Hidden Messages in the Bible

Hidden Messages in the Bible - The NapkinWe have all seen dubious claims about hidden messages in the Bible. They include everything from numerology to codes with special meanings. The only place where hidden messages do unquestionably occur in the New Testament is in the book of Revelation. That book uses symbols that the Christian readers would understand, and the Romans would not. However, there are a few cases that we might call hidden messages in the Bible that Christian or Jewish readers might understand and which other readers would miss.

One such example is the description of the burial tomb of Jesus in John 20:1-9. “Then Simon Peter … went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen … as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”

Jewish protocol was that when the master of the house was finished eating, he would wipe his mouth and face and toss the napkin aside. That action indicated that the contamination was removed from him, and the event was ended. If he folded the towel and set it in order, that was a sign that he was not finished and would return to finish the meal or whatever he had been working on.

The folded napkin and the missing body sent a strong message to Peter and the women who visited the tomb. Jesus was indicating that He would return. It was a hidden message to the followers of Jesus that the Romans would not have understood. While it was not obvious or miraculous, it could be an important hidden message to those who were about to become the apostles of Jesus Christ.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Christ’s Resurrection Celebration

Christ's ResurrectionEach week as Christians meet we remember Christ’s resurrection and victory over death. Annually we remember that at the time of Passover Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) But without the resurrection, the sacrifice would be meaningless. As Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised your faith is worthless” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Our faith is not worthless, because Christ’s resurrection conquered sin and death.

How do we know that is true? Some unbelievers argue that the resurrection is just a myth that arose many years later. The evidence against that idea is numerous and strong. The apostles carried the message of Christ’s resurrection to the ends of the Roman Empire for the rest of their lives. That was even though they had nothing to gain except a life of persecution ending in execution. If they had not seen the resurrected Christ, they would not have spent their lives proclaiming the message of the resurrection.

The argument that the gospels were written years later has often been used to “prove” that the resurrection was a myth that developed during those years. However, Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth in A.D. 57, before any of the four gospels were written. In it, he included an oral tradition which gives a summary of the gospel message.

Today we have access to writing materials, books, and computers. We are accustomed to writing things down. In the first century, there were no computers or printed books or pamphlets. Even simple writing materials were scarce and precious. People memorized important things by summarizing them efficiently and then passing them on as oral traditions. The early Christians used that method. Here is the first part of an oral tradition that Paul wrote down in that first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to…”

The oral tradition then goes on to list some resurrection appearances of Christ. Then Paul adds himself to the list of those who saw the resurrected Christ. (You can read it for yourself in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.) Of course, the “Scriptures” that Paul refers to are the Old Testament prophecies of Christ since the New Testament was not yet written.

When did Paul receive this tradition? He probably received it no later than A.D. 36 when he first visited Jerusalem. (See Galatians 1:15-18.) It is possible that he received it earlier than that in Damascus when, as Saul the persecutor, he encountered Ananias and received his sight. Ananias preached the gospel to him and “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.” Whether in Jerusalem or Damascus, Paul received the oral tradition of Christ’s resurrection no more than five years after the event. That tradition was not a myth that developed years later after the eyewitnesses had died.

As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection each week and especially at this time of year, we can trust the story is true. We have that oral tradition written down, but we would do well to memorize it as the early Christians did.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Celebrate the Resurrection Every Sunday

Celebrate the Resurrection Every SundayPalm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter are all valid historically. All of the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are factual, so should we celebrate Easter? We suggest that we should celebrate the resurrection every Sunday.

The communion was established to assist us in doing that (1 Corinthians 11:23-30). The first century Church worshiped every Sunday. Giving (1 Corinthians 16:2) and celebrating the Lord’s Supper to remember the death and resurrection of Christ were part of that worship (Acts 20:7). We should copy their example. It is good that at least once a year the whole world recognizes the activity of God in sending His son to die as a sacrifice for the sins of all. We would urge everyone to look into the significance of the resurrection and the witnesses that give credence to the story.

Another aspect of the Easter season is that many human inventions have sprung up around the historical event. Lent was instituted as a way to focus on the Easter event. It was a reminder of the forty days Jesus fasted in the desert as He began His ministry. Abstaining from eating eggs to celebrate Lent resulted in people preserving eggs by boiling them. German Lutherans began decorating the eggs and invented the Easter Hare as a judge of children allowing gifts to be given to good children. Eastern Orthodox believers dyed the eggs red remembering the blood of Christ. The special days of Palm Sunday and Holy Friday were added to aid believers in focusing on the season.

Like Christmas and Santa Claus, these Easter additions to the simple biblical message have a long history, but the Bible message is clear. Passages like 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 and Matthew 26:26-28 give us a guide that we can follow no matter what the local traditions. While we may enjoy the human inventions, let us worship as God has called us to worship, and let us do so with understanding and reverence. Celebrate the resurrection every Sunday.
— John N. Clayton ©2019

Giving Something of Value

Giving Something of Value
Giving something of value (such as money) to someone for an item of equal value is buying and selling.

Giving something of value to someone without requiring anything in return, while expecting that person to give something of similar value is creating an obligation.

Giving something of value to someone who has done something to deserve it is compensation.

Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, but who will appreciate it is love.

Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, and who will perhaps not appreciate it is “agape.”

Agape” is the Greek term used in the Bible to describe God’s kind of love. It’s the “I don’t care if you spit in my face, I will still love you” kind of love. It’s the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when, as he was being crucified, he openly forgave those who were doing it. The gift of Jesus coming to Earth to live among those who would eventually despise and kill him is true “agape.” The gifts we give are lame by comparison.

The story of Jesus from birth to death and resurrection is a story of giving. It is indeed the most amazing concept we can imagine, and a story nobody would dare to make up. The Creator of the universe takes the form of one of His creatures to bring them to Himself. I can see why many people refuse to believe it. It’s incredible, but I believe it’s true.

When we realize it is true, we must ask ourselves, “What can I give in return?” We should not hold back anything–but we do. God is the one who gives without holding back, but our giving has strings attached. We should say with the Jewish King David, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” In fact, we should offer to God that which costs us everything. That would still not match God’s gift to us.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Returning from the Dead

Returning from the Dead
Throughout human history there have been bizarre stories of people returning from the dead. Whether it is zombies or ghosts or a person who miraculously returns from the dead, the stories fascinate people, and frequently they become enlarged and expanded with each telling.

In our day people have written books claiming that a person returned from the dead. Kevin Malarkey wrote a best seller about his son Alex who was involved in a car crash in 2004. He claimed that Alex died and went to heaven and met Jesus Christ. Alex, who was left paralyzed by the accident, is now suing the publisher for damages over the book. Alex says his story was totally fabricated by his father and that money made by the selling the book was not shared with Alex. The lawsuit demands that Alex’s name be “completely disassociated from the book.” You can read more about it HERE.

We suggest that all claims made in recent times about someone returning from the dead should be treated with extreme skepticism. What about the biblical claims? In 1 Samuel 28:7-25 we read of Saul going to the witch of Endor who “had a familiar spirit” to ask her to bring Samuel back from the dead. The woman who appears to be running a séance scam. When she performs her ritual she is shocked that Samuel actually shows up. Verse 12 tells us that “When the woman saw Samuel she screamed in a loud voice.” It appears she didn’t expect her seance to actually work, and she is terrified when it does. This seems to be a unique act of a miraculous nature.

There are also biblical cases where someone was brought back to life such as Lazarus in John 11:30-45. The resurrection of Lazarus was so that the followers of Jesus would “see the glory of God” (John 11:40) and believe that Jesus was sent by God. The miracle of the resurrection of Christ is presented as a fact of history. It was a miracle in the most graphic way that Jesus was who He claimed to be. We don’t explain miracles. You either accept the fact that they happened, or you reject them.

In today’s world any claim of returning from the dead would not serve the purpose of the biblical miracles. Hebrews 9:27 tells us “.. it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” All of us will die physically, and returning from the dead is not an option. We should be concerned that we not die spiritually.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Can Death Be Conquered?

Can Death Be Conquered?
Some people say that nothing is certain except death and taxes. The truth is that only one of those things is certain. Not only will every one of us die, but every government that collects taxes will also die. It’s a scientific fact that all things, even the universe itself, will come to an end. Can death be conquered?

There is no escaping physical death for everyone and everything. Since we are limited to the dimension of time, and since there is such a thing as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, disorder will eventually catch up with us and with everything else. Our vehicles wear out. Our clothing wears out. Our bodies wear out. Even the Sun and all of the other stars will wear out.

If you spend your life getting all you can for yourself not caring whom you hurt in the process, you will not take your riches with you. If you devote your life to studying science and adding to the database of human knowledge, that too will go away. If all things in the universe, including humans, are merely accidents of chance, we ultimately have no purpose, no value, and no hope.

If you have read this far, you may be feeling depressed, but I have good news. There is a God who created the universe, and you, for a purpose. Yes, your body will die, and even the universe will die. But by God’s grace, you can choose to live on. God entered the time dimension in human form and conquered death for us. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live.”

How can death be conquered? In the beginning, God created time and space, matter and energy. Since He created those things, God is not limited by them. God had no beginning, and He will have no end. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus demonstrated God’s love and grace and His power over death. Because of that, you have the choice to believe and accept and live on beyond the universe. “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Reincarnation and Christianity

Reincarnation and Christianity
Webster’s Dictionary defines reincarnation as “A fresh embodiment, a rebirth in new bodies, or forms of life, the rebirth of a soul in a new body.” Various versions of Hinduism and Buddhism advocate reincarnation in a variety of different forms. There is no justification for bringing reincarnation into the belief system of Christianity, and there is nothing in the Bible that suggests in any way that reincarnation takes place.

There are those who teach that Enoch was reincarnated based on the fact that Hebrews 11:5 says that he was “translated that he should not see death.” This is a reference to Genesis 5:24 which says, “…Enoch walked with God, and he was not; for God took him.” These passages do not say that Enoch lived in a physical form on Earth all over again. He simply didn’t die as we do.

Some people hold up Elijah as an example of reincarnation. In Malachi 4:5 God told Israel, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” At the transfiguration when the disciples saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, they remembered the prophecy of Malachi and they asked Jesus about it. Jesus responded, “’…Elijah has already come, and they did not know him but did whatever they wanted. Even so, shall the Son of man suffer because of them.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:12-13). John the Baptist had that same Spirit as Elijah, but John was his own person, not Elijah living in a new body.

We seem to confuse the words resurrection and reincarnation. The Bible clearly teaches that we will all be resurrected (John 5:28-29). But 1 Corinthians 15:44 makes it clear that the resurrected body is new, but it is us–not a resurrected body of someone else. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that “…it is appointed to men to die once, and after that comes the judgment.” Reincarnation would suggest more than one death. If the version of reincarnation one holds to is that the reincarnated body is that of an animal, then the whole message of heaven is lost.

I am thankful reincarnation is not true. It would not be encouraging to believe that the best I can hope for after I die is to return to this same contaminated, evil-saturated Earth and live again with all the pain and loss I had to endure the first time around.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Event that Changed the World

Empty Tomb

Early on the first day of the week, some women came to the tomb where the lifeless body of Jesus had been placed. It was empty. It had been opened–not by any human hands but by an angel. It wasn’t opened to let Jesus out. The tomb was opened so that people might see that it was empty. The followers of Jesus were not expecting him to be alive again. At first, they couldn’t believe it. Powerful people tried to find the body or to convince the public that it had been stolen. But they could not.

Now, over 2000 years later, there are still those who try to deny the resurrection. The evidence is there. The friends of Jesus were not expecting the resurrection, but after they had seen him alive, they spent the rest of their lives telling others about it. Even when they were tortured and killed for preaching the resurrection, not one of them ever recanted. Without a body, the powerful enemies of Jesus could not disprove the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, written only a few years after the resurrection of Jesus, the Apostle Paul recorded what scholars believe was an oral tradition of the resurrection appearances dating back to the very time of the resurrection. If it had not been true, this tradition and Paul’s record of it would have been debunked by the eyewitnesses who were still around. It was true, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most solidly attested event of ancient history. The world will never be the same because of the day when death was conquered.
–Roland Earnst © 2017