Monday, January 3, 2022

ME AND YOU IN '22

 


With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and the crushing pace of Christmas behind us, the annual question now arises. As the calendar arrives at the start of a new year, that question believers ask is: “will this be the year that Jesus will return?” Now, since even the angels of heaven apparently are unable to answer this (Matt. 24:36), we probably can’t either. But that does not mean that there is not solid evidence that 2022 could be the year. Consider the following.

First and foremost, as prophesied, Israel has returned to the land of their fathers and is established as a nation. Their physical restoration is the necessary step preceding their spiritual restoration back to the Lord Jehovah (Ezek. 34-39), which takes place in the Tribulation period. If the physical number is sufficient in 2022, then the Tribulation will begin, which will then bring Israel back to Him. The issue is simply a matter of whether the number needed has been reached. If so, the end times will break forth.

Second, and connected with the first, is the critical Gog/Magog battle (Ezek. 38-39). It seems most likely that this battle will take place after the Rapture and prior to the beginning of the Tribulation. That battle is highly significant since it is the “trigger” event which begins the spiritual restoration of the nation (Ezek. 39:22). And the main players in this battle are, at this very moment, in place. Almost every day we hear about Iran, Russia and certain countries hostile to Israel and their continuing ominous activities in the middle east. Very little, if anything, needs to take place before that war could come about. God will be the One who brings it about in His timing, which could be in 2022. 

A third theological fact is that the Rapture is a sudden and sign less event. Most reading this would agree that there is no reason why Jesus could not come for His church in 2022. There is no event (including the Tribulation). which must come to pass before the Rapture. It is true that for many years, “no” has been the answer to the question: “will this be the year for the Lord Jesus to return”. But this blessed hope of the Church can be fulfilled in 2022, as no biblical truth is blocking this event. But as we wait to see if this is the year, what should we be doing?

What to do in ’22? Some Insights and Reminders from the Apostle Peter.

So many in our culture are nervous, depressed and fearful about what 2022 might bring their way. And, if one’s future happiness is dependent on the Supreme Court or politicians or the stock market or covid, then anxiety is understandable. Even some of those who are believers in Jesus have an “unease” deep inside about the coming year. Quite recently my wife and I were reading from 1 Peter 1, and we were impressed with Peter’s wise, relevant, encouraging and challenging words, which seem to fit well as we head into 2022. Let’s look at four of them.

  1. Our future is certain and it is wonderful (1:3-4). This is to be our focus in ’22. Peter revealed that believers have a guaranteed inheritance. God Himself protects it, and it is based on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. Over time its magnificence does not diminish in any way. It will not decay or become contaminated. It is this prophetic focus that really helps us as we live in a fallen world and a decaying culture. Our best days are ahead of us; and Peter counsels us to focus there.

  2. 2022 will have difficult times for us (1:6-7). Like James, Peter is a realist and knows personally that trials will come and these trials will likely bring “distress” with them. But these are not random events, but ones that the Lord God knows about and has allowed for His purposes. And also, like James, Peter reminds us that we can do well in these times, particularly if we will focus on what lies ahead in our futures. He states that our final, glorious deliverance and provision of the Lord (1:5b) gives believers an ability to rejoice (1:6). The distressing trials don’t cause us to rejoice but rather focus on what God has promised, on oath, to bring to His children. (And, who said biblical prophecy is irrelevant?). 

  3. What we do in ’22 counts forever (1:7). God is very focused on making us look more like Jesus in our character (Rom. 8:29). This reality not only impacts our spiritual growth here and now, but will help determine our place and opportunities in the coming kingdom of God. Note that Peter says that trials passed will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:7). Jesus declared that when He returns, He brings His rewards for believers with Him (Rev. 22:12). Here Peter references that truth. “Praise” is the commendation from the King, most often encapsulated in His “well done, good servant.” Nothing will rival those words from King Jesus to believers who have been faithful to Him. “Glory” looks at the character of God, and this word looks at the sharing of that in a close relationship with Him. In numerous places, the NT is clear that faithful believers will enjoy a very unique fellowship with the King in His kingdom. There will be a special sharing of life with Jesus.  And “honor” has to do with the rank that a person will have in the coming messianic kingdom. There will be significant differences among believers in the kingdom of King Jesus. So, what is done, or not, in 2022 will count in that future kingdom. Note that Peter again speaks of our future evaluation in 1:17, and how this truth ought to impact the way we live right now. 2022 should be the year to emphasize our greatest ability---our availability to the coming king.

  4. The coming of Jesus Christ is certain. Twice in the first chapter, Peter speaks of Christ’s return (1:7, 13). This brings us back to the “annual question” about if this will be the year that Jesus returns. Peter speaks of those who ridicule the truth of the Lord’s return, noting that they see life on this planet going on and on and on, without any divine intervention (2 Pet. 3-4). These chuckle at the question, “will Jesus return this year?” They would doubt that 2022, or any year for that matter, would see Christ’s return. Now, I am sure that no one reading this would be like these false teachers. But we can become dull and disconnected to this great truth. As Jesus finished His prophetic discourse, He warned His apostles to “be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42).  Very good advice for us today, is it not? There is simply no possibility whatsoever that Jesus will fail to return to this planet and establish His kingdom for 1,000 years. This is so because of the One who said that these things will take place.

The fulfillment of all biblical prophecy is dependent solely on the character of God. God revealed these important prophetic truths through the Apostles and Prophets, but it is because of who He is that guarantees that these prophecies will be fulfilled. Consider just a few of God’s attributes.

  • God is truth. Truth is that which conforms to fact or reality. God sees all things as they really are. His revelations about Himself, and prophecy, are consistent and totally accurate. He can be trusted and He does not lie or deceive.  

  • God is sovereign. He is supreme over all creation. No individual or group can thwart Him. So, those prophetic events that He says will take place, will indeed take place because there is no person or force that is capable of resisting His plans or His power.

  • God is omniscient. He knows everything actual and possible. He does not learn new things and He never discovers anything or is surprised by anything. He will never need to adjust His prophetic statements because of some new information. Never will we hear Him say: “I never saw that one coming”. 

  • God is omnipotent. He is the Almighty One. His power never diminishes over time. He won’t become weak and infirmed so that He will not be able to fulfill His promises. When God reveals that He is going to do amazing, supernatural and miraculous things in the future, He indeed has all the power to do so.

So, for me and you in ’22, we are able to live intentionally and meaningfully for our coming King Jesus. We do not know what any day will have for us in 2022, but we do have the promises of our good, sovereign and wise God. With the help of the powerful indwelling Holy Spirit of God, we can day by day live well for Him, making 2022 an eternally significant year. We can faithfully serve Him and yet say with the Apostle John, “come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). Maybe He will.


Monday, December 6, 2021

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. I have a couple of banners: one reads “the greatest gift of all” with a picture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus; and the second one says “King of kings and Lord of lords.” My prayer is that those who walk or drive by might wonder what those things mean and perhaps begin to open a heart or two. That, of course, is the work of the Spirit of God. 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, 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, SpongeBob 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. I remember a Christmas past when a young couple was standing in front of a store window with a manger scene in it. I overheard one say, “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 it 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 a 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 Satan (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. There really will be peace on earth then. But today, churches and denominations in America are consistently downplaying Jesus’ return to this planet in power and great glory, and by doing so reveal how enculturated they have become. 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), which becomes even more noticeable come “black Friday”, cyber Monday, etc. etc. 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. 

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 seen as rather divisive and much too dogmatic. And besides, really cool preachers need to stay away from prophecy, since that is the domain of really unbalanced Christians.  But this was not the 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.

A As we come to this Christmas season, we can enjoy God’s many good gifts to us and give Him thanks for them. 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. And let them know that there will be peace on earth.

Monday, November 1, 2021

PRESENT LIVING AND FUTURE EVALUATION

They say it again and again. It is everywhere. The regularity and consistency of the New Testament writers is amazing. Following the lead of Jesus Himself, they repeatedly say it. All of them tell us that what we do, or don’t do, in the here and now has a direct relationship on the outcome of our reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. And what happens at the Judgment Seat determines much of the quality of life in the Messianic kingdom, and probably beyond.

As the writers of the New Testament spoke of godly, holy living in this present world culture, they consistently talked of the world to come. Keep an eye on the prize, they said. Don’t forget the Lord can come at any moment, they said. Books, like Hebrews, Galatians, 1 and 2 Peter, which normally are not viewed as eschatological writings, have powerful truths about what lies ahead for believers (and unbelievers). James is such a book. And in this brief study, we are going to look at three verses found in an unlikely place, in the middle of a discussion rebuking favoritism in the church body. Here are those verses.

“Listen, my beloved brethren, did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? (2:5)


“So speak and act, as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (2:12-13)



The Subject of James’ Teaching

In his very practical letter, James instructed these believers in Jesus to keep themselves uncontaminated by the culture (1:27). And, in objectifying this point, he told them that one way of doing this was to avoid favoritism among the body of believers. The culture (world) has always been characterized by prejudices and favoritism. It has taken many forms (as it still does today) and is a manifestation of fallen human nature and entrenched human arrogance. Prejudice helps people feel superior, enabling them to look down on others and to elevate themselves. In the Body of Christ (the church), where all are equal in their standing before God (Gal.3:28), no such attitudes and displays are to exist. To do so is highly offensive both to the Lord and to fellow believers. But James startles us a bit by informing us that such prejudices in the church not only affect life in the church now, but it will affect our evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. In the three verses just given, James makes five significant points about this upcoming time of evaluation.

James’ 5 Points About Our Future Judgment

  1. Our coming evaluation is a certainty. James reminds us that we are “those who are to be judged” (2:12). Now, most of us know that this time is coming. But often that good, theological knowledge fails to impact us at this present moment. We are so used to hearing it that we cease to be guided by it. It is not that we no longer believe it is coming, but, perhaps, future truths seem such a long way away. However, if the angel Gabriel informed us that Jesus was returning and His judgment seat was the day after tomorrow, it is pretty certain that no such theological lapse would be ours. You and I are going to be judged; maybe next Thursday?

  2. Our coming evaluation is based on the “law of liberty.” The standard for our evaluation will not be the Mosaic Law code, but rather the “law of liberty”. Previously (1:25) James spoke of the “law of liberty.” There he instructed believers to look carefully and seriously into it, as one might look when studying one’s image in a mirror. It is called a “law” in that it sets forth God’s perfect, complete standard for living life (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-4). And, this perfect standard, when obeyed, brings a wonderful freedom into the life of a person. Then in chapter 2, James lets us know that this “law of liberty” will, in fact, be the objective standard that Christ will use in evaluating how we have lived our lives. And we will be largely recompensed, or paid, on how closely we lived and served according to this “law” (2 Cor. 5:10). So, our obedience brings a wonderful kind of freedom now, and reward in the future at the Judgment Seat of the Lord Jesus. Time in the Word is vital to our understanding of the guiding principles and commands that our Lord Jesus has given to us. 

  3. Our coming evaluation will scrutinize both our deeds and our words. It is our obedience to this “law of liberty” that will be of paramount importance. And all of life (since our regeneration) is evaluated. And that will include our words (which reveal our heart’s attitudes: Matt. 15:18-19) as well as our actions. So, we do well to be monitoring our speech as well as what we are doing. Giving our day, each day, to the superintending work of the Holy Spirit will give great help in keeping our words and our deeds lined up with perfect law of liberty.

  4. Our failure to show mercy to others now will impact us at this judgment. This is perhaps the most unique and profound contribution that James makes to the discussion of the judgment seat of Christ. All of us, as we really think about this coming judgment, are likely to be a bit unnerved by the exact nature of this time before Christ. Our failures are many. Our inconsistencies are abundant. Our hypocrisies haunt us. The one thing that we will want on that day is MERCY. We will want the Lord Jesus to withhold our deserved discipline. And, the good news is that mercy will be ours, IF WE HAVE SHOWN MERCY TO OTHERS. But apparently, it will not be ours if we haven’t been merciful to others (2:13). It is a sobering thought to anticipate strict judgment with no mercy attached to it. But mercy now towards others will carry us through that day. James seems to be reflecting the teachings of Jesus in passages like Matthew 5:7 and 18:23-25. All of us have received God’s amazing mercy as He forgave us our incredibly large debt; a debt that we could not pay. So, as Jesus explained, forgiveness is absolutely expected from those who have received God’s merciful forgiveness. It is wrong for we who have been shown great mercy to not extend that to others; and there are consequences for not doing that. And to this, the Apostle Paul agrees, as we are told that “just as” we have received God’s mercy, we are to extend it to others (Eph. 4:32). So, it is essential that today we: (1) deal with any leftover unforgiveness in our lives; extend forgiveness to any and all who have brought hurt into our lives, and (2) that we keep an eye on our present living with its stresses and conflicts. If someone has hurt, offended or dealt in a treacherous manner towards us, we are to forgive (show mercy). We will be most glad we did when we are at the judgment seat of Jesus.

  5. Our inheritance in the Messianic kingdom is determined at this judgment.

James points out (2:5) that there is an inheritance to those who love the Lord. There is a conditional aspect seen here. We must remember that our love for the Lord is seen primarily in our obedience to Him (see Jesus’ point in John 14:21, 23; 15:9-10). There is a distinction which needs to be made regarding the matter of “inheritance.” When a person simply places their faith in Jesus (as the God-man who was raised from the dead and paid completely for all our sins), then they are guaranteed an inheritance in the future, forever kingdom of God (e.g. 1 Pet. 1:3-4; Gal. 3:29; 4:7). But throughout the Scriptures there is also another aspect of the future inheritance that is gained through good works and faithful endurance. It is, in the words of Paul (Col. 3:23-24), the reward consisting of the inheritance. This inheritance can be lost through unfaithfulness and fleshly living (e.g. Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5). In James 2:5, it is the inheritance that can be gained or lost through our obedience and good works that James is referring to. To mix up these two aspects of inheritance leads to the idea that salvation can be lost (because inheritance and salvation are seen as the same thing). James is concerned that favoritism (prejudices) will cost them one aspect of their inheritance in Messiah’s kingdom.

There is simply no question that the New Testament writers consistently bring in prophetic themes when giving encouragement to believers as they purpose to live godly, fruitful lives in this darkened culture. They regularly remind us: He is coming and we are accountable.


Friday, October 1, 2021

PROPHECY’S PRESENT IMPACT

    Biblical prophecy has not been given to satisfy our various curiosities, such as, who is the Antichrist; or even to answer many of our questions, such as, is this the end of the end times? As we have noted on numerous occasions in these Scofield Prophecy articles, biblical prophecy is to assist us in shaping how we think and live right now. While informing us of the future, it has been given to assist us to live in the present. Prophecy is designed to create in us a “two-world view”, which is a biblical worldview. We are to live with excellence in this world (culture) by keeping an eye on our Lord’s coming (the world to come). This is the way apostles and prophets consistently taught prophetic themes. Prophecy is to impact our thinking and our decision making today. And so, when James in his book does the same thing, it is no surprise. What may be a surprise to some of us is that James (which is not normally viewed as a prophetic book) brings in an important prophetic element into his letter. Recently, I was reading through the book of James, and 5:7-9 caught my attention. As James brings his letter to an end, he tells these believers who are dealing with the trials and the temptations of life to not forget the Rapture event. Those verses say:

Be patient, therefore, brethren until the coming of the Lord. Behold the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil. Being patient about it, until it gets the early and the late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” 

These believers were real people and not cardboard cutouts or unreal products of social media. They, just like us, were facing the challenges that come from living in a fallen world and in a culture that simply doesn’t like Jesus or His followers. There are at least four truths that we can take away from these verses about the coming of the Lord Jesus.

(1) Only the Lord Himself knows the “best” time for the Rapture.

James appeals to his readers that they patiently wait for the Lord’s return as they deal with the pressures, trials and temptations in the Christian life. We are, he says, to be “longsuffering”. Often, when life gets hard, we want the Lord to come and get us and take us home. “Get us out of this trouble” is our prayer. In my years in the Christian college classroom, I observed an increased desire in the students for the Rapture, as final exams came upon them! Such an attitude if not, of course, limited to college students heading into exams. But sometimes our troubles make us impatient and not patient. And James exhorts us to be patient. We need to trust the absolute wisdom of the Lord. Like the experienced farmer, He knows when the best time will be for harvesting. We observe life with all the sin, hardships and rebellion against the Lord, and we conclude that now is the best time. But clearly, the “best” time has not yet come. I am not a farmer, but I do have some citrus trees in my backyard. I used to pick the fruit as soon as it looked ripe. But in more recent years, I have learned that it is better to let the fruit stay on the trees a little longer because then it becomes a little sweeter and the harvest is much better. 

Jesus knows everything actual and possible and He knows the exact, best moment for the Rapture. It is true that the setting we are in looks like we are Rapture ready. And we just might be. But only He knows when everything that must be in place is in place. So, we trust Him on this matter and live life, and yet keep one eye on the heavens where Jesus will be coming from (Phil. 3:20).

(2) Our belief in the Rapture should help us be more careful in our relationships with other believers in Christ.

One of the results of believing in the Rapture is that it is to create a new level of patience and kindness towards other believers. It seems that when life has become very hard and difficult for us, we tend to be impatient with others, including our sisters and brothers in Christ. Trials tax us and we are not so long-suffering. We are exhorted not to complain (“groan” or “sigh heavily”). This might be stimulated by our belief that the other believers are not having to endure the level of trials and painful experiences that we are going through. Or perhaps, they just happen to be nearest to us and so receive the outpouring of our frustrations. But whatever the situation, we are encouraged to recall that “it will be worth it all when we see Jesus”. And practically, we are to resist the temptation to gripe and complain about other believers. Have you had that experience?

(3) Our belief in the Rapture should help us to be faithful to the Lord and, therefore, persevere in our times of trial and temptation.

Just as the experienced farmer knows that harvest time is coming, so the believer needs to remind himself/herself that our best days are ahead of us. Peter reminded his readers (1 Peter 1:6) that the tough times do bring “distress” but they are just for “a little while.”  We all know that trials, and their accompanying temptations, are never in the “fun” category, but we also know that great blessing is ahead for us, in the form of being with Christ and being rewarded by Christ. The truth of the Rapture is to assist us in being faithful to the Lord and to persevere in tough times. It really will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Regarding Jesus, as Hebrews 12:2 states, who for the joy that lay ahead for Him, endured the Cross. He really is our great example of this point. There is joy and blessing on the other side of trials and the painful experiences of life.

(4) Our belief in the Rapture should help us remember that we might be just minutes away from our time of evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

James also reminds us that our time before the Judgment Seat of Christ may be closer than we think. We do rightly believe in the “imminent” (any moment) return of the Lord Jesus at the Rapture. But sometimes we forget that the Rapture is followed immediately by our time of evaluation and rewarding at the Judgment Seat (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12). In a striking bit of imagery, James says that Judge Jesus’ hand is right on the handle of the door that leads into the courtroom, and He could open it suddenly at any moment. No event must come first. No period of time must come first. And when He pulls that door open, then the time of judgment will commence. Our belief in the any moment coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is a well-founded belief. But that belief is to translate into a life that is focused on faithfully living for and serving Christ.

So, it might be good for each of us to listen to the insightful and authoritative words of James, and ask ourselves how we are doing on each of these vital points. Clearly, we are one year closer now than we were a year ago to the fulfillment of these events. Even so, come Lord Jesus.


Friday, September 3, 2021

BEING FAITHFUL---LOOKING BEYOND PRESENT DIFFICULTIES TO LIFE IN THE KINGDOM OF JESUS MESSIAH


It does seem that our American culture is in a moral free fall, and that those who follow Jesus Christ are increasingly falling out of favor with that culture. We will not take time here to give examples of this moral and spiritual decline because each reader could probably quickly construct a long list illustrating the point. The issue we face, as follows of Christ, is our faithfulness to Him in times like these. That, of course, has been the great issue in most all of church history.

        In recent months, I have found both insights and encouragement in looking at the Book of Hebrews and the saints to whom it was written. There are differences of opinion on a number of matters in Hebrews, but when we let the words of the text take on their normal meaning, it becomes quite certain that the ones receiving this message were Jewish believers who probably lived in Rome. The members of this house church likely suffered under the edict of Emperor Claudius in 49-50 AD when Jews were expelled from Rome. It would have been a difficult time for them. Hebrews 10:32-34 speaks of their sufferings and persecution, even to the point of having their property seized. But they lived successfully through this time of persecution. When Nero became emperor, the Jews and Christians were allowed back into Rome. After the first few years of his relatively peaceful reign, things changed and it was becoming clear that more intense persecution of believers was on the way. It looked like a repeat, or worse, of what they had previously experienced.

The Setting and Purpose of the Book of Hebrews

The Book of Hebrews was written about this time and was written because it was becoming apparent that these believers were disassociating themselves from other believers in the body of Christ. This was resulting in an increasing level of unfaithfulness to the Lord Jesus. The point of Hebrews is that we must remain faithful to Jesus. If we don’t “hang in there” and we abandon Him and His truth, then there will be significant consequences. The consequence is not the loss of eternal life, as some theologians teach, but rather the loss of significance and the loss of reward in the coming kingdom of Jesus Messiah. 

Those “Warning Passages”

Each of the warning passages is addressed to regenerated people (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:10-6:20; 10:26-39 and 12:12-20). The message of Hebrews begins with a powerful word about the glory, superiority and deity of Jesus, who is the One who will fulfill completely the Davidic covenant. He will fulfill God’s OT covenant commitments and He will reign over the “inhabited earth” (2:5) which the author says is, in fact, the subject of this discourse (not the matter of justification by faith). Jesus will reign, but at the present moment He is not (2:8). He informs the readers that they are to take seriously this inspired word about the future kingdom. This truth came to Jesus and was given to His Apostles. If they drift away from this truth, there will be consequences in the Kingdom of Jesus.

The second warning passage shows what unfaithfulness looks like; it looks like the “Exodus generation” who because of their unbelief and their unfaithfulness lost out on God’s “rest”.  The “rest” being spoken of is defined in both Deuteronomy and Joshua as the reward that God gives to those who obediently and faithfully carry out God’s purposes for them. The Exodus generation lost out on the blessings of the Lord, in that they lost their inheritance in the land. The believers reading this message were in danger of losing out on God’s reward for them. (Note: Paul used the Exodus generation in an identical way in 1 Cor. 9:24-10:11 when illustrating the obtaining or the losing of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ). There was still hope for them (4:1) but they could not continue on the path they were on. In 3:14, the offer is made that faithful believers can become one of the “companions” (“partakers with Christ'') if we remain faithful to Him. This is an offer to those who remain true and loyal to Jesus in this life. They will be given a place of significance in the next. So, there is much to gain and much to lose in the future kingdom of Christ.

The third warning passage (5:10-6:20) is undoubtedly the most misunderstood of the warning passages. The subject is not justification, but rather the subject is falling off of the path to spiritual maturity. They are saved, but to turn back is to incur loss; the loss of significance in Messiah’s kingdom. The intensity level of the warnings clearly is increasing. The illustration at the end is most helpful (6:7-8). Each one is the “ground” onto which the blessings of God (“rain”) has fallen. They all have experienced God’s blessings (as described in 6:4-5). The ground can be cultivated with the result that beneficial crops are produced. Or, it can be neglected with the result that thorns and thistles are produced, which are of no value to anyone. This would make the ground “worthless”, which is the same word used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:27 (“disqualified”) in his discussion of the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  Ground which becomes totally overgrown with weeds can only be burned, which destroys the weeds but the ground remains. (“Fire” in Hebrews is used of temporal judgment, not of eternal fire). The worthless weeds are destroyed but the ground remains intact (similar of Paul’s “as of by fire” in the Judgment Seat discussion of 1 Cor. 3:15).

The final two warning passages carry the same emphasis, though the level of intensity is heightened. But these are “enlightened” (i.e. regenerated people) who in 10:35-39 still have the prospect of reward awaiting them. The point is the same: “hang in there, it will be worth it when Jesus establishes His kingdom on this earth.”

The message then proceeds along, giving illustrations of a large group of OT people who hung on tenaciously to the promises of God (Hebrews 11). They did not experience the fulfillment of God’s promises in this life but they saw them in their future. They remained completely faithful to the Lord in their lifetimes and they will yet receive those promises made by our faithful God. So, be like the folks in Hebrews 11. But, on the other hand, the message uses another OT character of how not to live. Esau is the negative example. Esau, as most of us remember, did the unthinkable thing of swapping his birthright for some stew and bread. He was hungry and the need of the moment was lunch. Esau traded his future inheritance for present fulfillment and comfort. He mortgaged his future for present satisfaction. And that is exactly what believers are not to do.

For Us Today.

As our culture becomes increasingly hostile to Jesus Himself, as well as to those who would follow Him, the message of Hebrews is becoming increasingly relevant. What we are experiencing in America may be something “strange” and new to us, but it is that which believers have experienced in the past, as well as many of God’s children in our present world. We are to remain focused on the Coming King (3:1) and daily live loyally to Him. As we have noted before, Jesus does not ask us to become famous, but does insist that we are faithful. So, in spite of what may come our way from the “god of this world” (culture), let us resolve to simply be faithful to what the Lord would have for us today, now. There is much to gain, and there is also much to lose. Hang in there, saint!

(Note: to those interested, you might find help in Dr. Benware’s new little book “Understanding the Book of Hebrews: Jesus Our High Priest and Coming King. A Key Truth for the Christian Walk”.  Found at Paulbenware.com)

Sunday, August 1, 2021

ALL WILL HEAR AND MULTITUDES WILL BE SAVED


Though it seems unlikely at this moment, the above is a true statement. The greatest time of fruitful evangelism is ahead for this world. And, for the many who will be saved, that time is inseparably linked to that period commonly referred to as the Tribulation. In various ways, people have wondered: “will there be many or any come to faith in Jesus in the coming Tribulation?”  Happily, the answer is “yes.”

Will This Tribulation Time Really Be All That Bad?

The Scriptures are not at all vague when they inform us that this time of tribulation will bring an unprecedented era of trouble for the whole world. (Note particularly Matthew 24:21; Daniel 12:1; Joel 2:2).  There never has been, nor will there ever again, be a time like it.

God’s wrath will be poured out in a most powerful way during those seven years.  In giving us the basics of the judgments of God’s wrath, the Apostle John records, in Revelation, that there will be 19 specific judgments, which will devastate the world.  Body counts are given for 2 of the 19 judgments (the 4th Seal and the 6th Trumpet).  In these two judgments alone, 50% of the population of the earth dies. And then, when we look closely at the other 17 judgments, it is quite clear that the death toll will far exceed 50%.  We are probably not too far off by saying that 80-85% living during this time period will perish.  So, for example, if the Tribulation begins with the population of the earth being 8 billion, then those that die under the wrath of God will be around 6-7 billion.  All that in 7 years. That is not something that most of us can really comprehend.

But death to people will also come at the hand of Satan. Satan will use the Great Harlot (Rev. 17) and the Antichrist (Rev. 13) to shed the blood of millions of God’s people.  This incredible loss of human life coupled with unprecedented earthquakes (two of them that move the entire crust of the earth), burning of earth, destruction of the oceans and freshwater sources will make this the worst period in all of human history.  It is no wonder that Jesus observed that unless God had limited this time to just 7 years no human being would be left standing (Matt. 24:22).  

What In The World Is God Wanting To Accomplish?

Some might think that God’s actions are irrational and out of control. But, contrary to popular belief, God’s greatest purpose in the Tribulation is not judgment. (He doesn’t need 7 years to judge, as He could easily judge in 7 minutes). The greatest purpose of God in the period of Tribulation is to save people.  When we think about it, we probably all would acknowledge that we are more sensitive to God and spiritual matters when facing trouble and trials. These challenge what we believe in and/or depend on. The Tribulation period is going to effectively strip away things that people generally trust in and rely on. Money and material things will evaporate away. Living comfortably will disappear. Those philosophies that people have depended on will prove to be just mirages, having no real substance. Institutions and organizations (including government) will be unsafe and untrustworthy. Life, as experienced today by most people, will no longer exist. With no hiding place and no sure foundation, multitudes will be listening to spiritual matters as they never have before. There are not many options left. Some of these will listen to the voice of the Evil One, but multitudes will hear the voice of the Savior, through His people, and turn to Him for eternal life.

Will Millions of People Really Be Saved In The Tribulation?

Very recently I was asked this question, and the answer is “yes”. Salvation of people is God’s great purpose and that does take some time.  The gospel must be proclaimed and men hear it and then choose to respond to Jesus Christ or not.

  1. Saving Israel.  In His covenant promises to Abraham (and Abraham’s descendants) God declared that He would bring Israel into the New Covenant, which is the covenant dealing with salvation and the forgiveness of sins. In all the centuries since Jesus came the first time and died on the cross, the nation of Israel, as a nation, has never turned to Him. And yet Jesus was very clear when He stated that He would not return to the earth again (the 2nd Coming) until Israel turned to Him in faith (Matt. 23:39).  Saving Israel is God’s first and primary order of business in the Tribulation.  And He will accomplish this great goal as the Scriptures state with clarity. Numerous times in Jeremiah 31:31-34, God said “I will” fulfill My covenant commitment to the House of Israel. Two millennia have gone by with no national turning to Jesus. But wait! It will happen in the coming time of Tribulation. These scriptures tell us that God will indeed fulfill His covenant commitment to the descendants of Abraham.


“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in: and thus, ALL ISRAEL will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’ ‘And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’' Romans 11:25-27

“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people (Israel) and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.”  Daniel 9:24

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you...I will put My spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:25



Israel begins the Tribulation as an unbelieving nation, but that rapidly begins to change, probably as the 144,000 Jewish evangelists begin to make an impact.  Jesus said that about half way through the Tribulation, Israel would begin to be persecuted “on account of My name” (Matt. 24:9).  Now Israel has been and continues to be persecuted by the gentile nations, but not because she has identified with the Lord Jesus Christ!  The 144,000 (Rev. 7) along with the “two witnesses” (Rev. 11) apparently have a huge impact on the nation of Israel, so that by the end of the Tribulation “all” Israel has come to faith in Christ. With the salvation of Israel, the Great King Jesus can now return.  But before He does, there are many more that need saving.  This will be the ultimate fulfillment of Genesis 12:3---“in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
(2) Saving gentiles.  In the Old Testament, it was always God’s plan to reach the gentile nations through Israel.  The Israelites were to be a light to the gentiles.  Unfortunately, they behaved badly and never really were that light bringing the knowledge of the Lord Jehovah to the nations.  But that changes dramatically in the Tribulation.  They will be a beacon light in that terribly dark period of time.  According to Revelation 7:9-14, millions upon millions from every nation will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. It is important to observe that these people (of Rev. 7) were saved during the Tribulation period and not during the ages of the church or some other time.  And while they died for their faith, the number of them runs in the millions. And it must also be noted that these saved ones are just those saved early in the Tribulation period; apparently not including all people saved during the entire period of time.
Some Concluding Thoughts
This short study should remind us that the Lord delights in saving people and is committed to doing that.  Judgment is not what He delights in, but rather the regeneration of lost people.  The Tribulation, while having terrible judgments, is primarily a time for salvation.  God will fulfill His commitment to save Israel, and Israel in turn will be the ones who spread the truth of God which results in so many gentiles coming to know Jesus. (It is likely that with all of the outpouring of the supernatural that there will be no atheists or agnostics during the Tribulation. The issue is whether you will believe in Jesus or Satan/Antichrist).
Today God wants us to share the Good News about Jesus.  And perhaps our obedience in this matter, will cause some in the Tribulation to come to Christ.  Imagine if you shared the gospel with a person on Wednesday (and there is no response) and then the Rapture takes place on Thursday.  The seed we planted could still bear fruit in those days of the Tribulation.  God loves to save people. God simply is not going to allow Satan to “win”, but will powerfully redeem millions, releasing them from the grip of the Evil One. This clear truth ought to encourage us to be more proactive in telling those around us about the Savior.