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Jesus is dead…finally. This is a very good thing from the perspective of Israel’s religious leaders. The problem now is to make sure He stays dead by not allowing His disciples to kidnap His corpse. The Pharisees are rather paranoid about that particular possibility because being the connivers that they are, they can appreciate the brilliance of such a strategy. If there’s no body, there’s no way to prove that Jesus is dead, and with everyone talking about His declaration that He’d bring Himself back to life in three days, an empty tomb could quickly turn into a political nightmare.
The Pharisees want things to get back to the way they were before: with them telling everyone how to think, and the people viewing them as infallible teachers. You know, like the Church does with the apostle Paul today. Paul was a Pharisee, and the way we’re all taught to never question his teachings is a perfect example of the kind of brainless subservience the Pharisees enjoyed from Jewish commoners. The Pharisees promoted themselves as theological experts who were spiritually superior to everyone else. Today we do the same with all of the biblical writers—especially the New Testament apostles. Once you get people to think you’re infallible, you can make them swallow all kinds of lies and get them to revere you as God’s anointed translator. It’s a sweet position to be in, and the Pharisees were loving their control over the Jews until mouthy Jesus came along and started publicly defying them every chance He got. That was seriously annoying. It’s just so great that Jesus is dead. And now that the Pharisees have posted guards at His tomb and marked the stone with a special “keep out” seal, all they have to do is get through the next three days and prove His absurd prophecy wrong. Hopefully then Israel will finally be able to move on from this embarrassing drama about a Messiah.
THE THIRD DAY
Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene [MAG-duh-leen] and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of Yahweh came down from Heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. (Matt. 28:1-4)
Matthew is the only Gospel writer to mention the guards. The other three writers focus on the women. Mark identifies “the other Mary” as the mother of James, and he mentions a third woman named Salome [SAL-oh-may]. Luke mentions a woman named Joanna. There could have been even more than these four—we don’t know. We only know that this group was all women. They’ve come to the tomb to refresh the corpse preservation treatments. It’s day three, and they weren’t able to do anything on the Sabbath, so at this point the body is expected to start looking and smelling rather, well, dead. What a shock when they arrive and find that the very large stone that was parked in front of the tomb’s entrance has been rolled away. And here they were fretting about how they were going to get inside.
Now given the importance of this moment, you’d think the Gospel writers would all tell the same story. But just as we found significant variations in the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, we’ve got confusion about angels in the account of His resurrection. Matthew says the women arrive at the tomb and find a blindingly bright angel dressed in a snow white tunic sitting on top of the tombstone.
Mark places the angel inside the tomb to the right, and he’s not so bright. Instead, he looks like an ordinary young man who is dressed in a white robe.
Luke has the women walk into the empty tomb and stand around looking stunned before two men suddenly appear beside them wearing dazzlingly bright apparel.
John dispenses with angels altogether and makes it sound like Mary Magdalene checked out the empty tomb all by herself. Talk about not getting your stories straight.
Now notice that no one witnesses Jesus’ actual resurrection. They just see the empty tomb. At this point, grave robbers can’t be ruled out, but of course Jesus’ followers are hoping against hope that He will come through with His resurrection prophecy. Did Jesus really need the stone to be rolled away? Of course not, He’s God. The shifting of the stone was to expedite the discovery of the empty tomb.
Now to keep things in perspective, what exactly is going on with this resurrection? Has Jesus actually “come back to life”? Of course not, because Jesus is God Almighty, and Gods do not die. Humans don’t die, either—not if we’re defining death as an end to existence. To properly understand any resurrection, we need to start with a correct understanding of death.
We find two kinds of death being described in the Bible: there is physical death and spiritual death. Spiritual death is a metaphorical concept which simply refers to being on the wrong side of God’s grace. In Revelation, Jesus says to the folks in the church at Sardis [sar-DISS]:
“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.” (Rev. 3:1)
He’s talking about spiritual death here. What He means is that the folks in Sardis are in big trouble with God because they’re being defiant little rebels. They have the reputation of being on the right side of God—of being saved, or “spiritually alive.” But Jesus is saying that they’re actually just Christian posers—they aren’t really accepted by God yet, they’re still on His enemy list. If they don’t hurry up and repent and do some sincere submitting to Jesus’ Authority, they could end up in Hell.
Talking about spiritual death is very confusing, because we humans associate death with the end of something’s existence. When a plant dies in your garden, you pull it up, throw it out, and that’s the end of it. When your dog dies, you get rid of the body, and that’s it: no more dog. Sure, a lot of people want to insult God by inventing doggie heavens, but this is utter nonsense. God’s Heaven is not a dumping ground for your pets. When the animals of earth die, their corpses decompose, and that’s the end of them. Your cat does not have a soul. Your dog isn’t running through endless fields in the great beyond. We should expect non-Christians to promote this idiotic dribble about pets being in Heaven, but this is an unacceptable way for Christians to view eternity. We should know better than to arrogantly declare that we get to choose what elements will and won’t exist in Heaven based on our personal preferences. Just as no one will get to decide how God tortures them in Hell, Christians don’t get to tell God how He will reward them in Heaven. Heaven is not a choose-your-own ending situation. It isn’t some app that we get to personalize. Heaven isn’t our turf, it’s God’s. Just as He didn’t consult you on how deep to make His oceans and what color to paint His sky, He isn’t accepting your feedback on how to run His Heaven. So we all need to stop with this garbage about “My doggie is in Heaven just because I say so.” No, your pets really aren’t in Heaven. Jesus didn’t die for the animals of earth, He died for human beings. Our Gods have always said that this Creation is expendable and They’ve been very clear that They’re only planning to preserve one element of it: us humans. We should be taking this for the high compliment that it is instead of acting like it’s not fair that our Gods aren’t going to let us bring our toys and pets with us when we die.
A human being is a spiritual creature. You are not the body you see in the mirror—you are the soul inside the body, and that soul will never die. Your soul will always be alive. What we call death is nothing more than the moment when God decides to separate your eternal soul from your physical earthsuit. Death is like an astronaut stepping out of his spacesuit and driving home from his training center. Simply shedding his spacesuit does not cause the astronaut to cease to exist, or fall into some comatose stupor or lose his ability to respond to God. It is the same with your soul at the time of death. When your soul leaves your earthsuit, it will not cease to exist, it won’t fall into some comatose state, nor will it suddenly lose its ability to respond to God. Your soul doesn’t depend on your suit to stay alive, but your suit depends on your soul. Your suit needs your soul inside of it to stay functioning. Without your soul, your suit shuts down and rots away.
Now only God can kill you, because only God has the power to separate your soul from your earthsuit. Contrary to what some say, demons do not have the power to take your soul from your body, and neither do you, so if you’re fooling around with astral projection, you’re wasting your time. God is the One who confined your soul inside of your earthsuit in the first place, and you’re not getting out of it until He says so.
Now that we understand what physical death is, we can get resurrection in perspective. Resurrection is nothing more than someone’s soul being put back into their earthsuit by God. When God takes the soul out, that’s death. When He puts it back in, thereby reactivating the suit, that’s resurrection. When we talk about resurrection, we’re only talking about the relationship between a soul and its earthsuit.
Jesus is not a human being, He’s God Almighty. This means we shouldn’t be viewing Jesus’ resurrection the same way we view regular resurrections. The resurrection of humans is nothing new—God has been slipping souls back into corpses for thousands of years. It’s a relatively rare event—in most cases, we die once, and that’s it. But resurrection is certainly not an unheard of thing.
When Jesus resurrected, it was not a simple case of God slipping a human soul back into an earthsuit. Jesus is God, and a God is not a human. Being God, Jesus can make any earthsuit do anything He wants whenever He wants. And while your earthsuit is nothing more than a temporary machine that your soul is using to interact with this physical world, Jesus’ earthsuit was far less significant because as God, He doesn’t need the help of a physical body to interact with this physical dimension. Jesus doesn’t need anything, nor is He ever limited to being in a single location. He just paraded an earthsuit around for our benefit. Was He actually inside of it? Sure. But while He was inside the suit, He was also outside the suit, He was also in the core of the planet, and on the surface of Mars. He was in Heaven, He was in Hell, and He was in countless dimensions that we’ve never even heard of.
Jesus is God. He’s not a human. So we need to resist the temptation to think small when it comes to Jesus. When Jesus reactivated His earthsuit, it didn’t mean He’d just returned from a three day hangout in Hell. Jesus never technically left His earthsuit, because as God He is everywhere. He is present at the macro and micro levels. His grand resurrection was for the benefit of people who were still not grasping who He actually is. Jesus’ Jewish disciples thought He was dead—meaning that His soul had physically left the earthly dimension and traveled on down to the underworld of Hades [HAY-deez] where it would normally be permanently stuck. But then Yahweh flexed His God power and pulled Jesus’ soul back out of Hades, put it back into Jesus’ physical corpse, and voila: Jesus was alive. This was how they interpreted the resurrection, and this is very unfortunate because by crediting Yahweh with this miracle, they totally missed the point that Jesus is also God Almighty.
Jesus said He would raise Himself. He said this because He knew the Jews believed that only the one true God had the power to bring souls back from the underworld. By resurrecting Himself, Jesus was giving the Jews hard proof of His equality with Yahweh as a second, all-powerful God. But in their excitement to see their Hero back from the grave, the disciples totally miss the critical theological lesson Jesus is teaching, thus we find constant downplaying of Jesus throughout Acts and the New Testament epistles. Jesus is celebrated as the promised Messiah, and as some powerful mover and shaker in eternity. He’s Yahweh’s right hand Man—He even outranks the angels. But He’s not God, because there is only one God, and that’s the magnificent Yahweh. This is what most of the New Testament writers teach, and if you believe them, you’re going to Hell. Jesus is not just some super impressive creature who was massively promoted on the other side. Jesus has always been and will always be GOD.
SPREADING THE NEWS
So Jesus’ corpse is now missing. But what does this mean? In Matthew’s account, the angel who is sitting on the tombstone immediately provides an explanation.
Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as He said would happen. Come, see where His body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and He is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there. Remember what I have told you.”
The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. (Matt. 28:5-8)
Since Mark was not one of the original disciples, many assume that he relied heavily on the memory banks of Peter for his material. And it’s only in Mark’s account that we find an angel specifically mentioning Peter.
But the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid His body. Now go and tell His disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there, just as He told you before He died.”
The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. (Mk. 16:6-8)
In Matthew’s account, the women immediately spread the word.
In Mark’s account they say nothing.
In Luke’s account the women rush off to tell the men the thrilling news, but no one believes them except Peter, who goes and checks out the grave for himself. After discovering only the linen wrappings that Jesus’ corpse was dressed in, Peter goes home alone.
In John’s account, Mary Magdalene rushes to tell Peter and John. Egotistical John assigns himself the code name of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in his Gospel—and he is the only one who he refers to in this way. So according to John, it’s Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” who go sprinting off to check out the tomb. John makes sure we know that he ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first, however Peter was the first to actually go inside. John says the two men saw the linen wrappings in one pile, and a neatly rolled up face cloth sitting somewhere else. The point in this detail is to show that someone was acting quite purposely in leaving these things behind. John says that he believed right away in Jesus’ resurrection, then he says that he and Peter went away to their own homes. John leaves Mary Magdalene standing outside of the tomb weeping and concluding that Jesus’ corpse had been stolen by His enemies. She then has a face to face encounter with Jesus, who she mistakes for a gardener.
She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize Him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought He was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will go and get Him.”
“Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to Him and cried out, “Rabboni [rabb-OH-nee]!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
“Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them His message. (Jn. 20:14-18)
As you can see, there’s quite a bit of confusion about who saw what and how they reacted. But we get the bottom line: angels helped get the word out, Mary Magdalene had the first face-to-face encounter with Jesus, and the rest of the disciples were slow to get on board. Very slow, in fact. But before we get into Jesus’ irritation with their unbelief, what about those guards who were passed out on the ground?
As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole His body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say. Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today. (Matt. 28:11-15)
Why shouldn’t the soldiers take the bribe? They don’t care about Jesus. But let’s not lose sight of God’s sovereignty here: Jesus wants these false rumors to spread about His death. It’s a great way to sift those who are really seeking Him from those who are not. In this world, our Gods continuously test and challenge our devotion to Them. This is the primary reason we are here: to decide how serious we want to be about pleasing our Makers.
THE DISCIPLES ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS
Mark and Luke record another early Jesus sighting: this one is between Jesus, a disciple named Cleopas [KLEE-uh-pass], and another male disciple who goes unnamed. Cleopas and friend are walking to a country village named Emmaus [uh-MAY-us] which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. They are talking about this whole missing body mystery when a stranger comes along and joins in on the conversation. It’s Jesus, but He’s preventing the two men from recognizing Him. No surprise here. Jesus has spent three years driving people crazy with nonsensical answers and strange parables. Now He’s playing around with physical disguises as well. Mark says that in this incident “Jesus appeared in a different form” (Mk. 16:12). Far be it from Jesus to be clear and straightforward.
He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”
They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”
“What things?” Jesus asked.
“The things that happened to Jesus, the Man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and He was a mighty Teacher in the eyes of Yahweh and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed Him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified Him. We had hoped He was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.
Then some women from our group of His followers were at His tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said His body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, His body was gone, just as the women had said.”
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering His glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if He were going on, but they begged Him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So He went home with them. As they sat down to eat, He took the bread and blessed it. Then He broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him. And at that moment He disappeared!
They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Lk. 24:17-32)
So what we have here is Jesus showing up in disguise and pretending like He doesn’t know what’s going on. Then He scolds the disciples for being spiritual bimbos. Then He stands around refusing to hang out with them any longer until they are begging Him to stay. Then He does stay and waits until everyone’s about to eat before suddenly allowing their souls to recognize Him. And before anyone can leap up and hug Him or say how much they’ve missed Him, He vanishes. What classic God behavior. So the next time God refuses to show up when and how you want Him to, don’t feel alone. This is what He does. He tells Mary Magdalene not to hang on Him and He vanishes before these two men can say anything to Him.
So what’s with Jesus being so cold? Well, remember: He’s God. So He’s not really leaving these disciples and He’s not rejecting Mary. But He is starting to get a lot more stingy with the sensual contact, because it’s time for these disciples to kick their faith into high gear. Jesus is not returning to start another multi-year season of sensual connection with them. The days of relating to Him on a purely sight basis are over: it’s time to switch to faith. He’s been trying to prep them for this transition for quite a while now, but they haven’t been listening very well, which is why they’re really tanking. Unbelief keeps getting mentioned by the Gospel writers as they describe Jesus’ glorious return. In fact the general unbelief of the remaining eleven disciples is so bad that Mark records Jesus as angrily chewing them out.
Still later He appeared to the eleven disciples as they were eating together. He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen Him after He had been raised from the dead. (Mk. 16:14)
Sure, everyone wants to see Jesus with their own eyes, but these eleven have been personally told by Jesus over and over that He’d rise again after three days. So for these eleven, the secondhand testimonies of others should have been enough to confirm what they were already prepared to believe in their hearts.
Now you’ve heard of doubting Thomas. Well, once again the accounts vary. Mark describes Jesus as angrily scolding the eleven for their lack of faith.
Luke describes the eleven listening to the report of the two disciples from Emmaus when Jesus suddenly appears in the room. The eleven panic, thinking He’s a scary ghost. Jesus then tells them not to be afraid and shows them the physical wounds on His earthsuit.
John says that ten of the disciples were holed up in a locked room afraid of being hunted by the Jewish authorities when Jesus suddenly appeared. He shows them the nail wounds on His hands and feet. He breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:23). But Thomas misses all of this, and refuses to believe that it was really Jesus when he hears what happened. So eight days later, Jesus shows up again and criticizes Thomas for relying on sight instead of faith. Thomas then claims to believe.
THE FISHING TRIP
Only John records another Jesus sighting that happens at the Sea of Galilee. Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others decide to go fishing. They fish all night and catch nothing. At dawn, they’re rowing in and they see a man standing on the beach. It’s Jesus, who is once again preventing the disciples from recognizing Him. He points out the very obvious fact that they haven’t caught anything. Then He tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat, and the thing is immediately filled with a miraculous amount of fish. John says that he’s the one who first recognizes Jesus. Peter leaps out of the boat and swims to shore while the other disciples come in the normal way with the fish. Jesus then invites them all to join Him on the beach for a fish and bread breakfast. John says this is the third time Jesus has met with His disciples since His resurrection and this is when that famous exchange between Jesus and Peter takes place.
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “You know I love You.”
“Then feed My lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do You love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “You know I love You.”
“Then take care of My sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time He asked him, “Simon son of John, do You love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, You know everything. You know that I love You.”
Jesus said, “Then feed My sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death Peter would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow Me.”
Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray You?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”
Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow Me.” So the rumor spread among the community of believers that this disciple wouldn’t die. But that isn’t what Jesus said at all. He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.
Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written. (Jn. 21:15-25)
John takes this opportunity to try and squelch the rumor that he will never die. Notice how he tells us that we ought to view his account as accurate. John is such a pompous little fellow.
Notice how Jesus urges Peter to put his focus entirely on Jesus and forget about the other disciples. Jesus specifically asks if Peter loves Him more than the other disciples, then He takes Peter on a private walk. This is a good reminder that if we’re going to go far with our Gods, we must reach the point where we throw all of our devotion onto Their side. We can’t be splitting our loyalties 50/50 between our Gods and created beings. Our Gods must be first—not barely first, but so far out in front that we do not hesitate to side with Them when conflicts arise.
THE GREAT COMMISSION
In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul says that Jesus once appeared to over 500 people—some of whom had already died at the time that Paul wrote his epistle. The exact number of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances is not known. The point is that folks saw Him die, then they saw Him alive again afterwards.
Now the famous Great Commission which you hear quoted so often in the Church was actually a private meeting between Jesus and His eleven disciples. Per Jesus’ instructions, they met together on a mountain in Galilee. Matthew says that even at that point, some of the disciples were still doubting who Jesus was. This group just isn’t going to win any prizes for having great faith.
When they saw Him, they worshiped Him—but some of them doubted!
Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:17-20)
Notice how Jesus clearly identifies three distinct Gods. Of particular importance is how He is distinguishing the Holy Spirit as being separate from Yahweh the Father. Up until now, the Jews have always viewed the Holy Spirit as an extension of Yahweh Himself. Jesus is now redefining the title “Holy Spirit” to refer to a third God.
During the Old Covenant, the Jews swore things in Yahweh’s Name. During Jesus’ ministry on earth, He taught His disciples to start praying in His Name. But now that He’s resurrected and about to leave, notice how He says salvation comes through belief in three distinct Gods. For the Jews, getting baptized was a sign of repentance and a public declaration that they were sincerely longing to get right with God. When John the Baptist dunked people in the Jordan River, he was teaching them to repent of their sins and get serious about honoring Yahweh. He also taught them to be ready to follow Yahweh’s Messiah, who would be showing up soon. Now Jesus is instructing His disciples to teach people to choose allegiance to three Gods: Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. This is a radically new idea.
THE FINAL MOMENTS
So, speaking of the Holy Spirit—is He planning to show up anytime soon?
Once when Jesus was eating with the disciples, He commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift He promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking Him, “Lord, has the time come for You to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8)
The disciples are still hoping for a literal fulfillment of all those Old Testament prophecies—the ones where Yahweh says Israel will be turned into a world power. Jesus has already told them what to expect: that Israel is going to get brutally spanked by Rome after His departure (see Lesson 63). But no one wants to think about that, so Jesus blows off their question and refocuses them on the task of spreading the news about Him throughout the world.
After saying this, Jesus was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see Him. As they strained to see Him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into Heaven, but someday He will return from Heaven in the same way you saw Him go!”
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. (Acts 1:9-12)
So they worshiped Him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising Yahweh. (Lk. 24:52-53)
This is the end of Period 7. We have walked through all four of the Gospel accounts in chronological order and seen how amazing Jesus is. What a wild ride it has been. And now as we get ready to dive into the last remaining period of the Bible—Period 8: The Early Church—we need to take a moment to consider the theological readiness of these eleven disciples.
SPIRITUAL INFANTS IN LEADERSHIP
If it’s not bothering you to think of these eleven disciples functioning as the spiritual leaders of the New Church, then you need to pause to reflect on just how theologically confused these men are. For starters, they’re not even grasping who Jesus is yet. Sure, Luke says that they worshiped Him, but so what? After Daniel wowed King Nebuchadnezzar [NEBB-you-cud-NEZZ-er] with the prophetic interpretation of a dream back in Lesson 29, check out the king’s response:
Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a Revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” (Dan. 2:46-47)
Worship doesn’t indicate acceptance of Divinity. Worship is what the ancient peoples did whenever they were wowed by someone’s God connections. Nebuchadnezzar offered sacrifices to the man Daniel—really? Yes, because it was considered spiritually strategic to suck up to anyone with supernatural hook ups. We find many instances of Jews falling down to worship angels in the Bible, only to be told to get up again. In Acts 10, Peter will have a Roman officer fall down and worship him. In Revelation, John will keep trying to worship angels, which is seriously annoying, especially when the man is simultaneously receiving visions of God in Heaven. How does a spiritual leader act this stupid? How does a man who is supposed to be so tight with God miss the part about how jealous God is? How do you stand there looking at jealous Yahweh sitting on His throne in Heaven and then fall down to worship some dumb angel? Because these disciples are not at all the spiritual powerhouses we make them out to be today. When these guys worship Jesus, they’re just sucking up to Him because they figure He’s obviously tight with Yahweh. It’s the same logic that is driving the modern Church’s incessant schmoozing of Israel: suck up to God’s favorites, and hopefully you’ll get a share in their Divine blessings. How many times do you hear that famous line quoted, “I’ll bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” as the reason why we should all be backing the political nation of Israel? Never mind that Yahweh wasn’t even talking to Israel when He made this promise. And never mind that Yahweh chews people out over and over again in the Bible for siding with His enemies over Him. Let’s just all keep sucking up to Israel because she’s got an in with God, and we want to rip off some of her blessings. It’s the same logic Paul used with Christ: put your faith in Christ because Christ has raked in mega glory and power on the other side. If you please Christ, maybe He’ll share His toys with you.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of Yahweh and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in Christ’s sufferings so that we may also share in Christ’s glory. (Rom. 8:17)
Here’s what’s great about being with Christ: we get to have a slice of His glory. This is the carnal motivation for serving God that Paul promotes: let’s just serve so we can get a fat promotion on the other side. What happened to humility? There isn’t any. Remember how greedy the disciples were acting back in Lesson 60? James and John actually had the gall to ask Jesus to guarantee them positions of highest honor and glory on the other side. Several times we read about the twelve getting into fights about which of them is the greatest. Then we come to Revelation and what do we find? Jesus snowing John with images of John being exalted. He’s got his own name chiseled on one of Heaven’s foundation stones. He’s seeing his fellow Jews parked on thrones wearing crowns. He sees a Heaven that is a shrine to his own ethnic group. Really? So the Jesus who is talking to John in Revelation suddenly has no use for humility in His followers? The same Jesus who preached against self-exaltation over and over again is suddenly all about human beings acting like pompous little princes on the other side? The same Yahweh who was so outraged by the perpetual defiance of Israel has set up a Heaven which is a shrine to the nation who spat in His face for so many centuries? The same Yahweh who frowned on bigotry and insisted that all ethnicities were to be treated as equal in His sight has chiseled the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on the gates of Heaven? And are we really to believe that Yahweh got so caught up in Jewish superstitions that He refuses to save anyone from the tribe of Dan (see Applying Revelation 7: The 144,000)? Revelation reeks of bigotry and human arrogance because Jesus is talking to the apostle John: a man who never did seem to get over the idea that he was Mr. Awesome. Heaven help the Church if John is going to be one of her founding fathers.
If we’re going to interpret the writings of Period 8 correctly, we need to understand what clowns her early leaders were. John is a pompous pile of foolishness. James is a legalistic condemner who rejects God’s involvement in anything that he doesn’t personally approve of, which means God can’t have anything to do with temptation. Never mind all of those times that Yahweh tried the patience of the Israelites in the wilderness by stringing them out with no water. Never mind Him signing off on Satan tormenting the heck out of Job. Nope, according to James, if you’re struggling with the temptation to sin or if your faith is getting strained to the breaking point, that’s all your bad and God has nothing to do with it. If you were really committed, you’d just “rid yourself of all moral filth.” If you doubt, James says that God won’t lift a finger to help you. Oh, and if you’re rich, then James hates you, but he also says it’s wrong to shun anyone based on their economic status. And this is our great spiritual father in the church of Jerusalem.
Then there’s the author of Hebrews—that ding-dong who makes Jesus out to be some human bungler who didn’t really grasp what it meant to obey God until He “learned obedience through suffering” (Heb. 5:8). And according to the Hebrews guy, we should strive to imitate the great faith of Gideon—you know, the guy who kept doubting Yahweh and then ended up making a whole new god for himself out of the spoils of a war that Yahweh helped him win. The Hebrews author thinks highly of Sarah, too—the woman who laughed out loud when Yahweh sat in bodily form a few yards away saying she’d have a child, and then she blatantly lied that she laughed even though God heard her (see Applying Hebrews 11: The Faith Hall of Fame). This author tells us he doesn’t even have the time to record the great faith of Samson—that hulking pile of hormones who went around sleeping with demon worshiping women, throwing tantrums whenever he didn’t get his way, and breaking every rule God gave him. Really?? These dolts are the spiritual leaders of the early Church? Guys who teach us that Jesus had to struggle to overcome the power of the devil (Hebrews) and that His reign is only temporary (Paul) and that Satan rules the world (John) and that we can make God heal us at our command (James)? How can we possibly thrive in our walks with God if we imitate the bossy, faithless prayers of Paul and use John’s ridiculous tests for discerning truth from lies (one of which is to blindly accept anything John says as truth)?
The reality is that we can’t grow close to God listening to these spiritual fools. We can’t even get a grip on the Divinity of Christ listening to the New Testament writers, because the vast majority of their writings promote Jesus as merely Yahweh’s super favored, non-Divine Assistant. The New Testament boys will talk about how Yahweh dwelt in Jesus and how He revealed Himself to us through Jesus, but then they make a point to emphasize that Jesus is Yahweh’s Subordinate, not His Equal. Well, if you believe that, guess what? You’re going to Hell.
Jesus is not just some created being who got a special promotion and an infusion of God powers. Jesus is God Almighty. But the Holy Spirit is the only One who’s going to get you to the truth about Jesus—and He’s intentionally set things up so that you must rely on Him instead of the human leaders of the early Church. The New Testament epistles are a theological train wreck, and this is exactly how God wants it. Because despite what fools like Paul and James say, our Gods do not take orders from us and They do not depend on us in any way. Instead, we depend on Them for absolutely everything. When we refuse to embrace our dependency on Them, and when we refuse to respect Them by relying on Them alone to guide us in life, how do They respond? They hand us a book that contains a bunch of theological foolishness which we then stamp as infallible and start to worship in Their place. And because the book is packed with lies, we end up massively led astray, which is exactly what we deserve for our idolatrous rebellion.
Here’s how it works with the Bible: if you’re totally depending on the Holy Spirit to guide you in life, the book is going to be a great help to you. It will educate you on all kinds of truth and lies. But if you’re not depending on the Holy Spirit—if instead you’re worshiping the early church fathers and calling their idiotic teachings “infallible, inerrant, and Divinely inspired”—then the Bible is going to lead you massively astray and make you as arrogant as Paul and John. So what’s it going to be? Are you going to worship your Creators or are you going to worship created beings? You have to pick one or the other. Our Gods are extremely jealous and They aren’t going to play second fiddle to dead apostles and a collection of ancient manuscripts. This is a matter of soul devotion. Think about it. And if you’re smart, you’ll ask the Holy Spirit to show you if the Bible has become too much of an idol in your life.
So now that we’ve lowered our expectations about the quality of the teaching we’re going to be encountering in this final period, it’s time to dive in to the last historical book of the Bible: Acts. In our next lesson, we’re going to continue tracking the activities of the eleven disciples after Jesus’ theatrical ascension. Jesus is done relating to His guys in a three dimensional form and now that He’s cleared the stage, it’s finally time for a third God to make Himself known. Unlike Jesus and Yahweh, this third Deity won’t be showing up in a human form. He won’t be strolling through a Garden or playing the part of some helpless baby. No, that’s much too tame. This third God prefers to freak the humans out with a deafening roar, and a room that is suddenly filled with flames. After all, a God this awesome can’t be expected to introduce Himself with some wimpy whisper.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 71: Acts Begins
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