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The Marriage Feast of the Lamb in Jewish Wedding Customs

Since June is the month of weddings, there is no better time to reflect on the much anticipated gathering of the bride (kallah) and the wedding of the Lamb!
“For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. … Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”  (Revelation 19:7, 9)
While the exchange of covenant vows between a man and woman who love each other is a blessing in any culture, there are aspects of the Jewish wedding celebration that are rich in spiritual truths.
This ancient ritual prophetically points to the coming of the Messiah and the great celebration of the marriage supper of the Lamb.  It also teaches us unique lessons about God’s covenant love for His people.
One would be hard pressed to find an occasion more joyous than that of a Jewish wedding.  In Hebrew, it’s called a simcha (a joyous occasion).
“Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom.”  (Jeremiah 33:10–11)
 
An Orthodox Jewish wedding in Jerusalem: Traditionally, the chatan
(groom) on the day of his wedding first wears the kittel (white linen garment),
which signifies purity, holiness, and new beginnings.  Thereafter, he wears it
on special occasions such as Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s), Yom Kippur
(Day of Atonement), and Pesach (Passover).
Since Yeshua (Jesus) used the model of the ancient Jewish marriage ceremony to refer to His future second coming, to recognize exactly what He was talking about, it’s helpful to understand the nature of marriage during His earthly ministry in Israel.
There are three distinct parts to the ancient Jewish wedding:
  • shiddukhin (mutual commitment),
  • erusin (engagement), and
  • nissuin (marriage).
Shiddukhin:  A Time of Mutual Commitment
“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.’”  (Genesis 2:18)
Shiddukhin refers to the preliminary arrangements prior to the legal betrothal.
 
Signing the ketubah (marriage contract): in ancient times, the ketubah
protected the rights of the wife by specifying the groom’s responsibilities in
caring for her, and the amount of support that would be due her in the event
of a divorce. 
In ancient times, the father of the groom often selected a bride (kallah) for his son, as did Abraham for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:1-4).
In Ultra-Orthodox Judaism today, many marriages are still arranged by a marriage broker or matchmaker called a shadkhan.  It’s considered an exalted and holy vocation to find and arrange a good marital match, called a shiddukh, between a man and woman.
In ancient times, marriage was looked upon as more of an alliance for reasons of survival or practicality, and the concept of romantic love remained a secondary issue, if considered at all. Romantic love grew over time for some.

Rebecca at the Well, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini
Of course, the consent of the bride-to-be is an important consideration. Rebecca (Rivkah), for example, was asked if she agreed to go back with Abraham’s servant to marry Abraham’s son, Isaac.  She went willingly (Genesis 24:57–59).
Likewise, we cannot be forced into a relationship with the Son, Yeshua (Jesus).
In the same way that Rebecca was asked if she would go with Abraham’s servant, the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) asks us if we are willing to follow Him to be joined in a covenant of love with Yeshua.
Traditionally, in preparation for the betrothal ceremony, the bride (kallah) and groom (chatan) are separately immersed in water in a ritual called the mikvah, which is symbolic of spiritual cleansing.
In Matthew 3:13–17, we read that Yeshua has already been immersed (baptized) by Yochanan (John) in the waters of mikvah at the Jordan River.
As the Bride-to-be, we are also asked to be immersed.
“Whoever believes and is baptized [ritually immersed] will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  (Mark 16:16) 

A groom rejoices by dancing with his friends after immersing
himself in the mikvah.  The water for this mikvah bath is outside
and fed by a spring from which the natural water runs down a
hill into the mikvah, just outside of Jerusalem.

Erusin:  The Betrothal

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”  (Proverbs 18:22)
After the immersion, the couple entered the huppah (marriage canopy), symbolic of a new household being planned, to establish a binding contract.
Here, the groom would give the bride money or a valuable object such as a ring, and a cup of wine was customarily shared to seal their covenant vows.
In this public ceremony under the huppah, the couple entered into the betrothal period, which typically lasted for about a year.  Although they were considered married, they did not live together or engage in sexual relations.

An outdoor Jewish wedding under a huppah in Vienna
To annul this contract, the couple would need a religious divorce (get), which had to be initiated by the husband.
 Matthew 1:18–25 provides an excellent example of this.
 During the erusin of Yosef (Joseph) and Miriam (Mary), Yosef discovered that Miriam was pregnant, and he considered divorcing her, although he had not yet brought her home as his wife.
“…he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”  (Matthew 1:19–20)
During the erusin period, the groom was to prepare a place for his bride, while the bride focused on her personal preparations—wedding garments, lamps, etc.
 Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour.  He could come earlier, and it was the father of the groom who gave final approval for him to return to collect his bride.
 For that reason, the bride kept her oil lamps ready at all times, just in case the groom came in the night, sounding the shofar (ram’s horn) to lead the bridal procession to the home he had prepared for her.

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, by William Blake
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), Yeshua (Jesus) likened the Kingdom of Heaven to this special period of erusin, when the groom comes for his bride:
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’  Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.”  (Matthew 25:6– 7)
So too today, in the season of Yeshua’s end-time return, we should be careful to remain alert and prepared for His coming, since Yeshua was speaking to His disciples prophetically about the condition of the Church in the last days.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21)

In Jewish weddings today, there are two cups of
wine during the wedding ceremony.  After the rabbi
recites the betrothal blessings accompanying the
first cup, the couple drinks from it.  Since wine is
associated with Kiddish, the prayer of sanctification
recited on Shabbat, and since marriage is the
sanctification of the bride and groom to each other,
marriage is also called kiddushin.
Nissuin:  The Marriage
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  (John 14:3)
The final step in the Jewish wedding tradition is called nissuin (to take), a word that comes from naso, which means to lift up.
At this time, the groom, with much noise, fanfare and romance, carried the bride home.
Once again, the bride and groom would enter the huppah, recite a blessing over the wine (a symbol of joy), and finalize their vows.
Now, finally, they would consummate their marriage and live together as husband and wife, fully partaking of all the duties and privileges of the covenant of marriage.

It is traditional in some Jewish communities for the
bride to circle the groom seven times and then stand to
the groom’s right side under the huppah.  Since the
number seven biblically symbolizes completion and
perfection, this represents the wholeness and
completeness that they cannot attain separately.
Likewise, the Messiah, as the Bridegroom, has gone to prepare a place for us.
The day of the return of the Messiah for His Bride is soon approaching.
Although, we know approximately the time of His return from the signs of the times, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”  (2 Peter 3:10)
The Bride (Believers in Yeshua) should be living consecrated lives, keeping themselves pure and holy in preparation for the Nissuin and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, when the Groom comes with the blast of the shofar (1 Thessalonians 4:16) to bring His Bride home.

A Jewish bride and groom take a walk beside the ocean together for the first
time as man and wife.
Traditional Jewish Marriages Today
“Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber [huppah].”  (Joel 2:16)
Today, in traditional Judaism, the erusin and the nissuin are combined into one.
The bride and groom sign the marriage contract (ketubah) in the presence of the rabbi and two witnesses before the ceremony.
Unlike a Christian wedding, where it’s generally taboo for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony, in a Jewish wedding, the groom must see his bride before the ceremony.
Why?  Remember the story of Laban, who tricked Jacob into marrying his eldest daughter, even though he loved Rachel?
Since Jacob didn’t ensure the identity of his bride, he ended up marrying the woman he thought would be his sister-in-law, Leah (Genesis 29).

Jacob Meets Rachel at the Well, by William Dyce
In ancient times, the wedding feast (seudah) after the nissuin might have included seven full days of food, music, dancing and celebrations (Judges 14:10–12).
Today, the Jewish ceremony is usually followed by a wedding supper and reception with food, wine, music, and dance!
However, Orthodox Jews do celebrate after the wedding for seven nights with friends and family, hosting festive meals in honor of the bride and groom.

Jewish Wedding in Morocco, by Eugene Delacroix (Louvre Museum)
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”  (Revelation 21:1–2)
When Messiah returns for us, and everything in the world today indicates that this will be very soon, we will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb with Him and our joy (simcha) will be beyond measure.
But there will be those who won’t share in our simcha or celebrate with us because they do not know Yeshua!
Now is the time to reach out to them, while we are still in the erusin period, before the Bridegroom comes.
“Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. … The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’  And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come.”  (Revelation 22:12, 17)
Now so much more can be said on how Jesus has already fulfilled the first two distinct parts to the ancient Jewish wedding, like the covenant has been fulfilled by God, giving us His word the Holy Bible! and how He plans on fulfilling the third! But for now the point is made, and I hope you have a fresh understanding on what is in God’s heart for you and me!
In these end times, please help us bring the Good News of Yeshua and of His Salvation to Israel and the world, so that everyone has the opportunity to come to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Time is Short!

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The Body Of Jesus Christ is also The Bride Of Jesus Christ

The Body Of Jesus Christ is also The Bride Of Jesus Christ. How The New Testament Church Can Be Both The Bride And Body Of Jesus Christ At The Same Time.

Going 6,000 years back into the past, in the very beginning of Genesis, God has placed a wonderful and amazing type of the New Testament Church in the creation of Adam and Eve.

“And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 (KJV)

On a fairly regular basis, people will send us emails or comment on our site about the identity of the body of Christ and the bride of Christ. And more often than not, people seem confused about who this Bride is, and what constitutes the Body of Christ. Rarely do people make the connection that the Bible teaches us that the Bride and Body of Jesus Christ are one and the same entity, the Church. The trail of Scripture which proves that goes all the way back to the creation in Genesis, where we read about an amazing event that almost no one connects with the New Testament church.

Adam’s bride was taken from his own body

“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Genesis 2:21-23 (KJV)

The Bible tells us that God created Adam in His own image in Genesis 1, right? If you would have been alive in the Garden of Eden and seen Adam, you would have seen the very image of God Himself. OK, shortly after God created Adam, it was decided that he needed a wife for him to be complete, so God created a bride for Adam. But Eve was not taken “from the ground” as Adam was, she was made up of very different material. Eve was formed from one of Adam’s ribs, from Adam’s own body. This means that Adam’s bride was also his body at the very same time. You might want to pause here for a moment and reflect on that, and allow that thought to wash over you as it did me the very time the Holy Spirit revealed that to me.

Jesus’ bride is taken from his own body

Going 6,000 years back into the past, in the very beginning of Genesis, God has placed a wonderful and amazing type of the New Testament Church in the creation of Adam and Eve. For the “first Adam”, God fashioned him a bride out of his own body. For the “last Adam” which 1 Corinthians tells us is Jesus Christ, God has done exactly the same thing. He has given Him a body from which He also has created a Bride.

“For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:30-32 (KJV)

If you are a born again, saved sinner in the Church Age, you are part of the body of Jesus Christ. You have been grafted in to His Body so that He now dwells inside of you. This doctrine is one of the great mysteries revealed to the apostle Paul:

Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:” Colossians 1:26,27 (KJV)

The Church is both the body and bride of Jesus Christ

Just as Adam was presented with a bride that was taken from his own body, so will God also present His Son, Jesus Christ, with a Bride also taken from His own body.

“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2 (KJV)

If a “virgin” is presented to a “husband”, then by very definition she is a “bride”. This is exactly what the Holy Spirit had in mind when He wrote the following through the apostle Paul:

“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Ephesians 5:23,24 (KJV)

Now we also know the identity of New Jerusalem

“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Revelation 21:2 (KJV)

This verse puzzles a whole lot of people who study the Bible, and rightly so, it’s a tough one. I “chewed on it” for quite some time before the Lord allowed me to “connect the dots”. The question here is this – if the Church made up of people is the bride of Jesus Christ, how is it possible that it can be a “city” at the same time? A city is a place where people live, yet Revelation seems to somehow be merging the two.

In John 14, beloved by so many millions of Christians, we read about the promise of Jesus to build us a “mansion” in Heaven. Not only that, the same passage also tells us that Jesus will “come and get us” in the Pretribulation Rapture. Those “mansions in Heaven” is what makes up the New Jerusalem from Revelation 21.

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” John 14:1-3 (KJV)

So now we clearly see where where the Church, the Bride, will live for eternity, but how is the Bride also a physical city? The answer is found in 1 Peter:

“To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” 1 Peter 2:4-6 (KJV)

And here is where the “dam breaks open”, and it all comes together in one glorious revelation

All through the Bible, Jesus Christ is revealed the foundational building block of our salvation, please note the following:

  • THE STONE MADE WITHOUT HANDS: “Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.” Daniel 2:34 (KJV)
  • THE CORNER STONE: “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” Isaiah 28:16 (KJV)
  • A STONE OF STUMBLING AND ROCK OF OFFENCE: “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” 1 Peter 2:7,8 (KJV)

If you have been born again, you are “flesh of his flesh” and “bone of his bone”. Jesus is the “chief corner stone”, we are His precious “living stones” who make up the New Jerusalem.

“And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.” Revelation 21:19,20 (KJV)

We don’t just live in the New Jerusalem, we are the New Jerusalem, though yes there is still a physical building that does come down from Heaven. What I’m saying here is, it was made for us!

The Church is the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, and the New Jerusalem where God will once again and for all eternity “dwell with man”. God’s glory will be forever made manifest in the thing for which He shed His own blood – the Church of Jesus Christ.

“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 1:5,6 (KJV)

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Acts 20:28 (KJV)

“Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.” Hebrews 13:12 (KJV)

Amen, come and get us Lord. We’re ready! If your your not ready click here: Salvation

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Dispensational Premillennialism and Historic Premillennialism

Dispensational Premillennialism and Historic Premillennialism are two very different systems of eschatology. Here are just a few examples of the many differences between the two:

• Historic premillennialism taught that the church was in the fore-vision of Old Testament prophecy, while dispensationalism teaches that the church is hardly, if at all, mentioned by the Old Testament prophets.
• Historic premillennialism taught that the present age of grace was designed by God and predicted in the Old Testament. Dispensationalism holds that the present age was unforeseen in the Old Testament and thus is a “great parenthesis” introduced because the Jews rejected the kingdom.
• Historic premillennialism taught that one may divide time in any way desirable so long as one allows for a millennium after the second advent. Dispensationalism maintains that the only allowable way to divide time is into seven dispensations. The present age is the sixth such dispensation; the last one will be the millennial age after the second coming. It is from this division of time that dispensationalism gets its name.

As a result, the premillennial theory of the end times is advanced in several different ways. Frankly, it is not an easy task to generalize regarding this system of doctrine. So, for the purposes of this article we will focus mainly on that branch of millennialism that is known as historic premillennialism. However, in looking at historic premillennialism, it’s helpful to understand that this term is one of many that pertain to the study of eschatology, i.e., the study of the end of history from a Christian perspective. The Bible references many prophecies about the future with the New Testament speaking extensively about the return of Jesus to this earth. The 24th chapter of Matthew, much of the book of Revelation, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 are the more salient references to the second advent of Jesus.

There are a host of various interpretations regarding the second coming, both symbolic and literal. A literal interpretation of the Bible shows that four important events are predicted: the Millennium, the Tribulation, the Armageddon, and the Rapture. Nevertheless, biblical passages predicting the future are ambiguous with the events themselves being open to many interpretations. As a result, there is no clear indication of either their timing or sequence. For example, some Christians believe that “millennium” does not mean a time interval of exactly 1,000 years. Rather, it refers to a long period of time. Then others interpret these events as descriptions of real happenings in our future, while still others interpret them symbolically and/or as events that have already occurred.

This leaves the passages open to many conflicting beliefs about the end times. A lot of intra-denominational and inter-denominational strife has resulted from disagreements about end-times prophecy. For example, the Roman Catholic Church and most mainline and liberal denominations do not expect that a Rapture will occur in the way anticipated by many fundamentalist and other evangelical faith groups.

All this, then, brings us to historic premillennialism. Historic premillennialism was held by a large majority of Christians during the first three centuries of the Christian era. It draws its name from the fact that many of the early Church fathers such as Ireneaus, Papias, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and others taught that there would be a visible kingdom of God upon the earth after the return of Christ. It taught that the Antichrist first appears on earth and the seven-year Tribulation begins. Next comes the Rapture when Jesus and His Church return to earth to rule for a Millennium. The faithful then will spend eternity in the New Jerusalem, a gigantic cubical structure, some 1,380 miles in height, width and depth, which will have descended to Earth.

The New Jerusalem is also known as the Celestial City, the City of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the Holy City, the Shining City on a Hill, the Tabernacle of God, Zion, and so on. It is then that the forces of evil will have been conquered. The faithful will live during this thousand-year period of peace in Jerusalem, while occupying spiritual bodies. After this period, all people are judged.

When Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the fourth century, many things began to change, including acceptance of historic premillennialism. Amillennialism soon became the prevailing doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.

One of the most influential historic premillennialist works is that of George Eldon Ladd, who was an evangelical New Testament scholar and professor of New Testament exegesis and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Ladd was recognized for his enormous appreciation of the redemptive-historic significance of the first coming of the Christ. It was through his work that historic premillennialism gained scholarly respect and popularity among evangelical and Reformed theologians. Other well-known historic premillennialists include ministers and scholars such as Walter Martin; John Warwick Montgomery; J. Barton Payne; Henry Alford, a noted Greek scholar; and Theodor Zahn, a German New Testament scholar.

Various Protestant denominations and other church organizations promote one of many systems of prophecy concerning the end times, of which historic premillennialism is one. Additionally, as we’ve seen, there is the dispensational premillennialism. All of the theories that have been proposed about the timing of the Rapture appear to contradict some passages in the Bible. Current beliefs include the pre-tribulation Rapture, the post-tribulation Rapture, the mid-tribulation Rapture, the pre-wrath Rapture, and a partial Rapture. Generally, all of the premillennialist beliefs mentioned teach that the Tribulation is followed by 1,000 years of peace when all live under the authority of Christ. Afterwards, in a brief, final battle, Satan is permanently conquered.

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The Life of Paul

The apostle Paul born a Roman citizen to Jewish parents born in Tarsus, in modern eastern Turkey. Paul the Apostle commonly known as Saint Paul, and also known by his native name Saul of Tarsus, who trace their ancestry to the tribe of Benjamin.

There is much we can learn from the life of the Apostle Paul. Far from ordinary, Paul was given the opportunity to do extraordinary things for the kingdom of God. The story of Paul is a story of redemption in Jesus Christ and a testimony that no one is beyond the saving grace of the Lord. However, to gain the full measure of the man, we must examine his dark side and what he symbolized before becoming “the Apostle of Grace.” Paul’s early life was marked by religious zeal, brutal violence, and the relentless persecution of the early church. Fortunately, the later years of Paul’s life show a marked difference as he lived his life for Christ and the advancement of His kingdom.

Paul was actually born as Saul. He was born in Tarsus in Cilicia around A.D. 1-5 in a province in the southeastern corner of modern day Tersous, Turkey. He was of Benjamite lineage and Hebrew ancestry. His parents were Pharisees-fervent Jewish nationalists who adhered strictly to the Law of Moses-who sought to protect their children from “contamination” from the Gentiles. Anything Greek was despised in Saul’s household, yet he could speak Greek and passable Latin. His household spoke Aramaic, a derivative of Hebrew, which was the official language of Judea. Saul’s family were Roman citizens but viewed Jerusalem as a truly sacred and holy city.

At age thirteen Saul was sent to Palestine to learn from a rabbi named Gamaliel, under whom Saul mastered Jewish history, the Psalms and the works of the prophets. His education would continue for five or six years as Saul learned such things as dissecting Scripture. It was during this time that he developed a question-and-answer style known in ancient times as “diatribe.” This method of articulation helped rabbis debate the finer points of Jewish law to either defend or prosecute those who broke the law. Saul went on to become a lawyer, and all signs pointed to his becoming a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court of 71 men who ruled over Jewish life and religion. Saul was zealous for his faith, and this faith did not allow for compromise. It is this zeal that led Saul down the path of religious extremism.

Because of his extremism Saul might have been present at the trial of Stephen. He was present for his stoning and death and he held the garments of those who did the stoning (Acts 7:58). In Acts 5:27-42, Peter delivered his defense of the gospel and of Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin, which Saul heard. Gamaliel was also present and delivered a message to calm the council and prevent them from stoning Peter. From that moment on, Saul became even more determined to eradicate Christians as he watched the Sanhedrin flog Peter and the others. Saul became more ruthless in his pursuit of Christians as he believed he was doing it in the name of God. Arguably, there is no one more frightening or more vicious than a religious terrorist, especially when he believes that he is doing the will of the Lord by killing innocent people. This is exactly what Saul of Tarsus was: a religious terrorist. Acts 8:3 states, “He began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”

The pivotal passage in Paul’s story is Acts 9:1-22, which recounts Paul’s meeting with Jesus Christ on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, a journey of about 150 miles. Saul was angered by what he had seen and filled with murderous rage against the Christians. Before departing on his journey, he had asked the high priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for permission to bring any Christians (followers of “the Way,” as they were known) back to Jerusalem to imprison them. On the road Saul was caught up in a bright light from heaven which caused him to fall face down on the ground. He hears the words, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He says, “Who are you Lord?” Jesus answers directly and clearly, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (vv. 4-5). As an aside, this might not have been Saul’s first encounter with Jesus, as some scholars suggest that young Saul might have known of Jesus and that he might have actually witnessed His death.

From this moment on, Saul’s life was turned upside down. The light of the Lord blinded him, and as he traveled on he had to rely on his companions. As instructed by Jesus, Saul continued to Damascus to make contact with a man named Ananias who was hesitant at first to meet Saul because he knew Saul’s reputation as an evil man. But the Lord told Ananias that Saul was a “chosen instrument” to carry His name before the Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel (v.15) and would suffer for doing so (v.16). Ananias followed the Lord’s instructions and found Saul, on whom he laid hands, and told him of his vision of Jesus Christ. Through prayer, Saul received the Holy Spirit (v.17), regained his sight and was baptized (v.18). Saul immediately went into the synagogues proclaiming Jesus and saying He is the Son of God (v.20). The people were amazed and skeptical, as Saul’s reputation was well known. The Jews thought he had come to take away the Christians (v.21). Saul’s boldness increased as the Jews living in Damascus were confounded by Saul’s arguments proving that Jesus was the Christ (v.22).

As a result of this miraculous transformation, Saul became known as Paul (Acts 13:9). Paul spent time in Arabia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Syria and his native Cilicia, and Barnabas enlisted his help to teach those in the church in Antioch (Acts 11:25). Interestingly, the Christians driven out of Palestine by Saul of Tarsus founded this multiracial church (Acts 11:19-21). Paul took his first of three missionary journeys in the late 40s A.D. Paul wrote many of the New Testament books. Most theologians are in agreement that he wrote Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These 13 “letters” (books) make up the “Pauline Authorship” and are the primary source of his theology. As previously noted, the book of Acts gives us a historical look at Paul’s life and times. The Apostle Paul spent his life proclaiming the risen Christ Jesus throughout the Roman world, often at great personal peril (2 Corinthians 11:24-27) It is assumed that Paul was arrested upon his return to Rome and died a martyr’s death by beheading in the mid-to-late 60s A.D.

So, what can we learn from the life of the Apostle Paul? First, we learn that God can save anyone. The remarkable story of Paul repeats itself every day as sinful, broken people all over the world are transformed by God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. Some of these people have done despicable things to other human beings, while some just try to live a moral life thinking that God will smile upon them on the day of judgment. When we read the story of Paul and know what he had done, it is difficult for us to believe that God would allow into heaven religious extremists who murder innocent women and children. Today, we might see people on death row as unworthy of redemption because their crimes against humanity are just too great. Yet we live our lives in a sinful manner, expecting that God will be impressed by the fact that we haven’t killed anyone. The story of Paul is a story that can be told today-he isn’t worthy in our eyes of a second chance, yet to God he is worthy. The truth is that every person matters to God, from the “good, decent,” average person to the “wicked, evil” degenerate. Only God can save a soul from hell.

Second, we learn from the life of Paul that anyone can be a humble, powerful witness for Jesus Christ. Arguably, no other human figure in the Bible demonstrated more humility while sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ as Paul. Acts 20:19 tells us that he “served the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to [him] through the plots of the Jews.” In Acts 28:31, Paul shares the good news of Jesus Christ: “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul was not afraid to tell others what the Lord had done for him. This verse is the very definition of Paul’s newfound life in Christ. He would spend the rest of his days working tirelessly for the kingdom of God.

Finally, we learn that anyone can surrender completely to God. Paul was fully “sold-out” for God. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14). Paul was in prison when he wrote these words, yet he was still praising God and sharing the good news. Through his hardships and suffering, Paul knew the outcome of a life well lived for Christ. He had surrendered his life fully, trusting God for everything. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Can we make the same claim?

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Pesach – Your Hope in the Wilderness

Shabbat Shalom during Pesach!
Because this Shabbat (Sabbath) falls during Chag HaMatzot (Feast of Unleavened Bread), a special reading is inserted into the regular Torah reading cycle.
This special portion will be read in synagogues around the world during the Shabbat Pesach (Saturday Passover) service.
On this weekend as many Christians are also celebrating the resurrection of the Messiah Jesus (Yeshua), it is fitting to recall the physical redemption of the Jewish People from Egypt.
We know you will be blessed as you discover the Jewish roots of your faith in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach (The Intermediate Sabbath of Passover)
Exodus 33:12–34:26; Numbers 28:16–25; Ezekiel 37:1–14; Luke 24
“You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Chag HaMatzot].  Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread [matzah], as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Aviv, for in the month Aviv you came out from Egypt.”  (Exodus 34:18)
The Parasha (Scripture portion) for this Shabbat occurs in the middle of the Passover week and begins by describing the holy days of Pesach (Passover) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot), which lasts seven days.
These two special events are most often blended into one and just called Passover, but there is a crucial difference between the two, which we will explore in today’s study.
During the Passover time frame, there are three distinct events that represent three unique spiritual states or conditions of the soul:
  1. Passover represents salvation: we are saved from the wrath of God by faith in the blood of the Passover Lamb.
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  (John 1:29)
Yeshua (Jesus) was slain on Passover as the perfect fulfillment of the lamb that saved the Israelites on the very first Passover:
“And when I see the blood I will pass over you.”  (Exodus 12:13)
  1. Unleavened bread, also called matzah or the bread of affliction, represents sanctification.
Matzah is flat because it is devoid of yeast (chametz), which represents wickedness, pride, and that which causes us to be puffed up or to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.
“Your boasting is not good.  Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?  Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are.  For Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  (1 Corinthians 5:6–7)
Chametz is closely related to the Hebrew word chamutz, which means sour.  Yeast is a souring agent.  Likewise, sin causes bitterness in our soul.
“Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread [matzah] of sincerity and truth.”  (1 Corinthians 5:8)
The week of unleavened bread, therefore, represents sanctification accomplished through affliction, trials and testing, and the purging of pride in order to teach us humility and obedience by the things we suffer in our wilderness experiences.
“And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”  (Deuteronomy 8:2)
  1. First Fruits, also called Bikkurim in Hebrew, which occurs the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread (although there is some disagreement as to the timing), represents resurrection.

    Just as the barley is offered up to the Lord as the first crop after winter, so Yeshua was also raised from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits.

“But now the Messiah is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  (1 Corinthians 15:20)
From these distinct elements within Passover, we can understand that between the events of salvation and resurrection is a process of sanctification.
Passover → Unleavened Bread → First Fruits
Salvation → Sanctification → Resurrection
The Intermediate Sabbath—Losing Heart in the Wilderness
When the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, they also had to go through a sanctification process, which took them through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.
Even though the Israelites entered into a covenant with God in the wilderness, and came to understand their identity as God’s treasured possession there, sometimes they responded to hardship and barrenness of the wilderness with discouragement.
In the wilderness, they also lost heart, lost hope, longed for Egypt, grumbled, murmured, and complained.
For that reason, all perished but two—Joshua and Caleb—who followed the Lord wholeheartedly and kept the faith.  The bodies of the other Israelites lay scattered across that vast wilderness.
Even Yeshua spent time in the wilderness—perhaps the Judean or Negev Desert. The Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) led Him there to be tempted by the devil(Matthew 4:1–11)
The Negev is not an easy place to live—even with air conditioning!
It is a land of snakes and scorpions; a place of great danger.  And yet, the wilderness is not a punishment, but a necessary stage in our spiritual journey.
It is often God who leads us into our wilderness experiences to humble us, to test us, to refine our faith, and to teach us perseverance and endurance.
If we come out of it alive, we do so “leaning on our beloved” instead of relying on our own strength or limited sufficiency.  (Song of Solomon 8:5)
The wilderness can be our spiritual university where we learn to trust in and depend upon the Lord, and only God knows how long that lesson will take.
or Believers, in the vast space between salvation and the resurrection lies the wilderness, a dry and thirsty land where water is scarce.  That is where we are sanctified.
Because it is so easy to lose heart in the wilderness—our sanctification process—our response to the trials and challenges will determine how well we make it through to the resurrection.
Discouragement during our wilderness is an especially powerful weapon of the enemy because of its enfeebling, demoralizing effect.
This is not so with hatred, jealousy, fear, and other negative states that may cause us to act foolishly, to fight, or to run.  With these emotional attacks, at least we act.
Discouragement on the other hand, hurts us the most because it ultimately saps the energy right out of us, causing us to sit down, pity ourselves, and do nothing.
Discouragement causes us to give in to the temptation of the enemy who whispers, “Just give up.”
Hopelessness is a very dangerous state of being.  In fact, Scripture tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  (Proverbs 13:12)
When Hope Is Lost—The Day With No Name
The Scripture reading between Passover and Bikkurim is simply called “Intermediate Sabbath” (Chol HaMo’ed).  It doesn’t even have a name like the other parshiot.
It describes a time of hopelessness for Israel, wandering the nations without God’s blessing to protect them, as if they were living in a valley of dried up bones.
In our own valleys of dried up dreams and desires, when all hope seems lost, we wonder if everything has been in vain, if the sun will ever shine again in our grieving hearts.
Israel asked the same question in the Haftarah reading for this intermediate Sabbath.
The dry bones, which represent the whole house of Israel, say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” (Ezekiel 37:11)
Sometimes we feel that we have been cut off from hope itself.  But so often when we feel the darkness is closing in on us, at that moment God is doing His greatest work.
Likewise, it is when Israel’s hope in itself is completely destroyed that God’s promise of restoration comes forth as a breath of life:
“Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.  And ye shall know that I am the Lord…  And I will put My Spirit [Ruach] in you, and you shall live.”  (Ezekiel 37:13–14)
Ruach, the Hebrew word for spirit, is the same word used in verses 5 and 6 that is translated breath:  “I will cause breath [Ruach] to enter into you and you shall live.”
In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), Yeshua miraculously foreshadows the fulfillment of this Word.
Yeshua arrived four days after His friend Lazarus had died and been placed in the tomb.  Everyone’s hope in Lazarus being raised from the dead was completely lost.
Why did Yeshua wait for four days?
Jewish tradition holds that a person’s soul hovers around its physical body for three days, but after this time period, the soul leaves.
Therefore, the Jewish people who witnessed Lazarus’ death were convinced on the fourth day that the situation was completely and totally without any hope whatsoever!  Even the soul of the deceased had departed.
But Yeshua called out to Lazarus, TZEH HAHUTZAH!  COME OUT!
And Lazarus came up out of his grave and he lived!
One thing, however, needed to be done before Lazarus could come out of the tomb—the stone had to be rolled away.  Somebody had to do it, and it wasn’t Yeshua.
While He could have easily rolled it away Himself or even commanded the heavy stone to move and it would have obeyed Him, He called upon the people to participate in the miracle.
Yeshua said to them, “Take away the stone.”  (John 11:39)
Why?  Perhaps He wanted to teach us that we are not to be completely passive and expect God to do everything for us.
Maybe there is a stone standing between us and our miracle.
Perhaps, all that is needed is to draw upon the faith and strength within us to “take away the stone” under God’s direction.  Then we will witness God perform a resurrection in our own life!  Halleluyah!
Like the people around Lazarus who thought Yeshua came too late, sometimes we find ourselves in an utterly hopeless situation where it is so tempting to give in to despair and depression.
This is exactly when we should be reaching out for a miracle to the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  (John 11:25)
Before our situation became hopeless, we may have been counting on God to show up to perform a miracle.  But it seems that He did a “no-show,” and the relationship or the business or the whatever we were hoping for died.
That is when deep disappointment sets in.  “Where was God?” we ask.  “Where was His power when I needed Him?”
We could sit there, looking at that stone, crying, and thinking it’s just too heavy or too hard to move—or we can just move away the obstacle, let God in, and see miracles come forth.
May we hear the voice of our Good Shepherd and obey what He tells us to do to see that miracle happen—even if it doesn’t make sense or seems impossible in the natural.
But We Were Hoping
Yeshua’s disciples also knew hopelessness and utter despair.
At Passover, after Yeshua’s death on the cross, it looked like all hope was lost and that the forces of evil had triumphed.  His disciples wandered about in confusion and sorrow.
They had hoped that this finally was the “real deal.”  After so many false Messiahs, they believed that He was truly the Mashiach who would redeem Israel from Roman oppression and restore the Kingdom of Israel.
After Yeshua’s execution, two disciples were traveling to a village seven miles from Jerusalem.  They walked together, chatting and reasoning about the event with quite sad demeanors.
But then Yeshua came near and walked with them along the road.  Still, their eyes were restrained and they did not recognize Him.  (Luke 24:16)
Yeshua’s disciples had a certain expectation of how God was going to work things out.  But even though things didn’t happen the way they thought it should, this was God’s greatest triumph over darkness.
In their darkest hour, in their utter hopelessness, they couldn’t see that Hope was walking right alongside them!  For Yeshua is a Living Hope.  (1 Peter 1:3–4)
Isn’t this just like us when we’ve experienced a disappointment?  We’ve just got to find somebody to talk to about it.  We try to reason the thing out, to somehow make sense out of something that just doesn’t make sense.  This often only causes more sorrow.
When things don’t work out the way we had hoped they would, it could be that redemption is right there with us, walking alongside us.  Sometimes that Living Hope is right under our noses but we don’t perceive it because it comes in a form we didn’t quite expect.
In our darkest hours, we must remember that God never leaves us, for He safeguards our soul as we travel through the wilderness where we are sanctified.
There in our wilderness, our ultimate hope is in Yeshua and His resurrection.
“You who are the Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress.”  (Jeremiah 14:8)
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put My laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  (Hebrews 10:16)
Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday) and Shabbat Shalom

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Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus

Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, Our knowledge of the original text of the Bible comes from ancient hand-written manuscripts. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek, except for Matthew we now know was written in Hebrew. No one has the original articles, but thousands of ancient copies have been discovered. Since these copies are hand-written, there are variations in spelling, word order, and sentence structure among them. Even though those variations do cause some confusion about the biblical text, most of the manuscript readings are in agreement. Out of about 500 pages in the Greek New Testament, the manuscript variations represent only about half of a page.

The majority of ancient manuscripts contain only small portions of the biblical text, like a book or a portion of a book. Among these manuscripts there are papyrus fragments, which are the remains of the most ancient scrolls, and typically represent only a few pages of text. These papyrus fragments have all been discovered during modern archaeological digs. Another group of manuscripts is the Uncials, which use all capital letters and are written on parchment or vellum, which is a smoother writing surface than papyrus, and allows for curved letters. The Uncial manuscripts were written between the 3rd and 8th centuries and were often bound as pages in a book, or codex, rather than a scroll. A few of these ancient codices have survived intact, giving us a solid view of the Bible used by the ancient church.

Two of the oldest complete (or nearly complete) manuscripts are the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. They are both written on parchment, and have a large number of corrections written over the original text.

Codex Sinaiticus, also known as “Aleph” (the Hebrew letter א), was found by Count Tischendorf in 1859 at the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai. Portions of the manuscript were found in the monastery dump, and a larger portion was presented to Tischendorf by one of the monks. It is a large codex, with 400 pages (or leaves) comprising about half of the Old Testament in the Septuagint version and the full New Testament. It has been dated to the second half of the 4th century and has been highly valued by Bible scholars in their efforts to reconstruct the original biblical text. Sinaiticus has heavily influenced the translation work of modern Bible versions. Though it is considered by some scholars to represent an original form of the text, it is also recognized as the most heavily corrected early New Testament manuscript.

Codex Vaticanus, also known as “B,” was found in the Vatican library. It is comprised of 759 leaves and has almost all of the Old and New Testaments. It is not known when it arrived at the Vatican, but it was included in a catalog listing in 1475, and it is dated to the middle of the 4th century. Vaticanus was first used as a source document by Erasmus in his work on the “Textus Receptus.” Because he viewed the text of Vaticanus to be erratic, he seldom followed it when it differed from other Greek texts.

There are varying theories on how these ancient texts should be viewed by modern scholars. On one hand, some believe that the most ancient reading should be followed, as it is closest in time to the original. On the other hand, some believe that the majority should rule. Since there are thousands of ancient manuscripts, they believe we should give precedence to the reading that is represented by the most documents. One issue that is sometimes raised against the majority viewpoint is that many of those documents were written very late (9th-15th century). The answer to this is that many of the early papyrus fragments support the majority reading. Additionally, the question has been raised, “If Vaticanus and Sinaiticus represent the original reading of the text, why are there so few manuscripts that follow their lead?” If they were valued by the early church, you would expect to find many copies made from them, covering a wide period of history. What we actually find is a few early manuscripts which agree with them, but then a disappearance of that text type as we progress through history.

There is much to be learned from examining these and other ancient texts, and they should continue to be highly valued by scholars. While there may be differences in opinion as to how they are to be used, one thing is certain even with their textual variations, they show us that God has preserved His Word through the ages. We may debate the particular wording in a few passages, but the fact remains that over 90 percent of the New Testament text is unanimously supported by all the ancient manuscripts. In those passages where the proper reading is disputed, there is no major doctrinal change, and we can rest assured that we have the accurate, revealed words of God passed down to us. Many may argue this point and when they do, I ask them whether God is Almighty and can preserve His word or is He incapable of preserving His word. As for me I Know He is more that capable of preserving His own Word and thus remains the Word of God! Can I get an Amen?

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Are we Living in the End Times

It has been said, ‘things have always been bad haven’t they? All through history are horrible stories of man’s ability to preform evil acts against others. In this day and age we are able to hear more about these things and much quicker. Our world has been in bad times from the beginning, I would say from the time Adam took the first bite from forbidden fruit. Jesus spoke of it two thousands years or so ago and I agree, we have been in the end times since then and no one knows when that will be except, The Almighty God.’ and some have said, ‘I think the end times began as soon as they were mentioned in the New Testament. Everyone who has lived since then until now, and in the future, is living in the End Times.
We think the world is bad now, and it is going wrongful. But I believe it can and might get a lot worse. Think of what it may be like in a 100 years from now. Things are just going to keep on getting worse because the Bible says so. But what we are seeing could be mild compared to what we can’t even fathom 100 or more years from now.  So, the End Times have been going on for 2,000 years.’

But is that what the Bible says? The Bible prophesies of many events that will occur in the end times. These events can be categorized as natural signs, spiritual signs, sociological signs, technological signs, and political signs. We can look to what the Bible says about these things, and if the signs are present in abundance, we can be certain that we are, in fact, living in the end times.

Luke 21:11 lists some of the natural signs that will occur before Jesus’ Second Coming: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” In 13 years, between 1991 and 2004, the United States alone has experienced 5 of its costliest hurricanes in history, 3 of its 4 largest tornado swarms in history, and 9 of the 10 greatest disasters as determined by FEMA. We have recently seen Hurricane Sandy, which some have called the “perfect storm.” There is a huge upswing in the prevalence of sinkholes. As for great signs from heaven, we’ve seen the Chelyabinsk meteor, which exploded over Russia, emitting a powerful shock wave. All of these events seem to be a warm up to what is coming next “birth pangs,” as Jesus called them (Matthew 24:8).

The Bible lists both positive and negative spiritual signs. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 we discover that many people will follow false teachers. We see now an increase in cultic groups, heresy, deception and occultism, with many choosing to follow new age or pagan religions. On the positive side, Joel 2:28-29 prophesies that there will be a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16), and we are still seeing the effects of that outpouring in revivals and Spirit-led Christian movements, worldwide preaching of the gospel message, and the emergence of Messianic Judaism.

Along with the signs in the natural and spiritual realms, there are signs in society. The immorality rampant in society today is a symptom of mankind’s rebellion against God. Abortion, homosexuality, drug abuse and child molestation are proof that “evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse” (2 Timothy 3:13). We are now living in a hedonistic and materialistic society. People are lovers of themselves  “looking out for number one”  and doing what is right in their own eyes. All these things, and many more, can be seen around us every day (see 2 Timothy 3:1-4).

The fulfillment of some end time prophecies seemed impossible until the advent of modern technology. Daniel 12:4 foretold an increase in knowledge. Most are just going to answer the question the title asks without reading the post. When people ‘think’ they have ‘ultimate knowledge’ already instead of continually learning of the Mater’s heart! Some of the judgments in Revelation are more easily imagined in a nuclear age. In Revelation 13; the Antichrist will control commerce by forcing people to take the mark of the beast, and, given today’s advances in computer chip technology, the tools he will use may very well be here already. And through the internet, radio and television, the gospel can now be proclaimed to the entire world (Mark 13:10). WHATSHOTN alone reaches just about every county in the world!

And there are political signs. The restoration of Israel to her land in 1948 is the single most impressive fulfilled prophecy proving that we live in the end times. At the turn of the 20th century, no one would have dreamed that Israel would be back in her land, let alone occupying Jerusalem. Jerusalem is definitely at the center of geopolitics and stands alone against many enemies; Zechariah 12:3 confirms this: “On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.” Matthew 24:6-7 predicted that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” “Wars and rumors of wars” are definitely characteristic of this present age.

Walk to Him

These are just a few of the signs that we are living in the end of the age. There are many more. God gave us these prophecies because He does not want anyone to perish, and He always gives ample warning before pouring out His wrath (2 Peter 3:9).

Are we living in the end times? The rapture could occur at any moment. God will deal with sin either by grace or by wrath. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” Those who do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior will remain under the Lord’s wrath.

The good news is that it’s not too late to choose eternal life. All that is required is acceptance, by faith, of God’s free gift of grace. There is nothing you can do to earn grace; Jesus has paid the price for you (Romans 3:24). Are you ready for the Lord’s return? Or will you experience His wrath?

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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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