Eschatology (End Times) Lesson Outlines

Life After Life

  1. What happens when someone dies?
    1. The spirit leaves the body—“for as the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). 
    2. The spirit returns to God—“then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). 
  2. Where does a person go when they die?
    1. Jesus told the thief that they’d be in paradise—“today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus said something similar to the Ephesians—“To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). 
    2. Peter preached that Jesus was in hades—“for you will not leave my soul in hades, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption” (Acts 2:27).
    3. The rich man and Lazarus went to hades/Abraham’s bosom—“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in hades…” (Luke 16:22–23a). 
    4. We go to be with the Lord—“For I am hard-pressed between [life and death], having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?’” (Rev. 6:9–10). 
    5. Note: paradise, hades, Abraham’s bosom, and heaven are interchangeable. It would appear that they are one-in-the-same in a manner of speaking. These passages suggest: 1) when we die, we are with Jesus, and since He’s in heaven at God’s right hand, when we join Him, we join Him where He is. 2) When God returns, He’ll bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus (dead Christians). 3) The souls of the martyrs are beneath the altar in heaven with God and Christ. 
  3. What is life after life like?
    1. One of the best passages to understand this is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. We learn a few things from this passage:
      1. “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). Notice that the rich man, Abraham, and Lazarus all retain their identities, recognize one another, and the rich man can feel. 
      2. “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented” (Luke 16:24–25). From these two verses, we notice that they can communicate, the rich man and Lazarus are noted as feeling either pain or comfort, and that what happened in life follows them to hades. 
      3. “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us’” (Luke 16:26). There is no crossing from one side to the next, so there is no second chance. 
    2. This naturally brings up the question: “If we already know where we’ll be when we die, what’s the point of the judgment?” From what I gather, judgment is when we stand before the Lord to give account. There will be no hiding because heaven and earth flees from the presence of the Lord (Revelation 20:11–13). When Adam and Eve knew they had sinned, they hid from God (Genesis 3:8). There will be no hiding. We will have to stand before God to answer. 
  4. Before judgment comes the resurrection. 
    1. Passages attesting to the resurrection—“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).” “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28–29).” “I have hope in God … that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15).
    2. Passages attesting to the redemption of our bodies—“Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21). “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
    3. What will our resurrection bodies be like? Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 15:35–55:
      1. Corruption vs. Incorruption (v. 42)
      2. Dishonor vs. Glory (v. 43)
      3. Weakness vs. Power (v. 43)
      4. Natural vs. Spiritual (v. 44)
      5. Living vs. Life-giving (v. 45)
      6. Earthly vs. Heavenly (vv. 47–48)
      7. Mortal vs. Immortal (v. 54)
    4. We aren’t meant to live eternally as disembodied spirits—“For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2–4). 

The Judgment

  1. Thinking about judgment:
    1. When we think of judgment, we’re likely to think of the event with negative connotations in mind. However, judgment is a good thing, as the Scriptures remind us (cf. Psalm 2, 98; Isaiah 11:1–10). God’s judgment will set things right once and for all. Jesus’ death was the single act to reconcile us to God and no longer dread judgment, but we must realize that it won’t be a great day for some people. 
    2. Any sin is a personal affront to God. 
      1. “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Gen. 39:9)?
      2. “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor …” (Lev. 6:2)
      3. “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam. 12:13).
      4. “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.” (Ps. 51:4). 
  2. Jesus, our Judge:
    1. “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). 
    2. Our standard will be Christ’s words (John 12:48). 
    3. We will be judged concerning our:
      1. Hearts: “[Christ] will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts [at His coming].” (1 Cor. 4:5)
      2. Words: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36–37)
      3. Deeds: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
  3. Condemnation:
    1. Those who give lip service to God will not be saved: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7:21–23)
    2. Those who do not regard others will not be saved: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    3. Those who don’t know God and obey the gospel will not be saved: “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thess. 1:8–9). 
  4. What doesn’t save:
    1. Sincerity—Jacob sincerely believed that Joseph was dead for years until they were reunited. 
    2. Zeal—Saul of Tarsus was zealous for God, but he murdered many Christians (Romans 10:1–3). 
    3. Religious acts—Cornelius the centurion was well spoken of and often gave alms and prayed, but Peter was still sent to provide him with the gospel (Acts 10:1–2). 

A New Heaven and Earth

  1. What to remember: 
    1. Thus far we’ve studied what occurs when a person transitions from life on earth to the afterlife. 
      1. A person goes to be with the Lord in a place that’s called by various names: heaven, hades, paradise, and the bosom of Abraham. 
      2. While here, we will know whether or not we’re among the saved or condemned. 
      3. Then comes the resurrection at the second coming of Jesus, followed by the judgment. 
      4. After the judgment, a person either goes to the lake of fire (hell), or they go to be with the Lord. 
    2. We will have resurrection bodies in which we will then join God in the new heaven and earth. 
    3. If you would like a copy of the previous two outlines, feel free to email me at (yes, it’s ymail and not gmail). 
  2. Passages regarding God’s concern for creation:
    1. God saw that everything He made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). 
    2. Every creature of God is good (1 Timothy 4:4–5). 
    3. Man’s sin subjected creation to futility (Genesis 3:17–19; cf. 5:29).
    4. Disobedience to God by us defiles earth (Isaiah 24:5–6). 
  3. Key passages:
    1. In Romans 8:18–25, creation:
      1. Awaits the revealing of the sons of God (v. 19).
      2. Has been subjected to futility by God for redemption (v. 20).
      3. Will be delivered from corruption (v. 21).
      4. Currently groans within itself (v. 22).
      5. Like us, creation awaits adoption, redemption (v. 23). 
    2. Ephesians 1:7–10.
      1. Note “things” in “heaven and earth.” 
    3. Colossians 1:15–20:
      1. Christ the head of creation (vv. 15–17).
      2. Christ the head of the new creation (vv. 18–20).
      3. The church is the source of the restoration and fulfillment of creation in Christ. 
    4.  2 Peter 3:10–13:
      1. The heavens and elements are destroyed by fire (vv. 10, 12). 
      2. Because such will be destroyed, we ought to be holy and godly people (v. 11), because, in the new heaven/earth, righteousness dwells (v. 13). 
    5. Revelation 20:11–21:27 leads us to believe: 
      1. The new heaven/earth follows judgment (21:1).
      2. Our current heaven/earth is no more (21:1).
      3. God’s dwelling is with humanity once more as in Eden (21:2).
      4. In the new heaven/earth, God wipes away our tears, death is conquered, and sorrow and crying and pain no longer exist because they were a part of the current heaven/earth (21:4). 
      5. Contrasting with the first heaven/earth, God and Christ is the temple of the new heaven/earth whereas earth itself had been (21:22). The first heaven/earth had darkness, but not the new (21:23–25). Unlike the first heaven/earth, no defilement shall enter into the new heaven/earth (21:27). 

Father Abraham

A lot of time was spent on the first eleven chapters of Genesis, but that all set us up to transition to Abraham. You’ll notice that from the beginning of Genesis until this point, God has selected individuals out of a group to represent Him in the fallen world. Adam and Eve were intended for this purpose, but they failed. Out of their two children, the good one was murdered for being good, and the murderer was further exiled from God. They bore another son through whom came Noah, and God hit the reset button on creation. Out of Noah’s sons, Shem would be the forefather of Terah, who’d have three sons, and out of those three sons, just like with Noah, one would be selected, Abraham.[1]

When we’re first introduced to Abraham, he goes by the name Abram (Gen. 11:26). He lives in Ur in Babylon, and our focus stays on him from here until he died in Genesis 25. Terah takes his family and leaves Ur, and they make it as far as Haran, some 600 miles northwest of Ur, where Terah dies. After his father’s death, Abram receives the call of Yahweh. They intended to make it to the land of Canaan (Gen. 11:31–32), but that didn’t happen. In these patriarchal times, the father, or head of the family, guided the family life. We know that Terah led the family in idolatry (Josh. 24:2). Still, we don’t understand why he left Ur and why they were headed to Canaan. However, this mirrors Israel in their later history because they would end up in Babylon because of idolatry, only to be allowed to return to the Promised Land, similarly to how their forefather traveled.

God wanted His first humans to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28), and God issued the same mandate to Noah (Gen. 9:1–3). The same request is made of Abram (Gen. 12:2; 15:5). Not only is this Israel’s story in a miniature form, but it’s also God trying to do what He intended to do from creation. In a world that’s fallen, God is redeeming it through one person, one family. “The Adam story looks forward to Israel’s story; the story of Abraham looks backward to creation.”[2]

No sooner than Abram arrives in the land God has promised to him, he leaves to go to Egypt because of a famine (Gen. 12:10). Sound familiar? This is the exact same trek Israel will follow for the same circumstance years later. Abram is concerned because his wife is beautiful, so he hands her over, and she is taken by the Egyptians. No worry, because Abram becomes rich in the process (Gen. 13:2–6). Yet, God plagues Pharaoh, and he sends Abram and Sarai off—just like He’d do for Israel. Abram and his nephew would settle apart from one another since their herds and flocks were too numerous. Lot would fall into enemy hands, forcing Abram to take his forces and retrieve him from captivity. Again, reminiscent of Israel and Egypt in a way.

After successfully retrieving Lot from bondage, Abram meets Melchizedek (“righteous king”), a king-priest of Salem, an early name for Jerusalem. This foreshadows the Davidic line from which Jesus came and the order He fulfilled. David himself somewhat fulfilled priestly roles and was also a priest-king in a sense. Much more could be written about this point, but it is an exciting study, to say the least.

Abram becomes concerned with how God will keep His promise. He proposes to God that he make an heir from his household, but God tells him that he will father a son (Gen. 15:3–4). To keep His promises, God binds Himself to Abram with an oath, a covenant (Gen. 15:9–21). This covenant’s meaning is that God will become the pieces of the sacrifices offered if He doesn’t come through with what He promised Abram. At the Exodus time, this was the promise invoked (Exod. 2:24–25).

All is well, right? Well, after some time, we’re not told how long Abram figures on helping God again. His wife, Sarai, offers her Egyptian slave, Hagar. Once the latter became pregnant, she despised her mistress, believing herself to have been elevated in status now. They have a tiff over this, and Hagar is sent away only to return after a divine revelation. Her son, Ishmael, will be a patriarch himself, and the Arabs claim descent from him (cf. Gen. 25:12–18).

A Turning Point in the Abrahamic Narrative

Let’s pause for a moment to remind ourselves how Abram has fared thus far. He has gone to the land only to leave because of famine. Talk about trusting in God, right? He lies and passes off his wife as his sister. The noble husband that he is. He returns to the land and has to divide from his nephew because their herdsmen aren’t getting along. He doesn’t want the problem to boil over into a family dispute. Good thinking here, at least. Since he’s not had children, he wants to name an heir from among his household servants, but God says, “No.” Then, after God makes a covenant with him, he goes on ahead to help God, at the behest of his wife, in keeping that promise by having a child with one of the maids. Still, that wasn’t what God had in mind, and, plus, it led to a family feud.

Between chapters sixteen and seventeen, thirteen years have passed. Ishmael is a gangly son that Abram has had the joy to watch grow up. Hagar has gone back to her place of being a submissive servant, and Sarai is happy. Yet, still no land and people. Out of nowhere, Yahweh shows up, commands that Abram walk before Him and be blameless. You kind of wonder whether or not that was an indictment of his early years of following God. Thus far, Abram has followed God for twenty-four years (cf. Gen. 12:4). Now, God commands that Abram have some skin in the game (pardon the pun). He commands circumcision (Gen. 17:9–13), likely a manner of God claiming the organ to indicate that Abram’s offspring was His and that Abram’s and Sarai’s future were in His hands. Anyone not circumcised, funny enough, would be cut off (Gen. 17:14). His (“Exalted Father”) and Sarai’s (“Princess”) names are both changed, akin to a monarch ascending the throne.

Abraham’s visited by angels who confirm Yahweh’s promise and even give him a timeline of one year (Gen. 18:10). The way it’s phrased, it was as if they said, “This time next year, I’ll return.” A condition of this promise is Abraham walking before God and being blameless, and this too is reiterated in Gen. 18:19. This time, however, Abraham is to examine God in a manner of self-discovery about himself as well as the character of Yahweh. Abraham is here and later depicted as a lawfully obedient follower of God (cf. Gen. 26:4–5), so the Israelite is simply following in his footsteps. Within the law are blessing (children) and curse (destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah). Whenever people act as depraved as those of Sodom and Gomorrah’s cities, they have nothing but to be cursed and incur God’s wrath for the pain they cause.

The promised, anticipated son is finally born. Abraham and Sarah had waited for this moment for so long, and now it had finally came to pass. After a couple of years or so, Isaac is weaned, and a big celebration follows. Sadly, the festival would turn to a wake because Sarah would finally have Hagar and Ishmael banished. Abraham isn’t thrilled about it, but God tells him to listen to her because the promise would be fulfilled in Isaac. Oh, and God would take care of Ishmael too.

Several, perhaps many, years later, God asks the impossible of Abraham—to sacrifice Isaac. Critical to understanding this story is the laws regarding the firstborn. God says that the firstborn belongs to Him (Exod. 13:1, 11–13). That which opens the womb is God’s, and in the case of animals, we can accept this because sacrificing an animal to God was a part of the customs. God took the Levites to Himself, and they served in the tabernacle/temple, and for Isaac, he would be God’s too. Yet, God would make the exception in the case of humans. He wouldn’t accept human sacrifices because that’s what the pagans did (cf. 2 Kings 16:3). He would, however, take a substitute (Num. 8:17). We know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say.

Abraham’s life points to the theme of God wishing to bless all peoples of the earth. He began with Adam, which was a bust, then through Seth, we’d find Noah, Shem, and Abraham. Abraham’s relationship with God is at times shaky. Still, overall he is the patriarch of the family of God in faith. He occupies many pages in the New Testament. To understand Abraham is to see the fulfillment of the promises God made over 4,000 years ago. In Abraham, we have that family through whom God promised to bless the earth in the flesh and in spirit. We are children of Abraham, who worship Jesus Christ, the Son of Yahweh.

[1] In case you hadn’t noticed, parents have a triad of children out of which one is selected. Adam and Eve bore Cain, Abel, and Seth, and Seth is selected. Enosh is named from Seth, and through him comes Noah, who also has three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Shem is from whom the Israelites would descend, and his lineage would go through Arphaxad to Terah who had three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Abram is selected, so the next logical sequence would be one son, and Abram’s one son out of two would be Isaac.

[2] Enns and Byas, Genesis for Normal People, 99.

Is it the Truth?

I recorded a devotional for our congregation that centered on how we Christians share and perpetuate information on social media and in general conversation. Given the increase of fake news that’s shared, and many of such by Christians, I thought it appropriate to urge the body of Christ where I serve to “buy the truth and not sell it.” You can watch it below.

Why Does God Demand Worship?

Watching a debate between a theologian and an atheist (Christopher Hitchens), once years ago, the latter claimed that God was an egotistical maniac because of how the former talked about God deserving to be worshipped and humanity having been made for His glory. The theologian stated something along the lines of a man having to worship God, praise Him, and adore Him, and the atheist said that God sounded like an attention-starved teenager—a divine narcissist; that He’s vain. 

I’d never thought of it in these terms. I believe humanity is naturally wired to worship and adore. However, what we cherish and value can be God Himself or an idol. No one bats an eye when sports fans, concert-goers, or political rally attendees hoot and holler praise and adore the one on the stage. They aren’t worthy of such, yet we give it to them anyway. We admire them in a way meant to be reserved to God alone. Even when the national anthem is played, we assume a specific posture, remove our hats, salute, or either put our hand on our heart in a manner of veneration. Humanity is made to worship. 

Our English term “worship” isn’t likely the best because it’s pretty much a catch-all word. Augustine depicts this reality in his work, The City of God.

For this is the worship which is due to the Divinity … and to express this worship in a single word as there does not occur to me any Latin term sufficiently exact, I shall avail myself, whenever necessary, of a Greek word. Latreia, whenever it occurs in Scripture, is rendered by the word service. But that service which is due to men, and in reference to which the apostle writes that servants must be subject to their own masters … is usually designated by another word in Greek, whereas service which is paid to God alone by worship, is always, or almost always, called latreia [cf. Matt. 4:10] in the usage of those who wrote from divine oracles. (10.1.2; c. 413–426 CE)   

Latreia is but one term used to denote worship of God and is often translated as “serve.” The word from John 4:23–24 is proskuneo—which usually indicates knee-bending or prostrating worship (Matt. 2:11; cf. Rev. 19:10). We might use the term “grovel” to best understand this word, and it would be out of adoration or even fear, but not with the negative connotation it often carries today. When we turn to Romans 12:1, the NKJV renders “reasonable service” for logiken latreian. Other translations might have “spiritual [rational] worship.” 

First, let’s establish one truth: God doesn’t need our worship (Acts 17:24–25). Unlike other deities in other ancient religions, God does not need our worship. If we worship Him, nothing is added to Him. If we fail to worship Him, nothing is taken away from Him. If either of those propositions were true, then He couldn’t be God. Second, the common objection is that the tyrants [e.g. Kim Jong Un] of the world demand adoration and praise, so God can be no different from them by His demand for such, right? Wrong! God is morally perfect, uniquely pure, and stands alone. Unlike tyrants and dictators, He did not come into being and will not cease to be as they do. Unlike them, he wishes nothing but the best for His creation rather than, like them, having their self-serving desires. Unlike them, he doesn’t do what He does to maintain power or conquer because the world is already His. He will not be demoted. He shall never be defeated. 

God created this world, and He made you and me. As a loving Father—which is how we often view Him—He considers the relationship between Him and us as akin to a marriage. He regarded Israel as His bride, and there’s no more explicit description of this reality than in the book of Hosea. He is the bridegroom of His bride, the church. Imagine if we are to be as a bride to Him love, adore, and stand in reverent awe of something created rather than Him. Put it another way, imagine if your spouse lavished praise and adoration, gave loving glances to another person than you. You and I are naturally moved to jealousy, and God is no different. He is a jealous God (Exod. 20:5). We’ve seen how we humans are natural beings that admire, praise, and worship, but God alone is worthy of it. God alone is deserving of it, and it’s to Him alone; we should give it.

Being Christian During Election Season

When I was twenty-five years old, I had become politically active. I’d formed my basic political philosophy and posted incessantly on Facebook a host of articles and links that I believed would help everyone convert to my side. Then, one day, I received a letter in the mail from an elder minister whom I respected much. His message’s greatest takeaway was that he noted that not everyone would share my views—my Christian faith supported ideas that I happened to believe. Because this was a reality, he encouraged that I weigh the possibility that by being so politically active aloud, I may risk alienating someone by my views, which I might otherwise be able to share the gospel with. While it seems an obvious point, it was one I hadn’t considered, and the most important thing to me was the work that I do for Jesus above and beyond any political view that I might hold. 

Since then, I’ve sought to maintain a separation of church and state, if you will. I still have opinions, and I keep up with things, but I don’t always express my feelings because my allegiance to Jesus is the most valuable commitment I’ve ever made. Therefore, I endeavor to preach the Kingdom of God’s politics exclusively. If I’m to be known for where I stand relative to anything, I want it to be concerning my Christianity and not necessarily my political views. There are indeed issues here or there that are guided by my Christianity—such as the sanctity of life—so I’m never fearful of speaking about individual matters. They may be fleshed out in Scripture, but not partisan platforms.

One sad reality is how some brethren think their party’s platform is equivalent to Christianity. The two major parties aren’t perfect because they aren’t the Kingdom of God. They are servants of the citizenry, and their main concern always seems to be the next election. Here’s what concerns me—politics is seeping into the church in a way that some brethren believe their opinions on matters here or there are akin to the will of God. This is creating a division among us. It may not be as apparent to some, but a division is beginning to surface. 

Were Paul to write 1 Corinthians 1:12–13 today, here’s how it would read: 

Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of the Republicans,” or “I am of the Democrats,” or “I am of the Libertarians,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Were the Democrats crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of the Republicans?

Brothers and sisters, I am not willing to become divided because you may see something different than I do, especially earthly politics. Neither will I frame my prayers in such a way that they seem partisan. Prayer isn’t a sounding board for politics. We’re indeed commanded to pray for our governing leaders, but how we pray for them needs to square with God’s will. Notice what Paul urged Timothy: 

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1–4)

Today, in congregational prayers, we typically reserve a more significant part of our praying to ask God for things. This is an aspect of prayer (cf. James 5:13–16; 1 Peter 5:7), but there’s also the focus, as Paul points out here, of praying for specific things for others and simply giving thanks. 

These categories of prayer focus on “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:2). Therefore, the subject of such prayers was to have been everyone, even those in authority. Perhaps Paul has in mind those who incorrectly taught the Law and Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom he’d already mentioned in this letter. Praying for those who we find troublesome is an excellent way to order our hearts toward them rightly. Paul isn’t saying anything new, but admonishing Timothy as Jesus would have: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44–45; cf. Rom. 12:7–21). Timothy was to have prayed for all people because God wants all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).

In addition to remembering everyone in prayer, there’s also the mention of kings and authority. Our American society’s climate is so politically charged that I doubt very much that we Christians are prayerful of our governing leaders as we should be. Instead, we embroil ourselves in “gotcha” politics wherein we are the most ungracious and partisan. If I were to judge by what so many brethren post on Facebook and Twitter, we follow not the Prince of Peace, but the Devil of Division. Were we to pray for our governing leaders as God would have us, we would likely not be so vitriolic against them despite agreeing or disagreeing with policy decisions. Let’s face it—we’re a prosperous nation, the likes of which the world had not seen until our country became its own. Any discomfort we experience is a high-class problem that a decent portion of the world will never share, but we moan and groan as if it’s the world’s end. 

As we think about corrupt, unjust rulers, and who most would say deserve what they got coming to them, let’s remember that as Paul has already said, “Jesus came to save sinners.” He desires all men to be saved, and we should have that same desire too. Think about when David was fleeing the murderous intentions of King Saul. On a couple of occasions, David could have murdered Saul quickly. After all, Saul was a sinful man whom the Lord had rejected as king. God gave him an evil spirit to torment him, but when David had those chances to take Saul’s life, he refused to do so, saying, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD” (1 Sam. 24:6). All that David had done was to cut the corner off Saul’s robe because he’d gotten that close, but his heart troubled him since he did that. David said pretty much the same thing on another occasion, affirming that he would not harm Saul despite how evil and rejected he was because he was anointed by God (1 Sam. 26:11). No one would have blamed David had he done such, but he didn’t because Saul was God’s anointed no matter how sinful he’d been. 

I think it striking that David maintained respect and reverence towards the man who occupied the same position that God had rejected him from being and sought to end his life. Nevertheless, David took God’s anointing seriously so that even after being rejected by God, Saul was still one worthy of respect in David’s mind. We see Paul later acting similarly when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin. After beginning to address those present, the high priest ordered him stricken, and Paul replied by reviling the high priest. After it was disclosed to Paul that he’d cursed the high priest, Paul repented with the invocation of a passage from Exodus, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” (Acts 23:1–5). Despite the high priest acting contrary to the law, Paul still knew that he was worthy of respect because of his position. Perhaps instead of saying that we respect the office but not the person, we could look at the office occupying. As Paul instructs Timothy, pray for those occupying it and not separate the occupier from the station itself. 

God is not so detached from creation that He doesn’t play any part in it. It is He who establishes and tears down kingdoms (Jer. 18:7–10). Interestingly enough, kings’ hearts are like streams in the Lord’s hands, and He turns them wherever He wants (Prov. 21:1). God can divert the channels wherever He chooses, so regardless of whoever is in power, He can do with them what He wishes for His ultimate purpose. If we spent our time prayerfully praying God’s blessings and best for our governing leaders (cf. 1 Peter 2:13–17; Rom. 13:1–7), we might not speak so unkindly of them. It would be somewhat hypocritical to pray for God to use those in authority for His good while at the same time criticizing everything they do.

Understanding Romans 13 in the First Century

In June 2015, my uncle Jim ascended the lectern at my grandfather’s funeral services and read from Romans 13:1–7. Granddaddy had been an Air Force veteran and retired as a Captain with the Metro Police Department in Nashville, TN. He was one of the Department’s K-9 division founding members, and his late K-9, Bam-Bam, was Nashville’s first-ever. Having grown up on over sixty acres north of Nashville, our family was accustomed to a life different from most families. When my daddy (step) and uncles grew up in the seventies, granddaddy was a K-9 officer and later a special tactics officer, even working in the vice squad—riding undercover with Hell’s Angels for some time. Because of this, everyone knew how to wield a firearm, more so from hunting, and gram would carry the wash to hang on the clothesline with a shotgun atop the basket that she’d lay aside while she hung laundry. There was always a fear that granddaddy’s cover would be blown and that any enemies he’d made would target his family. If that were to happen, his family would be prepared.

The passage here under consideration is read through the lenses of the esteem and honor of those who serve governing authorities as servants of God. You’ll notice that this authority is from God and appointed by God (13:1). To resist governing authorities is to resist God Himself because of their work, which brings judgment (13:2). Twice is the same term used of them: officers in the church—diakonos—“minister” (13:4). Because these officials exist by the will of God and through the apparatus of civil government, they are tasked with keeping the peace and executing judgment on evildoers. Despite societal narratives today, these servants of God “do not bear the sword in vain” (13:4)—the same one, the short-sword, used in the execution of James (Acts 12:1–2). It is used both for good and in unjust ways, unfortunately, but is meant for good. This sense of service to God and our fellow man is how we were brought up, and it’s why we still have officers and military members in the family. As one author put it, “This is not a capitulation to pagan power but a fervent affirmation of divine authority over civil powers.”[1]

The First Century Understanding of this Passage

We need to understand the zeitgeist of first-century Rome to better understand the climate into which Paul wrote. The second-century BCE historian, Polybius noted that Rome had in fifty-three years subdued the inhabited world (Hist. 1.1). This feat obviously spoke about something impressive regarding the Empire, but what was it? The divine purpose of Rome, so it was believed, was to create a united language and bring civilization to all of humanity[2] while bringing the whole world under the rule of law (Aen. 4.231). Cicero held that Rome was the home of virtue and imperial power and that the Empire’s borders weren’t fixed by the earth but by the sky.[3] All indications pointed to the belief that Rome’s manifest destiny to subdue the entire world and make it, for the lack of a better term, Roman. This was accomplished more so by conquest than conversion. When you put up these beliefs about the Empire against the gospel’s universal call, you can see that the two might find themselves at the opposite ends of one another.

Shades of this tension appear as early as the New Testament. The disciples of Jesus were accused of having turned the world upside down. How? By allegedly defying Caesar’s decrees and calling Jesus King (Acts 17:6–7). In the first century, the Romans feared that a conquest upon themselves by Jews. A couple of texts point to this end.

The majority firmly believed that their ancient priestly writings contained the prophecy that this was the very time when the East should grow strong and that men starting from Judea should possess the world. (Tacitus, Hist. 5.13)

There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world. (Seut. Vesp. 4.5)

The belief that Christians a threat to the Empire appears in the first century and also the second. Pliny the Younger, who was governor of Pontus and Bithynia from 111–113 CE, exchanged letters with the emperor Trajan over the matter. Pliny was himself unclear as to the offense that Christians had committed, but he knew his orders were to round them up and either get them to recant and curse the name of Jesus, or they would be executed.

Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. (Epistles 10.96–97)

By the third century, the crime was “treason, chiefly against the Roman religion.”[4] Rome believed that the gods had so blessed them not because of faith because the notion was foreign to the ancient Romans. You didn’t have to believe. You just had to participate in cultic acts, such as prayer, incense, and libation, among other such things. That’s all you had to do, and there was always enough room reserved for another god to add. Because Christians attributed “Lord” to Jesus and refused to do so to “Caesar,” they were traitors. Because they refused to perform the specific cultic acts to the gods that shone favor on Rome, they were traitors.

The Roman letter bears out that these believers had struggled because they professed Jesus as Lord. They encountered tribulations (Rom. 5:3–5); they suffered (Rom. 8:18, 31–35); they were persecuted (Rom. 12:14). How might they respond? The natural inclination is to raise an army, take up arms, and fight, but this wasn’t the way Christ taught. Why depose one despot for another that is subject to being replaced himself? No, King Jesus will always reign, and the kingdom is in His hands, so earthly rulers will come and go, but Christ is still on His throne. The way Christians behave is to act with the self-sacrificial love of Jesus, even toward the civil government. Paul begins this in Romans 12:9–21. This is how Christians live when the government is hostile towards them, and their duty towards government is entailed in Romans 13:1–7. After Paul acknowledged the responsibility of civil government, he once more reminds Christians of the value of loving their neighbor in Romans 13:8–10, and by 13:11–14, he explains that regardless of what government does, we are respectful and submissive because they exist by God’s will.

[1] As quoted in Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica, eds., Jesus is Lord Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies (Kindle ed., Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013), loc. 2995.

[2] Ibid., loc. 337.

[3] De Oratore 1.196; In Catilinam 3.26.

[4] Tert. Apol. 24.1.

A Christian’s Dual Citizenship

“For our citizenship is in heaven,” so Paul wrote to the Philippians (3:20). The ancient city of Philippi was a Roman colony, and her citizens were automatically citizens of Rome with all the perks and privileges that carried—among which were certain tax exemptions. Some of them may have never been to Rome itself but could appreciate and understand the pride of having citizenship despite having never been there. For Christians, this is our reality: we have not yet been to heaven, but that’s where our citizenship is and with it, all the blessings that accompany being members of the Kingdom of God. Why is it, then, that we place such a high value on earthly politics when our heavenly citizenship should be the premier marker of our identity? No one truly knows, but several passages may help us determine how we, as Christians, should relate to the earthly government. 

We read that the world lies under the sway of the wicked one (1 John 5:19); we read that Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). Because of this truth, injustices, hatred, bigotry, and evil will always be present, and this shouldn’t shock us. Nevertheless, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, we must and can undoubtedly lend to justice, truth, and equity on earth as demonstrative of our heavenly citizenship. Some Christians believe the principal means by which this is achieved is through earthly government, but I would, respectfully, disagree. Satan offered the kingdoms of the world to Christ if He would only fall down and worship him, but Jesus refused (Matt. 4:8–10). Had Jesus wanted to affect change through earthly government, He had His chance in this scene. Perhaps one might retort that the price wasn’t worth paying. Fair enough. In John’s account of the gospel, after Jesus fed several thousand people, they wanted to make Him king by force, but Christ didn’t want that. He retreated to be by Himself, avoiding the crowd’s aim of making Him King by force (John 6:15). 

It wasn’t God’s will that change and good would come directly through the government, and our Savior Himself didn’t rely upon government to achieve His ends. How was it achieved, instead? The will of God was completed by the employment of government: the arrest in the garden, the sham of a trial during the dark of the night, and ultimately, by the Roman procurator, Pilate, who then ordered an innocent Man to be executed. The very apparatus that Christians place their hopes in every election season is the one shown to itself be imperfect and full of corruptions, such that even our God was subject to and under which He suffered. Tell me again why such a premier is placed on fallible, earthly authorities when our citizenship is in heaven?

What’s most astounding is when a Christian finds no home in either of the major parties because of their belief. They are often accused of pulling for the other side in whom they also disdain. The Republicans and Democrats are akin to the Pharisees and Herodians, trying to catch the follower of Jesus. In that particular episode, the Pharisees were Jewish nationalists who disdained the Roman occupation of Judea while the Herodians were Jews friendly to the Romans. They had a common enemy: Jesus. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the saying goes, so they bound together to try to entrap Christ to either accuse Him of lacking Jewish patriotism or opposing the Emperor. The stage is set. They ask Him about paying taxes. His reply, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and the God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). God isn’t anti-government. However, as our citizenship is in heaven, we should relate to the government by giving it what’s due so long as it doesn’t contradict the will of the Father (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29). 

When we sincerely follow Jesus, we’ll often find ourselves at odds with the government and the parties that vie for control. Nevertheless, we can participate in government in good conscience and that to the glory of the Lord. Joseph was second in command to Pharaoh; Daniel was a high-ranking official in the Babylonian King’s court; Nehemiah was the cupbearer of the Persian King. These each served God and the master who was over them, and they did so with integrity and dignity. Cornelius was a Roman centurion who became a follower of Jesus, and he was never commanded to resign his post to follow Christ, so it’s entirely possible to be in an environment and realm, to serve God, and faithfully discharge one’s duty. 

When Christianity began to go awry, in my opinion, was when it started mixing with the government. The Magna Carta of our faith is the Sermon on the Mount, and there are tensions with acts of government and Christian living, but they each exist for their own purposes. Even Constantine himself delayed baptism until on his death bed because he may have well understood the difficulty of being a Christian and an Emperor. The mistake is made when we try to intermingle them in a way they aren’t meant to be mixed. Ravi Zacharias once said, “Anytime religion is politicized, it’s in danger of extinction.” Why is that? Because it can only ever been enacted with the fear of punishment if one doesn’t adhere to it. In colonial America, citizens had to pay taxes to support that state church, and one could even face fines or imprisonment if they didn’t attend church. How is that Christianity? That’s a compulsion, and God doesn’t force anyone to love Him, but He gives them the option. I love how the nineteenth-century novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, put it:

If anything protects society even in our time, and even reforms the criminal himself and transforms him into a different person, again it is Christ’s law alone, which manifests itself in the acknowledgment of one’s own conscience. Only if he acknowledges his guilt before society itself—that is, of the Church—will he acknowledge his guilt before society itself—that is, before the Church ….  And what would become of the criminal, oh, Lord, if Christian society, too, punished him with excommunication each time immediately after the law of the state has punished him? Surely there could be no greater despair….  But the Church, like a mother, tender and loving, withholds from active punishment, for even without her punishment, the wrongdoer is already too painfully punished by the state court, and at least someone should pity him.

The state exists for the purposes of justice (Rom. 13:2–4), but the church for mercy and reconciliation to God (2 Cor. 5:18–19). When Christians place all of their hopes in government, they forget that it is in the Lord that we’re to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4), not in the state. It’s the peace of God that will guard our hearts and minds (Phil. 4:7), not the legislation of Congress. 

Is this to say that we should have NO dealings with the government at all? No, but it is to say that we must guard our mind and heart and make sure our faith is foremost in the God of creation and salvation, and not the government ran by fallible, imperfect humans who are as prone to mistakes as we all are. The Lord told Israel to seek the peace of the city in which they were to live as captives and to pray for it because, in its peace, they would have peace (Jer. 29:7). Prayer is the primary act a Christian can undertake for their home. In the worship of the church, we’re actually commanded to pray for the welfare of authority figures (1 Tim. 2:1–4; cf. 3:15), but because we often ignore this command, prayers for governing leaders are seen as partisan endorsements rather than holy supplication. Withholding vitriolic rhetoric is a second way we may participate in a godly manner (Acts 23:5). If we pray for our leaders as we should, we should naturally withhold the spewing of hateful jargon. A third way we may participate is to render to Caesar’s what’s his by being the absolute best citizens because our citizenship is in heaven. Among the ways we can do this is by obeying laws, paying our taxes, and casting votes to participate in the experiment that is America. We may also serve in capacities and even work for the government in capacities as if we were working for God Himself. Government is His ordinance and servant (Rom. 13:2, 4), so serving in such roles is to effectually serve God Himself in a manner of speaking. We must also recall that the author of Romans 13 was himself executed for not submitting to their authority out of his faithfulness to Jesus, so while he calls for submission to governmental authorities, there is a line in the sand that a Christian can’t and mustn’t cross. Even Christ Himself was subject to the governing authorities, resulting in His death. Self-sacrificial love is how God achieves His purpose in Christ, not through the political system of the day. 

The overconsumption of news can be replaced with an immersion of Scripture, devotions, or sermons that help build the Christian up. The mindless social media debates should be replaced with pleasant conversations about the glory of the Lord. The animosity one feels towards an opposing view should be replaced by the kindness and love of one’s neighbor. Glorying in the bloodshed of rioters or police officers because one views them as inherently evil should be replaced with awe at the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He, for the salvation of the world, willingly sacrificed Himself to protect us from the wrath of God to which we’ve set ourselves. Be different. Be authentically Christian. 

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