“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
The first real encounter with death for me was probably the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. That was 10 days after my 5th birthday and although it wasn’t a traumatic experience in the sense that I remember family members crying and weeping, because I don’t, but it was more about the images that were impressed upon my mind that I attribute to the pictures that I remember seeing from the Life and Look magazines that I’d see at my grandparents house for sometime after that. I can distinctly remember being in my bedroom, which was converted from a back porch of our 2nd story duplex home on the west side of Cleveland (did you know if you jumble the letters around you get “See and Leave”?) and lying still in my bed with the covers over my head. I used to pretend that the covers were the American flag and I was dead JFK lying in that casket that I had seen in the magazine pictures. I can distinctly remember imagining what it must be like being dead. At that time I knew enough to know that once you were dead – you were dead and there was no coming back, so I’d lay there, a 5 year old, pretending I was dead and trying to process the thought of eternity…just existing for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever…without end…I can actually recall being startled into reality because my mind was actually entering into a sort of endless loop. It was kind of scary but yet it wasn’t. I’d lay there and repeat the sequence of going into eternity…for ever and ever and ever and ever…and coming back to reality. It was pretty exhilarating. I can also remember as a young child lying around on the grass on a summer day looking up at the sky and just being so enamored with the overwhelming wonder and beauty of the sky and the clouds or the stars and how big it all seemed. It seemed to me even back then that there was something beyond comprehension behind life and I even had the inclination to believe that I must have some purpose or reason for living. Thinking back on those thoughts I can easier appreciate what the Bible means in Romans 1:20: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse”.
I suppose many have had the same type of reflections (at least the looking up at the sky part…I’m not so sure about the pretending to be dead JFK part:) and I think that as mature adults it should be a normal part of life to contemplate and come to terms with death and what lies ahead after the death of our mortal bodies.
One day recently, while reading the Bible, the phrase “endureth for ever” caught my attention. I discovered that this exact phrase is used exactly 50 times, however there is only 1 Hebrew word that has been translated into this phrase which is `owlam. (Strong’s #5769).
Here is the definition:
“from '`alam' (5956); properly, concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; generally, time out of mind (past or future), i.e. (practically) eternity; frequentatively, adverbial (especially with prepositional prefix) always:--alway(-s), ancient (time), any more, continuance, eternal, (for, (n-))ever(-lasting, -more, of old), lasting, long (time), (of) old (time), perpetual, at any time, (beginning of the) world (+ without end).”
The root meaning of this word is to veil from sight; to conceal. So it really makes sense how we can hardly put our minds around eternity – because we cannot see it!
There are numerous objects in the Bible that this word applies to other than the 50 occurrences that I just pointed out. First are some of the English words that have been translated from `owlam:
Always, ancient, continuance, end, eternal, ever, everlasting, evermore, lasting, long, never, old, perpetual, time, times, world.
Here are some samples of things that actually endure forever:
Genesis 9:16 – an everlasting covenant
Genesis 17:8 – the land as an everlasting possession
Genesis 21:33 – the name of the LORD – the everlasting God
Exodus 40:15 – an everlasting priesthood
Deuteronomy 33:15 – lasting hills
Deuteronomy 33:27 – the everlasting arms (strength/power)
Psalms 145:13 – an everlasting kingdom
Psalms 89:36 – His seed
Psalms 93:5 – holiness becomes thine house, O LORD, for ever
Psalms 119:112 – thy statutes
Hosea 2:19 – the marriage of Jesus Christ and his bride
“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned (contemptible).” – Song of Solomon 8:7
Here it says that many waters cannot quench love. That tells me that love is unquenchable (everlasting) and also that any love that man may have is incomparable to the love of God. This is why love is not an expression or a feeling. It is the actual presence of God. And from His abundant love we find grace and mercy…
Grace, Mercy and Faith
Among the 50 occurrences of the specific English term “endureth for ever” we find:
1. “His mercy” 42 times (the most occurrences)
2. “His (or thy) righteousness” 3 times (how ironic!)…and the rest occur a single time;
3. “His praise”
4. “The truth of the Lord (his truth)”
5. “His (or thy) righteous judgments”
6. “Thy name (his name)”, and finally
7. “The Word of the Lord” (his Word)
Notice that each of these characteristics is possessive to God Almighty. It is not enough to say that “mercy endures” or “praise endures”…it is the Lord’s mercy and the Lord’s praise that endures! In other words, there is nothing intrinsic to the human that can be applied to these eternal attributes of our God. Nothing that a human can put forth is sufficient – only God’s grace is sufficient in order for us to be saved. “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” – John 6:63
On the subject of mercy and grace: it is common for us to consider mercy and grace as one and the same. They are similar but there is a noticeable difference as seen through scripture and a breakdown of the Hebrew words. Let me preface the breakdown by stating something that may sound odd: Grace is temporary while mercy is not…grace is not eternal but mercy is eternal. This can be seen when comparing the Hebrew words used for grace and mercy.
Grace (or favor):
chanan (Strong’s #2583); properly, to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior; to favor, bestow; causatively to implore (i.e. move to favor by petition):--beseech, X fair, (be, find, shew) favour(-able), be (deal, give, grant (gracious(-ly), intreat, (be) merciful, have (shew) mercy (on, upon), have pity upon, pray, make supplication, X very.
Mercy (or favor):
chacad (Strong’s #2603)) in courtesy to an equal), i.e. to be kind; also (by euphem. (compare l288), but rarely) to reprove:--shew self merciful, put to shame.
The two definitions are very similar except for grace being “kindness to an inferior” and mercy being “courtesy (or kindness) to an equal”. We’ve learned and believe that the time that Jesus came forth; lived, died, resurrected and ascended until now is what can be defined as the age of grace as seen through Daniel 9:24-27:
“24 Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
In the ancient Hebrew culture a week is defined as a time period consisting of 7 years. So from the time of the command to restore the temple in Jerusalem until the time that Jesus was crucified is a total of 69 weeks or 483 years (verse 25). So from the time of Jesus’ ascension we have been in a parenthetical time period of grace or in a sense – suspended animation. The beginning of the end of this age will be the seven year tribulation period or the 70th week. The age will culminate with God’s wrath on the wicked as he harvests a remnant of his people. Jesus came as a sacrificial lamb to be an offer of redemption for all of mankind so through Jesus’ flesh, God’s hand of grace has been extended for over 2,000 years. At the point when God’s wrath is being poured out during the 70th (or last) week (Daniel 9:27), he will be drawing back this hand of grace and the age will come to an end. This is the return of Jesus Christ as the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5) – he will sit for ever enthroned as the Lamb of God (Revelation 5:13), but there’s no getting around the Lion of Judah. So we can see that grace is extended to temporal sinners (kindness to an inferior – or a sinner) but mercy endures for ever for God’s children (kindness to an equal – or a saint).
Ephesians 2:5-9 says:
“5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
In verse 5 he says by grace we are saved but then there is a slight modification to this statement in verse 8 where he says that by grace we are saved through faith. People that believe that salvation cannot be lost because we are saved by grace are missing something. They are missing faith. We must believe by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and as we grow and mature we are being separated from the world and converted in order to be saved (the just shall live eternally by faith). Verse 9 says that this salvation by grace through faith is not of works. This correlates to Jesus responding to the people in John 6 after he had fed them with food for their bellies and they later went searching for him again (because they were hungry for more belly food). He chastises them by saying in verses 26 and 27 – “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.”
Then they asked him in excellent carnal, devilish and religious fashion: “What should we do that we can work the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said unto them, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”. The just shall live eternally by faith and faith alone…no works of the flesh allowed. We can do all the works we can think up but they are not regarded. Let us then also not be confused when someone says “the Bible says – we must show our faith by our works” – referring to James chapter 2. But these “works” that he is talking about are really the fruit of Jesus Christ which is the result of a nature changing from darkness to light. James previously wrote (chapter 1) that we should not just be hearers of the Word but “doers” of the Word. Does that mean we should be “workers”? No – a “doer” is someone who by nature walks in obedience to the God the Father.
“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” – Romans 10:16-17
So, similar to those that would maintain that “grace” alone saves us, many would say that all we have to do is “hear” the Word of God by any old preacher or that we should just read the Bible as a requirement once a day or so, but it all really stems from a real heart change not just a religious work of reading the Bible or praying or fasting.
Jesus drives the point home in John 6 when they further questioned him again in more typical devil fashion – by quoting scripture!...
“30 They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?
31 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.”
Even though the Israelites survived on the manna from heaven to sustain them in the wilderness, Jesus is telling us that we cannot depend on just the written words of the scripture (Moses is used here to symbolize this), because he later says that they ate of the manna but they still died! (John 6:49), but it is the Spirit of God that gives us eternal life…we’re not talking about physical, biological life anymore – God doesn’t really care all that much about our physical bodies because they are temporary. Jesus goes on to say that HE is this bread of life and that He has come only to be a “doer” of the will of His Father, and then: “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
At this many got offended, murmured and even his followers just walked away from him at that point. Jesus then asks his 12 chosen ones:
“Will you also leave me?”
Departing from the Faith
Some are even teaching now that ALL men are saved. If that’s the case why does God even bother letting the world continue spinning around with as much wickedness and depravity that exudes from it every day? If everyone is saved by grace only then Jesus should just show up and we can all live happily ever after. I’m not detracting from grace but the fact of the matter is that a person must receive that which is given and on top of that – a real born again believing Christian is a chosen, elected soul (“Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” – John 6:65). That teaching is another example of people walking after their own lusts and coming up with something conjured up by demons and calling it doctrine. Many Christians are in danger of losing their salvation because of doctrines of demons:
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;” – 1st Timothy 4:1-2
In order to depart from the faith you have to at some point have been IN the faith…you can’t depart from JFK airport without ever having been in JFK airport.
At the end of John chapter 6 when Jesus asked his apostles if they would depart from the faith, the response was:
“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
What follows is an ominous warning from the Lord:
“Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?”
The Lord personally knows those that are his (“But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.” – John 6:64), and I pray for all who seek Him to become meek and lowly in doing so.
I don’t want to have any of the devil in me and that’s why we are exhorted to examine OURSELVES to see if we are IN the faith!
To close on a somewhat lighter note (but still being serious) - I have a personal axe to grind with the crazy world and the crazy Christian religion that continues to this day to refer to my namesake Thomas, one of the12 apostles, as “doubting Thomas”. Leave it to the world to be continually contrary to the Word of God. Jesus told Thomas:
“Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”
The last thing we heard from Thomas was “My LORD and My God!”…and Jesus says to him: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Let us (Thomas’s and non-Thomas’s :) not be found doubting but believing the true report until the end – that we may be partakers of eternal life – to be For Ever with the Lord, Amen!
“For since the beginning of the world (`owlam) men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has eye seen, O God, beside you what he has prepared for him that waits for him. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance (`owlam), and we shall be saved. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” – Isaiah 64:4-6
“But as it is written (the eternal Word of God), Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” – 1st Corinthians 2:9
“Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.” – Psalms 9:5
“And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever.” – Psalms 41:12