Thursday, February 1, 2024

THE VIEW FROM THE MOUNT OF OLIVES (Jesus’ Great Prophetic Sermon)


All Scripture is “God-breathed” and is, therefore, valuable for teaching us and correcting us. No Scripture is more inspired than any other. We know that the words of the Apostle Paul, or the prophet Isaiah, are equally inspired as the words of Jesus. But it does seem that people sit up straighter and listen more carefully when it is Jesus that is speaking. And perhaps this is one reason why Jesus’ “Olivet Discourse” has taken on greater interest in the matter of biblical prophecy.

Our plan is to take the next few Scofield Prophecy Studies and carefully explore this important prophetic teaching given by Jesus. Jesus will give basic facts about the future, but His emphasis is on application. About 75% of this discourse is an application of His prophetic teachings, which gives us insights into the purposes of prophecy.

THE THREE BASIC PURPOSES FOR BIBLICAL PROPHECY

God did not reveal truths about future events simply to satisfy our natural curiosity about such things. There are basically three reasons for biblical prophecy. First, prophecy reminds us that God is sovereign over all creation. We can get overwhelmed by the presence and power of evil that is manifested in leaders, nations, and even the folks down the street. It seems that life today is out of control. We can have a sense of being helpless and hopeless. But that is not reality for the believer. God’s plans and purposes are set in place, and He will do what He wants to do when He wants to do it. God is not intimidated nor is He impressed by rebellious people. Psalm 2 states that “He who sits in the heavens laughs, He scoffs at them. He will speak to them in His anger, and terrify them in His anger.” Psalm 2 goes on to say that the Father has already established the Son as ruler of the earth (Psa. 2:4-9). Those end time events are future to us but they are a “done deal” as far as God is concerned. Isaiah 40:12-26 adds to Psalm 2, giving a perspective on God’s sovereignty over the “powerful” nations of the earth. Second, prophecy is given to impact us TODAY. When we learn about future events and believe the Bible’s teachings, we develop a “two-world” view; living faithfully in this world, but with an eye on the world to come. Our decisions and choices become more in line with the Lord’s standards. We become less likely to let sin take root in our lives, but quickly confess when we do sin (1 John 2:28-3:3; 2 Peter 3:10-14). Prophecy helps us live godly lives. And third, prophecy reveals the terrible fate of those who do not accept God’s gracious offer of salvation through Jesus. The person who does not place their faith in Jesus Christ is forever separated from God, experiencing nothing of the grace of God. They will be in the condition of “eternal ruin” (2 Thess. 1:9). It will be like being eternally depressed; where life has no meaning at all and there is absolutely no hope of things changing. And, as most are aware, they will be put into a place called the “lake of fire,” which is a place of torment (Rev. 20:14-16). What they experience is terrible, and what they do not experience is terrible also. And this condition is “eternal” (Matt. 25:46). 

THE SETTING OF JESUS’ OLIVET DISCOURSE

  • The Time of the Sermon in the Life of Jesus. Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse on Tuesday afternoon of the “passion week.” While in the Jerusalem Temple that day, the disciples pointed out certain impressive features of the Temple. Jesus surprisingly declared that the Temple was going to be completely destroyed. This naturally caused the disciples to raise some questions about Jesus’ comment. As Jesus and four of His disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) exited on the east side of the Temple, they went up onto the Mount of Olives where Jesus would answer their questions and would set forth in general terms, the outline of future events.

  • The Spiritual Condition of the Nation of Israel. Before they left the Temple and went to the Mount of Olives, Jesus had given the most blistering denunciation of Israel’s religious leaders. Seven times Jesus charged them with being “hypocrites” (Matt. 23:1-29). (The word hupocritos, was used of actors on the stage. Actors pretend to be something they are not. The religious leaders pretended to be holy and lovers of God, but it was just an act). Jesus called them “blind guides'' since they led the people away from God and turned them into “sons of hell.” These leaders had led Israel into the rejection of their own prophesied Messiah, and so committed the greatest sin in the history of Israel. The leaders and those who followed them would now experience the judgment of God. That generation in Israel was doomed, though individuals could still save themselves from this fate. This was an emphasis of the Apostle Peter on the “day of Pentecost” (Acts 2:40). That generation was in serious trouble as the clouds of judgment were forming on the horizon. It must be remembered that this judgment was on that generation of Israelites and was not a rejection of God’s covenantal relationship with national Israel. That generation would be judged, but God would be faithful to His promises and bring about fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant.

THREE KEYS IN INTERPRETING THE OLIVET DISCOURSE

  1. The Questions of the Four Disciples. The gospels record the questions of the Apostles, which focused on the destruction of the Temple and on the Second Coming. Their questions assumed that they thought the Temple destruction and Christ’s coming would be at the same time. However, as Jesus answered their questions, He made it clear that those two events were separate from one another. Luke records the answer to the destruction of the Temple, which took place in A.D. 70. Matthew gives the answer to the question about Jesus’ return and the sign of that return.  What is essential to observe concerning the disciples’ questions is that they were about the future of Israel; Israel’s land, Temple and Messiah. The Apostles were not asking about gentiles nor were they asking about the church. Their knowledge of the church was almost non-existent. Months earlier, Jesus had stated: “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). But there is no indication that the Apostles understood what that meant or even that they wanted to know more. Therefore, when analyzing the Olivet Discourse, the subject matter relates to Israel alone. This will apply to the heart of the discourse as well as the six parables where application is made. This is about Israel.

  2. The Constant Use of the Word “YOU.” Jesus used the word “you” many times in Matthew 23-25. Who was He talking about? Fundamentally, “you” refers to Israel, but there is more to it. It is not possible to look at every use of “you,” but the following are good examples which will lead us to an understanding of who Jesus was talking to.

  • 23:34 – the evil religious leaders are the ones being spoken to. They have rejected Messiah Jesus and they will continue persecuting those sent by God.

  • 23:35 – the “you” looks back centuries to the killing of God’s prophet by leaders of Israel from an earlier generation. Obviously, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not do the killing.

  • 23:37 – here the “you” refers to all of the nation of Israel who were rejecting Jesus Messiah. It is not just the leaders but also the people who are following them.

  • 23:39 – a future generation of Israelites will come to faith in Jesus. “You” will believe in Him, and this is the prerequisite for Christ's Second Coming.

  • 24:2 – At that moment Jesus is speaking to His men; they are the “you.”

  • 24:6 – Jesus is speaking about the early days of the future Tribulation when “you” will be hearing of various judgments. This is a future generation.

  • 24:9 – a future generation who believes in Jesus in the Tribulation.

  • 24:15, 33 – “You” will see the ‘abomination of desolation’. “You” will see all the signs of the Tribulation. Again, this is a future generation of Israelites.

In each case, “you” is speaking of Israel, as represented by different groups in Israel, over centuries of time. “You” never refers to gentiles or to the church.

3. The Uniqueness of the Tribulation Period. The O.T. prophets saw the Tribulation period as unique (see Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 30:7; Joel 2:2). And Jesus stated the same thing. It would be the absolute worst of times (Matt. 24:21). When Jesus speaks of famines, diseases, earthquakes and even war, we must not see these as similar in intensity and/or location to what goes on in the world today. For example, earthquakes in the Tribulation cause every mountain and island to be moved out of their places (Rev. 6:15; 16:18, 20). Those earthquakes are not along fault lines but the whole crust of the earth is reshaped. Today’s famines, pandemics, earthquakes, etc. are not the same intensity of those in the Tribulation. They are distinct. This reality should keep us from thinking that the Tribulation is just more of the same or even that these things in our day are signs of the nearness of the Tribulation. They are not.  With these basic interpretive guidelines in place, our next study will be on the coming 7 years of Tribulation on this earth. You might find it profitable to read and re-read Matthew 24 and 25 before our second study.


Monday, January 1, 2024

THE COMING YEAR and THE COMING RAPTURE

 

When we hang that new 2024 calendar on the wall or door, we tend to wonder, at least momentarily, what the new year might bring. For many Bible believers, included in that wondering is whether we might exit the earth via the Rapture. Will we meet Jesus in the air sometime in 2024? And this is a good thing for us to think about. The rapture could, of course, happen in 2024 given that the world looks a lot like the world of the end of times.

     What has caught my attention this year is the number of pastors and Bible teachers who have come out to deny that there is such an event as the Rapture. In looking at their many objections to the rapture, there are four common ones. But why should we spend any time thinking about these? Partly because we need to know why we believe something and be able to give a reasonable response to these objections. We will do this briefly and then end this article with a review of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. How would you respond to these four common objections to the concept of the rapture?

  1. The Bible does not teach a secret, silent coming of Christ. Their point is that Christ’s coming is one that is anything but silent and secret. It is an event that all in the world would know about. They are thinking about Second Coming scriptures. And while some who believe in the rapture event have seen it as secret and silent, the Scriptures do not teach that. In fact, Paul says (1 Thes. 4:16) that there will be three rather loud sounds in connection with the rapture: namely, the shout of Jesus, probably commanding the dead in Christ to come forth (John 5:25); the blast of God’s trumpet; and the voice of Michael the Archangel, perhaps shouting out a word of victory as the church saints pass through the air which is the domain of Satan. It is quite likely that unsaved people will be aware that something momentous has happened but they will not understand its significance. Perhaps it will be like the event on the road to Damascus when Saul met the glorified Christ. Those with Saul/Paul knew something had happened but did not understand it. Since most do not teach that the rapture is a silent event, this objection carries little weight.

  2. The rapture doctrine is new and was not taught throughout the history of the church. The contention is that the rapture doctrine began around 1830 being formulated by J.N. Darby, based on a vision of one Margaret MacDonald. Darby is seen as the father of both the pre-tribulation rapture and the dispensational approach to biblical interpretation. The basic assumption is that if it is “new” then it is most likely not true. Of course, the issue is not newness but rather if a doctrine is true to the Word of God. 

This objection fails to remember that there has always been development of doctrines in the life of the church. Each era of church history has been occupied with a particular doctrinal discussion which has brought about refinement of the details within that doctrine. The discussions go on until there is clarity. As a recent example, take the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and His ministries. Around 1900, the modern charismatic movement was born and this brought about much debate on the matters of being filled with Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophesying, anointing and many other details within the area of Pneumatology. As a result, there emerged a much more defined doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In eschatology (future things), within the last century and a half there has been much attention to detail and great refinement within this doctrinal area. Many “new” subjects within eschatology have been proposed. But the issue is not is it old or new, but “is this what the Bible teaches?” 

        But getting back to MacDonald and Darby. Margaret MacDonald, whose revelation, and sanity are both suspect, was not the source of Darby’s pre-tribulation rapture view. Her rapture views are unclear and there is no evidence that Darby knew her. The idea that there was a rapture which came before the Second Coming was something seen long before Darby. It was Darby, however, who developed and refined the pre-tribulation rapture view based on his study of Scripture. There is clear evidence that others, long before Darby, had suggested that there was a rapture that was distinct from and prior to the Second Coming.

  • In 1687, Peter Jurieu, in his book “Approaching Deliverance of the Church” taught that Christ would come and rapture His church out of the world before Armageddon and then would come again in glory.

  • Commentaries by Philip Doddridge (1738) and John Gill (1748) spoke of the rapture as an imminent event. Both believed the rapture came before Christ’s coming to the earth at His Second Coming. The purpose of Christ’s coming for His church was to preserve it from the time of judgment.

  • James MacKnight (1763) and Thomas Scott (1792) did not give a detailed chronology of future events but did see a distinction between the rapture and the Second Coming.

  • Others would follow. But why were some now seeing a rapture that was distinct from the Second Coming? The answer is that the church was beginning to leave centuries of the spiritualization of Bible prophecy and to return to a literal approach in the interpretation of Scriptures. Literal interpretation leads to these observations.

  • Somewhere in the 4th to 7th century, more than a thousand years before Darby, the writings of one known as “Pseudo-Ephraem” spoke of the saints being taken from the earth before the time of tribulation judgments and the Second Coming. 

So, these examples that we know about certainly tell us that J.N. Darby was not the first expositor to see a rapture and Second Coming as distinct events.

  1. Jesus never taught a rapture event in His prophetic teaching. The point that is made is that in Luke 17 and Matthew 24 Jesus spoke of “two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left, two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left” (Matt. 24:40-41). These who are taken are not raptured but are taken in judgment. And in the contexts that is a correct understanding. These are not rapture passages, but passages that speak about coming judgment. At the time of this prophetic discourse Jesus had not yet spoken to His apostles about the rapture. (I believe He hinted at it in John 14, but even that was after these discourses). And when the disciples asked Jesus about future events, they knew nothing about the rapture and were asking questions about His Second Coming and what would happen to Israel. The rapture was an unknown subject at that point in time. It should be remembered, however, that Paul does say that he got his rapture teaching from Jesus (1 Thes. 4:15), probably in those years of instruction in Arabia right after his conversion.

  2. The rapture doctrine has diverted Christians from seriously working to bring about God’s restoration of all things and has given them an escapist mentality. It might be true that some believing in the rapture have gone to live in their theological bunkers and have not engaged the needy world. But this objection reflects a post-millennial theology where the church will bring about the Christianization of the world and prepare the world for Jesus’ Second Coming. The church will not clean up the world and make it ready for Jesus to come again. Jesus will take care of the world when He returns. But many believers, looking for Jesus’ return at the rapture, are seriously engaged and motivated in serving Christ and sharing the gospel in this world.

A Quick Review of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

As most of our readers know, this portion of Scripture is the central passage on the doctrine of the rapture. Here are the essential teachings in these verses.

  1. CONTEXT. The believers at Thessalonica were deeply concerned that the believers who had recently died (“fallen asleep”) would miss out on the rapture. They are assured that believers who had died, and were with Jesus, would be a part of the rapture, sequentially rising first.

  2. RAPTURE TRUTH COMES DIRECTLY FROM THE LORD. Paul’s discussion is based squarely on that which Paul received from Jesus.

  3. JESUS HIMSELF COMES TO GET HIS BRIDE (CHURCH). Following the marriage ritual of that time, Jesus, the bridegroom, comes to get His bride and to return to the Father’s house where the wedding will take place (John 14:1-3). In Revelation 19, the scene is in heaven and this is where the wedding will take place. It is before the Second Coming. The bride is there, which means that every church age believer will be there. (There is no wedding if only 2/3 or 7/10 of the bride is there!). The rapture is a very personal moment for Jesus because He comes to get His bride. The word “Parousia '' is used for this coming at the rapture (4:15). There are three primary words used in the New Testament for the Lord’s return: (parousia—“coming”); (apocalupsis---“revealing, unveiling”); and (epiphania---"appearing”). Some have tried to use these words to prove some theological point, but they are not technical terms and cannot be used that way. The text is simply saying that Jesus will come and take His bride with Him, so she may be where He is.

  4. PAUL PUTS HIMSELF AMONG THOSE WHO ARE ALIVE AT THE RAPTURE. Twice Paul speaks of himself as among the living at the rapture. A plain reading of the text shows that the rapture was an imminent event, possibly occurring in Paul’s lifetime.

  5. THE RAPTURE INVOLVES THOSE WHO ARE “IN CHRIST.” Being “in Christ” meant being in the church, the body of Christ. Old Testament believers and the unsaved are not “in Christ” and will not be participants in the rapture. The rapture is for believers of the church age.

  6. SOUNDS OF THE RAPTURE. As noted earlier, there are three sounds (4:16) that are part of the rapture event. There is a high probability that these sounds will be heard worldwide. The rapture may be unexpected, but it is neither secret or silent.

  7. THE CHURCH WILL BE “CAUGHT UP” TO MEET JESUS IN THE AIR. Jesus will snatch away His bride out of the world. The word used is “harpazo”, and it conveys the idea of a force that is suddenly exercised to snatch something away, and it is an irresistible force. The Latin word is rapturo, which is where the word “rapture” comes from. Jesus will snatch up the church to meet Him in the air but He does not return to the earth at this time. And it is in the clouds of glory, in the air, that we meet Him. No such thing takes place in passages that speak of Christ’s Second Coming.

  8. BELIEVERS WILL PERMANENTLY BE WITH THE LORD. Once the rapture takes place, the church age believers will never be separated from the Lord. The marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-8) pictures this permanent relationship. From the rapture onward, where Jesus goes, His bride goes.

  9. THE RAPTURE TRUTH IS A TRUTH TO BRING COMFORT TO THE BELIEVER. The truth that Jesus is coming for us is designed to encourage believers. The knowledge that we are not abandoned and that we will again be with our believing loved ones brings such comfort. The rapture doctrine reminds us that our best days are yet ahead of us. As the darkness deepens in our world, this doctrine gives us perspective and is an encouragement to us to be a light for the Savior who is coming for us. And as we again think about the rapture, believers need to ask “do I love His appearing.” In other words, do we long to see the Savior?

Friday, December 1, 2023

THE CHRISTMAS STORY: THINKING ABOUT JOSEPH and the WISE MEN


Joseph was selected by God because he was a righteous man. When Mary was about 6 or 7 months along in her pregnancy, Joseph became aware of that reality (Matt. 1:18-25). He probably tried to believe Mary’s story about how she became pregnant, but he simply couldn’t buy into her rather creative account of an angel coming to her, and more importantly the point that no man was involved in her becoming pregnant. So, Joseph decided (because he was a good man) not to publicly shame her, but rather to quietly and privately end their relationship. When he was about to put his plan into motion, an angel appeared to him one night and informed him that Mary was telling the truth, and that he was now part of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s “virgin birth” prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). Joseph was to name the baby boy “Jesus” because He would be the One who would bring salvation to people. In obedience to the angel, Joseph got up and immediately, formally married Mary thus affording her protection from any negatives that would come from society. Interestingly, from this moment on God did not speak to Mary directly but all divine communication came to Joseph, who was now the head of this newly formed family.

As Matthew continues with the “Christmas story”, he does not record anything about the journey to Bethlehem, or of Joseph and Mary ending up in a place where animals were kept (probably a cave) for the birth of Jesus because there was no shelter in any inn. Instead, Matthew jumps ahead to tell of the arrival of “wise men” from the east who came to see and to worship the baby king, Jesus. The wise men have become an important part of the Christmas story. But why include this account? Matthew’s gospel targeted the Jewish people; who were very familiar with the promises and prophecies found in the O.T. They knew about the coming rule of the Messiah over Israel and also over the gentile nations of the world. From the beginning, God has planned for the restoration of all nations, and this is where the account of the wise men fits in. However, not everything found in our Christmas traditions related to the wise men are necessarily accurate. Let’s separate fact from fiction.

  1. WISE MEN FICTIONS

Who hasn’t received a Christmas card with three wise men on their camels crossing the desert from somewhere in the east with a bright star overhead; or perhaps one with the wise men crowding into the manger area with a number of shepherds and a variety of animals in attendance as well. These, however, are not what the Bible’s account reveals.

  • THE WISE MEN WERE NOT THERE AT THE BIRTH OF JESUS. There are a number of points in the biblical text which show that they perhaps arrived as much as a year after the birth of Jesus. First, the wise men did not bring their gifts and their worship of Jesus to a manger, but rather to a house where Joseph and Mary now resided (Matt. 2:11). Second, it is clear that Herod the Great ordered the deaths of all infants two and under, just to make sure he got rid of this baby king. This level of destruction makes little sense if the baby Jesus was going to be born the same night that the wise men saw Herod the Great in Jerusalem (as they sought the specific location of the birth of the messiah). Just have the executioners find all the just born babies and kill them. Third, the wise men brought expensive gifts to baby Jesus. These would have made Joseph and Mary fairly wealthy. However, when they were required by the Levitical law to bring an offering at the time of Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22-24), they brought the least expensive offering of two birds. This they could not do if they were in possession of gold (and they were) as well as very expensive ointments (and they were). This time of purification was 40 days after the birth, making the minimum time for the wise men’s arrival at least 40 days after the birth. The wise men did not arrive in Bethlehem on the night of the birth of Jesus.

  • THE STAR GUIDED THEM ACROSS THE DESERT. The wise men went to Jerusalem because they supposed that was where the king of Israel would be born. It was there that they learned of Micah’s prophecy (Micah 5:2) that the king would be born five miles south of Jerusalem, in the little village of Bethlehem. When they exited Jerusalem to head for Bethlehem, they saw the star. This caused great rejoicing because it had been months since they had seen it, which was back home. The star then guided them the five miles and stood over the very house where Joseph, Mary and Jesus were now living. The “star”, I believe is best understood as the Shekinah---the glory of God which spoke of the very presence of God. And indeed, God was present in the God/Man Jesus.

  • THERE WERE THREE WISE MEN. The idea of there being three wise men most likely comes from the fact that three different gifts were brought to baby Jesus. But travel in those days was always dangerous and the wise men would have been part of a large caravan made up of many more than three. Maybe there were 15 wise men.

  1. FACTS

  • THEY WENT TO THE HOUSE WHERE JOSEPH, MARY AND JESUS WERE LIVING. Matthew’s account is perfectly clear. The wise men did not go to the place of Jesus’ birth, but to a house (Matt. 2:11). This reveals two basic things. First, some time had passed after the birth before the wise men arrived in Bethlehem. The family had now taken up residence in the town. And second, the “star” was not a comet, alignment of planets, or any other heavenly body. None of those has the ability to appear above a single, specific house in a neighborhood in Bethlehem. However, the “shekinah” (glory of God) could do that just as it did in the days of Moses, when it appeared over the Tabernacle as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day (Exodus 40:36-38).

  • THEY ARRIVED AT LEAST 40 DAYS AFTER THE BIRTH. When a Jewish woman gave birth to a male child, she had to go through the rites of purification 40 days after the birth (Leviticus 12). Then an offering was made. As noted above, if the wise men had arrived and given them the expensive gifts, Joseph and Mary would not have been able to bring the least expensive gift. The rite of purification requires the arrival of the wise men after the 40 days. 

  • THE WISE MEN PICTURED WHAT WOULD BE TRUE IN THE KINGDOM OF MESSIAH.  Matthew is the only one that gives the account of the wise men. Why? Matthew wrote his gospel with a Jewish audience in mind, presenting Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah/King of Israel. In the future, when King Jesus returns to the earth at His Second Coming, the gentile nations of the earth (as pictured by the wise men) will come to worship Him and declare their loyalty to Him. Here is a sampling of scriptures that speak of this.

  • Zechariah 14:16---The nations of the earth will come to Jerusalem annually to worship King Jesus.

  • Isaiah 60:56---During the messianic age, the gentile nations will come and worship with gold and frankincense

  • Psalm 2:6-9---Messiah, the Son, will rule over all the nations of the earth and they will worship Him; nations which today have a very different attitude towards Him

  • Revelation 19:15-16---King Jesus will rule and is said to the King over all the kings of the earth. His rule will not tolerate overt sin and wickedness.

  • Hebrews 2:5-8---King Jesus’ kingdom is an earthly one, ruling over all mankind on this earth. However, that rule has not yet begun, but is future.

  • Daniel 2:44---King Jesus begins His reign over the earth, after all the kingdoms of mankind have been eliminated, and His kingdom is the only one on this earth.

  • Isaiah 66:18, 23---As Messiah Jesus reigns, all the nations of the earth will come to Jerusalem to worship Him.


  1. OUR RESPONSE. The Christmas season can be a very pleasant and wonderful time of the year. The Apostle Paul informs us that God has given all things to us to enjoy if they are sanctified (set apart in their proper place) by the Word and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5). So, as we enter into the Christmas season, for us there is a lot that can be enjoyed. We can appreciate the food, the decorations, the fun, and time with friends and family. As long as God’s Word gives us perspective and as we prayerfully look for chances to share materially and spiritually, there is much we can enjoy. Of course, the Christmas season can also be a challenging time for people who have lost loved ones; who face difficult relational or financial circumstances; or who are dealing with deep disappointments. But there are certain things that Christmas reminds us of that are not determined by life’s circumstances.

  • The Coming of the Savior Has Solved the Sin Problem. Sin is a problem for each and every person on this planet. Religions attempt to deal with that in one way or another. But when baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God’s plan of dealing with sin once and for all began to take place. For everyone who places their faith in the Son of God, who died on the cross for all our sins and then rose from the dead, a secure eternal life is given (John 20:30-31). His once for all death on the cross was a full and a complete payment for all of our sins, and has satisfied God’s righteous requirements for life eternal (Heb. 9:25-28; 10:10-14). Even if we are unsure about the wise men or other aspects of the Christmas story, baby Jesus’ purpose in entering this world is a certainty. He came to pay the necessary price for our sin. And gladly, “it is finished”.

  • Our Place in King Jesus’ Future Kingdom is Secure.  The story of the wise men was included by Matthew to remind his Jewish readers (and us as well) that when King Jesus reigns, the gentile nations will come and worship Him. This is pictured by the coming of the wise men. This coming kingdom, with all its magnificence, is detailed in the O.T. prophets. It will be a time of harmonious relationships among people; a time of universal prosperity; a time when righteousness, not crime and evil, will be the order of the day; a time when the curse put on creation will be lifted; and a period when joy will dominate life on the earth. All are invited to be part of this wonderful period of 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-10), which is pictured as a wedding feast (Rev. 19:9; Matt. 22:1-14). God’s invitation is accepted when the individual places faith in Jesus. At that moment the “reservation” is made and is secure (1 Peter 1:3-5).

  • God Uses Godly People. The key players in the Christmas story were all declared to be godly, righteous people. That was true of Joseph, Mary, and the parents of John the Baptist. God commits His important work to those who faithfully walk with Him. He does not require perfection, but He does require that we be clean and obedient. Being famous is not a requirement. If we desire to serve King Jesus in meaningful ways, we need to remember people like Joseph. The Lord God delights in taking the “little people” of the world to work through in accomplishing eternal things. What a great way to live! Jesus promised that our lives would be fruitful and very meaningful if we would “abide” (remain in fellowship) with Him. (John 15:1-5). Christmas reminds us that Jesus came, and so our lives can be meaningful and satisfying (not necessarily easy) right now; and that our best days are yet ahead of us. So, when you receive a Christmas card this year with three men riding on three camels out in the middle of nowhere, with a brilliant star overhead, let it remind you of why Matthew included the wise men in his gospel narrative. The Savior/King came into this world in a most humble fashion to do the great work of restoring everything that mankind lost back in the Garden of Eden; not just Jews, but gentiles as well. And, maybe soon He will come again and gather His own sheep together to enjoy His incredible 1,000-year reign on this transformed earth. I hope to see you there!!!



Wednesday, November 1, 2023

HAMAS, ISRAEL and the UNSEEN WAR


The United States government and the mainstream media work hard at keeping religion out of most everything. And in doing so, they have again missed the main issue of what is really going on in Israel with the Hamas’ war. On the surface it is presented that this is an issue of territory or race, but it is deeper and older than that. This unseen war, made visible at this moment with Hamas vs. Israel, is really between the “god of this world” (Satan) and the Lord Jehovah, and it started back in the Garden of Eden. We, as believers, must keep this in our mind. To correctly see and interpret present events we need to keep the main point the main point. And the main point is that God is fulfilling His purpose and the intense opposition to His purpose by the “principalities and powers” under the control of the Evil One. There are some theological basics that ought to be remembered as we think about current events.

God’s Original Plan. Mankind was unique among God’s creation. God designed man to rule the earth and live in wonderful fellowship with Him. But even the most wonderful setting did not keep mankind from sinning and experiencing staggering losses. One was the loss of his position of ruling authority, which then shifted to Satan. God’s original plan was a beautiful one and one that God did not abandon. As Revelation 20-22 reveals, it will eventually be fulfilled, and even enhanced; a kind of Creation 2.0.

The Fulfilling of God’s Plan.  God’s way of restoring His original plan was to do so through mankind (“the seed of the woman,” Genesis 3:15). But more specifically it was to be through the man Abraham and his descendants, Isaac, and Jacob. God entered into an eternal, unconditional covenant with this man and through him restoration would take place. And from that moment on, the Jewish people became the hated target of Satan. This hatred for the Jewish people is an irrational hatred because it is Satanic. He knows that it is a descendant of Abraham that will crush him and remove him from his present role. Even though that descendant, Jesus of Nazareth, has come and sealed his fate, the Evil One will continue using individuals, nations, and groups to be his “useful idiots” in wreaking as much havoc and pain as possible. This time it is Hamas. 

Satan’s Position. Satan has attained authority over this world. Jesus and the Apostle Paul refer to him as the “god of this world” (John 12:13; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4), and the Apostle John adds that the “whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). He has immense power and great authority in his control of the nations. We recall that, in His temptations, Jesus never debated the Devil’s claim to own the nations of the world (Luke 4:1-14). And as Daniel 10 makes clear, demonic beings are assigned to nations and that would include groups like Hamas. Demons are fallen angels who carry out Satan’s purpose, as is seen in a great war described in Revelation 16:13-16, where they are involved in the killing of one-third of humanity during the Tribulation.

Satan’s Purpose.  This world is Satan’s “system” which he has created to rival that of God’s kingdom. His system, of course, leaves the true God out. Satan is not opposed, at the present time, to religion as long as the true God is not included. Satan sells his “God-free” system as something attractive where Self has top priority. While not everything is raw evil in this system, it is nevertheless deadly to people, which is why believers are forcefully commanded not to love this world system (1 John 2:15-16). Satan’s system is quite flexible and can adapt to “nice” Americans or to “evil” terrorist groups. Whatever cultural form it takes, the purpose is the same; thwart God’s plan of restoration and reconciliation.

Satan’s Character.  Jesus was perfectly clear about Satan’s character when He said that he is a liar and that he simply cannot tell the truth (John 8:44). And, as Jesus noted, Satan is the “father” of those who lie. Along with Jesus’ description, John adds that the Devil is a deceiver (Rev. 12:9; 20:3, 8, 10). So, it ought not be a surprise to us when blatant lies and constant deception come from the mouths of those who hate God’s covenant people, Israel. Jesus also stated, in John 8, that Satan is a murderer. He hates human beings, but particularly those who are Jewish. Bloodshed always surrounds those who do the will of the Evil One. The horrible atrocities committed by Hamas in their surprise attack is an unmistakable sign as to the evil one behind it all.

Satan’s Forces.  Satan is the “prince of the demons” (Matt. 12:24) and he has a vast array of highly organized and powerful demonic beings under his authority (Eph. 6:11-12). And these demons act as the Devil’s assistants in promoting his agenda and in attempting to thwart the grand purpose of God. The various philosophies of Satan are the “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1), the “deep things of Satan” as the church at Thyatira thought (Rev. 2:24). Some do not seem too bad on the surface, while others produce the kind of carnage and evil recently witnessed by the world. The Scriptures speak of their varied approach from “schemes” to “flaming missiles” (Eph. 6:10-17). But their purpose is the same and that is to promote Satan’s kingdom and resist God’s plan.

Satan’s Last Stand.  As powerful as the forces of wickedness might be, their end is clear. When the final seven years of the Tribulation arrives, the “god of this world” will see his world system and his dreams of being like the true God crushed under the feet of Jesus Messiah. But Satan will have his last fling. Much to his dismay, he will be forcibly removed from the heavenlies by Michael and the holy angels (Rev. 12:7-12). This takes place at the mid-point of the seven years of the Tribulation. This inflames Satan’s hatred and his desire to destroy as well as his passionate desire to be worshiped. Using his two minions, the Antichrist and the False Prophet (Rev. 13), Satan will experience the worship of many people on this planet. Promising much, this evil trinity will bring nothing but heartache, fear, and death to mankind. Then, Jesus will appear in the heavens and return to this earth as the glorious, all-powerful King of kings and Lord of lords. Satan will be crushed and his fate is forever sealed; first in the Abyss for 1,000 years followed by eternity in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 19 and 20).

God’s Desire to Save.  We often view the Tribulation as a time of judgment and death. And it certainly has those elements. But God really does not need 7 years to execute His judgment, as Sodom and Gomorrah can testify. But time is needed to save people. And the great and grand purpose of the coming Tribulation is to save the people of Israel. And these wayward chosen people will come to believe in Jesus as their Messiah-Savior. By the millions they will be saved. And then, as saved people, Israel will become that “light to the gentiles” which will result in millions being saved out of every tribe and nation on the earth (Rev. 7). The spiritual blindfold on the eyes of Israel will be removed and then “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-29) and God will bring His people into His “New Covenant” (Jer. 31:31-35). 

God’s Restored Plan.  God’s wonderful plan for mankind, seen momentarily in the Garden of Eden, was lost from view. But Revelation 20-22 shows that this wonderful plan will be restored; and, actually enhanced. This is where we are headed. 

Hamas and Israel.  Since there is no biblical description or prophecy of the current war, we cannot predict all the twists and turns. We do not know how many will die; what the level of destruction will be; what nations may or may not become involved; or what will be the fall-out in our own country. We will have to be like everyone else and just wait and see. But unlike so many, we do have a biblical framework in which to place this Hamas’ war. It is very likely that this Hamas war will put additional pieces in place for the biblical “Gog/Magog” war of Ezekiel 38-39. And as many now believe, this war will take place after the Rapture but before the Tribulation, during an interval of several months. Iran, Russia, and many Islamic nations will come against Israel with overwhelming armies, but will be annihilated by the God of Abraham. These nations will experience the end of God’s patience and Israel will begin to come to faith (Ezek. 39:22). 

God’s purposes will not be thwarted and His plans will not be delayed by a single minute. He is sovereign. He is all knowing. He is all-powerful. Psalm 2 gives us great insights about things present and future. Four points to particularly note: (1) The leaders of nations, and their people, hate the Lord God and they particularly hate His Anointed One, Jesus (2:1-3). (2) God the Father is unfazed by them and they are now going to be recipients of His righteous wrath (2:4-5).  (3) The Father has already installed the Son as King in Zion. It is a done deal. (2:5). And (4) the Son will receive all the nations of the earth as His inheritance, and He will rule with a “rod of iron”, which means there is no place anymore for overt evil or terrorists like Hamas.

God’s grace is rich as is His mercy. He continues to offer His matchless gift of eternal life. He can do this because Jesus’ death on the cross completely took care of the sin issue. The God-man Jesus rose from the dead and obtained victory over Satan, sin, and death (Col. 2:13-15). Our prayer is that many in Israel today, who witness the horrors of the Hamas war, will turn in faith to Jesus Messiah and receive God’s great gift of eternal life. And that many in America will see the fraudulent nature of Liar-murderer Satan’s system and come to the Savior.