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Choose Life That You Might Live

Part 13: The Message of The Bible ...The Kingdom Is at Hand
Picking out a random phrase or two, all too many people think 'love' was Jesus' core message. Unfortunately, they are terribly wrong. The kingdom of God, a phrase used over 50 times in the four Gospels alone, was at the heart of Jesus' ministry. But read on for the really interesting bit...

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

Index to All 16 Chapters


I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death .. So choose life in order that you may live (Deuteronomy 30)



Old Age and Death
While happiness and fulfillment are wonderful things to have in this life, a great part of the problem of growing old is the uncertainty of what lies beyond

What Various Religions Tell Us About The Afterlife
Perhaps our religious convictions give us some solace and hope that either death is simply part of a recurring cycle, or that an unspecified "better life" awaits us on the other side. Or perhaps not.
Eastern Religions
Middle Eastern Religions

How People Would Describe Their "Perfect World" ... Take A Survey
I am willing to bet good money that what you will not hear is they want to attain an ineffable transcendental state. What you will hear will be more on the lines of peace and safety, an absence of crime, hunger and disease, unpolluted air and water, pesticide free food, more love among fellow men, and an honest government.

'Love" Was Not Jesus' Core Message
Neither the Romans nor the Jewish authorities would have been particularly bothered by a prophet who ran around telling people to love God and love people.

Mankind's Idea of Utopia is Exactly The Same as The Christian Heaven
Luckily the Bible isn't at all silent on where "heaven" is and, even more importantly, what it will be like. In fact, the Bible's description of the coming kingdom is far, far, more practical, and a lot less obscure and incomprehensible, than that of our theologians.

Our Bodies
Like the first fruit offering of the Old Testament, Christ was the first of the harvest... the first one to be resurrected from the dead.

Old Age and Death
In an article I once read on the web site of The American Society on Aging, Ronald J. Manheimer, former director of older adult education for The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) in Washington, D.C. talked about the social isolation, loneliness, economic hardships etc. that many elderly cope with. And how do we fight this? With a barrage of "programs" designed to help the elderly cope.

    The trumpets blare. In we come, the rescuers, healers offering life review, autobiography workshops, humanities discussion groups, relaxation exercises, counseling (both peer and professional), antidepressants, holistic health regimens, special diets. Legions of spiritual advisors stand ready to offer workshops about how to become an enlightened elder, how to get in touch with your deep psychic Self, how to let go of the past, the future, children, work. Then there are the aging advocates and political activists who repudiate these solutions--too individualistic. To the barricades, they shout. Organize to protect Social Security (standard and supplemental), Medicare and Medicaid, and fight ageism in the workplace or the doctor's office. Join support groups, advocacy groups, inter-generational coalitions, computer networks, mutual-aid cyber groups... [01]

And make no mistake - happiness, fulfillment and good health are wonderful things to have in this life however, 'this life' doesn't last forever. In fact, if you think about it you will be shocked at how quickly the last decade or two have flown by.

Regardless of how many face lifts you have had, how well organized your retirement plans are, how financially stable you may be, how much under control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are, how much you exercise and refrain from smoking, and how much meaningful companionship and mental stimulation you have - you are going to die. And, regardless of how enlightened or spiritually 'awakened' you might think you are, the question of what lies beyond still remains.  Unless of course if the fact that you have lived your life in the sunshine (as it is sometimes colorfully expressed) is sufficient for you, and you have no aspirations beyond the short 75 or so years on this go around.

Yet, death is the one subject that most people have trouble discussing, or even thinking about, especially since we are not in control of when, or how, our final curtain call will take place.

The fancy urns and expensive coffins only serve to soothe the feelings of those left behind. The oft repeated platitude .... "He (or she) has gone to a better place" is nothing more than a sop to the minds and emotions of those who cannot handle seeing someone put in a box, lowered into the ground, and covered up by dirt. However, even they will eventually move on - and you? You will be relegated to a few photographs in an album that will gradually gather more and more dust.

Perhaps our religious convictions give us some solace and hope that either death is simply part of a recurring cycle, or that an unspecified "better life" awaits us on the other side.

Or perhaps not. 

Let us examine what "solace and hope" the various religions give us.

What Various Religions Tell Us About The Afterlife

Eastern Religions
Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism all believe in one or another version of karma, the law of cause and effect. In other words, our past lives have determined our present one, and our actions in this life will decide our future ones. Each religion also teaches people how they can be liberated from this endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and how to be united with God... in which regard they have a great many abstract, and often highly convoluted things to say. (Considering that the evidence for reincarnation is all but non-existent, these ideas remain theoretical at best).

Sikhism teaches that our soul is a part of God, whom it has been separated from.

    The Sikh goal is to end the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, and unite the separated individual soul with the Universal Soul (God). The way to attain this goal is through applying the teachings of the Gurus to all situations, continuous meditation on the Holy Name, selfless service, control of mind and correct regulation of desires and impulses. [02]

Guru Nanak gave a vivid description of the five stages through which man must pass in order to reach the abode of eternal bliss, after which the aspirant has completed the arduous journey of the soul, and becomes one with God - and "transmuted himself into Divinity. He has attained the goal of his life. He has found out his permanent resting place" [03]

The goal of Buddhism is to escape the cycle of reincarnation and enter nirvana (by following the "Noble Eight-fold Path". In the Buddhist tradition, nirvana is described as the imperturbable stillness of mind which is the result of extinguishing the fires of attachment, aversion, and ignorance that cause suffering. When the fires are extinguished, suffering comes to an end and complete peace is experienced. However, there is, apparently, no consensus of opinion as to what this stillness of mind is (Emphasis Added) - either

    "absolute cessation or an ineffable transcendental state." [04]

You do know that ineffable is simply another word for 'indescribable', and transcendental can mean superior, mystical or supernatural, or even beyond common thought or experience.

Right! You knew that! Sorry, just checking.

So, according to Buddhism, we have either complete cessation, or some kind of mystical supernatural state that no one can describe, to look forward to.

The Hindu concept of moksha, which is a Sanskrit term used to describe the attaining of eternal bliss or "highest happiness" by the soul is achieved through union with God (yoga), and release from samsara, defined as the repetitive cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (Please note that the different streams of yoga are all intended to bring about this union with the divine).

Just as with nirvana, there is considerable differences of opinion regarding the precise nature of moksha. Some believe it is the annihilation of the soul's individuality, others believe the soul and God are eternally distinct.

The final goal of these three Eastern religions is not something I, or anyone else, can envision or describe in any practical terms whatsoever. The words are all very well, but who can actually tell me what it is like to become one with God. Will I be able to think, feel etc. or do I simply cease to exist? The latter not being very appealing since I am a living breathing human being, who eats and sleeps, laughs and cries.

Additionally, since there are a great many things I thoroughly enjoy...  good food, summer rain, long walks etc. why in the world would a cessation of all desire be in the slightest bit appealing?

And who is this god that I am supposed to be united with? Can any one tell me a little about him, assuming it is a 'him'? That is, of course, if any one actually knows.

Middle Eastern Religions

The Baha'i Faith regards the conventional description of heaven (and hell) not as specific places, but as symbolic.

    The Bahá'í writings describe heaven as a "spiritual condition" where closeness to God is defined as heaven; conversely hell is seen as a state of remoteness from God. Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, has stated that the nature of the life of the soul in the afterlife is beyond comprehension in the physical plane, but has stated that the soul will retain its consciousness and individuality and remember its physical life; the soul will be able to recognize other souls and communicate with them. [05]

Someone telling me that "the nature of the life of the soul in the afterlife is beyond comprehension in the physical plane" does not give me a very warm feeling. Even supposing I take Bahá'u'lláh's word for it that my soul will retain its consciousness and individuality, where will I live and what will I do?

Mundane questions maybe, but extremely relevant. However, on a slightly more alarming note, Baha'u'llah affirms

    "that this is the age in which world peace will be established. As anticipated in the sacred scriptures of the past, humanity will achieve its spiritual and social maturity and live as one family in a just, global society". [06].

See The Baha'i Influence at the United Nations

The Qur'an contains many references to an afterlife in Eden for those who do good deeds. In Islam, if one's good deeds outweigh out one's sins, then one may gain entrance to jannah, or "garden". Surah Al Kahf, verse 31 says

    "For them will be Gardens of eternity; beneath them rivers will flow; they will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they will wear green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade. They will recline therein on raised thrones. How good [is] the recompense! How beautiful a couch [is there] to recline on!” [07]

While Islam comes closest to anything resembling practicality, it also puts forward some very weird, even bizarre, ideas. Somebody once asked Muhammad how the people of Paradise will relieve themselves (I have to wonder what in the world made him think of asking that particular question). Muhammad's reply?

    "They relieve themselves by perspiring through their skins, and its fragrance will be that of musk, and all stomachs will have become lean.” (ibn Hibbaan) [08]

According to Bukhari

    Allah's Apostle said, "The first group of people who will enter Paradise, will be glittering like the full moon and those who will follow them, will glitter like the most brilliant star in the sky. They will not urinate, relieve nature, spit, or have any nasal secretions. Their combs will be of gold, and their sweat will smell like musk. The aloes-wood will be used in their centers. Their wives will be houris. All of them will look alike and will resemble their father Adam (in statute), sixty cubits tall." [09]

Additionally, the site answering Christianity says, winners of Paradise will enjoy the service of young Servants and virgin Houris (voluptuously beautiful young woman) . [10] Apparently most 'normal' women will be in hell.

    The Prophet said, "I looked at Paradise and found poor people forming the majority of its inhabitants; and I looked at Hell and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women."  [11]

According to the site My Jewish Learning

    Resurrection of the dead — t’chiyat hameitim in Hebrew — is a core doctrine of traditional Jewish theology. Traditional Jews believe that during the Messianic Age, the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, the Jewish people ingathered from the far corners of the earth and the bodies of the dead will be brought back to life and reunited with their souls. It is not entirely clear whether only Jews, or all people, are expected to be resurrected at this time. [12]

However, the question is what comes after this resurrection? Rabbi Or N. Rose, Associate Dean of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Newton, MA says "Though there is no official Jewish conception of the afterlife, Jewish sources do provide images of a torturous hell and heavenly paradise."  He goes on to say

    "What the next world is, however, is far from clear. The rabbis use the term Olam Ha-Ba to refer to a heaven-like afterlife as well as to the messianic era or the age of resurrection, and it is often difficult to know which one is being referred to. The use of the term Gan Eden (in the Talmud) to describe "heaven" suggests that the rabbis conceived of the afterlife as a return to the blissful existence of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the "fall." It is generally believed that in Gan Eden the human soul exists in a disembodied state until the time of bodily resurrection in the days of the Messiah. [13]

Which is as close at it gets in Judaism...

The Choices
In summary, the various religions not only endorse paths very different from one another, but they do not even lead to the same destination.

    Buddhism teaches Nirvana, in spite of the fact that no one is certain whether Nirvana is absolute cessation, or some kind of mystical supernatural state, which no one can describe.

    In Hinduism the concept of Moksha (eternal bliss or "highest happiness") is achieved through union with God (whatever that means)

    Sikhism teaches that uniting the separated individual soul with the Universal Soul is entering into the abode of eternal bliss, whatever that means.

    Judaism, which has no official conception of the afterlife.

    And, of course, there are those who opt to recline forever on raised thrones, wearing gold bracelets and fine silk, free of the basest human functions. (Exactly how long could you could spend on a couch, heavenly or otherwise?).

Quite obviously, these widely divergent views cannot possibly be all correct. And since, as discussed in previous chapters, none of the founders of any of these religions provided any evidence whatsoever that they knew what they were talking about, why should I believe that any of this is going to happen?

"Faith" you say?

Unfortunately if you think about it... faith is only as good as the object one has faith in. The strongest most unshakable faith in something that isn't true, is not going to magically convert it into reality.

The fact is, we do not need a 'way of life' or a philosophy. We do not need abstract theories and complicated, confused, and rambling rigmarole. We need answers in plain black and white. We need to know, in very simple terms, who we are, what we are doing here, and where we are going.

But here is what I find truly perplexing.

Although it seems that incomprehensible and pompous jargon that tells us absolutely nothing seems to make people feel very spiritual, it doesn't square with what they would choose for themselves.  If you were to ask the average person what he or she thinks happens after death, the vast majority will admit they aren't sure. But, ask the same people to describe a world they would be delighted to live and raise their families in, and you will get very definite answers.

Perhaps you should try a little experiment.

Take A Survey... Ask People To Describe Their "Perfect World"
Ask as many people as you know what changes they would make to this world in order to make it as perfect as possible... somewhere it would be an absolute pleasure to live.

I am willing to bet good money that what you will not hear is they want to attain an ineffable transcendental state. And, unless you are talking to an ascetic, I doubt you will hear anyone say that they wish no attachment to this world and any of its pleasures. Nor do I imagine you will hear many people saying they literally want to spend the rest of their lives on a couch in a garden... gold bracelets notwithstanding. Well! I take that back... You might run across one or two.

What you will hear will be more on the lines of peace and safety, an absence of crime, hunger and disease, unpolluted air and water, pesticide free food, more love among fellow men, and an honest government. In fact, there will be a number of subjects common to most people's answers, and an astonishing similarity in the details

In other words, what they will describe is their idea of Utopia - something that everyone dreams of, but cannot get anywhere near.

In his very popular song "Imagine" John Lennon sang about a world with no greed or hunger, and nothing to kill or die for. A world where the brotherhood of man lived in peace and shared all the world. This has been the vision and the dream behind numerous political, philosophical and religious movements. Various small groups have formed communities in an effort to create perfect societies... most with varying degrees of success, and all just as short lived as John Lennon's vision.

But here is what is really paradoxical ... Christianity, which appears to millions to be outdated, out of touch, and largely irrelevant to modern society, not only promises exactly the utopian world that mankind dreams of, but also has the answers to man's deepest questions. When it comes to the afterlife, the world most men and women would choose to live in is, in every respect, precisely what the Bible describes, except the Bible calls it heaven, the kingdom of Heaven, or the kingdom of God. In fact the kingdom of God, not love, was at the heart of Jesus' ministry.

'Love" Was Not The Core of Jesus' Message
Sadly, the average person thinks Jesus' main message was about love. While it is true that love figured prominently in His message, it was not the core of his proclamation and certainly wasn't what got Him crucified. Neither the Romans nor the Jewish authorities would have been particularly bothered by a Jewish prophet who ran around telling people to love God and love people.

In a nutshell, Jesus' message is summarized in Mark's description of His ministry. (Emphasis Added)

    Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:14-15 NASB)

In fact, Jesus never stopped talking about the "kingdom of God", which phrase is used over 50 times in the four Gospels alone. Matthew, however, used it only four times, apparently preferring the synonymous "kingdom of heaven", which occurs 32 times in his book. This coming kingdom was not only at the heart of many of Jesus' parables (likened to a mustard seed, a pearl of great price, a banquet given by a king, etc), but He even said that the proclamation of the Kingdom was the reason He was sent to earth.

    But He said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose." (Luke 4:43 NASB)

Unfortunately, most people, including most Christians, are absolutely in the dark about what the Scriptures mean by the phrase kingdom of God/Heaven.

Mankind's Idea of Utopia is Exactly The Same as The Christian Heaven
Even Christians who believe they will spend an eternity in "heaven", seem to have little or no idea where this heaven is, what it will look like, or what they will do there. Either they have fleeting, half formed ideas about some ethereal place 'out there', or resort to pious phrases that amount to little more than spiritual gobbledy gook. If this is the best we can do, then it is hardly cause for surprise that atheists and non Christians are not in the slightest bit interested in our "heaven", and Christians themselves so rarely seem to look forward to the coming of the day of the Lord.

Luckily the Bible isn't at all silent on where "heaven" is and, even more importantly, what it will be like. In fact, the Bible's description of the coming kingdom is far, far, more practical, and a lot less sanctimonious, than that of our theologians. Were Christians willing to do a penny's worth of investigation, they would find that the Bible says absolutely nothing about some ethereal realm somewhere 'out there', but much to the contrary, speaks of heaven as being right here on earth.

While this is way too detailed a subject to go into, I have outlined a couple of points below. However, it is important to read the entire article to see exactly what and where 'heaven' is... according to the Bible(See What And Where Is Heaven?)

Three Interconnected And Inseparable Promises To Abraham
This idea of an ethereal heaven makes absolutely no sense whatsoever in view of the fact that God's promise to give Abraham an entire country for an everlasting possession, is one of the most solemn declarations He ever made. In fact it is one of three interconnected and inseparable promises, two of which have already been literally fulfilled - 1) Abraham's descendants would be made into a "great nation" and 2) "in him" all the families of the earth would be blessed (the promise of the Messiah)

So why exactly do we not believe that the third one will not be literally fulfilled as well? Besides which not what the Lord said to Abram, 

    "Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. "I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. "Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you." (Genesis 13:14-17 NASB)

Note that God not only told Abraham to look in all four directions, but also to walk the length and breadth of the land which the Lord was giving him and his descendants. In other words there can be little doubt that the reward for Abraham's faith was firmly rooted in real estate. And this the Jews very firmly believed right up to the time of Christ.

However, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all dead, so unless the God of the universe was joking or lying, the only way for this promise to be fulfilled is at the bodily resurrection of believers when Abraham will rise from the dead to receive the land God promised him. As said by Anthony Buzzard....

    The message of Jesus' famous beatitude, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the land" (Matthew 5:5) can no longer be heard above the din of endless funeral sermons announcing that the dead have gone to heaven! [14]

The sheer weight of Biblical evidence that "heaven" is right here on earth is overwhelming. (See What And Where Is Heaven?)

The Prophets "Saw" The Coming Kingdom

A plain reading of the words of many of these men of God, makes it impossible to deny that they looked ahead to an undetermined time in the future when God would return to establish a literal, earthly kingdom. For example, Amos wrote about a physical kingdom on earth, complete with cities, vineyards, gardens, and fruit.

    Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. And I will bring back the captivity of my people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God. [Amos 9:11-15]

Chapter 21 of the book of Revelation gives us another aspect, speaking as it does, about God dwelling among men, and the absence of death, mourning, crying or pain.

On the new earth, Christ will reign from Jerusalem. There will be peace and joy, to say nothing of earth, trees, plants, fruit, houses and, I presume animals, birds, flowers and waterfalls. In short, pretty much the world He originally created... a world without crime, fear, ugliness, disease and death.

I don't know about you, but it certainly sounds like a marvelous place to me... far, far, superior to anything taught by other religions, and certainly not the pie-in-the-sky kingdom preached by most churches.

And what about us and our bodies which, although fearfully and wonderfully made', tend to give out rather quickly?

Our Bodies

The entire Christian faith is centered around the resurrection of Christ.. As the Bible says "... if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain". (See Section on The Resurrection)

In the ancient land of Israel, one of the seven annual festivals instituted by God which the people had to observe, was the Feast of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-14), on the 17th day of Nisan. This was a celebration of the harvest, when a sheaf of grain (possibly barley, which was the first crop to ripen) representing the very first of the harvest was waved before the Lord, as a symbolic gesture that dedicated the coming harvest to Him. [See The Seven Feasts of Israel

This festival was merely a shadow of something momentous to come, namely the resurrection of Christ. In his letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote, that like the first fruit offering of the Old Testament, Christ was the first of the harvest... the first one to be resurrected from the dead.

    But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:20 NASB)

In other words, our bodies will one day be raised. Christianity does not teach that our souls are imprisoned by our bodies, and death liberates us so that we can continue living forever as disembodied spirits. Christianity teaches that body and soul are one, and both will live forever, free from the fear of death.

Considering that some of the diseases that befall mankind can be downright scary, to say nothing of extremely painful, surely the promise of a new and glorious body that will last forever is something to turn cartwheels about. The Bible does not go into all that much detail about the new body, which makes it impossible to describe it with absolute certainty. However, the Scriptures do tell us that our bodies will be imperishable, glorious and powerful. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

(Additional Details Here... Glorification of The Body)

How could it possibly get any better? As Paul once wrote "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Unless, of course, you prefer the complete ambiguity of "the abode of eternal bliss".  In which case, all I can say is "have at it".

In Summary...
Christianity, which appears to millions to be outdated, out of touch, and largely irrelevant in modern society, actually has the answers to man's deepest questions, and promises to fulfill his most longed for dreams. In the not very distant future, a day is coming when mankind's most sophisticated, intelligent, savvy and 'with it' people will discover, to their shock, that the 'keys to the kingdom' are in the hands of Someone who's message of hope we dismissed, simply because the considerable amount of available evidence was not to their specifications.

But there is one problem.

God is not just going to allow you to waltz into this perfect world He has planned. In fact, the Bible very emphatically says there is a death penalty for all who sin, which means they will never see His kingdom.

Continue on to Part 14: The Warning of The Bible
The message of the Bible is, initially, unbelievably good... we can all live in a perfect world here on earth, in bodies that will neither age nor deteriorate. In fact, the heart of Jesus' preaching was the good news that the kingdom of God was on its way, and that we could be part of it. It then throws a spanner in the works by saying that sinful people cannot get there. After which it hits rock bottom when it tells us that no matter how well we live, we cannot live up to God's standard of holiness (no sin period), and we are all sinners who are under the death penalty... God's decreed punishment for any sin. Luckily God's mercy and love changes this hopeless situation. CLICK HERE


Endnotes (Chapter 13)

[01] Note, while the original article is no longer available, an excerpt is available here ...

[02] Edinburgh Inter-Faith Association. Sikhism  http://www.eifa.org.uk/sikhism/

[03] Teachings of Guru Nanak. http://www.theholidayspot.com/guru_nanak_jayanti/teachings.htm

[04] Dharma Data: Nirvana. Buddhist Studies . http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/dharmadata/fdd43.htm

[05] Masumian, Farnaz (1995). Life After Death: A study of the afterlife in world religions. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. As quoted in Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven#Islam

[06] What does the Baha'i Faith teach? © Copyright 2014 National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States

[07] Belief of "Heaven" / Jannah / Paradise in Islam. http://www.hilalplaza.com/islam/Heaven.html

[08] The Pleasures of Paradise (part 2 of 2) The religion of Islam. http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/10/

[09] Hadith 4:544. Narrated Abu Huraira. http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/bukhari/bh4/bh4_547.htm

[10] http://www.answering-christianity.com/heaven_hell.htm?search=Site&text_field=women+in+Paradise

[11] Bukhari 4:464. Narrated 'Imran bin Husain http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/bukhari/bh4/bh4_468.htm

[12] MJL Staff https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-resurrection-of-the-dead/

[13] Rabbi Or N. Rose. Heaven and Hell in Jewish Tradition. My Jewish Learning.

[14] Anthony Buzzard. The Christian Hope: Life in the Land of the Promise Made to Abraham.


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