Gaining a Better Understanding of the Judgment

bema seat

There tends to be a great deal of confusion surrounding judgment day and the time we are judged. Even many long-time Christians are sometimes confused by it, though the bible isn’t at all unclear about the time of judgment. Part of the lack of understanding is probably due to the fact that many people don’t like to think about the day they will be judged and the world as we know it will end, to make way for something infinitely better. It is an uncomfortable topic, even though it will usher in a new, glorious time.

One point of confusion is about the judgment itself. Jesus will be the judge, which is only right since He lived a physical life as a man, with all the temptations and tribulations that all men face. He conquered death and was without sin. In fact, He was the only man who didn’t sin against God, which makes Him supremely proper for the position of judge for humanity.

A large part of the lack of understanding about judgment is because there is actually more than one judgment. Jesus will judge all people, regardless of who they are or where they live (2 Corinthians 5:9-11) and it is important to understand that the judgment will be a full evaluation of the works each person has done for God. Note that the bible is explicit in that this is a judgment of our good works, not of our bad ones.

This being the case, a person who does many good things for God and very few sinful ones may be judged favorably, even if they don’t know about God or have a personal relationship with him. This isn’t a contradiction. Every one of us was blessed by the holy spirit when we were born, and even when a person doesn’t know why they know the difference between good and evil, the spirit gives them that power. Thus, it is possible for them to do good works without ever learning about Jesus or God.

A sticking point, though, is that no person can enter the kingdom of God except through Jesus. Jesus was beaten, humiliated and died for all people, that they might be forgiven for their sins. He conquered death and arose, defeating Satan for the second time in the process, and it is only through his sacrifice that we have any hope of entering the kingdom. What about those people who don’t know Jesus?

Over-simplifying only a little, there are two groups of people and this includes those who’ve already perished, physically. One group has asked Jesus for forgiveness of their sins. They acknowledge that Jesus is their salvation and that He alone has conquered death. They have pledged their lives to Him. These are the true Christians and they are sometimes referred to as the born-again Christians, because they’ve asked for forgiveness, have truly repented and have become followers of Jesus, in their hearts, born again in his name.

The other group is comprised of everyone else. Again, remember that this doesn’t mean that only those from the first group will receive salvation, only that those of the second group have a much harder time ahead.

Their’s will be a separate judgment, though. Those in the first group must also be judged, however that judgment will be done before the Bema Seat of Christ. What is a Bema Seat?

The ancient Greeks gave awards to their athletes after athletic competitions, from a bema seat. This was also where charges were brought against people. The apostle Paul stood before a bema seat when he was charged. (Acts 18:12)

And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat

It is important to understand that in the context of being judged for the purpose of being allowed to live for eternity in the kingdom of God as heirs to the kingdom, the bema seat becomes a place where the greatest awards and rewards are given to the faithful, who’ve had works that support God.

This is why it is so important for every one of us to spread the wonderful news that is contained in the bible, that more people might have the same opportunity to be ‘awarded’ passage. The bible is extremely clear in the point that we are to love our neighbor as ourself and if that is true, we must try to explain to our neighbor, that is all people, who God and Jesus are. This gives them the opportunity we, as true Christians, have been given. If we show an honest Christ-like love for everyone, as we are instructed to do, we would want nothing less and would still feel that it is the least that we can do.

The hardest part is that we must especially focus on those people we are at odds with. This will reflect upon you when you stand before the bema seat, as an important part of your works on behalf of God. It isn’t always easy to do this with someone who rubs you the wrong way and whom you don’t especially like. You must do your best to love them and forgive them for their transgressions. Through Jesus, the Father has forgiven you despite the sins and evil you’ve done against God and now it is your turn to forgive those who have transgressed against you.

The question is, are you ready to do this? Each person must decide this for themselves.


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What Does It Take To Enter the Kingdom of God

jesus

A lot of people, when they learn of Christianity for the first time, think that for them to become Christian, they must learn rules, laws and rituals. The truth is that this isn’t at all required, either to become a Christian or to enter the kingdom of God.

Put in another way, before the birth of Jesus, to be one of God’s children, there were 10 commandments, numerous rules and a lot of rituals that had to be followed. The people still sinned, but it was known that they would do so because of the original sin and the consequences of that sin filtering down, generation after generation.

The coming of Jesus changed all of that. Jesus became the new covenant. In His teachings, He directed his true followers (by definition, Christians) to follow the commandments. However, except for the first commandment, breaking them no longer meant that people would be ‘cast out’. In the case of the first commandment, “You shall have no other god before Me”, Christians can’t follow Jesus if they are breaking that commandment, since it would be a contradiction. They can’t be true followers of Jesus if they have any other God other than the Father, and that includes all forms of idolatry.

Jesus only gave one condition for entering the kingdom of God and having eternal life. In John 3:16, John said:

16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

There is the condition. Jesus stated it again in John 6:47:

47 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.

We are directed to pray and to ask forgiveness for our sins on a continual basis, since we are all flawed, broken beings and we all sin. That repentance is part of believing in Jesus, which is the condition. This also means that we are not to ask for forgiveness of a particular sin and then to keep on sinning in the same way. For example, if we hate another person, ask for forgiveness, then hate someone else, we aren’t truly repenting. That would be a fast track to locking ourselves out of God’s kingdom. This was put quite plainly in Romans 6:23:

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This has additional meaning. The death and blood of Jesus has paid for our sins, however if we keep repeating the sins, we are not truly repentant and there isn’t forgiveness, which we must have to enter the kingdom through Jesus.

Note, however, that this has to do with the only condition that is placed upon Christians, or anyone else. In order to enter into the kingdom of God, we must BELIEVE in Jesus. There are no other rules, dogmas or requirements. We aren’t asked to perform or learn certain rituals. Jesus was very plain about what it would take for us to return home, where we belong. We must believe in Him, which also means that we are to follow Him. We don’t even need to go to any other person to approach Jesus or God, since Jesus took care of that part and made it possible to seek the Father directly. How powerful is that! It is part of the Joy of the good news.

All of this simplifies things greatly, doesn’t it? Consider this; virtually all of the differences between the different denominations in Christianity have to do with man-made rules and laws, not differences in God’s single requirement. In fact, when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he was very specifically and in a number of ways telling the church there to stop putting restrictions upon people, making them believe that they had to do certain things before they could be blessed by God or enter His kingdom, because those were restrictions of man, not of God.

Thus, to me, when a person says that they are Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Pentecost, Lutheran or any other such denominational follower, it has totally no meaning. That only tells me what church they go to and which set of man’s laws they follow. I am a Christian, which says which law I follow. If a person tells me that they are Christians, though, that tells me that they are my brother or sister in Jesus. All people are brothers and sisters, but not all of them have yet accepted Jesus, unfortunately, so not all are brothers and sisters in Jesus.

Never-the-less, as Christians, we have only one law that can’t be broken; to honestly, truly and with our entire heart and soul believe in Jesus.


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What it Means to be God Fearing

praying girl

One thing that non-believers are often confused about is what is meant when we are told that we should be God fearing. After all, the bible says that God is love (1 John 4:8). This would seem to be a contradiction, if we are to fear a loving Father who is love. We don’t fear love, right? Also, there are passages that indicate that we should fear him and others that say that love of God abolishes fear.

There isn’t a contradiction, though, because there are two different kinds of fear. One is the negative, mind-numbing fear that promotes lack of thought and reason. It is an irrational fear like the kind a person might feel if they see a spider and are terrified of spiders. This is obviously not the kind of fear we should have for God.

The other kind of fear is a positive fear. Most of us won’t intentionally put our hand on a hot burner, because we fear the consequences. This is positive because it is reasoned and is a means of self-protection. When this kind of fear is applied to a person, it is a fear borne out of respect or the recognition of power. For example, you might fear that your boss might find out that you did something you aren’t supposed to do. Why? Because he or she has the power to fire you. This sort of fear should actually help you to keep from doing things you aren’t supposed to do.

Likewise, many children are brought up with this sort of fear of their earthly fathers, even really good ones, because that individual is in a position of authority and has the capability of punishing the child.

Applied to the Lord, it is again a positive fear, but it should transcend the fear we have for any boss, father or other individual. This is because God’s power is supreme. There is literally nothing that a person can do to you that God can’t undo. The greatest works of man are as nothing to the power of God.

Jesus put it very clearly in Matthew 10:28 when he said:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

In fact, the word ‘fear’ can be found 300 times in the bible. In Hebrew, the word used is ‘yare‘, which means “to fear, to respect, to reverence”. This is what is meant when we are told to fear God. This is also why there is no contradiction. ‘Reverential fear’ is an interesting thought, isn’t it?

In Exodus 9:29-31, the Pharaoh caused great problems to occur to his people and his nation because he didn’t fear God. That is, he didn’t respect the ultimate power that God has. This isn’t at odds with passages that tell us that God is love and that we should not fear Him (Romans 3:18) We should not feel terror for God, though we should understand and accept that the power is His to wield.

Again, thinking of children, kids learn proper behavior by first fearing the punishment they will receive if they don’t act right. This doesn’t stop the kids from loving their dad. Indeed, it causes a condition where the respect and love can grow, particularly when there are also rewards for proper behavior. The same is true of our Heavenly Father. He has the power to do a lot more than merely punish, and yet his love is so great that he gave us all the means to live forever, by allowing his own son’s life to be taken, to pay for our misbehavior.

So fear God deeply and love Him even more. That is the beginning of wisdom. As it happens, wisdom is one of the gifts of God.


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Bible Misunderstandings – Eye of the Needle

camel

There has been substantial discussion about the scriptural passage that reads, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” [Matthew 19:24 NIV]. The speaker was Jesus and the question people keep tripping over is what was meant by ‘the eye of a needle’?

Many people have said that the reference was to the east gate of Jerusalem. The gate is small, barely wide enough for a camel to fit through. Thus, they say that a loaded camel would need to be unloaded before it could pass through the gate. While it is indeed true that a camel would need to be unloaded before it could go through a narrow gate, there is no indication that the east gate of Jerusalem, or any other gate in Jerusalem, was ever called ‘the eye of a needle’ or ‘the eye’.

Other people firmly believe that the camel spoken about was mistakenly translated. They point out that in the ancient Aramaic language, the word for ‘camel’ was the same as the word for ‘rope’. Thus, they claim, the word should have been translated to rope, rather than camel. For a rope to pass through the eye of a needle, it would first need to be unraveled, which would be time-consuming and hard.

While the argument goes on, I can’t help but wonder why? The passage is about a rich man and the kingdom of God. It isn’t about the eye of a needle or a camel. I should say that there were indeed needles with eyes being used at that time and long before Jesus was even born, too.

The scripture, slightly rephrased, was also used by Mark [Mark 10:25] and yet again by Luke [18:25], so it is undoubtedly important. Still, I believe that the confusion comes from trying to decipher something that doesn’t need to be.

It wasn’t uncommon for Jesus to speak in parables when he was impressing an important point. For the greatest impact, he also frequently used conflicting terms that were ridiculous, much as we might say, “I am so tired I could sleep for a week” or “I could eat a horse”. Obviously, we are neither going to actually sleep for a week or eat a horse.

Just suppose for a moment that Jesus meant it to come out exactly as he said it; that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God? It is pretty easy to visualize trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle, isn’t it? Jesus said it almost 2,000 years ago, but the saying still has clear meaning because of the ridiculous contrast.

There is no reason to debate what was meant, since if it is taken at face value, the meaning is plain. This is the problem with trying to over think something in an attempt to get greater meaning than what is right there and is as clear as glass.

Incidentally, Jesus also wasn’t necessarily speaking of someone who had material wealth, either. Several people, such as Solomon, were quite wealthy and were still favored by God. However, that is a different topic.


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