The Day Between

barred-door

It’s a little late to be posting this, but as I sit here awake in the middle of the night, I find myself wondering about the apostles on this same night some 1,970 years ago. How many of them were having problems sleeping? Jesus had been crucified the day before. He wouldn’t raise agin until tomorrow. In between that was a long and lonely Saturday where it seemed all hope had been lost.

A Fearful Day

Between the gospel accounts, we see that some visited His grave, like Mary and Martha. Others, like the disciples in John 20:19, were in hiding, fearful of what might happen to them. Of course, these things happened after the Sabbath Day, on the Sunday when Jesus would rise from the grave. The Bible is conspicuously silent about Saturday, but, based on the events leading up to the cross and what we see after, one thing is clear: many of Jesus’ closest followers had lost hope.

When the mob took Jesus away from Galilee, pretty much all of the apostles scatter. Peter follows at a distance, but he then goes on to deny any association with Jesus. The only apostle we see near the cross is John. Even after the apostles reunite and Jesus appears among them, Thomas still doubts — Thomas who once pledged to die with Jesus. They had lost sight of Jesus’ promises. They had lost sight of His hope.

Waiting for His Return

We too live in a day between our Savior’s departure and His return. Each of the gospel accounts ends with Christ lifting into the sky. He departs this world to return to Heaven, but we have promises that He will return.

“Men of Galilee, they said. “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:11 (right after Jesus’ ascension)

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you — even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”

Acts 3:19-21

When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:4

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Revelation 22:20-21

And there are several more passages like these. Our Savior has risen, and we await His return. But the challenge to us is the same as to those first disciples the day before the Resurrection — to not lose faith, hope, or sight while we wait.

Keeping Perspective

When Jesus appeared before the apostles, how foolish do you think they felt for being so fearful the day before? Likewise, how foolish will we feel when the Lord returns, and we realize how much time and energy we’ve spent focusing purely on the things of this world? Sure, we have longer to wait than the apostles, but, in the context of eternity, this life will seem no more than a day — a day where we either waited on the Lord or a day where we let the cares and concerns of this world choke Him out of our lives.

Those early disciples were legitimately fearful that the Jewish leaders would have them killed as they had Jesus. Likewise, the concerns of this life can feel equally legitimate and immediate, but they don’t have to rule us. Fears stoked by politicians, by health struggles, by tragedies, by terror — these are all tools of the devil to keep our eyes planted on the here and now rather than the hereafter. They can cause us to lock ourselves up spiritually. They can make us forget the promises we have.

Instead, let’s learn from the mistakes of our spiritual forebears. Let’s keep focused on our hope and faith. Let’s keep our eyes on Christ’s promises. Let’s stay focused on His return. That should then put everything else in perspective. It should break the locks on our hearts. It should drive fear away, and that enables us to then live like Him and tell others about Him. We should be living with a hope that none can take away. We don’t know when our Lord will return, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are ready.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works.

Titus 2:11 – 14

Lucifer

Jupiter and Venus

image by Thomas Bresson on Wikimedia Commons

How you are fallen from heaven, Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit on the mountain of congregation, in the uttermost parts of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit. Those who see you shall gaze at you, they shall consider you: “Is this the man who made the earth to tremble, who shook kingdoms; who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities of it; who didn’t let loose his prisoners to their home?”

All the kings of the nations, all of them, sleep in glory, everyone in his own house. But you are cast forth away from your tomb like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain, who are thrust through with the sword, who go down to the stones of the pit; as a dead body trodden under foot. You shall not be joined with them in burial, because you have destroyed your land, you have killed your people; the seed of evil-doers shall not be named forever.

Isaiah 14:12 – 20

This passage is not about Satan. I know some translations say Lucifer is being addressed here, but have you ever wondered why we even call Satan Lucifer? Basically, it’s because of this passage, but why do we apply this passage to Satan? Because it refers to something called Lucifer. It’s completely recursive.

So Who Is It About?

The passage is talking about an unnamed king of Babylon. Pretty much all of chapter 13 is condemning a king of Babylon. Isaiah takes a break in the first couple of verses in Isaiah 14 to reassure the children of Israel they will return from captivity, and then he gets back on the Babylonian king’s case. Isaiah doesn’t change subjects until he gets to verse 24, where Assyria becomes the subject of judgment.

Also, look at some of the language. “You are cast forth away from your tomb … You shall not be joined with them.” This is a reference to kings being traditionally buried with their ancestors. Also, “Is this the man who … shook kingdoms; who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities of it; who didn’t let loose his prisoners to their home?” This is a description of a conquering king, possibly Nebuchadnezzar II or a whole line of Babylonian rulers.

So What’s Up with the Lucifer Thing?

When the first English translations of the Bible started popping up (the Tyndale Bible and the original King James Version among the most notable examples), some of the translators chose to anglicize certain words instead of directly translating them. βαπτιζω (pr. baptizo) is one such word. Baptize didn’t exist in the English language prior to the Bible being translated, and it came from anglicizing a Greek word. If it had been simply translated, everywhere we read baptize would instead read submerge.

The same basic thing happened with Lucifer. Lucifer is the Latin equivalent to הֵילֵל (pr. Heylel). It literally means “morning star” or “bringer of light” and makes reference to one of the brightest objects in the morning sky. We would call it the planet Venus. In the context of Isaiah 14, this king’s fame makes him shine brightly in the minds of the nations around him. He has grown proud because of this reputation, and Isaiah calls him by a name that reflects the magnitude of his pride.

How Did We End Up Making This About Satan?

I half-jokingly wrote that Satan getting pegged with the name Lucifer is recursive reasoning, but there’s probably a bit more at work here. First, we could be seeing some influence of Roman mythology (which has a lot of influence on many Catholic traditions). Prometheus was the bringer of godlike knowledge to man as symbolized by fire. He was a light-bringer. Satan does something similar in the Garden story. Therefore, the “bringer of light” in Isaiah 14 could easily be connected to Satan via Prometheus.

Canaanite mythology could be influencing tradition here as well. Ancient Canaanites called the morning star Attar, and Attar was a god who tried to overthrow Ba’al. He failed and instead went to rule the underworld. Historically, Satan has been depicted as an angel who wanted to usurp Jehovah. Perhaps this Canaanite legend melded with ancient Judaism and informed how Satan has been interpreted through the ages. (There are other similar legends throughout ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.)

Then there’s a small passage from the pseudepigraphic book of II Enoch:

And from the rock I cut off a great fire, and from the fire I created the orders of the incorporeal ten troops of angels, and their weapons are fiery and their raiment a burning flame, and I commanded that each one should stand in his order.

Here Satanail with his angels was thrown down from the height.

And one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power. And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless.

II Enoch 29:2 – 4

Even though many Christians today don’t consider books like II Enoch to be canon, their influence can be felt in a number of traditional mythologies we carry alongside our faith. Here is a perfectly encapsulated retelling of the common Satan tradition, and, if you substitute Satanail with Lucifer, it would feel right at home in Isaiah 14. (Also, Prometheus imagery again. Just saying.)

I don’t know exactly when Lucifer became synonymous with Satan. It certainly wasn’t common in the time of Augustine. However, both Calvin and Luther condemn interpreting Isaiah 14 as referring to the devil. So the name became popular sometime after Saint Augustine of Hippo but before Martin Luther’s writings. That gives us a possible window of something like a thousand years.

What’s the Point?

We Christians should be making a habit of differentiating the Bible’s teachings from popular trends and mythology. We live in a culture where we share posts and images on social media without first checking the veracity of the content, and we therefore perpetuate popular myths and urban legends without thought. We should be holding ourselves to a higher standard — even moreso in matters pertaining to faith.

Instead of simply repeating what we’ve heard from pulpits or read from others’ writings, we need to be able to separate faith from fiction. And no matter how long we have held to a certain story, belief or doctrine, if the scriptural evidence doesn’t back it up, we have to be OK with letting it go. Let’s strive to be more like the Bereans of Acts 17 who not only received the apostles’ teaching with gladness but then also researched God’s word for themselves. Then we will all have far fewer confusions like this.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

I John 4:1

The Spiritual Battle

Lessons at South Boone: The Spiritual Battle

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We are involved in battle every day. This battle, however, is not one over resources, freedoms, representation, or any of the other numerous reasons people may wage war in this life. It’s not a battle where artillery, drones, body armor, or any other physical means of offense or defense will be of any use. Instead this conflict is a spiritual one, and each and every one of us is a battlefield where the object of conquest is nothing less than our souls. This is a conflict that looks very different from what we think about when we typically think of physical battles.

This is another lesson series I helped with. I delivered the first and third lessons in the series: Preparing for Our Spiritual Battle and The True Enemy.

Is Baptism Really an Outward Sign of Inward Grace?

Is Baptism Really an Outward Sign of Inward Grace?

Serena, writing for A Wordy Woman, provides an in-depth analysis of baptism as it’s portrayed in the New Testament. It’s practically impossible to pull any one quote out of this post because the author’s logic flows so smoothly from point to point.

From the initial believers at Pentecost, to several other examples throughout the book of Acts, to Jesus’ own actions and teachings, Serena plots out the role she sees baptism playing in the New Testament and where it fits in with salvation as a whole.

Christianity, the World’s Most Falsifiable Religion

Christianity, the World’s Most Falsifiable Religion

Interesting thoughts:

This belief has been a source of contention with many people, even Christians, in the past. But the more I research, the more I find it to be the case that Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible. The central claims of the Bible demand historic inquiry, as they are based on public events that can be historically verified. In contrast, the central claims of all other religions cannot be historically tested and, therefore, are beyond falsifiability or inquiry. They just have to be believed with blind faith.

Think about it: The believer in the Islamic faith has to trust in a private encounter Muhammad had, and this encounter is unable to be tested historically. We have no way to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith (and when we do, they are found wanting). Buddhism and Hinduism are not historic faiths, meaning they don’t have central claims of events in time and space which believers are called upon to investigate. You either adopt their philosophy or you don’t. There is no objective way to test them. Run through every religion that you know of and you will find this to be the case: Either it does not give historic details to the central event, the event does not carry any worldview-changing significance, or there are no historic events which form the foundation of the faith.