The Steppingstones      

By:   James A. Scarborough,

(Merigold, MS: Merigold Spiritual Center) 21-37.

 

 

God had promised to send answers to questions put to Him.  "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not" (Jer 33:3).  Later on, Christ promised that if we seek we shall find, that if we ask it will be answered (see Matt 7:7).  This was to happen when the seeker is ready for it, as Christ withheld a great deal even from His Apostles because they were not yet able to grasp it (see John 16:12).

The prayerful seeker is often drawn to churches, ministers, and Bibles for these important answers.  The Bibles contain a portion of the truth revealed millennia ago, admixed with unknown amounts of human alterations.  The ministers have learned and followed the creeds of their respective churches and cannot be expected to go much beyond that.  The churches, themselves, come in hundreds of varieties, each one basing its beliefs on Bibles which disagree on both trivial and significant points, each one teaching doctrines reasoned  by fallible humans from imperfect documents.  Sometimes an article of devout faith to one church is the heresy of another.  Once we attempt to understand beyond the basics of God, Christ, and Love, we find Christianity in a shambles and able to exhibit few, if any, clear answers.  Surely, God is not the Author of confusion (see 1 Cor 14:33).

Accordingly, if God has indeed drawn the seeker to churches, ministers, and Bibles, these can only be regarded as way stations along the road to more of the truth.  The remainder of the truth must come from God.  If, in answer to our prayers for understanding, we are brought to a way station, we can choose to remain there indefinitely, but only at the cost of traveling no further on the road to the Truth God promised.

God did not intend that erring human agencies should be the sole dispensers of His Truth.  On the contrary, Christ expressly declared that His spirits would bring the remainder of such truth as is comprehensible to man (see John 16:13).  His promise confirms the Old Testament pledges that God would answer and supply the truth by His spirits (see, for example, Jer 33:3; Joel 2:28).  It appears that these pledges will not be honored merely for the asking.  More than that is required of us.

There were times when the people could not expect an answer from God: "And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent," (I Sam 3:1 NAS).  The cause of God's silence was explained by the usual reasons: "these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?" (Ezek 14:3).

Take the case of King Saul.  When the King strayed from a life in the Lord, then God did not answer him (see 1 Sam 14:36-37), "neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets" (I Sam 28:6).  God's conditions for His sending an answer are stated by Isaiah (Isa 58:2-9) and others, wherein He requires honest efforts toward living good lives in exchange for His communication.  Thus God decides to whom His responses will be sent, and He decides by His own criteria.  His judgment may be very different from ours, as evidenced by the conversion of Paul.  This great Apostle had participated in the misguided persecution of the early Christians, yet the intent of his heart was clear to the Lord, who summoned Paul to be His servant.  Paul later received truths promised by God and reaffirmed by Christ.  Paul's letters say little about how he received instructions from the Lord, other than that God's spirits were involved.  It is clear that Paul's instructions into the secrets of the faith came from above (see I Cor 2:13), for Paul was never sent to one of the Apostles for training, although the distance was not great.  On the contrary, Paul represented himself to them as an equal, already one of them.  Paul acquired his knowledge by inquiring of God, with God somehow answering.  With this in view, we ask, "How does God answer?"

Although God promises to answer us, He does not generally answer in Person, but sends His responses via His agents.  These agents are His spirits.  In the Old Testament, a spirit agent of God is often called "the angel of the Lord," or simply, "the angel."  In the New Testament the agent is usually called "the holy Spirit," as distinguished from "the evil spirit."  A careful reading of both Old and New Testaments reveals that almost all communication from God is through His agents, even though the Scriptures might say, "Thus saith Jehovah."  Although we are assured that the words were sent from God, He did not personally bring them except in rare cases.

As an example of this, consider the famous burning bush episode in Exodus.  We read there that it was an angel of the Lord appearing as flame in the bush (Exod 3:2), but the angel speaks for God in His name (Exod 3:6).  In our own experience, we have had someone relate a message to us from someone else.  Though the message is brought by a messenger, not the principal sender, if it is delivered accurately we are truthful in saying that, in a sense, we heard from our friend and are justified in quoting him.

An example of a physical artifact being used by a messenger is found in the Biblical account of David's inquiry of God through Abiathar, the priest.  Abiathar operated the breastplate attached to a garment called the ephod.  As the breastplate was used to spell out the answer from God, the Scriptures relate that "the Lord said" (see I Sam 23:9-12), when in fact the Lord made no sound at all.  Again, it is somewhat the same as communication between people.  If we receive a letter from a friend, we say we heard from that friend and we might quote him as such.  Actually, we heard nothing with our ears; we received a letter brought by the postman.  The postman is the carrier of the message.  Here he compares with the angel who carried God's message, delivered by whatever means.

In these and other ways, God uses intermediaries, angels, in virtually all of His communications with man.  It is of great importance, then, for us to learn how God's spirit agents manifest themselves and carry out their assignments.  The Bibles make frequent reference to the word of God coming to the prophets of old.  However, the Bibles are usually silent as to how God's messages came, stating simply that they did come.  How did the prophets receive their answers?  There were many ways (see Heb 1:1).

According to television and movies, God speaks by using a resonant voice coming from the air.  The Scriptures, however, do not support Hollywood's theology.  On the contrary, communication by means of a voice from God was rarely employed.  God almost never communicated in Person, but as a matter of course sent His messages by means of His spirit messengers called angels, or Holy spirits.  Thus we can expect answers to our prayers to be brought not by God himself, but by His spirits, the inhabitants of His great spirit-world which we call Heaven.  "Are not all angels simply ministering spirits sent out to help those who are to regain the salvation that is theirs by inheritance?" (Heb 1:14 GNT).  We are not addressing the question of why God deals with man almost exclusively through His spirit agents, we are simply observing that He does.

Sometimes God does communicate by an audible voice.  John reported a voice from Heaven that some hearers thought was thunder (see John 12:28-29), and a voice from Heaven spoke to Nebuchadnezzar (see Dan 4:31).  The voice comes not from the empty air, however, but from a cloudlet, or small fogginess.  In this regard, recall Moses and Aaron in the book of Exodus, especially regarding the cloud between the wings of the cherubim in the Tent of Meeting from whence the Voice spoke.  The Voice speaking to Christ at the transfiguration likewise came from a cloudlet (see Matt 17:5).

The writers of the Old Testament do not carefully distinguish as to who spoke from the cloudlets, whether it was God, Christ, or an angel of the Lord.  Sometimes the writers confuse the matter by saying it was God, then a few verses later say it was an angel (see Exod 13:21, 14:19).  On another occasion, we first read that an angel is speaking, only to have subsequent verses begin stating it is God (see Exod 3).  Sometimes we are not told who the speaker is, just that an unidentified voice spoke (see Num 7:89).  In any event, if the message was delivered by an authorized spirit agent of God, the witnesses were truthful enough in reporting that "God said," especially in view of the witnesses' ignorance of whose voice they had, in fact, heard.

Another awesome way in which God sends His word is via angels materialized in solid form.  This may involve only a part of the body of the spirit, such as a materialized finger which wrote a message on the wall for King Belshazzar.  "Suddenly the fingers of a man's hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace" (Dan 5:5 NAS).  This was not the hand of God, but that of one of His angelic spirits, for we read on that "the hand was SENT from Him" (Dan 5:24 NAS) (em add).

Materializations of the complete bodies of certain high beings did occur on special occasions.  Gabriel materialized before Daniel and was referred to as "the man Gabriel" (Dan 8:15-17, 9:21).  Moses and Elijah talked with Christ in the presence of Peter, John, and James (see Matt 17:3).  An angel of the Lord sat down with Gideon and spoke with him (see Judges 6:11-18).  The most frequent materializations of a high Spirit are those of Christ, Who appeared several times after His resurrection (e.g. Luke 24:15-31; John 20:14, 20:19, 20:26, 21:4).  There were also angelic visitations to Abraham, Lot, and others.

How did the prophets receive their answers as they followed the instructions, "ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me" (Isa 45:11)?  The methods God uses to communicate are much more diverse than the familiar examples given so far.  God communicates with man in many and varying ways (see Heb 1:1).  He might instill some inner urging or awaken our conscience.  Occasionally, the answer to a problem simply occurs full-blown in our minds.  However, it is difficult to know for certain where these vague feelings or fully developed ideas originate in every case, much less can we put exact words to them and claim that God spoke to us.  There are ways God communicates in which He is much more explicit.

One method He uses is inspirational writing, wherein a person is caused to hear, or see in a vision, the words he is to write.  The person then writes of his own volition, being fully aware of what he is writing.  It can also occur that he knows only that he is writing, but not what he is writing.  It may also be that he is not conscious at all, but is in a trance state.  Upon awakening he learns the contents of what he has written.

King David used another method when he inquired of the Lord.  This writer of many of the Psalms used the ephod with the breastplate of judgment attached to it: "But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.  Then David said to Abiathar . . . 'Please bring me the ephod [breastplate of judgment].'  And David inquired of the Lord" (em add), and the Lord answered him (see I Sam 30:6-8 NAS).  This breastplate was a golden planchette inlaid with jewels, each jewel representing both a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and one of the tribes of Israel.  By these engraved stones, words were spelled out using the Urim and Thummim in a way resembling a modern Ouija board.  The breastplate, or breastpiece, is also referred to in Scripture as a graven image.

This method of inquiring of God was in common use for centuries.  It first began when God gave Moses detailed instructions for making the ephod and its attached breastplate (see Exod 28:6-30).  Moses consecrated Aaron and his sons as priests (see Exod 28:41) with the special ability to operate the breastplate as the means of making decisions for the Israelites.  Moses personally placed the breastplate on Aaron and put the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate (see Lev 8:8).  Long after Moses, Micah "made an ephod and a breastplate of divination, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest" (Judges 17:5, Greber) (also see Judges 8:27 regarding Gideon).

Saul also had been answered on previous occasions by the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim.  After straying from God, Saul inquired of Him unsuccessfully, for "the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets" (I Sam 28:6).

Inquiring of God today by using a breastplate would be condemned universally as Satanic.  Is there a church anywhere whose board of elders would prayerfully consult a breastplate of judgment for any decision whatever?  Yet, David did.  Part of the reluctance of modern man to recognize God's ancient ways of communicating is due to our confusion regarding the activities of God's angels as compared with the way Satan's angels work. 

There are many resemblances between the way God's angels bring His answers and the ways demonstrated by Satan's angels.  Let us recall the great display of good and evil power in the duel between Moses and the Pharaoh's magicians.  The works done by both good and evil forces were virtually identical.  This is understandable if we but bear in mind that God made laws of nature which govern both the Earth and the spirit realm, and that these eternal, immutable laws cannot be broken by the inhabitants of either domain.  The same methods are used by both sides.

It is like this: God made the laws of electricity.  If someone wishes to broadcast the truth on television, he must comply with these laws.  If, on the other hand, someone wishes to broadcast lies, he finds that the same laws of electricity apply, nevertheless.

Both the higher and lower forces were active in divination.  Careful reading of the story of Joseph reveals that he "divined" by means of a silver cup, and that it was common knowledge that God sometimes communicated in this way (see Gen 44:5 et seq.).  We are not told in this story exactly how the cup was being used, but we know that cups have been used for a long time for casting dice, casting lots, reading tea leaves, or the like.  On another occasion, Joshua located the thief, Achan, by lot, implying that the method was reliable to the point of deciding capital punishment.  Jonah was chosen as the cause of the storm (see Jonah 1:7-12), and Matthias was selected to replace Judas as the twelth Apostle (see Acts 1:26), both by casting the lots.  None of the parties casting lots was involved in Satanism.  Each was a servant of God.  By way of contrast, when the soldiers cast lots of dividing garments of Christ, they were not using them to receive guidance from God.  As always then, we see that we cannot decide whether a spirit phenomenon is from the good or the evil side by investigating the occurrence itself.  The discernment can be quite difficult.

Thus, dreams and visions can be induced by Christ's forces, and also by Satan's forces.  Such communications from the forces of God were common in Biblical times.  Their contents were often quoted in our Bibles as words from God, saying "thus saith Jehovah."  The book of Revelation is almost entirely the result of such a vision, as is much of the book of Daniel.  Dreams and visions are of little use unless the Lord somehow reveals their meanings.  Dreams, visions, and their interpretations were usually received by a man or woman especially gifted for that purpose.  Such persons were referred to as seers, prophets, soothsayers, priests, conjurers, diviners, or other titles, depending mostly on the Biblical translation.  These individuals might have had the gift of seeing events occurring at a distance, a gift exhibited by Elisha, Elijah, and Jesus.  Elisha told the Israelites the secret plans of the spy in his household (see II Kings 6:8-12).  Elijah knew that his servant had overtaken Naaman and received a reward for Elijah's  curing of Naaman's leprosy (see II Kings 5:25-26).  Jesus saw Nathanael by this gift of distant sight while Nathanael  was yet lying beneath the fig tree (see John 1:48).  A person with this gift of clairvoyance was often called a seer.

A common way of inquiring of God in Old Testament days was by consulting a prophet.  A prophet was a person who had the ability to relinquish control of his body to a spirit other than himself, whereby the spirit could then converse with the people present by use of the person's human organs of speech.  A person whose body is being so used is in what is called a trance.  We read of Peter, Paul and other men of God going into trances and prophesying (see Acts 10:10 et seq.; Acts 22:17; Num 24:4).  This illustrates how widely known that phenomenon was in their day.  If the spirit using the body was a spirit sent from God, our Bibles call the man a prophet of God, or simply a prophet.  If the spirit in control was one of Satan's spirits, the Bibles call that person a false prophet (e.g., I Kings 18:22; I Kings 22:23-24; Micah 3:5, 3:11; I Cor 14:32).  A spirit, good or evil, may use the human body to produce a spoken message.  If the message, so spoken, is in the native language of the listeners, the Bibles call it prophecy.  This is the "ecstatic utterance" which we are exhorted to permit (1 Cor 14:39; I Thess 5:20).  This is the influence of the spirit of prophecy we are instructed not to quench (see I Thess 5:19).  The message, so given, will be in the prophet's own voice, although the accent may be different.  As such, a hearer may suspect fraud or deception.  As proof that the message does not come from the mind of the prophet, the spirit in control may speak in another language, or "tongue" (I Cor 14:21), not a lanuage known by the prophet.  This is, then, a sign to the unbeliever that the message is genuine, that is, from the spirit (see 1 Cor 14:22).  Speaking in this way, in "tongues of men and of angels" (I Cor 13:1), was a common occurrence among the Apostolic congregations, most especially those encouraged by Paul.

We note here that  a special spiritual gift is evidenced by those persons speaking by the spirit in their own, or in other, languages.  The degree of development of this gift is often minimal, however, resulting in an aimless babbling of syllables.  Such glossolalia is the most common, present-day representation of the Pauline gift of tongues.  It serves but poorly to illustrate the value of the gift.  In this weak degree of spirit control, there may be no detectable message, no reliable way of separating spirit influence from humanly induced words and, above all, no way to test (try) the spirit (I John 4:1-2).  Both the hearer and speaker are unable to verify the source of utterance, whether from the Holy spirit or from the evil spirit.

There are still other methods of communication not listed here which are used by the spirits in God's service.  The variety of ways seem virtually endless.  More often than not, we are not told how God communicated.  For example, Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, had the following experience: "Twins were struggling in her womb and she said, 'Why has this befallen me?'.  So she went to consult Jehovah"  (Gen 25:22, Greber).  We are not told anything about the special place where she went, but clearly she knew exactly where to go and what to do to consult Jehovah.  This verse matter-of-factly says she went to consult Jehovah, as though it were an everyday matter which did not need further clarification.  Where did Rebekah go?

Did she go to some special place to have her conscience moved by a vague feeling?  Or perhaps to talk to a voice from a small puff of fog?  Did she go to a man whose hand was moved by a spirit from God to write an answer for her?  Could she have gone, as King David did, so consult a prophet who used a breastplate to spell out her answer?  Could she have gone to find her own silver cup of divination, to read tea leaves or cast lots for an answer?  Perhaps she went somewhere to be alone, where in the solitude she could pass into a trance state and see her answer in a vision.  Or perhaps there was some place she could go where an angel would materialize and talk things over with her.  Perhaps she consulted Jehovah by speaking to one of His angels using the borrowed body of a prophet of God.

These ways of receiving God's answers, as evidenced in the Scriptures, are unacceptable to almost all Christians of today.  Such manifestations are generally viewed as Satanic exhibitions or, at the very least, delusions.  The ways in which the words of God in the Scriptures came to the prophets of old are unacceptable to the very people who believe those Scriptures.

What did other Israelites do to inquire of God?  "Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he used to say, 'Come, let us go to the seer'; for he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer" (I Sam 9:9 NAS).  Over and over we read of the widespread dependence the Israelites placed on their prophets for inquiring of God.  "Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?" (II Kings 3:11).

Priests who were also prophets, or seers, were not rare in those days.  Samuel was a seer (see I Sam 9:19; I Chron 9:22) who, at times, wore the ephod (see I Sam 2:18), as did David's priest and friend, Abiathar (see I Sam 30:7-8).  Zadok, the priest, was a seer (see II Sam 15:27), along with Nathan and Gad (see I Chron 29:29).  The Lord used a number of others by whom He spoke to Judah and Israel (see II Kings 17:13).  An Edomite slew eighty-five such men in the town of Nob, alone (I Sam 22:18).  Only Abiathar escaped and fled with his ephod to take refuge with David (see I Sam 22:20-23).  Women such as Huldah (see II Kings 22:14), Deborah (see Judges 4:4), and Miriam (see Exod 15:20), were seers or prophets (prophetesses).  These men and women were able to receive communications from God as brought by His spirits using the aforementioned methods, and others.  Their special talent, or gift, required more than just their being from the lineage of Aaron and Levi.  Those with this latent talent needed development and training.  Schools for the prophets existed for this purpose.

The prophetess, Huldah, ran a school for prophets in Jerusalem (see II Kings 22:14).  Samuel was head of a school for prophets in Ramah.  Schools for prophets were also located in Bethel (see II Kings 2:3) and Jericho (see II Kings 2:5, 2:15).  Ezekiel headed a school for prophets, which attracted more students than he could accommodate.  The student prophets approached him saying, "Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us.  Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to live" (II Kings 6:1-2 NIV).

At such schools, the prophet in training could learn divination by use of the breastplate and Urim and Thummim.  He learned meditation and the skill of passing into a trance condition, in which a spirit from God could take control of his body and speak through it.  Alternatively, in such a trance, the prophet might hear words from the Lord or see visions (see Num 24:4, 24:15-16).  These ways in which God communicated to man through His prophets in Bible times are held in low esteem when they occur today.  It is as though modern Christians pray for guidance, but insist that it be invisible and intangible.  Our misunderstanding of the injuctions in Leviticus has contributed greatly to this ignorance.

Truly, the Scriptures forbid inquiring of the dead (see Lev 19:26, 19:31, 20:6; Isa 8:19), the dead being Satan, the Prince of Death, and all those fallen spirits who serve him.  On the other hand, the Scriptures openly direct use to inquire of the Living God through Christ, the Prince of Life, Who will answer by His spirit agents, the living.  Did Christ sin by "consulting the dead" when He spoke with the deceased Moses and Elijah?  Of course not.  Although departed from the physical body, Moses and Elijah are in the service of the living God and are numbered among His living.

Leviticus prohibits divination for contacting the dead, the evil spirits, yet divination was used by Samuel, Joseph, and other prophets of God (see Micah 3:7).  Lots were cast by servants asking of God and, by the same token, were used by those opposed to God in the story of Haman in the book of Esther.  In short, lots were used to communicate either with God or with the evil one.  It is not the method used for inquiry which constitutes idolatry or consulting the dead.  Instead, it is the source of the response which determines whether the response is of good or evil.  This was the case when the Israelites asked Gideon to rule over them (see Judges 8:22-27 NAS). He declined, saying "the Lord shall rule over you" (verse 23).  In order that the people could inquire of the Lord, Gideon made an ephod with its golden breastplate and placed it in his city.  Unfortunately, "all Israel played the harlot with it there" (verse 27) by consulting the lower spirits.  As another example, the righteous Daniel could not be forced into idolatry even at the risk of his life.  It is inconceivable, then, that Daniel would break the Levitical injunction against inquiring of the dead.  Yet Daniel was chief of the diviners, soothsayers, conjurers, and magicians, himself being especially gifted in those areas (see Dan 2:48, 4:9, 5:11.  Translations vary).

God is the same now as then, and He can answer in the same ways.  For the most part, it is true, He relies on ways imperceptible to our senses, but the more spectacular ways are becoming ever more common, as foretold for the last days by Joel, "I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions . . .  I will pour out My Spirit in those days" (Joel 2:28-29 NAS).

The Scriptures reveal little about the details of the training that took place in a school for prophets, just as they are frequently silent about other day-to-day matters already familiar to the people of that time.  Hence, we are told little of what transpired in the schools of Huldah and Elijah, in the same way that we are told no details of what took place in an early church service held by Peter and Paul.  At the same time, we are told that spiritual gifts, such as the gift of prophecy, are widely distributed among believers.  Like other gifts, they need development by the bearer of the gift.  A concert pianist and an Olympic gymnast have in common their persistent practice and self-discipline in bringing to full flower the latent gifts that God bestowed on them.  In like manner, God requires effort on our part if we wish to develop whatever spiritual gifts we carry.  What do the Scriptures recommend we do?

Foremost among our actions is yielding to Him.  Trust and faith in God are fundamental (see Matt 13:58, 21:22; Mark 11:24).  A state of tense self-will prohibits yielding to the Spirit. Spiritual gifts seldom appear in a person or in a group where tension, inhibition, or fear are present, or where rigid and stilted forms of worship prevail.  Attitude is most important.

Attitudes of love and forgiveness of others are vital (see Psa 66:18; Matt 6:14-15; Mark 11:25-26).  We are told not to even enter a worship service if we have anything against another person (see Matt 5:23-24).  Clean hearts and clean minds are conducive to receiving God's guidance (see I Pet 3:12).

The time of worship shall include song and music (see I Sam 2:1-10; II Chron 23:18; Matt 26:30; Acts 16:25; I Cor 14:15; Rev 5:9-10).  Paul and Silas sang hymns of praise in jail.  David played his music.  Christ sang hymns.  Music helps to quiet the mind and soothe the emotions.

If other people are present, it is fitting to join hands in prayer and song as a token of unity and love for one another and for God.  Prayer and praise are our contribution to the conversation with God.  Even Jesus prayed (see Luke 18:1-8; Phil 4-6; I Tim 2:1-3).

After our active part in the conversation is finished, we are to be quiet and receptive.  Otherwise, we have a one-way conversation, which is not a conversation at all.  Since a meditative state of consciousness may be attained, a quiet place away from worldly distractions is preferable.  Jesus often  prayed alone in a quiet place at a quiet time.  The upper room of the Apostles was also such a place (see Matt 6:6; Acts 1:13).

Lastly, practice is required.  Just as the pianist and gymnast develop their natural gifts by practice, so too does spiritual ability to receive God's response grow by steadfast application of ourselves to that end.  This includes attempting to be always in a state of inner attunement with the Almighty, this attunement being meant by the admonition to "pray continuously" (Luke 21:36; Rom 12:12; Eph 6:18; I Thess 5:17).

By putting together these aspects of communication with God we arrive at a sort of prescription for worship.  Such a worship service requires attitudes of love, forgiveness, trust, attunement, and faith.  Our active contributions are song, praise, and prayer.  Our passive contribution is a meditative and receptive inner calm while we await His reply.  Except for this last component, the description applies to most church services.

In the churches we receive a sermon in the place of a direct response from God.  Yet Christ promised a more direct reply by means of His spirits.  This reply may be received in the meditative, passive state as a clear thought, a word, an idea, or perhaps a feeling.  As the receptive gift improves with practice, the worshipper may receive visions, read words written  in the darkness of his closed eyelids, or perhaps hear a faint voice not heard by other people present.  If the supplicant has an even greater developing gift in this regard, he may pass into a trance and an agent of the Lord may use his body to deliver a message in his native tongue, or in another language.  In special rare cases, the entire range of Biblical phenomena are possible, according to the will of God in the matter.  It is this great gift of first-hand knowledge that has been rejected by modern Christianity through misunderstanding and fear.  Despite the warnings against quenching the spirit (see I Thess 5:19), the spirit has been quenched.

Most churches preach against present day revelation of God's will by His Spirit in the ways described here.  In doing so, such churches place themselves in an untenable position, for they unwittingly argue that Christ will not fulfill His promise to answer directly.  In that stance these churches tragically stand in the front ranks of forces fighting to quench the Spirit of God.  If personal revelation cannot occur, then the Bible itself is unacceptable, having come in just that way to its respective writers.  It appears that God is not silent; we have chosen to be deaf.

If today's Christian were to see any of the events mentioned here, would he not be likely to reject them as being Satanic, as being the dreaded witchcraft and contact with the dead so strongly forbidden in Leviticus?  How could he distinguish whether the communication comes from above or from below?  Discernment is the critical gift here.

Discernment in the Biblcal sense is more than simply good judgment.  It is the gift of being able to distinguish between evil spirit influence and Holy spirit influence, "the ability to distinguish between spirits" (I Cor 12:10 NIV).  Discernment can be difficult, indeed.  If an angel appears praising God, it is easy enough to discern that this angel is one of God's spirits.  It is quite another matter to feel inwardly drawn toward a certain course of action and to definitely know from whence the impetus comes--whether from a spirit of Christ, or from a spirit of Satan, or from one's own mind.

We cannot distinguish between guidance by God's spirits and Satan's spirits simply on the basis of the phenomena they cause when contacting us.  The phenomena have the same appearance in both cases because both sides, necessarily, can operate only within the universal laws God established governing His creation.  Both warring factions can induce visions, dreams, thoughts, desires, emotions, and attitudes.  Both factions can spell out words using a breastplate.  Both can speak through a person in trance.  Both can cause audible voices or materializations at times.  Paul mentions the ability to distinguish between spirits as one of the gifts that a Christian may receive from above.  If the believer lacks that special gift of discernment, then he may rely on other means.

The spirit can be questioned directly if it is speaking aloud by controlling a human body.  The same is true if it is speaking from a cloudlet. "Beloved, do not believe EVERY spirit, but test the SPIRITS to see whether THEY are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know THE Spirit of God: EVERY spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God" (I John 4:1-2 NAS) (em add).  The next verse states that a spirit who will not admit Jesus was the Christ is a spirit from Satan.  This is expressed more clearly as, "This is how you can find out whether a spirit comes from God; every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ appeared on Earth as a man, comes from God, while every spirit who seeks to destroy belief in Jesus as our lord incarnated does not come from God, but is sent by the adversary of Christ" (I John 4:2-3 GNT).  In this way shall the spirit testify of Christ, for "he shall testify of me" (John 15:26).

If the spirit is merely influencing the human prophet, but not in total and sole control of his body, then the test of I John is not conclusive.  In this case, the message can be, and usually is, influenced by the human instrument so that the words are not infallible.  This is generally the case in those churches who practice speaking in tongues.

In the usual event that the spirit influence cannot be directly tested, we cannot reliably determine the source of the inspiration.  In this case, a good deal of human judgment is required.  We are told, "Do not stifle inspiration, and do not despise prophetic utterances, but bring them all to the test and then keep what is good in them and avoid the bad of whatever kind" (I Thess 5:19-22 NEB). We can further determine the nature of the spirits by carefully noticing the results of the inspiration, for "by their fruits shall ye know them" (Matt 7:20).

Let us suppose that a spirit agent of God testifies of Christ (see John 15:26) and also passes the tests of I John (see 4:1-3).  Suppose, further, that the fruits of the spirit are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22-23 NAS), and that the spirit opens the Scriptures to understanding (as in Luke 24:27).  If all these conditions are satisfied, then the spirit qualifies without doubt as a Holy one sent according to the promise of God.  The truth given by this spirit would constitute a pearl of great price.  Such contact has been made at various times since Christ.

The most outstanding such contact took place in the first half of this century, when an angelic being spoke at length with the priest, Johannes Greber.  Pastor Greber was instructed to write the information given him in a book.  The book would then clarify God's ways of communication so that modern man could understand them and recognize them in the pages of the Scriptures.  The book would also explain the great fundamental questions of Christianity by simply quoting the explanations brought by the spirit from God.  This book stands virtually alone as a unique source of knowledge about the beyond, and of Christ.  As such, it cannot be recommended too highly as the key which unlocks the Scriptures.  Pastor Greber's book, Communication with the Spirit World of God: Its Laws and Purpose, is available at a modest cost from the Johannes Greber Memorial Foundation, 139 Hillside Avenue, Teaneck, New Jersey 07666 ( note: the Greber Memorial Foundation was defunct during the 1990s.  See this website, "Home").

The Greber book unravels the knot of manmade doctrines which entangle the modern Christian.  In so doing, the book confirms the truth of the prediction Paul wrote to Timothy: that men have turned to fables and doctrines inspired by demons (see I Tim 4:1).

We find ourselves today having no shortage of learned professors and theologians, but having a severe shortage of rational answers about the causes and course of our existence.  It is as though we are "always wanting to be taught, but are incapable of reaching a knowledge of the truth" (II Tim 3:7 NEB).  We often find that we are described by Paul's words regarding such people who "do not have the slightest understanding of the terms that they use or the things of which they speak with so much assurance" (I Tim 1:7 GNT).  Understanding the terms used in the Scriptures is prerequisite to understanding spiritual matters.  With this in mind, we turn to a brief study of certain Biblical words. 

The Words of God

  The religious beliefs of countless Christians are based primarily upon English translations of the Scriptures.  It is a matter of importance, then, to see if this foundation is an accurate reflection of the earliest documents.  To this end we will look briefly at some of the difficulties involved in the translation process.  We will look at pitfalls involved with the brevity of translations, idioms, word-for-word equivalents, and intentional ambiguity.  It will not be necessary to deal with differences in grammar, tense, syntax, and so on.

 

A student of the Scriptures is necessarily a student of words.  It is not possible for the seeker to find the full richness conveyed by the Scriptural accounts unless he first discovers the meanings of the words used.  We are not referring to the English words, but to the words used in the original languages.

 

In the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, for example, one frequently finds a Greek word which requires an English sentence, or even a paragraph, to bring out its meaning.  Since Biblical translations are held to a minimum of words, much meaning can be lost.  At times, then, a translation may be brief to the point of obscuring the full meaning.  A verse illustrating this states that it is God's intention "to sum up" all things in Christ (Eph 1:10 NAS).  One finds that the word briefly translated as "to sum up" means "to bring back to, and to gather around, the main point."  A Greek preposition used therein points back to a previous condition where no separation existed (Vincent, Vol. III).  This verse carries the implication that at some point in prehistory we were not separated from Christ, but that a separation occurred and a reunification with Christ is Divinely willed.  The richness of meaning of this verse is sacrificed by the brevity of the translation.  Translations with brevity in mind inevitably leave out some of the meaning and alter some of the rest.

Let us turn now to the challenge of making a word-for-word translation.  Upon comparing one language with another one finds that the meanings of words and the mental images they evoke seldom correspond exactly.  Accordingly, it is often not a simple task for a translator to render a New Testament phrase in Koine Greek (an amalgam of Greek dialects, during the time of the Roman Empire, that replaced classical Greek) into an English phrase having exactly the same meaning.  The task is made even more difficult if the Greek word is thought to have a special meaning in the New Testament different from its meaning everywhere else in the Greek language.  This remarkable supposition invites previously held doctrinal beliefs to enter into the translation of the documents from which those very beliefs are alleged to have come, a kind of circular illogic which renders the beliefs unreliable.

Be that as it may, let us briefly illustrate the difficulty posed by the word-for-word process with an exercise in translating a fictitious foreign language.  Suppose we find the phrase "ha rennt" and that we consult a bilingual dictionary for the meanings of these words.  We find that "ha" means either "it" or "he" in English, and that "rennt" may mean any of the following: "run, jog, sprint, lope, trot."  Depending upon the pronoun chosen ("it" or "he") and the verb chosen, we arrive at ten possible translations of "ha rennt," such as "it runs," "he sprints," and so on.  The point is simply this: there is no one-to-one correspondence between words of one language and another.  Accordingly, no word-for-word translation of a Bible can exist.  It is not even a theoretical possibility.

It is difficult to understand how a person with a knowledge of two languages can claim a word-for-word translation of the Bible exists when, on the one hand, no word-for-word translation is possible.  A word-for-word translation is an impossibility.  It cannot exist.

A translation is, at best, meaning-for-meaning, not the fictitious word-for-word.  In order to accomplish such a translation, however, the translator must know the meaning of the writings.  This is particlarly difficult when the meanings of the words are not clearly known.  The exact meaning of a great many Greek and Hebrew words is conjectural.  Meanings are deduced based on the theological beliefs of the translators, or on the context in which the words are found, or upon related words from similar roots.  It sometimes happens that there is no single English word which represents an adequate translation.  Let us look at a passage from the writings of Paul to illustrate this point.

"For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked" (II Cor 5:1-3 NAS).

What is the meaning of this passage?  What is the meaning of this strange reference Paul makes to nakedness?  The passage becomes clear upon learning that the word translated as "naked" means "without a physical body."  The word was used by Greek writers referring to disembodied spirits (Vincent, Vol. III).  Paul is simply stating that, after our struggles in the physical body (tent, house) are finished, we shall have a spirit body (building, house, dwelling) eternal in the heavens.

In addition to the language problems mentioned so far, another problem is that languages have great numbers of phrases which do not mean what they literally say.  Such phrases are called idioms.  Idioms require, for their accurate translation, a virtual day-to-day speaking knowledge of the languages and an intimate knowledge of the culture.  As such, they represent special difficulties for the translator.  As a modern example, we find the phrase vor drei Jahre in German would be literally translated as "before, or, in front of three years."  The corresponding idiom in French is il y a trois ans, literally translated as "it there has been three years."  Neither the French nor the German idioms translate literally into meaningful English, but both translate into the English idiomatic equivalent "three years ago."  This sort of problem gave rise to the incorrect translation of Paul's ascent into Heaven as being "above fourteen years ago" (II Cor 12:2), as the Greek idiom  was not understood at the time of the King James translation (Vincent, Vol. III).

It is quite clear at this point in the discussion that language is a tricky business.  (Is it a business?  Does it have the intention to trick?).  But let us not go overboard.  (Do we have permission to climb over the side of the ship into the water?).  A great deal of human judgment and experience enters into making a translation.  It is not a mathematically precise endeavor.  The translator must make many choices and, by virtue of these choices, the translator is, to a greater or lesser extent, also an interpreter.  All Bible translations are, therefore, interpretations of the manuscripts from which they were derived.  Translation includes  interpretation.  Such is the nature of languages.

Quite naturally, the honest and conscientious scholars who have labored on Biblical translation have exhausted every avenue to ensure that their translations are as accurate as possible under the circumstances.  It is, nevertheless, not surprising that different versions of the Bible can differ markedly in the doctrines they will support.  Owing to the human judgment involved in the translation process and in the selection of suitable early documents as reference points, it is not difficult to find places where different versions of the Bible support opposing views of doctrine with the same verse.  Such a situation occurs in the book of Luke, in which it is related that a woman exclaimed to Jesus, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed" (Luke 11:27 NAS).  Jesus is reported to have replied, "Yea" (Luke 11:28 AKJ), "On the contrary" (NAS), "Rather" (NIV), "No" (NEB, GNT).  This remarkable selection of responses allows each reader to find justification for his view of Mary, the mother of Jesus, by choosing the translation that agrees with his bias.  Christ's true meaning is obscured here.  

GOD'S CREATION 2: THE HEAVENS

  Long before Earth was created, Heaven already existed.  Heaven was populated with multitudes of creatures we call angels.  It was a place of boundless beauty and joy at a time when "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7).  This kingdom was ruled by Christ, Who referred to it when He said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).  Christ's followers look forward to someday living in His heavenly kingdom and participating in its beauty and joy.  Yet, we seem to know little or nothing about what to expect there.

For example, we are accustomed to the image of multitudes of winged angels, halos glowing brightly, playing their harps and singing hallelujah.  The redeemed are pictured as dressed in white, walking on streets of gold, singing praises to God, and worshiping their Creator day and night.  In short, we are presented with a Christmas card Heaven, in which the majority of humankind would feel quite out of place.  Let us see what the Scriptures reveal about Heaven.  But first we should ask, "Which Heaven are we talking about?"  The Scriptures mention several.

Seven distinct and separate levels of heavens were part of the beliefs of the Hebrews, although there seems to have been no definite idea of the conditions in the various levels.  Several different heavens, or dimensions of existence, are implied by the Christian Bibles of today.  These Bibles contain numerous references to more than one Heaven.  See Psalm 33:6, Deuteronomy 32:1, Genesis 2:1, and Matthew 4:17 where we find plural "heavens."  God and Christ are sometimes reported as dwelling in the highest heaven (see Psalm 115:16 NIV) and at other times are said to reside above the highest heaven (see Ephesians 4:10, 1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 2:6).

The term "Heaven" is applied to the entire set of lower heavens and the highest heaven when no distinction is necessary.  The existence of various, different heavens within Heaven is evident in a statement made by Christ as He neared physical death on the cross, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43 NIV).  Paradise cannot be the high level usually thought of when we loosely use the word "Heaven," because Christ did not ascend to there until the Ascension, forty days later (see Acts 1:2-3).  Another New Testament reference to multiple dimensions in Heaven is contained in Paul's experience in which he was taken up to the third heaven, but was not permitted to disclose what he had seen there (see 2 Cor 12:2-4).  We clearly see that there are several heavens, although the details are lacking.

These heavens are all nearer to God than the Earth is, and are all under the jurisdiction of Christ, to Whom God gave all power and authority (see Matt 28:18).  The conditions in these realms may therefore be assumed to be pleasant, indeed.  Although the details are unclear, numerous clues are to be found in the Scriptures which reveal to us some aspects of the conditions in the heavens.

Paradise  is referred to as the "garden of God" (Ezek 28:13; Rev 2:7), and thus cannot be a barren desert.  We find that the heavens, indeed, have many features in common with this physical universe in which we live, and in particular with the planet Earth.  The heavens contain dwelling places (see John 14:2-4), rivers, streams, fields, and cities (see Psa 46:4-5 and others).  In other words, the heavens are somewhat like Earth, but without the flaws (see Isa 55:9).

Such a descriptions for the heavens was widely held among the early Jews and Christians, which means it was surely known by Jesus and the Apostles.  The correctness of this description is apparently confirmed by the words of Christ, "If it were NOT so, I would have told you" (John 14:2) (em add).  Yet, although we can expect to see many recognizable things upon our arrival in Paradise, there is surely much that will be new and wonderfully astonishing, for "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1 Cor 2:9).

Another point of familiarity with Earth life is that the things in Heaven are composed of matter.  This matter must behave according to the laws of nature in order that plants and structures exist.  In fact, the existence of such forms indicate that the laws of electricity, chemistry, gravity, physics, and nature, in general, apply in the higher dimensions of existence just as they do on Earth.  The mere Scriptural references to flowing water already imply as much.  It is not surprising that it should be so.  The laws of nature are laws of God.  We are becoming familiar with some of these laws while on Earth during our preparation and training for life in the next realms.  Earth life would be a poor school, indeed, if it did not prepare its pupils for the life they will find after graduation.

However, experience with God's laws of nature and the knowledge of how that aspect of reality behaves is not, in itself, sufficient preparation for living in bliss.  We must also learn to live in harmony with others.  This is part of our training on Earth, and is the major thrust of Christianity.  Above all lessons, this one is the most important in our being prepared to live in harmony with the other citizens of Heaven.  But what of these other citizens?  What are they like?

The inhabitants of the heavens are usually called angels.  The name "angel" calls up images of creatures bearing little resemblance to their Scriptural description.  Indeed, the word "angel" conveys in itself no information whatever about the appearance of the creature.  "Angel" is often defined as meaning "messenger," or, far better, "agent."  The name describes the function of the creature, not the creature itself.  In the same way, the words soldier, mother, and friend do not tell of the appearance of these people, nor even whether they are people, but describe their function and suggest their relationship to us.  An angel is a creature who is functioning as an agent of God.  God's agents are carrying out His instructions.  But what is this creature?  The angel is a spirit (see Heb 1:14 NIV) (em add).

Spirits are the inhabitants of the God's heavens, which form a vast multi-dimensional spirit world of God.  God Himself is pure Spirit (see John 4:24).  Christ, the image of God, is a Spirit.  The angels are spirits, and we are spirits.  None of these spirits fits the popular myth that a spirit is a shapeless, formless, intelligence having no body.  The opposite is the case: spirits have bodies.

Spirit bodies are necessarily composed of a different condition of substance than fleshly bodies, since they are invisible to us in their usual condition.  This different type of matter, this different condition of substance, is the same as that matter of which the aforementioned streams, plants, and structures of Heaven are composed.  The bodies of the spirit beings are variously called "spiritual bodies" (see 1 Cor 15:40-44).  The bodies of these spirits are every bit as real, solid, and visible to each other in their dimension as our bodies are to each other on Earth.  Some of these spirits have been seen when they materialized on Earth.

Angelic appearances reported in the Scriptures show that these spirits walk, talk, eat, wear clothes, and generally resemble people in every way.  So great is their resemblance to humans that the angels are sometimes referred to as men (Gen 18:1-15, 19:10-12, 32:24; Dan 9:21; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10).  We are told that these Holy ones are sometimes among us, but that we mistake them for ordinary people: "Let love of the brethren continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb 13:1-2 NAS).

The Biblical description of angels has no resemblance to the usual conception of angels as pretty people with wings on their shoulders.  This myth grew from the Biblical references to seraphim and cherubim.  Seraphim are mentioned only in Isaiah in which we read of a vision he received (Isa 6:2-6).  The seraphim were part of the vision, not claimed to be real beings.  In any event, we have no further mention of seraphim in the Scriptures.  On the other hand, cherubim are referred to on several occasions.  Most of the verses involving cherubim describe statues of cherubim.  Whereas the statues themselves have wings, it is not clear that the cherubim do.  As we shall see in a later chapter, they do not.  Thus, we conclude that angels are spirits having bodies resembling ours, with no wings.

The resemblance goes much deeper than external appearance.  There must also be internal similarities.  Humans can eat angel food (see Psa 78:24-25).  Angels can eat human food, also, as the angels who materialized and visited with Abraham and Lot ate quite a variety of human foods (see Gen 18:1-22, 19:1-26).  Even the Spirit, Christ, when He materialized from Heaven and appeared among the Apostles, ate fish.  He had mentioned to them earlier that both food and wine exist in Heaven (see Psa 78:24-25; Mark 14:25).  Since these spirits eat and drink, it follows that they must have internal organs of every necessary kind.  It is as though these spirits of God's realms are more or less like flawless humans might be, if such existed.  Yet angels are not flawless.

One shortcoming shared by both angels and man is that we both make mistakes (Job 4:18, 15:14).  However good they may be, angels are not perfect.  Nevertheless, they do display the most noble attributes.  Among the virtues of angels, we find humility and gentleness displayed in their ministry to humans (see Matt 4:11; Heb 1:14).  The angels are wise (see 2 Sam 14:20) and discerning of good and evil (see 2 Sam 14:17).  They have extraordinary knowledge, but do not know everything.  They do not know all the details of the plan of salvation, though they are especially interested in finding out (see 1 Pet 1:12). They worship and serve God (see Psa 148:2), as man is expected to do.  The angels of the spirit world of God are, as one of them has said, our "fellow servants" (Rev 22:8-9).  They excel in strength (see Psa 103:20), and will some day be sent to rescue God's elect (see Matt 24:31).  At that time we shall also feel the great joy that they are capable of feeling (see Luke 15:10).  Having examined the nature of angels, let us now turn our attention to their activities.

Angels perform many tasks in carrying out God's directives.  They may be sent simply to bring messages, such as to the women at the tomb of Jesus (see Matt 28:5), or in response to prayer (see Dan 9:20-22).  They may execute God's judgments (see 2 Sam 24:15-16; Acts 12:23).  They may be sent to destroy, as in the destruction of Sodom (see Gen 19:13).  Sometimes they are sent simply to bring instructions, as to Elijah (see 1 Kings 19:5-8), while on other occasions they bring protection and guidance (see Gen 24:7, 24:40; Psa 34:7).

An angel, in carrying out his or her mission as a ministering spirit, may apparently be given charge of groups of believers.  In Revelation, messages are addressed to "the angel of each of the seven churches," or "to the Spirit of the seven churches," depending on the translation we read (see Rev 2 and 3).  The relationship of the spirit (angel) to its church seems to be comparable to that of a parent to the children, or of a pastor to his flock.

The great diversity of activities implies some degree of organization in the spirit-world.  In the spirit realm, God and Christ are at the top of the celestial chain of command.  Further down, there are various degrees of rank and authority.  For example, we read of angels, archangels, herald angels, princes, powers, authorities, thrones, dominions, and principalities.  All of these exist among the spirits, though not all of them are necessarily in Heaven.  The Scriptures give no details of the organizational structure past this.

In summary, we find in the Scriptures a great many similarities between angels and men.  It is intended that, upon our arrival in the next dimension, we will be prepared to live in harmony, for it is said that man shall then be equal to the angels (see Luke 20:36).  We have been made "a little lower than the angels" (Psa 8:5), in the same manner in which Christ Himself was also "made . . . for a little while lower than the angels" (Heb 2:6-9 NAS) during His earthly incarnation.  Our future equality with the angels of Heaven apparently extends to the task of judgment, as "the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all" (Jude 14-15), and "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Cor 6:2).  However, it is written elsewhere: "when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him" (Matt 25:31 NAS).  There is apparently some connection between His saints, the believers in Him, and the angels.  They have much in common.

The major differences between man and angel seem to be that we are in flesh on Earth, instead of in spirit bodies in Heaven, and that all mankind bears the stigma of "original sin" (1 John 1:8 and others) which the Holy angels do not carry.  The distinction between man and angel seems to be more of quality, or degree of spiritual purity, than one of species.  We may well be puzzled over the close relationship the angels have with us, why they show so great a love for us, and why they so willingly aid and guard us along life's pathway (see Psa 91:11).  Why do they show such delight when we show signs of improvement in our thought and behavior (see Luke 15:10)?  "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Psa 8:4).  Let us leave this question for a later chapter and turn our attention to the revolt in Heaven.

It would seem out of reason that trouble of any serious kind could have occurred in God's domain, but it did.  This was possible because God does not force His will on His creatures, but allows them to accept or reject His ways at their discretion and to learn by harvesting the results of their choices.  Free will, the volition to choose according to their own tastes, was given to all of the angels.  Whenever such freedom of choice exists, the possibility for error also exists.  The heavenly spirits were capable of making errors in judgment (see Job 4:18; 15:15).  With freedom of action, and the possibility of making mistakes, the angels had the chance of being led into great evil.  As ages passed, evil did, in fact, result.  Greed and arrogance grew in certain of the angels, led by the one we call Lucifer, or Satan (the adversary).  Revolt broke out in Heaven as Satan and his dupes attempted to overthrow Christ, the One Whom God had anointed and given all authority.  "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation" (Jude 6).  By their desire to rule rather than be ruled, Satan and his followers committed the fatal error of rebellion against Christ.

Christ had already prepared His forces, Michael's legions, for such a contingency.  "And there was war in heaven.  Michael and his angels fought against the dragon [Satan], and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven" (Rev 12:7-8 NIV) (em add).  Jesus recalled the great Fall with the words, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18).  One-third of the angels of Heaven sided with Lucifer in the revolt against Christ (Rev 12:4).  In that tragic day, a third part of all the angels were cast out of Heaven into lower regions created for their exile.  "God did not spare even the fallen angels, but drove them down into hell, into the caverns of darkness, where they will be kept until they turn their hearts to God again" (2 Pet 2:4 GNT).  These spirits were no longer to be found in the heavens.  Until such time as the rebels should repent of their ways, they were to be "fettered in darkness with unbreakable chains, until the coming of that great day on which they will experience a change of heart (Jude 6 GNT).  Cut off from Heaven, out of contact with their friends, their families, and their God, these exiled angels were referred to as "the dead."

The "dead" were exiled from Heaven at the time of the Fall, a time which must have preceded the creation of man.  To see this, we have only to notice that when Adam and Eve were led by Satan to disobey, Satan was at that time already evil and not a part of God's forces.  Therefore, the angels, both good and evil, existed long before material creation, and the revolt itself had occurred and its outcome established before man and woman were placed on Earth.

The revolt was a time of anguish in the dimensions called Heaven.  A great portion of the spirits were exiled into Hell, where they were powerless to escape.  As a result of their freely made choice of how to live, they were given a place of their own where they could live with others of like mind and experience the results of their erroneous ways of thinking.

God's Creation 3: The Hells

--From James A. Scarborough, The Steppingstones (Merigold, MS: Merigold Spiritual Center, 1987) 83-90.

 

 

 

The great revolt had taken place in  Heaven.  The rebellious angels were ejected from their home in Heaven and exiled to another place, an entirely different dimension where they could no longer cause harm in Heaven.  They were no longer seen or heard in that realm and were referred to as "the dead."  Those spirits loyal to Christ retained their place in Heaven and were called "the living."  The terms "living" and "dead" are used in the Scriptures in this sense quite frequently.  They refer to whether a person holds allegiance to Christ or to Satan, not to whether that person is physically alive or physically dead.  In a similar usage of these words, Christ, the leader of the "living," is called Life (see John 14:6), whereas Satan, the leader of the "dead," is called Death (see 1 Cor 15:26).  These titles in the Bibles may occur with or without capital letters, depending on the beliefs of the translators.

The dead were separated from the living to be allowed to live according to their own desires and to reap the results of their thoughts.  For this purpose a special realm was created.  It is the place of confinement for the fallen spirits, where they are under the dominion of the Prince of Death (Rev 20:13-14 GNT).  The realm ruled by Satan is known as Hell.  Hell is usually thought of as a single location, but the Scriptures refer to several levels in Hell.

The various different dimensions, or levels, in Hell serve as places of confinement for the exiled spirits according to their degree of guilt in the revolt.  Like Heaven, Hell is a collection of distinctly different regions.  These regions are implied by the Scriptures by the use of the names Sheol, Gehenna, Tartarus, and Hades, but little is revealed about them.  The bits of truth revealed in the Scriptures are, unfortunately, obscured by inconsistent translations and centuries of tradition based on errors.  We sometimes find names referring to the hells translated simply as "hell," or as "grave," "pit," "abyss," and others.

The Hebrew word Sheol is often translated in the Old Testament as "grave," which is, in fact, a legitimate meaning of the word in certain contexts.  Sheol corresponds closely with the New Testament Greek word, Hades, which the Greeks thought of as the unseen world of departed spirits.  Eventually, Hades became a common name for the lower spirit world.  Hades was used in the Septuagint as a translation of the word Sheol.

In the days when the King James Bible was translated, the English word "hell" meant a grave, a hole, or a pit.  Englishmen buried potatoes in a hell to preserve them for winter.  There is no suggestion of heat or fire in this usage.

Another Greek word translated as Hell in GehennaGehenna is derived from an earlier Hebrew word meaning "valley of Hinnom," a narrow gorge southwest of Jerusalem.  In this ravine, idolatrous rites and sacrifices once occurred.  Children were sacrificed to the god Molech until King Josiah of ancient Judah ended these practices.  The valley of Hinnom was later used as a dumping ground for garbage, dead animals, and other waste from Jerusalem.  Bodies of criminals were also thrown there.  Smoldering fires smoked there continuously amid the stench and decay.

The third region of the hells mentioned in the New Testament is Tartarus.  This term is used in the Greek only in II Pet 2:4.  It was the place to which Satan and his angels were banished.  Tartarus was described by the ancient Greek writer Homer as lying as far below Hades as Hades lay below Earth.  It was thought of as a bottomless pit into which Zeus, of Greek mythology, imprisoned those who resisted him.

The rebellious dead in the hells find themselves in dire conditions, indeed.  They are still "sons of God" (Job 1:6), but they are prodigal sons who have deserted Him.  Only a few clues have been revealed about the conditions these spirits endure.  They are compared with prisoners gathered in a pit (see Isa 24:22).  They are described as being in prison (see I Pet 3:19; Rev 20:3), in gloomy dungeons (see II Pet 2:4 NIV), or chained in darkness (see Jude 6).  Certain sinful men have "blackest darkness" reserved for them (see II Pet 2:17 NIV).

Under such conditions the captive spirits naturally experience great sorrow (see II Sam 22:6; Psa 18:5, 116:3), pain and troubles (Psa 116:3), and tears and grinding of teeth (see Matt 13:40-42).  The fallen spirits must endure these agonies without knowing the true cause of their condition, for they do not have the knowledge of the truth (see Eccl 9:5) and have no remembrance of their former glory (see Psa 6:5; Eccl 1:11).  Hence, it is figuratively said that the dead know nothing (see Eccl 9:5 NIV) (see also Isa 8:19-20 NIV).  The miserable conditions in the hells are symbolically referred to as the fires of Hell.

The symbol of fire as an agent of purification or destruction is widely used in the Scriptures, as is the literal word fire.  The fire of Hell is figurative, as is shown by the use of that word in other places in the Scriptures.  For example, God's words are like a buring fire (see Jer 20:9, 23:29), yet they are not for injury but for healing.  God Himself is spoken of as a consuming fire (see Deut 4:24; Heb 12:29), and His anger and wrath are pictured as fire (see Deut 32:22; Psa 89:46; Jer 15:14; Ezek 22:31, 38:19).  We will  all be baptized with fire (see Matt 3:11), yet none shall be harmed by this figurative fire.  Fire in these verses is clearly symbolic.  It is the same fire which was to melt Jerusalem (see Jer 9:7; Ezek 22:18-22), where melting can only be in a symbolic sense.  In another case, Israel (the house of Jacob) is called a fire which shall destroy the house of Esau, described as stubble (see Obad 18).

It is said that sin is a fire that produces destruction (see Job 31:12) and that wickedness burns like a flame (see Isa 9:18), yet in neither case is literal fire in evidence.  The lips of evil men are likened to a burning fire (see Prov 16:27), while an uncontrolled tongue is a fire which "defileth the whole body . . . and it is set on fire of hell" (Jas 3:6).  However, no literal fire issued from the tongue or lips.

The Scriptures further state that "people shall labour in the very fire" (Habb 2:13).  In this connection, the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt was described as a time when they were in a furnace of iron (see Deut 4:20).  When David mourned that the pains of Hell had gotten hold of him he was sad and troubled, not on fire (see Psa 116:3).

The king of Tyre had already been, in symbol, burned up and reduced entirely to ashes (see Ezek 28:11-19 NAS) at the very moment he was the king and was receiving God's messages brought by Ezekiel. 

We see that fire as a literal flame is not used in these conditions.  The use of literal fire in Hell would be totally contradictory to the nature of our God, the essence of Whose nature is love (see I John 4:7-8).  Jesus points out that everyone will, in fact, be salted with fire (see Mark 9:49), and then quite remarkably adds, "Salt [fire] is good" (Mark 9:50) (em add).  What good can come from the fire of anguish and sorrow?

Salt was used as an agent of ritual purification.  Sacrifices were sprinkled with salt before being presented to God on the altar.  In a similar way, the purpose of the fire of suffering is to purify the thoughts of the spirits enduring it.  The penalty is not for the sake of revenge by God, nor of punishment for its own sake.  God's nature is love, and even the hardships of the hells are designed for the improvement of the incarcerated spirits.  Little by little, each spirit, at his own rate, and according to his own volition, learns by reaping the results of his way of thinking.  It is the same as with humans, who learn from the consequences of their own choices and thereby grow toward purity.

God's laws for our behavior, therefore, are not arbitrary guidelines laid down according to the tastes of the Creator.  They are simply instructions which, if followed, lead to a life of harmony and love for God and our fellow man.  His rules of behavior are designed for our good, not His.  He is immune from harm.  His laws are guidelines for finding joy and internal peace.  We must follow them on faith that they are the true way to happiness.  We may accept them and live them, or we may violate them and reap what we have sown.  We eventually discover that God's way of love in the only way that results in a life fit for Heaven.  The spirits in the hells are undergoing training of this same type.  The fire of bitter experience is the tool for their teaching.  The fire is not quenched until the learning is achieved.  Thus it is written, "Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction" (Isa 48:10 NAS).

God proves us as silver is tested for purity by melting it (see Psa 66:10).  We are, in fact, now in God's symbolic refining pot for silver and His furnace for gold, wherein God assays the desires of our hearts (see Prov 17:3).  The impurities in these melted metals are the dross which floats to the surface where it can be skimmed off, leaving the purified metal behind. "And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; they shall call on my name, and I will hear them" (Zech 13:9).

Many are the people, indeed, who have been brought to call on God only by their suffering.  But the end result is: "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (I Pet 1:7).

The spirits confined to Satan's symbolic prisons, the hells, are therefore in a reform school of sorts.  But what possible purpose could be served by an improvement in their attitudes, if their confinement were eternal?  If there were no possibility of escape from the hells, it would be sadistic cruelty to instill in them a yearning for escape.  It would have been a taunting and cruel Christ Who descended into Hell after His crucifixion and preached that message of salvation to the spirits imprisoned  there (see I Pet 3:19), if these same spirits had been doomed to eternal imprisonment.  That cannot be.  (Note that these spirits to whom He preached were the same people who were disobedient in the days of Noah.  They were in Satan's regions called "prisons," not in an earthly prison.  Christ did not appear in any earthly prison, or at any place on Earth, for that matter, until Easter morning after the crucifixion.  He was nowhere to be found on Earth).

Only one conclusion exists: God plans to free the captives.  The length of time they must spend in Hell cannot, therefore, be infinite.  There is no eternal stay in Hell.

Eternal punishment is a misconception so barbaric that it has driven many human souls away from Christianity.  Other thinking Christians invent the most absurd rationalizations in their attempts to reconcile the diabolic doctrine of eternal , real fire with the loving nature of God, Who promises never to leave us.  One denomination interprets eternal punishment to mean  punishment by the Eternal One.  Other groups of believers try other escapes from what the Scriptures seem to say.  Most Christian churches teach the eternal Hell which they believe their Bible proclaims.

Therein lies the root of the problem.  As we have seen in an earlier chapter, there is no such thing as "the" Bible, but many Bibles.  There are no original manuscripts, but hundreds of disparate copies.  Most of all, there are a great many ways in which these copies of manuscripts can be, and have been, translated imperfectly by honest men.

The Greek word translated "eternal" does not truly mean everlasting.  It may, indeed, indicate a long period of time but, on occasion, it was used in the Greek to indicate as short a time as a man's life.  The essence of the word is that it is a time period of indefinite length, not eternal length.  In certain places where the Greek word occurred, it was nonsensical to translate it "eternal" or, in the noun form, "eternity."  It was then translated as "world," or as "age," because "eternal" made no sense.  This is the case in "[God] Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son . . . by whom also he made the WORLDS" (Heb 1:2) (em add).  The word "eternities" would make no sense here.  The same problem arises in: "Through faith we understand that the WORLDS were framed by the word of God" (Heb 11:3) (em add), where "eternities" would be nonsensical.

We conclude that, though a superficial reading of Bibles depicts Hell as eternal, it is not true.  Several Biblical references verify this conclusion.  The "everlasting chains" of Jude 6 are to last only until "the judgment of the great day," not everlastingly.  This translation causes the verse to contradict itself.  A clearer translation is: "For God did not spare even the fallen angels, but drove them down into hell, into the caverns of darkness, where they will be kept until they turn their hearts to God again" (II Pet 2:4 GNT).  We are further told of a time when the dead will be released from Hell (see Rev 20:13), albeit for judgment according to their works.  Souls are spoken of as being delivered from Hell (see Psa 86:13) or brought up from Hell (Sheol) (see I Sam 2:6 NAS).  Certain erring humans were to be shut up in Satan's prison "and after many days shall they be visited" (Isa 24:22).  They were confined and were visited by Christ when He descended (see 1 Pet 3:19).  Other references to spirits being brought out of Sheol, or the pit, or Satan's dungeons, are found in Job 33:30; Psa 30:3, 86:13, 102:20; and Isa 42:7, 61:1.

The doctrine of eternal Hell has been used as a bludgeon to subdue Christians and to threaten non-Christians.  Its claim to authenticity rests far more on centuries of tradition than on  the Scriptures.  Nor was it universally accepted in the formative years of the Christian doctrines.

Writing soon after the year 400 A.D., Saint Augustine, in the The Eight Questions of Dulcitus, argues against those who believe Hell to be eternal with the words, "They wish, in fact, to maintain that punishment endures as eternal as reward.  But, in answer to them the judgment of the Gospel is prescribed which reads: 'Thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing' [see Matt 5:26].  In the end, therefore, when the debt has been paid, one can go forth."  Even though Saint Augustine argues clearly and forcefully in this passage that Hell is not eternal, he writes in his treatise on patience (De Patientia), "For, it is good for a man to believe he will have to suffer eternal punishment if he denies Christ, and for him to endure and make light of any punishment whatsoever for that faith."  In other words, St. Augustine judges it good to raise the false specter of eternal punishment in order to frighten Christians into stronger faith, even though he, himself, repudiated that very doctrine.  Many religious teachers followed the same strategy.  Now, centuries later, the teachers themselves have come to believe the falsehood.

We cannot rationally conclude that the One Who preached to the spirits trapped in torment and Who has "the keys of hell and of death" (Rev 1:18) will leave His erring children there.  Surely He intends to use the keys.  "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from  death"  (Hosea 13:14).  But the redemption had to wait until the coming of the Redeemer.

In summary, the fallen spirits are confined to Hell, a word referring to a group of levels, or hells, under the jurisdiction of Satan.  The abysmal conditions there include pain, anguish, and sorrow, but not eternal fire.  The cause of these conditions is the attitude of the confined spirits and their leader.  The result of these conditions is improvement in the attitude of the spirits.  This improvement is necessary because their release in planned.  The length of their confinement is not eternal, but indefinite.

After the Fall from Heaven, Creation was divided into higher dimensions still under the rule of Christ, and lower dimensions under the rule of Satan.  The higher dimensions are collectively called Heaven, while the lower ones  are collectively called Hell.  The angels were divided into the "living," those who remained loyal to Christ, and the "dead" who are bound to Satan.  The dead could progress to higher hells, accordingly, as their attitudes improve, but they could not escape Satan's dominion, being totally unfit to enter Heaven again.  The spirits were able to progress upward until they finally arrived in Hell's highest dimension, the physical universe.  The particular place in the highest dimension of Hell that is of the most vital interest to us is the planet Earth.

We have already seen that Satan and his angels were cast from Heaven into Hell.  If we locate some of those exiled spirits, then we may be certain that we have located a region in the hells.  We are told that Satan "was cast unto the earth" (Rev 12:13), that "he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him" (Rev 12:9 NAS).  The Earth and the physical universe are, then, one of the hells.  Since Christian humans go upward upon physical death and arrive in one of the heavens, not a higher dimension of Hell, the physical universe must be the highest, and therefore the least unpleasant, of the hells.  Furthermore, the fact that we do not remain eternally on Earth is additional proof that Hell is not eternal.

From another point of view, observe that Satan is "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph 2:2), or, more emphatically, "the god of this world" (II Cor 4:4).  The "whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (I John 5:19 NAS).  Since the dimensions under Satan's rule are collectively called Hell, the Earth is, therefore, necessarily in one of those hells.  Man's escape from Earth has been made possible by Christ's victory (see this website).  But "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? . . . For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels" (Psa 8:4-5).  

 

God's Creation 4: The Nature of Man

--From James A. Scarborough, The Steppingstones (Merigold, MS: Merigold Spiritual Center, 1987) 91-103.

 

 

 

God ejected Satan and his deceived followers from Heaven.  They were injected into lower dimensions called Hell.  The hellish dimensions were created to serve as places of confinement for these spiritually dead.  In the highest dimension of the hells, the physical universe we know, Earth serves as a prison for certain of the fallen angels.

The fallen spirits exiled to the prison, Earth, include the demons.  Demons are discarnate spirits of Satan.  Discarnate spirits are spirits who do not have fleshly bodies of ordinary matter like ours.  Instead, they have spirit bodies invisible to us, as are all other spirits.  These discarnate beings are subjects of Satan.  They are in the highest level of his kingdom, having been cast down to Earth with him (see Rev 12:9).  The ruler of the demons is Satan, who rules in the kingdom created for him and his erring followers.  God created the kingdom for him and placed him and his adherents there.  God, the ultimate power and authority, maintains their existence and allows their demonic activity.  We may not fully understand why God allows demonic forces to mislead and plague man, but we can trust that even this aspect of creation is according to His overall strategy for recalling the fallen spirits, as we shall see in the following chapters.  "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa 55:9).

The evil spirits are not distinguished from one another by name in the Biblical texts.  An evil spirit may be referred to by a phrase descriptive of its function, such as "the spirit of greed," or "the spirit of pride."  It is not implied that only one such spirit exists.  On another occasion, a demon may be referred to as "the spirit of antichrist," which is to say,"a spirit in the service of Satan, the enemy of Christ."  Sometimes, any such spirit is called simply "the antichrist," never meaning that there is only one such spirit opposed to Christ.  Evil spirits are sometimes simply given the generic name, Satan, being called after the one whom they follow.  Thus, Christ asks, "And if Satan cast out Satan . . . how shall then his kingdom stand?" (Matt 12:26).

God has allowed Satan great freedom of action and power to implement his desires.  If it were not so, Satan could not roam about "as a roaring lion . . . seeking whom he may devour" (I Pet 5:8), for God is God over all, including Hell: "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble" (Jas 2:19).  When Satan "the accuser of our brethren . . . accused them before our God day and night" (Rev 12:10), it could only be because God had granted Satan the right to be heard.  When Satan slandered Job before God, it could only be that God allowed Satan the opportunity.  What is more, God then gave permission for Satan to persecute Job.  Where is God's fairness in that?

On another occasion, Satan requested permission from God to sift the Apostles "as wheat" (Luke 22:31).  Upon Christ's arrest, the Apostles abandoned Him in fear.  Judas had betrayed Him, Peter denied knowing Him, and the others fled from His side.  Why did God permit Satan and his spirit agents to assault the Apostles?

That God has given Satan the power to cause havoc among men, even among those men who try to follow God, seems to be unfair.  Is God unjust to His children?  The answer to this question is obvious, once we recognize our role in creation.

All of creation is divided into only two domains: the heavens and the hells.  All angels under Christ in the heavens are spirits who are loyal to Him.  All spirits under Satan in the hells are spirits who sided with Satan in the revolt against Christ.  Human spirits are in a region of Hell.  We are, therefore, numbered among the enemies of Christ.

In view of the close bonds and uncanny resemblances between God's angels and man, it might seem terribly unfair that His angels are in Heaven under Christ, while we are confined to Earth under Satan.  And where, we might ask, are the angels who were thrown from Heaven down to Earth for rebelling against Christ (see Rev 12:4, 12:9, 12:13)?  To answer this question, we need only look in a mirror.  We are fallen angels.  As such, we are fallen spirits who long ago voluntarily became subjects of Satan.  He is within his God-given rights in influencing us.  We are reaping the results of our participation in the heavenly revolt against Christ.  God is fair, and, like it or not, we are reaping what we have sown.

There are a number of Biblical references to our existence prior to being incarnated for this present life of learning and testing.  Here are a few examples: BEFORE I FORMED THEE IN THE BELLY I KNEW THEE; (Jer 1:5) (em add); "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? . . . YOU KNOW, FOR YOU WERE BORN THEN, AND THE NUMBER OF YOUR DAYS IS GREAT!" (Job 38:21 NAS) (em add); Psa 139:14-15 NEB; Eccl 12:7; I Cor 2:7; Titus 1:2; II Tim 1:9; II Thess 2:13; Eph 1:4; Rom 11:23 NAS; Isa 40:21 NAS.  These verses, and others, repeatedly mention plans made and people known, before material creation ever took place.  They indicate that our existence was already established by then, and that the fall from Heaven had already occurred.

The animal species known as man has appeared on Earth only in the last moment of geological history. Billions of years have elapsed in the development of the physical universe, the Earth itself being several billion years old.  The spirits now incarnated in human bodies on Earth languished in Satan's lower dimensions of existence for untold amounts of time awaiting the opportunity to be incarnated in human form.  Although the length of stay in Hell was not eternal, it was dreadfully long.  Thus, we read that we are incarnated from below (see John 8:23).

The exiled spirits could not escape from Hell, not even from the highest level, before Christ made it possible.  Physical death did not release a  human spirit to Heaven before that time.  The human (physical) body returned to the ground from which its substance came, while the human spirit remained captive in one or the other of the dimensions of the hells.  See the following: Ezek 26:20; 31:16,17; Isa 14:9; and Psa 9:17, "The wicked will return to Sheol [Hell, AKJ], even all the nations who forget God."  In this translation, it is evident that, if these people are to return to Sheol, they must first have arisen from there.

In the days of the Apostles, many people understood that we could have sinned before this life.  Recall the question, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be BORN blind?" (John 9:2 NAS) (em add).  In order for his blindness to be due to his own sin, he would have had to commit the sin before his birth.  Jesus did not contradict this assumption, but simply responded to the real point of the question.

It is said that Christ "reconciled mankind with God."  For a reconciliation to occur, there must have been a prior disagreement between friends.  For  purposes of a reconciliation, Christ was temporarily caused to be a little lower than the angels (see Heb 2:9), in precisely the situation as those whom He came to rescue (see Heb 2:6-7).

God, in His love, does not leave the fallen forever in the pit.  The spirits are eventually brought up to an earthly incarnation for their spiritual growth.  On Earth, they may learn about Christ and find a chance to believe in Him.  "Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to BRING BACK HIS SOUL FROM THE PIT, TO BE ENLIGHTENED WITH THE LIGHT OF THE LIVING" (Job 33:29-30) (em add).

Christ alludes to the incarnation of fallen spirits from Hell with the words, "You are from below" (John 8:23 NAS), and "Your father is the devil" (John 8:44 NEB).  The Psalms often refer to the incarnation of David from below: "For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou has delivered my soul from the lowest hell," (Psa 86:13); "O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave [Sheol]," (Psa 30:3) (em add); "My substance [literally, bones] was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth," (Psa 139:15) (em add).

We may be confident that these verses are correctly interpreted as meaning coming up from Hell, because the same mode of expression is used in the verses referring to the raising of Christ from Hell, into which He descended.  It is precisely this point which Luke is supporting (see Acts 2:27-31, 13:35), when he invokes the sixteenth Psalm as his proof: "Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol" [or, Hades, Acts 2:27 NAS]; "Neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay" (Psa 16:10 NAS).

John (John 2:17 NAS) applies another Psalm to Jesus, quoting: "Zeal for Thy house will consume me" (see Psa 69:9 NAS).  In that same Psalm, we also read that the pit shall "not shut its mouth on me" (Psa 69:15 NAS), which therefore must also refer to Christ.  John (John 2:22) alludes to other Scriptures which Christ's resurrection from the realm of the dead caused disciples to believe, but he does not list them for us.

In addition David was, like us, one of the fallen spirits.  Since David lived before the time of Christ's victory, he did not enter Heaven upon his physical death.  Escape from Satan's domain was not possible until Christ opened the door to Heaven for us.  "For David is not ascended into the heavens" (Acts 2:34).

As we have seen, Earth is populated by fallen spirits working their way up from the pit.  However, there have been exceptions to this rule.  If incarnation from below is possible, then incarnation from above is equally possible.  Certain spirits have incarnated from Heaven to help in bringing salvation to man.  Christ is the foremost among these incarnated heavenly spirits.  It is unnecessary to prove to Christian readers that Christ existed prior to man and that He incarnated from above.  We cite only, "[Christ] Who verily was foreordained BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD" (I Pet 1:20) (em add), and "YOU ARE FROM BELOW, I AM FROM ABOVE" (John 8:23 NAS) (em add).

Christ was preceded by other incarnated spirits who helped prepare the way for His coming.  The verse, "no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man" (John 3:13) applies to everyone, though some translators render this verse so that it seems to refer exclusively to Christ.  In other words, at the time of Christ, no person ascended to Heaven at death unless he had come from there, this including Christ.  Salvation had not yet been achieved for the fallen.  Hence, any spirit prior to Christ who ascended to Heaven must have come down from Heaven.

Accordingly, Abraham was one of the spirits incarnated from above.  He was later described by Christ as being in Heaven (see Luke 16:23), implying that He must have come down from there.  Enoch (see Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5) and Elijah (see II Kings 2:11) were both taken into Heaven even though Christ had not yet achieved the redemption of man.  These two agents of Christ had, therefore, incarnated from Heaven.  Moses and Elijah (Elias) appeared to Christ on the mountain (see Matt 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30).  Moses must, therefore, have come down with Elijah from Heaven.  To have been in Heaven with Elijah, Moses must first have come from there.  The Apostle Paul reported visiting Heaven (see II Cor 12:2).  The Apostle, then, was probably also a spirit from above.  In Paul's case, however, this conclusion could be debated, since his visit to Heaven occurred after Christ's victory.

As we see, Earth is a battleground for the souls of men, wherein discarnate spirits from above, God's spirits, and those from below, influence man for good or for evil, and wherein certain spirits from Heaven have incarnated to work on behalf of Christ.  The people of earth are intermingled followers and adversaries of Christ: the "living" and the "dead."

Man is therefore a spirit.  It is not that we have a spirit, as is commonly said, it is that we are spirits.  We differ from the discarnate spirits in that we are incarnate.  "Incarnate" means "in flesh."  We are incarnate spirits as distinguished from the discarnate spirits, be we are spirits in Satan's realm, nonetheless.  We participated in the revolt against Christ ages ago in Heaven.  That participation is the guilt which every human bears from birth.  That is the original sin of which we are all guilty.  We were confined to Satan's kingdom due to guilt incurred, personally, by actions freely taken.  It cannot be that we are being blamed for a mistake made by Adam.

The idea that God perennially punished every person because of Adam's mistakes seems totally unfair.  And so it should.  It is not a Scriptural concept at all.  The Bibles stress many times that each of us is personally responsible for our errors, that the son shall not "bear the iniquity of the father" (Ezek 18:14-32 explains this at length), and that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die," i.e., be divorced from God (Ezek 18:4).  We acquired our original sin "from Adam," not by inheriting his blame, but "from Adam" in the sense of having followed his example.  This is the sense in which "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor 15:22).  That is to say, all shall be made alive by following Christ and His example.  Furthermore, we must have followed Adam's example before this earthly life because we were born already in disobedience (see Psa 51:5).

The question of "original sin" now can be seen to have an easy answer.  The original sin was rebellion in Heaven against Christ.  All people bear this sin from birth, since it was that very sin which caused us to be born here at all.  We are fallen spirits incarnated into flesh bodies.

Every church of all Christian denominations tells us that to enter Heaven we must accept Christ as our Lord.  But why is this a requirement?  Why not simply lead a good life?  The answer is obvious.  Since our personal rejection of Christ as Lord in the Holy spirit world was the cause of our expulsion, our acceptance of Christ as Lord is logically required for readmission to His kingdom.  Since our original sin was our choosing sides with Satan over Christ in the great revolt in Heaven, then our choosing Christ as Lord in this life sets this error straight.  It is surely fair that citizenship be granted only to those whose allegiance is to the rightfully appointed Ruler.

It may be argued that our lack of memory of previous existence shows we did not exist then.  However, if God finished creating all things on the symbolic sixth day and rested on the seventh, we human spirits must have been created before the seventh day and not thereafter.  Otherwise, God is still creating human spirits, and, what is more, creating them flawed and sinful from birth and placing them under the dominion of Satan.  This idea makes a mockery of the skill and love of the Creator.  No, our spirits were created eons ago, before the fall from Heaven.  Obviously the dead on Earth to whom Jesus spoke remembered nothing of their former existence.  "The gospel was preached EVEN TO THOSE WHO ARE NOW DEAD" (I Pet 4:6 NIV) (em add).  I appears that God in His mercy has made memories of former joy inaccessible to the spirits who cannot yet repossess that joy.

In the same vein, lack of memory is not claimed to prove nonexistence when we encounter it in other contexts.  Can we remember even a single event from the first year of life?  We cannot.  Yet, it is perfectly clear that we did, in fact, exist during that year.  We are accustomed to other memory lapses.  Do we remember our existence while asleep?  A third part of our lives are spent in sleep, but all of those accumulated years are a total blank in our memories, except for occasional dreams.  Yet, who would dare claim we did not exist while asleep?

The spirits confined to the hells, mercifully, have no memory of their previous existence in Heaven.  These spirits are the spiritually dead, the apostates, to whom the Scriptures refer: "the dead know not any thing" (Eccl 9:5).  "For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave [Sheol] who shall give thee thanks" (Psa 6:5) (em add).  The King of Tyre had no memory of his participation in the Fall.  He had once been a cherub before the revolt in Heaven.  This wingless, fallen cherub was addressed by God: "YOU WERE . . . A . . . CHERUB . . .  I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I EXPELLED YOU, O guardian cherub . . . I THREW YOU TO THE EARTH . . . You have come to a horrible end (Ezek 28:11-19 NIV) (em add).

Similarly, the King of Babylon had no memory of his earliest days in Heaven.  Isaiah brought this message from God to the King of Babylon: "HOW YOU HAVE FALLEN FROM HEAVEN, O morning star, son of the dawn!  YOU HAVE BEEN CAST DOWN TO THE EARTH, you who once laid low the nations!  You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven . . . BUT YOU ARE BROUGHT DOWN TO THE GRAVE [Sheol], TO THE DEPTHS OF THE PIT (Isa 14:12-15 NIV) (em add).

It is unfortunate that certain render "O morning star" as "O Lucifer," thereby distorting the entire meaning of this passage.  The message is clearly addressed to the King of Bablyon (Isa 14:4), not to Lucifer.  In addition, it had to be, literally, the King of Babylon who would be denied burial (Isa 14:19-20), not Lucifer.

We conclude that our lack of memory of any portion of our existence has no relevance to whether we existed during the time forgotten.  We existed long before our present incarnation.  In agreement with what we have already said about Earth, it is seen here to be part of "the grave" (Sheol), also called "the pit."  That is, Earth is located in one of the hells.

We are fallen angels.  Our lack of memory of our tragic guilt in the revolt is evidence of great mercy on the part of God.  He allows each of His children to prove his fitness to reenter Heaven by means of the tests of Earth life.  He gives each of His erring children a chance for a fresh start, unburdened by conscious memories of his previous behavior .

The idea that mankind originated in Heaven disagrees with the usual teachings involving Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden.  Let us digress and deal with this disagreement.  The creation story, as usually recounted, is drawn from the first two chapters of Genesis.  The Genesis story was passed down verbally for many centuries before it was committed to writing.  The written version was recopied many times before becoming the copies available to us.  These copies underwent the interpretative, and sometimes ambiguous, process of translation before they arrived in the form we read in English.  We can be certain that a translation does not contain precisely all the meanings and implications of the original writings.  This fact is known by any person who knows two or more languages.  Although we do not know the extent of such errors, we can deduce that they are serious.  Even if we were to assume that the creation story of the first book of the Bible was originally sent directly from God, we cannot assume that we have it in an uncontaminated form at this late date.  Claims that God prevented the introduction of errors are mere assertions lacking proof.  On the contrary Jeremiah quotes God as saying that all His communications up to Jeremiah's time had been seriously altered: "How can you say, 'We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us?' But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie" (Jer 8:8 NAS).  God makes a strong indictment, indeed, of the Scriptures then available to Jeremiah.  Those sacred scrolls included Genesis.  We, therefore, interpret the first parts of Genesis with caution, knowing that they do not measure up to God's standards of accuracy.

An example of the apparent problem with accuracy is found in the creation story told in the first two chapters of Genesis.  These two chapters are not in agreement about what happens.  The first chapter of Genesis relates that creation required six days, followed by a day of rest for the Creator.  Chapter 2 lacks any division into time periods.  In the first chapter, God is said to have created evening and morning, day and night, on the first day, even though the sun which produces day and night did not exist until the fourth day.  The saga then relates that God formed the plants on the third day (verses 11-12), which would mean they were required to survive without sunlight.  On the next two days, the lower animals were first formed, then the higher ones, and finally men and women (verses 27-28).

In the second chapter of Genesis, the creation proceeds quite differently.  There were no shrubs or plants of any kind (see Gen 2:5) when God formed man (verse 7).  The story does not divulge where this man was kept until God planted a garden spot in Eden in which to put him (verse 8).  In contrast to the first chapter of Genesis, where humankind in general were called into existence (Gen 1:26-27), the man is said to have been alone.  Quite naturally he was lonely, having already endured a period of time without even a green plant for company, and now finding himself without animals or other people.  Animals had not yet been formed (see Gen 2:18-20), although we were previously told that they were created before Adam (see Gen 1:20-25).  The other people mentioned in the first creation story are nowhere to be found, so God formed a woman to be Adam's "help mate" as His crowning act of creation.

Another problem concerns the location of the Garden of Eden.  As given in Genesis (Gen 2:10-14 NAS), four rivers originate in Eden.  The rivers are the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon, and Gihon.  These rivers are known today in the near east, but Bible scholars are unable to locate Eden there.  In addition, the Biblical description of the location of Eden does not match the maps.  Perhaps a more direct approach for locating Eden is for us to ignore the theorizing of the scholars and to use common sense.  Let us look at the clues found in the Bibles.

Eden is said to be a lush paradise which man cannot enter.  Entrance to Eden is prohibited by cherubim with flaming swords.  Man was driven from Eden and not allowed to return.  But explorers have never come upon a lush, yet uninhabited, paradise in the near east, nor anywhere else.  No person has ever encountered a supernatural force preventing his entry into any region on Earth.  No man has ever encountered cherubim with flaming swords blocking the entrance to any place on Earth.  There are, however, places that are not on Earth.  The Scriptures given certain clues.

First we note that man in Eden had not yet been completely severed from God.  Thus the Adam and Eve story must refer to a time before Earth was formed, for Earth is one of the places created as part of Satan's realms after our separation from God.  The inhabitants of Eden are symbolically referred to by Ezekiel as trees.  They were in Eden (see Ezek 31:8-18), the "garden of God" (verse 9), before being cast down to Hell (verse 16), also called the "nether parts of the earth" (verse 18), a common description in ancient times.  We see, then, that the inhabitants of Eden were not on Earth, in one of the hells, but were cast down to Earth.  The only beings who were cast to Earth were Satan and those spirits he misled, including Adam and Eve.

The Bibles clearly refer to Adam and Eve allegorically, for many other inhabitants are mentioned in this passage in Ezekiel.  These souls were exiled from a paradise wherein grew the "tree of life" (Gen 3:22).  Whatever is represented by the symbolic tree of life, the tree cannot be on Earth, because the tree is in Eden, and Eden has not been found on Earth.  If we can locate the tree of life, then we will have located Eden.

The tree of life is in the paradise of God to which Christians ascend upon leaving Earth life, as is explicitly stated in: "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from THE TREE OF LIFE, WHICH IS IN THE PARADISE OF GOD" (Rev 2:7 NIV) (em add).  If the tree is both in Eden, guarded by angels, and also in the paradise to which we shall ascend, then Eden must be in this paradise.  Accordingly, Eden, and the entire Adam and Eve story, refer by allegory and symbolism to the fall from Heaven in ways not clearly understood by the churches.  This location for Eden is transparently clear in the message of God to the King of Tyre: "YOU WERE IN EDEN, THE GARDEN OF GOD . . . YOU WERE . . . A GUARDIAN CHERUB . . . I THREW YOU TO THE EARTH" (see Ezek 28:13-18 NIV) (em add).  From this we see that the King of Tyre was an angel thrown down from Eden to Earth.  The King of Tyre was like the rest of us in this respect.

For an authoritative explanation of the creation and fall of the spirits, the reader can consult the historic book by Johannes Greber entitled Communication with the Spirit World of God, available from the Johannes Greber Memorial Foundation, 139 Hillside Avenue, Teaneck, NJ 07666. (note: is no longer existing at that address. Copies can be found at Amazon.com or at this site GodsGrandPlan.org, or at CommunicationWithGod.info).

In summary, we have found that the fallen angels on Earth are the discarnates, the demons; and the incarnates, the people.  We are all here for the same cause.  We are all spirits carrying the stain of the "original sin" of rebellion against Christ in our former home, Heaven.  We have been confined to Satan's domains for long ages, lacking a way to escape, and lacking the knowledge of our true condition.  The One against Whom we revolted came for us and obtained our redemption.  Acceptance of the Redeemer as our King (Lord) is a necessary and reasonable condition for returning to His kingdom.

It is not the only condition, however, because even Satan and his angels recognize the sovereignty of God "and tremble" (Jas 2:19).  There is more required.  We must also be cured of our faulty ways of thinking.  In short, we must repent, that is: change our way of thinking.  We must achieve sufficient purity of thought to qualify for Heaven as our home.  The purity of thought must be reflected in our deeds.  To that end, we must be born again. 

God's Creation 5: Born Again

--From James A. Scarborough, The Steppingstones (Merigold, MS: Merigold Spiritual Center, 1987) 104-116.

 

 

 

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).  The "new birth" is held to be essential for admission into Heaven after this life on Earth.  However, interpretations vary as to the exact meaning of what is called the "born-again experience."

One interpretation of being born again is that of mending one's ways, turning over a new leaf, or starting afresh with a new viewpoint on life.  Consequently, the rebirth might be understood as a reformation, a repentance, or a starting over again.  Another interpretation of the rebirth is that of suddenly becoming "religious," a term equally as vague as the term rebirth.  Therefore, it is sometimes taught that a person is reborn if he joins a church, receives baptism, and perhaps begins to behave in other ways like his fellow church members.  Some interpreters conclude that the rebirth consists of a radical change of heart accompanied by some manifestation of Divine power.  Indeed, it is sometimes claimed that the sign of "speaking in tongues" (see Acts 2:4) must accompany the experience in order for it to be valid, and that without such an experience a person is not truly assured of a happy afterlife.  We have here one of those many doctrines about which no consensus has been reached, despite much discussion and thought.  The situation recalls to our attention that, "God, when he made man, made him straightforward, but man invents endless subtleties of his own" (Eccl 7:29 NEB).

In order to clarify this confusion of ideas, let us examine the Scripture references from which the various interpretations are drawn.  The prime source is the third chapter of John.  In John 3, we read that a learned, scholarly, devout Pharisee named Nicodemus approached Jesus at night with a statement that he believed Jesus was sent from God.  The Scriptural account at this point has a peculiar skip in subject matter, as though something has been omitted from the story.  Jesus seems to respond to a question not recorded when He replies, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

Nicodemus reacted with apparent astonishment, thinking that Christ had said a physical rebirth would be necessary.  "How can a man be born when he is old?"  Nicodemus asked.  "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" (verse 4 NIV).  We, in turn, might be astonished that Nicodemus could so misunderstand Christ's words.  Nicodemus was, after all, an educated man, and a member of the Sanhedrin.  He was surely aware of Jesus' teachings, for he was a secret disciple who later assisted in burying Christ's physical remains.

"Nicodemus answered and said to Him, 'How can these things be?'" (John 3:9 NAS), to which Christ responded, "What! . . . Is this famous teacher of Israel ignorant of such things?" (John 3:10 NEB).  The difficulty in conveying a new understanding of a familiar concept to the scholarly Nicodemus, already steeped in dogma and doctrine, is painfully clear in the poignant question posed by Christ in verse 12 (NAS): "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"

Christ's choice of words was purposeful.  He testified that, "I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself . . . has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak" (John 12:49 NAS), and "Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say" (John 12:50 NIV).  "The word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:24 NAS).  The words "born again" which Jesus used in talking with Nicodemus, as relayed to us by the Greek manuscripts, were the words meaning a literal, physical rebirth.  The verb used is translated as physical birth in numerous places in the New Testament.  The adverb used, anothen, translated as "again," refers in the Greek to the repetition of an act, with special reference to a return to the beginning point and a repetition from the very outset onward.  Thus, Nicodemus certainly understood Christ to mean reincarnation, because that is reportedly what He said.  His astonishment is akin to his saying to Christ: "Do you mean this is really so?!"

Let us consider other translations of these words of Christ to Nicodemus.  In some instances, the adverb translated "again" in John 3:3 is translated as "from above."  The Biblical phrase "born from above" is therefore an alternate translation used instead of "reborn in the physical body."  The phrases "born of the Spirit," "born of God," and "born from above," all admit the possibility of being incarnated from a higher realm than Earth, a spirit realm "above" Earth in its nearness to god.  Christ, having incarnated from the highest such realm, declared that He was from above and that His earthly adversaries were from below.  Pre-existence, if not repeated incarnation, is implied here for all people.

In discussing reincarnation, the Greeks sometimes used a specific word for it: paliggenesia.  Pythagoras, Plato, and other Greek writers had used this term to refer to the "transmigration of souls," that is, to the rebirth of souls into other bodies.  Paliggenesia was therefore a well-known term a long time before its New Testament usage, where it is usually translated as "regeneration."  It occurs in the letter to Titus, where Paul the Pharisee explained that a man is made fit for Heaven "by the washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5), so translated.  This rendering hides the meaning of the Greek terms, which may be brought out as "by [by means of] the washing [the purifying and cleansing bath] of reincarnation" (em add).  Accordingly, one is made fit for Heaven by means of repeated life experiences until the lessons are learned and purity of soul is achieved.

The other occurrence of paliggenesia in the New Testament is in Matthew 19:28, where its meaning is completely lost in most translations.  A vestige of its meaning is retained in at least the following version: "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the REGENERATION [paliggenesia] when the Sone of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt 19:28 NAS) (em add).  If we read this remarkable passage without prior doctrinal bias, we in it Christ's statement that upon the establishment of His throne and kingdom at His return, the Apostles will be reincarnated and serve as judges of the twelve tribes.  If this is, in fact, His meaning, then His present-day followers will have to rethink certain doctrines.  Even one observation alone, that Judas Iscariot was on of the Apostles to whom Christ was speaking, gives rise to rethinking certain accepted beliefs.

The possibility of reincarnation opens new vistas of meaning for a great number of other Biblical passages.  "The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, AND BRINGETH UP" (I Sam 2:6) (em add).  Is this a reference to reincarnation?  Regarding the regathering of the Israelites, Ezekiel wrote: "And [I] shall put my spirit in YOU, and YE shall live, and I shall place YOU in YOUR own land: then shall YE know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it" (Ezek 37:14) (em add).  "I will open YOUR graves, and cause YOU to come up out of YOUR graves, and bring YOU into the land of Israel" (Ezek 37:12) (em add).  "Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them: he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken" (Ezek 34:23-24 NAS.  Repeated in Ezek 37:24-25 and Jer 30:9).  "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, AND THEY ALSO WHICH PIERCED HIM" (Rev 1:7) (em add).

In the translating of paliggenesia and anothen, we have one of those cases where doctrinal beliefs seem to have preceded understanding of the Scriptures.  Some scholars of the Greek have remarked in their expositions that these words took on new and expanded meanings in their New Testament usages, different from their meanings is secular writings.  That remarkable state of affairs would mean that we could not necessarily determine the meanings of Biblical words from their everyday, contemporary usage.  Although such ambiguities occasionally occur, and although we must undergo a "regeneration"  ["renewing," as in Rom 12:21] to reach spiritual maturity, it is probable that we must also undergo reincarnation.  Translation includes interpretation.

The usual objections Christianity offers to reincarnation finds its basis in the verse, "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27).  Upon superficial reading, the verse would seem to settle this issue.  If this verse has the meaning usually ascribed to it, then Lazarus, whom Jesus brought back to physical life, must still be alive somewhere in the world, and well over two thousand years old by now.  Otherwise, he must have died again, and thereby died twice in contradiction to the above Scripture.  Naturally, the same can be said for the daughter of Jairus and for many others who were brought back to life.  Are they still alive?  If not, then they died more than once., and the usual interpretation of the verse fails.  On the other hand, the Bibles state that neither Enoch nor Elijah died even once.  They were transferred directly into Heaven, so the usual reading of this verse from Hebrews fails again.  Clearly, the accepted interpretation of Heb 9:27, as referring to physical life and death, is incorrect.  To understand this verse, we must recall that death in the Bible usually does not mean "deceased."  Instead, it means divorced from God, separated and removed from God and His kingdom, exiled and estranged from God.  And so it is true that mankind did, indeed, suffer once this death of separation from God's heavenly kingdom, and was stranded on Earth without hope of escape until the coming of the Savior.

Returning to the fundamental point, we note that "incarnate" simply means "in flesh."  Christians agree that Christ was an incarnated Spirit Who existed prior to His incarnation.  Other, lesser, spirits also existed prior to their earthly lives.  David made references to having been brought up from below (see Psa 30:3), while Isaiah (Isa 49:1,5), Jeremiah (Jer 1:5), and Paul (see Gal 1:11-17), all aver that they were known to God and their missions were assigned before they were born in human bodies.  John the Baptist was a man "sent from God" (John 1:6), Who is in Heaven, which reveals that he was a spirit who had incarnated from above.

"Reincarnation" means "in flesh again."  The reference, then, is to a spirit, such as a human spirit, being put into a fleshly body again.  It is well established that Christ was an incarnated Spirit.  The question before us is simply whether a spirit is ever incarnated more than once.  In this question, there is no reference at all to any change in the species of the spirit.  There is neither scientific nor Scriptural evidence for the popular myth that one might return to another Earth life as an animal of some sort. On the contrary, we are human spirits, and humans we remain.

On this train of thought, consider John 9:1-3 (NIV): "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  Clearly, for the man to have been born blind, any sin for which he was atoning  must have been committed prior to that lifetime.  The assumption that this was possible was obviously accepted by the disciples asking the question.  Otherwise, their question would not have arisen at all.  In Christ's response, He did not alter their point of view, but simply responded that, in this case, neither the man nor his parents were guilty, that the purpose of the blindness was to reflect the work of God by the restoration of sight.  It would be difficult to explain why Christ did not correct His disciples' point of view if it was in error.  We therefore presume that He understood their point of view and agreed with its validity.

On another occasion, the Jews had sent priests and Levites to John the Baptist to inquire of his identity.  They asked if he was Elijah, or the Messiah, or a prophet (see John 1:19-25).  Such a question would have been completely pointless had the questioners not seriously believed that an affirmative answer were possible.  Since the questioners were Pharisees (verse 24), their act shows that the belief in reincarnation existed among at least some of the Pharisees.

Josephus, the ancient historian of the Jews, tells us how the chief schools of Jewish religious belief regarded immortality.  In The Anitiquities of the Jews, he states that the Pharisees believed the soul to be immortal, and that virtuous persons have the power to revive and live again on Earth.  We note that both Nicodemus and the later Apostle, Paul, were Pharisees.  The Jewish Josephus sheds more light on early beliefs in the return of the soul in The Jewish Wars, where he writes, "Do you not know that those who depart out of this life obtain a most holy place in heaven, from whence, in the evolution of the ages, they are again sent into pure bodies?"  Other, modern, writers have pointed out that reincarnationist ideas are so deeply written into esoteric Jewish literature that those Jews who follow the kabbalistic way make reincarnation sound almost like an essential part of the faith.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees often came under stinging condemnation from the mouth of Jesus, yet the third Jewish sect, the Essenes, escaped His criticism.  Further, the Essene teachings, which have since been discovered in certain Dead Sea Scrolls, bear strong resemblances to the teachings of both Jesus and John the Baptist.  These facts have led some scholars to conjecture that both Christ and John the Baptist were Essenes, since they were known to be Jews.  Some investigators have further concluded that a form of reincarnation was an Essene belief.  It is not completely clear what the Essenes taught, but a passage in Josephus' The Jewish Wars reports that taught preexistence, at the very least.

It is further obvious that many of the people, priests, and Scribes believed in reincarnation.  They seem to have taken it for granted.  Some of them thought that Jesus was one of the prophets returned (see Mark 8:27-28), while others thought He was the Prophet (perhaps Moses reincarnated, or perhaps the prophet predicted in Deut 18:15,18).  Still others considered that Jesus might have been Elijah or one of the prophets of old (see Mark 6:14-16, 8:27-28; Luke 9:18-20).  Herod suspected Jesus might have been John the Baptist revived from the deceased.  Jesus, of course, knew of the speculating among the people.  He asked His Apostles who they thought He was, at which question Peter responded that He was the Messiah sent from God (see Mark 8:28 NEB).  Conspicuously, Jesus paid attention to their speculations as to His identity and offered no correction to the possibility that He was a reincarnated prophet.  If He let a widespread erroneous belief among His very Apostles pass by uncorrected, a great deal of theological gymnastics is required to explain why.  Far simpler is it to take His lack of comment as tacit agreement to the commonly held belief that reincarnations do occur.

Reincarnation was not an entirely alien doctrine in the time of place of Christ's mission on Earth.  Although reincarnation is often associated with India, the belief is so widespread that it cannot even be claimed to have had its roots there.  Reincarnation was also well known to the Romans, for a number of Roman poets refer to it.  In the British Islands to the northwest, and in Gaul, reincarnation formed part of the mystic lore of the Druids.  The ancient Greeks had long known of the idea, as witnessed by Pythagoras' and Plato's writings regarding the "transmigration of souls."  Plato, along with Plutarch and Herodotus, attributed the belief in reincarnation to the ancient Egyptians.  The famous scripture of the Egyptians, The Book of the Dead, presents a version of reincarnation.

There were other religious movements extant at the time of Christ which taught reincarnation, such as the Alexandrian Neoplatonic school of thought and Persian Mithraism.  Those Persians wise in divine matters, who were called Magi, held as a primary doctrine that which was called the transmigration of souls.  It could be speculated that the Magi who came from the East to honor the newborn King Jesus might have believed Him to be some great person reincarnated.  Certainly, the common people entertained the notion.  Thus, we see that Jerusalem at the time of Christ was surrounded by nations, many of whose ancient religions had taught some form of reincarnation for centuries.  Moreover, the idea was common where Nicodemus lived.  We are reminded that it is, therefore, natural that Nicodemus thought Christ referred to reincarnation when He spoke of a physical rebirth.

The coming of the Savior had been anticipated for centuries, but it was not clear to the people of Jesus' day that He was truly the promised Messiah.  They knew he was a greatly anointed man, and they speculated that He might be one of the prophets reborn.  But most believed He could not be the Christ.  The central objection was that Jesus could not be the Messiah because Elijah had not yet returned as prophesied.  "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and that heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:5-6).  No doubt this unfulfilled prophecy caused much consternation among the Pharisees and Sadducees, and even more among the Apostles who were committing their lives to Jesus.

When Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on the mountain they saw Him converse with Moses and Elijah.  The Voice from the bright cloud identified Jesus to them, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him."  These Apostles then understood that Jesus  was in fact the Messiah, but the revelation troubled them greatly.  On the way down the mountain, they tried to reconcile the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth with the prediction that Elijah had to first return.  Unable to do so, they addressed the question to Jesus.  It was in response to their question that Jesus identified John the Baptist as Elijah in person (see Matt 17:1-13).  Matthew records, "And his disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?'  And Jesus answered and said unto them, 'Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things, But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto whatsoever they listed [desired].  Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them.  Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist" (Matt 17:10-13) (em add).  Here Jesus emphasized that the true identity of John the Baptist as Elijah had gone unrecognized by his persecutors.  (John the Baptist had already been beheaded, thus freeing the spirit, who reappeared from above in his previous identity as Elijah.)

The identification Christ made of John the Baptist with Elijah is usually avoided by interpretations of Luke's words that "he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias [Elijah], to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17) (em add).  Apparently the interpreters are unaware that that idiom, "in the spirit of," did not mean the same then as the English idiom does today.  It meant simply that the identity of the spirit in control was in fact Elijah.  This is the same usage whereby the Bible says "in the Holy Spirit," to convey the meaning that the Holy Spirit is the identity of the spirit in charge.

John the Baptist retained no memory of his previous mission under the name Elijah.  When asked if he were Elijah or one of the prophets, he replied that he was the "voice of one crying in the wilderness"  (John 1:23).  Yet, Christ identified him as the spirit previously known as Elijah.

It is a weak rebuttal to assert, as is often done, that John the Baptist was a "type" of Elijah.  Malachi specifically says that Elijah himself shall return, not someone like Elijah, and so the Jews believed.  "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord" (Mal 4:5 NAS).  In contrast, when the Old Testament wishes to express a "type" it manages to do so, such as when it refers to Moses as a "type" for the Messiah to come, with the words, "the Lord thy God raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me [Moses]; unto him ye shall hearken" (Deut 18:15) (em add).

We are left with the completely unambiguous statement of Christ Himself: "And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt 11:15 NAS).

Let us find the ears to hear with and consider the enormous weight of the statement.  Even today, many honest people cannot accept that Jesus is the Messiah because Elijah must return before the Messiah comes.  They need wait no longer for Elijah.  He has already returned, in person.  And if John the Baptist was not actually Elijah, as Jesus claimed, then Jesus of Nazareth could not have been the Messiah.

The early Christian church was well aware that Jesus was the Messiah, and portions of the early church were aware of the Scriptural basis for reincarnation.  Justin Martyr, in the first century, taught that human souls inhabit more than one body in the course of their pilgrimage on Earth.  Origen, an influential Christian writer some two hundred years after Christ, taught a version of reincarnation, as did another church leader, Clement of Alexandria (Bishop of Alexandria).  Numerous other writers in the first few centuries promulgated their versions of reincarnation.  Sketches of their ideas, as well as evidence of suppression of the doctrine of reincarnation, are presented in some of the more scholarly books on the subject of reincarnation.  St. Jerome, the distinguished scholar of Hebrew and Greek who first translated the Bible into Latin. explicitly stated that reincarnation was, from the earliest days of the Church, held as a secret doctrine not suitable to be imparted to the masses.  Reincarnation is, therefore, by no means a doctrine foreign to Christianity.  It is unnecessary to choose between Christianity and reincarnation.  Neither need be rejected because of the other.

Suppose we have been incarnated into human life from a lower or higher realm than Earth.  If so, then we obviously have little or no recall of our previous existence.  However, this is no rebuttal to reincarnation.  We are accustomed to having no remembrance of parts of our existence, yet we pay it no attention.  As already noted, we sleep approximately one-third of our lives, yet remember nothing except a few dreams.  If we accept those dreams as evidence of personal existence, then perhaps we should seriously consider the recollections of people who claim to remember events from past lives, as investigated in several current books.  St. Augustine in his Confessions struggled with the problem of memory: "Tell me, Lord, tell me, did my infancy succeed another age of mine that died before it?  Was it that which I spent within my mother's womb?  And what before that life again, O God my Joy, was I anywhere or in any body?  For this, I have none to tell me, neither father nor mother, or experience of others, nor mine own memory."  As expected, "There is no remembrance of former things: neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after" (Eccl 1:11).

If the doctrine of reincarnation is indeed a Christian truth, as it appears to be, then many statements in the Bibles take on much clearer meanings and more forceful relevance.  For example, it is stated quite clearly that one will indeed reap what he sows, that the debts must be "paid [to] to the last farthing" (Matt 5:26 NEB).  The payment is payment in kind, for "If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed.  HERE IS THE PERSEVERANCE AND THE FAITH OF THE SAINTS" (Rev 13:10 NAS) (em add).  Is it any wonder that in such knowledge is the perseverance and faith of the saints?"  What could instill perseverance and sincere effort better than the sober realization that God cannot be tricked into awarding access to Heaven to an evil person?  (What an advantage to the adversary that reincarnation has been replaced with today's doctrinal definition of "born again.")

Salvation is promised to all who believe in Christ, but that entry into Heaven is possible only after Christ has made us fit for that realm by the cleansing fire of repeated Earth lives.  Thus it is, that "every one shall be salted with fire."  Yet, "Salt is good" (Mark 9:49-50).  The fire of reaping what we sow brings with it the blessing that we learn and grow, and eventually reject our erring ways by virtue of our having experienced the results of those ways.  The resulting change of heart is then not superficial but genuine.  The knowledge and wisdom so gained are then not borrowed, but are our own possession to treasure.

The purpose of reincarnation appears to be the education of the soul.  The course of study may well be difficult and the lessons hard-won.  The student soul cannot premanently graduate unless he adequately passes his tests, and he cannot pass the tests unless he takes them.  As a result, suicide, a direct violation of God's law, is a tragic error.  It is an act to be shunned at all costs.  Not only must the lessons temporarily avoided still be learned in some future life, and the same tests passed, but the spirit must also learn the additional lesson of persevering in God's school of souls: Earth life.  "He that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and HE SHALL GO NO MORE OUT" (Rev 3:12) (em add).

To be taught that an act or thought is harmful convinces few of us, although for a time we might refrain from it.  The conviction that it is harmful becomes firm, however, when we are allowed to suffer the consequences of our acts and ways of thinking.  By no other way than experience is the point truly driven home.  "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation" (II Cor. 7:10 NAS).  The responsibility for ourselves lies, then, with us.  With the guidance and love of God's spirits, we are required to work out our own salvation with reverent awe and trembling (see Phil 2:12).

It is not true that a correct understanding of the doctrine of reincarnation leads one to play havoc now and make it up later.  A correct understanding of it has just the opposite effect.  It is a sobering realization to know with certainty that the evil sown in a present life must surely be reaped in a future one, that truly we shall reap what we sow.  Indeed, we are doing precisely that in our present lives.  On the other hand, the doctrine that a last minute deathbed confession is sufficient to gain entry into Heaven has seduced multitudes into living profligate lives.  God forgives the truly repentant soul, it is true, but then He corrects its defects.  Otherwise, that soul is not fit for Heaven.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9 NAS).  The cleansing can require another life, another "salting with fire," if the present life has been unsatisfactory.  A man of a totally depraved nature might be forgiven, but his nature remains unchanged.  He is by no means ready for Heaven until his nature improves: "Make no mistake about this: God is not be fooled; a man reaps what he sows.  If he sows seed in the field of his lower nature, he will reap from it a harvest of corruption, but if he sows in the field of the Spirit, the Spirit will bring him a harvest of eternal life" (Gal 6:7-8 NEB).   

GOD'S CREATION 6: RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD

--From James A. Scarborough, The Steppingstones (Merigold, MS: Merigold Spiritual Center, 1987) 117-128.

 

 

 

The Scriptures have shown us that we are spirits whom God divorced and exiled from our original homes in Heaven.  The heavenly spirits were frequently called gods in the days of the prophets.  Thus, it is said of man, "Ye are gods" (Psa 82:6), this statement being affirmed later by Christ (see John 10:34).  The Hebrew word elohim is translated here as "gods."  It is the same word used in the Scriptures when it is written that we are created in the image, or likeness, of the gods (see Gen 1:26-27, 5:1, 9:6).  We therefore look like these heavenly spirits, as indeed we should, since we are from among them, having been made temporarily "a little lower than the angels [elohim, gods]" (Psa 8:5) (em add).

Consequently, we are incarnated spirits.  The figure of speech that "we have a spirit" conveys a false impression.  Instead, we are spirits, as indicated by "there is a spirit in man" (Job 32:8).  What we have, as well, are physical bodies.  It is this spirit/soul which gives physical life to the fleshly body it inhabits, for "the body without the spirit is [physically] dead" (Jas 2:26) (em add).

The body of a spirit is called by various names.  Some of the names are "spiritual body," "celestial body," "ghost," "angel," "apparition," and "phantom."  Paul contrasts the physical body with the spiritual body in "It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body" (I Cor 15:42 NAS).  This points out that the physical body is perishable.  It decays and decomposes into the dust from which it came.  The spiritual body, the body composed of spirit substance, is the imperishable body which goes heavenward.  "For a spirit hath not [physical] flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:39) (em add).  These words of Christ were spoken to the Apostles when He appeared among them after He had risen from the kingdom of the dead.  Paul further explains that "it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (I Cor 15:44 NAS).  The separation of the spirit body from the flesh body is what we call physical death.  Again, "the body without the spirit is [physically] dead."

A commonplace analogy serves to clarify this idea.  If we look at a gloved hand, we see only the glove.  Since the glove can move, wiggle its fingers, and flex its palm, we might conclude that the glove is a living thing.  However, it is really the hand inside the glove which gives the glove its motive power and directs its actions.  The hand is the real living thing, not the glove.  If the hand is withdrawn, the glove can no longer move about.  It is emptied of its source of power and motion.  This separation of the hand from the glove corresponds to physical death.  But the hand still exists--free at last.  Comparing the glove with our physical body and the hand with our spirit, we easily understand that physical death is simply the withdrawal of the spirit.

As a further illustration, consider the Scriptural account of the daughter of Jairus.  When she died, her spirit simply left her body.  When Christ called her back to life "her spirit came again, and she arose straightway" (Luke 8:55).

The departure of the spirit from the physical body at decease is indicated several places in the Scriptures.  When nearing His physical death, Christ quoted Psalms 31:5 when He uttered, "into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).  Soon thereafter His Spirit left His body and He "gave up the ghost [His Spirit]" (Luke 23:46; John 19:30) (em add).  When Ananias and his wife abruptly died, they were said to have given up their ghosts (spirits) (see Acts 5:5-10).  When Stephen was near death from stoning he cried, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59).  King Herod was smitten by an angel of the Lord and "he . . . gave up the ghost" (Acts 12:23).

We emphasize that the physical body does not ascend into Heaven.  It is left behind to "return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God" (Eccl 12:7).  It is the spirit, in its spirit body, which ascends to Heaven, whose inhabitants are likewise, spirits, just as the Father, the Son, and the angels are also spirits (see John 4:24, Heb 1:14).

When the beggar Lazarus died, "and was carried [in his spirit body] by the angels [other spirits in spirit bodies] into Abraham's bosom" (Luke16:22) (em add), his physical body remained on Earth.  When Abraham was rejoicing to see Christ's day (John 8:56), his physical body had long since been buried in a cave in Machpelah (see Gen 25:9-10).  Isaac and Jacob, along with Abraham, have been raised from the dead (Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37) and are alive in the kindgom of God (see Luke 13:28), although their physical bodies lie buried with Abraham's in Machpelah (see Gen 49:29-42, 50:13).  Moses and Elijah appeared to Christ on the mountain (see Matt 17:3 NAS). in their spiritual bodies, for the physical body of Moses, at least, had been in the ground for centuries "in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor" (Deut 34:6).  The thief on the cross went, in spirit, with Christ's Spirit to Paradise, but his earthly body did not vanish from the cross--nor did the body of Christ.  The body of Jesus was placed in a tomb, even though His Spirit had already ascended to Paradise.

Paul said that to be present with the Lord in Heaven, he would have to "be absent from the [physical] body" (II Cor 5:8) (em add).  Paul was in the flesh but desired to be only in his spirit body when he wrote, "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you" (Phil 1:23-24).

The physical body housing a spirit has sometimes been compared to a tabernacle.  Peter writes of his impending death when he must shortly "put off this my tabernacle" (II Pet 1:14).  Paul writes that "we that are in this tabernacle do groan" (II Cor 5:4), but that "we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (II Cor 5:1).  There is no doubt that both Paul and Peter are now with the Lord in their spiritual bodies, even though thousands of people visit the reputed graves of their physical bodies every year.

Examples such as these could be repeated many times over, showing that the physical body returns to Earth while the spiritual body ascends to Heaven.  We need merely attend a funeral, look at a cemetery, or consider the results of a crematorium to know that "[physical] flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor 15:50) (em add).

The common meanings of the words "life" and "death" are, as earlier noted, not the usual meanings in the Bibles.  On the contrary, life and death in the Bibles usually refer to "spiritual life" and "spiritual death."  This is especially true in the writings of the Apostle Paul.  A person is said to be "alive," "spiritually alive," "living," or "quickened" if he has chosen allegiance to Christ over Satan.  Beginning at that moment of decision, a person is numbered among Christ's subjects.  From the point of view of God's spirit world, he had been "spiritually dead" ever since the Fall (see Rom 5:12; Rev 12:9).  At the very moment he chooses to ally with Christ, he becomes "alive" again.

If a person elects not to choose Christ over Satan, then he remains numbered among the (spiritually) dead.  A person may not have made a conscious choice between Christ and Satan.  Nevertheless, he has chosen sides according to his behavior, for "you are the servants of him whom you obey" (Rom 6:16 GNT).  Therefore, a spirit is living or dead according to its allegiance, whether or not it is in the physical body.

To further illustrate physical death, let us draw upon our common medical experiences.  Suppose that a man receives an injection of anaesthetic in his shoulder, so that all feeling is lost in one arm.  The arm hangs limply.  It does not respond to the man's will.  The arm still belongs to him, but, though his blood still flows through its veins, it will not respond to him.  We say the arm is numb or "dead."  This arm has been "deadened" by an anaesthetic and no longer obeys the will of its master.  Spiritual death is similar to this.  The anaesthetic, in this instance, is disobedience to God's law of love. The spiritually dead do not obey the will of God, their Master.  Their voluntary disobedience and rebellion is the "sin unto [spiritual] death" (Rom 6:16) (em add), because it results in separation from God (spiritual death).  Those spirits who behave in this way are referred to as "the dead."

Spiritual death, therefore, means "estranged from God," "divorced from God," or "separated from God," in much the same way we use those terms when talking about a wonderful marriage torn apart when one of the partners deserts the other.  The one who was deserted may issue a divorce, as God did to the Israelites (see Jer 3:8).  While spiritual death is often defined as separation from God, physical death is separation of the spirit body from the physical body.  The complete breaking of the connecting bond between the spirit body and the physical body is the physical death process alluded to in Ecclesiastes as breaking "the silver cord" (Eccl 12:6).

There are situations, however, in which the spirit does not completely disengage from the physical body upon leaving it.  The body and the spirit can remain tenuously connected.  The weakened connection supplies a greatly diminished power flow from the spirit into the body, and results in a trance, a deep sleep, or a coma.  This rare condition was referred to in the Greek as a state of ecstasy, literally being ek-stasis in the Greek, meaning "out of and besides one's self."  The meaning of the word has obviously changed over the intervening centuries.

Another means by which the Scriptures refer to being outside the body is by the phrase "in the spirit."  This phrase emphasizes the contrast with being "in the flesh."  In modern times we call this phenomenon an "out-of-body experience."  Verifiable instances of this phenomenon are so rare that it is understandable that our language has lost the original meanings of "ecstasy" and "in the spirit."  In the language of today these terms merely refer to moods or emotions.  It was not so in the New Testament days.  Unfortunately, people of today read "to be with you in spirit" to mean "I'll be thinking about you," which is an entirely different statement.

When John received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, he was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Rev 1:10), not merely thinking about the Lord.  When John was carried in the spirit (Rev 17:3) into the wilderness, he left his physical body behind.

It is apparent that, aside from receiving visions or revelations while out-of-body, a human spirit may at times journey to another location.  One of the clearest Biblical examples of the body being in one place, while the spirit journeys elsewhere, is given by Paul when he reports that he was sometimes with the Corinthians without their knowing it: "For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor 5:3-4).  The meaning of Paul's statement is even clearer in other translations: "Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit, And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.  When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit (I Cor 5:3-4 NIV)," and, "I, who am present with you in spirit if not in body, have passed judgment upon this man who has offended so outrageously, exactly as if I were there in person" (I Cor 5:3-4 GNT).  To the Colossians Paul writes, "For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline" (Col 2:5 NAS), or, "For although I am absent from you in body, my spirit is with you" (Col 2:5 GNT).

Hence, Paul, prior to writing letters to the congregations at Colossae and Corinth, had visited them in spirit while his body was elsewhere.  Paul had another well known out-of-body experience in which he was taken to a higher dimension, when he was "caught up to the third heaven," at which time he could not tell "whether in the body, or out of the body" (II Cor 12:2-4).  The reason for his uncertainty is that the spirit body in heaven is like the physical body in all respects, as we have already discussed.  The body and the environment are every bit as real and solid in that realm as they are to us in this dimension.

A spirit, out-of-body, may be so nearly detached from that body that it no longer sustains respiration or brain activity.  The body is then physically dead for all intents, though the spirit can return.  If the spirit does return, the body revives.  This phenomenon is called a near death experience in current literature.  We see that this experience is essentially the same as an out-of-body experience.  Numerous examples of this occurrence have been published in several recent books.

Frequently, a person who has died for a few minutes, and then revived, has a consoling and exhilarating experience.  He typically tells of having been met by deceased loved ones, or even by angels, and of having experienced overwhelming peace and joy while in a place of great beauty.  As we have seen, this experience is in agreement with what we expect from the Scriptures.  As regards this resurrection, it is conspicuous that the person finds himself still aware and "alive," and still in a body, and that the departed loved ones who greet him are in the same state.  They are not sleeping in the earth awaiting the resurrection of their pitiful flesh on some further day.  That particular body has been vacated and is of no further use whatever.

Funeral services are preached daily in which we hear phrases such as "she has gone to be with Jesus."  A few moments later the bereaved family hears a Scripture reading purported to predict a future resurrection of the flesh.  These claims cannot both be true, seeing that they contradict each other.  Such a blatant lapse in logic can do little to bring hope to the bereaved.  Her resurrection, or her raising to a higher dimension, took place "in the twinkling of an eye" (I Cor 15:52) at the moment she departed from the physical body.

It is obvious, then, that Jesus was never at any time in the tomb where Joseph and Nicodemus had placed His physical remains.  Jesus, the Spirit, ascended to Paradise immediately upon His release from the physical body (see Luke 23:43), and from there He descended as a Spirit to the lower dimensions of Hell where He ministered to the penitent spirits (I Pet 3:18-20) and conquered the belligerent ones (see Col 2:15 GNT).  Christ never walked out of the tomb, as is commonly believed, for the simple reason that He was never in it.  The tomb was empty when the women arrived, and Christ materialized while they were present.  This materialization from a higher dimension was not different from that of Gabriel or of the high spirits who visited with Abraham and Lot.  His body had simply been dematerialized by God's spirit agents in the same way that the bodies of Enoch and Elijah had been dematerialized.  His body was not intended to undergo decay (see Psa 16:10), and, in common with the body of Moses, it was not intended that His corpse should survive to become an object of veneration.  Further, His appearances during the next forty days were materializations.  We note His appearance to the disciples in the closed room and His dematerialization, where there were no available doors for His departure (see John 20:19-26).

The Apostles and the people had witnessed the bringing back to life of several people at Christ's command.  In view of their experiences, it is remarkable that the Apostles did not understand what Jesus meant by being "raised from the dead."  They puzzled and wondered among themselves as to what He meant by it.  "And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from dead should mean" (Mark 9:10), but they were afraid to ask Him what He meant by it (see Mark 9:31-32).  The Jews were equally confounded by Jesus' words about death (see John 8:51-53).  Quite obviously, Christ was not referring to the renewing of physical life, a phenomenon totally familiar both to His Apostles and to the Jews.

A clue to His meaning lies in the wording of the New Testament.  Although there is no record of what He said in the Aramaic language, the remembrances handed down to us in the Greek New Testament show that He often referred to being "raised up out of," or "out from among," the dead.  That is, He, the Spirit Jesus, was raised up from among the apostate spirits in the lower dimensions.  The dead included those apostate spirits dwelling in human bodies (see John 5:25; I Tim 5:6), and spirits then trapped in the lower dimensions.  It is interesting to note that, when Christ descended and preached to certain other spirits, their physical remains were still on Earth (see I Pet 3:19-20).  The physical body neither descends nor ascends, only the spiritual body.  It is from among these dead that Christ was resurrected, being "raised up" to a higher dimension of existence, in His spiritual body.  The same resurrection is promised to all who follow Him.  The resurrection of the dead is, therefore, the return of the spiritually dead, who had been exiled in Hell, to the higher dimensions.

Christ was the first to descend to the spiritually dead in Hell and to ascend from there.  As such, He is called the "firstborn from the dead" (Col 1:18).  His was the first such ascension from the dead, to which Paul refers: "Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?" (Eph 4:9 NAS).  This fact is also indicated by the words, "having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Col 2:12 NAS).  By having given Christ their allegiance, the Colossians were already viewed as having been raised from the dead, although their departure from Earth had not yet taken place. 

The "resurrection of the dead," or "from the dead," or "out from among the dead," has, therefore, not the slightest reference to the reanimating of a physical body, nor to the transporting of a fleshly body into Heaven.  "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (I Cor 15:50 NAS).

The catechisms in the early centuries of this era did not speak of the resurrection of the flesh, but of the resurrection of the dead.  The doctrine that the physical bodies of the deceased would some day be reassembled and transported heavenward is of later invention.

The Biblical case for the resurrection of the spirit body, and only the spirit body, is strong indeed.  On the other hand, there are certain Scripture verses which superficially state the physical body shall be raised.  We have here simply another instance in which tampering hands have contaminated the Scriptures so that they contradict themselves.  An example of this tampering is in Matthew, where it is recorded that at the moment Jesus gave up His Spirit, an earthquake occurred which cast bodies out of their tombs hewn in the rocky hillside.  The original report is said to have been: "The veil in the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of those who had fallen asleep were cast forth.  Many, who had come from the holy city, did see the bodies lying there" (Greber, p. 348).  Many years later, when the resurrection of the flesh had become an axiom of the Christian faith, the verse had evolved to read, "The bodies of those who had fallen asleep were raised."  Then the phrase was added, "and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many" (Matt 27:53 NAS), so that Christ might still be thought of as the first to be raised from the dead, although simple logic shows that it fails at that purpose.  Are we to believe that the bodies were reanimated at the moment of Christ's crucifixion and that their tombs were opened (see Matt 27:52), and at the same time believe that these revitalized corpses sat quietly, and unnoticed, in their open tombs for three more days before emerging?  Had they been revived as claimed, that event could scarcely have escaped the notice of the Gospel writers, and of Paul, and even of the Romans and the Jews, so great a miracle would it have been.  It is conspicuous that neither Mark, Luke, John, Peter, nor Paul ever mentions this alleged mass revival anywhere in the New Testament.  In point of fact, neither did the writer of Matthew.

An example of a mistranslation made with an implicit belief in the resurrection of the flesh is found in Job.  The passage in question reads, "'I know that my Redeemer lives and at last he will stand upon the earth.  Then shall I see God, though my skin is destroyed and MY BODY WITHOUT FLESH' . . . (Job 19:25-26)" (Greber, p. 386).  These words are distorted into the opposite meaning by the King James translation: "and though after my skin worms destroy this body, YET IN MY FLESH SHALL I SEE GOD" (Job 19:25-26) (em add).

There are still other passages where the Bible translations clearly state that the flesh shall be raised, despite the statements that same Book makes to the contrary.  In this event, we might bear in mind that observation can be superior to theological deduction.  When the Bibles refer to the four corners of the Earth, but we observe that the Earth has no corners, we conclude that the expression is not literally true.  When the Bibles refer to the sun as moving about us, yet we observe that the Earth rotates instead, we conclude that the statement is figurative, or symbolic, or a product of human belief, but not literally accurate.  If any New Testament writings can be construed to indicate physical resurrection, the reader may be wary that the early church revisers were strongly pro-resurrection, and that documents were adjusted and altered in places to match church doctrine.  Also, translations are, to an extent, interpretations.  Since resurrection of the flesh is inconsistent with many of the Biblical passages regarding the afterlife, and in disagreement with observation, we have no honest choice but to follow Paul's example and discard it as inaccurate.

Paul was apparently as difficult to understand in his day as he is in ours.  Peter remarks that there are things in Paul's letters which are "hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of his writings" (II Pet 3:15-16 NAS, using footnote from NEB) (The phrase "in his writings" is almost universally translated as "in the Scriptures,"  the implied motive of the translators being to classify Paul's letters as Scripture).  As regards the resurrection of the spirit body, Paul had attempted to convey the truth to his converts, but they were as slow to grasp it as the Apostles themselves had been.  The Corinthians had debated among themselves as to whether the flesh rose again, and seem to have believed that it did.  Despite Christ's warning against calling anyone a fool (see Matt 5:22), Paul's frustration is evident as he tries to correct the Corinthians with the words, "But someone will say, 'How are the dead raised?  And with what kind of body do they come?' You fool!" (I Cor 15:35-36 NAS).  Paul devotes the next several lines to drawing the distinction between the physical body and the body we will have as a spirit.  Then he emphasizes: "So also is the resurrection of the dead.  It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body" (I Cor 15:42 NAS), and "it is sown a natural body, it is rasied a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (I Cor 15:44 NAS).  He concludes his comparison of the flesh and spirit bodies with the statement that, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (I Cor 15:50 NAS).  Paul effectively rebuts the idea of resurrection of the flesh. He does not reveal how he coped with Old Testament statements to the contrary.

In summary, Paul's refutation of the belief in fleshly resurrection is clearly and forcefully presented in some modern translations, such as, "But, some one will ask, how do the dead rise?  What kind of body do they have?  Foolish man!  Just consider the earthly seed that you sow in the ground.  Must it not first perish in the earth before new life sprouts from it? . . . There are celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies . . .  SO IS IT WITH THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD.  That which is sown perishes; that which grows out of it does not perish . . . THAT WHICH SPRINGS INTO LIFE IS A SPIRITUAL  BODY . . .  Let me impress upon you this one thing, brothers: earthly flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God . . . None of us will remain in the kingdom of the spiritually dead for ever, but WE SHALL ALL UNDERGO THE TRANSFORMATION INTO THE SPIRITUAL BODY. (from I Cor 15:35-52 GNT) (em add).

What could be clearer?