Thursday, December 30

What Is "Soul Sleep?"

Throughout man's history, our eternal destination, or, if you will, what happens after you die, has been a hot topic. There is a doctrine that many people believe in called "soul sleep." Understand from the beginning that the term "soul sleep" is not found in Scripture. What is soul sleep? Wikipedia defines it as, "Soul sleep is an often pejorative term for what in academic literature is now (since the 1970s) generally called by the more neutral term Christian mortalism for the belief that the human soul is uncomprehending during the time between bodily death and Judgment Day resurrection."(Photo credit to: Invitation to Christ's Article on Soul Sleep)

In short, there is no Scriptural basis for "soul sleep." In this entry, we will attempt to examine why. There are many great books which discuss this topic further, however, this entry is a basic overview. According to  Erwin W. Lutzer, soul sleep is "... the belief that no one is conscious at death because the soul sleeps until the resurrection of the body. Although this view has some able defenders, it suffers from the difficulty of having to reinterpret many clear passages of Scripture in order to make this doctrine fit." (From: One Minute After You Die)

One of the verses used to support this view is 1st Corinthians 15:18, which says, "Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." The expression "fallen asleep" refers to the bodies of Christians - sleep is not used with the soul in the New Testament. For the Christian, our soul goes to Heaven to be with Christ at death, whereas it is our body that is "asleep" in the grave. When the resurrection occurs, our souls will be re-united with our bodies, which will be restored and glorified. "Fallen asleep in Christ" means the soul has, in essence, given up Christ. John 11:11-14 is yet another verse that supporters of this doctrine attempt to use, but as we will see, it is used mistakenly. The passages is as follows: "After he said this, he went on to tell them, 'Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.' His disciples replied, 'Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.' Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead.'"

It is reasonable to believe when Jesus said, "Lazarus has fallen asleep," he meant, "Lazarus is dead," equating sleep to death. Now, many scholars, biblical commentaries, and great men of faith tend to agree that there is no Scriptural teaching that, at death, our soul sleeps. Rather, the soul goes to be with Christ, if they are saved. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible states rather interestingly, "The death of Lazarus was in a peculiar sense a sleep.... because he was to be raised again speedily; and why should not the believing hope of that resurrection to eternal life make it as easy to us to put off the body and die as it is to put off our clothes and go to sleep... he rests from the labors of the day past and is refreshing himself for the next morning. Death has the advantage as sleep. The soul does not sleep but becomes more active; but the body sleeps without any toss, without any terror; not distempered nor disturbed. The grave to the wicked is a prison... but to the godly it is a bed, and all its bands as the soft and downy fetters of an easy quiet sleep."

As aforementioned, it is the body that "sleeps" while the soul either goes to Heaven and though we have a "body" in Heaven, when the resurrection of the dead occurs, souls will be reunited with their bodies, the bodies restored and glorified. Now, Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, "the dead know nothing." Psalm 13:3 and Daniel 12:2 also seem to support what Jehovah Witnesses call "termination of existence." However, the context as a whole ought to be looked at, as well as Ephesians 2:1-5; John 11:26; Philippians 1:21, 23; and Romans 8:10. For example, Romans 8:10, "If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin." St. Paul is not referring to a termination of existence, rather, that death is a separation of soul and body. In the sense of spiritual death, it is the separation of the soul and spirit from God as a result of the corruption of sin, but it is not "unconsciousness" nor "termination of existence," as read in the Jehovah's Witness book Watchtower.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary on the Whole Bible states, "...dead know nothing - i.e., so far as their bodily senses and worldly affairs are concerned (Job 14:21; Is. 63:16)." Unger's Commentary on the Hebrew Bible agrees, saying, "But the dead (insofar as life in this world is concerned) know not anything (Job 14:2; Psalms 6:5, 88:10-11). Death terminates all enjoyments in this world." If "soul sleep" were true, we would find biblical examples of such. On the contrary, we find biblical examples of quite the opposite. 1st Samuel 28:13-15 shows the witch of Endor bringing up Samuel. Samuel talked with Saul. Samuel was not sleeping. He said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me?," not, "Why have you awoke me?" Many commentaries believe that this was actually Samuel and not a demon. In Isaiah 14:9-10 we read, "Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming... All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become as weak as we?" (KJV) One cannot "say" if they are asleep nor "meet thee."Verse 16 reads, "They see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man..."  

Ezekiel 32:21-27 says, "The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell with them that help him...Yet have they borne their shame with them that go down to the pit. ...which are gone down to hell... and they have laid their swords under their heads, but their inequities shall be upon their bones." (KJV) So, the dead are speaking, they experience shame, and are all asleep? I think not.


Jonah 2:2 says, "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried." Many commentaries, such as Tyndale and the  New International, believe that Jonah was in Sheol. How is it that Jonah could cry if he had been sleeping? He could not. We find at the Transfiguration of Christ that Moses and Elijah appeared - and spoke with Jesus. (Matthew 17:3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:29-33) Also, the three disciples with Jesus saw Moses and Elijah - fully conscious, not asleep. In Luke 16:22-30, Abraham is speaking to the rich man who is in the torment section of the underworld. The rich man said several things, such as, "I am tormented in this flame." (Verse 24Revelation 5:5, in which John speaks with an elder in Heaven, who is certainly awake in spirit, and not asleep and Philippians 1:23, "...to depart and to be with Christ," seem to show that death is a separation from the body of the soul at death, and that the soul is awake while the body is sleeping. St. Paul was discussing how he expected to be with Christ at death, not asleep.

One particular verse seems to refute soul sleep. In Luke 23:43, Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him that day in paradise. Jesus was not going to sleep, and neither was the man on the cross. On the contrary, Jesus preached to the spirits in prison and led the captive to freedom, where the Hebrew Bible believers rose from their tombs and went into Jerusalem, only be to taken up when Christ ascended forty days later. (1st Peter 3:19, Ephesians 4:8, Matthew 27:51-53).

It appears that those in Heaven are fully conscious, it is that the body is left in the grave, whereas the soul has gone to Heaven. Yet the "supporting verses" do not end there. Colossians 2:20 says, "Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world..." This verse is referring to the Christian's union with Jesus in his death and resurrection, as He has been transformed into new life from the old. (See Romans 6:1-11) Now, we could examine verse after verse that is used to "support" this theory, and show why it does not. The general concept is that, sleep is merely an expression used of the body, not of the soul, in death. Charles R. Erdman once said, "It is seen that there is no 'sleep of the soul.' The body may sleep, but consciousness exists after death." Daniel I. Block said, "If death is viewed as sleep, we need to interpret this not as 'soul sleep' in Sheol, as understood by Seventh Day Adventists, but that the state of dying is a falling asleep to awake in another world."

Troy Hillman

Tuesday, December 28

Has Man Ever Seen God?

Throughout the Bible, we read of God talking with man, and we find this evident in human history as well. One would think that during the time of man, at least one person would have seen God face to face. Have we? Skeptics will claim that the Bible says no man has ever seen God, yet he appears all throughout the Hebrew Bible. In this entry, we will examine the question, and examine the answer. (Photo credit to: Visual Bible International, "The Gospel of John," 2003, starring Henry Ian Cusick, narrated by Christopher Plummer)

John records in John 1:18, "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known." God himself states this, in Exodus 33:18-23, which says, "Then Moses said, 'Now show me your glory.' And the Lord said, 'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.'"

"'But,' he said, 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.' Then the Lord said, 'There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen." Therefore, it is thus far true: no one has ever fully seen God, because no mortal may see his face and live, it is too glorious.

In previous entries, we have taken a look at the "Angel of the Lord" found throughout the Hebrew Bible, coming to the conclusion that He is actually Jesus, pre-incarnate. (Angel also means "Messenger") Therefore, for the remainder of this entry, let us assume that Jesus Christ is the messenger of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible. Genesis 32:22-32 records Jacob wrestling with God himself. Verses 28-30 are particularly revealing. (See entry: "The Holy Trinity (Part Two)")

"Then the man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome.' Jacob said, 'Please tell me your name.' But he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, 'It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.'" Since we know that no man has seen God face to face, yet has seen Jesus, we can conclude that Jacob actually wrestled with God the Son.

In fact, when God appeared in a Burning Bush to Moses (Exodus 3), it was not God the Father, but God the Son. How do we know this? "There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, 'I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.' When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses! Moses!'" (Exodus 3:2-4)

In the same passage, the Angel of the Lord, rather, Messenger of the Lord, has been equated to God himself. Exodus 3:6 says, "'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this, Moses hid his face, because he was too afraid to look at God." Verse 14 continues, "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.''" This messenger of God is claiming to be God. Later, when Moses asked to see God's Glory on Mt. Sinai, would he not have remembered seeing him already in the burning bush? It is because he was talking to God the Son, Jesus Christ himself.

Jesus echoes his words centuries later in his incarnation. In John 8:58, he says, "'Very truly I tell you,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I AM!" In Joshua 5:13-6:5, Jesus appears to Gideon as the "commander of the Lord's army," but is equated to God not long after, and since we know that no one has seen the Father, nor the Holy Spirit, for that matter, aside from his appearance "as a dove" to John the Baptist, this must have been God the Son, Jesus.

Jesus also appears to Gideon. Judges 6:11-12, "The angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.'" Gideon questions Jesus, and verse 14 continues, "The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?'"

After Gideon asks for a sign, and goes to prepare an offering for God, "The angel of the Lord said to him, "'Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.' And Gideon did so. With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, "Ah Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!' But the Lord said to him, 'Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.'" After this, God tells Gideon how he must defeat the Midianites, and defeat them he does. (Judges 6:17-23)

Several years later, he appeared to a man named Manoah and his wife. "The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, 'You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.'" (Judges 13:3-5)

When Manoah's wife told her husband about the visitation, and having seen the messenger again, Manoah went out and spoke with him. Manoah inquired the messenger's name. "He replied, 'Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.' Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. 'We are doomed to die!' he said to his wife. 'We have seen God!'" (Judges 13:18-22)

(From: "The Gospel of John," 2003)
Manoah's wife calmed him, saying, "If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this." (Judges 13:23) The angel of the Lord also appeared to Hagar, Abraham, and many others in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus also appeared in flames in Daniel 3:25. God appears to Abraham in Genesis 18 with two angels. He comes to bring good news: Sarah will become pregnant and he would have a son. The passage makes it clear that it is the Lord whom Abraham is speaking with, face to face. As we know that no one has ever fully seen God the Father, he must have been speaking with God the Son, Jesus Christ.

"But," some may argue, "what about Daniel's description of God found in Daniel 7:9-10?" Let us examine this passage, which says, "As I looked, 'thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow, the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze." This particular passage seems to indicate that Daniel saw God, but note one thing: it was not face to face in the body, but in the spirit. In Heaven, in the spirit, we can see God, not in the body. Daniel was having a vision in the spirit, therefore he could see God, thus still not negating "No one has ever seen God."

Dr. John R. Rice, in his book, Here are more Questions..., says the following, "I think the Scriptures indicate clearly that no man has looked in God's face since the fall. As to what happened before the fall, the Bible does not say and we do not know. I believe God and man had free face-to-face communication before the fall, but it would not be wise to make an issue where the Bible does not state a thing definitely. Moses saw God's 'back parts.'... (Exodus 33:20-23) John the apostle said, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.' (John 1:18) And John said again, in 1 John 4:12,"No man hath seen God at any time.' Jesus himself said: "And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.' (John 5:37)."

The point is this: No living man has ever seen God, unless in the spirit. Whenever God appears in the Hebrew Bible, it was God the Son, Jesus Christ, who was appearing. This is called Christophany. (Pre-incarnate appearances of Christ.) There are too many evidences to ignore Jesus as the angel of the Lord. For example, the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and claimed to be God himself, and Moses did what was commanded of him and eventually led the Israelites out of Egypt. (Exodus 3:6) The angel of the Lord was sent into the world by Yahweh (The Father, Judges 13:8-9), just as Jesus was sent into the world in the New Testament by the Father. (John 3:17)

The angel of the Lord also prayed to the Father on behalf of the people of God, (Zechariah 1:12) just as Jesus prays to the Father for God's people today. (Hebrews 7:25, 1st John 2:1-2, he also prayed several times while on Earth) It appears as if the appearances of this "angel" cannot be the Father nor the Holy Spirit. The Father is one "whom no one has seen or can see." (1st Timothy 6:16, see also John 1:18, 5:37) Also, the Holy Spirit cannot be physically seen. (John 14:7) Jesus is the only one who can physically appear.

Also, the angel of the Lord and Jesus had amazingly and strikingly similar ministries: delivery of the enslaved (Exodus 3, Galatians 1:4, 1st Thessalonians 1:10, 2nd Timothy 4:18, Hebrews 2:14-15), and comforting the lowly. (Genesis 16:7-13; 1st Kings 19:4-8; Matthew 14:14, 15:32-39) Jesus, the "angel" (which means: messenger, one who is sent, envoy) of the Lord, just as he had done in the New Testament times and continues to do today, acted on behalf of God the Father.

Jesus made a major appearance from around 4 BC-30 AD. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14a) God loves us, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) The Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Advocate - the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the only way to heaven, just as he said. "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Troy Hillman

Monday, December 27

Prophecy and John the Baptist

Though Prophecy makes up approximately 30% of the Bible, in the past, many teachers and pastors have chosen to ignore it due to what they claim as being "too hard to interpret." This is not the case with all, as people seem to be paying more and more attention to prophecy in the last hundred years alone. Jesus says in Luke 10:21, "...you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." Many believe the Bible is so easy to understand, that even a child can understand it. (Photo  Credit to: Visual Bible International, "The Gospel of John," 2003, starring Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus, Scott Handy as John the Baptist, narrated by Christopher Plummer)

In this entry, we will be taking a look at a major historical figure: John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah wrote about John nearly 700 years before his birth. Isaiah 40:3-5, "A voice of one calling: 'In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken." 

Now, we find that John the Baptist is in all four Gospels. Matthew gives us a good description of John in Matthew 3:1-6. "In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, 'Repent for the king of heaven has come near. This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: 'A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'"

"John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized in the Jordan River." John says in Matthew 3:11, "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."

Mark 1:1-4 reiterates this passage, which says, "The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, as it written in Isaiah the prophet: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way' - 'a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

Mark mentions two different prophecies: one is in Isaiah, and one is in Malachi. Let us examine the prophecy in Malachi 3:1, which says, "'I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,' says the Lord Almighty." Thus far, we have determined that John the Baptist was to be a messenger, someone who would prepare the way for the Lord.

After John's birth, Zechariah, his father, prophesied about him in Luke 1:76-79, which says, "And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Luke 1:80 concludes, "And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel." From what we have read, it appears as if John fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah and Malachi. John the beloved disciple wrote about John the Baptist when he said, "There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light." (John 1:6-8)

John again writes about the Baptist in John 1:19-28, which reads, "Now this was John's testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, 'I am not the Messiah.' They asked him, 'Then who are? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' He answered, 'No.' Finally they said, 'Who are you? Give us n answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?'"

"John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, 'I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.' Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?' 'I baptize with water,' John replied, 'but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing."

John himself stated that he was not the Messiah. The return of Elijah was also prophesied in Malachi, and in the gospels, John was often equated to the prophet Elijah. We have determined that John the Baptist, at the least, believed himself to be the forerunner of the Messiah: and fulfilled the prophecies concerning himself. 
(From: The Gospel of John, 2003)

He proclaimed that the Messiah was coming soon, claimed himself as "the messenger," the forerunner, and when he finally met Jesus - the Messiah, he baptized him, and saw the Holy Spirit descend on him like a dove, and understood that he truly was the Son of God. Once Jesus was baptized, God said from heaven, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34)

Now, what became of this man who fulfilled prophecy? The 1st Century Historian (though skeptics argue against this) Flavius Josephus, has the following account of John the Baptist: "Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness."

"Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him." (From: The Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2)

John was beheaded by Herod, which is how he met his end. But John the Baptist was faithful and true to the end, he remained adamant in his proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, in baptizing, and, having baptized the Messiah, fulfilled prophecy that was made about him several hundreds of years before he was even conceived. John came to herald the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, and is God himself. 

So John, whose birth was heralded by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah who in turn conveyed this truth to his mother, Elizabeth, who was the relative of Mary: mother of Jesus, was the prophesied forerunner. Walter Wink, Oxford Companion to the Bible, recorded the following: "Judaism had never encountered anything quite like this, yet virtually everything recorded of John had parallels in Isaiah. These parallels include the following: an eschatological outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 32:15; Mark 1:8) associated with the wilderness (Isa. 35:1-10, 40:3, 41:18-19, 43:19-20; Mark 1:3, 8, 10); a spirit-endowed one to come who will act as judge (Isa. 11:2-5, 42:1-4, 61:1; Mark 1:7-8); Israelites as children of Abraham (Isa. 29:22, 41:8, 51:2, 63:16, Matt. 3:9);"
"[continued] unfaithful Israel portrayed as a brood of vipers (Isa. 59:5, 1:4; Matt. 3:7) or as trees that God will hew down with an axe (Isa. 6:13; 10:15-19, 33-34; 14:8; Matt. 3:10); wind/breath/spirit (Hebr. ruah), and fire compared to a river in which one is immersed (Isa. 30:27-28, 33; 43:2; Matt. 3:12); Israel as the threshed and winnowed one (Isa. 21:10; Matt. 3:12); Israel washed clean (Isa. 1:16; 4:4; 52:11; Mark 1:4); and works of righteousness mandated subsequent to washing (Isa. 1:16-17; Matt. 3:18; Luke 3:10-14)." (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, pg. 372

As we have determined, from not only the above passage but from the four Gospels, John the Baptist not only fulfilled the prophecies found in Isaiah and Malachi, but had many parallels to other prophecies found in Isaiah, and certainly was a historical figure. John came to testify about the light, about Jesus. Jesus, the Creator (John 8:56; Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Revelation 22:13; etc) entered into his creation to "[bear] the sin of many, and [make] intercession for the transgressors," (Isaiah 53:12) so that we may live.

Troy Hillman

Saturday, December 25

The Christmas Account: Birth of Christ

The situation with the Romans was becoming increasingly terrifying among the people. Riots and revolts were a constant, and each time the Caesar would tighten his iron grip. The Jewish people, the people of God, who had disobeyed him and thus were enslaved, looked forward to a promised Messiah. When would this promised Messiah finally appear? *This special entry is the account of the Birth of Christ. It has been adapted from Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. (NIV) This entry does not follow the normal style of entries, but has been adapted to provide the account of the events surrounding the birth of the Messiah - again, this is not the full text from the gospels, just an adaptation. End verses from John 1 and John 3:16.

It was sometime between 6-3 BC, most likely about 5/4 BC. Herod was king of Judea in those days. There was a priest named Zechariah, descendant of Aaron. His wife was named Elizabeth, and both were old and past child-bearing age. One day when Zachariah's division was on duty at the Holy Temple, he was chosen by lot to go into the temple and burn incense. The angel Gabriel, who had appeared centuries before to the prophet Daniel, appeared before Zechariah, and said:

"Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit before he is born. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Elizabeth and Zechariah
Zechariah inquired, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not be able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time." When Zechariah came out of the temple, he could not speak to the people.

After this, Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months, had remained in seclusion. Now, in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy with John, God had sent the same angel, Gabriel, to a house in the town of Nazareth in Galilee. He had been sent to Mary, who was a virgin, and was pledged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. Both were of the line of King David. Gabriel said to her, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Mary was troubled at Gabriel's words, and wondered why he would great someone in such a fashion. The angel quenched her fears. "Do not be afraid, Mary, you found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." To which Mary asked, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relatives going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail." Mary answered, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me according to your word."

After hearing that Elizabeth was pregnant, Mary went to a town in the country, where Zechariah and Elizabeth were living. When Mary greeted Elizabeth, the baby John leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb. Three months later, John was born to Elizabeth. On the eighth day after he was born, the relatives wanted to name the baby after Zechariah. However, Elizabeth said, "No! He is to be called John."

So they asked Zechariah what his name would be. He was given a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." His impediments were gone, and immediately he was able to speak again, and he began praising God. Zechariah proceeded to prophesy that John would be the forerunner to the Savior. Mary then returned to Nazareth. Now, having been pregnant a few months, Mary was showing, and Joseph knew he was not the father.

Since Joseph was an honorable man, he had decided to quietly divorce her, and not make it a public spectacle or have her mocked and ridiculed or even stoned - he did not want to disgrace her. But after he had considered doing so, an angel came to Joseph in a dream. The angel said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

This happened to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, "The virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel," which means, "God with us." Joseph accepted Mary now, and did what the angel had commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, with no shame. However, she remained a virgin, as he would not have union with her until the child was born.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus
Now, Caesar Augusts had issued a decree that a census be taken of the whole Roman empire, requiring everyone to return to their own town to register. So Joseph and Mary traveled south to the town of Bethlehem - where the Messiah was prophesied to be born. While Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, the time came for Jesus to be born, and because there was no guest room available - whether it was an inn or a relatives - the child was born, and he was wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger.

On the outskirts of Bethlehem, there were shepherds keeping watch over their sheep at night. An angel appeared to them and said, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a heavenly host of angels appeared and began to praise God and said, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." After the angels had gone into heaven, the shepherds went into Bethlehem and found the Jesus, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. The shepherds worshiped him, then went out and spread word about the birth of the Savior - returning thereafter to praise God for all of the things that had transpired.

Eight days after the birth of the baby, he was named Jesus, and he was circumcised. When the time had come for the purification rites from the Law, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem, and to offer a pair of doves or two young pigeons. Now there was a man named Simeon who was very devout. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Impressed upon by the Holy Spirit, he entered the temple courts that day, and when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus in to fulfill the custom of the Law of Moses.

When Simeon saw Jesus, he took him into his arms and praised God, and said, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel." Simeon turned to Mary and said, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed."

A prophet named Anna, who was very old and had lived with her husband for seven years and became a widow and had remained so for eighty-four years, had never left the temple but would worship day and night, and conversely. When she saw Jesus, Anna gave thanks and praised God. Sometime in the next two years, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, magi (who are wise men, astronomers) from the east came to Jerusalem.

They asked, "Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." King Herod, having heard this, inquired of his priests and teachers of the law what prophecies said regarding the location of the birth of the Messiah - they confirmed it to be Bethlehem. King Herod called the magi secretly and learned from them the exact time that the star had appeared, which was about two years prior.

Herod said to the magi, who were at least two in number but may have been more, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." After the magi left Jerusalem, the star arose in the sky again, and it stopped over the house where the child, Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, were. Upon entering, the magi bowed down and worshiped him, and opened their treasures: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The magi were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, so they returned to their country by another way.

After the magi left, an angel said to Joseph in a dream, "Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt, fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea, "Out of Egypt I called my son." When King Herod realized that the magi had outwitted him, he was angry, and gave orders to have every male two years and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity killed. This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah, "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

When Herod died, the angel again appeared to Joseph in a dream and said unto him, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." Joseph took Mary and Joseph and returned to Israel, but having heard that Archelaus was reigning in place of his father, King Herod, he was afraid to go there, so withdrew to Nazareth in Galilee.

This is the account of the birth of the Savior of the World, Jesus, the Son of God, who died for the sins of humanity. God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to save the world. Jesus Christ made a living as a carpenter in Nazareth until the age of 30, when he began his three-year ministry. At the end of this ministry, Jesus was willingly arrested by the Jewish authorities, and, after a trial, was beaten, scarred, despised, having been pierced for the transgressions of mankind, oppressed and afflicted, and bore the sins of all. He was sentenced to death by crucifixion, and hung on a cross, an innocent, and shed his blood to atone for your sins. But that was not the end.

Three days after his death, he rose from the dead, in a glorified state. Jesus appeared to his disciples and a little over 500 witnesses after his resurrection, and forty days after his resurrection, with his twelve disciples such as Peter, James, and John watching, he ascended into heaven, and now sits at the right hand of God. This same savior has promised to return for those who choose to follow him, those who have accepted him as Lord and Savior, and believe that he died and rose again - as well as having asked for forgiveness of their sins, in this sin-filled world.

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. You see, in the beginning was the Word - Jesus, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

May the grace of the Lord Christ Jesus be with you. Have a Merry Christmas, and may God bless. Troy Hillman

*Feel free to comment, email vexx801@yahoo.com, or visit the facebook.Photo credit goes to Paramount Pictures, "The Nativity Story," 2006.

Friday, December 24

Shepherds Keeping Watch Over Their Flocks At Night...

Plays and films, as well as popular Christmas songs and carols, portray the angels singing praises to God as the shepherds are watching their flocks at night. In this entry of "The Truth," we will examine the role that the shepherds, who were outside of Bethlehem in the fields, played in the Christmas account. (NIV used for references. Photo credit to: Godward Thoughts)

The shepherds are not mentioned in Matthew's gospel, but their account can be found in Luke 2:8-20. Let us take a look at the text, "And there shepherds living out the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people."

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.' When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'" (Luke 2:11-15)

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." (Luke 2:16-20)

Essentially, there were shepherds - we are not told how many - watching their flocks at night. Suddenly an angel appeared and declared to them that the Messiah had been born that very night in Bethlehem. After the angel had said this, "a heavenly host," a multitude of angels, appeared and began to praise God. When the angels had gone into heaven, the shepherds left the fields and went into Bethlehem, where they found Joseph, Mary... and the Messiah, Jesus.

The text does not reveal how the shepherds found the baby, in regards to whether they had seen a star. All that the angel had told them was, "You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." There may have been several in Bethlehem, but there was most likely only one with a baby lying in it - and the crying of the newborn probably aided in narrowing their search.

It is interesting that shepherds would be spoken to, considering the many parallels between Christ and Shepherds all throughout the Bible. For example, Psalm 23:1-4 likens God unto a Shepherd. "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshed my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

Psalm 80:1 also likens Him unto a Shepherd, "Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us," and again in Isaiah 40:11, "He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." (Also in Isaiah 44:28)

Here we find a situation in which what were considered lowly shepherds are told about the birth of the Savior of all mankind. What picture does this paint for us, to this day, more than 2000 years later? It shows us that, though we may be lowly in rank, Christ made himself lower than all, to sacrifice himself for us. Philippians 2:7, "rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!"

Think on the following, found in Hebrews 2:6-9, "But there is a place where someone has testified: 'What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.' [From Psalm 22:22] In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone."

Jesus made himself a lowly servant while on Earth, so that by accepting him as Lord and Savior, and believing that he died and rose again, that we would be saved. (Along with asking for forgiveness of sins) Now, Luke says nothing more about these shepherds, but we can tell from the text that their visit certainly impacted Mary, who "treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)

I had mentioned Christ being likened unto a Shepherd. Let us take a look at John 10:7-15, at the words of Christ. Think on his words, and ponder them in your heart. "Therefore Jesus said again, 'Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.'"

"'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep.'" (John 10:11-15)

What about us? Consider the following, from 1st Peter 5:2-4, "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you; but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

Though that particular passage was addressed to the elders in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, (1st Peter 1:1) it can be applied to now only the pastors of present-day, but to each individual. We are commissioned to spread the truth of Christianity, but be certain to do so in a correct manner, not an arrogant fashion.

The shepherds, the lowly servants, were told by the heavenly messengers that the Messiah, the Savior of the World, was born. They came to the manger, where they worshiped the king, the Creator of the Universe incarnate, the Messiah. The Savior of Humanity was born in a small town, his birth heralded by angels to lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night, just outside of Bethlehem.

Be safe wherever and whomever you may be, take care, and may God bless you. Troy Hillman

Thursday, December 23

Angels and the Birth of Christ

How often in stories and accounts do we hear of these heavenly messengers - about angels? Almost every culture has legends and accounts, as well as encounters with these beings. In past entries, I have stressed that angels are not to be worshiped or prayed to as many New Age-beliefs teach. However, in this instance, we are referring to the vital role that angels played in the Birth of Christ - let us take a look. The Bible only mentions four angels - Michael, head of the army of Heaven - the angels, Raphael - who stands in the presence of God, Lucifer - who is Satan, the devil - and Gabriel - a messenger angel who had shown the prophet Daniel many things centuries before the birth of Jesus. Gabriel plays a dominant role in the account of the birth of Christ. We first see an angel appear in Matthew 1:20-23. (For more on the three angels, see entry: "Which Angels Are Mentioned In The Bible?")

"But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means, 'God with us')" Joseph woke up and did what the angel had commanded him, "But he had no union with [Mary] until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." (Matthew 1:25) About nine months before Joseph was visited, in Jerusalem, a man named Zechariah was chosen to go into the Holy Temple and burn incense. Now, all of the people praying were outside, and Zechariah had entered the temple.

"Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit before he is even born. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.' Zechariah asked the angel, 'How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.' The angel said to him, 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you of this good news. And now you will be silent and not be able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time" (Luke 1:11-20). Gabriel was correct, Zechariah had to write on a tablet until the birth of John. (Luke 1:57-80)

Gabriel appears again in Luke 1:26-38. "In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David." Now remember, this was before Joseph was told in a dream. "The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words, and wondered what kind of greeting this might be."

"But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.' 'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'" (Luke 1:30-34)

Gabriel's reply? "The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her hold age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.' 'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me according to your word.' Then the angel left her." (Luke 1:35-38)

After this, Mary went to visit Elizabeth, her relative. Three months later, John had been born and Zechariah had re-gained his speech, his first words confirming the child's name, "His name is John," fulfilling the words of Gabriel ninth months prior. (Luke 1:63-64) When Mary had returned home, an after Joseph had been visited in a dream, (Matthew 1:20-23) and Caesar Augustus called for a census (Luke 2:1), requiring everyone to go to their own town to register, Joseph took Mary and traveled to Bethlehem. 

Jesus was born while they were in Bethlehem - the text does not reveal whether it was the night of their arrival or a few brief weeks later, but is revealed is this: after he was born, the same nights, "there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their sheep. And angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified." (Luke 2:8-9)

"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.' When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'" (Luke 2:10-15)

About two years after the birth of Christ, after the magi had visited, Herod had become angry. "When [the magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.'" (Matthew 2:13After this, King Herod had all of the children under the age of two killed - and Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus were already on their way to Egypt. Not long after, Herod had died. "After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead.'" (Matthew 2:19-20) Joseph took Mary and Jesus and went back to Israel, and after hearing who had replaced Herod (Archelaus), he went to Galilee and lived in Nazareth.

As we have determined, angels play a significant role in the account of the birth of the Messiah. Gabriel, an archangel, heralded the birth of John to Zechariah and the birth of Christ to Mary - and was presumably the angel who heralded his birth to Joseph and the Shepherds - though we do not know for sure. Also, a heavenly host, a multitude of angels, was praising God with the angel who heralded His birth to the shepherds. If the angels were removed out of the equation, it would be: dead air+prophecy=Mary being told she would conceive. It would not go very far, without the heavenly messenger Mary could have had major issues not only with Joseph but with many others. She may not have survived long had an angel not visited Joseph - and many people in Bethlehem may not have come to the Messiah had the shepherds, who were told by the angel, not been told.

Regardless of your stance on these beings, their role is just as important as the magi or the shepherds, each had a part to play. In the same way, we all have a role to play - once we follow Christ, and allow our lives to play out the way they were meant, we begin to see the bigger picture, as if some grand tapestry with each thread being intertwined. 

Troy Hillman

Wednesday, December 22

Common Misconceptions Surrounding The Birth Of Jesus

In the past few entries, we have examined a few of the common misconceptions surrounding the Birth of Jesus Christ. These include: the number of magi (whether or not they were actually kings, and when they actually visited), what the Star of Bethlehem was and was not, whether Jesus was born in December or not, the like. This entry, let us examine a few more common misconceptions, in this month of Christmas. Now, to summarize the aforementioned: We do not know how many magi there were, but there was at least two, and there may have been several more. The misconception arises because of the fact that three gifts were presented to the child Jesus. Though arguable, most scholars agree that the magi were probably not kings, though "We Three Kings" remains a wonderful song.

By looking at Matthew 1-2, we can determine that the Magi most likely visited Jesus, Joseph and Mary when Jesus was about two years old. We know this because by then, Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived in a house, (Matthew 2:11) and Herod had asked the magi, or wise men, when the Star of Bethlehem had appeared - they told him about two years before, (Matthew 2:7, 3:16) when Christ was born. We can now clear up a few more misconceptions. What is the typical story we hear around Christmas? “About 2000 years ago, on December 25, Mary rode into Bethlehem on a donkey with Joseph, urgently needing to deliver the baby. Even though it is an emergency, all of the innkeepers turn them away, save one, who takes them to his stable. So, Jesus is delivered in a stable. After this, the angels sang to the shepherds. Then, everyone joins three kings with camels in worshiping the quiet, newborn Savior.”

What's wrong with this picture? At first glance, nothing. Let us take a closer look. Christ's birth did occur a little over 2000 years ago, yes. In a previous entry, we determined that Christ was most likely not born in December, but probably sometime in May/June, perhaps April, some claim September. It is believed to have occurred in the spring. But what about the donkey? The accounts given in Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-12, and Luke 1:26-80; 2:1-20 do not specify how Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem. There are several other possibilities, it does not necessitate for her to have ridden on a donkey - but that is the common thought. "...urgently needing to deliver the baby..." Matthew and Luke never state this, either. Mary and Joseph could have arrived weeks before Jesus was born. Luke 2:6 states, "while they were [in Bethlehem], the days were accomplished that she would be delivered."

It is possible that Mary and Joseph arrived in town the night of her delivery, but it is a misconception that this is what the text explicitly states, for it does not. Furthermore, "Even though it was an emergency, all of the innkeepers turn them away, save one, who takes them to a stable." Actually, Matthew and Luke never mention Mary and Joseph talking to any innkeepers. They may have played a role, but even though we see the innkeepers in plays and movies as well as drawings and such, they are not mentioned in the biblical accounts. All that we read is found in Luke 2:7, "and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." This very well could be referring to relatives who lived in Bethlehem - no "guest room" at their relative's home, or it may have been referring to inns. What about Jesus being born in a stable?

Or was he born in a cave? Perhaps a barn? The early Christian writings of St. Justin Martyr and the Infancy Gospel of James suggest that he was born in a cave. In Luke, we read, "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger." A cave, a barn, and a stable are not mentioned - only a manger. All we find in Scripture is that the baby was laid in a manger because there was no room in the guest room. In fact, the only other time the Hebrew word used for guestroom is seen, it is in Mark 14:14-15, when it describes a guest room (private room) of an upper story in a house. Some scholars believe Jesus may have been born in the manger of a close relative, not in a manger of an innkeeper - though this is controversial to many who hold to the traditional account. What about the traditional song, "away in a manger... little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes..." - the biblical account never states that the baby Jesus did not cry. Thus, it is possible that it was in a cave of some form, a barn within a cave outcropping, or perhaps a "guest room" at a relative's home.

We also hear about how the angels "sang" to the shepherds, who were watching their flocks. Let's take a look at the text, "Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.' When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'" (Luke 2:13-15Notice the text says, "a great company of heavenly host... praising God." Throughout the Bible, we find angels praising God, but they are not always singing. It is possible that the angels were singing, but we do not know for sure, as this is not what the text tells us explicitly. Another thing: did the magi ride camels, and where did they come from? The Bible does not answer either. It is believed that they rode on camels, and thought that they came from the way of Persia - but the text does not tell us.

In some films, pictures, and books, we see angels present at Christ's birth. But were there actually any angels present at his birth? The text does not indicate yes or no, it simply does not make mention of angels in this specific way. It is true that, due to the significance of the event, multitudes of angels were likely present - but whether or not Mary and Joseph could see them, as is portrayed in some popular media, Matthew and Luke do not tell us. What does it all add up to? Understand this: over time, man's opinions and interpretations change, but God's Word never changes. It has never changed, and there is evidence to prove this. So what do we know about the birth? The virgin Mary was told by the archangel Gabriel (who had appeared centuries before to the prophet Daniel) that she would give birth to the Messiah, Jesus. Joseph was later informed by a heavenly messenger. 

After Augustus decreed a census, Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, where not long after, Jesus was born in a manger. In fields nearby, shepherds were told by an angel that the Messiah had been born in a manger in Bethlehem, (the town of David, Luke 2:11) and this was followed by a heavenly host praising God. The shepherds proceeded to visit Christ and worshiped him, and so it was that Jesus Christ was born. Around two years later, magi from the east, having seen a star over Bethlehem, they followed until reaching Jerusalem, where they conversed with King Herod and confirmed the location of his birth, and informed Herod of when the star had first appeared. The magi again saw the Star of Bethlehem and finally reached the house in which Joseph, Mary and Jesus were living in Bethlehem - because the star had stayed above the house itself. 

After acknowledging the child's importance, the magi gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After this, the magi returned to their own country, and did not report back to Herod. Herod, angry at having been deceived by the magi, sent out his men to kill any male child under the age of two. But having been warned in a dream, Joseph "took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where they stayed until the death of Herod." (Matthew 2:14; which was shortly after.) At Christmas-time, we may find that we lose ourselves in all of the propaganda, all of the popular media, all of the traditions. But never lose focus on the real reason we celebrate: It is because Jesus was born, the Son of God, the Creator, and entered into His Creation. This is the Incarnation. Before closing, I would like to quote St. Paul from Philippians 2:5-8, which says the following:

"In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, though he was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he emptied himself by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross." Now, he lives, and is asking for his creation to follow him.

Troy Hillman

Monday, December 20

Why Do We Need Christmas?

You may be startled by the question. Perhaps not. What exactly is meant by, "Why Do We Need Christmas?" This is not an un-Christian question, but a very important and crucial question, which essentially asks this: "Why ought we care if a baby was born in a small town in Israel about 2000 years ago?" (Photo credit to: Conservative American Vet)

Continuing a month of Christmas-related entries, the answer is quite surprising. The basic answer is as follows. If this baby, Jesus Christ, was not born in Bethlehem, in the city of David, to a virgin named Mary, of the bloodline of King David, mankind would have zero chance of hope in this life for the next - life in Heaven, for those who accept him as Lord and Savior.

However, if you are a regular reader, you will know I do not settle for simple or basic answers. Let us examine this closely. It is true that there are many who try to take "Christ" out of "Christmas," and call it "Xmas." It is true that many focus on Santa Claus, Cookies, Trees, Decorations, instead of Christ - but the problem that people seem not to understand is - this doesn't include every person in the world!

Yes, people do celebrate specific things at Christmas time. Is it wrong to set up a Christmas tree, decorate it, sing carols, and make cookies? By no means. If, however, you are worshiping these things, then it becomes an issue - I am not accusing anyone of this, merely showing that no, it isn't a sin to want to make cookies or other such things - but never lose the true focus of Jesus Christ.

Why do we need Christmas? We celebrate Christmas because of the birth of our Savior, whether we accept him or not. Perhaps the true question we need to ask ourselves is, why do we need a Savior?Death entered the world because of sin, and because we all sinned, we are in need of a Savior, for "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23) and "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus out Lord." (Romans 6:23) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:16-18)

Ecclesiastes 12:14, "For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." In Isaiah 61:1, we read what appears to be a statement from Christ, "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners..."

If there is anything evident from the Bible, it is that mankind is in need of a Savior, and by faith, we know this Savior, this Messiah, is Jesus, the Son of God. Over the last several months, we have examined several evidences for God, for Christianity, for the truth of God's Word, the reliability of Scripture, the like. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christianity is true, and no one could convince me of it otherwise.

Some have asked, "Did Joseph and Mary actually know who Jesus was?" In other words, was he really sent to die for mankind's sins? Well, let's take a look at the Christmas account found in Matthew 1:21. "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." The answer is yes, the angel did specify his purpose. Did Gabriel tell Mary his importance, when he spoke with her?

Luke 1:31 says, "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." The answer, in this case, again, is yes, Mary did know Jesus' purpose, as did Joseph.

Jesus, the Creator (John 8:58, Colossians 1:15-20, Revelation 22:13, etc) entered into his Creation to save us all. Without his Birth, without Christmas, there would have been no life, therefore rendering everything meaningless, as we could do nothing to save ourselves. But thankfully, God allowed for Jesus to be born to a virgin, Mary, conceived through the Holy Spirit, raised by Joseph as a carpenter, began his ministry at the age of 30, preached and performed miracles and healings for three years, was nailed to a cross, died for all of the past, present, and future sins of humanity, rose from the dead in a glorified state three days later, ascended to Heaven forty days later, sits at the right hand of God - and will return one day soon for his people.'

Why do we need Christmas? If Christ was not born, we would have no hope. But we do have hope, so we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Savior, every year around December. (Depending on where you live) Thank you for taking the time to read this entry of, "The Truth." Email vexx801@yahoo.com, comment below, or visit the facebook page. Take care, and may God bless you. Troy Hillman

Sunday, December 19

Was Jesus Born in December?

Frankly, God doesn't give us an exact date for the birth of Christ. However, he does provide a few clues that help to narrow down when he was born. Why does it matter when Christ was born, if Christmas is a celebration of his birth and not an actual birthday party? Many believe that Christmas is actually a pagan holiday. So do Christians today celebrated the birth of Christ thinking Christmas is not a pagan holiday - but it actually is? (Photo Credit to: Paramount Pictures, "The Nativity Story," 2006, starring Keisha Castle-Hughes and Shohreh Aghdashloo)

Good question. It has been said that Christmas is based off a pagan holiday. Do Christians actually celebrate this pagan holiday? The pagan celebration ran from December 17-23, and was called Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a Roman holiday which celebrated their god Saturn - who is analogous to the Greek god Cronus/Kronos. But when was Jesus born? Luke 1:26 says, "In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David." (NKJV) In verse 36, the angel says, "Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month." (NIV)

From this, we can determine that in the sixth month of the Jewish year, Gabriel came to visit Mary, and Elizabeth, who is mentioned, had been pregnant for 6 months - so she became pregnant in the first month of the year. The angel indicated that Mary would become pregnant very shortly after. (verses 28, 35) Now, the Jewish calendar consists of twelve months of about 30 days each month, considering leap years into the equation as well.

This chart helps to illustrate this point:

Month Name Scripture Reference Modern Gregorian Calendar Equivalent
First Nisan Esther 3:7 March–April
Second Iyar (Iyyar) N/A April–May
Third Sivan Esther 8:9 May–June
Fourth Tammuz N/A June–July
Fifth Ab (Av) N/A July–August
Sixth Elul Nehemiah 6:15 August–September
Seventh Tishri N/A September–October
Eighth Marchesvan (Heshvan) N/A October–November
Ninth Chislev (Kislev) Nehemiah 1:1; Zechariah 7:1 November–December
Tenth Tebet (Tevet) Esther 2:16 December–January
Eleventh Sheni (Shevat) N/A January–February
Twelfth Adar Esther 3:7, 9:1 February–March
Leap month (intercalary) Adar Sheni (second Adar) N/A February–March on leap years

By this basis, it appears that John the Baptist was born around November or December. Also, if the Holy Spirit came upon Mary in the sixth month (around August or September), then Jesus would have been born about nine months later - around May or June. This also takes into account that John pleat for joy in the presence of Jesus in the womb of Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-42), which indicates that the conception had to have taken place within the following three months, before John was born. The end result, May/June, is not December.

However, there are a few assumptions utilized, such as there being no leap month - along with the date of the Jewish new year. Though Nisan is recognized as the first month, there are other "new years," such as Rosh Hashanah. If Rosh Hashanah was the first of the year - that year, around February or March, then Jesus may have been born around November or December. Julius Africanus (220 AD), a Christian writer, believed that Jesus was conceived on March 25 and thus was born on December 25. Many other Christians attempt to make cases for December as the birth month.

To answer the questions, no, Christians are not worshiping a Pagan holiday, it is merely that we celebrate Christmas around the same time the Romans had their celebration. If two people have a birthday on the same day, but you are celebrating one, by that logic, wouldn't you be celebrating the others, even though you have never met this individual? No. The focus of Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of the savior, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. It is important that we maintain the true focus of Christmas. Is it okay to put up a few decorations, give gifts, watch movies, the like, with family, sing carols and whatnot? Yes. We give because He gave. But do not lose sight of the true focus of Christmas: The Birth of the Savior who would die for us. The Creator entered into HIS Creation to suffer and die for his Creation... why? It is because he loves us.

All this happened to fulfill the prophecies found in Numbers, the Psalms, Isaiah, Micah, and others. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, was born to the virgin Mary, a descendant of King David just like Joseph, in the city of David - Bethlehem. Two years later he was visited by magi, and his birth was heralded not only by a star, but by a Heavenly Host to shepherds who came to worship him. Jesus, the most influential person in history, was born that night - and about 33 years later, gave up his life for the sake of all humanity, so that we can live in him and be free.

Troy Hillman

Saturday, December 18

Were There Three Magi?

Around Christmas time, we hear the account of the birth of Christ. Born to a virgin in the city of David, (Bethlehem) the baby is visited by three wise men. Alright, some may say, "I've heard it before." Regardless, there are a few common misconceptions about the Christmas Story - when the wise men/magi visited - and how many there were. (Photo credit to: Better Living Through Beowulf)

The account of the wise men can be found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2. The following text is what we know about the wise men, (NIV) "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.' When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him." (Matthew 2:1-3)

"When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 'In Bethlehem in Judea,' they replied, 'for this is what the prophet has written:' ' But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the clans of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.' Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and make careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.' " (Matthew 2:4-8)

"After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route." (Matthew 2:9-12)

Now that we have the account of the magi, traditionally wise men or kings, we may better determine the following: when did the magi visit Jesus, and how many were there? Also, does prophecy (which makes up 30% of the Bible, and ought not to be ignored but explored) say anything about these things? Verse 1 says, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem," and verse 11 says, "On coming to the house..." Matthew seems to be indicating that Jesus, Mary and Joseph had been in Bethlehem long enough to find a house.

But there is more on this. Matthew 3:16, "When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi." (Emphasis added) We have already determined that Christ was visited by the Magi a while after his birth - these passages seem to indicate that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had been living in Bethlehem for about two years. So the magi came to visit between the birth of Christ and the age of two.


Though their names and numbers are not explicitly stated in the Gospel, the wise men have become known as three wise men, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. First off, why the different names? Were they kings, wise men, or magi? 

The Greek word μαγοι (mάgoi) is translated as “wise men” in the NKJV, KJV, and ESV, whereas the NASB and the NIV translation use the word “magi.” Originally, the word typically referred to Persian wise men, (possibly priests) who were interpreters of special signs, especially astrology-wise. 


The belief that the magi were kings comes from a prophecy found in Isaiah 60:3, "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." Christians seem divided on whether these magi were Kings or not. Films such as The Nativity Story do portray these characters in that light - though at the same time portray the wise men visiting the night of his birth, and we know it could not have been the night of his birth.


Even if they arrived in Jerusalem the night of Christ's birth, it is a six mile journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, so it would have been the next day at the latest. But it is assumed that the wise men came from Persia. There is a prophecy found in Psalm 72:10 which says, "May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him with gifts." This verse also seems to be referring to the wise men, though it is controversial, and some scholars do not believe it is referring to the wise men.


Regardless, these magi had most likely known of the prophecy of Balaam, "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob, a scepter will rise out of Israel..." (Numbers 24:17a) It was most likely because of this prophecy, and perhaps the prophecies about the Messiah found in Isaiah that the magi knew a very special star would herald the birth of the Messiah, and that he would be born king of the Jews.


The view of having three wise men, magi, or kings, comes from the fact that three gifts were presented to Jesus at his house: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Frankly, scholars are not sure how many magi there were. We know there were at least two, because when they are referred to in Matthew 2 and 3, it is with, "we," "they," the like. Therefore, we have determined that there were at least 2 magi, perhaps 3 or more with them, and that they came to visit Christ sometime after his birth.


Regardless of the number of magi or when they visited - we must not forget why we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the entering of the Creator into his creation, to live a sinless life and become the sacrifice for us all, so that in him we may have life. I trust this entry has proven informative and insightful. Thank you for taking the time to read this entry. Feel free to comment below, email vexx801@yahoo.com or visit the facebook page. Take care, and may God bless, dear reader. Troy Hillman