Tag Archives: cosmic conflict

How Sinners Die the Second Death

Having said this, doesn’t the Bible warn us that sinners will experience God’s wrath and be burned forever? How about Revelation 14:10? “Yes, he also shall drink of the wine of God’s wrath . . . and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone . . . for ever and ever” (RSV). At first glance, that sounds like the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar all over again. Fortunately, the preceding sixty-five books of Scripture have prepared us to understand this awesome language. As we saw in the last chapter (based on Rom 1:24-28; Hos 11:7-8), God’s wrath is simply His turning away in loving disappointment from those who do not want Him anyway. This turning away leaves them to the inevitable and awful consequence of their own rebellious choice. And as He lets them go, He cries, “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?”

Revelation 14:10, however, uses the word “forever.” How long is forever? Jude 7 may be helpful. “Sodom and Gomorrah . . . serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (RSV). That sounds like “forever fire” to me, but that fire went out millennia ago. So “forever” in biblical terms need not last forever in today’s terms. Also in Exodus 21:6, there is a reference to the servant who would serve his master “forever,” but that “forever” might only last until the next jubilee or, at most, as long as this life shall last. So we need to understand the biblical meaning of forever. It offers no support for the eternally burning fires of hell.

What about the fire itself? Many times in the Bible God’s glory, the brilliance that surrounds His divine person, is described as having the appearance of fire. Look at Exodus 24:17: “Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain” (RSV). It wasn’t devouring fire. It looked like it. There are many other places in Scripture where we find the glory that surrounds God is life-giving glory. Adam and Eve could live in its presence. Lucifer used to, as he walked among the stones of fire (Isa 14:15). It is energizing, life-giving glory. It is only because we are, by our own choice, out of harmony with God that what should be life-giving is destructive. God longs to heal us and doesn’t want to lose a single one.

Someday, every one of us will come face-to-face with God, whether we are saved or lost, at either the second coming or at the third coming. Do you think we will be afraid? What if we should be among the lost? We would look up and see Christ there in His human form. Will He be angry with us? Or will He be crying, “Why will you die? How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” Like a physician, God is there, eager and ready to heal. But He cannot force us to be well. If we do not trust Him, if we are not willing to listen, He cannot heal the damage done. What else can God do if we have come to the place where we have persistently refused to listen or even rejected His offers? If we have refused to trust, we have refused to let Him help us. What else can He do but sadly give us up, the same way that He gave up His Son on the cross, and we will die? Even in the death of the wicked there is no need to be afraid of God. The choice is still ours.

One reason many people are afraid to die is because they are afraid of God. They know that when they die they will come face-to-face with some great Power. It is an awesome thing to meet this Person called God. Is it really possible to die unafraid of God? According to the Bible, yes. Hebrews 2:15 tells us that the mission of Jesus is to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (NIV). I believe that the fear of death is actually the fear of God, the fear of the judgment. Is it possible to know God well enough that one can die unafraid? Look at John 8:32: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (GNB). It is the truth about God that makes it possible to die unafraid. And every dying patient deserves to know that. People who know the truth about God can die unafraid, knowing that in their next moment of consciousness they will be in the presence of the kind of God we so much admire.

Just before Jesus Himself went out to die, He tried to sum up the ideal quality of the relationship God desires to have with His children. He said, “God wishes to deal with you as His friends.” Look at John 15:15.

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (RSV).

Jesus here contrasts servants with friends. The servant does not know what his master is doing. The master gives orders and the servant accepts and follows them without understanding why. But Jesus and His Father want us to know and to understand them as friends. God has had a few such friends through the years. One of the most notable was Moses: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face-to-face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod 33:11, RSV).

God welcomes just the kind of conversations about Him that we are having in this book. In fact, He would welcome us to have the same kind of conversation directly with Him! And in my imagination, I can see Him seated in a chair across from me. We know that He is the Infinite One whose words hung the whole vast universe in space. We know that He is the One who is worshiped with awe by all the brilliant angels. Yet as He sits there across from us, He values nothing higher than our freedom. He invites our inquiries. He does not want us to be afraid. Surely such a God deserves our deepest reverence, awe, wonder, and worship. Surely He deserves to be believed when He says, “There is no need to be afraid.”

How God Judges at the End

The Bible makes it plain that there is nothing arbitrary about the judgment. There is no arbitrary standard by which we are measured. There are no arbitrary decisions made. The choice is actually ours. Look at John 3:19: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (RSV). You see, if we have turned down the truth, we have not been won to trust and we don’t have a willingness to listen. Because of this, God has not been able to help us and to heal us. We don’t have a new heart and a right spirit (Ezek 36:26). We are not the kind of people who would be safe to admit to the hereafter. There is absolutely nothing arbitrary about that.

If any one hears my sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him. He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day (John 12:47, 48, RSV).

The sayings of Jesus are the truth and light that He brought to this earth. While all judgment has been given to Him (John 5:22), there is another sense in which He does not judge at all (John 8:15). You see, in the end we are not judged by Jesus or God, we are judged by the truth. It is a matter of them simply diagnosing our condition. It is a consequence. It is a result. There is nothing arbitrary about it at all. And then what God does to those who have turned down the truth (which means He has not been able to heal them) is not arbitrary either. For what does God do to those who reject the priceless truth about Him? What else can He do in a free universe but sadly give them up? As we noticed in the previous chapter: “Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie . . . God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom 1:25, 28, RSV). God sadly gives people up to what they chose to do anyway. In the end-time judgment, God simply recognizes the choices we have made, diagnoses our condition, and announces the results.

In those awesome words of Revelation 22:11, one day God will look at his people, some who have rejoiced in the truth and some who have turned it down. On that day He will say, “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy” (NIV). Just go on doing what you are doing. Go on being what you are. There is nothing arbitrary about that. There is no need to fear God for that reason. We have made our choice and we are reaping the results, both good and bad.

Facing the Judgment

The first angel of Revelation 14 suggests a most serious reason why we might become afraid. He says that the hour of God’s judgment has come (Rev 14:7). Those are awesome words that strike many people with fear. How thoroughly will we be judged? How much does God know about us? Hebrews 4:13 suggests that He knows a lot: “There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves” (GNB). Put that together with the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:14: “God is going to judge everything we do, whether good or bad, even things done in secret” (GNB).

How can you face a judgment at the hands of someone so well informed and be unafraid? Well, unafraid of what and unafraid of whom? The same John who warned us in Revelation 14:7 that the hour of God’s judgment has come, is the one who explains how it is possible to face the judgment without fear. In one of his letters, John uses the word “fear” with the meaning of “terror” in the face of the judgment. But notice what he does with that terror:

God is love, and whoever lives in love, lives in union with God, and God lives in union with him. Love is made perfect in us in order that we may have courage on the Judgment Day. . . There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:16-18, GNB).

John’s point is surely crystal clear. If we really know the truth about God, there is no need to be afraid, even of the final judgment. And why is that? Is it only because God has given all judgment to the Son? John 5:22 says: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (RSV). Many find that comforting, because they feel they are much more likely to receive merciful treatment at the hand of the Son than of the Father. But is that true? I’ve heard some say with real gratitude, “I have no fear of the judgment because I know I have a Friend in court.”
And I ask, “Who is that Friend?”
Then comes the warm response, “Why, Jesus, of course.”
“You mean the Father is no Friend of yours?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that.”
“Then what did you mean when you said that you were happy to have a Friend in court and Jesus is your Friend? Is the Father no Friend? What of the Holy Spirit?”

Some derive comfort from the thought, as they consider the final judgment at the hands of One who knows us in such detail, that Jesus will be there interceding with the Father in our behalf. Does that mean that the more Jesus pleads with the Father, the more likely we are to receive merciful treatment? Think what that implies about the Father! Is the Father less loving and less forgiving than the Son? Do we think that He is exacting, unforgiving, and severe? Are we even willing, in expressing our doctrines, to support Satan’s charges against our God?

Remember Jesus’ words to Philip in John 14:7, 9: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. . . . He who has seen me has seen the Father” (RSV). If you really knew this to be true, you would never say, “I am grateful that I have a Friend in court, and I mean Jesus not the Father.” You couldn’t say that, could you? Remember Jesus’s words in John 16:26: “I need make no promise to plead to the Father for you. For the Father himself loves you” (Phillips). Or as Goodspeed’s translation put the same text: “There is no need for me to intercede with the Father for you.” According to Jesus Himself, the Son does not love us more than the Father, or understand us better than the Father. Neither is the Son more sympathetic than the Father. If we have seen the Son we have seen the Father.

According to Romans 8, all three members of the Godhead are for us; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If all of them are for us, then who is the one who is against us? Against whose charges do we need to be defended (Rom 8:26-39)? You see, whether we are judged by Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, we have no need to be afraid of God. But that is not the only reason to be unafraid. When we understand how the judgment is conducted and what determines whether we are saved or lost, we will have even further evidence that we don’t need to be afraid.

Why God Raises His Voice

We might ask “Why didn’t God speak more softly?” We know that He prefers to. That’s what He does when talking to His friends, as in the still, small voice with Elijah at the mouth of the cave (1 Kings 19:12). But when people are hard of hearing, God will raise His voice. And how grateful we should be that He is willing to raise His voice when we need it! Now did He speak too loudly at Mount Sinai? Did He terrify them too much? I would say not. Forty days after the fire, the earthquake, the lightning and the thunder died away, they were dancing drunk around a golden calf in a fertility cult ritual.

Surely those of us who have taught little ones, or have children of our own, know how difficult it is to gain proper respect so that learning might occur without fear. What a delicate thing it is to accomplish both! Whenever God raised His voice He got reverence, but there would also be some terror. When He talked softly they would despise Him as later generations despised gentle Jesus. So God has had to go back and forth on this through history.

Imagine that you are a grade school teacher with forty years of experience. You have never raised your voice in forty years to your little pupils. It is the last day of fall quarter, and there is a rap on the door. The principal says, “The building is on fire. Please line up the pupils and get them out the door.” So you step back into the room with your usual dignity and in your usual quiet voice, you say, “Students, the building is on fire. Please line up and we will go out that door.” But it is the last day before Christmas vacation, and let’s say it is the period after recess, and there is a tumult in the room. The little ones don’t see you standing there.

Would you say at this point, “Well, I am not going to sully my reputation by shouting for the first time in forty years. I have given them a chance. Let me just go home and save myself.” Or would you, dignified you, be willing to shout to the students for the first time? What if, to your horror, they still don’t notice you? Would you be willing to climb up on the desk, throw the chalk and some erasers, until with terror the children finally see you? Then, once they have slipped into their seats and you have slipped into yours, you say, “Children, don’t go home and tell your mothers I am angry with you. I am not angry with you. I love you and I don’t want you to be hurt. But the school building is on fire. So in this quiet moment while I have your attention, would you quickly line up the way we’ve practiced and go out that door?”

Now which approach shows greater love? Would it be not terrifying them briefly? Would it be not raising your voice? Or would it be better to run the risk of being feared? Wouldn’t it be better to be obeyed for the wrong reason momentarily? It seems to me that God has taken that risk over and over in Scripture. We should be prepared to say, “Thank you God, for raising your voice so many times. It must mean that you really love us.”

There’s More Than One Kind of Fear

What, then, does the Bible mean when it says that we are supposed to “fear” God and be His “God-fearing” people? You can even find that in the first of the Three Angels’ Messages, Revelation 14:7: “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come” (RSV). Not only does this verse tell us to fear God, it even gives us a good reason to fear Him, the Last Judgment. So before we go any further, we need to understand the biblical meaning of the word “fear.” If you will forgive the Greek, it’s pronounced phobos, from which we get the English word “phobia.” But the biblical word doesn’t always mean terror. Sometimes it means respect or reverence. Look at Psalm 128:1-2, for example: “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord. You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (KJV). Surely the Psalmist isn’t saying, “Happy is everyone who is scared of God.”

So the biblical word “fear” has another meaning. Blessed is everyone who reveres and respects the Lord. You will be happy if you do and it will be well with you. Note, for example, Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (KJV). Does that mean that being terrified of God is the beginning of wisdom and learning? No, there again the context determines the meaning of the word. So the translation in the Good News Bible is to be preferred: “To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord.”

Where there is no respect there is no reverence, and very little learning can take place. Think of the lengths to which God has gone through the centuries to gain people’s respect and hold it long enough to tell them more truth about Himself. Perhaps the most famous example is the one provided at Mount Sinai. God came down to speak to His people. Did they all line up quietly to listen? No. They were noisy. They were complaining. They were fussing about the food and the water. There was no respect for God. So God could not speak to them softly that day. Instead, there was thunder and lightning, fire, smoke, and an earthquake. And God said to Moses, “Put a fence around that mountain. Don’t let the people come too close to me” (based on Exod 19:12-13). Today we sing “Nearer, Still Nearer,” but on that day no one wanted to get close:

The people were afraid and they trembled; And they stood afar off, and said to Moses, `You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.’ But Moses said to the people, `Do not fear; for God has come to prove you, and that the fear of Him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin.’ (Exodus 20:18-20, RSV)

Notice the use of the word “fear” with both meanings in the same sentence. “Do not fear,” at the beginning of the sentence, means the same thing as “There’s no need to be afraid.” But further on, “That the fear of Him may be before you” uses the word with the meaning of “reverence.” So the very same Hebrew word can carry different meanings in the very same sentence. Notice also that Moses could stand in the middle of the earthquake and the fire and say that there is no need to be afraid. Why? Because he knew God, and he knew why God was raising His voice on that occasion.

What Fear Does to Freedom

If God really were the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be, arbitrary, vengeful and severe, there would be no freedom under His government. Any professions of love and trust on our part would be compromised by our fears. How could God be satisfied with expressions of love from children who are afraid? Would you parents be satisfied with such expressions of love from your own children? When you consider Satan’s perversion of the truth in this matter, it’s no wonder millions of people have turned away from God,.

Satan has crafted a picture of God that has made God look even more cruel than old King Nebuchadnezzar and his burning fiery furnace. In the book of Daniel (chapter 3), Nebuchadnezzar built a very large idol and ordered the nation’s leaders to bow down at a given signal and worship his god. Anyone who refused to worship the image was to be thrown into the burning fiery furnace. Readers of the story recoil in horror at how Daniel’s three Hebrew friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, got caught up in such cruel tyranny. In the words of Nebuchadnezzar, “You either submit to my god or I will throw you into the burning fiery furnace” (based on Daniel 3:14-15).

Many, somehow, find it possible to accept a God who is described as doing the very same thing as Nebuchadnezzar. They see God saying to us, “On your knees, worship Me, or I’ll throw you into a burning fiery furnace.” Actually, this portrayal of God makes Him even worse than Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was willing to settle for a simple act of submission: “On your knees!” God asks for much more, our love and our trust. He is caricatured as saying, “If you will not love and trust Me, I will throw you into the burning fiery furnace. And I won’t burn you as briefly as Nebuchadnezzar did. I will burn you forever and forever.” Does that picture of God make sense? Is it acceptable? I love Ellen White’s words on this. “Such thoughts destroy human reason.”

Of course, gentle Jesus would never say such a thing, would He? So is it the Father who is the fearsome one who would issue such a threat? And if the Father is the fearsome member of the Trinity, is that why the Son came to die? Was it to assuage, appease and propitiate the wrath of the offended member of the Trinity? Is this why Jesus had to go up quickly on resurrection Sunday—to intercede with the fearsome member of the Trinity? Could the Father never find it in His own heart to forgive His rebellious children unless He were begged to do so by the most sympathetic member of the Three? I hope no one reading this chapter believes any of this! But can you see the impact our understanding of the death of the wicked has on our picture of God and our understanding of the plan of salvation? That’s the reason for this chapter, to explain that there is really no need to be afraid of God.

Chapter 9: “There Is No Need to Be Afraid of God”

This blog begins chapter nine 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. I realize today that growing up Seventh-day Adventist, I was rather afraid of God. I wish I had known this then. The words that follow are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

This chapter is the ninth of twenty conversations about God; another look at our Heavenly Father in the larger setting of the great controversy over His character and government. This chapter is entitled “There is no Need to be Afraid of God.” I believe that to be afraid of God is to misunderstand, even to deny, the truths that He paid such a price to reveal. Though God is infinite in majesty and power, He values nothing higher than the freedom of His intelligent creatures. He desires that their love, their worship, their trust, their willingness to listen, may be freely given. Not only does God prefer things that way, as any parent would, but He knows that if our love and trust are not freely given, then there is really no freedom in His family. And God would rather die than preside over a universe that is not free.

Besides these considerations, He also knows that the obedience that springs from fear will actually turn His children into rebels. Rebelliousness is the very essence of sin. God sent His Son to do away with sin, you recall, in Romans 8:3. But in order to do away with rebelliousness and distrust, He must first do away with fear. Because it is fear that has turned so many away from God. It is fear that has inspired rebelliousness even in the hearts of those who seek to obey Him, but do not know Him well. And God gave His life to make it eternally clear that there is no need for His children to be afraid of Him. While He is infinite in power, He is also infinitely gracious, so there is no need for us to be afraid. Surely such a God is worthy of our love, our reverence, our worship, and our willingness to listen and obey.

Questions and Answers (8:4)

Lou: All right. Here’s another question: “If death is not the penalty for sin, how can we understand the text that says, ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin’ (Heb 9:22)? Why then does Jesus say to His Father, ‘My blood, My blood,’ when our name comes up for review?”
Graham: In Hebrews, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin,” is a reference to the Old Testament ceremonial system, where blood was constantly shed and appropriately applied. But one has to read on in Hebrews (10:3): “You see, the purpose was to be a constant reminder of sin.” Hebrews is clear that all that blood did not lead to forgiveness of sin (Heb 10:4), and it didn’t handle the problem of distrust. The many sacrifices were all pointing forward to the day when Christ would come to do it once and for all (Heb 10:10-14). Without His death there would be no answer. What is the use of being forgiven if you are going to live in a chaotic universe of continual war and distrust?
Lou: What about the words of Jesus, “My blood, My blood?”
Graham: Jesus is saying, “Remember why I died. Remember the meaning. Remember the answers that I gave. Remember how I made it possible and safe to forgive and heal sinners and let them into the Kingdom.”
Lou: But the implication here, if I heard you correctly, is that Jesus isn’t trying to talk the Father into feeling differently.
Graham: We’ll take a look at that in the next chapter. We will note Jesus saying, “There is no need for me to plead with the Father, for the Father Himself loves you.”

Lou: The Bible says things like “vengeance is Mine.” It also speaks about the wrath of God and the destruction of the wicked. What do you say about those kinds of expressions when speaking about our Lord?
Graham: Those questions will fit very well into the next chapter, “There Is No Need to Be Afraid of God.” But let’s take up the idea of “vengeance” briefly right here. In a couple of places the Bible says, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay” (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19). In the first part of Romans 12:19 Paul says, “Leave room for the wrath of God. Don’t avenge yourself. Let Him do it.” God is saying to us, “Look, let Me take vengeance on My children because I love them all. But if I take vengeance on this enemy of yours, it might win him. Would you mind?” And you say, “Wait a minute. I’m not going to let You take vengeance, if vengeance means You are going to win my enemy over.” You see, the beauty of that is God saying, “Let Me discipline My own children. I might win some of them.” No wonder many of us don’t really want God to do the avenging. When He does, there’s the hazard that I might turn up in the Kingdom and meet my worst enemy there, because God has won him through the discipline of “vengeance.”
Lou: That means God is using the word “vengeance” in a quite different way than we might be capable of doing on our own.
Graham: I see God saying, “Let Me give your enemy what I think he needs.” And for us, that is hazardous. God might win your enemy and you’ll end up neighbors in heaven.

Lou: Someone else writes: “It is wonderful to know that God is a merciful, kind, loving, fair and just God. John 17:3 says, `This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the Father, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou has sent.’ Now here’s my question: How can a person really know Him and be sure that he knows Him?”
Graham: That’s beautiful. First of all you have to know about Him. If that doesn’t happen, how would you know Whom you are knowing? Then you need to understand the Biblical meaning of the word “know,” as we have discussed before. It’s even used for the relationship between a husband and his wife. Adam knew Eve his wife, and they didn’t just become acquainted; they had a baby. In the biblical sense, to know God is to love Him, to become friends. By way of contrast, when God says, “Go away; I never knew you” (Matt 7:21-23), He means, “We never were friends.” So to claim that one knows God means that one really loves and admires God for His wise and gracious ways. It means that one would really like to be regarded as God’s friend. It means being proud to be a friend of God. When you know God, I think it will show. It will show in the friendly feelings we have toward God. It will show in the jealousy we have for God’s reputation. We will want Him to be seen as He really is.

Lou: Last question. “I have always been concerned about people who wake up in the wrong resurrection and are truly surprised to find themselves there. They had worked in God’s name or Jesus’s name and done many wonderful works (Matt 7:21-23). If I were to die tonight, how would I know which resurrection I would come up in?”
Graham: It seems to me that the people described in Matthew 7 were involved in legalism. They were serving God for the wrong reason. From our perspective today, these would be individuals who are surprised to find they are lost because they think of all the tithe they have paid, and all the Sabbaths they have endured when they could have gone to the ball game. But they have never been God’s friends. So He says, “Go away; I never knew you.” Friendship is the very essence of the relationship God desires to have with His children.
One more thing. Friends are not afraid of each other, so the next chapter is entitled, “There Is No Need To Be Afraid of God.”

Questions and Answers (8:3)

Lou: Could you say something about the idea of “substitutionary?”
Graham: It’s true that He died in our stead. He died as a substitution. After all, either He dies or we die. However, that’s where the comparison ends, because if God let you and me and all other sinners die, all it would have proved is the truthfulness of His warning, “If you sin, you will die.” And God could say to the universe, “Was I right? I said sinners would die, and look, they’re dead.” But the universe would not have had answers to questions two and three. But when Jesus died, there was no doubt in the minds of the universe that God was not killing His Son. They were clear about that. And they also saw clearly the horrible consequences of a punitive picture of God. The death of Christ answers all three questions. It’s more than just us or Him. His death is infinitely more significant than ours. But had He not died, we would have been left to reap the consequences and we all would have died. So in that sense, yes, He died in our stead. But beyond that there’s no comparison. His death is infinitely more significant than the death of every sinful man or angel who has ever lived. The death of angels and men would not have answered the questions.
Lou: What you’re saying, then, is that the “satisfaction” idea doesn’t encompass everything that’s involved in the atonement, does it?
Graham: Oh, I think it makes it much too small. I think it puts God in a very bad light. And on top of that, it doesn’t answer the questions of the great controversy. Many folk who prefer other understandings of the plan of salvation do not understand that there has been a universe-wide great controversy over the character and government of God. As I mentioned in Chapter One, even Luther, hero of the Christian world that he is, could not conceive of these larger issues because he didn’t appreciate the book of Revelation. Not many through the years have seen the sixty-sixth book picture of a universe-wide controversy over the character and government of God. And so they have seen the death of Christ as primarily a plan just to save you and me, for which we are very grateful. It’s just that the larger view makes the cross much more significant.
Lou: I guess it comes back to this. What one understands the problem to be has everything to do with what the answer to that problem is.

Here’s an important question. “Are you suggesting that how Jesus died is the way the wicked will die at the end of the thousand years, that God will give them up as He gave up His Son?”
Graham: As far as the giving up is concerned, I believe that’s the meaning of the third angel’s message. He will “pour out His wrath without mixture” (Rev 14:10). This is the last time God’s wrath is expressed and, as a result, all the wicked will die.
Lou: Is that God becoming furious then?
Graham: My understanding would be that if we should look up and see Christ looking at the death of the wicked, He would be crying, “Why will you die? How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” But we still would die.
Lou: Does that mean you share the view that God doesn’t kill anyone? Is that what you are saying, that God never has and never will?
Graham: Well I honor anybody who wants to put God in a good light, but I think some have gone too far, and that raises its own problems. It seems clear to me that many, many times in the Scriptures God has put His children to sleep. Take the firstborn in Egypt. They didn’t die because they were bad. They died because they were the firstborn. Someone suggested that the devil does God’s killing for Him. But the devil is not that cooperative, you can be sure. No, the firstborn in Egypt died because the angel of the Lord put them to sleep. And it’s possible some of them may arise in the resurrection of the righteous. Who is to say they were all bad boys? In the Flood, with the 185,000 Assyrians, and on many other occasions, I see God Himself putting His own children to sleep. But as Jesus said, it’s only sleep. He resurrects them too. Those boys in Egypt who went to bed that night, they are awake the next morning, as far as they are aware, without any consciousness of the time between.

Lou: But now you are making a distinction that is biblical, that is, a distinction between the first and second death. What about the death of Jesus? Did He die the first or the second death?
Graham: The first death is the death we all die if we live long enough. It is a death that is followed by a resurrection, whether righteous or unrighteous. It is the consequence of living in a world of sin. Even relative saints like Isaiah and Elisha died. The second death is the one the Bible warns us of, the death from which there is no resurrection.
Which death did Jesus die? Had He died of crucifixion alone, He would have died the first death. But He died to demonstrate that awful second death. How come, then, did He rise on Sunday, if there is no resurrection after the second death? I don’t think Jesus came to show that in the second death you die and stay dead forever. How could you demonstrate that anyway? We would have to live forever to see it. There’s no way you could really answer that. Rather, He came to demonstrate how His Father is involved in that death. And even before He was dead, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Then on Resurrection Sunday He went up to Heaven to see if the heavenly council agreed. And He heard them say, “Yes, it’s finished. You’ve cleared up all our questions.” So I think He answered all the questions that needed to be answered in the only way that they could be answered, and we don’t need to ask more of the cross.
One more point, if Jesus died to pay the legal penalty, and the legal penalty is the second death, you have a real problem. The crucial feature of the second death is that you never rise again. So if the cross is all about a legal system, if He died to pay the legal penalty, then He should still be in the grave. In that case, since He went up to heaven on Easter Sunday, none of us is paid up and we are in serious legal trouble.
Lou: So the resurrection is one of the most significant reasons why the strictly legal model would not be adequate.
Graham: When He went to heaven, the angels didn’t say, “Wait a minute. You are supposed to stay dead for eternity to pay the price for sin. Hurry back to earth, we won’t tell anybody we saw you out of the grave.” Instead they said, “It’s more than enough. You could have come up on Friday!”

Questions and Answers (8:2)

Lou: So then “power in the blood” is a shorthand way of saying, “There is power in the death of Christ. The meaning of His death has the power to change my life.” It’s much more than just the image of being washed in blood.
Graham: That’s right. I remember when I was baptized up at Pacific Union College, the a capella choir stood out there and sang, “There is a fountain filled with blood,” and you could probably sing the rest of it.
Lou: “Drawn from Emanuel’s veins.” I love that song.
Graham: That’s right. I like it. I’ve sung it many times myself. But the older I get, the more I think of the meaning of it. In fact, sometimes when we’re singing it, I have to stop and think about it. There’s no power in just repeating the words. But there’s power in the meaning; why Jesus had to die, how the cross is the most costly and convincing evidence, and how the cross will provide security throughout eternity. I’m definitely not going to make light of the blood. But it’s a symbol. We have to ask what the meaning behind that is.
The same is true with “paying the price.” That can be interpreted in various ways. Some have wondered if maybe God paid a price to the devil to buy us back, for example. But no, I just think it’s a way of saying, “This is what it cost to do away with sin. This is what it cost to handle the breakdown of trust and trustworthiness.” For example, when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, he paid a heavy price to do that. He used to fall to the ground unconscious as he crossed the finish line. He left just enough energy to make it to the finish, he had nothing left. But the price he paid to run a four-minute mile was not paid to anybody else. That language is a metaphor of all the effort it took to break the four-minute mile. Similarly, Jesus did die to pay the price of sin, but let’s not over-read the metaphor. As always, let’s let the rest of Scripture guide us as to the meaning we should read into those words.

Lou: So some of the illustrations that we have used can give the wrong impression.
Graham: All illustrations are hazardous, so the Bible way is to give us many illustrations. One illustration can cover the shortcomings of another.
Lou: But what about such metaphors as the “satisfying of justice” and “the demands of the law?”
Graham: He died to satisfy the demands of the law. But that raises the question, what does the law demand? Paul says, “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:10). Jesus (Matt 22:37-39) and Moses (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18) said the same. So the law would seem to demand our love, but love can’t be demanded. If love has to be commanded, it’s not real love. So what does the law say? “You have to love God and love each other, or you will be executed in the most painful way known to our Heavenly Father?”
Some of our good Christian friends live under the awful weight of believing that God has said, “You either love and obey Me, or you will be tortured in sulphurous flames for eternity.” That such good folk can still love God is a real tribute to them, but it is not a tribute to God. Because they truly love Jesus and are faithful, I believe they will be in the Kingdom. But what an awful burden to live under! Yet I think Jesus will love to introduce such people to the Father. He’ll say, “Would you like to meet the Father?” And they’ll say, “Well, if You will go with us.” And He’ll respond, “There’s no need, but I’ll go with you anyway.” What a marvelous surprise it will be to millions of these people to meet the Father in the Kingdom and discover that He is just as loving and gracious as the Son. We will cover this topic in the next chapter, “There Is No Need To Be Afraid of God.”
Speaking about “the demands of law” belongs to a very legal conception of what has gone wrong in the universe, which we discussed in Chapter Two. In that view, what has gone wrong is that we have “broken the rules,” and the law demands that God execute us for breaking the rules. Jesus died so that somehow God could justly forgive us even though we have broken the rules. I’m not sure we have been able to make too much sense out of that. But it goes along with the other one, “satisfying justice.” Whose justice? I have friends who say, “If God does not give (Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, etc.) several days in the fire, I will not regard Him as a just God.” They have that strong a feeling about the satisfaction of justice. I think they really mean it, and I respect them for that. But I would also love to relieve them of that burden. If I want to know why Jesus died, I should go to the cross, see how the Father is involved, and then fit what I see back into Scripture. I don’t see God fulfilling the requirements of a legal model.