"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
– Hebrews 12:2 KJV
Jesus is called the author of the Christian faith because He has demonstrated the true meaning of faith in God. Consider His destiny for a moment. Jesus did not want to go to the cross. (Luke 22:42) He had done nothing to deserve death. (Hebrews 4:15) Yet, it was the Father’s will that He go to the cross – so He obediently submitted and went to His death. This is a perfect demonstration of living by faith in God. The knowledge that sustained Jesus during the terrible ordeal of the cross was the joy of knowing that many human beings would receive the gift of eternal life. So, Jesus obediently laid His own life down and allowed cruel men to nail Him to the cross. He accepted the shame and humiliation associated with dying as a criminal. The penalty for sinners was laid on Him. Just before He died, Jesus uttered words that demonstrates the depth of His great faith. He cried out, “. . . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) In such trying circumstances, His words reveal something very beautiful.
Paul says that Jesus is the finisher (Greek: teleiotes) of our faith. The word teleiotes means completeness or perfection. In this sense Jesus is a perfect example of what faith in God should be. As Jesus hung on the cross, He became totally separated from the Father. Never before had He felt the depth of despair that comes from God’s silence – He had always had the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Now, the Father actually put Jesus in the position of those sinners who will experience the second death. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) In other words, Jesus actually experienced the death required by God to pay for the penalty of sin. During His darkest moment, Jesus did not know if He would be resurrected. Yes, He had predicted His resurrection on the third day (Luke 9:22), but His prediction was a statement of faith, not fact. He knew that His resurrection was contingent on receiving the Father’s approval of His entire earthly ministry. Therefore, when Paul says that Jesus is the finisher or perfecter (NIV) of our faith, few of us grasp the importance of these words. Jesus stepped across the portal from life to the second death maintaining perfect faith in God even though He did not know if He would be restored to life. Wow! What incredible love – what incredible faith!
Jesus, the Centerpiece of Bible Prophecy
Jesus is the centerpiece of Bible prophecy. (Colossians 1:18) Bible prophecy predicts a time will come when Jesus Christ is fully revealed to this world. (Matthew 26:64; Revelation 1:1-3) The revelation of all that Jesus is unfolds in a sequence of events – a grand process built into the Plan of Salvation. As the revelation of Jesus unfolds, it illuminates what the Godhead is all about. Jesus is the Word, the Spokesperson for the Godhead. (John 1:1-14) Jesus is the beginning and the end of information about God. He is the Alpha and the Omega. (Revelation 1:8) The Greek alphabet begins with a character called an alpha and it ends with a character called an omega. The character of the Godhead begins and ends with Jesus. In other words, we cannot correctly understand the ways of the Godhead without knowing and understanding Jesus. The wonderful thing about the Plan of Salvation is that a person can be saved from eternal death without understanding the Godhead or even knowing about Jesus! This is very good news when you consider that billions of people live (and have lived) on this planet who have never heard of Jesus or His offer of salvation. This is a profound topic and worthy of consideration.
Salvation is not Based on Absolute Knowledge
For some people, the following concept is a completely new thought: Salvation is not based on an absolute knowledge of God. Many Christians are taught that in order to receive salvation they must know about Jesus and His offer of salvation. Instead, man’s salvation is based solely on the merits of something that Jesus Christ did for the whole world AND our willingness to obediently submit to the authority of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died on the cross, He reconciled the whole world to God. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:10,11) This verse says that mankind was reconciled to God through Jesus when we were still God’s enemies! This reconciliation does not mean that everyone on Earth will receive eternal life as some people claim. Rather, it means that Jesus paid the penalty due each sinner so that each sinner can receive the gift of eternal life, but only if he is willing to obediently surrender to the authority of the Holy Spirit. The “born again” experience occurs whenever a person obediently surrenders his heart to the control of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said,
“. . . I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) Paul wrote, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” – (Romans 8:5-8)
God examines our mind, He knows our motives because He knows our heart. The Spirit knows whether we obediently submit to His demands in faith or whether we are living in rebellion. God cannot be fooled. The greatest of all sins and the only one that cannot be forgiven is an attitude of continuing stubbornness that refuses to submit to the authority of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy [rebellion] against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31,32, insertion mine.)
The bottom line is this: If a person allows the Holy Spirit to live within his or her heart and soul, God considers that person a child of the kingdom. Salvation is not based on an absolute knowledge of God. Instead, it is based on submission to the Holy Spirit. This is ground zero. This is where every human being starts his or her walk with God. The Spirit approaches every person to see if He can find residence there. If He can, life begins to change. A new character begins to develop as desires begin to change. This is how knowledge fits in. Paul wrote, “. . . Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” ( Romans 10:17) Paul does not say that salvation comes by simply agreeing with truth. Paul says that our faith in God increases as we learn more from the teachings of Christ. A person wants to know more about Christ because the Spirit creates the interest! Again, notice the order of events. First the Spirit dwells within, followed by an obedient submission to His dominion, and then a thirst for more knowledge begins. There is an enormous difference between living in obedient faith to God and merely agreeing with certain statements about God. The demons know that God is omnipotent and they tremble! ( James 2:19) This knowledge does not save them from their destined destruction. Knowledge does not save, but knowledge will increase our faith in God if the Holy Spirit has gained entrance into our heart.
God Created Diversity
Because God ordained it, billions of people currently live (and have lived) on the Earth. Paul said, “From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ ” ( Acts 17:26-28, insertion mine.) God knows there are billions of people who truly love a divine entity they call God. These sincere people serve their God to the best of their knowledge and ability. Honesty and sincerity in serving God are evidence of the indwelling Spirit. This is true for the Muslim, for the Jew, for the Catholic, or the Protestant. According to Jesus, the Godhead accepts all people as “children of the kingdom” if they obediently submit to the authority of the Holy Spirit, even though they may not know about Jesus. (John 4:23; 10:16; Romans 2:14,15) This truth reveals how great God’s love is. Because mankind has been reconciled to God through Jesus, God accepts everyone who allows the Holy Spirit to have dominion in their lives.
Many People Will Be Surprised
At the last day, Jesus will resurrect many people who have never heard of His name and give them eternal life! This is possible because God offers salvation on this generous basis: Anyone who submits to the indwelling authority of the Holy Spirit will mature into the kind of person that God wants to live within His eternal home. People who obediently submit to the Holy Spirit live by faith. (Romans 1:17; 8:5) The ministry of the Holy Spirit is a gift from God to all people. (See Joel 2:28,29; Romans 3:28-30 and Romans 12:3) The Holy Spirit attempts to reside in every heart. Hi s mission is to draw people near to God, even if some of them have no knowledge about God. ( John 3; Romans 2:14,15; Acts 10:34,35) The Holy Spirit creates a hunger for knowledge about God and a desire for a relationship with Him. Just because the presence of the Holy Spirit dwells within us does not mean we have an automatic infusion of knowledge about God. Instead, the first work of the Spirit is to develop a new attitude within a person’s character. He wants to produce a joyful, obedient, submissive heart, that will hunger to know God and His truth! Just like steel is attracted to a magnet, any person who allows the Holy Spirit to direct his or her life will be irresistibly drawn to greater truth about God and His will. ( John 3:21; 16:13) In fact, the presence of childlike humility and a thirst for the living water of truth about God is one of the most obvious signs of a “born again” person. ( Matthew 5:6)
Attitude – First and Foremost
Every teacher knows that conduct is a reflection of inner attitude, and if a good attitude is established first, problems can be solved within the classroom faster and more permanently. Jesus certainly understands this process. This is why He offers salvation to man without the necessity of works. If God’s goodness and generosity do not soften our rebellious attitude toward His authority, eternal life with a bad attitude would be hell for a sinner and for everyone around him or her! Our attitude toward God’s authority is inherently rebellious because we are born under the influence of sin. The la w of sin goes to work within our brain the day we are born. ( Romans 7:17,23) Therefore, God sends the Holy Spirit to create a sweet spirit within each of us to prepare us for His presence. Eternal life would be pointless if our attitude toward God is not amicably and warmly reconciled to the fact that He has sovereign authority over us. “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” ( Jeremiah 17:10) God’s interest and love for humankind are incomprehensible. For example, whenever a person follows the Holy Spirit’s prompting – even if that person does not understand everything there is to know about the Father, Jesus, or even the Holy Spirit – the Godhead accepts that person as a member of the kingdom. The Godhead accepts a person when his or her heart becomes willing by faith to obey the Holy Spirit and do whatever the Spirit requires. God knows that if this person knew more, he or she would do more. From God’s point of view, the essential problem with fallen man is the stubborn refusal to submit to the Holy Spirit! ( Matthew 12:31) When the Holy Spirit is allowed to stay within a person’s heart, that person exhibits the childlike attitude God is looking for. ( Matthew 18:3) Although my understanding of God has changed dramatically during the past 30 years of study, my thirst for truth about God remains the same. It is very assuring to know that God’s love for us is not proportionate to our knowledge of Him. Jesus loved me long before I ever knew Him. Even more, Jesus loves me even though I do not know even 1 percent about Him!
Knowledge is Constantly Eclipsed
Some well meaning people believe they know “the whole truth” about God and His will for all mankind, but this is not possible. No created being on Earth or in Heaven knows “the whole truth” about the Godhead. No, not one. Even if a person knew everything about God that could be known today, his or her knowledge would have to be updated tomorrow because the truth about God is ever unfolding. Today’s advancing knowledge constantly eclipses the limits of what was known yesterday. Since we cannot comprehend “the whole truth” about an Infinite God at any given time, it is even more important to live by faith. Many people in every religion live up to all they know to be right and they thirst for greater truth. These are God’s children. Remember that we are not saved by knowledge, but by our faith in God. ( Romans 3:21-26) So, whether a person is a Moslem, Jew, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant or even an atheist, religious persuasion is secondary in matters of salvation. A person is given Christ’s righteousness as long as he or she submits to the authority of the Holy Spirit. If a Hindu is seeking greater truth about God and is honestly living up to all that the Holy Spirit has put in his or her heart, God accepts that person as His child. If you are still a bit skeptical about this matter, consider the story of the Jewish zealot, Saul. Jesus called Saul into His service while he was on his way to Damascus to destroy Christians. The conclusions Saul had in his head were totally wrong, but God could see that his heart was right. ( Acts 9) It may be hard to comprehend, but consider God’s magnificent grace of accepting all people from all walks of life on the basis of obedient faith alone!
Knowledge Has a Place
You may ask, what is the point of having knowledge about Jesus if you are saved through faith alone? Furthermore, what is the point of promoting the gospel of Jesus to the world if the Holy Spirit already lives within people of all religious systems? These are good questions and I believe the answers center on this point: To correctly understand the will, ways and plans of the Godhead, man has to know Jesus Christ. There is no other way. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’ ” ( John 14:6,7) Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega enlightening man’s understanding of an infinite God. He speaks for God. He is the Word of God. Humanity must correctly understand the will, ways and plans of the Godhead for two important reasons: First, the truth about God sets man free of superstitious burdens (nonsense) and false guilt. (John 8:32) Religion at its best is a mixture of partial truth, degenerate culture, foolish speculation and superstition. The older religion gets, the more corrupt it becomes. In general, religious leaders become more concerned with authority and control over people than with the advancement of truth and spiritual growth within their congregations. Jesus was crucified because His teachings weakened the control of the religious authorities over the people. (John 11:50) Historically, religion has caused more wars, separated more people and produced more grief than any other institution on Earth. On the other hand, greater truth about God sets people free from the heavy burden that religion can impose. (Matthew 11:28) The second reason man needs a correct understanding of God is this: Fullness of life is dis covered only through knowing the Lord Jesus. Jesus is the Alpha – Architect of life and the Omega – Overcomer of every problem. The more we know about the Designer and His designs for life, the higher and more fulfilling the human experience will be. If a person adopts God’s principles of life, then his or her life will be noble and honorable. Each person will enjoy the benefits of respect, and integrity will produce many rewards. So, the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His teaching is important. With this knowledge comes freedom and a higher and more fulfilling human experience.
The Eternal Jesus
The Bible teaches that Jesus has existed forever. (Colossians 1:17; Isaiah 48:12,13) It is hard for finite minds to comprehend that Jesus has no beginning and no end. He is an eternal being just like the Father and the Holy Spirit. He was not created and He is not a lesser God or inferior to the Father. (Colossians 1:15-19; John 5:23; 10:30) Jesus is Almighty God just like the Father and the Holy Spirit are Almighty Gods. (Genesis 17:1; Isaiah 44:6; 47:4; Matthew 28:19; Acts 5:3; Revelation 1:8) If you are willing to see it, the Bible teaches that there are three distinct and separate eternal Gods in Heaven. The plurality of the Godhead is introduced in the first chapters of Genesis, supported throughout the Bible and summarized in the final chapters of Revelation.
The progressive revelation of Jesus is the focal point of the Bible because the Godhead predetermined that the process of revealing all that Jesus is was the best way to illuminate their purposes, plans and actions.
Be assured, Jesus is not self-seeking or self-promoting. On the contrary, no being has sacrificed more or shown more genuine humility than the Author and Finisher of our faith. When He was here on Earth, He did not travel in a gold-plated chariot with hundreds of heralds announcing H is appearance. H e did not dress in kingly robes of purple or wear costly jewels. He did not seek the approval or endorsement of religious and political leaders with weasel words or compromise. Even during the donkey-back parade into Jerusalem, King Jesus was not beguiled by the pseudo-praise of a spontaneous crowd. Instead, He immediately angered religious authorities by going straight to His temple to remove the horde of greedy thieves who were conducting “business” in His house of prayer. (Matthew 21:7-14) For almost 30 years Jesus traveled the dusty roads of Galilee as a poor carpenter. He did not seek position and fame, and even when the devil offered to give Him the kingdoms of the world, Jesus would not bow down and worship him. (Luke 4:5-8) Jesus was not on a mission to capture the wealth and glory of this world. He did not come to entertain the carnal heart and win its affection, but to transform it. The miracles He performed were not done to impress the people with His prowess, but to reveal the Father. He came on a mission to seek and save a lost world. Every miracle He performed was calculated to confirm His testimony about the ways and love of the Godhead. If you really want to get a good snapshot of what Jesus was like on Earth, read the entire gospel of John in one sitting. You will be amazed at the conflict He faced and the courage and tenderness He expressed! You will also be amazed at the stubbornness and meanness of carnal hearts.
The Greatest Sacrifice
Consider this point: When Adam and Eve sinned, Jesus immediately offered Hims elf to the Father as man’s substitute. Jesus offered to become a man and die in man’s place. Carefully evaluate what this means. First, Jesus was willing to become a man. This is an act of humility that boggles my mind. Think of it! The Creator of the universe became a mere mortal and subjected Himself to death, just like man is subject to death! The human race was created lower than angels. Jesus is God, as well as the Archangel Michael, and His offer to become the second Adam was an immeasurable condescension. (1 Corinthians 15:45; Hebrews 2:7-9) Second, we know the wages of sin is eternal death. (Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15) When Jesus offered to die for humanity, He was not only willing to die as people do, but also willing to cease to exist forever so that we could have the opportunity of eternal life. This selfless offer from Jesus truly reflects the heart of our Father. This condescension reveals so much about the character of the Godhead. They were willing to disrupt their eternal union to redeem fallen humanity! (John 3:16) Yes, the Father did promise to resurrect Jesus, but His promise was conditional. Jesus had to succeed – live a perfect sinless life – in order to regain eternal life. (John 10:18; Acts 2:32,33; Hebrews 5:7-10) If Jesus had failed, He would have come under the penalty of the same law which condemns all sinners. The risk and sacrifice were great. Jesus, eternal God and Creator of Heaven and Earth, was willing to take the risk. If necessary, Jesus was willing to perish forever – just so man could have an opportunity to be restored to the Garden of Eden. It was the ultimate gift . . . the ultimate sacrifice! Because Jesus offered so much, the Father has decreed that Jesus will be exalted above everyone in the universe. (Psalms 2; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Revelation 5:1-12) This exaltation is an ongoing process. As time passes, the revelation of Jesus Christ becomes greater and greater. The Plan of Salvation requires that Jesus be fully disclosed, verifying that He has all the prerogatives of God. The revelation of Jesus will be accomplished by the end of the 1,000 years and every being in the universe will know that “Michael the Archangel,” “Jesus the man,” is Almighty God.
Jesus Reveals It before It Happens
Jesus told Isaiah, “. . . I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me [on Earth]. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come . . . What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” (Isaiah
46:9-11, insertion mine.) Jesus also told Hi s disciples, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He [the One sent from God].” (John 13:19, insertion mine.) Contrary to what many people say, Bible prophecy cannot be separated from the Plan of Salvation. Prophecy plays an integral role in salvation. Even the birth, death, ascension and return of Jesus to Earth are expressed in the Bible as prophecies. The Bible teaches that salvation comes by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:6-10), but it is difficult to have faith in Someone we have not actually seen or heard. It is also difficult to love Someone we have never met. Therefore, God sent the gift of the Holy Spirit so we could come to know and love Jesus. (John 16:7) The Spirit makes Jesus real in our minds. Furthermore, Jesus provides us with enough reasonable evidence to demonstrate that He is God. The fulfillment of Bible prophecy provides this evidence. Bible prophecy is history stated in advance. Jesus declares what He will do and history confirms what He did. Prophecy is a progressive record and by studying it, we can observe the marvelous work of Jesus through many centuries. History confirms God’s constant vigil to verify that His promises are kept. When understood correctly, Bible prophecy demonstrates and ex plains the character of Jesus in many wonderful ways. Peter said, “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-21)
On or about the time of fulfillment, Bible prophecy “suddenly becomes understandable and applicable.” This is an interesting phenomenon. For example, when Jesus was born, the prophecies surrounding His birth suddenly became clear to the honest in heart, such as the wise men. The sudden understanding and fulfillment of prophecy is sometimes called “present truth.” A good example of “present truth” is demonstrated by Paul’s preaching. (Romans 16:25-27) The arrival of present truth always centers on some new truth or event concerning Jesus. Therefore, when students of the Word understand what Jesus is about to do, they know how and when to prepare for His actions! For example, Jesus told Noah to build an ark because He was going to destroy the world with a flood. The message Jesus gave Noah was present truth at that time because Jesus was about to do something He had not done before! Because Noah lived by faith, he obeyed Jesus. With great expense and tremendous effort, Noah built an ark, thereby saving himself and his family. (Hebrews 11:7)
Having Ears That Hear
One of the biggest problems students face with Bible study is that some elements of the Bible have to be believed before they can be understood, and other elements have to be understood before they can be believed. It is important to approach Bible study with both perspectives in mind. We may have to stretch our minds to do some possibility thinking because some answers are a long time in coming. In the end, it is reassuring to know that faith and truth are inseparable – they are brother and sister. For this reason, we should not feel threatened when the big picture does not snap into focus right away. In our search for truth, we must have a humble attitude and teachable spirit. My prayer for 30 years continues to be: “Lord, I do not care what the truth is or where it may lead, just let me see it!”
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:47) In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus emphasized seven times, “He that has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This phrase indicates that those people who honestly listen for God’s voice will eventually hear and understand what the Holy Spirit says! Jesus said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13)
Afraid of Two Things
The carnal heart is afraid of two things: the truth and the future. The born again heart has nothing to fear because Jesus is the truth and He stands today where we will be tomorrow. This is the beauty of living by faith. If we are willing to confess our sins and move forward, truth is not a fearful thing. Likewise, there is nothing to fear about the future because our Savior sees the future and has made every provision for it. Jesus said, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whosoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:20,21) The Apostle Paul wrote, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) Even more, Daniel says of the wicked: “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” (Daniel 12:10)
These verses confirm the complete harmony between the operation of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. One is not antagonistic toward the other. The members of the Godhead are in one accord. The Holy Spirit will never lead a person into rebellion against a plain “thus saith the Lord” stated in Scripture. Never! The Holy Spirit always nudges a person to obediently submit to God’s higher authority. (Acts 5:29) Whenever we face a difficult situation where sin appears to be the best solution, we are on treacherous ground. Remember Abraham. He and Sarah concluded that having a child by Hagar was the only answer to Sarah's infertility, but look at the price of their sin. Daniel 12:10 also confirms that if we are not obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will not be able to grow spiritually and understand even greater truths about God.
Even though we may be honest seekers of truth, there will always be portions of the Bible that will be unclear and challenging to understand. Do not feel intimidated. We stand on the shoulders of many honorable men and women who have experienced this same dilemma. No person can understand everything written in the Bible. However, everyone who seeks truth will find it and will be able to understand the basics. (Matthew 7:7) Even more, everyone who seeks truth will see God (Matthew 5:8) and He will reward everyone who diligently seeks Him. (Hebrews 11:6; Revelation 1:3) Just as God’s infinite love is greater than we can ever hope to under stand, many Bible concepts are simply too broad, deep and large to be completely understood in one lifetime. Jesus reads the mind and heart of each person and all that He requires is a surrendered heart, an honest inquiry, a diligent effort and an open mind. If we cooperate with the leading of the Spirit each day, Jesus will produce a spiritual maturity that is otherwise impossible to attain. (Ephesians 4:13)
Too many Christians stay on the merry-go-round of basic elements and never mature into the deeper and intricate concepts about Jesus. The Author of our Faith did not produce a third grade primer on salvation. He produced a library of 66 books that offers something at every level of spiritual development. Paul observed the fact that some people would not grow up spiritually and he chastised the Hebrews saying, “We have much to say about [the ministry of Christ], but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.” (Hebrews 5:11-6:1, insertion mine.) Did you notice the subjects that Paul called “elementary truths?”
Of course, Paul believed that we should understand the basics of salvation first and then move on to practice them in our lives. But he did not stop there! He encouraged all of us to grow up and continue learning more about the ways and plans of Jesus. If we are satisfied with “just enough religion” to be saved (the basic truths about salvation), could it be that we are more interested in saving ourselves than knowing Jesus? How foolish! The Plan of Salvation is not an insurance policy, nor is it a scheme to obtain eternal life. Instead, the Plan of Salvation is a comprehensive way of life. When a person enrolls in the Plan of Salvation, he or she wants to grow up spiritually and reflect Jesus’ character. A hunger f or spiritual food drives a born again person to the Bible.
“Prophecy is not Essential to Salvation”
When people insist that Bible prophecy is not essential to salvation, they tacitly admit they are spiritually immature and still fascinated with the milk of elementary things. (Remember Hebrews 5:11-6:1.) Keep in mind that Jesus is neither mindless nor shallow about the things He does or says. He is the Creator of molecular physics, as well as the Revealer of the mysteries of God. He would not have included electrons in atoms nor apocalyptic prophecy in the Bible if these elements were not important. Jesus would not have instructed John to write the Book of Revelation if it was meaningless and useless. On the contrary, the Book of Revelation is the only book in the Bible that offers a blessing to everyone who reads it. “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3) The Book of Revelation will become, at the right time, a marvelous “road map” of present truth for the people of Earth. Prior to the Great Tribulation, the Book of Revelation will not enjoy preeminence because it will not be the time for its fulfillment. But this will suddenly change and overnight, the most complicated book in the Bible will become an important road map explaining the actions of Jesus. Do not lessen the importance of Bible prophecy simply because you do not understand what it says. Paul wrote, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20) Jesus condemned the Pharisees for not recognizing the fulfillment of prophecy right before their eyes! He said, “Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:56)
John warns us to be aware of false prophets. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
(1 John 4:1) Jesus warned His disciples, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.” (Matthew 24:24) Think about it. According to these texts, if a person performs great signs and miracles, does it necessarily make them a true prophet? No! (See Deuteronomy 13:1-5.) If a great sign or miracle is not proof of truth or a true prophet, then the proof of a true prophet must be found in the validity of his message. A prophet’s message will conform to Bible truth and be a plain “thus saith the Lord .” A prophet is not a god. True, prophets sometimes perform miracles to confirm their testimony, but a miracle is not enough. There has to be something external (that is, a witness) to validate the testimony of the prophet. (John 8:1 3-20)
If a person is not acquainted with the Bible, it becomes very difficult to use the “gold standards” set forth in the Bible to test a prophet. If we are left with nothing but our senses – he or she looked good, spoke authoritatively and appeared to know a lot about the Bible – we become very vulnerable to deception. The devil knows t he Bible very well and this makes it imperative that we know God’s Word, too. In days to come, a great contest will occur between the prophets of God and the prophets of the devil. Many people who currently claim to be “led of the Spirit” will painfully discover they were led by their foolish imaginations. (Ezekiel 13) The Spirit ever leads us toward truth – to carefully examine God’s Word. Then, as we discover more truth, the Spirit confirms it in our minds by connecting more dots to form a growing picture of truth.
Wrong Conclusions and Terrible Consequences
If we interpret prophecy with faulty presuppositions, we will produce faulty conclusions. Notice how faulty presuppositions led Jewish leaders to a faulty conclusion in Jesus’ day. Malachi predicted, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5,6) This prophecy was given to Malachi about 400 years before Jesus was born and the Jews commonly interpreted this prophecy to mean that Elijah would physically come down from Heaven and introduce the Messiah when the time came for Him to appear. (Remember, Elijah was taken to Heaven in a whirlwind approximately 450 years before Malachi wrote these words. See 2 Kings 2:11.)
John the Baptist
This prophecy has an interesting setting. According to Luke 3:1,15, many Jews anticipated Messiah would arrive during the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. This anticipation was based on the fact that A.D. 27 marked the commencement of the 70th week since the decree to restore Jerusalem was issued by Artaxerxes on Nisan 1, 457 B.C.1 (Ezra 7,8) The Jews were not alone in their expectations, even the Samaritans anticipated the appearing of Messiah! (See John 4:25.)
Interest in the appearing of Messiah had been fueled by the appearance of a strange and powerful man whom many people regarded as a prophet. His name was John. It was the custom of John the Baptist (John the baptizer) to hold services out in the desert, near the Jordan River. He preferred the sobriety of the wilderness to the din of the city and many of the curious ventured into the wilderness to hear him. John’s preaching created a sensation for he spoke with power and penetrating insight. He claimed the kingdom of God was at hand and many people believed him. His prophetic message debunked the teaching of the religious leaders and the superstitions imbedded in Judaism. People and priests were “pricked in the heart” because of their sins. As they listened to this man of God, they realized the Messiah would appear and establish His kingdom very soon! John made it very clear that sinners with a rebellious attitude could not be a part of God’s kingdom. “Therefore,” he cried, “repent of your sins and be baptized.” Holy Spirit power rested on John the Baptist. His words carried much weight. They deeply stirred the hearts of his listeners and as his popularity grew, the clergy in Jerusalem became increasingly troubled with him.
“Who Are You?”
One day, the Religious Affairs Department in Jerusalem sent a group of priests to the Jordan River to question the uneducated “wild-man” who was causing such a stir among the people. (See John 1:19-23.) Notice the sequence of the priests’ questions, because the questions were based on their understanding of prophecy. Their first question to John was, “Are you Messiah?” John answered, “No.” Then, they asked if he was Elijah. Again, John answered, “No.” They asked if he was the prophet that Moses had predicted. (See Deuteronomy 18:15.) John again responded, “No.” In desperation, they finally asked, “Who are you?” John answered by quoting from Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ” (John 1:23)
Satisfied that John the Baptist was not the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet predicted by Moses, the priests returned to Jerusalem with their report. As you might guess, the problem was their misunderstanding of whom John represented. They assumed, base d on their interpretation of Malachi, that the physical appearing of Elijah was a mandatory fulfillment before Messiah could appear. This interpretation helped the Pharisees to reject Jesus as Messiah because John the Baptist plainly declared that he was not Elijah. They concluded that if there was no Elijah, there could be no Messiah. Look again at the prophecy of Malachi 4 on page 48. How do you interpret it? If you had been a Pharisee at that time, would you have doubted that Jesus was the Messiah since Elijah had not physically appeared?
“Where is Elijah?”
The only way to reach an accurate prophetic conclusion is to combine the harmony of the Scriptures with the help of the Holy Spirit. In other words, spiritual things are spiritually understood. (1 Corinthians 2:14) About two years after the priests had questioned John the Baptist, Peter, James and John went with Jesus to a mountain top now called the Mount of Transfiguration. There they saw Jesus visit with Elijah and Moses. (Matthew 17:1-9) The disciples thought this was the Elijah that Malachi had predicted! But Elijah did not stay on Earth, in fact, only those men on the mountain saw him. They must have wondered why Elijah and Moses made the trip from Heaven to see Jesus. The Father sent Elijah and Moses as representatives of the human race to encourage Jesus as He was about to meet His rendezvous with death. The salvation of the human race depended on Jesus obediently going to the cross. Elijah was a representative of people who will be saved without seeing death and Moses represented those who will be resurrected from death and the grave. Of course, at the time, the disciples did not comprehend that Jesus was about to die. In fact, they were waiting for Him to establish a glorious kingdom. A short time after the mountain top experience they asked Jesus about Elijah and the prophetic argument the Pharisees used to negate the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. They asked, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” (Matthew 17:10) Jesus responded, “‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:11-13)
Was John the Baptist the promised Elijah? The answer is both no and yes. No, John the Baptist was not the physical person of Elijah. Everyone knew that John was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. But yes, John the Baptist was a spiritual type of Elijah. Notice what the angel Gabriel said to John’s father, Zechariah, before his son was born, “And he will go before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers t o their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)
Jesus Applies the Prophecy
Jesus clearly understood the importance of John’s work. He said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he . . . And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:11,14) There is that phrase again, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Notice that Jesus said, “. . . if you are willing to accept it, he [John the Baptist] is the Elijah who was to come.” (insertion mine.) In other words, the prophecy of Malachi was fulfilled by John the Baptist. The fulfillment of the prophecy was not based on the appearing of Elijah in the flesh, but the ministry of John in the spirit and power of Elijah. (Luke 1:17) There is a very important reason for using this particular example of Bible prophecy. If faulty presuppositions are used to interpret Malachi's prophecy, the prophecy contributes to the rejection of Jesus as Messiah. If Elijah does not appear, Messiah cannot appear. But according to Jesus, John the Baptist fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy because he appeared in the spirit and power of Elijah. This is an important lesson. We must be very careful to use the correct methods of prophetic interpretation. A wrong turn in interpretation can have very serious consequences!
Jesus is the Word, the Alpha and Omega in all things pertaining to the Godhead. He is the Revealer of love and truth about the Godhead. There is no other flawless source. Jesus is a perfect demonstration of what faith in God is a ll about. The role of the Holy Spirit is also central in the Plan of Salvation. His mission and work are to draw each person into a faith relationship with God. A faith relationship is defined as an obedient surrender to God’s will – to go where the Spirit directs, to do as the Spirit convicts and to become all that the Spirit urges. When the Holy Spirit is allowed to live within our heart, He creates a thirst for knowledge about God. As we learn more about the life, teaching and doctrines of Jesus Christ, we also begin to understand more about the will, ways and truth of God. (John 16:14,15) Finally, Bible prophecy is a form of present truth that becomes understandable and applicable on or about the time of fulfillment. When rightly understood and combined with progressive historical fulfillment, Bible prophecy proves that God keeps vigil over Earth. It also proves that God has a plan to save man. The good news is that very soon, the plan will be completed.