Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Does Man have an Immortal Spirit?


If there is any fundamental belief that transcends most cultural and religious boundaries, it’s the notion that human beings possess an immortal “soul” or “spirit” that exists independently of the body and ventures off somewhere at the moment of death. In other words, we are all immortal ghosts housed in temporary containers of flesh. Your soul, spirit, or “ghost” is allegedly the “real you.”


This teaching is a staple in evangelical circles, so much so that I doubt whether many Christians have ever taken the time to really examine what the Bible has to say about the nature of mankind. Certain passages—such as the account Saul’s meeting with the witch of Endor, and Moses and Elijah appearing at Jesus’ transfiguration—are often read in light of preconceived notions and/or without full consideration of either the immediate context or the overall context of scripture.

Additionally, there is a strong emotional component to the conception of man as a spirit able to survive the death of the body. Whereas the New Testament states that God alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15-16) and its writers consistently stress the hope of resurrection and entrance into the Kingdom of God upon Christ’s return, most Christians who have suffered the loss of a loved one tend to seek comfort in the idea that he or she is already “in a better place,” “walking the streets of gold with Jesus,” and “not dead at all but more alive than ever.” The idea that this might not be so is frequently met with consternation bordering on outrage.

As it happens, the Bible offers compelling evidence against the ghost concept, starting at the very beginning with the Genesis account of Adam’s creation.

What is Man?

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:7

There are several things to notice here:

First, note that Adam’s physical body is called “man” even before it is given life—“And the Lord God formed man of the dust…” If man is actually a spirit, the body is merely the spirit’s temporary dwelling, how much sense does it make for the Bible to refer to Adam’s body—in its initial, lifeless, ‘uninhabited’ condition—as “man”?

Second, note that after God created Adam, he “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Where in this verse do we read that God fashioned a ghost and placed it into Adam’s body? Nothing of the kind is even implied here. The text simply says that God imparted the “breath of life” to Adam. Adam then became “a living soul” (or “a living being”). He was not given a soul; he was given breath and became a soul. The term “breath” in the phrase “the breath of life” is translated from the Hebrew word neshamah, which, along with the related term, ruwach, is sometimes also translated as “spirit” or “wind” in the Bible. The term “soul” is translated from the Hebrew word nephesh. Adam’s lifeless body was given neshamah and became nephesh as a result.

Interestingly enough, Genesis also uses these same terms in reference to animals:

“And God created great whales and every living creature [nephesh] that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly.” – Genesis 1:21

“And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them to Adam…and whatever Adam called every living creature [nephesh], that was the name of it.” – Genesis 2:19

“All flesh that moved on the Earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the Earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath [neshamah] of the spirit of life, died.” – Genesis 7:21-22

So we have both man and animals being called nephesh (‘souls’ or ‘living beings’) in scripture. Both were formed from the dust and both were given life by the same neshamah. Thus the Bible portrays human beings and animals as being no different in their essential composition. There is no evidence that man was given a different type of “breath” than was given to animals. Solomon underscores this for us in Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 and 12:5 and 7:

“For the fate of humans and the fate of animals are the same: As one dies, so dies the other; both have the same breath…Both go to the same place, both come from the dust, and to dust both return.” (NET Bible)

“For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street…then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the breath will return to God who gave it.”

God himself illustrates this in Genesis 3:17-19:

“And unto Adam he said…In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, until you return unto the ground; for out of it you were taken: for dust you are, and unto dust you shall return.”

“Dust you are.” Not “your body is dust,” but “you” are dust. Why would God call Adam—the conscious, thinking, feeling, reasoning, moral, spirit being—“dust” if humans are, in fact, immaterial spirits? Recall here that Genesis 2:7 refers to Adam’s lifeless body as “man.” I would be more persuaded of the view of man as a spirit if God had said something like, “Your body will return to the dust from which it was taken, for it dust, but you shall depart into Sheol,” or words to that effect, as this would suggest a true dichotomy; but, no, God plainly tells Adam, “YOU are dust.”

Also note what God says concerning man in Genesis 6:3:

“My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

Here, God refers to man as “flesh.” “He is flesh.” This is strange phraseology if man is actually a spirit encased in a temporary housing of flesh.

We see the essential nature of man referenced again in Ezekiel 37:1-14, the famous “Valley of Dry Bones” passage. This passage concerns the future of Israel, illustrated in terms of human resurrection. Ezekiel was shown a valley full of bones, and when he prophesied to them “the bones came together…the sinews and flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.” Ezekiel was then instructed to prophesy to the “wind” (literally “breath”), “…and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet.”

Note the similarity to Adam’s creation: lifeless bodies united with “breath” from God become living beings. Further, note that Ezekiel is not told to prophesy to individual spirits, or to heaven or Sheol to release the dead, or any other thing that might fit with popular conceptions of life after death; instead, he is told to prophesy to one “breath” of life.

For a last example, consider Revelation 11:1-11. Two end-time prophets are killed in Jerusalem and lie dead in the streets for three days, after which “the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood upon their feet.” No spirits return from heaven or any such thing here; rather, a singular breath of life from God enters both men and restores them to life. This reference to a singular breath of life hearkens back to Ecclesiastes 12:7, where Solomon notes that the man’s breath “returns to God who gave it.” The “breath” is not something that is inherently man’s or a part of man; it comes from God, and returns to him at the time of death.

Scriptural Problems with the “Ghost” Theory

Popular teachings in regard to the nature of man as a spirit that is able to exist in a disembodied “afterlife” state prior to the resurrection also create awkward exegetical problems.

For one, the Bible states repeatedly that the dead are “asleep” (Daniel 12:2, 1 Kings 1:21, Job 14:12, John 11:11-13, Matthew 27:52, Luke 8:52-53, 1 Corinthians 15:51). Ecclesiastes tells us that “the dead know nothing” (9:5), that there is “no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol,” the realm of the dead (9:10). Psalm 6:5 says that there is no praise of God in Sheol, while 146:4 adds that, when a man dies, even “his thoughts perish.” None of these passages are compatible with traditional views of the afterlife or alleged near-death experiences in which persons who temporarily died supposedly interacted with deceased loved ones.

Even various scripture passages that supposedly show disembodied spirits are in conflict with other passages. A prime example of this is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which many Bible teachers claim is an accurate glimpse of the afterlife given by Jesus himself. In the story, we’re told that the rich man finds himself in agony in the flames of Hades, and desires that Lazarus be sent to him to cool his tongue with water. Yet, this imagery conflicts with what Jesus had to say about the nature of spirits in Luke 24:43, when he first appeared to his disciples following his resurrection:

“While they were telling these things, He [Jesus] Himself stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be to you.’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.”

In this passage, Jesus indicates that spirits do not have physical substance, and he demonstrates that he is not a spirit by inviting his disciples to touch him and by eating a piece of a fish. This leads me to ask: If the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus depicts disembodied spirits in the afterlife, how is it that the rich man could be tormented by fire or comforted by water? Why are he and Lazarus described as having physical characteristics (eyes, fingers, and a tongue)? How could Lazarus touch the rich man, as the rich man desired him to do?

Defenders of the traditional view of the afterlife have resorted to explaining these discrepancies away by resorting to speculation about “spirit bodies” and “spiritual fire” (concepts that are nowhere found in scripture), but I feel it is more sensible to approach the Rich Man and Lazarus as the final parable in a long series of parables aimed at the Pharisees—a story full of illustrative symbolism, rather than a glimpse into the afterlife. Both Matthew and Mark tell us that that Jesus taught the crowds in parables, “and did not speak to them without a parable” (Matthew 13:34, Mark 4:34), whereas he explained things clearly to his disciples in private. Again, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus comes at the end of a series of parables, which Luke clearly tells us Jesus taught in public:

“Now all the tax-collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” – Luke 15:1-2

The united witness of scripture strongly suggests that man is not a spirit encased in flesh, but rather, a being of flesh who, upon death, returns to the dust from which he was formed. Man was created when God united his breath with the physical form he had fashioned from the ground, and death is essentially the reversal of the creation process; man’s components separate and return to their point of origin: his body returns to the dust, while his “breath returns to God who gave it.” Man is not inherently immortal. Immortality is a gift that God will give to the righteous following the return of Christ:

“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, and then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

In this passage, Paul tells us that neither the dead nor the living are able to inherit the kingdom of God without “putting on” “immortality” and “the imperishable,” which necessarily means that neither is immortal or imperishable at present. Traditionalists will stress that Paul is referring only to physical bodies here, rather than to the immortal spirit of man, which they insist is able to exist independently of the body and exhibit and experience all manner of what we think of as physical actions and sensations: sight, sound, touch, speech, pain, comfort, etc. If this is so, then the body of man seems superfluous, even detrimental, because it somehow hinders the superior spirit it houses.

Indeed, if immortality is the criteria for inheriting the kingdom, why does the immortal spirit not qualify on its own, since it is able to do and experience virtually everything the body can do and experience? Why must the immortal spirit be joined to an immortal physical body before it can inherit the kingdom of a God who is himself “spirit” (John 4:24)? If the immortal spirit—the supposed “real person”—never dies but is really “more alive than ever” when apart from the body, then why is death only overcome when the physical body rises? The person never died, after all; only their fleshly housing died.

Why, for that matter, did Jesus come to pay the penalty for sin in the flesh?

“For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” – Romans 8:3

If the body is merely a housing for a spirit, a ghost—the “real person”—why is it the flesh that is sinful? Why did Christ have to come and die in the flesh if it is really the spirit within the flesh that sins and the body is merely a helpless tool used to carry out the spirit’s wishes? Why is it the flesh that dies and not the spirit? Some will answer with an appeal to what theologians refer to as “spiritual death,” but if the spirit dies—‘spiritually speaking,’ that is, since it supposedly cannot actually die—why, again, was the price for redeeming man’s spirit’s paid in flesh? If the primary death man suffers is “spiritual,” why is death not said to be “swallowed up in victory” until the body rises? If it is “spiritual death” that Christ contended against, why is the rising of man’s cast-off physical body not said to be a formality rather than the quintessential moment of victory?

If, on the other hand, man really is what God called him way back in Genesis: nephesh, conscious, breathing “flesh,” then the problems I’ve outlined above disappear entirely. Christ came and paid the penalty for sin in the flesh because man is flesh, and when flesh that has died rises from the dust, unable to die again, then death is defeated indeed.

And for one last exegetical issue, there is the matter of how unrighteous spirits can be suffering torment without the judgment having taken place yet. I’ve heard traditionalists refer to Hades (usually just termed “hell”) as a “holding cell for judgment day,” but their teaching clearly indicates that they see it as much more than that. Essentially, they view it as a torture chamber, a place of active punishment. Yet, how is it that the unrighteous spirits consigned there are being punished without having had their day in court, without “the books” having been opened against them (Revelation 2011-13)? This flies in the face, not only of Christ’s kingdom parables and much other New Testament teaching (such as Hebrews 9:27), but also of the Old Testament precedents that God himself set under the Law of Moses.

Additional Considerations

The “ghost” doctrine also raises other questions even apart from purely scriptural considerations, such as the matter of how spirit beings are propagated by physical union. Can spirits procreate? Do men and women somehow combine in their spirits as well as their DNA when they conceive children, with the result that a new human spirit is generated along with a new body? Or does God create a new person each time sperm and egg successfully join, and then implant that spirit in the reproducing cells of the embryo? The question is certainly interesting, if not rather bizarre.

Conclusion

Serious Bible students need to re-examine this issue of the immortal soul/spirit/ghost, and along with it the various common inferences drawn from scripture where the nature of death and the subject of an afterlife are concerned. I would argue that our concept of the human soul or spirit has been more heavily influenced by Platonism and popular culture (including reports of near-death experiences) than what the Bible actually reveals about the nature of man and the divine “breath” that gives us life. This is a dangerous state of affairs, particularly in light of the Bible’s warnings that deception will be rampant in the last days. If Christians believe that their dead friends and relatives continue to live on in some ethereal, ghostly state—rather than being well and truly dead until the time of resurrection, as the Bible actually teaches—then they are likely to be open to still greater deceptions. Already, some Christian teachers are promoting the idea that spirits of the dead can interact with the living and even provide them with guidance, pointing to the examples of how C.S. Lewis and J.B. Philips were supposedly influenced by “godly ghosts.”

The danger here should be self-evident, but I fear that many Christians are too gullible to see it. The popularity of books such as Heaven is for Real and 13 Minutes in Hell have captivated their imaginations and encouraged them to place more faith in alleged spiritual experiences than in the authority of the Bible itself. Even occultists will testify that spirits often lie and misrepresent themselves. Christians would do well to rethink these matters, avoid sensational claims, and heed the Apostle John’s advice:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…” – 1 John 4:1

For a detailed look at alleged ghosts of the Bible, see this article: Do the Dead return to visit the Living?

For discussions of the Rich Man and Lazarus, see the following resources:


Related resources:





 * Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are taken from the NASB

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Why Some Cannot Find God

I recently made a video in which I take a few minutes to discuss why God, if he truly exists, appears to have hidden himself from mankind, and what you need to do to experience him personally.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Rapture and the Church in Revelation, Part Five: Who are the Heaven-Dwellers?

This is part five in a series of articles examining pretribulationist arguments concerning the church in the book of Revelation as put forth by Dr. Robert Gromacki. See previous installments at the following links:



Gromacki writes:

The beast, that great political-military leader of the end time, will open his mouth “in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven” (Rev. 13:6 NKJV). Who are these heaven-dwellers? They are contrasted with earth-dwellers (12:12; 13:8, 14). The earth-dwellers are both human and unsaved. Thus the heaven-dwellers appear to be human and saved. The verb “dwell” (skenountas) is the same word used for Jesus Christ’s incarnation: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14 NKJV). A similar word (skenos) is used to describe the believer’s present body as a “tent” (2 Cor. 5:1, 4). The verb (“to dwell”) or the noun (“tent”) is never used of angelic activities or bodies.

Gromacki’s exegesis is another example of theological confirmation bias in operation.

Were the rapture not an issue here, I doubt that Gromacki would have any issue whatsoever with the concept that angels “dwell in heaven.” No, the Bible does not specifically use those words, but it is nonetheless clear in scripture that they come from heaven, that it is their home as much as Earth is humanity’s home. They are referred to a number of times in scripture as “the host of heaven” and “the heavenly host” (I Kings 22:19, II Chronicles 18:18, Luke 2:13). To argue that angels should not be considered “heaven-dwellers” is really rather extraordinary, and seems forced upon this passage as a means of creating another artificial comparison/contrast to support pretribulationism.

In fact, Gromacki is setting up a direct parallelism that is not supported by the text. Note how he does this:

“The earth-dwellers are both human and unsaved.” – So far, so good. This is a natural assumption from the text. Humans dwell on the earth and those who are blaspheming against heaven cannot be saved individuals.[1]

“Thus the heaven-dwellers appear to be human and saved.” – Here is the false comparison. Simply because we’re dealing with humans on earth, why should we automatically assume that we’re dealing with humans in heaven, especially given that they do not naturally dwell there? Gromacki makes this assumption because he believes that they have been transported there by a pretribulation rapture, but it’s important to note that the text neither states nor even implies such.

This is undoubtedly why Gromakci focuses on the Greek word translated as “dwell” (skenoo/skenountas). His comments indicate that he sees this word as implying a temporary state of affairs, as in the believer’s temporary mortal body and Christ’s temporarily dwelling among men.[2] Pretribulationists would see this as significant given that their theology places the church in heaven for a period of seven years, after which it returns to the earth with Christ. Thus, they would see the “tent” reference as an appropriate comparison to the church’s temporary stay in heaven during the Great Tribulation period.

Strong’s defines skenoo/skenountas as meaning: “to tent or encamp, i.e. (figuratively) to occupy (as a mansion) or (specially) to reside (as God did in the Tabernacle of old, a symbol of protection and communion):—dwell.” The term appears five times in the New Testament, once in the gospel of John (John 1:14, as Gromakci states), and four times in Revelation. Here are its occurrences in Revelation:

  • “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle [dwelling] over them.” – Revelation 7:15. This is a reference to the great multitude that comes out of the Great Tribulation. The KJV and NKJV render “spread His tabernacle over them” as “dwell among them.” Other translations, including the NIV, NLT, and ESV render this as “shelter them” or “shelter them with his presence.” The context and various related passages make it clear that this dwelling, tabernacling, or sheltering will be a permanent state of affairs.
  • “For this reason, rejoice O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.” – Revelation 12:12. Most translations render skenoo/skenountas here as “dwell,” although the NET Bible renders it “reside.” The context is the aftermath of a war in heaven, in which John saw Satan and his angels defeated and cast down to the earth. John describes a proclamation coming out of heaven in celebration of the fact that Satan can no longer accuse the saints before God as he once did, and that the saints have overcome him. It is then that the call for rejoicing goes forth. This call makes much more sense in an angelic than human context here, as it was the angels who defeated Satan and his forces.
  • “And he [the Beast] opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His Name, and His Tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven.” – Revelation 13:6. This is the verse Gromacki quoted.
  • “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4. As with Revelation 7:15, this tabernacling or dwelling of God among men is promised as a permanent state of affairs.
The uses of skenoo/skenountas in these examples (including from John 1),[3] strongly relate to the idea of dwelling in the manifest presence of God. In considering this, I’m reminded of what Jesus says in Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” Here we have a contrast drawn between angels and men by Christ himself, and a corresponding reminder that angels are heavenly beings.

We see another particularly interesting reminder of this in Jude 1:6, where Jude refers to the judgment of angels: “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He [God] has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” The word “abode” is translated from the Greek term oiketerion. Strong’s defines this word as meaning “a residence (literally or figuratively):—habitation, house.” Vines Expository Dictionary comments on it as follows: “a habitation” (from oiketer, “an inhabitant,” and oikos, “a dwelling”), is used in Jude 1:6, of the heavenly region appointed by God as the dwelling place of angels.” Here the Bible tells us plainly that angels are specifically appointed to live in the heavens. By this token, there is a substantial burden of proof required to argue that we should not naturally assume a reference to “heaven-dwellers” to mean humans, who were not created to live in heaven, rather than angels, who most certainly were created to live in heaven. In my opinion, Gromacki’s evidence does not meet that burden of proof.

Of further interest on this topic, the revelation makes numerous mentions to God, Christ, and the tabernacle of God coming to earth from heaven, but beyond the two witnesses being taken up following their resurrection (see Revelation 11:1-13), it says nothing whatsoever about humans going to heaven.[4] Note the following references:

  • “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him…” – Revelation 1:7
  • “I am coming quickly…” – Revelation 3:11
  • “Behold, I am coming like a thief…” –Revelation 16:15
  • “And I saw heaven opened, and, behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war…and the armies which are in heaven…were following Him.” – Revelation 19:11, 14
  • “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God...And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” – Revelation 21:2-3
  • “And, behold, I am coming quickly…” – Revelation 22:7
  • “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” – Revelation 22:12
  • “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” – Revelation 22:20
These repeated references to God coming to dwell among men hearken back strongly to the kingdom preaching of Christ and his apostles, and in particular to the kingdom parables in the gospels. According to these consistent witnesses from scripture, the believer’s expectation is “the coming,” whereas pretribulationists have turned that expectation into “the going.”

For one last consideration on this subject of the “heaven-dwellers,” let’s take a look at the word translated “blaspheme” in Revelation 13:6, where we are told that the Beast blasphemes against them. In this instance, “blaspheme” is translated from the Greek word blasphemeo, which appears numerous times in scripture and, on a few occasions, is translated as “slandering,” “evil speaking,” “railing,” “hurling abuse,” and related terms. Strong’s defines as it as meaning: “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile, calumniate, blaspheme, to be evil spoken of, reviled, railed at.” It is usually associated with evil speech directed toward God, but there are exceptions to this.

In II Peter 2:10-11, the apostle Peter provides us with some of the characteristics of those who will fall under God’s judgment:

“Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile [blasphemeo] angelic majesties, whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling [blasphemos] judgment against them before the Lord.”

Here is a clear witness from scripture that it is possible to “blaspheme” against angels. It is also possible to blaspheme (speak evil against) men, however, as II Peter 2:11 indicates in the above quotation,[5] so the use of the term does not rule out the presence of humans in heaven in the context of Revelation 13:7. That said, however, the Beast has more of an evident motive to blaspheme against angels than against humans.

Think back to the three angels that John sees flying in mid-heaven in Revelation 14:6-7, and 9-12. These angels proclaim the gospel, encourage the saints, and prophesy divine wrath against the Beast and his followers. They are openly challenging the Beast and proclaiming the message of God, thus furnishing the Beast with a tremendous incentive for blaspheming against them as he also rails against God. By contrast, if there are humans in heaven at this time, Revelation does not tell us of anything they might be doing that would draw the open ire of the Beast. In my view, this is yet more evidence that the “heaven-dwellers” are indeed angels and not human beings.


* All scriptures are taken from the NASB.


[1] We should be careful to note here that, like other such references in scripture (see Luke 2:1), this does not literally refer to every single individual on planet Earth, but rather, to what is characteristic of the majority of people at the time. Even pretribulationists acknowledge that there will be saved individuals on earth at the time, although they insist that these people will not be part of the church.
[2] While it may seem that I’m nitpicking here, Gromacki’s reference to the incarnation is another example among several we’ve seen in this study as to his lack of careful exegesis. In the phrase, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” the words that refer to the incarnation are “the Word became flesh,” and these are translated from the Greek words logos sarx ginomai. The phrase “and dwelt among us” does not refer to the incarnation; it refers to the posture Christ assumed with respect to humanity after his incarnation. He was “made flesh” and dwelt among beings of flesh. Thus, skenountas, “to dwell,” does not refer to the incarnation—the taking on of flesh—at all. Further, the incarnation does not help Gromacki’s case because it was not a temporary state of affairs. Scripture is clear that Christ continues in the flesh (see Luke 24:38-40, 1 John 4:2), although his is a glorified, immortal body.
[3] One of Christ’s titles is “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.”
[4] John being “caught up” in Revelation 4 is not part of the revelation, and, as noted previously, likely did not take place physically. I’m talking about the revelation itself here, as opposed to the Book of Revelation.
[5] For another example, see Acts 6:11.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Rapture and the Church in Revelation, Part Four: "Whoever has Ears to Hear..."


This is part four in a series of articles examining pretribulationist arguments concerning the church in the book of Revelation as put forth by Dr. Robert Gromacki. See previous installments at the following links:



"Whoever has Ears to Hear..."

Dr. Gromacki observes the following:

All seven letters to the churches end with this admonition by Christ: ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (NKJv) Each individual person in each individual local church was to hear and apply the truth that Christ gave to all of the local churches. For example, a believer in the church at Ephesus could profit spiritually from what the Savior said to the churches at Pergamos or at Philadelphia

Gromacki goes on to point out an apparent inconsistency in the use of this terminology after the rise of the Antichrist:

[In Revelation 13:8] John recorded this truth about him: ‘All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’... At this point, John records the warning: ‘if anyone has an ear, let him hear’ (13:9). Period! There is no mention of “saying to the churches,” a phrase which is repeated seven times in the seven letters. If the previously mentioned churches (Rev. 1-3) could possibly be in the seven-year period to face the wrath of the beast, then why wasn’t the admonition addressed to them? The obvious answer is that they won’t be on earth at that time. There is mention of “saints” in the context (13:7,10). These saints, however, are those who get saved during the seven years after the true church has been taken into heaven.

As you can see, Gromacki insists that the saints who are referenced in Revelation 13 are not of the church but belong to a separate class of individuals who will become believers during the Great Tribulation. He states this as if it were an indisputable fact, but in reality it’s an assumption. Gromacki considers a pre-tribulation rapture of the church to be a fact; therefore, he must account for the presence of saints on the earth following the rapture. The only way to do so is to invent a new category of believers: hence, “tribulation saints.” As I’ve already pointed out, however, the term “saints” is applied to believers of the church throughout the New Testament and is carried over, without qualification, into the book of Revelation. Why should we assume that it must mean something entirely different in Revelation than it means everywhere else it’s used in the New Testament? Gromacki isn’t proving anything here; he’s simply restating his assumptions.

Remember what we have already seen in regard to how the structure of the book of Revelation changes between chapters 3 and 22. The churches are directly addressed as local congregations in chapters 2 and 3, whereas “the saints” (the holy, consecrated ones) are mentioned afterward because believers will not overcome the Antichrist as local congregations but as individuals, and it is clear that not all of those in the seven churches were holy, consecrated, and ready to be overcomers. Indeed, it is unlikely that church congregations will even be able to assemble once persecution begins in earnest and some believers turn on others, as Jesus warned us they will (Matthew 24:9-11).

Now let’s go back and look at Revelation 13:9 in context:

“It was also given to him [the Beast] to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.” – Revelation 13:7, 9-10

I think it likely that this admonition may not apply solely to the saints—those who already know the Lord; it may also be an admonition to those who are coming to faith at the time, letting them know that they will be expected to stand firm against the Beast in Christ’s service. This idea is supported by the angelic messages we see in the very next chapter.

“And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” – Revelation 14:6-7

A second angel follows, proclaiming the fall of “Babylon the great,” and then a third angel comes bearing this message:

“Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day or night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.’ Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” – Revelation 14:9-12

Note how John tells us that the first angel is preaching the gospel message to all of mankind with a loud voice. Two more angels then follow, also making proclamations—the third with a loud voice, just like the first. The audience does not appear to change between these angelic proclamations. Note also how the proclamation of the third angel is so similar in its content to what we see in Revelation 13, including how it ends in such a similar manner:

“Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.” – Revelation 13:10

“Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” – Revelation 14:12

Both passages are painting the same picture: The Beast will be given power to make war on God’s people and will kill many of them. He will rule over all who accept his mark and worship his image, and anyone inclined to do so is warned that they will suffer the wrath of God in its full fury. The saints, on the other hand, must keep their faith in Christ and obey the commandments of God even to the point of death. These are general proclamations to all of mankind, but only those “with ears to hear” will receive them.

As you think on this, reflect on how Christ taught the multitudes during his ministry. While he taught all who came to him, he knew that not all would keep and apply his teachings, which is why he continually said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Those who truly “hear” are those who take heed to what Christ has to say and continually put it into practice. These individuals constitute the “good soil” described in the Parable of the Sower:

“But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” – Luke 8:15

In Revelation, as in the gospels, the warnings and admonitions are a type of seed being sown with the good soil in mind, as it is only the good soil that will benefit the kingdom, bearing fruit “with perseverance.”

The warning concerning perseverance is also consistent with Christ’s admonition that anyone who wants to come to him must “count the cost” of discipleship:

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? – Luke 14:27-31

As a dispensational pretribulationist, Dr. Gromacki believes that the church will already be complete by the time the Great Tribulation begins, but posttribulationists believe that the church will continue to be built right up until the second coming and that all saints are part of the same bride of the Lamb. The term “church” is translated from the Greek word ekklesia, meaning “a called-out assembly.” Here, in Revelation chapters 13 and 14,[1] we see that the “calling out” continues, and on the same basis as it has since Christ first began building his church: with an appeal to those “who have ears to hear” to heed his word and continue in it to the end, even upon pain of death. In Revelation chapter 6, we see a great multitude that is said to have come out of the Great Tribulation and is described in terms that are very much in line with the promises made to the churches in chapters 2 and 3.

Only by reading doctrinal assumptions into scripture can one justify separating these so-called “tribulation saints” from the called-out assembly of Jesus Christ.


* All scriptures are taken from the NASB.



[1] Also see Revelation 18:4 – “I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues.’”