I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried
He descended into hell
The third day he rose again from the dead
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
I believe in the Holy Ghost
I believe in the holy catholic church
The communion of saints
The forgiveness of sins
The resurrection of the body
And the life everlasting. Amen
This is a list of basic beliefs or statements of faith, commonly called the Apostles Creed, developed over time as a summary of foundation truths that Christians should believe.
Differences in the way these statements are interpreted have emerged over the years. Some have become emphasised more than others. Many of the major denominations were formed to emphasise and protect a particular truth which they felt was in danger of being overlooked, diluted or disregarded entirely.
No one is going to believe exactly the same as someone else on all the various shades of meaning within each statement. The “creed” doesn’t cover all the doctrines of the Christian faith, but it does form a valuable framework of basic belief into which our individual revelations and understandings should fit, and God can add layer upon layer of revelation to deepen our understanding of each and all.
We may have been raised to memorise or chant the statements, so that familiarity has dulled our appreciation of the wondrous truths behind each. But how often do we stop and think about these incredible truths which our Christian faith proclaims? We do not have a boring faith, filled with commonplace or fanciful ideas, or tedious strivings after man’s ideas of perfection. Each one of these statements is powerful and amazing, capable of inspiring each of us with a different aspect of God’s plan, purpose and kingdom.
We could spend a lifetime deepening our understanding of the vast truths behind each statement, let alone all of them. Truths about:
A supernatural God, and His
- creation of everything
- Fatherhood of us all
- revealing of Himself clothed in human form so we could get to know Him
- plan for our salvation and forgiveness of our sin
- abiding powerful presence and fellowship with us
- ultimate judgment of all
- resurrection both of Himself and of us
- worldwide family – so diverse and yet with the same Father
- gift to us of eternal life and an everlasting destiny – one so gloriously beyond what we can imagine that it is beyond description ...
These should be points of faith and belief. But if the “Creed” becomes simply a list of doctrines which someone else has already worked out for you so that you don’t have to give them any further thought, then the whole point has been missed. You can’t say that you “believe” something if all you’re doing is giving it mental assent. The Bible uses the word “belief” in an active sense, not passive. Our modern word “belief” comes from the old English "be-life" or “to live by”.
There is a line in a song by Third Day called “Creed” which says, “I did not make it, but it is making me, it is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.”
So what do you believe about each of these statements of faith? What are they making you to be? I can write down some of the things God has showed me, in the hope that they will inspire or encourage you, but what do you believe, really believe? Not because some preacher you admire has said it and therefore it must be right, but what has God placed in your spirit and you know to be the very truth of God?
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
The Bible is very clear that God made everything.
But He didn’t just make the earth, which we tend to be preoccupied with because it is our home. He made the heavens too, both the realm of the “air” around our planet (commonly called the “heavenlies”) and the huge vastness of the universe itself. He made other heavenly beings, some called angels, some called the sons of God, some called cherubims and seraphims and various others described rather than named. The Bible encourages us to remember that there is a vast world both natural and spiritual outside our planet. This is so that we keep our vision wide, and don’t box God into being some sort of glorified human.
When studying Creation it is important that we read the accounts of the various stages of creation in the Bible without some of the fixed ideas that have been instilled in our minds over the years through teachings that either ignore, reinterpret or add to what the Bible actually says, and thus discredit God in the role of Creator. The book of Genesis (which means “Beginnings”) is a vast study in itself, and perhaps should be looked at separately.
But because we are His creation, God is rightly called the Father of all. He is Almighty in every sense of the word, because all power belongs to Him. Nothing exists that He didn’t make.
God has many names in the Bible, many of them used to describe His various attributes and the different ways in which He connects with His people. Some of the main names used are
Elohim - God – the Strong One or Almighty
El Elyon - the Highest, most high God
Adonai - Lord or Master
Adonai Jehovah – Lord God
Jehovah Jireh – Lord God who Sees all with compassion
El Shaddai – Almighty God as Nourisher, Strength-giver, Satisfier.
And yet, in the Old Testament God was rarely perceived by His people as being The Father. While described as God, the Lord, Almighty, etc, He is almost never referred to as Father or related to as such. Some individuals like David did have a relationship with Him that was more direct and personal, but for most He was just their nation's God.
Jesus revealed the Father
This totally changes in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus – God coming to earth in flesh so we could get to know Him. Jesus said on many occasions that He came to reveal His Father, and in the Gospels He constantly talks about God as Father. It is worth going through the Gospels, and in particular the gospel of John, just to see how many times Jesus talked about God as the Father.
For many, it is hard to relate to God as a Father. The devil has made sure that as many people as possible have had a negative experience of a father in their lives, so that they will have difficulty relating to God as such. For some, God has to spend a long time healing them of the damage that has been done to their ability to relate to God as a Father, and to believe in and receive His love. But because Jesus so consistently spoke about His Father and revealed Him to us in that way, we can believe that God is passionately invested in having a relationship as a Father to each of His children.
The heart of the Father
For many, especially women, relating to God as a loving Father can be hampered by the perception that He embodies only the qualities of strength, power, domination and "toughness" we normally attribute to males in our society. This has arisen because the scriptures have used the male pronouns to describe God. However, Jesus made it clear that God is a Spirit, and cannot be confined to solely human concepts of personality and character. God's love is an outflow of a Being who embodies characteristics we ascribe to both male and female. This is borne out not only by His Name of El Shaddai, which means nourisher, satisfier, comforter in the sense of that gained by a baby from its mother's breast, but also from the very beginning of creation, in Genesis 1:26-28:
"And God said, Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply ...."
For the created beings to be made after God's image and likeness, then both male and female characteristics must exist in the "Original Pattern" from which those beings were made.
Becoming part of God's family, with Him as our Father
John 1:12-13 tells us how this happens -
"But as many as received him (Jesus), to them He gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
When does this happen
In talking with Nicodemus (John 3:1-8), Jesus spelled out the necessity to be re-born by the Spirit of God. God is Spirit, and we need to be re-born of the Spirit, so that we can both see and enter the Kingdom of God. When we are re-born by God's Spirit, He places His own life within us so that we are truly one of His children.
The letters of John are addressed to the children of God and contain much about walking in fellowship with the Father. In John 3:1-2, he talks about the magnitude of God's love in making us part of His family:
"Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
On the way to the garden of Gethsemane, knowing there was little time left to speak with His disciples, Jesus began to share many of His most important teachings with them. In John 16:25-29 He said,
“These things have I spoken to you in proverbs: but the time comes when I shall no more speak to you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father. At that day you shall ask in my name, and I don’t say to you that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father himself loves you because you have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and came into the world: again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”
In John 17:3, in His prayer to His Father, Jesus states:
“This is eternal life, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. I have glorified you on the earth: I have finished the work which You gave me to do.”
The whole of John 17 is an awesome prayer from Jesus to His Father in which He commits His disciples into His Father’s personal care.
After Jesus had died and risen again, accomplishing all that His death and resurrection did for us, Jesus met Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb. One of the first things He said to her was to tell her that He was ascending to “my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God” - the most amazing reassurance that His believers were now part of the family of God, with God Himself as their Father!
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
The “triune” nature of God is a concept which many struggle to comprehend. We are used to seeing and relating to human beings who each “inhabit” a single body. Each one of us is unique. God has made us this way, so we should therefore appreciate the fact that He too is unique. The Bible tells us that there is no one like Him in all His majesty and seeming complexity.
The word “tri-une” (from which we get “Trinity”) literally means three in one. God is unique in that He is a Spirit who is able to show Himself and relate to His creation in more than one form and in more than one way, and yet His “substance” remains the same. You may be able to relate to the idea of water being in more than one form – liquid, ice and steam. It’s still the same substance but presented in three different ways. Or morning, afternoon/evening and night, which together form a single day. Everyone perhaps has a different way of getting their heads around the truth of a God who is able to be three in one – as humans, we can never entirely understand or fully grasp that which is spirit. God is far too immense to be fully contained within our human minds – if He could be, He wouldn’t be God! He does reveal Himself to our spirits, and many of the “mysteries” of the Kingdom, including the “trinity” can be “understood” in this way, even if we have great difficulty in finding words to express what He has shown us to be true.
The Bible states in 1 Timothy 6:16 that God is immortal, “dwelling in light which no man can approach, whom no man has seen nor can see”. This is God in His complete triune form – a Being who lives in a realm of spirit and light outside our concepts of “matter”, and who “radiates” so much power that no one in their human body can get close enough to fully see Him. God is also described as a consuming fire - we could no more get close to Him in our human state than we could get close to the sun.
The Bible also states that God is love. Not “has” love, but IS love. Love demands expression, and something/someone to love. The point in time at which He thought about this, and made part of His Being “visible” and in a form able to create and inter-relate with matter / the physical world without them being consumed is called The Beginning.
John was given the revelation of how this could be, and wrote about it in John 1:1:
“In the beginning was the Word (the word he used means 'a thought or concept, and the subsequent expression or utterance of that thought'),And the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
And the light shines in darkness and the darkness is not able to take hold of it.”
In the following verses John makes it clear that he is talking about Jesus Christ.
Jesus - I AM
We often tend to think of Jesus as “beginning” when He was born into this world in human form. We sometimes overlook the fact that He was “from the beginning” and that He was the One who created all matter, everything. He was/is God. The God who appeared in different forms in the Old Testament – in “angelic” form, as a “friend” to Abraham, as a visible Being to Moses, as the “Captain of the Host” to Joshua. He was the God of Israel at all times.
He then came to earth in human form, to be the Bridge between divinity and humanity, between earth and “heaven” (the realm of the spirit), and between His Father, whom we could not see, and mankind. He also came to accomplish God’s plan of salvation, to speak to us through human lips, and to tell us about His Father, whom we otherwise could not approach or get to know.
He told us that He was The Way, The Truth, and The Life – that no one could come to the Father except by/through Him. For the very simple reason that the only way to God is through God Himself – He is the Way to Himself. Jesus told us that we can never “ascend” to heaven by ourselves – flesh and blood cannot enter the realm of the spirit except by being “clothed” with God. We cannot come to Him, so He came to us as Jesus Christ. He promised to put His own eternal Life into all those who believe in Him, so that we can literally become part of God’s family.
Jesus made it clear that He was at all times in contact with and one with His Father, and that His Father was greater than He. This doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t God – it just means that God in His unlimited spirit form in heaven was “greater” than His Son who was limiting Himself for that time to a human existence and to a human body, so that He could identify with us, as the Son of Man. The book of Hebrews tells us of the many things that Jesus accomplished for us to bring us into the Family of God, and that in every way He understood and experienced what it is like for us to be human.
Jesus spoke many times of His divinity. In a confrontation with the Pharisees, He declared that “before Abraham was, I AM”. He deliberately used that expression which was set apart exclusively for God. They were left in no doubt that He was claiming to be God, with an eternal existence outside of human lifetimes.
There were occasions when He revealed some of the glory of His heavenly form. In the old testament, Moses asked the God of Israel if he could see His Glory. God told Moses that he could not see His face and remain living, but that He would pass close by and protect Moses so that he could at least see His form. Then in Matthew 17 Jesus allowed Peter, James and John to get a glimpse of Him as He really was – His face shone as the sun and his clothing became as white as the light. Both Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Him, and they heard the voice of the Father telling them that Jesus was His beloved Son and that they should hear Him.
After He was risen from the dead, He reminded His disciples that all power in earth and in heaven had been given to Him.
John, who was closer to Jesus on earth than anyone else, and was His closest friend, fell at His feet “as dead” when he saw Jesus in His risen form (described in the book of Revelation). Jesus told John not to be afraid, and reminded him that He “was, and is and is to come”, and is "the beginning and the end”.
“There is salvation in no other One; for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
The divine origin of Jesus was foretold in Isaiah 7:14:
“So, the Lord Himself shall give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.”
There have been theologians over the years who have struggled with the reality of a virgin birth. “How could a baby be born without a human father?” They have attempted to rationalise, suggesting that the word used for virgin simply means a young woman. But if this was the meaning of what Isaiah was stating, then it would hardly have been a sign - young women have been conceiving and bearing children for thousands of years. The offspring of a young woman who had conceived and borne him under normal circumstances would hardly have qualified to be called Immanuel, which means God With Us.
How could a God, who created the heavens and the earth by speaking them into existence, and who created Adam from the dust of the ground, breathing into him the breath of life, have had the slightest difficulty in supernaturally placing a Life into the womb of a young virgin?
The genealogy of Jesus Christ is given in both Matthew and Luke. In Matthew the genealogy from the line of David is that of Joseph, the “husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matt 1:16). Joseph is described as being the son of Jacob. However, in Luke he is called the “son of Heli”. He could not be by natural descent the son both of Jacob and of Heli. But in Luke it is not said that Heli begat Joseph – and the word “son” is not in the Greek but was supplied by the translators in accordance with Jewish usage – see 1 Samuel 24:16 where Saul describes David as being his son, when in fact he was his son-in-law because he was married to Saul’s daughter. Likewise, Joseph was Heli’s son-in-law because he was married to Heli’s daughter Mary. The genealogy in Luke therefore is Mary’s, whose father Heli was also descended from King David.
The miraculous conception of Jesus is told in Luke 1:26-38, where the angel Gabriel told Mary that, while she would be the mother of the human body of Jesus, His Spirit would come from God. When Mary was troubled as to how she, a virgin, could conceive a child, the angel pointed Mary to the wonder of her cousin Elisabeth and husband Zacharias, who had conceived a son in their old age after God had heard their prayers. He reminded Mary that with God, nothing is impossible.
There was a wonderful moment of confirmation for Mary when she visited her cousin Elisabeth. As soon as Elisabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby John in her womb – beginning right then his ministry of “prophet of the Highest, who would go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1:76) - leaped for joy and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Both she and Zacharias had no doubt that the child Mary was carrying was their redeemer – Zacharias was also filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied God’s visitation to His people through His Son Jesus who was about to be born. There were other confirmations and prophecies given by Simeon, and Anna the prophetess, when the infant Jesus was brought to the temple. They had no doubt that this child, brought in by Joseph and the child’s mother, was from God and a sign to all.
When a king is born into the world, there is usually a royal proclamation and fanfare from mankind, although heaven is usually relatively silent. Jesus was born into a stable, unnoticed by the royalty of this world. There was no human proclamation or fanfare. But heaven wasn’t silent – God announced the birth of His Son with a Star that pointed to the place of His birth, an angelic proclamation to the shepherds keeping watch over their sheep, and the rare event of a great number of visible angels rejoicing and praising God.
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried
Isaiah 53 said it all. Hundreds of years before Jesus came, Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would suffer and die for our sins. He was wounded for our transgressions – he was wounded because of our transgressions. Humans carried out the actions of putting him on the cross, but it was our sin that put him there. Jesus said that evil is not just an external force – it comes out of the heart of man. The singer Barry McGuire said in his testimony that he had come to realise that the world was just “six billion times me” – inside his heart he had all the anger, jealousies, hatreds, power struggles etc that everyone else had, and that if he was multiplied by the number of people on the planet, the world would still be in the same mess. He could no longer blame everyone else, but had to face his own sin and need for salvation.
Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The whole of Isaiah’s prophecy is amazing in that every bit of it came true. Jesus fulfilled many prophecies while He was alive and ministering, but fulfilled a great many more with His death. He could hardly have manipulated the actions of officials and soldiers or the details of His own arrest, trial and execution in order to make the prophecies come true so exactly, but come true they did. Among many other prophecies that were fulfilled that day, He did make his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death – Joseph of Arimathaea, a wealthy man, laid Jesus in his own grave. He was numbered/crucified with sinners, bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the sinners (see Luke 23:34).
Psalm 22, likewise written hundreds of years before the rise of the Roman empire and Jesus’ death, gives a graphic picture of death by crucifixion. It causes the bones to be out of joint, profuse perspiration due to the intense suffering, and the action of the heart is affected (v 14), strength is exhausted, with extreme thirst (v 15), the hands and feet are pierced (v 16), the victims were crucified naked (v 17). The desolate cry of verse 1 (see Matt 27:46), the periods of light and darkness of verse 2 (see Matt 27:45), the scorn and reproaches of those around in verses 6-8, 12, 13 (see Matt 27:39-43), the casting of lots for his garments in verse 18 (see Matt 27:35), were all literally fulfilled. As crucifixion was a Roman, not Jewish, form of execution, the Psalm was prophetic indeed.
Darkness was over all the land in an eclipse of the sun for three hours during the crucifixion – a prophetic sign indeed that even nature was a witness to the gravity of what was happening.
When it was time for Him to die, all the Gospels record that Jesus literally dismissed His spirit. The Greek language used here implies an act of the will. He died by His own will once He could say of His work of redemption that “It is finished”. He had said of His life that “No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own will” (John 10:18). Despite their best attempts/intentions to do so (and God views the intention as the deed), no human could actually take the life of the Son of God – He laid it down of His own will.
Then the veil of the temple (made of massively thick woven wool) was torn in two from the top to the bottom, showing that God had once and for all opened a new and living way for all believers into the presence of God with no priestly sacrifice now required other than the sacrifice which had just been made of His own Son for the sins of all. The book of Hebrews gives many illustrations of the magnitude of what had occurred.
Then another sign followed, with a resurrection of many believers. This was an illustration that the single “corn of wheat” that had fallen into the ground in the death and burial of Christ would be followed by a resurrection harvest.
There was no doubt that Jesus was fully dead when taken down from the cross. Roman soldiers were well practised in execution methods, and knew death when they saw it. They had been meaning to break the legs of the victims, in order to hasten death before the Sabbath was upon them, but saw that Jesus was dead already so that it was not needed in His case (thus fulfilling yet another prophecy). Just to make sure, a soldier pierced his side with a spear and noted that blood and water came out - a sign of death as the blood had separated into plasma and water.
He descended into hell
Jesus’ descent into hades was foretold in Psalm 16:10: “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”
The Greek word “hades” – “the unseen world” - is revealed in Scripture as being the place of departed human spirits between death and resurrection. The equivalent word in the Old Testament is “sheol” – the place to which the dead go. The passages in Scripture where the word hades is used show that before the ascension of Christ it was in two divisions – the dwelling places of the saved and of the lost. The dwelling place of the saved was called “paradise” and “Abraham’s bosom” – Jesus used both expressions.
He told a story in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus. It is important to note that this is not said to be a parable. In no parable is an individual ever named. There is no reason why Jesus was not recounting a particular case known to God. In the story in Luke, the blessed dead Lazarus was conscious and being comforted, while the dead rich man was equally conscious and in torment, having no body to satisfy the enormous appetites which he had built up in his soul while on earth. Although able to see each other, the lost were separated from the saved by a great gulf fixed (Luke 16:26) which could not be crossed.
On the cross, Jesus promised the believing thief that he would be with Jesus that day in paradise.
Scripture reveals no change in place or condition for the unsaved dead after the ascension of Christ. However, a change appears to have taken place which affected the paradise section of hades. Paul was “caught up to the third heaven, into paradise” (2 Cor. 12:1-4), showing that paradise is now in the immediate presence of God. It is believed that Ephesians 4:8-10 indicates when this change took place – after Jesus had descended first into the lower parts of the earth (the paradise section of hades), He ascended up on high, leading a large number of captives, possibly previous occupants of hades. Certainly the souls/spirits of the saved are referred to after that time as being “absent from the body, and at home with the Lord”, and the souls/spirits of the martyrs are by the throne of God. Both the unsaved souls in hades and the righteous souls in heaven await the resurrection and the judgment at God’s great white throne, spoken of in the book of Revelation.
The third day he rose again from the dead
Rev 1:18: “I am he that lives and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”
This is the first thing that John is told by Jesus when he sees the risen Jesus in the book of Revelation.
The resurrection of Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament and was spoken of by Jesus Himself many times while He was on earth.
It is one of the single most important beliefs of Christianity – that Jesus conquered the grave and rose again. It is the very cornerstone of our faith because, as Paul put it so directly in 1 Cor 15:17:
"And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins."
Why? Because if Jesus could not conquer the grave, then He was only human, and the death of a human would never have been enough to purchase salvation for us all – past, present and future. His resurrection proves that He was and is divine – that He had the power to lay down His life and the power to take it up again. He told us this in John 10:18. He said to Mary, after He had raised Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
After Jesus’ death on the cross, the disciples scattered and went into hiding, in fear. And yet, not too long afterwards, they are assembling with boldness and boldly preaching the gospel, regardless of the potential consequences. John records in chapter 7 that during the time of Jesus’ ministry, His own brothers did not believe in him – and yet his brother James later became an apostle (Gal 1:19), and Jesus’ brethren and His mother Mary are mentioned as being among the 120 disciples awaiting the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.
So what made the difference?
Only seeing the risen Christ, talking with Him, and watching Him ascend into heaven 40 days later, could have so utterly convinced them that everything He had said about His divinity was true.
It wasn’t as though they had desperately wanted to believe that Jesus could overcome the grave, and so talked themselves into believing that it had happened after Jesus’ death. Jesus talked about His future resurrection right at the beginning of His ministry in John 2 – stating that if the temple of His body was destroyed, then in three days He would raise it up again. He spoke many times after that of His coming death and resurrection. But it wasn’t a teaching that appeared to sink in, and in Matt 16:21, when Jesus again told His disciples that he would be killed and be raised again the third day, Peter even rebuked Jesus for mentioning it. It appears that the disciples didn’t really believe anything Jesus said about His death and resurrection until it actually happened. His death left them lost, sad and scattered – this part of Jesus’ prophecy had come true, but the part about Him rising again the third day must have seemed too impossible to believe, and definitely too good to be true. The angels declared Jesus’ resurrection to the women at the tomb, reminding them that Jesus had said it would happen, but when the women tried to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen, “their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.”
Those who have not wanted to believe in Jesus’ divinity have come up with many theories over the years as to what happened to the body in the tomb.
We are told in the Gospels that the Jews were so worried about the possibility of the disciples stealing away the body and proclaiming a resurrection that they “made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch.” When the angel came down from heaven, rolled away the stone and sat upon it, the Roman guards were so terrified that “they became as dead men”. They later went into the city and told the chief priests what had happened. After consulting with each other, they offered the Roman guards a large amount of money to say that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body while they slept. They wouldn’t have had to offer the money if the body hadn’t been gone from the tomb. Trained Roman soldiers didn’t sleep on the job and it is impossible to think that a few terrified disciples could have somehow sneaked past them, rolled away the massive stone placed in front of the tomb, and somehow got the body out, all without the guards noticing.
If the Jews had taken the body to prevent the worship of a martyr’s remains, then it would have been a simple matter to have wheeled it in to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, right in the middle of Peter’s convicting sermon.
If the disciples had indeed somehow managed the impossible and stolen the body from under the guard’s noses – and these were the very disciples who hadn’t believed in the possibility of a resurrection in the first place - then they would have known that the whole story about the resurrection was a lie. They would have known that Jesus wasn’t divine, and that the gospel they were risking their lives to proclaim was also a lie. They had everything to lose and nothing to gain – starting a new false religion in a place where the likely outcome would be their deaths would hardly have been sufficient incentive. We all know that many people will give their lives due to religious belief in a cause. We know that the cause in which they believe is sadly often a lie. But martyrs will only ever give their lives for something they believe in so sincerely that they are willing to die for it. They will not give their lives for something they know to be a lie.
And, despite the Roman’s expertise in matters of execution and knowing death when they saw it, what if Jesus hadn’t really been completely dead, but in a “swoon” and had somehow revived? The effects of the terrible physical abuse He had suffered prior to the crucifixion would hardly have left Him in a state where He could have rolled away the stone, somehow got past the guards, and staggered into Jerusalem, with or without the disciples’ help. He would certainly not have been in the kind of shape that could convince His disciples that He had victoriously conquered the grave and death. Preaching the resurrection with the wholehearted vigour they did, in the face of persecution and death, would have been impossible.
It has been said that maybe grief and despair at His death led to a heightened state of self-delusion and hallucination, where they had imagined that they were seeing Him. But Jesus spent 40 days after His resurrection teaching a lot of disciples many things relating to the Kingdom of God. While individual delusions do of course happen, there is no such thing as a mass hallucination where everyone sees the same delusion at the same time. No one can control what the other person is going to “see”.
Forty days spent with the risen Christ left none of His disciples in any doubt that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Watching Him ascend into heaven, and talking to the angels who then turned up, would only have cemented the glorious truth of the gospel – the good news that Jesus is alive for evermore, that He alone has the keys to hell and death, and that He gives His own eternal life to all those who believe in Him.
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
The book of Acts begins with the ascension of Jesus into heaven, taken up by a cloud in the sight of His disciples. While they were yet gazing up into heaven where He had gone, two angels confirmed to them that Jesus had indeed gone into heaven and reminded them that He would one day come back again, just as He had taught them many times while on earth.
The New Testament is full of references to Jesus now dwelling at the right hand of the Father. In John 17 – the prayer of Jesus to His Father before the cross – He speaks of returning to the Father who had sent Him into the world. Romans 8:34 encourages us that Christ is at the right hand of God, making intercession for us, and that nothing can separate us from His love.
The revelation of God to John showed Him Jesus as He now is, in His risen and glorified form – a sight so overwhelming that the first time John saw Him he fell at His feet as dead. At the end of the last message to the churches in the early part of that Book, Jesus reminded John that He had overcome the world and was set down with His Father in His throne. The majesty of His presence there is so powerful that when the living creatures and the elders look at Him they can’t help but fall down in worship.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick (alive) and the dead
Jesus spoke a great many times of His second coming. While He came the first time in human form, as a Lamb, He will return as a Lion. The ultimate judgement of the world is spoken of many times in Scripture, and Jesus also spoke of it many times. It is described in Revelation 20.
However, Jesus reminded John in Revelation 1:18 that He alone has the keys of hell and death. It is comforting to know that no one else has the power or authority over hell or death, save the one Person whom we can totally trust with our destiny. No one else can judge us, no one else can send us to hell or heaven. Abraham way back in Genesis 18:25 said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” He had confidence that God’s judgement would always be totally righteous, despite how it may sometimes seem to our limited vision.
Despite the teachings of the church in the middle ages, and some churches even today, that they have the power over a person’s ultimate destiny, ultimate judgement is not something that God will ever entrust to mankind. Our eternal destiny is far too important to Him. We can only see part of the picture and judge from outward appearances and our own biases - we cannot see into the depths of another person’s heart the way God can. He alone has all the facts and knows what is and has been really going on in someone’s heart.
Those who have already been judged in Christ, and trust in Him, His Life in them and His salvation, can have no fear of the ultimate judgement of the world. While the return of Christ is a terrifying event to the unsaved, so that they would rather the mountains fell on them than look at His face (Rev 6:16-17), to God’s children it will be the return of their God and their King, their Saviour and their Friend.
The second coming of Christ is a huge other topic in itself. Despite some relegating it to the “I don’t have to worry/think about it – everything will be fine” basket, Jesus talked a great deal about His return and the events surrounding that time. He obviously thought it was important that we knew what to expect. Since then many conflicting theories and teachings, with widely varying degrees of basis in Scripture, have arisen about “end times” and the return of Christ.
But one point that Jesus did make was that His return will be just in time to save the world from otherwise total destruction brought about by the actions of mankind. Jesus said that, unless He returned in time, no flesh would survive these events. But He promised that for the sake of His children He would return in time (Matt 24:22). While apparently leaving it to the last minute, God knows that if He returned any sooner mankind would say that He should have waited a little longer, that they were on the verge of getting their act together, that if He just gave them a little more time then the problems of the world would be sorted and all would be well. He has to wait until it is beyond dispute that if He does not return then there is no hope of human survival.
Jesus promised that when we saw the prophesied events unfolding we should look up to Him, as our redemption would be close. This is the hope we have in Him! He will return, He will set up His Kingdom, He will restore all things, and He will reign over an increasingly transformed earth for a thousand years, with the devil confined. Isaiah and other prophets describe at length the wonders of this time. As spoken of in the book of Revelation, God will then let the devil out to provide humanity with one final choice as to whom they would rather follow, culminating in the ultimate judgement of all. As God’s children we have an amazing destiny!
I believe in the Holy Ghost
The third member of the Godhead is perhaps the most “misunderstood” or disregarded.
Because He is referred to as the Holy “Spirit” or the Holy “Ghost” in Scripture, He has become simply a “presence” or a “power” in many people’s minds and beliefs, rather than the Person whom Jesus declared Him to be. Jesus said God is a Spirit and yet we have no difficulty referring to Him as a Person, and Jesus also. We never refer to God the Father or Jesus as “it”, and yet the Holy Spirit is frequently referred to as “it” as if He was just some blind force with no personality or worth of His own. In many churches He has become an “optional extra”, disregarded as “unnecessary” and relegated to the background. This is so insulting because He is as much God as God the Father and God the Son. And He is the one member of the Godhead who Jesus warned us should not be grieved or sinned against, lest that sin become unpardonable.
Why? Because one of the Holy Spirit’s tasks is to convince the world of sin, and our need for God. If He is eventually driven away from a person’s life, then there will be no one to bring them to repentance. And without repentance, there will be no turning back to God for forgiveness and pardon.
The Holy Spirit was part of the creation of the world in Genesis, and appears throughout the Scriptures. He empowered the prophets, directed their steps and was ever present in the nation of Israel. When Isaiah is recounting the history of Israel in the wilderness, he tells us that the people “rebelled and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy and he fought against them”. These are the actions of a person, not just a force, and one whom it had become dangerous to ignore or rebel against.
The Holy Spirit is:
- Eternal (Heb 9:14)
- Present everywhere (Psalm 139:7-13)
- Knows all things (1 Cor 2:10)
- All powerful (Luke 1:35, Rom 15:19)
- The Spirit of Glory and of God (1 Pet 4:14)
- The Author of the new birth (John 3:5,6, 1 John 5:4)
- The inspiration of scripture (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21)
- The source of wisdom (Isaiah 11:2, John 14:26, 16:13, 1 Cor 12:8)
- The source of miraculous power (Matt 12:28, Luke 11:20, Acts 19:11, Rom 15:19.
The Holy Spirit:
- Works unceasingly
- Appoints and sends ministers – Acts 13:2,4, Matt 9:38, Acts 20:28
- Directs where the gospel should be preached – Acts 16:6, 7 10
- Dwells in us – John 14:17, 1 Cor 14:25, 3:16, 6:19
- Is the Comforter and sanctifier (Rom 15:16, 1 Cor 6:11) of the church
- Convinces the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgement – John 16:8-11.
He's a Person
Jesus always spoke of the Holy Spirit as a Person. The book of John in particular is full of references to Him in this way.
In detailing the early life of the church, the book of Acts describes how the Holy Spirit was in charge. He directed where to preach, He told Paul where and where not to go, He told Paul what to preach, He spoke in and by the prophets. In Acts 13:2 the Holy Ghost said, “Separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. And v 4: “So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed ...” These are the actions of a Person with a mind, will and purpose.
In terms of His personality, the scriptures teach that He also:
- Creates and gives life (Job 33:4)
- Appoints and commissions His servants (Isaiah 48:16, Acts 13:2, 20:28
- Strives with sinners (Gen 6:3)
- Can be vexed (Isaiah 63:10)
- Teaches (John 14:26, 1 Cor 12:13)
- Testifies of Jesus and glorifies Him (John 15:26, 16:14)
- Reproves and Guides (John 16:8, 13)
- Can be resisted (Acts 7:51) and grieved (which we are warned not to do).
- Comforts (Acts 9:31)
- Helps our infirmities (Rom 8:26)
- Searches all things (Rom 11:33, 34, 1 Cor 2:10,11)
- Has a power of His own (Rom 15:13)
- Works according to His own will (1 Cor 12:11).
The Holy Ghost is given several names in Scripture.
He is called the Comforter (John 15:26) who is given by Christ and by the Father. As such He lives with us forever, living with us and in us.
He builds up the church, imparts the love of God and communicates joy and hope.
We are told that the world cannot receive Him, but He has been given to us as a free gift!
He is also a teacher, given to us to:
- direct us in the way of godliness
- give us answers to those who persecute
- reveal the future
- bring the words of Jesus to our remembrance
- guide us into all truth
- reveal the things of Jesus
- direct the decisions of the church
- reveal the things of God.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means but it should show how essential He is to our lives and our walk with God.
The Holy Spirit is represented in many ways in Scripture, each showing a different part of His personality and purpose. Some of these are:
- Rain and Dew
- A Dove
- A Voice
- The seal of God.
When He came to earth in power at Pentecost He appeared as “cloven tongues of fire” – a visible representation of the power He brings with Him into the life of every believer who desires to be filled with Him.
The change that started at Pentecost
The Old Testament accounts show that, up until the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would come upon people in order to empower them for various purposes. He didn’t always stay with them. When talking to the woman at the well, Jesus spoke in John 4:14 about a very important change that was to come. Instead of coming to the well to get the water of life, the “well” would be in us. He taught that the worship of God was no longer going to be centred around a place to which we had to come in order to meet with Him, but that worship/meeting Him would be in “spirit and in truth” because of the indwelling Spirit. Instead of coming to and going from a person, Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would stay with us forever.
Who is the Holy Spirit
In John 14 Jesus taught something amazing about the Spirit He was about to send.
“And I will pray the Father and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may live with you for ever;
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him, but you know Him; for He dwells with you and shall be in you.
And I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
Yet a little while, and the world sees me no more; but you see me: because I live, you shall live also.
At that day you shall know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
V23: ... “If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our dwelling place with him.”
Rather than being in a far off place, in a very real sense the Father and the Son dwell with us in the Person of the Holy Spirit!
The infilling of the Holy Spirit
The disciples had walked with Jesus, seen His miracles and had been taught by Him about God. Acts 1 tells us that after His resurrection He spent another forty days with them demonstrating His divinity and teaching them many things relating to the Kingdom of God. And yet, despite all this training, Jesus commanded them that they should not leave Jerusalem until they had received and been baptised (fully immersed) with the Holy Spirit, which would happen very shortly. He had told them all about the Holy Spirit previously, and now He was emphasising that they needed the Holy Spirit’s power before they could carry out the Great Commission to which Jesus was sending them.
When the day of Pentecost had arrived, and it was the time ordained by God, the Holy Spirit came like a rushing mighty wind, filling the house where they had assembled, and sitting on each of them with visible fire. They were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak in other languages – ones they had never learned.
It is important to note that the disciples spoke as the Holy Spirit gave them the words. When people are wishing to be filled with the Spirit and speak “in tongues”, sometimes they think that somehow this will burst forth from them without them having to do anything or without their control. There may be instances where this has happened (perhaps when God has to act sovereignly because of lack of, or wrong, teaching), but the act of speaking in tongues is usually an act of will and of faith on our part. We have to open our mouths and speak, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide the words and transform them into another language, which He will. Sometimes straight away, sometimes after a little perseverance on our part. We speak, He guides the words, in a wonderful experience of supernatural partnership with us.
For some people, the first time they receive the Holy Spirit can be an overwhelmingly joyous experience. For others it can be a quieter, increasingly strengthening process. In whatever form it takes, Jesus encouraged us to become filled right up with Him – the words used were translated “baptised, baptism” etc to indicate a saturation rather than a mere dipping.
Every person has a different experience of Him, but for the first disciples the effect was so strong that they appeared drunk to those around them. They were so transformed by His power that they were no longer concerned to hide from the authorities, and burst forth into the open, speaking supernaturally in the diverse languages of the many foreigners around them. Peter, who had probably never preached before, and certainly not to the learned teachers around him, preached a sermon of such power that those who heard were pierced in their hearts and begged to be told what they could do to be right with God. Peter instructed them to repent, be baptised for the remission (“sending away”) of their sins, and to receive the Holy Spirit.
The wonderful words were then added that what had happened was not confined to them, or to the people present on the day of Pentecost, but “the promise is for you, and to your children, and to all that are a long way off, and to anyone whom the Lord our God will call”. God has been calling His people to Himself down through the centuries, and the Holy Spirit has continued to fill all those who desire Him.
While of course we can be filled with the Holy Spirit without speaking in tongues, the use of this wonderful gift is certainly a confirmation that we have received Him and that something truly supernatural is taking place in our lives. The early disciples would never have dreamed of praying for the gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit, as this would have been completely outside their cultural traditions and teaching. So the Holy Spirit took the initiative some time later and fell upon the gentiles in the house of Cornelius. When the disciples heard the gentiles speaking in tongues they had no doubt at all that God was at work and that the gentiles had also received the Holy Spirit – even though this was something quite astonishing to them. Seeing this evidence of God moving, Peter immediately encouraged all the gentiles to be baptised, and they became fellow believers.
The Holy Spirit is the Gift from God who brings gifts with Him! The New Testament is full of examples of the supernatural gifts He places in the lives of believers, and encourages us to use them. The gifts He places in our lives are not for us to hoard to ourselves, but are to be used for others. They should never be used just as power separate from God, so that they become just a “thing”, but as part of the flow of God’s heart to us, through us, and to others.
We can choose to live our lives and minister to others without using the wonderful resources and supernatural gifts that God has given to us, but why try to do it all on our own without His help? When a situation to pray for is beyond human words and we don’t know how or what to pray for, we can use the heavenly language God has given us – not as an empty “vocal exercise”, but in the total trust that He using the words of power He is giving us to speak to do amazing things in the spiritual realm. When a person needs counselling, the “word of knowledge” that He can give can unlock the secrets of their heart and bring breakthrough. Prophecy is not just for guidance but is a means of “speaking forth from God”. There are many different gifts, just as there are many different people. God is a God of diversity, able to meet each of us in a different way.
The Holy Spirit also brings with Him the characteristics of Godliness that are called “fruits” or evidence of His relationship with us. These are His Godly character that He is working into us – ways of “being”, doing and attitudes that we can never truly generate by ourselves. As such, they are just as supernatural as the Gifts are. And because both “gifts” and “fruits” are part of the flow of God to and through us, they are equally important and must be used together. It doesn’t have to be either Power or Love, but both working together in harmony for the ultimate good of the person to whom God and we are ministering.
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints
The use of the word “catholic” in the creed can be misunderstood, but it simply means “universal”.
Jesus taught that He would establish His church. Because it would be founded upon the Revelation that He is God, the gates of hell itself would not be able to withstand it. He made no attempt to describe what the church would look like – He simply declared that it would exist.
When promising to send the Holy Spirit, Jesus said that this would be better for us than if Jesus Himself had stayed on earth in the flesh. He had limited Himself to a human body while on earth, demonstrating the Kingdom of God to all who came into contact with Him. But with the Spirit coming to dwell in all those who believed, the body of believers could spread throughout the planet.
or many people the buildings in which they meet together have become the church. We become fixated on the visible, and try to apply the promises of God to this. Our experience of God can shrink down to the confines of our local congregations.
But the word that was translated “church” simply means “called out ones” – those whom God has called out of the world unto Himself, from every nation. When we are born again, God places His Life within us and we become members of His divine family. This family is spread right across the globe – every person different, from different cultures, different backgrounds, different nations, different generations, and from every period of history, and yet all with the same heavenly Father. We try to put boundaries around each group of believers, but when God sees His church, His family, He sees it in his entirety, without boundaries or limitations.
We belong to a huge and incredible worldwide Family! We may have different forms of worship, or “do church” in a variety of ways, or even have those within our congregations who have not been born again or even truly believe. But God sees all those within the visible church who are truly His, who are founded upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, and relates to each one as a precious and loved member of His Family.
Irrespective of our different backgrounds and ways of worshipping God, those who are truly born again are referred to as “saints” in the scriptures. And because we all have the same Life within us, the same heavenly Father, we can have “communion” or fellowship with the other members of the Family, no matter where in the world we are or go. There is no need for us to feel lonely or isolated when we travel to another city or another country, unless there is absolutely no one in that place who believes. We may begin by knowing no one in the new place to which we have gone, but we can go to a "church" gathering if there is one, or ask our heavenly Father to lead us to another believer, and there is then at least a starting point towards fellowship with one or more brothers and sisters in Christ.
The forgiveness of sins
We don’t have to spend our lives trying to atone for our sins, or trying to be good enough for God. We don’t have to endlessly try to earn forgiveness from God, or try to hide our sins from Him – He knows everything anyway and knows the state of our hearts at all times. We can never be good enough for God – in fact Isaiah said that our righteousness is as filthy rags before God.
So, rather than try to patch up our rags, God offers us instead His righteousness as a free gift. We can stand before Him in the wonderful knowledge that our sins have been forgiven, wearing the beautiful garment of His Grace that He has so freely given us to wear!
To demonstrate the heart of God on the subject, when Jesus walked around this earth, He began forgiving people from their sins and teaching about forgiveness. He told many stories to illustrate the ways in which people could be forgiven from their sins, and astonished His disciples with His teaching.
Forgiveness and healing
The example of the man whom Jesus healed from the palsy and then forgave his sins is one of the most well known. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the story. Here, a man was brought to Jesus who was grievously ill. Jesus saw that those who had brought him did so in faith that he would be healed. However, instead of instantly healing him, Jesus told the man to be happy that his sins had now been forgiven! This was so contrary to the teachings of the day that the scribes/teachers’ inward reaction was that Jesus was blaspheming God, because only God had the power to forgive sins, and then only after the usual rituals of sacrifice had been carried out. Knowing they were thinking this, Jesus used the occasion to demonstrate that He had the power to both heal and to forgive sins, and that often physical healing and spiritual healing go hand in hand. The man was instantly healed and the people watching glorified God in amazement.
When Jesus ate with “publicans and sinners” – people who were at that time considered to be living outside the acceptance/forgiveness of God – the Pharisees took issue with this, wanting to know why He associated with such people. Jesus replied that those who are well don’t need healing, but those who are sick, do. He told them to go and learn what God meant when He said He would have mercy rather than sacrifice, and that He had come not to call to repentance those who considered themselves righteous, but those who knew they were sinners. This is because people won’t ask for forgiveness unless they realise that they are in need of it.
Forgiveness and mercy
People also won’t ask unless they believe in a merciful God who will grant them the forgiveness they seek. Jesus often linked forgiveness with God’s mercy. He told a hard-hitting story of the two men who went to the temple to pray – something regarded as the right thing to do and which God would surely be happy about.
The Pharisee – seen by all as the “righteous” one of whom God surely approved – used his prayer to thank God that he, the Pharisee, was such a good person, not doing the things usually regarded as sins, and doing spiritual things such as fasting and tithing that he was sure God would approve of. He had no consciousness at all of His need for any kind of forgiveness, didn’t ask for any, and didn’t receive any. His prayer was described by Jesus as “praying with himself” – it didn’t even get to God’s ears. The publican/sinner on the other hand didn’t attempt any self-justification, but simply “owned” his sinful state and asked for God’s mercy. Jesus said that that man went home justified and forgiven!
Jesus taught that as we forgive, we are forgiven. As we are merciful, we receive mercy. Some people read this as legalistic – but is it really? It’s about outward actions demonstrating inward heart attitudes.
Jesus told a powerful story to illustrate this. A man who owed the king an enormous sum was forgiven the whole debt after he pleaded for mercy. But instead of going home rejoicing and grateful that he had been forgiven such a huge debt, he showed that he wasn’t at all grateful and didn’t appreciate at all the forgiveness which had been extended to him, because he then demanded with menaces payment of a small debt owed to him by someone else. Upon hearing of his actions and attitude, the king took back the forgiveness that he had extended to the man, as it was obvious that he hadn’t appreciated it at all.
So it can be with us. If we haven’t truly appreciated God’s forgiveness to us, we can maintain a judgemental attitude. We can even look at someone whom God has forgiven and think, “God may have forgiven you, but I have higher standards ...”
Of course, many things are unforgiveable by human strength alone – we need His power to do so, sometimes over a long and even agonising period of time. But the desire to forgive others, even though we can’t do it alone, shows that we realise the extent to which we ourselves have been forgiven by God. We show that His life and forgiveness are flowing through us, because in many cases we couldn't and wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. We show that we realise the enormous price that Jesus paid in order to forgive our sins. When we extend mercy to others, we show that we have received and appreciate the mercy which He has extended to us.
The Grace of God to forgive us from His heart of pure mercy when we don’t deserve it, is a very powerful thing. A true revelation of the immensity of God’s Grace towards us leaves no room for pride, arrogance, or the desire to take advantage by continuing to sin with no repentance.
The price of forgiveness
The rituals of sacrifice in the Old Testament were designed to show that our sinful nature has consequences, with the innocent suffering as a result. In some examples, the people didn’t just sacrifice a random lamb – they were told to take it into their homes, feed and love it as part of their family, and then sacrifice it later to cover their sins. Seeing the price that had to be paid was designed to produce a heart of repentance rather than a callous carrying on of godless ways.
And so it was with Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. He was the Lamb of God, His own beloved Son, sacrificed to show the enormous price God paid to be able to forgive us. Isaiah 53 says:
"He was wounded for (because of) our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the punishment for our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
The massive price has been paid – forgiveness is a gift from God.
But the gift has to be taken, opened and used before it will do us any good. Jesus told the story of the man who went to a wedding. Having decided that his own garments were more than good enough for the occasion and that he had no need of the special wedding garment that the host was handing out, he entered the room and tried to mingle with the crowd. But when the host came up to him and asked him how come he was there without a wedding garment, he was speechless – he hadn’t realised in his arrogance just how obvious it was to the host that he was not properly attired. It is equally obvious to God when we are not wearing the spotless garment of His Grace and righteousness, and are trying to stand before Him thinking we are good enough without it.
1 John 1:9 says –" If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
But he then carries on with the Good News – "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"!!
God’s Grace is awesome – literally!
The resurrection of the body
The word “resurrection” means “to rise again”.
The Bible talks about the Resurrection of the body as a belief designed to give us hope!
Acts 23:6, 24:15 and 1 Peter 1:3 all describe the "hope of the resurrection" – an exciting event to which we can all look forward. Death is not the end. God isn’t resigned to only getting “two-thirds” of us because death got the victory over our body. He can and will redeem our total being – spirit, soul and body!
Belief in the resurrection goes back a long way – in the oldest book in the Bible, Job states his belief (19:25-27):
"For I know that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the last day upon the earth;
and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another; even though my inward parts are consumed within me."
The Old Testament contains several examples of people who were raised from the dead, especially in the times of Elijah and Elisha.
By the time Jesus came to earth, belief in the resurrection had become controversial. The Sadducees, who agreed with the Pharisees on many things (including their opposition to Jesus), disagreed with them about supernatural things and especially about the resurrection. Jesus, however, was emphatic that denying the resurrection was a false doctrine. In Luke 20, some of the Sadducees came to Jesus with a question, designed to demonstrate that the idea of a resurrection would present some tricky problems. However, Jesus told them that they were looking at the issue in the light of their human culture, and did not understand the power of God, or the fact that God’s Kingdom would be different from earthly culture. He taught that human marriage relationships had been instituted by God for this world, but would be unnecessary in heaven after the resurrection. He confirmed that the children of God, having been resurrected, could not die anymore! He reminded them that Moses, whose words they trusted in, had no doubt at all about the resurrection, and that God is the God of the living.
Demonstration and teaching
But Jesus didn’t just teach about resurrection – He demonstrated it on more than one occasion. He gave tremendous hope and joy to the widow of Nain by interrupting the funeral and raising her only son from the dead. He raised the 12 year old daughter of Jairus.
The most well known occasion is, of course, the raising of Lazarus. Unlike the other occasions when He raised relatively recently dead people, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days (and partly decomposing by then in the middle eastern heat).
But Jesus didn’t use the occasion just to raise Lazarus, and prove His power over death once and for all. He taught an amazing truth to Martha, Lazarus’ sister. Both Mary and Martha believed that Jesus could have prevented their brother from dying in the first place, but Martha went one step further. She believed that, even though her brother had died, perhaps Jesus could still bring some good from the situation. Jesus reminded her that her brother would rise again. Martha confirmed her belief that Lazarus would indeed rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus IS the Resurrection and the Life
Martha was pinning her hopes on an event in the future, which she believed would happen one day. Jesus didn’t say that such belief was wrong – He told her something far more powerful in its impact – “I AM the resurrection and the life”. The resurrection wouldn’t just happen because it was a prophesied event, but because the Person whose eternal, powerful and undying Life-force would cause it to happen, was standing right in front of her!
Jesus understood that human death is a sad and often tragic event, causing suffering to loved ones. He wept when He came to the grave of Lazarus, and identified with the grief of those around. But He then announced that resurrection shows the glory of God, and that on this occasion they wouldn’t have to wait for the future to see it. He literally called Lazarus forth from the grave, with the power of His word acting as a “magnet” that drew Lazarus to Him. Lazarus must have literally floated out of the grave towards Jesus, because he was otherwise totally wrapped up in the grave clothes they used back then.
So it will be in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus tells us in John 5:28 that one day all who are in the grave (i.e. physically dead) will hear His voice calling them forth, and they will come out of the grave in response.
After Jesus had been raised from the dead and appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem, He was recognisable. He showed them His scars, and told them they could handle Him to check that it was indeed Him and not a spirit. He ate food in front of them.
His body looked the same, but it was not quite. There were important differences. He was able to walk through walls, and He described His body as having flesh and bones instead of the usual expression “flesh and blood”. The Old Testament describes the life of the human body as being in our blood – but the life in Jesus’ resurrection body was no longer blood but Spirit. The Holy Spirit / supernatural Life was flowing through His body instead. His resurrection body was no longer subject to the laws of nature – He appeared to other disciples in different places and in different forms in order to break them free from their dependence on the human form in which they had been used to relating to Him.
So what will our resurrection bodies be like? In his letter to the Corinthians, who were asking this question, Paul states that in resurrection the bodies that God will give us will be incorruptible (not decaying, so immortal), glorious and powerful, just like Jesus’ resurrection body. The bodies of those who are still alive at His coming will be changed at the same time to be like this also! Following Jesus’ example, we will be recognisable, but our bodies will be glorious, immortal and no longer subject to earthly limitations.
Jesus said something quite intriguing in this respect. In Luke 12:25, He stated that being able to add to our size was something He considered the smallest/easiest thing to do in His Kingdom!
The two resurrections
Two future resurrections are described in the Scriptures. In John 5:28-29, Jesus described the two different types - the first one “to life” and the second “to judgement”.
The book of Revelation in Chapter 20 in particular tells us when these will be. The first resurrection of the saved occurs at His second coming, the second at the end of Jesus’ 1000 year (or “millennial”) reign on the earth. It appears that, among those who are blessed to be part of the first resurrection, those who had been martyred are given the privilege of reigning with Jesus on earth during this time. And who better to do this – those who have paid the ultimate price to follow Jesus, their very lives, would be the most incorruptible rulers of all. No earthly temptation would sway them from their righteous rulings in the kingdom of heaven on earth during this time.
The glorious millennial reign of Jesus on earth, while He sets up His kingdom, puts the earth back together and restores all things after the ravages of Armageddon, is described in large passages in Isaiah and many other books of the Bible. With the devil chained up during this period, it is an amazing time of peace and enormous blessing, and a whole other subject in itself.
At the end of the thousand years, the devil is let out again for one final test of mankind and confrontation with God. After his defeat comes the second resurrection – this time of the unsaved - and the last great judgement of God, described in various scriptures and the book of Revelation in particular.
And after that? The last passage of the Creed says -
And the life everlasting. Amen.
A somewhat understated way of describing our last glorious hope and belief!
This is better - “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” We have perceptions of this by His Spirit at present, but one day we will be living in the reality of a glorious destiny beyond anything we can ever imagine now.
Glimpses of this future occur in many places in the Bible, both in literal words and in imagery. Prophets were given pictures of what it is like in parts of the spiritual realm – some of them so incomprehensible that all they could do was write them down and not attempt to interpret them, which is just as well. Mankind will always have a tendency to interpret the things of God according to their own filters, water them down, or even change the revelations into something they understand with their human minds. If you tried to tell a pygmy from the darkest jungle about computers, where would you start? To describe “metal”, “electricity”, “transmission of data/pictures through the air” etc. to someone whose experience was limited to sticks and stones – there would be no frame of reference.
So it is with the destiny God has prepared for us – He gives pictures and glimpses in various passages of Scripture, but even then He can only use words and concepts with which we are a little familiar, and these are by no means the whole. He can describe “heaven” as it is now, and allow people to have visions of it - even go there briefly and be able to return - but this does not mean that the heaven some experience now is what heaven will ultimately be like for us. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, it says that we see now through a dim glass, but then we will see face to face. Now we know in part, but we will then know even as we are already known by God. We cannot now see Almighty God in all His Glory and Fullness and survive, but one day we will! One day we will see and know Him Face to Face – there will be no “coming back” from that, but only a going forward into a Life and destiny truly everlasting. Our human minds cannot conceive of something that will never end – but God is out of time and eternal, and one day we will be also, in Him.
CS Lewis describes it so amazingly well in “The Last Battle”, in the farewell to what he called this life - “Shadowlands”:
“The term is over, the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” ...
“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”