Thursday, July 1, 2021

TWO THINGS JESUS WILL BE LOOKING FOR


    In my days in the college classroom, it was pretty clear that students liked to know what would be used to evaluate them. Simply put they wanted to know, “how do I get an “A” in here?”  They would not buy into the idea that I would arbitrarily give them a grade at the end of the course depending on how I might feel at that moment. Whether it is in the classroom, on the job or a dozen other situations, we like to know what is the criteria for our evaluation. 

Fortunately, the criteria for our evaluation at the Judgment Seat (bema) of the Lord Jesus Christ is clearly given to us in the Scriptures. We don’t have to speculate as to what will be used in our evaluation.  In our previous study we observed the first criterion given by the Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-4:5, the first of the criteria was given, and that was: “how closely did our lives align with God’s truth”?  As we served Him and lived for Him, did we do so according to the commands, principles and guidelines found in the Scriptures.  This indicates that there will be a clear, objective standard for us.  As Paul told Timothy, we will not receive the prize unless we play according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). This certainly suggests something of the importance of being people of the Book. We will now look at the other two criteria that the Lord Jesus will use as He evaluates the lives of His servants.

CRITERION #2: WERE WE FAITHFUL IN SERVING JESUS?

In the New Testament, each believer is said to be a “steward”.  This word is used by Paul as he describes what will take place at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

“Let a man regard us in this matter, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”  (1 Cor. 4:1-2)

A steward is one to whom the master has given many things.  The steward is to diligently work with these things that belong to his master. The issue that is most important is that the steward must be faithful. And because all things have been given to the steward, he is held accountable for how faithful he has been in the use of those things.  Paul further reminded the Christians at Corinth:

“For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

Although we are all so very different from one another, each of us is a steward and has been given much by the Lord.  (Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 25:15 that He does deal differently with His servants---there are some servants who are given 1 or 2 talents, while some are given 5). All of us have been given natural abilities and spiritual gifts.  Each has been given a level of intelligence and a level of financial resources.  All believers have been given time and opportunities. Each of us have a role in our families and churches. All these have been given to us by the Lord and He expects us to be faithful in using these things to live for Him and bring honor to Him.  The Judgment Seat of Christ will be the place where our individual stewardship is evaluated. It does, and it will make an important difference in what we did with all that has been given to us. 

Unfortunately, we often compare ourselves with others and see ourselves as inferior to other believers.  We all too often assume that those prominent Christians (such as, pastors of megachurches or those who are on television or write many books or those who sing wonderful solos at church) will be the ones who receive great reward and have prominence in Messiah’s kingdom.  But that may not be the case at all.  The great issue to the Lord Jesus is that of faithfulness.  We are called upon TO BE FAITHFUL, NOT TO BE FAMOUS! Did we “hang in there” and live faithfully for the Lord even in tough times. The Lord Jesus will evaluate us on what He has given to us, not on what He has given to someone else.  This should be a great encouragement to us.  Fellow believers, do not compare yourself with others because the Lord Jesus will not be doing that.  The issue is an individual one.  Were you and I faithful to Him in using what He has given to us?


CRITERION #3: WHAT WERE OUR MOTIVES AS WE SERVED CHRIST?

The Lord is apparently interested in our heart attitudes as we live and serve.  Our motive should be the glory of God and the approval of God.  It would seem that every now and then we should ask ourselves the question “why am I doing what I am doing?”  Our motivations are important even though it is sometimes difficult for us to fully discern our motives.  Again, the Apostle Paul mentioned this matter to the believers at Corinth.

“I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.  Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”   (1 Cor. 4:4-5)

It would appear that periodically we ought to try and identify “why” we are doing and living the way we are.  Paul was a faithful, devoted follower of Jesus, and in his life, he observed others who did not live as he did.  He mentions several wrong motives that could be spotted in others.  He noted that some served the Lord because it was profitable to do so.  They merchandised the gospel (2 Cor. 2:17).  They did what they did because of the financial rewards that they got. They put a price tag on what they did.  He also observed believers who served out of personal pride (Phil. 1:15-17).  They were building a kingdom, but it was evidently their own and not Christ’s. Personal fame was the fuel that energized their service. Paul made it clear that it is possible for one to serve Christ because it brings with it prominence, power or profit.  So, for example, we might ask ourselves why we want to be a lead singer in the worship service; or chair a committee; or be an elder or deacon; or have a lead part in the Christmas pageant or Easter cantata? Do we have people over to our house because we want to be known as a person of generous hospitality?  It is sometimes hard to completely determine why we do what we do. But since Jesus will be taking a look at our motives, we should probably do that as well. And it may be that we will need to pray for Him to help us get rid of those impure or suspect motives out of our thinking. We must never underestimate the deceptive power of our flesh, and we need to ask the Holy Spirit (the only One who can defeat the flesh) to assist us in serving Christ faithfully with noble motives.

While all of us as God’s children are equally loved by Him, He will be just and righteous in the manner in which He will deal with His children.  He will evaluate us as individuals and will not compare us with others. His evaluation will not be arbitrary, (depending on He feels at the moment!) but will be objective. If the reward is given or if the reward is withdrawn, it will be clear to all as to the reasons why.  This can be the greatest day for each of us stewards of Christ. Today does count forever, and what an incredible level of joy there will be. if indeed the King says to you “well done, good steward.”


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

WHAT WILL JESUS BE LOOKING FOR AT THE “JUDGMENT SEAT”?

    Most of us can recall a time when an authority figure required us to come see them. It may have been the school principal or the company boss or the coach of our team or someone else. But as we anticipated the meeting, most likely we became somewhat stressed about it, not knowing what was going to happen and what things would be like after the meeting was over. 

Far greater and far more significant than that meeting with some authority figure will be that scheduled meeting that we have with the Lord Jesus Christ at what is referred to as the “judgment seat of Christ.” Any earthly meeting cannot rival this future meeting which all believers in Jesus will be attending. Now, some of those human authority figures may not have really wanted our best or were interested in treating us fairly. That will not be true of the Lord Jesus. He is loving, merciful, good and gracious. He loves to give good gifts to His children and always desires what is best for His own. But He is also holy which requires that He deal justly with us and evaluate us fairly. He will not overlook the good we have done, but He will not overlook our sin and selfishness.  So, the question we want to address here is just what will be the basis of Jesus' evaluation of us as believers at the judgment seat. When we study the Scriptures, we discover that there are three primary criteria that Jesus will use. 

CRITERION #1: HOW CLOSELY DID OUR LIVES ALIGN WITH GOD’S TRUTH?

There is going to be an objective standard that will be used as Jesus evaluates our lives, and that objective standard is God’s Word.  The Scriptures give us all that we need to know to live well for the Lord Jesus and to serve Him.  The following verses give us a needed reminder of this.

Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Pet. 1:3)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Because the Word of God gives us all that is necessary to honor Christ and live well for Him, this same Word will be used to evaluate how we have lived our lives. This is certainly one reason why it is so important that we are “people of the Book.” The Apostle Paul observed that we will not receive reward if we do not live according to the rules that God has set up.

“And also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.”  (2 Tim. 2:5)

In his enlightening discussion of the Judgment Seat of Christ in 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul uses the helpful picture of building a structure.  He notes that all of us as believers are building. We should observe that the question is not “am I building?”  The question for each of us is what kind of building materials am I using?”  

In his illustration, he tells us that all believers are given the foundation on which to build.  The foundation on which we build is the same for everyone.  That foundation is the truth about Jesus Christ, His person and His work (1 Cor. 3:10-11).  Our lives and service are built on our relationship with Christ.  By faith, we have received God’s gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of our sins.  From the moment we are saved, we begin to build on this foundation.

Paul informs us that we have two types of building materials available as we build.  The first are those materials which will not perish when touched by fire (gold, silver, valuable building stones), and second, those materials that are combustible (wood, hay straw).  Again, we must remember that every day we are building, which means that last week you and I built. And the crucial question is what kind of material we used last week.

But what do these materials represent?  The imperishable materials (gold, silver, valuable building stones) represent the wisdom of God which is found in the Scriptures.  The context determines this. The discussion of the Judgment Seat found here in 1 Corinthians 3 has been preceded by a lengthy discussion of the importance of the wisdom of God.  From 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul has been arguing for the critical role that God’s wisdom plays in people getting right with God and with its significance in living life. When we live and serve according to the standards, commands and guidelines of Scripture, we are building with these wonderful, permanent materials.  On the other hand, the perishable materials represent those views, philosophies and ideas that are not part of God’s Word.  Some suggestions will be given on what these things might look like.

Living according to the guiding principles and commands of Scripture is building with gold, silver and precious stones.  For example, in our family relationships each of us have roles and responsibilities as set for by the Bible.  When I, as a husband, love my wife and give her biblical leadership then that is one area that I am building with imperishable materials.  As we guide our fiscal lives according to God’s principles on money and material things, we are building with these lasting materials.  So, whether it is in my vocation, my responsibilities in the Church, my relationship with the unsaved, the way I budget my time, the decisions made related to recreation or a dozen other matters, we can be choosing to live by the appropriate principles and guidelines found in Scripture.  

This, of course, leads to a fundamental issue of whether or not we are spending the needed time in studying the Scriptures to both understand and then apply the truths of God to the various areas of life.  What we do or don’t do will determine the receiving of rewards, or not, at the Judgment Seat.

What might the perishable materials of wood, hay and straw represent in the lives of believers?  These represent any alternatives to the revealed standards and principles of God in His Word.  In the context of 1 Corinthians, in a very fundamental way, this represents the “wisdom of man.”  Believers can and often do make decisions in life based on things other than the wisdom of God.  In order to try and take this out of the realm of the abstract and to see what wood, hay and straw might look like today, several suggestions are given. 

  • EXPERIENCES.  Believers will sometimes make decisions in life or prioritize what is important in life based on some circumstances or coincidence they have experienced. I have known people whose course was charted based on an alleged vision they saw or voice they heard.  Others say they were “slain in the Spirit” and this experience determined choices made in numerous areas of life.  But experiences, though real to a person, must be evaluated by the Scriptures.  Some experiences come from God but others do not. They instead are generated by the human mind and yet others by Satan. The Scriptures alone can determine the authenticity of experience.

  • TRADITION.  Believers can program their lives by their religious traditions. And while some traditions might prove helpful, they might not. As we all know, the traditions of the Pharisees in the days of Christ, brought terrible consequences to many.  Traditions are fundamentally man made, and though they might at times be helpful, it is only the Word of God that evaluates tradition.

  • PSYCHOLOGICAL IDEAS.  Even pastors in their sermons can substitute current psychological ideas for biblical truth. Current cultural thinking is no substitute for biblical thinking.  For example, child raising can be done according to biblical principles or according to current trends in psychology. Some will focus on digging back into a person’s childhood instead of focusing on the present and future (Phil. 3:13-14). The psychological views that come out of the culture are always in a state of flux and are more like quick sand than solid ground. 

  • DOCTRINAL ERROR.  The greatest concern of the Apostles was the influx of false doctrine into the church.  The distortion of biblical truth affects every area of life, and the Apostle John warned that embracing that which is error will bring about the loss of reward in the future (2 John 7-8). In today’s church setting, with the growing influence of “progressive Christianity”, erroneous teachings are growing like dandelions.

Building is going on daily in our lives.  Whether we are building according to the Word, or on other things, will determine the gain or loss of reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  It is no small matter.  And it becomes obvious to the thinking person that understanding and applying the truth of God in life is a primary task of ours in the present. And it is the Scriptures that will be the objective basis of our evaluation by the Lord Jesus.

In our next study, we will look at the matters of faithfulness and motivation as the other criteria that Jesus will be using in our evaluation and rewarding at His “judgment seat.” In the meantime, be in the Word and allow the Holy Spirit of God to instruct us and guide us into truth centered living.


Friday, May 7, 2021

WHAT IS DONE TODAY DOES COUNT FOREVER

    Whenever an athletic team, or even an individual, wins a major victory, there is a unique level of exhilaration and enthusiasm that erupts. The explosion of happiness cannot be contained. After spending hours in training and practicing, the victory that is being experienced leaves them with a limited vocabulary. The moment itself was overpowering and their lives would never be the same. As I watch those winning athletes, I cannot help but think of a future time when we will be rewarded by the Lord Jesus, the King of Glory.  But the joy of those winning athletes is so very superficial when compared with the joy of those believers who have faithfully served the Lord of Glory here and now.  For faithful believers, it will undoubtedly be an incredibly emotional moment of great joy and immense satisfaction.  To have the Lord Jesus say, “you did a good job and I am so very pleased with you” will make all of the hard work and faithfulness in tough times be worth it all. And, like those athletes, this will have an impact on life from that moment on.

As we look at our crumbling culture with its growing hostility to Jesus Christ and His people, many believers are beginning to think a little differently and to prioritize their lives a little differently. And that is good. According to the Scriptures, how we live now does have a powerful impact on our futures in the coming Kingdom of God. Today does count forever.  What we do now for Christ will have a ripple effect throughout the coming kingdom of God. When the Apostle Paul was explaining to the believers at Corinth as to why he willingly suffered so much for Christ and the gospel, he said: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:17).  Today does count forever and we too can be part of the “eternal weight of glory.”  In this study, I would like to “stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance”, by freshening up our thinking on the Judgment Seat of Christ.  I want to deal with two questions.

WHEN WILL THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST TAKE PLACE?

The Scriptures indicate that it is at the return of Jesus that rewarding takes place.  When a person dies, it is sometimes said that “he has gone to his reward.”  While a believer will certainly be entering an indescribable place and seeing an awesome Person, technically this is not the time of rewarding.  Jesus put it succinctly in Revelation 22:12: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”  During His earthly ministry, He stated: “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.” (Matthew 16:27).  In several of His parables (Luke 19; Matthew 25), He connected the rewarding of His servants with His return to earth.

Scripture tells us that rewarding is connected with His return.  So, when He returns at the Rapture for His Bride, the Church, that will be the time when church age saints are rewarded.  This can also be seen in Revelation 19:8 where, just prior to the Second Coming to earth, the Bride is seen in heaven as rewarded.  And on the basis of Matthew 16, we can also conclude that all other saints (from the Old Testament and the Tribulation) will be rewarded at the Second Coming event.

DO THE REWARDS LAST FOR ALL ETERNITY?

It is sometimes taught that after the Judgment Seat, all believers will then be the same.  This is largely based on Revelation 4.  In Revelation 4:4-10, the 24 elders cast their crowns before the throne of God, and this has led some to conclude that after this act of worship that rewards play no part in future activities, rankings or conditions.  But that is probably not how we should understand Revelation 4. That particular interpretation simply does not align well with so many other scriptures.  It is true that the rewarded elders are worshipping the Lord by acknowledging that their rewards are ultimately due to His grace. And the fact that they have crowns enables them to have a greater capacity in their worship of the Lord.

However, when we look at Jesus’ teaching in Luke 19:11-27 and Matthew 25:14-22, as well as Paul’s powerful message in 2 Timothy 2:5-11, it becomes quite evident that rewards last for a very long time.  At a minimum they will have consequences throughout the 1,000-year reign of King Jesus. 

In the Millennial (Messianic) Kingdom.  In this kingdom, the Lord Jesus will rule for one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-10) over Israel and all the nations of the earth (Psalm 2:1-9; Isaiah 9:6-7, 11; Jer. 23:5-8; 33:20-26).  Absent from this kingdom will be Satan and his forces as well as the curse placed on the earth by God in Genesis 3.  This kingdom will be characterized by righteousness, joy, peace, prosperity and health.  There has never been a time like this on earth since Eden, and for those who have been faithful in this present life. there will be the privileged opportunity to co-rule with King Jesus.  Our investment (“laying up treasures”) right now will pay amazing dividends for one thousand years.

In the Eternal KIngdom.  There is a second part to the future kingdom of God and that is the eternal phase when ruling authority is handed to the Father by Christ after His messianic reign (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).  After all judgments have taken place, including that of Satan, unbelievers and the old heavens and earth, then this new final eternal phase will begin.  It is likely that this will be on the new earth.  But the question for us in this study is “do rewards have consequences in the eternal phase of the kingdom of God?”  There is evidence that rewards impact life in the eternal kingdom phase.  For example, man will have a place of rulership in this eternal kingdom.  Revelation 21:24 says that, “and the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it.”  In the eternal phase of the kingdom of God, there are nations and there are kings.  This means that there are some people who are going to hold honored places on the earth during the eternal kingdom.  This strongly points to rewards which are given to believers will have eternal consequences.  Again, the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).  The writer of Hebrews seems to support the eternality of rewards when he states that the present heavens and earth will be “shaken” while the kingdom we will receive will not be “shaken” (Hebrews 12:25-29).  The “shaking” refers to the destruction of the old earth which is in contrast to the kingdom we will be part of which will not be destroyed.  This statement comes after numerous exhortations to remain faithful and endure because of the rewards that are coming when Jesus Messiah comes; strongly implying that the rewards and the kingdom are eternal.

While it is impossible to be absolutely dogmatic on the matter of the eternality of rewards, the evidence points us in that direction.  But even it could be shown that rewards last for “just” one thousand years, how wise is the believer to live presently with that time in mind. How incredibly wonderful to have a unique relationship and a wonderful responsibility alongside the King, even if it is “only” for a thousand years. If it is eternity that is in view, then wisdom calls us with an even louder voice: “WHAT IS DONE TODAY DOES COUNT FOREVER”.  And Jesus’ exhortation to “lay up treasure” may be far more significant than is usually thought.  

When we do stand before the judgment seat, King/Judge Jesus will be looking at: (1) our faithfulness, (2) our motivations, and (3) how our lives lined up with His Word. It would be wise of each of us to regularly evaluate our own lives in these three areas, allowing the Holy Spirit to allow us to see how we are doing.

The times we are living in are changing at a breathtaking pace. The accelerating moral and spiritual darkness of this world can actually be a great help to us as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. This cultural change is making it easier to see what is of value, especially of eternal value. I think that each of us would love to hear Jesus say “you did a good job, My child”, and then to experience the incredible, indescribable joy that will accompany that moment and ripple throughout eternity. It will far surpass the emotions of athletes who gleefully dance around raising a trophy over their heads. We will indeed “enter into the joy of the Lord.” 


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Maintaining and Maturing a “Two-World View”


As our culture rapidly departs from God’s truth, it descends into its own truth, which is constructed of deceptions, half-truths, slanted propaganda and outright lies. As the prophets of the Old Testament observed, they now call evil good, and conversely good is now evil. In such an environment, it is absolutely essential for the follower of Christ to have a maturing two-world view. A two-world view is what characterized the people of faith in Hebrews 11, as well as the likes of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:8-21.  

THE FIRST WORLD is the one we live in now. Satan, the “god of this world”, is opposed to that which the Lord has created, and which God has declared to be the best for mankind. These God-ordained entities include the key elements of family, the church and the concept of nations. The Lord has established these to help restrain sin and give to man what is best for him. But Satan works relentlessly at removing them, which explains the approaches of cultural Marxism growing rapidly in our country. Transgenderism, homosexual marriage, the widespread promotion of the LGBTQ agenda, inculcating young children with sexual perversities, unrestrained sexual activities and the explosion of pornography are all aimed at destroying the nuclear family. 

The church is clearly a target as well. The radical left partners with Islam, protecting and promoting it, for the one goal of destroying the church. And this reality is aided by “progressive” Christianity with its downplaying of prophetic truth which stimulates a two-world view. It is replacing God’s truths with its emphasis on “social justice”. And they all engage in the hateful name calling of believers who stand for the authority of God’s word. All this is all aimed at destroying the church of Jesus Christ. Open borders, rejecting “American exceptionalism”, and the rapid promotion of almost anything global is all aimed at destroying nationalism and patriotism. Nations were put in place by God after the Tower of Babel to help put a lid on sinful behavior. And while evil men lead nations into some terrible evils, the reality is that the one-world government of the Antichrist that is still to come will bring evil to its zenith. Globalism is where this world is headed. 

In a prophetic discourse (Luke 21:10-36), the Lord Jesus declared what would happen in this present world. In 21:8-11, He stated what would take place in the first years  of the coming Tribulation period. Unusually intense famines, wars, earthquakes and plagues (perhaps Covid-22, 23 and 24) will hit hard with over 25% of the world’s population dying during those first years (according to Revelation 6:8). 

Then Jesus said that “before these things” take place (21:12), in this church age, there are going to be some very difficult times for His people. Believers will be persecuted and betrayed even by close family members. But all this has a purpose, and that is that we believers will have the opportunity and privilege of giving testimony concerning Jesus (21:13). And the good news is that we will be given all that we need at that moment to be able to speak boldly, wisely and accurately about the truths of God (21:14-15). 

In 21:20-24, Jesus then continued speaking of the coming destruction of Jerusalem (which took place in AD 70). These are called “days of vengeance” because that generation of Israelites, who rejected Jesus as Messiah, would pay a heavy price for their stubborn refusal to accept Him. 

In 21:25-28, the Lord then returned to the subject of the Tribulation period, pointing out the supernatural displays and destructions that will be experienced in the second half of this seven-year period of time. It is worth noting that men’s response to these events will be “dismay”, “perplexity” and “fainting from fear. Man’s philosophies and solutions to the world’s problems never ever bring the results that they advertise. They always bring despair to people. The cultural Marxists of our day speak (as they always do) of the utopia that lies ahead when the world gets rid of the out-of-date restraints such as the nuclear family, the church and nations. But such naivete will be exchanged for fear and despair. As the world descends into the nightmare, known as the Tribulation, uncertainty and terror will grip the minds and hearts of those who refuse to bow before the Lord Jesus. 

THE SECOND WORLD is the one guaranteed to us by the Risen Christ. A biblical worldview has this as an essential ingredient.  We are to live in this world but with an eye on the world to come. God has promised His children that our best days lie ahead of us. And He has set forth some of the realities that lie ahead of us. It is good for us to remember these matters, since they were given to give stability in unstable times.

  • The Rapture or Death. In either case, the believer immediately enters the presence of the glorified Christ, while getting rid of the sinful flesh which plagues us in this life. There is no third option, such as purgatory or “soul sleep”, but instantly we are with our Savior. All of the burdens and trials of this life are immediately set aside as we will begin to experience the wonderful world to come.

  • The Judgment Seat of Christ. This time of rewarding is to give us added motivation to live well for Christ in this world. It is a reminder that we are to be faithful to Him as good servants. Our salvation is never in question at the Judgment Seat, since our salvation is a free gift that we cannot earn. But the level of our fellowship and participation in the future kingdoms of God is affected by the outcome of Christ’s evaluation of us at the Judgment Seat. This was one of the primary motivations that the Apostle Paul had in his life (2 Cor. 5:10-16). We are not called to be famous, but faithful to what the Master has given to us, His servants. And each of us, as we live our lives on a daily basis, can be faithful to Him.

  • The Messianic (Millennial) Kingdom. We, as the “bride of Christ” will be part of this kingdom, as God is going to fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a coming 1,000-year reign of Jesus, son of David. The Old Testament prophets gave great detail about this aspect of the future kingdom of God, as did some New Testament writers. This reign of King Jesus will be on this present earth and will be characterized by a radical change in the spiritual dimension. Jesus will not be the carpenter from Nazareth, but will be seen in His great glory (as He was on the mount of Transfiguration). Satan and his forces will be imprisoned in the abyss for that thousand years, which means that neither Satan’s activities or Satan’s world system will exist. Furthermore, the world will then be characterized by righteousness, peace, joy and a full knowledge of the Lord. None of these exist in today’s world, so we really have to work hard at imagining what such an atmosphere will be like. The physical world will be marvelously changed as the curse will be lifted, making the entire earth fertile and capable of abundant fruitfulness.  Disease and deformity will no longer exist. Violence which characterizes the animal kingdom will vanish as harmony exists even among the animals. And the same holds true for mankind. The earth will go back to what it would have been like before the curse of Genesis 3 was placed on it.

  • The Eternal Phase of the Kingdom of God. At the time of mankind’s fall, God embarked on a program to restore and reconcile all that was lost there in the Garden of Eden. We are going back to paradise. Once the thousand year of the Messianic (Millennial) Kingdom is completed, God will destroy the old heavens and old earth and will create new heavens and earth, patterned after the original creation. It is on this new, perfect earth that God will dwell among His people (Rev. 21:1-5) and we will at last fully experience what our Good God has always wanted for His children.

IN THE MEANTIME, ACCORDING TO JESUS. In the Luke 21 passage, Jesus gave to His people truths for us to live by in this world, as we keep an eye on the world to come. 

  • Be prayerful (21:36). Of course, we should pray (but frequently we don’t). As we live in a morally and spiritually decaying culture, we can become fearful, resulting in a greater danger of compromising God’s truth. Jesus’ point is that we need to pray for the strength to remain steadfast and loyal to Him and to His Word.

  • Be honored (21:13-15). It is a great honor to represent the Great Creator God, and we have been selected to give “testimony” about Him to an unbelieving world. And when we think about it, with eternity’s values in view, what a privilege to represent Him, and to be empowered by Him.

  • Be diligent (21:34-35). We daily must evaluate how we are living, keeping in mind that cultural pressures can lead us into harmful living because either we compromise God’s standards or we just give up and hide somewhere. Life in this world has never been easy, but the cultural decay with its onslaught against the righteous standards of God make it harder. 

  • Be loyal to Jesus Christ (21:16-17). Jesus reminded us that even good friends and family members might let us down and even betray Christ. Divided loyalties are not to characterize us. In His ministry, time and again, Jesus made it clear that even family relationships cannot replace our loyalty to Him. We will, He says, give an account to the “Son of Man” (21:36).

And while we pray “even so, come Lord Jesus”, we are to maintain and mature our two-world view until we do see Him.


Thursday, March 4, 2021

THE APOSTASY AND THE HARLOT

It seems that the Apostles were acutely afraid of false teaching getting a foothold in the church; and so, they often wrote about it, warning believers to be on the alert.  Satan’s tried and true method of attempting to thwart God’s work in this world is through the introduction of distorted doctrines. He has been quite successful at it, and seems to be getting even better.   

The Apostle Paul informed believers, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, that at the end of this age there would be a monumental, deliberate defection from the truth of God (“apostasy”). “Apostasy” carries with it the idea of “rebellion.” And today, most of the “Christian” world, including so-called evangelicals, can be found denying or casting doubt on the fundamental truths of the faith. What Paul warned about, later on the Apostle John gave additional details, in his prophetic revelation concerning the “great harlot” found in Revelation 17.

There are several insights from John that we can glean from his exposure of the coming “great harlot.” We need to remember that the imagery found in Revelation comes almost exclusively from the Old Testament. A “harlot”, as used by Jeremiah, Hosea and other prophets, was not a common prostitute. Rather when the prophets said that Judah and Israel were “harlots”, they were focused on the idea that Israel was the wife of Jehovah, and that instead of being faithful to her marital vows, she was unfaithful to her husband (e.g., Jer. 3:6-10). Israel and Judah went after other gods, and were, therefore, guilty of spiritual adultery. John is using “harlot” in the same way, which tells us that the “harlot” he is speaking about claims a relationship with the true God and Jesus Christ. The “harlot” of Revelation 17 would be “Christian”. But she is terribly unfaithful to Him.

The Composition of the Harlot. It is helpful to note that John says that the “great harlot” is the “mother of harlots” (plural) in Revelation 17:5. This would point to the reality that there are numerous “Christian” religious systems that make up the totality of the harlot. In the world today there are many religious systems that lay claim to Jesus Christ, but have long departed from the Truth (which is Jesus Himself in John 14:6). One cannot legitimately claim a relationship with Jesus Christ while, at the same time, be denying His truth. It could well be that some or all of the following would compose the harlot system: Roman Catholicism, apostate Protestantism, Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, various “Christian” cults and numerous other “Christian” systems.

The Influence and Power of the Harlot.  It is clear from John’s discussion in Revelation 17 that the Harlot wields tremendous power. First, in general it is seen that she has influence over the kings of the earth (17:1-2). There is an intimate and powerful connection between these political leaders and this religious system. And clearly, this indicates that she is a factor in the world order at that time and is deeply involved in the political realm. Second, and more specifically, the Harlot is seen as riding (controlling) the scarlet beast (17:1-7), which has earlier been identified as the Antichrist. Apparently, she will provide some cohesion which will help hold together Antichrist’s new empire. It is fascinating to learn that she actually has a control over this man who would initially rule in Europe (in the first half of the Tribulation) and then rule the world (in the second half of the Tribulation). Such a situation reminds us of the relationship that existed between the Pope and the kings of Europe during the middle ages. The Harlot is clearly one with significant influence.

The Great Wealth of the Harlot. Great wealth often brings with it great power and influence. Money does talk, in fact, it yells. And the Harlot is seen as being incredibly rich (17:4). It is extremely rare when great wealth does not bring with it great corruption and/or great authoritarianism. The Harlot is noted for being rich and we can only imagine what that will look like during these days of rampant evil. Her wealth will impact her influence in the world order.

The Killing of Believers by the Harlot. Remember that apostasy is a willful rebellion against the truth of God. Apostates deliberately, and knowingly, depart from God’s truth. It is not a mistake on their part or a matter of ignorance. And this deliberate departure from God’s truth is usually evidenced by their intense hatred of those who hold tenaciously to the truth of God. During the first half of the Tribulation period, she is the one who purposely and energetically murders God’s children. She is said to be “drunk” with the “blood of the saints” (17:6). She hates believers who adhere to the Word of God. It would hardly be the first time in human history that religion tries to eliminate God’s people from the earth. Religious leaders put the Lord Jesus to death and religious leaders will be putting Jesus’ people to death in the Tribulation.

The End of the Harlot. About the mid-point of the Tribulation period, she will be totally eliminated from the earth. All her wealth and power will be no more. At that time, there will be only one accepted religion in the world, and that is the worship of Satan and the Antichrist. All religions will be brought to an end. They were put in place by the Evil One until his great goal of being worshipped is brought to fruition. The Harlot will be destroyed by the Antichrist and his 10 subservient kings who have a deep and abiding hatred for her (17:16-17). These will actually be carrying out God’s will in the matter. And, in heaven, there is great rejoicing over the fact that the Harlot is no more (19:1-3) and that God has avenged the blood of His people.

                        Our Response to the Coming Apostasy

As believers in Jesus, we will not be here when the Harlot appears. We will have been removed by the Lord Jesus and taken to the Father’s house. But this does not mean that we are not seeing significant defection from the truth of God in our own day, which may be preparing the way for the emergence of the Harlot. 

Our task is to “hold fast” to the Word of God and not compromise it. As stewards, we all are accountable to One on what we do with His truth. The storm clouds are on the horizon and are likely coming our way. Too many churches are already compromising with the culture and, in so doing, are denying the authority of God’s Truth in doctrine and in life. Those who defect from the truth do and will pay a high price for that. The Scriptures tell us to “be faithful” and to “hang in there”. God can and does use His faithful men and women. It is important that we (like Daniel in Daniel 1:8) make up our minds that we will not defile ourselves with this culture. We need to make up our minds that we will be even better students of the Word, that we can give an answer for our hope and faith to anyone who should inquire. These are great days to be bearers of the Truth.


 

Monday, February 1, 2021

PAUL AND THE PROGRESSIVE’S PERSPECTIVE ON PROPHECY

 

One of the disturbing realities that we, as believers in the church face, is the invasion of “progressive Christianity.”  And it is not just into liberal churches where this theological poison is found, but increasingly into so-called evangelical churches. “Progressive (I prefer “regressive”) Christianity” not only is bringing in several New Age ideas and practices, but it is raising doubts in peoples’ minds about most every doctrinal area that we hold onto as basic to our faith. Now, we have neither the space or the inclination to discuss this subject in this article, but mention it because, not surprisingly, the “progressives” also cast aside biblical prophecy as irrelevant and unimportant to “real life.” Unfortunately, that position is not new, but this “progressive” form is reinforcing that position in the minds of church leaders and those in the pews. But, let’s not listen to some “progressive” pastor on this matter, but rather to a Christ-chosen apostle; in this case, the Apostle Paul.

(1) Biblical prophecy was part of Paul’s basic theology course for new believers.

When we look back at Paul’s journeys in the Book of Acts, we note that he went to Thessalonica on his second trip. It was unfortunate for him that the environment there became so hostile that he had to flee Thessalonica after being there just 3 or 4 weeks. Yet, in spite of his brief stay there, biblical prophecy was a key element in his theological training of these new believers. If prophecy was truly irrelevant, then Paul somehow did not get the memo. In First Thessalonians, he taught them about the Rapture event and the coming Day of the Lord. In Second Thessalonians, he reminded them of truths related to the Antichrist and certain other end time events. But we need to observe what he also said in that context of prophetic teaching.

Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well....” (1 Thess. 5:1-2)

“Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (2 Thess. 2:5)


Paul, other apostles and Jesus Himself would weave prophetic truths through their messages because those truths were not irrelevant, but were a key ingredient in helping God’s people live sanctified lives; in helping them prioritize life better; and helping them develop a correct world view. Far from being peripheral theology and out of touch with “real life”, all these understood that God’s prophetic word brings wonderful support to the life of the follower of Jesus Christ. And because that is the case, teaching biblical prophecy was seen as a foundational theological area. And nowhere in scripture does that change!

(2) Biblical prophecy understood and applied brings a believer to an important level of spiritual maturity.  As the Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he shared with the saints at Philippi something of his philosophy of life. And it is quickly seen how prophetic truths played an important role in forming his thinking.

...I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are PERFECT, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you...brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”  (Philippians 3:12-17)

As we look at the details of his worldview, there are four truths that stand out to me. First, Paul realized that Jesus had purposes for his life, as He does for each of us as well (he was “laid hold of” by Jesus Christ). His life had great significance. This reality, which included truth about the future, gave to Paul a single-minded focus for living his life. God did indeed have a “wonderful plan” for his life which energized the way he did life. And while none of us are apostles, we are here in this world at this time because Christ has a purpose for our lives. Second, as he lived his purposeful life, he refused to look back on past failures (like killing and imprisoning Christians) or even on past successes. Looking back has the effect on hindering present progress (like a runner who never looks behind him in his race because that will cause him to break stride). Causing believers to look back is one of Satan’s most effective ploys in keeping Christians from living well for Christ (2 Cor. 2:5-11).

Third, the Apostle’s focus was on the future, namely on two events. First, the “prize” that he spoke of is yet another reminder that Paul lived with a certain focus on the coming Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:10-4:5). His future accountability to Jesus Christ, and the eternal results of that time of evaluation was one of the great motivations in his life (2 Cor. 5:10-16). The other event mentioned here was the Rapture, the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” He expected Jesus to come at any moment and this had a powerful effect on the way he lived. These future events were consistently part of his worldview as he lived for Christ here and now. Apparently, these prophetic truths are not so irrelevant after all. 

And fourth, this worldview of Paul is a mark of Christian maturity. There is a notable level of spiritual maturity in those who understand and live according to this perspective. The word “perfect” in 3:15, carries with it the idea of maturity, not perfection. Biblical prophecy really is an important part of Christian maturity because he helps develop the two-world view (living in this world with an eye on the world to come). This two-world view is what characterized each and every individual mentioned in Hebrews 11, the chapter on great people of the faith. They lived as strangers and pilgrims in this world and did so with an eye on what God had in store for them in the future when He would bring to fruition His grand purposes for believing mankind. Paul was distressed by those who “set their minds on earthly things'' (3:19), which is the one-world view which characterizes “progressive Christianity.” My guess is that the Apostle’s distress level would be greatly elevated today as he viewed the one-world emphasis so prevalent in the church.

(3) Biblical prophecy brings a passion for living.  It is worth noting that Paul speaks of our heavenly citizenship, our transformation and the Lord’s appearing (3:20), and this brings a kind of energy (“eagerly wait”) to our lives. Such a view assists the believer in not being overwhelmed by the trials, dangers, disappointments and concerns of this life.  This view actually aids us in living much better.

It really is a sad thing when Christian leaders dismiss biblical prophetic truth as unimportant and not 

worthy of one’s time and attention. What wonderful assurance the prophetic word gives to His people, 

and for “progressive” leaders and others to deny that to believers borders on the criminal.