Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you are making it a den of thieves!”
Until now in the gospel of Matthew, the disciple and author Matthew has shown us Jesus’ magnificent compassion for the people, his miracles and healing, and has given us his great Sermon on the Mount. But now we come to a more serious Jesus. He is angry at what is taking place in God’s temple. The gospel of John also records another similar event in which Jesus “makes a whip out of cords” and uses it to drive out the money changers. Can you imagine Jesus quietly but deliberately putting together a whip? This passage brings up many things to think about – the reverence of God’s temple (church), the authority that Jesus showed in carrying out these things, and the thought of God being angry, as demonstrated through His Son Jesus. I have chosen to discuss the latter one – God’s anger and what does it mean.
Though this was a small demonstration with Jesus, the idea of God’s anger or wrath is perplexing to many, and sometimes uncomfortable. But if you read the accounts of evil that took place in the Old Testament, you may ask why God has not done more. The enemies of God during that time were so evil that we can barely imagine it today. They cut off their captives hands and feet, gouged their eyes, filleted them and skinned them alive, sacrificed their own children to the gods, and even cut off the heads of children and made their parents wear their children’s heads on a rope around their necks. Unbelievable evil. The prophet Habakuk gives us a glimpse of this in his prayer in Habakuk chapter 1.
Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates.
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and You cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
The prophet Nahum also sums it up nicely: “The Lord is slow to anger and great in power.” (Nahum 1:3)
First, we must recognize there is a higher power that created us and we are not of our own to do just anything we please in this world. Ironically, as much as we might like to think we have control of our own destiny, there is so much more out of our control in this world – sickness, death, injustice.
Secondly, God hates evil and the effect it has had on his beloved creation. Evil (or sin) cannot dwell with God. It is not who He is. Otherwise God would be less holy and less trustworthy.
Third, God’s Old Testament wrath or anger is meant as a warning to keep us from falling into a deceitful trap which God knows is not the best for us.
Finally, through these warnings, God is drawing us to Jesus so that we may recognize our need for repentance and a Savior, and not have to experience God’s future judgment on sin and evil. This is why the birth of Jesus was such a celebrated celestial event! God’s promise to the world had finally come. Jesus changed the world. We no longer live in Old Testament times. God’s wrath and anger on evil was directed to the cross, where Jesus took our punishment. God wants to redeem us, to forgive us, and to bring us close to Him. But we cannot do that on our own. It is not a system of tallying up our rights and wrongs, or making sure we never make a mistake. That really would be a terrifying and unfair way to live. But instead God has given us a Savior who can fight the evil for us and fight our battles. With Jesus by our side, we never have to be afraid of anything in this world or the next. We are sealed with God forever. We are forgiven no matter what – past, present and future.
While it may seem scary or uncomfortable to think about hell and therefore how we can avoid it, it is much scarier to not think about it at all and leave our lives up to chance.
My co-worker and I were having lunch one day when the subject of our childhoods came up. We both had lived very different childhoods – hers was international and mine from a small town, but we shared one memory in common, Christmas. My friend talked about how she remembered laying in bed on the night before Christmas, listening for sounds of St. Nicholas on her roof, and then waking up on Christmas morning, peeking into the other room with anticipation and seeing it filled with presents. And then with a whisper she said to me, “I wish I believed like that again.”
When my son was very young, around three or four years old, we took him to our big church for the first time, where he had told him the adults went to worship Jesus. Prior to that, he had always stayed in the church nursery and had already heard many wonderful stories about Jesus. He was excited to be going with us to “big church”. I held his hand as we walked down the aisle of the sanctuary to find our seats, but he began to squirm and started looking all around. I wondered if this had been a good idea after all. And then suddenly with a loud voice and an eager look on his face, he couldn’t contain his excitement any longer and he yelled out, “Which one is Jesus?”
Ah, the faith of a child who believes! It’s priceless. And then as time passes and we begin to see more of the unfairness in the world, we start to question things. We question God, we question his existence, and why doesn’t he do something? But Jesus has a very specific answer for this. He has not forgotten the children, the neglected, those who are unfairly treated, or any of the other injustices in the world. Jesus says we will have those in this world, but there will be justice and he gives a strong warning about it.
~ Matthew 18:2-9 Faith of a child ~
Then Jesus called a child to Him and had him stand among them. “I assure you,”He said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me.
“But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea! Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes. If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire!”
It is easy to get discouraged when we only look at life from an earthly perspective instead of a heavenly one. The enemy wants us to believe this life is all there is, injustices and all, so we should seek whatever pleasure we can out of life, discard any scripture that gets in our way, and just grab all we can. But Jesus tells us something different. And if Jesus’ words matter at all, and I believe they do, then life becomes a whole different story with a different outcome.
This is the question a co-worker asked me a few weeks ago. It is an important question, and honestly, a difficult one to try to answer. My friend was having difficulty reconciling what she saw around the world with her Christian beliefs. “There are a billion muslims,” she said, “I can’t see how God will send a billion people to hell when they are only following the only culture and traditions they have ever known.”
She asked this question a few days before the Paris terror attacks. I don’t know if our conversation would have been different if it had taken place after the attacks, but I do know that the day before any tragedy seems to be a normal day just like any other. And when tragedy strikes, we immediately start searching for the truth. The truth does not change based on circumstances. It is the same the day before and the day after.
The answer to her question is not a simple yes or no. But there can only be one truth to the world, and this question can be answered adequately and rightly without having to compromise on that truth.
God is Just and Fair. He will do what is Right. (Psalm 145:17)
I began to explain my answer to my friend and followed it up with some references. Many people have this same question, so I have written my answer below in four statements that I hope will also help others. After all, everyone wants to know, and there is nothing we can do to change the answer once we die.
1. The answer lies not just in what we see in the world today, but in an overall understanding from the beginning of people in our world. This is recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible.
No other book explains the historical beginning of time and records the genealogy starting with Adam. The Bible represents 40 authors, 66 books, written over 1600 years, in 3 continents and 3 languages. It describes the human race in completeness – all races, cultures, and religions.
*fun fact: There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In triplicate (3), this equals 66, the number of books in the Bible. Three means complete.
Two-thousand years passed between Adam and Abraham in the book of Genesis. This is significant because God does not establish his first covenant with people until Abraham. Abraham is considered the start of religion as we know it today. The book of Genesis does not give us a lot of detail during those first 2000 years, but we do know the earth had become very evil and God destroyed it with a flood during Noah’s time.
God is known to punish people for evil, but He always gives them fair warning ahead of time. Grace has been present from the beginning. Anyone who heeded the warning, sought God and repented from their evil ways was saved from destruction, no matter what they had done in the past.
The people of Noah’s time were warned for many years. (I Peter 3:20)
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were warned ahead of time. (Genesis 18:22-33)
The people of Nineveh, though very evil, were warned through the prophet Jonah and they listened and repented, and were saved from destruction. (Jonah 3)
God’s own covenant people through Abraham had become very evil themselves in about 600 BC. They worshipped other gods, sacrificed children and participated in cannibalism, and their own priests had become corrupt and evil. The prophet Jeremiah warned them for years, and his prophecy came true when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC and the few thousand remaining were held captive in Babylon. (Jeremiah and Lamentations)
2. God will not condemn someone for what they do not know.
How were people saved or judged before Jesus’ time? And what about those in more recent times who still have never had a chance to hear of Jesus or read a Bible? Remote areas of the world, certain cultures, Native American Indians who lived prior to the western colonization, young children, and the mentally handicapped are a few of these.
Prior to having a knowledge of Jesus, people were saved by faith in what they knew up until that time, and by faith in the promise of a coming Savior.
“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Hebrews 11:4)
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)
3. God the Creator can reveal himself through his creation, and will make himself known to each of his created.
Just like a baby knows its mother, we instinctively know God our Creator. It is our heart (soul) that decides whether we want to follow God and what He has revealed to us. Reading a Bible or attending church is certainly helpful but not a requirement. God has been known to use His creation to reveal Himself, especially in Old Testament times. (Psalm 19:1-4)
This is part of the mystery of God. We do not know how God reveals himself to each person, but we can trust that He will, and everyone is given a choice. But we must be very careful here… for those of us that have knowledge, we are judged on that knowledge. Even Satan and the fallen angels had knowledge of God and they chose differently.
4. Finally, because God loves us, he will not leave us without hope or without choice. He has sent a Savior for all people. A Savior is not based on who we are or what we’ve done, but on what the Savior has done for us.
By nature of who God is, he cannot be a part of sin or evil. God poured out his final judgment on sin through the ultimate sacrifice, His Son Jesus, who took the punishment on the cross in our place. Jesus’ final words were, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). God’s plan to redeem his people was complete. Jesus’ burden was so heavy during the time of his crucifixion, that I believe this was because he was thinking of each and every one of us by name – past, present and future.
There are different ideas on the exclusivism-inclusivism of Jesus, but the basic truth is this:
Jesus came as Savior to all the world. (“Go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said” Matthew 28:19). His death and resurrection covers the righteousness for those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, and as the promised Savior for those who have not yet heard and will believe. This makes Jesus still the one Savior for all the world, as prophesied from the beginning of time, and the one true path to God. He is our intercessor to God. Through Jesus, God no longer sees our sin but sees the righteousness of Jesus within us.
There is no need and no truth in having many paths to God to cover our various traditions, personalities, character traits, races, cultures, circumstances or changing times. God never said we had to work our way to Him either. By Faith (true repentance) and by Grace present from the beginning, One Savior covers it all; fair and just and complete.
We want quick answers, even to tough questions, but the Bible shows us that God’s view and concept of time is not limited to our short timeframes. But because our life on this earth is short, we have little time as individuals to decide what we want to believe and do. Will it be based on a matter of convenience or a search for the truth?
My friend left our talk that night a little overwhelmed, but the next morning I noticed she was smiling and talking to the taxi driver about Christ! She had found her answer.
We may not find all the answers, but in finding God,
we will find the One who does.
I’ll never forget that day at lunch. I’ve thought about it many times since. Why didn’t I have an answer? What would I say today? I was resolved to find the answer.
My co-worker sat across from me in the lunch cafeteria. She had invited me to lunch that day, which was unusual since we were not close friends and had never had lunch together in all the years we worked at the same company. She was retiring soon and asked if I would join her for lunch. I was happy to go. She was a funny person, liked to tell jokes and always had a smile on her face.
We began talking about trivial things and small-talk, when all of a sudden her demeanor changed. She looked at me with a fierceness in her face I had never seen before, and she brought up the subject of God. “I don’t believe in God,” she said, “but if he does exist when I die, I’m going to look him right in the face and point my finger at him (she starts shaking her finger at me) and I’m going to tell him I don’t want anything to do with a god that demands people worship him or else he sends them to hell. I’ll turn around and gladly go straight to hell!”
Whaat?, came my reply in a state of disbelief. I kept waiting for the joke or punch line but it never came. I was speechless and did not know where her sudden anger came from. I had never discussed religion with her and was not even sure she knew I was a Christian. I do not know her reason for choosing me that day, but her attack seemed very personal. I think it was not me she was attacking but rather the one I represented, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit that lives within me as a Christian.
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
Our lunch was mostly over after that rant, but the expression on her face never changed back to the happy person I knew before. I never saw her again after that, but I have often wondered about her and what was the right answer to her statement. Here is what I would say to her today.
You have the wrong idea about God. God is Sovereign and Holy, and the Creator of the universe. He created this world and you and I, with only a spoken word. He is far beyond anything we can fully imagine or contain within our limitations. God is to be revered, but He is also fair and good and loving. He does not demand anything of us, nor can we earn it. Everything on this earth requires that we work for it, including our jobs, but it is not that way with God. God asks us if we would like to receive His gift of Grace. It is freely given to anyone, but we have to want to accept it. Heaven is a place for those who want to worship the true and living God and have found their salvation in Christ. If you get to know who God is, then you will want to be with Him out of this love.
You also have the wrong idea about hell. If hell is real, as described in the Bible and warned about many times by Jesus, then it is not a place you will gladly want to go. You will want to avoid it at all costs. Just look around us at the evil we see every day on this earth and you will know that hell can be a reality, and there is no reason to think it would be limited to only what we can see.
Satan’s main goal is to keep us away from God and to keep us from knowing the truth.
It is worth everything we have to seek out and find the truth; to examine our hearts and our motives. There is no price too great for knowing the truth, and there is no substitute. Yes, God is more than we can ever imagine, but He has also given us the truth and the way for redemption and eternal fellowship with Him. The rest is up to us.
And all mankind will see the salvation of God. Luke 3:6