God’s Love and the Lake of Fire

From Scripture, we know that there are three confirmed residents in the Lake of Fire, two humans and one angel. They are the beast (Anti-Christ), the false prophet and the devil (cf. Rev 19:20; 20:10). There are two more confirmed residents; they are Death and Hades (if they are some kind of angelic beings) at the end of this current heaven and earth (cf. Rev 20:14).

Besides these five confirmed residents, the Scripture warns that anyone whose name was not found in the book of life will end up joining the five confirmed residents in the lake of fire (cf. Rev 20:15). There are similar warning from other parts of Scripture.

Jesus warns that a time is coming when the dead will hear his voice and be resurrected. The ones who done good will be resurrected to enjoy life, and the one who have done evil will be resurrected for judgment (cf. Joh 5:28-29). Although the Lake of fire is not mentioned, it is safe to assume that the resurrection for judgment refers to the dead whom Death and Hades gave up to be judged according to what they had done (cf. Rev 20:13). Everyone whose name is not found the in book of life will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (cf. Rev 20:15).

Paul warns that on the day of wrath, God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (cf. Rom 2:5). On that day, God will judge all according to their deeds (Rom 2:6). God will give eternal life “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality” (Rom 2:7 ESV). On the other hand, God’s wrath and fury will be “for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” (Rom 2:8 ESV). Although the Lake of fire is not mentioned by Paul, it is reasonable to assume that the day of wrath is the same day as when all great and small stand before the great white throne to be judged according to their deeds, that is, what they had done (cf. Rev 20:11-12).

In all these warnings of judgment, it is clear that believers must take this warning seriously. The threat of being thrown into the Lake of Fire is real because the Scripture has already mentioned three, if not five, confirmed residents in it. On the hand, the good news is that no other human being has been named as resident in the Lake of Fire. Thus, no one knows with certainty who else will be in the Lake of Fire.

While no one knows with certainty who will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, the Scripture on the other hand points to a certain path to escape the Lake of Fire. Paul points to Christ as the certain path to escape (saved) from the wrath of God (Rom 5:9; cf. 1Th 1:10). All who believed in Christ are not destined for the wrath of God (1Th 5:9).

Why does God offer a certain path of escape from the Lake of Fire? The answer is God’s love for the whole humanity. The Scripture says, “For God so loved the world” (Joh 3:16a). The “world” refers to the whole humanity. God is motivated by love to save the whole humanity through his only Son, who came not to condemn but to save humanity (Joh 3:17).

While God love the whole humanity, every human needs to make a choice about his Son, Jesus. If they believe, they have eternal life (Joh 3:16b). They are not condemned, that is, they are not destined for the Lake of Fire (Joh 3:18a; cf. 1Th 5:9). On the other hand, if a person does not believe, such a person is already condemned, that is, they are already destined for the Lake of Fire (Joh 3:18b; cf. 1Th 5:9). The reason is that such a person did not believe in the only Son of God, who is the only certain path of escape from the Lake of fire (Rom 5:9; 1Th 1:10).

While Jesus is the certain path of escape from the Lake of fire, all are traveling down the road to the Lake of fire because they have committed sins, not because they did not believe in Jesus Christ. The warning of Scripture is that they will be judged according to what they have done. Is there anyone who does not need salvation? The warning of Scripture is that all have fallen short of the glory of God, and deserve to be thrown into the Lake of fire (cf. Rom 3:22b-23; Eph 2:1-3).

Then, how about those who did not hear about Jesus Christ? From what we know, all will be judged according to their deeds. Does this mean that they do not have an opportunity to escape the Lake of fire? We do not know because Scripture did not clearly say. Since God is loving and Jesus is the only certain path, is it possible that God will send Jesus to them in a different way, eg, dream? Yes, God and Jesus can. Nevertheless, we will never know unless we hear personal testimony of such contact (“conversion of Saul” cf. Acts 9:1-31; Cornelius, Acts 10:1-48).

While we are to be responsible witnesses for Jesus, we must acknowledge that we will never know how God reaches out to those who never hear the gospel from us.  We trust in God’s love and goodness to bring Jesus to them. The Scripture does give us a glimpse on how God could have done it (Acts 9:1-31; 10:1-48), but God sees fit not to let us know the details. Just as God is responsible for our salvation, God is responsible for the salvation of those who never hear the gospel from us. The responsibility that does belong to us is to witness for Christ in this world.

 

 

 

Unforgettable Experiences with God (II)

The Scripture is full of human experiences. These are recorded through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that we may be guided by the experiences of God’s people in the past to respond to our situations today. The disciples in Paul’s time were instructed to learn from the experiences of the Israelite as found in the Old Testament (cf. 1Co 10:6-12). The subsequent generations of disciples are to learn from the experiences of the those in Old and New Testament.

This post will reflect on the experiences of three siblings. Martha and Mary were quietly crying as they watch their brother lying motionless except for irregular interval of chesty coughing. The village physician was shaking his head as he examined Lazarus’ pulse. “He is dying”, says the physician looking at the sobbing sisters.

“We must ask Jesus to come immediately. Only he can heal Lazarus!” says Martha. The sisters sent words to Jesus. When Jesus received the news, he delayed his coming to Bethany. His disciples must have urged him to leave immediately for Bethany. “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it”, says Jesus in reply (John 13:1-6).

Meanwhile, Martha and Mary watched their brother died a quick death. They did not know about Jesus’ declaration. Their hearts were broken. They were disappointed that the who loved them did not come in time to save their brother (John 13:5). Their heart-breaking experience was an unforgettable one.

Lazarus suffered and died. His carcass was wrapped up and placed in a tomb. His human spirit has temporary left his corpse and return to God (cf. Ecc 12:7). What did his human spirit see during the four days of his death (John 13:39)? There is no record, but it must be an unforgettable experience.

Four days later, Jesus came to Bethany (John 13:17-44). Martha was convinced that Lazarus would not die if Jesus arrived four days earlier (13:21). On the other hand, Martha did not expect Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead immediately. While Martha affirmed that whatever Jesus asked from God, he would receive (John 13:22). This affirmation seems to imply that Jesus could raise Lazarus immediately because God would do what he asked.

When Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again” (13:23), the limit of her statement is exposed because she said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (13:24). This reveals that she did not expect Jesus to raise up Lazarus immediately but in the last days God will raise Lazarus up based on Jesus’ request.

Again, when Jesus asked her “do you believe” that “I am the resurrection and the life” and that “whoever believes in me, through he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (13:25-26)? She again exposed the limit of her faith. She believed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (13:27). However, her faith based on her understanding did not fathom that Jesus could raise up Lazarus immediately.

Before we crucified Martha for her lack of depth in faith, her response is typical of many believers. When we look at her response, she revealed her intellectual understanding of theological insights. She was able to apply the theological truth to comfort herself in her sorrow, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (13:24). She believed that Jesus would raise Lazarus up on the last day because Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (13:27). She correctly applied the truth that whatever Jesus asks from God, God will give him (13:22). Her faith based on her intellectual understanding of theological insight about Jesus made all the right applications for her situation. We should take our hat off for her.

However, when Martha had an unforgettable experience of seeing her brother being raised from the dead, her theological insights must have undergone transformation. Suddenly, her statement “even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give” takes on a new meaning when God answered Jesus’ request by raising her brother from the dead. Similarly, her understanding of Jesus’ statement, “Your brother will rise again” no longer was limited to the resurrection on the last day (11:23-24) but being expanded to include being raised from the dead immediately. Her interpretation of Jesus’ statement, “I am the resurrection and the life” was being transformed beyond her imagination, that her brother would be raised now from the dead. This transformation of her theological insights came through her unforgettable experience with Jesus, who raised Lazarus from the dead for the glory of God (11:40-44).

Mary and Lazarus also have unforgettable experiences. Mary unlike Martha did not dwell on theological insights. In her sorrow, Mary was looking for Jesus’ comfort. When she received news from Martha that Jesus has arrived, she ran out to meet him (11:28-31). When she saw Jesus, she fell to his feet saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:32). Mary had faith that Jesus would heal Lazarus if he were here earlier on. Now she sought his comfort by weeping before him. Jesus comforted her by weeping with her (11:33-35).

While she did not reveal herself as theologically sophisticated like Martha, Mary’s understanding of what Jesus could do was going to be transformed too. By raising Lazarus from the dead, Mary’s unforgettable experience raises her understanding of Jesus’ ability to heal, that is, Jesus could even heal the dead by raising them (11:39-40, 43-44).

Lazarus was silenced through out his unforgettable experience. He probably died a quick dead. Although the text does not tell us what happened to Lazarus, we know from other part of Scripture that a person’s spirit would leave the body at death (cf. Ecc 12:7). It must be an unforgettable experience for Lazarus’s spirit to see himself outside his body and his body being placed in a tomb. When Jesus raised him from the dead, his spirit returned to his body (11:44). This must be a hard to forget experience. His death was an undeniable fact.

Lazarus’ human spirit reunited with his body until he died again later in life. Lazarus was only raised from the dead temporary. Like everyone else, he must die unless Jesus comes back in one’s life time. Since Jesus has raised him up previously, Lazarus probably was more confident to face physical death a second time.

The unforgettable experiences of the three siblings transform Martha’s understanding of her theological insights, Mary’s understanding of Jesus’ ability and Lazarus’ confidence in facing death. They encountered Jesus in the same situation, the death of Lazarus, but they were all transformed differently from their standpoints in the situation.

Unforgettable Experiences with God (I)

Scripture is an inspired record of people experiencing God, who reveals himself. As such, Scripture is useful to teach us to correctly understand our own experiences, to correct any misunderstanding of own experiences, and to draw out the right implications for our relationship with God today (cf. 2Tim 3:16).

The Scripture is full of unforgettable experiences that have been written down through the Spirit’s inspiration to be an authoritative guide for those who believe in Jesus Christ (2Tim 3:14-16). This reflection will look at two such unforgettable experiences, one is in this posting and another in the next blog post.

Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25; 57-66) had an unforgettable experience. They were advanced in age and childless (1:7). As a woman, Elizabeth felt the pressure of being barren (1:7, 25). The hope of having a child has faded. Then God turned their hopeless situation around.

When Gabriel announced God’s plan to give them a child, Zechariah could not believe the announcement (1:18-19). He questioned Gabriel saying, “How can I be sure this will happen?” (1:18a). Zechariah doubted Gabriel vis-à-vis God because he saw their aging bodies as a hopeless situation (1:18b).

Zechariah has forgotten the unforgettable experience of his ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, who received a son from God in their old age (cf. Gen 18:11-14). As a priest, he surely has heard about Abraham and Sarah’s unforgettable experience with God from Scripture, yet he did not believe and apply their experience into his situation. God expects those who believe the Scripture to believe that God can do today what he did in the past.

Since Zechariah did not believe the announcement, Gabriel gave him a sign so that Zechariah might be sure that this would happen (1:18a). This sign is an undeniable fact because he would suddenly be silent and unable to speak until Elizabeth gave birth (1:20). This sign is not a punishment but an unforgettable experience to assure him.

This unforgettable experience removed any doubt from Zechariah. After coming out of the temple, he could not speak (1:22a). His predicament was witnessed by the people waiting for him outside the temple (1:22b). This predicament lasted for more than nine months until Elizabeth gave birth (1:62-64). In fact, this unforgettable experience strengthened his faith to do God’s will, which is, to name his son, John (1:63).

When Zechariah and Elizabeth were pressured by the relatives and neighbors to name their son, Zechariah, they refused to accept their good suggestion. Zechariah must have share Gabriel’s announcement to Elizabeth. She must have been convinced by Zechariah because he was unable to speak, and she did become pregnant (1:24-25). This was an unforgettable experience that strengthen Elizabeth’s faith.

When she was being pressured to name her son, Zechariah, she rejected her relatives and neighbors’ suggestion and named him, John (1:59-60). When the relatives and neighbors refused to accept her decision because it was against human custom (1:61), they turned to Zechariah (1:62). He too rejected the relatives’ good intention and named his son, John (1:63). The unforgettable experiences of Zechariah and Elizabeth strengthen their faith to obey God’s will by naming their son, John.

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s unforgettable experience was probably once in a life time. While there is no other record of their lives, it is safe to assume that they lived challenging lives like every couple in raising up a child. However, this unforgettable experience of receiving a son from God in their old age will become one of the foundation blocks in their relationship with God for the remaining days of their lives.

Do you have unforgettable experiences with Jesus? It may not be dramatic like Zechariah and Elizabeth, but you know that God’s hand was in your unforgettable experience. Recall these experiences with God today and thank him for his grace.

In the next posting, we explore another unforgettable experience.

Who is your friend, Jesus?

Who is your friend, Jesus?

Would you unthinkingly invite a total stranger into your house?
Would you give your money to a total stranger for safe keeping?
Would you buy something without knowing what it is, why it is needed, how good it is and what it is for?
Would you trust a person who is rumoured to have a bad reputation?
Would you invest in a unknown investment proposed to you by an unknown person with an unverified email?

If no thinking person or only a few thinking person would do the above, then why are we surprised that people don’t want to believe in Jesus.

How can people trust Jesus whom they cannot see?
How can people trust Jesus who is a total stranger to them?
How can people trust Jesus whom they did not know what he is offering, why he is offering, how reliable is his offering; what is his offering for?
How can people trust Jesus when they doubt his teaching as bad for life; doubt how relevant is his teaching for their lives?

Let us not be surprised when people do not believe in Jesus because they do not know him personally. 

How can they know him personally? 

We cannot control Jesus in making himself known to them. It is purely his grace.

We can help people to  be predisposed to Jesus by introducing ourselves to people as those who have been influenced by our good saving and royal friend, Jesus.

Our life reveals how much Jesus loves us; how his teaching is good for our life, our family and children, how Jesus is faithful in walking with us through difficulties and how much confidence we have towards our good saving and royal friend.

Maybe then they might sit up to ask “who is your friend, Jesus?”