CHAPTER 2 - WHAT IS THE TRUE GOSPEL?
The purpose of this book is to support the preaching of the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel and the world. My purpose is to do this by showing WHY it is important that God's Church preach the gospel to the public and by suggesting things that ministers and members in the Church can do to be more effective in their efforts to preach to the public.
The second half of this book is primarily written for those who have a Church of God background and are generally familiar with the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong, who founded the Radio Church of God, which was later renamed Worldwide Church of God. Knowledge of Mr. Armstrong's teachings is assumed in chapters four through seven. For those readers not familiar with those teachings, I am writing this chapter.
The purpose of this chapter is to show, from the Bible, what the true gospel is, and in doing so to give an overview of the doctrines taught by the Worldwide Church of God when Mr. Armstrong was alive.
I can start by stating simply that the true gospel is the good news of the Kingdom of God which Christ will establish on the earth as a literal world-ruling government at His second coming, and it includes everything in the Bible that relates to that kingdom. It includes everything about Jesus Christ because He is the king of that kingdom. It includes everything about salvation, which enables us to enter that kingdom, including the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins so we may be forgiven, and including the resurrection of Christ which enables Him to continue His saving work as our high priest and head of His church. It also includes God's law of love as a way of life that will be practiced in the Kingdom of God and which we should be learning to practice now.
I will explain the details of all these things and more in the rest of this chapter.
This chapter is not intended to be a thorough explanation and complete proof of the gospel and all of Mr. Armstrong's teachings, but an introduction. I do not try to cover all of his teachings, but just what I consider to be some of the major points. I will show supporting scriptures, but I am not trying to prove these doctrines by quoting all the scriptures that pertain to these doctrines, nor do I try to explain all the details of these doctrines. For more details I refer the reader to Mr. Armstrong's writings, particularly his book, Mystery of the Ages, which he wrote near the end of his life, but also many of his other books, booklets, and articles, such as The Incredible Human Potential, Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?, The Wonderful World Tomorrow - What It Will Be Like, Why Were You Born?, God's Holy Days or Pagan Holidays - Which?, Did God Create a Devil?, the Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong, and many other books, booklets, and articles too numerous to mention. These writings explain the teachings of Mr. Armstrong far better and more thoroughly than I do in this chapter, and this chapter is not intended as a replacement for Mr. Armstrong's writings.
Mr. Armstrong was taught traditional Christian teachings and doctrines when he was growing up. He was raised in a traditional background. Yet his teachings are very different from the teachings of traditional mainstream Christian churches. Why is that?
Although Mr. Armstrong did not have a strong religious interest as he was growing up, he took for granted that Christian churches got their teaching and beliefs from the Bible. But when he was a young man, he was challenged on the issue of the Sabbath day. He had always assumed that the Bible taught that Christians should observe Sunday as the day for rest and worshipping God in church services. He believed this because he knew that this is what mainstream Christian churches taught, and he assumed they got their beliefs from the Bible. But when someone (his wife) challenged him on this, he set out to prove, from the Bible, that Sunday was "the Lord's day". At the same time, someone (not his wife) challenged him on his belief in the existence of God and on the theory of evolution. Mr. Armstrong did not believe in evolution, so at the same time that he was researching the Sunday vs. Sabbath issue he also researched the "creation vs. evolution" issue.
Mr. Armstrong began a night and day study of both the Bible and the theory of evolution that lasted about six months. He had training and experience in business and journalism, and he had a logical, analytical mind. But most importantly, he was sincere. Although he had a definite opinion on both of the issues he was studying, he was honest enough with himself and others to approach the research with an open mind and not allow his personal opinions and preferences to influence his conclusion. He was honest enough to admit he was wrong, even when it was painful, humiliating, and embarrassing. And in the case of the Sunday vs. Sabbath issue, he proved that, contrary to the teachings of most churches, the seventh day Sabbath, from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, is the real Christian Sabbath. This was not what he previously believed, nor was it what he wanted to believe. But he was willing to accept the truth and admit he was wrong. From that time on, he began to keep the Sabbath and to continue his research into the Bible. And because he was willing to believe the Bible first, over and above his own prior beliefs, his own preferences and opinions, and the beliefs of traditional Christian churches, he discovered many truths that traditional mainstream Christianity does not have.
It seems appropriate to start with the doctrine Mr. Armstrong studied first, that is, which day is the Christian Sabbath.
The Weekly Sabbath Day
Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for mankind. "And He said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath' " (Mark 2:27-28). The account of when the Sabbath was made is given in Genesis. After renewing the face of the earth in six days, God created the Sabbath by resting. "Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made" (Genesis 2:1-3).
Later, Abram was born, whose name was changed to Abraham, and God called him and promised to make him into a great nation (Genesis 12:1-4, Genesis 17:1-5). Jacob was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham, and Jacob's name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28). In time, the children of Israel multiplied in the land of Egypt until they became a nation, and when God brought them out of Egypt to bring them into the promised land, he told them they would be a special nation and a special treasure to Him. See Exodus chapters 1, 3, 6, and 19. "And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel' " (Exodus 19:3-6).
God intended the nation of Israel to obey God's laws, and by obeying God's laws and way of life to be a positive example for all other nations on the earth. God would bless Israel for obedience, and the rest of the world would learn from Israel's example that obedience to God's laws brings happiness and prosperity. "Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people' " (Deuteronomy 4:5-6). See also Deuteronomy 7:12-15, 8:11-19, 11:13-32, 26:16-19, and Deuteronomy chapters 27 and 28 for the blessings that would result from obedience and the curses that would result from disobedience. Especially note Deuteronomy 11:26-28: "Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known."
God gave Israel his laws. The Ten Commandments are the ten main points of God's law and are recorded in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-22. Although the individual commandments listed in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are not individually numbered, Deuteronomy 4:13 and Exodus 34:28 show that the number of commandments was ten. The importance of this will be shown later.
Although the Ten Commandments are not listed in the Bible before the book of Exodus, it is evident that God's law existed before that time, because God specifically stated that Abraham obeyed God's laws. "And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (Genesis 26:4-5).
Among the Ten Commandments is the commandment to rest on the Sabbath day. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:8-11). Notice that in this command, God directly ties it in with the creation of the Sabbath day in Genesis. Notice the parallel statements:
Genesis: "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it."
Exodus: "Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."
This confirms that the Sabbath day that God commanded Israel to observe by resting is the same Sabbath day God created in Genesis immediately after He created the first man, Adam, on the sixth day. This answers the question of when God created the Sabbath. Jesus said the Sabbath was created for man. Genesis and Exodus show that God created the Sabbath when He created man. This is very consistent.
God was not so tired or exhausted by the first six days of creation that He needed to rest. But by resting on the seventh day of creation, God created the Sabbath day for mankind by setting an example for mankind to follow.
It is clear that observing the Sabbath is included in the Ten Commandments. Are the Ten Commandments still in force for Christians today? Yes they are. Notice James 2:10-11, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law." This is written in the New Testament, after Jesus Christ died for our sins and was resurrected and ascended into heaven. It is written by James, one of the "pillars" of the first century Church mentioned by the apostle Paul (Galatians 2:9). James says that if someone breaks one point of God's law, he is guilty of all. What "points" of God's law is James talking about? It is clear that he is talking about the Ten Commandments, with each commandment being a "point" of God's law, for James uses two of the Ten Commandments as examples, calling them "points". Why is it true that if a person breaks one of these commandments that he has become guilty of breaking "all"? Because, as James points out, the same God who commanded we keep one point also commanded we keep all of them. Therefore the Ten Commandments are still in force today.
This is consistent with what Jesus taught His disciples in the sermon on the mount when He said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-19).
There are no passages in the New Testament that teach that God's Sabbath day is done away, or that the Ten Commandments are no longer in force, or that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday.
Paul said, "Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12). Jesus said, in answer to the young man who asked Him how he may find eternal life, "keep the commandments". When asked which, Jesus quoted a number of the Ten Commandments. Here is the full passage: "Now behold, one came and said to Him, 'Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?' So He said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.' He said to Him, 'Which ones?' Jesus said, ' "You shall not murder," "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "Honor your father and your mother," and, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" ' " (Matthew 19:16-19). Jesus quoted a number of the Ten Commandments, plus the commandment to love one's neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:18). He quoted these commandments to point the man to the Ten Commandments and to the two great commandments (Matthew 22:35-40). Why did He not quote all of the commandments? Because apparently it was with the commandments relating to loving one's neighbor that the man had a problem. Notice what the young man answered, and Jesus' reply in Matthew 19:20-22: "The young man said to Him, 'All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?' Jesus said to him, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.' But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." Apparently, this man needed to have more love for his neighbor and for the poor and he had too much love for himself and his possessions.
The law of God expresses God's nature. The way of life that God teaches and commands men to live is the way of life that God Himself practices. God practices what He preaches. God sent Jesus Christ to live a perfect life, obeying all the commandments of God, to set an example for us, that we should live as He lived. It is a way of life that leads to everything right and good.
That way of life can be described with the one word, "love". Love can be described as an outgoing concern for the welfare and happiness of others. It can also be described with the one word, "give".
Mr. Armstrong often illustrated this by comparing the two possible ways of life, the "give" way and the "get" way. The give way of life is the way of outgoing concern for others, the way of honesty, the way of helping, of serving, of cooperating. It is the way that leads to peace, unity, and happiness. It is also the way of truth. This is the way that God practices and teaches.
The Bible teaches that God is love. Notice 1 John 4:7-11, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." Also, 1 John 4:16, "And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." God expresses this love by giving. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Also, James 1:17, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." See also Matthew 5:42, 43-48, 7:7-11.
The "give" way of life is the way that God lives. But as Mr. Armstrong taught, the opposite way of life is the "get" way. It is the way of trying to selfishly take from others and get more for the self. It is the way of selfishness, hostile competition, vanity, greed, deception, and resentment towards others. This is the way of life that Satan the devil lives. Jesus said that Satan was a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44). This is the way of life that leads to suffering, destruction, and death.
God's law is an expression of God's very nature. It can be summed up in one word, love. It is the way of life that God lives and commands and teaches men to live. God's commandments teach us HOW to love. According to the Bible, there is a direct connection between practicing love and keeping God's commandments. Notice, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:2-3). Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15).
The two great commandments teach us how to love God and love other people. Someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is. "Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). In answering, Jesus was quoting the Old Testament scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18). "The Law and the Prophets" is a reference to the Old Testament scriptures, which are composed of the "law" (the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible), the "prophets" (books such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as well as the other prophets), and the "writings" (such as Psalms). Jesus is saying that the Old Testament scriptures are based on love towards God and love towards neighbor.
The two great commandments are further defined by the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments fill in details about HOW to love God and love our neighbor. The first four of the Ten Commandments teach us how to love God, and the last six teach us how to love our neighbor. Then the whole rest of the Bible further teaches us how to practice the way of love and how to keep God's commandments in their practical application in our lives.
Jesus obeyed God's commandments and set an example for us in doing so. "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10). "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:14-17).
The fact that Jesus kept God's law and commandments also means that Jesus did not sin, for sin is the transgression of the law. 1 John 3:4 says "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness". The King James Version renders this verse "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." By defining God's law, God's commandments teach us what sin is. Paul wrote, "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet' " (Romans 7:7). Jesus obeyed His Father's law. Jesus had to live a sinless life so that when He died He would pay the penalty for the sins of mankind, not his own sins. Jesus magnified the law, and taught us to keep the spiritual intent of the law, not just the letter of the law (Matthew 5:21-28, Isaiah 42:21).
The first four of the Ten Commandments teach us how to love God and the last six commandments teach us how to love our neighbor. The Sabbath commandment is the fourth commandment. This may come as a surprise to some Catholics who may read this, because many Catholics have been taught that the Sabbath commandment is the third commandment, and I will explain why this is later in this chapter.
It takes faith for a person who has not been keeping the seventh day Sabbath to begin to keep it. This is true about the Sabbath commandment in a way in which it is not true for the other commandments. Why?
Faith is believing God. It means believing what God says, not just believing that God exists. Even the demons believe that God exists (James 2:19), but they do not believe in the way of life that God teaches. I do not think the demons believe what Jesus said when Jesus said that it is better ("more blessed") to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Abraham became what some call the "father of the faithful" when He believed God's promises (Romans 4:3, James 2:23, Genesis 15:4-6). Note especially Romans 4:16-22: "Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, 'I have made you a father of many nations') in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, 'So shall your descendants be.' And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore 'it was accounted to him for righteousness' ".
Why does it take faith to keep the Sabbath for someone who was not raised in a Sabbath tradition? Because it requires that person to believe what God says. This is not true to the same extent for the other nine commandments because often men have been able to discern the moral principles behind the other commandments without believing God or the Bible. For example, most societies all over the world are able to figure out that it is wrong to steal, murder, and commit adultery, and some people may even able to understand that it is wrong to worship idols or to use God's name disrespectfully. But human reason cannot determine, apart from the revelation from God, that we should rest one day out of seven, and WHICH day to rest on. Even societies that may rest one day each week often do not rest on the seventh day, but some other day of the week. But God tells us to rest on the SEVENTH day. God counts days from sunset to sunset (Leviticus 23:32), so God's Sabbath is from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.
It can require faith to obey the Sabbath commandment because keeping it can involve sacrifice. It can make one seem different from other people. It can sometimes involve financial sacrifice and some people have lost their jobs because of their obedience to the Sabbath commandment.
But there are also benefits that arise from keeping the Sabbath. But generally, one does not fully learn about those benefits until one begins to keep the Sabbath, and it takes faith to begin to keep it.
The Sabbath day provides much needed rest for man by providing one day a week to rest from his labors. God did not intend for a person to work non-stop without rest seven days a week. But there are many other benefits. It is a time for people to draw closer to God in prayer, Bible study, thinking about God and His greatness, and assembling together for instruction and worship with others who also fear God. The Sabbath is not a time for personal entertainment and recreation, such as watching football games, playing cards, and watching movies. Notice Isaiah 58:13-14: "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the Lord honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken." The Sabbath is a day for a man or woman to build a closer relationship with God. It is part of properly keeping the greatest commandment, to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:36-40).
The weekly Sabbath also helps picture and symbolize God's plan for mankind. When Adam chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and thus disobeyed God, he cut himself off from the kind of relationship he could have had with God if he had obeyed. Adam and Eve were driven out from the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24). From that point on, mankind in general has refused to obey God and has chosen instead to rule himself, living his own way, deciding for himself right and wrong. Mr. Armstrong explained that when Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was taking to himself the prerogative of deciding what is good and evil, what is right and wrong, and mankind has followed that way ever since. Instead of allowing God to set moral standards men are to live by and looking to God's word to see what God says is right and wrong, each person decides for himself or herself what is right or wrong, and then lives according to his or her own standards, not God's.
But man's ways are not God's ways. " 'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts' " (Isaiah 55:8-9). "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12, also see Proverbs 16:25). It is God who has the right to decide what is right and wrong, what is sin and what is not sin. Man can only decide WHETHER to sin. But Adam and Eve rejected God's rule and chose to decide for themselves, under Satan's influence, their own standards of belief and behavior. They chose to "go their own way", independent of God. And by their choice, they rejected God's government over them. And since all mankind has come from Adam and Eve, by making the decision to reject God's government over them, they made that decision not only for themselves but for their children and the whole human race which came from them, and all mankind has been suffering the consequences ever since.
By following Satan, Adam and Eve rejected God's rule over them. Man's nature, under Satan's influence, has become evil. Note the following scriptures. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:9-10). In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:11). Notice that it is to His own disciples that Jesus said, "you...being evil". This shows that the evil and wickedness of man's heart is not just the characteristic of a few wicked men, but mankind in general. "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,..." (Romans 3:23). Just as Satan deceived Eve about the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, so Satan deceives the whole world into following the wrong way of life (Revelation 12:9).
God intends that the human race learn a lesson from experience that man's ways, apart from God's rule, lead to suffering, destruction, and death. Mankind is not able to rightly rule itself. "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Man needs the rule and government of God over him for his own good and welfare. This is true individually as well as for the whole human race. God's laws define the way that leads to life and happiness, but men do not obey those laws because they do not believe what God says. So God is allowing man to go his own way, make his own decisions, decide for himself what he thinks is right and wrong, create his own moral standards for belief and behavior, and reap the painful consequences of rejecting God's rule and laws. The result has been war, sickness, suffering, and death from the time of Adam until now. And Jesus prophesied that by the time of the end conditions would be so bad that unless He returned the whole human race would bring destruction upon itself. "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened" (Matthew 24:21-22).
But then, at the time of the end, Jesus Christ will return to the earth in power to establish the Kingdom of God ruling over the nations on the earth, and God's rule will not only save man from destroying himself, but will bring an unprecedented period of peace, prosperity, and happiness to the earth. As God has allowed man to rule himself for six thousand years, under Satan's influence whose ways Adam and Eve chose, so God will establish a period of one thousand years when Christ will rule the earth, teach all mankind God's law, and bring peace, happiness, and prosperity to mankind. "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4). "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:33-34). "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
Mankind is not learning the lesson now, but man is writing the lesson in painful history, that man's ways apart from God lead to suffering and death. But when God establishes Christ's rule over the earth and at last brings peace and happiness to mankind, mankind will be able to compare the fruits of his own rule with the fruits of God's rule, and then man will begin to learn that God's ways and laws are for man's good and are the true way to happiness.
The Sabbath pictures the millennial rule of Christ. Just as the weekly Sabbath is the last day of a seven day week, so the one thousand year rule of Christ over the earth will be the last one thousand years of a seven thousand year period from the time of Adam. Properly kept, the weekly Sabbath can be a day of delight, a day of rest, and a day of drawing closer to God, just as the millennial reign of Christ will be a day when all mankind learns the ways of God and enjoys peace and happiness.
The Sabbath commandment is also a test commandment. As I mentioned before, men can often figure out on their own that they should not murder, steal, commit adultery, and that they should honor their mother and father, and some have even been able to learn that it is wrong to worship an idol. But a man or woman must trust and believe God in order to begin keeping the Sabbath day according to God's word. This is why it is a test commandment. It tests man's belief and trust in God and in His word. God actually used the Sabbath to test ancient Israel in the wilderness after He brought them out of Egypt. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily' " (Exodus 16:4-5). Notice that God says He will TEST Israel. "And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. Then he said to them, 'This is what the Lord has said: "Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning." ' So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. Then Moses said, 'Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.' Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, 'How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.' So the people rested on the seventh day" (Exodus 16:22-30). Notice that the Sabbath existed BEFORE the Ten Commandments were given as recorded in Exodus 20, and BEFORE the old covenant was made with Israel as recorded in Exodus 24:1-8.
I will mention one more purpose of the Sabbath, and that is that it is a special SIGN between God and His people. A sign identifies. The Sabbath sign identifies to God's people who the true God is, and it identifies to God who his people are. Notice Exodus 31:12-17: "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: "Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed" ' ". It is a sign that identifies God because it points to the day that God rested after His work of creation, and thus identifies the true God as the Creator. Notice Ezekiel 20:18-20: "But I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am the Lord your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.' " Notice that God says, "that you may know I am the Lord your God." This shows that the Sabbath day, properly kept, will help the Sabbath-keeper know who the true God is. It also identifies to God those who are willing to obey what he says, so the sign works both ways.
It is also good to point out that Sunday is not God's Sabbath and does not point to the true God of creation. It is the seventh day of the week, not the first, that points to the day God rested from the six days of creation, and it is the seventh day of the seven day week that points to the future millennial rule of Christ for one thousand years following six thousand years of man's rule over himself.
Some people think that the Church changed the Sabbath from the last day of the week to the first day of the week in the first century. Many people think this occurred because of the traditional belief of many churches today that Jesus Christ died on a Friday and was resurrected on a Sunday morning. But God's true Church never tried to change the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week, and the Bible indicates that the Friday-crucifixion, Sunday-resurrection tradition cannot be true.
Jesus said he would be in the grave for three days and three nights. He further indicated that this would be the sign that He was the Messiah. Notice these scriptures. "But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth' " (Matthew 12:39-40). "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17). From Friday night to Sunday morning would be one day and two nights, so that tradition cannot be true.
Many people are confused about this when they read scriptures that indicate that Jesus was buried right before the beginning of a Sabbath, such as the following: "Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb" (Mark 15:42-46). Many assume that the Sabbath referred to above is the weekly Sabbath, that is, the seventh day of the week. But there are annual Sabbaths also, days of commanded rest that are called "Sabbath" that fall on particular dates in the Hebrew calendar and can fall on any day of the week. I don't want to try to cover all the details of the proof of the timing of events that occurred when Jesus was crucified -- I will refer the reader to Mr. Armstrong's booklet, Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?, and many of his other writings for more details -- but I will explain a few points.
There are seven annual Sabbaths given by God, and six of them fall on particular days of particular months in the Hebrew calendar (all except Pentecost). These are days of rest and assembly, just as the weekly Sabbath is a day of rest and assembly, and they are called "Sabbaths". Information about these days can be found in chapter 23 of Leviticus. These days are called "holy days", "Sabbaths", and except for Atonement they are called "feast days". Notice, for example, that the Day of Atonement, an annual holy day, is called a Sabbath in Leviticus 23:32: "It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath." Also, Leviticus 23:24: "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.' " More information can be found about these days in Deuteronomy chapter 16 and many other places, and I will review these days in detail, and their meaning, in the next section.
Was there an annual Sabbath day around the time of the crucifixion that could fall on a weekday? Yes. There is an annual Sabbath that follows the day of Passover. The Passover day, which is not a sabbath but is the day that God commanded ancient Israel to observe by eating the lamb they had slaughtered, is a memorial of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Passover lamb represents Jesus Christ. "Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Here, Christ is called "our Passover", and elsewhere, He is called "the Lamb" as in John 1:29: "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' ". The sacrifice of the lamb in ancient Israel represented the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind. And in fulfillment of that day, Jesus died on Passover day. Remember, as God counts days, they begin and end at sunset. As God counts days, the day of Passover began at sunset the evening that Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples. The night that Jesus ate the Passover with His disciples was same day therefore that he was crucified and died. See Matthew chapters 26 and 27, Mark chapters 14 and 15, Luke chapters 22 and 23, and John chapters 13 through 19. What was the annual holy day, a Sabbath, that follows Passover? The First Day of Unleavened Bread. Notice Leviticus 23:5-7: "On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it."
It was the First Day of Unleavened Bread, an annual Sabbath, not the weekly Sabbath, that was the Sabbath that immediately followed the crucifixion of Christ. An annual Sabbath can fall on any day of the week. Which day of the week did this day fall on when Jesus was crucified?
Jesus said He would be in the grave for three days and three nights, that is, 72 hours. He died and was buried in the afternoon, before sunset, on Passover day (Matthew 27:45-60, Mark 15:33-46, Luke 23:44-54, John 19:31-42). His resurrection would then also be in the afternoon, 72 hours later, in order for Him to be in the grave for three days and three nights as the sign of the prophet Jonah. Keeping in mind that His resurrection would be in the afternoon shortly before sunset, which day of the week was He resurrected?
When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb as the first day of the week began to dawn, Jesus Christ had already been resurrected, and the angel told the women that He was going before them into Galilee. Notice Matthew 28:1-7: "Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.' " See also Mark 16:1-7, Luke 24:1-7, and John 20:1-2.
Since Jesus was already resurrected when the women went to the grave early Sunday morning, and if Jesus was to be resurrected three days and nights, 72 hours, after a late afternoon burial, then He must have been resurrected no later than late Sabbath afternoon, the seventh day of the week, not the first. Three days prior to this would be Wednesday afternoon, and the First Day of Unleavened Bread, an annual Sabbath, would be on a Thursday that year.
Some will notice Mark 16:9, "Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons." This appears to say that Christ rose on the first day of the week. If this were true, it would contradict the other verses we have covered, and the Bible cannot contradict itself. What is the explanation?
There are two possible explanations. One, a footnote in my Bible indicates that verses 9 through 20 are bracketed in some manuscripts as not in the original text and some manuscripts do not contain them at all. This indicates to me at least the possibility that these verses were not in the original inspired text and were added later, as far as I can tell. Secondly, the original inspired Greek text did not have punctuation marks, so translators supply the comma that appears after the word "week" in most translations. Without the comma, or with the comma after "rose", the phrase "on the first day of the week" can apply to when Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene. For example, if the comma was placed after "rose", the verse would read, "Now when He rose, early on the first day of the week He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons." The translators in their decisions about where to place punctuation can be influenced by their own religious beliefs just like anyone else and can make mistakes accordingly. I believe that if these verses are truly part of the original inspired text, then the comma should go after "rose", and the first day of the week is day when Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, not the day when He was resurrected. Otherwise, the Bible is contradicting itself.
Some people think that in the controversies with the Pharisees, Jesus taught against the Sabbath or taught that the Sabbath was done away. That is not true. Jesus kept His Father's commandments (John 15:10). Jesus attended the synagogue on the Sabbath day as His custom was (Luke 4:16). But the Pharisees added many requirements and traditions to Sabbath observance, which God never intended, and made the Sabbath a burden rather than a day of delight. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and taught that it is lawful to heal and to do good on the Sabbath (Luke 14:1-6, Matthew 12:9-13, Luke 13:10-16, Luke 6:6-10).
The Annual Holy Days and the Plan of God
Besides the weekly Sabbath, God gave annual feasts and holy days or Sabbaths to Israel, and these days are still in effect for the Church today. When Mr. Armstrong was researching the Sabbath question, he was forced to admit that the weekly Sabbath was still in effect. But in the course of his research, he also learned that the annual sabbaths are still in effect also. This is explained in Mr. Armstrong's autobiography, and in the booklet, God's Holy Days or Pagan Holidays - Which? When Mr. Armstrong began to attend with the Church of God Seventh Day, he found that most of them did not keep the annual Sabbaths, but only the weekly Sabbaths. Mr. Armstrong did not know WHY God commanded these days to be kept, only that God DID command them. So Mr. Armstrong and his wife kept these days by themselves. It was not until years later that Mr. Armstrong began to understand, through the Bible, why God commanded the annual holy days and what they represented. This is an outstanding illustration of the principle given in Psalm 111:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments." God gives more understanding of His Word to those who believe and obey what He says.
I have already touched on the fact that the weekly seventh-day Sabbath helps Christians who keep it properly to understand the coming millennial reign of Christ on the earth. But the annual Sabbaths and feasts of God help to reveal and illustrate much more detail about God's overall plan for mankind.
In this section I want to give a brief overview and introduction to what the annual feasts and holy days of God are, and I want to briefly explain what they represent and help to illustrate about God's plan and purpose for mankind. In the process, I will also be covering what that plan is. Although I am giving a brief overview, the reader can learn more from the booklet, God's Holy Days or Pagan Holidays - Which? and Mr. Armstrong's books, Mystery of the Ages and The Wonderful World Tomorrow - What It Will Be Like.
Passover -- the Sacrifice of Christ
The first day which God commands to be observed is Passover. Passover is not a Sabbath. Work is permitted. Like all days, it begins and ends at sunset. It is to be kept on the 14th day of the first month in the Hebrew calendar. You can read the details of the institution of Passover in Exodus chapter 12. Every household of Israel in Egypt was told to kill a lamb just after sunset when the 14th day had just begun, but before it was completely dark. They were to splatter the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their house, roast the lamb, and eat it in their house and remain indoors until morning. Around midnight God killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, but God "passed over" any house that had the blood on the doorposts and did not kill the firstborn in that house. For ancient Israel, this was a lesson that God protected them and saved them from the plague with which He plagued the Egyptians. But for Christians today, there is a deeper meaning.
The symbolism with Jesus Christ is unmistakable. Jesus is called "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29) and "our Passover" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Revelation 7:14 and 12:11 makes reference to the "blood of the Lamb" in reference to the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that we are justified with God by the blood of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:9).
The penalty of sin is death. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23, KJV). All have sinned, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23, KJV). Therefore, all mankind has fallen under the death penalty. God the Father sent Jesus Christ to live a sinless life and die to pay the penalty for our sins in our place so that the death penalty could be removed and we can be forgiven of our past sins. "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of 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 hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6, KJV). I think traditional Christianity understands this particular point of God's plan pretty well. This is not something new that Mr. Armstrong discovered.
When Jesus kept the Passover with His disciples before He died, He made a change in the Passover ritual for the Church, but not the date that Passover should be kept. Jesus instituted the symbols of the bread, to represent His body which was about to be scourged and broken, and the wine, to represent His blood which was about to be shed (Matthew 26:26-28). He also instituted a foot washing ceremony, which most churches today do not observe, to teach the lesson of humility and service to others (John 13:2-17). It is the shed blood of Christ that pays the death penalty in our stead so we can be forgiven and so we do not have to die the second death in the lake of fire (Matthew 26:28, Isaiah 53:4-12, Hebrews 9:11-15, 1 John 1:7-9, Colossians 1:19-22). It is the suffering that He endured and His broken and scourged body that enables us to be healed physically and spiritually (Isaiah 53:5, Matthew 8:16-17, 1 Peter 2:21-24, Psalm 103:2-3, Matthew 9:1-7, Mark 2:5-12, Luke 5:20-24, James 5:14-17).
The penalty for our sins is death, that is, the second death in the lake of fire. Christ paid that penalty with His own death, His blood being shed for us, so we do not have to die in the lake of fire, a permanent death from which there will be no resurrection. This paves the way for God to give us the gift of eternal life so we can live forever. However, death is not the only penalty for our sins. We also suffer because of our sins. When we sin, our character is damaged and our minds are corrupted. As Herbert W. Armstrong taught in The Incredible Human Potential, when Adam and Eve first sinned, something happened to their minds. They began to have an attitude of rebellion against God. Their minds became sinful, wicked, perverted, hostile against God, evil, as the heart of man is described by Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 8:7, Matthew 7:11, Luke 18:19). Sin leads to more sin, which leads to the habit of sin and a sinful character and nature. And sin causes suffering. Sin is the violation of God's perfect law, and God's law when obeyed leads to happiness and everything good. The violation of God's law leads to unhappiness, suffering, and death. So in addition to death, suffering is a penalty of sin, and sin leads to an evil sinful mind and nature leading to more sin and more suffering. We become trapped in a vicious cycle of sin leading to more sin and suffering.
A comparison with the laws of health can help illustrate this. God designed and put into motion physical laws regulating health. When we violate those laws by abusing our bodies and not taking care of our health, sickness or injury results. This is a type and analogy of how violating God's spiritual law by sinning leads to a damaged character and evil nature, a nature that leads to more sin and more suffering. And the history of mankind with its violence, crime, war, broken homes, poverty, and sickness shows the consequences of violating God's laws.
But Jesus not only paid the death penalty in our place, He also suffered for us, paying the penalty of suffering in our place for our violation of God's physical and spiritual laws. This paves the way for God to remove the penalty from us by healing our diseases and cleaning up our character, and replacing our evil nature leading to sin and suffering with His perfect, righteous character leading to happiness and everything good.
It would not do us much good if God removed the death penalty and gave us eternal life, but left us with our evil, sinning nature. If He did that, we would live forever in a sinful state, sinning and cause grief and suffering for ourselves and those around us for all eternity. Living forever only has positive value for us if the eternal life we have is a happy one. So God needs to clean up our character and replace our evil nature with His righteous nature for our salvation to be complete. How this is done is illustrated by the rest of the holy days and will be described in the next sections in this chapter.
Isaiah 53:5-6 shows that we are healed by the stripes Christ suffered when He was scourged (Matthew 27:26). This certainly applies to physical healing, and James 5:14-16 gives instructions for being healed by God of our physical sicknesses. And when we trust God for physical healing, we must also trust God to heal us at the time and in the manner He chooses, and some are not healed until the resurrection. Miraculous healing of physical diseases was a major part of Jesus Christ's ministry, and this illustrates God's mind and shows His love and that it is His will to heal us. But I also believe that Isaiah 53:5-6 in principle applies to spiritual healing and opens the way for God to heal and clean up our minds and character. The actual process by which this is done includes our repentance (illustrated by the days of unleavened bread) and God's gift to us of the Holy Spirit (illustrated by the day of Pentecost) described in the next sections.
The effect of cleaning up our character so we can live righteously in God's kingdom is to remove the penalty of suffering we have brought on ourselves by our sins, because it is our sinful nature that leads to sin which causes the suffering. Though we still suffer trials in this life, our suffering will end in the Kingdom of God when our salvation is complete (Revelation 21:4).
This is the meaning of the sacrifice of Christ, represented by the Passover symbols of the unleavened bread and wine. The wine represents Christ's shed blood and His death which pays the death penalty for our sins in our stead so we do not have to die the second death. The unleavened bread represents Christ's body and the suffering He endured in the flesh so we can be healed both physically and spiritually.
The Church of God observes Passover once a year the evening after sunset which begins the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar, the same day Jesus observed the Passover with His disciples. We observe it by assembling for services, partaking of the symbols of wine and unleavened bread, and participating in a foot washing service.
The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance
Immediately after Passover day are the seven days of unleavened bread. The first day and the last day of the seven (the seventh day) are holy days, Sabbaths, days of rest and assembly. The instructions for these days are given in Exodus 12:14-20, and Exodus 13:3-10, as well as various other places. During these days, only unleavened bread is to be eaten, and nothing with leavening is to be eaten or even kept in the home. For ancient Israel, this represented leaving Egypt in haste because they had no time to prepare leavened bread. But like Passover, these days are still in effect today for God's Church, and like Passover, they have deep meaning beyond the limited understanding given to ancient Israel.
What does leavened or unleavened bread represent in the New Testament? In the context of the time of Passover and the days of unleavened bread, Paul used leavening to represent sin, and unleavened bread to represent righteousness. Notice what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8: "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Here Paul likens leavening to malice and wickedness, but likens unleavened bread to sincerity and truth. He also says, "let us keep the feast." What feast is he talking about? The context indicates that he is talking about the Feast of Unleavened Bread that God gave Israel at the time of the Exodus. This shows that the days of unleavened bread were being kept by Paul and the New Testament Church of God. And since Paul was primarily an apostle to the gentiles (Romans 15:15-16, Galatians 2:7-9), this indicates that Paul understood that these days were not just for the Jews but were for gentile Christians as well.
What lessons can we learn from the days of unleavened bread? Jesus Christ was sacrificed for us so we can be forgiven, and this is pictured by Passover. But we also have our part to perform. We must repent and strive to put sin out of our lives. Christ paid the penalty for our sins so our sins can be forgiven, but that does not give us permission to continue sinning. We have to repent. After the disciples received the Holy Spirit, when Peter spoke to the crowd, he told them to repent. "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call' " (Acts 2:37-39). Paul wrote, "do not sin" (1 Corinthians 15:34).
Keeping the days of unleavened bread represents and helps to teach us our part in God's plan, that we have to repent and strive to put sin out of our lives. We avoid leavening for seven days to learn that we need to avoid sin in our lives, and we eat unleavened bread for seven days to help learn the lesson that we need to put the righteousness of Jesus Christ into our lives. We need to study His teachings, obey His commands, and follow His examples.
The Bible commands that men repent. What do we need to repent of? We need to repent of sin, but we also need to repent of our own sinful nature and be willing to let God clean up our character and give us a new nature based on God's righteousness, not our own. We need to repent of the entire direction of our lives and be willing to begin to go in a new direction. We have to be willing to give our lives to God in one hundred percent obedience and service for the rest of our lives. We have to be willing to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. This love is more than just an emotion, though it may have an emotional quality, but it is a strong commitment of the will. Love towards God must include the submitting of the human will to God's will, as Jesus did, setting an example for us. We have to be willing to strive to live by every word of God.
The writer of Hebrews says that repentance from dead works is one of the elementary principles we need to understand (Hebrews 6:1). We need to repent of sin, but to do this, we need to know what sin is. Many people think that sin is doing what they think is wrong. They think that sin is whatever violates their conscience. This is not true. Sin is not the violation of our conscience, it is the violation of God's law. 1 John 3:4 states, "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness." In the King James Version this reads, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." It is the law of God that defines sin, not our conscience. Paul gives an example. In Romans 7:7 he says, "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet.' " It is the commandment against coveting that taught Paul that it was a sin to covet, because God's law and commandments DEFINE right and wrong. That is why sin is the transgression of the law of God.
Many people think that whatever a person does, it is not a sin if they don't think it is wrong. That is not true. A person can be sinning against God and not even know it. Notice what Jesus said about those who sinned but did not think they were doing anything wrong. "And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47-48). Notice that Jesus did not say that those who did not know their master's will were free from guilt and would not be beaten at all. He said their guilt was less in comparison with the person who knew God's will and knew what he was doing was wrong, and therefore their punishment would be lighter, nevertheless, this shows that there is guilt, and punishment, for the person who violates God's law even if that person does not know it, and therefore the violation of God's law is sin.
Mankind has taken the path of each person deciding for himself or herself what is right or wrong instead of recognizing that it is God only who had the prerogative to decide right from wrong, sin from righteousness. Repentance involves acknowledging that God defines sin, and we have to look to God and His Word the Bible and to God's law and commandments to know what is right and wrong, and then strive to live the right way according to God's will and instructions.
Repentance includes a lifelong commitment to turn from the direction of pleasing the self to the direction of loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). It is a new way of life based on God's law of love. It requires striving to live, not only according to the letter of God's law, but the spiritual intent of God's law as well. Notice the examples Jesus gave about the requirement to obey the spirit of the law as well as the letter. "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:21-22, KJV). "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28, KJV).
Also, since we are required by God's law to love God with all our being and might, this includes living our lives to please Him in everything we do and striving to submit our wills to His will in everything. This goes beyond just obeying God's explicit commandments. This includes striving to know God's will (by studying and believing God's word, the Bible), and then striving to DO God's will. Jesus set the example by doing not only what the Father commanded Him, but the Father's will also. "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work' " (John 4:34). Just before Jesus was crucified, He prayed to the Father that if it was the Father's will, Jesus would be spared this suffering. Nevertheless, Jesus requested that this be done ONLY if it was the Father's will. "And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:41-42, KJV). Notice also John 5:30, " I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (KJV). And John 6:38, "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me" (KJV). And John 8:29, "And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him" (KJV). Repentance involves making a lifetime commitment to strive to always do the things that please God, because this is part of obeying the greatest commandment, you shall love God with all your heart.
Repentance requires a commitment to strive to live by every word of God. When Jesus was tempted by Satan, he resisted and countered every temptation by referring to Old Testament scripture. For example, note Matthew 4:3-4, "Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.' But He answered and said, 'It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." ' "
Repentance also requires that we acknowledge our guilt before God, that we are sinners, and ask God to clean us up. We have to come to realize that our very nature is sinful. "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Everyone has sinned and is in need of forgiveness, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23, see also Romans 5:12). When David repented after his sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite, he acknowledged his guilt before God. "Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge" (Psalm 51:1-4). "Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:9-10).
The days of unleavened bread are given to us by God to help teach us the lesson that we have to repent and strive to put sin out of our lives, represented by leavening, and to put God's righteousness into our lives, represented by the unleavened bread that we eat. This is one of the major steps in God's plan for the salvation of mankind, and it is illustrated by this feast of God.
The Church of God observes the days of unleavened bread by getting all leaven and leavened products out of our homes and avoiding the eating of anything with leavening in it (yeast, baking soda, baking powder, etc.) for seven days, and also we eat unleavened bread during this time (matzos for example, although some members make their own unleavened bread). We observe the first and last of the seven days by refraining from work and by assembling for church services, as on the weekly Sabbath, as commanded by God (Exodus 12:16). Also, on the evening of the First Day of Unleavened Bread (the next night after the Passover observance), we keep the Night to Be Much Observed, which is a separate event from Passover, by getting together in families and small groups in each others' homes or meeting places and sharing a meal. For ancient Israel, this observance represented coming out of Egypt, which occurred on the night following Passover night (Exodus 12:40-42). For the Church, it represents coming out of the bondage of Satan's deception and the sinful ways of this world.
Pentecost - the Gift of the Holy Spirit
The next day is Pentecost. In the Old Testament, it is called the Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16:9-11) and is sometimes called the Feast of Firstfruits (Numbers 28:26). It's description is given in Leviticus 23:15-21. It is observed 50 days from the Sabbath that falls during the Days of Unleavened Bread, so it always falls on a Sunday. In the New Testament, it is called Pentecost (Acts 2:1), which means, I believe, "count fifty". In the Old Testament, it is connected with the small, early summer harvest. In the New Testament, it is associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Before Jesus was crucified, He told His disciples that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. "These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:25-26). After His resurrection and before His ascension into heaven, Jesus told His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now' " (Acts 1:4-5). The actual coming of the Holy Spirit is recorded in Acts 2:1-4, "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."
The Holy Spirit helps a person understand the Bible and understand spiritual knowledge in a way that the natural mind of man is not able to do. I already quoted the verse above where Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would help His disciples to remember the things Jesus taught them. Note also these scriptures. "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). Note that Paul said that there is a spirit in man. Mr. Armstrong explained that the vast difference in intelligence between humans and that of animals such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, and dolphins is due to a spirit in every human that God has added to the human brain to empower the human mind with a quality of intellect that animals do not have. He called this the "human spirit". But just as the human spirit empowers humans to understand physical knowledge, such as knowledge about science, engineering, literature, and languages, in a way that animals are not able to understand, so the Spirit of God empowers a Christian to understand, as Paul put it, "the deep things of God" in a way that the human mind, apart from God's Spirit, cannot understand.
The Holy Spirit also empowers a Christian. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). You can study the gospel accounts and the book of Acts to see how the disciples behaved differently, more courageously for example, after they received the Holy Spirit than before. When Jesus was taken to be crucified, almost all His disciples left Him, even though they previously said they would die with him, and even Peter denied Christ. But after they received the Holy Spirit they were willing to suffer and even die for Christ.
It is actually the presence of the Holy Spirit in the mind that makes one a Christian and a member of God's true Church. Paul wrote, "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you" (Romans 8:9-11).
The conditions for receiving the Holy Spirit are repentance and faith in God and in Christ, and baptism by immersion in water as a symbol of our faith in the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and a symbol of the burial of the old self. God then gives the gift of His Holy Spirit upon the laying on of hands by the ministry. Notice, "Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit' " (Acts 2:38). On the subject of baptism see also Colossians 2:11-12, Matthew 28:18-20, and Acts 8:36-39. On the subject of the laying on of hands and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, see Acts 8:14-17 and 1 Timothy 4:14.
After one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, he is a Christian, and must then live a life of spiritual growth, developing God's righteous character with God's help, and overcoming sin. Those who overcome and endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13, Mark 13:13, Matthew 10:22, Revelation 2:11, 3:5). The Church of God encourages its members to spend time on a regular basis in prayer, Bible study, fasting, and meditation as a way of drawing closer to God. Meditation in this sense is basically thinking about God and His laws, learning how to apply spiritual principles to everyday decisions, thinking about the lessons of the Bible, thinking about God's creation, etc., as David did (Psalm 119:97, Psalm 1:2). Prayer is talking to God in prayer, but not repeating memorized prayers (Matthew 6:7).
It is obvious that the Day of Pentecost represents the next step in God's plan after repentance, the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-39). The Church keeps Pentecost today to commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the founding of the New Testament Church. But is there a connection between the meaning of the "first fruits" harvest and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church? Yes there is, but this will take some explaining. There is truth about this that most traditional churches do not know.
Most traditional Christian churches believe that this is the time when God is trying to save all mankind. Some believe that those who do not accept Jesus Christ in this life, in this age, are forever lost. But this is not the case. God has provided a plan for EVERY human that has ever lived to exercise free moral agency to repent, to believe God and Christ, to accept Jesus Christ as savior, and to be converted and be saved. But this plan is being worked out in stages. This six thousand year age of man is not the main spiritual harvest. This is not the time when God is trying to save everyone.
Ancient Israel never had access to God's Spirit or to spiritual salvation. They never had the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. They were never promised eternal life. They were promised physical protection and blessings if they obeyed God's law, but not eternal life.
Even since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the founding of the Church of God, most of the billions of people that have lived on this earth never heard the true gospel or had an opportunity for salvation.
The fact is, God has allowed Satan to blind and deceive the whole human race for this six thousand year age of man. It is God's purpose to allow man to write the painful lesson in history that Satan's way of "get" and being independent of God's rule, with each person deciding for himself what is right and wrong, is a way that leads to suffering and destruction. Those lessons are being written in history right now, and according to prophecy the suffering of this world is going to increase even more before Christ returns. This is Satan's world right now, not God's. Satan can only do what God allows, and in God's time Satan and his evil influence will be put away, but right now it suits God's purpose to allow Satan to deceive the majority of mankind.
There is no "contest" between God and Satan over the salvation of men with God trying to save as many as possible right now and Satan opposing Him. Satan has absolutely NO POWER against God, and can do NOTHING apart from what God allows according to His will. For proof of this, read the first two chapters of the book of Job. Satan could not go one millimeter beyond what God allowed Him to go in attacking Job. If God wanted to open salvation to all mankind at this time, He would do it and Satan has no power to hinder God's efforts in the slightest.
God has allowed Satan to blind the minds and hearts of most people to God's truth so they CANNOT understand the truth and be converted. Only the few that God specifically calls and "draws" can be converted at this time. Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). Jesus did not try to save everyone, but rather He often spoke in parables, not to make the meaning clear, but to HIDE the meaning from all except those few who were His disciples, whom the Father was drawing to Christ. Notice what Jesus said. "But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. And He said to them, 'To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that "Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them" ' " (Mark 4:10-12). Here is a plain statement from Jesus that He spoke in parables to the crowds for the purpose of PREVENTING them from understanding so that they would NOT turn and have their sins forgiven them. It was NOT the Father's will that the crowds repent and receive forgiveness of their sins, AT THAT TIME. But for His disciples, Jesus explained the parables because they were the few that God was calling and drawing to Christ at that time. But not the majority.
I do not say that every parable told by Jesus was for the purpose of hiding the meaning. There were some parables Jesus spoke for the purpose of making His teachings clear. Often these had to do with expounding on God's law and teaching right from wrong. For example, the parable of the good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10:25-37 was given to make clear how men should live. It is obvious that the parable was given to make the meaning of God's commandment to love your neighbor as yourself clear to the one who asked Jesus "who is my neighbor?", and it is equally clear that the man got the point, because Jesus said, "You have answered rightly".
Nevertheless, Jesus did often speak in parables to hide His meaning from the majority, and when it came to the secrets of the Kingdom of God, these things were revealed only to the disciples, not the crowds.
Herbert W. Armstrong taught that from the time before man existed, Lucifer was on a throne of the earth. This is consistent with Isaiah 14:12-14, which says, "How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.' " When Jesus was tempted by Satan, Satan, as ruler over the earth, offered to give his kingdom to Jesus if Jesus would worship him. "Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, 'All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.' And Jesus answered and said to him, 'Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve" ' " (Luke 4:5-8). Before He was crucified, Jesus said, "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me" (John 14:30). This is Satan's world, his civilization, his system, his way of life that men practice, not God's.
But God is calling a few now into His true Church to learn and live a different way of life. Eventually, God will remove Satan and make salvation available to every human that has ever lived. That will be the great spiritual harvest. I will go into more detail about that later. But right now, in this age of man, is the smaller spiritual harvest of the few that God is saving now. Christians in this age are called "firstfruits" (James 1:18, Revelation 14:4). These are the firstfruits, the early harvest, as pictured in the Old Testament Feast of Weeks or Feast of Firstfruits, and this is the connection between the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, and the same day picturing the early summer harvest in the Old Testament. And this is another valuable lesson God uses His holy days to teach us.
Jesus Christ is also called the firstfruits in 1 Corinthians 15:23, and he is pictured in the wave sheaf offering in Leviticus 23:9-11. Christ is the first of the firstfruits, and after Him are those called and drawn by God to Christ to be saved in this age. But the majority of mankind is not now being offered salvation.
God is only saving a few now. But why? This will become clear as we go through the rest of God's holy days.
The Day of Trumpets - the Second Coming of Christ
The next holy day is the Feast of Trumpets. This is given in Leviticus 23:23-25. It is called "a memorial of blowing of trumpets." It is a Sabbath day, a day of rest, and a day of assembly for worship services. Apart from the association with trumpets, no special meaning for this day is explained in this passage in the Old Testament. However, since Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost, all feasts of God commanded in the Old Testament, each have an important application and meaning in the New Testament and help us to understand various aspects of God's plan, it seems likely that the Day of Trumpets also has meaning for the Church.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins of mankind was a major milestone for God's plan, and is pictured by Passover. The days of unleavened bread show the need for Christians to repent and put sin out of their lives. The major milestone in God's plan of the Holy Spirit being given to the Church is pictured by the Day of Pentecost. After Jesus' first coming, death, and resurrection, and after the Holy Spirit was given to the Church, what is the next great event to occur in the plan of God?
"Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven' " (Acts 1:9-11). The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ will return to this earth.
Since the Day of Trumpets is the next of God's holy days in the Hebrew calendar after Pentecost, and since the return of Jesus Christ to the earth is the next great event in God's plan, is there any connection between the two in Scripture? The answer is yes. There are a number of scriptures in the New Testament that associate the return of Christ with the blowing of trumpets.
The next great event in God's plan is the return of Jesus Christ in great power and glory to the earth. Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 24:29-31: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Notice that Jesus said that when He returns He will send His angels with the sound of a trumpet to gather the elect. This shows that there will be the sound of a trumpet at the return of Christ.
Notice that at the time of Christ's return, true Christians who have died will be resurrected, and those who are alive will be changed to immortality. "But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). Also, "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). Notice that both of these passages refer to the sounding of a trumpet.
The book of Revelation speaks of end time events shortly before the return of Christ. Revelation 8:2 speaks of seven trumpets that are to sound: "And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets." Other scriptures show that these seven trumpets sound one at a time during God's punishment of the world in a period called the "Day of the Lord." But it is at the LAST of the seven trumpets that Christ returns to rule the earth and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!' " (Revelation 11:15).
When Christ returns, He will rule the earth and establish the Kingdom of God ruling over all the nations of the earth. The resurrected saints will rule with Christ for 1,000 years. Notice Revelation 20:4-6: "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." Those resurrected or changed from mortal to immortal at this time will rule with Christ over the nations of the earth. These are the few that are called and drawn to Christ by the Father in this age pictured by the Day of Pentecost. The majority of mankind will still be physical and mortal. Note also that this resurrection of the saints is called, "the FIRST resurrection", indicating that there is more than one resurrection. I will talk about another resurrection when I explain the meaning of the holy days that follow the Day of Trumpets.
The return of Christ and the resurrection of true Christians will bring to an end the 6,000 years of man ruling himself in opposition to the ways of God, and it begins a period of one thousand years of God's direct rule over the nations of the earth.
Christ and the saints will then teach mankind then living the laws of God and the way of life that leads to peace, happiness, and prosperity. Christ will rule the nations, establish justice, and enforce the ways of peace, bringing to pass the prophecy of Isaiah 2:2-4: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore." This is the time when Jesus' statement to his twelve apostles in Matthew 19:28 will be fulfilled: "So Jesus said to them, 'Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.' " This will be a time when salvation is open to all men then living, not just the few. All will be taught God's truth and all will have an opportunity to repent of their sins and their sinful nature, to have faith in God and in Jesus Christ, to accept Christ as their savior, and to be baptized and converted and to be saved.
I will explain more about this period of one thousand years when I cover the meaning of the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. But before I go to that I want to explain more about the resurrection of the saints.
Christians who have died are described in the Bible as having fallen asleep. Note these scriptures. "But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16). "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep" (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
How does the concept of falling asleep in death, and then later being resurrected from the dead, fit with the concept of traditional mainstream Christianity that all humans have immortal souls that live on after the death of the body and can never die?
As a child, I was raised Catholic. If I remember correctly, I was taught that I had an immortal soul. The soul was pictured as the "real me", the real consciousness that in a sense lived inside my body. I was taught that when I died, if I had a mortal sin on my conscience that had not yet been forgiven, I would go to an ever-burning hell fire where I would be tortured for all eternity, but if not, then I would eventually go to heaven where I would be happy looking at the face of God for all eternity, but first I would have to spend time in a place called purgatory, which is a place of suffering, where I would be punished for whatever sins I had committed that were not "mortal sins", and after a time in that place, which might be many years, I would then be allowed into heaven. I think I was also taught that among those outside the Catholic Church and those who were never baptized, which is the majority of mankind, if anyone lived a good life, they might go to a place called limbo instead of hell for all eternity. Limbo was a place of happiness, but not as happy as heaven, not as close to God.
I do not know what Protestants teach about the ideas of purgatory or limbo. I do know that they teach that man has an immortal soul ("immortal" meaning it cannot die). I do not know what they teach about the fate of the billions of people who have lived on the earth and died who never heard of Jesus Christ or had the opportunity to become Christians. Perhaps some Protestants believe that those who died without an opportunity to become Christians will be tortured forever in hell fire.
I have not found these ideas in the Bible.
Ezekiel 18:4 says, "Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die." If you look up in Strong's Concordance the word translated "soul" in the statement in Ezekiel 18:4 that the soul that sins shall die, you will find that it corresponds to Strong's number 5315 and is translated from the Hebrew word, "nephesh". Some of the definitions of this Hebrew word given in Strong's Concordance include "that which breathes", "living being", "the man himself", and "activity of mind". In the King James Version, nephesh is most frequently translated in into the English word "soul", but is also sometimes translated "life", "person", "mind", "heart", "creature", etc.
Genesis 2:7 states, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." The word translated in the New King James Version as "being" is the same Hebrew word "nepesh". The King James Version translates this verse as follows: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
Genesis 2:7 clearly states that God made man physical, from the dust of the ground, and that man, made from the dust of the ground, became a living soul. Ezekiel 18:4 clearly states that the soul that sins shall die. The word "immortal" means, "cannot die". There is no evidence from the verses we have looked at so far that the soul is immortal, but rather, the soul can die.
"And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die' " (Genesis 2:16-17). "And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die." ' Then the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die' " (Genesis 3:2-4).
In Ezekiel 18:4, God says that the soul can die. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says that the soul can be destroyed. "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
The Bible pictures those who have died to be asleep, unconscious, as we are when we sleep without dreams (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16, 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, John 11:11-14, Luke 8:52-55, Mark 5:39-42, Matthew 9:24-25). Man is described as mortal, subject to death, in need of immortality, but not having it yet. At the first resurrection when Christ returns to the earth, Christians must be changed from being mortal to being immortal, both those who are resurrected from the dead and those who are alive and are changed. "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory' " (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
This is the purpose of the resurrection, to bring back to life those who are dead in their graves. If we have immortal souls that live on after we die, and if those souls go to heaven or hell when we die, what need is there for a resurrection?
The prophecy given to Daniel shows that at the end time many will be resurrected back to life from the dead. "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2). Daniel himself is told that he will be among those who come up from the dead. "But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days" (Daniel 12:13). The time between Daniel's death and his resurrection is described as "rest", which is metaphor very similar to the one Paul uses when he describes those who are dead as "asleep."
Man does not yet have immortality, that is, eternal life. We must receive it as a gift from God. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). "Now behold, one came and said to Him, 'Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?' So He said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments' " (Matthew 19:16-17). The reward of the saved is to RECEIVE immortality. We do not have it yet as immortal souls.
The Bible does teach that there is a spirit in man. "But there is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding" (Job 32:8). "Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, Or the golden bowl is broken, Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, Or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7). It is the spirit in man that empowers the human brain with intellect and enables every human to know and understand the things that animals cannot understand, just as the Spirit of God enables a Christian to understand knowledge of the things of God in a way that the unconverted mind cannot understand. "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God" (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). The spirit in man, which Mr. Armstrong called the "human spirit", empowers the human brain with intellect and gives understanding, but it is not a "soul". It does not provide life and consciousness apart from the human brain, and it does not live on as a conscious entity after death, but as Solomon says, when a man dies the body returns to the earth and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
There is no consciousness, no awareness, in those who have died. The only hope for life after death is a resurrection from the dead, which is yet future. Solomon wrote, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Speaking of the condition of those who have died in this age, apart from a future resurrection, Solomon wrote, "For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; Nevermore will they have a share In anything done under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6). "Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish" (Psalm 146:3-4). The King James Version translates this same passage as follows: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."
For proof that a resurrection from the dead is NEEDED for anyone to have life after death, consider what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:12-22 and 1 Corinthians 15:30-32. First, 1 Corinthians 15:12-22: "Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive." Now see 1 Corinthians 15:30-32 where Paul says, "And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die' ". Why would Paul say that if there is no future resurrection from the dead, it would be better for him to say, "Let's eat and drink for tomorrow we die" if Christians who die go to heaven upon death? That would not make any sense, nor would there be any need for a resurrection if we are really immortal souls who go to heaven when we die. The answer is, Christians who have died are not in heaven with Christ and do not have immortal souls. They died and are unconscious in their graves, and they will be raised back to life from the dead and given immortality at the second coming of Christ to the earth, which is yet future. That is why a resurrection from the dead is needed. Without the resurrection, there would be no life after death at all, and there would be no hope of reward after this physical life.
Have the righteous who have died gone to heaven?
According to John 3:13, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." After Jesus died and was resurrected, Peter spoke to the crowds on the day of Pentecost about king David, saying, "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29). "For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool" ' " (Acts 2:34-35).
Some may refer to Elijah as one who was carried into "heaven". But in the Bible, the term "heaven" can refer to this earth's atmosphere, or outer space with its planets, stars, and galaxies, or the heaven that is God's throne. Notice the phrase "birds of heaven" in Job 35:11 and Jeremiah 16:4 referring to the heaven that is this earth's atmosphere. These verses refer to birds flying in the atmosphere of the earth.
2 Kings 2:1 says, "And it came to pass, when the Lord was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal." Then in 2 Kings 2:11: "Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." But did Elijah go into the heaven that is God's throne, or just into the air to be set down someplace else where it would not be known where he was? It is clear that Elijah's work as the prophet in that area for that time was finished, and it was God's time that Elijah be removed and Elisha take Elijah's office and carry on his work (1 Kings 19:16). But was it time for Elijah to die? Or was Elijah to be taken to the heaven that is God's throne? If so, it would contradict John 3:13 which says that no man has ascended into heaven.
Those with Elisha after Elijah ascended did not assume that Elijah went up to the heaven of God's throne. "Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, 'The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.' And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him. Then they said to him, 'Look now, there are fifty strong men with your servants. Please let them go and search for your master, lest perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.' And he said, 'You shall not send anyone.' But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, 'Send them!' Therefore they sent fifty men, and they searched for three days but did not find him. And when they came back to him, for he had stayed in Jericho, he said to them, 'Did I not say to you, "Do not go"?' " (2 Kings 2:15-18).
Some time after this, a letter came from Elijah to the king of Judah, proving that Elijah was still alive and someplace on the earth. Notice that Elisha was already prophet in place of Elijah while Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was still alive. "But Jehoshaphat said, 'Is there no prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?' So one of the servants of the king of Israel answered and said, 'Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.' And Jehoshaphat said, 'The word of the Lord is with him.' So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him" (2 Kings 3:11-12). The fact that the servant said that Elisha "poured" water on the hands of Elijah, past tense, shows that Elisha was not still serving Elijah. This occurred AFTER Elijah went into the atmosphere by a whirlwind and Elisha received his office. Now, AFTER Jehoshaphat died, his son Jehoram became king of Judah in his place. "And Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Jehoram his son reigned in his place" (2 Chronicles 21:1). And it was to Jehoram, AFTER Jehoshaphat died and AFTER Elijah was taken into "heaven" by a whirlwind, that a letter came from Elijah, proving Elijah was still alive and on the earth. "Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for he had the daughter of Ahab as a wife; and he did evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 21:5-6). "And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus says the Lord God of your father David: Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot like the harlotry of the house of Ahab, and also have killed your brothers, those of your father’s household, who were better than yourself, behold, the Lord will strike your people with a serious affliction—your children, your wives, and all your possessions; and you will become very sick with a disease of your intestines, until your intestines come out by reason of the sickness, day by day" (2 Chronicles 21:12-15).
What is the reward of the saved? Is it our destiny to go to heaven to be with God after we are resurrected? I have already covered the scriptures that show that Christ will return to the earth to rule the earth with the resurrected saints, now made immortal, for 1,000 years. What happens after that? Revelation 21:1-4 indicates that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that New Jerusalem will come down from heaven to the earth, and God will be with men on the earth. "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.' " The Church of God has taught, and the weight of biblical evidence shows that this earth is destined to be God's headquarters of the entire universe, and this is where the resurrected saints will be with God, not in heaven.
Jesus said, "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12). Does this mean our reward is to go to heaven when we die? No, because Jesus said our reward is IN heaven, now, present tense, though we ourselves are not in heaven. Our reward is reserved IN heaven, and Jesus will bring it to us when He comes to the earth. Note: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5). Peter's statement that our reward is reserved in heaven is consistent with Jesus' instruction to store up treasure in heaven. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). But Christ will bring our reward to us when He returns to the earth. "Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8).
Some have assumed that since the reward of the saved is to enter the "Kingdom of Heaven", that this means they will be in heaven itself. Notice Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." However, the word "of" indicates OWNERSHIP, not location. The "Kingdom of Heaven" is the Kingdom that is OWNED by God who is on His throne now in heaven. It is basically synonymous with "Kingdom of God", as the term is used in Matthew 19:24. Previously, in the same sermon on the mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). The Christian's reward is to inherit the earth and to be with Christ on the earth.
Those who are saved will be given immortality at the resurrection and will live forever. But what about the unrepentant wicked? What is their punishment? Traditional mainstream Christianity teaches that the wicked are tortured forever in hell. What does the Bible teach?
There is indeed a hell fire that will burn the wicked, but they will not burn forever. They will be burnt up, consumed by the fire, turned to ashes, because they are mortal, physical, subject to death, not immortal souls. There will be suffering, probably mental as well as physical when the wicked realize what they have lost forever. As Jesus said, "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:28). But for humans the suffering will be temporary until they are destroyed forever in the fire.
John the Baptist said of Jesus Christ, "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). This hell fire that burns up the wicked is called the lake of fire, and being cast into it is described as the second death in Revelation 20:14-15: "Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." God will destroy the wicked in hell fire. Jesus said, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). After this destruction, the wicked are described as ashes and non-existent. " 'You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,' Says the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 4:3). "For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near; As you have done, it shall be done to you; Your reprisal shall return upon your own head. For as you drank on My holy mountain, So shall all the nations drink continually; Yes, they shall drink, and swallow, And they shall be as though they had never been" (Obadiah 15-16).
The Bible pictures the punishment of the wicked as death, not eternal life in hell fire. Notice Ezekiel 18:21-24: "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die" (KJV). If you read the entire chapter of Ezekiel 18, you will see that the comparison between the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked is always life and death, not living forever in heaven or hell. The righteous will be given life and will never die the second death, but will be with Christ forever. The wicked will die and cease to exist, and will be as if they never existed.
The Bible often talks about everlasting or eternal punishment, as in the passage where Jesus describes the separation of the sheep and the goats. "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:44-46). Some think that this means that the suffering continues for eternity. That is not the case, according to the verses we have looked at previously. Everlasting punishment does not mean everlasting punishing. The punishment is everlasting, eternal, because it is a permanent death from which there will never be a resurrection. For all eternity, the wicked will never be brought back to life. There will never be a release from that penalty. As Paul puts it, "These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed" (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10). As it says in Obadiah 16, the wicked will be as if they had never existed.
The idea that God, who is love (1 John 4:8, 4:16), would create human beings with immortal souls so that some would suffer for all eternity, being tortured in pain for trillions and trillions of years without end, with no hope of release or anything to look forward to but unending pain and agony forever, seems very inconsistent to me. I doubt if any people I know would wish this kind of thing on anyone. I wouldn't wish this on an animal much less a human being. And if we humans, being evil in comparison with God, have enough compassion to not wish this on anyone, why would God do this to someone, even an unrepentant sinner? I have never heard any explanation of this that makes any sense. But it does make sense that God in His love and wisdom would put unrepentant sinners out of their misery by destroying them so that they no longer exist, so that they do not make themselves and others miserable for all eternity with their wicked ways leading to conflict, hostility, war, and destruction. The wicked will be burned up and will be as if they had never been created. Their suffering will be over, and they will not be around to any longer inflict suffering on themselves or others by their evil ways.
It also makes sense that it would suit Satan's purpose to promote false teaching and deceive sincere religious people into thinking that God created us with immortal souls and that sinners who have not accepted Christ are tortured forever. I think this teaching, however it is packaged or explained, would give the impression to any reasonable person that God is a cruel God. Most religious people who believe this teaching would not explicitly say that God is cruel, but I find it hard to believe that they don't really think this deep down if they really believe God tortures humans, any humans, forever. It was Satan who told Eve, "You shall not surely die", so this false doctrine probably started early in man's history. In my opinion, it is one of Satan's slanders against God. In the New Testament, the Greek word diabolos (Strong's number 1228), which is often translated "the devil", includes the meaning of "slanderer" and "false accuser", according to Strong's Concordance.
God's mercy is great. He does not torture sinners for eternity in hellfire, but He puts them out of their misery forever. The idea that He tortures men forever in hell is a slander against Him. God is a good and wise and merciful God, not a cruel God.
The Day of Pentecost pictures the giving of the Holy Spirit to the few that God calls in this life and this age and draws them to Christ, not the majority of mankind at this time. The Day of Trumpets looks forward to the return of Jesus Christ to this earth as King of the earth, and also to the resurrection from the dead and instantaneous change from mortal life to immortal eternal life of those few who are true Christians and have received God's Holy Spirit and have overcome and endured to the end in this 6,000 year age of man. This is the first resurrection, and those few who are in this resurrection will sit with Christ on His throne ruling the nations of the earth and teaching all mankind the ways of God, bringing peace and happiness to the earth for one thousand years. Jesus said, "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations" (Revelation 2:26, KJV). And, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Revelation 3:21, KJV). And, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (Revelation 2:11, KJV).
The Church of God observes the Day of Trumpets as a Sabbath day of rest and assembly for church services.The Day of Trumpets represents the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the saints to rule the earth with Christ so that mankind can learn that God's ways lead to peace, prosperity, and happiness. But before there can be true happiness on the earth, another step must be taken, and the next holy day, the Day of Atonement, helps us understand that next step.
The Day of Atonement - the Putting Away of Satan
In this present 6,000 year age of man, Satan is the ruler of this earth. He has a throne on the earth. "How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north" (Isaiah 14:12-13). Satan now has authority over the kingdoms and nations of the earth. "Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, 'All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours' " (Luke 4:5-7). See also Matthew 4:8-9. Satan is the ruler of this world, this civilization, this system. Before He was crucified, Jesus said, "I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me" (John 14:30). Satan can only do what God allows him to do, as shown in the first two chapters of Job, but right now it suits God's purpose to allow Satan to be on the throne of the earth and to deceive the nations.
Satan is called "the prince of the power of the air". "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others" (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul calls him, the "god of this age". "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). As ruler of the world, Satan deceives the whole world. "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:9).
Before there can be true peace and happiness on this earth, Satan must be removed from his throne and position of influence over mankind. When Christ comes, He is coming not only to take over rulership of the earth, but to replace Satan as ruler of the earth. Satan will be removed and put into a condition of restraint so he can no longer influence men and deceive the nations as he does now.
After Christ returns to the earth, Satan will be removed from his throne and bound in a condition of restraint for one thousand years. "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while" (Revelation 20:1-3).
The next holy day after the Day of Trumpets is the Day of Atonement. The instructions for Atonement are given in Leviticus 23:26-32. It is a Sabbath, a day of rest and assembly, and also a day of fasting, a day of refraining from food and drink for twenty-four hours ("you shall afflict your souls"). "It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath" (Leviticus 23:32).
If you have read the instructions for the holy days given in the Old Testament, you will notice that there are instructions for offering animal sacrifices for each of them. The Church of God rests on these days and assembles for worship, fellowship, and instruction, but does not offer animal sacrifices. Why is that?
The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were a substitute for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They could only be offered by the Levitical priesthood. King Saul offered animal sacrifices and was rebuked by God. "And Samuel said, 'What have you done?' Saul said, 'When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, "The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord." Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.' And Samuel said to Saul, 'You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you' " (1 Samuel 13:11-14).
Since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Church is under the priesthood of Jesus Christ, not the Levitical priesthood. As explained in the book of Hebrews, there is a change in the law because there is a change in the priesthood. "For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law" (Hebrews 7:12). The Levitical priesthood, which offered animal sacrifices, has been replaced by Jesus Christ our high priest, who is the real sacrifice that animals only represented. The Church does not offer animal sacrifices today.
But the animal sacrifices are designed to teach us lessons, primarily about the meaning of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which they represent. We can learn lessons about the sacrifice of Christ by studying the instructions for animal sacrifices given in the Old Testament. They are written for our learning. The sacrifice of the Passover lamb is an example. We do not sacrifice a lamb at Passover today, rather we use the symbols of the bread and wine that Jesus Christ instituted for the Church. Nevertheless, we can study the Passover sacrifice of the lamb as recorded in the Old Testament to help us learn lessons about how the sacrifice of Christ pays the penalty of our sins so that we do not have to ultimately die in the second death.
There are instructions for sacrificing an animal on the Day of Atonement given in the Old Testament, and we can learn lessons about the meaning of this day from those instructions.
Two goats were to be presented before the Lord at the tabernacle. One was to be sacrificed and the other turned loose in the wilderness. "And he shall take from the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats as a sin offering, and one ram as a burnt offering" (Leviticus 16:5). "He shall take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats: one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:7-10). Notice that it is God who decides which goat is which, not the priest.
"Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness" (Leviticus 16:15-16). This goat is killed for the sins of the people. This clearly represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins in our place.
What about the other goat that is not killed? What does that represent? Some have thought that this other goat also represents Christ. Does it? "And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there. And he shall wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. The fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. And he who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp" (Leviticus 16:20-26).
Notice concerning the live goat that it does NOT die, but it is taken away from the tabernacle and God's presence and away from Israel, and notice that those who have come into contact with the live goat have to bath in water afterwards, implying that there is some uncleanness about the live goat, some influence that must be removed from those who came into contact with it. These things cannot represent Jesus Christ, but they can represent Satan very well.
Why are the sins of the people placed on the head of the live goat if that goat represents Satan?
It is Satan that deceives the whole world and leads the world in sin (Revelation 12:9). Ephesians 2:2 says he works in the sons of disobedience. He is called "the tempter" who tried to tempt Jesus into sinning (Matthew 4:3). It was Satan who deceived Eve and led her to take of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and Adam ate of the fruit also, and thus Satan led the whole human race to take the wrong path (Genesis 3:1-6). Thus Satan is partly responsible for the sins of mankind. He shares in the responsibility, and the guilt, of the sins of man.
When Satan tempts people into sinning, and people give in to the temptation and sin or are deceived into sinning, the responsibility and guilt for the sin is twofold. The person who sins is responsible for committing the sin, but also Satan is responsible, and guilty, for tempting or deceiving the person into sinning.
By becoming a human being, living a sinless life as a man, and then dying to pay the penalty for our sins, Jesus Christ took on himself the penalty for the share of the guilt for our sins that falls on human beings. But Jesus did not pay the penalty for Satan's share of the responsibility. He did not pay the penalty for Satan's sin. Satan must bear his own penalty. But Satan, like the angels of God, cannot die (Luke 20:35-36). Satan will be removed from his throne over the earth, put into a condition of restraint so he cannot influence man, taken away from the presence of God and mankind, but he cannot die. Likewise, the live goat is taken away from the presence of Israel and God's tabernacle and let loose in the wilderness.
Leviticus 16:21 says, "Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man." The King James Version uses the term "fit man" for the one who was to take the goat into the wilderness. "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:21, King James Version). The "fit man" parallels the angel in Revelation 20:1-2: "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years".
There is also a lesson in the fact that lots had to be cast to decide between the two goats. It was not left to the priests to decide. God had to reveal which goat would be sacrificed and which was the one to be taken into the wilderness. Before lots were cast and God revealed which goat was to be sacrificed (representing Jesus Christ) and which goat was to be taken into the wilderness (representing Satan), the people could not know which goat was which.
Satan deceives all mankind right now (Revelation 12:9). He has blinded the minds of men (2 Corinthians 4:4). As part of the deception of mankind, Satan also practices religious deception, deceiving false ministers into teaching error. "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). It is even possible for false ministers, who may be sincere not realizing that they themselves are victims of Satan's deceptions, to teach a false concept of Jesus Christ and a counterfeit Jesus. Notice what Paul warned about in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4: "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!"
How do we tell false ministers from true? How can we tell who are the ministers of the true Jesus Christ and who are the counterfeit ministers? How do we tell the true concept of Jesus Christ from a false Jesus, or as Paul put it, "another Jesus whom we have not preached"? Just as the priest in ancient Israel had to look to God to reveal which goat was which on the Day of Atonement, so we must also look to God to know who the real Jesus Christ and His true ministers are, not by casting lots but by looking to God's Word, the Bible. Notice this instruction in Isaiah 8:20: "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." We have to look to the Bible and be willing to believe the Bible to know who is speaking the truth. The Bible must come first, not the ministry, the church we attend, the traditions we were raised in, or the traditions we have adopted and become comfortable with. God's ministers have a role in teaching and helping us find answers in the Bible. But we should not look to the ministers to teach us what the Bible means or to "interpret" the Bible for us. The Bible interprets itself, and difficult scriptures are interpreted by clear scriptures. Rather than look to ministers to interpret the Bible for us, we should look to the Bible to tell us who the true ministers are.
The Church of God teaches that the Day of Atonement represents the application of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind, but also the future removal of Satan from his position of rulership and influence over the earth. The Church of God observes this day by resting from work, assembling for church services, and refraining from all food and water during this day.
The Feast of Tabernacles - the Millennial Rule of Christ
When Christ returns He will rule the nations of the earth, and the Church, resurrected and made immortal, will rule with Him (Revelation 2:26, 3:21, 20:6). Then Satan will be put away and will no longer be allowed to deceive the nations and tempt men to sin (Revelation 20:1-3). There will follow a thousand years of unprecedented peace, prosperity, joy, and happiness all over the earth.
The Bible is filled with descriptions of what that time will be like.
Jesus Christ will be king over all the earth. Those who have been converted and received God's Holy Spirit and overcame and endured to the end from the time of Adam until the second coming of Christ will be in the first resurrection and will receive positions of authority under Christ, helping Christ to rule, judge, and teach the nations. "But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them." (Jeremiah 30:9, KJV). "And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28, KJV). "And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities" (Luke 19:11-19, KJV).
In this age of man, God is only saving a few. But in the millennium God will finally open salvation to all mankind. Christ and the saints will judge the earth and teach mankind God's law. All Israel and mankind will finally have the opportunity to learn God's truth and be converted. "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:2-4, KJV).
"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:1-9, KJV).
God will make a new covenant with Israel, this time writing His law in their hearts so they will obey, by giving them His Holy Spirit. "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:31-34, KJV). "For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you" (Ezekiel 36:24-29, KJV).
Not only Israel, but all nations will have the opportunity to know God and be converted. "And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee" (Zechariah 2:11, KJV). "Thus saith the LORD of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD" (Zechariah 8:20-22, KJV).
The result of God's rule and the conversion of the world will be unprecedented peace, prosperity, and happiness, for all Israel, but also for all nations that learn to obey God. "In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance" (Isaiah 19:23-25, KJV). "And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined" (Isaiah 25:6, KJV). "Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures" (Isaiah 30:23, KJV). "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isaiah 35:5-10, KJV). "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt" (Amos 9:13, KJV). "For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things" (Zechariah 8:12, KJV).
The next feast of God after the Day of Atonement is the Feast of Tabernacles. This is a seven-day festival to rejoice before God. The instructions God gave ancient Israel for this Feast are in Leviticus 23:33-43 and Deuteronomy 16:13. Israel was to observe a Sabbath rest on the first of the seven days, and on the eighth day. The eighth day, though closely related to the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, is actually a separate feast, and I will cover it next. The Feast of Tabernacles came after the fall harvest in ancient Israel, and was a celebration of the prosperity God gave to Israel.
God commanded Israel to tithe of their income ("tithe" meaning "one tenth"). One tenth of their increase belongs to God (Leviticus 27:30, Malachi 3:8-10), and God gave this tithe to the priests and Levites (Numbers 18:21-22). Since the Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the priesthood of Jesus Christ for the New Testament Church, members of the Church of God pay their tithes to the ministry of the Church for the expenses of the Church including feeding the flock and preaching the gospel to the world (1 Corinthians 9:8-14). But in addition to this tithe (we call "first tithe"), God gave Israel instructions for SAVING a tithe of their increase (we call "second tithe") to spend or consume at the Feast of Tabernacles, to help them rejoice before God (Deuteronomy 14:22-26). And on the subject of tithing, Israel was to pay a third tithe every third and sixth year in a seven-year cycle to support the widows and the poor.
Also, God commanded that Israel dwell in temporary dwellings, called booths, during the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:39-43).
The Church of God observes the Feast of Tabernacles by going to one of several festival sites that the Church organizes each year, staying in temporary dwellings (called "motels" or "hotels") for seven days (plus the eighth day that follows), resting on the first and eighth days as commanded by God, and attending church services for worship and instruction. During the Feast we rejoice before God and enjoy food and various recreational activities available at the site. We save a tenth of our income (second tithe) during the year and use this money for the expenses of attending the Feast. For us, the Feast of Tabernacles pictures the happiness that will exist all over the earth after the return of Jesus Christ.During the millennial rule of Christ, He will teach the nations to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. Notice Zechariah 14:16-19: "And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain. And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, wherewith the LORD will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles" (KJV).
The Last Great Day - the White Throne Judgment
During this six thousand year age of man, almost complete, only a few are called by God to salvation. The rest are blinded by Satan. After the return of Christ, Satan will be removed and salvation will be opened to all mankind.
But what about all of humanity that has lived and died without ever having a real chance for salvation? What about the billions of people who have lived on the earth since Adam and Eve without even hearing the name of Jesus Christ? Will they have an opportunity for salvation?
The answer is yes. Every human being that has ever lived will have the opportunity to accept God's way of life, to repent, to exercise faith in God and in Jesus Christ, to have their sins forgiven, and to be saved and receive eternal life. For those who have lived and died before Christ returns, this will require a resurrection from the dead, not to immortality as with the saints in the first resurrection when Christ returns, but a future resurrection back to physical life so they can be taught the truth of God and have an opportunity, free from Satan's deceptions, to choose life. As Paul says, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming" (1 Corinthians 15:22-23). Everyone will be resurrected, but there is an order to the resurrections. "For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:32-33).
There is a specific prophecy in the Bible that describes this resurrection back to physical life of those who lived and died without being converted in this life. This prophecy applies to Israel specifically, but it can be shown that this prophecy about Israel will also apply to all mankind. "The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' So I answered, 'O Lord God, You know.' Again He said to me, 'Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.' " ' So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. Also He said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, "Thus says the Lord God: 'Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.' " ' So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, "Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!" Therefore prophesy and say to them, "Thus says the Lord God: 'Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,' says the Lord" ' " (Ezekiel 37:1-14). This has to be a different resurrection than the first resurrection to immortality and spirit life of the saints at the return of Christ. This is a physical resurrection back to physical, mortal life. Those that are resurrected in this resurrection need the breath of air to enter their lungs before they can live.
Does this apply only to Israel? God judges all without partiality (1 Peter 1:17, Ephesians 6:9). "Then Peter opened his mouth and said: 'In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him' " (Acts 10:34-35). "For there is no partiality with God" (Romans 2:11).
Jesus gave examples of gentiles who would rise in a resurrection with Israel. "The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here" (Luke 11:31-32). The men of Nineveh that Jesus referred to, and the "queen of the South" who sought the wisdom of Solomon, are dead and in their graves. The only way that they can rise up in the judgment with Israel is to be resurrected from the dead when Israel is resurrected from the dead. So even though the prophecy of the valley of dry bones given to Ezekiel mentions only Israel by name, the gentiles must be resurrected at the same time.
When does this take place?
Notice again Revelation 20:4-6: "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." Notice that it says, "the REST of the dead" did not live again until AFTER the thousand years are finished. Now, a few verses later, Revelation 20:11-13 says, "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works." This is where the name "White Throne Judgment" comes from. It is a time when the valley of dry bones prophecy will be fulfilled, and when, as Jesus said, the men of Nineveh will also be resurrected. It is the time when the billions who have lived and died will rise from their graves back to physical life, and each individual will be judged. But it will be a time when men can learn the truth of God, and repent, and be forgiven. Note that the above verses say that the Book of Life will be opened, implying that men's names can be written in it. Note also what God says in Ezekiel 33:18-20: "When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it. Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not fair.' O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you according to his own ways."
Those that come up in this resurrection will have every opportunity to learn the truth. They will be able to learn and know the history of mankind, both the six thousand year age of man in which there was war and suffering, and the one thousand year reign of Christ, in which there was peace and joy. They will be able to see and know that living according to the "get" way of life in rebellion and disobedience to God and His law leads to suffering, destruction, and death, but living according to God's law of love and submitting to God's rule over them leads to peace and happiness. They will learn that they are guilty of sin they have committed in their past life ("for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" - Romans 3:23), but they will also learn that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for their sins so that they can be forgiven if they repent and turn to God. And then each individual can make his own choice. Those who repent and are forgiven can have their names written in the Book of Life and receive eternal life. Those who choose not to repent will die in the second death. "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15). There they will be destroyed so that they cannot continue to bring suffering upon themselves and others by their evil ways. After that will be fulfilled what is written in Revelation 21:1-4: "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.' "
No wonder Paul said, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33). God truly is fair and merciful, and He gives everyone a chance for salvation. No one is left our because of circumstances of birth or circumstances in their lives over which they have no control.
As the White Throne Judgment follows the one thousand year period, so the eighth day of the feast follows the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles. Note what Jesus said on the eighth day of the Feast: "On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:37-39). During the White Throne Judgment following the one thousand years, for the first time all mankind, all those who have died without knowing the truth and having a chance for salvation, will have the opportunity to repent and come to Christ and receive the Holy Spirit, thus fulfilling Jesus' words which He spoke on the last day of the Feast.
The Church of God calls this "the Last Great Day" and observes it as a Sabbath day of rest and assembly for church services immediately following the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles.
Traditional Christian Holidays
God commanded that the annual holy days be kept, and there are examples in the New Testament that show that they were kept by the first century Church of God, not just by Jewish Christians, but by gentile Christians also. The annual holy days help to teach and illustrate God's plan and purpose for mankind. Today, not only has traditional mainstream Christianity rejected the holy days instituted by God, they have substituted other days borrowed from pagan traditions, such as Christmas and Easter.
Where did these days come from? You will not find any instructions or commandments from God in the Bible for keeping Christmas, Easter, Halloween, or similar days. Rather, if you look up their origins in encyclopedias, you will find that many of the customs of those days and even the times of the year of the days themselves come directly from paganism.
Have you ever wondered what an evergreen tree has to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, or why Christmas falls on December 25 around the time of the winter solace? Or what rabbits and eggs have to do with the resurrection of Christ? Rabbits, eggs, or evergreen trees are often fertility symbols in ancient pagan religions, and the winter solace is the time when the days stop getting shorter and start getting longer, which is a factor in sun worship. In ancient times, after the time of the original apostles, many of those who wanted to spread Christianity realized that the masses did not want to give up their pagan holidays, so they reasoned that they could make it easier for people to accept Christianity if they allowed them to keep their traditional pagan holidays with their pagan symbols, and just change the meaning to fit Christianity.
Is this lawful in God's eyes? What does God say in the Bible?
"Thus says the Lord: 'Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; They fasten it with nails and hammers So that it will not topple' " (Jeremiah 10:2-4).
"When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:29-32). Note that God says, "You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way" and "Whatever I command you...you shall not add to it". Here God clearly states that we are not to use pagan methods and practices to worship God, but only to worship God in the way He commands without adding any customs to it that are borrowed from paganism.
Does God accept any kinds and methods of worship as long as it is towards Him, even in disobedience to God's commands? I don't think so. Jesus said, "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). God rejected ancient king Saul because he offered sacrifices to God, but it was not lawful for him to do so because he was not a priest (1 Samuel 13:8-14). In a later incident, Saul again disobeyed God in order to save animals that he was commanded to destroy so they could be sacrificed to God. Did God accept Saul's act of worship because Saul had good intentions? "So Samuel said: 'Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king' " (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
Therefore the Church of God does not observe Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and other religious holidays whose customs and observance have been borrowed from paganism, but rather we observe the annual holy days commanded by God in the Bible.
Using Images in Worship
The Church of God does not use images such as holy pictures or statues as an aid in worship.
As I mentioned earlier, I was raised Catholic. When I first began to read literature published by Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God, I was surprised when they referred to the commandment to observe the Sabbath as "the fourth commandment". I always thought the Sabbath commandment was the third commandment.
Catholics and non-Catholics agree that there are ten commandments, but they number them differently.
The Ten Commandments are listed in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. In the listings of the Ten Commandments, they are not numbered. If the commandments are not numbered in the places where they are listed, how do we know there are ten of them? There are two verses elsewhere that indicate the number of commandments is actually ten. "So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments" (Exodus 34:28). Also, Deuteronomy 4:13: "So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone." Now, how should they numbered? By this I mean, where does one commandment end and the next begin?
Notice how the Ten Commandments start out in Deuteronomy 5:6-10: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments". Catholics consider verses 6 through 10 to be all one commandment against worshipping false gods. Most Protestants consider verses 6 and 7 to be the first commandment against worshipping false gods, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me" and verses 8-10 to be the second commandment against using images and pictures as an aid in worship, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments." Then Catholics continue numbering the rest of the commandments starting with the command against using God's name in vain as the second commandment while most non-Catholics continue numbering the rest of the commandments starting with the commandment against using God's name in vain as the third commandment.
Now, if Catholics and non-Catholics are one number off from each other in the way they number the commandments, how do they both end up with ten? Non-Catholics count the verses that command us not to covet as one commandment, the tenth commandment. Catholics consider the verses telling us not to covet as two commandments. They would paraphrase the commandments as "you shall not covet your neighbor's wife" as the ninth commandment and "you shall not covet your neighbor's goods" as the tenth commandment. Here is the verse from Deuteronomy 5:21: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s." Catholics would consider the first part of the verse "you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife" as the ninth commandment and the second part of the verse "you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s" as the tenth commandment.
Which is right? The Ten Commandments are listed in two places, and though both carry the same meaning they are worded differently in the two places. In Deuteronomy 5:21, neighbor's wife is listed before neighbor's goods, and all of the words pertaining to neighbor's goods are together, and conceivably could be thought of as a separate commandment. But not in the listing given in Exodus. Exodus 20:17 says, "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's." Coveting your neighbor's wife is in the middle of coveting your neighbor's goods, right between "neighbor's house" and "male servant". I see no way that the words in this verse could be correctly separated into two commandments.
And that means that the commandment against worshipping false gods in Deuteronomy 5:6-7 and the commandment against using images in worship in Deuteronomy 5:8-10 are two separate commandments.
Why is this important?
I think it is well understood that God commands us not to worship any other gods but the one true God. But God also commands us not to use images as an aid to worshipping even the true God. Those who use holy pictures and statues of God or Christ to look at while they pray to "help them" focus on God may think they are pleasing God. If you tell them that using images in worship is a form of idolatry, they will say, "Oh, no. I don't WORSHIP the image. I only use it to picture what God looks like. I only worship the true God." But that is exactly what the second commandment forbids. Not the first commandment. The first commandment forbids worshipping false gods and putting anything in place of the true God. But the second commandment forbids using images to worship even the TRUE God.
No finite image can represent the infinite God, and God does not accept worship using images.
There is an example in the Bible that proves that God does not accept worship using images to represent what people think He looks like. "Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, 'Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' And Aaron said to them, 'Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.' So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, 'This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!' So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, 'Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.' Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play" (Exodus 32:1-6). Notice, this was NOT a different pagan god that Aaron was making or teaching the Israelites to worship. It was a representation of what they thought the true God LOOKED like. It was an aid to worship, since Moses was no longer with them. They weren't trying to turn away from the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that had just brought them out of Egypt by a tremendous series of miracles. Notice that Aaron said, "Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord". That word Lord is in all-caps in many Bibles to indicate that it is a translation from God's name as He gave to Moses when He spoke to him from the burning bush. "Then Moses said to God, 'Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they say to me, "What is His name?" what shall I say to them?' And God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' And He said, 'Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you." ' Moreover God said to Moses, 'Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: "The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations" ' " (Exodus 3:13-15). God's name can be translated "I Am" or "the Ever-living One" or "the Eternal". The Hebrew word means, the One Who Is Self-existent. I make this point because this is the name Aaron used when he proclaimed a feast "to the Lord". He was using God's exact name that the Israelites already knew Him by. He wasn't trying to point them to a different god. He was trying to point them to the true God but using the image of a calf to do it, using the image to represent what they thought God might look like!
What was God's reaction to the Israelites' use of an image to help them worship Him?
"And the Lord
said to Moses, 'Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land
of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out
of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and
worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, "This is your god, O Israel,
that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" ' And the
Lord said to Moses, 'I have seen this people, and indeed it is a
stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot
against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation' "
(Exodus 32:7-10). God was so angry He was ready to kill them all and start over
with Moses. From Israel's point of view, they were using the image to worship
"the Lord", but from God's point of
view they weren't
really worshipping Him at all because they were disobeying His commands. He did
not accept their worship when they tried to worship Him using an image as an
The greatest commandment is to love God with all our being. But God decides HOW we are to express that love, and we are not free to express that love in any manner we choose, even in disobedience to God's instructions. God tells us HOW we should love Him, and loving God with all our heart and all our mind includes obedience to God's commands and submitting our wills to God. The first four of the Ten Commandments teach us HOW to love God. The fourth commandment teaches us to rest on the seventh day and use that time to draw closer to God. The first commandment teaches us to love God above everything else and to put no other god or no other thing first in our lives in place of the true God. The second commandment teaches us not to use images, holy pictures, and statues as an aid in worshipping God to help us picture or visualize what He might look like.
God's Purpose for Mankind
This chapter is about the true gospel. In order to understand this fully, we must understand the destiny of man and God's purpose in creating mankind.
We have seen from Scripture that God created man mortal, of the dust of the ground, subject to death, but that God gives every human who is willing to learn to live the way that God lives, the way of love, an opportunity for eternal life, an opportunity to live forever.
But why did God create man in the first place? What is God's true purpose for mankind? Why did God create man, and what does God intend man to become?
Much of mainstream traditional Christianity teaches that it is our destiny to be happy forever looking at the face of God in heaven. At least that is what I was taught growing up. But that view pictures an eternal life of passive inactivity. The image I learned is somewhat like the idea of a dog lying on the floor looking at his master's face. Is that really man's destiny?
1 Corinthians 2:9 says "But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.' " Could it be that God has in mind for man much more than what the traditional religions of this world have taught?
The Bible calls Christians "sons of God". "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26). "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together" (Romans 8:14-17). "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:18-19). "Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).
Jesus Christ calls Christians, "brethren", meaning, His brothers and sisters. "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: 'I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You' " (Hebrews 2:10-12). "But He answered and said to the one who told Him, 'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother' " (Matthew 12:48-50).
In the resurrection to immortality, Christians will be like Jesus Christ and God. "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
We are to be conformed to the image of Christ so that Jesus Christ might be the FIRSTBORN among MANY brethren. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Romans 8:28-30).
The Church of God is called the bride of Christ and will marry Jesus Christ at His return. " 'Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.' And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, 'Write: "Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!" ' And he said to me, 'These are the true sayings of God' " (Revelation 19:7-9). "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:2-3). "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:22-32).
As I covered previously, we will be made immortal, and will be given eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:51-53, Mark 10:29-30, Romans 6:23, Matthew 19:16-17, Matthew 25:46).
Those in the first resurrection will sit with Christ on His throne. "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 3:21).
We will be higher than angels, as Christ is, because we will rule and judge angels. "Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?" (1 Corinthians 6:3).
We will be worthy of worship, and we will bear God's name. "Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (Revelation 3:9-12). Notice that Christ clearly says He will cause some to WORSHIP before our feet!
Yet the Bible is very consistent that no man or angel should ever be worshipped, but only God may be worshipped. "And the devil said to Him, 'All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.' And Jesus answered and said to him, 'Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve" ' " (Luke 4:6-8). "As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, 'Stand up; I myself am also a man' " (Acts 10:25-26). "Then he said to me, 'Write: "Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!" ' And he said to me, 'These are the true sayings of God.' And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, 'See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy' " (Revelation 19:9-10). "Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, 'See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God' " (Revelation 22:8-9).
After God created animal life on the earth, each after its own kind, He made man after God's image and likeness. "Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind'; and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth' " (Genesis 1:24-28). Would it be fair to say that after God created the animals, each after its own "kind", that in making man in the image of God, He made man after the God "kind"?
Let's summarize what we have so far:
After creating the animals each after its own kind, God made man, not after the animal kind or after "his own kind", but after GOD's image and likeness.
At the resurrection of the saints we will be given eternal life, immortality.
Christians are called "sons of God" and "children of God".
We are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
In the resurrection, Christians will be LIKE Jesus Christ and God.
Christ is the firstborn among many brethren, referring to Christians, and we are to be conformed to His image.
Collectively, the Church is the bride of Christ who will marry Christ at His second coming.
Those in the first resurrection will sit with Christ on His throne as He has sat on His Father's throne.
We will be greater than angels.
We will bear the name of God and of Jesus Christ.
We will be worthy of worship.
Only God may be worshipped.
What does all this add up to? What is man's destiny to become?
Mr. Roderick C. Meredith of Living Church of God has used the term "full sons of God" to describe our future state. Mr. Armstrong was very bold, saying very directly, "God is reproducing Himself". The Church of God under Mr. Armstrong's leadership has taught that God is a Family, and that those who are given eternal life will become God and be part of God's Family for all future eternity.
Is this blasphemy? Are we taking these verses too far in saying that God is reproducing Himself in man, that we will become members of the God family, that we will become God?
When the Jews accused Jesus Christ of blasphemy for saying He was the Son of God, Jesus quoted Scripture. Notice John 10:31-36: "Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, 'Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?' The Jews answered Him, saying, 'For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.' Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your law, "I said, 'You are gods' "? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming," because I said, "I am the Son of God"?' ".
Is God able to reproduce Himself? Jesus said that for God all things are possible, and nothing is impossible for God (Matthew 19:25-26).
God's purpose in creating mankind is to reproduce Himself. And our destiny, if we exercise our free moral agency to submit to God and His way of life by repenting, believing what God says, and obeying God and letting Him rule our lives, is to become God as members of God's Family under the authority and supervision of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
Mr. Armstrong's covers this in more detail in his writings. The reader can study this in his books Mystery of the Ages and The Incredible Human Potential and his booklet Why Were You Born? for more information on this subject.
I have heard some make the argument that we cannot become God because one of the attributes that defines God is that God is uncreated, eternal, and He has existed forever. They say that, no matter what we become, we will always be less than God because we had a beginning, we were created, we did not exist for all past eternity.
It will always be true that we did not exist for all past eternity. It will always be true that God the Father and Jesus Christ will have greater honor, glory, and authority than us. But in many other ways we will be like God.
In all the examples given of our relationship with God, all indicate a FAMILY relationship. We will be sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and collectively those in the first resurrection will be the wife of Jesus Christ. This does not indicate that we will be so far below God that we will be like a dog looking at his master's face for all eternity.
Most importantly, in the resurrection at the return of Christ, we will be worthy of WORSHIP (Revelation 3:9). The Bible is absolutely clear that ONLY GOD may be worshipped. Not even angels may be worshipped. Anyone can object to the terminology of saying that Christians will become God by setting their own definition of the term "God" to mean "only that which has never been created", and then pointing out that this can never apply to Christians, but I do not find this definition in the Bible. Rather, the Bible is very consistent that only God should be worshipped. Therefore, a more biblical definition of God would be, that which is worthy of worship. And God says in Revelation 3:9 that He will make men come and worship before the feet of those He is addressing in the message to the Church in Philadelphia.
Just as God provided a wife for Adam that was comparable to him and like him, human as he was human, so God will provide a bride for Christ that will be like Him, God as He is God. Read Genesis 2:18-24 and compare with Revelation 19:6-8. Jesus is called the "last Adam" and compared with the first man Adam in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49. If God provided a wife for the first Adam that was like him, at his same level, of the same "kind", the human kind, not a lower animal, why would it seem so strange to us that God would also provide a wife for Jesus Christ that will be like Him, at His same level, of the same "kind", the God kind? Are all things possible for God or not? That wife will be the whole Church whose members will be resurrected if dead or changed to immortality if alive at the second coming of Jesus Christ and will rise to meet Christ in the air (1 Corinthians 15:51-54, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
Can a man become God?
IT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED! Jesus Christ is called a "forerunner" (Hebrews 6:19-20). He was God who became flesh, became a man just like us (John 1:14). He died for our sins and was in the grave, and then was resurrected back to life as God. God has shown by the resurrection of Christ from being a man, dead in the grave, to being God again with the glory He had with the Father before the world existed (John 17:5), that it IS possible for a man to become God!
Why is this so important?
Besides understanding the greatness of God's love for us and the greatness of the gift that God wants to give us, there is a great misconception that we must get rid of if we are to fully understand how we should be living our lives now, the WAY we should be living, and why we need to be living that way. It is the same misconception I had when I was taught the traditional religious beliefs I was raised in.
Mr. Armstrong taught that there are two opposite ways of life, the "give" way, and the "get" way. The give way of life can be described by the word "love". It is the way of righteousness. It is the way of outgoing concern for others. It is the way of giving, helping, cooperating, serving, and doing good. It is the way of truth. It is the way that God Himself lives, the way that Jesus Christ lived as a man on the earth, and the way God teaches us in the Bible to live. The opposite way is the "get" way of life. It is the way of hostility, of trying to get for the self by taking away from others. It is the way of vanity, envy, greed, and violence, and the way of selfishness. It is the way of hostile competition against others. It is the way of dishonesty, deception, and lying. This is the way that Satan lives and the way of this world to the extent that men are influenced by Satan to live this way.
God teaches us to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Anyone who has read and believes the Bible knows that this is important to God. Why?
Part of the reason is that loving God and our fellow man is the way of life that brings happiness to ourselves and others, in this life. But it is also important, as are all of the spiritual principles of God's laws in the Bible, because it is the way of life we need to live for all eternity if we are to have the happiness God intends for us.
This is where the misconception comes in.
Many people have the idea, as I did, that the eternal life God intends for us in His Kingdom is a life of inactivity, passively looking at the face of God, perhaps singing and praising God, but nothing more. Somehow they think, that though God has given us ability in this life and a need to work and a desire to accomplish things, that in the Kingdom of God we will be doing nothing, accomplishing nothing. It seems to me that would be very boring.
I think the Bible reveals a different picture. The book of Hebrews quotes the writer of Psalm 8 in reference to putting all things under man's feet: "For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: 'What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, And set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.' For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:5-9). What are "all things"? Not just this earth. The universe. Hebrews says that all things, the universe, are to be put under man's feet, but NOT YET.
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (Romans 8:18-22).
Christ rules the universe (Matthew 28:18). The destiny of the Church is to be resurrected at the return of Christ to sit with Him on His throne. When we sit with Christ, we will rule the universe with Christ. Jesus gave the parables of the talents and the pounds (or minas) (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27) indicating there will be organization and positions of authority and we will be rewarded according to our works (Revelation 2:23). The twelve apostles will be over the individual tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). This indicates organization and teamwork. Paul refers to the whole creation (the universe) waiting for the Sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:18-22). God did not create this vast universe, with the billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars, each star similar to our sun, some smaller and some larger, and with planets orbiting many or all of these stars, in vain, for no purpose. God created the universe for a purpose.
All of this paints a picture, I think, of future creative activity and accomplishment for us in the Kingdom of God. God reveals some things about the millennium on earth, but does not go into very much detail about what we will be doing for all eternity. But God is a Creator, and we will be serving with and under the Father and Jesus Christ for all eternity.
What does this have to do with how we live our lives now? Everything!
God wants us to learn, in this physical life, the lessons we need in order to learn to live the way of life that God lives, the way of love, the way of giving, the way of helping, serving, and cooperating with others as a team and as a family, because that is the way we will be living for all eternity. It is the only way that will produce happiness. Its importance is not so evident if we are going to be idlely looking at the face of God, doing nothing, but if we are going to be part of God's Family and a team, serving under Jesus Christ in whatever creative projects God has in mind concerning this whole vast universe, we are going to have to get along with each other. In fact, I think it is safe to say we will have to get along with each other much better than humans are getting along with each other right now on this earth. We will be working with each other, cooperating with each other. God is not going to give eternal life in His Kingdom to someone who is going to live the "get" way of life, the way of hostile competition, trying to take from others to get for the self. That wrong way of life will produce misery, not only for the person himself, but for everyone else around that person.
This physical life we are living now is a model of how the two ways of life work. We can often see by the fruits which way works best as far as producing a happy environment is concerned. Consider the family environment. Which is a happier environment, a home where there is love and cooperation, everyone working together for a common purpose, or a home where there is hostility, fighting, and hatred? Or look at the workplace. Many people have held a variety of jobs at different companies during their life. Many of us have seen workplaces and situations that are dominated by contentions, competition, lying, politics, back stabbing, people maneuvering to get ahead at the expense of others, but we may have also seen places and situations that are dominated by a spirit of cooperation, helping, teamwork, even friendship between employees, where people are each willing to help the other person succeed. Which is best? Which way of life produces the most happiness and the most accomplishment?
God's purpose for humans is that we learn to live the right way of life, the way that produces happiness for ourselves and others, so that we can be part of God's divine Family and share in God's power, and rule this universe with Jesus Christ, and work together in harmony, cooperation, teamwork, and love in accomplishing whatever creative projects God gives us to do for all eternity. This physical life is the testing and training ground to determine who is willing to learn that way of life and to give those who are willing the opportunity to build the kind of righteous character, with God's help through His Holy Spirit, that God Himself has.
How righteous God is, and how great is His wisdom, His power, and His love that He would offer such a tremendous future to the people He has created! He can give us nothing greater than to bring us into His divine family as His very sons and daughters and share with us His tremendous life, power, and authority over the universe. There can be no greater generosity towards us on God's part.
This is an important part of the "good news" of the Kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit
Before Jesus Christ was crucified, He told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit, which Jesus called the "Helper" and the "Spirit of truth". Jesus said to His disciples, "If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:15-18). The King James Version translates "Helper" as "Comforter". Jesus further said that this Helper was the Holy Spirit which would help His disciples remember the things which Jesus taught them. "These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:25-26). Later, after Jesus' resurrection but before He ascended into heaven, He told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem. "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now' " (Acts 1:4-5). Note that Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as "power from on high" in Luke 24:49.
On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples received the Holy Spirit. "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). This had a dramatic effect on the disciples. They now had courage, even to suffer and risk death to stand up for the truth, which they did not have previously (Matthew 26:31-35,56, 69-75, Acts 5:40-42). Note what Paul said to Timothy about the Holy Spirit: "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
The Spirit of God helps us to understand spiritual truth. "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God" (1 Corinthians 2:10-12).
The New Testament reveals that God's Holy Spirit is a Spirit of love, of power, of a sound mind, that it brings to remembrance the teachings of Jesus Christ, that it helps us to understand spiritual knowledge.
The Old Testament also speaks about God's Spirit. Here is an example. "Now the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded. And he went out to meet Asa, and said to him: 'Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you" (2 Chronicles 15:1-2). Also, Genesis 41:37-40: "So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, 'Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?' Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you' ". King David had God's Holy Spirit, for he said in Psalm 51:11: "Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me."
The Jews in Jesus' day must have known from the Old Testament scriptures that the Spirit of God existed. But I doubt if they thought of the Spirit of God as a person. Probably most of them did not think of the coming Messiah as being God, a person distinct from God the Father, yet also God. Jews today do not think of God as more than one person.
We know that Jesus Christ is the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, and that both God the Father and Jesus Christ are distinct persons, yet both are God. There may be ways to prove from Old Testament scriptures only that the Messiah is God and that God is more than one person. In the creation account in Genesis for example, God says, "Let US make man in OUR image", indicating that the Creator God is more than one person. In Psalm 110:1, David says, "The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool' ". There is no evidence David had any "Lord" but God, yet here he speaks of God making David's "Lord" sit at His right hand. Abraham, Moses, and even the elders of Israel SAW the God of Israel, and Jacob even wrestled with Him (Genesis 18:1-33, Exodus 33:11, Numbers 12:7-8, Exodus 24:9-11, Genesis 32:22-30), yet on another occasion Moses was told that no man could see God's face and live (Exodus 33:17-23), suggesting that that Moses was allowed to see Christ, but not the Father (compare this with John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12). So it may be possible to prove from Old Testament scriptures alone that there is more than one person who is God and that both the Father and the Messiah, Christ, are God. But if so, it seems that most of the Jews of Jesus' day and today have missed it. Nevertheless, the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that God the Father is a person and that Jesus Christ is a different person, and both are God (John 1:1-14, Philippians 2:5-11, John 17:1-5, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, Hebrews 1:6-8).
What about the Holy Spirit?
Traditional mainstream Christianity teaches that God is a trinity, and that the Holy Spirit is a person. Besides being a tradition of the Catholic and Protestant churches, there are scriptures some use to support this teaching. For example, 1 John 5:7-8 says, "For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one." But a marginal note in my Bible indicates that the words starting with "in heaven" in verse 7 through "on earth" in verse 8 are not in any early manuscripts but only a very few late manuscripts, indicating they were added later, not in the original Greek text inspired by God and written by the apostle John. In the original, this would read, "For there are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one."
Why would someone add these words to the text? Apparently there was some controversy in the early traditional church over whether God is a trinity or not, and someone added these words to the Bible to support the trinity doctrine.
Many will also point to personal pronouns that refer to the Holy Spirit as "He", not "it". I am no expert in Greek, but I understand and have been taught that like many languages (not English), Greek assigns gender to nouns that do not all refer to persons. In English, this is not the case, but in some languages, everything is either masculine or feminine, even things that are not persons, and some languages allow masculine, feminine, and neuter articles, nouns, and pronouns, but again, masculine and feminine genders are assigned even to inanimate objects. When a word is masculine in one language, when it is translated into English, the translators determine whether to treat it as masculine ("he") or neuter ("it") based on whether it is a person or not. But since many translators of the Bible already believe, based on their personal religious upbringing and training, that the Holy Spirit is a person, it seems to me that their personal beliefs may influence whether they translate a reference to the Holy Spirit as "He" or "it", and if their beliefs are wrong, the choices they make in translating these pronouns could be wrong.
I have studied the scriptures relating to the Holy Spirit, and while I do not claim to know and understand everything about this subject, I believe the preponderance of evidence is that, though God's Holy Spirit is divine and comes from God, it is not a distinct person with an individual will and center of consciousness like God the Father and Jesus Christ. Rather, the Bible seems to show that the Spirit of God is the power of God that emanates from the Father and Christ, and it is the power through which God acts in His creation. The Holy Spirit indwelling in the mind of the converted Christian is also the mind of God, both of the Father and of Christ, imparting to the Christian the love, power, and understanding of God that enables the Christian to live the right way of life and to build God's righteous character. When the Holy Spirit acts, it is the Father or Christ who is acting through the power of the Holy Spirit.
For example, it is clear that God the Father is the Father of Jesus Christ, yet Mary became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. "Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.' Then Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I do not know a man?' And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God' " (Luke 1:30-35). It is clear that it was the Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary. Now, if the Holy Spirit is a person, then the Holy Spirit would be the Father of Jesus Christ, not the one Jesus referred to as "My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). But if the Holy Spirit is the POWER of God the Father which emanates from God and is the power through which God acts, as the angel Gabriel called it, "the power of the Highest", then it was the FATHER who was the person who impregnated Mary acting THROUGH His Spirit, which is His power in action.
In John 14:16-18, Jesus said, "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." Notice, in saying that the Holy Spirit will be given to His disciples, Jesus said, "I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you", implying that it is Christ, acting through the power of the Holy Spirit, that will come to them. Notice also John 14:23, which says, "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him' ". Jesus is indicating that the Father and Christ will dwell IN the disciples. How? By the power of the Holy Spirit.
Look at this passage in Romans 8:9-11: "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." This whole passage speaks of the Holy Spirit, being called alternatively "the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead" and "the Spirit of Christ", dwelling IN a Christian as being synonymous with both Christ and the Father dwelling IN a Christian. In other words, Jesus Christ and the Father dwell IN a Christian by the power of their Spirit in the mind of the Christian.
Likewise, when the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit acting, doing this thing or that thing, or telling the disciples one thing or another, it is God the Father or Jesus Christ who are acting and speaking to the disciples, not in person as Christ did when He was with His disciples after His resurrection, but through the Spirit of God dwelling in the minds of the disciples. This does not picture the Holy Spirit as a person with a will and consciousness distinct from the Father and Christ, but rather the extension or power of the Father and Christ acting miraculously in Their creation. So when the Bible says that the Holy Spirit told the disciples to do this thing or that thing, it is Christ as head of the church telling the disciples, not in person face-to-face, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. Saying it is the Holy Spirit doing or saying these things is a figure of speech.
We can sometimes speak in a similar manner today. John Smith might send me a letter, and if I tell someone about what John said in the letter, I might say, "the letter said...". If someone writes an article in a magazine, or a book, someone might say, "what did the article say" or "the book says that..." We understand that it is not a letter or an article or a book that speaks, but the person who wrote the letter, article, or book. These are just ways that the writer communicates. Likewise, saying that the Holy Spirit said something is not proof that the Holy Spirit is a person. The Holy Spirit can be power through which God the Father or Jesus Christ speaks to us.
Furthermore, some passages that may seem to imply that the Holy Spirit is a person may be using figurative language. Notice what Jesus said in John 16:25: "These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father." This statement in John 16 follows chapter 14 where Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit being the Helper. God used figurative language before in personifying wisdom as if it were a person in Proverbs 1:20-33 and Proverbs 3:13-18, calling wisdom "she" as in Proverbs 3:15, which says, "She is more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her", even though wisdom is not really a person.
If you look at the greetings in the epistles of Paul, you will notice a pattern that greetings are sent from God the Father and Jesus Christ, but not the Holy Spirit. If God is a trinity and the Holy Spirit is a person, doesn't it seem that Paul would send greetings from all three persons in the trinity? Notice: "To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:7). "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:3). "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:2). Those are just examples, you can check the other epistles. Also notice this statement from the apostle John: "that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). John does not say we have fellowship with the Holy Spirit. What John says would not make sense if the Holy Spirit were a person, because if the Spirit was itself a person, we would indeed have fellowship with the Spirit. But it makes perfect sense if the Holy Spirit is the power, the presence, the mind of the Father and Christ because then, as John says, our fellowship is really with the Father and Christ. Notice also John's greeting: "Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love" (2 John 3). Again, no greeting from the Holy Spirit.
Notice Colossians 2:2-3: "that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Here Paul speaks of the knowledge of God, both of the Father and Christ, indicating both the Father and Christ are God. But Paul does not mention the Holy Spirit as being a person who is God as the Father and Christ are. This omission would not make sense if God is a trinity and the Holy Spirit is a person.
There is also the evidence of the absence of teaching in the New Testament that the concept that the Jews had of the Holy Spirit being the power of God was being changed. Consider that the original apostles and disciples grew up in a Jewish culture. The Jews must have known that the Spirit of God exists because the Old Testament refers to the Spirit of God and David asks God not to take His Holy Spirit from him in Psalm 51:11. The Jews never thought of God as a trinity or the Holy Spirit as a distinct person, but always thought of the Spirit of God as the power or presence of God acting in His creation. This was the tradition the disciples were raised in.
For Jesus to teach His disciples that the Holy Spirit is a person and God is a trinity would be a major doctrinal change and very controversial among the Jews. Saying that the Holy Spirit is a person, or that God is three persons, would be just as offensive to the Jews as the teaching that Jesus is the Messiah and is God. The teaching that the Holy Spirit is a person would be a raging controversy as great as the controversy over the teaching that Jesus is God, and I would expect to see evidence of this in the entire New Testament, not only in the gospel accounts, but also in Acts and the epistles in the form of proofs, arguments, and teachings, just as there is to show that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God and is God. But I see no sign of controversy with the Jews in the New Testament about the nature of the Holy Spirit. I think it is obvious that there was no controversy because Jesus and the early church did not teach that the Holy Spirit is a person or that God is a trinity.
The Church of God teaches that God is not a closed trinity, but rather that God is a family into which humans can be born, that God's family consists now of the Father and Christ, and will include those humans that are given eternal life, and that the Spirit of God is the power and presence of God through which God acts in His creation and the mind of God (both the Father and Christ) dwelling in Christians that empowers them with spiritual love and understanding beyond what is possible only on the human level.
Clean and Unclean Foods
The doctrine of clean and unclean meats is not a major doctrine compared with the other things I have covered, and it is not my intent to explain every doctrine of the Church of God, but this comes up briefly later in the book, and I want to cover it briefly here.
God gave instructions in the Old Testament for which animal foods Israel could eat and which ones to avoid. These instructions are given in Deuteronomy 14:3-20 and elsewhere. Some examples of meat from four-footed animals that God calls "clean" and may be eaten include beef, lamb, and deer. Most other animals are unclean for food, such as pork, rabbit, mouse, etc. Seafood that may be eaten includes fish with fins and scales, but does not include catfish, lobster, shrimp, and crab. Poultry such as chicken, turkey, and duck are clean, but there are a number of other types of birds that are listed as unclean.
The distinction between clean and unclean animals existed before Moses and before the Old Covenant was made with Israel because Noah was instructed to take a different number of clean animals with him on the ark than unclean animals (Genesis 7:1-3). Moreover, Peter understood the law of clean and unclean foods to be still in effect after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ because when God gave him a vision telling him to eat unclean animals, Peter said he never ate anything unclean and did not want to eat them (Acts 10:9-16). Many people interpret this vision to mean that God has cleansed meats that were previously unclean, but Peter did not jump to this conclusion and wondered what the vision really meant (Acts 10:17). Later he learned that the vision meant that he should not call any man "unclean" and that salvation was open to the gentiles (Acts 10:26-28).
God does not reveal in the Bible why he wants us to avoid certain meats, but since God designed and created both the human body and all animals, it seems likely that some animals are more fit for food and healthy to eat than others, and that by declaring certain foods "unclean" He is commanding us to avoid them because they are not really fit for food. Scientists may or may not know of anything harmful in unclean animals, but as much as scientists and doctors have learned, they still know only a fraction of everything that God knows about food and human health, and they are very far from knowing all the causes of all diseases. Therefore, the Church of God observes the dietary laws of the Bible and teaches them as a matter of good health.
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God
Jesus began his ministry by preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God. "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel' " (Mark 1:14-15). He also prophesied that the gospel would be preached to all nations. "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). He trained His disciples and sent them out also to preach the gospel (Luke 9:1-6).
What is the true gospel?
It is important to ask and answer that question, because not every gospel is a true gospel. There can be false gospels.
The true gospel is the gospel that Jesus Christ preached. It is the same gospel that Peter, Paul, and the other apostles preached.
But Paul warned the members of the Church that he had taught that they should beware of any false gospel. "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel" (Galatians 1:6). "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8).
So I ask again, what is the true gospel?
Jesus Christ preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23, 6:33, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 9:11, 12:31, Acts 1:1-3). "Gospel" means "good news" or "glad tidings" (Luke 8:1). So the true gospel is the good news of the Kingdom of God.
This gospel is also called the "gospel of Jesus Christ" or "the gospel of Christ" (Mark 1:1, Romans 15:19, 1 Corinthians 9:18). The word "of" can indicate ownership. The gospel of Christ is Christ's gospel (2 Corinthians 2:12). It is His message, the message God the Father gave Him to preach to the world and to give understanding of to the Church.
In Matthew, the term "Kingdom of Heaven" is used. This is synonymous with Kingdom of God. "Of" denotes ownership, not location. The Kingdom of God is the kingdom owned by God. It is God's kingdom. Likewise, the Kingdom of Heaven is the kingdom owned by heaven. It is the same as the Kingdom of God.
What is the Kingdom of God?
One of the accounts in the Bible about the Kingdom of God and how it will be established is in the book of Daniel. Daniel interpreted a dream that King Nebuchadnezzar had about an image. This dream was from God, and God inspired Daniel to understand its meaning (Daniel 2:1-30). Nebuchadnezzar had dreamt that he saw a great image. The head of this image was made of gold, the chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron, and its feet were made of iron and clay. Then a stone struck the feet of the image and crushed the whole image and became a great mountain that filled the earth. Daniel gave the interpretation of this dream from God. "You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold. But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others" (Daniel 2:37-40). The different metals represented different kingdoms that would rule on the earth in sequence, with the head of gold first and the feet of iron and clay last. Then Daniel explained the meaning of the stone that crushed the image in the days of the last kingdom made of iron and clay. "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold—the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure" (Daniel 2:44-45).
This kingdom that God will set up to rule over all the earth is the Kingdom of God, and it will replace man's kingdoms. This will happen in the days of the last kingdom, the one represented by the feet and toes of iron and clay, at the end of the age. This will happen at the last trumpet, when Christ returns and the Church of God is resurrected. "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!' " (Revelation 11:15).
The Kingdom of God is a coming world ruling government that Christ will establish over the entire earth at His second coming. It is also the divine family of God and it will include the resurrected saints as members of God's family, sons of God the Father and brethren of Jesus Christ. It is the members of God's family, including the resurrected Church of God, that will make up that government that will rule over all the earth.
The gospel of the Kingdom of God is the good news of that kingdom, and it includes the knowledge about all aspects of that kingdom. In its broadest sense, it includes the whole truth of the Bible.
There are many aspects of a kingdom.
A kingdom has a king. The king of the Kingdom of God is Jesus Christ. He was born to be that king (Luke 1:31-33, John 18:37). Christ shall return to the earth as king of kings, to rule the earth. Everything about Jesus Christ is therefore included in the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
A kingdom has a headquarters location. The headquarters of the Kingdom of God will be Jerusalem on this earth after the return of Christ (Zechariah 14:16-19, Revelation 21:1-2).
A kingdom has laws. In the kingdom of God, the basic law is the law of love. In the Kingdom of God, God's law will be a way of life. It will be the way of life that causes peace and happiness for all eternity. This way of life is expressed by the two great commandments in the Bible, to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus Christ, the king of the Kingdom of God, lived a perfect life, not only so He would be a perfect sacrifice so that His death would be payment for our sins, but to teach us by His example (John 13:12-17, 1 Peter 2:21-22). We can learn much about the Kingdom of God and the law of love that will be the way of life in that kingdom by studying the life of Christ and seeing the examples of how He put obedience to God and love towards men into action. He went around doing good, healing the sick, and teaching the people for their good.
The law of God is defined in further detail by the Ten Commandments, the first four of which teach us how to love God and the last six which teach us how to love our neighbor. The law also includes as major principles the three things Jesus said were the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). The Ten Commandments and the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith will all be taught in the Kingdom of God as a way of life.
This way of life is further illustrated by an abundance of instruction in the entire Bible. The gospel accounts and the epistles of the apostles in the New Testament are filled with detailed instructions about how we should live to practice the way of life of the Kingdom of God, and the Old Testament is filled with examples, both good and bad, that help to illustrate the consequences of obedience or disobedience to God's law, examples we can learn from (Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, Hebrews 4:11, James 5:10, 2 Peter 2:4-9, Jude 5-7). We need to learn that way of life by putting God's laws into practice in our lives now and making that way of life a part of our character if we want to be in God's kingdom (Matthew 7:21, 19:17, 1 Corinthians 6:10). Instruction in that way of life, the laws of the Kingdom of God, is all part of the true gospel, and that includes the entire Bible.
The gospel includes the good news that God will send Jesus Christ to return to this earth to rule the nations and teach all mankind God's truth, opening salvation to everyone and bringing peace, justice, prosperity, and happiness to all the earth. It includes the good news of the happiness and blessings that will be experienced in the kingdom, and the Old Testament prophecies are filled with teaching about the peace, righteousness, prosperity, and happiness that will reign all over the earth after Christ returns and establishes the Kingdom of God over all the earth, which I have already covered.
The good news of the Kingdom of God includes instructions in how we can be saved and enter that kingdom. The Kingdom of God is the ruling family of God, and to enter that kingdom means to enter the family of God as a member of that ruling family. But if we could never be saved and enter that kingdom because of our sins and because this physical life was the only life we could have, that would not be good news. If we merely lived out our physical lives now, then died and ceased to exist for all eternity, just like any animal, that would not be good news for us personally. But God has provided a way for all men to be saved and to enter that Kingdom. That way is called salvation, and everything in the Bible that teaches us how we can be saved and enter into God's kingdom is part of the good news of the Kingdom of God.
And as I have already covered, it is the king of that kingdom, our savior Jesus Christ, who makes salvation possible. Without His saving work, including being born as a man, living a sinless life, preaching the message of the Kingdom of God that the Father gave Him to preach, training His disciples, dying a torturous death to pay the penalty for our sins, sending the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to build the Church of God, and His present work of interceding for us as high priest and leading the Church as head of the Church, our salvation would not be possible and we would not be able to enter the Kingdom of God. It is His sacrifice that makes forgiveness of sins and our entry into the Kingdom of God possible. And it is His resurrection from the dead that is the sign of His Messiahship and a proof that what He taught was from God. It is also His resurrection from the dead back to life that enables Him to continue His saving work today as head of the Church and our high priest and to be the king of the Kingdom of God (Romans 5:8-10, Ephesians 5:23, Hebrews 2:17, 3:1-2, 4:14, 6:19-20, 7:24-27, 8:1-2, 9:11). And it is Christ who will resurrect us so we can be in that kingdom (John 6:39-40).
Therefore everything about salvation through Jesus Christ and the life and saving work of Jesus Christ, is a vital part of the true gospel of the Kingdom of God. It is salvation through Christ that makes the Kingdom of God good news for us personally, and this includes what Christ has done in the past, what He is doing now, and what He will do in the future.
The good news of the Kingdom of God includes the whole plan of God for building and increasing that kingdom and providing for men to be saved and to enter into that kingdom, as outlined by the holy days. It includes the truth that Christ will return to this earth and put an end to suffering and bring peace and happiness to this earth.
The gospel of the Kingdom of God includes the truth that God is reproducing Himself in man and that man can enter into the divine family of God. It is that divine family that IS the Kingdom of God.
If you look up in the Bible every instance of the term "gospel" or "kingdom of God", you will see the broad scope of what these terms cover. These terms include salvation through Jesus Christ and much more besides.
A variety of terms is used for the true gospel. In various places, the gospel is called, "the gospel of the kingdom of God" (Mark 1:14), "the gospel of Jesus Christ" (Mark 1:1), "the gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:19), "Christ’s gospel" (2 Corinthians 2:12), "the gospel of God" (2 Corinthians 11:7), "gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24), "gospel of peace" (Romans 10:15), "the gospel of your salvation" (Ephesians 1:13), "our gospel" (2 Thessalonians 2:14), and "my gospel" (2 Timothy 2:8). But all these terms refer to the same gospel.
Paul taught that God's judgment of men through Christ is part of the gospel (Romans 2:16). The gospel includes God's law because the gospel is something that must be obeyed (Romans 10:16, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, 1 Peter 4:17). The gospel was preached to Abraham and to ancient Israel (Romans 10:16, Galatians 3:8). The gospel was also preached to Israel in the wilderness, but because they lacked faith and did not believe it, they could not enter the promised land (Hebrews 3:16-19, 4:2), yet there is no record that Moses taught ancient Israel about the future life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. They had certain elements that referred to Christ such as the Passover ritual and the instruction about a future prophet who we know is Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 18:15, Acts 3:22, 7:37), but they were not given enough information to fully know what these things meant. Yet the gospel was preached to them. What was preached to them? The law of God and the prophecies of the blessings that would come from obedience to that law. Those things are part of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
The gospel is also called "the gospel of your salvation" in Ephesians 1:13, so it includes everything relating to the subject of how to be saved.
Can you see how the good news of the Kingdom of God expands to include the whole truth of God from the Bible? It includes everything about the way of life that will be lived in the Kingdom of God, the law of God, and that means it includes the laws and instructions in the Bible and the examples both good and bad that are written for our learning, in both the old and new testaments. It includes the whole plan of God recorded in the Bible for establishing that kingdom, including the history of what God has accomplished so far and the prophecies about what God will do in the future. It includes everything about Jesus Christ including what He has done in the past, what He is doing now, and what He will do in the future as the King of the Kingdom of God. It includes everything about salvation through Christ because that is how we can enter the Kingdom of God. There is little if anything in the Bible that does not relate to one or more aspects of the good news of the Kingdom of God. That is why the true gospel IS the truth of the whole Bible.
And while there are many aspects of the gospel, they all center on the one theme of the Kingdom of God. And actually, the good news of Kingdom of God is the central theme that runs through the whole Bible.
Does the Kingdom of God refer only to future events, or can it also apply in the present tense?
Jesus taught His disciple to pray to the Father, "Your kingdom come." Christ will return to set up that kingdom on the earth at the end of this age, and that is what Christians should look forward to. The establishment of the Kingdom of God on the earth and the resurrection of the saints into that kingdom is yet future. But while the coming of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth is yet future, there is also an aspect of the Kingdom of God that is in the present because the Bible sometimes speaks of the Kingdom of God in the present tense. Jesus Christ is the king of the Kingdom of God and He represents that kingdom now. The law of God, the law of love as defined in the Bible, is the law of the Kingdom of God, and that law represents the way of life of that kingdom. When we obey God's law we are placing ourselves under the rule of God, and we are learning the way of life of God's kingdom now.
Notice Luke 17:20-21: "Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, 'The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, "See here!" or "See there!" For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.' " Jesus was not telling the evil Pharisees that the Kingdom of God was within their hearts. Rather, Jesus as king of that kingdom, representing the teachings and way of life of that kingdom, was within their midst.
Paul considered himself an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), and in Colossians 1:13-14 he writes, "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." How are we conveyed into the kingdom of Christ? When we repent of our sins and believe the gospel and are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit, we then belong to Christ. We come under the rule and authority of the Kingdom of God, and as we submit to God and obey His word, we are learning to practice the way of life of the Kingdom of God. Out citizenship in that Kingdom is reserved in heaven. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21).
So while the main fulfillment of the Kingdom of God is yet future, we can learn the way of life of that kingdom and submit to the authority of that kingdom now.
I believe all the doctrines of God's Church could be written as a single book about the Kingdom of God, with every doctrinal teaching organized around one or more of the aspects of that kingdom. It is all part of the gospel.
I started by saying there can be false gospels. What is a false gospel?
There can be more than one false gospel, but only one true gospel. There can be many lies, but only one truth.
Let me say here that mistakes in small matters do not make the overall teaching of a church false. None of us is perfect and we all make mistakes because we are human. God commands us to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:17-18). There is a learning process involved. None of us starts out perfect and none of us achieves perfection in this physical life. Perfection must be our goal, and when we are resurrected into the Kingdom of God after a life of growth and overcoming, we will indeed be perfect (Matthew 5:48). Mr. Armstrong understood this. He made mistakes and strove to correct his mistakes as soon as he learned about them from the Bible. Paul wrote, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9) and "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (verse 12).
But men can teach a false gospel if they remove major aspects of the true gospel from their message or if they introduce major false doctrines and heresies.
Some today teach a gospel about Jesus Christ, but they omit teaching the laws of the Kingdom of God, and they omit the prophecies concerning the return of Christ to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth. They also introduce many false concepts into their message, doctrines based on the traditions of men, the traditions of their church, not on the Bible. As Mr. Armstrong pointed out, they preach a message about the messenger, Jesus Christ, but they omit the true message that the messenger brought. The true gospel includes the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, but it includes much more. If you preach ONLY about Jesus Christ, but omit teaching the other aspects of the Kingdom of God including the way of life of that kingdom as defined by God's law, you are preaching a false gospel.
Jesus Christ preached the true gospel, but He did not just talk about Himself. He taught a way of life, and He taught His followers to keep the commandments of God. He also prophesied and taught His disciples what was to come.
Sometimes those who preach the gospel may place special emphasis on one part or another according to the needs of their audience. This is not wrong, as long as all the major aspects of the gospel are also taught.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve" (1 Corinthians 15:1-5). Notice that Paul says that he FIRST of all preached that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was resurrected. This was not the only thing Paul taught, for if you read all his epistles you will notice that he taught the way of life of the Kingdom of God as well as prophecies about the future. But he taught the Corinthians about Jesus Christ first.
Why did he start with knowledge about Jesus Christ and not the other aspects of the Kingdom of God? Because that is what they needed to hear first. They were already able to know about the fact that God will establish His kingdom over the earth. They could know that from the teachings of the Jews in the synagogues. The Jews knew something about the Kingdom of God from the book of Daniel and other prophecies in the major and minor prophets. They also knew about the Ten Commandments and the law of God (Acts 15:21). But they didn't know about Jesus Christ. So Paul first taught them the part that they lacked, but needed to know.
Notice the emphasis that Paul placed on Jesus Christ and His sacrifice when he first began to teach the Corinthians about the true gospel: "And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Paul was so determined to place emphasis on Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, that he made a decision that when he first began to teach the Corinthians he would teach nothing else, and not get sidetracked with other matters, for a time.
It is not wrong to place special emphasis on one part or the other of the true gospel in order to first teach those things that your audience most urgently needs to learn, and then teach the other parts that they may already know later. The Corinthians were able to know many things about the Kingdom of God and the law of that kingdom from Moses and the prophets. But they knew nothing about Jesus Christ, so Paul covered that topic first.
But Paul certainly taught other things later. Notice how he taught and emphasized and expounded one of the points of the law of God, the seventh commandment against adultery, in chapter 5 of 1 Corinthians. In chapter 6 he taught principles about one of the major points of God's law, loving our neighbor as our self, saying it is better to accept wrong than to sue a brother in court, and he also taught that in the Kingdom of God we will judge angels. In that same chapter he explained that those who practice sin as a way of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God, and he mentions a number of sins that are violations of the law of God. These are just examples. You can go through all the chapters of the two letters to the Corinthians to see that Paul did teach them many things about the Kingdom of God besides the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And you can continue in his other epistles to see that he gave the churches under his care a broad range of instruction. This is all part of the gospel (Romans 1:15).
The first century Church of God placed emphasis on the name of Jesus Christ and the personal salvation made possible by His life, death, and resurrection because this was new knowledge at that time. But they also taught the other aspects of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. In several places in the book of Acts the Bible says that Paul or some other teacher taught "things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ", or words to that effect (Acts 8:12, 28:23, 28:31). It is all part of the one true gospel.
Today, there exists an opposite problem. Most people in our western nations have heard about Jesus Christ, and every person who claims to be a Christian, and many who don't, have heard the teaching that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and saved. But people are not so much aware of other aspects of the gospel message, the coming Kingdom of God that will rule over all the earth and the way of life and laws of that kingdom. And for this reason, when Mr. Armstrong preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God on radio and TV and in the Church's magazines and booklets, he placed special emphasis on the return of Jesus Christ to rule the earth and on the laws of God that will be observed in that kingdom, including the weekly Sabbath, which most people do not understand. He certainly did teach about forgiveness of sins and salvation through Jesus Christ, but he made a decision to place special emphasis in his teaching on the other aspects of the gospel, based on his perception of what most of his audience lacked and therefore most needed to learn. This is not wrong.
Just as Paul made a decision to place emphasis on salvation through Jesus Christ because he knew his audience did not know this, so Mr. Armstrong placed special emphasis on the prophecies about the Kingdom of God and the teachings about the law of God because most people today do not properly understand those subjects. But it is all part of the true gospel, and both Paul and Mr. Armstrong taught the whole gospel, all major parts of it, everything about salvation through Jesus Christ, the prophesied return of Christ to the earth to set up His kingdom, the resurrection of the saints, and the law of God that will be observed in the kingdom which we should be learning now.
There may also be times when certain subjects or points may be emphasized at first, not because your audience does not know these things, but to establish common ground with your audience and to speak to your audience from their point of view. Paul did this when he spoke to the men of Athens. You can read of this in Acts 17:22-34. Paul began by speaking of things the Athenians already were familiar with, such as their inscription to "the unknown God", and Paul referred to the writings of their own poets. He did this to establish common ground. This is part of the principle that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 of being "all things to all men".
Someone who preaches the true gospel today may use the same strategy, and that is not wrong. For that reason, one might at first establish common ground with the majority religious culture in this country who already know about Jesus Christ by speaking first of His sacrifice for our sins and how we can obtain forgiveness and salvation through Christ, and then secondly about the law of God and the prophecies concerning the return of Christ to establish the Kingdom of God. This is a different approach than Mr. Armstrong used most of the time. Which approach is most effective for teaching your audience under any given circumstances is a decision that those who preach must make. But neither approach is wrong because both have biblical precedent.
These are all decisions made on judgments about the best and most effective way to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. But all these things are about the kingdom, and as long as all are taught, no major aspect of the gospel is removed, and no major falsehoods are added, the message is the true gospel.
The true gospel is the gospel Jesus Christ preached, the gospel given to Him by God the Father, the message about the good news of the Kingdom of God. In its widest sense, that message includes all the truth of the Bible, the whole message of truth from God. It includes everything about Jesus Christ because He is the king of that kingdom. It includes salvation through Jesus Christ, because that enables us to enter that kingdom. It includes the prophecies about the Kingdom of God that show how it will be established on the earth and the peace and happiness that will result. It includes everything about the law of God, the law of love, and all the commandments of God because that is the way of life of the Kingdom of God that we should be learning now, and it is the way of life that will be practiced in the Kingdom of God.
The true gospel is about all these truths, but it centers on the Kingdom of God.
The truth of God is indeed "good news". It is happier news than the materialistic view of the universe that says that there is no God who created man and that this life is all there is, and once you die, that's it forever. It is happier news than any pagan religion ever offered. Very few in this world have heard this message, even in Western nations with Christian cultures. But it is God's will that the message of this truth go to all the world before the end comes, "as a witness" (Matthew 24:14).
Christ will return and bring happiness to the earth, and there are indications I think in Bible prophecy and chronology and in the conditions of the world today that suggest this will be soon. But prophecy also indicates that there are severe troubles that all Israel and the world will go through before this happens, and that is the subject of the next chapter.