October 2018 Bible Questions and Answers

Topics:  Ecclesiastes 9:5 and what the dead know after death, the Christian’s relationship to herbalism, the meaning of “new heavens and a new earth,” the meaning of “a camel passing through the eye of a needle,” the reasons why we should search for truth

Please discuss Ecclesiastes 9:5.

Contextually, Solomon (the Preacher) is examining yet another reason why life under the sun is ultimately meaningless without fearing God and keeping His commandments. In the beginning of chapter 9 of Ecclesiastes, he brings out how death happens to both the righteous and the wicked (vs. 2-3).  While those who are alive have hope (v. 4) — specifically hope that what we do here on earth and work for will matter — the same cannot be said of those who die. This is what verses 5-6 are talking about.

After one dies, they “know nothing” (v. 5). They will still have knowledge of what had happened in their life (Lk. 16:19-31), but they will cease knowing of what happens here on earth after they die.   They also “have no more reward” (v. 5). The reward of eternal life will still be present for the faithful (Matt. 25:31-46). However, the reward of people who still live remembering the deceased – who and what they loved, hated, and were envious of (v. 6) – will soon be taken away, usually within a couple of generations for most.  Those who pass away will also lose the reward of sharing the results of their labor in their life, because their life will be over (v. 6).

Should Christians shun herbalism because some pagan cultures embrace it?

The parameter of what is acceptable and right versus unacceptable and wrong is centered solely around the revealed will of God found in the Scriptures, not what others prefer or reject in any culture, pagan or otherwise.  If something is sinful simply because a pagan culture recognized it in a way we don’t, we would all have to stop calling the fifth day of the week “Thursday” (Thor’s Day).

In the case of herbalism (the study or practice of the medicinal and therapeutic use of plants), the Scriptures show that such is an acceptable form of medicine (Lk. 10:34; Is. 1:6; Jas. 5:14). God created plant life for our benefit (Gen. 1:29; Ps. 104:14-15; 145:15-16).  The only usage of plant life which is sinful would be the mind-altering, non-medicinal pharmaceutical usage contained in the definition of the work of the flesh which is witchcraft (Gal. 5:19-21; cf. 1 Tim. 5:23).

Thus, the decision to practice herbalism is a matter of judgment. As with any matter of judgment, we are to not condemn each other over different matters of judgment which each of us make (Rom. 14:1-15:2; 1 Cor. 8-10).

We must also exercise sound, wise judgment (Rom. 12:3; 1 Pet. 4:7; cf. Matt. 10:16). God gave us the capacity to grow in our knowledge, and there’s nothing in Scripture which condemns us using that knowledge for medical benefit.  Such advancement in medicine is why we know that certain medical problems require different solutions, and those solutions might not always be herbalist in nature. One medical problem which herbalism might fix is not the same as a different medical problem which complicated surgery or a different kind of medicine might be required for healing. God wants us to exercise sound, wise judgment concerning these matters.

What does Revelation 21:1 mean when it says there will be a new earth? Will there be another earth for others?

The “new earth” is part of the phrase “new heaven(s) and a new earth,” which is found four times in the Bible (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).

Isaiah’s first reference to a “new heavens and a new earth” is a prophecy about the Christian age. Contextually, Isaiah was comparing the Jews, God’s chosen people who had rejected Him, with the Gentiles, a people who had not initially sought after Him but who would find Him in the gospel age (Is. 65:1-16; cf. Rom. 10:17-21).  That Christian age is what is figuratively referred to by God’s promise to “create new heavens and a new earth” (65:17a). It would usher out the “former things” (65:17b), a reference to the old covenant which would be replaced by the new covenant.

Isaiah’s second reference to a “new heavens and a new earth” is also written while figuratively prophesying about the age of the Messiah that would come with the acceptance of the obedient from all nations into God’s fold (66:18-24).  In this context, God’s promise of “the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me” (66:22) means the same as it did in chapter 65: the coming in of a new age and the ushering out of the previous age, in this case the entrance of the Christian age and the exit of the Mosaic age.

In the New Testament, the phrase “new heaven(s) and a new earth” is also used to figuratively refer to the entrance of a new age, although it is not a reference to the coming of the Christian age as it was with Isaiah.  Before Peter uses the phrase, he was talking about the end of the world and the cosmos (2 Pet. 3:10-12). Thus, his mention of Christians “waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (3:13) is a figurative reference to the eternity that comes after the second coming of Christ and judgment.

John uses the phrase in the same way in Revelation. He had just prophesied of the final defeat of Satan (20:7-10) and the judgment of all by God and the destruction of the earth and cosmos (20:11-15). Immediately after those events John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). The previous age had ceased, and a new age – eternity – was now beginning.

It must be stressed that each biblical usage of the phrase “new heavens and a new earth” is figurative in nature. Isaiah used it figuratively to prophesy of the end of the age of the old covenant and the beginning of the age of the new covenant.  Thus there is no precedent to conclude that Peter and John meant for the phrase to be taken literally and conclude God is going to make literal new heavens and a new earth as a renovation or replacement of the current heavens and earth which He will destroy on the day of Judgment.

It will not be a renovation of what currently exists because the Bible makes it very clear that everything which currently exists will be completely destroyed.  2 Peter 3:10 says the current “heavens” (ouranos, universe, sky, cosmos) “will pass away with a roar,” the “heavenly bodies” (stoicheion, elements, the material causes of the universe, parts of the heavens) “will be burned up and dissolved,” and “the earth” (ge, the land, the ground, the earth as a whole) “and the works that are done on it” will be “exposed” (katakaio, consumed by fire).  He went on to say in 2 Peter 3:11 that “all these things” shall be “dissolved” (lyo, loosed, destroyed), and then in 2 Peter 3:12 reiterated that “the heavens” (universe) will “be set on fire” (pyro, burned, melted by fire, incensed) and “dissolved” (destroyed), and “the elements” (material causes of the universe) will “melt as they burn” (teko kausoo, be destroyed by melting, burned up).

See also John’s description of the destruction in which he describes an earthquake, the sun becoming black, the moon becoming like blood, the stars falling to the earth, the sky vanishing, and every mountain and island being removed from its place (Rev. 6:12-14).  Because of this complete and total destruction of this universe, the “new heavens and a new earth” cannot refer to a renovation of it since there would be nothing left to restore.

The “new heavens and a new earth” will also not be a replacement of what currently exists because Peter said that “righteousness dwells” within the “new heavens and a new earth” for which Christians are waiting (2 Pet. 3:13) and which will come after Christ comes again, this universe is destroyed, and Judgment Day occurs (2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 20:11-21:1; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).

Where will “righteousness dwell” in eternity?  The unrighteous will be condemned to hell, while the “righteous” will go “into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). Jesus promised that when He came again He would take His disciples to be with Him in the place where He went after leaving the first time: in heaven where His Father is (John 14:1-6; Mark 16:19; Ps. 11:4).  Paul promised that when Christ came again both the dead in Christ and us who are alive on that day will meet the Lord in the air and “always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:13-17).  The Lord is with His Father in heaven; that’s where He will take us to be too.

Thus, “the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” for which we are waiting (2 Pet. 3:13) is a figurative reference to spending eternity in heaven with the Lord and His Father. It is not meant to be taken literally to refer to a literal new heavens and a new earth which will replace or renovate the current ones.

Since this is true, we should not think that there will be another earth put into existence for anyone else.

I recently heard someone claim that when the Scriptures talk about “a camel passing through an eye of a needle,” it’s referring to an actual entryway in a town called Needle in which camels had to crouch down low to enter. Is there any truth to this? Should that verse be taken literally or figuratively?

No, it is not true. While I’ve never heard of the claim of a town called “Needle,” there has been a similar claim that the “Eye of the Needle” was an actual gate in Jerusalem open only at night; supposedly a camel could only go through it if it was stooped over and had its baggage removed.  This claim is said to be only as old as the 15th or 9th centuries A.D.; an English lord of the 19th century is said to have revived it again. There is no evidence of the existence of such a gate during Jesus’ time.

This statement was said by Jesus after the rich young ruler rejected him in favor of his wealth (Matt. 19:16-26). Jesus meant for the statement to be taken literally, and for us to thus conclude that it would be impossible for a rich person to enter heaven…if not for the help of God (Matt. 19:23-26). If any man, rich or poor, humbles himself and is receptive to His Word, God can change his heart and thus squeeze that camel through the needle’s eye.

Why should we search for truth?

We all should search for truth because truth – Jesus – is the only way to God the Father and salvation (John 14:1-6). God dwells only with those who speak truth in their heart (Ps. 15:2; 145:18). The truth sets us free (John 8:32; 2 Tim. 2:25-26).

If we have true love within us for God and others, we rejoice with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). We are sealed with the Spirit only after hearing the word of truth which is the gospel (Eph. 1:13). Only those who love the truth will be saved (2 Thess. 2:10, 13; 1 Tim. 2:4).

Therefore, we should do everything we can to acquire truth and keep it once we obtain it (Prov. 23:23). God has promised us that if we continually ask and seek, we will find it (Matt. 7:7-8). Indeed, He has given us everything we need for life and godliness in His Word, which is truth (2 Pet. 1:3; John 17:17; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Keeping God’s commandments is how one has the truth within him (1 John 2:4).

Have you found truth? Are you walking in truth?