1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
As with many of the visions of the Bible, this one from near the end of the book of Revelation (Chapter 21) appears too good to be true — or at least too big and broad to be believed.
To make sense of it, we’ve got to find a way to limit it. First, it can’t be referring to the planet, and the known universe, because the literal statement here is that heaven and earth… that is, everything in the Universe, will cease to exist. And then, just like that, a new heaven and earth is created… except the new one doesn’t have any oceans. (Which with what we know of life on earth as we know it, simply couldn’t happen. The ocean is the key to biological life.)
And to complicate the picture, we have a description of a city arriving on planet earth from some distant place in the cosmos. But how could this be, because the cosmos just ceased to exist. Also, verse 3 says that God is now going to live with mankind…. but how could this be? Didn’t we just lose the earth? Where are the people now? Is this why they’re crying… because the earth ended?
So let’s try viewing this as metaphorical. Let’s think of heaven as the spiritual or religious realm of human society. Turns out if we do this it can help dozens of places in Revelation and elsewhere in the Bible seem more reasonable.
A new heaven would then mean a new way of thinking about religious things, and therefore new people in charge, new rules, new values, new perspectives. The old religious scene is simply gone. “Imagine there’s no heaven.” John Lennon could picture this, and I can too.
And a different earth … the physical part of human society. That’s gone, too. No republicans and democrats arguing about who is right. No supreme court justices needed to interpret laws, because … well Jeremiah and Isaiah saw the picture with all the laws written in people’s hearts. No courts are needed to explain or enforce obedience among reluctant citizens. And thus no angry youth afraid of police, and no police harassing them.
Now, a major change in this new imaginary scene is where God is. In the old picture, the one we’ve grown up with, God is basically nowhere to be found. He “hides himself”, as Isaiah puts it. And those who claim to have found him have trouble convincing others that they really have. Is it because the ones who seem to know about God aren’t very good examples of what we would logically expect a spokesman for God to be — or is it because the people who they are preaching to are just plain bad … and don’t want to know about God, no matter how nice the preachers are? Or maybe could it be a mixture of both?
So now we have this new picture, and in it God isn’t hiding somewhere or speaking through ancient Jews or weird people who show up on TV or surrounded by stained glass, dress funny, ask for donations, smile too much, and generally just irritate us. All those folks are gone, but God is living with us. Right next door. Maybe even in our spare bedroom.
Now who are the people of God? Is it still the church folks… a small percentage of the population? No, the way John seems to see this picture, all the people are now God’s people.
We know this because they’ve been crying, they’ve been dying, they’ve been in pain… but God is suddenly standing there next to them, wiping their tears. He’s removing their pain. He’s ending death.
How many of the tears are being dealt with in this way? All of them.
How much of the pain is being eradicated? All of it.
How much death is being thwarted? All of it.
Now, here’s where the picture makes us furrow our brows and clench our fists.
Wait a minute! I understand the picture that is being painted. But why is this artwork being created? What does it mean to me? Is this really a true picture of the way things are going to be, or is this some kind of cruel joke? Is this really just saying that the ones who are already setting them up to be the God-people are going to have THEIR pain and tears wiped away, but the rest of us are just going to see them off in the distance, wishing we could be there … and suffering on forever and ever while the lucky few get to live in their own paradise?
The Hope Diamond.
Well, the guy who painted this picture thought of this… so he put the Jesus followers into the picture too. He put them in there as the “holy city”, which comes out of heaven — the religious world … and comes down to earth. It’s a city with some features like Jerusalem, with its protective walls and its government buildings and its houses and its festivals where lambs die to restore people to God — and its temple where priests mediate between God and man … restoring everyday people to full fellowship and access to God, by making payment for their sins.
And this picture doesn’t only refer to the truly good guys as Jerusalem… he also compares them to a bride who is married to the Lamb… Jesus. How is this bride pictured? Well, she is dressed in white, and she’s beautiful, and the Lamb really, really loves her. What does this bride do? She is attractive to her husband … and that leads her to become like a mother to the rest of the human race. It might even be thought of as the new mother of humanity, in the same way that the Lamb is the new father.
The human race in this picture was orphaned when their first father messed up, and left them outside of paradise, living under curses that mom and dad are to blame for. Now there’s a new father and mother … Jesus and his bride. And all the people who were related to the original father … every human who has ever lived … are released from their curses and welcomed back into this expanded, updated Garden. A garden with no Serpent. A garden with no weeds. And with no Angel of Death to keep people from living there forever.
Too good to be true? No, redemption is the plan. A redeemed and restored earth is precisely what we must learn to expect, to hope for, and to pray for. And whether we pray or not, believe or not, even whether we survive until it arrives or not … it’s a gonna happen.
One of the blogs I follow is “Climate Denial Crock of the Week”.
This weekend’s post talks about the fear and frustration of climate scientists. It discusses articles which have recently appeared in Esquire and Slate, documenting the angst and even despair of scientists who every day are looking at evidence that, to them, points toward environmental apocalypse. The article says,
“Ultimately, what scientists are after is truth, even if that truth is personally devastating. For that reason, being a climate scientist is probably one of the most psychologically challenging jobs of the 21st century. As the Esquire article asks: How do you keep going when the end of human civilization is your day job?”
“The end of human civilization.” Have you noticed this specter lurking lately, in places other than science fiction? According to Wikipedia preppers seem to be multiplying, and global warming has added a whole new level of fear — with its mechanism of disruption that appears both adequately powerful and apparently unavoidable.
While it’s still possible to ignore these storms and even joke about them, I’d like to go on record with some pretty outlandish claims:
The nature of the catastrophes has been unambiguously predicted.
The extent of the catastrophes, and their impact on the various sectors of society have been predicted.
The time of these catastrophes has been predicted, and while our collective ability to interpret the message of timing has been spotty, remarkable logic, evidence and insights have been emerging and gaining clarity for the last three centuries. I find the total evidence which anchors recent past and near-future data points of Bible prophecy now to be quite compelling.
Most importantly, the ultimate goals and outcomes of the troubles that are daily more difficult to ignore have been predicted in surprising detail. Though the fairy-tale ending that is actually outlined in the Bible is veiled by some of its own symbolic language — and disregarded by most authentic Christians (not without good reasons) — I feel compelled to try and spread a little hope. If you care what the Bible says — and my main intended audience is those who do — try to let “all” mean “all” as you review the promises that the Bible contains. I find it really delightful to be able to take comfort in Biblical promises like “all in the graves shall come forth” … “God shall wipe all tears from their eyes.” … “God is the savior of all men” … or that there will be “a feast of fat things for all people.”
Ferguson has become a Rohrshock test. We all see what we want to see… or even more scary, what our life experience has conditioned us to see. But can we view it as a teaching moment for each of us? Can we find a lesson that applies with equal force to both sides of this divide? I think we can… and I’d like to suggest a passage in the Bible written by a black man 2800 years ago … which I think will become more and more relevant as events like Ferguson draw us into a web of conflict.
Zephaniah 2:3 –
3Seek the LORD,
All you humble of the earth
Who have carried out His ordinances;
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
Perhaps you will be hidden
In the day of the LORD’S anger.
Zephaniah was written during the reign of King Josiah, roughly 700 BC. Though it had relevance then, the scope of Zephaniah’s language is worldwide … it is an end times prophecy.
One of Zephaniah’s themes is the “day of Jahweh’s anger.” In my view this is a codeword, not for fire and brimstone and planetary destruction — but for a measured economic and geopolitical upheaval — an era of teaching by God — when people will have their attention drawn to major issues of justice and morality.
Another of Zephaniah’s themes is the “gathering of nations”. In chapter 3 it is called “assembling the kingdoms”. In order to make sense of the “Lord’s anger”, they are brought into a collective conversation, an international consciousness as never before. Today we call it globalization. I believe Zechariah was talking about the 21st century. Issues anywhere are the concern of people everywhere.
Another theme is the universality of God’s proposed rule of earth. As Zephaniah describes it, “All the earth” is encompassed in his vision. All the earth gets its teaching moments, and all the earth will in due time get the blessings of God’s grace.
In my attempts to understand the Bible I find it useful to recognize that “the earth” in prophecy is often a metaphorical description of the stable, powerful portions of society worldwide. Zephaniah’s phrase “All the earth will be devoured” means that society — social and governmental institutions — will melt and lose cohesion as a result of the intense heat and pressure of social and geopolitical change. Peter used similar language when he spoke in 2 Peter 3 of melting elements. He wasn’t talking about chemistry. That word, everywhere else in the New Testament, is used for the first principles, the kindergarten issues that children learn in primary school.
Another prophetic theme is special blessings promised for Israel, an acknowledgement of the sins of Israel but a promise of divine correction and healing. In Zechariah’s vision there will be a worldwide hatred and affliction of the Jews that will prevail for a time, before ending in worldwide acceptance of the Jewish people. Zephaniah states that the Jewish people will become “a praise in every land where they have been put to shame”. (3:8, 17, 20) So far, we are seeing increasing fulfillments of the shame, but not of the acceptance that will follow it.
If the “fierce anger” of the Lord is being played out right now on the world stage, what is God angry at?
Needlessly perpetuating poverty. If Isaiah 58 and Ezekiel 16:49 provides any hints, one big area to pay attention to would be the way the poor are treated. While poverty has always been a human problem, the immense increase of wealth of the last century has created opportunities — and responsibilities — for alleviating it. Ezekiel called it “not strengthening the hand of the poor and needy.” While I cannot disagree that many forms of welfare fail to strengthen the hand of the poor and needy, there is no doubt that we know enough to create programs that would do a better job of doing just that. We understand the value of education, the need of food and shelter, the value of freedom from worry about basic necessities. Is it not the duty of society to work protect its citizens? To give due process for the poor as well as the rich? Today wealthy individuals, churches, and nations of the world could make a much bigger impact — if they have the will to do what they can.
Environmental degradation. If Revelation 11:18 is relevant — and I believe it is — God is angry at those who are destroying the earth. We are all complicit in the destruction of the earth in an ecological sense. But the powerful extractive, exploitive forces have in many cases grabbed the levers of power and use “democracy” to bring “progress” and “development” — code words for destroying the earth — forward in ways that only benefit their multinational appetites and shareholders. This behavior is creating consequences that will hurt all of us.
Religions that present God as cruel and unjust. I think that God is not pleased with the reputation he is getting from mainstream Christian teachings. More on that in other posts.
I would submit that God’s anger does not reveal itself through torment or after-death horror … but through consequences of our actions coming to pass.
For example, we dump subsidized corn and wheat on countries that have farmers who would like to support themselves growing local food. They can’t compete with our agribusiness products … and if there is a just God, he is taking note. We sell poisons and high-tech seeds to third world countries, destroying their organic economies and making them dependent on our seed stocks and chemicals. We extract oil, minerals, and cheap commodity crops like coffee or beef from countries who can satisfy our appetite for these things … but don’t use our influence to make the companies who employ those workers pay a living wage and humane benefits.
We destroy wetlands, pump poison into aquifers, degrade the atmosphere, waste soil, destroy the natural cycle of life, turn mountains upside down to get coal or rare metals, and let the powerless people who thus lose whole counties to privileged greed live in the poison wasteland that remains. We dump pollution into the oceans — plastics and chemicals which are working their way up the food chain and putting toxins into our children’s brains. We overfish, overharvest, overuse, and overlook the importance of our role in all of that.
I believe that if there is a God, and if he is at all good, he has a burning anger about these abuses. And I see evidence that just such a God exists, and is pushing on the boundaries of our activities, and will soon box us into a very narrow range of options. Our denial of climate science, or our refusal to be moved by the desperation suicides of tens of thousands of Indian farmers due to the impact of chemical farming methods, will not prevent us from reaping the impact of our choices. Before long, we will have no way out, and society itself — all our institutions — will melt under the pressure of our own mistakes.
Which brings me to Zephaniah’s words of advice to all of the people who are alive during this world-wide chain of calamities. “Seek meekness, seek righteousness.”
We fought the bloodiest war in our history over the issue of slavery. But did we all learn the lesson? Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon documents how we put economic shackles aided by community policing … vagrancy laws … into place almost immediately to prevent true economic equality from gaining a foothold. Blacks continue to feel the results of our forefathers’ practice of treating black men like animals valued for their brute strength and breeding capacity, black children as economic assets to be torn from their mothers as soon as they were weaned, and black women as baby factories and nursemaids. The systemic destruction of every trace of family memory, language, culture and geography by self-righteous “Christian” Europeans continues to haunt both transplanted Africans and indigenous Americans. Like the salt that the Romans sowed in Carthage, two centuries of enforced ignorance created a barren cultural soil that struggles to find an identity of learning and curiosity that more privileged classes take for granted. The flourishing of black colleges and the renaissance of black erudition that has occurred in the last century and a half are not because of, but in spite of all the economic and cultural impacts our dominant culture has inflicted upon the black race … I so I view the progress of blacks in our society is a miracle. But could the healing and growth be greater? I believe so, and I believe the bruised reeds need to be helped.
When Zephaniah wrote his prophecy, he called us to meekness and righteousness. What, specifically did he mean by “righteousness”? It is a Hebrew word, tzedakah, which means fairness or justice. In the Hebrew traditions of Zephaniah’s day, slavery was a significant part of the economy of the time. The law on their books called for a complete forgiving of debts every 7 years, and a complete redistribution of land among the historical Jewish settler families every 49 years. Justice to Zephaniah meant egalitarianism — the notion that shared citizenship meant blood ties that transcended economics, and broke cycles of dependence through mandatory sharing and forgiveness of debts.
I think these ideas have special meaning today, at a time when extremes in wealth distribution have never been greater — especially in the USA. If we seek justice or fairness, we will not consider it acceptable for extreme poverty to coexist with extreme wealth. And so a true love of tzadakah will lead us to a kind of humility that is anathema to the privileged classes — especially the Christian Right — of today.
To catch Zephaniah’s spirit we will accept as part of our humbling the voluntary sharing in and shouldering of the burdens of the unfortunate masses who surround us. I’m not talking about perfunctory handouts but empowerment, training, and a commitment to building the standard of living of all peoples. Meekness will teach us to consider the poor as part of us, part of our family, part of our responsibility. Instead of responding to the poverty of surrounding nations and neighborhoods with a doubling down of the security apparatus, we will look for creative ways to alleviate the hunger and soul-thirst of our fellow human beings.
A friend sent me the following link. He is a Christian whom I greatly respect, but I don’t see the following clip as particularly helpful to understanding what is going on in Ferguson:
Words of Jonathon Gentry
I think that Mr. Gentry’s words, well intentioned as they may be, have the effect of patronizing conservative folks, while ignoring the fact that there was no corresponding “swallowing of pride” going on among the police and justice system in Ferguson. Jonathon’s words, and the words of the Fox commentators I have seen, are not meek words. They are angry and incendiary. Jonathon’s “righteous indignation” adds the heat of anger and the flame of finger-pointing to the conflict that is brewing in America’s cities.
I’ve seen plenty of white rants on the social media … focusing on the criminality of an 18-year-old man, his hubris, his disrespect of the white policeman who stopped him that day. Even if all the details of the officer’s version of events were true, what is the subtext? What made Michael Brown so angry and unable to chart a more pragmatic course? What made Darren Wilson so fearful, so belligerent and so authoritative in his tone? My experience with human nature tells me that both men poured gasoline, and both men tossed in matches. But both of these men are products of a culture. They are no more free to choose their actions than any of us are free to will ourselves into consistency with the standards we ourselves recognize, or another year of life.
But what Zephaniah calls us to do is pursue meekness, fairness, equality.
Does anyone think very many blacks were won over by Jonathan’s rant? I surely don’t. And I can understand why. It’s because blacks are tired of feeling like intruders in their own neighborhoods. Granted, no blacks or whites should be shoplifting, selling drugs, engaging in gang violence, etc. But we need to understand the process that has fostered these sick social conditions.
Does anyone think that the whites who have welcomed Jonathon’s words are becoming more flexible, humble, and tolerant as a result? I personally doubt it. I think Jonathan simply became a useful cover for those who want to point the finger of blame at the black race, want to be satisfied that slavery is ancient history. We would do well to remember Lincoln’s words, and recognize that there may yet be wheels of retribution that are still turning toward a price that the great grand-children of slaveowners might have to pay:
From Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address:
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Zephaniah was a black man.
It’s interesting that Zephaniah was probably a black man… his father was “Cushi” — an Ethiopian. His message has a particular power when it is seen as an exhortation to meekness — and fairness for the poor.
Like it or not, the prophet doesn’t only ask the poor to be more meek. Nor does he ask only the more powerful factions to be more meek. Everyone is addressed… especially those who see themselves as the Lord’s people. Zephaniah no doubt had the Jews in mind, but I would apply it with equal or greater force to Christians today.
I believe that seeking meekness will mean that we will avoid violence of any kind in the face of perplexing challenges to our safety and property rights. While law and order is a necessity as long as fallen man is administering his own affairs, there are ways of softening the impact of the necessary firmness of the law.
On an individual level, the kind of softness I refer to will mean we will listen to angry outbursts from any sector without reacting aggressively. It will mean we will recognize, as Martin Luther King put it, that even riots have a message — “the outcry of the unheard.” It will look behind extremes of action and foolish behavior, and look for a way to understand the root causes behind it … and for ways we can help show a courageous level of forgiveness and generosity toward those who have been victimized in ways we have never personally felt. If we can meet even unjust anger and hostility with meekness, it may be that we will be hid in the days of the Lord’s just anger.
But even if we are not, and we become unjust victims, we should not worry about the ultimate outcome. A feast of fat things is around the corner. A new language will teach all people to serve God with one consent.
I took my wife to see the Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Christmas day. We both enjoyed it a great deal.
It’s a love story, and an adventure story. Someone compared it to Forest Gump, but it’s never as emotional as that masterpiece, nor as funny. But it’s got some humor, I’d give it it a thumbs up for the quality of the writing, acting, cinematography, and directorial artistry. And I love the way sunrises over the water are like a character in the film … somehow Benjamin is attracted to them, and watches them regularly by himself, with family members, etc.
As I stated yesterday, what makes me resonate with the movie the most is the way it presents human growth backwards from the norms we see every day…. aging, failing, dying. Here, a person emerges from the womb as from the grave, in decrepitude, and then grows toward youthful vigor. The “youthful” Benjamin writes in his diary at one point (perhaps at 15 biological years, now with the body of perhaps a 60 year old) “Some days I feel different than the day before…” His wrinkles are disappearing, his hair is sprouting “like weeds”, his hormones are catching fire.
Does the Bible really support the idea that such a miracle is possible? That it will happen to the masses of humanity? Yes and Yes!
Jesus himself states the case as emphatically as words can say: “Don’t be amazed…. All in the graves will come forth.” Unfortunately the fog of neo-Platonic concepts like immortal soul and hellfire make it difficult for most Christians to really see what Jesus is saying here. It’s quite simple, though. The ones who enter into a relationship with God during this age, and continue walking in grace and faith, emerge in the resurrection of Life, what Jesus calls the First Resurrection in the book of Revelation. For such, their resurrection is instantaneous, glorious, and in heaven. The entire rest of mankind, who remain in their sins, emerge from the grave still in their sins, but experience a gradual resurrection, through a process of judgment or trial and testing. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul states that God gives each a body as it pleases him. This is tremendously reasuring, because it means that disfigured, disabled, distorted folks in this life can look forward to being whole upon emerging from the grave. Then, their education will begin and it will take most of the Millennium for each person to build the finegrained righteous character that is going to be their birthright and their ticket into everlasting life as a member of the human community.
Isaiah describes the scene in several places, including chapter 35. He defines its scope as “the ransomed of the Lord” (which by the authority of 1 Tim 2:4-6 I claim means “all the human race”). He states that they return (come back). That is, they don’t go to a place they never were before, they come back to where they were before.. planet Earth. They come back joyfully, and yet they have some travelling still to do. Isaiah calls it a highway of holiness. He describes it as a place that you can’t travel if you’re unclean (dirty or sinful) … and yet he says that it exists FOR the unclean. He says that the wayfaring man (Joe Sixpack), though they be but fools, won’t err therein. They will figure out how to navigate that highway to holiness, and with the help God has provided with his powerful Son and his patient Bride they will get to that place of moral excellence, of wisdom, of forgiveness, of victory over doubt and selfishness and fear. I envision the Bride or spiritual government of that age as all the great and saintly Christians of ages past; myriads of powerful spiritual mediators working overtime to help everyone with a cloud of supernatural help and faithbuilding efforts. The result of all this effort is the process of age-reversal that Job described in the verse I quoted yesterday… returning to the days of youth.
Isaiah hints at the remarkable reversal of all that we think about in this new living (un-dying) process. He says in 65:20, “”No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed.”
What an odd verse! I think the normative experience during the Millennium will be to awaken from the grave near the beginning of the Millennium and live under the authority of Christ and his “Bride”. Joe Sixpack will be living, learning, getting the occasional rebuke but mostly lots of great instruction and encouragement, for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Then comes the end, when Christ turns over the Kingdom to the Father, and there is one last final test, known in the book of Revelation as the “little season” when one more time an evil deceptive intelligence (Satan) is allowed to try and organize opposition to God. This will finally settle who really has love in their heart and really wants to live eternally on the earth…(see Matthew 25:31 to 46)
So I think the Isaiah 65:20 text is saying that since every person can expect the better part of a Millennium to be their minimum opportunity, anyone who dies at, say, 100 years old in that Messianic Age will be like a child in comparison to the 700, 800, 900-year lifespans that the vast majority will experience. And all those who die before the end of the Millennium would do so only as a final judgment… so after a 100 or so years of the most patient and thorough tough love imaginable, those who are executed will be truly sinners, truly deserving of the curse of death. They’ll be the few, the occasional incorrigible folks who simply refuse to buckle down to the righteous authority of the Lamb and his Bride. They will be recognized as accursed sinners by their fellow men.
The Button story isn’t remotely about any of these things. It explores the challenges and unique tragedies that would face a man whose 70 years of experiencing the hereditary fall of man if his growth pattern were reversed. So in the end his life is still a process of dying, not a real life as the Bible envisions it for all people in the future.
It’s tough for us to shake the perception that this life is LIFE. It ain’t folks. It’s death. Cradle to grave, dying we die. That’s why Jesus said weird things like “let the dead bury the dead.” Even the people he resurrected remained firmly dead … that is, dead in trespasses and sins, not released from the condemnation upon all who get their life from Adam.
Those who receive new life from Christ are indeed alive, however. Christians in this age are truly set free from death, and though their outer man appears to die, inwardly they are being renewed with an inner spiritual life that is the spark of an immortal, spiritual existence beyond the grave.
But those who do not receive Christ in this life remain in their sins, and will have to be dealt with in the next age. And of course, that’s where I differ from the main stream of the Christian community… in seeing a second age of grace for all the rest of mankind.
So enjoy a good love story… but also try to put your mind around the incredible love story of a happy God for ALL the human race. Not one that falls flat because most folks don’t respond… [SPOILER ALERT] not one in which the leading lady gets old and dies, and the leading man gets young and dies … but a love story that is reasonable, fair, and yet results in everyone who wants to living happily ever after!
It’s a love story in which Brad Pitt plays a freak of nature who is born as an old man and lives his standard, finite life in reverse… starting out with an aged body but immature mind, and then progressing through a 70+ year lifetime until he has the mind of an old man in the body of a baby. Somewhere in the middle, he crosses paths with Daisy, played by Kate Blanchett as the love of his life, whose progress follows the normal trajectory of mind and body maturing together.
Interesting dramatic twist… and some of my favorite actors apparently do a terrific job of breathing life into the proposition.
What interests me most, however, is the on-screen depiction of a biblical idea. It is actually verbalized in the book of Job. There the character of Elihu, a young messianic prophet, paints a word picture of redemption in which “his flesh shall become fresher than a child’s; he shall return to the days of his youth.” (Job 33, verse 25) Clearly he’s not referring to religious conversion in most cases… becoming a Christian doesn’t normally equate to a “fountain of youth” experience.
Bear in mind that I am convinced all people who miss out on the opportunity for Christian discipleship during the current age will enjoy a universal, practically fail-safe opportunity for full redemption in the next age. True Christian disciples, in my view, have most often been persecuted or ignored in their churches or other communities…. unpopular with the worldly but also hated by the “religious” who run most sectarian institutions. So while the perhaps 5 or 10 percent of folks who have truly followed Jesus’ footsteps as authentic believers during the last couple of millennia have experienced a redemption, it has been quite inward and almost undetectable to those around them.
Not so the coming redemption for everyone else. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and indeed all the prophets describe exactly the sort of thing that Benjamin Button experiences, physically speaking. Health. Youthfulness. Happiness. Houses. Food. Peter called it “times of restitution” or restoration of all things. (Acts 3:19-21) All things… including health, life, hope, happiness, and a planet that is in tune with its residents.
But unlike Benjamin, life will not be limited to 70 years or fewer, as most people have experienced it. In the Biblical depiction of world salvation, all people will emerge from the graves with the advantage of previous experience. Their decades of living with love as well as hate will give them a start on the curve of moral development. And they’ll all be walking and working and learning together…. whole genrations at a time. For a thousand years, people will have the experience of being reunited with family, old friends and old enemies, apologizing for past sins, being exonerated for past mistreatments, and coming to grips with what it means to be actualized as a free but obedient, loving, honest, good person in community with the rest of the world. And when the thousand years is past, in the words of Amazing Grace, eternity will have just begun.
Pretty dramatic, don’t you think? GIs coming back to the love of their lives, perhaps to meet the child they never met… And the curses which shorten life, which frustrate all of us, will be gone. The benefits will be especially noticeable to the poor of the world of the present age.
I could give you Bible verses for just about every claim, every phrase …. but it’s too laborious right now… gotta run.
After I see the film I’ll review it and let you know whether it lives up to my expectations.
The world has lost Randy Pausch. Temporarily. The Carnegie Mellon prof who gained acclaim and then wrote a best-selling book about dying of cancer has passed away in the last few hours. He was 47. His story is particularly touching to me because he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at precisely the time that my wife was initially diagnosed with the same illness. Our initial scans showed a mass on her pancreas and a number of spots that looked liked metastasized tumors on her liver. We spent several weeks contemplating the possibility that Beth would be gone within 3 months to a year, just like Randy’s family. Thankfully for us, when we went to the Mayo clinic a more focused scan revealed that the local doctors had seen false positives. But the confrontation with death left us with a deeper sympathy and deeper sense of purpose for living well and loving much. Randy’s response is bittersweet to say the least. While we admire his refusal to whine or complain, we cannot help but ask why death happens, and what the purpose of human life might be, if there is one at all. For myself, times like this make me embarrassed to have to identify with the Christian community… because the dark side of orthodoxy is that it believes, and sometimes even says out loud, that people like Randy are “lost”… a euphemism for an eternal destiny of hopeless, conscious torment “in the hands of an angry God.” Randy brings a tear to most of our eyes when he chooses to be satisfied with the amount of life he has enjoyed. He is thankful for his parents, thankful for his job, thankful for his family and the many dreams he has been able to achieve. But as a participant in the Christian community I’m embarrassed to say that the ugliness of Calvinist or even Arminian theology casts the darkest of shadows on every life, no matter how well lived, which does not end with the unqualified acceptance of their Molechian concept of deity. I know my Christian brothers who believe in hell would be offended by my comparison of their faith to the “God of drums” — the awful pounding of sacred drums to drown out the screams of children thrown, alive, into the red-hot arms of a flaming deity. And yet that is the unvarnished truth when you really face Christian doctrine head-on without flinching. Am I right? Challenge me if you think not. I am crying right now, in grief for Randy’s wife, his kids, his many friends and colleagues, his students. What a great man he was. But I am also deeply happy, because the Bible is so crystal clear, so brightly unambiguous, that orthodoxy is dead wrong and doomed to full disclosure and embarrassment; and that Randy has not delivered his last lecture. Randy will be back … with songs, with joy, with the same humility and fun-loving spirit that he carried into the grave. If I read Isaiah correctly, the karma of Randy is far closer to the truth than what Isaiah called the “refuge of lies”. I’m well aware of the proof texts that folks use, and I have spent years in sweet fellowship with good Christian brothers and sisters who are persuaded that these lies (which originated in the Garden of Eden) are true. But the hail that is now decimating the Christian church and making this the post-Christian era is forcing Bible-believing Christians to re-examine the Bible and see what it really says. And to admit that if God is indeed love, there is no way he’s got a guy like Randy Pausch on the wrong side of eternity. No way.
I just finished a couple of major deadlines in my secular work and I celebrated by watching a movie in my hotel room. I’ve seen Million Dollar Baby before, but this movie is told so cinematically, so emotionally, that even when I know the plot ahead of time I find myself going through the same gut-wrenching, agonizing struggles that Frankie (a boxing trainer, Clint Eastwood) and Maggie (his boxer, Hillary Swank) have to face.
The tears and sadness I feel when watching that excruciating story morphs for me into a warm and settled expectation at the end (after my cry). Not because that story ends well. (For those who still haven’t seen this 4-Oscar-winning best picture, I won’t share any details of the plot.) Yes, it’s a work of fiction that feels as sad and overwhelming as any of the myriad tragic stories we hear about every day. Yes, on the face of it I could agree with Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer who wrote that ‘no movie in my memory has depressed me more than Million Dollar Baby.’“
The only real hope that comes from the Hollywood portrayal itself, in my opinion, flows from the crystalline quality of all 3 leading characters of the story. (Eastwood, Swank, and Morgan Freeman) All three face deep disappointments and overwhelming personal challenges. All of them, at some level, fail in achieving their dreams, and the film departs from the normal romanticizing tendencies of pop culture to allow the characters to find a way of coping with their own failure, rather than miraculously finding a way out.
This encourages me because, first of all, I am persuaded that the Bible does not romanticize the experiences of this life for anyone, either. “People die all the time” is not just the realistic pronouncement of the sage observer, Freeman. It’s also the simple story of the Bible.
And I also find encouragement because of the finely-tuned sensibilities of so many people, including the folks in Hollywood who Christians love to bash — people who are pursuing the truth of human life and spirituality with grit, objectivity, and fairness. Increasingly, the reality of the failings of heroes, as well as the mitigating qualities of the “bad guys” are served up in realistic ways. Again, I find this much more like the Bible than the romanticized pulp I here coming from, say, “Focus on the Family” or other well-intentioned but, in my view, simplistic advocates of a brand of Christianity.
For me, then, real hope comes, not from a sweet but ultimately romantic humanistic sentimentality which says that “getting our shot” (as Freeman put it) is all we can hope for. Nor does it come from the faith (?) of a Churchianity that’s been, amazingly, quite deceived: that everyone already has all the shot God in his “sovereignty” has allowed for them…. forever. If either of those options were true, then all the many people who have died trying, or died without trying, or died meaninglessly because of the stupidity or negligence or evil of another, would have died for nothing. They would be just where Freeman thinks Eastwood might have gone… “somewhere between nowhere and goodbye.” Or, if the Christian mainstream is right, they’d be well beyond good-bye, into horrible, unceasing, conscious “good riddance”.
Hope comes from the promise of a resurrection. Not a tentative, deductive, inferential hope that comes from reading ancient poetry or believing myths. The Bible is quite concrete and direct in its promises of a universal resurrection… and more than that, a thoroughgoing exploration of all the lessons of life for every person. A day of reckoning that is transformational, hopeful, and reconstructive. An Act Two that builds on Act One, and doesn’t kill off any of the characters. And those characters who exit in Act Three (after the Millennium) will do so of their own volition, their own informed and fully conscious choice.
Movies like Million Dollar Baby, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List leave me, after I’ve had my cry (and I really am a soft touch in those kinds of tragedies) with a profound satisfaction that the goals of God that are so clearly stated, and will indeed be achieved … and that the methods of God we see about us will yet prove to be so brilliantly wise and incessantly loving as to take our breath away.
When the world comes to its Act 3, there won’t be a nowhere, and there won’t be any more goodbyes. And I think that’s why God is happy.
This week, I’m going to debate a [person who does not accept Jesus as the Son but does believe other sacred texts which I do not believe are true]. I have seen [friends like him] pick the violent verses of the Old Testament (and Moses), and ‘lustful’ parts from it, mainly from the chapter Songs.
I can readily answer any question raised from the NT, even some from the OT. But..I have a huge problem with the things I mentioned above.
How can one understand the ‘violence and lust’ mentioned in the Old testament? I don’t want to look like a fool in front of him, and my desire is to try my best to bring him to Christianity.
God did tell the Jews to remove specific groups of people from the Land he gave to them. He made it clear that it was His land, and they were to not have anything to do with the people who were already there — the Amorites, Phillistines, Amalekites, etc. He made it clear that they were judicially executing them for His own reasons, but we can think of a few reasons why God would give these orders:
2. These people were “polluting” the land itself with their idolatry, their sexual sins, their diseases and their own vicious ways.
3. If the Jews left the people there, in the nature of things they would have ended up (and indeed did to a large degree) copying their religion and their sexual sins, and pick up their diseases of body and soul.
4. God wanted to teach lessons that would create a vivid picture of his determination to have purity and His righteous standards in force in human society in the future.
5. God wanted to create a record of battles, conflicts, and both victories and defeats that would serve as spiritual lessons or “types” to the true spiritual people of God who he planned would come along later.
6. God wanted to forge the Jews into a tight nation, very tribal and very genetically separate, who would be able to survive for the 2000 years that God knew they would be scattered among mystic Babylon, before it was time to regather them again onto their own land. The promises of their resurrection as a people are now being fulfilled. Though even many “Christians” hate the Jews and can’t forgive them for their mistakes as a nation, God does not see it that way. He loves them and has already begun to restore them.
7. God also loved even the enemies of the Jews, and knew that since all people are born dying — as good as dead — they really are learning lessons too … and will be resurrected and restored in Christ’s kingdom. There are specific promises of land for the Arabs, the children of Lot (Moabites) … even the Egyptians and Assyrians in the future. All will be restored, including the enemies of Israel and their kindred tribes, Sodom and Gomorrah. (see Ezekiel 16)
By contrast, the other religions you are dealing with do not provide an everlasting hope of peace and brotherhood among those who it considers enemies. Those sacred writings seem suspect to many who have looked for authentication, because the “original” manuscripts are lost, and the “messages” came through one man whose story is questionable when put to a variety of reasonable tests.
The Bible is verifiable in every detail, and has been supported by the fossil record of the order of creation, and thousands of archeological findings.
As far as the lust part, the Bible is very clear about the limits and guidelines for human love. To the extent that the Song of Songs is a picture of human marriage, it is a vivid description of the kind of love that rightfully and purely exists between a man and his wife…. and in the song their love is not consummated yet because the marriage has not occurred.
But the Song of Songs is much deeper than that. It is also a spiritual account of the love that exists between the King of Kings and his chosen wife, a “black but comely” woman who he sought and claimed as his bride, in spite of her lack of royal bloodlines. It is a picture of Christ and the Church, and it describes the stages of her transformation by God’s grace.
It also discusses her “little sister who has no breasts” – a picture of what Psalms 45:14 refers to as “the virgins her companions who follow her” — the less developed, less fruitful category of Christians who grow up with those Christians who are most faithful and desirable to the Heavenly bridegroom. (no denominational connections here — it’s an individual character-evaluation only God can make). Compare this to Jesus’ story of two groups of virgins — pure and loyal followers — who are distinguished by fruitage in their lives — some wise, some foolish; some with oil of light in their cups, some caught in the nighttime without it. Matt. 25:1-13 Or compare it to the salvation promised to both those who build their lives with “gold, silver and precious stones” and those whose life is merely “wood, hay and stubble” — 1 Cor. 3. Both groups are saved by God’s grace, but one group gains a reward, and the other experiences trouble which humbles and purifies them in the end.
In the Song a question is raised about the Shunamite’s little sister, and the answer is given: (paraphrasing) “She will be examined to see if she is a door or a wall” — a sexually active (spiritually speaking) person or a virgin (spiritually speaking) — that is, faithful in mind and heart or having sold out to the world system and its various idolatries, as many scriptures in both the old and new testaments describe. If she is a door (no longer a virgin), she is boxed in with cedar planks — a coffin — emblematic of eternal death. If she is a wall, and has not lost her spiritual virginity, she is used to build a palace of silver . Silver is the metal used to describe the class of people mentioned in Revelation 7 and other places as a secondary group of saved Christians. Primary group, in the throne and joint heirs with Christ; secondary group, serving in front of the throne. Gold is used to describe the purest, most faithful group of saved Christians. (see Psalm 45:13ff)
See Song of Solomon 8:9
I might suggest asking the person who gives credit to different “sacred texts” where his God promises life for all men (Isaiah 25:8); or restoration for even the enemies of his people (Isaiah 19:23-25)
God has promised through all his holy prophets to restore everything, including the earth, life, and fellowship with God for all people: Acts 3:19-21
This of course harmonizes with the character of God as taught to us by Jesus: he loves his enemies, and his anger toward them is but for a moment, but his mercy endures forever. Psalm 100:5
The question is, does the anger of other traditions’ God only last for a moment? Does his mercy toward all last forever?
Once again, the way I see it, God is happy because he has a plan in place that will restore everyone, including his enemies, and give them a full opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
Hi, Brian and Kimberly,
My apologies for taking so long to answer you.
Jesus told us that God’s motivation is love, and that his goal is to bring life to whoever believes in Jesus. John 3:16
Of course, the mainstream traditional teaching is that most people self-select themselves out of that opportunity, by choosing to reject Jesus. My Calvinist brothers acknowledge that humans are not really free and capable of responding, but their perspective isn’t very comforting, either: they teach that God has chosen who will escape the wrath of God. Apparently in this view God has chosen to send the majority of the human race to eternal misery. Some Calvinists will tell you that God knew these folks would not do the right thing anyway … others will say that the sovereign God can’t fail, is always righteous, so of course this idea that millions, billions are fore-ordained to hell cannot be an unloving or bad idea. After all, “who are we to reply against God?”, they will say; “who are we to complain as lumps of clay against the potter’s will?” (language Paul used in Romans 9, but not to justify eternal damnation, it seems to me).
However Jesus was well aware that God’s sending of a righteous man into the sinful world would not just magically make everyone all sweetness and light… those who benefitted from the status quo would fight him… and so he states in John 3:17 that again, the goal is not to judge the sin-gripped world through Jesus, but to save that very world through Jesus’ efforts on their behalf.
Jesus stated that he came to give his flesh for the life of the world. Again, life for the entire world is what is clearly and unambiguously stated. It doesn’t say, “I came to give my flesh for every individual who receives me before he dies.” There’s a world dying, and Jesus sets his sights pretty darn high — “I’m going to save the world.”
Pause for a moment to consider the ways in which that phrase, “save the world”, is used so often today.
Here’s the first 5 things that come up in a Google search:
The Save the World Project says, “Today we all face a great challenge…” Indeed. This one focuses on fossil fuels, something Jesus never even mentioned.
The How to Save the World blog focuses on unequal distribution of wealth, species extinction trends, and other ominous facts that make thinking people worry.
And at the Save Your World store, you can learn about body care, hair care, and other accessory items at the Rainforest-Mall:
“By purchasing our products, you are contributing to the Save Your World® project, a partnership with Conservation International and the Government of Guyana Forestry Commission. The project secures rainforest habitat that would have been leased by mining or logging companies. Every purchase you make helps protect one whole acre of dwindling habitat…”
That’s just the top 5 ways various well-intentioned folks think we can save our world. Do you suppose that Jesus was equally misguided when he tossed out the notion that somehow if he died on a cross it would do something to save the world?
Or do you think that the historic results of Christianity so far were what he had in mind when he said “my flesh I give for the life of the world”? According to ReligiousTolerance.org, the percentages of the world that are Christian have barely budged in a hundred years — still roughly 33% of the world population. And that’s counting “Christians” in the broadest, most shallow ways possible.
The percentage of Christians in the world peaked at about 30 % in the 1980s, leveled off, is now declining, and will probably approximate to about 25% of the world’s population by 2025. As a result of their extremely high rates of population growth, the proportion of Muslims in the world will continue to increase dramatically, amounting to 20 percent of the world’s population about the turn of the century, surpassing the number of Christians some years later, and probably accounting for about 30 percent of the world’s population by 2025.
Islam is growing faster (2.9% annually, faster than world population growth), while Christianity is slowly slipping as a percentage of world population.
If we try to evaluate Christianity according to the number of adults who have chosen to claim themselves practicing followers of Jesus, a survey published in Crosswalk.com in 2001 stated that 11% of the world “know Jesus”. Quoting ReligiousTolerance.org:
Missiologist Ralph Winter estimated in early 2001 that there are 680 million “born again” Christians in the world, and that they are growing at about 7% a year. This represents about 11% of the world’s population and 33% of the total number of Christians.
So getting back to my main point: Christianity as we know it should not be viewed as a fulfillment of Jesus’ claims that he came to save the world.
And Jesus not only claims that he is the only way to life, he claims that the opportunity comes from God, and ALL men will indeed be drawn to him.
It should be obvious, it seems to me, that either we should dismiss Jesus entirely as a raging, self-deceived lunatic, or else we should try to find a rational explanation for these amazingly grandiose statements.
Paul, writing about it later, said that Jesus brought life and immortality (two distinct things) to light through the gospel. (That’s from 2 Timothy 1:10)
I would submit that life for the human race (on earth beginning in Messiah’s worldwide reign) was brought to light through the gospel. The whole world will be saved when the redemptive plan of Jesus is fully accomplished. The earth will be restored, the garden paradise will expand to fill the world, the nations will be healed — whoever wants to — and only after they have made their choice will Satan be allowed to attempt to instigate one last rebellion. (see Revelation 20) Though Christians lost sight of this world-wide redemption, orthodox Jews have held fast to it in one form or another and it’s still a prominent part of their hope for the future.
In summary, Jesus came to save the world. And he’ll really do it. First he saves a small group who will be so close as to be called his “bride” … but then they together turn their attention to the world and continue the hard work of saving it, through a process of resurrection by judgment, and teaching the world what it means to live in harmony and follow the principles of God’s universe. When they’re done, every man, woman and child who has ever lived will have fully learned what God expects of them, and how wonderful things can be if everyone follows those loving and just principles. Then a final test, and those who choose death will receive it. The vast majority, no doubt, will choose and forever enjoy life and love on a restored earth. “And they all lived happily ever after…”
I am a true follower of Christ, and I accepted Christ as my only saviour.
But I have one question that bothers me…We know the Old testament and the new testament are different. Why is it that God is an ‘angry and destructive’ God in the Old testament, and written that we follow an eye for an eye, and destroyed lands and annihilated tribes, and there were strict rules then, etc. you know what I mean. BUT…in the new testament, God is a God of love, forgiveness, compassion, etc. Here, it teaches that we should turn the other cheek, etc. And that the old testament rules don’t apply to us now! Who said that? We are commanded not to eat pigs, and we still eat them. Please…tell me. What is the difference b/w the old testament and the new testament, and why did God suddenly change in the New.
With much love in Christ,
Thanks for an excellent question.
I would start with the fact that Jesus lived as a Jew, born under the law, and did not condemn the Law. He obeyed it both in letter and spirit, and won the right to become the mediator of that law for the world of mankind. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)
Now, here’s where the mainstream teachings of Christian tradition will start to steer you wrong: most churches teach that Jesus abolished the law for all people, and made the new testament concepts of turning the other cheek, etc. as the new standard … as though God had changed the rulebook half way through human history. I agree with you that this is how it seems.
In reality, I think to make sense of the Bible we need to see 3 things:
1. The Law is eternal.. that is, the principles of right and wrong, how to treat people, etc.
2. Overlaid upon the Law are some ceremonial features and some dietery guidelines that have more symbolic, spiritual significance. These ceremonial features include the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and the activities of the feasts and fasts. Each of them is a picture of God’s dealings with different parts of humanity, at different times. The spiritual meaning of each of these applies to things God is planning for either the Church or the world of mankind.
For example, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) sacrifices picture the activities of Jesus and his followers (Aaron and his sons the under-priests) during the Christian age. They experience the symbolic burning of the flesh outside the camp (The writer of Hebrews refers to this in Hebrews 13:11-13 and applies the process to both Jesus and his followers — clearly a reference to the fact that both the bullock and the goat of sin offering experienced the burning of their bodies — an offensive and dishonored smell as viewed from the world’s perspective. And yet the result of the very same sacrifices involved the commingling of their blood with incense which ascended from the “holy” compartment to the “most holy”.
I believe that this feature of the Law — the tabernacle — defines for us the temporary dwelling place of God among members of the Church of Christ in this life. Throughout the Christian era, God has met only with those who approach him through Jesus — who is pictured by the 3 doors of access to God the tent was fitted with. An outer gate, represents belief in Jesus as our savior. The inner building could only be entereded through the door of full commitment to Jesus, as described in Romans 12:1. And the inner door represents the pathway to the presence of God which Jesus made accessible through his death, and we only pass through upon our death as his followers.
At the same time that those carcases — hide and hoofs and entrails — were making a stench from the world’s perspective, the blood or life essence of the same animals was brought with incense and coals of fire and combined on the golden altar inside the Holy. This created a “sweet smelling savor” from the viewpoint of fellow-believers, and it actually permeated the door and wafted with the High Priest into the Most Holy when he came to sprinkle the blood at the “mercy seat”. (See Revelation 5:8, which defines incense as the prayers of holy people, and Revelation 6:9-11, which indicates that the blood of martyrs is valuable to God and he factors it into his decisions as the righteous judge.)
Hopefully from this example you can see that the Law was given to foreshadow things which the New Testament presents in greater detail. Other examples which you can easily research include:
the Passover lamb picturing Jesus, their escape from Egypt picturing the promised deliverance of all people, and the night of the firstborn, picturing the deliverance of the Church in advance of the rest of the world;
the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham picturing God and his sacrifice of his only Son;
the whole story of Joseph picturing Jesus and his interactions with the Jewish people;
the 3 40-year kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon picturing the 3 ages of grace — the Jewish, the Christian, and the Messianic;
the battle of Gideon and the Midianites, picturing the “little flock” of the Christian church defeating the enemies of God;
the battle of Joshua against Jericho, picturing the fall of the world system through an earthquake brought by God.
The Old Testament is literally filled with these “types” or foreshadowings of the great plans of God.
3. The most important thing you need to see is the amazing love of God for all the world of mankind. What few Christians seem to realize is that God ordained two different ways of dealing with those whom He intends to save through Christ. In New Testament times until now, God is dealing with people who in his wisdom he decided not to actually make healthy, get new bodies, etc. Instead, he gives us a “treasure in an earthen vessel”. He gives us a measure of His spirit which “transforms our mind” (Romans 12:1-2) but does not actually restore our physical bodies. We continue to sin, and learn to be somewhat punished, somewhat crippled, by those sins. We must struggle with our environment, too — temptations from bad people and even evil angels; tendencies to sin from our own fallen nature as well as our selfish human heart. In God’s wisdom, this is the condition we are left in throughout our Christian walk in the flesh.
Therefore, much of the Old Testament teaches the human followers of Jesus for the last 2000 years how to think and act in imperfect surroundings. It helps us learn how to struggle and fight against evil in our very souls. In the Old Testament, this struggle was pictured by the battles of the nation of Israel to capture the promised land. All of that happened, not because it is God’s will that we should practice “ethnic cleansing”, but because he wanted to create an illustration of what is happening in the lives of true Christians across the last 20 centuries.
But both the Old and New Testaments also state that the vast majority of the human race will be dealt with by God in a different way. He will “pour out his spirit upon ALL FLESH”. He will swallow up death in victory. He will heal all people. “All in their graves” will come forth and be resurrected onto the earth. In that era, people will actually be healed physically, while their moral development is still progressing. All the inhabitants of the world will “learn righteousness”. There will be no stumbling blocks. Satan will be bound. There will be no deceivers, and God will no longer hide himself. Instead, he will be with them, and be their God. Before they call, He will answer.
These promises are the key to understanding how to harmonize the Old and New Testaments.
When you came to the Lord you were probably taught that those who don’t accept Jesus now will burn in hell forever, either literally or in some sort of psychological separation from God. Perhaps you grew up being taught this awful idea since you were a child. Clearly the Bible has lurid language in places which can be interepreted this way. However, the only way you’ll be able to harmonize the entire Bible and really make sense of the Old and New Testaments as one united work is to realize that God has planned for the complete recovery of all who are willing. The whole world is going to be restored. The whole world is going to be taught. God so loved the world — the entire world — that he sent his son to save them. He didn’t come to bring a message that would in reality condemn them. No, he came to die for their sins, to pay the price of their inherited sins from Adam, so that they would have what some people call a “second chance”. In reality, it is a full “first real opportunity” to know and understand God for the vast majority of the human race.
If you look carefully at the words of God uttered through the mouths of the prophets of the Old Testament, there is very good news promised for the whole world. Everyone. Not just for Jews, and not just for Christians either. A “feast of fat things” has been decreed and planned for the entire world. It is the sovereign God’s righteous and irresistable will that all the world will be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth. Because Jesus was “lifted up” (like the serpent of Numbers 21), he will draw ALL MEN to him. All the world will be delivered from death, as Isaiah describes it. All people will know the Lord, as Jeremiah expresses it. All of these Old Testament promises are echoed in the broadest possible language in the New Testament, such as Revelation 21:1-4 which describes the blessing of all the people of the world, and paints a picture in which the “wife of the lamb” works with the lamb to bring these blessings to all. Clearly the intent of the writers is to tell us that the Christian church (that is, the folks whom God hand-picks to be the spiritual wife of Jesus in heaven) will be united with Him and bring life to all the world. This is really good news.
As for the dietary laws, I would think of part of them as sanitation and health regulations for the benefit of the people back then (as well as now) and part of it is meant to have spiritual meaning as so much of the rest of the Old Testament does.
I believe that the number of “goats” (Matthew 25) who will perish in what the Bible calls the “2nd death” is, relatively speaking, very small. Even if the “Gog and Magog” rebellion at the end of the Millennium is comparable to the 200 million evil “horsemen” described at the beginning of the Millennium in Revelation 9, that’s only maybe 2 percent of world population by the time all the dead are raised.
In summary, the important thing to remember is that God does not change, and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. For Christians now, God has a higher standard and a more difficult test in place. We aren’t just as as Christians to be good people to the best of our ability, we are asked to love our enemies and “turn the other cheek” as Jesus did. And we are being trained to be kings, priests, judges and rulers of the world of the future.
The rest of the world is not on trial at the present time. Their sins are not being imputed to them, but instead they are “storing up” the wrath or judicial judgment of God for their day of reckoning and learning, the 1000 year reign of Messiah. But they will be evaluated at that time, not as a simple condemnation for past mistakes, but as a hopeful and righteous opportunity to learn from those past mistakes and learn to walk in God’s ways. They will be helped and taught in that time by a very merciful group of mentors — the Christian Church and Jesus himself.
And so in the end, the wrath of God (which describes the entire time period of human history — 6 thousand years to us, but only 6 days to God) will have been but “for a moment”. And his mercy — his love for the human race which will effectively and massively restore it, will last forever.
Thanks for your question and please follow up with the many more questions which my answer will probably generate.