 – For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
If a person calls upon the name of the Lord, they shall be saved. Now, it isn’t as simple as saying the words; it must be something that goes beyond your words and into your heart and life. But that work has a beginning point. The beginning point of the heart and the life is with a proclamation, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Saying a prayer to be saved is not the only thing that counts. There must be repentance; there must be a life that is surrendered to God and in alignment with His will. But it’s a beginning. And it can be cherished as a beginning, for what it is.
If the eternal punishment for sin is eternity in hell, why did Jesus die on the cross instead?
If the eternal punishment for sin is burning alive in hell for all of eternity, why isn’t Jesus burning alive in hell forever for our sin? His suffering on the cross wasn’t forever.
Great question. It’s the simple difference between a perfect payment and an incomplete payment. As imperfect human beings, any payment which you or I would make for our sin problem would by nature be imperfect and therefore incomplete. If a payment is imperfect and incomplete, it must be continually repeated. That’s what happens when somebody pays for their sin for eternity. You could say that every soul receiving divine punishment in hell could be freed from hell if they could offer a perfect payment for their soon. But that’s the problem. They can’t offer a perfect payment for their sin. It’s impossible because they are not perfect beings.
But we thank the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for His wonderful, amazing plan by which He has sent forth His Son, in His divine perfection, to be that perfect atonement for sin which we needed. Because Jesus could offer a perfect payment, it needed to be once for all. It did not have to be repeated. But where an imperfect payment is made, it has to be repeated again and again, and in this case, for all of eternity.
Is it possible for the devil to steal someone’s life?
Many Christians say that no one dies before their time set by God. But I have to wonder if some people have their lives stolen (examples: murder, suicide, abortion, drunk driver accident, etc.).
I think this is a matter of perspective. On the one perspective, you could argue that the Bible says the devil has come to steal, kill, and destroy, and we see the devil doing that work – stealing people’s lives, killing them, and destroying their lives. If so, people might wonder how it could be said that that person’s time is set by God, if the devil can steal it in some way?
The devil can only operate within the broader arena, or boundary fence, of God’s permission. That’s just how it works. The devil can’t do anything without God allowing it to happen. There are things that happen in this world, that aren’t directly done by God, but God definitely allows them to happen.
God must give permission, but it can still be the devil doing the activity of the work. So, we can say that both things are true. There is some sense in which the devil does steal somebody’s life. But ultimately, the devil can’t do anything without God’s permission or allowance. So that’s how we understand that.
In 2 Corinthians 13:14, why is grace attributed to Jesus, love to God, and fellowship to the Holy Spirit?
2 Corinthians 13:14 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
This verse is a wonderful blessing from the Apostle Paul. So, why did Paul order “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit” in that way? Why is grace attributed to Jesus, love to God, and fellowship to the Holy Spirit?
I don’t think there’s any firm answer on that. You could say, “The grace of God the Father, the love of Jesus Christ.” I think if there’s any reason, obviously we would say it’s because of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
But we would also say that there was a particular grace, unmerited favor, given in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We would say there was a remarkable love shown by God the Father in giving the Son. And surely, it’s the communion and fellowship of the Holy Spirit that brings us together.
So, you could interchange these attributes; the members of the Trinity are not in competition on these things. But it’s just something that the Holy Spirit wanted to emphasize.
Dmitri: Yes, and we also think in regards of the Law. John 1:17 – “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
David: That’s fantastic. That really highlights the area where Jesus is sort of preeminently identified with grace. So even though John wrote that passage, Paul was very much aware of that principle in writing 2 Corinthians.
Dmitri: Yeah, it’s amazing, isn’t it? The Christian life is all about grace. Truth and grace. And this is a wonderful combination can be found only in Christ.
David: That’s right. The law came by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus. Fantastic.
Dmitri: A free gift. That’s certainly something we cannot deserve.
David: We never could deserve it. No, we can only receive it freely by grace.
Dmitri: What a blessing. It was a free gift. And we read these passages in the Bible.
David: Yes, fantastic. Thank you so much. What a blessing.
What advice would you give concerning sermon prep, series selection for a new church, and essential resources for a bi-vocational teacher?
I’m getting ready to be one of the core group and elders of a church plant. What advice would you give in regard to sermon prep, series selection for a new church and essential resources for a bi-vocational teacher?
First off, God bless you, and congratulations on being part of this church plant. I think it’s an important work that God gives us to do to. Planting churches is a good work. I’m happy to hear that you are part of the core group. In my life and my ministry, I have been part of two church plants. I know what a blessing it is. It’s a thrill. It’s truly exhilarating in the Lord, to be a part of that.
So let me give you a couple pieces of advice, first regarding sermon prep and series selection. When people plant a church, they often suppose that they’re going to build a strong and successful growing church by being mighty in the pulpit. They think, “If I’m a Spurgeon in the pulpit, then people will come and be drawn to it.” Let’s face it, we’re not really Spurgeons in the pulpit, are we? We’re who we are, and God has a place and a blessing for us.
But here’s what I’m saying. You’re going to build a successful church plant more by one-on-one discipleship, cultivation of a strong core, and getting out there with your people and connecting with them, than by being a “giant” in the pulpit.
Now, I hope that nobody misunderstands what I’m saying. I’m obviously a big believer in preaching. That’s the majority of my ministry, and it has been for decades. I am a preacher, and I love to preach. And I know and I understand the importance of preaching. But preaching is not by any means the only thing that God uses to build a church. I think it’s an important component, maybe even an essential component. But it’s not the only thing. So don’t lock yourself up in the study for 30 hours, assuming that you’ll just emerge with a holy vision upon your face, and then be capable and equipped to impact the community. Get out there and rub shoulders with and connect with your people broadly.
When it comes to the preaching, make these the key goals for your preaching: clarity and simplicity. I think those are powerful and eloquent all in their own.
As far as essential resources for a bi-vocational teacher, my Bible Commentary is available at enduringword.com or blb.org. Many bi-vocational pastors tell me that they rely on it as a helpful resource, especially because of the way that my commentary is laid out. It’s laid out in what I regard to be a very easy-to-use format. You can scan it quickly and easily find the information that you want. It’s written in an expanded outline format, instead of a normal paragraph format. I think that that can be a helpful resource for a busy bi-vocational pastor. My heart genuinely is extended towards bi-vocational pastors, who have another job in addition to whatever they do as a pastor. That’s how most, or an awful lot, of the pastors in the world are, and God loves them, and God uses them in the work that they do.
What does it mean to take communion in an unworthy manner (1 Corinthians 11)?
What does it mean when Scripture warns us not to take of the bread and wine in an unworthy manner? We’ve been taught that this means not partaking in communion for being unmarried with children.
1 Corinthians 11:27 – Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
I would disagree with that application of this verse. 1 Corinthians 11 talks about taking communion in an unworthy manner. What it really refers to is just that: the manner in which they were receiving communion. They were receiving it in a rude, disrespectful, selfish manner. In other words, they were crowding the table of communion, they were greedy at the table of communion. The actual manner in which they were sharing this fellowship meal at which they had communion was unworthy of the great thing that God had done for them at the cross in Jesus Christ.
It doesn’t mean that sin necessarily disqualifies a person from the Lord’s table. When we’re sinners, we need what the Lord’s table gives to us. Now, let me give a caveat here. If a person is in known, harbored, cherished, unconfessed sin, that’s a different matter. Then there’s almost a mockery in the receiving of communion. It’s mockery in the sense that it’s saying, “Lord, I take this bread and cup, which speaks of the great sacrifice that You made at the cross for my sin, but I have no intention of giving up my sin.” That is, in some ways, a mockery of what Jesus came to do for us.
But if a person is repentant of their sin, sorrowful for their sin, I would say they are welcome to come to the table of communion. It’s not the presence of sin that should exclude a person from the Lord’s table. It’s their attitude towards such sin: cherishing it, holding it, and refusing to repent of that sin.
How can I encourage my unsaved Catholic family members?
I became a newborn believer eight months ago. I was Catholic for 38 years. My husband and daughter still identify themselves as Catholics and refuse to come to church with me. They don’t go to Mass (only occasionally), and aren’t trying to get closer to God, either. I’ve been praying for them to find the truth but nothing [has changed] yet. Should I encourage them to at least go to Mass on a regular basis?
There are a few dynamics to your question that limit my ability to give a great answer to this. But let me try. If your husband and daughter had any kind of meaningful connection with Jesus Christ, in and through the Mass, that maybe you could pray that them going there is better than nothing. But if you sense or know that there is no real meaningful connection to Jesus Christ for your husband and daughter as they go to Mass, then I would not encourage them to go. I would not discourage them from going, but I would not encourage them.
Here’s why. For a person to attend religious services with a hard heart, rejecting Jesus Christ, especially when there’s an emphasis on ceremonialism, and perhaps an absence of the perceived presence of the living God, then their attendance or religious services can cause more harm than good. That’s the thing I would want to know in your situation. Do you think or know if it’s likely, or possible at all, that your husband or daughter would truly receive something of Jesus in going to Mass? And I would base my answer on your response. But let me say, Angela, I am thrilled that God is moving in your life. And I want to assure you that God is moving in your life, so that you can be praying for and be a witness and testimony to your husband and your daughter. And who knows what great things God may do in and through them?