Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.
Questions & Observations
Q. (Matthew 24:36-51): We have heard this same story before, I guess from another one of the gospels. Any idea why it wasn’t put with the other one since this is a chronological Bible?
A. While we’ve heard some version of the material, that doesn’t mean that it was presented at the same time as Jesus’ other sermons or that that material was never repeated (an assumption many skeptics of the Bible simply ignore — Jesus likely taught similar sermons over and over again). Matthew records that these verses are part of a larger narrative on being prepared for the Final Judgment, which is unique, and has not been presented in the Gospels before now. That is most likely why some of the material that kind of sounds familiar from other Gospels is presented here as part of a narrative about being prepared.
Q. (Luke 21:34-38): Does this mean we aren’t supposed to let our guard down by hanging out with friends and having a couple of drinks? Or, is this talking about boozing it up at a bar? I would say that as long as God is with you and on your mind, you’re OK. But if you let your morals go, then you risk letting God go and your salvation?
A. The Bible does not prescribe a life completely free of alcohol consumption, but it DOES say clearly that drunkenness is a sin. Since there are many people who cannot handle the distinction between a couple of drinks and being blackout drunk (i.e. alcoholics), it might be better for those people to avoid consuming alcohol at all, since it tends to dull your wits. Bad decisions come after consuming too much alcohol.
Q. (Matthew 25:14-30): We’ve seen this one before too. I can get two different morals from this story. One is that the master is literally giving talents. The servants who use their talents and either expand on them or profit from them are rewarded. Or, the servants who use their talents to bring more people to God will be rewarded.
A. As mentioned, it is possible that Jesus is repeating a story He has already told in this instance to make a point about using the gifts and abilities God has given us (including being given riches). Either of your proposed “morals” are fine, but they BOTH require a level of discernment: you must determine what you feel God is calling you to do, and then to act on it.
Q. (Matthew 25:31-46): Jesus is talking about when we help others, we honor Him. If we don’t do that — his will and the new covenant — it’s eternal time in the fire pit. When we lived on Guam, a neighbor who was a Seventh Day Adventist told me that the Bible says that the eternal fire is really not eternal. I have always pictured people — I guess it would be there souls? — burning forever and ever. Rob, what knowledge do you have?
A. First, one quick note: the story of the Sheep and Goats does not say that it is actions ALONE that will get us into heaven or send us to hell. Our actions are generally a tangible representation of what we believe (i.e. we don’t generally act in contrast to what we believe). So if we have faith in Christ, and have been changed by His life and teachings, then the result of such thinking will most likely being a radical change in our actions. We are much less likely to be selfish if we have truly internalized what Jesus has taught us. So if we have faith in Him, our actions will likely change, which is tangibly proven by our daily interactions with others.
As to the reality of what hell is “like,” we only have bits and pieces to go on. There are some contrasting images that appear contradictory at first look: we are told that hell is a place of darkness, but also of fire for example. In Revelation, it will be described as a lake of fire — burning sulfur, which used to be known as brimstone, to be exact. As we discussed at some point — I forget exactly where — when Jesus discussed what we call hell, He used images of a place called Gehenna, a burning trash heap outside of Jerusalem that was once used for pagan child sacrifice. So there are various ways that the reality of hell is described. Personally, I agree with one part of what your neighbor has said, but it’s not the part you might think. I believe that there will be an eternal separation of souls from God, and that while there will be no LITERAL fire there, the agony and anguish of regret at having missed out on God will be undeniable. Note carefully: all the metaphors that Jesus used to speak about hell — and don’t miss that it is Jesus HIMSELF who teaches much of what we understand about hell! — have a literal point: they represent regret, suffering, and misery. Hell is real, and it is a real danger to those who willfully turn from God — no one goes to hell by accident — it is willful action on our part to end up there. We all know or have heard about people who say they want no part of God at all — that He is cruel, or unjust, or whatever. And as a person who believes strongly in free will, I believe that God is willing to say, “I will not force you to be with me if that is what you desire.” But surely those who make up their mind to act in defiance of God and choose their sin and selfishness will regret what they have done. Such defiance often makes us blind to a way out, even if the lifeline is still offered. C.S. Lewis once cleverly remarked that if hell is “locked,” then it is locked from the inside. Something to think about…