The Precision and Power of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost is always on a Sunday.  It celebrates a remarkable day, but it is not only what happened that day but when and why it happened that reveals the hand of God, and a powerful gift for you.

What happened on Pentecost

If you heard of ‘Pentecost’, you probably learned that it was the day when the Holy Spirit came to indwell the followers of Jesus.  This is the day that the Church, the “called-out ones” of God, was born.  The events are recorded in Acts chapter 2 of the Bible. On that day, the Spirit of God descended on the first 120 followers of Jesus and they started speaking loudly in languages from around the world.  It created such a commotion that thousands who were in Jerusalem at the time came out to see what was happening.  In front of the gathered crowd, Peter spoke the first gospel message and ‘three thousand were added to their number that day’ (Acts 2:41). The number of gospel followers has been growing ever since that Pentecost Sunday.

That day happened 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It was during these 50 days that Jesus’ disciples became convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. On Pentecost Sunday they went public and history was changed. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, your life has been affected by the events of that Pentecost Sunday.

This understanding of Pentecost, though correct, is not complete.  Many people want a repeat of that Pentecost Sunday through a similar experience.  Since the first disciples of Jesus had this Pentecostal experience by ‘waiting for the gift of the Spirit’, today people hope that likewise by ‘waiting’ He will come again in a similar way.  Therefore, many people plead and wait for God to bring about another Pentecost.  To think this way assumes that it was the waiting and praying that moved the Spirit of God back then. To think this way is to miss its precision – because the Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2 was not the first Pentecost.

Pentecost from the Law of Moses

‘Pentecost’ was actually an annual Old Testament festival. Moses (1500 BC) had established several festivals to be celebrated through the year. Passover was the first festival of the Jewish year.  Jesus had been crucified on a Passover day festival. The exact timing of his death to the sacrifices of the Passover lambs was meant as a sign.

The second festival was the feast of Firstfruits, and the Law of Moses stated it was to be celebrated on the ‘day after’ Passover Saturday (=Sunday).   Jesus rose on Sunday, so his resurrection occurred exactly on the Firstfruits Festival.  Since his resurrection happened on ‘Firstfruits’, it was a Promise that our resurrection would follow later (for all those who trust him).  His resurrection is literally a ‘firstfruits’, just as the festival name prophesied.

Precisely 50 days after the ‘Firstfruits’ Sunday the Jews celebrated Pentecost (‘Pente’ for 50.  It was also called Feast of Weeks since it was counted by seven weeks).  Jews had been celebrating Pentecost for 1500 years by the time the Pentecost of Acts 2 happened.  The reason that there were people from all over the world that Pentecost day in Jerusalem to hear Peter’s message was precisely because they were there to celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost.  Today Jews still celebrate Pentecost but call it Shavuot.

We read in the Old Testament how Pentecost was to be celebrated:

Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:16-17)

Precision of Pentecost: Evidence of a Mind

There is a precise timing of the Pentecost in Acts 2 since it occurred on the same day of the year as the Old Testament Pentecost (Feast of Weeks).  The crucifixion of Jesus occurring on the Passover, the resurrection of Jesus occurring on FirstFruits, and the Pentecost of Acts 2 occurring on the Jewish Feast of Weeks, points to a Mind coordinating these through history.  With so many days in a year why should the crucifixion of Jesus, his resurrection, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit happen precisely on each day of the three spring Old Testament festivals, except if they were planned?  Precision like this happens only if a mind is behind it.

Events of New Testament occurred precisely on the three Spring Festivals of the Old Testament
Events of New Testament occurred precisely on the three Spring Festivals of the Old Testament

Did Luke ‘make up’ Pentecost?

One might argue that Luke (the author of Acts) made up the events of Acts 2 to ‘happen’ on the Feast of Pentecost. Then he would have been the ‘mind’ behind the timing. But his account does not say that Acts 2 is ‘fulfilling’ the Feast of Pentecost, it does not even mention it. Why would he go to such trouble of creating these dramatic events to ‘happen’ on that day but not help the reader see how it ‘fulfills’ the Feast of Pentecost? In fact, Luke did such a good job of reporting events rather than interpreting them that most people today do not know that the events of Acts 2 fell on the same day as the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost.  Many people think that Pentecost simply began at Acts 2. Since most people today are not aware of the connection between them, Luke would be in the impossible situation of being a genius to invent the connection but utterly inept in selling it.

Pentecost: A New Power

Instead, Luke points us to a prophecy from the Old Testament book of Joel predicting that one day the Spirit of God would pour out on all peoples.  The Pentecost of Acts 2 fulfilled that.

One reason that the Gospel is ‘good news’ is that it provides power to live life differently – better. Life is now a union between God and people. And this union takes place through the indwelling of the Spirit of God – which began on the Pentecost Sunday of Acts 2.  The Good News is that life can now be lived on a different level, in a relationship with God through His Spirit. The Bible puts it like this:

And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:11)

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

The indwelling Spirit of God is another firstfruits, because the Spirit is a foretaste – a guarantee – of completing our transformation into ‘children of God’.

The gospel offers an abundant life not through possessions, pleasure, status, wealth and all the other passing trifles pursued by this world, which Solomon had found to be such an empty bubble, but by the indwelling of the Spirit of God.  If this is true – that God offers to indwell and empower us – that would be good news.  The Old Testament Pentecost with the celebration of fine bread baked with yeast pictured this coming abundant life.  The precision between the Old and New Pentecosts is perfect evidence that it is God that is the Mind behind these events and this power of an abundant life.

Abraham: How God will Provide

Abraham lived 4000 years ago, traveling to modern-day Israel.  He was promised a son that would become a ‘great nation’, but he had to wait until he was very old to see his son born.  Jews and Arabs today come from Abraham, so we know the promise came true and that he is an important person in history as the father of great nations.

Abraham was now very happy to watch his son Isaac grow up into a man.  But then God tested Abraham with a difficult task.   God said:

“Go get Isaac, your only son, the one you dearly love! Take him to the land of Moriah, and I will show you a mountain where you must sacrifice him to me on the fires of an altar.” (Genesis 22:2)

This is hard to understand!  Why would God ask Abraham to do this?  But Abraham, who had learned to trust God – even when he did not understand

… got up early the next morning … and left with Isaac and two servants for the place where God had told him to go. (Genesis 22:3)

After three days travel they reached the mountain. Then

…when they reached the place that God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Next, he tied up his son and put him on the wood. He then took the knife and got ready to kill his son. (Genesis 22: 9-10)

Abraham was ready to obey God.  Just then something remarkable happened

But the Lord’s angel shouted from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am!” he answered.

“Don’t hurt the boy or harm him in any way!” the angel said. “Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son.”

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the bushes. So he took the ram and sacrificed it in place of his son. (Genesis 22: 11-13)

At the last moment Isaac was saved from death and Abraham saw a male sheep and sacrificed it instead.  God had provided a ram and the ram took the place of Isaac.

Here I would like to ask a question.  At this point in the story is the ram dead or alive?

Why do I ask?  Because Abraham will now give a name to the place, but most people miss its importance.  The story continues…

Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”  (Genesis 22:14)

Another question: Is the name that Abraham gave to that place (“The Lord Will Provide”) in the past, present or future tense?

Looking to the future, not the past

It is clearly in the future tense.  Many people think that Abraham, when naming that place, was thinking of the ram provided by God by getting caught in the thicket and then sacrificed in place of his Isaac.  But when Abraham gave the name that ram was already dead and sacrificed.  If Abraham was thinking of that ram – already dead and sacrificed – he would have named it ‘The LORD has provided’ – in the past tense.  And the closing comment would read ‘And even now people say “On the mountain of the LORD it was provided”’.  But the name looks to the future, not the past. Abraham is not thinking of the already dead ram.  He is naming it for something else – in the future.  But what?

Where is that place?

Remember where this sacrifice occurred, told at the beginning of the story:

(“Go get Isaac, …. Take him to the land of Moriah”)

This happened at ‘Moriah’. Where is that?  It was wilderness in Abraham’s day (2000 BC), with only some bushes, a wild ram, and Abraham & Isaac on that mountain.  But one thousand years later (1000 BC) King David built the city of Jerusalem there, and his son Solomon built the First Jewish Temple there. We read later in the Old Testament that:

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah… (2 Chronicles 3:1)

Mount Moriah became Jerusalem, the Jewish city with the Jewish Temple. Today it is a holy place for the Jewish people, and Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel.

The Sacrifice of Abraham and Jesus

Let us think a little about the titles of Jesus.  Jesus’ most well-known title is ‘Christ’. But he had other titles, like

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Jesus was also called ‘The Lamb of God‘. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified? It was in Jerusalem (which is the same as ‘Mount Moriah’). It is very clearly stated that:

He [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s authority. Herod was in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. (Luke 23:7)

The arrest, trial and death of Jesus was in Jerusalem (= Mount Moriah).  The timeline shows the events that have happened at Mount Moriah.

timeline of major events at Mount Moriah
Major events at Mount Moriah

Back to Abraham.  Why did he name that place in the future tense ‘The LORD will provide’?  Isaac had been saved at the last moment when a lamb was sacrificed in his place.  Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and he is sacrificed at the same location – so you & I could also live.

A Divine Plan

It is like a Mind has connected these two events that are separated by 2000 years of history.  What makes the connection unique is that the first event points to the later event by the name in the future tense.  But how would Abraham know what would happen in the future?  No human knows the future, especially that far into the future.  Only God can know the future.  Foreseeing the future and having these events happen at the same place is evidence that this is not a human plan, but a plan from God.  He wants us to think about this like below

Abraham's sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus
Abraham’s sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus

Good News for all nations

This story also has a promise for you. At the end of this story God promises to Abraham that:

“…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18)

If you belong to one of the ‘nations on earth’ then this is a promise to you for a ‘blessing’ from God.

So what is this ‘blessing’?  How do you get it?  Think of the story.  Just like the ram saved Isaac from death, so Jesus the Lamb of God, by his sacrifice at the same place, saves us from the power of death.  If that is true it would certainly be good news.

The sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Moriah is an important event in ancient history.  It is remembered and celebrated by millions around the world today.  But it is also a story for you living 4000 years later.  Its theme is continued with Moses.

Getting Righteousness – Abraham’s example

Previously we saw that Abraham obtained righteousness simply by believing. This was stated in the little sentence:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Belief is not about the existence of God

Think what ‘believe’ means.  Many people think that ‘believe’ means believing that God exists.  We think that God just wants us to believe that He is there.  But the Bible states it differently.  It says,

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19)

Here the Bible is using sarcasm to say that simply believing God exists makes us as good as the Devil.  It is true that Abraham believed in God’s existence, but that is not the point of his righteousness.  God had promised Abraham that He would give him a son.  It was that promise that Abraham had to choose to believe or not – even while he knew that he was in his 80’s and his wife was in her 70’s.  He trusted that God would somehow fulfill that promise to him. Belief, in this story, means trust. Abraham chose to trust God for a son.

When Abraham chose to believe that promise of a son then God also gave him – ‘credited’ him– righteousness. In the end Abraham got both the fulfilled promise (a son from whom a great nation would come) and also righteousness.

Righteousness – not from merit or effort

Abraham did not ‘earn’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. What is the difference? If something is ‘earned’ you work for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. It is not earned or merited, but simply received.

We think that doing more good things than bad things, doing good deeds, or meeting obligations allows us to deserve or merit righteousness.  Abraham proves this idea false. He did not try to earn righteousness. He simply chose to believe the promise offered to him, and righteousness was given to him.

Abraham’s Belief: He bet his life on it

Choosing to believe in this promise of a son was simple but it was not easy.  When he was first promised a ‘Great Nation’ he was 75 years old and he had left his home country and traveled to Canaan.  Almost ten years have now passed and Abraham and Sarah still do not have a child – let alone a nation! “Why has God not already given us a son if he could have done so”?, he would have wondered.  Abraham believed the promise of a son because he trusted God, even though he did not understand everything about the promise, nor did he have all his questions answered.

Believing the promise required active waiting. His whole life was  interrupted while living in tents waiting for the promise. It would have been much easier to make excuses and return home to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier, and where his brother and family still lived. Life was comfortable there.

His trust in the promise took priority over normal goals in life – security, comfort and well-being.  He could have disbelieved the promise while still believing in the existence of God and continuing with religious activities and good deeds.  Then he would have maintained his religion but not been ‘credited’ righteousness.

Our Example

The rest of the Bible treats Abraham as an example for us.  Abraham’s belief in the promise from God, and the crediting of righteousness, is a pattern for us. The Bible has other promises that God makes to all of us.  We also have to chose whether we will trust them.

Here is an example of such a promise.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (John 1:12-13)

Today we know that the promise to Abraham came true.  It is undeniable that the Jewish people today exist as that nation that came from Abraham.  But like Abraham we face a promise today that seems unlikely and raises some questions.  Like Abraham, we choose to trust this promise – or not.

Who pays for Righteousness?

Abraham showed that righteousness is given as a gift.  When you get a gift you do not pay for it – otherwise it is not a gift.  The giver of the gift is the one who pays.  God, the giver of righteousness, will have to pay for righteousness.  How will He do it?  We see in our next article.

The Ageless Promise to an Unnoticed Man

Today’s global news headlines will quickly be forgotten as we move on to other amusements, championships or political events. The highlight one day quickly becomes forgotten the next. We saw in our previous article that this was true in the ancient time of Abraham. The important achievements that held the attention of people living 4000 years ago are now forgotten. But a promise quietly spoken to an individual, though overlooked by the world back then, is growing and still unfolding before our eyes. The promise given to Abraham 4000 years ago has come true. Perhaps God does exist and is working in the world.

Abraham’s Complaint

Several years have passed since the Promise recorded in Genesis 12 was spoken. In obedience Abraham had moved to Canaan (the Promised Land) in what is today Israel, but the birth of the promised son did not happen.  So Abraham began to worry.

Then the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3)

God’s Promise

Abraham was camping out in the Land waiting for the start of the ‘Great Nation’ that he had been promised. But nothing had happened and he was around 85 years old (ten years had passed since his move). He complained to God that He was not keeping His Promise. Their conversation continued:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)

So God expanded His initial Promise by declaring that Abraham would get a son that would become a people as uncountable as the stars in the sky.  And these people would be given the Promised Land – today called Israel.

Abraham’s Response: Everlasting Effect

How would Abraham respond to the expanded Promise? What follows is a sentence that the Bible itself treats as one of its most important sentences. It helps us to understand the Bible and it shows the heart of God. It says:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is easier to understand if we replace the pronouns with names, it would read:

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is such a small, simple sentence, but it is truly significant.

Why?

Because in this little sentence Abraham obtains ‘righteousness’. This is the one – and the only one – quality that we need to get right standing before God.

Reviewing our Problem: Corruption

From God’s point-of-view, though we were made in the image of God something happened that corrupted us. The Bible says:

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

Our corruption has resulted in our not doing what is good –causing emptiness and death. (If you doubt this, read the world news headlines and see what people have been doing the last 24 hours.)  The result is that we are separated from a Righteous God because we lack righteousness.

Our corruption repels God in the same way that we would keep away from the body of a dead rat. We would not want to go near it. So the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Bible come true.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Abraham and Righteousness

But here in the conversation between Abraham and God we find the declaration that Abraham had gained ‘righteousness’, the kind that God accepts – even though Abraham was not sinless.  So, what did Abraham ‘do’ to get this righteousness? It simply says Abraham ‘believed’.  That’s it?! We try to earn righteousness by doing so many things, but this man, Abraham, got it simply by ‘believing’.

But what does believing mean?  And what does this have to do with your righteousness and mine?  We take it up next.

An Ancient Journey that Affects us Today

Even though Israel is a small country it is always in the news.  The news continues to report on Jews moving to Israel, on the technology invented there, but also on conflict, wars and tensions with surrounding people.  Why? A look at Israel’s history in the book of Genesis in the Bible reveals that 4000 years ago a man, who is now very well known, went on a camping trip in that part of the world.  The Bible says that his story affects our future.

This ancient man is Abraham (also known as Abram).  We can take his story seriously because the places and cities he visited are mentioned in other old writings.

The Promise to Abraham

God made a promise to Abraham:

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

Abraham’s name became Great

Most of us wonder if there is a God and if He really is the God of the Bible. In the Bible God says ‘I will make your name great’ and today the name of Abraham/Abram is known worldwide. This promise has come true. The earliest copy of Genesis found in the Dead Sea Scrolls is dated 200-100 B.C. which means the promise has been in writing since at least that time. At that time the name of Abraham was not well-known so the promise came true only after it was written down, not before.

… by means of his great nation

Surprisingly Abraham really did nothing important in his life.  He was not a great writer, king, inventor or military leader.  He did nothing except camp out where he was told to go and father a few children.  His name is great only because the children became nation(s) that kept the record of his life – and then individuals and nations that came from him became great.  This is exactly how it was promised in Genesis 12 (“I will make you into a great nation … I will make your name great”).  No one else in all history is so well-known only because of descendants rather than from great achievements in his own life.

…Through the Will of the Promise-Maker

The Jews who descended from Abraham were never really the nation we associate with greatness.  They did not conquer and build a great empire like the Romans did or build large monuments like the Egyptians did with the pyramids. Their fame comes from the Law and Book which they wrote; from some remarkable individuals that were Jewish; and that they have survived as a somewhat different people group for thousands of years.  Their greatness is not because of anything they did, but rather what was done to and through them.  The promise says repeatedly “I will …” – that would be the power behind the promise.  Their unique greatness happened because God made it happen rather than some ability, conquest or power of their own.

The promise to Abraham came true because he trusted a promise and chose to live differently than others. Think how likely it was for this promise to have failed, but instead it has happened, and is continuing to unfold, as it was stated  thousands of years ago.  The case is strong that the promise came true only because of the power and authority of the Promise-Maker.

The Journey that still shakes the World

Abrahams Trek
This map shows the journey of Abraham

The Bible then says that “So Abram left as the LORD had told him” (v. 4).  He began a journey, shown on the map that is still making history.

Blessings to us

There is something else promised as well. The blessing was not only for Abraham. It says that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (through Abraham). We should pay attention because you and I are part of ‘all peoples on earth’ – no matter what our religion, color, background, nationality, social status, or what language we speak.  This promise for a blessing includes everybody alive today!  How?  When?  What kind of blessing? This is not clearly stated here but since we know that the first parts of this promise have come true, we can have confidence that this last part will also come true. We find the key to unlock this mystery by continuing to follow the journey of Abraham in our next article.

The Final Countdown – Promised in the Beginning

We have looked at how mankind fell from their first created state. The Bible tells us God had a plan based on a Promise made at the beginning of history.

The Bible – Really a Library

First, some facts about the Bible.  The Bible is a collection of books, written by many authors.  It took more than 1500 years for these books to all be written from start to finish.  This makes the Bible  more like a library and sets it apart from other Great Books. If the Bible was written by just one author, or a group that knew each other we may not be surprised at its unity, but the authors of the Bible are separated by hundreds and even thousands of years.  These writers come from different countries, languages, and social positions.  But their messages and predictions connect with each other and the facts of history recorded outside the Bible.  The oldest copies of the Old Testament books (the books before Jesus) that still exist today are from 200 BC.  Existing copies of the New Testament are dated from 125 AD and later.

The Gospel Promise in the Garden

We see at the very beginning of the Bible an example of how the Bible predicts into the future. Though it is about the Beginning, it was written with the End in mind.  Here we see a Promise when God confronts Satan (who was in the form of a serpent) with a riddle just after he brought about the Fall of mankind.

“… and I (God) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

You can see that this is prophetic by ‘will’s in future tense.  There are also five different characters mentioned. They are:

  1. I = God
  2. you = serpent or Satan
  3. The woman
  4. The offspring of the woman
  5. The offspring of serpent or Satan

The Promise predicts how these characters will relate in the future. This is shown below:

Relationships between the characters depicted in the Promise
Relationships between the characters in the Promise

It does not say who ‘the woman’ is but God will cause both Satan and the woman to have an ‘offspring’. There will be ‘enmity’ or hatred between these offspring and between the woman and Satan. Satan will ‘strike the heel’ of the woman’s offspring while the offspring of the woman will ‘crush the head’ of Satan.

Who is the Offspring? – a ‘he’

We have made some observations, now for some conclusions. Because the ‘offspring’ of the woman is a ‘he’ we can discard some possibilities.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘she’ and is not a woman.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘they’, so it is NOT a group of people or a nation.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is a person and not an ‘it’.  The offspring is not a philosophy, teaching, political system, or a religion – since these are all ‘it’s. An ‘it’ like these would have been our preferred choice to fix the corruption since people are always thinking up new systems and religions. God had something else in mind – a ‘he’- a single male human.   This ‘he’ would crush the head of Satan.

Notice what is not said. God does not say that this offspring will come from the woman and the man, but only from the woman. This is especially unusual since the Bible almost always records only the sons coming through fathers.  Some see the Bible as ‘sexist’  because it just records fathers of sons. But here it is different – there is no promise of an offspring (a ‘he’) coming from a man. It says only that there will be an offspring coming from the woman, without mentioning a man.

A much later Prophet builds on that Promise

Hundreds of years later, an Old Testament prophet added the following:

the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). (Isaiah 7:14, 750 BC)

More than 700 years after Isaiah, Jesus was born (the New Testament says) from a virgin – fulfilling Isaiah. But is Jesus being foreseen even this early – right at the beginning of human history? This fits with the offspring as a ‘he’, not a ‘she’, ‘they’ or ‘it’. With that perspective, if you read the riddle it makes sense.

‘Strike his Heel’??

But what does it mean that Satan would strike ‘his heel’? One year I worked in the jungles of Cameroon. We had to wear thick rubber boots in the humid heat because the snakes lay in the long grass and would strike your foot – your heel – and kill you.  After that jungle experience it made sense to me.  The ‘he’ would destroy Satan, the serpent, but ‘he’ would be killed in the process.  That does foreshadow the victory gained through the sacrifice of Jesus.

‘The woman’ – a Double Meaning

So, if this Promise at the Beginning concerns Jesus, then the woman would be the virgin woman who gave birth to him – Mary.  But there is a second meaning.  Notice how another Old Testament prophet refers to Israel.

O Israel, … I will make you my wife forever, … I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord. (Hosea 2:17-20.  800 BC)

Israel, in the Bible, is referred to as the wife of the LORD – a woman.  Then, the last book in the Bible, describes a conflict which this woman will have to go through with her enemy

I saw a woman clothed with … a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.

Then …I saw a large red dragon … in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.

She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. …

This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels…

When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child… And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children…  (Revelation 12:1-17, 90 AD)

Since Jesus was a Jew, he is at the same time the offspring of Mary, the woman, and Israel, the woman.  The Promise came true both ways.  The ancient serpent is in enmity with Israel, ‘the woman’, and has declared war on her.  This explains the unique troubles that Jews have suffered through their long history, and it was predicted in the very beginning.

The offspring of the Serpent?

But who is this offspring of Satan?  In the last book of the Bible, many pages and thousands of years after the Promise in Genesis, predicts a coming person. Note the description:

The beast you saw was once alive, but now it is not. However, it will come up out of the bottomless pit and go away to be destroyed. The people who live on the earth will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was once alive, is no longer living, but will come again. These are the people whose names have never been written in the book of life since the beginning of the world.

“You need wisdom to understand this.

(Revelation 17:8-9; written by John ca 90 AD)

This describes a fight between the offspring of the woman and Satan’s offspring. But it is first revealed in the Promise of Genesis, at the very beginning of the Bible, with the details filled in later. The countdown to a final contest between Satan and God started long ago in the Garden.  It could almost make you think that history is really His-Story.

Corrupted (part 2) … and Missing the Target

The Bible describes us as corrupted from the image God made us in.  How did this happen? It is recorded in the book of Genesis of the Bible. Shortly after being made ‘in the image of God’ the first humans (Adam and Eve) were tested with a choice.  The Bible describes their conversation with a ‘serpent’.  The serpent has always been understood to be Satan – an spirit enemy to God.  In the Bible, Satan usually speaks through someone.  In this case he spoke through a serpent:

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. (Genesis 3:1-7)

Their choice (and temptation), was that they could ‘be like God’. Up to this point they had trusted God for everything, but now they had the choice to become ‘like God’, to trust in themselves and be their own god.

In their choice to be independent they were changed. They felt shame and tried to cover up. When God confronted Adam, he blamed Eve (and God who made her). She blamed the serpent. No one accepted responsibility.

What started that day has continued because we have inherited that same independent nature.  Some misunderstand the Bible and think that we are blamed for Adam’s bad choice. The only one blamed is Adam but we live in the consequences of his decision. We have now inherited this independent nature of Adam. We may not want to be god of the universe, but we want to be gods in our settings, separate from God.

This explains so much of human life: we lock our doors, we need police, and we have computer passwords– because otherwise we will steal from each other. This is why societies eventually collapse – because cultures have a tendency to decay. This is why all forms of government and economic systems, though some work better than others, they all   eventually breakdown. Something about the way we are makes us miss the way things should be.

That word ‘miss’ sums up our situation. A verse from the Bible gives a picture to understand this better. It says:

Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judges 20:16)

This describes soldiers who were experts at using slingshots and would never miss. The word in Hebrew translated ‘miss’ above is יַחֲטִֽא .  It is also translated sin through the Old Testament.

The soldier takes a stone and shoots it to hit the target. If he misses he has failed his purpose. In the same way, we were made in God’s image to hit the target in how we relate to Him and treat others. To ‘sin’ is to miss this purpose, or target, that was intended for us.

This missed-the-target picture is not happy or optimistic.  People sometimes react strongly against the Bible’s teaching on sin. A university student once said to me, “I don’t believe because I do not like what this is saying”.  But what does ‘liking’ something have to do with truth?  I do not like taxes, wars, or earthquakes – no one does – but that does not make them untrue.  We can’t ignore any of them.  All the systems of law, police, locks, and security that we have built into society to protect us from each other suggest that something is wrong.  At least this Biblical teaching on our sin should be considered in an open-minded way.

We have a problem.  We are corrupted from the image we were first made in, and now we miss the target when it comes to our moral actions.  But God did not leave us in our helplessness. He had a plan to rescue us, and this is why Gospel literally means ‘good news’ – because this plan is the good news that He saves us.  God did not wait until Abraham to announce this news; he first announced it in that conversation with Adam and Eve.  We look at this first Good News announcement next.

But corrupted … like orcs of Middle-earth

Previously we looked at what the Bible means when it says that people were created ‘in the image of God’.  This explains why human life is precious.  However, the Bible continues on from creation to explain a serious problem.  The problem can be seen from this Psalm (song) in the Bible.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

This says that ‘all’ of us have ‘become corrupt’.  Though we were ‘made in the image of God’ something has wrecked this image in all of us.  Corruption is shown in a chosen independence from God (‘all have turned aside’ from ‘seeking God’) and also in not doing ‘good’.

Thinking Elves and Orcs

Lord-of-the-rings-orcs
Orcs were ugly in so many ways, but they were simply corrupted elves.

To understand this, compare orcs and elves from the movie Lord of the Rings. Orcs are ugly and evil.  Elves are beautiful and peaceful (see Legolas).  But orcs had once been elves that Sauron had corrupted in the past.  The original elf image in the orcs had been wrecked.  In a similar way the Bible says that people have become corrupted. God had made

Legolos
The elves, like Legalos, were noble and majestic

elves but we have become orcs.

For example, we know ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour.  But we do not  unfailingly live by what we know. It is like a computer virus that damages the proper workings of a computer. Our moral code is there – but a virus has infected it. The Bible starts with people as good and moral, but then also corrupted.  This fits with what we observe about ourselves. But it also brings a question: why did God make us this way? We know right and wrong yet are corrupted from it. As the atheist Christopher Hitchens complains:

“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., corrupt ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  p. 100

But he misses something very important, the Bible does not say that God made us this way, but that something terrible happened after we were made. The first humans revolted against God and in their rebellion they changed and were corrupted.

The Fall of Mankind

This is often called The Fall.  Adam, the first man, was created by God. There was an agreement between God and Adam, like a marriage contract of faithfulness, and Adam broke it. The Bible records that Adam ate from the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ even though they had agreed that he would not eat from that tree. The agreement and the tree itself, gave Adam a free choice to remain faithful to God or not. Adam had been created in the image of God, and placed into friendship with Him.  But Adam had no choice regarding his creation, so God allowed him to choose about his friendship with God.  Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam to God had to be a choice.  This choice centered on the command not to eat from that one tree.  And Adam chose to rebel.  What Adam started with his rebellion has gone non-stop through all generations and continues with us today. We look next at what this means.

Made in the Image of God

Can we use the Bible to understand where we came from? Many say ‘no’, but there is much about us that makes sense in the light of what the Bible says.  For example, consider what the Bible teaches about our beginnings.  In the first chapter it says

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“In the Image of God”

What does it mean that mankind was created ‘in the image of God’?  It does not mean that God has two arms and a head.  Rather it is saying that our basic characteristics come from God.  In the Bible God can be sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same emotions that we have.   We make choices and decisions everyday.  God also makes choices and decisions too.  We can think and God does also.  Being ‘made in the image of God’ means that we have mind, emotions and will because God has mind, emotions and will and He created us to be like him in these ways.  He is the source of what we find in us.

We are self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’.  We are not impersonal ‘its’.  We are like this because God is this way. The God of the Bible is not a non-personality like the ‘Force’ in the movie series Star Wars and neither are we because we are made in His image.

Why do we like beauty?

We also value art, drama and beauty. We need beauty in our surroundings, music and books.  Music enriches our lives and makes us dance.  We love good stories because stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the great stories put these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations.  We use art in its many forms to entertain, relax and refresh ourselves because God is an artist and we are in his image.  It is a question worth asking:  Why do we look for beauty in art, drama, music, dance, nature or literature?  Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an authority on understanding the brain, answers from a non-Bible perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted.  It seldom asks:  Why does music exist?  There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence.  But why do we love it?  Because we find that it is beautiful.  But why is it beautiful to us?  This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.” (Daniel Dennett.  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.  p. 43)

Apart from God there is no clear answer to why all the forms of art are so important to us.  From the Bible’s point-of-view it is because God made things beautiful and enjoys beauty.  We, made in His image, are the same. This Biblical teaching makes sense of our love of art.

Why we are Moral

Being ‘made in God’s image’ explains our moral capability.  We understand what ‘wrong’ behaviour is and what ‘good’ behaviour is – even though our languages and cultures are very different.  Moral reasoning is ‘in’ us.  As the famous atheist Richard Dawkins puts it:

“Driving our moral judgments is a universal moral grammar …  As with language, the principles that make up our moral grammar fly beneath the radar of our awareness” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. p. 223)

Dawkins explains that our awareness of right and wrong is built into us like our ability to have language, but it is difficult for him to explain why we have this from only physical sources.  Misunderstandings happen when we do not acknowledge God as giving us our moral compass.  Take for example this objection from another famous atheist Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.” (Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39)

Harris misunderstands.  Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in God’s image, not from being religious.  And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally. Atheists do not understand why we are like this.

Why are we so Relational

Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we are made in God’s image. It is not hard to notice the importance people place on relationships.  It is OK to see a good movie, but it is much better to see it with a friend.  We naturally seek out friends and family to share experiences with and to improve our well-being.  Conversely, loneliness and broken family relationships or friendships stress us.  If we are in God’s image, then we would expect to find this same emphasis with God – and we do.  The Bible says that “God is Love…” (1 John 4:8).  Much is written in the Bible about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others – they are called by Jesus the two most important commands in the Bible.  When you think about it, Love must be relational since it requires at least two people.

So we should think of God as a lover.  If we only think of Him as the ‘Benevolent Being’ we are not thinking of the Biblical God – rather we have made up a god in our minds.  Though He is that, He is also passionate in relationship.  He does not ‘have’ love.  He ‘is’ love.  The two most prominent Biblical pictures of God’s relationship with people are that of a father to his children and a husband to his wife.  Those are not distant relationships but are the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.  The Bible says that God is like that.

So here is what we have learned so far.  People are made in God’s image meaning mind, emotions and will.  We are aware of self and others. We know the difference between right and wrong.  We can appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms and we will naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others.  We are all this because God is all this and we are made in God’s image.  We continue next to see the Bible’s explanation of why our relationships almost always disappoint us and why God seems so distant. Why our deepest longings never seem to work out.