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Supernatural Session 1

Supernatural  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:13
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Believing the Bible

Opening comments about how this course will work.

Do you really believe what the Bible says?

To some, that may seem like an odd question to ask in a book likely to be read mostly by Christians. But I don’t think it’s so odd. The Bible has some pretty strange things in it—things that are hard to believe, especially in the modern world.
I’m not talking about the big stuff, such as whether Jesus was God come to earth, who then died on the cross and rose from the dead. I’m not even thinking of miracle stories like the exodus, when God rescued Israel from Egypt by making a way for them through the Red Sea. Most Christians would say they believe those things. After all, if you don’t believe in God and Jesus, or that they could do miraculous things, what’s the point of saying you’re a Christian?
I’m talking about the little-known supernatural stuff you run into occasionally when reading the Bible but rarely hear about in church.
Here’s an example. In 1 Kings 22, there’s a story about a wicked king of Israel, Ahab. He wants to join forces with the king of Judah to attack an enemy at a place called Ramoth-gilead. Judah’s king wants a glimpse into the future—he wants to know what’s going to happen if they attack. So the two kings ask Ahab’s prophets and get thumbs up all around. But those prophets are just telling Ahab what he wants to hear, and both kings know it. So they decide to ask God’s prophet, a fellow named Micaiah. What he says isn’t good news for Ahab:

Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the Lord said, “Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, “I will entice him.” And the Lord said to him, “By what means?” And he said, “I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” And he said, “You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.” Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you. (1 Kings 22:19–23)

Did you catch what the Bible’s asking you to believe? That God meets with a group of spirit beings to decide what happens on earth? Is that for real?
Here’s another example, courtesy of Jude:

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day. (Jude 1:6)

God sent a bunch of angels to an underground prison? Really?
As I said, the Bible has a lot of strange things in it, especially about the unseen, spiritual world. I’ve met many Christians who have no trouble with the Bible’s less controversial (at least among Christians) teachings about the supernatural, such as who Jesus was and what he did, but passages like this tend to make them more than a little uneasy, so they ignore them. I’ve seen that tendency up close. My wife and I once visited a church where the pastor was preaching a series based on 1 Peter. The morning he hit 1 Peter 3:18–22, the first thing he said after getting behind the pulpit was, “We’re going to skip these verses. They’re just too weird.” What he meant by weird was that those verses contained supernatural elements that just didn’t fit into his theology. Such as:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. (1 Pet. 3:18–20 niv)

Who—and where—were these imprisoned spirits? That pastor either didn’t know or didn’t like the answer, so he simply chose to ignore these verses.
As a Bible scholar, I’ve learned that strange passages (and lots of other little-known and little-understood parts of Scripture) are actually very important. They teach specific ideas about God, the unseen world, and our own lives. Believe it or not, if we were aware of them and understood what they meant, as difficult and puzzling as they are, it would change the way we think about God, each other, why we’re here, and our ultimate destiny.

In the first letter the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, Paul got upset at how believers in that church were taking each other to court to settle disputes. It was a waste of time and emotional energy, he felt, as well as a negative reflection on the faith. He gasped, “Don’t you people know you’re going to judge the world? Don’t you know you’re going to rule over angels!” (1 Cor. 6:3, my paraphrase).

Judge the world? Rule over angels?
What Paul’s talking about in that puzzling verse is both mind-blowing and life-changing. The Bible connects the activities of supernatural beings with our lives and destinies. We will someday judge the world. We will rule over angels, just as Paul said. More about that later.
The reason Paul can say what he said to the Corinthians—and to us—is that the story of the Bible is about how God created us and desires that we be part of his heavenly family. It’s no accident that the Bible uses terms drawn from family relationships—such as sharing a home and working together—to collectively describe God, Jesus, the beings of the unseen world, and believers, you and me. God wants humanity to be part of his family and of his rule over creation.
We all know the concept as in heaven, so on earth. It’s drawn from ideas and even phrasing found in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:10). From the very beginning, God wanted his human family to live with him in a perfect world—along with the family he already had in the unseen world, his heavenly host. That story‌—‌God’s goal, its opposition by the powers of darkness, its failure, and its ultimate future success‌—‌is what this book is about, just as it’s what the Bible is about. And we can’t appreciate the drama of the Bible’s story if we don’t include all the actors—including the supernatural characters who are part of the epic but who are ignored by many Bible teachers.
The members of God’s heavenly host are not peripheral or insignificant or unrelated to our story, the human story, in the Bible. They play a central role. But modern Bible readers too often read right past, without grasping them, the fascinating ways the supernatural world is present in dozens of the most familiar episodes in the Bible. It took me decades to see what I now see in the Bible—and I want to share with you the fruit of those years of study.
But let’s not lose track of the question I asked at the beginning. Do you really believe what the Bible says? That’s where the rubber meets the road. It won’t do you any good to learn what the Bible really says about the unseen world and how it intersects with your life if you don’t believe it.
In 2 Kings 6:8–23, the prophet Elisha is in trouble (again). An angry king sends troops to surround his house. When his servant panics, Elisha tells him, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Before the servant can object, Elisha prays, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” God answers on the spot: “So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Elisha’s prayer is my prayer for you. May God open your eyes to see, so that you’ll never be able to think about the Bible the same way again.[1]
[1] Heiser, M. S. (2015). Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters. (D. Lambert, Ed.) (pp. 11–16). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The Unseen Realm: God and the Gods

People are fascinated by the supernatural and the superhuman. Just think about the entertainment industry in recent years. Thousands of books, television shows, and movies in the past decade have been about angels, aliens, monsters, demons, ghosts, witches, magic, vampires, werewolves, and superheroes. Many of Hollywood’s blockbuster franchises feature the supernatural: the X-Men, the Avengers, the Harry Potter series, Superman, and the Twilight saga. Television shows like Fringe and, of course, Supernatural and X-Files have dedicated followings even long after filming new episodes ends. And really, haven’t these things always been popular—in tales, in books, in art?

Why?

One answer is that they’re an escape from the ordinary. They offer us a world that’s more interesting and exciting than our own. There’s something about good versus evil, magnified on a cosmic scale, that thrills us. The epic struggle by the heroes of Middle Earth (Gandalf, Frodo, and company) against the Dark Lord Sauron in The Lord of the Rings trilogy has captivated readers (and now movie-goers) for over a half-century now. The more otherworldly the villain, the more spectacular the triumph.
On another level, people are drawn to other worlds because, as the book of Ecclesiastes puts it, God has

“put eternity into [our] hearts” (Eccl. 3:11).

There’s something about the human condition that longs for something beyond human experience—something divine. The apostle Paul wrote about this yearning too. He taught that it comes from just being alive in the world God has made. The creation bears witness to a creator, and therefore to a realm beyond our own (Rom. 1:18–23). In fact, Paul said this impulse was so powerful that it had to be willfully suppressed (v. 18).
And yet we don’t seem to think of the epic story of the Bible in the same way we think of our own tales of the supernatural in books, movies, and legend. There are reasons for that, and they go beyond the lack of special effects. For some, the Bible’s characters are too ordinary or grandfatherly. They don’t feel dynamic or heroic. After all, these are the same people and the same stories we’ve been hearing since Sunday school as kids. Then there’s the cultural barrier. It’s hard for us to identify with what seems like an endless parade of ancient shepherds and men wearing robes, like so many actors in your church’s nativity play.
But I think an even bigger factor in why science fiction or supernatural fantasy captures our imagination more easily is how we’ve been taught to think about the unseen world of the Bible. What I’ve heard in church over the years doesn’t just miss the boat—it makes the supernatural boring. And even worse, the church’s teaching emasculates the unseen, supernatural world, rendering it powerless.
A lot of what Christians imagine to be true about the unseen world isn’t. Angels don’t have wings. (Cherubim don’t count because they are never called angels and are creaturely. Angels are always in human form.) Demons don’t sport horns and a tail, and they aren’t here to make us sin (we do that just fine on our own). And while the Bible describes demonic possession in rightfully awful ways, intelligent evil has more sinister things to do than make sock puppets out of people. And on top of that, angels and demons are minor players. Church never seems to get to the big boys and their agenda.

The Gods Are Real

I asked you in the first chapter if you really believe what the Bible says. Consider this a pop quiz.
The Bible says God has a task force of divine beings who carry out his decisions. It’s referred to as God’s assembly, council, or court (Ps. 89:5–7; Dan. 7:10). One of the clearest verses about it is Psalm 82:1. The Good News Translation puts it well: “God presides in the heavenly council; in the assembly of the gods he gives his decision.”
If you think about it, that’s a startling verse! It rattled me the first time I really looked at it. But what the verse means is what it plainly and simply says. Like any verse, Psalm 82:1 has to be understood in the context of what else the Bible says—in this case, what it says about the gods and how that term should be defined.
The original Hebrew word translated

“gods” = elohim

Many of us have thought of elohim for so long in just one single sense—as one of the names of God the Father—that it may be hard for us to think of it in its wider meaning.

But the word refers to any inhabitant of the unseen spiritual world. That’s why you’ll find it used of God himself (Gen. 1:1), demons (Deut. 32:17), and the human dead in the afterlife (1 Sam. 28:13). For the Bible, any disembodied being whose home address is the spirit world is an elohim.

The Hebrew term doesn’t refer to a specific set of abilities only God has. The Bible distinguishes God from all other gods in other ways, not by using the word elohim.
For instance, the Bible commands the gods to worship the God of the Bible (Ps. 29:1).

Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings; honor the Lord for his glory and strength.

Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Ps 29:1). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

He is their creator and king (Ps. 95:3; 148:1–5).

Psalm 89:6–7 (gnt) says,

“No one in heaven is like you, Lord; none of the heavenly beings is your equal [1 Kings 8:23; Ps. 97:9].

You are feared in the council of the holy ones.”
The Bible writers are pretty blunt about the God of Israel having no equal—he is the

“God of gods” (Deut. 10:17; Ps. 136:2).

These beings in the “council of the holy ones” are real. earlier we quoted a passage in which God met with his heavenly host to decide how to get rid of King Ahab. In that passage, the members of this heavenly group were called spirits. If we believe the spirit world is real and is inhabited by God and by spiritual beings he has created (such as angels), we have to admit that God’s supernatural task force, described in the verses I’ve quoted above and many others, is also real. Otherwise, we pay mere lip service to spiritual reality.
IF WE INSERT A FICTIONAL CHARACTER INTO THESE VERSES THEY SOUND ABSURD.
And since the Bible identifies these divine council members as spirits, we know the gods aren’t just idols of stone or wood. Statues don’t work for God in a heavenly council. It’s true that people in the ancient world who worshipped the rival gods did make idols. But they knew the idols they made with their own hands weren’t the real powers. Those handcrafted idols were just objects their gods could inhabit to receive sacrifices and dispense knowledge to their followers, who performed rituals to solicit the gods to come to them and take up residence in the idol.

Council Structure and Business

The gods of Psalm 82:1 are called

“sons of the Most High [God]”

later in the psalm (v. 6).

The “sons of God” appear several times in the Bible, usually in God’s presence (as in Job 1:6; 2:1). Job 38:7 tells us they were around before God began to fashion the earth and create humanity.

And that is very interesting. God calls these spiritual beings his sons. Since he created them, the “family” language makes sense, in the same way you refer to your offspring as your son or daughter because you participated in their creation. But besides being their Father, God is also their king. In the ancient world, kings often ruled through their extended families. Kingship was passed on to heirs. Dominion was a family business. God is Lord of his council. And his sons have the next highest rank by virtue of their relationship with him. But as we’ll discuss throughout this book, something happened—some of them became disloyal.
The sons of God are also decision makers. We know from 1 Kings 22 (and many other passages) that God’s business involved interacting with human history. When God decided it was time for wicked Ahab to die, he left it up to his council to decide how that would happen.
The divine council meetings in Psalm 82 and 1 Kings 22 are not the only ones related to us in the Bible. A couple of them determined the fate of empires.
In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was punished by God with temporary insanity. That sentence was handed down by

“the decree of the Most High” (Dan. 4:24)

and

“the decree of the watchers” (Dan. 4:17).

Watchers was a term used for divine beings of God’s council. It referred to how they were ever watchful over the affairs of humanity; they never slept.

These biblical scenes of divine council sessions tell us God’s council members participate in God’s rule. In at least some cases, God decrees what he wants done but gives his supernatural agents freedom to decide the means.
Angels participate in God’s council as well. In the original languages of the Bible, the terms translated

angel

in the Old and New Testaments actually mean messenger. The word angel is basically a job description. Angels deliver messages to people. We’ll learn more about angels and their duties—‌as well as the other duties of God’s council members‌—‌later in the book.

Why This Matters

Your reaction to everything you’ve read in this book up to this point may be something like, “Fascinating stuff—I’ve never seen that in the Bible before. But what implications does all this information have, if any at all, for my daily life and the way my church functions?” And the answer is, the truths presented in this book have everything to do with our understanding of who God is, and how we relate to him, and what our purpose is on earth. To help clarify that, I’ll conclude each chapter with a section like this one that unpacks the practical implications of that chapter’s truths.
In this chapter, we’ve discussed how the Bible describes God’s cosmic administration and what insights those descriptions give us into God and, ultimately, how God relates to us.
First, God’s heavenly family business is a template for how he relates to his earthly family. We’ll discuss that further in the next chapter, but here’s an example: You might have been wondering why God needs a council anyway. God shouldn’t need help doing anything, even in the spiritual world. He’s God! But the Bible is clear that he uses lesser beings to get things done.
He doesn’t need a divine council, but he chooses to make use of one. And he doesn’t need us either. If he chose, God could just speak out loud to all the people who need the gospel, give everyone all the encouragement they need to turn to him, and call it good. He could persuade people to love others by putting his voice into their heads. But he doesn’t. Instead, he uses people—you and me—to get the job done.
Second, God could just predetermine events to make everything turn out the way he wants. But he doesn’t. In the story of King Ahab, God let his heavenly assistants decide how to carry out his will. In other words, he let them use their free will. That tells us that not everything is predetermined. And that’s true not only in the unseen world—it’s also true in our world.
In the Bible, the unseen world has structure. God is CEO. Those who work for him are his family. They share dominion. They participate in how the company runs.
Amazingly enough, the Bible talks the same way about humanity. From the very beginning in Eden, God created humanity to rule the earth with him. God told Adam and Eve, “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control” (Gen. 1:28 gnt). Adam and Eve were the children of God—God’s earthly family. God wanted to live with them and let them participate in making the whole world like Eden.
That’s a familiar concept to most readers. What isn’t so apparent is that Adam and Eve weren’t the only members of God’s family in Eden. His divine family was also there. Eden was where God lived—and where God lives, so does his family. We think of heaven as a place where we’ll live with God and his angels—his divine family. That’s the way it was originally intended to be, and the way it will be. It’s no coincidence that the Bible ends with heaven come back to earth in a new, global Eden (Rev. 21–22).
To understand our destiny, we need to go back to the time when God’s two families occupied the same space. We need to go back to the garden.[1]
[1] Heiser, M. S. (2015). Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters. (D. Lambert, Ed.) (pp. 17–25). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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