Saturday, January 2, 2021

What’s Next for the Church---Maybe in 2021?

It used to be that January 1st marked the time when people would make New Year’s resolutions and, perhaps, construct personal three-year plans. This year there seems to be less of all that, as people’s main goal seems to be survival. There is an unprecedented level of uncertainty in life today. But, for the believer in Jesus Christ, there are many certainties which need to shape how we approach today and all the todays of 2021. Our future is inseparably bound up with the character/attributes of our Lord. (Check last month’s article on the certainty of prophecy being fulfilled because of God’s attributes).

Every now and then it is helpful and healthy to review truth, even truths we have known for many years. The Lord Jesus’ relationship with His Church follows that pattern of the ancient Jewish wedding ritual. In that wedding pattern, the first thing to happen was that the bridegroom would come in a torch light procession to get his bride and then go to his father’s house (note Matthew 25:1-11).  So, when the Apostle Paul describes the removal of the church from the world (the rapture event), he is careful to tell us that the Lord HIMSELF will come for His bride (1 Thess. 4:13-17). It is personal. Angels are not sent while Jesus remains in heaven waiting for the bride to arrive. Bringing His bride (the church) back to the Father’s house is a task He takes on for Himself. In ancient times, there was no set time for His coming for the bride. He did not tell her: “I will pick you up at 7:40pm”. The general time was known, but the exact time was not. This, of course, parallels our situation today. He has not given us a date or time for the Rapture. However, the Scriptures have enough information in them to let us discern that we are most likely in the end of the end times. The setting on the world stage is really in place (especially Israel being back in their ancient land) and there is no need for major adjustments to take place. The only issue is when the curtain goes up on the final act. So, the Bridegroom Himself will come and fetch His bride. 

The second part of the Jewish wedding pattern was the actual marriage itself. Revelation 19:7-8 speaks of that next part of the wedding. It takes place in heaven, and for the first time (aside from the first year or two after the Day of Pentecost) the entire church is together in one place. The bride is in heaven and she is seen as putting on beautiful garments, which represent the righteous deeds of church-age believers. This tells us that the event we call the “judgment seat of Christ'' where believers are rewarded has taken place. And now, being properly dressed, the wedding will take place. Jesus had told His apostles that He would come and take us to the Father’s house, and this is what He has now done. Remember that the purpose of a marriage is to unite two people into one; with the result that where one person goes, the other goes. From this time onward, Jesus and His bride will not be separated. (As a theological side note here; these two events of the judgment seat and the wedding pose a very real problem for those who believe in a post-tribulational rapture. How can believers go up and meet Jesus in the air and then immediately return to the earth with Him? No time is allowed for these two very important events given in Revelation 19 to take place; important to Jesus and to the bride.)

The third part of the Jewish wedding was the wedding feast. At the time of the wedding, an announcement is made in heaven: “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9). At that moment, the wedding supper/feast has not yet occurred and is yet future. It is a blessed person who gets to participate in this future event of the wedding feast. However, the next immediate event in Revelation 19 is the Second Coming of Christ to the earth, and His bride goes with Him. This leads us to understand that the wonderful, joyous wedding supper is the Messianic/Millennial kingdom itself. In fact, Jesus used a wedding feast to illustrate His kingdom (note Matt. 22:1-14). The Scriptures do inform us that joy is one of the notable characteristics of the kingdom reign of Jesus (note Heb. 1:8-9). So, the wedding feast is the wonderful 1,000-year reign of King Jesus.

These things are certain. And in a time when uncertainty, with its frequent companions of depression, fear and anxiety, are now painfully present in our culture, the certain promises of God help dispel those unwelcome companions.

In light of the unusual days we are in, it might be good for us to actually make some new year’s resolutions. Perhaps, resolving to be a better student of the Word than we have been in the past (which would likely have a time element attached to it). Perhaps, resolving to be more attentive to ways we can serve the Lord Jesus; looking for new ways to minister to other believers and/or talk to others who have little certainty in their lives because they do not know the Savior. It is very possible that the Lord and the Spirit might like to show us some specific areas we can serve.

It seems very possible that our culture is going to continue to decline and with it a growing hostility to those who follow Christ; and that we might become more like so many of our brothers and sisters in this world who are targets of hostility. We do not know what 2021 will bring forth but we do know that the Bridegroom could show up at any moment. Whatever, 2021 brings we can have our best year ever because Jesus remains our Good Shepherd.