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.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

“THE 6TH TRUMPET IS JUST ABOUT TO SOUND”

This astounding statement caught my attention and was something I was simply not aware of. I heard that the 6th Trumpet of Revelation 9:13-21 was likely to be blown at any moment, certainly within the year. This statement also suggested the troubling thought that I must have missed the sounding of the first 5 trumpets of Revelation 8 and 9. So, was this new news that God had just now revealed? I heard this pronouncement as I was watching a You Tube video of the Jim Bakker show on which he had Irvin Baxter. Irvin Baxter was the one who said that the 6th trumpet, in which one-third of mankind is killed, could happen at any day, and actually might even be underway as he spoke. (Keep in mind that this show aired in 2017 and ISIS and other terrorist groups were waging war in the middle-east including the area around the Tigris-Euphrates region). It appears now, in the light of several passing years, that the 6th Trumpet never did blow or perhaps it is a very long blast that is ongoing. Unless the news channels missed it, 1/3 of mankind (that is; around 2½ billion people) have not recently perished.

Jim Bakker’s enlightened response to this declaration by Baxter was “wow”. Well, enlightened is probably not the right word to use; but by saying “wow”, Jim Bakker, before his TV audience, was giving validity to Baxter’s statement. Baxter then went on to explain that he had come to his truly marvelous view when he came to realize that the 3rd Trumpet (where something like a burning mountain hit the fresh waters of the earth and made them “bitter”; that is, poisonous) was the destruction of the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in April of 1986. He arrived at this, he said, when he learned that the Russian word for Chernobyl was “wormwood”, thus connecting this with the 3rd Trumpet judgment. (According to Wikipedia, however, and other sources the word “Chernobyl” is the common mugwort (Artemisia) plant and is used for medicinal purposes and for tea. No mention of it being poisonous). So Baxter, tying in his flawed definition of Chernobyl with the biblical word “wormwood”, concluded that the meltdown at this nuclear plant in the 1980s was the 3rd Trumpet judgment. This then led him to reach back to the 2nd Trumpet and conclude that this was the Second World War. The reasoning behind this was that in that judgment 1/3 of the ships on the sea were destroyed. He allegedly found out that 1/3 of the ships in the world at that time were destroyed. He did not, however, expound on the point of Revelation 8:8-9 that one third of the oceans became blood, nor that one third of the sea creatures died (neither of which happened in WW2).

The 5th Trumpet, where the locust-like creatures come out of the smoke of the bottomless pit and torment men for 5 months, was related to the Gulf War. He arrived at this amazing conclusion by noting that hundreds of oil wells were set afire and caused sky-darkening smoke to engulf the land, just like the smoke coming out of the bottomless pit. He also observed that the locusts had breastplates of steel and the faces of men which were the war planes (and their pilots) that were part of the Gulf War. The “clincher” for him was the fact that the king of the bottomless pit was called “destroyer”. This, said Baxter, is the meaning of the name Saddam. (Again, Wikipedia disagrees and says that in Arabic the name means “one who confronts”). All of this was then used to validate the likelihood that we are in, or soon shall be, the 6th Trumpet. What was particularly sad in all this was that Jim Bakker and his female colleague on the TV set, simply smiled, nodded in agreement, grunted approvingly, but never challenged these far-fetched interpretations. After all, if God had led Irvin Baxter to these interpretation, who were they to challenge their validity (Jim Bakker is clearly not from Berea. See Acts 17:11).

Our Response? Irvin Baxter reflects the “classic post-tribulational” view which sees the tribulation as beginning at the first coming of Christ and continuing on to His second coming. Therefore, the church has been in the tribulation for some 2,000 years. This leads to the “historical approach” to the Book of Revelation, where the events given by the Apostle John are to be found somewhere during the history of the church; that is, since the first century.

The great danger, as illustrated by Baxter’s quirky interpretations, is that the interpreter becomes the final authority instead of the Scriptures themselves being the final authority. This is no small issue and people listening to folks like Baxter, need to recognize what is going on. He is becoming the final authority. In fact, this almost irrational subjectivity of historicism finally has led many in the past few decades to abandon it as an approach to biblical prophecy. It was always interesting to observe how historicists were sure that their approach was correct but simply could not agree with one another as to what specifically was being fulfilled. So six historicists could have seven interpretations of the same event given in Revelation. Back to Baxter and Bakker. In this case, for example, why can’t the 5th Trumpet be referencing the war in Viet Nam, where there were lots of planes, napalm, death and destruction. And why couldn’t Pol Pot or Mao being the destroyer?

Another observation is the random selectivity in Baxter’s (and others) use of Scripture. He did not, for example, discuss the fact that mankind would be affected for 5 months by the locust-like creatures; nor that they had tails like that of scorpions. Or, when talking about the 2nd Trumpet, there was not a word about 1/3 of the waters becoming blood. But this kind of selectivity is not what a good expositor of the scriptures does. It is not only bad exegesis, but it is also a dishonest handling of God’s Word. There is no place for this kind of approach to the bible, especially when there is a large number of people that are likely being influenced by it.

Yet another observation we should make is the ignoring of established meanings for the symbols and terms used in Revelation. For example, in the 5th Trumpet, the bottomless pit is mentioned. This has an established meaning and is not a reference to Kuwait and Iraq. Revelation borrows heavily from the Old Testament (especially the prophets) and the names and symbols found in Revelation have meanings that are already established. No interpreter has the authority to change the meaning from those established in the OT.

We also should note that numbers, as used in Revelation, are used in the normal way numbers are used; that is, they are normal quantitative indicators. They are not used symbolically. For example, 7 churches means 7 churches. 1/3 of the oceans becoming blood means just that. But Baxter and others, in promoting their historicism, only use numbers in their normal way when it is convenient. So 5 months of locust activity, or 1/3 of the waters becoming blood, or 200,000,000 men being involved in the 6th Trumpet judgment are simply ignored. (ISIS had some thousands fighting for them, but not 200,000,000. Again, this is not an acceptable way to approach the Scriptures. In fact, it is just plain deceptive.

The growing lack of discernment in the church today is tragic. If watching Jim Bakker and his colleague suggests anything, it is that Christians today will believe most anything, as long as the “teacher” indicates that they received their view from God Himself. This, of course, is not a new phenomenon, which becomes obvious when we note Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 13 where these faithful prophets of God exposed the methods and messages of the false prophets in the nation of Israel. But as 2 Peter 2:1 declares, just as Israel was infected with false prophets, so the church faces that same thing with false teachers who will come in with their erroneous doctrines and lead God’s people away from the truth of God.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

SO WHERE IS HE?

This is a revised version of the question found in 2 Peter 3, where the “mockers” statement is recorded: “where is the promise of His coming?” And while Peter recorded this question over 1900 years ago, the question, in varying forms, still is being asked today. But we should also note that sometimes it is not being asked because some see the whole question as irrelevant.

But for those who really wonder why the Lord has not yet brought about end time events, this is a matter of real concern that often troubles them. We wonder how long God will put up with the open rebellion against Him and His standards, and the continual evil of mankind. This has been an ongoing concern for God’s people over the millennia. But we do well to remember some points, including those key points made by Peter in 2 Peter 3. Peter said to his readers that he was “stirring up your pure minds by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1; 1:13). So let us allow our minds to be stirred up on some essential points.

(1) Those questioning the reality and imminence of the Lord’s coming are unbiblical in their thinking and living. Peter identifies these detractors as “mockers”. Such a person has a willful contempt for God and His truth. They ridicule things that are sacred and of great importance. The Lord’s coming is a clear reminder that Jesus is the returning King of kings and that He will dramatically change the world when He returns. This goes against the self-indulgent thinking and living of these mockers who “walk after their own lusts.” These have an emphasis on a one world viewpoint which focuses on living for self, wealth and pleasure in this life. But this kind of life would be ended by Christ’s coming which is why it is a topic they mock. Pastors who will not teach their people about the Lord’s return may not exactly fit the “mocker” but they clearly are promoting a one world view, which is an unbiblical world view. They may not be with the mockers, but they are living next door.

(2) All that is necessary for the end time events to begin are in place today. As we look carefully at the details about the end of times given by the OT prophets and the NT apostles, we find nothing of major import that needs to take place. The stage is set. The issue is simply about when the curtain is going to come up and the “play” begins. Only the Lord God knows when (not if) that will occur.

(3) God is always “on time” and so the end times will not come too late nor will they arrive too soon. One of the important truths that we can learn about Jesus first coming to the earth was that it took place at exactly the right moment. So says the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4:4 when he informed us that “when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” We have to believe that Jesus’ birth was not off by a couple of decades. God’s timing is always impeccable. So it will be with the imminent rapture, tribulation and Second Coming. Exactly on time.

Peter states that God is sovereign over time. God made time for mankind and for the earth, but He is not bound by it (2 Peter 3:8-9). God may use a thousand years to do what we think He might do in a day, and vice versa. God cannot be charged with “slowness/slackness”, as if He is just “hanging out” with no real purpose in His actions. What appears to us as God being a little slow in these matters is really an issue of patience. As we view some of God’s past judgment activities, we observe that He pronounced judgment (e.g. on Nineveh) and then “delayed” that judgment giving people a chance to repent and turn to Him; the One who delights in mercy rather than judgment.

(4) It is God’s mercy towards unbelievers which is factored in. The seeming “delaying” by God is indeed because He is patient towards unbelievers and desires that they turn to Him. (3:9). Peter had used an example of the Flood of Noah (1 Peter 3:20) to illustrate the patience of God towards the godless. But it was sad that during those 120 years no one took advantage of the offer to avoid judgment. These did not turn to the Lord God and experience His temporal salvation in the Ark, nor His eternal salvation which is given to those who trust in Him. But nevertheless, God does patiently seek the salvation of people and this is what accounts for the “delay”.

(5) His return is something that He gave His word would take place. He did “promise” (3:4, 13) that He would come again and make all things right. Peter emphasizes that the Day of the Lord “will come” (3:10). For the believer, there is no doubt that these events will take place. The Day of the Lord (that time of special Divine intervention in this world) is going to be fulfilled to the very letter. The question has always been “when” it will take place. We need to remind ourselves that we simply do not know enough to declare that right now is the perfect time for His coming. There are so many factors involved that we just don’t know about.

(6) We are to use this time prior to His return to be actively engaged in living for Him. This really is Peter’s emphasis in 3:11-14. When Peter says in 3:11, “what sort of people” we should be; he is not really asking a question. It is really an explanation of how we are to live. We are not to be just marking time waiting for Jesus to come. Our lives are to be characterized by many realities (3:11). First, we are to be characterized by HOLY LIVING. Our lives are to be increasingly separated from sin and separated unto the Lord. We are to work at staying away from spiritual contaminants and work at daily “abiding” in Christ (John 15). Second, our lives are to be involved in SERVING GOD. We are to approach each day with the dominating thought of how can I honor and serve Christ today? It is not a matter of being famous or doing great things. It is all about being faithful to Him as we go about our daily living. Third, we are to be LOOKING FOR His return, which has the idea of intently focusing on and being earnestly desiring something. We should be looking for Jesus, which is our desire to see Him, not just to be delivered out of the mess this world is in. Adding to all this, the Apostle states (3:12, 14) we are to diligently work at (1) living in PEACE. This has to do with our being in harmonious relationships with Christ and with others. (2) WITHOUT SPOT and BLAMELESS is his reminder that we need to keep short accounts with God on the matter of sin in our lives; taking hold of 1 John 1:9. These things are important for life today but also are critical for that time when we appear before Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:14, “be found in Him”).

Very interesting is Peter’s statement that by living in faithful obedience to the Lord we can “hasten” the coming of the Lord (3:12). He indicates that if we are so concerned about the Lord coming soon, we can “move along” His coming. How? Isn’t the future under God’s total control? Indeed the future is totally under God’s control. But God’s sovereign choice apparently includes what we do or don’t do. In some way our obedient service for Him has been factored in to the events of the end times. This seems to be something like our prayers. In ways unknown to us, the Sovereign God factors in our prayers in what He does or does not do. And so, Peter informs us that our godly, obedient lives in some way “moves along” the Lord’s return. That is something worth thinking about!

So while it is vital to look towards the heavens and long for the Lord’s return, it is so important to daily be living holy lives and obediently serving Him; whether it be by our praying, peacefully living with family, friends and folks in our church, or maybe seeking to venture out into new areas to share the truth of God’s great love through Jesus Christ. We have many things that we can do, and maybe, little time to do it in.


Monday, July 1, 2019

IS PSALM 83 A PROPHECY OF A FUTURE MIDDLE-EAST WAR?

There is today an ongoing discussion revolving around Psalm 83 and whether it is prophetic of some future battle. Many are saying that it is prophetic of a yet future battle, while others say it is not a prophecy. Book and articles have been written and many Christian talk shows have focused on this psalm. The internet is filled with people teaching on Psalm 83. It should be noted that some good people can be found on both sides of this discussion.

The Basic Idea of the Psalm 83 Battle
In Psalm 83, 10 names are mentioned which align themselves against Israel, and declare that they will “wipe out” Israel as a nation and that “the name of Israel will be remembered no more” (Psa. 83:4). The observation is made by those who see this psalm as prophetic that this is what we see today in the middle-east. They also state that the author of the Psalm, Asaph, is called a “seer” (prophet) in 2 Chronicles 29:30 which would qualify this psalm as prophetic, a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled.

The total removal of Israel from the Land is clearly the goal today of the Palestinians and other Arab nations; and this, it is said, shows the imminence of the Psalm 83 battle. The cry to “drive Israel into the sea” is heard today but it should be noted that this is hardly a new idea. This same spirit predominated the wars in 1948, 1967 and all the rest of the Arab-Israeli conflicts. This is also found frequently in the Prophets. For example, Ezekiel says that the descendants of Ishmael and Esau have an “everlasting enmity” against Israel (Ezek. 35:5), and that because of their anger and envy they will attempt to take Israel’s land through violence and bloodshed (35:10-12; 36:5). Ezekiel sounds very up to date. The fact that this antagonism is “everlasting” lets us know that this attitude is not going away, and will not until the messianic (millennial) age comes with the return of King Jesus. Then He will severely judge all the rebellious gentiles nations (Psa. 2), including those mentioned in Psalm 83.

Concerning the alignment of 10, it is stated that this alignment never had an historical fulfillment, and so, awaits a coming day. Generally, the idea is that this battle of the 10 versus Israel is imminent and will occur just before the Gog/Magog battle discussed by Ezekiel (Ezek. 38-39). In Psalm 83, God is asked by Asaph to show His strength and thoroughly defeat this group of Arabs. Supporters of this view say that God will answer Asaph’s request and He will defeat these 10, thus giving Israel a time of peace; the kind of peace that is mentioned as Israel’s situation in Ezekiel 39:8 and 11. However, this newly achieved peace will be short lived as the defeated Arab nations will call on Russia and other Islamic nations to come and destroy Israel, and thus, the launching of the battle of Gog/Magog. So, it is conjectured that the Psalm 83 battle will likely be located somewhere around the Rapture event, probably just after that event. No dogmatic position is taken on the timing, but it is seen as “soon”.

The Alignment of 10 in Psalm 83
The following is the list of 10 given by Asaph in 83:6-8. All of these are mentioned in the OT prophets as peoples that will eventually be judged by God.


(1) EDOM - Jordan (southern part) 
(2) ISHMAELITES - Father of Arabs generally 
(3) MOAB - Jordan (central part) 
(4) HAGRITES - Egypt 
(5) GEBAL - Lebanon 
(6) AMMON - Jordan (northern part) 
(7) AMALEK - Sinai area (Egypt) 
(8) PHILISTIA - Gaza area 
(9) TYRE - Lebanon 
(10) ASSYRIA - Parts of Syria and Iraq


While it is always challenging to line up the ancient names with the modern boundaries, the above list generally gives the areas involved with the alignment of 10. Whether it is in Old Testament times or today, these basic groups have had an “everlasting” animosity towards the people of Israel.

Evaluating Psalm 83 as a Prophecy
In evaluating Psalm 83 as a prophecy of a future battle that is to take place, a number of points can be made.

First, assuming for a moment that Psalm 83 is a prophecy, it seems accurate to conclude that there is no OT historical fulfillment of such a battle. As Dr. Merrill Unger states: “there is no such comprehensive anti-Israel alliance…mentioned in the OT.” (Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 867). These various nations being the subject of coming judgment is found numerous times in the OT prophets, but not packaged as they are here. So Unger and others are likely correct that there is no historical fulfillment when this group of 10 was defeated.

Second, the critical issue is whether or not Psalm 83 is really a prophecy at all. This, of course, goes to the heart of the matter. Psalm 83 is a “lament” psalm, one of many in the Psalter. A lament psalm centers on the sad situation that the psalmist sees and contains a request for God to do something about it; and they always include a confession of trust in the Lord. Psalm 83 contains all of these elements. Asaph complains to the Lord that Judah is in a terrible situation as there is hatred for Israel in the people all around Israel. They want to remove Israel from the land, and so Asaph asks God to deal with this situation; which is typical of a “lament psalm.” But what this Psalm does not include are the tell-tale phrases such as “in the latter days”, or “in those days”, which would immediately point to a prophetic element. There is a request for God to deal severely with these peoples, but it is not framed as a prophecy; that is, that in the last days Jehovah will deal forcefully with these people. Now it is often pointed out that Asaph is called a “seer”; that is a prophet. While that is what 2 Chronicles states, this does not automatically mean that the psalms of Asaph were prophecies or contained prophetic elements. In fact, it is hard to locate that element in his writings. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel are all seen as prophets, but, obviously, that does not mean that everything they wrote was prophetic. Much of what they wrote were exhortations to Israel to return back to faithful obedience to the Law or a record of certain historical incidents. When they spoke prophetically, it was very clear that the matters being spoken of were indeed prophesies. Psalm 83 simply lacks that kind of clarity. And this compels me to say that Psalm 83 is not prophetic.

A third observation has to do with what this view has spawned, which is date setting and colorful prophetic speculations. Dozens and dozens of preachers and teachers, using Psalm 83, speak of this battle taking place “soon” and specifically state that it will most likely take place during this calendar year. While spectacular interpretations garner a lot of attention, they also diminish biblical prophecy when such events do not take place. A lack of solid exegesis of the text of scripture almost always produces this phenomenon.

Fourth, the case for Psalm 83 being the forerunner of the Gog/Magog battle is built on the point that Israel needs to have a time of peace in order for the setting to be right for the Gog/Magog battle. Psalm 83 is said to be that which produces a moment of peace and sets the stage for the Ezekiel 38-39 battle. But is that really true? Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum has a significant contribution to make about the word “securely” found in Ezekiel 39:8. He notes that the Hebrew word batach means “security”. “This is not the security due to a state of peace, but a security due to confidence in their own strength.” (“Footsteps of the Messiah”, p. 121). So the need for “peace” in Israel in order for Gog/Magog to take place is not what is required by the Ezekiel text. And this would remove the need for a preliminary battle of some sort.

For those who insist that this is a prophecy, there is something else to consider. And that something is the 1967 war. Michael Oren in his excellent book “Six Days of War”, speaks of the tremendous impact that this short war had on the world. He stated, “Rarely in modern times has so short and localized a conflict had such prolonged, global consequences.” (Oren, xii). This war made the modern Middle East what it is today. The days that led up to the war, and in the first two days of the war, various Arab leaders were once again making their intentions clear. “Our goal is clear---to wipe Israel off the face of the map. We will, God willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa.” “We have decided that this battle will be one for the final liberation from imperialism and Zionism…We shall meet in Tel Aviv.” (Oren, p. 164, 195)

In great detail Michael Oren shows the participation and military movements of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In other words, all of the people mentioned in Psalm 83 are covered geographically in the 1967 war.

So for those who are firmly convinced that Psalm 83 speaks of a future conflict, perhaps they should consider that that war has already taken place and it is not a war that is yet future, nor is it connected to the Gog/Magog battle. It is clear that all of the Israel-haters will be dealt with finally and severely when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to this earth and defeats the enemies of Israel in connection with the tribulation. It is during this coming 7 year period that the “everlasting” hatred for Israel will be taken care of once and for all.

Concluding Thoughts
Because of the lack of compelling textual evidence that Psalm 83 itself is prophetic, it would seem best to not view it as the prophecy of some battle that has not yet taken place. The evidence that Psalm 83 is actually prophesying a coming battle and that this battle prepares the world for the Gog/Magog battle is very weak. It is best to view it as a lament psalm which asks the Lord God to intervene and to deliver them from a difficult situation, which He ultimately will do.

We should be a little concerned with the many preachers and teachers who are declaring boldly that Psalm 83 will be fulfilled “soon”, or that it is in this calendar year that it will come to pass. What if the year 2023 comes around and Psalm 83 is not “fulfilled”? It would diminish biblical prophecy in the minds of a multitude of people, Christian and non-Christian alike. The view that biblical prophecy is “irrelevant” or “nonsense” would once again be reinforced.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

WILL WE BE MARRIED IN HEAVEN?

This question has often been asked by married people. Some are hopeful that such will be the case, while others are fearful that they might be eternally saddled with their spouse. My wife has asked me that question on a number of occasions (though I am not sure if she likes the idea of us being forever married or not!). As part of being human, God has created us to have many kinds of social relationships, so this is really a pretty good question. But maybe we should rephrase the question and ask “will we be married in eternity?” In approaching an answer to this personal and practical question, there are a number of things that should be factored in. There are four preliminary observations that I would like to make.

#1 - There are three distinct phases in the future life of the believer. • Death or Rapture---As we presently live our lives, we know that eternity lies ahead of us. Life on this earth for the believer in Jesus will end in death, or hopefully, the rapture event (that sudden, supernatural removal of the Christian to be with Jesus Christ). In either case, the believer will be in heaven. If it is the rapture that removes us, then a resurrection body will be received at that moment. If it is death, then we are taken into the Lord’s presence in heaven, but there is no resurrection body received. That body is received at the rapture. The point is that between now and the future kingdoms of God (millennial and eternal) there is a time of transition about which we know very little, and that includes the matter of marriage.

  • The Millennial (Messianic) Kingdom---The 1,000 year of Jesus Christ on this present earth will be a kingdom rule that will include people in their physical bodies. Many or all of these will be married and this allows them to reproduce, thus populating the messianic age. These have made it alive through the time of tribulation and marriage will be part of their experience in Christ’ kingdom. An example is seen in Ezekiel 44:22 where priests, who serve in the Millennial Temple, are given guidelines about their marriages. But in the Millennial Kingdom, there will be believers from all the ages who have now been resurrected and who will have resurrection bodies. There is no mention of a marriage relationships of these who are in resurrection bodies. However, in the Millennial kingdom, there are males who have resurrection bodies, such as King David and the 12 apostles (Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Jer. 30:9; Matt. 19:28). So males do exist (suggesting females will also). And we know from 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection body, though different in many ways, is the same body. If there are males, then it is highly likely there are also females.
  •  The Eternal Kingdom of God--- This phase of the future kingdom of God is spent on the earth, which is why God will create a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 22:1). It is stated that God will “come down” to the earth and dwell among His people. It is intriguing to think about what life will be like in that setting. A critical word that this verse uses is the word “new” (kainos). God is going to make all things “new” (21:5), including the “new” earth (22:1). The word carries with it the idea of something that is “fresh” but not strangely different. This would tell us that the new, eternal phase of the kingdom of God is most likely a fresh version of the old creation. This would take us back to Genesis 2 where man, woman and marriage were all part of the original idea of God.

#2 - The idea that everyone in the future kingdoms will be similar or identical in nature or form (homogeneous) is simply not true. There is a prevailing thought (even among some theologians) that all people will be the same. We are just part of the glorified glob of saved humanity that will forever be the same and do the same things forever. We will be sort of like chocolate chip cookies produced and packaged in a factory; all look alike with the identical shape, color and even with the same number of chips. But that is not true. As an example, in the eternal kingdom of God, on the new earth, there will be both kings and nations (Rev. 21:24-26). This simple statement reveals that there will be differing ranks/status among people, and also that the human race will be subdivided into kingdoms. One has to wonder if there are kings, could there not be (as is normally the case) queens as well? And isn’t it logical that these nations will be further subdivided into tribes, clans and families?

#3 - Genesis 1 and 2 revealed God’s “very good” plan for this earth.
Whenever we interpret the Book of Revelation, we must keep in mind God’s original plan in the creation recorded in Genesis. This “plan A” was declared by God Himself to be very good, and Revelation is seen as God restoring (and even upgrading) the original plan. And in the original creation, social relationships, such as marriage, were part of human experience.
A problem we face is that Adam and Eve sinned too quickly and so we don’t know what an expanding unfallen human race would have looked like. If sin had not entered into the human experience, then the human race would have multiplied into great numbers, and divisions of some sort would have naturally come about; such as, families, clans, tribes and nations.

#4 - Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22:30 does not exclude the idea of marriage.
The cynical Sadducees had presented Jesus with their cutesy question about a woman who legitimately married 7 brothers, according to the levirate marriage law. No child was born was born after the first brother married the woman, and, therefore the Law, stated that the close relative should step in and marry the woman and raise up offspring (to be credited to the dead brothers’ account). In their story, she ended up marrying all 7 brothers with no children ever being produced. And so they wanted to know who, of the seven brothers, would have her as a wife in the resurrection. Jesus rebuked their ignorance and stated that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven.” The life in eternity indeed will be different in many ways, and the lack of reproduction is one of those differences. In the eternal kingdom, since there is no death, there will be no need or place for procreation. (Otherwise we might find the human race going through the Adam/Eve failure again). Procreation, which was designed for the first creation, in the marriage relationship, will not be part of the resurrection life which is the focus of His answer. Jesus is not declaring that there will not be close, loving, personal relationships in the future kingdom. Procreation will not be part of resurrection life which is not the same thing as saying that marriage will not be part of resurrection life.

SOME POINTS TO CONSIDER IN ANSWERING THE QUESTION

First, the redeemed human race will not be one uniform whole. We will not be just a large mass of sameness. The fact that there are kings and nations in the final, eternal phase of God’s kingdom informs us that we will be divided into national groups. Within nations there is always further subdivisions; into tribes or clans or families. This raises the prospect that marriage might well be part of those subdivisions. If so, the loving, close relationship that God originally intended could well be part of the scene, apart from the aspect of reproduction. Remember that jealousy, selfishness and anger which damage and destroy marriages today will not be part of human experience there. So for those who live in dread that they might be married to a substandard spouse, you need to reflect on the fact that sin and the flesh will no longer be part of human life. Then and now are not the same.

Second, God designed marriage, before the Fall, as part of His “very good” plan in Genesis, designed to better the lives of unfallen Adam and unfallen Eve. And, apart from the need for procreation, why could this not be included in His design for mankind in the future? Surely there will be some sort of close, personal relationships provided for mankind.

Third, getting back to the Sadducees for a moment. Their ridiculous question does raise the matter of the complexities produced by divorce and by death. Numerous questions come to mind, such as what happens if a person has had more than one spouse? I can’t answer that because I have no idea. But not being able to answer this question does not mean that God cannot answer it. Just like we wonder what happens at the resurrection to physical bodies that no longer exist (completely disintegrated in the ground, or eaten by a school of piranhas, or totally burned up). What will happen to these folks at the time of resurrection? I can’t answer that one either, but my guess is that God can and will. No one misses out on the resurrection. And, by the way, remember Jesus did rebuke those Sadducees for their real ignorance on the matter of the power of God. And we might add, the wisdom of God. Because we can’t explain something does not automatically mean that God is stumped by it as well.

And fourth, the Apostle Paul’s extended discussion of the resurrection body, in 1 Corinthians 15, informs us that it will be the same body (male and female too?) and yet there will be some differences….same but changed. Luke 24, gives us some descriptions of the resurrection body of the Lord Jesus, which confirms what Paul is teaching. So there seems to be a lot of significant carryovers into the resurrection body which we will dwell in for all eternity.

And so, while we can’t give a definitive answer to the question, “will we be married in heaven?”, we can say that close, loving, social relationships were always a part of God’s plan for His people. And this we believe will very much be part of life in the future, forever kingdom of our good God. I do think we will be thrilled and amazed by what He has prepared for we who are His children, born into His family by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s gonna be good!