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God-Sized Questions - November 13, 2022

We went through these five questions in-person as well. If you have a question you've always been itching to ask, feel free to submit it and we'll explore it together!



1. In the King James Version, Revelation 13:16 speaks of the Mark of the Beast and says that the Mark is “in” their right hand or “in” their foreheads. In other versions, they translate it as “on” their hands or foreheads. Is it all the same thing and simply worded differently?


This seems to be one of those interesting cases in which the King James Version uses English in a way that is simply foreign to our ears. Especially in English, which is already a mixture of several different languages (with elements of French, Latin, German, and of course, Anglo-Saxon – even some Norse!), definitions change rather drastically over time. Yet consider, for instance, Genesis 1:28 as it is rendered in the King James Version:


“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”


What does “replenish” say to us today? We think of refilling something, which proves problematic for modern readers. If Adam and Eve are to replenish the Earth, doesn’t that mean there was something already present? Doesn’t that tell us that something came before, perhaps an otherwise unmentioned former Creation? There are so many theological possibilities! So how do more modern translations render this?


ESV – “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…”

NIV – “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it…”

RSV – “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it…”


I could cite more instances here, but the reality is that virtually every single modern translation uses “fill” – even the New King James Version! Why? Because the KJV’s language is simply dated here. In the same way, the New King James Version updates the rendering of Revelation 13:16, which I have here for comparison:


KJV – “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads…”

NKJV – “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads…”


The Greek preposition that’s being translated in this instance is ἐπί (epi), and Greek prepositions tend to be fairly flexible in their range of meaning. Strong’s Concordance lists the possible meanings of the word as “on, to, against, on the basis of, at.” For modern readers, “on” is certainly the correct translation to understand John’s original meaning, and it appears that “in” had a bit of a different connotation at the time of the King James Version’s creation.



2. Is there proof that Job was a real person and not just a parable?


This is SUCH a fun question and I’m fairly sure I began salivating the moment it reached my hands. Let’s unpack it!


Although we don’t have any existing archaeological evidence of Job’s existence (which we do have for figures like Joseph, David, and others), this doesn’t mean the evidence isn’t found within the text. Putting my cards on the table here, I believe there’s plenty of reason to think Job is an actual historical figure even though he’s only represented in the biblical witness.


As the book of Job opens, we have some insights into his life which help us to locate him as an inhabitant of the land of Uz (1:1), which was east of Israel (1:3). He’s identified as “the greatest man” among these people in that same verse, and scholars have speculated that Job may have been some sort of princely figure given the vast display of wealth mentioned in these opening verses. We know that Uz existed, although its exact location is a bit uncertain. The natural question is, “If Job was a prince and Uz was a real place, do we really not have any records of a royal figure named Job running around in the ancient world?”

Short answer: no. Longer answer: ancient peoples often had multiple names (for instance, Moses’ father-in-law is called Jethro, Reuel, and Hobab on separate occasions). Although we know him as Job, it’s entirely possible that this is simply the name by which he was known in Hebrew tradition and there was a completely different name he was known by in his homeland. We do know that Uz was outside of Israel, so Job is actually a faithful Gentile figure who worships the God of Israel. Given some clues about his location, it looks like he was a descendant of Abraham (thus he knew of the God of his ancestors) but was not from the line of Jacob and was likely a descendant of Esau instead.


Another potentially useful detail in Job’s story is that of his three “friends” who speak to him in his affliction – Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, and Eliphaz the Temanite.


- Bildad is a “Shuhite,” meaning he likely descended from Shuah. Shuah is mentioned in Genesis 25:2, a son of Abraham by his second wife, Keturah. Bildad’s designation as a Shuhite gives us a definite location from which he hails. If there was some symbolic significance of his being a Shuhite, it has been lost to history. The more logical explanation is that the author of Job is simply giving the reader the homeland of Bildad because he too is a real person.

- Zophar is a Naamathite, likely indicating his descent from Naamah (Genesis 4:22). Naamah is mentioned in only this one verse, and not as someone’s wife, but as the sister of Tubal-Cain. Why mention her, especially in a patriarchal society? Likely because she went on to establish a land which would have some sort of biblical significance – and from which Zophar would come.

- Eliphaz is the most interesting of these cases. We find Eliphaz mentioned in Genesis 36 as a son of Esau:


“These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz, the son of Esau’s wife Adah, and Reuel, the son of Esau’s wife Basemath.

The sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz.”


Curious to see Eliphaz and Teman mentioned in the very same verse when Eliphaz in Job is called a Temanite, isn’t it? If it is in fact the case that Eliphaz here is the same one mentioned in both books, this gives us a good idea as to when the events of the book of Job took place – and helps to establish that Job was more than likely (in my opinion) a real historical figure.



3.

a. When you die, does your soul go to Heaven?

b. If you commit suicide, will you go to Hell?


This requires a bit of work in defining our terms. Because we have 2,000 years of Church history – and, as such, 2,000 years of traditions in interpretation – we will find that some concepts are not necessarily what we normally picture when we look at things strictly from the perspective of Scripture.


First, Heaven – it will surprise many of us to learn that the phrase “go to Heaven” never appears in the Bible. We know of Heaven as the dwelling place of God, and we’ll find some interesting information about it throughout Scripture (especially Revelation), but trips to heaven are actually not associated with death in the Bible; rather, they’re associated with visions (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, John, and others) or otherwise supernatural experiences. This is not to say that we will never go to Heaven (more on that in a moment), but that something else seems to happen in the meantime.


Second, Hell – what we typically associate with Hell is what the Bible refers to as the Lake of Fire in the book of Revelation. It’s not a place where demons poke and prod you all day long, but basically an eternal state of death which the devil and his associates endure right alongside the wicked. Biblically speaking, nobody is there right now. It’s uninhabited until the events of Revelation are completed.


Which brings us to a third, unmentioned place – Sheol, or Hades. Some translations will render it as simply “the grave.” As far as the biblical writers are concerned, this is where people go when they die (before Christ). There was a good and a bad section to Sheol. For those who chose wickedness, foolishness, and depravity, their fate in Sheol was pain, and the New Testament writers would go on to say that Sheol would one day be emptied for those who chose such paths to go on to what we now identify as Hell with the devil and his associates.


There was also, however, a good section in Sheol, which is often referred to as “Abraham’s bosom.” Jesus Himself confirms this understanding of the afterlife when He gives the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The geography of Hades seems to be such that there is a clear delineation between the righteous and the wicked, such that Jesus quotes Abraham as saying that there is “a great chasm” between the two groups “so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (16:26).


Things change a bit, however, once Christ endures the Cross. Just a few chapters later, Jesus tells the criminal being crucified next to Him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise” (23:43). Notice His language, though: He does not necessarily say ‘Heaven,’ but paradise. More importantly, perhaps, we learn from Peter exactly what happened when Jesus was in the grave for three days in 1 Peter 3:18-20:


“He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”


Curious language, right? But Peter is telling us that Jesus’ days in the grave weren’t just idle moments – He was actively preaching (“making proclamation”) to those who had passed away before the time of His arrival. Following this time, Jesus opened paradise to those who were in Him.


Some denominations (the Seventh Day Adventists come to mind) to this day maintain that death is essentially a state of sleep from which we will awaken on Judgment Day. I find this too literalistic an interpretation of what I believe to be metaphorical language on the part of Paul and others with regard to death. Revelation clearly mentions conscious saints who have interaction with God before what is considered to be the resurrection of the dead according to groups like the Adventists, which doesn’t take place until Revelation 20.


In a post-Christ death scenario, we do seem to join with Him in a place identified as the paradise of God. But there is another final state which we will enter after the events of Revelation, in which Heaven and Earth are united as one, and “the dwelling of God is now among men” (21:3). Just as in Christ there is no longer separation between men and God, so then there will be no separation between Heaven and Earth. In that day, we will go to Heaven. In the meantime, it seems we do indeed enter into the presence of God, just perhaps not in the way tradition and culture have made us conceive of it.


For the second question then, does suicide lead to Hell – or, having specified previously, to Sheol and then to the Lake of Fire? Let’s consider this logically for a moment.

The Church has, at different times and in various traditions, taught this very doctrine. It’s especially prevalent among the Roman Catholic Church. However, we need to recognize two key details:


- First, that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross was not merely sufficient for those sins we managed to repent of before we die. We never seem to ask, “What happens if someone tells a white lie and then gets into a car wreck?” We safely assume that such sins are still covered by the grace of God even though we didn’t have the opportunity to confess before our untimely demise. We need to recognize that the blood of Jesus covers all our sins – past, present, and future. Repentance is an attitude of the heart, not merely the words we speak.


- Second, suicide is, in many cases, a byproduct of mental illness. The mind which functions in a healthy manner always acts in the interest of self-preservation (or in the interest of preserving the ones we love, which it could be argued is an extension of self-preservation). It is therefore safe to say that the mind which chooses self-harm is suffering from illness and is in need of help. Does God punish people with Tourette’s Syndrome for foul language? Naturally we would view that as an obvious “no.”


Is suicide ever the option God desires? No. Are there those cases (e.g. Judas Iscariot) where suicide does not seem to stem from mental illness, but is rather a byproduct of overwhelming guilt at one’s actions or some similar problem? Absolutely. But there is only one sin which Jesus mentions as unforgivable, and although some have tried to argue that it is suicide, I don’t believe the biblical witness supports this viewpoint. God alone is the Judge, and He alone knows what happens with each individual, but I think Scripture gives us sufficient reason to believe that those who lost their battles with suicidal thoughts can be welcomed into the presence of God just as readily as those who lost their battles with other sins.




4.

a. There will be no sadness in Heaven. In your opinion, will we recognize family members? Will our minds not realize someone is not there?

b. Will people who die before the tribulation have an advantage or easier road to eternity?


To dive into Part A here, let’s consider again from a logical perspective (rooted in the overarching testimony of Scripture) that the purpose of this life is identified by the Gospels as:


- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and:

- Love your neighbor as yourself.


At the core of both commands is a call to relationship. For an interesting deep dive into this question, let’s examine Luke 16:19-31 for a bit:


19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”


Let’s consider vv.23-24, then we’ll examine v.26.


- In 23-24, the rich man (who remains nameless) not only sees Abraham and Lazarus, but specifically identifies Abraham by name. Lazarus he undoubtedly recognizes from his time on earth, as Lazarus lived outside the rich man’s own gate. But Abraham? How does he know who Abraham is? It seems that death removes anonymity and ignorance, such that the rich man is able to identify even those he has never before seen. If the rich man can do this from the unfavorable side of Hades, how much more does this indicate that those who are in paradise will be able to identify one another!


o Brief subpoint here: Paul will tell us that “then” (meaning in the end when all things have been fulfilled) “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13). He is referring specifically to knowledge of God, but if it is the case that we fully know God Himself, it seems a tiny but logical step to me to conclude based on both texts that we not only recognize our friends and family, but know them deeply and intimately as we never could have known them here.


- Verse 26 seems to speak to the second part of the question, whether or not we will realize someone’s absence in the afterlife. It is clear that this chasm prevents travel in both directions – from the side of the wicked to the side of the righteous, but also from the side of the righteous to that of the wicked. This begs the question: why would someone possibly want to cross over the chasm to the place of the wicked unless they recognized who they were? As such, I conclude that as things are currently, the righteous remain conscious of the presence of the wicked (even though there has been a change in status due to the work of Christ and we now go on to dwell in paradise) and even seem to feel compassion for their suffering – a further bit of evidence that they are indeed children of God, since He is compassionate.


  • However, the answer changes somewhat when we begin to consider the change that takes place at the fulfillment of all things. Once the events of Revelation are finished and believers go on to full communion with God while nonbelievers go on to punishment, how does that affect our understanding?


  • Speaking of the new Creation, God says this in Isaiah 65:17 – “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” I interpret this to mean not only that we do not think of those who chose to reject Christ, but even that we do not remember our own sinfulness and shame in any sort of detail. Christ has redeemed us in every way and our minds and hearts are entirely pure and devoted to Him. I’m not sure how literally we should understand that the former things “shall not be remembered” or if God is simply saying that those things will be so sufficiently handled as to be inconsequential if we ever think of them.

Now, Part B! There are tons of ways to answer this, so I’ll try to be concise (which I clearly have not done thus far) and get down to the nitty gritty.


- Suffering should be a part of the experience of the Christian. This is all over the biblical witness (Ps 34:19; John 16:33; Rom 5:3-5; 8:18, 28; 2 Cor 4:17; Phil 1:29, 3:10; 2 Tim 3:12; Jas 1:2-4; and that’s still not an exhaustive list). This is just as much an experience of the Christian pre-tribulation as it is during the tribulation. Will there be additional hardships to endure during that time? The evidence supports this understanding, but we should also recognize that if we ourselves do not have any sufferings, it’s likely evidence that we’re not quite as submitted to Christ as we should be.


- Having said this, the evidence also demonstrates, based on Revelation, that the tribulation is not merely limited to believers’ hardships and is troublesome in even greater measure for nonbelievers. I think the time of tribulation in Scripture speaks to the worsening of conditions for all people everywhere – regardless of their path to eternity. But it’s quite sensible to conclude that, although there will be some hardships unknown to former generations, all have shared in the sufferings of Christ in one way or another as those who follow Him.



5. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time, he saw a fig tree with no fruit and cursed the tree for having no fruit. What is the significance of it being a fig tree?


To answer this question, we’ll adopt a bit of an ancient method of biblical interpretation which isn’t used quite as frequently as it once was. Let’s consider the occurrences of the fig tree throughout Scripture and see what we glean from its appearance.


Our first mention of the fig tree is actually in Genesis 3. Just after Adam and Eve realize they’re naked, they make coverings for themselves out of fig leaves (3:7). It may prove noteworthy that Jesus curses a fig tree that is exactly this – leaves with no fruit.


However, there are also positive occurrences of the fig tree in the Old Testament. The fig tree is used as an image of security at the end of all things in the prophets:


- Micah 4:4 – “Everyone will sit under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.”

- Zechariah 3:10 – “’In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”


Although this image of the fig tree is one of security, it is also perverted by a foreign ruler in Isaiah 36:16 as a way of drawing Israel in under false pretenses: “This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern…”


Thus a fig tree seems to serve multiple symbolic purposes in the Old Testament:


- When fruitful and enjoyed appropriately, as a sign of security and prosperity.

- When fruitful but not enjoyed as a blessing of Israel, as a sign of false hope.

- When only the leaves are referenced, as a sign of covering sin (lacking fruit).


Keeping these in mind, we move to Jesus’ use of the fig tree in the Gospels, found in four passages: Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-21; Luke 13:6-9; and John 1:48. The parallel passages in Matthew and Mark are very similar, so we’ll simply take Matthew’s account since it’s a bit more concise. We’ll take these in reverse order so we can conclude with the Matthew account, given it’s the focus of this question.


- John 1:45-51

45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”


Given the prophetic mentions of sitting under fig trees in Micah and Zechariah, I think Nathanael’s presence under the fig tree as Jesus arrives is representative of the fact that Jesus’ arrival ushers in the last days and the fulfillment of the prophets’ words.


- Luke 13:6-9

6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”


We find mention of the fig tree without fruit. This calls up some of the imagery we discussed related to the fall from grace in Eden – the leaves separate from the fruitfulness of the tree prove not only useless but actually detrimental. A tree which refuses to produce fruit, in like manner, is not only useless in that it creates nothing meaningful, but detrimental in that it uses valuable resources to no avail. Unless we produce fruit because of our faith, we prove useless to the Kingdom of God and essentially leech off of the life Christ pours into the Church – making us good for nothing except the fire. Yet God gives us more chances to produce fruit! As long as we are alive, we should always strive to produce fruit for the Kingdom.


- Matthew 21:18-22 (see also Mark 11:12-21)

18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”


So we come to the subject of our question: why is this specifically a fig tree? Mark’s account provides a specific detail which Matthew omits: “Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs” (11:13). So why does Jesus curse the tree if it’s not even in season for it to bear fruit? Why would Matthew omit such a detail where Mark retains it? Likely because both accounts intend to convey different ideas. Consider this excerpt from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery’s entry on figs in Scripture:


“Failure to keep covenantal standards to be fruitful could mean the loss of safety and God’s judgment, a theme often repeated in prophetic pronouncements. Jesus utilized the motif of the fig tree in similar fashion, warning of the danger of spiritual fruitlessness (Lk 13:6-9), a condition which if uncorrected would spell disaster (Mt 21:19-21). Jesus uses a barren but leafy fig tree to illustrate how Israel, typified in its leadership, had a showy religion that was of no value and was worthy of judgment because it bore no fruit in their lives (Mk 11:12-21). At its most basic level the fig tree is viewed as a wonderful part of settled life. It symbolized the good life, and to live under one’s fig tree stood for a life of settledness (fig trees took several years of difficult labor to establish), joy, peace and prosperity.”

- Leland Ryken, et al. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. IVP Academic, 1998.


For Matthew, the focus is on the consequences of fruitlessness left unchecked. This achieves a theological purpose for that Gospel account, whereas Mark uses the story for a different purpose: to show that there was no fruit in the lives of the chief priests and teachers of the law, and their fruitlessness would be judged at a time where they failed to recognize the coming judgment (hence, out of season). The fig tree remains at the center of both accounts, but its imagery serves slightly different purposes. Matthew’s account is focused primarily on fruitless faith contrasted with the type of faith which can impact and change the world around us, where Mark achieves his purpose by combining the story of the withered fig tree with the account of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple.

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