Category Archives: Bible Study

The Dirty Truth About Judas

According to the New Testament, Jesus was arrested by the Roman authorities for claiming to be the son of God, though some modern day historians suggest that the Romans detained him as he was a threat to the empire. However, before his arrest, all four canonical gospels claim Jesus was betrayed by Judas to the Sanhedrin in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas is said to have kissed Jesus and addressed him as a “rabbi” to reveal his identity to the crowd who had come to arrest him.

Jesus was then sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect in the province of Judea.

After the crucifixion, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and buried in a cave, with the entrance sealed off by an enormous stone to prevent anyone stealing his body.

However, three days later, some women visited the grave and found that the stone had been moved and that the tomb was empty.

Jesus was then seen by a number of people after his death which, to the apostles, is proof that he was the living son of God.

Five years ago, author Tom Bissell wrote ‘Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve’, which set off to discover whether the twelve apostles were actual historical figures or merely fictional characters.

Mr Bissell walked 500 miles along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in north Spain, during which he hunted for a mysterious monastery where Apostle Matthew is believed to be buried.

He also visited the place where Judas who, overcome with remorse for his part in Jesus’ death, is said to have hanged himself.

In the book, Mr Bissell described Judas as the “electromagnet of wickedness”, however the author has since explored in an interview with National Geographic whether the shamed disciple even existed.

When asked by the publication whether he believed Judas was a real historical person, Mr Bissell replied: “That is a very thorny question.

“According to tradition, though the scripture is not clear on this, Judas hanged himself in a place called Hakeldama in the Hinnom Valley, which is this rocky, desert-like valley in the southern part of Jerusalem.

“When you go there, it really does feel like it’s a cursed place. That’s the power of these stories.

“You feel the centuries of hatred and disgust for this person who betrayed Jesus.”

The Bible Destroys Racism

According to Num 12 Moses’ marriage (lit. “taking” l–q–ḥ) of a Cushite woman is the cause (ʿal-ʾōdôt) for Miriam and Aaron to speak against (dibbēr bĕ) their brother and question whether YHWH speaks exclusively through (dibbēr bĕ) him. (On the different meanings of dibbēr bĕ see Levine: 328–29). YHWH responds “suddenly” (pitʾom), summoning Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the tent of meeting, where he descends in a pillar of cloud and summons Aaron and Miriam to step forward. He then affirms to them that he speaks “mouth to mouth” with Moses, in contrast to visions and dreams used for (other) prophets, and he angrily rebukes them for daring to speak against Moses. The encounter leaves Miriam with a skin disorder that renders her “white as snow.” At Aaron’s behest Moses intercedes for Miriam, and the disorder lasts only seven days, during which time she is shut out of the camp.

The story evokes multiple questions: What is meant by the designation “Cushite”? Is this woman to be identified with Zipporah, who is named as Moses’ wife in Exod 2:21; 4:25; 18:2? If not, had Zipporah died previously or was Moses a bigamist? Why would the marriage cause Miriam and Aaron to question Moses’ leadership? Why was Miriam alone punished and why was she afflicted with a temporary skin disorder? Above all, what was the point or purpose of this story? While these questions remain open, the following responses are ventured as reasonable ways of answering them that have emerged in scholarly discussion.

The story is composite (Römer). In one tradition, Miriam was the sole complainant, as indicated by the feminine singular verb form in v. 1 (wattĕdabbēr, “she spoke”) and by the punishment upon Miriam alone (v. 10). The exact reason behind Miriam’s complaint is no longer clear, but it seems to be personal. According to some authors it is impossible to isolate this tradition from the rest of the present narrative (Coats: 261; Noth: 92–93), which changes it into a story about a challenge to Moses’ leadership. One may however observe that the story combines a question about Moses’ status in comparison to the prophets and a question about “mixed” marriages. As the story stands, Miriam is still the leading complainant; her name precedes Aaron’s in 12:1, though elsewhere Aaron’s comes first (12:4–5). As a woman, Miriam has more in common with Moses’ wife and can be read as the one from whom greater empathy should have been forthcoming.

Cush is the name in the HB/OT for Nubia, the area south of Egypt (Jer 13:23; 2 Chr 12:3). The LXX translates it as Αἰθίοψ (“Ethiopian,” so also KJV). If she was from Nubia, this woman would have been black, “rendering the whitened skin of Miriam a singularly fit punishment for her objections to the Cushite wife” (Cross: 204). She would also have been a different person than Zipporah, who was from Midian in northern Arabia. In this case, the Cushite was Moses’ second wife, whether after Zipporah or simultaneously is not clear.

However, Cush was also a designation for part of Midian (Albright: 205, n. 49). In Hab 3:7 Cushan, a biform, occurs in parallel with Midian. According to 2 Chr 21:16, the Cushites are located next to the Arabs. Hence, the Cushite wife might still have been Zipporah. The story about the Cushite may once have been connected with that of Zipporah being brought by her father from Midian to join Moses in Exod 18:5–6, as the two texts are separated by the collection of legal material set at Sinai that dominates Exod 19–Num 10 and that might have intervened in the development of the literature (Wright: 203–4). Perhaps Num 12 avoids Zipporah’s name because of its stress on her non-Israelite ethnicity, which is the concern of Miriam’s and Aaron’s complaint about Moses’ fitness for leadership. A woman from Midian, though not Nubian, would have been dark-skinned, so that Miriam’s punishment of being made “white as snow” remains appropriate. The translation “leprous” in some English versions for the skin disorder (mĕṣoraʿat) is misleading, since whiteness is not a symptom of the disease known today as leprosy (Hansen’s disease).

The story’s present purpose is related to its inclusion of Aaron. It affirms Moses’ leadership and seems to promote Moses’ line of Levitical priesthood over that of Aaron, perhaps against claims that the Mushite line was compromised by non-Israelite blood (Cross: 204). YHWH’s declaration that he speaks mouth to mouth to Moses also contrasts with the means used to communicate with prophets, although it no doubt came to be interpreted to mean that Moses was the preeminent prophet, along the lines espoused by Deut 34:10.

The Secret Research Into Dead Sea Scrolls

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“Most of the Christian world, it seems to me, has heard of these famous pre-Christian scrolls, discovered in the Judean desert. But the story of their discovery and release is actually more dramatic and interesting than most Christians seem to be aware,” said Mark Ward, editor of Bible Study Magazine, which dedicated space to the anniversary in the January-February 2022 issue.

The story many people learned says that in 1946, a shepherd boy searching for a lost animal threw a rock into a cave in the Qumran. Instead of a goat, he heard pottery breaking. Inside of that pottery were ancient scrolls.

Those scrolls turned out to be ancient copies of the Hebrew Bible from before the New Testament era.

The shepherds sold the scrolls to antiquities dealers, who in turn sold them to an archbishop and a professor in Jerusalem.

Later, British archaeologists discovered more caves with scrolls in the area. Beyond that, most people didn’t know much about the scrolls.

A handful of scholars began to study the scrolls, but they remained rather unknown until some scrolls were advertised for sale in an ad in the Wall Street Journal.

Some scrolls or fragments were displayed, but only a few people had access to really study them. The scholars created a concordance of the scrolls by the mid 1950s. However, that concordance was kept secret.

A concordance is a list of words in a work — often the Bible — and where the passages are found in the work.

During this time, the scrolls were being photographed and sent to certain scholars. The same was true for the concordance.

Through those first decades, the public didn’t know much about the scrolls beyond their existence and that they were aiding Bible research. But in the mid 1980s, that began to change. Some of that change came from a man named Marty Abegg, Bible Study Magazine said. Abegg learned of the concordance and eventually was given access to it. However, he was not given access to some of the other scrolls that would aid his research.

The magazine said Abegg eventually realized he could recreate those scrolls using the concordance’s information. He also recreated some of the scrolls his academic adviser needed and couldn’t get. Eventually, Abegg was able to get his recreations published.

And in 1991, the doors opened for the public and many other people to start studying the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls so significant to us?

Before their discovery, the oldest existing complete version of the Hebrew Bible was from the year 1008, long after Jesus walked the earth. The Dead Sea Scrolls are from 250 BC to AD 68.

Scholars found much of the Hebrew Bible was close to what was in the 1008 version and the minor differences didn’t change meanings. However, some passages were added or omitted in the newer versions. If you read newer English translations of the Bible, you may find notes that point out that certain passages aren’t in older translations. The Dead Sea Scrolls led to a lot of that.

Bible Study Magazine shares several passages with the newer, different translations that emerge from using the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Among them is Psalm 139:14, which in the English Standard Version says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

In the International Standard Version, published in 2011, the verse reads, “I praise you, because you are fearful and wondrous! Your work is wonderful, and I am fully aware of it.”

Visit biblestudymagazine.com to see a detailed telling of Abegg’s story and to see more on how the scrolls and their history have affected Bible translation in the past 75 years.

The Hunt for Butchering Devil Worshipers

Devil worshipers are being hunted after a dead badger and a deer’s head were put near a school, in Totton, Hampshire.

The badger’s spreadeagled corpse was found inside a five-pointed satanic star.

Three days earlier a deer’s head was also discovered in a busy underpass at Spicers Hill.

It follows cases of New Forest sheep being killed in 2019 and 2020 – in those instances, they were stabbed, mutilated and daubed with so-called satanic symbols.

At the time, police also received reports of a cow being injured, while a church was covered in satanic graffiti, including the numbers 666 sprayed on the door.

One appalled resident, who asked not to be named, said: “The discovery of the badger, placed on a pentagram surrounded by leaves and consequently blood, shocked many students.

“This isn’t the only incident of this satanic ritual. A mutilated deer head was discovered in similar circumstances. Is this quiet neighborhood having deals with the devil?

“And the lingering question running through all students’ heads – who is doing this? And what’s next?”

The gruesome badger discovery was made in an underpass outside Hounsdown School. Totton councilor David Harrison said: “The people doing this are doing so to cause a bit of a public outrage.

“It is completely devoid of any care for children who might witness what is an unpleasant sight as they walk to school.

“It is very immature, thoughtless, and likely that it is nothing whatever to do with any satanic ritual.”

Sergeant James Blachford of the local constabulary added: “There is nothing to suggest at this time that the animals were killed deliberately, nor any evidence at the scene that a ritual had taken place.”

Prayer Alert: At least 50 killed in Church Shooting

As attackers opened fire on worshippers inside a Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria, other gunmen waited outside to kill those who tried to flee, church officials and witnesses said Monday.

At least 50 people including children were killed in the attack, according to a state lawmaker from the area.

Worshippers had just arrived for Pentecost Sunday Mass when gunfire erupted at the St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state, said Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Ondo Catholic Diocese.

Steven Omotayo, who lives near the church, rushed to the scene upon hearing the gunshots.

“I saw a lot of dead bodies — both young and old, even children,” he said. “The people came in and started shooting from the gate.”

He said the church has three entrances and the main entrance was said to have been locked, making it difficult for many to escape.

“They were just shooting. If they see anyone trying to escape or stand up, they will just shoot the person,” he said. “Everybody standing was bombarded with bullets.”

It was not immediately known who was behind the church massacre and authorities said the gunmen managed to flee the scene. While northern Nigeria has battled an Islamic insurgency for more than 13 years, Ondo state has long been considered one of the most peaceful states in the country.

Hospital workers struggled to treat scores of wounded following the attack. The Nigeria Medical Association in Ondo state directed all available doctors to head to the hospitals to offer any help to dozens of critically wounded.

“At a stage, even the blood got exhausted at our blood bank and we had to be pleading for blood,” said a doctor at the Federal Medical Center in Owo who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

“Even as a physician, I have attended to a good number of casualties but what I saw yesterday was far beyond whatever I have seen before in my life and in the practice.”

A Christian Response to Replacement Theory

Irma Garcia was one of two teachers killed in the Robb Elementary School shooting on Tuesday. Yesterday, her grief-stricken husband died of a heart attack. Her nephew said on Twitter that he “passed away due to grief.”

This tragic news reminds us that sin affects everyone it touches. Those who loved someone who was murdered in Uvalde are dealing with a grief others cannot fully fathom. The same is true today in Buffalo, New York, and wherever such tragedies occur.

While we “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), we also owe these victims and their loved ones our best effort to understand such shootings so we can do all we can to prevent them in the future.

As I noted yesterday, many mass shootings are prompted by personal rage and animosity. Some, however, are prompted by ideology. The alleged gunman in Buffalo is an example: he left behind a 180-page document filled with hateful rants about race and ties to the “great replacement.”

I want to devote today’s Daily Article to this subject. It is a little longer than usual, but I am praying that our discussion helps us understand this issue and then take biblical steps to counter its malignant growth in our culture today.

What is Replacement Theory?

According to an insightful article written by two sociologists in The Conversation, Replacement Theory (RT) advocates “think there is an organized, conspiratorial effort across all levels of society to establish a ‘great replacement’ of white people, white civilization, and white culture.” They especially believe that immigrants are part of this plot, though RT extends to Jewish people and Black people, both of whom are seen as inferior and a threat to white people.

Four out of ten Americans identify as nonwhite and the number of white people in the US is expected to decline through lower birth rates. As a result, RT believers think they must correct this declining influence of white identity however they can.

A core belief in the white supremacist movement and RT is the fourteen-word slogan, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” One scholar calls this quest “a sort of a holy war … where they see themselves as taking the action directly to the offending culture and people by eliminating them.”

The Buffalo shooter thus targeted victims in a predominantly Black neighborhood and because they were Black. He said in his screed that the decrease in white birth rates equates to a genocide.

What is the history of RT?

French writer Renaud Camus wrote “Le Grand Remplacement” (which translates to “The Great Replacement”) in 2011, giving rise to the term in more popular use. However, RT has a tragic history going back to the first part of the twentieth century.

In 1903, an antisemitic document titled “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” described an alleged Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. The early twentieth-century writings of French nationalist Maurice Barrès warned that a new population of immigrants would take over and “ruin our homeland.”

Beginning in the 1960s, KKK leaders and other white supremacists reiterated replacement ideas in their racist political activism. The internet has become a main forum for recruiting more white supremacists and encouraging belief in RT.

Consequently, a shooter who killed at least fifty Muslims in New Zealand in 2019 wrote about an alleged “assault on European people.” The extremist who attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg in 2018 targeted Jewish people, killing eleven. The shooter in the Walmart attacks in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 wanted to target Hispanic people, killing twenty-three.

Is RT gaining popularity in the US?

The Conversation article writers note that “conspiracy narratives like replacement theory often find fertile ground during a period of cultural change. As the US population becomes more diverse, replacement narratives have moved from the margins of extremism into the mainstream.” For example, white nationalists marching at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanted, “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!”

A version of RT that focuses not on alleged white superiority but on political and economic demographics has also gained in popularity.

A May 2022 Associated Press public poll reports that about one in three adults in the US “believes an effort is underway to replace US-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains.” Three in ten respondents also worry that more immigration is causing US-born Americans to lose their economic, political, and cultural influence.

Given the surge of illegal immigrants on our southern border, some claim that Democrats want to encourage such immigration so these immigrants will vote for Democrats. Note, however, that only US citizens can vote in state and federal elections and that attaining US citizenship typically takes several years. It is also the case that roughly two in five Latino voters cast a ballot in the 2020 election for then-President Donald Trump. (For more, see Mark Legg’s “Why the ‘Great Replacement’ theory is so dangerous.”)

Why is white supremacist ideology popular?

From the garden of Eden to today, humans have been tempted to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Nietzsche was right: the “will to power” is the basic drive in fallen human nature.

Consequently, we are tempted to feel superior to others wherever and however we can. White supremacist ideology, with its paranoid fear of the “other,” is one expression of this sinful drive.

In his excellent book Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore our Nation, David French notes that by the election of 1860, the South came to believe that its culture and essential liberties were under threat. He writes, “[The South] was consumed with an unreasonable fear of violence and a belief that white northern radicals actively wanted to harm the people of the South.” This fear “made many southerners believe that secession was an urgent, immediate imperative.”

RT advocates are motivated by the same fear of the “other” today.

“A good man does good works”

The Bible encourages us to respond in three ways.

One: Love every person as God loves them.

Racism is sin. “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Consequently, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God therefore rejects violence (Psalm 11:5) and calls us to do the same (Isaiah 60:18). Ask the Spirit to give you God’s heart for every person you meet today (Galatians 5:22).

Two: Embrace immigrants as God embraces them.

Space does not permit a discussion on illegal immigration, an issue I have addressed in detail elsewhere. For today, let’s heed God’s word: “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him” (Exodus 22:21); “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2; cf. Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; Deuteronomy 24:19-22; Ezekiel 47:21-23; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; Matthew 25:35, Matthew 25:40). No matter how they came into our country, every person in the US is now our “neighbor.” Ask God to show you how to love them as you love yourself today (Matthew 22:39).

hree: Serve others as Jesus served others.

It is not enough to reject evil ideology—we must counter it by putting biblical truth into action. Jesus said he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Ask him who and how you can serve in his name.

Martin Luther noted, “Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works.”

How “good” will you be today?

Breaking Down Christ’s Ascension

For a long time, I never really understood the Ascension.

To me, the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6 seemed eminently reasonable. Why did Jesus have to go? Why not just usher in the fullness of the kingdom then and there, and start wrapping the whole thing up? Wouldn’t it be a great asset to our labors in missions and apologetics to have Jesus still around?

As it stands, the Ascension plays right into the skeptic’s darkest doubts about the gospel narrative. How convenient that the supposedly risen Messiah should vanish without showing himself to anyone other than his friends and family!

The Bible, however, stubbornly refuses to agree with my sensibilities. Far from treating the Ascension as a weird stage exit whose main function is to explain why Jesus isn’t around anymore, Scripture speaks of it as a necessary part of God’s plan. Not only is it necessary, but the disciples even refer to it as a primary proof of Jesus’ messianic identity.

Rather than trying to explain away his absence, they tout it with vigor. The Ascension stands on equal footing with the Crucifixion and Resurrection in the earliest declarations of the gospel (Acts 2:33–36; 3:18–21; 5:30–31).

Even Jesus connects the Ascension with his work of dying and rising again. When Mary Magdalene sees him in the garden after his resurrection, he’s not simply strolling about, enjoying the fact that everything has been accomplished. No, he’s a man on a mission, and there is still another: “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (Jn. 20:17).

Yet in my experience within evangelical churches, I have seldom heard the Ascension preached with emphasis anywhere close to equal with that placed on the Cross or the empty tomb.

In trying to explain the Ascension, theologians are quick to point out the things Jesus does afterward: it is the gateway to his priestly work of intercession, a prerequisite for his sending of the Holy Spirit, and the commencement of his heavenly reign. That’s all true.

Still, I never quite understood why Jesus had to leave to do those things. Intercession, bestowing the Spirit, and even reigning—all these things could be realized in the earthly ministry of a vindicated, glorious Messiah. So why did he have to go?

Biblical theology offers us startlingly clear answers to that question, answers that enable us to see the Ascension in its proper context. The Ascension is not some strange vanishing act Jesus does at the end—like a magician finishing his show in a puff of smoke—but the capstone of everything he has done in his passion.

The Ascension is the triumphal act that crowns both the royal and priestly ministries of the Messiah: in which David’s heir ascends to reign, and the great high priest completes the presentation of the atoning sacrifice.

First, consider the royal angle. The Ascension appears to be an exact fulfillment of the prophetic vision of Daniel 7:13–14. In that vision, the Son of Man, surrounded with clouds, approaches the throne of the Ancient of Days and is given the dominion of an everlasting kingdom. Notice that the prophecy does not show the Messiah’s rule beginning with an earthly reign, but quite specifically with a heavenly one.

If Jesus had remained on earth and tried to claim his kingship, then he could not have been the Messiah—for the true Son of Man had been prophesied as ascending into the presence of God, there to be given his reign.

The Ascension is the triumphal coronation of the messianic king. Jesus has done what good kings in the ancient world were expected to do: he has saved his people from their enemies. He has defeated the powers of sin, Satan, and death, and now he makes his ascent to the throne—just as the Davidic kings of old made their ascent back to Jerusalem after a successful military campaign.

Having accomplished these kingly acts, Jesus approaches the Ancient of Days and is crowned with splendor and honor. And although we still await his return, along with the full and final manifestation of his reign, that reign has already begun.

Now that he is on the throne, seated at the right hand of the Father, the signs expected of the messianic age are being fulfilled before our eyes: the Spirit has been poured out and the nations have begun to turn their hearts to the worship of Israel’s God.

An even more compelling array of biblical images connects Jesus’ Ascension with the priestly work of the Messiah. Early Christians considered Jesus’ death on the cross to be a sacrifice of atonement (Rom. 3:25), an act whereby our sins are fully and finally forgiven.

However, coming from the context of Israel’s temple culture, it would have struck most Jewish believers as oddly incomplete to say that the Cross was all there was to Jesus’ ritual of sacrifice. As anyone in the ancient world knew, the penitent sinner needed a further step in the ritual of atonement: a sacrifice to be slain and a high priest to bear the sacrificial blood into the presence of God.

The clearest parallel is the annual ritual of the Day of Atonement, when the sacrifice for the people’s sin was killed on the great altar outside the temple doors. But that was only the first part of the ritual. To Jewish ears, the claim that the Crucifixion alone was the sacrifice of atonement would have sounded like saying that the sacrifice had been slain on the altar and no more.

What about the next step of the ritual? The high priest was to take the blood of the sacrifice and ascend the steps of the temple—to enter into the sanctuary of the Lord surrounded by billowing clouds of incense (Lev. 16:11–13).

The high priest would step up into that cloud, vanishing from the sight of the watching throngs in the temple courts, and then proceed into the Holy of Holies. There, in the presence of God, the high priest would present the blood of the sacrifice, completing the ritual of atonement and interceding for the people. Then he would emerge, coming back down through the cloud of incense in the same way the crowds had seen him leave, bearing the assurance of salvation back to the people of God.

This is precisely what the book of Hebrews says happened in Jesus’ heavenly ascent. Hebrews 6–10 paints a picture of the scene enacted when Jesus made his entrance into the presence of God, drawing on Day of Atonement imagery to portray Jesus as both the offering and the offerer. While the Holy of Holies was merely an earthly representation of the heavenly reality, Jesus enters the heart of that reality—into the very presence of the Father.

The theological implication here is that the Ascension was the next necessary step in the ritual after the Cross. This does not imply any insufficiency in what Jesus did in his saving work on the Cross—only that this completed sacrifice was always intended to be followed by another step in the process, which was bearing his sacrifice into the true Holy of Holies.

It’s not just Hebrews that paints this picture. If you know what you’re looking for, you can see priestly symmetries in most of the portrayals of the Ascension. The Ascension is preceded by a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3), just like the Day of Atonement in rabbinical Jewish tradition.

Before his ascent, Jesus lifts his hands to bless his disciples, and then goes up into the presence of God (Luke 24:50–51)—which is the same set of actions Aaron performed before entering the tabernacle to complete the first great ritual of sacrifice (Lev. 9:22–23).

Special mention is made of the cloud into which Jesus vanishes (Acts 1:9), which echoes both Daniel’s prophecy of the Son of Man and the visual imagery in the Day of Atonement. If Jesus was the Great High Priest presenting a sacrifice in the heavenly tabernacle, he would have to ascend to perform that very function.

This perspective adds a new layer of meaning to our current period of history. The Day of Atonement ritual wasn’t a matter of just going up into the temple and God’s presence, but also coming back again. The present age of Jesus’ absence, then, is the period of his active priestly service, as he continues to intercede for us in the presence of God the Father.

Likewise, the promised second coming of Jesus is not some future event that stands on its own, but the long-awaited culmination of everything he has already been doing, just as was foreshadowed in the ancient priestly ritual (Heb. 9:24–28). The disappearance-and-return narrative of the Ascension and Second Coming thus ceases to be something odd or surprising. Rather, in the light of Scripture, it is precisely what one would expect the Messiah to do.

For Jesus to be the true messianic king—the prophesied one who comes to defeat humanity’s enemies and returns to claim his throne in the manner described in Daniel 7—then he must ascend. For Jesus to be the Great High Priest, foreshadowed in the rituals of Israel’s temple, he must complete the ritual by bearing his sacrifice into God’s presence.

The Ascension is no mere footnote to the gospel narratives; it is not an awkward absence to be explained away. It is nothing less than the climax of the Messiah’s passion—and the setup for the finale of his great drama of redemption.

Matthew Burden is a PhD candidate in theology and the author of Who We Were Meant to Be and Wings over the Wall. He pastors a church in eastern Maine, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Judd Daughters Honor Mother With Scripture

Naomi Judd’s death came just days before her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. So, Ashley Judd accompanied Wynonna Judd to the ceremony where they shared a Bible passage in their late mother’s honor.

News of Naomi Judd’s death on Saturday, April 30, 2022, shocked everyone and devastated her family and fans alike.

The 76-year-old Country music legend had been open about her struggles with mental illness. She spent a good deal of time traveling across the country speaking about her life-long battle with severe depression and anxiety. And though Naomi Judd worked hard at overcoming the darkness in her life, she admitted suicidal notions would come and go.

“I’m still trying desperately trying to help myself,” she said back in 2016. “Those thoughts of suicide don’t come anymore. But I’m vulnerable. I know I can backslide.”

Naomi’s hope in sharing her story was to raise awareness and debunk the stigma surrounding depression.

“It’s not a character flaw, it’s a disease,” Naomi explained.

Sadly, this disease got the better of Naomi Judd and the cause of her death was suicide.

“Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. We are shattered,” Ashley Judd, Naomi’s youngest daughter, announced on social media.

Naomi Judd experienced plenty of hardship before her rise to fame — childhood abuse, poverty, and rape, just to name a few. But in the 1980s, she and her oldest daughter Wynonna Judd, who was 18 at the time, formed The Judds.

The mother-daughter duo went on to enjoy immense success as Country Music artists. They had 14 No. 1 songs and each one of their singles made it as a Top 10 hit on Billboard’s country charts. The Judds won five Grammys, nine CMA Awards, and seven ACM Awards alone between the years 1984 to 1991!

Naomi Judd’s death occurred just one day before The Judds, as the first all-female group, were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. And in their mother’s absence, famous actress Ashley Judd joined her sister Wynonna in accepting this prestigious honor.

“I’m sorry that she couldn’t hang on until today,” a tearful Ashley said of her mom.

The Judds Inducted Into The Country Music Hall Of Fame

During the private Medallion Ceremony held in Nashville, Tennessee, The Judds were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was a moment of both triumph and tragedy. And just as the Lord promises to be with us through every peak and valley, His presence could be felt as those present honored Christian celebrity Naomi Judd.

Fellow Country singer and Hall of Famer Ricky Skaggs delivered a speech just before the induction of The Judds. In it, he expressed his condolences and provided Biblical encouragement.

“All of Country music and all the people around the world that love your music and love The Judds are here praying for you guys,” he said. Ricky continued with, “I believe God’s given you an ink pen of His love to write your future.”

Next, Ricky Skaggs quoted Psalm 2:8: “Ask of me, and I will give the nations for your inheritance.”

He followed it up, saying, “There’s just so much God wants to bless y’all with.”

Then, after Ashley Judd gave her speech, it was time for Naomi’s daughter and the other half of The Judds, Wynonna, to speak.

Sisters Share Scripture Following Naomi Judd’s Death

Wynonna confessed the ceremony as the first place she’d been since Naomi Judd’s death. She beautifully described the experience of accepting an award while at the same time mourning the loss of her mother as “broken and blessed.”

“It’s a strange dynamic to be this broken and this blessed…But though my heart is broken, I will continue to sing,” she said.

Wynonna Judd then recalled the last thing they did as a family with her late mother.

“We all gathered around her and we said, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters.’”

Wynonna could have stopped there. But she didn’t. She continued citing Psalm 23, with Ashley Judd joining in, too. And it was a powerful reminder of the Lord’s presence and goodness through ALL circumstances.

The Bible on Ghosts

It’s officially the spooky season. With the rise of the spooky season, many more people are interested in what the Bible has to say about topics surrounding Halloween, such as ghosts. The media portrays ghosts as being dead people who come back to haunt friends, family, and enemies.

Sometimes, the film industry even portrays ghosts as being friendly as in the case of Casper. Nonetheless, what does the Bible say about ghosts? Are they real? Can dead loved ones really come back to haunt us?

Are Ghosts Real?

The Bible is clear that once a person dies, they cannot return from the dead. The author of Hebrew tells us each person is destined to die once and then to stand before God (Hebrews 9:27). A person does not get to choose whether they are going to return to haunt the people of their earthly life. When a person dies, they are immediately before God (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Depending on whether or not they accepted Jesus will determine if they go to Heaven or hell. All individuals who have placed faith in Jesus will go to Heaven; however, all of the people who have not accepted Jesus will go to hell. Each person will either go to one or the other. There is not a third option to return to the earth and complete “unfinished business.”

Many people still report seeing dead loved ones or experiencing the paranormal activity of a haunting in their home. How can one explain this? There are no such things as ghosts, but there are demons. What people report as being ghosts are actually demons.

Demons are known to masquerade themselves in an attempt to fool people. In 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, Paul tells us, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”

Since demons can masquerade as angels of light, it is completely possible that they can make themselves look like dead loved ones. Believers need to be aware of this as demons will try to trick us in any way they can.

If you believe you have experienced the ghost of a dead loved one, it was not your deceased loved one. If your deceased loved one is a believer, then they are with Jesus in Heaven. The “dead loved one” you would have seen was a demon.

What Does the Bible Say about Spiritual Beings?

Demons are spiritual beings. The Bible does attest to the fact that there are spiritual beings. In addition to demons, the other spiritual beings are angels. Since demons and angels do not have physical bodies, they are spiritual beings.

The main difference here is that angels are good, but demons are bad. Angels help believers and protect them. The Bible tells us angels are ministering spirits sent out to help believers (Hebrews 1:14). In contrast, demons seek out mankind’s downfall.

What Is the Paranormal?

Becoming involved with the paranormal is not encouraged for Christians. God warns us about not seeking out mediums or necromancers (Leviticus 19:31). Believers need to flee from any fascination with ghosts as the ghosts are only demons.

Paul warns all people that you cannot have a seat at God’s table and the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:21). Satan and his demons want to cause your downfall. They want to scare, harm, and hurt you (John 10:10).

Becoming involved with ghosts can cause bad things to happen to you. God is more powerful than the devil and his demons, but we should never test the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:7). The Lord wants you to live in the freedom, love, and joy of knowing Him. God’s plan for you does not involve becoming involved with demons, mediums, or the occult.

Demons can be extremely convincing and can easily lead a person astray. As believers, we do not have to fall victim to their tricks. The One who is in us is greater than the devil and his demons (1 John 4:4). The Holy Spirit will keep you safe from demons, but we also have to use our own knowledge to abstain from the paranormal.

After the death of a loved one, we can be particularly vulnerable to the attacks of demons. Demons have been around for a long time, so they can accurately predict human behaviors. If demons know that a loved one has passed, they may try to deceive you with visions, dreams, or encounters with your loved one.

Even in the difficult times of losing a loved one, you still must stand your ground against Satan and his schemes (Ephesians 6:10-18). As a follower of Jesus, you do not have to fall victim to Satan and his demons’ tricks. Lean on God, talk with Him, and pour out your sorrow to Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

Jesus knows what it feels like to lose a loved one. He wept when His friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). When a loved one passes away, turn to God. Do not run after ghost-hunters or contact a medium to try to communicate with dead loved ones (Deuteronomy 18:10-13).

When Jesus rose from the dead, His disciples thought He was a ghost (Luke 24:36). Jesus did not tell His disciples, “Yes, I am a ghost. Dead people can come back from the dead and visit their friends and families.”

What Jesus actually said was, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:38-39).

Some people believe that Jesus affirms the existence of ghosts by His statement in Luke 24:39; however, He is not affirming the existence of ghosts. The more correct word that should be used here is “spirit” rather than ghost.

Jesus was showing His disciples that He has truly physically risen from the dead. He was not a spirit — He was the resurrected Lord. Jesus came back from the dead because He is God. Nobody else has ever come back from the dead because mankind cannot rise from the dead.

Why Does This Matter?

Ghosts are not real; however, demons are real. Demons want to trick you in any way possible. Therefore, it is essential that all believers abstain from the paranormal and abstain from a fascination with ghosts.

You will see your loved one again if they are a believer. There is no need to try to seek out the dead while you are here on earth because you will not be communicating to your loved one or a “ghost.” Rather, you will be communicating with a demon.

What does The Bible Say about Satan’s Appearance?

Literature, movies, and television have portrayed Satan as a serpent, a horned beast, a small boy, and an attractive man. Which of these (if any) offers an accurate visual portrayal of the devil? Does the Bible tell us how to recognize Satan in a visual sense? Could a police sketch artist use the Word of God to produce a sketch of the Evil One?

Satan and the Visual Arts

An article from Live Science reports that “the earliest known suggested depiction of Satan is in a sixth-century mosaic [depicting] the devil as an ethereal blue angel.” As he divides the sheep from the goats, Christ stands in the middle between Satan and another angel, perhaps the Archangel Michael or Gabriel.

Satan is dressed in blue — so striking since he is so often portrayed in red. But an article by Alistaire Sooke detailing the evolution of artistic renderings of Satan perhaps gives us a clue to the choice of that color.

Sooke explains how the devil’s ugly, horned features were influenced by Bes, an Egyptian god frequently portrayed in blue. The earliest Christian art adopted the color but not Bes’ features. Later, of course, blue was dropped, but those Bes-like pagan features came to represent evil.

“Bes’s grotesque expression was a model for the grisly visage of the Devil.” He was popular in ancient Egypt: “Friend to beer-swilling carousers and expectant mothers alike, he warded off noxious spirits like a gargoyle on a medieval church.”

Perhaps this also helps to account for the idea among non-believers that hell is a place of revelry, a non-stop party, rather than the pit of eternal damnation and suffering, which the Bible describes.

Over time, artists imagined Satan as featuring distorted, grotesque combinations of animal and human characteristics. “Depictions of the devil during the Medieval period were commonly dragon-like,” says the writer at Live Science.

He was portrayed as a goat, as a winged creature with a man’s face, as a human being in the style of a Greek god, and as a red creature with horns.

One anti-suffrage postcard from around 1900 shows the devil with red skin, a tail, a pointed face, a skinny beard, and horns. He is running from the woman in fear despite the fact that he holds a pitchfork. He seems benign in comparison with the woman.

The Omen, though a work of fiction, provides a particularly poignant idea of the devil’s real power, which resides in his ability to deceive. What could be less threatening than a child?

In The Omen, the Antichrist, taking the form of a baby, is raised in an American home. Everyone around him dies horrifically, which is no coincidence.

Many years later, the TV show Lucifer suggests that Satan could be a good-looking man who is dangerous but possesses a soft side. He is simply misunderstood, like the devil in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Literary Depictions of Satan

Paradise Lost “is most noted for Milton’s sympathetic treatment of Satan who is both the anti-hero and antagonist.” Allyson Knirk of Oakland University in Michigan discussed illustrations of Satan created for the 1688 edition of this epic poem.

These engravings depict Satan as a beast sporting a “short tail, hairy thighs, no wings, spurred heels, elongated ears and pointed horns.”

Many scholars and readers consider Milton’s Satan to be an antihero: complex, misunderstood, a character who might have been good if God had not been a tyrant. He was once beautiful, but inner turmoil tainted his outer appearance.

More recently, in The Stand, Stephen King created Randall Flagg to be “the embodiment of evil, an antichrist-like being whose goal is destruction and death.” There is no sympathetic side to this character. His slow, steady step strikes a note of fear in the hearts of readers.

Maximilian Rudwin, an American scholar, writing approximately a century ago, explained why the devil fascinates readers and writers. “The fair angels — perfect in their virtues — are beyond our ken, but the fallen angels, with all their faults and foibles, are of our kin.”

Ordinary human beings can relate to the fallenness, the ugliness, of Satan. Meanwhile, we cannot relate to the perfection of angels or aspire to be like them.

Their beauty and goodness are out of reach. For this reason, writers, musicians, and artists traditionally have and will continue to feel sympathy for and familiarity with the character of Satan.

How Does the Bible Describe Satan?

Scripture is truth, not fiction, and God’s workers were careful to describe the devil as he really is.

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!(Isaiah 14:12).

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour(1 Peter 5:8).

Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

In Revelation 12:9,he is“the great dragon” and “ancient serpent.”

He is the “thief” of John 10:10 who comes to “kill and destroy.”

The Greek word for serpent (ophis)means “a snake, figuratively, (as a type of sly cunning) an artful malicious person, especially Satan.” The dragon of Revelation 12:9 is a magnified version of the serpent. Drakón means “a dragon or huge serpent.”

And Peter’s image of the “roaring lion” calls to mind both the devouring beast of the Book of Daniel and the Lion of Judah. Revelation 5:5 tells us that this latter Lion has overcome death, so we no longer weep.

This is Jesus. Peter’s prowling animal is the predatory devil over whom the risen Christ was victorious. Faithful believers in Christ have also had victory over that prowling beast.

The biblical Satan is in no way sympathetic; not an antihero but fully evil. Satan can alter his appearance to frighten his opponent, freeze the blood of his prey, and beguile the unwary.

He is the antithesis of Christ: fallen star, hungry monster, liar. Christ is the risen Star. He protects the believer by his Spirit. Christ is truth and light, not lies and darkness.

Satan could be compared to a lenticular picture. Viewed from one angle, one observes an attractive face. Move just a little to one side, and one sees only a skull; death; ugly emptiness.

When human beings fail to see people as Christ sees them, they see others in the temporal sense only.

The devil gives them what they want: an appearance of order and reliability, charisma and power, or wisdom and gentle beauty. Christians are vulnerable to Satan’s ruse too.

Will We Recognize Satan by His Looks?

The devil is alive and active right now. Just as “you will know [disciples] by their fruit” (Matthew 7:16), you will not know a believer or an unbeliever on the basis of looks.

Like the little boy or the attractive antihero, the devil can appear harmless, beautiful, or alluring; however, just as Christ’s glory is reflected in the faces of those who love him, Satan’s ugliness is revealed in people when they refuse to follow the Lord. That facade gives way to ugly motivations, rebellion, treason, and death.