The Early Church Was Not Communist – and Neither Was Jesus

A common misunderstanding is that the early Church practiced communal socialism, which some believe based on what they read in the beginning chapters of Acts.

The Early Church Was Not Communist - and Neither Was Jesus

Source: iStockphoto

Note Acts:2:44-45: “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.”

But this was a unique situation that didn’t last very long. We later see that elderly widows were to be financially provided for by a common church fund only if they had no family members in the Church who could privately support them (1 Timothy:5:3-16). Obviously, all members of the Church’s congregations at this later time were not being provided for out of a common fund—only a select number in real need.

In considering Acts 2, we should note that Christians were being persecuted. Also, thousands of new believers, some from distant lands, had just been added to the Church at the Feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem.

No doubt many decided to remain in Judea at that time to learn more about their new faith and rely on one another through growing persecution rather than return to their homes far away. These people thus had an immediate need for food and lodging, and a voluntary pooling of resources took care of that.   

The believers at the time felt extremely blessed, grateful, hospitable and generous. Many who had extra assets sold some of them to help finance the living expenses of others. The expression “all things in common” means this: “I love you, and therefore your needs are just as important to me as my own needs. I consider all that I have as being yours also.”

However, keep in mind that they could not sell what they did not own. They were voluntarily selling some of their privately owned property so they could help others. This was charity, not communism. No one was compelled to sell his property, nor did anyone confiscate one’s property or income to give it to others, as many governments do today.

Acts:4:32-35, which follows shortly after in time order, shows that the pooling of resources was still going on. The account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts:5:1-11adds further clarity. God did not execute judgment on these two for their refusing to share, but for their telling a lie to make themselves look good.

The apostle Peter asked Ananias, “While it [their possession] remained [unsold], was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?” The couple was not obligated either to sell their land or to give away the proceeds. Again, this was not communism or socialism.

The words of Jesus Himself should make it even clearer. In His parables of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20, He portrayed God as a vineyard owner paying different employees the same agreed-on amount even if they worked for less time.

The employees who worked longer thought it unfair. But the owner, representing God, replies to one: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” (verses 13-15).

To the final question here, communists and socialists, and those with such leanings, would answer no—since in those systems the community or state decides. Jesus’ statement, while figurative of spiritual principles, is nevertheless a ringing endorsement of both private ownership and free market exchange without wage control. He was certainly no communist—and neither were His followers. 

by Don Hooser, Tom Robinson

The Bible—Miracle of Miracles!

The Bible - Miracle of Miracles (Photos.com)

 The year 2011—the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible—is a perfect time to celebrate the “book of books” and its numerous translations. Let’s reflect on the many miracles, over a span of several thousand years, that had to happen to make the entire Word of God available and affordable in many languages!

by Don Hooser

The Bible has probably had a greater impact on the world than all other books combined! The history of the Bible is amazing and fascinating. Let’s consider just a few of the major highlights.

Many amazing steps took place to produce, preserve and propagate the Good Book. And it has been translated into many more languages and distributed in many more places than any other book. All this has required many miracles!

What do we mean by “miracles”?

Many miracles are not overtly and conspicuously spectacular or even immediately apparent. Seldom are there “fireworks” that make a miracle obvious to all. God usually chooses to work invisibly and quietly behind the scenes, steering events to bring about the results He has predetermined—often in surprising ways.

The Creator and Lawgiver does not break His laws, but neither is He confined by His laws. God created nature and all that is natural, but God also frequently does things that are supernatural or outside the normal operations of the universe.

Also, anytime God intervenes in the affairs of men, even when He is working within His laws, we call it miraculous or providential.

Although God is masterminding and orchestrating all His creation, it’s rather amazing how much freedom He allows human beings to have. He doesn’t make us into His puppets. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” His Word tells us (1 Corinthians 14:32, emphasis added throughout).

How God allows freedom of choice and still determines ultimate outcomes is something that is more than we can fully comprehend!

The miracle of divine revelation

God “created man in His own image”—the capstone of His creation (Genesis 1:27). God made man with amazing mental and spiritual capacities, including the ability to learn languages. God’s purpose is to have a personal relationship with each individual.

With the creation of Adam and Eve, God began to increasingly communicate His plan and purpose to humanity “by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Luke 1:70). “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The Ten Commandments hold a special place in God’s revelation because God not only spoke them but also inscribed them on stone tablets with His own finger (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 34:1, 28).

But God told Moses to write the rest of what God was revealing to him (Exodus 17:14; 34:27).

In the greater sense, God is the Author of the entire Bible, but He has used many human writers to record His revelation—about 40 in all!

The realization that Almighty God openly reveals His plans to us human beings is breathtakingly inspiring! What an honor! In fact, God has revealed some important matters to His prophets and apostles that even His angels had been wondering about (Ephesians 3:1-12;
Colossians 1:24-26; 1 Peter 1:10-12).

With the completion of the Bible, God has revealed all the spiritual knowledge that is essential for mankind to know.

The miracle of unity and perfection

In a sense, the Bible is a library of books composed by about 40 writers with different cultures, personalities, occupations and writing styles, living in 10 different countries, at different times over a span of about 1,500 years! One would think that under such circumstances countless contradictions and conflicts would be inevitable.

However, miracle of miracles—in spite of the Bible’s great diversity, there is perfect unity! It is consistent and coherent all the way through. With merely a cursory reading, the Bible appears to have a few internal contradictions and discrepancies, but a closer examination shows complete harmony. As Jesus Christ Himself put it, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

With mere men this would be impossible, “but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

The miracle of biblical languages

Language is amazing. No one can fully explain how human beings can learn and speak languages.

And here is an intriguing question: When God was communicating everything that became the Bible, how did He decide which languages to use?

The scriptures that make up what we call the Old Testament were revealed and written mostly in the Hebrew language. The exceptions are the few sections written in Aramaic (i.e., Ezra 4:8–6:18; 7:12-26; Jeremiah 10:11; Daniel 2:4–7:28). The scriptures that make up the New Testament were written in Greek.

Why did God use primarily one language (Hebrew) for a long time and then switch to another language (Greek)?

We can’t be sure of the answers until Christ returns, but many Bible scholars and others have voiced their speculations. They are fascinating to consider. We do know this: God doesn’t do anything haphazardly. Each language has its special strengths, and God had good reasons for choosing the ones He did.

A crucial point is this: In Old Testament times, God was dealing primarily with one nation, Israel, the nation He “chose” to be a model nation (although they largely failed at that). Hebrew was their national language.

In New Testament times, God was ready to spread His truth to all the world. After Alexander the Great conquered much of the civilized world, Greek (specifically, the koine or “common” Greek) rather quickly became the universal language. This, in turn, enabled Christ’s followers to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, New International Version). The importance of this factor can’t be overemphasized.

The miracle of translations

God desires for all people to read His Word, and that requires His Word to be translated into the various spoken languages of people around the world.

Nehemiah 8:8 says of Ezra and the Levites who were teaching the gathered people of Judah, “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.” Not only were the teachers here helping the people to have spiritual understanding of the Scriptures, but they were also translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic for those who had come out of the Babylonian captivity and did not understand Hebrew very well.

There is abundant proof that God is in favor of translating His Word into all other languages. For example, a team of scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek by 132 B.C. That translation, known as the Septuagint, was the most popular version of the Scriptures in Jesus’ day. When the apostles were writing what became the New Testament and referred to the Hebrew Scriptures, they were quoting a Greek translation. That translation was evidently the Septuagint, at least much of the time.

As far as is known to history, the first translation of the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, was into Latin by Jerome. Later known as the versio vulgata (“common version”) or Vulgate, it was finished in A.D. 405. It was to be the dominant Bible for the next thousand years.

For a while, the Vulgate enabled more people to read the Bible. But with the passage of time, a self-serving clergy, bent on maintaining power over the people, soon began to prevent the common people from owning or even reading the Bible. That contributed in part to the Middle Ages becoming “the Dark Ages,” because without Bible knowledge, people are usually not highly motivated to seek other knowledge.

During the Middle Ages, the Bible was regarded as something to revere rather than read, and Latin was promoted as the “holy” language. Hebrew was ridiculed as the language of the Jews, and Greek was frowned on because the eastern Greek-speaking church had split from the Roman church.

But, thankfully, religious Jews realized that the Hebrew Scriptures were “the oracles [or sayings] of God” and meticulously copied and preserved them (Romans 3:2). Greek-speaking Christians copied and preserved the Greek Scriptures.

When the Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Muslims (climaxed by the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453), many Greek-speaking people fled westward. This contributed to the European Renaissance and revival of interest in Greek, including the Greek Scriptures and their translations into other languages.

One more point is critically important. There have always been people who consider one language to be holier than all others. For example, some people advocate that we speak only Hebrew names for God. If all the Bible had been written in only one language, they would have a stronger argument. But the Bible was written using three languages.

God is calling people out of “every tribe and tongue [language] and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). This requires the Bible to be translated into many languages!

The miracle of survival and preservation of the Scriptures

Over the centuries, Satan the devil has incited and inflamed every imaginable plot to extinguish the light of God’s truth. The prophets and other messengers of God were usually persecuted and often killed. Satan tried to have Jesus killed from the time He was a baby before finally accomplishing that end when Jesus was 33.

Soon after the beginning of the New Testament Church, “a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered” (Acts 8:1). However, this worked for good to spread God’s Word. “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

Another way persecution has worked for good is this: The willingness of Christians to suffer and even die for their beliefs has been a powerful witness to others!

The earliest persecution of Christians was primarily by Jewish religious leaders who felt their influence jeopardized by the growing new movement. Later persecution was primarily instigated by the pagan Roman rulers who viewed Christianity as a threat to the established order since it required allegiance to a higher power. And later still, after a paganized form of Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, persecution was largely on religious grounds—to exterminate differing views and teachings.

For hundreds of years leading up to the late Middle Ages, religious leaders frequently confiscated and burned Bibles. People were often put to death merely for having a portion of the Bible in their possession.

The Scriptures survived not only because of God’s divine protection, but also because of the faith and zeal of His people. They knew they had “the pearl of great price” and were willing to risk their lives to protect, preserve and propagate it (Matthew 13:46). Their zeal to make copies and distribute them made it difficult for enemies to find and destroy all the copies.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

The miracle of printing

The next major step was the invention of modern printing by German inventor Johannes Gutenberg. His invention of movable type, which allowed information to be disseminated widely at relatively low cost, is considered the most important event of the modern period. Gutenberg’s printing press and technique played a key role in three major intellectual advancements—the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the scientific revolution.

Gutenberg’s first major project was the printing of the Latin Vulgate Bible, completed probably in 1455. Imitations of his invention quickly spread around the world.

The single most important effect of the invention was to enable mass production of Bibles, which soon greatly lowered the cost of owning a Bible. Once the Bible was more widely available, the flames of the Reformation were unquenchable!

The miracle of English and the English translations

English is a remarkable language in many ways. It has absorbed an amazing number of words from other languages, making it extremely versatile, expressive and colorful. Some would say it has adopted many of the “best” words of other languages.

For example, after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, English absorbed many Norman French words. Later, the far-flung British colonies and the major roles of Britain and America in international trade and foreign wars brought them into contact with many other languages.

In the 15th to 17th centuries, a combination of remarkable factors began to converge to fulfill major Bible prophecies and to enable Christ’s followers to, as earlier noted, “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV).

There was Gutenberg’s revolutionary invention of movable metal type around 1450, as we’ve seen.

Ambitions to find new trading routes and to preach the gospel led to Christopher Columbus reaching America in 1492. That led to rapid exploration and colonization around the world. It was also a significant step in the fulfillment of Bible prophecies that were fulfilled by Britain becoming a great empire and the United States becoming a great superpower.

By 1500 modern English was developing as an improvement over Middle English. The Protestant Reformation is commonly considered to have begun with Martin Luther in 1517. But John Wycliffe (1324-1384) has been dubbed the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” He and his followers, called Lollards, translated much of the Bible from Latin to English, greatly whetting the appetites of the English people to read the Bible in their own tongue.

William Tyndale (1494-1536) stands as perhaps the greatest of all English translators. He produced English translations of the entire New Testament from the Greek and much of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. Tyndale’s translations were accurate, beautiful and excellent, so much so that about 80 percent of the 1611 King James Version is Tyndale’s wording.

A bittersweet fact is that in the same year that Tyndale was executed for translating the Bible into English (1536), King Henry VIII granted permission for the distribution of English Bibles. That quickly resulted in more English Bibles, including the Coverdale Bible in 1535, Matthew’s Bible in 1537, the Great Bible in 1539, the Geneva Bible in 1560 and the Bishops’ Bible in 1568.

English Queen Mary I, a fervent Catholic known as “Bloody Mary,” reigned from 1553 to 1558. Notice that the only English Bible coming together during that time was the Geneva Bible—produced in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ironically, Catholic Mary fueled the Protestant Reformation in England! The English were so horrified by the gory persecution that many then rejected Catholicism.

After Mary, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I reigned from 1558 to 1603. She outlawed all Catholic services even though three-fourths of her subjects still professed Catholicism. In trying to appease everyone, she incorporated both Catholic and Protestant elements into the Anglican creeds and worship. It was the Puritans who most strongly objected to this. They wanted to “purify” Christianity of all Catholic elements.

In 1603, on the death of Queen Elizabeth, James VI of Scotland assumed the throne as James I of England. On his trip to London to receive the crown, he was intercepted by a delegation of Puritan ministers with a list of grievances against the Church of England. The king responded by ordering a high-level conference to address “things pretended to be amiss in the church.”

The conference took place in January 1604 at Hampton Court, one of the royal palaces. The Puritan delegation was led by Dr. John Rainolds, who proposed a purer English translation of the Bible.

King James liked the idea for a number of reasons. One was that the most popular English Bible was the Geneva Bible, and the king wanted England (and himself) to have the prestige of a popular Bible that would be truly English, translated on English soil. The king also hoped a new Bible would help to unite Puritans with other Protestants as well as the Scots with the English.

The translating began with a team of 54 scholars. They finished their work in 1611, giving the world what we usually refer to as the King James Version.

Officially called the Authorized Version, it quickly rose to be the most popular English translation. Not only was it a highly accurate translation, but the English fell in love with its rhythmic and beautiful wording. The widespread reading, reciting and quoting of the KJV greatly influenced not only English literature but also spoken English from then on.

However, most will be surprised to learn that the English of the KJV was more Elizabethan rather than the common English during the reign of King James. For example, thee and thou were already falling into disuse, as well as the third-person singular verb ending -eth. But the King James translators chose to retain much of the wording from previous English translations.

Furthermore, the “King James Version” has undergone several revisions since 1611 to correct minor errors and to update spelling. The principle revisions were in 1613, 1629, 1638, 1653 and 1762. Today’s standard edition is that of 1762.

This writer has a copy of the 1611 version. Here is a passage from “The Newe Teftament of our Lord and Sauiour Iesvs Christ”: “Distributing to the necessitie of Saints; giuen to hospitalitie. Blesse them which persecute you, blesse, and curse not. Reioyce with them that doe reioice, and weepe with them that weepe” (Romans 12:13-15).

By 1700, the popularity of the KJV had eclipsed all other versions. Since then, many other English translations have been produced, but none even approached the popularity of the KJV until the publication of the Revised Standard Version in 1952. It was the 1978 New International Version that finally dethroned the KJV as the most popular Bible version. At some point between 1986 and 1988 it began outselling the KJV. However, the popularity of the KJV has continued to remain high for a very long time.

The miracle of “spreading the gospel”

Jesus said, “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He also proclaimed, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

Clearly, God’s plan calls for the effective preaching of the gospel all over the world in the end time to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming. A parallel to that is the way the preaching of John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ’s first coming.

In the last few centuries, it is the zealous English-speaking people, usually with their beloved King James Bibles, who have been most responsible for the fact that “the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (Acts 6:7).

This has been largely enabled by the far-reaching British Empire and the global power of the United States of America. A major reason that the United States has been blessed with wise laws, individual freedom and great success is that its founding fathers looked to the Bible for guidance. But the main reason Britain and America were blessed with great power is that God fulfilled His promises to bless the descendants of Joseph (Genesis 48).

Joseph’s father Jacob prophesied great blessings for the descendants of Joseph, including their being “a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22). Truly their “branches” have reached all over the world!

Why did God plan to greatly bless these nations? It was not because of some kind of favoritism. One reason God enabled these nations to be powerful was so they could and would carry the Word of God to all the world!

The miracles of worldwide transformation and personal transformation

The world is a much better place—in many, many ways—than it would otherwise be because of the influence of the Bible. This is thoroughly explained in two fascinating books by Dr. D. James Kennedy: What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (1994) and What If the Bible Had Never Been Written? (1998).

Likewise, you and I are much better people than we would otherwise be to the extent that we, with the essential help of God’s Holy Spirit, internalize and live by the transforming Word of God.

When the apostle Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy, he commented on how Timothy had been supremely blessed “that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

Then Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (verses 16-17).

The longest chapter in the Bible—Psalm 119—was written in praise of God’s Word. It tells us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

May you diligently study and drink in God’s Word so that it may always be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path!  GN

The Mystery of Death

Death is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Do we really die, or do we have a soul that lives on apart from the body? Many are confused about this, and this has led to great misunderstandings about death. Does the Bible provide answers?

Death is a fearful, often traumatic event. Sometimes it is preceded by suffering, the result of the infirmities of age, disease or injury. Often death is shocking and unexpected. Family and friends suffer the pain of loss. The Scriptures refer to death as “the last enemy” to be conquered (1 Corinthians 15:26) and point out mankind’s innate fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). Death remains one of life’s greatest mysteries.

Religions offer a variety of answers, some seemingly credible and some beyond belief. Their explanations often contradict one another, adding to the confusion and uncertainty about what happens after death. A very common idea is that people are born with immortal souls. Many believe that after death the soul is conscious and proceeds to a literal place or condition of bliss or torment. Others teach that at death the soul is absorbed into a “greater consciousness.” Some expect to be reincarnated, coming back to earth as another person or as an animal.

Can we pinpoint just what death is? Do we have immortal souls? Are we conscious after we die? Are we destined to go somewhere to experience some form of reward or punishment? What is really going to happen when we die?

To understand, let’s continue with the biblical account of the first human beings.

God personally instructed Adam and Eve, but they chose to disobey Him. They let Satan influence them into choosing their own will rather than obeying God’s instructions. God informed them that, because they had disobeyed Him, their lives would grow difficult and, as He had warned, they would die. “In the sweat of your face,” God said to Adam, “you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

Our lives are physical; we age and eventually die. Like Adam and Eve, we eventually return to dust. Solomon made a simple but profound observation when he wrote that there is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). Look around the world at the example of nature. All living processes eventually break down and cease, then the physical remains begin to decay.

Solomon, after observing the cycles of life, noted that we human beings yearn for an eternal existence (verse 11). Knowing that death is inevitable, we search for a deeper meaning of life.

What is a soul?

Much misunderstanding about death is directly related to confusion concerning the “soul.” What is a soul? Does it exist? If it exists, is it separate from the physical body? Does it live on after death?

The Hebrew word most often translated into English as “soul” or “creature” in the Bible is nephesh. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible succinctly defines this word as “a breathing creature.” When used in the Bible, nephesh does not mean a spirit entity or the spirit within a person. Rather, it usually means a physical, living, breathing creature. Occasionally it conveys a related meaning such as breath, life or person.

Surprising to many, this term nephesh is used torefer to human beings and animals. In the Old Testament, man is referred to as a “soul” (nephesh) more than 130 times. But the same Hebrew term is also applied to sea creatures, birds and land animals, including cattle and “creeping” creatures such as reptiles and insects. All are “souls.”

For example, notice the account of the creation of sea life: “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:21, King James Version). The Hebrew word translated “creature” in this verse is nephesh. In the biblical account, these particular “souls,” creatures of the sea, were made before the first human beings were formed and given life.

Nephesh and man

Let’s further see how this word is used to refer to mankind in the Scriptures. The first place we find nephesh in reference to mankind is in the second chapter of Genesis: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (verse 7, KJV).

The word translated “soul” in this verse is again the Hebrew word nephesh. Other translations of the Bible state that man became a living “being” or “person.” This verse does not say that Adam had an immortal soul; rather it says that God breathed into Adam the “breath of life,” and Adam became a living soul. At the end of his days, when the breath of life left Adam, he died and returned to dust.

The soul (nephesh) is not immortal, because it dies. This is clear in the Bible. For example, through the prophet Ezekiel God proclaimed, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, see also verse 20). Again, the Hebrew word translated “soul” here is nephesh. Indeed, the same word is even used of corpses—dead bodies (see Leviticus 22:4; Numbers 5:2; 6:11; 9:6-10).So Scripture plainly states that the soul can die. It is mortal—it is in no way immortal—because it is subject to death and decay.

What happens to the dead?

Superstitions and assumptions, all kinds of beliefs, abound about the state of the dead. Many enjoy being frightened by books and movies about ghosts and other weird twists on the afterlife. Movies and television programs portray apparitions and angels sent back to earth to accomplish some final good deeds or rescue people from difficult situations. Cartoons entertain our children with ideas about animals going to heaven and the antics of friendly ghosts.

On the other hand, of course, many religious groups teach that at death a person goes immediately to his reward or punishment.

But the reality of what happens after death is quite different from all of these ideas. There are no disembodied spirits of dead people wandering about frightening or taking revenge on people—or even helping them.

Furthermore, the Bible does not speak of the dead going to live on forever in a place or condition of “heaven” or “hell.” Solomon observed that mankind and animals are destined for, in death, a common fate. “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other . . . All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).

The book of Daniel refers to the state of the dead in an inspiring prophecy: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

This passage conveys some crucial information. For one, it offers the promise of life after death—not by people living on apart from their bodies after death but through a resurrection from death that will take place in the future. Some will receive immortality then, and some will not. So clearly we are not immortal souls at present. Moreover, the passage compares death to sleep—and explains the resurrection as waking up from that sleep.

Sleep connotes unconsciousness, and the Bible draws the same analogy in other places. How could people who have died be asleep in their graves, profoundly unconscious—as revealed in the Bible—yet be residing blissfully in heaven and looking down at us on earth (or, presumably, suffering in hell and looking up)?

Solomon noted that the dead have no awareness, nor are they in some other state of consciousness: “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing . . . for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10). The person who has died is unconscious and unaware of the passing of time.

Life is transitory

The patriarch Job contemplated the transitory nature of physical life. Man, he said, “comes forth like a flower and fades away; he flees like a shadow and does not continue” (Job 14:2). Directing his remarks to God, Job commented on the physical limitations common to all men and women, stating, “Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; You have appointed his limits, so that he cannot pass” (verse 5).

Job noted the stark reality of death: “So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep” (verse 12). Job understood that death was the absolute cessation of life.

Notice that in Genesis 2:17 God told Adam and Eve that disobeying Him by taking from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would lead to death. Then, in Genesis 3:4, we read that the serpent (Satan) told Eve that if she ate from that tree, she would “not surely die.” Simply put, God said that man is mortal and subject to death. Satan contradicted God and said that man would not die—that man is immortal.

Isn’t it amazing that, as evidenced by the pervasive belief in the immortality of the soul, more people accept Satan’s teaching than God’s? Yet maybe that’s not so startling after all. The Bible does say that Satan “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9), and he has certainly deceived many about what happens after death.

The Hebrew Scriptures, commonly called the Old Testament, teach that, at death, the soul dies and consciousness ends. The soul does not live on in some other condition. It does not transmigrate into another form. It is not reincarnated into another creature. In dying, it ceases to live.

What does the New Testament say?

The apostle James understood the temporary nature of life. He compared life with a mist: “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). Another epistle also discusses this subject, stating that “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

The New Testament uses a word similar in meaning to nephesh to characterize the life or vitality of our physical existence, the Greek word psyche or psuche. (We will use the latter spelling here, as the Greek y, the letter upsilon, was pronounced as a u, and the spelling psyche, now used in English, typically conveys a different sense from the word’s original meaning.)

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, this word meant “breath” when the New Testament was written. It could be used in the same sense as the Hebrew word nephesh. Recallthat nephesh occurs in reference to the creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7, where the word is translated “soul” or “being.” This verse is paraphrased in the New Testament as “The first man Adam became a living being” (1 Corinthians 15:45), and the Greek word substituted for nephesh here is psuche.

Both of these words often translated “soul” convey the concept that man is a living, breathing creature subject to death. Notice Christ’s use of the word psuche: “For whoever desires to save his life [psuche] will lose it, but whoever loses his life [psuche] for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul [psuche]? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul [psuche]?” (Matthew 16:25-26).

Notice that Jesus, as recorded by Matthew, uses psuche four times in this passage. It is translated into English as both “life” and “soul.” Christ was simply saying that following Him and His message is more important than life itself. What good is it if you gain the whole world and then lose your existence? Jesus knew that the soul, one’s physical being with its consciousness, was temporary and mortal. It could be lost or sacrificed for something of less value.

What did Peter teach?

What did Jesus’ early disciples teach about death? The book of Acts records the apostle Peter’s powerful sermon in which he mentioned ancient Israel’s King David and his lack of consciousness while awaiting his resurrection. “Men and brethren,” exhorted Peter, “let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens . . .” (Acts 2:29, 34).

If people truly are alive in heaven with God the Father and Jesus Christ as so many believe, surely King David would be among them. But Peter said David is dead and buried and not in heaven. In contrast to Christ, who was resurrected so that “His soul was not left in Hades” (verse 31)—this being the Greek word for the grave, as we will later see—David remains in the grave.

His hope, and ours, is to live again through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and the resurrection available through Him.

Paul’s teachings about death

The apostle Paul also comments on the state of the dead. In one of his letters to the church in Corinth he compared the condition of the dead with sleep: “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30). Notice how Paul, like the Old Testament book of Daniel, likens death to sleep. Paul comments that many in the Corinthian church were weak and sickly. Many had died. Paul uses the word sleep to describe death as a state of unconsciousness.

But that is not the end of the matter. In describing the future resurrection of Christ’s followers, Paul writes in the same letter, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51). This change is yet future—and Christians who sleep unconsciously in death will do so until that time.

In addition, Paul specifically points out that we are now mortal—destructible—and that to receive everlasting life we mustsomehowbecome immortal—indestructible. “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory'” (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).

Paul conveyed a similar message to the church at Thessalonica: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Paul here again describes the dead as being in an unconscious state comparable to sleep.

On the basis of so much scriptural testimony, Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, wrote at one point: “It is probable, in my opinion, that, with very few exceptions indeed, the dead sleep in utter insensibility till the day of judgment . . . On what authority can it be said that the souls of the dead may not sleep . . . in the same way that the living pass in profound slumber the interval between their downlying at night and their uprising in the morning?” (Letter to Nicholas Amsdorf, Jan. 13, 1522, quoted in Jules Michelet, The Life of Luther, translated by William Hazlitt, 1862, p. 133). Yet the Reformation did not embrace the biblical truth that the dead sleep in total unawareness.

Is the spirit in man the immortal soul?

Earlier we noted a special spiritual aspect of the human mind that gives us our intellectual abilities, separating us from animals in function and purpose (see 1 Corinthians 2:11).

What we’ve seen so far is that the Bible shows a dead person is in no way immortal; his life has perished. So what happens to the spiritual essence that separates man from animal? Does it continue as a conscious, immortal soul independent of the physical body? Certainly not!

The Bible shows that the spirit in man, which originally came from the Creator God, returns to Him. “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). This spirit that returns to God is neither the source of human life, nor is it human consciousness. Life and consciousness both perish when one dies. God does not tell us why this spirit returns to Him, just that it does. This may be the way God preserves the characteristics of each person until the resurrection.

The truth is that man has no spiritual soul with conscious awareness independent of the physical body. This has been proven time and time again when individuals have gone into comas for weeks, months and sometimes years at a time, only to emerge from that comatose state with no memory or recollection of the passage of time.

If one had a soul that existed independently of the human body, wouldn’t that soul have some memory of remaining aware during the months or years the body was unconscious? That would be powerful and logical proof of the existence of an independent soul within the human body—yet no one has ever reported any such thing, in spite of thousands of such occurrences.

Summary

In this chapter we have considered the mystery of death. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a mystery. The scriptures we have reviewed make clear that a human being is a mortal soul and does not possess an immortal soul. Upon death, life ceases. It does not continue in some other form; a dead person does not transmigrate to be reincarnated as another being.

Since the time of Adam and Eve, all people have died a physical death—even Jesus Christ. But death is not the end. As Paul wrote, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Even though our life is temporary, God has not left us without hope and a greater purpose for living.

Another vital step we have mentioned here and will take up more fully in the next chapter, the resurrection, brings us from death back to life.

Seven Prophecies That Must Be Fulfilled Before Jesus Christ’s Return

Previous generations have thought that Jesus Christ would return in their lifetimes, but they were proven wrong. Many people alive today think that Christ’s return is imminent. Certainly, the Bible contains prophecies that could not have been fulfilled until this generation.

Shortly before His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus Christ delivered a major prophecy of end-time events, recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. He was asked by His disciples: “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).

Jesus responded with a description of conditions and events that would lead up to His second coming. Moreover, He said that when these signs became evident, His return would occur within one generation (Matthew 24:34). Could this be that generation?

Throughout the nearly 2,000 years since Christ gave His prophecy, many have thought that theirs was the time of His return—and turned out to be wrong, of course. But interestingly, there are a number of prophecies in the Bible that could not be fulfilled until our modern era, the post–World War II period.

1. The human race would have the ability to exterminate itself

In Matthew 24:22, describing world conditions prior to His second coming, Jesus said that “if that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive; but for the sake of God’s chosen it will be cut short” (Revised English Bible).

The main message that Jesus Christ brought was of the coming Kingdom of God. This is described as “the gospel” (Mark 1:14). Gospel means “good news.” While some of the prophecies concerning events prior to the establishment of the Kingdom can seem negative, we should always keep in mind that the central focus of Bible prophecy is the good news (gospel) of the coming Kingdom of God.

Matthew 24:22 shows us that if Jesus Christ does not intervene in world affairs, the human race will be faced with extinction. It’s crucial to note that humanity has had the capability for self-annihilation for only a little more than 50 years, since both the United States and the Soviet Union developed and stockpiled hydrogen bombs and the world had to learn to live with “mutually assured destruction.”

At that time there were only three nuclear powers ( Britain being the other). By the middle of the 1960s France and China had joined the nuclear club. Today at least eight nations have nuclear warheads and the number looks set to increase with a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Of course, the more nuclear powers we have in the world, the more likely it is that someone will use this deadly force for evil.

Although international attention has been focused on the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran during the last few years, little attention has been given to the possibility of some or all of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of radical Islamists.

During the ongoing crisis in Pakistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda and their sympathizers have steadily gained more power, territory and influence, making nuclear terrorism more likely. Consider the consequences for the rest of the world if Osama bin Laden (or others like him) had access to nuclear weapons!

Meanwhile, Russia and China are determinedly flexing their military muscles, raising fears of a return to Cold War–era tensions.

The good news in all this is that Christians have an assurance that Jesus Christ will intervene to save mankind from annihilation. This prophecy could not be fulfilled until man had the potential for self-extinction through weapons of mass destruction. Again, only in the last 50 years has this become possible.

2. A Jewish homeland had to be reestablished in the Middle East

Geopolitically, the central focus of end-time events is Jerusalem and its environs, what many people refer to as the Holy Land.

Luke 21 is a parallel chapter to Matthew 24. Notice Luke’s account of Christ’s long prophecy that answered the disciples’ questions: “Teacher, . . . when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7).

In response, Jesus showed that Jerusalem would be the central focus of the political and military upheavals that would immediately precede His return: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near . . . For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (verses 20-22).

Anyone living a century ago would have found these words nearly impossible to comprehend. Jerusalem in ancient times had been fought over countless times, but for four centuries from 1517 the city had been at peace within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. Jews lived there as a minority under Turkish rule. But this was going to change dramatically during the course of the 20th century.

It had to change for the fulfillment of Bible prophecy to take place.

The Old Testament prophet Zechariah was used by God to reveal a great deal about end-time events and the second coming of the Messiah. Zechariah lived and prophesied more than 500 years before Christ’s first coming, yet his prophetic book tells us a great deal about our world of today.

In Zechariah 12:2-3 God says: “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah [the Jews inhabiting the land of Israel] and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.”

In verse 9 He adds, “It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”

Reading these verses, it is possible to think that they apply to ancient events, as Jerusalem has been fought over repeatedly down through the ages. However, chapter 14 makes clear that this is talking about future, not past, events. The time setting is immediately before Jesus Christ’s return.

“Behold, the day of the Lord is coming . . . For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity . . . Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle.

“And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south” (Zechariah 14:1-4).

Clearly the last few lines of this prophecy remain to be fulfilled.

Further in this same chapter we read of how those nations that came against Jerusalem will have to go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, Jesus Christ (verse 16).

These chapters of Zechariah are a prophecy about the events that precede and include the second coming of Jesus. A Jewish-controlled Jerusalem is notice-ably the central focus.

Shortly before Zechariah, another Jewish prophet named Daniel lived during the time of the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. His book speaks of the Jews’ daily sacrifices being cut off in the end time (Daniel 12:11; see verses 1-13)—an event that had a forerunner in the temple defilement under Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C.

However, Jesus Christ confirmed this as a future event to precede His return (compare Daniel 11:31; Matthew 24:15). This means that these sacrifices must first be reinstituted in Jerusalem—requiring Jewish rule over the city.

One hundred years ago such developments were hard to imagine for the simple reason that no independent Jewish political entity existed in the Middle East.

After rebelling against the Romans in A.D. 66 and again in 132, Judea was crushed and most of the remaining Jews were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. No Jewish homeland existed again until 1948 when the modern nation of Israel was established.

An independent Jewish homeland was merely a dream for a small group of zealots a century ago. It moved a step nearer during World War I, when forces of the British Commonwealth took control of Jerusalem from the Turks in December 1916. A few months later, the British government pledged itself to the establishment of an independent Jewish homeland in the ancient lands the Jews had inhabited for centuries.

It was to be another 30 years before the dream was realized in 1948. Yet since then tiny Israel has had to fight wars for survival in 1948, 1967 and 1973 and has suffered countless terrorist attacks and threats of annihilation from hostile neighbors determined to eliminate the Jewish state.

Once again, here is a prophecy that can now be fulfilled in our time.

3. The end-time king of the North and king of the South

In Daniel 11 we find an amazing prophecy about two leaders, the kings of the North and South, the heads of regions that were geographically north and south of the Holy Land. To understand this prophecy we have to go to the time of Alexander the Great, who lived near the end of the fourth century B.C., 200 years after Daniel.

Alexander figures prominently throughout the book of Daniel, even though Daniel did not know his name and never knew him personally. He couldn’t have, since he died almost two centuries before Alexander appeared on the world stage.

But God revealed to Daniel that after Babylon, Persia would arise as the greatest power of the region, to be followed in turn by Greece. Not surprisingly, the prophecies regarding the rise of Greece are centered on Alexander the Great, one of the greatest conquerors in history.

Daniel 8 gives a vivid account of the coming clash between Persia and Greece. As you read it, remember that a horn symbolizes royal power and authority. Persia had “two horns and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last.” This refers to the Medo-Persian Empire, the coming together of two nations or peoples. As foretold here in verse 3, the Persians rose to greatness after the Medes.

In verse 5 we read of Persia’s later defeat by Alexander the Great: “And as I was considering, suddenly a male goat came from the west, across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground; and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes” (verse 5).

The “notable horn” or royal leader was Alexander the Great. The prophecy about his army not even touching the ground is a reference to the incredible speed with which he conquered the known world. All this was achieved in a very short time. Alexander died in 323 B.C. when he was only about 33 years old.

Even his sudden, unexpected death was prophesied: “The male goat grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken, and in place of it four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven” (verse 8).

When Alexander died, his empire was eventually divided between four of his generals—the four “notable horns” mentioned here. Two of these established dynasties would have a profound effect on the Jewish people, caught in the middle between them. These two dynasties were the descendants of Seleucus, who ruled a vast empire from Antioch in Syria, north of Jerusalem, and Ptolemy, who ruled Egypt from Alexandria.

Daniel 11 is a long and detailed prophecy about the dynastic conflicts between these two powers, their respective leaders being referred to as “the king of the North” and “the king of the South.” Of great significance is that whenever they went to battle against each other, the Jews got trampled on. This was to continue from the time of Alexander until the middle of the second century B.C., a period of almost two centuries.

Then, suddenly, the prophecy jumps down to the end time.

In verse 40 we read: “At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them and pass through. He shall also enter the Glorious Land [the Holy Land], and many countries shall be overthrown” (Daniel 11:40-41).

While we don’t have space here to cover all the details, the latter part of Daniel’s prophecy of the North-South conflict describes a clash of civilizations between the leader of a soon-coming European superpower—a revived Roman Empire (successor to Seleucid Syrian rule)—and a leader who is the successor to the Ptolemaic rule of Egypt, which is now part of the Islamic world.

We now see geopolitical conditions lining up for this inevitable clash. Here is yet another prophesied circumstance for which the stage has now been set within our lifetime!

4. An end-time union of European nations

In Daniel 2 and 7 we see prophecies about four great gentile empires that would arise in the period between the time of Daniel and the coming establishment of the Kingdom of God (Daniel 2:44). Daniel was himself living in the first of these great empires (Daniel 7:4) as a Jewish exile in ancient Babylon.

Following the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C., Persia would become the greatest power, to be followed by Greece (verses 5-6). After Greece came the Roman Empire, “dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong.” This empire was to have “ten horns” and would continue in some form until the establishment of God’s Kingdom at Christ’s return (verses 7-9).

As we saw in the previous section, horns represent leaders or governments. Here these 10 horns symbolize 10 attempts to restore the Roman Empire to the power it had in ancient times. Various attempts at a restoration have taken place since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in A.D. 476. A final attempt is to be made shortly before Christ’s return.

We find more details in Revelation 17. Here we read of a final attempt to revive the Roman Empire by “ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast” (verses 12-13).

They will also “make war with the Lamb [Jesus Christ], and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings” (verse 14). Again, it is clear that this prophecy is still future.

Previous attempts to forge a united European empire, from Justinian in the sixth century through Charlemagne, Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler, all involved force. The final resurrection of the Roman Empire will not be attempted in the same way.

Revelation 17 suggests this will be a voluntary union. When these 10 leaders receive power, they will then give their authority to a single leader. Scripture refers to both this individual and the new superpower he leads as “the beast”—acknowledging it as the continuation of the four gentile empires prophesied in Daniel, each one depicted as a beast or wild animal.

Only now is it possible for this to be fulfilled.

In 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed by six European nations that formed the European Economic Community. Today the EEC has grown into the European Union (EU) with 27 member nations. Out of these will likely come the 10 nations or 10 leaders that form the final resurrection of the Roman Empire.

Some have speculated that the 10 kings referred to in this prophecy will be leaders of 10 regions of the EU that will redraw the boundaries of Europe, ending the present nation-states. The Bible is not clear on exactly which 10 regions or nations will configure the final revival of the militaristic Roman superpower—only that this new superpower will indeed emerge just before Christ’s return.

However, it wasn’t until the 10th nation, Greece, was admitted in 1981 that any conceivable fulfillment of this prophecy was even possible.

5. End-time rise and fall of Israel and Judah

” Israel” was the new name God gave the biblical patriarch Jacob in Genesis 32. The 12 tribes of Israel were descended from his 12 sons. These tribes later formed a united kingdom.

It’s been almost 3,000 years since the kingdom of Israel was split in two. Ten of the 12 tribes of Israel rebelled against King Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon and grandson of King David. The Bible continued to refer to these 10 tribes as Israel while the other two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) that remained loyal to David’s descendants were known as the kingdom of Judah or simply Judah.

Sometimes Israel is referred to as the northern kingdom and Judah as the southern kingdom. Dominant among the northern tribes were to be the descendants of Jacob’s son Joseph through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh—prophesied by Jacob to be the chief nations of the world in the last days (Genesis 49:1, 22-26; compare Deuteronomy 33:13-17).

About 200 years after the kingdom split, the northern tribes of Israel fell to Assyria and were deported by the Assyrians to the northern parts of their empire. Often referred to now as the lost tribes, they later migrated northwest across Europe, eventually settling in new homelands far from the Middle East.

The kingdom of Judah fell to Babylon more than a century after Israel’s deportation, but its people were not lost to history. We know them today as the Jews.

The name Ephraim is sometimes used representatively in Scripture for the entire northern kingdom, though it can also refer solely to the descendants of Joseph’s son of that name—prophesied to become a “multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19). Remarkably, this promise to Ephraim was fulfilled in the British Empire and Commonwealth.

Ephraim’s older brother Manasseh was also prophesied to become a great nation (same verse), separating himself from the multitude of nations. This prophecy would be fulfilled in the formation, growth and dominance of the United States of America.

In a revealing prophecy regarding the United States and Britain, Jacob (Israel) said, “Let my name be named upon them” (verse 16). References to ” Israel” in end-time prophecy often refer to the United States or the English-speaking countries of the British Empire or both. Sometimes ” Israel” can mean all 12 tribes. We have to look at specific verses in their context to see which is meant.

“Judah,” however, always refers to the Jews, the descendants of the house or kingdom of Judah. We must also understand that the modern nation called Israel is really Judah, made up of Jews.

Understanding this critical part of biblical history will help us more fully comprehend a passage of Scripture in the book of Hosea, which is a prophecy about Ephraim (the multitude of nations—Great Britain and some of those nations that came out of her). It warns of destruction to follow the end-time ascendancy of the Israelite nations.

In Hosea 5 we read a prophecy that mentions Israel, Ephraim and Judah: “The pride of Israel testifies to his face; therefore Israel and Ephraim stumble in their iniquity; Judah also stumbles with them” (verse 5). The prophecy continues: “With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn Himself from them. They have dealt treacherously with the Lord, for they have begotten pagan children. Now a New Moon shall devour them and their heritage” (verses 6-7).

New moons occur a month apart. A new moon “devouring” them would seem to mean that Israel, Ephraim and Judah will all fall within one month.

This prophecy was not fulfilled in ancient times. As already mentioned, ancient Judah fell to Babylon more than a century after Israel fell to Assyria. Yet in the end it appears they will fall together—within one month of each other. This prophecy remains to be fulfilled.

Remember that Israel gave his name to Ephraim and Manasseh, the ancestors in turn of the British and American peoples. As Ephraim is mentioned separately in this prophecy, the reference to ” Israel” must apply to the United States, which is now the more dominant of the two nations.

For two centuries prior to World War II, the roles were reversed with the multitude of nations—the British Empire—a greater power than the single nation, the United States. But today America is the greater.

“Judah” refers to the Jewish people, particularly those who now constitute the modern nation in the Middle East that calls itself Israel.

Here then is a prophecy regarding all three nations—the United States, Britain and Israel (Judah). According to this prophecy, it appears that all three will fall within the span of a month. Verse 6 shows these nations turning back to God, but finding it’s too late. Because of their sins, He will let them suffer defeat and collapse.

This prophecy could not have been fulfilled until after the rise of Britain and the United States as world powers in the 19th century and the formation of the Jewish state of Israel in the 20th.

Lest the idea seem outlandish, consider that Israel and the United States are perhaps the most maligned and criticized nations on earth. Among Muslim hard-liners, America is commonly called “the great Satan” and Israel and Britain “the little Satans.”

6. The gospel will be preached in all the world

In His major end-time prophecy, Jesus answers the question posed by the disciples: “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).

After listing a number of signs of the nearness of His coming, He reveals that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (verse 14).

The gospel is the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. This message could not be preached around the world without the Bible and freedom of religion. Both came gradually with the ascendancy of the English-speaking peoples from the 16th century until the present day.

However, it was only with the technological advances of television and radio and other means of mass communication after World War II and their widespread acceptance that it became possible to reach hundreds of millions of human beings with the message of the Bible. The gospel of the Kingdom of God will continue to be preached to all nations as long as we have the freedom to continue The Good News magazine and our other media efforts.

Even so, during the last 50 years it has not been possible to reach all countries. The former communist nations did not allow freedom of religion. China, with one quarter of the world’s people, still does not. Other nations also try to suppress the publication of biblical truth and even the Bible itself. Many Islamic nations do not allow religious freedom. In some countries people risk the death penalty for changing religion.

But the Internet is changing everything. It is much harder for governments to control. The gospel message of the coming Kingdom of God is still going out to the world. It will finish when God has decided that His work is completed and the time is right for the final end-time events to take place.

This is yet another prophecy that could not be fulfilled until recent times.

7. Instant worldwide communications and God’s final witnesses

Another end-time Bible prophecy could not be fulfilled until this era of instant worldwide communications.

In His major end-time prophecy of Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, Jesus gave an outline of disasters that would occur on the world scene with increasing frequency and magnitude—to the point where people would be shaken with fear (Luke 21:26). Discerning an increase in the scale of these events and reacting to them requires knowing about them.

At the time this prophecy was given, it could be many months or years before people heard about various disasters—and many they would never hear about at all, much less be able to put together the fact that catastrophes were on some kind of global increase.

Only with the proliferation of newspapers and other forms of mass communications did this become remotely possible. Yet the level of awareness and consequent fear in many that Christ speaks of implies an even greater availability of information—possible only since the development of rapid electronic communications.

In any case, only with the technological advances of the last few years has it become possible for the events in Revelation 11 to occur—for people around the world to see the fate of God’s final two witnesses.

These two witnesses, reminiscent of other biblical prophets like Elijah and Elisha, will carry God’s final warning to the world in the last 3 1/2 years leading up to Christ’s return.

“And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days . . . When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

“Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth” (verses 3, 7-10).

Note that people the world over will be able to see their dead bodies during the 3 1 ⁄ 2 days that they lie on display in Jerusalem. This was not possible before satellite television, portable communications devices and the Internet. Again, only in the last few years has it become possible for this prophecy to be fulfilled. It still lies in the future, of course, but only now it is clearly possible for this to take place.

Will this generation see God’s Kingdom established on earth?

We have seen how seven biblically prophesied circumstances could not have come to pass until recent times. In fact, the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was clearly a major turning point in the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, as was the acquisition of the hydrogen bomb by the two superpowers of the 1950s that led to the period of mutually assured destruction.

All has now become possible. This, in turn, makes it much more likely that our generation will live to see Jesus Christ return and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. After all, Jesus Himself said that once these things begin, the generation alive at that time “will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34).

It’s both sobering and encouraging to think that we appear to be living in the generation that will ultimately witness the most important event in the history of mankind. As Jesus Christ tells His followers in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

–Melvin Rhodes

Christ’s Command to Us: Bear Good Fruit and Much Fruit

Jesus Christ taught important spiritual lessons regarding the “fruit” of our lives. What are those lessons, and how well are we applying them? Our eternal life depends on this understanding!

At the mention of fruit, what are your first thoughts? A snack? A dessert? Your favorite fruits?

The Bible refers to literal fruit—such as olives, grapes and figs—many times. More frequently the biblical Hebrew and Greek words translated “fruit” have a symbolic sense. All crops are considered “fruit of the earth.” Children are called the “fruit of the womb.” A man’s words are “the fruit of his mouth.”

In ancient and modern times, people have used “fruit” to mean results, products, outcomes, accomplishments and achievements. An employee must be productive to be worthy of his wage. He must work hard, work fast and work smart to get jobs done and done right. In Scripture, “fruit” has similar meanings.

Defining “good” fruit

The Bible at times likens people to fruit trees or grapevines and portrays God as the owner of the orchards and vineyards. The Master knows our character by our spiritual fruits, just as “a tree is known [identified] by its fruit”—either good or bad (Matthew 12:33).

God’s number one concern is for all fruit to be good—”the fruit of righteousness” (James 3:18). In fact, Jesus warned, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and is thrown into the fire” to be destroyed (Matthew 7:19).

And what is good? Only God has the supreme authority to define good and evil. Jesus went on to say, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, emphasis added throughout).

And what is God’s will for our lives? It is revealed throughout His Word and is summarized by the two great commandments and the Ten Commandments (Matthew 22:36-40; 19:17).

We must aim high to reach the highest goals. To produce the best fruit requires work, time, patience and perseverance (James 5:7-11).

We are to be fruitful

Closely following God’s desire for good fruit is His desire for us to produce a lot of it—to be highly productive. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8, New International Version). Notice, bearing abundant fruit glorifies God and identifies Christ’s disciples!

Later, Jesus states the purpose of our calling: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16, NIV). Hence we must be oriented toward eternal goals and work with all our hearts to bring them to fruition!

The following parable is quite instructive: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down'” (Luke 13:6-9).

The keeper of the vineyard asked for another year, during which time he would fertilize the soil to encourage growth. This illustrates God’s patience with us—how He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

A fruitless fruit tree, however, will eventually be “cut down.” Professing without producing is no good.

We are to grow

The similar parables in Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27 illustrate God’s emphasis on spiritual growth and accomplishment. In each story, two servants obediently invested the master’s money to earn a profit for him. But the third servant merely hid the money for safekeeping. Fear of failure was his excuse for not even trying.

The parable shows that we must obey God with faith and courage even when it may be humanly frightening. The fearful servant is called “unprofitable” and “wicked and lazy” (Matthew 25:30, 26).

To each of the profitable (fruitful) servants, the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21, 23). May this be what we hear when Christ returns to reward His servants!

We can’t bear fruit without God

During His life on earth, Jesus Christ said of His miraculous acts, “The Son can do nothing of Himself” (John 5:19). He explained, “The Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10).

Neither can we, acting on our own, produce spiritual fruit! It requires a miracle of God through Christ. Let’s carefully read and ponder what Jesus explained to His disciples the evening before His arrest.

He said: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). “Pruning” includes the Father’s loving discipline to correct our faults (Hebrews 12:5-11).

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Rely on God and great things will happen!

“If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus continued, “he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (verses 6-7). Abiding in Christ includes learning and applying God’s Word. And a major key to bearing fruit is praying for help!

Abiding in Christ also includes abiding in His Church, “the body of Christ,” as numerous scriptures show (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27; Ephesians 1:21-22; 4:12).

The essential role of God’s Spirit

Jesus said we can bear fruit only if He “abides” in us (John 15:4-5). How is this possible? It is through the gift of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

How do we receive this gift? Peter said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

God’s Spirit does many things. It imparts spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). It imparts a willingness to obey—to be like Christ who said, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). It imparts an ability to obey and love far above human ability. It is the Spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

The power to bear fruit

With the Holy Spirit, one becomes spiritually alive, beginning a new life! God’s Spirit is like the life-giving sap that flows up the trunk of a tree to all its branches so they can yield fruit!

Notice God’s beautiful portrayal of His people as flourishing fruit trees: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8; compare Psalm 1:3).

The apostle Paul said in Galatians 5, “Walk in the Spirit . . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (verses 16, 25). God’s Spirit enables us to act according to God’s principles—to live a godly life!

Without God’s Spirit, we are merely mortal flesh, and the fruits of raw human nature are called the “works of the flesh” in verses 19-21. After listing these sinful “works,” Paul warns that “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 21).

With the help of God’s Spirit, however, we produce something far different: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [or patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (verses 22-23). That is truly good fruit! God wants us to bear much of this fruit!

Spirit-led people have these wonderful virtues of godly character as the result of God’s Spirit acting from within. The credit for this fruit belongs to God and Jesus Christ who supply that Spirit.

And God will let us bear this fruit only when we are trying to give of ourselves to others. This fruit is manifested in relationships. God’s Spirit is like a river (John 7:38). It will flow into us only when it is also flowing out to others.

In a series of future articles we will examine each of the special aspects of the fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5—to thoroughly understand them, to see how we can cultivate them and to see how we can use them in serving God and one another. We will get a good taste of each one.

As we do that, let’s remember to focus on Christ’s overall lesson regarding the fruit of our lives: Bear good fruit and much fruit!

by Don Hooser–

Why does the Middle East dominate the headlines so often?

One obvious answer is oil, the lifeblood of modern economies. Without oil to run factories, heat homes, fuel transportation and provide energy and raw materials for thousands of uses, the economies of many nations would grind to a halt. The crucial importance of oil alone ensures that the Middle East will remain in the headlines for years.

But there’s more that keeps the Middle East in the news. It is the birthplace of the world’s three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Too often it has not been just their birthplace, but their battlefield, with adherents warring against each other for control of territory they consider holy.

FREE  booklet -- The Middle East in Bible ProphecyNowhere are these conflicts more obvious than in Israel, and specifically in Jerusalem. It’s hard to imagine how so much history, religion and culture can collide and stand in literal heaps. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Temple Mount, flash point for many a conflict over the centuries.

Today one can watch Muslims praying at the Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount, Jews praying at the Western Wall barely a stone’s throw below and Christians praying along the Via Dolorosa and at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a few hundred yards to the north and west. And all around one sees the rubble of the centuries of conflict over this holy place.

Who will write the next chapter in the history of this troubled city? Believe it or not, the final chapters are already written—prophesied centuries ago in the pages of the Bible. Ominously, they mesh remarkably well with today’s headlines.