By Warren M Mueller –
Is there any evidence in the Bible that supports reincarnation? I recently met a person who claims that Matthew 11:14 supports the idea that at least some people are reincarnated. In this verse, Jesus says that John the Baptist is Elijah or Elias and therefore, John is either the resurrected or reincarnated prophet. Since Elijah was taken bodily up to heaven, he presumably never died and so John could not be the resurrected prophet (2 Ki 2:11). His mother was Elizabeth, a relative of Mary (Lk 1: 36, 57-60) and he was special even from birth being filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:15). Jesus said that there was nobody greater than John the Baptist ever born which certainly would put him in an exceptional class with Elijah the prophet (Mt 11:11). Mark and Luke both attribute prophetic verses from the old testament prophets Malachi and Isaiah to John the Baptist as the messenger who prepares the way for the return of the Lord Almighty (Mal 3:1; Is 40:3). So is the literal sense of Mt 11:14 what Jesus meant?
Some of the Jewish priests wondered who John the Baptist was and asked him if he was Elijah. John said he was not Elijah (Jn 1:21) which clearly conflicts with the literal sense of Mt 11:14. During the transfiguration of Jesus, Elijah and Moses appear and talk to Jesus who is changed such that “his clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” (Mk 9:3, NIV) Peter is present and offers to set up three shelters for each of them Jesus, Moses and Elijah.(Mk 9:5) This event happened after the death of John the Baptist so if he was Elijah reincarnated, why didn’t Peter and the others recognize him as John? Also, after the transfiguration, the three disciples ask Jesus why the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come before the Lord. In Mk 9:12, Jesus responds to their question and affirms that Elijah does come before the restoration of God’s kingdom. This is fulfilled in the appearance of Elijah before the death and resurrection of Jesus which establishes the kingdom of God on earth inside of believers (Jn 3:3; 1 Cor 6:19). The appearance of Elijah at the transfiguration of Jesus could also fulfill Mal 4:5 which predicted that Elijah would return before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Jesus continues in Mk 9:13 to explain that John the Baptist is the Elijah that has come and suffered. John the Baptist is the last of the Old Testament prophets who were rejected and suffered at the hands of the kings and priests of Israel. Therefore, these verses describe both the return of the Old Testament prophet Elijah (at the time of the transfiguration) and John the Baptist as the last forerunner of the kingdom of God and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Reincarnation is not supported by the Bible which teaches that each person lives once and then is judged by God to determine eternal life in heaven or hell (Heb 9:27; 2Co 5:8; Rev 20:11-21:4). Jesus and Paul taught that every legal matter should be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Mt 18:16; 2Co 13:1). The diety of Jesus was witnessed by both Elijahs at the baptism of Jesus and his transformation. Jesus taught that faith in him leads to perfection and unity with God, not multiple human life experiences (Mt 14:6).
By Warren M Mueller –
As I reflected on the tragedies of the Boston Marathon bombing and the Newtown massacre, I realized that those who did these crimes were described as loners or people without friends. This caused me to think about what isolation does to human thinking. I searched for an example I could relate to and thought of my daily commute to work in an auto. In this case, people are isolated from each other, and most of the time, I see the vehicle, not the person inside. It is easy to feel annoyance and even anger when others violate my space on the road by cutting in front of me. When standing still in traffic, I tend to look straight ahead because I do not want to interact with others who may be angry or frustrated. The result is that my view of others on the road is reduced to vehicles that are obstacles or are competing with me for space. This situation fosters low tolerance of actions that violate my space and produces thoughts of others as being rude and selfish which stimulate negative emotions.
Conversely, people who share values, goals or something in common tend to think positively about each other. A great example of this occurs among Christians because of faith in Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I am amazed at how I can feel close to people with whom I have very little in common except our shared Christian beliefs. However, I find I feel much less connected to those who I see regularly but do not know by name or shared experience. There is a danger even in church of just being present out of habit or obligation which can result in going through the motions without mentally and emotionally connecting to others.
The Bible says that believers are to seek relationships or connections with other believers and meet together regularly (Hebrews 10:25 NIV). Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who overcame social barriers by connecting with others. Jesus loves us so much that he became human in order to connect with us and help us to become like him (John 1:12-13; 3:16 NIV). Jesus associated with social outcasts. He formed a network of followers to mentor and helped them develop a new identity based on his teachings, example, and relationships. His death and resurrection enable those who accept him as Savior and Lord to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 6:19 NIV). This is the ultimate connection in life because it is the most intimate transforming the mind and changing us into holy children of God (Romans 12: 1-2 NIV).
Shared views and purpose produce loyalty and commitments to glorify God and advance his kingdom on earth. The result of loyalty is unity and love for God and for other believers. This is why Jesus said that others will know his disciples by their love for each other (John 13:35). Why then is there not more love and unity among believers in Christ? I believe the root cause is our failure to connect with others.
Practice connecting to those you encounter by thinking of them in positive ways. I have started to look at people in their vehicles and think of them as working with me to get back and forth to work each day. This has helped me to connect with them giving me greater tolerance and appreciation of our collective effort to return safely home each day. Look those you encounter in the eye and smile at them and think of something you share in common with them. This could be as basic as realizing we are Americans. It will help you be connected and discover something to love in every encounter in your life.
By Warren Mueller –
The role of faith and works in salvation is a topic that has been, and continues to be, debated among Christians.
Clearly, faith and good works are related and without works faith is dead or useless (James 2:20 NIV). There are a number of paradoxes in the Bible associated with faith and works that would disappear if Christians would realize that it is who they are that should drive what they do. In other words, “be to do” not “do to be.”
Our human thinking and culture tells us we need to work hard to gain skills and knowledge to be successful and attain a better way of life. This is “do to be” thinking. I believe this thinking has pervaded Christianity such that the motivation to do good works, receive the sacraments, achieve status and rank by becoming a priest, deacon, elder, etc. is based on the desire to accumulate spiritual rewards and a better place in heaven. Another problem is that some Christian denominations teach that works are an essential part of salvation. In other words, the grace needed to reach heaven is imparted through the sacraments of the church which again is “do to be” thinking.
So what is “be to do” Christian thinking?
The basis for this thinking rests on a spiritual birth, through faith in Jesus Christ as personal savior (John 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; Romans 6:23 NIV). Jesus said one must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3 NIV). The death of Jesus on the cross provides payment for the penalty of the sins of mankind. This is a legal transaction that enables those who accept this by faith to become children of God indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:26; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 John 3:24; Ephesians 1:13-14 NIV).
This spiritual birth is like the natural one in that growth in knowledge of the new identity of self, the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit and the works that result are progressive. From this theological view, good works are a result of changes that God has produced inside me and not changes that I try to achieve by doing something. Thus, the meaning of Jesus in saying that in order to gain life you must lose it means that you must be born again or changed spiritually through faith in Jesus. When this happens, there is a fundamental change in self-identity in which a person’s thinking shifts from “me” to “we” as a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit. In my case, I began to live for Jesus and not just for myself so, in this sense, I have lost my life but found new life and joy in serving Jesus.
Likewise, faith without works is dead means there can be no genuine change within (i.e. spiritual birth in Jesus) without changes in outward actions. The outward actions or good works result from the reality of spiritual changes within and not visa-versa. Thus, the greatest in the kingdom of God are servants or slaves who, like Jesus, follow the will of God. What they do is a result of what God has already done within them. Good works becomes an expression of love, gratitude and obedience that desires to give God joy. The result of such good works is a deeper experience of the presence of God within.
I am afraid too many Christian denominations stress works because they are led by human understanding and a desire to self-improve or control others rather than as a result of being fundamentally changed by a spiritual birth.
By Warren M Mueller –
Jesus uses over the phrase “kingdom of heaven” 30 times in the gospel of Matthew. This phrase or the synonymous phrase “kingdom of God” is used over 60 times in the others gospels and epistles. Therefore, this is an important theme in the teachings of Jesus. So what is this kingdom like? First, God has unlimited power and so he has control over everything. As king, everything happens according to his will. However, this is not to say that God is the author of evil. God gave the angels and mankind the ability to obey or digress from the decrees of God so evil is the result of rebellion against God but he is not the author of it. With this as the setting, let’s examine some of the teachings of Jesus and his disciples about his kingdom.
Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world which is to say that the present conditions on earth are not in perfect harmony with his will (Jn 18:36). Satan and his demons rebelled against the positions in heaven assigned to them by God and so were cast to the earth. Likewise, a curse and corruption resulting in death has come upon mankind for disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. As a result of these rebellions, the conditions on earth are like a rotting apple in the garden of God’s otherwise perfect universe. In this analogy, the demons and mankind are like worms that consume and alter the apple which is subject to decay. God has given dominion of this world to the devil who is called its ruler and the spirit at work in those who are disobedient (Eph 2:2).
When Jesus was born, he entered into the realm of Satan as a human. However, there was something different about Jesus because his essence was also divine. He was a dual citizen of both heaven and earth. This meant that, although he was tempted by his humanity to sin, his divinity enabled him to conform to the will of God the Father in heaven (Jn 8:28-29). In other words, Jesus had both a human view and divine view of himself and his surroundings. This is what John the Baptist meant when he said, “Repent for the kingdom of God is near” (Mt 3:1-2 NIV). John’s call to repentance is primarily to change the mind by seeing sin as rebellion and self as fallen away from God. It may also include sorrow and a desire to change but this is an outcome not the motivation. In other words, a person can be sorry for committing sins but continue to do them until there is a change in thinking that drives a different behavior. Therefore, the kingdom of God involves a change of mind as a result of a fundamental change (Jn 1:12-13). This is why Jesus said that each person must undergo a spiritual change so fundamental it is like a birth in order to enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3).
How does this change occur? The Bible teaches that those who put their faith in Jesus and their personal savior and Lord undergo a radical transformation internally as the kingdom of God is established within (Lk 17:20). The Holy Spirit indwells each believer and a transformation of the mind begins which works itself outward in changed behavior that reflects the kingship of Christ (Mt 13:11; 2 Cor 3:18). This inside out growth of the kingdom of heaven in believers is like the action of yeast in bread (Mt 13:33). The kingdom of heaven is an invasion of the dominion of Satan. The kingdom of heaven will continue to grow like a mustard seed into a great tree that will spread throughout the earth (Mt 13:32).
The presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is the deposit or guarantee of membership in the kingdom of heaven and is the most precious treasure that a person can have (Mt 13:44; 1 Cor 6:19). A judgment day is coming when it will become obvious who does or does not belong to the kingdom of God (Mt 13:37-43). Eventually the bodies of dead and alive believers will be transformed and live with Jesus in a new earth free from the dominion of Satan and corruption (1 Cor 15:50; Rev 21:1-4).
The kingdom of heaven has invaded this world and is transforming it from the inside out. If you are not part of the kingdom of God, I pray that you will enter it through faith in Jesus Christ and experience the joy, peace, love and wonder of this transformation (Jn 3:16-17)!
By Warren Mueller –
I have heard some say that the Christian concept of an unchanging God is not compatible with Biblical teachings. God says clearly in Malachi 3:6 that He does not change. However, God determines to destroy the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf, but relents and seems to change his mind after Moses pleads for them (Exodus 32:7-14). Also, Isaiah tells King Hezekiah that his death is imminent but then he shortly thereafter tells the King that God has heard his prayers and has decided to heal him and give him fifteen additional years (2 Kings 20:1-5). Furthermore, doesn’t the birth of Jesus bring about a change in God because prior to this event, God was not human?
If God does change then He can’t be perfect in knowledge and power. This implies that God is somehow limited because He is learning and changing through new experiences. We are left with a God who is not in perfect control of our world and does not know every event that will occur in the future. This is very different from what the Bible says about God knowing all things and having the power to bring about every detail of His plans according to his will (Is 46:10; John 21:17; Hebrews 4:13; Rev 19:6).
So how can these apparent conflicting verses and concepts be reconciled? I believe that those verses where God appears to change his mind in response to something that man does—such as the pleading of Moses or the prayers of Hezekiah—do not represent a true change in God’s plans. If God knows all things, then He knows ultimately what will happen in every situation. In the case of Moses, He knows that He will not destroy the Israelites but tells Moses He intends to in order to reveal His holiness and intolerance to sin. He desires to have a relationship with Moses and so interacts with him to show His love and merciful characteristics.
Humans exist in a linear dimension of time so our understanding of events is sequential. However, God is eternal and His existence is not bound by time. God may exist in a time dimension that is a plane instead of a straight line. If this is true, then He sees the timeline of this world without being bound to it.
Finally, the Bible gives insights into why the birth of Jesus does not equate to a change in the experience and knowledge of God. First, Jesus appeared to various people in the Old Testament as a flesh and bones or pre-incarnate human (Gen 18:1-7; Judges 6:11-22). Also, man is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Therefore, man resembles God in that some of the attributes of God are embodied in mankind. Thus, the birth of Jesus does not represent a change in the attributes or experience of God.
God obviously has many more and perfect attributes than does man. What is amazing is that those who are reconciled to God through Jesus will be given even more of God’s attributes and become even more like him.
“The Lord Jesus Christ who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Phil 3:20-21).