In Cold-Case Christianity, I make the case for the reliability of the New Testament Gospels based on a template we use to test eyewitnesses in criminal trials. This book traces my own personal journey as I investigated the Gospels and ultimately became a Christian. When I first started considering the words of Jesus, I was only interested in gleaning some wisdom from an ancient sage. But the more I read through the Gospel narratives, the more I realized Jesus spoke and taught as though He were God Himself. Jesus possessed more than the authority of a wise teacher; He demonstrated a power and authority that can only be described as Divine:
The Authority to Create
The writers of Scripture described Jesus as more than simply our Savior. According the Bible, Jesus is also our creator:
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)
The Authority to Forgive
Jesus also repeatedly demonstrated His Divine authority to forgive sin:
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe. (Matthew 9:1-8)
The Authority to Grant Eternal Life
As the creator of life, Jesus also demonstrated the ability to give of eternal life:
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
The Authority to Judge
As the author of our lives, Jesus proclaimed the right to evaluate how we have lived as His creation:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)
The Biblical eyewitnesses described Jesus as a uniquely authoritative teacher. But this authority appears to be rooted in much more than exceptional wisdom or persuasive communication skills. Jesus’ authority is grounded in His power; a Divine power that separated Him from other wise rabbis. Jesus’ authority was based on His Deity.
When we heard about the shootings last week, my wife and I were heartsick. Seven people died in what feels like an escalating national crisis. Two people died at the hands of police officers, while five officers died at the hands of a single suspect. The tension and distrust between African Americans and police officers is at the highest level in my lifetime. As my son Jimmy (a third-generation police officer himself) flew as a member of the Honor Guard to represent our agency at five officer funerals in Dallas this week, I began to gather my thoughts about how we, as Christians, might respond to the growing dilemma. I’ve tried to accurately communicate the nature of police work, but for every person who asks for my police perspective, there’s another who wants my advice as a pastor and Christian Case Maker. In this article, I’d like to outline six things each of us, as citizens and Christians, can do to respond to the growing dilemma:
After the horrific events of last week, I’ve been asked repeatedly about race relations in America, the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police officers, and the increasing violence against police officers. As a member of the law-enforcement family (and a member of the Christian community), I would like to respond by providing some insight into the training and daily practices of police officers, particularly given the number of requests I’ve received. Although most of us are familiar with police work from television dramas and news reports, few people actually understand the nature of the environment in which police officers work. Once you understand what police officers are asked to do on a daily basis, it may be easier for you to assess the current situation and respond in a more reasonable way. Here are six important things everyone should keep in mind (and prayer) when assessing the actions of police officers in our country... (read more)
What happens to our souls when our bodies die? Do souls “sleep” until the final resurrection and judgment? My Seventh-Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness friends accept a doctrine known as “Conditional Immortality”; the notion that the soul ceases to exist after the physical death of the body. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses call this “soul annihilation”; only those who are redeemed will have their souls recreated by God at the Second Coming of Jesus. In order to accept such a notion as someone who uses the Bible as their source of information related to the soul, people who believe in “soul sleep” must reject the following Biblical proclamations:
Souls Are Alive With God Immediately After the Death of the Body
See Luke 23:39-43 and Ecclesiastes 12:5-7
Even though Jesus and the thief on the cross experienced physical death, Jesus told the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The word used here for “paradise” is the Greek word, “paradeisos” and it is the same word that Paul uses to describe heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. The Bible clearly describes a disembodied life; the soul does not die when the body dies. Solomon also acknowledges this reality when he describes life beyond the grave. Solomon says that while people are still mourning our absence, we are on our way to the God that created us in the first place. We are not stationary. We are not lying in the grave. We are alive and moving.
Souls Are Functional Immediately After the Death of the Body
See Luke 16:19-31
In the famous passage describing the rich man and Lazarus, the dead are repeatedly described as performing actions that are characteristic of the living. But that’s not all; God tells the rich man it is at least hypothetically possible that the dead could “go” to the living. Once again, the dead are not dead. How can this be? It can only be possible if the physically dead are still immaterially alive.
Souls Are Available Immediately After the Death of the Body
See Matthew 17:1-3 and Matthew 22:31-32
At the Transfiguration, Jesus talks to Elijah and Moses. They obviously died long before Jesus was born, so how could this scene be true unless they exist truly as immortal souls, and not simply as physical bodies? Here once again we have another example of disembodied life after death, something that is ONLY possible if we exist as living immortal souls. In addition, Jesus later tells his followers, “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” How can Jesus describe Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as “living” at the time of this statement? This only makes sense if Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are actually immortal souls that are alive after death (and prior to their physical resurrection in the future). If they are immortal souls, immaterial beings, then the passage begins to make sense.
Souls Are the Source of Life Immediately After the Death of the Body
See 1 Kings 17:19-23
The author of 1 Kings tells us that Elijah revived a widow’s son: “And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.” The “life” of the child is said to “return to him”. The word used here is “shuwb” (shoob) and it really means “to turn back”, as if to retreat. But to turn back from where? Where is the ‘life’ at when it is ‘returned’? To describe ‘life’ in this way is to say that after the body dies, the true life of the person exists beyond death and that God has the ability to return this ‘true’ life back to the body. This is consistent with the notion that ‘true’ life is actually found in the life of the soul, not the life of the body.
Notice that this case for the soul does not utilize passages that have been translated with the word “soul”. I’ve avoided those passages because the two words commonly translated as “soul” (“nephesh” in the Old Testament and “psuche” in the New Testament) can be translated into many different words, encompassing a number of divergent concepts. The passages I have used, instead, describe a disembodied life that survives the death of the body. This Biblical evidence indicates that we are living souls who exist, even when our bodies fail us. That should give us hope and certainty in the promises of God and an expectation of life beyond the grave.