The Fires of Hell in Light of the Cross

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To me, the biggest lie out of the Dark Ages is not that Sabbath was changed to Sunday, or that when you die you go straight to heaven. To me, no lie distorts the character of my loving heavenly father like the lie that sinners will be tormented throughout the endless ages of eternity. Fact is:

It is no arbitrary decree on the part of God that excludes the wicked from heaven; they are shut out by their own unfitness for its companionship. The glory of God would be to them a consuming fire. They would welcome destruction, that they might be hidden from the face of Him who died to redeem them. –Ellen White, Steps to Christ, page 17

Did you ever notice that Jesus did not tell the demons He could not be around them? The demons told Jesus they could not around Him! (For example, see Matthew 8:29.) So to the unconverted heart, the glory of God is hell, while to the converted heart God’s glory is paradise!

When the fire in Revelation 20:9 comes down out of heaven and consumes the wicked, that fire is the actual presence of God. God’s presence will be hell to those who hate Him, while it will be paradise to those who love Him. I believe this is why the Bible refers to an eternal fire. God is the eternal fire. But God’s love is not going to torture the wicked throughout eternity. God’s love will burn for eternity, but it will put sinners out of their misery instead of torturing them for eternity.

A skewed understanding of hell skews our understanding of God’s love and character, which is exactly what Satan wants. To properly understand the punishment of the wicked, like all other Bible teachings, we must look at it in the light of the cross. Please allow me to share a lesson from my series of In Light of the Cross Bible Study Guides:

The Punishment of the Wicked Overview:

The wicked will be destroyed by fire. The punishment will be everlasting, but the punishing will not. The wicked will die instead of being tormented for all eternity. See John 3:16Romans 6:23Obadiah 1:16Matthew 10:28Ezekiel 18:420.

Importance of knowing the truth about the punishment of the wicked:

The teaching of people being tortured throughout all eternity is the most satanic false doctrine of all! It totally misrepresents the love and character of God, making it impossible to love and know Him the way He loves and knows us.

The Importance of Understanding the Punishment of the Wicked in Light of the Cross:

Many churches use hell and fear as a motivation for doing good because they do not properly understand the love motivation. They do not understand the depths of Christ’s sacrifice in dying the second death. They seem to understand the cross to be a mere pain endurance marathon instead of seeing a Savior who was actually willing to say good-bye to life and heaven forever in order to save the world.

When the early church saw the depths of Jesus’ love and sacrifice it turned the whole world upside down! It changed everything. God’s love constrained, empowered and motivated the believers. And this love is the only motivation that will actually succeed today in transforming people. In Galatians 6, Paul writes of a faith that works by love, not a fear of punishment. In John 14, Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments,” not “if you don’t want to go to hell you better keep my commandments.” Followers of Jesus must uplift the cross and the truth about the cross at all times.

I have a friend who is involved in a prison ministry that visits a juvenile detention center. He told me that they had recently shared the truth about hell with the young men there and that the chaplain at the jail got very upset with him for letting the young men know that the punishment of the wicked is not an eternity spent in hell but rather death just like the Bible says in John 3:16 and Romans 6:23. The chaplain did not want the offenders to know the truth about the punishment of the wicked because he wanted the fear of being tormented for all eternity to motivate them to behave.

Young men in juvenile centers and people everywhere else need to know that there is a God who did way more than suffer for six hours on a cross. He faced the second death for them. He loved them more than He loved his own life. He loved them so much that when tempted to come down from the cross and go back to heaven He chose to die instead. Jesus stayed on that cross for the young men in the juvenile detention center because the thought of heaven without them was hell to Jesus!

When the love motivation receives its proper emphasis, it will accomplish so much more than fear motivation. Some people quote John 3:16 while preaching of an eternal torment of sinners, but that verse clearly says those who do not believe will perish instead of being tortured throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity.

Further study on the punishment of the wicked:

What is the opposite of eternal life?

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NLT

Those who don’t believe perish. They are not tortured for all eternity.

God did not kick Eve out of paradise just because she took a piece of fruit she was told not to. The serpent told lies about God’s love and interest in Eve’s welfare, that Eve and all mankind bought into. When Eve stopped believing in God’s love she stopped believing in her only Source of life. At the cross Jesus died for our sin of unbelief, and when we believe again in His love, we gain back the life we lost when stopped believing in His love. This is the message of john 3:16.

What is the wages of sin?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 NLT

Note that the wages of sin is not eternal torment in hell.

What becomes of the soul or person that sins?

For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die. Ezekiel 18:4 NLT

KJV says soul, NLT says person. Both the KJV and NLT make it clear that the entire soul or person dies in hell and will not be tormented throughout eternity.

How long does the devil have?

Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!
And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!
But terror will come on the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you in great anger,
knowing that he has little time.” Revelation 12:12 NLT

The devil does not have eternity in hell or anywhere else. He has but a little time left to exist.

What will happen to the devil or Satan?

You defiled your sanctuaries with your many sins and your dishonest trade. So I brought fire out from within you, and it consumed you. I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All who knew you are appalled at your fate. You have come to a terrible end, and you will exist no more.” Ezekiel 28:18-19 NLT

Satan, like all sinners, will be annihilated and exist no more.

What happens to both body and soul in hell?

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 NLT

Neither soul nor body are tortured throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Both are destroyed.

What is the final end of the wicked?

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Malachi 4:1-3 NLT

There will be nothing left of the wicked – nothing but ashes.

What does the lake of fire stand for?

Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. Revelation 20:14 NLT

What is God’s promise?

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:3- 4 NLT

Sinners cannot be eternally tormented in light of the promise that there will be no more pain. The promise is unconditional.

Can we trust that promise?

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5 NLT

You may watch a video presentation of this topic by Pastor Earnhardt here. 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

10: The Fire of Hell-Sabbath School Lesson Teaching Plan

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Prepared by William Earnhardt for Sabbath School Class, Sabbath December 3, 2022.

Main Theme: We will look at some un-Biblical theories about life after death as well as what the Bible teaches about life after death.

Read in Class: Mark 9::42-48 and Isaiah 66:24. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: How do you understand the expression “their worm does not die?” Click here for a hint.

Apply: In the end, we are either totally saved or totally lost. There is no middle ground. We can have either eternal life or will face eternal destruction. What choices do you have to make today? How should this reality — eternal life or eternal destruction — impact those choices?

Share: Your friend says we all are going to spend eternity somewhere, either in heaven or hell. How do you answer your friend? Click here for hints.

Read in Class: Malachi 4:1 and Jude 7. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: How can these passages help us better understand the notion of “eternal fire” or the idea, as Jesus had expressed it, that the lost will be in “everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8) or in a “fire that shall never be quenched”? (Mark 9:43, NKJV). Remember a camp fire can disintegrate a marshmallow and keep on burning. Just because the fire continues to burn does not mean the marshmallow still exists.

Apply: As unfortunate as the fires of hell are, what does the truth about hell reveal to us about God’s love, especially in contrast to the idea of eternal torment?

Share: Your friend says that the Bible says the wicked will burn forever so that must mean that they will be alive and burning through all eternity. How would Exodus 21:6 help your friend understand the meaning of the word “forever, simply meanimg for the duration or until you die?

Read in Class: Ecclesiastes 9:10, Ezekiel 18:20-22,and Hebrews 9:27. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: How do these passages refute the theory of purgatory?

Apply: What do errors like purgatory or eternal torment teach us about the importance of doctrine? Why is what we believe of importance, and not just in whom we believe?

Share: Your friend says that we may not be able to buy our way into heaven but if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds our works can get us into heaven. What do you tell your friend?

Read in Class: Acts 2:29, 34-35 and 1 Corinthians 15:16-18. What is the common thread of these passages?

Study:  How do these passages shed light on the state of the dead and those awaiting resurrection?

Apply: What are ways in which you could help people understand that the idea that the dead are asleep in the ground is really “good news,” in the sense that they truly are at rest and know no pain and suffering?

Share: Your friend who said we will all spend eternity in heaven or hell is still confused, thinking the soul is immortal, and we all have eternal life either in heaven or in hell. How could you use 1 John 5:3-12 and 1 Timothy 5:15-16 to show your friend that only those who accept the gift of salvation have eternal life?

Did King Saul Talk to Samuel After he Died?

While we are looking at apparent “contrary passages” in Scripture, let’s take a look at another one not included in this week’s lesson. In 1 Samuel 28:1-25, even though Saul has outlawed mediums he goes to consult one. He wants to talk to Samuel, who is dead. Ironically, he never wanted to talk to Samuel while he was living, but now he does. Saul’s visit with the medium goes like this.

Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”  When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”  And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.” So he said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down. 1 Samuel 28:11-14 NKJV

At a careless glance it sure looks like Saul is talking to Samuel after he has died. Right? However, the Bible never says it was Samuel. Verse 14 says, “Saul perceived that it was Samuel.” What we perceived that we saw is not always what we actually saw. One synonym for “perceive” is “think.” So, Saul thought it was Samuel, but it wasn’t Samuel. Samuel was dead. At a careless glance it may look like Samuel actually appeared to Saul, but there is a big difference between perception and fact! I saw a documentary a few years ago about the first trip to the moon. One thing the astronauts had to be careful about was depth perception. Since the entire moon all looks the same, without any scenery or landscape, there is no depth perception. An astronaut may look at what he thinks is a little chughole, but in reality it is a canyon! You may think, oh well, there is not much weight on the moon, so no big deal if they fall into a canyon. They won’t get hurt. True, but they would also be stuck in that canyon with no way to get back to the spaceship. So, an inaccurate perception could be a fatal mistake. We are warned in the last days that Satan, through spiritualism, will be deceiving people to make inaccurate, fatal misperceptions. 

The doctrine of man’s consciousness in death, especially the belief that spirits of the dead return to minister to the living, has prepared the way for modern spiritualism. If the dead are admitted to the presence of God and holy angels, and privileged with knowledge far exceeding what they before possessed, why should they not return to the earth to enlighten and instruct the living? If, as taught by popular theologians, spirits of the dead are hovering about their friends on earth, why should they not be permitted to communicate with them, to warn them against evil, or to comfort them in sorrow? How can those who believe in man’s consciousness in death reject what comes to them as divine light communicated by glorified spirits? Here is a channel regarded as sacred, through which Satan works for the accomplishment of his purposes. The fallen angels who do his bidding appear as messengers from the spirit world. While professing to bring the living into communication with the dead, the prince of evil exercises his bewitching influence upon their minds. He has power to bring before men the appearance of their departed friends. The counterfeit is perfect; the familiar look, the words, the tone, are reproduced with marvelous distinctness. Many are comforted with the assurance that their loved ones are enjoying the bliss of heaven, and without suspicion of danger, they give ear “to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” When they have been led to believe that the dead actually return to communicate with them, Satan causes those to appear who went into the grave unprepared. They claim to be happy in heaven and even to occupy exalted positions there, and thus the error is widely taught that no difference is made between the righteous and the wicked. The pretended visitants from the world of spirits sometimes utter cautions and warnings which prove to be correct. Then, as confidence is gained, they present doctrines that directly undermine faith in the Scriptures. With an appearance of deep interest in the well-being of their friends on earth, they insinuate the most dangerous errors. The fact that they state some truths, and are able at times to foretell future events, gives to their statements an appearance of reliability; and their false teachings are accepted by the multitudes as readily, and believed as implicitly, as if they were the most sacred truths of the Bible. -Ellen White, Great Controversy, Pages 551-552. 

I knew an elderly Adventist woman, who lived in a small Adventist community. Her husband died and was buried in a cemetery just a block or so form her house. About every day, she would visit his grave and “talk” to him. One day she looked out her front window and perceived to see him walking up the sidewalk. He stopped at the window and stared at her through the glass. Being an Adventist and knowing the state of the dead, she knew it was not her husband but a demon. This scared her into realizing she had been putting herself on the devil’s playground by her excessive visits, talking to her dead husband at his grave.  After this experience she never returned to his grave. After all, she did not need to talk to her dead husband. She needed to be talking to Jesus, who could hear what she was saying, just like Saul did not need to be talking to dead Samuel. He should have been talking to God. 

I don’t know if a demon really personified itself as this woman’s husband or if it was just her imagination. She claimed it was real and not just her imagination.  Either way, it was a direct result of spiritualism, acting like she was talking to the dead. 

Likewise, Saul put himself on the devil’s playground by talking to dead Samuel, and allowing demons to personify themselves, making Saul think he was seeing and communicating with a dead man. The Bible does not say it was Samuel. It says Saul perceived it was Samuel. It was a deception. The Bible is clear that the dead know nothing. Meanwhile, we are free to talk to God who is all-knowing. 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

9: Contrary Passages?-Sabbath School Lesson Teaching Plan

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Prepared by William Earnhardt for Sabbath School Class, Sabbath, November 26, 2022.

Main Theme: When properly understood, seemingly contrary passages are not so contrary after all.

Read in Class: Luke 16:19-31. Discuss the main idea of this passage.

Study: How do we know this story is not a literal description of the afterlife? For hints click here.

Apply: “But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:31, NKJV). What message from Jesus’ powerful words should we take for ourselves regarding the authority of the Bible and how we respond to it?

Read in Class: Luke 23:43, John 20:17, and John 14:1-3. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: How should the promise to the repentant thief on the cross be understood in light of Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene and His promise to His disciples? For hints click here.

Apply: Read the story of the repentant thief (Luke 23:39-43), who, despite his sin, despite the fact that he had nothing to offer God, was promised eternal life by Christ. How does this story powerfully reveal the great truth of salvation by faith alone? In what ways are we just like that thief? In what ways do we differ?

Read in Class: Philippians 1:21-24 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: When did Paul expect to be “with Christ” (Phil. 1:23) and “with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17)? For hints click here.

Apply: Particularly in hard times, who hasn’t thought about how nice it would be to close your eyes in death and, the next thing you know, “be with Christ”? How does this thought help us understand what Paul was saying in Philippians?

Read in Class: 1 Peter 3:13-20. Define the main idea of this passage.

Study: How did Christ preach “to the spirits in prison … in the days of Noah”? (See also Gen. 4:10.) For hints click here.

Apply: The flood was present truth in Noah’s day, what Bible truths especially apply to us today?

Read in Class: Revelation 6:9-11. Define the main idea of this passage.

Study: How can the “souls” of the dead martyrs cry “under the altar”?

From Difficult Texts Made Simple:

This is obviously a symbolic verse. In order to be taken literally not only would the souls be in heaven but they all would be under an altar. Also they would be pleading for vengeance for being in heaven. This simply is not realistic. We know from our reading of the entire scriptures that the dead are just that-dead. Even this passage says that they must rest a while yet, implying they are not literally in heaven now, but their cause has come before the altar and before God. This was the case when Abel was killed by Cain. God said, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” Genesis 4:10 

Abel’s blood did not literally grow lips and cry, but his cause came before God. So in the fifth seal of Revelation we see that God has not forgotten His faithful martyrs but has heard their cause even as He did Abel’s. After all, why would they be crying for God to avenge the ones who killed them and put them in the presence of God? What an insult to God this would be.

Apply: Who (especially of those who have been victims of injustice) hasn’t cried out for justice, which has not yet come? Why must we, by faith, trust that ultimately the justice so lacking in this world will nevertheless come? What comfort can you draw from this wonderful promise?

Share: Can you think of someone who could benefit from a proper understanding of the passages we studied this week? How can you share your understanding of these passages with someone in a way that will give them encouragement?

8: The New Testament Hope-Sabbath School Lesson Teaching Plan

Prepared by William Earnhardt, for Sabbath School class, Sabbath November 19, 2022.

Main Theme: The New Testament hope, is a Christ-centered hope, and the only hope that this mortal existence will one day become an immortal one.

Read in Class: John 14:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. Discuss the common thread of these two passages.

Study: How is Christ’s resurrection related to our own resurrection? Why did Jesus tell His disciples He would come again so they could be together, instead of just promising them they would be together as soon as they died? What does this tell us about the importance of the resurrection?

Apply: Isaiah 59:2 tells us sin has caused a separation between us and God. Exodus 25:8 tells us the Sanctuary service solves the sin problem so we God can dwell with us again. How does this help us understand why it is taking 2,000 for Jesus to prepare a place for us so we can be together again? Is His work so much with bricks and mortar or is it more with stony human hearts? How does John 14:1-3 help us understand what Jesus is doing for us in the sanctuary of our hearts right now?

Share: Your friend says that Jesus went to paradise with the repentant thief as soon as they both died. So we all go to heaven as soon as we die. What do you tell your friend? How would John 20:17 help you explain this?

Read in Class: John 6:26-51. Discuss the main idea of this passage.

Study: How did Jesus associate the gift of everlasting life with the final resurrection of the righteous?

Apply: Dwell on the words of Jesus that, if you believe in Him, you have (as in right now) eternal life! How can this wonderful promise help you deal with the painful reality of our present, though only temporary, mortality?

Share: Your friend asks, “What did the loaves and fish have to do with the manna?” What do you tell your friend?

Read in Class: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Discuss the main idea of this passage.

Study: What hope did Paul give to those who thought their dead loved ones had forever perished?

Apply: Which is more comforting to you and why? The idea that the dead are all in heaven now? Or that the dead in Christ will be raised in the resurrection? Why does Paul say. “comfort each other with these words” instead of telling us to comfort each other with the hope that our dead ones have “gone to be with the Lord?”

Share: Your friend says that Paul promised that Jesus will bring with Him those who are dead when He returns. This must mean they are already in heaven and return with him. What do you tell your friend? Click here for a hint.

Read in Class: 1 Corinthians 15:51-55. What is the main idea of this passage?

Study: What mystery is Paul explaining here?

Apply: This is such an amazing promise, something so different from anything that we have experienced that it’s hard to grasp. But think about the vastness of the cosmos, as well as the incredible complexity of life here. Creation itself testifies to God’s amazing power. What does all this teach us about the power of God to translate the living and raise the dead at Jesus’ second coming?

Share: Can you think of someone this week who needs to hear about the hope of the resurrection? Can you share it with them this week?

7: Christ’s Victory Over Death-Sabbath School Lesson Teaching Plan

Prepared by William Earnhardt for Sabbath School class on Sabbath, November 12, 2022.

Main Theme: We can be sure that Jesus rose from the grave and that He gives us victory over death.

Read in Class: Matthew 27:62-66. Discuss the main idea of this passage.

Study: How did these actions only help provide the world later with more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?

Apply: Has God ever freed you from a situation where you thought there was no way out? Can you tell us about it?

Share: Your friend suggests that the disciples did steal the body of Jesus to make it look like He was resurrected. What do you share with your friend? Keep in mind that all but one disciple was martyred for preaching about the resurrection. What does that tell us? See also How do we Know the Disciples Didn’t Just Make Everything up?

Read in Class: Matthew 28:1-6, John 10:17-18 and Romans 8:11. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: Who was directly involved in the resurrection of Jesus?

Apply: Some scoff at the idea that the first people to see Christ resurrected were Romans. Why? In what ways is this truth symbolic of what was to come: the gospel going to the Gentiles, as well?

Share: Your friend says we are supposed to keep Sunday holy as a memorial to the resurrection. What do you tell your friend? What memorial to the resurrection do we find in Romans 6:3-6?

Read in Class: Luke 24:13-27 and Luke 24:44-49. What is the main idea of these passages?

Study: Why did Jesus take them to the Scriptures instead of just letting them recognize them?

Apply: Do you put more faith in what you see or what God’s Word says? When what you see seems to contradict God’s Word do you put faith in what you see or in what God’s Word says?

Share: Your friend asks you, exactly where in Scripture did Jesus take the disciples to show them what was to happen to the Messiah? What do you tell you friend? See The Messiah in Prophecy.

Read in Class: Matthew 27:51-53, 1 Corinthians 15:20 and Deuteronomy 26:1-11. What is the common thread of these passages?

Study:  In what sense did Paul refer to the risen Christ as “the first fruits of those who have died?”

Apply: No matter how bad things can get now, why can we trust in God’s ultimate victory for us as we still struggle in this fallen world?

Share: Who can you share the hope we have in the resurrection with this week?

How do we Know the Disciples Didn’t Just Make Everything up?

I don’t think anyone doubts that a man named Jesus actually existed. The question is if He was really the Messiah, and if He was really resurrected. How do we know Jesus really died, and did not just fake His own death and then made it look like He was resurrected? If He did indeed die, how do we know the disciples did not actually steal His body from the tomb to make it look like He was resurrected? Let’s take a look.

 Was Jesus Actually Dead?

Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him.  But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.  But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.  And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” John 19:32-37 NKJV

Conspiracy theories could have started circulating that Jesus did not really die on the cross but merely fainted and woke up later. Remember how prisoners escaped from Alcatraz by placing phony bodies in their beds to make it look like they were still in bed while they escaped? How do we even know it was really Christ’s body placed in the tomb and was not just a phony body to make it look like He died? The testimony of the Roman soldiers themselves disproves any notion of such conspiracy theories. They pierced his side causing the blood to flow out. He was already dead but if He wasn’t the wound would have caused His death for sure. 

Did Disciples Steal His Body?

Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. Matthew 28:11-15 NKJV

This is not logical. How can the soldiers document what happened while they were asleep? If they were asleep how would they know the disciples stole the body? There is no court in the world that would accept this testimony. No one can testify exactly who did what while they were not looking. You have to be looking in order to be a witness. Their own testimony “while we were sleeping” proves they did not see the disciples take Jesus’ body. Add to this the fact that the disciples had a hard time believing themselves that He was resurrected. If they staged it they would have been gloating about His resurrection at the very start instead of being confused and amazed themselves. And if the priests really thought the disciples stole Christ’s body why were they never charged or even accused of such a crime? They were later arrested for preaching about the resurrection but they were never arrested for stealing a body. Also since falling asleep while on guard was an offense punishable by death, it is highly unlikely the guards fell asleep. If the leaders truly thought the guards had fallen asleep they would have been executed. They were not. They were given money instead. 

Would the Disciples Have Died for a lie?

Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Acts 12:2-3 NKJV

Scripture testifies how James was martyred and the other disciples were persecuted, and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs documents how all the disciples except John were martyred for preaching Christ and Him crucified and resurrected. And poor John was thrown in boiling oil. Now supposing the disciples made the story up about the resurrection and had stolen the body to make it look like He was no longer dead, how many of those disciples would be willing to die for this made up story? After a few of them were killed for making up the story, wouldn’t just one of them come forward and show where they hid the body to save their life? What are the chances of everyone in on the conspiracy dying for a lie? I can tell you why they all died. I can tell you why none of them finally came forward and showed where they hid the body. Because they did not hide the body. They could not recant their story because what they were saying was the truth. A truth worth dying for! Why do you think God allowed them all to be killed and for John to boiled in oil? So we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that since not a single one of them could recant, their story was true.

Jesus Still Lives in our Hearts

One last thought. When I was in my early twenties I heard a song on a Christian radio station. I heard it once and never heard it again, so I can’t tell you who sang it or wrote it, but I remember the gist of the song. In the song a little boy was crying because his little friend told him Jesus wasn’t real. In the song the boy pleads with his friend not to tell his daddy that Jesus isn’t real because, “I don’t want him to start living like he used to.” The song showed how Jesus changed the daddy’s heart and this is how we know He is real. 

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 [d]through His Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 NKJV

Like the old hymn says,

He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Salvation to impart You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.-Alfred Ackley

No doubt Jesus lives. Because He lives we are not afraid to die. 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School Lesson here.

He Died for us

While I was in Cradle Roll Sabbath School, before I could even read, I was mesmerized by a picture in my Bible of Jesus dying on the cross. I would study it in church as the preacher preached. As I took in the entire scene, one thought kept reverberating in my heart, Jesus died for me. One night when I was seven I put my Bible away to fall asleep. As I lay there contemplating that picture, the Holy Spirit was painting that very scene on my heart. That night I decided to give my heart to Jesus and be baptized because Jesus died for me.

Over time the world and even people in the church have pressured me to compromise my faith and convictions. When they demand my loyalty to them, I remember that night when I gave my heart to Jesus. I remember the people pressuring me to compromise did not die for me. Jesus died for me. I must be loyal to Him. I gave my heart to Jesus. I did not give it to people in the world or in the church.

Way too many times over the years I have compromised my faith without any pressure from anyone else at all. Again my mind goes back to the picture of the cross that the Holy Spirit painted on my heart on that night so long ago. I don’t give up. Jesus died for me. I ask His forgiveness which He so freely offers me. I know I am forgiven because Jesus died for me.

I have completed many more trips around the sun since my Cradle Roll days and baptism when I was seven. Still, one theme still grips my heart and mesmerizes my soul. Jesus died for me. As time passes the Holy Spirit continues painting even more details into that picture of the cross. As I continue studying Scripture, the details become increasingly more vivid on my heart, making the scene more real, more wonderful and more awe-ful. While many want to attach specific theological labels to the cross, I find the picture of the cross the Holy Spirit is painting on my heart much too grand and vivid to fall under any one label. Many camps of thought are not so much wrong in what they teach as in what they fail to teach. One camp of thought does not necessarily have to replace the other. I believe we get the big picture of the cross when we put all the camps of thought together and just throw away the labels. After all, I did not fall in love with a theological label. I fell in love with Jesus because Jesus died for me.

The first time I heard the Gospel presentation I was taught that when I chose to knowingly break God’s law that was counted as sin according to 1 John 3:4. Sin is punishable by death, according to Romans 6:23. But John 3:16 tells me God gave His Son to die the death I deserve so I can have the eternal life He deserves. As I continue studying I find another definition for sin besides 1 John 3:4. In John 16:9 Jesus also defines unbelief as sin. Through my study I see that Jesus died not so much because humankind took a piece of fruit they were told not to, but because in taking that fruit they showed they did not trust God or really believe in His love. Therefore God became a man and went to the cross to die and prove that He loves us so we can believe in His love. Therefore Jesus heals us from the sin of unbelief. The atonement appeases an angry race instead of an angry God.

So which is it? Did Jesus die because humankind sinned by breaking the law which is punishable by death? Or did Jesus die because humankind stopped believing in God’s love and by dying on the cross Jesus reconciled us by convincing us He loves us? Both! Interestingly John records both definitions of sin-in 1 John 3:4 the sin of breaking the law, and in John 16:9 the sin of unbelief. John understood that Jesus died for sin by every definition.

I have heard that Jesus took on human nature so He could give us an example of human obedience. I have heard that Jesus took human nature because He had to die as a man. So which is it? Both!

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 NLT

There is not a law in this universe that will allow someone to die for someone else. I can’t go to a murder trial and offer to die for the defendant so that he can go free. They won’t allow that. God can’t allow it either. So what was God’s solution? Jesus took my human body to the cross and died not just for me but as me. Not only is my sanctification dependent on the humanity of Jesus, my justification is dependent on it as well.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:14-17 NLT

Jesus had to become us and die as us. This is why Paul describes Jesus dying as us as well as dying for us. Where we all sinned when we were in Adam we have now all lived a righteous life in Christ.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Romans 5:18 NLT

Also as I sinned in Adam I have now been crucified with Christ. Take a look at how these verses describe us dying with Jesus and not just Jesus dying for me.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 NLT

Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. Romans 6:3-7 NLT

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life.2 Corinthians 5:14 NLT

Where I sinned in Adam I have now been crucified with Christ. He took my flesh to the cross and crucified it. That is my justification. The good news is it does not stop there. Jesus also took on humanity and died so we can be sanctified and have victorious lives. Consider how these passages describe the victory Christ gives us by taking on humanity. Lets go back to where we began at Hebrews 2.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:18 NLT

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 1 Peter 2:24

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

The atonement was not only possible because of Jesus’ complete humanity but also because of his complete divinity.

The broken law of God demanded the life of the sinner. In all the universe there was but one who could, in behalf of man, satisfy its claims. Since the divine law is as sacred as God Himself, only one equal with God could make atonement for its transgression. None but Christ could redeem fallen man from the curse of the law and bring him again into harmony with Heaven. Christ would take upon Himself the guilt and shame of sin—sin so offensive to a holy God that it must separate the Father and His Son. Christ would reach to the depths of misery to rescue the ruined race. –Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 63.

Did Jesus make an atonement as fully man or fully God? Both. Did Jesus die to free us from the power of sin or the penalty of sin? Both. Did Jesus die because of the sin of breaking God’s law or the sin of unbelief? Both. I have learned so much more about the cross since my early childhood days. But I am still not in any one theological camp or label. When I am tempted I look at the picture of the cross the Holy Spirit has painted on my heart. His love empowers me to overcome as I remember Jesus died for me. When I make stupid decisions and fall into sin I look to the cross and know I can find forgiveness because Jesus died for me. I am reconciled to God and can believe in His love because Jesus died for me. God made an atonement for my sin and transgression of the law when Jesus died for me.

Many years since my Cradle Roll days, I have experienced hundreds of victories – victories I never imagined possible. But before you pat me on the back, I confess that I have also suffered a multitude of defeats that I never would have imagined possible when I first gave my heart to Jesus at the tender age of seven. Sin has brought me lower than I ever comprehended possible, and Jesus has raised me higher than I ever comprehended possible. I have found theological theories and labels get me nowhere. When I need forgiveness or power to overcome, I do what I have been doing since Cradle Roll. I look at the cross and remember, Jesus died for me.

You may listen to the podcast version of this article here.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.