The Best Book You’ve Never Read

Curious, this book called The Bible. Curious, because while believers claim it as God’s Word, most of us don’t actually read it. Jennifer Polland, writing in Business Insider1, has pointed out that during the last half century, sales figures for the Bible are a massive 3.9 billion copies sold.

Still, although the Bible remains the most published book, as time goes by, fewer of us are reading it. A Pew Research Study has found that among American adults, only 35% report reading the Bible at least once per week. Remarkably, those who claim to read the Bible once a week are outnumbered by those say they seldom, or never, read the Word. That number stands at 45%.3

One explanation as to why we don’t read the Bible is offered by Jeff Anderson in Among the reasons, he offered were: It’s an optional book; church leaders don’t expect us to read it; or our parents didn’t read it. However, it is Anderson’s reason number seven that stands out for me: “Bible Bullies.”4 According to Anderson, Bible Bullies are those who repeatedly tell believers, in both direct, and subtle ways, that we possess neither the intelligence nor the educational training to understand the Bible. In other words, we’re not smart enough.

For some of us, this is all the motivation needed for avoiding the reading of God’s Word. You can imagine how much traction this excuse would gain if students told their teachers that the reason the class reading assignment was not completed, was because they had been told they were not smart enough to read Moby Dick, To Kill A Mockingbird, or Of Mice and Men.

To be in the know

The prospects of becoming a Christian, or continuing to live as one, are very remote if we read God’s Word sparingly. We can know no more about God and His plan of redemption than He reveals in His Word. Revelation 1:1 declares that God the Father gave the revelation of the Messiah to His Son, Jesus, who presented the revelation of the plan of redemption to the angels, who gave it to John the Revelator on Patmos. And, John passed this revelation of hope, through the Lamb of God, to us. If we’re not reading the Word, how might we, in Paul’s words of 2 Tim 2:15 show ourselves approved unto God?

To Know Jesus

Our only true source of information on the living and dying and living again of the Jesus, our Savior, is the Bible. Jesus, Himself, said in John 5:39 that we are to “Search the Scriptures … they are they which testify of me.” We learn in Acts 17:11 that the believers in Berea were more receptive to the gospel preached by Paul, because they searched the Scriptures for themselves on a daily basis.

To Make it Today

As to the question, is reading the Bible essential to the development of our Christian character, we’re best advised to allow the Bible to speak to our need of a daily portion of God’s Word. If we had but one passage of Scripture to offer clarity on the essential nature of the Bible to our growth in Christian faith, Psalm 119 is replete with insights.

• Psalm 119:9 tells us that a young man cleanses his way, by heeding God’s word.

• In verse eleven, we’re reminded that the word of God in our hearts will aid against sinning.

• Verse twenty-eight notes that God’s word will strengthen us.

  According to verse fifty, the word of God provides us with life.

  Those in need of a lamp to guide the way in a world of darkness can easily find their light in God’s word, we are told by Psalm 119:105.

  God’s word can direct our victorious steps, says verse one hundred, thirty-three.

  And, we have the assurance from Psalm 119:160 that the whole of God’s word is truth.

As He taught the disciples how to pray, Jesus said in “the Lord’s prayer,” “…give us this day our daily bread.” We know, based on our study of the word, that Jesus is the Word of God (See John 1:1). We are further aware, from John 6:35, that Jesus is the “Bread of life.” Since Jesus is the Word, and He is the Bread, it is a fact of life eternal that our daily bread is the word of God. Therefore, we must eat the bread from heaven, God’s Word, on a daily basis.

The nourishment needed to fuel our transformation from what we once were, to what we are becoming in Christ Jesus is found in the Bible.


DONALD L. McPHAULL, M.S.W., has enjoyed 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.


1 Polland, J. (2012). The ten most read books in the world, infographic. 

2 ibid

3 Geiger, A. (2017). 5 facts on how Americans view the bible and other religious texts.

4 Anderson, J. (2017). 8 reasons we don’t read the bible.

5 Geiger, A. (2017). 5 facts on how americans view the bible and other religious texts.

This article is part of our 2018 November / December Issue
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DONALD L. McPHAULL, M.S.W., has enjoyed 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.

When We Know Better, We Do Better

What You Need to Know (and Share) About Revelation 14’s Second Angel

His zeal was undeniable. Standing at a major Los Angeles intersection, he was screaming at passersby, “Better give your heart to Jesus, or you’re going to burn in hell.” Yes, his zeal was readily apparent. Nonetheless, his unprofitable enterprise presented a prime example of the Bible’s “zeal without knowledge.”

Although, sincere, the young believer proved himself to be less of a danger to Satan’s plans, than he was to his own. Uninformed Christians, face very real and possibly fatal consequences. God says so in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

To remove any excuse for our being lost, the Lord expanded our knowledge base regarding “last day” events through the messages of the three angels in Revelation, chapter 14. Having previously explored the first angel’s message, we now turn our attention to the message of the second angel in Revelation 14:8: “And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen … because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”


Since literal Babylon was destroyed long ago, which Babylon would command our attention on the stage of prophecy? Among commentators and scholars, many have wrongly labeled the Church of Rome as Babylon. However, a careful study of the text helps us to know that this prophetic Babylon could not possibly represent either pagan Rome, or, papal Rome. We can be sure of this, because we’re told by John that Babylon is now in a fallen state. This suggests that at some point this Babylon had been in good standing with God. However, that has never been the case for Rome in either of its forms.

Uriah Smith in his book, Daniel and the Revelation, pp 664, offered this insight: “From the beginning of their history, Paganism has been a false religion, and the Papacy an apostate one.” Therefore, the second angel’s warning of Babylon being fallen could not apply to Rome. Then, to whom?

Revelation 14:8’s pronouncement must appropriately point to a religious body that at some point in time had been pure, but whose doctrines over time had become corrupted. Furthermore, understanding that this second angel’s message follows the “judgment hour” message of the first angel, helps us to know that these are “last days” messages. As such, these messages are intended for the sons and daughters of God. They are not divine instructions for those who blindly follow false religions.

The gospel message ringing out from Calvary has long been the call to leave the false teachings of men and to become invested in the true religion of Christ. Therefore, we are left with the shocking, but true, understanding from Scripture that apostate Protestantism is the Babylon of prophecy. In the “last days,” we may equate Babylon with Christian churches that profess Jesus, but according to Him in Matthew 15:8,9 “… draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Such faith communities are fatally flawed.


What is the cause of their deviation from the Truth? The Bible says they have engaged in spiritual fornication with the world. This has occurred as Protestant churches began allowing the world to influence the people of God in their worship of God. While, indeed, offering familial love, warm fellowship, and vibrant worship experiences, these communities of professed faith, have seen fit to reject God’s Word as the final arbiter of faith. Thus, they have committed spiritual fornication with the world by drinking the wines of paganism and error.

In these last-days, fallen communities of faith have become guilty of permitting the world to influence what believers believe. We see clear evidence of this as Christian churches teach contrary to “thus says the Lord.” Among the examples we find are churches teaching: renunciation of the reality of hellfire for the unrighteous, belief in once saved-always saved, claims of the immortality of the soul, and rejection of the validity of the entirety of God’s Ten Commandment Law.

And this is just a partial listing of how Protestant churches have veered from God’s path of righteousness. More than zeal, the redeemed need God-ordained knowledge of truth versus falsity that is being taught in many Christian communities, today. Knowledge is ours, if we but ask (James 1:5).


Sadly, we’re also seeing the embrace of ecumenism by Protestant churches. This crafting of a false sense of unity has been nurtured by the Bishop of Rome. And, it finds the people of God forming alliances with Rome, while following the directives of men, rather than the Word of God.

Since the time of Nimrod, Babylon has represented confusion. Throughout Scripture, false and apostate religions have worn the label, Babylon. Just as Belshazzar demonstrated his contempt for the God of heaven by drinking wine from the Temple’s sacred vessels, apostate Christian communities show their contempt for God by defiling His law, His name, and His Holy day through the substitution of man-made teachings for the pure Word of God. The institution, which is responsible for leading humanity into obeying erroneous doctrines and becoming allies with the church of Rome, is apostate Protestantism, which wears the label, Babylon.


The importance of knowledge is underscored by the fact that the fallen condition of Babylon is repeated in Revelation 18:2-4. And, this time, the Lord declares grave consequences for those who persist in embracing Babylon: “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen … And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and … receive of her plagues.”

The Father extends His invitation of grace to each of His children. Come out of Babylon and come into the Kingdom of glory. That’s knowledge worth sharing.

This article is part of our 2018 July / AAUgust Issue
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DONALD L. McPHAULL, M.S.W., has enjoyed 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.

Ongoing Investigation

What Makes the Saved Saved, and the Lost, Not?

News headlines and lifestyle choices notwithstanding, nearly 80% of America’s adults believe that “we will all be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins.” So, says research conducted by the Pew Research Center1.

Such a strong consensus regarding Judgment Day should mean Christians have a universal understanding of the Last Judgment. Surprisingly, it doesn’t. Disagreements abound. Perhaps, none more contentious than the teaching of the Investigative Judgment, or what is known as the Pre-Advent Judgment. Widely rejected by most of Christianity, it is nonetheless one of the more significant components of the Bible’s judgment motif.

Need-to-Know Basis

The Investigative Judgment posits that prior to the fulfillment of Jesus’ Revelation 22:12 promise that He “comes quickly” to reward everyone according to their works, there is a review of the lives of all who have claimed His name. Underway since 1844, this judgment includes professed Christians who have already died, as well as those who live today.

Contrary to some claims, this investigation and judgment doesn’t reveal to God who is worthy of life eternal. In His omniscience, He already knows that. What this pre-advent investigation does do is assist the inhabitants of unfallen worlds and unfallen angels in reconciling in their hearts why the saved were saved. And, the lost were not.

Before Jesus can reward, those to be rewarded are to be identified to the other children of God, those who never rebelled. Thus, by faith one can see why this judgment precedes the Second Coming; and why, as 1 Peter 4:17 informs us, it begins with those who claim to be Christians, the “household of faith.”

Understanding the Sanctuary Gives Context and Timing

Sarah Peck2 reminds us that through the Sanctuary Service God “makes the entire plan of salvation visible in one magnificent view.” The Sanctuary Service was heaven’s primer on salvation. It reminded God’s people that “the wages of sin is death.” And, that “without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness.”

We know from Hebrews 8:5 that the earthly sanctuary was a copy of the heavenly. Therefore, the worship protocols on earth matched those in heaven. The blood shed in the outer court and then sprinkled in the Holy place on earth, is symbolism that reflects heavenly practices.

And, just as on the day of Atonement on earth, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place on behalf of God’s people; in heaven, our Great High Priest, Jesus did likewise. The Day of Atonement on earth was symbolic of confession, repentance, and judgment.

This act of judgment was both ordained, and ratified, by God. Some would protest that there is no sin in heaven. True. Nonetheless, the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 had to be fulfilled. For the redeemed, this cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary was the final act of Judgment. Then as the price of humanity’s sins in the earthly was laid upon the scapegoat, so too in the heavenly, the confessed sins of humanity were laid upon Satan.

Understanding Where the Dead Are Brings Clarity to the Process

The Bible says the righteous dead are not yet in heaven. John 5:28 tells us, there is an hour, coming, when the dead shall come forth. That day is not yet. Four times in John’s sixth chapter, Jesus says that the righteous dead shall be rewarded “at the last day.” Have we reached the last day? Certainly not. Besides, if the dead are already in heaven, why does Jesus need to come to the earth to give them their reward?

The Second Coming will herald the start of the one-thousand years during which the righteous will spend some time reviewing the books in heaven. Reviewing the Book of Life will explain why those who are absent from the kingdom are not present. For now, though, they are not yet in glory. Jesus said in John 11, the righteous dead are sleeping, awaiting His return.

Understanding What Happens to Sin and Sinners Reveals the Urgency

Lastly, the Investigative Judgment is anchored in the final disposition of sin. The Pre-Advent Judgment shares how by grace the redeemed satisfied the judicial requirements for salvation. Having hidden their lives in Christ, the review of their lives is all Jesus. The unrighteous will sleep through the thousand years in the sleep of death. They won’t live again until the second resurrection. However, even they shall be heard joining humanity’s chorus, rehearsing Revelation 15:3, “Just and true are your ways, O King of saints.”   

This article is part of our 2018 March / April Issue
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Donald L. McPhaull, MSW, is enjoying more than 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, CA


1  Pew Research Center, October 23, 2007, Awaiting The Judgment Day.

2  Sarah Elizabeth Peck, The Sanctuary: The Path To The Throne of God

Native Tongue

Speaking in tongues, and how God reaches around language barriers.

by D. L. Mcphaull

“Unless you speak in tongues, you have not been baptized in the Holy Ghost, because speaking in tongues is evidence you are saved.” This often-expressed teaching is a commonly held belief among some Christians who believe that the redeemed will speak in unknown tongues. But, is there biblical support for this teaching?

Speaking in tongues is well known among believers. A 2010 study by the Barna Group indicated that among self-identified Christians, 76% have knowledge of the gift of tongues. However, surprisingly, only 10% of them have ever spoken in tongues. Nonetheless, ever since William J. Seymour’s 1906 Azuza Street Revival, a very heavy emphasis has been placed upon believers speaking in tongues, particularly in the Pentecostal and Charismatic faiths. Furthermore, many have embraced the idea that to speak in tongues is to speak in unintelligible words that are directed heavenward.


What did you say?

Perhaps, we should first clear up the idea that the Bible suggests believers will speak in an unintelligible, unknown tongue. In Scripture, the word, “tongues” is translated from the Greek word, “glossa,” which means a language. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry ( offers that speaking in tongues is a New Testament phenomenon, wherein individuals speak a language unknown to him or her. The language might be either another earthly language, (French, Spanish, German, or others) or, it might be the language of angels. The latter belief, no doubt, based on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13: 1, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…”

The Bible never identifies an angelic language. In fact, in the Bible, each time an angel spoke to a child of God, they communicated in a language understood by the hearer: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30); “… behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…” (Luke 2:11); and “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus…” (Acts 1:11).

The purpose of speaking in tongues today

What purpose is served by the gift of tongues? The publication, Christianity Today (March, 2000) reported that among Pentecostal Christians, heavy emphasis has been laid on speaking in tongues as “initial evidence” of baptism in the Spirit. Still, other Christian communities view tongues as a heavenly language, or prayer language, good for preventing the devil from overhearing the prayers of the saints, and counterfeiting answers to prayer. Such thinking suggests that Satan is powerful enough to disrupt God’s plans, which is not true.

Are tongues valid, today? Absolutely.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 that spiritual gifts are provided by the Holy Spirit. He observed that there is a diversity of spiritual gifts, each selected and given by the Spirit of God, for the profit of all. As you read 1 Corinthians 12, you’ll notice that the gift of tongues is not the premier gift. It’s not even second or third. As the Apostle lists some of the spiritual gifts, the gift of tongues is ranked number 8. Closing out the chapter, once more Paul listed spiritual gifts, and still, the gift of tongues is not found near the top of the list. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul declares that the greatest of the spiritual gifts is love.

Gifting at Pentecost and now

So, why the need for spiritual gifts? It is certainly not to provide evidence of the new birth through baptism of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that evidence of the new birth is demonstrated through a changed heart reflecting the fruit of the Spirit articulated in Galatians 5:22, 23. The reason the Holy Spirit provides spiritual gifts is explained in Ephesians 4:12, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” Spiritual gifts are provided for two reasons: To equip believers for our work of ministry, and to build up the body of Christ. Notice, no reference is made to heavenly language, prayer language, even secret language.

Paul sheds more light in 1 Corinthians 14:22 where he wrote, “tongues are a sign not for those who believe, but to unbelievers.” That’s what Jesus meant when He said in Mark 16:17, that those who believe would, “speak with new tongues.” Do we have any Scriptural evidence of believers speaking new languages? We certainly do! Matthew 24:14 sets our pace, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, that prophecy was fully manifested. And, as we read Acts 2, each time we see the word tongues, we may rightly replace it with languages. Acts 2:4 tells us, “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Was this Spirit-given gift of languages one of unintelligible utterances? Not at all. Let’s allow the Bible to instruct us, Acts 2:5, 6, “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation… confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.” Verse eight raised the question, “And how hear we every man in our own language, wherein we were born?” Then verse 11 ties off the Bible’s explanation for the spiritual gift of speaking in other languages, “we do hear them speak in our languages the wonderful works of God.”

So much to do, so little time

On Pentecost, the gift of tongues (languages) was provided for the sharing of the Gospel. And, it is for the same purpose that the gift of tongues is provided today. Not for communication with God, but rather for communicating about God with those who may speak another language.

The Linguistic Society of America reports that on this earth, 6,909 distinct languages are spoken. Meanwhile, so far, the Bible has been translated into 2,508 different languages, only. In order for this gospel of the kingdom to reach the entire world, the gift of speaking in other languages, while not the number one gift, is certainly needed for the sharing of the “good news” of our soon-coming King. So, even as we yearn for our Lord’s return, we long for the gift of tongues (languages) that we might tell the world about Jesus.

This article is part of our January/February 2018 Issue
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DONALD L. MCPHAULL, M.S.W., has enjoyed 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.

Baptized In The Name of…

“Then Peter said to them, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….” (Acts 2:38). Within the Christian community, it is well understood that Jesus is Lord. And, generally, believers agree that God calls for the redeemed to be baptized. However, one question regarding baptism has produced a split in the practices of the faithful: in whose name should believers be baptized?
Do the words of the apostle Peter suggest a mandate from God that the sole, valid form of baptism is one in Jesus name, only?
Based on what we know from Scripture, it is understandable how some might believe that “Jesus only” baptism would be the only method of baptism validated by heaven.

Baptism in the name of Jesus, alone. What’s wrong with that?
Scripture declares “…for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And, Paul writes: “Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…” (Philippians 2:9,10). But, does this suggest that baptism should occur in the name of Jesus, only? Furthermore, apart from Peter’s Acts 2:38 counsel, does the Bible offer other passages that support “Jesus only” baptism? We indeed hear it from Peter again in Acts 10:48, chapter 19, and Acts 22:16.
Taken as a whole, each of these passages would seem to establish Biblical authority for “Jesus only” baptism. Except Jesus’ own words in Matthew 28:19 say “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
For Christians, this is a simple process of deciding whether to obey the apostles or Jesus. The commands of God will ever outweigh the commandments of men. Because Jesus is God, His imperatives are to be obeyed. And, that’s how we can know that baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit remains the valid approach to baptism. The words of Jesus are never nullified by His servants.

Early tension in the practice of baptism rise again.

Controversial Name of Jesus
So, what was taking place as Peter offered words of admonition in the Book of Acts?
Throughout Acts, we find great tension surrounding the name of Jesus. Acts 4:7 tells of Peter and John being challenged with the words, “…By what name have you done this?” In Acts 4:17,18 the disciples were commanded not to “speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” Peter and John were rebuked by the high priest in Acts 5:28, who demanded, “…did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name?” Then, in Acts 5:40, the disciples are beaten and released with orders “that they should not speak in the name of Jesus…”
For the religious leaders in Jerusalem, the name of Jesus was a disturbing, disruptive name. Yet, as Peter preached the gospel he rehearsed the events of Calvary, all while establishing the identity of the One who had been nailed to the cross. He removed all doubt in Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Don’t miss the prophetic irony in the exchanges between Peter and the former spiritual leaders in Israel. He preached that Jesus, whom they had crucified was the Lord, and Messiah promised by God. Coming under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the Jews cried out for instructions. Peter’s response in Acts 2:38 is the key to the “Jesus only” baptism misunderstanding. He admonished the Jews to repent, and to be baptized. Then came the shocking news that they must be baptized in the name of the very Jesus they had rejected and murdered.

Writing in the book, Growing in Christ, J.I. Packer observed that Peter’s words represented a “…total renunciation of independence as a way of living and total submission to the rule of the risen Lord.”
Peter reminded the Jews that restoration to the Kingdom of God came at the cost of the life of the Son of God. However, the validation of baptism remained in the words of the great commission, “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Salvation through the Son, but, baptism in the fullness of the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

DONALD L. MCPHAULL, M.S.W., has enjoyed 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.

To Love Jesus Is To Live Jesus

Is there any value in professing love for Jesus when we choose not to live for Jesus? One might be forgiven for thinking so, especially in our present age where a rare goal among Christians seems to be the reconciliation of the lips and the lives of Christians. Perhaps, it’s a trend you recognize: professed Christians openly declaring their love for Jesus, but nonetheless living a life that is disconnected from the character of Jesus. While claiming to belong to Jesus, they engage in a laundry list of iniquitous behaviors: lying, cheating, stealing, drugging, fornicating, and more.
So, how valid is a claim of love for Jesus, in a consistently un-Christ-like life?

To take on the character of Jesus is to walk as He walked.

The ease with which we utter the words to Jesus, “I love you, Lord” may contribute to our feeling good about our religious experience. But, the true value of any such pronouncement is found in living a life that expresses love for Jesus through righteous living, a life of sanctified action. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Notice that expression of love is accompanied by an action of love—keeping His commandments.

More than an emotional response to His love, grace and sacrifice, our love for Jesus should be reflected in our lives of obedience. According to the Word of God, there is a direct correlation between our love for Christ and our obedience to His will as revealed in His Word. So, the Bible explains that our love for Jesus is not measured merely in audible expressions of our feelings. No, there is much more to our love for Him than the sound of words. The measurability of our love for Jesus is found in our actions.
John 14:23 is where Jesus declares, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word …” The action is that of keeping the word of Christ. Simply put, this means that believers will be more than talkers of the talk. We will also be walkers of the walk. Our goal is to walk as Jesus walked.

To take on the character of Jesus is to walk as He walked. And, there is no secret as to the nature of His walk. His was the walk of obedience. Paul shares in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Obedience was an important character trait of Christ. Anyone who claims to love Him will live as He lived. The net result for a child of God is that we strive to live the life modeled by Jesus. The very nature of our life in Christ is exemplified by change. Paul writing in 2 Corinthians 5:17 speaks of this change, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

In giving our lives over to Jesus, not only are we declaring that we love Him, but that our love comes as a result of knowing Him. Therefore, when we say that we love Jesus, implicit in that declaration is our knowledge of who He is and an understanding of His character that we are to emulate. To make life choices to the contrary of His character is to repudiate knowledge of who He is. Indeed, the counsel of 1 John 2:3 is very plain, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.”
Hebrews 5:8, 9 shares with us both how He lived, and how He expects His people to live, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him…”

There are those who teach that as New Covenant believers, you and I have no reason to give thought to any Divine requirement of obedience. However, the Bible repeatedly highlights the Divine expectation of obedience by the sons and daughters of God to His will and way. So, there is no validity in our claim of loving Jesus, if we are committed to a life empty of His character. At the end of it all, to love Jesus is to live Jesus.

DONALD L. MCPHAULL, M.S.W., has enjoyed 30 years of ministry and is currently the senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.

A Choice of Three Heavens?

Has heaven been divided into three levels of ascending glory? If we are to believe Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it has been. Smith wrote, “depending upon the level of righteousness achieved, each life’s journey will earn one of three heavens” (Doctrines and Covenant, Section 76).
Joseph Smith’s vision of eternity is all the more astounding because it was his belief that everyone, who has ever lived, is bound for heaven. Whether their life was righteous or wicked, no matter. Eternity would find them in heaven. The only question for each one was which of the three heavens would be their eternal home. There are some more pertinent questions for us, however. Does the Bible support the concept of three distinct heavens, and will every person ever born receive the blessing of spending eternity in one of Smith’s three heavens?

The Third Heaven
In truth, there are three heavens. Paul established that reality for us in 2 Corinthians 12:2, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago…was caught up to the third heaven.” Since the Apostle speaks of a third heaven, there must of necessity be a first and second. But, what are these three heavens, and how should they be viewed?

Whenever your Bible speaks of heaven it is referring to one of three locations:
1 The first heaven is the immediate atmosphere over our heads, which contains the oxygen we breathe and where the birds soar. In Matthew 6:26 Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air…” The Greek word translated “air” is also translated as “heaven.” James writing in James 5:18 testifies, “And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain…” Prayer led to the rain being poured out from heaven that is the sky. So, this first heaven is the canopy of sky over our heads.

2 The second heaven is considered to be the celestial heaven. We commonly refer to this heaven as outer space, or the stellar heaven because the sun, moon, and stars are found there. Jesus, in His prophetic overview of the end times declared in Matthew 24:29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Your Bible informs our understanding that the stellar heaven is in fact the second heaven.

3 Lastly, we find in Scripture, heaven and the home of God. Although, we know that the omnipresent God cannot be contained in one geographical location, we understand from His Word that His presence does abide in a unique way in the third heaven. Here’s how John described it in Revelation 4:2, “… and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” 1 Peter 3:21, 22 offers this insight, “… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God…” So, the third heaven is where the throne of God is found.
We learn from the Bible of the existence of three heavens, but not three levels of everlasting life. And, not three levels of eternal residency for the righteous and the wicked. Indeed, the reality of God’s heaven is that the redeemed will not spend eternity there at all.
John the Revelator was shown that our forever time with God shall be on the earth made new, but not because we earned it. It is a free gift of grace from God. “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” (Revelation 21:2). None but the righteous shall see God and live forever. As for the wicked, because John also says “. . . there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles…” (Revelation 21:27), we understand there will be no wicked there.

Three heavens to be sure, but only one serves as God’s official residence. The redeemed shall spend eternity on this earth made new, without sin or sinners to disturb our joy.

Being My Brother and Sister’s Keeper

Social safety nets have long been a staple for the poor and underprivileged in this country. Falling on hard times in America used to mean rescue and recovery thanks to welfare from the government, assistance from local churches, and distributions from non-profit organizations. However, with shrinkage in local, state, and federal government dollars, and leaner contributions to non-profit groups, the spotlight now shines on the church.

With so many in need, is the church capable of mounting an offensive in the battle for social justice? Is there a divine imperative for the church to do so?

Among members of some conservative faith communities the answer to either question is a resounding no. There appears to be a growing belief that the church should remain aloof from the issues of social justice in this world. Since this world is not our home, we live with the kingdom in mind. However, in truth, some of us have become so heavenly minded we are no earthly good. So we no longer feel any obligation to be our “brothers’ keeper.” Additionally, an increasing number of the faithful no longer believe the church is a viable solution to social injustice, a belief that stands contrary to the words of Jesus.

In Matthew 26:11, Jesus offers a snapshot of His thoughts on the issues of social justice: “For you have the poor with you always. . .” What we have in His word is evidence of heaven’s awareness of those who are confronted by the daily inability to meet even the most basic needs of life. But, not just in His day; in ours as well.

You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.

Interestingly, the disciples would not have found anything new in what Jesus had to say. He merely offered a restatement of Deuteronomy 15. While the admonitions of the entire chapter are eye opening, we find the words of verse eleven most telling: “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore, I command you, saying, you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.”

Jesus virtually cries out for the need of social justice throughout the history of mankind. So, if the poor shall be with us always, what should the church’s response be to the needs of the poor, disenfranchised, hungry, homeless, naked, unemployed, abused, mistreated, or otherwise disadvantaged among us?

Americans are increasingly losing faith in the ability of the church to act in the struggle for social justice. This conclusion is drawn from the results of a July 2016 Pew Research Center study. Fifty-eight percent of respondents told Pew they believe religious institutions contribute some (38%) or a great deal (19%) to solving social ills. At just under 60% the numbers indicate that overall the percentage has declined dramatically in recent years, down from 75% in 2001.

Jeremiah 22:3 counsels, “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

Additional marching orders are included in Psalm 82:3, 4, “Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked.”

The words of Acts 2:44, 45 would be shocking, and seem down right socialistic to many conservatives in the church: “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. . .”

In the struggle for social justice, the question may rightly be raised: What will the church do to alleviate poverty and hardship? As usual, the perfect response is found in the words of Jesus. We read in Matthew 25:34-36, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.”

The call to discipleship is the call to engage in the struggle for social justice. For those who answer the call there shall be a commendation of “well done.” Their reward, the result of faith, recognizing that to be about the Father’s business is to be their brother’s, and sister’s keeper. 

Mystery of the Last Prophet, Solved.

It may come as a surprise to learn that followers of the prophet Muhammad make use of the Bible to bolster their claims to be adherents to the “true” religion.

Deuteronomy 18:18 is one example of an effort to use a biblical passage to validate prophetic claims for the prophet Muhammad: “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him”

As Moses neared the end of his life and ministry, we find God preparing Israel for life without Moses. The prospect of losing their go-between with God caused nervousness among God’s people. Therefore, He admonished them not to follow the practices of neighboring tribes. Many of them when in need of guidance, or knowledge of the future, sought out witches, soothsayers, sorcerers, or mediums. God’s clear counsel warned Israel to avoid turning to the occult for the answers to life’s puzzles.

Additionally, God provided them with the blessed assurance that He would provide them a living connection between heaven and earth. So, smooth operations would continue because God would raise up another prophet just like Moses.

Islamic scholars have appropriated the promise of Deuteronomy 18, and declared that its prophetic insights referred to the coming of Muhammad as God’s prophet. This, they maintain is proof of the truth of Islam for all and to all who believe the Bible is God’s Word. In concurring with this misapplication of Scripture, Dr. Jamal Badawi, writing for states, “There were hardly any two prophets who were so much alike as Moses and Muhammad.”

With those words, Dr. Badawi asserts that, because Moses and Muhammad were so much alike, the birth and life of the prophet were the fulfillment of God’s Deuteronomy 18:18 promise. However, we find Muhammad nowhere in Scripture.

Furthermore, since God was speaking to Israel, when He said He would raise up a prophet from among their brethren, such a prophet would of necessity have to have been a Jew. Unquestionably, the prophet Muhammed was not Jewish.

Nonetheless, there is One whom the Bible indicates is like Moses, spoken of by God. Of course, that is Jesus, and He had much more in common with Moses:

• Moses was born a Jew of Hebrew parents (Exodus 2:1, 2). Jesus was, too (Matthew 1:1-16, John 8:42).

• Moses was targeted for death by royal decree (Exodus 1:15, 16). Likewise, Jesus (Matthew 2:16).

• Moses lived his early years in Egypt, and divine intervention miraculously saved him (Exodus 2:10). The same is true for Jesus (Matthew 2:14, 15).

• Moses fasted forty days and forty nights without food or drink (Exodus 34:28). Jesus also fasted forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2).

• Israel received bread from heaven through Moses (Exodus 16:14, 15). Israel received through Jesus the Living Bread from heaven (John 6:35).

• As a shepherd, Moses led Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 3:1). As the Good Shepherd, Jesus leads His followers through the wilderness of sin (John 10:10, 11).

• As Savior of Israel, Moses delivered God’s people from slavery to Pharaoh (Exodus 6:11). As Savior of the world, Jesus deliverers God’s people from slavery to Satan (Romans 6:1-6).

• Moses offered his own life on behalf of Israel’s sins (Exodus 32:30-33). Jesus sacrificed His life on behalf of the sins of the world (John 17).

These passages and many others aptly identify Jesus as a Prophet like Moses. Because, like Moses, Jesus was a Jew, of Jewish parents, a Leader, a Prophet, a Lawgiver, the Savior, a Teacher, a Priest, a Healer, a Mediator between God and His people, and a speaker of God’s words.

Thus, Jesus is the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18 and that’s no surprise. The only real surprise is that having claimed to have read the Bible, so many have not yet come to recognize that as the Word of God, Jesus is the Prophet raised up like Moses. Still, He is much more. He is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, and the Messiah for all mankind.

The Lamb’s Declaration of Divinity

The words were delivered with the voice of authority that one might expect from a radio preacher.

For all his preaching power and zeal, this teacher of the Word could not have been more incorrect. For the Messiah there was no identity crisis. He did question the disciples as to their understanding of His identity when He asked in Matthew 16:13, “Who do men say that I am?” But as the Lamb of God, Jesus had a clear understanding of His dual nature. He was God, Who had come in the flesh. Some contemporary religionists reading the Bible might have missed His proclamation. But for those in Judea, who heard Him speak, the announcement of His Divinity was crystal clear.

That announcement came on the same morning that the scribes and Pharisees had expressed indignation because Jesus had spared the life of the woman they claimed had been caught in the “very act” of adultery. As they engaged Jesus, questioning His authority to heal the sick and to forgive sinners, the Jewish authorities were stunned to hear the declaration of Divinity spoken by Christ.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by” (John 8:58, 59).

The reaction of the Jewish leaders helps us to know the depth of the meaning of the words of Christ. They were outraged at the implication of his statement. There was no mistaking the meaning of those five words “before Abraham was, I AM.” They understood that Jesus was going on record in declaring Himself to be the “I AM,” who spoke with Moses at the burning bush.

The significance of Jesus’ testimonial was not swept away by the whirlwinds of confusion. His turn of a phrase was established in a very public way. He revealed His true identity. He was declaring the reality of the opening words of John’s gospel; in the beginning He was the Word. He was with God. He was God.

Were the Jews unsure of the meaning of His words? Not in the least. Indeed, John 10 shares this narrative: “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?’ The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God’” (John 10:31-33).

Their response provides additional evidence of their understanding of His self-identification. However, they rejected His claim. “Blasphemer,” they cried. “Death,” they bellowed.

Whether Jesus ever uttered the words, I am God or not, the Jews certainly understood that He believed He was God. In John 5:18, we’re told, “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”

According to Scripture, Jesus did express Himself to be God. Was there any confusion among the Disciples? Absolutely not. Dr. Luke records Paul’s declaration in Acts 20:28, “ The Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Writing of Jesus, Paul in Philippians 2:6 describes him as one, “Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul reminds us that in Jesus “God was manifested in the flesh.” In Titus 2:13, we are admonished to look for the blessed hope “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

On that hill far away there was no confusion regarding the identity of the One hanging on the middle cross. Not for the disciples, not for the Jews and certainly not for Jesus. He was the God of creation, Who loved mankind so much that He had kept an appointment on Calvary to become the God of salvation.