Tag Archives: Bible

The Face of a Man, the Body of an Eagle?

The throne room scene in Revelation 4 and 5 must be mostly symbolic. If you take the images literally, they seem ridiculous. But as symbols, they’re powerful. Symbols of what? The lesson on Tuesday has some answers.

These Images Could Seem Ridiculous, Unless…

One of the symbols in the throne room scene is the image of the four living creatures in Revelation 4:6-8. They’re completely covered with eyes, even under their wings. How would that be sensible, the sort of thing God would create? What would the eyes under the wings be looking at?

And one of them is described simply as having the face of a man, and another simply looks “like a flying eagle.” Does that last one sit in one place in front of the Throne but still somehow look like an eagle that is constantly flying (while still sitting still)? So these creatures must be symbolic of certain ideas.

In Revelation 4:8, it says they are praising God constantly — that is, without stopping, ever — and that the twenty-four elders (in verse 10) fall down in front of God every time they do. But since they are always praising God, the elders would have to fall down constantly, over and over. Does that mean they’re bouncing up and down? How does it work?

So this non-literal scene must represent a reality that would be hard to express any other way.

The Ancient Source of the Symbols

As symbols, these images are not ridiculous; they’re powerful and beautiful. The Jewish people who read Revelation when it first was sent out to the churches knew the ancient Sanctuary service intimately. And that’s where many of the symbols in Revelation come from.

They knew the twenty-four yearly divisions of worship in the Sanctuary, which the twenty-four elders represent. They knew about the priests’ prayer offerings that were given in golden bowls, which are represented by the golden bowls of incense in Revelation 5:8.

And certainly they would have resonated deeply with the Slain Lamb in Revelation 5, because lambs were slain all the time in the Sanctuary services. But in Revelation 5, the symbolism is taken a step further to explain the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.

The scroll, introduced in Revelation 5:1-2, that no one is worthy to open, I think represents all the promises of a Messiah, of salvation, that are recorded in the Old Testament. John weeps because it can’t be opened, but then it’s found that the Lamb can open it because of His sacrifice (Rev. 5:9,12), His divinity (Rev. 5:13), and His triumph (Rev. 5:5).

Constant Praise

So this strange scene of the Throne Room of God actually shows us a picture of the Good News, of a salvation that can regenerate us: Revelation 5:10 states that the goal of God’s plan is to turn us into a new kingdom of priests who reign over the Earth.

The throne room scene  reminds us of the rituals in the Old Testament Sanctuary services, which in turn were simply reflections of the constant worship of God that happens in Heaven. The four living creatures represent all of universal creation constantly praising God for just being Who He is. They don’t say, “Thank you, God, for this new car, this nice house, these clothes, this food.” No, they praise Him for His glory, wisdom, strength, and love — character traits of God that are constant no matter what situation of life we’re in.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

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God’s Two Teachers Working Together

In our Bible study class on February 16, we discussed an issue that turned out to be more controversial than I expected. We were discussing this lesson: http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less07.html

I explained that Nature can’t teach us Biblical truths on its own. Only the Bible can tell us about the Trinity or the fact that Jesus died on the Cross and rose again or that the Red Sea parted for the Israelites. You’d never learn those things by studying trees or birds or corn.

The Class Protests

An interesting thing happened, then. Some of the people in my class protested that people can still go to Heaven even if they don’t know about God or Jesus.

Now, that’s actually true: the apostle Paul explains that people are only judged on what they have heard. And the Holy Spirit speaks to people through whatever is available — Nature alone, for some people — and asks them to make a decision based only on what they know.

But my point wasn’t about salvation. It was simply that “God’s second book,” as Nature is called, can’t explain some of the eternal truths that only the words of the Bible can reveal to us.

The Limitations of Nature

Nature can’t show us a God of eternal, unchanging love. It can show us some amazing things like sunlight and rain falling on the righteous and the wicked. It can show us space, which is extremely large but not infinite. But to know Who creates the sun and the rain and Who contains all of space in His mind, well, only the Bible can explain that.

An interesting concept from my denomination is that if people are focused only on Nature, they forget about God’s majesty and the power of His consistent love and perfect wisdom. If their ideas of truth and good behavior come only from Nature, they can never rise above it.

But worshipping the God Who created (and still creates) Nature inspires us to be more than we are, more than Nature, more like Him.

Why the Bible and Nature are a Teaching Team

Nature alone shows us a confusing picture. There is beauty in Nature, yes — and some generosity among higher animals. But there are also greed, stealing, and animals eating each other alive. Nature can’t explain itself, but the Bible can explain why things are the way they are.

On the other hand, some ideas in the Bible can be abstract and hard to visualize until we hear an illustration that uses Nature — for example, the parable of the seeds falling on different kinds of ground — and then we understand that particular truth better. Then that thing in Nature — the seeds, in this case — is forever after associated with that truth.

So both of God’s books are good, and they work together to teach us and show us truths about Him and His kingdom. It’s all for our benefit, because getting to know Him and being more like Him are what make people truly happy.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

An Easy Way to See the Image of God

(This is a reaction to the February 10 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less07.html.)

Socialists have said that no one can meaningfully own modern products because they’re all made of materials mined in one country, sent by many people to some other country, combined with other materials from yet other countries, assembled by many other people, and then shipped to us. How can you really own something that has so much labor from so many other people in it? That’s what they say.

It’s interesting, but let’s not argue about whether it’s right or wrong right now. What’s more significant for Christians is that even if you build something yourself from wood you found in your own forest, it still belongs to God. And not in an abstract sense. It can’t be any other way. See, if you build a chair, you still didn’t create the atoms and molecules of it, and you can’t keep it in existence for even a moment. Without God’s attention, it would cease to exist.

Things can only continue existing if they are totally under God’s control, so He owns everything. No one else can hold their own possessions together; we have no absolute control over anything.

A radical, but Biblical, idea is that Nature is not an independent thing. The things we see happening in Nature are not, as we modern people normally think, some dead matter created millions of years ago that is traveling along lines dictated by natural laws. Instead, the Biblical model says that what we see in Nature is a direct action of God using Nature as a tool.

But that doesn’t mean that Nature is an independent tool that God likes to use just sometimes, on special occasions. No, Nature is a constant instrument of God that He plays without ceasing or it would not exist at all. Nature is practically an action of God that is continuously created by Him. (In a later post, I’m going to explain this radical picture of Nature found in the Bible more thoroughly.)

So then my point is that almost everything around us and in us, even our own deepest cells in our brains, are constantly being made and used and moved by God, in perfect obedience to Him.

Yet, somehow, there’s a part of the universe that doesn’t obey Him.

Everything else absolutely must be controlled by God every moment or it would do nothing at all. Everything in our reality moves only by God’s will. There’s no activity without Him. And yet the human will can choose contrary to God’s will.

That’s a real miracle. Sure, everything is a miracle all the time, but this on a different level. When a molecule of air bounces against another molecule, that’s because God’s infinite mind is telling those two molecules to do exactly that while also telling them to keep existing. They would not exist if He pulled back His command from them. So how do we have a part of us that can ignore His will while everything else in the universe can only exist at all in perfect obedience to His will?

It’s a mystery.

He has given us such a profound gift in that free will; it seems like it makes us more like Him, like it’s part of how we’re “made in the image of God.” Without it, we’d be the same as molecules of air in perfect obedience; with it, we can reject His love or return it freely.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

God: Two Arms, Two Legs, and a Head?

(This is a reaction to the January 28 bible study lesson at http://www.ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less05.html.)

Yes, the Bible says we’re made in the image of God. But does that mean we look like Him? That doesn’t make sense in the context of the rest of the Bible. The Bible says over and over how different God is from us. He is in the midst of fire and turning wheels and eyes and beasts. David says that He is everywhere at once.

All the New Testament writers say that God is three Persons at the same time but one Being. So that doesn’t sound like He looks like us, like a guy with two legs and two arms and a head. And how could a Being who existed before time and who exists even now outside of time and space look like a human?

Now, that isn’t to say that He is a cloud, something indefinite. C.S. Lewis points out that God is actually more real than we are, more solid. He is reality itself, and He has a definite shape and form that is unique to Him. Maybe that’s why in the Old Testament He says that He has a specific name (YHWH); the name shows that He is not just a cloud of energy.

So in one sense, it seems like He could be human-shaped for all we know, but at the same time, He is a Being who is outside of our universe of shapes altogether.

Well, we know that Jesus is a human now, and He’s God. So maybe that’s what the image of God means? Maybe it’s part of it. Along with that, the Bible, especially the book of Revelation, rejoices in the fact that God will live on our planet now forever. No other race will have that privilege, and no other race will have God become one of them in the flesh.

But it also makes sense to say the image of God is in our moral and relationship qualities. We have a sense of what is right and wrong that the animals don’t have. We have a moral responsibility to take care of totally different species; animals can’t think that way in general. And we have loving relationships chosen through intelligence and will rather than animal instincts. God created humans not to live as individuals but as pairs and groups.

OXYGEN VOLUME 13

And it’s amazing that God Himself has existed as a group in all eternity outside of time. Their relationship has always been, and always will be, the Son being subordinate to the Father by loving choice and the Holy Spirit being the servant of both.

So God is not a lonely Being wishing He had some friends; no, He has always been, and always will be, in an environment of perfect harmony and love. And that type of experience is what He has for us – one of the main purposes for which He created us.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

 

The Serpent and the Sabbath

(This is a reaction to the January 27 bible study lesson at http://www.ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less05.html.)

God is powerful and we’re dependent on Him, but those aren’t the best reasons to trust and obey Him. Yes, we’re created so we only have life when connected to Him. But it’s not like there’s an unfun life without Him and a fun life with Him. No, He is life, and we only have any life in Him. He’s infinite, and there’s nothing outside of Him.

But we trust and obey Him not just because of His power, but because He is wise and good. Someone who just has power without love isn’t worth obeying. The Bible says that we obey Him out of love. And demons know His power but don’t put their faith in Him.

Anyway, I don’t think Adam and Eve saw rules and obligations. He was their everything, their whole lives: they knew nothing else. And the things He commanded them to do were things they wanted to do anyway, such as multiplying and eating.

Of course they would want to multiply, because they would be expressing their boundless love for each other; and of course they would want to eat, because everything would be indescribably delicious.

So He gave them natural desires and then commanded them to do things that would simply be following the desires He gave them. But that one prohibition against eating that one fruit was the only command that would seem more like a modern rule, because it would be the only one against their natural desires.serpent tree

And actually my understanding from reading C.S. Lewis’ book Perelandra is that that test actually gave them a benefit: they gained the knowledge of good and evil by not eating from the tree, because they experienced the battle between trusting self and trusting God above self that they wouldn’t get if they were just following their pleasant natural desires all the time.

God gave them a chance to step outside of their own will and more deeply into His by resisting a fruit that seemed desirable to eat and just obeying Him without understanding why.

And we need that experience, too. Maybe that’s partially why the Sabbath is so important, because there’s no logical reason for it to be on a particular day. But if we obey God’s command in spite of that, we step outside of our own will and into His.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

God’s Pre-Programmed Finches

(This is a reaction to the January 15 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less03.html.)

You really need both Nature and the Bible. Someone said in class that it’s crazy that some people can look at Nature and not see that it was designed by God. But how carefully have you looked at Nature? There are insects that lay eggs inside of other animals that turn into larvae and eat the host animal alive. That’s not something that’s somehow beautiful from a certain angle; it’s always horrific. Nothing should be suffering like that. So we actually see the results of sin in Nature. We see design, yes, and we see the horrible marring of sin. So God has given us the Bible to explain the meaning behind what we see with our eyes in Nature.

C.S. Lewis wrote that we only see the lessons in Nature that we have learned from other sources, which means that Nature hasn’t actually taught us anything. And that isn’t to insult Nature. Nature is God’s tool and is like our elder sister. It’s simply to say that we can’t call other people stupid just because they don’t have the same faith as us.

We didn’t learn about God from Nature. We learned about Him from the Bible; we believe in Him through the Holy Spirit; and when we look at Nature, we take our belief into it. And that’s wonderful. We need both Inspiration and Nature. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t accuse other people of stupidity if they haven’t had the same experience. We didn’t see the God of design automatically in Nature, and neither will they. They need experiences of love with God’s followers and the touching of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of God in the Bible.

Now, some evolutionists can look at us and think that we’re mentally out to lunch because they think that we all believe in the “fixity of species,” the idea that all species are set in stone from Genesis 1 and can never have any variations. And then evolutionists can look at the fact that there certainly are variations in species and think that we’re very silly.

But only a few creationists believe in that from Genesis 1. Our lesson points out that it’s more accurate to say that God create “various kinds of” animals on the fifth and sixth creation days but that then they were changed because of sin. And possibly God changed them even more because new habitats emerged because of sin. In His grace, He programmed into their DNA many new possible variations that can come out in different environments.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

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Automatic Proof or Opportunity for Faith?

The main idea in the lesson study today was that since life fits so perfectly in this universe, we know that God designed it for life to fit. (This is a reaction to the December 31, 2012 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less01.html.)

Now, atheists see this argument from the opposite direction: they say that since life arose in this universe, of course it fits this uImageniverse. They think it evolved through some fairly random interactions within the rules of this universe. It doesn’t automatically prove to them that an intelligent Designer put the universe together first and then put life into it.

Of course, if you present this as your belief lovingly without expecting it to automatically change someone’s mind, the Holy Spirit should be there speaking to them, and they could choose to listen to Him at that moment. But that also might not be the right moment, so you can’t force it to happen. We have to be patient. Someone might not be ready to accept the truth one time but then ready to accept it another time.

Anyway, they don’t see this as a proof. They just see it as our belief.

This is an argument for the existence of God that relies on looking at the universe and how well life fits into our universe. I just think think it’s good to remember that logical arguments often don’t force someone to accept the truth. What does make someone believe in the Creator? Only faith can do that, trusting in His word more than trusting anything else, even science.

If you believe in God as the Creator, it isn’t because some scientific study makes it so obvious that everyone is forced to believe in God. No, it’s because when the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart, you choose to believe Him and accept Him. What can you do to entice other people to want to know God and to trust the Bible?

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)