Tuesday, May 5, 2020

CURRENT EVENTS and PROPHETIC EVENTS

First, I apologize. As you sit under “house arrest”, it is quite likely that the last thing that you want to hear about is Covid-19. Like a dense fog, Covid-19 fatigue has settled on us all. The fog engulfs us all day, every day. And so, it is possible that some of us just might become violent if one more person dares to tell us to wash our hands for 20 seconds, and to make sure we stay 6 feet away from those disease-bearing friends and family members. And, by the way, don’t forget to wear your mask and latex (or non-latex) gloves. The good news here is that this short article is not about any of the above. But all of the above have produced an amazing crop of prophetic weeds. And I do sense that we might need some theological “Round-Up”. I would like to add some points to the discussion we had last month on this matter, since prophetic type articles, blogs and whatever keep on appearing, even from some folks that we might consider reliable.   
These voices, for example, inform us that we are “dangerously close” to the beginning of the Tribulation; or, the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem is a sign of the end times; or, the earth is experiencing the beginning of the “birth pains” that Jesus spoke about. And there are dozens more like these. But as we hear these statements (and most likely will continue to hear them) and as we evaluate them, we do need to remind ourselves of some fundamental truths. Let me share a few while we, of course, stay six feet away from one another.
  1. Jesus could return at any moment. This biblical truth is true no matter what is going on in this world. This is the “blessed hope” of the believer in Jesus (Titus 2:13). No event or series of events must come first, nor is there any event which signals that Jesus is coming for His bride at the Rapture event. We ought to be among those who “love His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8); that is, we really want to see the Savior and be with Him. As was true at His first coming, so it will be true at His return; at just the right time Jesus came into the world (Gal. 4:4). He might return today, but coronavirus is not an indicator of His coming.
  2. The USA is not a prophetic indicator. It is natural for us to look at moral decay, church apostasy and other circumstances in America and think that these kinds of things point to the end times. They certainly point to what happens to a nation when it decides to abandon the standards of God’s Word. But we need to reflect on the fact that the Bible does not see or use the USA as a prophetic indicator (even if we do live here!) Nations have come and gone in the last 2000 years and when they walk away from the true God, certain negative things take place. So, while we are rightly disturbed and angered by the killing of babies, terrible crimes and immorality, and the obliteration of the family unit as God gave it, these realities simply do not tell us that we are in the time of the end. We might be near it, or maybe not. What happens in the USA is not that which tells us we are in the last days. 
  3. The nation of Israel is the prophetic indicator. This is not the place to expound on the many biblical passages where the restoration of Israel back to their land is the sign of the end times. But it is. After millennia away from the Land, the Jewish people in their unbelief have been coming back, from over 80 different nations. In the OT, God repeatedly said “I will” do this thing. I will bring them back to the Land and then I will bring them back to Myself. Israel is the great indicator that we are moving towards the climactic end time events when God will save His people and millions of others in this world. And it is then that King Jesus will come to establish His messianic (millennial) kingdom on this present earth. God’s working among His people Israel is the end time indicator.
  4. The concept of “birth pains” is tribulation truth. “Birth pains” is an OT phrase used by Jesus and Paul that pictures the judgments that will take place during the tribulation period. They picture these coming judgments as becoming more intense as the tribulation moves along. And as they take place, they will occur closer and closer together. But these “birth pains” are tribulation judgments not present-day events. And it is not correct to say, as many are, that the current pandemic or some recent earthquakes are indicators that birth pains have begun. These today are neither the tribulation birth pains, nor are they “pre-birth-pain” birth pains. Mankind, unfortunately, has had these kinds of events, along with famines and war, as a part of living in this fallen world. History has recorded a multiplicity of times when pandemics, earthquakes, famines and warfare have rocked the world. However, the birth pains of the tribulation are uniquely intense and destructive. Jesus and several OT prophets have declared: “there has never been a time like this and there never will be again.” Simply put, these birth pains are totally unique in the experience of mankind. 
  5. Present events can be illustrative. As noted in last month's article, the current coronavirus pandemic does not indicate that we are in the end times. But it can supply an illustration of what these kinds of things might look like. We can get some idea of how destructive some events might be in the end of time. In our day, we have video footage of tsunamis, caused by earthquakes, killing hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of hours. Those images are imprinted on our minds. In World War II, we have seen how famines can kill millions of people and how war itself eliminates tens of millions. So, with our technology recording these events, we have a pretty good idea of how destructive these forces can be. And they are really just mild forms of it. When we read in the Scriptures of the presence of these destructive judgments during the tribulation time, which clear well over 50% of the earth’s population, we can now better imagine what it will be like. We have seen similar kinds of things, but these things were not tribulation “birth pains.” 
  6. Control what we can. Most of us are smart enough to realize that there is so very little in life that is actually within our control, or often, even our influence. But there is something we can control; namely, how we live today. As stated last month, this current pandemic did not blindside the omniscient God who is our Father in heaven. He not only knew about it but He in some way has a hand in it, for His own purposes. And because we happen to be alive at such a time as this, the Lord undoubtedly has things for each of us to do. We are to represent Him in a culture that is increasingly denying Him. We can speak and be more than a silent witness. I do believe that since you and I are still breathing, He has something specific for us to do. It probably is not something spectacular which will put us in the news, but under His direction it is valuable and it is most likely eternal. 

We really shouldn’t let this crisis “go to waste.”  Our objective ought to be to serve Him right now, and allow Him to guide us into His purposes for us during Covid-19. Though the Lord Jesus could come back at any moment, this pandemic is not an indication of that coming. There are a lot of nervous and stressed people around us who might need a word or act from us. And I can imagine that the Holy Spirit, who does personally guide us, perhaps has some specifics in mind.  


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

GOD, COVID-19 AND THE END TIMES


It does seem that every politician, company, government official and email contact wants to give us information, assure us of their concern for our well-being and exhort us concerning Covid-19 (the current coronavirus). Some of it is helpful while others aren’t. Perhaps we are all getting a little weary of the subject.
But when the matter of signs of the end times comes up and the suggestion is made that this virus points to us being in the end times, we who are students of the Word of God need to see if there is any validity to these ideas and proclamations. So, seeing that I have some time on my hands, I thought it might be helpful to remind us of certain biblical realities.
(1) God is involved in this coronavirus event. Daniel (Dan. 2:21a) and Paul (1 Thes. 5:1) tell us that God is in charge of the sequence of events in human history as well as the significant turning points in that history.  So major events (such as World War II and 9/11) and the order of all events are under the direction of the Sovereign God. He is a God of great detail, and He rules over His creation. And although latitude is given to Satan and fallen men, God has His own “end game” in view at all times. He uses the right players and events at just the right time to move history along towards His predetermined end. Daniel reminded the sinful, rebellious king Belshazzar that the “Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind” (Dan. 5:21). So, with this in mind, it is safe to say that God is indeed actively involved in this event. Why? That we don’t know, except to say that the Lord is always trying to get the attention of sinful people to bring them to Himself, and that these kinds of events somehow contribute to bringing about the end times. Not only did this current event not sneak up on Him, but He was and is moving it along as best fits His overall purposes. 
(2) Is Covid-19 an indication that we are in the Tribulation period, or does it tell us we are fast approaching the Tribulation? Yes, there will be plagues during the Tribulation period. People are correct when they note that point. In fact, plague (disease) along with war, famine and unrestrained activity of wild beasts are part of the Tribulation judgments (Rev. 6:8).  These four realities are, according to dozens of Old Testament passages, revealers of the “wrath” and the “hot anger” of God (e.g. Ezekiel 5:13-17; 14:21; Jer. 16:4-5, etc.). God directed these judgments against Israel in the Old Testament and these four will again be seen in their greatest intensity during the Tribulation (the 70th Week of Daniel). However, the Tribulation period, according to Jesus and the prophets (Matt. 24:21; Dan. 12:1; Jer. 30:7; Joel 2:2), is a unique and unprecedented period of time; unlike any time in human history. In fact, the Apostle John writes (Rev. 6:8) that 25% of the earth’s population will perish in these first four judgments of the Tribulation period; which means that (considering the earth’s present population) 2 billion people will perish from the first four judgments, including plague (disease). So, what is taking place today is simply not what will take place during the period of tribulation.  
Also, some are saying that Covid-19 indicates that we are close to the end times because these are part of the birth pains that come before the tribulation period (Matt. 24:8).  However, the birth pains Jesus refers to take place within the tribulation period itself and, as previously stated, are absolutely unique in intensity (and perhaps location). They are not before the Tribulation, but in it.  Earthquakes, warfare, plagues and famine have always been part of the history of fallen man; and that is why we need to remember that when they occur during the Tribulation period, they will be unprecedented in their intensity. For example, an earthquake (such as the more recent one in Japan) can measure 9.1 on the Richter scale. This is a huge quake, but not unprecedented.  However, the world after the Flood of Noah has never seen a 12.1 earthquake (or maybe even greater). The Tribulation will have at least 2 earthquakes of a magnitude never seen before. So, it will be all the birth pains, including plagues. They are terribly bad and they are without precedence. 
(3) Never let a crisis go to waste.  This has notoriously been the thought of some politicians who would use any crisis to further their own political and personal ends. But there is an element of truth here for the believer in Jesus.  This Covid-19 events did not blindside the Lord our God. He did see this coming (obviously), long before any person did. So, it is logical that we use this event to be proactive in our service and relationship with Him. There are a number of things that the Holy Spirit might lead us to do. Some ideas:
  • Take this time to reflect and meditate on the Lord and His ways (Psalm 145:5; 77:11-15).  We live so much of our lives in the “laser lane” of life; always on the go. In quietness, seek Him. It is often in the context of being still and meditative that the Lord speaks to our hearts and reveals Himself and His will in fresh ways. For some of us this could be a wonderful experience.
  • Read the Word and other good books. It might be challenging to read portions of the Bible that you haven’t read for a long time. We often excuse our inattentiveness to Scripture because of our packed schedules. They aren’t so packed now, and such reading might prove more valuable than re-runs on TV.
  • Look for opportunities to connect with others via phone, email, skype, texting, etc. And let your confidence in our Good Shepherd who is sovereign and gracious be seen. There are a lot of nervous, frightened people who likely could use your input and perspective. Many in our culture no longer have their diversions at hand right now and something of the shallowness and emptiness of their lives is surfacing. It’s scary for them. It might be an opening for us.
  • As we have contact in our neighborhoods and the few places we might connect with others, let your confidence in Christ the Lord be seen.  After all, now that God has gotten their attention, we can give them the really good news. One evangelist said just the other day that he is finding people far more open to hearing about Jesus and spiritual matters because of Covid-19.  Like the experience with 9/11, this could just be a little window of opportunity that has been opened for us. So, let’s keep alert to such opportunities.
None of us knows how all this will play out in the coming weeks or perhaps months, so maybe it would be wise to contemplate what the Lord would have us do. We do have the Good Shepherd who is all powerful, wise and good and can lead us into some fruitful times during Covid-19. 
                                                                                                               

Monday, March 2, 2020

A PROPHETIC POINT FOR THE CHURCH AGE


          When we think about Bible prophecy, our thoughts usually immediately go to the subjects of the Rapture, Tribulation, Millennial Kingdom or perhaps some future judgments.  And this is good since truths about these coming events indeed are to powerfully impact our present thinking and our present living.
          The Apostles, however, also included in their pronouncements truth which prophetically relate to how this church age will end.  They were unusually concerned with what the church would be like when this age came to its end. Prior to the Rapture event when Jesus Christ suddenly and supernaturally takes His Bride, the Church, to heaven and out of this world; there will be an invasion of false teachers with their false teachings that come into the Church. Now we know that Satan, since the Garden of Eden, has used false and distorted ideas as his primary tool in countering God’s work in the world. This is nothing new. But the Apostle foresaw a time when falsehood in the church would explode leaving believers in grave danger.  Large numbers of men and women would seduce the saints with their damaging doctrines.  These terrible teachings would hurt believers in this life as well as affect the life to come. And while we cannot set dates and times, we are certainly seeing such an explosion of falsehood and distortion of God’s truth. Teachers and preachers today can get their teachings out to the public very easily and broadly because of the new and growing technologies that have come into existence.
          But the fact remains, what the Apostles saw coming may well be with us now. A great deal of ink was used on this subject by the Apostles, but I want us to be reminded of five truths they predicted (direct by the Holy Spirit).
(1) A Departure. As the church age moves on and gets closer to its end, teachers will depart from healthy doctrine and in its place substitute man pleasing ideas (2 Tim. 3:1; 4:3-4) and over the church age this will get worse and worse (2 Tim. 3:13).  And in the western church especially, this now seems to characterize much of the preaching and teaching. Chaff is everywhere but good wheat is hard to find.
(2) A Mega Movement. This distorted doctrinal preaching and teaching will attract large numbers of people (2 Pet. 2:2). Jesus had taught in His parables of the “mystery kingdom” (mainly the church age) that the “kingdom” would grow large but would also grow more corrupt (Matt. 13). People are attracted to these teachers in large numbers because they tell them things they like to hear. Gone from the teachings are the hard truths such as coming judgment for sin, the fear of God (which is to be in balance with the love of God), personal holiness and other doctrines which make demands on people.
(3) A Sinless Message. These teachers do not define and denounce sin which is such a real part of our experience and struggles. The Scriptures inform us that they avoid speaking about sin because they themselves indulge in sinful lifestyles (2 Tim. 3:2-5). Instead they promote both directly and indirectly hedonism and materialism to the immeasurable damage of believers (2 Pet. 2:18-20). Like the false prophets in Israel, their “ministries” are spiritually empty and actually lead people away from the Lord God (note Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 13). Their distorted view of God and His ways make it impossible for people to know Him and properly relate to Him.
(4) A Subversive Approach. The consistent warning by the Apostles is that these false teachers are within the church. They are not outsiders (Acts 20:28-30; Jude 4, 12; 2 Cor. 11:13-15). Special scrutiny is to be given to those in the church with positions and titles because they are the ones who have authority and are, therefore, most influential in the church. The idea that it is outside cults and movements that are the danger is simply not the case. Paul warned that “among your own selves (the elders) men will arise” who will promote distorted doctrines (Acts 20:30).
(5) A Sacred Responsibility. It is the God-given responsibility of the elders of the church to expose and refute these counterfeit doctrines (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:9-11). The sad reality, however, is that too many elders in the local church today seem incapable of this, as they appear to have neither the knowledge nor the courage to do this critical task, which protects the flock of God from these dangerous doctrines. Avoiding judging false teachings in the name of tolerance is not at all acceptable. As the Apostles Paul and Peter instruct (2 Tim. 2; 1 Pet. 3), they are not to be harsh or arrogant, but are to kindly refute those who are promoting satanic ideas (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
We can never declare that the Lord will be retuning on such and such a date because sound doctrine no longer characterizes the western church. What we can say is that He might indeed be coming very soon because the ongoing departure from the truth of God in “the church” is yet another one of the props on the prophetic stage; pointing to the possibility that it is close to curtain time, and the beginning of the final act of human history known as the Tribulation.
      In the meantime, until the curtain goes up, you and I need to become better students of the Scriptures, coming to understand them and apply them to life. And we need to increasingly “contend earnestly” (Jude 3) for God’s truth, and to “expose” the distorted doctrines that are being promoted in the church (1 Tim. 4:1; Eph. 5:11). This contending for the faith is part of what a faithful servant of Christ does. This may never be behind a pulpit speaking to thousands, but more likely will be one on one with a fellow believer who has been seduced by man pleasing ideas. We must never be proud or argumentative, but we must be clear, compelling and full of conviction in our handling of truth. Remember that it is only God’s truth (the wheat) that transforms lives. Chaff never does that.  

Friday, February 7, 2020

HERE COMES 2020: LIVING IN LIGHT OF HIS POSSIBLE COMING.


          Each year as we turn the calendar to start a new year, many of us who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ wonder if this might be the year when He Himself comes from heaven, meets us in the air and takes us home to the Father’s house.  I wish I knew and could state that this will be the year. But I (and you) do not have the security clearance to possess that information.
          But, nevertheless, knowing that it is a real possibility, the wise believer will be making preparations for that eternally significant day. Not to prepare would reveal an amazing level of short-sightedness on our part.  If 2020 be the year for the “fullness of time” for Jesus’ rapturing of His bride and our immediate appearance before the Savior at His judgment seat, then how should be live in the days and months of 2020.
          Some people faithfully set goals as a new year approaches. Often those have to do with things that can be objectively stated; such as, we will set aside five percent of our income for savings, or I will go the gym at least three time a week.  But what about setting objective goals as we live for Christ?  Is it possible for us to set measurable goals in the rather subjective area of the Christian life?
          I have found that the counsel of the Apostle Peter is most helpful in this regard (2 Peter 1:5-11). As we anticipate (maybe in 2020) the Lord’s return for us and then our time of accountability before Him, Peter gives some valuable advice. He begins his second epistle by reminding us that have been given a wonderful salvation as well as all that we need for living a godly and productive life. He then exhorts us to add seven virtues to this great gift of salvation. He points out that if these seven virtues are present and are growing in our lives, then two things will be true for us. First, our present lives will be useful and fruitful (1:8), and second, we will experience significant reward at the return of the Lord Jesus (1:11).  Regarding this second point (1:11), Peter says that an “abundant” entrance will be given to believers who add these seven virtues to their faith. This is a picture of rewarding.  This abundant entrance pictures the victorious Olympic athlete triumphantly returning to his home city. He has won and has brought great honor to himself but also to his city. Traditionally, such a victorious athlete would not enter the city by the usual gate, but an entrance would be created just for him. He deserved to be honored in some distinctive way and an “abundant entrance” would be created to honor him. Peter conveys the important truth of rewarding at the time of the Lord’s return (note Rev. 22:12); a time when those who have added these seven virtues will not just enter the kingdom of Messiah, but will have a special entrance into that kingdom. So this rich reward comes as a result of diligence in this life.
          But not to be overlooked is the first point. There are benefits that come to us in this life right now when these virtues are present and growing. He notes that there are many negatives that don’t become part of our lives: such as, being unfruitful, having a basically useless life, stumbling throughout life and not seeing life correctly (1:8-10). And positively, when these seven virtues are added to our salvation, our lives have meaning and purpose, there is a certainty and clarity with which we go through life, and our lives bear fruit which is greatly pleasing to the Father (John 15:1-12).
          So as we enter 2020, with the empowerment and insights of the Holy Spirit, why not target 2 or 3 of these seven virtues for development in our personal lives; setting some objective goals for our own Christian maturing. 
          While each of these virtues deserves a complete sermon, here we can just give a brief definition and explanation, so that we have at least some idea of what we might specifically choose to work on, as our personal goals for 2020. Here are the seven.
(1) Moral excellence. This is a unique word (which is why there is quite a variety of translations). But the basic idea is that of something which fulfills the purpose or function for which it is made. So, for example, the “excellence” of a knife is that it cuts things. Our “excellence” is to fulfill the Lord’s will for our lives, whatever that might be. God has expressed His will for us in our various roles in life (in the family, in the church, in the use of money, etc). So the question is, “am I doing God’s will to the best of my knowledge and ability?” Nothing can come ahead of obeying Him.
(2) Knowledge. Genuine biblical Christianity has an intellectual aspect to it. We are told to love the Lord our God with all our minds, as well as our hearts. Paul reminds us that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. (So many churches today seem to believe that we are transformed by having emotional experiences). We are to understand God’s Word and apply it to every area of our lives. Diligence, effort is required in obtaining “knowledge” (note Prov. 2:2-5). A worthy goal for sure.
(3) Self-control. In every aspect of life, the passions, the thoughts, the emotions and the desires of the believer are to be controlled. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23), and the believer in whom the Spirit dwells has the power to be self-controlled in any and all areas of life, including the thought life (note 2 Cor. 10:5). “Addiction” ought not be dominating any area of the believer’s life. Any areas that are out of control?
(4) Perseverance. This word means to “stay under” and looks at a life that does not move away from the Lord when confronted by adversity, difficulty or distress. This one does not give up but rather increasingly submits to the Lord. This become more and more ingrained in life when the believers comes to understand that the Lord is sovereign, good and all knowing. Am I resolved in all settings to stick with the Lord?
(5) Godliness. The emphasis of this word is having an attitude of reverence that seeks to include and please God in every area of life. Believers, long ago, used to speak of “practicing the presence of Christ.” Theirs was an attitude of dependence and trust in the Lord on a daily/hourly basis. (Just including the Lord in our lives on Sunday mornings would likely point to an “ungodly” life.)  Today, it seems that Christians are more and more secular (ungodly) in the way they do life. Am I godly or ungodly?
(6) Brotherly kindness. This word communicates the point that we are to be gracious and merciful in our attitude towards other imperfect believers (the person in the mirror is clearly in that category). It does not mean that sin is overlooked, but it does mean that we will be ready to forgive and will attempt to guard the unity of the Body of Christ. It includes the idea of being “devoted” to one another (Rom. 12:10).
(7) Love. We would expect this greatest of all virtues (note 1 Cor. 13:1-4) to be included in Peter’s list. It speaks of a mindset that seeks what is the very best for others. This is produced in the heart of the yielded, obedient believer by the Spirit of God. We are able to “grow in love” as we search the Scriptures to discover what constitutes the best for others; husbands, wives, children, fellow believers; the neighbors, folks at work or school). Then we can seek to actually do what is best for those individuals. This likely is an area that most of us need to be “diligent” in.
          As we come to 2020 with the possibility of the Lord Jesus returning, we want to be living our lives “with all diligence.” But instead of just vaguely or generally trying to mature in Christ, why not select two or three of these virtues and target them in 2020?

Monday, December 2, 2019

DISFIGURING JESUS’ 1ST AND 2ND COMINGS


       We once again have come to that wonderful time of year, called Christmas.  It is a season that can be fun and enrich our lives in many ways as we enjoy great Christmas music and share life with family and friends. At our house, my working theory is that one can never have too many lights, and so, I work at installing as many as I reasonably can. And as we decorate outside, it is with the intention of letting folks around us know that Christmas is about Jesus the King and Savior entering this world. During this season on TV, Hallmark and other channels work hard at producing dozens and dozens of Christmas stories (usually of a romantic nature with basically the same plot) to help us enjoy the season. Many other programs appear on television with the subject of Jesus’ birth. So this time of year has its upside.
                   But the culture has generally so diluted the account and purpose of Jesus’ birth     (Amazon recently referring to it as the “myth” of Jesus birth), that no one without some biblical background would really figure out what the Christmas season is all about. Satan and his minions have successfully disfigured the event. If my neighborhood represents the culture at large, then the Evil One has done a pretty effective job.  Decorations are on most all the homes near us but their relationship to Jesus’ birth is completely unclear.  I have yet to figure out what a group of penguins, Sponge Bob and Darth Vader have to do with that event 1900 years ago. And was Santa Claus really at the manger with Mary and Joseph?                                                              There is a reason why the Devil messes around with our Christmas celebration. He simply wishes to blind the minds of people (2 Cor. 4:3-4) to the reality that God took on human flesh (John 1:14) in order to deliver people from their spiritual condition of being separated from Him (John 3:16).  By disfiguring and distracting, he helps folks not to think about their guilt, anxiety and emptiness, and God’s solution to it all. In a Christmas past, a young couple was standing in front of a store window with a manger scene in it, and they were overheard saying, “Why do they have to bring religion into everything?” The sheer ignorance of that statement is hard to fathom. But it does show how effective the Enemy’s work has been.
                    Surely part of our task, as those who understand why Jesus came into the world, is to counter this demonic work of disfiguring and distorting and clearly share that the Savior came long ago to completely take care of our sin and guilt and to bestow eternal life on all who believe (Acts 4:12). He may not have come on December 25th, but He came….and that is the point.
                   When Jesus was born, Satan and Herod teamed up to try and destroy Him (Matt. 2:16; Rev. 12:3-5) but could not do so. They were dealing with God who became flesh in order to follow through on His deliverance of mankind, by dying on the cross and coming back from the dead. Jesus’ entrance into this world was validated in many ways over many years. For example, the “star” informed the Wise Men that the king of the Jews had been born and was alive in Israel. And while the Wise Men were never at the manger the night of Jesus’ birth, they did arrive in Bethlehem a year or so later and saw the King-Savior in the house where Joseph and Mary were living (Matt. 2:7-11). The “star” was not some existing heavenly body but was a dramatic, dynamic declaration that God had come into the world.  It was supernatural. I would concur with Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum when he said,
         “By this star coming in the form of light, what we actually have is the appearance of the  Shechinah Glory....The Shechinah Glory is the visible manifestation of God’s presence. Whenever  God became visible in the Old Testament, this is referred to as the Shechinah Glory. In most  cases, the Shechinah Glory came in the form of a light, fire, cloud or some combination of these three things. Over in Babylonia a light appeared, a brilliance, a radiance that may have looked like a star from a distance and yet had actions and did things which no star can do or does do.  What these Wise Men actually saw was the Shechinah Glory. When they saw this…unusual brilliance, they deduced from it that is was a signal that the King of the Jews, the Messiah, had been born.”  (Messianic Christology, pp. 143-144)

                   Angelic announcements (Luke l:11, 26; 2:9-11), unusual workings of the Spirit of God (Luke 1:41, 67; 2:25-32) and the word of a prophetess (Luke 2:36-38) all declared this to be an watershed moment in human history…a Savior had come who would restore all that was lost millennia before in the Garden of Eden. And later, Jesus would validate all this by performing thousands of miracles.  Full, complete salvation would now come to believing people.  It should not surprise us that the Evil One (the god of this world) works tirelessly at disfiguring Jesus first coming. So to distract, he suggests that this be a “December to remember” by buying a new car, or perhaps getting some fine jewelry from Jared to really make life worth living.
                   And what should not go unnoticed is that this one also works tirelessly at disfiguring Jesus Second coming, and it is tragic that the church today gives him great aid in the matter. Jesus’ powerful return will end Satan’s career and will bring in that long awaited “return to Eden” in the Messianic kingdom and the eternal kingdom. Churches and denominations in America today are consistently downplaying Jesus’ return to this planet in power and great glory.  The Apostle Peter observed that this is false teaching and must be resisted by believers (2 Peter 3:2-13).  After describing the characteristics of false teachers, he noted that their teaching is focused on living large in this present world. (2 Peter 2). This world is their focus, not the world to come where the Savior returns and His power and glory are seen. Thus Jesus’ return is apparently not that important as we live in this present world. This reality is reflected in church life today.
                   And so church after church downplays, dilutes or removes altogether clear statements about events surrounding the Second Coming of Jesus to this world. In our culture, and its influence on church culture, talking too much or precisely about the return of Jesus Christ is rather divisive and much too dogmatic. And besides, really cool preachers need to stay away from prophecy, since that is domain of really unbalanced Christians.  But this was not attitude or approach of the Apostles or of Jesus Himself.  Prophecy shows that Jesus will bring about the fulfillment of His magnificent promises to His people, and it will be done in an unmistakable way.
                   In Matthew 24:30, Jesus taught that immediately preceding, and in connection with His Second Coming to earth, a sign would appear in the sky; something which all on earth would see and understand its significance. The word “sign” (semeion) is used to refer to an unusual or miraculous event. (This word is used by John to refer to the miracles of Jesus). The sign given, in connection with the Second Coming, is a miraculous event that points to something very great; namely, the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. I would suggest that the sign is yet another appearance of the Shechinah Glory, indicating the presence of the Son of God.
                   It is true that the “star” in connection with the first coming of Jesus has often been misunderstood, but we can say with confidence that there will be no such misunderstanding at the Second Coming when the Savior-King returns in power.
                   As we come to this Christmas season, we can enjoy God’s many good gifts to us, but let’s also keep an eye toward heaven for our Savior’s return to take us back to the Father’s House.  And let’s also be ready to swim against the strong cultural current this season and let those around us know that the Savior came that glorious night to do the hard work of delivering us, a lost race of people.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

“PREPARING ISRAEL FOR THE END TIMES”

It does seem that the Middle East is in constant turmoil and that the threats against Israel are ever present and growing. Yet, in spite of these realities, Israel seems supremely confident outwardly that they can handle anything that comes their way. But with the growing presence and power of Iran on Israel’s northern border, the daily attempts by terrorists to enter Israel from all directions and the continuing hostilities coming from the southern Gaza strip (and the presence of ISIS in the Sinai), the nation is being stretched both militarily and emotionally. Added to this, is the ongoing instability in the government of Israel where the forming of a government seems next to impossible. One Israeli politician recently noted that, in spite of assurances by the government, this governmental gridlock is in fact weakening the nation.

With all these considerations in mind, we shift our attention to Daniel 9:27 where the prophet of old was told by the angel Gabriel that in the end times Israel would enter into a covenantal agreement with a powerful world leader from the west (old Roman Empire, Daniel 7), which would be to guarantee Israel’s safety and security. This would initially be a 7 year agreement. What we observe is that things are going to change within Israel which causes the nation to see that their military strikes and their bravado is not enough and will agree to help from a foreign power. They apparently conclude that their powerful military is not sufficient to deal with the situations that they face. They make an agreement with the man who is commonly called the Antichrist. Since Israel spiritually, at this point in time, is not a believing nation, this agreement with such a person (however religious he might be or not) is not an issue. They enter into this covenantal agreement because they sense a need for doing so.

All the pieces may not be exactly in place at the moment, but all the pieces are lying on the table and can be quickly inserted. It does appear that the direction is clearly towards the setting of end time events. God’s timing is always perfect; as He is never too early and never too late. “In the fullness of time” these events of the end times will unfold. The “season” does seem to be here, and this is another reminder that we should number our days and maximize the opportunities in our lives to serve the coming King Jesus.

God’s dealings with His people Israel has always been the key to understanding His activities in the world, and today it is no different.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

“POSITIVE PROOF FOR A POST-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”

Not long ago, this statement was said forcefully and without hesitation by two television preachers. Too many assume that if someone is on television then most likely what they are saying is true. This perception of validity is heightened if the teachers are both sincere and authoritative in their presentation. But when we get passed the enthusiastic presentation, we just might find that the supporting biblical argument is lacking.

Most of us like it when we can firmly believe in things that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt (“proof positive”). But since I, and most reading this article, don’t hold to a Post-tribulational rapture view, we immediately doubt the reality of their declaration. What was the biblical evidence used to support their statement? A couple of points were made which when they are investigated are not compelling. The following may not be new information for our readers, but every now and again it is good to refresh our thinking; or as the Apostle Peter said, “to stir up our pure minds by way of remembrance.”

However, before we look at their reasons, I think we should note a significant technique that is used by some, and it sounded to me that these two preachers were using it. Often those making presentations like this one make it clear that they have come to their conclusions in spite of being previously indoctrinated in another position. This apparently is done to bolster both their credibility and scholarship. In this case, both of these men said they used to be Pre-tribulational in their view of the rapture, having been raised on that teaching. But now, after they gave serious thought to the Pre-tribulational position, they abandoned it. They happily pointed out that when they raised questions about the Pre-tribulational rapture, no one was willing or able to give them clear answers. (This is not surprising since there are plenty of believers who hold to theological positions which they simply cannot give a reasonable answer for). We might point out that these two television preachers apparently were asking the wrong people about the matter because credible and able biblical scholars have presented strong and compelling arguments for the Pre-tribulational rapture position.

But getting back to the proof provided for a Post-tribulational rapture. The discussion began with a rather confusing analysis of the coming tribulation. One pointed out that there could not be a mid-tribulational rapture because the tribulation will only be 3 ½ years in length and there is no place found for a rapture half way through that period. (Now it is true that the emphasis is on a 3 ½ year period called “the great tribulation”). Unfortunately, the term “tribulation” has been regularly used for the entire final seven years; which is why many of us prefer to call these years “Daniel’s 70th week”. But this cumbersome title has not generally caught on. One of the preachers acknowledged that a seven year period of time does begin with the signing of a treaty with Israel. (One dropped in the tidbit that Donald Trump is now ready with such a document---this brought an excited gasp from those gathered!). But frankly, it was unclear what the relationship to the rapture event that all of these “facts” had.

Basically, two points were made. First and foremost, was the Matthew 24:29 verse where “after the tribulation of those days”, Jesus would come back to the earth. With that we would agree, but it is not the rapture event in view. It is the Second Coming of Christ to the earth in judgment. These preachers just assume, without proof, that this is the rapture of the church. But at the rapture, believers meet Christ in the air and return to the “Father’s house” (not to the earth). This is a wonderful time of blessing and deliverance. No such things are referenced in Matthew 24:29 where the emphasis is on judgment; judgment which continues when He sits on His glorious throne and judges the nations (Matt. 25:31). When believers return to heaven with Jesus, two important events take place, as recorded in Revelation 19. First, is the judgment seat of Christ where believers in the church are rewarded, receiving “fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (19:8). This is the necessary preparation for the second event which is the marriage of the Lamb (19:7). The Post-tribulational view as held by these two television preachers have a terrible time trying (if they even try at all) to give a reasonable explanation for the timing of these events. Clearly these events are nowhere in Matthew 24.

Another reality is that these two simply ignored the context of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24. The disciples asked Jesus questions related to the future of Israel (likely based on Zechariah 12-14). They knew nothing about the “body of Messiah”; that is, the church made up of saved Jews and saved gentiles. They were not asking about the church (as they had no understanding of that unique organism) and Jesus was not giving them an answer about the church. This is a fundamental mistake made by many, even some in the Pre-tribulational camp.

The preachers continued their presentation by noting that in Matthew 24:31, Jesus gives the order to gather “His elect” from all over the world. They said that the “elect” in the NT refers to church saints. This is not always the case (e.g. Luke 18:7). Of course, in dealing with the church age as the NT does from Acts onward, the term will most likely apply to believers in the church age. However, there will always be theological confusion when the assumption is held that it is always the case. The context determines its meaning. In the Matthew 24 context, the subject is Israel. One must assume that the church is still on earth in order to have the church gathered together from all over the earth at the Second Coming of Christ. The context of Matthew 24 is those people who become believers in the seven year period. It should also be noted that the term “elect” for 1500 years had applied primarily to Israel, when Christ spoke these words. (e.g. note Deut. 4:37; 7:7). Their argument was clearly circular: “the church is in the tribulation period, having not been raptured out before that time, and so, the elect refers to the church which proves a Post-tribulation rapture”.

After leaving Matthew 24, the other “proof” was found in Revelation 20:5 where the martyrs of the tribulation period are raised in the “first resurrection.” The word “first” was used to show that the resurrecting of people only starts at the Second Coming. Since believers are indeed resurrected at the rapture event, and since this is the first resurrection, then it shows that there could not have been a resurrection (rapture) before this moment. Therefore, there can be no rapture before the tribulation; only at the end of it.

The term “first resurrection” has caused some confusion for believers. What needs to be observed here is that the words “first resurrection” refers to a category of resurrected people rather than a chronological order. It is chronological only in that it is the resurrection of believers which, in fact, is prior to the resurrection of all unbelievers at the end of the millennial age. So the term “first” is used more to characterize a kind of resurrection; namely the resurrection of the righteous. The fact is that the righteous were resurrected beginning with the Righteous One Himself, the Lord Jesus. He is first fruits of the resurrection harvest. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Jesus is part of the “first resurrection.”

But when Jesus was raised from the dead, we learn from Matthew that quite a number of other believers were raised from the dead at that time. Matthew 27:52-53.
“AND THE TOMBS WERE OPENED; AND MANY BODIES OF THE SAINTS WHO HAD FALLEN ASLEEP WERE RAISED; AND COMING OUT OF THE TOMBS AFTER HIS RESURRECTION THEY ENTERED THE HOLY CITY AND APPEARED TO MANY.”
While this “aside” from Matthew raises some interesting questions, what is clear is that at the time Jesus the Righteous One was raised bodily from the dead, so were many other righteous ones. While we do not know who they were exactly or how long they appeared in Jerusalem, we do know that here are resurrected people. Those in Revelation 20:5 are not the first human beings raised, receiving resurrection bodies. Later, we believe, at the Pre-tribulational rapture event, millions of believers are raised from the dead, according to 1 Corinthians 15:52.

And while these two television preachers can hold to a Post-tribulational view if they want to, what they cannot claim is that they have “proof positive” for such an event. The subject of this article is not the Pre-tribulational rapture, but there is compelling theological and biblical arguments for the rapture taking place prior to the 70th week of Daniel.