What’s This About a Camel Through a Needle’s Eye?
This week’s Q&A is hosted by Pastor Lance Ralston, from Calvary Chapel of Oxnard, CA. He also serves as a board member of Enduring Word.
What’s This About a Camel Through a Needle’s Eye?
Mathew 19:23-24 — Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
As we look at this, we always want to take a look at the context. Context is so important. In the verses just prior to this, a wealthy young leader of the nation of Israel had come to Jesus, and had been impressed by Jesus. Jesus, of course, was a rabbi. Rabbis were considered to be authorities on the things of God. And so this wealthy young man, regularly referred to as the rich young ruler, comes to Jesus asking for an authoritative and definitive answer on this question: “What must I do to have eternal life?”
Jesus used the question that he asked as a foil to dismantle the popular idea of how people gained Heaven. People assumed that Heaven was earned by keeping the law, and specifically by doing good work in keeping with the law of Moses. The young man who asked this question seemed to be a genuinely good guy. He seemed moral and responsible. And when he claimed that he had kept the law, Jesus responded by giving him a simple challenge which proved that while he may indeed have kept the outward letter of the law, he hadn’t really kept the more important inner spirit of the law. So the young man walked away, bummed out. And I think that’s really a clue to what comes next.
You see, instead of doing what Jesus had said he should do, he balked. Now we have to back up and wonder if the young man was sincere in his first question, “What must I do to have eternal life?” Because when Jesus told him what to do, instead of doing it, he walked away. Being the good guy that he already was, he probably assumed that when he asked, “What do I have to do to have eternal life,” that Jesus would reply, “Well, you’ve already done it, you already have eternal life.” But he didn’t hear that; instead, he heard that there was something that he still needed to do. He was bummed out. As Jesus watched the young ruler walk away, we read these words, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Assuredly I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:23-26)
What Jesus says here and uses as an illustration has, quite frankly, been horribly misinterpreted by not a few Bible teachers. Somehow it has crept into tradition, in teaching this passage, to say that there was a tiny gate in the wall of Jerusalem called the eye of the needle. And the only way for a camel to get through it was by unpacking it. Typically, camels were used for carrying burdens such as trade items, and so on. So it’s necessary to unpack the camel of all its baggage. You take off the saddle, make it kneel down, and then you wouldn’t have to force it through the gate. The problem is, we have absolutely not a shred of historical evidence that there was any gate like that in Jerusalem. There were certainly small gates in Jerusalem, but none of them were called the eye of the needle. And quite frankly, Jesus never intended such an interpretation to be used here.
Jesus wasn’t just saying that it was hard for a rich man to enter heaven. He’s saying that it’s impossible to get to heaven by our own works. That is, by the route which the rich young ruler had just tried to make for himself, it would be easier to pass a camel through the eyelid of a sewing needle. Now, I guess you can get a camel through the eye of a needle; you just have to grind it up really small, and then use a very tiny funnel. The disciples’ reaction is really a major clue to what Jesus meant. They were stunned by what he said. Because till they started following Jesus, they were of the same mind as this rich young ruler, like all Jews of their day. They thought that eternal life was something you prove that you were worthy of, by doing good works, and God showed his approval that you were indeed on the path to heaven, by blessing you with material prosperity in this life.
The rich were assumed to be already heaven bound, to be set up to inherit eternal life. But Jesus utterly nuked that idea, when he said that it was hard for the rich to get into heaven. If it was hard for them, then everyone else was out of luck. But Jesus doesn’t describe entrance into heaven as merely hard. No, he ramps it up to the impossible category when he speaks of the camel and the needle.
What Jesus wants his disciples to understand is that they’ve got salvation all wrong. It’s not a reward for doing good works. Heaven isn’t the destiny of those that have lived a holy life. In short, it’s impossible for a man or woman to earn salvation. But what’s impossible with man is supremely possible with God.
This was the time in Jesus’ ministry when He was headed to Jerusalem to die. He is making sure that his disciples understand that salvation isn’t a reward that God gives for our work. It’s a gift that he gives, because of Christ’s work. We don’t do the work that earns eternal life. Jesus did the work that earns eternal life. And the reward that God gave Him is to give us eternal life.
So I hope that clears up this question about the camel and the needles. Jesus didn’t mean that it was just hard, he meant that it was hard to the point of impossible.
According to Revelation 20:12-15, what is the Book of Life and whose names are written in it?
Revelation 20:12-15 — And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
This passage has created a question for Bible scholars, because it says that there are books that are open, but those books aren’t given a title like the Book of Life is given. It is assumed that these other books are actually a record of each person’s life, accounting for their deeds.
It’s important for us to realize that in the judgment of God, we will be judged according to God’s justice. We may assume that because God is perfectly just, not only will those who end up in hell miss out on eternal life and the glory and bliss of heaven, but they will suffer a degree of punishment in accordance with how they’ve lived their lives, because, again, God’s justice is perfect. Yes, they’re going to be in hell in the lake of fire for eternity, but there may be degrees of justice or punishment, or the experience of God’s wrath that they experience according to how immoral they have been. The books left untitled could very well be one book or chronicle for each person. Each person’s life is read out and judged accordingly.
But there is another book, a Book of Life. The Book of Life is viewed at the Great White Throne. If the Book of Life does not have a person’s name in it, that person is judged by the book of their life. Whereas in the Book of Life, a person’s name is written there because they have been born again, they have come to faith in Jesus Christ, and so they have passed from death to life. They will not be judged for their sins. They will instead only face a judgment for rewards, because all of their sin was already judged on the cross of Jesus Christ.
It’s important to realize that everyone’s sin will be judged. The difference is that those that go to heaven have had their sin judged in the cross of Jesus Christ. When Jesus said, “It is finished, paid in full,” that meant the payment for their sin and guilt before God was fully atoned for and paid for by the work of Jesus Christ in the cross. Their judgment passed onto Christ. His righteousness then passes to the person who believes. We call it the Great Exchange. Those people will not be judged for their sin; they will instead be judged for what they have done in their life and faith in serving God, and they will receive rewards, as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians. However, there are others whose names are not written in the Book of Life, and since their name isn’t there, then their life will be judged by the book that is contained the record of their life.
What does the Bible say about legalized recreational marijuana?
The law here in Arizona has legalized recreational marijuana. A lot of my friends have started to argue that it falls under Romans 14 like alcohol. My friends say that it refers to harder drugs, not weed.
I believe this is an issue of conscience. We don’t have clear teaching in Scripture on this. We do know that the Bible is very clear that one of the marks of spiritual maturity, and one of the things that we are to do as we walk faithfully with the Lord, is to be sober minded. Anything that would take us out of that place of being sober before the Lord, or being able to handle life soberly, would be inappropriate. Anything that would take us out of sobriety, would be alcohol, marijuana, and any drug.
If you take a good look at the word that is translated “sober” in English, it speaks of having a clear mind. While in the most obvious sense that would relate to something like inebriation through alcohol or drugs, it would also apply to heightened emotional states that cause a person not to think clearly, such as if a person is inordinately angry, or filled with rage, or not thinking clearly, or filled with jealousy, or filled with depression, and it begins to color their thoughts in a negative direction. They’re not thinking clearly. They’re no longer thinking soberly.
So let’s understand that when the Bible calls us to have a sober mind, it means that we’re not to allow any influence, whether it’s chemical or spiritual, to color our thinking and take us out of the place where we can interact with the truth in the grace of God without distraction.
Regarding this issue of the legalization of marijuana, you know, there was a time in our country when prohibition made the consumption of alcohol illegal. And then the government changed its laws about that, and it suddenly became legal. The issue isn’t really about whether something is legal; the issue is whether it’s something that a Christian should do? Let’s not allow ourselves to be caught up in “How can I get around the commands of God to do something that I want to do?”.
Christians are asking, “Can I smoke marijuana because it’s legal now?” Well, why would you smoke marijuana? The obvious object of smoking marijuana is to get high; you could make a case for saying that. A glass of wine or beer does not intoxicate you. People do drink without the intent of getting drunk. Anybody that puts a joint in their mouth has one intent: to cop a buzz. So I’m not really sure it’s the same issue as alcohol. Instead of trying to find excuses to be able to do these things, let’s remember the injunction of the Lord to keep a sober mind and to think soberly.
What does the Bible say about believers baptizing their own family members?
Just recently I was thinking about the sacraments that God has given the church. There are all kinds of questions on how many sacraments exist. I believe the Roman Church says that there are seven sacraments and that they can only be performed by ordained priests. We, in the Protestant tradition, typically believe in two sacraments: baptism and communion. But a sacrament is something that is sacred, a special sacred right – and who really is authorized to be able to perform those?
Some Protestant churches which have a bit more of a formal pastoral role, and ordination and so on, would say that the sacraments are something that needs to be performed by an ordained individual. Those churches that are a bit less structured, without a highly defined church hierarchy or leadership system would disagree and say that the sacraments can be performed by any born-again believer.
I would say that you need to be convinced on what you believe about church leadership to understand this. I don’t believe that it’s inherently wrong, or that you can make a good biblical case for saying that a non-ordained person can’t serve communion or baptize people. I think you could make a good case for saying that they actually can do those things.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and said, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” of course He’s saying that to the apostles, but He’s also looking long range. The early church understood that this wasn’t just something that they only did on that night of the Last Supper; they knew it was something to continue doing. We see it practiced in the early church. We see Paul writing in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11) that we are to celebrate communion, the Lord’s table, until Jesus comes again. We are to do it in remembrance of Him.
There is no command that it can only be officiated by somebody who’s been ordained. We need to ask the question, “Well, what is ordination?” Where do we find the basis for that in Scripture? It is not a process or a rite that is clearly defined in Scripture. Paul tells Titus and Timothy to appoint elders, and then just simply gives the criteria for what elders are. Peter speaks about what elders are to do. They’re simply church leaders that are recognized as being charged with the responsibility of leading the church. Our ideas concerning ordination and the restriction of serving the sacraments of communion or baptism exclusively to ordained individuals in the church might be stretching that too far. I don’t think it’s inappropriate for someone who understands what baptism or communion is to be able to lead others in that. I don’t think you can make a good biblical case for saying that they can’t do that.
How do you keep a good attitude at work with coworkers who do not appreciate your Christian presence?
That is such a great practical question. You keep a good attitude, in all areas of life, by not allowing your attitude to be determined by your circumstances. This is where our understanding of the joy of the Lord is so important. Our joy is something that comes from our relationship with Jesus, which is unchanging. Everything else in life is subject to change, because we live in a world that is in constant flux. Even we ourselves are in constant flux. Sometimes we go through emotional swings. We don’t even understand the reason for times we are happy. Somebody might ask, “Why are you so happy?” and we would say, “I don’t really know.” Other times we’re depressed, and we don’t really know why. We can change and our world is also constantly changing. But while our circumstances can be constantly changing, there’s one thing in life that is absolutely sure. And that is our relationship with God through our faith in Jesus Christ.
This is why Paul makes such a case for who and what we are, in his letter to the church at Ephesus. Approximately 60 times he uses the phrase “in Christ” in his letter to the Ephesians or “in Him,” or “in the Lord,” which all mean the same thing. Paul wants us to understand who we are and what we are in terms of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. God’s love and His disposition toward us does not change. It’s been forever settled through the work of Jesus Christ. When God looks at us, he sees us through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Because God does not change, because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, we don’t need to have an attitude change in our understanding of who we are, and what we are. It’s that identity we bring into every other relationship and environment.
The big issue that most people face is this, “Who am I?” We can break that down into questions like, “Where did I come from? Why am I here? And where am I going?”
But to boil all that down into one question, one might ask, “Who am I?” Most people will try to find the answer to that. They’ll seek for the resolution of that in terms of this world, this life, and how they live in relationship with others. They’ll base it on how they were brought up, from their family, their parents and siblings, and from the messages they get from the world. Especially in this generation, those messages are being received through the media. It’s commonly accepted that who you are is what you do, your job, who you know, how much money you make, what your hobbies are, what you’re good at, and all of those kinds of things. Sometimes it’s something as simple and profane as asking what car you drive, where you vacation, what clothes you wear, what kind of smartphone you have, what your online profile says about you, and so on.
The identities of many young people today are wrapped up in these things that are constantly changing. And that identity becomes the source of our attitude, our direction, our posture. But we as Christians identify ourselves primarily through our relationship with God, which is unchanging and settled. It is not based on our questions about who we are, but upon what God has said about who we are. Our attitude is drawn from that. We want to bring such an attitude into every relationship and environment, rather than getting our attitude from every relationship and from every environment.
Will all Christians receive a crown as a reward from Jesus when we stand before the judgment seat?
The New Testament speaks of various crowns that we will receive. And it looks like those crowns come from different things. It looks like leaders who have served well in the church will get a certain crown. Martyrs who have died for the faith or suffered for the faith will receive a crown. And then there do seem to be crowns that are passed out as rewards. And so there may be different crowns.
People have asked, “Are there going to be some people that don’t get any crowns?” For example, Jude talks about those who make it into heaven, by the skin of their teeth, so to speak; those who make it into heaven as though through the flames. That carries the idea that they barely squeaked by; they believed in Jesus, but they didn’t have any works; they made it to heaven but will have no real crown. They’ll be bareheaded, while everybody else has crowns, and some might even have piled up crowns on their heads. People may wonder if there are going to be people looking around who are bummed out if they didn’t get a crown, or don’t have as many crowns as another person, or feel that the crown they do have isn’t as pretty as another person’s crown.
Are we going to be envious in heaven? Of course, the answer to that is no. In the book of Revelation, we see the redeemed before the throne of God on that glassy sea, a multitude so vast that no one could number it. There we are gazing on the glory of he who sits upon the throne. You know what it says that all the saints do: it says they cast their crowns before His throne. We are going to recognize that just being there is enough. There’s not going to be any envy in heaven. The tenth commandment is not to envy others. There’s no sin in heaven.
We’re not going to be envying others, and we’re not going to be regretful; we’re going to be joyous that we are there, because Jesus brought us there. And just out of appreciation, we’ll take that which He has given to us by way of reward, and we’ll just cast it at His feet and say, “Lord, were it not for you, I wouldn’t even be here.” We’ll be on our faces just glorifying him.
So why do we get rewards? Well, again, because God is just. Those who have sinned more will receive more judgment, more punishment, more torment in the lake of fire. Those who have done more for the Lord will receive more reward. But again, in the glory of heaven, all of that by comparison will diminish in importance into insignificance.
Is there a problem if a person has accepted Jesus as their personal Savior and wants to be baptized but doesn’t want to be committed to a local church membership?
I think there is a problem. But I don’t think not being a part of a local church is going to keep you out of heaven. The thing that obtains eternal life for us is believing in Jesus. And baptism is an important step of obedience. But why not join a local church? The church is clearly something that Jesus came to establish. It’s quite clear in Matthew 16, where Jesus first uses that word and says that He will establish His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Jesus came to build His church, but He would leave the earth and something that would continue his work. And that’s called the church. That’s what he calls it: the “ecclesia,” the called-out assembly. He uses a Greek word there that referred to that group of citizens in the Greek city states that were charged with the responsibility of leading and overseeing and stewarding their city their lives together as a community. It’s clear that the church is God’s will.
I don’t know, if you’re asking for yourself or maybe for somebody else. Maybe you’ve been dealing with somebody who’s been saying, “I don’t need to be a part of a church.” Actually, yes you do; you do need to be part of a church, you’re already part of the church. But the expression of that is participation in a local church. The local church is where we discover our spiritual gifts, where we have a chance to use our spiritual gifts, and to mature in our spiritual gifts. You cannot make a case in the New Testament, for a Christian that’s not part of a local congregation. It was understood in the early church that to be a Christian is to be a part of a fellowship of Christians, a community of believers.
The fruit of the Spirit is written about in Galatians 5:22-23. You could say that love is the fruit of the Spirit, and all the rest of the things listed are simply the flavors or aspects of that fruit. All of them are things that are used in relationship with others. The fruit of the Spirit is love. Love is something that needs to be in relationship with somebody else, you don’t just sit alone in a room and have love. Joy is something that comes in relationship with others, as well as long-suffering, gentleness, kindness, self-control, etc. These are all aspects of the work of the Spirit which are revealed and matured in the context of relationships. God gives spiritual gifts to each of his people, because he wants them to be part of developing others, blessing them, and helping them to grow.
So, being part of a local church is part of God’s will. Will it keep you out of heaven if you don’t go to church? No; again, it’s an issue of believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior, that the work He did on the cross atones for our sins, and that His resurrection justifies us and gives us new life. That’s how we gain heaven. But if we want to grow in Christ, which we know is God’s will, being part of a local congregation, part of a local fellowship, and part of the lives of others, and them being a part of your life, is the way that God has given us to do that. It’s not essential to salvation, but it’s essential to Christian growth, which is a part of maintaining our spiritual lives. If you want to grow in your relationship with Christ, you can’t really do it apart from the body of Christ. Being part of a local church is an important part of the Christian life.
In Isaiah 24:22, what does it mean when it says “many days?”
Isaiah 24:21-23– It shall come to pass in that day that the LORD will punish on high the host of exalted ones, and on the earth the kings of the earth. They will be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and will be shut up in the prison; after many days they will be punished. Then the moon will be disgraced and the sun ashamed; for the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously.
The immediate context here is speaking of the End Times. This seems to be a passage that would be parallel to those chapters in Revelation that speak of the judgment of the very end. What’s being spoken of here are those angelic beings who fell with Lucifer in his abortive rebellion against God. From other passages, we can pretty safely conclude that about a third of the angelic host was deceived by Satan and joined him and his rebellion against God. Lucifer was probably the leader of the cherubim, that ceremonial bodyguard around the throne of God. And, for some reason, his will exalted itself, and he decided that he didn’t like the direction that God was going and staged a rebellion against Him and persuaded a third of the angels to go with him. The angels who joined him in his rebellion left their position as angels and became, we assume, what are known as the demons.
This passage appears to be the period of time when those beings are finally judged. “Many days” here would refer to the scope of human history, which is brought to a close by the return of Christ. At the very beginning of the Millennium, when Christ returns to earth and begins His thousand-year reign over Earth, Satan will be bound, and cast into the bottomless pit where he will be kept for 1000 years. It looks like demons are then bound as well. They’re no longer allowed to roam freely on earth, and humanity gets to see what God always intended. Humans are free, they still have the ability to choose, Christ will reign visibly, from Jerusalem, over all of the earth. Humanity is going to get to see the perfect reign of God, the kingdom of God on earth, for 1000 years. Earth will be restored to a paradise, and humanity will get an opportunity to see what God always intended. It’s going to finally and forever shut up both rebellious man and Satan, from their accusation that God has been unjust. It looks like that’s what the passage in Isaiah is referring to.
How much authority do pastors have to “bind someone in the spirit”?
This would relate to something I shared earlier about this idea of ordination. The office of pastor which God has given is to lead, teach and protect the church. It’s certainly an office that God has given, as we see in Ephesians 4. When God gives a calling to leadership, He gives the authority needed for that role as well. But the authority of a pastor is for what a pastor is to do. Let’s not forget that that word pastor means literally shepherd. A shepherd’s job was to lead, feed and protect the flock of God. There’s a reason why the Spirit chose that word to describe those who lead local congregations.
Shepherd becomes a one-word job description; someone who is to tend to the flock of God. The shepherd is to lead, feed and protect the flock. That becomes the scope of the pastor spiritually: to lead, which means seeking the Lord for direction on how to lead this local congregation of believers that he’s given charge of; to feed them, meaning with God’s word, to nourish them and the things of God; and then to protect them, to make sure they’re kept safe from spiritual harm, and even from physical harm, to make sure that where they meet and how they meet is safe.
There’s no real injunction in Scripture that’s charged to pastors to “bind to someone in the spirit.” Perhaps the idea comes from the situation of Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah, and of Jesus’ affirmation that Peter’s revelation had come from God. Then Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” He goes on to say, “I give to you the key of the kingdom: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
This is rather important. This idea of binding and loosing has unfortunately become, for some segments of the church, an idea that we as believers have authority to bind and loose things. That’s not really what Jesus is saying. Whenever we read these narrative passages of the Bible, and the letters of the New Testament, and so on, we always ask the question, “What did this mean to those that originally read it or heard it?” What did the disciples understand Jesus to mean when He said to them, “I give you the keys of the kingdom, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”?
What they understood was this: Jesus was using rabbinic terminology. And they knew that, because they had heard it when they went to the synagogue, or whenever a traveling Rabbi had come to visit. The Jews loved to go listen to the rabbis when they came through a village, because they were recognized as genuine men of God. Whatever they spoke and taught, the people understood to be authoritative, just below the Scriptures in authority. They were understood to have authority from God. When the rabbi taught, people heard the heart and will of God. So, when the rabbi came to town, people would go and listen to them teach. And at the end, the rabbi would take questions.
People would bring forward questions and explain their situation to the rabbi. What they wanted to hear was, “What does the word of God say to my situation? Typically, how does the law of Moses apply to this situation?” The people in their own minds couldn’t make a connection between their personal situation and the law of Moses. They wanted to know, “How does the law of Moses inform my situation?” It’s a lot like today, when people come for counseling and say, “Hey, I’m going through this, what should I do?” What they’re really saying is, “What does the Bible say? Pastor, help me understand what the Bible says about this.”
So, the rabbi would respond with either, “You are bound by the law, because here’s what the law says,” or, “The law doesn’t speak to this situation, so you’re loosed from the law. Now you have to make a decision that’s based on what you believe is right by God, by your conscience.” You’re either bound or you’re loosed. In other words, it was a way of saying a person has authority to define for people what is the will of God.
Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to build His Church. It will be built on the foundational statement that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; that He is the Savior; that faith in Him determines whether you’re in or out of the church. He then says to those disciples, those original disciples who become the apostles, “I’m giving you the keys of the kingdom,” which also means the authority — a key is a symbol of authority – “that whatever you bind on earth or loose on earth is bound or loosed in heaven.” He just said He is going to establish His church. Now He’s giving them the authority to determine what is part of the Christian life, and normative for the church, and what isn’t.
So really, Jesus is speaking specifically to the apostles there. He’s not speaking to all Christians at all times. He’s saying to the apostles, “You guys are going to build the foundation of which I am the cornerstone.”
And that’s exactly why the Apostle Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, says that the church is built on the prophets and the apostles, with Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Jesus is the cornerstone, the apostles taught on Jesus because Jesus didn’t leave us any writings. They did. It’s their writings and their teaching that framed the church, upon which the church today still rests. That’s why we have what we call the Apostolic Church or apostolic authority. Our authority as apostles isn’t in modern day apostles. It’s in the original apostles; we look back to their teaching and authority, being framed by the New Testament and the Scriptures.
Concerning the idea that you can bind someone in the spirit: there are certain groups that get into odd ideas about spiritual warfare, but we really don’t have good New Testament warrant for praying, “I bind this spirit, or I bind that.” It sounds great, and makes us feel good. But we just really don’t have solid biblical warrant for that.
Can you explain Ephesians 4:11 where it talks about the different offices within the church? Is the pastor/teacher office the same?
Ephesians 4:7-12– But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Do we see five offices there, or four? It’s one or the other. Some groups say that it’s five, and that when he says, “some pastors and teachers,” he’s just shortening the language instead of adding, “and some teachers.” Others would say, “No, the rules of Greek grammar actually require that we understand pastors and teachers as being the same office.” And I tend to be of that later category.
I think that the Greek grammar, the rules of great grammar, there are pretty convincing. If Paul had intended us to understand teachers as being a separate office, in that particular passage, he would have he would have done so.
Let me let me just briefly describe what he means by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He’s talking about how we grow together as the body of Christ. There’s both a narrow and a wider application of this. When Paul says God gave some to be apostles, the narrow idea is those original apostles, the Twelve, removing Judas and putting Paul in there; they are those apostles that He had in Matthew 16, specifically authorized to have the keys of the kingdom, and to bind and to loose what becomes normative, who were to lay the foundation of the church.
When he says, “some prophets,” in a narrow view, that’s referring to the Old Testament prophets, those that wrote the Old Testament, because our faith isn’t just a New Testament faith. It’s an Old Testament faith as well. The Old and the New Testaments go together to give us a complete revelation of God. Our faith is built on the Bible, not just one part of the Bible. You have the apostles, and you have the prophets, which give us Scripture. That’s the idea there: for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, we have Scripture, which was imparted to us by the prophets in the Old Testament, and by the apostles in the New Testament.
Evangelists are those that are uniquely called and gifted to preach the gospel in a way that compels the lost to be saved; it compels them in a sense that they’re drawn. They have a special effectiveness in communicating the gospel that has a tendency to get around people’s defenses. It’s a unique ability to be able to intuitively sense where people are at, and to speak a word in such a way that communicates the gospel to them and persuades them, convincing them to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Pastors and teachers, primarily through the role of teaching, take new believers once they are saved, and help to mature them. The passage says this role exists, “For the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man,” to basically to a picture of spiritual maturity.
You have the basic foundation that lays the content of our faith, you have those that are very effective at bringing people into the faith, and then you have those pastors and teachers that grow them.
The reason I think Paul identifies teacher with pastor here is because he’s talking about how we mature, and that it’s through the teaching ministry of the pastors, primarily in their mode as teacher.
Remember, a moment ago, I said that the duty of a pastor is to lead feed and protect. It’s primarily in that ministry of feeding and teaching the flock that they minister. That’s where they spend the bulk of their time, in teaching God’s Word and the ways of the Christian life, so that people can grow. I think that’s why Paul identifies the teaching role of pastors there, because the subject here is how to help people mature.
Now, again, I mentioned the narrower idea of the Apostles being the original twelve, and Prophets being the Old Testament prophets. In a larger context, you could say that there have been other apostles (with a small “a”), as opposed to Apostles (large “A”) throughout church history. Whenever God raises someone up to go into an area previously unreached by the gospel, and there’s no church there, this person is a missionary. They come into the area and do a foundational work — because what do the apostles do? They lay the foundation. These people move into an area and lay the foundation of faith; they bring forth believers there, they plant a church; that church grows, which leads to another generation of Christians and maybe additional congregations in surrounding areas. That person might be considered an apostle (small “a”)– they’re not laying a new or different foundation. It’s the same foundation that was laid by the Apostles (large “A”), but they’re now breaking into a brand-new area.
They become the foundation-layers of the church, church planters in a new area. You could also say that maybe if they go to a new area of culture; maybe the church is already there, but the culture itself has moved on, and the local congregations are not really reaching the culture anymore. It’s just a fringe element that’s attending the church. The wider popular culture is, in effect, unreached; there is no viable, ongoing self-replicating witness for Christ in that culture now.
Someone might be able to speak to that culture speak in a way that is relevant and fresh, and a new work could begin — a new movement, a new church planting movement. You could make a case for saying that they’re an apostle as well (small “a”).
Prophets would work in the same way. There were Old Testament prophets, and in the New Testament, there are people who have the gift of prophecy, who have the calling and gifting to speak forth God’s word and counsel by God’s word and His will, and they’re able to give a word of prophecy. I think we’ve all heard anointed preaching: that kind of preaching when, as you’re listening, you lose the sense of that particular person speaking, because God is speaking to you. You could say that is prophecy; that’s God speaking through the voice of a human being; that’s prophetic. Keep in mind that those are small “p” prophets, as opposed to the big “P” Prophets of the Old Testament, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Habakkuk, Zechariah, etc. There’s narrow understanding of apostles and prophets, and a wider understanding of apostles and prophets.
Is Revelation 18:23 about Covid and vaccines?
My question concerns Revelation 18:23. I read that the Greek word in this passage means pharmacy, and some people think it’s about COVID and vaccines. Is this biblically accurate?
Revelation 18:23—“The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived.”
This passage is speaking about the judgment of Babylon. That word pharmacy or sorcery is the word pharmakeia, from which we get our word pharmacy, and it refers to drugs. The question asked was, “Is this about COVID and vaccines?” I can say just on the surface, absolutely not, and here’s why. It’s interesting that the translators in English didn’t translate this. The Greek word pharmakeia, is where we get our English word, pharmacy. So why don’t we read, “And by your drugs, all the nations were deceived?” It’s because the translators understood that the drugs referenced here weren’t medicines. These were hallucinogenics. These were not medicinal drugs. They were drugs that people took to enter an altered state of consciousness. Today’s equivalent would be something like LSD. Of course, they didn’t have LSD back then; LSD was invented in the late 50s, I believe
People of the ancient world used these hallucinogenics as a way to enter what they believed was an altered state of consciousness, where they would then interact with the spirit realm. They would take one of these hallucinogenics and hallucinate, enter into a realm beyond their normal perception. You’d see colors, hear words, encounter beings, and that’s exactly what would happen.
This is the danger of an altered state of consciousness, why we must be (and remain) sober-minded, as we discussed earlier today. If we are not sober, our minds aren’t thinking clearly, and we become more susceptible to outside sources of influence, including demons. People of the ancient world would take these hallucinogenics and enter into an altered state of consciousness where demons would come to them masquerading as Paul says, “angels of light,” imparting to them information that was contrary to the truth of God – and this would deceive people.
This is what we saw in the 1960s with the movement towards the wide use of hallucinogenics, and in the West (Europe, the United States, and Canada), a huge sudden interest in Eastern religions. It was curious that Europe and North America had very little interest in Eastern religions prior to the 60s, but suddenly they did. People started taking these hallucinogenics, demons came to them and started speaking things to them ideas repeated in Eastern religions. That’s the type of drugs being spoken of here: a wide use of hallucinogenics in the End Times, not COVID and vaccines.