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The Book Of Amos Reveals Amazing Insight Into The Time Of Jacob’s Trouble And The Battle Of Armageddon

This is the whole point behind the time of Jacob’s trouble, and one of the strongest reasons I know why the Church will not and cannot possibly be here for it. It has nothing to do with the Church, it is a JUDGEMENT on Israel.

“The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein.” Amos 6:8 (KJV)

Have you ever read through the little book of Amos of the Old Testament? Perhaps you glanced through it once or twice, but never really dug deep into it because, honestly, it just didn’t seem all that interesting. Well, too bad. Because if you like end time Bible prophecy, the book of Amos is one of the most exciting and revealing books in the Bible that describes tons of events that take place during the time of Jacob’s trouble.

“And he said, The LORD will roar from Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither.” Amos 1;2 (KJV)

Verse two in the first chapter may sound familiar to you, especially if you read the book of Joel right before reading Amos. Amos 1:2 is a time clue reference, and it repeats what we read in Joel 3:16. So from that we know right from the opening of Amos, that the time in which Amos vision will take place will be in the time of Jacob’s trouble. Otherwise known as the Great Tribulation from Matthew 24, and Revelation 6 – 19.

Right off the bat, Amos launches into a series of intense judgments that fall on places connected with the time of Jacob’s trouble leading into the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the Battle of Armageddon. Take a look at the list and you will see immediately what I mean:

  • Damascus in Syria, north of Galilee.
  • Gaza where the mythical present-day region of Palestine is located.
  • Tyrus north of Palestine.
  • Edom south of the Dead Sea.
  • Ammon east of Jordan, and above the Dead Sea.
  • Moab east of Jordan opposite the Dead Sea
  • Judah
  • Israel

If you have read our work entitled “The Real Meaning Of The Word Selah As Found In The King James Bible“, then all these places will immediately stand out to you. If not, please take a moment to read it now and get acquainted with these end times hot spots.

So as we travel through the opening chapters of the book of Amos, we see that God is drawing our attention to areas in the end times where His judgment is going to fall either at the beginning, middle or end of the Battle of Armageddon. This is the main thrust of Amos’ vision, he takes us from the start of judgement in the time of Jacob’s trouble, and ends up all the way with a restored Israel during the 1,000 Year Reign of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem.

But as you have already noted from our bullet point list, Israel is included in God’s judgments as well.

Starting in chapter 2, God begins laying out His grievances with His chosen people for their rebellion and iniquities, and by chapter 3 really lets them have it.

“Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Amos 3:1,2 (KJV)

God continues through chapters 4 and 5 describing the coming time of affliction to Israel for their transgressions. This is the whole point behind the time of Jacob’s trouble, and one of the strongest reasons I know why the Church will not and cannot possibly be here for it. It has nothing to do with the Church, it is a JUDGEMENT on Israel.

“Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel. The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is forsaken upon her land; there is none to raise her up.”Amos 5:1,2 (KJV)

Take modern-day Israel, right now in 2017. In just about 7 weeks from now, they will celebrate their 69th years of being regathered back in the Biblical land of Israel. It is an amazing fulfillment of Bible prophecy that they are even back there. They are the blooming fig tree from Matthew 24. But look closer at Israel, and what do you see? You see a nation that mentions the Lord God only in passing, as a point of historical interest, or parlaying their rich history into tourist dollars.

But Israel in 2017 has become the LGBTQP capital of the world in Tel Aviv, something for which the Bible says God destroyed both Sodom and Gomorrah. An article in the Boston Globe calls Tel Aviv “THE GAYEST CITY ON EARTH”. Any fear of God in their eyes? Nope. None at all.

And because Israel will not return to the LORD, the LORD is going to send judgement on His own chosen people the Jews, and in His own chosen land of Israel. He is going to do it with the judgments of fire, hail, pestilence and famine that the book of Revelation says will fall down from the sky, and by raising up the Antichrist to attack and besiege them from ground level.

Are you one of those people who are looking forward to the Day of the Lord? God warns you against it.  This is the opposite of what happens at the Rapture of the Church, which Paul says is our “blessed hope” and a “comfort”.

“Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?”Amos 5:18-20 (KJV)

Chapter after chapter, God delves deeper and deeper into why He is causing this time of judgment to fall on His own people. He is going to shake Israel and its inhabitants to their very core to remove from them the iniquity that is keeping them from a right relationship with Him.

“Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD. For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.” Amos 9:8,9 (KJV)

Then after 7 solid chapters of judgement on Israel in the time of Jacob’s trouble, God devotes the last 5 verses of Amos to describing Israel’s restoration. And it’s beautiful.

“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this. Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.” Amos 9:11-15 (KJV)

Yes, Israel’s glory is yet still future, and it is amazing. But in order to get to that point, they will have to endure the greatest, single event of tribulation in human history. The vision of Amos tells us what’s coming for them, and more importantly why it’s coming for them.

The Church will not be here for this time, but you can right now pray for the Jewish people and for the nation of Israel. As Bible believers, we can see this coming from miles away, but they cannot. When the time of Jacob’s trouble begins, they will be utterly unaware what’s happening to them. Even though their own Book describes it in great and graphic detail.

“Behold, I have told you before.” Matthew 24:25 (KJV)

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Non-Denominational Church and Beliefs

With each denomination and each non-denomination usually a person started the movement. This question really has several answers, and they can be either simple or complex. The simplest answer is that a non-denominational church is any church which is not part of a larger denomination. A denomination is a church organization that exercises some sort of authority over the local churches that comprise it. Or a denominational church is a large organization of churches that fall under one single authority (the head church), with a strong culture and rich history that they’re all connected to.  Examples of denominations are Southern Baptist, Episcopal, Wesleyan, Methodist, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians etc. Non-denominational churches go by many different names and hold to a wide variety of beliefs. A non-denominational church usually means a new church organization that does not fall under any of the mainline churches.

Why do some churches choose to be non-denominational? Though the answers will vary somewhat, a major consideration is the freedom to direct the ministry and teaching of the local church without interference or control from without. When we look to the Bible, the evidence points to each church as self-governing and answerable directly to God Himself. In the book of Acts, where we read of the first missionary journeys and the establishment of many churches, there is no indication of a hierarchy of authority beyond the local elders of the church. Some people point to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 as a pattern for denominational structure, but it is nothing of the sort. The Gentiles had been given the gospel under the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, by the direct authority of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2; 15:7). The churches established in that first journey were left under the care of elders (Acts 14:23) from their own ranks, after having been taught by Paul and Barnabas. When the council was called at Jerusalem, it was not because of any question of organizational structure or control, but to discuss doctrinal matters about what constitutes salvation (Acts 15:5-6). The apostles who had been directly commissioned by Jesus were the only people who could properly address the question authoritatively.

When a church is non-denominational, does that mean it has no need of other churches? That may be the belief of some, but it is certainly not the example we find in Scripture. The book of Acts and the New Testament Epistles make it clear that the churches communicated with one another regularly. As Paul and his companions made their missionary journeys, it was not uncommon for the believers to send letters to the other churches (Acts 18:27), or to greet one another through his letters (Romans 16:16). Likewise, when there was a great need, the churches worked interdependently to meet that need-for example, the collection for the famine in Jerusalem (Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 8:4). The various churches of the New Testament, though independent, self-governing bodies, were definitely connected in fellowship and cooperative ministry, giving us an example to follow today.

The measure of any church, whether inside or out of a denomination, is not how it is organized nor what name it is called, but rather how faithfully it adheres to the teachings of the Word of God. No church is inerrant, because churches are made of people who are capable of error. Even the apostles, with all the gifts God gave them, were not without error. Paul records in Galatians 2:11 that “when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Peter, the first to give the gospel to a Gentile, gave in to pressure by the Judaizers to separate himself from Gentile believers. Paul’s ability to confront Peter was not based on his position as an apostle, but on the revealed truth of God’s Word. Paul complimented the believers in Berea (Acts 17:11) for checking his own teaching against the Bible to find out if he was telling them straight doctrine.

All believers need to be like the Bereans, checking what we are taught against the Word of God to find out if those things are so. If our church is out of line with God’s Word, we must lovingly, patiently give instruction or correction. If it will not be corrected, then we should seek out a church that is faithfully obeying God’s Word.

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Post-Modern Christianity

Post-modern Christianity is just as difficult to lock down in a concise definition as post-modernism itself. What started in the 1950s in architecture as a reaction to modernist thought and style was soon adopted by the art and literary world in the 1970s and 1980s. The Church didn’t really feel this effect until the 1990s. This reaction was a dissolution of “cold, hard fact” in favor of “warm, fuzzy subjectivity.” Think of anything considered post-modern, then stick Christianity into that context and you have a glimpse of what post-modern Christianity is.

Post-modern Christianity falls into line with basic post-modernist thinking. It is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward. Are these things good? Sure. Are these things bad? Sure. It all depends on how far from biblical truth each reaction against modernity takes one’s faith. This, of course, is up to each believer. However, when groups form under such thinking, theology and doctrine tend to lean more towards liberalism.

For example, because experience is valued more highly than reason, truth becomes relative. This opens up all kinds of problems, as this lessens the standard that the Bible contains absolute truth, and even disqualifies biblical truth as being absolute in many cases. If the Bible is not our source for absolute truth, and personal experience is allowed to define and interpret what truth actually is, a saving faith in Jesus Christ is rendered meaningless.

There will always be “paradigm shifts” in thinking as long as mankind inhabits this present earth, because mankind constantly seeks to better itself in knowledge and stature. Challenges to our way of thinking are good, as they cause us to grow, to learn, and to understand. This is the principle of Romans 12:2 at work, of our minds being transformed. Yet, we need to be ever mindful of Acts 17:11 and be like the Bereans, weighing every new teaching, every new thought, against Scripture. We don’t let our experiences interpret Scripture for us, but as we change and conform ourselves to Christ, we interpret our experiences according to Scripture. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening in circles espousing post-modern Christianity.

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Different Spiritual Gifts Mentioned in the Bible

There are actually six places in the New Testament where spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed. Romans 12:3-8 mentions seven gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 lists nine gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:25-31 mentions eight gifts, 1 Corinthians 13 & 14 compares three gifts, Ephesians 4:11-13 mentions four gifts (though not all consider these spiritual gifts), and 1 Peter 4:10-11 mentions two gifts (although they may be two categories representing several other gifts). Only one gift appears in all lists (if we assume that “speaks” in 1 Peter 4:11 is a category that includes the gift of prophecy). But most gifts occur in more than one list. Some scholars consider “serving” in Romans 12 the same as “helping others” in 1 Corinthians 12. Also, some consider “leadership” and “administration” in those same two lists to be the same gift. Also, in Ephesians 4 some consider “pastors and teachers” to be two gifts, while others cite reasons it may be better to take them as one gift. With all these variables, there are various counts that are suggested for the actual number of spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture.

Others, including myself, notice that no two of these six passages completely agree with any of the others in listing spiritual gifts. Since every list leaves off gifts that appear on other lists, none of the lists is comprehensive, listing all the gifts. If this is so, how can we be confident that there might not be other gifts the Spirit could bestow that are not on any of the existing lists? If this is so, then perhaps we cannot come up with a single specific number of spiritual gifts. My efforts to arrange and count the gifts mentioned in the Bible comes to eighteen, but I suspect there are likely others which are not mentioned in Scripture. It may be presumptuous to guess what some of these might be, but I would not be surprised if there might be gifts of such things as apologetics, music, mediation/reconciliation, motivating others. Now most assume there are eleven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Most Bible scholars recognize more than that, although there are reasons not everyone agrees exactly how many there are.

1. Prophecy
2. Serving/Helping Others
3. Teaching
4. Encouraging
5. Giving
6. Leadership/Administration
7. Showing Mercy
8. Message of Wisdom
9. Message of Knowledge
10. Faith
11. Healing
12. Working Miracles
13. Distinguishing Spirits
14. Tongues
15. Interpreting Tongues
16. Apostle
17. Evangelist
18. Pastor/Teacher

In God’s great gift of salvation, we have a number of benefits and responsibilities. Most Christians are quick to point out the personal benefits we receive with our salvation, but we are a little slower to focus on the responsibilities that come with it. When people speak of spiritual gifts, the focus is often on questions like, “Do you know what your spiritual gift is?” or “Have you taken this spiritual gifts survey?” While the knowledge of one’s gifting can be beneficial, we often lose sight of God’s design in these matters. Yes, the particular gifts of the Spirit are benefits to each believer, but they come with great responsibilities. Let’s take a walk through the biblical lists of gifts during this spiritual gifts survey.

There are two Greek words that are primarily used to describe the gifts of the Spirit. Pneumatika refers to their source, the Holy Spirit (pneuma) of God, and charismata refers to the fact that they are granted as an act of God’s grace (charis). Since they are given by grace, we are reminded that they are not based on our worthiness or personal abilities, but on God’s sovereign choice. Since they are given by the Spirit of God, they are a part of the new life granted to us in Christ (and may be drastically different from our perceived capabilities or desires prior to salvation). A brief examination of three key texts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11) will show us God’s design regarding His gifts.

One of the first things that becomes clear in these passages is the diversity of the gifts. When Paul listed the gifts in Romans 12; he identified different gifts than what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12; and when Peter spoke of them in 1 Peter 4:10-11, he didn’t even bother specifying them. Among the things listed are prophecy, ministry, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, teaching, exhorting, giving, ruling, showing mercy, speaking in languages, and interpreting languages. Whatever the specific use of each one was, they each fit together as the parts of the body work together to make a functional whole (Romans 12:5).

There are varying opinions regarding the number of spiritual gifts, as well as what the gifts are. Romans 12 lists at least seven, and 1 Corinthians 12 lists nine. There is some overlap in these, and there are certainly indications that God has more that He gives His children. What are some of these gifts? First Corinthians says God gives the word of wisdom and knowledge to some. This would seem to identify a particular ability to grasp spiritual truths in the Word of God and apply them to life. Prophecy is the ability to proclaim divine revelation to the church. As it is used in the New Testament, this gift seems more focused on determining God’s will in particular circumstances than on foretelling future events. Discerning of spirits seems to be connected with the gift of prophecy, and refers to checking the authority and validity of the message, in order to prevent false prophecy. Healing and miracles are often referred to as ‘sign gifts,’ since they were part of the validation for the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. God certainly still heals and does miracles, but these gifts to the church have largely ceased with the completion of the Bible and the validation of its message.

One of the most misunderstood gifts is that of language and interpretation. ‘Tongues’ in the KJV is simply a translation of the Greek glossa, which is the normal word for any language. In Acts 2:6-11, the people who were gathered in Jerusalem marveled that, even though the disciples were all untrained Galileans, they heard the ‘wonderful works of God’ in their own languages. Whatever else people might teach, two things here are clear: 1) The people in the crowd heard and understood what was being said about Jesus Christ, and 2) we are told what languages the message was received in at that time. Other gifts mentioned are faith, serving, encouraging, giving, ruling, and showing mercy. These are fairly self-explanatory. Whatever gift we look at, one common denominator is always in place-gifts were given by God Himself and are to be used for His glory in His church.

We can certainly learn of the gifts from these lists, but if we limit the gifts of the Spirit to those few that were enumerated, we miss the point. In all three passages, we are given a specific purpose of the gifts, and that is where we should direct our attention. In Romans 12:8, we are told to use the various gifts according to the character of God and His revealed will “…with simplicity…with diligence…with cheerfulness.” In 1 Corinthians 12:25, we are told that these gifts were given “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” In 1 Peter 4:11, the purpose is “that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” The best way for us to understand spiritual gifts is to know how we can care for and serve one another to the glory of God. Whether we do that through teaching, feeding, healing, or any other method, we have a responsibility to God and to one another to offer ourselves as servants (2 Corinthians 4:9). So we also see that no one person is to have all the gifts, they are dispersed within the body of Christ, to make the body of Christ whole.

Here are a few more.

Vocational Gifts.

1. Apostles-Special Messengers Commissioned by Christ (the 12 Apostles of the Lamb) And those sent forth by the Holy Spirit Acts 13.

2. Prophets-The office of a Prophet in the Bible is different to an OT prophet. Agabas was a prophet in the New Testament Context and he demonstrated his office by revealing the future famine coming and that Paul would be bound when he went to Jerusalem. A prophet in the New Testament also receives Revelation but not to change anything in the Bible nor to contradict it.

Act 21:10..And as we stayed more days, a certain prophet from Judea named Agabus came down.
Act 21:11..And coming to us, and taking Paul’s belt, and binding his hands and feet, he said, The Holy Spirit says these things: So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man whose belt this is, and will deliver him into the hands of the nations.
Act 11:27..And in these days prophets from Jerusalem came to Antioch.
Act 11:28..And one of them named Agabus stood up and signified by the Spirit that there should be great famine over the world (which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar).
Other NT prophets mentioned.
Act 15:32 And Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, exhorted the brothers with many words and confirmed them.

There were prophets and teachers in the Church mentioned in Acts 13.
This ministry is still functioning today and plays a vital part in Church growth and protection from false prophets and teachers.
3.Pastors– Shepherds of God’s flock, leaders, elders. Mostly known and accepted by all denominations.
4. Teachers– distinct from Pastors and deal more with explanation rather than leadership. Pastor’s teach but in a different perspective to the distinct gift of teaching. Pastors teach with a father’s ability and include discipline and organization.
5. Evangelists– Preach the Good news to bring the message of Salvation to the unconverted and often have the miracles signs and wonders mentioned in the Bible following their ministries. Such was the case with Philip the Evangelist and a host of others recorded in Church history and our modern day.

The gifts of Power revealing God’s Omnipotence
1. The Gifts of Healings (miracle healings)

2. The Gift of Faith (drained of unbelief by the Spirit for a particular miracle purpose)

3. The Gift of working of Miracles. The active operation of a miracle like stretching the rod over the red sea.

The Gifts of Revelation Revealing God’s Omniscience
1. The gift of the discerning of spirits (this is where the Holy Spirit gives a person a view into the spirit world to distinguish a devil spirit, an angelic spirit and the ability to know a prophetic utterance is inspired by the human spirit, a demon spirit, Or the Holy Spirit.

2. A Word of Knowledge- the revelation given to a person by the Holy Spirit of facts past and present that are not known to the person except by the Holy Spirit. Peter knew what Ananaias And Saphira had done by this gift. Cornelius was told facts about where Peter was by this gift. Acts 10:5, 6.

The Gifts Of Inspired Utterance Revealing God’s Omnipresence.
1. Diverse tongues- Ability by the Holy Spirit to speak languages never learned

2. Ability to interpret the Message Of a Language never learned by the power of the Spirit.

3. The Gift of Prophecy- an utterance whereby God puts His word in the mouth of the speaker and the speaker becomes literally the mouthpiece of God.
The real gift of prophecy is just that. God transforms the person prophesying in such a way that God Himself is speaking directly through the human instrument. This is clearly what God is able to do and indeed it’s what He does. Mat 10:20..For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Numbers 22:8

In addition to knowing what the spiritual gifts, I believe it is important to get a perspective on;

1) why the gifts were given,

2) how the spirit uses the gifts to benefit the local church, and

3) what we can learn from personal experience.

I organize the gifts in four ways;

1) Role,

2) Gift,

3) Ministry, and

4) Office. Each gift has a corresponding role, ministry and office. If we want to know what all the gifts are then we need to start with the lists provided in scripture as already referenced, then add to and define all the other roles that Jesus performed when he ministered to people. Jesus commanded us to learn and obey everything he had commanded and carry on the ministry he established through the local church.

As individual Christians we are responsible to fulfill each one of these roles, when the opportunity presents itself, using the natural abilities God has given. We fulfill these roles in order to obey Jesus command to Love One Another. However, this love is first stirred in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and then we are given opportunities to pray, speak and act to express this love to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

As we demonstrate our faithfulness in carrying out these roles, the Holy Spirit begins to release the spiritual gifts were we given on the day we were saved. We will be able to identify these gifts by the impact they have on ourselves and those we serve. For ourselves, I believe we will discover that;

1) our service feels effortless,

2) we have an abiding love and concern for the needs of others, and

3) we experience a joy that is deeply satisfying.

For other believers whom we care for;

1) they often feel incredibly blessed,

2) they encounter God’s presence through us,

3) they are filled with the Holy Spirit,

4) their faith grows and

5) they want to please God with their own service.

As we discover our gifts and begin to faithfully use them, the Holy Spirit then increases the occasions for using our gifts and establishes our ministries. If our eyes are open to the opportunities, I believe we will have occasions to use our gifts on a daily basis. This level of ministry has a profound effect in building up the body of Christ to maturity and completeness.

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My Brother’s Keeper

A Christian first loves himself then he can love his neighbor as himself and of course my brother is my neighbor. So unless I am to keep my neighbors I cannot be expected to keep my brothers. But I do need to love them all as I love myself.

The phrase “my brother’s keeper” occurs in the context of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:1-9. After the Lord God had expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden for their disobedience, Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy that God had found Abel’s sacrifice acceptable, but He had rejected Cain’s. After the murder, the Lord, knowing full well what had happened, asked Cain where Abel was. Cain’s response was “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

There is a grain of truth in this brazen lie, despite the surly response Cain offers to the God who created him. While no one is the absolute “keeper” of others in that we are not responsible for everyone’s safety when we are not present, every man is his brother’s keeper in that we are not to commit violent acts against them or allow others to do so if we can prevent it. This sort of “keeping” is something God rightfully demands of everyone, on the grounds of both justice and love. But Cain’s reply indicates a total lack of any kind of feeling for another human being not to mention the absence of brotherly love and the overriding presence of the kind of selfishness which kills affection and gives rise to hatred.

So are Christians to be the keepers of other Christians? Yes, in two ways. First we are not to commit acts of violence against one another. This includes violence of the tongue in the form of gossip and “quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” (1 Corinthians 12:20). Second, we are to exhibit brotherly love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ with a tender heart and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8). In this way, we “keep” those for whom Christ gave His life.

One of the golden chapters of the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13. In this magnificent portion of the Scriptures, we are reminded that love is even greater than faith and hope. Chapter 13 comes on the heels of Paul’s explanation of how the Body of Christ (the Church) is like the human body and is made up of many members, all of whom are important to the function and well-being of the Body. We are continually encouraged throughout the New Testament to love one another (Hebrews 13:1; Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9). Sometimes love must correct, admonish or reprove (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15; Matthew 18:15). However, correction is always to be done in the spirit of love with the goal of reconciliation.

Paul the apostle wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15).

So, as Christians, we are to be our brother’s keeper. As Paul wrote, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify (build up) another” (Romans 14:19).

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Lent

Lent is an observation done by the Catholics, but this is an observation that should be done by every Christian, reason being that a time must be set aside dedicated to God through self denial in pleasures of the flesh. During that time of fasting, our spirit which is an official connector to God’s spirit is brought to life, the gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit do manifest themselves in us and the fellowship with God is complete. Even our Lord Jesus upon receiving the Holy Spirit had to fast for 40 days and 40 nights in order for him initiate his ministry here on earth with full experience in temptations. Daniel also did fasting and many more in the Bible and our lord said after being asked why his disciples did not fast, they will fast when he leaves them but not when he is around, Fasting is Soul lifting in worshiping God as he requires us to worship him in spirit and truth.

Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays). During Lent, participants eat sparingly or give up a particular food or habit. It’s not uncommon for people to give up smoking during Lent, or to swear off watching television or eating candy or telling lies. It’s six weeks of self-discipline.

Lent began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves of the value of repentance. The austerity of the Lenten season was seen as similar to how people in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3).

However, over the centuries Lenten observances have developed a much more “sacramental” value. Many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to attain God’s blessing. But the Bible teaches that grace cannot be earned; grace is “the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). Also, Jesus taught that fasting should be done discreetly: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18). Jesus’ command to “wash your face” seems to conflict with the practice of rubbing ashes on one’s face on Ash Wednesday.

Fasting can be a good thing, and God is pleased when we repent of sinful habits. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting aside some time to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, repenting of sin is something we should be doing every day of the year, not just for the 46 days of Lent.

If a Christian wishes to observe Lent, he is free to do so. The key is to focus on repenting of sin and consecrating oneself to God. Lent should not be a time of boasting of one’s sacrifice or trying to earn God’s favor or increasing His love. God’s love for us could not be any greater than it already is.

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Thousands of Muslims reportedly turning to Christ in Middle East

Scores of Muslims Turning to Christ in Middle East; Churches Expecting ‘Millions’ of Converts

Thousands of Muslims are turning to Jesus Christ and what they view as the “religion of freedom” amid ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East, reports indicate. Some churches hope that millions of people will accept Christ amid a “spiritual hunger” that is forming in the wake of persecution.

Voice Of the Martyrs Canada, which supports Christian radio broadcasts in the region, told BosNewsLife that despite the mass exodus of Christians from Iraq and Syria due to terrorism, persecution, and war, scores of Muslims are making the decision to embrace Christianity.

“There are thousands upon thousands coming to Christ,” VOMC revealed. “We are in regular contact with our FM stations in Iraq and have talked with many people who have family in the Middle East.”

“Some of our Middle Eastern broadcasters have shared testimonies [about many turning to Christ] with us, which they hear directly from listeners when visiting there …”

In Iran, Christian house churches are regularly targeted and shut down by the nation’s Islamic government. Despite this persecution, mission group Elam Ministries revealed that Christians have been growing in terms of numbers, and today estimates suggest there are 360,000 believers in Iran – up from only 500 in 1979.

“Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years — such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime,” Elam Ministries stated.

“If we remain faithful to our calling, our conviction is that it is possible to see the nation transformed within our lifetime. Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world.”

Muslim refugees in Europe have also reportedly been undergoing mass conversions of faith. A June 2016 article from The Guardian noted anecdotal data of rising Christian church attendance in Europe by Muslims.

Trinity church in the Berlin suburb of Steglitz, for instance, saw its congregation rise from 150 to 700 due to new Muslim converts, while the Austrian Catholic Church saw its applications for adult baptism swell by nearly 70 percent in the first three months of 2016.

“I found that the history of Islam was completely different from what we were taught at school. Maybe, I thought, it was a religion that began with violence,” an Iranian convert, 32-year-old Johannes, said.

“A religion that began with violence cannot lead people to freedom and love. Jesus Christ said ‘those who use the sword will die by the sword.’ This really changed my mind,” he added.

Iraqi Christians attend a mass on Christmas at St. Joseph Chaldean church in Baghdad, Iraq December 25, 2016

Iraqi Christians attend a mass on Christmas at St. Joseph Chaldean church in Baghdad, Iraq December 25, 2016

More churches in Germany reported this growing phenomena in December 2016, with The Independent noting that Muslims, especially Iranians, are seeing Christianity as a new chance at freedom.

“A lot of them come to Germany and think, here I can choose my religion and I want to choose a religion of freedom,” said Matthias Linke, a priest from the Evangelical-Freikirchlichen Gemeinde in Berlin.

“For many Iranians that I’ve baptized, Christianity is the religion of freedom.”

If your reading this you can find Christ right now as well, Salvation is waiting for you too, in the arms of Christ you can find freedom!

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Are There Modern Day Apostles

The incredible diversity of viewpoint that exists in religion today is startling and disconcerting. We are witnessing a breakdown of respect for authority in American culture, as well as a tremendous increase in personal opinion and feelings as the standard of authority. Consequently, we now have a veritable smorgasbord of doctrinal variety in religion. Such is the nature of pluralism. One is likely to see anything and everything perpetrated in the name of religion and/or Christianity. The only solution to such a situation is to reaffirm the inspiration and authority of the Bible. The Bible is the only written document on this planet that is the standard of authority in life and in religion (see Miller, 1996, pp. 430-446,462-471).

THE DEFINITION OF AN APOSTLE

Such being the case, we must go to the Bible to determine God’s will with regard to modern-day apostles. When we do so, we first learn that the word “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostolos, which means “one sent from or forth, a messenger, delegate” (Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 99; Thayer, 1901, p. 68). The term is used in the New Testament in two distinct senses. It can refer to an individual who is sent by other humans to accomplish a particular mission or task. The term is so used to refer, for example, to Barnabas (Acts 14:14). He was an “apostle” in the sense that he accompanied Paul on an evangelistic trip. Jesus is said to be our “Apostle” in the sense that He was sent to atone for our sins (Hebrews 3:1).

The term “apostle” also is used in a second sense—what we might call an official sense. That is, “apostle” can refer to individuals who were officially and divinely selected to serve as Jesus’ original representatives—“ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Jesus handpicked the original twelve apostles (Matthew 10:1-5; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; 9:1-2). Of these original twelve, Judas betrayed the Lord as predicted by the Old Testament (Psalm 41:9; John 13:18-19; 18:1-5). Instead of repenting, he cinched his apostasy by committing suicide (Matthew 27:3-5; John 17:12). Consequently, a successor to Judas was selected by divine decree (Acts 1:16-26).

Only one other apostle in the official sense is alluded to in the New Testament—Paul. His appointment to apostleship was unique and unparalleled in that he was chosen for a specific first century task (Acts 9:15; 22:14-15; 26:16-18; 1 Corinthians 15:8-9; Galatians 1:11-12,15-16). Christ selected him to introduce the message of Christianity to the Gentile world (Romans 11:13; 15:16; Galatians 2:8; Ephesians 3:8). Paul was careful to document the fact that his apostleship was by divine appointment (e.g., Romans 1:5; 1 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1,16).

THE QUALIFICATIONS OF AN APOSTLE

When one assembles all the relevant New Testament data, at least three qualifications emerge as prerequisite to one becoming an apostle in the official sense (Hayden, 1894, p. 33, expands these credentials to seven in number). First, an apostle had to have seen the Lord and been an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:22; 22:14; 1 Corinthians 9:1). Second, an apostle had to be specifically selected by the Lord or the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:5; Mark 3:13-14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:26; 9:15; 22:14-15,21; 26:16). Third, an apostle was invested with miraculous power to the extent that he could perform miracles. The power to perform miracles included the capability to confer the ability to work miracles to other individuals through the laying on of his hands (Mark 3:15; 16:17-20; Luke 9:1-2; John 14:12,26; 15:24-27; 16:13; Acts 2:43; 4:29-31,33; 5:12,15-16; 6:6; 8:14-18; 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6; Romans 1:11; Hebrews 2:3-4). Jesus referred to His bestowal of miraculous capability upon the apostles when He promised they would be “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

THE WORK OF AN APOSTLE

The apostolic office was unquestionably a temporary office for the early church (though apostolic appointment was for life). Its essential purpose was twofold. First, apostles were commissioned by Jesus to launch the Christian religion (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-48). This purpose was achieved by means of the initial presentation of the Gospel to the whole world (Colossians 1:23), and the establishment of the church of Christ (Acts 2). Second, apostles were largely responsible for making the New Testament available—first in oral form and, more specifically, in written form (1 Corinthians 14:37; Galatians 1:12; Ephesians 3:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:14; 1 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 1:12-21; 3:15-16).

These two central tasks are set forth clearly in the New Testament. In Matthew 16, Jesus declared that He would build His church after His resurrection from hades (vs. 18). He then explained that it would be the apostles who would instigate initial entrance into Christ’s church (hence the significance of “keys”—vs. 19). This commencement of the Christian religion and the church of Christ would be achieved by means of the apostles “binding” and “loosing” the doctrinal tenets and principles of Christianity that Heaven had previously bound or loosed [the Greek uses the perfect passive and should be translated “will have been bound/loosed in Heaven” as in the NASB (cf. Matthew 18:18-20; John 20:22-23)]. Peter and the apostles articulated the terms of entrance into the kingdom of Christ for the first time on the Pentecost that followed Christ’s resurrection (Acts 2:14ff.).

In Ephesians 4, after summarizing Christianity in terms of seven core concepts (vss. 1-6), Paul described the initial sequence of events that recounted the advent of Christianity (vss. 7-16). Paul noted that: (1) after His crucifixion, Jesus descended into the Hadean realm; (2) He then was resurrected; (3) He ascended back to Heaven; (4) upon His ascension, He dispensed gifts; (5) the apostolic office was included in the reception of these miraculous capabilities; (6) the purpose of these gifts was to equip and edify the church; (7) the preparation provided to the infant church by these gifts was temporary (“till” is an adverb of time connoting when the miraculous gifts were to terminate), in that the same preparation soon would be available through the completed revelation, i.e., “the faith.” [By “completed revelation” we do not mean completed canon. We mean that all of God’s communication to humanity would have been revealed. See the New Testament discussion contrasting “mystery” with “made known” (Romans 16:25-26; 1 Corinthians 2:7-10; Ephesians 3:1-11). In the meantime, the process of producing copies of the various New Testament documents and circulating them far and wide would have been occurring rapidly and extensively from the very moment of their production by the inspired writers (cf. Colossians 4:16, 1 Timothy 5:18, where Luke 10:7 is already known and classified as “Scripture,” and 2 Peter 3:15-16, where Paul’s epistles are already circulated and recognized as “Scriptures”). Further, the reference to “the faith” in Ephesians 4:13 cannot refer to a time when all people or all Christians will achieve unity in faith. Such a circumstance will never occur. Paul was referring to the time when all people would have access to all of God’s communication to man, thus giving them the potential for attaining spiritual maturity (“a perfect man” vs. “children“). SeeMiller, 2003].

Once all of the information necessary to the promotion of the Christian religion was revealed to the early church (through oral means made possible by the distribution of the gifts), the church would have the means available to grow and mature in Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). While prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers [the words “pastors and teachers” share the same article in the Greek, and so should likely be construed to mean “pastor-teachers,” i.e., a single function in which pastors (those selected by the local congregation to serve as elders or shepherds) were endowed with the miraculous ability to teach inspired information not yet made available in written form] were part of this early development of Christianity (Ephesians 4:11), the office of an apostle was the primary means by which Christ accomplished the inauguration of His religion.

The apostles had the sole responsibility of executing the will of the Son of God in founding, organizing, and fully equipping the church of Christ on Earth, that she might fulfill her heaven-borne mission, until Jesus comes again (Hayden, p. 22). That is why Paul could say two chapters earlier that the household of God (i.e., the church) was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20; cf. 3:5; Revelation 21:14). That is why he informed the Corinthian Christians:

God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30).

The apostles are said to be “first” in the significance and criticality of their divinely appointed role. The apostles specifically described their unique role in the early church as entailing giving themselves to “the word of God” and “the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2,4).

THE DURATION OF AN APOSTLE

Once the church of Christ was established and Christianity was given its initial presentation (cf. Colossians 1:23), the apostolic office faded from the scene along with the age of miracles. As an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection, Paul referred to himself in relation to the other apostles as “last of all” (1 Corinthians 15:8). Neither apostles nor miraculous gifts was needed any longer. They had served their temporary purpose (Mark 16:20; Acts 4:29-31; 13:12; 14:3; Romans 15:18-19; Hebrews 2:3-4; cf. Exodus 4:30). Miraculous gifts functioned as scaffolding while the church was under initial construction, and were removed once the structure had been completed (1 Corinthians 3:10; 13:11; Ephesians 4:13-14). The book we call the Bible is the totality of God’s written revelation to the human race. Consequently, people now have access to everything they need (2 Peter 1:3) to enter into a right relationship with God via Christianity and the church of Christ. The apostles “had no official successors. From the nature of their duties, there could be no succession” (Hayden, pp. 20-21). Apostles, quite simply, are no longer needed!

NO APOSTLES TODAY

Unfortunately, several groups that claim affiliation with the Christian religion allege to have apostles among them, including Catholicism, Mormonism, and some pentecostal groups. This claim is unbiblical. No person living today can meet the qualifications given in Scripture for being an apostle. No one living today has been an eyewitness of Christ’s resurrection. Christ has selected no one living today for the apostolic role. No one living today possesses the miraculous capabilities of an apostle. We should not be surprised that people would falsely claim to be apostles. Jesus warned that false prophets would come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they would be ravening wolves (Matthew 7:15). Paul described some of his opponents in these words:

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Further warning was issued to the Galatian churches: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Anyone claiming to be an apostle today who teaches anything in addition to the New Testament is clearly not an apostle of Christ!

Peter added his voice on the same subject: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). No wonder John admonished: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1; cf. Matthew 24:11,24). In the Revelation, the church at Ephesus was commended because they “tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation 2:2).

Catholicism maintains that Peter was the supreme bishop, even over the other apostles, and that every pope since Peter is an apostolic successor to Peter. The pope is selected after literally hours and days of deliberation by cardinals in the Vatican. The only apostle in the Bible that was not handpicked by Christ in person was Matthias. Yet he was not selected by mere men deliberating and debating his potential. He was selected by the casting of lots—which was simply another way for Jesus to do the selecting (Acts 1:26; cf. Proverbs 16:33).

It is incredible to think that any human beings living today would presume to appoint apostles. In pinpointing the credentials of an apostle, Luke (Acts 1) made it abundantly evident that to qualify as an apostle a person would have to have seen the Lord and been aneyewitness of His resurrection. That is why Paul was careful to state: “Am I not an apostle? …Have I not seen the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1, emp. added). In recounting his conversion, he quoted Ananias as having said, “The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15, emp. added). What alleged modern-day apostle could make such a claim?

The New Testament also makes clear the fact that an essential characteristic of an apostle was that he had been selected by Deity. When Jesus was on Earth, He handpicked the first twelve apostles. After His departure from Earth, the disciples cast lots to select a successor to Judas. Their method allowed no input from mere humans—except in the recognition that two men possessed all the qualifications necessary to be an apostle. Casting lots allowedGod to do the selecting. Divine control in the selection process by casting lots was common in Old Testament history (see Leviticus 16:8; Numbers 26:55; 33:54; 34:13; Joshua 14:2; 18:6,10; 19:51; cf. Acts 13:19; 1 Samuel 14:42; Nehemiah 10:34; Psalm 16:5). Solomon claimed: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33). Indeed, Peter’s prayer on the occasion shows that the decision already had been made by the Lord before the actual casting of lots: “…show which of these two You have chosen” (Acts 1:24, emp. added). The summary statement regarding Matthias—“he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26; cf. Matthew 28:16; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:33)—gives way to a return to the expression “the twelve” (Acts 6:2; cf. Acts 2:14). The text states: “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship” (Acts 1:24-25). Paul also was handpicked by Jesus—to be a “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15). No human being on Earth today can claim he has been personally singled out and chosen by Jesus to be an apostle.

A third proof that no apostles exist on Earth today is the fact that New Testament apostles were empowered by God—not only to perform miracles—but also to convey miraculous power to other people who then could work miracles themselves. This characteristic is demonstrated in detailed fashion in Acts: “Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money” (Acts 8:18). The issue of modern-day apostles may be settled very quickly! To authenticate their claim to be apostles, they must be able both to perform miracles as well as confer miraculous power to others. The apostles of Jesus in the New Testament demonstrated their apostolic status without hesitation. Anyone today who claims to be an apostle should be willing to do the same. No such ability exists today.

ORIGINAL APOSTLES WERE SUFFICIENT

A fascinating passage in the New Testament sheds further light upon this notion of modern-day apostles. That passage is Matthew 19:28. There Jesus informed Peter and the other apostles: “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” A related passage is Luke 22:29-30 which says, “And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as my Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

These verses are Christ’s figurative declarations describing the role of the twelve apostles in the establishment of the church and the dissemination of the gospel proclamation (cf. Bales, 1957, pp. 187-223). The “regeneration” refers to the Christian era, which began at Pentecost, during which time spiritual regeneration became possible through the blood of Christ (Titus 3:5). It is an equivalent expression with the “time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:10). The throne of Christ’s glory refers to His present location at the right hand of God (Acts 2:34-36; Ephesians 1:20; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:13; 8:1; 10:12-13). The “judging” done by the apostles refers to the rule that the apostles exerted while they were on Earth, setting in place the features of New Testament Christianity (Matthew 16:19; John 20:22-23). The “twelve thrones” refers to their complete authority from Christ to implement Christ’s will until the end of time—which they presently do today through their authoritative writings—found only in the New Testament. The “twelve tribes” is a figurative way to refer to the church—the spiritual Israel (Galatians 6:16; James 1:1; cf. Romans 2:28-30; Galatians 3:29).

You Make All Things NewNeither Christ nor the original apostles needs successors or representatives on Earth today. They continue to rule and reign over the kingdom through the work that they achieved in the first century, and that is preserved for all in the New Testament. Christ is now on His throne ruling and reigning. The apostles also are on the thrones assigned to them by Christ. To suggest that the apostles have modern-day successors is to discount and discredit the current rule of the apostles. Neither Christ nor the apostles has abdicated their authority or their current rule to any humans on Earth.

Additionally, the fact that Jesus declared that all twelve apostles would occupy thrones in the kingdom proves that Peter had no greater authority than the other apostles. The apostles were equal in their reception and wielding of the authority delegated to them by Christ. Yet the Catholic Church claims that the immediate successors to Peter were Linus (from A.D. 67 to 79), Cletus (from A.D. 79 to 91) and Clement (from A.D. 91 to 100). They agree that the apostle John would have still been alive throughout this period (see G.C. Brewer’s discussion as quoted in Bales, pp. 208-210). The doctrine of the primacy of Peter means that the first three of the alleged successors of Peter would have exercised authority over the still-living apostle John—who had been handpicked by Christ Himself! The very John whom Jesus placed on one of the twelve thrones would have been under the authority, knowledge, and power of three popes who had not been selected to be among the original Twelve! (see also Hayden, pp. 22-33). Hayden aptly summarized the New Testament position regarding modern-day apostles:

The thirteen apostles chosen, ordained and endowed by the newly crowned Messiah faithfully and fully executed their commission. When they entered into everlasting rest, the church was established, with all needful ministries to edify, extend and perpetuate it throughout all coming centuries. Then the extraordinary, which was necessary to found a new institution, was succeeded by the ordinary, which is sufficient to teach, regulate and govern the subjects of Christ’s kingdom according to the laws that went forth from Jerusalem. The revelation of God was completed. The word of faith is henceforth nigh every believer, even in his mouth and in his heart. The apostolic office ceased, and evangelists and pastors became the permanent teachers and superintendents of the church (pp. 33-34).

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Keys to Gates of hell

The phrase the “gates of hell” is translated in some versions as the “gates of Hades.” “Gates of hell” or “gates of Hades” is found only once in the entire Scriptures, in Matthew 16:18. In this passage, Jesus is referring to the building of His church: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

At that time Jesus had not yet established His church. In fact, this is the first instance of the word church in the New Testament. The word church, as used by Jesus, is derived from the Greek ekklasia, which means the “called out” or “assembly.” In other words, the church that Jesus is referencing as His church is the assembly of people who have been called out of the world by the gospel of Christ.

Bible scholars debate the actual meaning of the phrase “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” One of the better interpretations to the meaning of this phrase is as follows. In ancient times, the cities were surrounded by walls with gates, and in battles the gates of these cities would usually be the first place their enemies assaulted. This was because the protection of the city was determined by the strength or power of its gates.

As such, the “gates of hell” or “gates of Hades” means the power of Hades. The name “Hades” was originally the name of the god who presided over the realm of the dead and was often referred to as the “house of Hades.” It designated the place to which everyone who departs this life descends, regardless of their moral character. In the New Testament, Hades is the realm of the dead, and in this verse Hades or hell is represented as a mighty city with its gates representing its power.

Jesus refers here to His impending death. Though He would be crucified and buried, He would rise from the dead and build His church. Jesus is emphasizing the fact that the powers of death could not hold Him in. Not only would the church be established in spite of the powers of Hades or hell, but the church would thrive in spite of these powers. The church will never fail, though generation after generation succumbs to the power of physical death, yet other generations will arise to perpetuate the church. And it will continue until it has fulfilled its mission on earth as Jesus has commanded,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

It is clear that Jesus was declaring that death has no power to hold God’s people captive. Its gates are not strong enough to overpower and keep imprisoned the church of God. The Lord has conquered death (Romans 8:2; Acts 2:24). And because “death no longer is master over Him” (Romans 6:9), it is no longer master over those who belong to Him.

Gate of HadesSatan had the power of death, and he will always try to use that power to try to destroy the church of Christ. But we have this promise from Jesus that His church, the “called out” will prevail, “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

Satan does not have the power of death. Christ has the keys of death and hell, all power in Heaven and earth is given to Him!

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China’s Cult Crackdown: What Is The Church Of Almighty God?

In China’s latest attempt to crack down on religious cults, 21 members of the banned Church of Almighty God were given jail terms, state media said Wednesday. The group was blamed for the death of a 37-year-old woman who was beaten to death at a McDonald’s after she refused to give her phone number to members who tried to recruit her.

Two of the four members in that case were sentenced to death in October. Two of the individuals sentenced on Wednesday have been given seven- and four-year prison terms for “organizing and using the cult to damage law enforcement,” Shanghai Daily reports. The men, identified as Zhang Shuzhi and Geng Yuqin, were sentenced at a court in China’s northeastern Liaoning province.

Police arrested them in July after reportedly finding memory cards and books that contained information on the cult’s teachings. The court also found the two men recruited new members as well.

The remaining 19 members received prison sentences between two and six years in neighboring Jilin province. The city of Yanji has reportedly been cracking down on the cult, Xinhua reports.

Religion in China

While the Chinese government allows Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Catholic and Protestant Christianity to be practiced, the groups must be affiliated with a government organization called the State Administration for Religious Affairs. However, millions attend “house churches” and follow other unsanctioned religious organizations.

The Church of Almighty God (also known as Eastern Lightning) is among the 14 religious groups the Chinese government has labeled an “evil cult.” These organizations face strict scrutiny since some have been known to cause unrest. For instance, the Taiping Rebellion of the mid-19th century that resulted in 20 million deaths, was started by a man who believed he was the younger brother of Jesus.

Church of Almighty God

Up to a million members across China follow the Church of Almighty God since its founding in 1989. Most are in rural areas. Its members believe that God has returned to Earth as a woman named Yang Xiangbin, who will guide mankind for the third and last time. China’s Communist Party is called “the Great Red Dragon,” whose growth triggers the end of the world. Previously, the cult pushed the doomsday belief that the apocalypse would take place on Dec. 21, 2012. At the time nearly 1,000 members were arrested for handing out apocalyptic pamphlets.

According to a 2014 report by China’s People Daily, members who attract more converts gain a higher status within the cult. Tactics include missionary work where nonmembers are enticed with money, gifts and sexual favors. A member receives 20,000 yuan ($3,237) for every new person they convert. New members are encouraged to purchase religious materials and pay 2,000 yuan ($323) in membership fees. They are told they will be punished if they leave the faith.

Latest Crackdown

To date, the group has been associated with several crimes. In 1998, eight violent riots have taken place in Henan province. In 2010, an elementary school student was murdered after his uncle tried to leave the cult. In 2012, a 36-year-old man went on a stabbing spree in Chenpeng village where 22 students and one elderly woman were injured.

Liu Ling is a Peking University graduate student who has been studying the Church of Almighty God for two years as part of her thesis work. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in June, she explained that while she has read media reports about the group’s violent attacks, she has been unable to verify they took place. She has interviewed relatives of cult members who say they have had their windows smashed and fires set in their yards as an effort to force them to join the group — but nothing as violent as the McDonald’s murder that took place in May.

In wake of that incident, Chinese authorities have intensified efforts to find Almighty God members and arrest them. So far, about 1,500 members have been arrested. Some have been in custody since 2012, the New York Times reports. For some, the crackdown is reminiscent of what took place in 1999 when members of the quasi-spiritual movement known as Falun Gong were jailed after 10,000 members peacefully demonstrated outside the government’s central compound.

Today, banners are seen in public spaces across China urging people to, “Believe in science, create culture, make great efforts against evil cults.”

Propaganda material against the Church of Almighty God fills a public bulletin board in a residential neighborhood to east of Guozijian, Beijing, 2014

Propaganda material against the Church of Almighty God fills a public bulletin board in a residential neighborhood to east of Guozijian, Beijing, 2014

“I think it’s more visible. After the Falun Gong, there was a wave of this kind of propaganda,” Nanlai Cao, associate professor in religious studies at the People’s University of China in Beijing, told the Los Angeles Times. “The past five years, I don’t think it was very visible, but now I think it’s a big issue and has become a top priority for government officials.”

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