Many readers of the Word of God stumble across passages and parts of the Bible that seem to speak about strange things, like a believer can lose his/her salvation, or that Jesus was a created being and not God Himself, or that believers will go through the great tribulation, or that the Lord Jesus went to hades/hell when He was buried to preach to the spirits in prison, just to name a few common examples of how things can be taken out of the context of passages and be applied in the wrong way.
Usually this will have devastating effects on young Christian souls, especially those who look up to leaders or pastors who misapply passages of Scripture that deal with salvation and other fundamental aspects in the Christian faith. I will take some of these passages, and with that will look at what is mentioned before and after the passages, because it is vital to read the whole context, what occurs or is written before, and what is written after, and this will erase the misapplications that have become somewhat of doctrines and teachings in local churches.
One instance in Scripture is found in Matthew 3:11 where John the Baptist refers to the Lord Jesus Christ baptising people with the Holy Spirit and fire. Many dear Christians, pastors and preachers misinterpret this verse and say that the Holy Spirit fires up the hearts of believers after they have been born again and baptised, and then they go on to mention different types of fire that the Holy Spirit can produce in a believer. If we look at the proper context of this passage, it starts from when John was baptising people who confessed their sins and the Pharisees and Sadducees came to him as a show of pretending. John uses the word fire in verse 10 as a sign of judgement for trees not bringing fruit, the analogy here is anyone showing a display of being born again but is not born again. In the verse before us, verse 11, the two types of baptism are: of the Holy Spirit, this means those who accept their sins and confess, and come to Christ; and the other baptism is fire, meaning those who do not accept their sins and do not come to Christ, they will be baptised with the fire of God’s judgement. If we read the next verse, the winnowing fan is in the hands of the Lord, and He purges His threshing floor. The wheat (representing true believers) is taken into the garner, but the chaff will be burned with fire unquenchable. The chaff is something that shows a form of wheat, but it is not. In fact, it is a counterfeit. This represents those who are not born again and who refuse the free salvation of God.
Perhaps one common passage that confuses Christians is found in Matthew 12:24-32 and Mark 3:22-30. Christian people who behave in a way that denies the Lord Jesus Christ or those who grieve or quench the Holy Spirit tend to think that they have committed the ‘unpardonable sin’. This sin is a deliberate sin and total disregard of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, attributing His work, the work of the Holy Spirit, to that of Satan. If we carefully read the context, the Pharisees, who were the Jewish leaders, openly and formally rejected the Lord Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God by attributing the miracles and signs that He did to the work of Satan. The Lord Jesus Christ is addressing the representatives of the nation of Israel, and by careful examination of the whole context, we can see that it has nothing to do with Christianity. The Lord told the Pharisees that a sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in the age (the time that they were in), nor the age to come. The age to come refers to the Lord coming as King in the Millennium, and has nothing to do with the day of grace in which we now live. Of-course, anyone who deliberately opposes the work of God and hardens their heart will not repent, but the point of the passage in Matthew and Mark is speaking to Jewish people, namely leaders, who attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the work of Satan. For those people, this sin is not forgiven because they blindly choose to reject their Messiah. The sin of attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan was a blasphemy against the Spirit of God, and therefore not forgiven. There is no doubt that people today behave even worse, but in our day and age, there is no such thing as the ‘unpardonable sin’. All sins are forgiven upon repenting and turning to the Lord Jesus Christ. This particular sin was in relation to Jewish leaders who openly blasphemed the Holy Spirit, and they will do so again before and after the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ as King.
Another instance is found in Matthew 18:15-20, and several people take verse 20 and apply it to them that gather in the name of the Lord and that He will be with them in the midst. Again, we need to look at the actual context of this passage and ask what the Lord was addressing, and to whom He was speaking? The context is a brother (or sister), sins or trespasses against you or me. What happens? There is a process involved. You or I would approach our brother or sister and gently let them know they have trespassed against us. There must be strong evidence to claim that a brother trespassed against me. Calling me names or some other things does not necessarily mean a trespass against me. We need to be very careful in our approach to this situation. After having a one-on-one conversation, if there is no result, I can take two or three witnesses. If there is still no result, depending on the seriousness of the matter, I can take it to the local church. If there is still no result, the Bible does not tell me to cast that brother or sister and put them out of fellowship, but to treat them as if they are heathens, and heathens do not know or believe in God at all. Then the Lord says that any decision made in the local church that is gathered unto His name (this is the context of verse 20), that heaven will acknowledge (this does not necessarily mean heaven will approve) this decision. However, this is based on the principle of gathering to His name alone, that when two or three gather together in His name, He is in the midst.
The next instance is found in Matthew 24 and 25. Again, many Christians refer to some verses in Matthew 24:37-41 as the rapture and do not look at the proper context or setting of the whole passage. What is the whole passage taking about? Who is this whole passage referring to? Which type of people? What question/s did the disciples ask the Lord when He responded to them? The disciples asked Him about the sign of His coming and the end of the world. We need to know that the disciples did not know about the rapture, or at least that the rapture has to take place before the great tribulation. The Lord is speaking to them on Jewish grounds, or earthly grounds, and there is no room for the rapture or anything to do with the rapture of the Church in Matthew 24 and 25. Perhaps in the first part of Matthew 25 there is a faint shadow of what happens at the rapture, but we need to understand the actual context of the discourse of the Lord with His disciples.
The disciples, and other Jews, knew of the Lord’s appearing in glory, but nothing about the Lord Jesus coming for His saints at the rapture. This was expounded by the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 and towards the end of 1 Corinthians 15. The Lord Jesus also spoke to the disciples briefly in John 14:1-6 about Him receiving them unto Himself, so we have something about the rapture in John 14.
Back to the passage of Matthew 24 and the last part of chapter 25, the only explanation I can gently provide is that the Lord Jesus is speaking about what will happen AFTER the rapture, namely, the great tribulation, and when the Lord will appear after the tribulation to set up His kingdom. See verse 8 of Matthew 24, where the Lord lists events that will happen and calls this the beginning of sorrows. We can say that this can be during the first half of the tribulation period. In verse 15 the Lord speaks about the abomination of desolation spoken by Daniel the prophet (see Daniel 11), and then verse 21 states that there will be a great tribulation. This tribulation is known as the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7). I cannot see any of these expressions speaking about the Church and true Christians who will go through this. These are terms that the Jews know very well, and will go through this, but some will be saved after they accept Christ as the King coming in His glory to set up His righteous kingdom.
The difficult section comes in verses 37-41. If we read what is written before that, we read about the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. This does not refer to the rapture. It refers to His appearing WITH His saints in glory. At His appearing, which will be after the tribulation, in verses 40 and 41, the one taken will be taken for judgement and the one left will be left on the earth to enjoy the blessings of the Millennium and the righteous reign of Christ on earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. We see a glimpse of this in Matthew 25 where the Lord speaks about separating sheep from goats. The sheep, figurative of those who will come to accept Christ as King through the work of the remnant of the Jews that will preach the kingdom and they will help the Jews in their time of need, will enter His kingdom, but the goats are figurative of those who will reject the message and persecute the Jews, and those who faithfully preach the coming of Christ as the King. Please note that this preaching is not the gospel of salvation as we have it today, but it will be a preaching about Jesus Christ coming in power and great glory as the rightful King.
Matthew 25 opens with the parable of the ten virgins. Here we have a faint glimpse of the concept of those who are saved, and those who are not saved, and we clearly see the features of those who are not saved, have not the Holy Spirit (oil) in their hearts. Still, it is speaking about Jewish, or earthly, things. The chapter begins with the kingdom of heaven, and this is the sphere of heaven on earth. What I mean is that the kingdom of heaven is made up of all people who acknowledge, or take the name of Jesus Christ, whether they are true, or mere professing Christians. They confess Christ with their mouth and profess to be subject to a King who is rejected and absent. When we read the whole chapter closely, the Lord is still speaking about His appearing to judge the wicked. There is no sign of the rapture, or even an element of the rapture in Matthew 24 and 25. The next part of Matthew 25 is about the parable of the talents. This illustrates man’s responsibility on earth to the things that God gives us, or the talents that God gives us. How do we use what God gave us? Do we use it for His glory, to help and edify His people, or do we hide it or bury it and then be called slothful servants? Again, this is not a question of whether someone is saved or not, or of the rapture or tribulation, but it is merely speaking of our individual responsibility in using the things that God in His grace gave us.
One other instance of misapplying passages is in John 15:1-6, where the Lord Jesus is speaking about branches abiding in Him and bearing fruit. The passage is about bearing fruit for the Lord, and not about salvation at all. In John 15 the Lord Jesus is speaking about Himself as the true vine, and the Father the husbandman. A branch that is attached to a vine but not producing fruit is taken up so that it may eventually produce fruit. The Lord states clearly that any branch in Him not bearing fruit the Father takes up, or takes away. The key phrase is ‘in Me’ (John 15:2). This means that the branch represents a person who is a true believer, one who knows Christ as his personal Saviour and Lord. Yes, it may be that a believer is not bearing fruit and the Father takes away. This may mean one of two things: the first is that the Father calls the person home to be with Him because the individual is not bearing fruit or showing one bit of testimony at all. The Corinthian believers who were abusing the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:27-31 provide an example of this. Some were disciplined by God to the point that they have died, or in the Christian term, sleep in Christ.
The other suggested thought about the Father taking away the unfruitful branch is that He lifts up the individual, yes, we may be under His loving discipline, but this is always with the objective of restoration of our backsliding souls. It may be that God is teaching us a lesson and is patient with us, putting various situations and circumstances that we do not like in our way, so that we may take heed and listen to what God says, and then be able to bear fruit for Him. He has His own unique ways in dealing with each individual. If it pleases Him to take the individual away, it is never said that the branch is burned.
The branch that is burned in John 15:6 represents someone who is not abiding in Him. This is likely someone who professes to be a Christian but is not, and is not abiding in Christ and His Word. A believer delights to abide in Christ and can fall and stumble, can sin multiple times, but is restored, and the character of the believer is that he delights to abide in Christ. The mere professor does not like to abide in Christ and therefore is cast forth as a branch and is withered, men gather the branch that is cast, and then it is cast into the fire and burned. This is the judgement of one who is not a true believer. One example is Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord, and eventually hanged himself. This is not the character of one who delights to abide in Christ.
Another instance is found in Hebrews 6:4-6, speaking about those who deliberately turn away from the Word of God where they have previously been enlightened. Many suggest that these types of people are believers who backslide and return back to the truth, or that a believer can lose their salvation. However, a closer examination of the actual context states otherwise. These are people who were actually Jews, and were familiar with the Jewish system and how this system opposed Christ so much that He was crucified. This passage states that the people after being enlightened and seen the work of the Holy Spirit, who went back to Judaism, openly put Christ to shame as if they crucified Him again. What happens when people go back to Judaism? They confess in front of the Jewish high priest and all the witnesses that the Man who came to earth and died was not the expected Messiah, and that they were wrong to leave the system of Judaism, and that the system of Judaism is what God had ordained and it is the correct way. This is the actual process of a person who left Judaism to Christianity and then returned back to Judaism. Please note that the person was not true to Christ, because they went out from Judaism to Christianity, and NOT the Person Himself. This is a very sad conclusion and a bold statement from the person who returned to Judaism, confessing that he was wrong and the high priest and Pharisees were correct. This is what is called apostacy – a deliberate departure from the whole truth of the Word of God, and going back to systems that cannot save a person. Furthermore, these systems deny Christ in certain aspects, but I will not mention any specifics. Apostacy is a very serious matter, because it is someone who was once among the true believers, gathering with them, going to Church as often as the believers would gather, but really had not the Holy Spirit inside them to guide their lives. At the first opportunity, the person deliberately departs from the Word of God, the truth about the Person of Jesus Christ, and all the principles of the Christian faith. After departing, the person returns to the system that they came from and openly confesses that Jesus is not the eternal Son of God and that the Christian faith is wrong. It is extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, for such a person to be saved. Judas Iscariot is an example of one who was with the Lord and His disciples for about three years, but loved money more than the Son of God, and therefore was not saved in the end.
Perhaps another instance where something is taken out of context is John 3:16, the much loved and most well-known verse in the Bible. This is actually the first verse that I memorised when I was a young child. I am sure that this verse has a dear place in the hearts of many of you, and is applied to a gospel preaching, and there is absolutely no problem with that. However, the whole chapter is about a discourse between the Lord Jesus Christ and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, about the new birth and eternal life. Neither these subjects are part of a gospel preaching in the normal sense. New birth and eternal life are huge subjects that I do not wish to write about here in detail, but new birth is what we have after accepting the Son of God and that His work is sufficient to save us. God works in each heart and soul in order to bring out the new birth in a person, so it could signify a sincere readiness to accept the Son of God and then accept the free salvation offered. Eternal life is what we have now after accepting and receiving the Lord Jesus in our lives and hearts. Eternal life is the divine life of God that Christ displayed on earth, and this is the life we have as born-again Christians, and this is the life that we can enjoy even here on earth. Eternal life does not just mean that we live forever, even though this is a blessed fact that we live forever with Christ. However, it conveys a deeper thought, that this is the life we have now, and can enjoy now in fellowship with God the Father and the Son, and with other fellow Christians. Therefore, the discourse that the Lord Jesus had with Nicodemus in John 3 speaks about new birth and eternal life, not the gospel and salvation. However, we can rightly apply John 3:16 in a gospel preaching, but I trust that now we know what the actual context represents.
Other passages such as 1 Corinthians 13, which is found in an article titled 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 Peter 3:19, which is found in an article Preaching to the spirits in prison are other instances where Scripture is taken out of context and interpreted in many forms that are not accurate.
One other passage is in 1 Corinthians 10 where the apostle Paul wrote about Israel and how they crossed the Red Sea, all were baptised under Moses, but most of them perished. Some teach that a believer can lose his/her salvation and perish as a result of turning away. There is a problem with this thought. What is the apostle Paul writing about, and who is he writing about? He is writing about an event that happened when the children of Israel, God’s earthly people, went out from Egypt and crossed the Red Sea under God’s mighty hand. Were all the people of Israel true to God after that? You can read all about it in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Israel were God’s earthly people, and God had earthly blessings for their obedience and earthly curses if they disobeyed. Still, they had a responsibility to God. However, with us as true believers, we are God’s heavenly people and our blessings in Christ are heavenly. The Lord Jesus Himself said that He is the good shepherd and that no one snatches His sheep out of His hands (John 10). The difference is that Israel is God’s earthly people and not all of the people of Israel were what we call today true believers. As true believers, our eternal security is sure on the basis of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. If we start to mix up Israel with the Church, we will be in all sorts of trouble and confuse ourselves with verses that relate to Israel and wrongly apply to us as part of the Church.
May the Lord help us to read carefully all the passage in order to understand why a particular phrase is in that passage. A helpful tip to understand the context is to read before and after the actual passage that seems obscure and conveys an inaccurate meaning. Once the whole context, before and after, is read carefully, and this may mean that we need to see who the Lord Jesus was speaking to, what each passage refers to, or what the writer is referring to in each passage.