Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Question and Answer about the New Covenant

In a well known account in the life of Christ, a man asked Jesus Christ a question about the New Covenant. Specifically, He asked Jesus what He had to do in order to receive eternal life. This was a New Covenant question because eternal life was never offered under the Old Covenant but is offered under the New Covenant.

The Old Covenant was a covenant between God and the physical nation of Israel and was made during the days of Moses. Israel agreed to obey God including God's law of the ten commandments, and in return God promised to bless Israel with national blessings of wealth, protection from enemies, and health (Exodus 15:25-26, 19:1-9, 20:1-17, 23:25-27, 24:3-8, Leviticus 26:3-13, Deuteronomy 28:1-14). But if you read carefully everything God promised Israel under the terms of the Old Covenant, you will not find eternal life offered. The promises under the Old Covenant included blessings in this physical life only.

But the New Covenant is based on better promises than the Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-8). One of those promises is forgiveness of sins (Jeremiah 31:31-34, especially verse 34). The penalty of sin is eternal death, but under the New Covenant, sins are forgiven and the penalty wiped out by the sacrifice of Christ, and the gift of eternal life is made available (Romans 6:23). There are a number of scriptures in the New Testament that confirm that eternal life is a promise under the terms of the New Covenant (1 John 2:24-25, John 3:16, John 6:54, John 10:27-28).

So when the man asked Jesus Christ what he had to do to obtain eternal life, he was asking a New Covenant question. Specifically, he was asking a question about the requirements of the New Covenant (Mark 10:17, Luke 18:18).

Jesus answered, "You know the commandments", and named several of the ten commandments (Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20).

In answering a question about New Covenant requirements for eternal life, Jesus pointed the man to the commandments he already knew. This was a man who was taught in the traditions of Israel and the commandments he knew since his youth were the ten commandments (Mark 10:20, Luke 18:21).

The man's question, and Jesus Christ's answer, had nothing to do with the Old Covenant. The man's question and Jesus's answer had to do with the New Covenant only. This is entirely a New Covenant doctrine.

So under the New Covenant, if you want eternal life, keep the ten commandments.

That the ten commandments are still in force after the death and resurrection of Christ is confirmed by James 2:10-11 which says that if you transgress one commandment you transgress all of them. Why? The reason James gives is important. He says, "For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder' ". In other words, it is because of WHO gave the commandments that we must obey them. Because God gave the commandments, we must obey all ten of them. It is clear that James is quoting from the ten commandments.

Are the Ten Commandments Part of the New Covenant?

It is well known in Christianity that the ten commandments are a vital part of the Old Covenant. It is also well known that Christians are under the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant. But does this mean that Christians are not obligated to obey the ten commandments? Are the ten commandments obsolete for Christians? Or are Christians to keep the ten commandments?

Or to put it another way, are the ten commandments part of the New Covenant just as they are part of the Old Covenant? Are the ten commandments part of both covenants?

Most traditional Christians would agree that we should not murder, commit adultery, or steal. They do not have a problem with commandments against those things. But they do have a problem with the Sabbath. Many think that Christians do not need to keep the Sabbath day because the command to observe the Sabbath is in the ten commandments, and they think the ten commandments are done away. They think the ten commandments are only included in the Old Covenant and not the New Covenant.

What is the Old Covenant? The Old Covenant was an agreement between God and Israel. God promised to bless Israel if Israel obeyed God and kept His law (Exodus 19:1-9, 20:1-17, 23:25-27, 24:3-8, Deuteronomy 28:1-14). Those were the terms that God offered Israel. The ten commandments were part of the covenant because the ten commandments described God's law that the people had to obey. The Old Covenant came into existence after Israel agreed to the terms and the covenant was ratified with blood (Exodus 24:3-8).

Notice that the Old Covenant included promises God made to bless Israel. Those promises included health, economic prosperity, and protection from enemies (Exodus 15:25-26, Leviticus 26:3-13). These were national promises that applied to the nation as a whole. That was God's part. Israel's part was to keep the ten commandments and obey God in everything. But also notice here, there is no promise of eternal life under the Old Covenant, only national blessings in this physical life. There is also no promise of the Holy Spirit or of writing God's law in the people's hearts.

What is the New Covenant? It is first described in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This Old Testament scripture is quoted by the author of Hebrews in describing the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:7-12, 10:16-17).

Notice that there is nothing here about a different law for the New Covenant. The law is the same for both covenants. So what is the difference? The difference is in the promises. The New Covenant is based on better promises than the Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-8). One of those promises is given in the Old Testament. Under the New Covenant, God will write His law in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). That is different from the Old Covenant in which God's law was written or engraved on stone (Exodus 24:12, Deuteronomy 27:1-8). That is important, because the writing of God's law on stone is often used to represent the Old Covenant, in contrast to the writing of God's law in our hearts under the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:7-11).

Notice also there is a promise in the New Covenant of forgiveness of sin (Jeremiah 31:34). This was never available under the Old Covenant.

Many aspects of the New Covenant are described in more detail in the New Testament.

Another promise of the New Covenant is eternal life (1 John 2:24-25, John 3:16, John 6:54, John 10:27-28, Romans 6:23). Remember, eternal life was never promised under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant promises of national blessings for Israel pertained to this temporary physical life only - read Deuteronomy 28:1-14.

Is the law of the ten commandments, including the law of the Sabbath, retained under the New Covenant?

When Jesus Christ was on earth, someone asked Him a question about the requirements of the New Covenant. A man wanted to know what he had to do to receive eternal life. This was a New Covenant question, because the Old Covenant did not promise eternal life. This question had NOTHING to do with the Old Covenant.

If this question was about the Old Covenant, the man would have asked, "what must we do to obtain national blessings of health, prosperity, and protection from our enemies?" because those were the promises of the Old Covenant. But the man asked about eternal life, which is only available under the New Covenant. So this question is 100% about the New Covenant. And the answer Jesus gave directly answers our question, is the law of the ten commandments, including the law of the Sabbath, retained under the New Covenant.

What was Jesus Christ's answer?

Jesus said, "You know the commandments" (Mark 10:17-19, Luke 18:18-20). Then Jesus named several of the ten commandments.

Now is it only the commandments that Jesus named that are required? Is it alright under the New Covenant to have other gods before the true God (first commandment), to use images in worship (second commandment), to take God's name in vain (third commandment), and to not keep the Sabbath (fourth commandment). No. Jesus named several of the ten commandments as examples, but the whole package of ten commandments is included. Why? Because Jesus started His answer by saying "you know the commandments". This man grew up in Israel and learned the ten commandments from his youth. The commandments he knew were the ten commandments, all ten of them.

So in telling the man what is required for the New Covenant promise of eternal life, Jesus told the man to keep the commandments he already knew, the ten commandments.

And that includes the Sabbath.

So Sabbath observance is a requirement under the New Covenant.

The New Testament affirms the ten commandments as a body of law that still exists. Notice what James wrote, long after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:10-11). Notice that James wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17), that if you violate one point of the law, you violate the whole law and are guilty of transgression. Which law? James shows that he is talking about the ten commandments, calling each commandment a "point" of the law, because he uses two of the ten commandments as examples. James also explains WHY we are guilty of violating the whole law of God if we violate just one point. It is because of WHO gave the commandments ("For He who said..."). In other words, it is because God gave the commandments that we must obey all of them. Using that same logic, He who said "you shall not commit adultery" also said "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). That is exactly the logic that James is using.

Some people are confused by some of the things Paul wrote regarding the law. One of the principles of Bible study is that the Bible cannot contradict itself. All scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God cannot lie (Titus 1:1-2, Hebrews 6:17-18). Therefore the Bible cannot lie or contradict itself, and all scripture is true (John 17:17, Psalm 119:160). When some scriptures seem to contradict other scriptures, you let the clear scriptures interpret unclear or difficult ones. That is an important principle. You get all the scriptures on a topic, then let clear scriptures that are easy to understand interpret those that are difficult to understand. Some of Paul's writings are difficult to understand, and Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit to warn about that (2 Peter 3:14-16). Paul often uses the word "law" in different ways and he uses symbols of the Old Covenant in different ways. When Paul says that we are not under the law, he can be referring to the penalty of the law (death), which is removed from hanging over us when we are forgiven our sins in Jesus Christ. He can also be referring to the Old Covenant and its regulations directly. But we can use clear scriptures such as those I have quoted from James, Mark, and Luke to understand the difficult scriptures in Paul's letters to know that he is not saying that the law of the ten commandments is obsolete.

Some people think that Jesus said that the law would be done away after He fulfilled the law by keeping it, but Jesus never said that. Notice what He said. "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Matthew 5:17-18). Has heaven and earth passed away? No. Has all the law and the prophets been fulfilled? No. There are many Old Testament prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled including prophecies pertaining to the millennium after Christ returns (Isaiah 2:1-4, Isaiah 11:1-9). All has not yet been fulfilled. Moreover, Christ never said the law would be removed after it was fulfilled, only that it would not be removed while there was yet something in the law and the prophets that was not yet fulfilled and while heaven and earth remain. He is not saying anything about what would happen after everything is completely fulfilled.

Many people think that the Sabbath was made just for Israel and that it was made at the time of the making of the Old Covenant. Neither is true. The Sabbath was made for mankind and it existed before the Old Covenant.

Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27). Jesus did not say that the Sabbath was made for Israel or for the Jew. It was made for man in general, not just Israel.

And notice, the Sabbath was made. It was created. There was a time when God brought the Sabbath into existence. Was this when the Old Covenant was made with Israel? No. The Old Covenant was made when the ten commandments were given, Israel agreed to the covenant, and it was ratified with blood. But the Sabbath existed before that. Notice that it existed before the ten commandments were given (Exodus 16:4-6, 22-30).

Jesus said that the Sabbath was made. Since the Sabbath was created for the entire human race, it would be reasonable to expect that there would be a record in the Old Testament of that event, the making of the Sabbath. There is such a record, and it is the only record of anything that can be an account of the making of the Sabbath in the entire Old Testament.

Genesis 2:2-3 says, "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made." Why did God rest? Not because He was tired. He rested in order to create the Sabbath. He created that first Sabbath day by His example of resting. This is the account of the making of the Sabbath for man that Jesus talked about.

The close parallel wording between the fourth commandment ("Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" - Exodus 20:11) and the creation account ("Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it" - Genesis 2:3) shows that this seventh day was a Sabbath, just as the fourth commandment describes. Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:11 are talking about exactly the same thing - the Sabbath day.

The New Covenant includes the same law of the ten commandments as the Old Covenant, including the Sabbath, but provides better promises.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

God Is Not Trying to Save Everyone in this Age

Is God trying to save everyone now, in this age? Is this physical life the only chance a man or woman has to be saved? Traditional Christianity may teach this, but the Bible does not.

There is a future general resurrection of the dead. This is described for Israel in Ezekiel 37:1-14 and for the world in Revelation 20:11-15. At this time, all who have lived and died in this age who never had a chance for salvation will be given their first opportunity to hear the true gospel, to believe the gospel, to believe in Christ and accept Him as personal savior, and to repent and be baptized. Those who repent and accept Christ in faith will be forgiven and can receive the Holy Spirt and be converted and saved. This will include all the millions who lived and died before Christ was born who never knew about Christ and all the billions in many nations today who never had the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ.

If God wanted to save everyone now, He would. All things are possible for God (Luke 18:27, Luke 1:37, Mark 10:27, Matthew 19:26). God is fully capable of making sure that the gospel is heard by every person on earth. But He has not done that.

Is a chance for salvation necessary in a general resurrection for those who never heard of Christ to be saved? Yes.

It is those who believe in Christ who will be saved (John 6:53-58, Acts 16:31, Romans 10:8-13, 1 John 5:9-13, Galatians 2:15-16, Acts 10:36-43, Acts 4:9-12, John 20:30-31, John 6:47), and it is necessary for those being saved to hear the gospel so they can believe it (Romans 10:14-15, Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, Luke 8:11-15, Acts 11:13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, Acts 15:7-9). Yet billions in this life have never heard the gospel because of circumstances of birth and have had no opportunity to believe it and be saved.

In order to be saved, you must have the Holy Spirit of God (Romans 8:9-11). Notice in verse 11 that it is the Spirit of God dwelling in a Christian that gives life. It is those who are Christ's, that is, who have the Spirit of God who are raised to immortality at the second coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Corinthians 15:50-57). This is the first resurrection, the resurrection of the saints (Revelation 20:4-6).

Therefore, if a man does not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in him at the time of his death or when Christ returns, whichever comes first, he will not be in the first resurrection at the return of Christ, the resurrection to immortality.

But to receive the Holy Spirit, you must believe the gospel, repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38, Ephesians 1:13-14).

There were some who had repented and were living righteously, and were baptized into John's baptism, but had not received the Holy Spirit until they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and only then did they receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-6). So the general rule is, without being baptized as a symbol of the acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is not given. The millions in China and elsewhere who never had the opportunity to hear the name of Jesus Christ could not have been baptized in His name and therefore could not receive the Holy Spirit and therefore could not be in the first resurrection. Therefore, no matter how righteously they may live, they cannot be in the first resurrection. The only chance they will have is in the general resurrection described in Ezekiel 37.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 clearly shows that God will resurrection ancient Israelites who lived before Christ back to a second physical life on this earth and give them the opportunity to be saved. Notice, the dry bones Ezekiel sees are the whole house of Israel (Ezekiel 37:11), so this would include the men of ancient Israel who lived in Ezekiel's time and before, since they are part of the "whole" house of Israel. These people are brought back to physical life because muscle tissue is put upon the bones and breath must enter their bodies in order for them to live, according to Ezekiel 37:4-10. These are people who have died in the past and will come up out of their graves, according to Ezekiel 37:12-13. And God says He will put His Spirit in them, showing they can become converted and receive salvation (Ezekiel 37:14) because it is the Spirit of God that makes one belong to Christ (Romans 8:9, Acts 2:1-4, Acts 2:38).

Is it only Israel that is raised to life and given a chance for salvation? No. God does not show partiality based on nationality (Acts 10:34-35). All nations will be raised from the dead. Revelation describes this same event in Revelation 20:11-15. Notice that the book of life will be open (verse 12). Those who repent can have their names written in it.

God is love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16, John 3:16-17) and God is very merciful (Exodus 34:6-8, Psalm 106:1, Luke 6:35-36, Hebrews 8:12, James 5:11). God does not want anyone to perish but for all to repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:3-4).

This is why there will be a general resurrection as described in Ezekiel 37 and Revelation 20. God in His mercy will give every human being who has ever lived a chance to hear the gospel and understand and a chance to believe the gospel, to repent, and to be saved. Those who do not have that opportunity in this life will be resurrected and given that opportunity in the general resurrection. Those who believe and repent can be saved, and those who reject the gospel after hearing it and understanding it will not be saved. God will not force His salvation upon anyone, and He will not take away our free will, but He will make sure everyone has the opportunity to hear the gospel and be saved.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

When Was the Sabbath Made?

Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). When was it made? Some might think that the Sabbath did not exist before Moses, and they say that there is no record of the Sabbath being kept before Israel began to keep it in the wilderness.

There are two examples of Sabbath keeping in the first 30 chapters of Genesis.

There is one very specific example, directly tied to the Sabbath, and also a more general example that shows that someone was keeping the Sabbath when you put a few scriptures together.

When was the Sabbath made, and how was it made? Part of the answer to the question of HOW the Sabbath was made is given in the fourth of the ten commandments: "...Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:11). God made the Sabbath by blessing it and hallowing it, or in other words, putting a special honor upon it and setting it apart from other days for a special purpose.

When did this event occur? It happened at the time of creation. "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it..." (Genesis 2:3).

God Himself observed the Sabbath when He created it, by resting on that day, setting an example for mankind (Genesis 2:1-3). He created the Sabbath by keeping it Himself as well as by blessing and sanctifying it. God often teaches by example (John 13:12-16). Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, lived an entire perfect life without sin as an example of how His followers should live. God rested on the Sabbath, keeping it, for the sole purpose of making the Sabbath, creating the Sabbath day as a special day for mankind, as Jesus said (Mark 2:27-28). There was no other reason for God to rest. God did not need to rest because He was tired. He rested to create the Sabbath by His example. And He created it for mankind immediately after He created mankind, so He intended it to be kept by mankind from the beginning. He sanctified it and set it apart for a holy purpose. That was the first Sabbath. The exact parallel of wording between the commandment in Exodus 20:11 and creation of the Sabbath day in Genesis 2:3 shows that they are talking about exactly the same thing.

The second example is where God said that Abraham kept an entire body of God's law. Genesis 26:5 says, "because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." This shows that the law of God existed before Moses. It also shows that just because a law is not specifically mentioned before Moses does not mean it didn't exist or wasn't observed. The evidence that the Sabbath was included in this law is the reference to "My law" that God makes in Exodus 16:4-6 when He says that He will test Israel to see if they will keep God's law. God is not creating a new law. He is making reference to a law that already existed prior to the ten commandments and prior to the Old Covenant. This has to be the same law that Abraham obeyed. There is no record of God changing any laws from the time of the flood until Moses, and no record of God creating the Sabbath day by blessing it and sanctifying it after Genesis chapter 2. So since the Sabbath law existed before the Old Covenant, it must have been included in the same body of law that Abraham kept. The whole context of the test of Israel was their willingness to obey the Sabbath law (Exodus 16:27-30).

Notice, in the fourth commandment, God says, "...Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:11). The parallel wording shows that this is pointing to the seventh day of creation when God rested, "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it..." (Genesis 2:3). This answers the question of when God made the Sabbath day. It was made when God blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. When was that? It was at creation, because Genesis says God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. What this shows is that the seventh day of creation which God blessed was not just that one day, but the Sabbath day itself, every seventh day from that time, which is what the Sabbath is, a re-occurring day of the week. Therefore the Sabbath must have existed in Abraham's day, and since God says that Abraham obeyed God's laws, he must have kept the Sabbath.

Some Bible readers might think that because there is no record before Moses of a codified law that says, "you shall rest on the Sabbath", the law of the Sabbath did not exist before Moses. But that line of reasoning is invalidated by God's statement about Abraham's obedience. Abraham obeyed God's laws, yet those laws are not codified in Genesis. The lack of mention of the codification of those laws in Abraham's day doesn't mean they did not exist at that time. God's laws existed before they were codified with Moses. There would be no need for Moses, who wrote Genesis, to itemize all the laws that Abraham obeyed because Moses wrote those laws as God gave them to him in Exodus.

Joseph knew about God's law because he knew what sin is (Genesis 39:9). He knew that to commit adultery with his master's wife was a violation of God's commandment against adultery, the seventh commandment, and therefore was a sin against God. He knew what sin was by the commandments of God. "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4, King James Version). Which law? The ten commandments. Paul said that he knew that coveting was a sin because the tenth of the ten commandments said, "You shall not covet" (Romans 7:7). See also James 2:10-11.