The Six Basic Doctrines of Christianity
Establishing a sound spiritual foundation is important because it sets the groundwork for the believer’s entire walk with the Lord. Just as a good foundation is a prerequisite for a sound building, so a proper spiritual foundation is vital for an effective, liberating and victorious Christian life. People who fail to lay a proper foundation are doomed to spiritual immaturity because they have nothing by which to judge what is right or wrong, scriptural or unscriptural, appropriate or inappropriate, wise or foolish. Simply put, a heathy biblical understructure eliminates feeble spirituality.
Believers who fail to establish a good foundation can shipwreck their faith altogether, as Paul put it in 1 Timothy 1:19, and find themselves back in the world—in spiritual darkness and separate from God. That’s why this teaching exists. It’ll help believers lay a quality understructure so that their faith isn’t shipwrecked at some point down the road.
The Six Basic Doctrines
Many Christians don’t know this, but the Bible details six doctrines that will ensure a sound spiritual foundation:
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again THE FOUNDATION of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, (2) instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
The writer of Hebrews was lamenting that the believers he was addressing needed to be taught these basic doctrines all over again when they should’ve been teachers by this point (see Hebrews 5:11-12). Notice that knowing these six elementary doctrines is spoken of in terms of “laying” a “foundation.” In other words, these teachings are the elementary understructure for every Christian. They are as follows:
- Repentance from acts that lead to death.
- Faith in God.
- Instructions about baptisms.
- The laying on of hands.
- The resurrection of the dead.
- Eternal judgment.
The Greek word for “elementary” doesn’t mean simple, but rather “The initial (starting) point.” In other words, these six doctrines come first and are therefore the chief teachings of Christianity. They’re “basic” only in the sense that they’re foundational and therefore have priority over other doctrines. As such, this article could also be titled The Six Chief Doctrines of Christianity.
The more fully you understand these preeminent doctrines the more difficult it will be for people to lead you astray with false doctrine. For instance, some Christians falsely teach that it’s not necessary for believers to keep in repentance, but the very first elementary doctrine contradicts this. Some say that spiritual rebirth isn’t biblical, but the third doctrine disproves this. Some say that everyone will ultimately be saved regardless of the evil they chose to practice without repentance, but the sixth doctrine refutes this. Simply put, the six basic doctrines will protect you from doctrinal error.
Years ago I did a six-part series on these foundational doctrines, one sermon per each teaching. A knowledgeable minister could easily do a series of teachings on every one of them. Unbelievably, in most Christian camps the six basic doctrines are almost utterly ignored. And then ministers wonder why many in their congregations act like spiritual babies. It’s because the pastors and teachers aren’t properly feeding them! This means, of course, that they’re not doing their jobs (Ephesians 4:11-14 & 1 Peter 5:1-4).
Since an entire book could be written on the six basic doctrines, I’m not going to go into exhaustive detail on them. However, it is necessary to go into some detail to be effective. The purpose of this teaching is to simply provide foundational structure for younger believers, as well as help more mature believers inspect and fix their foundation as necessary. Speaking of which…
No believer is in bondage to their foundation that was laid in their early years as a Christian. If you come across more accurate biblical data you should adjust your foundation accordingly. I’ve come across believers who won’t change their view on this or that subject because it goes against “how they were taught,” no matter how much scriptural evidence is offered to the contrary. This is immaturity where the believer puts the word of some pastor or sect above the Word of God. Please don’t be like this. At the same time you shouldn’t make changes to your foundation at a whim. Don’t make any adjustments or repairs until doing a thorough biblical investigation, like the Bereans did when Paul preached the message of Christ to them (Acts 17:10-12). The truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).
Let’s now look at each of the six basic doctrines:
1. Repentance from Acts that Lead to Death
The word ‘repent’ simply means to change one’s mind for the positive. This doesn’t mean a meaningless mental exercise, but a change of mind with the corresponding actions, like the revolve to fulfill God’s will (Acts 26:20) and turn from that which is opposed to God’s will, i.e. sin (Acts 8:22 & 2 Corinthians 12:21). Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin (see Acts 20:21) and so for repentance to be effective it must be combined with faith, which is the second basic doctrine, otherwise repentance is just a dead exercise. It is of the utmost importance to your spiritual health to grasp this.
According to Hebrews 6:1 (above), what are we to repent of? “Acts that lead to death.” The word ‘act’ is the same Greek word translated as “act” in this passage:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; (20) idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions (21) and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These verses show that “acts of the flesh” aren’t limited to just sexual immorality, drunkard-ness, stealing and murder. Things like discord (strife), jealousy, factions (meaning the divisive spirit that results from rigid sectarianism), hatred and envy are also works of the flesh. Unfortunately, these works are regularly evident in many congregations. Paul warns believers that “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God,” meaning those who practice these sins with no care to repent. This explains why the Bible encourages us to keep ‘fessed-up when we miss it:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:8-9
When we miss it we need to be quick to repent. This takes humility, of course, but humility is good because God’s favor flows to the humble, not the proud. In fact, the LORD resists or opposes the proud, which is why He doesn’t offer forgiveness to the unrepentant (James 4:6 & 1 Peter 5:5). This explains Jesus’ declaration: “But unless you repent you will all perish” (Luke 13:3,5). Arrogant people have an extremely hard time admitting they’re wrong, which is why they won’t repent. By contrast, humble folk will readily confess when missing it and it’s humility that unlocks God’s favor.
John the Baptist referred to regularly repenting as “keeping with repentance”:
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Matthew & Luke 3:8
It’s impossible to bear fruit unto God while knowingly walking in unrepentant sin. So the principle of keeping with repentance assures the continuing stream of the LORD’s forgiveness and favor in our lives as we repent. Needless to say, don’t allow unconfessed sin to block-up your spiritual arteries from the flow of God’s grace.
Humbly ‘fessing-up should become a regular activity in the life of the believer. It’s particularly helpful for believers who are in bondage to a certain sin. They want free, but they keep falling back into the sin in question and confessing. This keeping-with-repentance principle ensures the flow of the LORD’s forgiveness and favor into their lives. As they seek God and continue in His Word they will eventually walk in freedom (see this article for details). I was once one of these people, but no longer struggle with any certain sin, which is different than saying I never miss it. A couple days ago I missed it and felt so convicted; I immediately repented and received God’s grace. Praise God!
The question is often raised: How long can a believer knowingly continue in sin without repentance before God cuts him or her off from salvation? Surely God overflows with mercy, patience and compassion and, as such, there’s a generous “grace period.” How long is this grace period? Jesus’ Parable of the Barren Fig Tree addresses the question. In this story, from Luke 13:5-9, the owner of the vineyard represents God, the fruitless fig tree represents an individual in covenant with God who’s not bearing fruit, the caretaker of the vineyard represents Jesus, the mediator between the owner and the fig tree. In the story the owner wants to cut the tree down because it hasn’t produced fruit in three years, but the caretaker intercedes and convinces the owner to give the tree one more year wherein the caretaker will do everything he can to get it to be fruitful. If the tree still hasn’t produced fruit by the end of the fourth year the owner and caretaker agree to cut it down and remove it from the vineyard. What we see here is patience, mercy and grace. The owner of the vineyard and the caretaker, who represent the heavenly Father and Jesus, are willing to give the tree a total of four years to be fruitful before ultimately cutting it down, and that would only be because they must.
The story is figurative so we can’t take it strictly literal, i.e. that God will pluck someone out of the kingdom if they’re fruitless for exactly four years. What we can get from it, however, is that God’s patience, mercy and grace are awesome and He will do everything He can to get us to be fruitful. He’s invested in us greatly and understandably wants us to be productive. Another thing we can get from the parable is that when the Lord’s mercy ends His judgment begins and he’ll cut off when/if necessary. Why be foolish and incur such judgment?
So, while there’s no doubt to God’s great mercy and grace in such cases, why risk walking on thin ice by playing around with sin? Particularly in view of such sobering passages as Galatians 5:19-21, Hebrews 10:26-27 and 2 Peter 2:20-21. Some are deceived into thinking they can flirt with the flesh—the deceptive beast within us all—but before they know it they become captive to it. This is the deceitfulness of sin noted in Hebrews 3:12-14. Sin has the power to harden a person’s heart to the point where s/he doesn’t want anything to do with God or the things of God. How so? Practice a carnal behavior long enough without care of repentance and there comes a point where character is firmly set and nigh incorrigible. Pathological liars are testimony to this.
Someone might argue that Jesus died on the cross for our past, present and future sins and therefore it’s not technically necessary to keep in repentance to be forgiven of future sins. While it’s true that Jesus died for our future sins along with our past and present ones, you can’t very well repent of something you haven’t even done yet, which is why 1 John 1:8-9 is in the Bible. For important details on this topic see the article Once Saved Always Saved?
Why is the first basic doctrine referred to in terms of repenting from fleshly works “that lead to death”? Because death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). Sin leads to death!
While it’s clear that the first basic doctrine refers to repenting of works of the flesh, the terminology in the Greek is open enough to interpret it as “repentance from dead works,” which is how the KJV and ESV put it. As such, the first basic doctrine includes repenting from dead religious works performed to obtain reconciliation with God and eternal salvation. This, by the way, is the definition of human-made religion, which Jesus said doesn’t work. Notice what the Lord said to the disciples when they asked who could be saved:
“With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
Eternal salvation and everything that goes with it—reconciliation with the LORD, forgiveness of sins and the acquisition of eternal life—are only available through God and not human religion, including religious “Christianity,” which isn’t actual Christianity. These awesome blessings are available exclusively from God through the gospel, which explains why ‘gospel’ literally means “good news.”
The first doctrine of Christianity is to repent of—and keep in repentance of—acts of the sinful nature and dead religious works. This is why the gospel is referred to as “repentance unto life” in the Bible (Acts 11:18). Enough said.
2. Faith in God
Faith in God is the second basic doctrine because, as the Bible says:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Faith is vital because without it it’s impossible to please God. What exactly is faith?
Faith is belief, but not in the sense of believing in fairy tales or casual mental assent. It’s belief based on 1. what is intrinsically obvious, 2. accurate knowledge, whether scientific, spiritual or otherwise, 3. genuine revelation by the Holy Spirit, or 4. some combination of these three.
Let’s consider examples of the first three. Regarding #1, someone may say they believe in the concept of God as Creator because it’s obvious that the earth, universe and all living creatures were intelligently designed. Or someone may believe homosexuality is intrinsically wrong because the design and function of the sexual organs is obvious (tab ‘A’ fits into slot ‘B’). In each case the person believes based on what is clearly palpable. Concerning #2, people may believe they have a brain even though they’ve never seen it because medical science has proven it through dissecting human remains, brain surgery, etc. So the person believes based on sound data. Regarding #3, some may turn to God because the Holy Spirit revealed reality to them and they believed it. Their belief is based on the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
The Bible calls faith the substance of things hoped for and being certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). The Amplified Bible amplifies the original Greek text:
Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].
Hebrews 11:1 (Amplified)
Faith is the “title deed” of the things we hope for; that is, the things we righteously desire. In short, faith is the substance that brings the world of hope or desire into reality! In the Gospels, for instance, people would come to Jesus hoping for healing and after receiving it the Lord would say something like “Your faith has healed you” (see, for example, Mark 5:25-34). Faith was the substance that brought them what they hoped for, healing. They were certain—convinced—that Jesus would heal them even though they couldn’t yet see it physically.
I trust you’re seeing why faith is necessary to receive God’s gracious gift of reconciliation and eternal life. After all, how can someone receive a gift from someone he/she doesn’t even believes exists? For example, if you said you had a gift for me and I responded by saying I can’t receive it because I don’t believe you exist, would you still force the gift on me? Of course not. More likely, you’d be irked at my stupidity and arrogance. The same principle applies to those who reject the gospel. When you come across people who do this, be sure to pray that the LORD open their eyes to the truth, i.e. reality.
Did you ever wonder why faith is so important to receiving salvation? Because faith is nothing more or less than believing God. That’s precisely what Adam & Eve failed to do when they were tested in the Garden of Eden and that’s why they fell (see Genesis 2:15-3:24). In other words, the fall of humanity came about due to unbelief and therefore humanity’s restoration is dependent upon belief.
In a sense, every human soul has faith, which explains why we’re incurably religious as a species (even those who claim to not believe in God develop belief systems and institutions that have all the earmarks of what is generally perceived as “religion”*). Belief in God is simply a part of our make-up; it’s in our spiritual DNA. Heck, creation itself inspires belief in God; more than that, creation screams out God’s existence (Psalm 19:1-4 & Romans 1:18-20). To suggest that everything in the universe came about through accident and that there’s no Intelligent Designer is like expecting a Boeing 747 to emerge out of a metal scrapyard after millions of years. It’s absurd. Unfortunately, as Paul put it, unbelievers “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Ephesians 4:18). In other words, they have faith but they’ve willingly hardened their hearts to it, consciously or subconsciously. Why? For a number of reasons, such as not wanting to give up some pet sin, but often simply because that’s how their godless culture brainwashed them and they choose to run with the pack. And so they deny obvious reality.
* For instance, secular humanism—essentially one-in-the-same as far left “liberalism”—has its own cosmology, its own miracles, its own beliefs in the supernatural, its own “churches” (public schools), its own “high priests” (godless professors and teachers), its own “saints” (thugs), its own worldview and its own explanation of the existence of the universe. While this is generally true, it shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that all professors, public school teachers, scientists, judges, etc. are LIEberal secular humanists because this isn’t true in the least.
Repentance and Faith
It’s interesting that repentance and faith are the first two basic doctrines of Christianity because these are the conditions to receiving God’s gift of eternal salvation:
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
We effectively “turn to God” via the gospel through repentance and faith.
‘Repentance’ inexplicably has a negative connotation in modern times because people misinterpret it to mean that God is trying to prevent them from having a “good time.” But sin can only bring a “good time” superficially because underneath the surface pleasure is misery and death for “the wages of sin is death.” This is an axiom.
Take, for instance, the “party” lifestyle. When I was a teen I smoked pot, did drugs and drank frequently. It became a lifestyle and it was difficult for me to imagine life without constant “partying.” After several years I wisely quit. This was before I even became a believer. In essence, I repented because repentance is simply the resolve to change for the positive and the corresponding action. Why did I quit? Because, although doing these things delivered a quick fix to escape reality and have a “good time,” they couldn’t deliver the goods in the long term. Instead they brought hangovers, depression, broken relationships and bondage.
What spurred my change-for-the-positive, i.e. repentance? I saw the obvious truth, believed it, and changed accordingly. The same principle applies to receiving God’s grace of salvation through the gospel of Christ. We see the truth, believe it, and change accordingly. Repentance is the resolve to change for the positive in accordance with God’s will.
Repentance and Faith are Not Works
This shows that repentance and faith are not works, but rather the natural reaction to realizing the truth, which is simply the way it really is. It’s the wise response to seeing the truth.
Here’s an illustration: Say a man sincerely believes that 2 + 2 = 5. This is a false belief whether he believes it’s true or not. So I go to him with four stones and plainly illustrate that 2 stones plus the other 2 stones equals four stones, not five. He clearly observes the truth — the way it really is — and therefore believes and hence changes his mind. He now believes that 2 + 2 = 4, which is the truth.
You see? Repentance and faith are not works, but simply the natural response to being exposed to the truth. Only a blind, indoctrinated fool would see the truth — the way it really is — and reject it in favor of his/her incorrect belief.
The New Covenant is a Covenant of FAITH
Our covenant is a covenant of faith and so everything in our covenant is by faith. Do you want eternal salvation? It’s by faith. Healing? It’s by faith. Intimacy with God? Faith. Answers to prayer? Faith. Power to overcome? Faith.
In light of this I find it perplexing when I come across Christians who are “anti-faith” because it’s a total oxymoron. They defend their position on the grounds that there have been some extremists in the faith movement, but every movement in the body of Christ inspired by the Holy Spirit has its lunatic fringe. You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!
Faith and Perseverance
One thing about faith needs to be stressed: Faith must be combined with perseverance—i.e. patient endurance—or what you’re hoping for will not come to pass. This is why the Bible says:
We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
After all, faith isn’t really faith if you give up. It might be temporary, fleeting faith, but it’s not the faith that can withstand the time of testing, which includes the wait before the manifestation (Luke 8:13). Even salvation can be lost if one doesn’t persevere in the faith, as shown in this passage
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. (22) But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—(23) if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.
One last thing about the second basic doctrine: Someone might argue that it’s technically “faith in God” and therefore only refers to believing the LORD personally. Yes, it refers to believing God personally, but it also includes whatever God has created that testifies to His existence or will. For instance, all creation is a physical testimony to the existence of the Almighty and therefore inspires faith. One of the reasons I was an agnostic and not a strict atheist before I accepted the message of Christ is because the earth & universe and all living things screamed out that there was an Intelligent Designer. I simply wasn’t stupid enough to be an atheist. Consider also the testimony of God’s amazing Word: The Lord is truth and His Word is truth and therefore His Word testifies to His existence (John 14:6 & 17:17).
3. Instructions about Baptisms
The third basic doctrine is biblical teachings about baptisms. The Greek word for ‘baptize’ is baptizó (bap-TID-zoh), which means “overwhelmed, covered or submerged.” It was used in reference to being “baptized” by debts in ancient times. The noun form is in the plural in Hebrews 6:2 because there are three baptisms in Christianity. Most Christians only know about water baptism, which ironically is the least important (which is different than saying it’s unimportant). Every believer should experience all three baptisms, but the first one must be experienced to be a Christian. The three baptisms are:
- Baptism into Christ
- Water baptism.
- The baptism of the Holy Spirit. Let’s address all three:
Baptism into Christ
This refers to being spiritually born-again through Christ. Notice what the Scriptures say about this baptism:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, (27) for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit
The reason the baptism into Christ is a foundational doctrine is because it’s impossible to be a Christian apart from this new spiritual birth. If someone says they’re a believer, but aren’t spiritually regenerated then they’re a Christian in name only and aren’t genuinely saved.
If you come across any minister or group that says people don’t have to be spiritually reborn to be a Christian, as Jesus stressed in John 3:3,6, they should be rejected as false teachers. As Jesus said about the false teachers of his day: “Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14).
Baptism in water is simply a public testimony of the believer’s baptism into Christ. Acts 10:47-48 is a good example. Four things about water baptism you should know:
- It is an outward expression of a personal decision already made.
- It doesn’t symbolize washing, but rather death, death to the sin nature.
- Being lifted out of the water symbolizes resurrection to a new life.
- Believers are to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
I’m sure you see why water baptism isn’t as important as the baptism into Christ since water baptism is merely the symbolic testimony of what has already taken place spiritually through the baptism into Christ. What’s more important, the inward baptism or the outward baptism that represents it?
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Being baptized into Christ is essentially one-in-the-same as being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:3,6), but being born of the Spirit is distinct from the baptism of the Spirit, although they can occasionally happen at the same time. When you’re born of the Spirit, the Spirit is in you (Romans 8:9 & 1 Corinthians 6:19), whereas when you’re baptized in the Spirit, the Spirit is all over you because you’re covered or overwhelmed by the Spirit. It’s the difference between drinking a glass of water and jumping into a pure mountain lake. Think about it.
Speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. While speaking in tongues is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not speaking in tongues, they go hand in hand. Here are five scriptural examples of people receiving this baptism:
- The believers in Jerusalem, as shown in Acts 2:1-4. All of them spoke in tongues.
- The Samaritans, as shown in Acts 8:12-19. The Samaritans were part Jew and part Gentile. Verse 18 shows that Simon the sorcerer “saw” that the Spirit was given to the Samaritans when the apostles laid their hands on them. In other words, he saw evidence that they received the Holy Spirit. What did he see? We must interpret Scripture with Scripture, which is a hermeneutical rule. Since the rest of the New Testament shows that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, this must’ve been what Simon saw—people speaking in languages they didn’t know.
- Saul in Damascus, as shown in Acts 9:17-18. Although speaking in tongues is not mentioned in this passage, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is, and we observe scriptural evidence elsewhere that Saul (Paul) spoke in tongues on a regular basis, which is praying in the spirit (1 Corinthians 14:18-19).
- Cornelius’ household in Caesarea, as shown in Acts 10:44-48. This refers to the first Gentile believers. Verses 45-46 state that “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” Since believers who are not baptized in the spirit can and do praise God, the evidence of the baptism is obviously speaking in tongues.
- The Ephesians, as shown in Acts 19:5-7. This passage shows that all twelve spoke in tongues as a result of receiving the baptism, not just a select few.
As already noted every Christian can and should receive this baptism and pray in the spirit to supplement prayer in his or her everyday language. This can be observed in 1 Corinthians 14:14-15, 18-19 and Ephesians 6:18. I have to emphasize this because there’s this idea rampant in the body of Christ that speaking in tongues was done away with once the biblical canon was completed. Don’t believe it; it’s a colossal lie that has allowed the enemy to keep multitudes of sincere believers from the full empowerment and help of the Holy Spirit.
Praying in the spirit is important because it edifies us by building us up in faith and empowers us to witness, to love people and to walk free from sin, which we’ll look at momentarily.
Before we do, there are a few things about the baptism of the Spirit and speaking in tongues that should be stressed and clarified:
- Just because a Christian is baptized in the Spirit and can speak in tongues it does not mean that he or she is walking in the spirit; that is, bearing fruit of the spirit, like love, joy, peace, kindness, faith, humility and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Putting it another way, to be spirit-controlled is synonymous with bearing fruit of the spirit but just because a believer is baptized in the Spirit and can speak in tongues doesn’t mean that he or she is participating in the divine nature, i.e. walking in the spirit and producing the fruit thereof (2 Peter 1:4).
- If a Christian can walk in the spirit to a good degree without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, how much more so if they are baptized in the Holy Spirit! In other words, just because you’re doing well spiritually without speaking in tongues, don’t let it rob you of this wonderful gift that God has provided for all believers!
- The baptism of the Holy Spirit is usually transferred through physical contact via the ministry of the laying on of hands, but not always. Although the gift can be received in this manner through someone who already has it, as shown in some of the above examples, a believer can also receive it simply through faith (Luke 11:9-13). In fact, everything in our covenant is by faith.
- If any believer has hands laid on them for this baptism and they don’t speak in tongues it doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t receive the baptism. They may have received it, but they simply have yet to speak in tongues. We have to understand that speaking in tongues—praying in the spirit—is something that the believer does by his or her volition and is not something the Holy Spirit makes people do. Remember what Paul said: “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind” (1 Corinthians 14:15). Just as praying in a language you understand is an act of your own will, so is praying in the spirit. With this understanding, if I chose to I could theoretically not pray in the spirit the rest of my life even though I’m baptized in the Spirit.
- On that note, there are too many Christians who are baptized in the Spirit and yet rarely if ever pray in the spirit and therefore lack the empowerment the Holy Spirit wants to give them. Speaking of which…
The Empowerment and Help of the Holy Spirit
The reason I’m going into so much detail about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and praying in the spirit is because they are God-given sources of great empowerment for the believer to walk in newness of life and victory. Unfortunately, many believers settle for less than God’s best and they go through life struggling with things they don’t need to struggle with because the LORD has provided them the power and help they need—if only they knew of these truths and implemented them! This is the very reason God detailed these truths in His Word and it’s why I’m stressing them here.
With this understanding, notice the power that Paul said was available for his protégé Timothy:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands. (7) For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:6-7
What gift was Paul talking about? He doesn’t say, but there are clues: The gift was given through the laying on of hands and it is linked to the spirit or Spirit.* Since Scripture interprets Scripture we must conclude that Paul was referring to the baptism of the Spirit because 1. this gift involves the Spirit and 2. there’s repeated evidence that this gift is typically transferred through the laying on of hands, as detailed in the previous section. As such, the baptism of the Spirit is the obvious answer.
* Keeping in mind that there was no capitalization in the original Greek and so translators have to determine whether the Greek word for ‘spirit’—pneuma (NYOO-ma)—refers to the human spirit (un-capitalized) or the Holy Spirit (capitalized).
By instructing Timothy to “fan into flame” this gift he was simply encouraging him to pray in the spirit more often, which is actually the seventh piece of the armor of God (Ephesians 6:18). What does he mean by fan it into flame? Speaking from experience, when I first received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1986—two and a half years after my salvation—I would keep saying the same phrase over and over in the spirit. It was just a handful of words and I had no idea what I was saying. Regardless, I put into practice this passage: I fanned the gift into flame by praying in the spirit whenever I had the opportunity, like driving to classes or to work or when I went off by myself to pray, as Jesus did (Luke 5:16). In time my spiritual prayer language grew dramatically. How so? Because I fanned it into flame as Paul instructed. This is the key to walking in the blessings cited in verse 7: power, love and self-discipline.
- Power. The Greek word for ‘power’ is dunamis (DOO-nah-miss) and it’s where we get the English word dynamite. When you pray in the spirit you’re building yourself up in dynamite power! The more you pray in the spirit the more you’ll be empowered—anointed—to fulfill whatever mission the LORD gives you. As you grow you’ll kiss timidity goodbye!
- Love. As you pray in the spirit you’ll build yourself up in agape (ah-GAH-pay) love, which is simply practical love, as detailed in this article. Hence, you’ll be able to practically love people whom you don’t even like, including enemies. Put another way, you’ll be empowered to love people for whom you don’t have loving feelings. By doing this you’ll fulfill the biblical instruction to love your enemies (Luke 6:35), which—I always stress—includes tough love when appropriate.
- Self-Discipline. As you pray in the spirit you’ll also be built up in self-discipline, which means self-control. You’ll find yourself being able to do things you never had the discipline to do previously. You’ll be empowered to quit negative behaviors or addictions that you’ve struggled with for years. I’m living proof. In short, it’ll give you the edge to win spiritually. I’m sure you see why the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a foundational doctrine. Christians who write off this incredible gift due to the false doctrine that charismatic gifts passed away with the last of the original apostles are robbing themselves. And believers who have the gift but don’t “fan it into flame” are wasting it and robbing themselves of great power and anointing that would enable them to walk in newness of life.
For more details on the baptism of the Holy Spirit go here.
4. The Laying on of Hands
The doctrine of the laying on of hands refers to the transference of four things through physical contact: 1. blessing, 2. anointing and consecration for service, i.e. ministry, 3. the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and 4. healing and deliverance.
Let’s briefly look at all four.
Blessing (or General Prayer)
Jesus placed his hands on children and blessed them (Mark 10:13,16 & Matthew 19:13,15). To ‘bless’ someone means “to speak positive words that have a productive impact.” The official priestly prayer supports this definition (Numbers 6:22-27) and you can find these types of prayer/blessings all over the Bible, e.g. Romans 15:13 and Colossians 1:9-12.
Blessing or prayer in this manner is so important because words “have the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21). Whether people know it or not, our words bring life or death, blessing or cursing. Proverbs 12:18 reinforces this: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Needless to say, the idea that “words can never hurt me” is a lie.
Kids and youth are especially vulnerable to “reckless words” or verbal abuse, particularly from authority figures in their lives (Colossians 3:21). Adults who continually berate, belittle and call children names are speaking a prophecy of death and destruction over them (!).
Blessing, by contrast, is a prophecy of life, which is why Jesus laid his hands on children and blessed them.
Words are powerful by themselves and adding the dimension of touch magnifies their impact.
Anointing/Separation for Ministry
Hands are to be lain on those called of God to special service. Biblical examples include the Levites (Numbers 8:10-11), Joshua, (Numbers 27:18-23), Stephen & six others (Acts 6:1-6) and Saul & Barnabas (Acts 13:2-3).
Obviously the people who qualify for such a rite of passage should already be full of faith, God’s Word and the Spirit, as was the case with Joshua and Steven in the aforementioned examples. The laying on of hands simply provides a stronger anointing to fulfill their God-given assignment.
Paul instructed his young protégé, Timothy, to not be “hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22) because ministers must be tested for character and faithfulness and there’s no test like the test of time. Those who hastily confirm untested ministers share responsibility for the damage they eventually do to people.
The Holy Spirit Baptism
Hands are to be laid on believers to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is evidenced by speaking in tongues (Acts 19:1-7).
While this powerful gift is typically received this way—i.e. through someone who has it—a believer can also receive it simply through faith in God’s Word (Luke 11:9-13). In other words, believers don’t absolutely need a human conduit for the gift to be transferred. We’ll look at this more in the next section.
For details on the Holy Spirit baptism and glossolalia see the earlier sections Baptism of the Holy Spirit and The Empowerment and Help of the Holy Spirit.
Healing and Spiritual Deliverance
Jesus said that believers “will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:17-18).
The book of Acts says “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and… he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38). We see evidence of this throughout the Gospels. Here are some examples plus important additional info:
- Jesus laid hands on sick people and healed them or exorcized demons from them (Luke 4:40-41).
- A woman who was subject to bleeding for twelve years heard about Jesus’ anointing to heal and therefore had faith to receive healing from him (Mark 5:25-34). When the woman touched his cloak Jesus sensed “power had gone out from him” (verse 30).
- Jesus had an anointing to heal, but his ministry was very limited in his hometown because of the people’s lack of faith due to a “spirit of familiarity”—meaning they were so familiar with Jesus during his first three decades that they couldn’t acknowledge his divine anointing and receive from it (Mark 6:1-6). This example reveals that receiving a healing is a matter of faith in regards to the person praying (i.e. the human conduit of God’s power), as well as the recipient of the healing, which shows that receiving a healing via a human conduit involves a combination of faith. Needless to say, there’s power in agreement (Matthew 18:20 & Leviticus 26:8).
- People with the greatest faith do not require hands to be laid on them for healing or deliverance. This type of faith accepts the LORD at His Word, like the centurion from Matthew 8:5-10,13. In other words, they don’t require a human conduit to receive healing or deliverance from God. As noted earlier, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit can be received this way (Luke 11:13).
Important Points on Transmitting the Anointing
Here are several things to keep in mind when you lay hands on people to bless, pray, heal or deliver:
- Only make physical contact when you are ready to release your faith.
- While praying over someone you will sense your faith reaching its peak; that’s when you should make contact.
- Children may freak out a bit when you lay hands on them because the anointing—God’s power—is new to them, but don’t let it derail you. Be at peace and keep ministering in faith, as led of the Holy Spirit.
- God’s anointing is like electricity flowing through you and your hand is the conductor for this power like an electricity cable.
- When you experience the anointing you’ll naturally get excited, which is great; just be careful not to absorb it through excessive shouting, laughing and leaping; rather channel it to those who need it. In short, don’t waste the anointing—get your hands on someone!
- Since your words and hands are the primary vehicles in which the Spirit transmits the anointing to others don’t waste words or motions. Watch your words and actions and be careful not to do anything that will drain or lose the anointing, including grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).
- Put your words and motions in a direct line and use them to bring healing or deliverance to those in need. It’s akin to using a rifle: You aim it at the appropriate target in order to hit it. Wasting words and motions will cause you to miss the target.
- If you want God’s power to operate strongly in your life, as was the case with The Christ (Acts 10:38), you must discipline yourself to spend time with the LORD. In other words, saturate yourself with God through praise, worship, the Word and prayer. You can’t run around gabbing and doing frivolous things—watching TV, playing golf or computer games, etc.—right before a ministry engagement and expect the anointing to be strong when you minister.
- The anointing flows out of your inmost being like rivers of living water out of the very core of your soul/spirit (John 7:37-39). As such, you must protect the anointing so that it’ll be there when you need it.
- You can’t give something if you don’t have it and therefore you can’t expect the anointing to flow out of you if you haven’t prepared yourself beforehand to operate in God’s power. You must never allow people or things to rob you of your worship/Word/prayer time, particularly before you’re scheduled to minister. Turn off your phone.
Most Christians unfortunately don’t know much about the laying on of hands. This section reveals its importance.
5. The Resurrection of the Dead
The fifth basic doctrine is the resurrection of the dead, which means that everyone will be bodily resurrected, both the righteous and the unrighteous, as Jesus and Paul plainly declared:
“for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice (29) and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”
having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, that there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous;
Acts 24:15 (YLT)
As you can see, there will be resurrections of both the righteous and unrighteous. This doesn’t mean, however, that there will only be two resurrections in number, just that there are two types of resurrections: 1. The resurrection of the righteous and 2. the resurrection of the unrighteous. The former is called “the first resurrection” in Scripture (Revelation 20:5-6), which makes the latter the second resurrection.
The second resurrection takes place at the time of the Great White Throne Judgment, detailed here:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. (12) And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (13) The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (15) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
This massive resurrection and judgment concerns every dead soul contained in Hades (Sheol) after the thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth, which means it involves every unredeemed person throughout history. It does not include Old Testament holy people because they had a covenant with the LORD and will be resurrected after the 7-year Tribulation and before the Millennium (Matthew 19:28-30 & Daniel 12:1-2).
We’ll examine the judgment of these people in the forthcoming section on the sixth basic doctrine: eternal judgment.
The Resurrection of the Righteous
The first resurrection is the resurrection of the righteous, meaning those in right-standing with God. Again, when Jesus and Paul spoke of two basic resurrections they were talking about types of resurrections and not numbers. While there’s only one resurrection of the unrighteous, the resurrection of the righteous takes place in stages, which correspond to the analogy of a harvest.
In biblical times the harvest took place in three basic stages: 1. the firstfruits, 2. the main harvest, and 3. the gleanings. The harvest began with the firstfruits, which concerned the first fruits and grains to ripen in the season and were offered to the LORD as a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Exodus 23:16,19). Later came the general harvest (Exodus 23:16) and, lastly, the gleanings, which were leftovers for the poor and needy (Leviticus 19:9-10).
Let’s examine the three stages:
1. The Firstfruits. Paul described Jesus as the firstfruits here:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (21) For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. (22) For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (23) But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
1 Corinthians 15:21-23
Just as the firstfruits of the harvest were a sacrifice to the LORD so Jesus Christ was sacrificed for our sins and raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25); hence, He’s the firstfruits of the resurrection of the righteous.
2. The General Harvest. Verse 23 shows that the main harvest takes place when Jesus returns for the church—his “bride”—which is the Rapture, detailed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. This harvest includes physically-alive believers translated to heaven.
3. The Gleanings refer to the righteous who were not included in the main harvest and are, as such, “leftovers.” This resurrection takes place at the time of Jesus’ return at the end of the Tribulation. Jesus’ return to earth to establish His millennial reign is separate from the Rapture, which is when the general harvest occurs. Remember, when Jesus comes for his church he doesn’t return to earth, but rather meets believers in the sky (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We’ll address this in a forthcoming section. The gleanings include the resurrection of Old Testament saints—at least a bodily resurrection, but more likely a soulish/bodily resurrection—as well as the bodily resurrection of believers who died during the Tribulation.
The “gleanings” will also include believers who physically die during the Millennium. Some argue that such a resurrection won’t be necessary because, as Isaiah 65:19-25 shows, lifespans will return to the lengthy durations of people before the flood, like Adam and Methuselah. However, this passage doesn’t actually say righteous people won’t die during the Millennium; notice what it says:
Never again will there be in it [Jerusalem] an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
The passage simply shows that lifespans will be greatly increased, as before the flood; it doesn’t say righteous people won’t die. In fact, it’s implied that blessed people will die by the reference to “an old man who does not live out his years.” Moreover, verse 22 says that God’s people will live as long as trees during the Millennium. Depending on the species, trees can live less than a hundred years or up to a few thousand, but they ultimately die.
Something else to consider: While it’s true that many people lived to be over 900 years old before the flood, it’s still not a thousand years, which is how long the Millennium will last. Also, some people died well short of 900-plus years; for instance, Lamech died at 777.
Someone might argue: How can both the resurrection of the righteous at the beginning of the Millennium and another resurrection at the end be considered “gleanings” since they’re separated by a thousand years? Answer: Because the very word “gleanings” implies more than one gleaning; after all, the poor gleaned the harvested fields more than once in biblical times. Also, Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 show that a thousand years is like a day to the LORD, so the two gleanings occur only one day apart from the Divine perspective.
Why is it called the “First Resurrection”?
The resurrection of the righteous is called the “first resurrection” in this passage:
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (5) (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
The passage refers specifically to the bodily resurrection of Christian martyrs from the Tribulation, which John calls the “first resurrection.” By calling it the first resurrection is he saying that there were no resurrections before this? No, because Jesus Christ was resurrected at the beginning of the Church Age and believers will be resurrected bodily at the time of the Rapture while living believers will be translated; not to mention the resurrections of Enoch, Elijah and Moses as types, covered in Chapter Nine of Sheol Know. Speaking of those three, their resurrections can be considered “taste-testing of the fruit” according to the harvest analogy.
Here’s a diagram that helps visualize the first and second resurrections and the three stages of the first (click to enlarge):
By calling the resurrection of the righteous the “first resurrection” John may mean more than just first in order. The Greek word for “first” is prótos (PRO-toss), which also means principle, chief, honorable or most important. How is the resurrection of the righteous the more honorable resurrection? Because it entails the resurrection of people in right-standing with the LORD through covenant and spiritual rebirth (Titus 3:5 & Ephesians 4:22-24). Since this resurrection involves people who are in right-standing with their Creator, i.e. God’s children, it’s the more honorable resurrection and therefore the more important one to the LORD, just as the resurrection of your child would be more important to you than some stranger you never knew.
Someone might argue that all people are God’s children, even atheists. No, all people are creations of God, but only those born-again of the seed (sperm) of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit are children of God (1 John 3:9 & 1 Peter 1:23). Because of the death and resurrection of the Messiah, Old Testament saints who were in covenant with God automatically become spiritually-regenerated at the time of their resurrection.
‘Isn’t this Too Complicated?’
Some might argue that the resurrection of the righteous, as just mapped out, is too complicated. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why the so-called “father of orthodoxy,” Augustine of Hippo, simplified human eschatology by inventing (or, at least, popularizing) the false doctrine of amillennialism. Believe it or not, this erroneous teaching suggests that we’re currently already in both the Millennium and Tribulation; and when believers or unbelievers die their immortal souls either go to heaven forever or suffer never-ending torment in hell. Incredibly, Augustine argued that biblical references to the new Jerusalem, new earth, new heavens and the believer’s new glorified body are all symbolic language for heaven! Talk about adding to and taking away from the Holy Scriptures, a practice repeatedly denounced in the Bible (see Revelation 22:18-19, Proverbs 30:6 and Deuteronomy 4:2).*
* See HELL KNOW for more information on Augustine and his false doctrines that corrupted the church, specifically Chapter Seven’s The Augustinian Corruption of Christendom and Chapter Nine’s The Good and Bad of Orthodoxy and Traditionalism.
Getting back to our question: Is the resurrection of the dead too complicated? Think about it like this: When referencing a complex subject to someone who knows little about the topic it’s best to state the facts in the simplest of terms, which is how Jesus and Paul talked about the resurrection of the dead in John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15 (both cited earlier). Daniel did the same thing in Daniel 12:1-2. All three of these passages detail that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous, which is true, but they don’t go any further than this. As such, we have to look to the rest of Scripture for more details and that’s what we’re doing here. This is in line with the hermeneutical rule “Scripture interprets Scripture” wherein the more clear and detailed passages offer necessary data that helps interpret the more ambiguous and sketchy ones.
Furthermore, the argument that “this is just too complicated” implies that truth—reality—must always be simple when this simply isn’t the case. Take brain surgery, for example. Is it simple or does it take years of schooling to master? How about computer technology, astronomy, world history, languages or law? How simple is the sewage system of any major city? How about the electrical grid of New York City? I could go on and on.
Yes, the resurrection of the dead is more complicated than what Augustine taught, but it’s certainly not too complicated for the average person to grasp. The above diagram illustrates that it’s actually not that complicated and it’s much less complicated than any of the topics just listed.
As already established, the resurrection of the dead is one of the six basic doctrines (Hebrews 6:1-2). The writer of Hebrews was lamenting that the people he was addressing needed to be taught these basic doctrines all over again when they should’ve been teachers by this point (Hebrews 5:11-12). Now, think about it: If the topic of the resurrection of the dead was as simple as Augustine taught—that is, people just go to heaven or hell when they die to spend eternity in either bliss or torment—why would these people need to be taught the subject again? If the subject were that simplistic it’d take just a few minutes to teach and not a whole sermon or series of sermons. Moreover, if it were that simple how could the believers not grasp it the first time around?
Yes, the resurrection of the dead is a complicated subject, so what? That’s why it needs taught properly and thoroughly.
Jesus’ Rapture of His Church and His Return to Earth
I pointed out something earlier that should be elaborated on: Most believers don’t realize that there are two phases to the Lord’s Second Coming: 1. Jesus’ return for his Church, known as the Rapture, and 2. Jesus’ return to the earth to establish his millennial kingdom. The former is detailed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and the latter in Revelation 19:11-16. A comparison of these passages and other pertinent Scriptures reveal two separate phases of Jesus’ Second Coming that can be distinguished like so (click to enlarge):
One of the differences on the list is that the Lord’s return for his Church—the Rapture—can happen at any time once the general season of the end is apparent, meaning it’s imminent, whereas many distinct signs precede Christ’s return to the earth. These signs include, amongst others: the global cataclysm of the Tribulation period itself (Revelation 6-19), the revealing of the antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8), the two witnesses (Revelation 11:1-12) and the institution of the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17). Generally speaking, once the Tribulation begins—and it will be obvious when it does—you can be sure that Jesus will return to the earth seven years later (which is different than saying you’ll be able to pinpoint the precise moment or day).
However, this isn’t the case with the Lord’s return for his Church because, again, it’s imminent and could happen at any time with zero warning once the general season of his return is at hand, which means now (Matthew 24:3-14). Notice what Jesus said:
(36) “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (37) As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…
(42) “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. (43) But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (44) So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Matthew 24:36-37, 42-44
As you can see, we are instructed to “keep watch” and “be ready” because Jesus “will come at an hour when we do not expect him.” Interestingly, the Son doesn’t even know the day or hour, only the Father knows (verse 36). We must be “dressed ready for service” and “keep our lamps burning” (Luke 12:35) precisely because the Lord’s return for his Church is imminent. I should add that, while we don’t know the day or hour, we can know the general season via Jesus’ descriptions and, again, that season is now.
While some claim that the word “Rapture” isn’t biblical, it is. It refers to a phrase used in this passage:
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
1 Thessalonians 4:17
‘Caught up’ in the Greek is harpazó (har-PAD-zoh), which means to “snatch up” or “obtain by robbery.” It’s translated in Latin as “rapio” in the Vulgate, which is where we get the English “Rapture.” With this understanding, when the Bridegroom, Jesus, comes for his bride, the Church, he’s going to obtain us by robbing us off the earth!
The aforementioned 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the most prominent support text for the Rapture:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. (14) For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (15) According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (16) For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (18) Therefore encourage each other with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Here’s more support:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. (2) My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—(52) in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52
and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:10
What is the “coming wrath” and how does Jesus “rescue” us from it? The coming wrath refers to the Tribulation and the Lord rescues the Church from it via the Rapture.
Notice what Jesus promises the faithful church of Philadelphia:
“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.”
“The hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world” is referring to the Tribulation period detailed in Revelation 6-19. Jesus doesn’t say he would just protect believers during the Tribulation, but that he’d “keep them from the hour of trial” altogether. Keep in mind that, while the church at Philadelphia was one of seven first century churches that Jesus addresses in Revelation 2-3, these seven churches were picked by the Lord because they typify the seven kinds of churches that exist throughout the Church Age. As such, Jesus’ words were to all faithful Christians throughout the ensuing centuries of the Church Age. In fact, since the Rapture and the Tribulation didn’t come at the general time of this message to the church of Philadelphia circa 90-100 AD, the passage must more specifically refer to a future generation of faithful believers.
Further support for the Rapture can be observed in what happens to John in the book of Revelation. Jesus gave John the threefold contents of Revelation at the end of chapter 1: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later” (Revelation 1:19). This is the Contents Page of the book of Revelation: “What you have seen” refers to chapter 1 because that’s what John had seen up to that point in the vision while “what is now” refers to chapters 2-3 and “what will take place later” refers to chapters 4-22.
Chapters 2-3 of Revelation cover “what is now,” meaning the Church Age, as noted above. These chapters cover the seven types of churches that exist throughout the Church Age. Chapters 4-22 address “what will take place later” and chapters 4-19 specifically the period of the Tribulation, which involves the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments of God’s wrath that will befall the earth and its inhabitants.
Here’s my point: John was an apostle of the church and right at the beginning of Revelation 4—the beginning of his coverage of the Tribulation—Jesus says to him, “Come up here,” referring to heaven (verse 1). You see? John is representative of the church and just before the Tribulation he is taken up into heaven. Why? Because the church itself will be delivered from the Tribulation via Jesus’ return for his church, which is the Rapture.
Another thing to consider is that the church is referred to no less than nineteen times in the first three chapters of Revelation and not once on earth in chapters 4-19. Why? Because the existing church—all genuine believers—will be “snatched up” to heaven before the Tribulation starts. Revelation 19 details Christ’s return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation. Guess who’s riding with him? The church (verse 14; also verified by 1 Thessalonians 4:14).
This doesn’t mean, however, that there won’t be believers during the Tribulation because there will be multitudes; and, yes, they are the church because ‘church’ simply refers to the ekklesia (ek-klay-SEE-ah), the “called-out ones” who are called out of the darkness of this world into the kingdom of light. However, the existing church at the time of the Rapture before the Tribulation will have been snatched away. In other words, believers during the Tribulation embraced the gospel after the Rapture. We’ll address this in the next section.
The snatching up of the church before the Tribulation corresponds to the biblical pattern of the righteous being saved from destruction when God’s judgment falls on unrepentant masses. Jesus noted this pattern when he taught on the Rapture:
For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. (25) But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
(26) “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. (27) People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
(28) “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. (29) But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.
(30) “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. (31) On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. (32) Remember Lot’s wife! (33) Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. (34) I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. (35) Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
Jesus is talking about “the day the Son of Man is revealed” (verse 30) that “will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other” (verse 24). In other words, it’ll take place in the blink of an eye. The last two verses show beyond any shadow of doubt that Jesus was talking about His snatching up of the church: “Two people will be in bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left” (verses 34-35). This, incidentally, presents a problem for those who argue that the Rapture takes place at the same time as Jesus’ return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation because the impression of these verses is that of ordinary every-day life and not of people who just went through a worldwide cataclysm horrifically described in Revelation 6-19.
Observe in verses 26-29 how Jesus likens the time of the Rapture to the “days of Noah” and the “days of Lot.” “Just as it was” in the days of these two “so it will be” when Christ returns for his church. What’s the significance of this? In the days of Noah and Lot there were warnings of the LORD’s coming judgment on masses of people if they stubbornly refused to repent. In Noah’s situation the judgment concerned the entire world whereas in Lot’s situation it concerned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In both cases the righteous were removed before God’s judgment fell. “So it will be” with the future Tribulation—those in right-standing with God will be taken out of the way before His wrath falls on rebellious humanity. Those who become believers during the Tribulation are those who wisely respond to the pouring out of God’s wrath by repenting.
In verse 30 Jesus says “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” Just like what? Just like the days of Noah and Lot where people were carrying on business as usual—eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting and building (verses 27-28). This is what people will be doing when Jesus comes for his church, not enduring a global upheaval, which disproves the post-Tribulation position.
Speaking of the post-Tribulation view, how do people who hold this position explain Luke 17:24-35? They argue that Jesus only speaks of his coming once in this passage, not twice, and when he comes he will 1. snatch up the righteous and then 2. pour out his wrath on the unrighteous, citing verses 26-32. The problem with this, of course, is that it’s an explicit description of the pre-Tribulation position (or, at least, “pre-wrath”). The only thing they’re omitting is Jesus’ return to the earth after God’s wrath is poured out on rebellious humanity to set up his millennial kingdom (Matthew 25:31). As already explained, this is detailed in the book of Revelation: In Revelation 4:1 Jesus says to John—representing the church—to “come up here” to heaven. Chapters 4-19 cover the Tribulation where God’s wrath is poured out and Jesus returns to the earth at the end (Revelation 19).
Here’s a timeline diagram to help visualize these events (click to enlarge):
Some people suggest that the Rapture isn’t part of Jesus’ Second Coming and that only His return to the earth should be designated as the Second coming, but Jesus himself spoke of his snatching up of the church as “the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27,37,39) and within this context are clear references to the Tribulation (verses 21-22 & 29). The Greek for “coming” in these passages is parousia (par-oo-SEE-ah), traditionally translated as “advent” in Christian circles as in “the Second Advent of Christ.” This is the same word used to describe the Lord’s coming at the end of the Tribulation in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. Jesus elsewhere referred to this latter coming as “When the Son of Man comes in his glory” (Matthew 16:27 & 25:31). Since the Rapture of the church is clearly separate from the Lord’s coming to the earth—with the Tribulation separating them—and both the Rapture and Jesus’ return to the earth are described in terms of “coming” then we must conclude that they both represent his Second Coming, albeit two phases.
Someone might argue: “But these two phases are separated by several years, how can they both refer to the same Second Coming? Because it’s one coming taking place in two stages. Besides, seven years isn’t that long of a time to the eternal God. Let me put it in perspective: The Bible says that a thousand years is like a day to the Lord (Psalm 90:4 & 2 Peter 3:8), which means that seven years would be like 10½ minutes! So from Jesus’ perspective the Second Coming—both stages—takes place in 10½ minutes. It’s hard to get out of the airport without baggage in that amount of time!
If you or anyone else prefers to designate Christ’s return to earth specifically as his Second Coming, that’s fine with me. I’m not going to argue with you. But this doesn’t change the biblical fact that parousia is used to describe BOTH (1.) Christ’s rapture of the Church and (2.) his return to earth shortly later. Furthermore, consider this: To believers the rapture IS Christ’s Second Coming whereas to the unsaved his return to earth is His Second Coming. So both refer to His Second Coming depending upon the spiritual condition of the individual; they’re just two different phases.
Lastly, notice what this passage says:
so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
As you can see, the verse states that Christ will appear “a second time” — clearly referring to his Second Coming — and then goes on to say that when he appears this “second time” he will “bring salvation to those who are waiting for him,” which is an obvious reference to the Rapture.
“For it will Not be, Unless the Departure Comes First”
Both phases of the Lord’s Second Coming are covered in this passage:
Now, brothers, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to him, we ask you (2) not to be quickly shaken in your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by letter as from us, saying that the day of Christ had come. (3) Let no one deceive you in any way. For it will not be, unless the departure comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction, (4) who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or that is worshiped; so that he sits as God in the temple of God, setting himself up as God. (5) Don’t you remember that, when I was still with you, I told you these things? (6) Now you know what is restraining him, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. (7) For the mystery of lawlessness already works. Only there is one who restrains now, until he is taken out of the way. (8) Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will kill with the breath of his mouth, and destroy by the manifestation of his coming;
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (WEB)
Verse 1 shows that this text concerns the Second Coming, including the church being “gathered together to him,” which is the Rapture. Verse 8 details the second phase of Jesus’ coming, which is when he returns to the earth and destroys the “lawless one”—the antichrist—with a mere word or two from his lips. (So much for Christ being a milksop weakling as he’s often maligned in modern Western culture!) The Greek word for “coming” in both verses is the aforementioned parousia. You see? The Second Coming consists of 1. Jesus’ return for his church and 2. His return to the earth to vanquish his enemies and establish his millennial kingdom.
Verse 3 reveals the sequence of events, emphasizing that the “day of Christ” will not come to pass until “the departure comes first, and the man of sin is revealed.” The “departure” is an obvious reference to the snatching up of the church while the revealing of the “man of sin” refers to the unveiling of the antichrist, a wicked, possessed man who will obtain worldwide power during the Tribulation (Revelation 13:7).
The Greek word for “departure” is apostasia (ap-os-tas-EE-ah) and is only used one other time in the Bible where it refers to departing from the law of Moses (Acts 21:21). Interestingly, the word was translated as “departure” or “departing” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 in the first seven English translations of the Bible, which changed when the King James translators decided to translate it as “falling away.” Most modern English versions have followed suit by translating it as “apostasy” or “rebellion,” but the World English Bible (above) translates it as “departure.” I believe this is the proper translation for a few reasons:
- The verb form of the word is used 14 times in the New Testament where it predominantly means “departed.” Luke 2:37 is a good example where it refers to an elderly prophetess who “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying;” Acts 12:10 is another example where it refers to an angel leaving Peter after helping him escape from prison.
- It doesn’t make sense in the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 to translate apostasia as “rebellion” or “apostasy”/“falling away.” Concerning the former, the world has always been in rebellion against genuine Christianity (please notice I said “genuine”). Concerning the latter, there’s already mass apostasy in Christendom with whole denominations embracing gross libertinism and rejecting the most obvious biblical axioms. In fact, this has been increasing for decades.
- Translating apostasia as “departure” fits both the immediate context of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 and the greater context of the Lord’s Second Coming in the Bible, the latter of which we’ve already covered. Concerning the former, verse 1 speaks of the Second Coming in terms of the church being gathered to Jesus, which involves believers departing from this earth. And verses 6-8 speak of the “restrainer” of lawlessness, which must be removed before the antichrist can rise to power. Who is this “restrainer” of lawlessness? The most obvious answer is the Holy Spirit and, by extension, the church, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). When they depart the earth the antichrist will no longer be restrained and, in the vacuum, he will make his move. Whereas the church will remain in heaven during the Tribulation the Holy Spirit will return as masses of wise people will almost immediately turn to God after the incredible testimony of the Rapture. The Holy Spirit obviously returns because it’s the Spirit who regenerates people through the gospel (Titus 3:5). As noted earlier, untold millions will be saved during the Tribulation (Revelation 7:9,14) through the testimony of 1. the Rapture, 2. the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, 3. the two witnesses, 4. the mass divine judgments, and 5. an angel commissioned to preach the eternal gospel to the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 14:6-7).
As you can see, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 strongly supports the two phases of the Second Coming and the pre-Tribulation Rapture.
Let me close by stressing that I personally don’t care if the Rapture takes place before the Tribulation, mid-Tribulation or “pre-wrath.” I don’t even care if it takes place at the same general time as Jesus’ return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation. Don’t get me wrong, like any sane believer I have zero desire to go through the Tribulation, but as a responsible minister of the Word of God all I care about is accurately conveying what the Bible teaches and my studies have led me to conclude what is contained in these last two sections. Bear in mind that I’m a devoted non-sectarian and therefore don’t draw doctrinal conclusions based on the pressure of a certain group. I draw conclusions from the God-breathed Scriptures and, as you see, they overwhelmingly point in the direction of a pre-Tribulation Rapture.
I encourage you to unbiasedly look at the different perspectives in your studies and draw your own conclusions with the help of the Holy Spirit. I recommend the works of David Reagan, Hal Lindsey and Todd Strandberg.
Lastly, all genuine believers who know how to read agree that the Lord will “snatch up” his church when he returns based on the clear passages we’ve looked at in this section, so the Rapture is a biblical fact. It’s the timing of the Rapture that believers disagree on and this is a secondary issue; it’s not something to argue about or break fellowship over. Whether pre, mid, post or pre-wrath, the Rapture will occur.
6. Eternal Judgment
The sixth basic doctrine of Christianity is that all persons will stand before God and the judgment will have eternal ramifications. The word “eternal” in the Greek is the adjective aionios (aay-OH-nee-us), which is derived from aion (aay-OHN). Aion is where we get the English ‘eon,’ meaning “an age.” As such, aionios means “like an age” or “age-lasting.” Since aionios in the phrase “eternal judgment” refers to the coming age of the new heavens and new earth, which is an everlasting age, God’s judgment on people at the end of this current age relates to the coming eternal age. Are you with me?
Notice how this verse describes God:
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.
This is a New Testament passage and it describes the LORD in terms of being a Judge, a Judge who’s going to do one of two things with people depending on what they choose to do or not do on earth: He’s either going to save or destroy. Whether salvation or destruction, the judgment is eternal, meaning it applies to the never-ending age to come, which is the age of the new heavens and new earth (2 Peter 3:7,13).
There are four judgments and they apply to the unrighteous (i.e. the lost), the righteous in Christ, and Old Testament saints. I share them in this order because that’s the order we’re going to look at them.
The Great White Throne Judgment: Eternal Judgment of the Lost
The eternal judgment of the unredeemed is solemnly detailed in this passage:
(13) The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (15) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
God’s judgment for anyone whose name is not found written in the book of life is being cast into the lake of fire, which is described as the “second death.” This is the judgment of the unrepentant wicked spoken of in Hebrews in terms of “raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Paul described the second death as “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9) while Jesus was even more explicit:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).”
God’s going to literally destroy the unrepentant wicked in the lake of fire, not preserve them for eternal roasting torture. Jesus elsewhere described human damnation in terms of “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46) but there’s a difference between eternal punishment and eternal punishing. The Greek word for “punishment” is kolasis (KOL-as-is), which refers to a “penal infliction” and is therefore a judicial sentence. Jesus does not say in Matthew 25 what the penal infliction will be, only that it will take place in the lake of fire (“the eternal fire”) and that this infliction will last forever (that is, take place in the age to come, which lasts forever). Since Jesus doesn’t specify what exactly the penal sentence is, we must therefore turn to the rest of Scripture for answers. “Scripture interprets Scripture” is an interpretational rule. And we see above that Jesus plainly said God would “destroy both soul and body” in the lake of fire.
For additional evidence, consider these four points that reinforce each other:
1. Jesus and the apostles plainly taught what would happen to ungodly people when they suffer “the second death.” They taught that:
- the ungodly would die (John 11:26 & Romans 8:13),
- that they would experience death (John 8:51, Romans 6:23 & James 5:20),
- that destruction would occur (Matthew 7:13 & 2 Peter 3:7),
- that both their souls and bodies would be destroyed (Matthew 10:28 & James 4:12),
- and that they would perish (John 3:16 & 2 Peter 3:9).
As you can see, the Bible continually speaks of the eternal fate of the unrepentant wicked in explicit terms of destruction: “die,” “death,” “destruction,” “destroy” and “perish.” I refer to this as the “language of destruction.” The Holy Spirit wrote the Scriptures via men of God (2 Peter 1:20-21) and the terminology the Holy Spirit chose to use was the language of destruction, not the language of eternal conscious torture.
2. In a desperate effort to repudiate the above, advocates of eternal torture try to claim that the Greek word translated as “destroy” and “perish” in passages like Matthew 10:28 and John 3:16—apollumi (ah-POHL-loo-mee)—means “destruction, not of being, but of well-being.” However this is easily disproven because Jesus used this very word (as conveyed by Luke) to describe the incineration of the people of Sodom (Luke 17:29). Bear in mind that both the Old and New Testaments detail that Sodom & Gomorrah were burned to ashes and, even more, that this total incineration is an example of what will happen to the ungodly on the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:6). What word did Christ use to describe this incineration in Luke 17:29? Why, appolumi, the very same word translated as “destroy” in Matthew 10:28 and “perish” in John 3:16. Enough said.
3. Backing up the above two points are the unmistakable examples of literal destruction used in reference to the second death, like weeds thrown into fire and burned (Matthew 13:40). Tell me, what happens to weeds cast into fire? Do they burn forever and ever without ever quite burning up or do they burn for a little while, but ultimately burn up? (“Burn up” is incidentally the way John the Baptist described human damnation in Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17). Then there’s Jesus’ example of the enemies of the king (figurative of Christ) being brought before him and executed in front of him, not preserved and perpetually tormented in his presence (Luke 19:27). Another great example is that of “hell” itself. The only Greek word translated as “hell” in English Bibles that’s applicable to the second death is Gehenna, which literally means Valley of Hinnom or Hinnom Valley. This ravine was a trash dump and incinerator located outside the southwest walls of Jerusalem at the time of Christ. You can see it on close-up maps of Jerusalem in the backs of most Bibles. Jesus used Gehenna as a figure for the lake of fire and human damnation that his listeners readily understood. Trash and carcasses of animals and despised criminals weren’t thrown into Gehenna to be preserved, but rather to be discarded and eradicated. It’s the same with the unrighteous on Judgment Day when they’re cast into the lake of fire.
4. The above points are further reinforced by the fact that eternal life and immortality are only available to people through the gospel of Christ, as clearly shown in 2 Timothy 1:10 and Romans 2:7. Jesus plainly said that human beings are mortal apart from redemption and that angelic spirits possess intrinsic immortality, even wicked spirits (Luke 20:34-36), which explains why the lake of fire—the “eternal fire”—was “prepared for the devil and his angels” as their eternal habitation (Matthew 25:41). However, human beings are mortal apart from redemption in Christ. The very reason the LORD was sure to banish Adam & Eve from the Garden of Eden was so that they wouldn’t “eat of the tree of life and live forever” (Genesis 3:22-24) and thus suffer the same fate as the devil and his angels. Only the redeemed will be allowed to “eat of the tree of life” and live forever (Revelation 2:7).
The Great White Throne Judgment brings up an obvious question: Will every person who partakes of this judgment automatically be cast into the lake of fire? After all, what about those who never heard the gospel? What about those who heard the gospel but didn’t understand it for one legitimate reason or another? What about those who rejected it because it was either a flawed, religionized version of the gospel or it came with serious baggage, like imperialism? Every legitimate minister of God’s Word must consider these obvious questions and try to answer them based on what the Bible says and simple common sense. I would be seriously skeptical of anyone who doesn’t do this, particularly those who write off such questions in preference to the official position of whatever group they adhere to, which is an example of rigid sectarianism. Religious faction-ism like this actually hinders the truth and, in fact, is a form of legalism, i.e. counterfeit Christianity. Remember, Jesus said it’s the truth that will set us free (John 8:31-32), so anything that hinders the acquisition of truth is not good. In any case, these questions are explored in HELL KNOW.
The Sheep and Goat Judgment
This judgment concerns non-Christians still alive on earth after God’s judgment falls on humanity during the Tribulation, detailed in Revelation 6-19. When the mighty conqueror Jesus Christ returns to earth to set up His millennial kingdom He will judge the living nations, as shown in Matthew 25:31-46. They will be judged according to how they treat Tribulation saints—people who embrace the gospel during the Tribulation due to the testimony of 1. the Rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), 2. the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, 3. the two witnesses, 4. the mass divine judgments, and 5. an angel commissioned to preach the eternal gospel to the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 14:6-7). These believers will be greatly persecuted during the antichrist’s worldwide reign of terror. The living nations will be judged according to how they treat these Tribulation saints. Those who had regard for believers—the body of Christ—and acted accordingly will be designated as “sheep,” promised eternal life, and allowed to enter the Millennium as mortals whereas those who disregard and persecute believers will be cast into the lake of fire, God’s trash dump, to suffer the second death.
You can read more about this judgment here.
The Judgment Seat of Christ
The Judgment Seat of Christ is detailed in this passage:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
(11) Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.
2 Corinthians 5:10-11
Paul is addressing believers in this passage and he says that we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is the judgment that believers will experience and is also called the Bema (BAY-mah) Judgment, named after the Greek word for “judgment seat.” Spiritually-regenerated Christians will not be evaluated at the Great White Throne Judgment, as that judgment only concerns spiritually-dead people (Revelation 20:11-15).
The purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ is obviously not to determine who will be granted eternal life, as all spiritually born-again believers rightfully possess such, although there may be exceptions. The purpose of this judgment is to acknowledge and reward Christians for the good things they did while in the body and to rebuke and penalize them for the bad. The “bad” will not include sins humbly confessed because God forgives all such sins and purifies us from the corresponding unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9). The “bad” would include both unconfessed sins of commission and sins of omission, as well as an appraisal of our works. A sin of commission is something that we do, like gossip and slander. A sin of omission involves something that we don’t do that we should have done. For instance, if God prompts a lady to give someone in need $100 and she doesn’t do it, or if the LORD calls a lawyer into full-time ministry and he ignores the call. These are sins of omission.
There’s something in the above passage that we need to consider: After stating that Christians will receive what is due them for the good or bad things they did, the apostle Paul then says in verse 11: “Since then, we know what it is to fear the Lord.” The King James Version translates this as “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord.” This statement makes no sense if people just receive rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, as I’ve heard some ministers erroneously teach. Knowing that Christians will be held accountable for the bad things they do in this life can inspire some healthy “terror.” For those of us who are Christians, it’s spiritually healthy to regularly remind ourselves that we will one day stand before the throne of God Himself and give an accounting of our lives. Needless to say, the fear of the Lord inspires holy (pure) living. It inspires humbly “keeping with repentance” when we miss it.
The Greek word for ‘judgment’ in reference to the sixth basic doctrine, “eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:2), is krima (KREE-mah), which means “judgment, verdict or lawsuit.” The Greek for ‘judgment seat’ in the phrase “judgment seat of Christ” is a different word, the aforementioned bema (BAY-mah), which refers to a platform or throne from which justice is administered. Because of this, some might suggest that the sixth basic doctrine—eternal judgment—doesn’t apply to believers, but it does. For instance, it says in James 3:1 that “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James was addressing believers and says that those who teach will be judged more strictly. More literal translations say that those who teach will “receive a stricter judgment” (e.g. NASB and NKJV). The word “judgment” (or “judged” in the NIV) is the aforementioned krima used in the phrase “eternal judgment” in Hebrews 6:2. Where do you suppose those who teach God’s Word will experience this stricter judgment? Not the Great White Throne Judgment, since that judgment applies strictly to spiritually unregenerated unbelievers. No, these teachers will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ, which is where believers are judged.
I’ve had ministers write me because they object to the notion of believers being judged on the grounds that Christ returns “to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” and (supposedly) not to judge them (Hebrews 9:28). Yes, Jesus is returning to bring salvation to believers, but this does not negate the reality and necessity of the Bema Judgment, as detailed above.
I know believers who rip off people in business without a second thought or readily engage in gossip & slander, usually due to hidden (but obvious) envy, rivalry and malice. What doctrine of demons have they embraced to cause them to walk in such blatant unrighteousness without repentance? Answer: The false doctrine that believers can sin all they want with no care of repentance and never be held accountable because “Jesus is returning to bring salvation only to believers and no judgment whatsoever.” It’s a wicked and thoroughly unbiblical doctrine! The Judgment Seat of Christ is part of the six basic doctrines and is therefore a foundational teaching of true Christianity. It inspires God-fearing holiness and a spirit of humble repentance in believers and protects them from false doctrine, like the idea that believers won’t have to stand before Christ at His Judgment Seat.
For more details on the Judgment Seat of Christ see this article.
The Judgment of Old Testament Saints
The sixth basic doctrine of eternal judgment applies to one final group and that’s the Old Testament saints. They will be judged at the time of their resurrection when the Lord returns to the earth to establish His millennial reign, which takes place at the end of the Tribulation, as shown in the following two passages:
“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. (2) Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Daniel prophesies that the resurrection of the Israelites will not take place until after a “time of distress” so great that such a thing never occurred before in the history of humanity. This refers to the Tribulation detailed in the book of Revelation (chapters 6-19). Daniel speaks in general terms of the righteous who will be delivered or resurrected at this time. He refers to them as “your people”—i.e. God’s people—and “everyone whose name is found written in the book,” which would of course include more than just Old Testament holy people; it would include Christian martyrs during the Tribulation, as well as living believers.
Jesus gets more specific about the resurrection and judgment of Old Testament saints in this passage:
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (29) And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (30) But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
Some might inquire why Old Testament saints are not resurrected at the time of Jesus’ return for his church—that is, the Rapture—which is when believers are either bodily resurrected or translated (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), but this idea is negated by the obvious fact that the Rapture concerns the Lord’s return for His church—His bride—and not his return for holy people of the Old Testament period.
I encourage you to master the six basic doctrines of Christianity as detailed in these last two chapters. Those who do so set a solid foundation for their spiritual walk, which protects them from false doctrine and feeble quasi-spirituality.
This teaching was edited from The Four Stages of Spiritual Growth:
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