Sometimes the Bible can be confusing or hard to understand, leaving many with questions. Learn the answers to some of these questions, and equip yourself with the tools to be able to answer many other biblical questions. Watch to learn more!
[The text below represents an edited transcript of this Tomorrow’s World program.]
Those who read and study the Bible find their lives enriched and enlightened by the divine guidance they discover within its pages. But that doesn’t mean they don’t trip up on a question or two now and then. Today, we’re going to take a look at a few questions we often receive about the Bible and show you how to determine solid answers, straight from God’s word. So, stay right here for today’s program, “Your Questions, the Bible’s Answers!”
Greetings, and welcome to Tomorrow’s World, where we help you make sense of the world through the pages of your Bible!
If you are a regular viewer of our program, you know that we base everything we teach on God’s word, the Bible. When Jesus Christ prayed to God the night before His crucifixion, He asked His Father to set His followers apart from the world around them, saying, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
God’s word is THE TRUTH. No other source of knowledge reflects the very mind of the Creator like the Bible, and the answers to life’s greatest questions are found in its pages.
But that doesn’t mean that every part of it is easy to understand! In fact, some things we read in the Bible can be confusing. But the answers ARE THERE, waiting for the diligent student, with God’s help, to find them. Today, we’re going to tackle a potpourri of three Bible questions that students of God’s word sometimes ask, and we’re going to show you the Bible’s own answers to those questions.
As for today’s “Bible Q&A,” here are the questions we will address:
First, let’s begin by reading a passage that generates questions among many and see what the Bible has to say about it. If you have a Bible handy, turn to Luke 14:26, where Jesus is teaching a great multitude. He tells them,
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”
Reading this verse, many have asked: “Does Jesus really command Christians to hate their family members?”
Of course, the idea that Jesus is literally commanding His followers to hate their mother, father, and others would INDEED be contrary to many of His other teachings. Whenever you come across an apparent contradiction like this in the Bible, it should always grab your attention, because the Bible—including Jesus’ teachings—never contradicts itself. Christ makes this point, Himself, in John 10:35, reminding the Jewish leaders in His audience that the “Scripture cannot be broken.”
So, just what is He saying here in this passage? In understanding the Bible, it’s important to understand the context surrounding the verse, instead of just reading the isolated verse. When we do this in the case of Luke 14, it is clear He is explaining the high standards His followers must meet. Rather than a “come as you are” policy, Jesus demands that people change in order to follow Him and that they commit their lives to Him fully. In verse 27 of that chapter, for instance, Jesus explains that one must be willing to bear his own cross to be one of Christ’s disciples—not a literal cross, but bearing the burden of persecution, difficulty, discomfort, and trial—even to death—just as Christ did. He says in verse 33 that His followers must be willing to forsake ALL that they possess—willing to give up anything else in their lives, and even their own lives, themselves, for His sake—or else they cannot be His disciples at all.
These passages give context for the message Jesus is trying to convey. He is telling the multitudes, and us, that we must consider HIM the most important part of our lives, versus all of the natural loves, comforts, and possessions we otherwise have.
He is NOT commanding His disciples to literally “hate” their family members. Consider earlier in the book of Luke, in chapter 6, where He commands Christians to love even their enemies:
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (vv. 27–28).
The phrasing here in Luke 14:26 is one of CONTRAST, not objective hate. Jesus is saying that, to be His disciple, one must be willing to put Jesus Christ first before even one’s most natural affections—toward, parents, spouse, or children. We see this even more easily by applying another principle of understanding the Bible: Look at multiple witnesses to the same event or teaching. For example, this same teaching is worded in a clarifying way by the gospel writer Matthew in Matthew 10, verse 37:
“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
In fact, those who DO give their lives to Jesus Christ, find that they don’t love their families LESS than they did before. Instead, they love them MORE. They discover that putting God as the highest priority in your life helps set all other priorities right.
So, no, He is not literally commanding us to hate our families. But He is warning us that we must love Him more—more even than our families, and even more than our very lives.
Our next question is one that puzzles many when they read the accounts of Jesus’ death and the beginning of the biblical Church: “Exactly how did Judas Iscariot die?”
You might recall that Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles who betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver. And on first glance, the Bible’s comments about Judas’ death might seem to be contradictory. Let’s take a look at two key statements and see if we can make sense of them.
In Matthew 27, we read that after Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, he was remorseful and tried to give the money back to his conspirators, but the priests would not accept. Verse 5 tells us,
“Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
The priests felt the money was tainted as “blood money” and would not accept it, presumably leaving it in Judas’ name and, Matthew says, applying it sometime later to buy a field in which strangers could be buried.
However, while Acts 1 and verse 18 speaks of the field purchased with Judas’ money, it seems to describe a different fate for the traitor:
“Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.”
The field’s being purchased with Judas’ money is consistent, but falling headlong and bursting in the middle does not sound like a hanging. How do we reconcile the accounts?
As we’ve noted before, any time we see what appear to be different accounts of the same facts or circumstance in the Bible, there is no need to assume a contradiction—indeed, Jesus tells us that the inspired word of God does not contradict itself. Rather, the multiple accounts act as multiple witnesses, each adding its own detail to the overall picture.
For instance, consider the sign that was nailed above Jesus’ head while He was crucified. Depending on which of the four gospels you read, you get a different report concerning what the sign said.
Do the gospel writers contradict each other? Not at all! In fact, not only do they say essentially the same thing, but also when we put all of them together, we get A FULLER picture—one of a sign reading, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
Similarly, the accounts of Judas’ death are not in contradiction when they are read as two accounts that work TOGETHER to make for a fuller picture. Judas did, indeed, hang himself out of guilt and shame. But as his body hung there, his corpse did what corpses do and began to decompose. Eventually, it fell from the rope, struck the ground, and burst open—a terrible, loveless end for the traitor who betrayed the Messiah.
Again, when you understand that the Bible does not contradict itself, but it DOES give multiple witnesses to provide a larger picture, the problem resolves itself.
For our next question, let’s look at Revelation 6, starting in verse 9. Here, in John’s vision of God’s realm in heaven, we read an odd description:
“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”
So, many ask: Why are these mysterious souls under the altar in John’s vision? After all, does this mean that people will live, in heaven, under an altar, until Jesus’ return? That would certainly seem a very odd afterlife! “Thank you for your faithfulness and sacrifice in the name of Christ! Here is your apartment—under an altar!”
To understand this portion of John’s vision, we need to first understand that the book of Revelation is a mixture of literal description and symbolism. For instance, Revelation 8 verses 6 through 13 describe ecological disasters that will come upon the earth before Christ’s return. That is plain and literal. Yet chapter 6 describes events such as religious deception, war, famine, and pestilence depicted as four horsemen riding horses of different colors—clearly a symbolic picture.
In this case, the symbolism of the souls under the altar would be easily understood by those familiar with the first century sacrifices in Herod’s temple in Jerusalem—as the Apostle John surely was.
When an animal was sacrificed on God’s altar, the blood of the sin sacrifice would be poured at the base of the altar and pool there. We actually read a description of this design in Leviticus 4 and verse 7:
“And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the LORD, which is in the tabernacle of meeting; and he shall pour the remaining blood of the bull at the base of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.”
So, the souls seen in John’s vision occupy the same place at the altar as the blood of animals, sacrificed for sins. And, indeed, Revelation 6 and verse 9 tells us that the voices represented innocents whose blood had been spilled because of their faithfulness to God’s word. Their slaying is a part of a terrible time of suffering still to come on the earth—the prophesied Great Tribulation.
To complete the symbolism, consider the tale of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. After wicked Cain slays his innocent brother, Abel, God confronts him, saying, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground” (v. 10).
Just as the spilled blood of innocent Abel cried out to God, the spilled blood of God’s saints in the tribulation to come will cry out for vengeance, symbolized here as coming from the base of the altar. So, no, the Bible does NOT teach that the souls of martyrs somehow consciously live on in some sort of underground apartment complex under an altar in heaven.
We want to conclude today with some broader lessons we’ve learned through these questions and look at how we can apply them in our Bible study going forward.
There is a great comfort in seeing the Bible as a reliable source of truth, trustworthy in all it says. Because it has so much more to say than any history book or philosophy book that mankind has ever created. It answers the deepest questions of life, provides the only true hope of our lives, and points us to the very source of life: Our Creator God.
On today’s program, we’ve answered three common Bible questions.
First: Does Jesus Christ command Christians to hate their family members? The answer? Absolutely not. He’s teaching that we need to put Him first, even above those who are closest to us, but if anything, putting Him first, we end up loving them more.
Secondly: Exactly how did Judas Iscariot die? We’ve discovered that when you put the scriptures together, they paint a larger picture. That he did indeed hang himself in remorse, and then eventually his corpse fell and burst asunder.
And then third: Why are there souls under the altar in the Book of Revelation? We looked into the book, and noticed that parts of it were literal and parts of it were symbolic. And we actually tied in other scriptures that described the altar in the temple in Jesus’ day, and looked at the practices and looked at other examples, such as how the blood of Abel called out to god, in that sense figuratively. We found that that picture made so much sense, and it’s simply the lives of the martyrs and their deaths that call out to God asking for vengeance on their behalf.
But actually when you look at it, we’ve done more than that. In going through these three questions, we’ve also illustrated a number of principles that will help you get more out of your Bible and begin making sense of this book, which too many seek to dismiss.
We’ve seen that answering Bible questions involves understanding the context around a verse, such as the larger passage, and not just the verse in isolation. We’ve seen that it helps to understand that there is an additive nature to multiple biblical witnesses, in which different statements work together to give us a fuller picture and to clarify the confusions that human teachers sometimes create. And we’ve seen that we should strive to examine other scriptures on a related topic, seeking to allow the Bible to explain itself.
The Apostle Paul wrote to his young evangelist friend Timothy, reminding him about the power of God’s word in the life of one who believes in the message of Jesus Christ. He points out to him that…
“…from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15–17).
We should note that the New Testament we have today did not yet exist when Paul wrote those words, so he had in mind primarily the Old Testament. We really do need the whole word of God, both Old and New Testaments—so don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
A friend of mine was once explaining his appreciation for a preacher he highly admired, and he gave him one of the greatest compliments I think I’ve ever heard. He said the man knew His Bible as one would know a good friend with whom he had spent much, much time.
Studying God's word can change your life! This exciting and information-packed series of lessons will show you, from the pages of your own Bible, clear and wonderful truths that most people today cannot even begin to imagine, and will draw you closer to Him than ever before!