Category Archives: Theological

Chapter 8: “The Most Costly and Convincing Evidence”

This blog begins chapter eight of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures by Graham Maxwell in 1984. After each lecture Maxwell took written questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church at the time, Lou Venden. This marvelous series has never been put into book form, so I am attempting to do so and sharing the results in progress here with permission from the Maxwell family. The Bible contains many answers to the question, “Why did Jesus die?” One of the most compelling and persuasive answers to this question is articulated by Graham Maxwell in this chapter. The words that follow are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

I’ve entitled this chapter “The Most Costly and Convincing Evidence,” and the question to be answered is “Why did Jesus have to die?” While there are so many texts that could be included in examining this topic, I have tried to limit myself to the ones that help to explain why Jesus had to die. I’ve called the cross the most costly and convincing evidence, because I believe that the unique and awful way in which Jesus suffered and died reveals something about our God and about His government that absolutely had to be clarified before trust and peace could be restored again. For as we have considered already, there has been a crisis of distrust in God’s universal family, even to the point of war in heaven as described in Revelation twelve.

Our God has been accused of being unworthy of the trust of His created beings, of being arbitrary, vengeful, and severe. He has particularly been accused of lying to His children, of lying about death being the result of sin. It does no good simply to deny such charges. God does not ask us to accept mere claims. It is only by the demonstration of trustworthiness over a long period of time and under a great variety of circumstances, particularly difficult ones, that trust can be re-established and confirmed. And so the Bible records that God sent His Son to deal with this breakdown of trust and trustworthiness in His family. In other words, He sent His Son to deal with sin (Rom 8:3).

Questions and Answers (7:7)

Lou: I want to shift gears just a little bit. Here is a question that arises, perhaps, out of a bit of frustration: “If scholars and theologians still disagree about God, what chance do I have to figure all this out?”
Graham: Yes. I’d tell this person to read the gospels again. They’re not that complicated. I think theologians have made it complicated. It impresses me that “the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37). I think we’re the ones that have made the Bible appear to be difficult.

Lou: I once received letters from an individual who talked about the impression of the Holy Spirit, about how the Spirit came on him and he wrote and wrote. That leads me to a question that someone else has raised: “If I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and then I have this deep conviction, isn’t that enough?”
Graham: It might seem to be. Fortunately the Bible warns us about that and offers some safeguards. This warm feeling of conviction within could come from prejudice, it could come from indigestion, it could come from all kinds of things. The Spirit will not lead you away from what He has already inspired. So we should always judge the work of the Holy Spirit by the revelations He has previously inspired.

Lou: But what difference does it make what kind of Person I believe God to be? What does it matter as long as I submit to His authority? Why not just say, “God has said it; I believe it; that’s it.”
Graham: Well, that reminds me of what we said about Saul of Tarsus. The conception of God that Saul had drove the way he did evangelism before his experience on the Damascus road. In God’s name he imprisoned people and he had them stoned to death. But when he got the true picture of God so dramatically, Saul proceeded from the thunders of Sinai to the still, small voice at the mouth of the cave in a few minutes. He really grew up in a hurry. His new picture of God changed his whole approach to evangelism.
Lou: So you’re saying that one’s picture of God inevitably affects everything.
Graham: Everything: the way we worship, the way we witness to others, the way we behave.

Lou: Someone has written this: “Our Great Dane is gentle, faithful, patient, trusting, of lovely disposition. What does this dog’s wonderful quality of character say about the human lack of achievements along these lines?”
Graham: Oh, I rather like that question. I think we can learn a lot from nature. Even the posture of a Great Dane is magnificent compared to our slouching! There are so many ways in which the animals are an example to us. But when it comes to faithfulness, think of a dog that weighs more than most of us, having enormous strength, yet being safe to have around in the house all the time! I think it’s wonderful that mere creatures can show these wonderful qualities, and I think it speaks well of God.

Lou: A final question: “Why did Jesus have to die? Wasn’t God’s mercy sufficient by itself?” Isn’t that the topic of chapter eight?
Graham: The answer to that question is really the climax of everything. Everything points to the cross. And fortunately, that’s where all Christians agree. We may have many different theological opinions, but almost all Christians agree we ought to go to the foot of the cross. We ought to watch the way Jesus died. We ought to listen to His cry and ask the question, “Is death the result of sin? Is it torture and execution at the hands of our gracious God?”
Lou: No one should overlook the next chapter.

Questions and Answers (7:6)

Lou: You spoke of the charge that God is arbitrary, harsh, severe and so forth. The question has come in, “If you’re talking about arbitrary, isn’t something like the fourth Commandment arbitrary?”
Graham: Well, it is often so described and it is felt to make a beautiful test of our obedience. But if that is all the Sabbath is, it won’t be much of a blessing. Jesus said, “I gave it to you as a gift; you weren’t made for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). The best answer for every question, in my book, is to go back to Genesis and read all sixty-six. If you start with Genesis and read through, you will find all the meanings of the Sabbath. The Sabbath reminds us of all that was revealed about God during Creation Week, the message of freedom, and how He shares His creative power with us (Exod 20:11). And then it was given to remind us of the Exodus (Deut 5:15), another monument to freedom. The Sabbath also came after crucifixion day. So the Sabbath reminds us of all the answers given on crucifixion Friday (Luke 23:54-56). And then Hebrews says the Sabbath is a type of the rest to come (Heb 4:9-11). I don’t know of any commandment that has more reasons. Therefore I will not call it arbitrary. That idea comes from “here a little and there a little,” you see. When we take the Bible as a whole, God has never asked us to do anything arbitrary. The Sabbath command is actually the most meaningful and significant of the ten.

Lou: All right. Maybe the fourth does have a great deal of meaning if you look at the whole record, all sixty-six books. But what about the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other Gods?” That sounds a little peevish, wanting to be the only one.
Graham: Yes. How about number one and also number two? “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me, and I am a jealous God. I don’t like it when you have other gods.” (based on Exod 20:3-6). Well again, if you take the whole Bible and you are convinced of the kind of person God is, I am glad He says what He does. If He were not in support of freedom and the quality of life that He has revealed, then it would be arbitrary of Him to be the only one. But God says, “Being the kind of God I am, wishing nothing but the best for you, and valuing nothing more than your freedom, I don’t want you to go after Dagon or Molech. Molech would require your babies to be burned alive in his hollow hands. And there are those crocodile and frog gods in Egypt. And also Ashtoreth and Baal–don’t go after them. In fact, if you go after something abominable, you will become abominable yourself. But if you make Me your God, you will become ever more free, and ever more intelligent. So don’t hurt yourself.”

Lou: You’re saying it’s a request, a plea. It is said out of love.
Graham: Right. But that only makes sense if God is not arbitrary, if He is the kind of Person we believe Him to be. He is really saying, “Don’t lose your freedom and every other good thing you have by going after these degraded deities. Stay with Me. When I say that I am jealous; I mean that I am jealous for you. I don’t want you to be hurt.” I like that.

Lou: We would not want our children to have anything that would hurt them.
Graham: Isn’t that kind of jealousy all right? I always felt my parents were jealous for my reputation. I derived great comfort from that. My mother wouldn’t tell on me for anything. And so we have a God who is jealous for His children, and that’s marvelous.

Questions and Answers (7:5)

Lou: What about the raising of Lazarus? He was dead for four days! Wasn’t that outstanding evidence of Jesus’ authority? Wouldn’t you believe just on the basis of that performance?

Graham: We call that His crowning miracle, don’t we? And yet it’s significant that Elijah had resurrected the dead before (1 Kings 17:17-24). So even that was certainly not unique. What matters, I think, is the total situation within which Jesus did that. For example, He had just been crying a short while before (John 11:35). And they said, “Behold, how He loved him” (John 11:36). Actually, the very gentleness of Jesus was the kind of thing that disappointed many of His followers. But then moments later He demonstrated that He could resurrect the dead. And the theologians knew exactly what this implied. That’s why it says, “From then on, they plotted to murder Him” (John 11:53). They realized that step by step He was demonstrating beyond question that He was not only infinitely powerful but equally gracious, the One who fitted the Old Testament description.

More than that, He had the wisdom to wait until the fourth day and they must have realized it. Likely they had questioned His resurrection of Jairus’ daughter before (Mark 5:22, 35-43; Luke 8:41-42, 49-56). And so this time He waited until the fourth day, because some of them believed that the spirit hovered nearby for three days after death, in case of resuscitation. For this reason, He waited until the fourth day, until the most skeptical person in His audience would admit that Lazarus was really dead. And then, when He said “Roll away the stone,” He wanted to hear them say, “Don’t roll it away, he stinks” (John 11:39). Because then they would all admit that he really was dead. “Now,” He said, “come forth” (John 11:43-44). They had no answer for that. And when you’ve run out of evidence, you turn to violence. And they tried to kill Him.

Lou: So the raising of Lazarus did not serve to convince them, it actually turned them against Him all the more. In fact, it sealed His doom.

Graham: Yes. But to some of us, the idea that God could one minute be crying and the next minute resurrecting the dead; that sounds good.

Lou: So the chief priests went about to even plot Lazarus’ death (John 12:9-11).

Graham: That’s right; to get rid of the evidence. Lazarus was going around explaining his death and resurrection. They didn’t like that testimony.

Questions and Answers (7:4)

Lou: One more incident out of the Old Testament, the story of Elisha and the young men that came out and ridiculed him, after which they were attacked by two “she bears” (2 Kings 2:23-24). Once again, that looks like a pretty spectacular show.
Graham: The first thing we need to do is establish the irreverence of the day. You read back a little further, and the king of Israel was consulting Beelzebub, the god of flies (2 Kings 1:16). Moreover, these boys knew that Elijah had been translated to heaven. Yet they were so unimpressed that when Elisha came by, evidently a little short of hair, they said, “Hey baldy, why don’t you go up too?” The irreverence in Israel was so serious that God almost lost contact with His people there. But he didn’t send a flood this time, instead He sent two she-bears. Word of this went out among the Israelites, and reverence picked up—but so did fear. It is very difficult for God to relieve us of our fear and still maintain our reverence and respect. That’s a most delicate thing to accomplish.

Lou: All right, you’ve covered a number of God’s spectacular interventions in the Old Testament, but what about Jesus’ public ministry in the New Testament? When he turned water into wine at the wedding of Cana, didn’t that catch a lot of attention? Wasn’t that a use of miracles to establish authority?
Graham: Such methods do have some usefulness at the beginning. I wouldn’t deny Jesus the right to use whatever method He wishes to get attention. But what counts is the way the miracle is conducted and what follows after the miracle. After the miracle got their attention, they observed and tested Him. As a result, some rejected Him and some accepted Him.
Actually, turning water into wine is not that unusual in the Bible. Do you remember how Moses turned bitter water sweet in the wilderness (Exod 15:23-25)? And didn’t Elisha do something similar (2 Kings 2:19-22)? That’s not so remarkable. To me what’s more remarkable is that Jesus was attending a wedding, and He wanted it to be happy. He was very pleased to be there and to help them. He is the One who thought up marriage in the first place. I love it that His first miracle was at a wedding.

Lou: What about the feeding of the five thousand or the feeding of the four thousand a little bit later? Actually, the story about feeding the five thousand is recorded in all four of the Gospels (Matt 14:21; Mark 6:44; Luke 9:14; John 6:10). So it certainly made a powerful impact on the gospel writers and on the people. On one occasion, at least, weren’t they ready to crown Him King afterward (John 6:15)?
Graham: That’s right! Now this illustrates the point superbly. Jesus realized that huge crowds were following Him for the miracles, and that’s all. So right after these miracles He told them something very serious, “Unless you really accept Me and My teachings you will not be saved” (based on John 6:50-63). And they all left Him. All they wanted was free food and free healing.
Then He turned to the twelve and said, “Do you also wish to go?” John 6:67, RSV. In the Greek there is a way of asking a question that includes the answer within the question, yes or no. So the way it’s worded in the Greek Jesus said, “You don’t want to go too, do you?” And they said, “No; to whom else should we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). They weren’t entirely convinced; there was so much they didn’t understand. But at least they chose to stay. Jesus must have wondered at that point whether it had been worth coming to earth. Only when He performed miracles did He get a crowd, and He did not wish to get a crowd that way. Doesn’t it say something though, that when He won a following by miracles, He turned them away. Miracles are no basis for authority.

Questions and Answers (7:3)

Lou: People are asking about Uzzah, the one who was so anxious to support the ark when it was starting to fall off the cart. And he dies at that point. So God wasn’t doing it to get his attention! His life was and is over.

Graham: That’s right, Uzzah’s dead. And where Uzzah will be in the hereafter is between him and God. Some like to think perhaps he repented at that moment. We don’t know and we don’t need to know. But it’s quite a story when you put it in its total setting. Why was the ark on the cart in the first place? Because the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, had been such poor representatives of the truth. They were even assaulting women who came to worship in the temple (1 Sam 2:22-25). They were that wicked. So then when Israel was drawn into battle, they thought, “Let’s take that magic box with us” (1 Sam 4:3-4). They had no reverence for God whatsoever, but they thought the magic box might help. So they took it into battle and they lost it. And in due course of time the ark wound up in front of Dagon the fish god.

So God started working with these heathen Philistines the same way he worked with the Egyptians. In the morning, when the priests went in to conduct their worship of Dagon the fish god, they found him toppled off his pedestal in front of the ark. Well, they didn’t dare tell anybody, so they propped him up and then said their prayers, “Oh almighty one, bless us this day.” The next day when they came in, Dagon had not only fallen off the pedestal, but he had broken into several pieces. So they hastily glued him together, put him back on the pedestal, and prayed, “Almighty one, look after us this day.”

I can imagine some small child saying, “How come we’re praying to the almighty one whom we’ve just glued together?” And so they consulted the theologians of the day. It’s all detailed in 1 Samuel 5. And the theologians said, “We advise that you send that box back, and we suggest you put some gifts in it. Remember what the God of this box did to the Egyptians and remember how Pharaoh hardened his own heart?” (1 Sam 6:1-6). They’ve got it right there, “Pharaoh hardened his own heart.” These heathen theologians did better than some of us today.

Well, as the story proceeded, it was on the cart coming home, and Uzzah lived in a family that knew better than to treat the ark with such disrespect (2 Sam 6:2-7). It was an act of irreverence, like how they lost the ark in the first place. Where there is no reverence, there is no listening to God. Where there is no listening, there is no help and all is lost. So when we’re our most irreverent, God runs the risk of being the most dramatic, to see if He can inspire a little respect. And the devil, I’m sure, mocked Him for doing it.

Now David was very angry when Uzzah died. He was so angry that he left the ark right next door in the house of Obed-Edom (2 Sam 6:8-10). Three months later he got reports that the presence of the ark was blessing the household of Obed-Edom (2 Sam 6:11-12). And David said, “We need that blessing up here at headquarters.” So they brought the ark up with much carefulness, sacrificing a great many offerings along the way (2 Sam 6:13-14). No doubt they understood those sacrifices as a bit like fire insurance. David didn’t know God as well as he did later on. So you see in the Bible ongoing growth in the knowledge of God, and behind that growth is a very patient God who sometimes used dramatic means to win us all the way back to trust. That’s the reason to utilize all sixty-six books of the Bible, by the way, so we can get the full picture of how God dealt with His people.

Questions and Answers (7:2)

Lou: But what about some other instances in the Old Testament where God uses force? Let’s go back to Mount Carmel and Elijah. What about the fire that comes down, burns up the sacrifice and even the stones, and licks up the water in the trench. That’s pretty dramatic.
Graham: Now that’s a classic case because it’s so dramatic, the fire consuming everything. I remember as a boy thinking of the stones burning and the water being lapped up. It’s significant, though, that when all the excitement dies down, Elijah himself is depressed. The impact of dramatic events doesn’t last long, it doesn’t have staying power. And so Elijah ran away and hid in a cave. Then his spirits rose again when he felt the earthquake, and he heard the wind, and he saw the fire, and he thought God was approaching. So it’s very significant that the Bible says God was not in the wind, He was not in the earthquake, and He was not in the fire. After these things came the sound of a small silence, “the still small voice.” And Elijah was informed that that was the sound of God approaching. God is willing to use dramatic means when the circumstances call for it. But when He has a friend, there is no more wind, earthquake, and fire. Just the still, small voice of truth. And I’m impressed that soon after that Elijah was ready to be translated to heaven.

Lou: Does that same principle provide answers for some of the other stories that people have raised questions about?
Graham: There are stories like that seemingly without number. If this picture didn’t fit consistently, I wouldn’t find it very believable.
Lou: Well, what about the plagues of Egypt then? Think of the tension there! Isn’t judgment involved?
Graham: Yes, among other things. When God speak or acts He is usually saying several things at once with great skill. The Israelites themselves were tempted not to trust God, because in those days you measured your god by success on the battlefield or by personal and national prosperity. What kind of a God would be the God of a people in captivity? Meanwhile, the Egyptians thought their gods were stronger, because they had tyrannized the Israelites and their God. So the plagues came. Certainly it encouraged the Israelites to believe that maybe God could do something for them after all. As for the Egyptians, many of the plagues were directed toward their deities. So Exodus itself says that God was judging the gods of Egypt (Exod 12:12). Through the plagues He was demonstrating the weakness of the gods there. So God encouraged the beginning of Israel’s trust with a show of power. We often need to be convinced that He’s infinitely powerful before we will be willing to listen to him and follow Him, even when He speaks in a still, small voice. But why does God take so long to move from the thunder to the silence? Because some people prefer thunder all their lives.

Questions and Answers (7:1)

In the original lecture series done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night following by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the seventh presentation, “The Question of Authority.”

Lou: Earlier you mentioned how God’s response to the great controversy was not a great show of power or force; you said He took His case into court. I wonder if you might explain just a bit more what you meant by the word “court.”
Graham: It is an absolutely magnificent verse in Romans 3:4. Sometimes it’s translated “You [God] must be shown to be right when you speak; you must win your case when you are being tried” (TEV). And the verse is so crucial in understanding why Jesus had to die, that in the next chapter we will look at that verse in a number of versions. Now I deliberately chose the translation that I used. The closest to the meaning of the verse is the translation by Goodspeed, although I modify that slightly. “God, may You win Your case when You take it into court” just rings a bell with me; it fits there. What court is this? It is the court of the universe.
Lou: Oh, that does answer what I was wondering. By “court” you mean the entire universe. Could we say that we are included in that court, too?
Graham: Very much. And I would want to use many passages in Scripture that speak of God taking His case into court. Look at the gathering in Daniel seven, when a hundred million angels are watching. Or in Job 1 and 2, where God conducts a conversation with the adversary about God’s friend, Job. There are many references to this in Scripture.

Lou: Our subject tonight raises many questions that have come up in the past, and I would like to press some of these questions. You talk about God establishing the authority of truth and trust and love, but didn’t God, in fact, use force and power? Isn’t the Old Testament record filled with incidents that would support the idea that God was putting on a show to intimidate us?
Graham: There’s no question! That’s what always astounds people who have never read the sixty-six books through before. Innumerable times God is pictured as showing His physical force and power. I don’t think He ever did it to win anybody. In fact, I don’t think He ever won anybody that way. He often did it simply to get their attention. Or at the time of the Flood, He did it in order to maintain His contact with the human race. But if it puzzles us, how it must delight the adversary to have this information to use! I think the devil is puzzled that God would hand him so much evidence in support of his accusations.

Lou: Let’s look at a specific instance. Here is Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus, and you’ve already referred to how Saul misunderstood Jesus. But here he is on the way. And Acts says that a great light flashed from Heaven and he fell to the ground. That’s a very impressive use of force or power. Didn’t it win Saul?
Graham: No, it just floored him. But it got his attention. And I would judge, with a man like Saul, nothing less would have gotten his attention, as he was quite a firebrand. Now already he was quite tormented within because of the behavior of Stephen. When Stephen said, “Lay this not to their charge,” he must have remembered the report that when that Heretic died on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them.” And Saul knew his Old Testament well; he knew that this was ideal, godlike behaviour.
In order to stifle the prickings of his conscience, he went out to conduct another “evangelistic” effort. So God floored him on the Damascus road, and got his attention. But then notice what God did once he had his attention. He just said, “Saul, you’re having trouble with your conscience, aren’t you?”
And Saul said, “Yes, I really am.”
“Then why don’t you give in?”
“I give in. What do You want me to do?”
And Christ didn’t say, “I want you to do the following, and be sure you do it or else.” No, the Lord said, “Your way is to overwhelm people. Mine is for you to go and talk to Ananias, one of your peers. That’s all I’m going to say.” And from then on, Saul/Paul never pressured anybody. He said, “If you disagree with me, well—let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom 14:5).
Before the incident on the Damascus road, Paul put Christians in prison or had them stoned. Afterward he realized that persuasion can only really come when in the highest sense of freedom you yourself become convinced; and he adopted that method. Now he truly knew God. He didn’t change his diet, his Sabbath, his dress, his Bible, or even the name of his God. He changed his picture of God. But he wouldn’t have done it if God had not hit him with a two-by-four on the Damascus road.
Lou: So the show of force on the Damascus road was to get Saul’s attention. It fulfilled a function.
Graham: Well, we know from experience with children, you sometimes have to do this.

The Authority of Jesus Christ

Because truth and evidence were on Christ’s side, He spoke with great authority. Matthew 7:29: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority. . .” (NIV). And Luke 4:32 adds: “His message had authority” (NIV). Now in what did His authority lie? And how can we recognize the voice of true authority?

Did Jesus base His authority on His claims? No, He is the One who inspired the warning against accepting mere claims (1 John 4:1-2). When John inquired if He really was the Messiah, Jesus didn’t just say, “Yes, I am.” He offered evidence to John (Matt 11:4-6). Did He base His authority on miracles or a show of power? No, it was Jesus who inspired the warning, “Don’t trust miracles if they are not associated with the truth” (Deut 13:1-3). In fact, He even turned the crowds away when they were following Him for the miraculous food and the miraculous healing (Matt 14:22; Mark 6:45; John 6:15). How Jesus must have been tempted to use His power when He was winning so few! He knew the people were expecting a Messiah who would come with great physical power to drive off their enemies and establish an earthly kingdom. But He wouldn’t do it. It would have misrepresented the truth about God’s way of exercising His authority.

Did Jesus base His authority on His loud voice and bombastic manner, as is so customary of many evangelists today? Just read the gospels. The people marveled at the gracious words that came from His lips. “Blessed are the humble in spirit. Blessed are the meek” (Matt 5:3, 5). You simply cannot shout those words. People who shout don’t teach things like that. Christ’s manner of speaking must have been as music to His audiences.

Was His authority based on a dazzling display of who He really was? He really was the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, worshiped by all the angels. Yet on the road to Emmaus, He didn’t reveal who He was until He had led them through the Scriptures and until their decision was based on evidence, not on His authority as a person. Note the marvelous understanding of the Emmaus road experience in the following:

Jesus did not reveal Himself in His true character to them, and then open the Scriptures to their minds. . . . He maintained His disguise till He had interpreted the Scriptures, and had led them to an intelligent faith in His life, His character, His mission to earth, and His death and resurrection. He wished the truth to take firm root in their minds, not because it was supported by His personal testimony, but because the typical law, and the prophets of the Old Testament, agreeing with the facts of His life and death, presented unquestionable evidence of that truth. When the object of His labors with the two disciples was gained, He revealed Himself to them. (E. G. White, 3SP 214)

You see, Jesus spoke with authority because He always told the truth. And some of those who heard Him also perceived it to be true. To them He spoke with great authority. But He did not speak to everyone with authority. Some said He had a devil, because of the way He presented His Father. But Jesus spoke with authority to everyone who recognized that His words were in full harmony with the truth revealed in God’s Word. And when John the Baptist received the report of what Jesus was saying and doing, he said, “That fits Isaiah perfectly. Yes, He is the one” (based on Luke 7:22).

The ultimate authority then is the truth. It is God’s only means of persuasion, the only safe basis for our trust. In many and various ways, God has revealed the truth to us and then has invited our questions and our examination of Him. For three and a half years God lived among us to demonstrate His way of using and exercising authority and power.

As a result, many people despised Him as weak, just as the Old Testament had predicted they would (Isa 53:2-4). They were looking for someone who would lead them mightily against their enemies. They wanted miracles. They wanted free food and free healing. They didn’t want the kind of person the real Messiah proved to be. Nor did they like His picture of the Father.

But some people respected Him. They recognized gentle Jesus as the supreme authority. I think that’s why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek” (Matt 5:5). Meekness is not weakness, though it is widely misunderstood that way. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5). Because, you see, only the meek, only the gentle, would be safe to admit to the kingdom, the kind of kingdom that will be governed the way Jesus exercised His authority and power during those three and a half years.

Or do you think He will act differently in the hereafter? It’s true. He thundered many times in the Old Testament. But those were all emergency measures. For three and a half precious years, He finally got to run His kingdom on this planet the way He will do it in eternity. It didn’t work, did it? Well, it worked for a few. It worked with the meek. They loved it. And the poor people heard Him gladly. But most people did not appreciate this kind of government.

Which raises the question with us—which kind of government do we prefer? Under which kind of government do we feel most secure; a powerful tyranny, or the gentle exercise of authority and power that Jesus demonstrated for three and a half years? Obviously it would not be safe to admit people who do not respect the authority of truth spoken softly in love. Blessed indeed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5).

I myself prefer a God who is infinitely powerful, to be sure, but an equally gracious person who values nothing higher than the freedom, dignity, and individuality of his intelligent creatures. With that kind of God, our love, our trust, our worship, and our willingness to listen and obey, may be freely given. It would be a pleasure to live with a God like that. That is the quality of life in the hereafter that has been reserved for us. We can throw it away if we wish or we can be convinced by the evidence that this is the kind of person our God really is. We can find Him worthy of our trust. Personally, I am convinced that God has more than amply demonstrated that He is precisely the kind of a God He claims to be.

How Satan Makes His Case

Satan, on the other hand, cannot use the method of open investigation and inquiry. He would lose his case if he did. He doesn’t dare invite our questions, for the truth is not with him. And so throughout history he has used religion to silence inquiry. And then diabolically, he calls that willingness to believe without inquiry faith. Instead of evidence and truth, he substitutes force, fear, and ignorance. On top of that he piles miracles, excitement, feelings, pomp, majesty, ceremony, and mystery. And on top of all that he piles claim upon claim. All these things we must beware lest we be deceived. Let’s not underestimate his cunning. He deceived one third of the brilliant angels.

Of course, if we read the sixty-six books through, we will realize how often we have been warned to beware of such things. Jesus Himself warns specifically of Satan’s methods, in the familiar words of Matthew 24:24:

If anyone says to you then, “Look, here is Christ!” or “There He is!” don’t believe it. False Christs and false prophets are going to appear and will produce great signs and wonders to mislead, if it were possible, even God’s own people (Phillips)!

Also a little earlier in the same chapter, in Matthew 24:4-5, Jesus says:

“Watch out, and do not let anyone fool you. Many men, claiming to speak for me, will come and say, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will fool many people” (GNB).

The most unusual Bible in my whole collection is The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as Revised and Corrected by the Spirits. It is the Spiritists’ Bible. It came out in 1861. What is so remarkable about it is that it thoroughly rewrites the New Testament in support of Spiritism. In the Introduction, it claims that Jesus came down from heaven, medium that He was, and the apostles came down with Him, and they corrected all the errors in the New Testament. And then it says, “Dear Reader, trust in God who made all things after the counsel of His own will. The Holy Spirits feel much interest in this work and the spirits who corrected this New Testament desire that the world will receive this correction as coming from them directed by God Himself, which is true. Signed, Jesus the Christ.” A diabolical fraud! But look at the claim. Anybody can make claims.

John warns concerning the use of miracles to deceive. Look at Revelation 13:13-14:

This second beast performed great miracles; it made fire come down out of heaven to earth in the sight of everyone. And it deceived all the people living on earth by means of the miracles which it was allowed to perform (GNB).

Speaking of that last period of human history, Paul gives the same type of warning in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refuse to love the truth. . . (NIV).

They refuse the very thing God designed to protect them from deception. But most seriously of all, Paul warns that professed messengers of God will also be engaged in this work of deception.

God’s messengers? They are counterfeits of the real thing, dishonest practitioners masquerading as the messengers of Christ. Nor do their tactics surprise me when I consider how Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is only to be expected that his angels will have the appearance of ministers of righteousness (2 Cor 11:13-15, Phillips).

Paul’s reference to Satan suggests that the devil is still pretending to be Lucifer, the bearer of light and truth. This reminds us of Christ’s most serious words, spoken to a group of Sabbath-keeping, tithe-paying Bible teachers in His day. These Bible teachers had just denounced Jesus’ picture of His Father as satanic. Think of it! Sabbath-keepers, tithe-payers and Bible teachers were telling Christ He had a devil. And He turned to them and uttered those extraordinary words in John 8:44-45. And you can be sure there were tears in His voice when He said this:

The father whose sons you are is the devil, and you are bent on carrying out the wishes of your father. He proved himself a murderer at the very beginning, and did not loyally stand by the truth; in fact, there is no spark of truth in him. Whenever he gives utterance to his falsehood, then he gives expression to his real character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. I, on the contrary, speak the truth, and therefore you do not believe me (Kleist and Lilly).

Paul mentions forged letters being circulated, pretending to be from him and causing early Christians much distress. Look at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3:

“We ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us. . . . Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way” (NIV).

From that time on Paul signed his epistles with greater care.

John also warns of false teachers who will arise, claiming to have the Holy Spirit, and yet their claim is a fraud. 1 John 4:1-2:

“My dear friends, do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere” (GNB).

Claims alone are no proof of the Spirit, the spirit a teacher carries needs to be tested. Paul surely agrees that we should test everything before believing. That familiar text is in 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (NIV). God is not afraid to be tested. That’s what is so believable about God. The reason He is not afraid to be examined is that the truth and evidence are on His side.