Monday, December 8, 2014

The Star and the Sign

The “star” and the Wise Men are inseparably connected with the Christmas story and the first coming of Jesus Messiah. The “star” has long been the subject of casual discussion as well as theological debate. But whatever one thinks about the “star” it cannot be denied that it appears everywhere at Christmas time; on Christmas cards, nativity scenes, in advertising, in pageants, as tree ornaments and in dozens of other random places. But biblically what was the “star” and why was it in the story? And does it have anything to do with the second coming of Jesus Messiah?

THE STAR OF MATTHEW 2. In most nativity scenes, the Wise Men (3 of them) are there with the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, the baby and a variety of animals. But that scene is not really accurate. First, the Bible never gives the number of Wise Men who came to Bethlehem. But more importantly, it clearly lets the reader know that they were never there at the birth of Jesus. The text of Matthew 2 indicates that they arrived well over a year later and, when they did get to Bethlehem, eventually found Mary and the child Jesus in a house in that town.

This common confusion about the arrival of the Wise Men (who are not “kings”) extends to the matter of the “star.” The word “star” (aster) has as its root meaning the concept of radiance or brilliance. It is used in the Bible of people, angels, Christ as well as those luminaries in the sky. So the word has a variety of meanings and is not limited to a luminary in the sky. There are a number of indicators in the story of Matthew 2 which inform us that the “star” is not a literal star. When we look carefully at the account in Matthew 2, there are a number of facts which become apparent.

First, the “star” did not guide the Wise Men from the east to Bethlehem. They saw the “star” in the east and went to Jerusalem because they were convinced that this “star” was a sign of the birth of the king of the Jews. (We do not know for certain how they knew this; though the prophecy of Balaam, the prophecies of Daniel and the presence of a Jewish community in Babylon may have contributed to their knowledge). They went to Jerusalem because what more logical place to find Israel’s king but the capital city of Jerusalem.

When they got to Jerusalem, the Wise Men were informed by the scribes that the king (messiah) would be born in Bethlehem which was located about 4 miles south of Jerusalem. Then when the Wise Men exited Jerusalem they rejoiced because they once again saw the “star”. So the “star” did not behave like a normal, literal star in that it appeared, then disappeared for months and then reappeared outside of Jerusalem. Also, it guided from north to south as well as appearing in the east before appearing in the west. None of this is the behavior of stars or alignments of planets. Secondly, the “star” guided the Wise Men for about four miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and then “stood over (the house) where the Child was” (2:9, 11); not over just the town or a neighborhood. No star or alignment of planets could pinpoint the exact house where the young child Jesus was living. Literal stars simply cannot point to such a specific location.

If the “star” was not a literal star then what was it? I would suggest that it was the appearance of the glory of God; what is often referred to as the “Shekinah”. This glory of God appeared and guided the Israelites in the wilderness. It had a continuous presence of God over the Tabernacle and on the journey to Canaan. I would concur with Dr. Arnold Fruchetenbaum’s analysis of the “star” in his book “Messianic Christology”.

“By this star coming in the form of light, what we actually have is the appearance of the Shechinah Glory….The Shechinah Glory is the visible manifestation of God’s presence. Whenever God became visible in the Old Testament, this is referred to as the Shechinah Glory. In most cases, the Shechinah Glory came in the form of a light, fire, cloud or some combination of these three things. Over in Babylonia a light appeared, a brilliance, a radiance that may have looked like a star from a distance and yet had actions and did things which no star can do or does do. What these Wise Men actually saw was the Shechinah Glory. When they saw this…unusual brilliance, they deduced from it that it was a signal that the King of the Jews, the Messiah, had been born.” (Messianic Christology, pp. 143-144)

So, to signal the coming of the Messiah, the glory of God was seen in the heavens by the Wise Men. The meaning of this signal was so clear to them that they embarked on the long, long journey to Judea. So the “star” was a sign that Jesus the King had come. Now, might this “star” also make an appearance at the time of His Second Coming signaling the return of Jesus the King?

THE SIGN OF MATTHEW 24. Jesus taught that immediately preceding and in connection with His Second Coming to earth a sign would appear in the sky (Matt. 24:30). The significance of this sign would be understood by all the earth’s inhabitants, many of whom are unbelievers and who will be gripped by great grief. And this sign will be connected with the coming of Jesus Messiah (“Son of Man”) in the clouds with power and great glory. So, immediately preceding His coming there will be a sign. The word “sign” is semeion. This word is used to refer to an unusual or miraculous event that carries a special meaning. The “sign” points to a reality that has even greater significance than the sign itself. For example, this word is used by John to refer to the miracles of Christ. They were not only miraculous events but pointed to something even more significant; that being the presence of the King and some characteristic of His kingdom (e.g. in His kingdom blind people will see: Isaiah 35). So the sign in connection with the Second Coming is a miraculous event that points to something greater than itself; namely, the coming of Jesus.

 The passage in Matthew 24 strongly suggests that the “star” of Matthew 2 will make another appearance; the appearance of the Shekinah glory indicating the presence of God the Son.

So, while we might observe that the “star” in connection with the first coming of Jesus has been widely misunderstood; we can say with confidence that there will be no such misunderstanding at the Second Coming.

As we celebrate Christmas and the first coming of the Savior, we are wise to keep an eye toward heaven from which comes the Savior who will take us to be with Himself. And then, seven years later the sign in the sky will signal His return to earth a second time.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Mark of the Beast and the World Economy

One of the most recognized numbers in all the world is that of “666”, the infamous mark of the Beast (Rev. 13:16-18). Many people have heard about the “brand” that will be put on the hand or forehead of people which apparently becomes critical to their existence. But there is also a great deal of misunderstanding and concerns about the “mark of the Beast”. In this brief discussion, we want to get some facts straight about the “mark”, and also see what the present world economy might be telling us about things to come.

Basic Facts Concerning the Mark of the Beast. It is helpful to have the text of Revelation 13 in front of us, so we quote here the relevant verses.

“And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a MARK on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one should be able to buy or sell, except the one who has the MARK, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.” Revelation 13:16-18

Fact #1. The appearance and applying of the “mark of the Beast” does not occur until the middle of the Tribulation period. Revelation 13 focuses on the second half of the 7 year period of tribulation and that is where the “mark” becomes so critical to life. So people today in the church age do not need to be concerned about being forced to receive the “mark.”

Fact #2. It is actually the “second beast”, known as the “False Prophet” (Rev. 19:20) who puts the “mark” on people. The False Prophet is a miracle worker and thus he is able to deceive unbelievers and get them to worship the Antichrist (the first beast), to worship the image of the Antichrist and to accept the “mark” of the first beast.

Fact #3. Having the “mark” will enable a person to carry on the basic economic activities of buying and selling. Without such ability, life will be nearly impossible for the average person; no trade or commerce and no ability to obtain the necessities of life. Undoubtedly the “mark” will be an effective tool used by Satan in depriving the followers of Jesus Christ the basics needed to sustain life. Those who have the “mark” will apparently live normally (if life in the tribulation could be called normal).

Fact #4. It appears that receiving the “mark” is a choice people make; a choice which aligns them with Satan and the Antichrist. Though the people are indeed deceived by the False Prophet, nevertheless it is an act of their will that is involved; they are not “victims”. Their thought is undoubtedly on present survival and not on their eternal future. The “mark” seals their fate as is seen in the final series of “bowl judgments” where those with the “mark” are the targets of God’s final judgments (see Rev. 16:2).

Fact #5. When the text tells the reader to “calculate the number of the beast…” it is probable that this is directed to the people who live in the time of the tribulation. For centuries, scholars have tried to figure out what the text is saying so that the Antichrist can be identified. For centuries, people have been involved in gematria (number mysticism), where certain letters are assigned numerical value. Those numbers are then added up and if “666” is achieved then perhaps the Antichrist is in view. This has been applied to Nero and other Caesars, to certain modern day politicians and others. (A certain theology professor of mine had a name that added up to 666!).

But the main point to the “mark of the beast” is an economic one. We know that commercial life will go on during the tribulation period (note Rev. 18). And we know that buying and selling is the very foundation of economic life and that is what the “mark” controls. There will be in the second half of the tribulation period control of the world’s economic life by the Antichrist. This will go on in full force for 3 ½ years, but will no doubt be set up by years of economic events such as depressions, collapsing of monetary systems and crushing debt. This brings us to where the world economy is now and whether the present situation could be preparing the world for Revelation 13:16-18.

The Mark of the Beast and the Present World Economy. The internet recently has been filled with a number of economists who foresee a terrible collapse of America’s economy as well as that of the world. One such book, “The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System” was written by James Rickards.

In April of 2002 the CIA began “Project Prophesy” which was designed to try and see how terrorists might bring down America by going after its economy. The author of the above named book was part of the project. This project later evolved into MARKINT (Market Intelligence) and some important realities were discovered or emphasized. It became clearer on how interdependent the economies of countries were and how one could make economic war on other countries. It has become more likely that the US dollar could collapse in that the US debt problem is not temporary and that it cannot really be fixed. Standing behind the banks of the world is the IMF (International Monetary Fund) which exists to control finance and to contain both economic risk and economic development in the world. The IMF has its own currency (the SDR) which is a non-dollar currency. This is a place where presently some worldwide economic control takes place.

While most of us are not economists, we recognize that having huge debt, continually printing money and manipulating the markets cannot end well. And since the economies of nations are so closely linked, we understand that what happens in American or Europe or Japan affects economics deeply and quickly elsewhere in the world. Perhaps as never before in all of human history, we can see the possibility of a one world economy which could be controlled by one man. We see the very real interdependency of nations in the world economy.

Is the IMF, or something like it, the forerunner to the worldwide control that is seen in Revelation 13? That, of course, is impossible for us at this point in time to know. But could it be that this is one more “piece of furniture” that is now in place on the stage of biblical prophecy? Jesus told us that we cannot know the exact timing of end time events. But He also told us that basic indicators would be observable and we are to take note of them. If we are, in fact, nearing the end of the present age then the world monetary situation is set and ready to go.

All of this is not to cause us to develop a “bunker mentality” but live as well as possible for the Lord Jesus in whatever time He gives us either individually or collectively. And it is another reminder that this world is not our home and that we just passing through…into the great kingdom of Messiah Jesus.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ezekiel and the United Nations

Now that the current war between Israel and Hamas has concluded (at least temporarily), we are not at all surprised by the outcome. With superior fire power, Israel devastated Gaza and brought a crushing defeat to these Islamic haters of Israel. We wonder sometimes what possesses a group like Hamas to imagine that they will drive Israel from the land. It surely is a form of satanically stimulated insanity which motivates them.

What we are not surprised about is that so many nations and individuals found this war with Hamas an opportune event to express high levels of deep hatred for Israel. Signs declaring that “Zionists are the new Nazis” and shouts that “Jews should be gassed” or “burned” were heard in the streets of Europe as well as many Arab nations. But it was not just in the streets of cities all over the world (including the USA) that such irrationality was witnessed. In the United Nations, once again Israel was attacked viciously. This time it was the “war crimes” of Israel that were decried and Israel’s indiscriminate killing of innocents (without mentioning, of course, that over 4000 rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel from all locations including schools, hospitals and mosques.)

As we were again exposed to this irrational kind of thinking in our present day, it is good to recall again that this is not something new. And it is not something that is going to go away any time soon. It will go on until Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, comes and conquers His enemies, restores Israel back to Himself and takes possession of His inheritance, which is all the nations of the world (Psalm 2). The prophet Ezekiel has some helpful thoughts in his prophecy. We want to quickly look at some of the words of the prophet Ezekiel, in chapters 35 and 36 because they sound as if they were spoken last month.

The Setting of the Prophecy. This chapter is found within that great section of Ezekiel on the restoration of Israel. In chapters 34-39, God declares that He is going to restore Israel (the words “I will” is used about 70 times in this section). We are told by Ezekiel that the restoration of Israel depends on God’s word and character and not on Israel’s righteousness. There is an order to Israel’s restoration. God will first restore Israel back to their ancient land, and this will be over a period of time and will be clearly seen by the nations of the world. Second, they will be restored back to the Lord. God will use the terrible days of the Tribulation to restore His people spiritually. In the midst of this discussion, we have the declarations in chapter 35:1-36:15 of the antagonism of Edom and the nations of the world. This section is likely included to reveal that the restoring of Israel will not be easy and will be resisted by Israel’s enemies.

The History of the Hatred of Edom Against Israel. Edom was a nation formed primarily from the descendants of Esau as well as Ishmael. God said of Ishmael that “he will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him.” (Gen. 16:12). Later Esau (Gen. 28:8-9) married into the line of Ishmael, and the nation that came about was the nation of Edom. From the very beginning there was a deep antagonism between Esau and Jacob (Israel). In the end times, the hatred of Edom (the Arab nations) towards Israel would remain. The term “Edom” is being used not only of these peoples but also as representing the nations of the world. As Dr. Merrill Unger states: “Edom, her bitterest and most inveterate foe, representative of her enemies in general, is prophesied to be destroyed irrevocably.” (Ungers Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 1567). This irrational hatred for Israel which has been in the world since the days of Genesis will be alive and vibrant at the end of this age and apparently led by “Edom”. It must be said that the rabid anti-Semitism that is witnessed in the world today and will be present in the end of times finds it origin in Genesis 12. This chapter records that moment in time when God entered into an eternal, unconditional covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Through the “seed” of Abraham, Satan, and his attempts to control the world, will be brought to an end. Satan is well aware that it is through the “seed” of Abraham (the Lord Jesus Christ) that his demise will come. He hates Jesus (whom he cannot touch) and so his venom is spewed out on the Jewish people.

The Sins of Edom and the Nations of the World. Ezekiel records several evils of “Edom” (as it represents the world of nations in the end times).

(1) The slaughter of the Jews (35:5; 36:4). The blood of Israel has been shed in abundance. “Edom” has not hated blood and murder. Does this remind us of dozens of statements made by Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS? And not just their statement but their brutal actions. They have loved blood and there will be retribution in kind from the Lord (35:6). There will be no mercy shown to them because they refused to show mercy. (Note what Amos 1:11 says about this attitude of Edom).

(2) The Taking of Land Given to Israel Under the Abrahamic Covenant (35:10; 36:2, 5). The Land was given to the descendants of Abraham within the eternal, unconditional covenant. To take that land is to steal from the Lord God. The promise of the Lord in Ezekiel is that Israel will get all of their land that was given to them under the Abrahamic Covenant. “Edom” will pay for their arrogant claims that the land will become theirs. The Land is not “Palestinian land” and it has not been theirs from “time immemorial” as is often claimed. It is not true to history that the Jews arrived late and took it from the “Palestinian people” (who, of course, do not exist in history). Note the proud boast of “Edom” in 35:10 where the two nations likely refer to Israel and Judah. “These two nations and these two lands will be mine, and we will possess them…” Does that not sound a lot like what we hear today when it is said that Israel will be driven into the sea and “Palestine” will be possessed by the Arab peoples?

(3) The Intense Hatred and Envy of the Jews (35:11). The Jewish people have turned the swamps and barren desert into lush, productive land. They have been innovative and developed an immensely prosperous land. This reality has only fueled the long standing hatred and envy against the Jewish people. God clearly has chosen to bless and prosper them even though they presently remain in their unbelief.

It must be noted that this envy and hatred is seen in the words spoken against Israel (an example of which is that constant stream of abuse flowing out of the United Nations). Israel is said to have become “a derision to the rest of the nations”(36:4), but that will come to an end when Messiah reigns and “I will not let you hear insults from the nations anymore, nor will you bear disgrace from the peoples any longer”(36:15). This has not taken place yet but the UN will be silenced!

The End of It all. One basic thing that “Edom” forgets is that to attack Israel is to attack the God of Israel (35:10). When they speak against Israel, they speak against the Lord Jehovah (35:13). When they take land, they steal it from the Lord Himself (35:10; 36:5). In the end, the patience of the Lord God will come to an end and He will deal with them according to their evil (note Exo. 34:6 and 7). And, “Edom” has also forgotten the most basic of points. That point is that the Abrahamic Covenant is still in force and that those who “curse” Israel will be cursed by God (which is not an enviable position to be in). (See Gen. 12:3)

So we learn from Ezekiel that the deep antagonism against Israel was true in the past and it will be true in the present, but that it will not be true in the future kingdom when Jesus, son of David from the tribe of Judah, rules. Then all will be as it should be. We need Ezekiel’s perspective as we observe events in the middle-east and hear the rhetoric coming out of New York (the United Nations), Damascus, Tehran, Cairo, Gaza City and many other places.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Living Today In Light of the Future Day of the Lord - A Study of 1 Thess. 5:1-11, Part 2

In the previous study we observed that knowledge of the future ought to cause us to take appropriate action in the present. So, if I learned that the new computer I needed to get would cost $250 less during the coming Saturday sale, I would make preparations to buy it at the Saturday sale, and not on Friday or Sunday. This is normal and natural. As believers, we have been informed about coming future events and the Apostle Paul encourages us to take appropriate action right now.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the Apostle reminded believers of the coming “day of the Lord” (5:1-3) and then spoke of the appropriate actions believers should take as a result (5:4-11). In the previous study we discussed 5:1-3 and in this study we look at 5:4-11.


The Status of Believers (5:4-5). We, as believers in Jesus, do not have the same status as unbelievers. They are “in darkness” but we are not. The phrase “in darkness” has to do with the sphere in which a person lives and the phrase “of darkness” refers to the nature of the unbeliever; something true of us before trusting Christ. “Darkness” is the realm of Satan and his kingdom (Col. 1:13; Eph. 4:18; 6:12). The person who believes in Jesus is taken out of that realm and is placed in the realm of light. As Peter declares, by His grace we have been called “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Because we are in the light and not in darkness, the day of the Lord will not “overtake”us. This powerful verb means “to seize with hostile intent”; and it teaches that because believers are not in darkness, the Tribulation will not lay hold of believers and will not catch them by surprise. Why? Because believers in the Church will not be present on the earth when this takes place. It is important to note in the verses that follow that Paul is clear that believers can live badly and be spiritual asleep. And since that is possible, then we can see that a “sleeping” believer would likely be very surprised by the sudden birth pains---if it were not for the fact that no church age believer will be on the earth. The Apostle stresses in 5:5 that every single believer has been removed from the realm of darkness (“are all sons of light”) which eliminates the possibility that any will experience the birth pains of the Tribulation. (Note that the word “day” in 5:5 is without the article and is, therefore, not speaking of “the day of the Lord”). People of “light/day” will not experience the wrath of God in the tribulation.

The Exhortation to Believers (5:6-8). Next three exhortations target believers: (1) don’t sleep; (2) be alert; and (3) be sober. First, the Apostle warns believers not to be sleeping (a present tense emphasizing on going present action). This word for “sleep” is different than the one found in 4:13-18 where it there speaks of the death of a believer. Here it speaks of moral and spiritual indifference. This is the true status of the unbeliever but, unfortunately, it can also be true of a believer in Jesus. If this is not possible, then we must ask why Paul exhorts believers not to be this way! So, contrary to the way it ought to be, believers can be sluggish and indifferent to spiritual and moral matters. Unbelievers are that way but we are not to be like them (see Rom. 13:12-14).

Second, the believer is to be alert. This word has the idea of being wide awake and watching like a sentry on duty. This echoes the Lord Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:42. We are to be observing the world around us while keeping one eye on the heavens from which the Savior comes (Phil 3:20-21). We are to live with the conscious expectation of the Lord’s return. The emphasis here is not simply about one’s theological position but also one’s attitude of expectancy. We can become dulled by the passage of time and the Lord’s seeming delay and become careless.

Third, believers are to be sober; that is, we are to be rational and aware of our condition and the conditions around us. A person who is drunk (not sober) is often completely unaware of events swirling around him and which could dramatically impact him (and very often does). In 5:7, Paul describes the unbelieving world which is notoriously careless in the way it lives. They are spiritually asleep and intoxicated (by many things in culture, not just alcohol) because they are of the night.

In 5:8, the metaphor changes somewhat as we are exhorted to be like good soldiers, alert and prepared for war. We are to put on (1) the breastplate of love and faith, and (2) the helmet of the hope of salvation. The metaphor is the same as Ephesians 6, though the armor in view is different. As in Ephesians 6, it is the responsibility of the believer to put these things on. The breastplate is made up of faith and love. Faith is our belief and proper response to the Lord and what He has said. We understand from His Word that terrible days lie ahead but we are not to be fearful or anxious because we have His promise that we are not going to experience the birth pains. Love looks at our proper response towards others. We are not to be self-indulgent and self-centered (this would be part of our being “sober”) as we live in the end times. The helmet protects the head and guards our thought life. Salvation has the primary idea of “deliverance.” In this case it is our deliverance from the coming “day of the Lord.” Hope refers to our confident expectation. We can know that we are delivered because we belong to the Lord Jesus who will not allow His bride to experience end time wrath.

The Deliverance of Believers (5:9-10). Our confidence in being delivered from the day of the Lord is a reasonable thing because God has declared two things: (1) we are not destined for wrath; and (2) we are destined for final deliverance. First, God has not destined the believer to experience His future, eschatological wrath. Why? Because the believer’s sin (all of it) has been removed and God is now propitiated (satisfied) by the death of Jesus. Christ’s death accomplished once and for all the deliverance of those who believe. There is no need for “purgatory” of any kind, including being “purified” by the Tribulation. Second, believers are destined for the final phase of their salvation; that of glorification which includes that resurrection body (given at the rapture---1 Cor. 15:51-53). God will finish what He has begun in us. It is important to observe that the only agent of this salvation is Jesus Christ (5:9) and that we believers are not mentioned as contributing in any way to our own salvation. The deliverance from the time of God’s wrath (the tribulation) is Jesus removing His people via the rapture event.

All believers will be part of this final deliverance. It is instructive to note (in 5:10) that two kinds of believers are spoken of; those who are awake and those who are asleep. As noted earlier, believers can live poorly and be asleep; that is, they can be spiritually and morally indifferent. That, however, makes no difference at the rapture event, as all believers in Jesus will be taken. This one verse pretty well destroys the “partial rapture” view, which holds that only godly believers who are walking with the Lord will be taken at the rapture, while the carnal Christian will be left to go into the tribulation. It should be said that immediately following the rapture will be the Judgment Seat of Christ and there the “sleepy” believer will answer for the way he has lived.

The Encouragement of Believers (5:11). The section closes with the exhortation to keep on encouraging one another with these truths. And what a wonderful exhortation it is! We are to comfort one another with the truth of being with Christ; of our final salvation; and of exemption from Divine wrath. We are constantly (present tense) to be reminding each other of these ultimate realities.

What shall we do with these exhortations by God’s Apostle. First, it might be a good idea to take a few moments and determine (with the Spirit’s help, of course) what my true spiritual state is---sleeping? Alert? Sober? Second, ask the tough question of yourself, “do I love His appearing?” And third, do I speak often encouraging other believers with this great truth of the Lord’s return and His promise of final deliverance?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Living Today in Light of the Future Day of the Lord - A Study of 1 Thess. 5:1-11, Part 1

It is pretty certain that if we knew about a coming significant event, we would take appropriate action to get ready. So, if we knew that we would lose our job in two months, we might start looking for another job as well as making some financial adjustments. If we knew that a hailstorm was going to hit in an hour, we would put our car in a garage out of harm’s way. If we knew that a burglar was going to break into our house in the early morning hours tomorrow, we would make a number of adjustments preparing for his coming.

Knowing ahead of time what is going to happen is one of the significant reasons why biblical prophecy is important in the believer’s life. When we become aware of coming events (and believe it) we do life differently. This was the Apostle Paul’s emphasis with the believers at Thessalonica as he instructed them about future events and our response to those events.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the Apostle reminded them of the coming of the Day of the Lord (5:1-3), and then of the needed response of the children of the Lord to this reality (5:4-11). In this study we will look at the matter of the coming “day of the Lord” (5:1-3) and then in the next study we will focus on what our response is supposed to be (5:4-11).


The Knowledge of Believers – 5:1-2. The discussion opens with “now” (peri de) which always introduces a new subject in Paul’s writings. He had been reminding them about the coming “rapture” (4:13-18) but now shifts to the subject of the coming “day of the Lord”; and specifically the judgment part of the day of the Lord (that is, the Tribulation). He had taught them about this before so this is a reminder and not brand new information. They had learned earlier about the “times” and the “seasons.” “Times” refers to the order or sequence of coming events, while “seasons” (or epochs) refers to significant events that are turning points in history. (For example, September 11, 2001 would be an “epoch” because the world was dramatically changed by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon). It is worth noting that Paul believed that eschatology was a vital part of Christian theology, as seen by the fact that in the few weeks he was with the Thessalonian believers, he taught them carefully on prophecy. He not only talked about major events but also the sequence of future events.

In the OT the “day of the Lord” is used: (1) in reference to the coming time of unprecedented trouble and judgment, which we commonly refer to the Tribulation; (2) in reference to the judgments and events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ to the earth; and (3) in reference to the coming time of blessing which is looking at the Messianic Kingdom.

The term “day of the Lord” has a rich Old Testament history as it used some 75 times in the OT prophets. It refers to a special time of Divine intervention into this world.

In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul is just looking at the judgment aspect of the “day of the Lord”.

The Ignorance of Unbelievers – 5:3. It is important to note the difference between “we” and “they” in this discussion. The “they” is looking at unbelievers and “we” refers to believers. In a most fascinating statement, Paul declares that the “day of the Lord” will come when they are saying “peace” and “safety”. This is an amazing thought. When it is the consensus of the world that we are now in a time of “peace”and “safety”, then suddenly the “day of the Lord” (like the thief who arrives unexpectedly—5:2) comes in its full fury. The word peace means that there is an absence of alarm because of the harmonious relationships and circumstances on the earth. Safety means secure from danger and enemies. These two words point to a time when men will feel inwardly that everything is safe and secure and they see no real outward evidence that contradicts that feeling. How they arrive at these feelings is not spelled out. But their general sense is that all is well and that sense ill prepares them for the sudden destructions of the Tribulation period. These judgments are likened to “birth pains” that come suddenly on the expectant mother. The concept of “birth pains” is used by the OT prophets, as well as the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul. It looks at judgments which will come and will increase in intensity and rapidity as time draws to the moment of the end (the birth pains which “birth” the messianic age). Now, which birth pain is it that catches the expectant mother off guard? The first one, of course. She could be sleeping peacefully or enjoying a nice meal, but things change dramatically when that first pain hits. This first birth pain points to Revelation 6 where the first judgments (the “seal judgments”) begin the Tribulation period. These are the judgments which catch the world off guard.

So in these verses, Paul informs us that unbelievers are not only ignorant of the true situation in the world, but they are also ignorant of God’s coming judgments.

One might wonder how they could be so surprised by these judgments. Jesus dealt with that very issue in His teachings (e.g. Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:28-29). He used the people of Noah’s day as an example. Even though the world had 120 years to prepare for the Noahic flood and heard Noah the preacher of righteousness proclaim this coming event, they were caught off guard by the Flood. Why? Because they simply did not believe God’s revelation. Like Noah’s day, mankind in the end times, will be preoccupied with the things of the world and quite dismissive of God’s revealed truth. Mankind simply will not listen to the warnings given in God’s revelation and will most likely write them off (as well as anyone who might refer to them) as the ravings of unstable religionists. This attitude which will prevail in the last days combined with their view that the world is now a basically tranquil place, will set them up for the terrible surprise of the judgments of the “day of the Lord”. They simply do not see things as they actually exist.

But there is a nagging issue here. Why would any sane person see the world as a safe and peaceful place? Why would this become the consensus of most everyone in the world? Is the world safe and secure today? The answer, of course, is “no”. It is neither of these two things mentioned in the text. The reality today is that we have constant surveillance with the NSA, TSA, CIA, FBI and others monitoring life 24/7. We need to go through security checkpoints to get on a flight, go to school or go into a sports arena. Cameras are everywhere and, if the TV shows are correct, our movements, locations and much more are observable by many. The world is not a safe place and thus all the precautions. But apparently something dramatic changes our present situation.

The primary problem today which causes all these precautions is radical Islam. Could it be that the groups and nations that produce and fund these radicals are destroyed? Could it be that prior to the Tribulation period these radical elements are effectively neutralized thus causing a false sense of security in the world? Could it be that the famous Gog/Magog battle of Ezekiel 38 and 39 takes place destroying these nations which hate Israel and produce the terrorists of the world? I would suggest (and this is, I admit, speculation) that after the “rapture” event but prior to the start of the Tribulation that God will destroy these nations as describe by the prophet Ezekiel, preparing the world for the great end time events.

Whether this is the exact chronology of events or not, we are faced with the matter of why the world would be saying “peace” and “safety”. We may not be able to figure this out this side of the events themselves but the truth is the world will be saying peace and safety and God’s judgments are a total surprise.

But there is much more in this passage as believers who know about future events must not be spiritually sleepy but alert and living with these events in view.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Interpretive Tips For Understanding Revelation, Part 3

Everyone who does “projects” around the house knows how essential it is to have the right tool for the right project. Trying to drive a nail using a pipe wrench, or using a pair of pliers instead of a screwdriver to remove a screw, makes the job harder not to mention rather frustrating.

We are devoting three studies to the purpose of getting the right tools in our interpretive tool box; three studies to help us specifically with our “project” of understanding the Book of Revelation. In the first two studies we observed three key rules and in this study we will look at three more. The first three rules that were given were: (1) interpret Revelation literally, which means we approach this book normally as we would other scriptures; (2) interpret figurative language according to the established meanings of those figures of speech which are found in the Old Testament; and (3) interpret Revelation by keeping the truths found in Genesis 1-11 in mind. Now we want to turn our attention to our final three interpretive “tools” for understanding Revelation.

(4) Interpret Revelation by comparing it with other scriptures. This, of course, is an interpretive rule for our approach to all of scripture. God has not revealed all truth about any one subject in any one place. So we need to go to other scripture in order to systematize the information revealed on any particular subject. So when we go to Revelation 13 and read John’s discussion and description of the Beast, we are not getting all the information there is on the subject of the Antichrist. So to understand what John is saying, we need to go back to other passages that deal with this key end-times individual. So we look at what Daniel reveals, what Paul records, what Jesus said, along with other writers of scripture. Then, and only then, do we get a systematized view of what the Bible says about this individual. By doing this, we avoid making interpretive errors in our study of Revelation 13 as well as coming to a clearer understanding of the Beast.

(5) Approach Revelation chronologically. The Book of Revelation is not a random, haphazard setting forth of information about the future. The Book of Revelation is fundamentally given in chronological sequence. This is first seen in chapter 1:19, which almost all interprets agree is the “divine outline” of the book. John is commanded by the Lord Jesus to write down the information being given to him: the past vision (1), the present situation of the seven churches (2-3) and then things future to John’s day (4-22).

“Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things.”

This outline sets the framework for understanding the entire book. A key phrase in1:19 is “after these things.” After the things of the church, then will come the events described in chapters 4-22. Revelation 4:1 then uses this same phrase twice with a slight difference in usage but both usages speaking of chronological sequence. The passage reads:

“After these things I looked, and behold a door standing open in heaven and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’”

The first “after these things” lets us know that John received this vision after he receives the information of chapters 1-3. The second use of “after these things” tells us that the events of chapters 4-22 will follow the events of the church age (chapters 2-3). So the “divine outline” coupled with Revelation 4:1 sets the framework for approaching the Book of Revelation.

But there are other chronological indicators in the book. After the events of the church age, John is given information about what will then come. In chapters 4 and 5 he is taken to heaven where he observes the transferring of ruling authority from the Father on the throne to the Son (the Lion-Lamb of Judah). This is immediately followed by the Lord Jesus opening the first seal which initiates the judgments of the Tribulation. These judgments are designed to bring Israel back to the Lord and to punish unbelieving men and nations. Chapter 6:1 – 8:1 records the first series of judgments, known as the “seal judgments”. In the middle of this first series of judgments (chapter 7) we are given additional, vital information. This is to let us know that God is interested in saving men, not just judging them.

Following the “Seal judgments” come the next series of judgments, known as the “Trumpet judgments” in chapters 8 and 9. This series is actually the seventh and final “seal” judgment. Coming from the seventh seal makes it clear that there is a chronological “flow” of judgments. At this point, there can be some confusion. Revelation 9 ends giving the details of the sixth “trumpet”. But the seventh trumpet is not mentioned until 11:15, but the contents of that judgment is not given. The seventh “trumpet” announces the final series of judgments, the “Bowl judgments” which are not recorded until Revelation 15 and 16. It is at this point that some confusion arises until we look closely at Revelation 10:11 and the words “prophesy again.” There is stop in the flow of events while John is given a scroll which adds additional information about the Tribulation. There are four things that John needs to know and reveal, found in chapters 11-14. These, I believe, all refer to the second half of the Tribulation period: namely, the Two Witnesses (12); Israel in the Tribulation (12), the Antichrist (13) and finally Armageddon and the last weeks of the Tribulation ending in Christ’s Second Coming (14).

After John gives the content of “the scroll”, he records the final “Bowl judgments” (chs. 15-16). This is followed by another parenthetic discussion of Babylon (chs. 17-18). John had twice mentioned Babylon (14:8; 16:19) but had not given any details about this entity which is obviously quite important to the end times. The Book concludes with John’s final vision (chs. 19-22) which has the chronological marker throughout the vision. This marker is the phrase “and I saw” which shows again the sequence of the final events in this book.

When we are aware of these key chronological indicators within the book itself, the Revelation becomes all the clearer.

(6) Revelation should be interpreted according the futuristic perspective.
The futuristic perspective was mentioned in our first study on the interpretive tools of Revelation. This is the interpretive assumption as we approach Revelation; that is, the pre-tribulational, premillennial is the best way to interpret the book.

Hopefully, these interpretive tools will give confidence and direction as we come to this fascinating but complex book. Remember, that God’s desire is that we understand what He has revealed about coming events. Revelation is an “unveiling” of Jesus Christ and His future work.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Interpretive Tips For Understanding Revelation, Part 2

I well remember the first time I sat in front of my first computer. The machine seemed to be so complex that it was simply outside my ability to figure out how to use it. Hopeless frustration would best describe my feelings at that moment. Fortunately, my friend John came alongside and gave me some tips on how to approach this mini-monster. And those tips became invaluable in my quest to try and subdue the machine. And while I am far, far from being a master of my computer, those initial tips from John gave confidence and some ability to navigate through the technology maze.

The purpose of these present studies is to give some tips on understanding the Book of Revelation. While we may not become immediate masters of Revelation, hopefully we will gain confidence and some ability to navigate through the complexities of this final book of the Bible.

We ended our discussion last time by looking at the first of six interpretive guidelines for Revelation. The first is the most basic rule in our interpretation of all scripture; it is that we are to interpret Revelation literally. This simply means that we approach the Scriptures normally, letting language function in its usual way. Words in Revelation are interpreted according to their usual, customary usage. We let language function as language, recognizing the historical context, the normal rules of grammar and the common use of figures of speech.

(2) Interpret figurative language scripturally. Literal (normal) interpretation includes figures of speech and symbols. It is part of the normal use of language to employ such things as communication devices, and this is fully recognized in literal interpretation. However, figures of speech and symbols represent things that are actual. The interpreter cannot make them mean anything he desires.

There are some key matters to be aware of.

THE OLD TESTAMENT PROVIDES THE LENS THROUGH WHICH MUCH OF THE IMAGERY OF REVELATION IS TO BE VIEWED. In his book “Interpreting Revelation”, Dr. Merrill Tenney says that there are about 350 direct quotes or allusions in Revelation that are found in the O.T. (He describes an “allusion” as something that is so unmistakeable that we can trace its origin even though it is not a direct quote. For example, the “two Witnesses” in Revelation 11 are said to be the “lampstands and olive trees” that stand before the Lord of the earth. That designation clearly comes from Zechariah 4 even though it is not a quote). This averages out to 16 OT references per chapter in Revelation. Dr. Tenney observes that there are about 235 OT references that come out of the 16 writing prophets. It should be immediately apparent that if an interpreter does not have a good working knowledge of the OT prophets then he will have problems with many statements found in Revelation. The point here is simply that the symbols and figures of speech in Revelation cannot be made to mean anything; the OT has established their meanings.

JOHN’S USE OF COMPARATIVE LANGUAGE MUST BE CAREFULLY OBSERVED. There are events observed by the Apostle John in his vision that went beyond his experience and comprehension. John uses the word hos some 16 times and homois 22 times. Both words are used for comparison and are usually translated “like”, “as”, “something like” or “like as”. So in Revelation 8:8, John says he saw “something like” a “great mountain burning with fire” landing in the sea, causing it to become blood. Whatever John observed in his vision, it resembled a burning mountain. He doesn’t know what it was, but it looked like that. So we don’t know what John is actually describing and must take care in trying to say what it John meant in terms today’s world.


SPEECH. For example, in Revelation 17:1, the “great harlot sits on many waters.” Later in the chapter we are told the the “many waters” represent the gentile nations. Now, we might have guessed that because in the larger context (e.g. Isaiah and Daniel), waters are so identified. In the case of “harlot”, the larger context of our of OT prophets tells us that this is a religious system that claims loyalty to the true God but has prostituted itself by going after other gods (e.g. Jeremiah and Hosea).

Therefore, symbols and figures of speech are an important element in Revelation. These, however, have established meanings, usually in the OT. John’s use of comparitive terms (“like”, “as”) signals us that he is describing things outside of his first century realm of experience.

(3) Interpret Revelation with Genesis 1-11 in mind.
There are two important interpretive issues that we need to look at.

A. GENESIS 1 and 2 PROVIDES THE NEEDED FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING GOD’S ULTIMATE PURPOSES. When God created the heavens and the earth, He declared it all to be “very good.” The material world, man being created in His image and all that was part of the original creation was considered excellent by God. It was not a substandard plan or one that had need of revision. God created Adam and Eve in His image so that they could rule the planet, have fellowship with Him and enjoy the material paradise of Eden. When the first couple sinned, all three were lost: they lost rulership of the planet to Satan, they lost their fellowship with God and they lost the privilege of living in Eden. At that moment, God could have destroyed everything and started over. (He would have lost two people and six days work, but a week later it all would have been up and running again!). But God chose to restore everything that was lost in Eden. And so, when we come to Revelation 20-22, we discover that everything that was lost will be restored, and even enriched! A new earth; a new level of fellowship (God will come and live with His people) and the restoration of rulership back to the Son of Man and to those who have faithfully served Him (note that there are even “kings” in the eternal kingdom of God, 21:24-26). It is critical that we understand that God’s purpose is to restore all that was lost in Eden and that helps frame our understanding of what God is doing in Revelation and why He is doing it.

B. THE EVENTS OF GENESIS 1-11 SPEAK OF EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE OUTSIDE OF THE REALM OF NATURAL SCIENCE. Natural processes did not bring the earth into existence. Scientific law cannot explain how animals suddenly became carnivores after being made herbivores in the original creation. How does one explain a global flood? Certainly not be looking at the normal processes that are observable today. What happened at the tower of Babel? How did people who got up in the morning speaking the same language go to bed that night speaking an entirely different tongue, with different words, vocabularies and so on. So many events found in Genesis 1-11 are only accounted for by the supernatural activity of God.

This is the mindset we are to have when looking at the end time events. It is so common to hear “natural” explanations for the events found in Revelation whether it is in the pulpit or on the History Channel. For example, when 1/3 of the earth is burned up, a preacher might say this is a picture of nuclear war. Probably not. The burned up earth is clearly seen as the judgment of God. Men know that God is at work. If it were some insane politician in Washington DC or North Korea launching nuclear warheads that would not at all communicate the critical fact that God is judging man. It absolutely loses its desired effect. Men must know (and they will know) that this is God who is judging. How is it that the waters of the earth are turned to blood? This is not the coloration of the seas by some chemical or plants life, as some have suggested. The water is actually blood (according to the angel in Revelation 16:4-7).

There is no explanation of that judgment unless it is seen as an unmistakable work of God. Revelation is interested in telling us WHAT God is going to do, not HOW He is going to do it. But it is God who is doing it! Many of the judgments and activities are outside of the realm of normal events and those on earth understand it is the doing of the Lamb of God (6:16). God may use natural objects, as He did in the plagues of Egypt, but it became apparent to the Egyptians and the Israelites that the mighty hand of Jehovah was at work. Therefore, we should cease attempting to explain everything in natural or scientific terms. Genesis 1-11, with its amazing supernaturalism, needs to help us create an appropriate interpretive mindset. The Creator runs the creation.

Our next study will look at some more interpretive tips to aid us in understanding the wonderful Book of Revelation.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Interpretive Tips For Understanding Revelation, Part 1

When asked what book of the Bible they would like to study, the average church youth group will almost always include the Book of Revelation at or near the top of the list. And yet, in spite of such enthusiasm for Revelation, it remains to most people, a confusing and mysterious book. Take any five pastors and teachers as they teach on Revelation and you will likely end up having at least six different interpretations.

The purpose of these discussions on interpreting the Book of Revelation is to give some tips that hopefully will help in our understanding of this important book. Some tips will be familiar, but it our desire that all of them will prove valuable in keeping us from wandering away into interpretive minefields where more harm than good occurs.

We should remember that God gave the Revelation so that we could have some understanding about the future and have our lives enriched by it. It is designed by God to be an “unveiling” not a concealing of truth about the future.

Four Basic Approaches to the Book of Revelation

We need to begin our study with a reminder of the basic approaches that are taken to the Book of Revelation. One of the real points of confusion for the average church-goer is how pastors and teachers can differ so greatly from one another in their explanations of Revelation. So, we must review four basic approaches to the Book of Revelation. Each approach is very different and takes the interpreter to an entirely different place. This alone will explain some of the differences that we hear when Revelation is taught.

(1) THE APPROACH OF IDEALISM. “Idealism” does not believe that Revelation indicates the time of events. In other words, Revelation simply gives principles or lessons that are valid in any age. (Such as, God is sovereign, or that good will win out over evil). The Book is not intended to look at the past or to peer into the future. The symbols of Revelation have no direct application to anything specific. (So, for example, the beast of Revelation 13 is not a person from the past, present or future, but is simply representative of something, such as social injustice). So Revelation is to be interpreted non-literally; thus employing the allegorical approach. Now it is abundantly clear that when allegorization (spiritualization) is employed in the interpretation, at that point the interpreter becomes the final authority. In fact, the interpreter no longer has any solid guidelines and can come up with most anything, which often happens.

(2) THE APPROACH OF HISTORICISM. “Historicism” was the dominant view of the Reformers and continued to be the approach of choice to Revelation until the end of the 19th century. In this view, Revelation is a symbolic presentation of the entire course of church history. It holds that we have been in the tribulation since the 1st Coming of Jesus Christ and this will continue until His 2nd Coming. Therefore, the symbols in Revelation are identified with historical persons (such as, the Pope is the Beast) and the judgments represent particular events. (For example, one commentator says that the 6th Seal Judgment represents the invasion of the Goths and the Huns around 365 AD). But one wonders, why would it represent the Goth and Huns and not, for example, the war in Viet Nam? Among Historicists there is simply no agreement on the exact identification of persons or events because the whole system is subjective. In fact, the identification of persons and events is constantly changing. The events, persons and symbols are interpreted allegorically and thus, again, the interpreter becomes the final authority. This approach badly obscures our understanding of Revelation, removing any real possibility of the believer being “blessed” by this book. (Rev. 1:3). This approach has lost its prominence because many have come to realize that it is so subjective that it provides little help in understanding Revelation.

(3) THE APPROACH OF PRETERISM. The term “preterism” is based on the Latin preter which means “past”. This view believes that most, if not all of Revelation, has already been fulfilled. (There are differing views within Preterism). This “past” fulfillment is connected with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This view has been popularized by R. C. Sproul in his book “The Last Days According to Jesus.” This position is arrived at by Preterism’s regular mixing of literal and allegorical interpretation which is seen as a legitimate way to handle prophetic scripture. They operate with the “pre-understanding” of post-millennial thought; that is, the world will be Christianized coming under the Law of God. Because the world is going to get better and better, the judgment passages of Revelation must be seen as past events and not something in the future. Also, they justify their non-literal interpretation by appealing to Revelation as being of the “apolcalyptic genre.” This allows them to take the language of Revelation and make it mean whatever they think is best, instead of letting language communicate normally. (The reader might find helpful the chapter on Preterism, in my book, “Understanding End Times Prophecy” which is published by Moody Publishing).

(4) THE APPROACH OF FUTURISM. Futurism approaches the book of Revelation as prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. Revelation 4-22 is seen as eschatological chapters that will be fulfilled in Daniel’s 70th week (the Tribulation), at the 2ndComing of Jesus and in the future, forever kingdom of God. The more literal an interpretation of Revelation, the more strongly will that person be a futurist. Futurism will be the approach taken in this series of studies on interpreting the Book of Revelation.

Six Important Guidelines in Interpreting the Book of Revelation

We will end this first study with the first of the six interpretive guidelines that we wish to share in these studies. It is the most basic of our interpretive rules because it applies to all of scripture and not just to the Book of Revelation.

(1) Interpret Revelation literally. Those with a high view of the Scriptures, as being the very inspired Word of God, will always interpret the language of scripture literally. This simply means that we approach the Scriptures normally, letting language function in its usual way. We employ this interpretive approach when we talk with one another on a daily basis. We give words meaning according to their usual, customary usage. Since we assume that God is trying to communicate truth to us, He based His revelatory communication on the normal rules of human communication. Literal interpretation recognizes that there are figures of speech. So, for example, if I were to tell you that we should not eat outside on the patio because there are a million mosquitoes out there, you realize that I am saying there are an awful lot of mosquitoes out there; so that eating dinner out there would be quite unpleasant. We both know that I did not count them. The figure of speech of a “million mosquitoes” is rightly understood and is taken “normally.” We will deal with the matter of symbols and figures of speech in more detail in our upcoming study. But this first rule of interpretation simply is that we let language function as language, recognizing the historical context and the normal rules of grammar.

In the next study we will look at the importance of the Book of Genesis in our understanding of Revelation and the use of figurative language. In the third study we will deal with three other interpretive tips in our interpretation of Revelation.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Here Comes Trouble - The Time of Tribulation, Part 4

Some perhaps remember the old E. F. Hutton commercial on TV where it was said “when E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” The visual aspect of that commercial was that a crowd of talking people all of a sudden became silent and leaned in to hear the latest financial advice from E. F. Hutton. It communicated its message very well, letting the viewer know that this authoritative source for financial information should be listened to very carefully.

Well, a greater than E. F. Hutton has spoken. With authority and clarity the Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed that the coming period of tribulation is the worst period of time that this planet will ever experience. The focus of His statement was on the second half of that 7 year period of time. Jesus referred to this 3 ½ year period as “the tribulation, the great one.” (Matt. 24:21) And He observed in the next verse (24:22) that no human being would have survived it if God had allotted a longer period of time for the tribulation.

As we conclude our four part study of the time of trouble, there are several specific matters that need to be discussed.

Five Key Elements in the Second Half of the Tribulation Period

(1) THE NATION OF ISRAEL. The Lord Jesus was quite clear that the second half of Daniel’s 70th week would be a terrible time for Israel. When they see the “abomination of desolation” set up in the Holy Place in the temple at the midpoint of the tribulation, they are encouraged to quickly flee the land. The Antichrist, with whom they are in a covenant relationship, will break that covenant and cease being the protector of Israel, and will become their great persecutor. As Israelites increasingly come to faith in Jesus, their persecution increases tremendously. According to Revelation 12, Satan is forcibly removed from heaven and he knows then that his time is short. This results in Satan going for with “great wrath” on the earth, particularly targeting Israel. By the time of Jesus’ Second Coming, Israel nationally will come to faith. In fact, Israel’s regeneration is the one prerequisite for His return to earth (Matt. 23:39). So it will be the best of times and worst of times for Israel.

(2) THE ACTIVITY OF THE ANTICHRIST. The career of the Antichrist (the Beast) has very distinct parts to it. Before the tribulation ever begins, he is the ruler of a nation and in that role he signs the treaty with Israel. In the first half of tribulation, he is the dictator of an eleven nation confederacy. At the midpoint of the tribulation, he is killed and returns to life. It is at that point that the world worships him and during the final 42 months of the tribulation (Rev. 13), he becomes ruler of the entire world. In this capacity he, along with his chief assistant the “false prophet”, will attempt to control the world militarily as well as economically (the famous “mark of the beast---666”). The Scriptures consistently testify to the fact that these individuals will be working the most amazing miracles. The outpouring of supernatural manifestations are very messiah-like, causing great deception among mankind (See 2 Thess. 2:9-10; Matt. 24:24; Rev. 13:2, 13-15). His passionate hatred for God and the people of God causes him to wage war against the saints. In this effort he is very successful. But he and his devoted followers will be the target of God’s final series of judgment, the “bowl judgments.” His aggressive rebellion against the Lord God will be brought to a sudden, dramatic end at Armageddon when he (along with the False Prophet) are cast alive into the Lake of Fire (the “second death”).

(3) THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD. Jesus likened the judgments of God to “birth pains.” Like birth pains, they increase in both number and intensity as the tribulation period proceeds along. This means that the number of judgments are more numerous and of greater intensity during the second half of the tribulation. Most likely, the “trumpet judgments” (Rev. 8-9) and the “bowl judgments” (Rev. 16) occur during the final 3 ½ years. And it is amazing to note (in Rev. 16) that men realize that these terrible judgments are coming from God, yet they still blaspheme Him and refuse to repent. This certainly shows the human heart for what it is when not touched by the Spirit of God.

(4) THE WITNESSES OF GOD. In the middle of the nightmarish events of these seven years, God will cause the gospel to go throughout the entire world (Matt. 24:14) with the result that multiplied millions will come to faith in Jesus (see Rev. 7). As noted in our earlier study, God will raise up 144,000 as witnesses who will no doubt play a significant role in bringing the gospel to the whole world. But also, God will raise up the famous “two witnesses” (Rev. 11). While many Bible students place the ministry of these two men during the first half, it seems best to place them in the second half. (The information about the “two witnesses” is part of the scroll that John ate and the other pieces of information on the scroll deal with the second half of the tribulation). The “two witnesses” will have a ministry that focuses on the city of Jerusalem which at this time is in terrible moral and spiritual shape. Their ministry, however, will have worldwide impact as is seen by the intense hatred of the entire world towards them. They will have the ability to work miracles and they will be a thorn in the side of the Antichrist as he attempts to bring all to worship himself. The “two witnesses” are preserved by God until the very end of the tribulation. At that time they will be killed, but then will rise bodily after some three days, much to the horror of those who live on the earth. God will always have His witness on this earth, even in the most difficult of times.

(5) THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST TO THE EARTH. The second half of the tribulation will come to a sudden end with the coming of Jesus. Immediately before His return, there will be a sign in the heavens which alerts all on the earth that the time has now arrived for His return. There is not a doubt in the minds of the unbelievers that it is all over for them. They will mourn when they see the sign. And then Jesus comes back in power and great glory. He comes back to take the planet back from the Evil One and to establish the future, forever kingdom of God. The Antichrist and False Prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire and Satan and his forces are placed into the abyss, the prison for demons (cf. Luke 8:31; Rev. 20:1-3, 7). At His coming, the curse is removed and the world returns back to a paradise-like condition as the long awaited messianic age begins.

The Bible is clear on how things are going to end. They will end wonderfully well for the children of God, but not well for those who have aligned themselves against the Lord and against His Christ. We have God’s word on the matter and on that we can rely. Such truth is given to us to give us perspective on the world that we live in and to help us personally prioritize life better and make better decisions. These prophetic truths are not designed to satisfy our curiosities, but to assist us in living more authentic lives now for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Here Comes Trouble - The Time of Tribulation, Part 3

I can remember on one occasion cheering for my favorite college football team. My cheering had no effect on them as they just played terribly in the first half and were behind 28 to 6. It really did not look good for them. In the second half, however, they were a completely different team as though they woke up at halftime from some sort of slumber that they had been in. Same uniforms, but a radically different group was out on the field and they went on to win by some 20 points. So what transformed them? Apparently whatever took place in the locker room at halftime.

The coming Tribulation is no game but it does have a first half and a second half. And those two halves are very different from one another because of the halftime events. In this study we want to investigate the events that take place at “halftime” which dramatically change this coming period of Tribulation.

In our last study we focused on the first half of the Tribulation and noted the following: (1) the nation of Israel is back in their land though they remain largely in unbelief; (2) there is a politically powerful, wealthy entity which is a false form of Christianity and which holds sway over the western world; (3) the Antichrist rules over an eleven nation western confederacy; (4) God’s “seal judgments” blast the earth causing a minimum of 25% of the world’s population to perish; and (5) a time of great salvation takes place on the earth as people are faced with the truth of God as never before. There are four major events that take place at the half way point of the Tribulation which dramatically change this period of time. Recall that Jesus referred to the second half as the “tribulation, the great one.” The following events bring about “the tribulation, the great one.

(1) THE NATION OF ISRAEL. Israel is back in their land and the “temple of God” (2 Thess. 2:4) has been rebuilt with the result that the full Levitical worship system is back in place. We can only wonder how Israel gets the temple mount back and what the role of the Antichrist might have been in returning it to them. But as Israel’s protector, he does what today seems impossible. All is well in Israel. However, at the midpoint, the Antichrist breaks his agreement with Israel and turns from being their protector to being their persecutor. He will terminate the Levitical system and will then require worship of himself (and Satan) alone. We are told that “he takes his seat in the temple” and makes himself out to be God. Jesus said that when this (along with the setting up of his image in the holy place) occurs, people need to flee Jerusalem because terrible persecution is coming immediately. This “abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15) is a key mid-tribulational event. So Israel will go from being protected in the first half to being persecuted in the second half. Things will be dramatically different in Israel because the seven year treaty is broken by Antichrist.

(2) SATAN’S REMOVAL FROM HEAVEN. While we do not fully understand why God allows Satan access to heaven, we know from the story of Job that He does. He appears there regularly. But that changes half way through the Tribulation when an angelic war takes place in heaven (Rev. 12:7-12). Satan and his forces are defeated and they are forcibly removed from heaven and confined to the earth for 1260 days. The strategic verse in the discussion is 12:12.

“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

This event is seen as that final wakeup call that alerts Satan to the fact that time is almost over for him. His response, in his rage, is to do as much harm to God’s people as he possible can. The killing and destroying of God’s people is simply “off the chart” in the second half, making it the worst of times. Satan simply is now confined to the earth by God and no longer has the freedom that he once enjoyed. This makes him highly unhappy.

(3) THE DEATH AND RETURN TO LIFE OF THE ANTICHRIST. At the midpoint of the Tribulation, the Antichrist is assassinated. This is clear from Revelation 13:3, 12 and 14 where he receives the wound of the sword (a violent death) and then returns to life. Technically, he does not receive a resurrection body, but rather he is restored back to physical life. (The word for “slain” is the same one used of the Lamb in Rev. 5:6, and no one doubts that Jesus actually died). The Antichrist has made a lot of enemies during the first half and someone is able to successfully take his life. But shortly thereafter (I would guess about 3 days!) he returns to life, apparently God allowing such a thing. The result of this return to life is breathtaking. One can only imagine the messianic type claims he will make for himself. The world immediately will begin to worship him and immediately he becomes ruler of the entire world (not just the western world). He is revered by much of earth’s population. It seems that in Daniel 11 he takes up residence in Israel. (A logical place to be if one is claiming to be the messiah). He will engage in efforts to destroy God’s people and will be very successful in those efforts (Rev. 13:7).

(4) THE TERMINATION OF ALL RELIGIONS. Not only is the Levitical worship system of the Jewish people ended at the midpoint, but at this time the false form of Christianity is violently destroyed by the Antichrist (Rev. 17:15-17; 19:1-3). Also, we would assume that at this time all religions of mankind are terminated by the Antichrist and the “false prophet” (Rev. 13:11-18; 19:20; 20:10). The only legal religion in the world is the worship of Antichrist and Satan (Rev. 13:3, 4, 8, 12-15). This is a close as Satan gets to being “like God” and having creation worship him.

We, of course, do not know how many days are involved in these events coming to pass. However, these most likely will take place in a very tight sequence of events, and they will rock the world as few days have. The sudden, dramatic series of events will reshape life in the Tribulation. But obviously the Lord God knows about all this and is not caught off guard by any event, and this truth will fortify the resolve of believers in those difficult days. And for us, it is important to remember that events in our days do not blindside the Lord either. He knows all things and is ready to shepherd us through them for His glory and for our benefit. What a “good shepherd” He is.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Here Comes Trouble - The Time of Tribulation, Part 2

Thanks to the History Channel and other such outlets, most people in this country are aware that there are many folks who believe that the world is going to end very badly. And so, sitting in front of their TV sets, they get regular doses of the Book of Revelation mixed liberally with Nostradamus, pseudo-scientists, UFO proponents and a wide variety of prophets and prophecies from all over the world. In these presentations, the Apostle John and his Revelation are presented as just one of many sources that are equal in authority. Bible believing Christians, however, recognize that there is only one authoritative source for understanding the future. The God given Scriptures reveal important, authoritative and detailed information about upcoming events. In this study, we continue our investigation into the coming time of great trouble, commonly knows as The Tribulation.

From our last study we noted that the length of this time is seven years; that the true Church is removed from this time of God’s wrath; that the main reason for the tribulation period is to save Israel and many others; that it is indeed a time of terrible judgment; and finally, that the level of supernatural activity is unprecedented in all of human history.

We suggested in our last study that the Tribulation of seven years has three distinct parts to it; the first half, the midpoint and the second half. Noting what happens in each part is important to our understanding of this coming time of trouble. In this study, we will take a look at the first half; that is, the initial period of 3½ years.

Five Key Elements in the First Half of the Tribulation Period

(1) THE NATION OF ISRAEL. It is abundantly clear from both OT and NT that the people of Israel must be back in their land when the events of the end times take place. Ezekiel sees Israel’s restoration back to their land as the necessary prerequisite for their salvation (Ezek. 34-39). And he sees their return taking place over a period of time and a return that is observed by the nations of the world. Daniel informs us that Israel returns to their OT Levitical worship system during the early days of the tribulation which involves the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple (Dan. 9:24-27) and Paul places the Antichrist in that rebuilt temple in those days (2 Thess. 2:4). This temple and its worship can only take place in Jerusalem. During the first years of the tribulation, Israel has come back to the land but they do so as an unbelieving nation. Israel is restored geographically but not spiritually. In His prophetic discourse, Jesus also places Israel in the land during those great and terrible days (Matt. 24:4-31). Many other prophets, like Isaiah, Joel and Zechariah, are clear that Israel will be in the land when the events of the end times occur. So, Israel has returned to the land but they have not returned to the Lord as the Tribulation begins to unfold.

(2) THE “SUPER CHURCH”. Revelation 17 reveals the presence of a wealthy and powerful religious system during the first half of the Tribulation. She is said to be Babylon “the mother of harlots.” Babylon is synonymous with religion that is false. Harlotry is an OT concept (e.g. Hosea 4:10-11) which differs somewhat from our usual understanding of a prostitute. In the OT, it speaks of Israel, the unfaithful wife of Jehovah. It looks at those who claim to have a relationship with the Lord God but are unfaithful to that relationship, going after other gods. This idea is transferred over to the NT in Revelation 17, leading us to suggest that this is the unfaithful, apostate “church”. It claims a relationship with the Lord but is terribly unfaithful to Him. The plural “harlots” suggests that it is an ecumenical system, made up of various religious groups which claim a loyalty to Christ.

Three basic facts are revealed about this system. (1) It is very wealthy as is seen by her garments and the presence of gold and jewels. (2) She is politically powerful as is seen by the fact that she rides the “beast” (i.e. she dominates the Antichrist). And (3) she is the great persecutor of true believers in Christ, as is seen by her being “drunk with the blood of the saints.” This religious system will dominate early in the Tribulation but will be destroyed completely by the Antichrist and his followers at the midpoint of the Tribulation (17:16-17).

(3) GOD’S JUDGMENTS. Jesus Messiah is given the scroll with the seals (Rev. 5) and He breaks the first seal (6:1). This initiates divine judgment in the Tribulation. This, according to Jesus in Matthew 24:8, is the beginning of “birth pains.” Birth pains are used in both OT and NT to speak of God’s judgments. Birth pains have several features to them. (1) When they begin, they do not stop until the “birth” comes (in this case it is the “birth” of the great Messianic kingdom); (2) the pains increase in intensity as the time for birth draws closer; and (3) the amount of time between the pains gets shorter and shorter as the time for birth gets closer. This is an accurate picture of the judgments in the Tribulation. The initial judgments are very painful for the world, but the last ones are far worse and there are more of them. According to Revelation 6, a minimum of 25% of the world’s population will perish in these initial judgments. (If the population of the world is 7 billion, then close to 2 billion people die). And so, if this is just the startof the birth pains, it immediately becomes clear that the worst is yet to come.

(4) THE SALVATION OF MANY. We noted in our first study that the main reason for this seven year period is to save people; first Israel and then a multitude of gentiles. The salvation of many begins in the first half as is seen by the tremendous numbers of saved martyrs in Revelation 7:9, 14. Jesus declared that by the mid-point of the Tribulation many in Israel will be saved, being persecuted for “His names sake” (Matt. 24:9). It is reasonable to suggest that the famous 144,000 (Rev. 7 and 14) are saved during the early days of the Tribulation and become critical in the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world (Matt. 24:14). Many are saved in the first half, but even more will come to Christ Jesus in the second half. This time is a time for the battle for the souls of men.

(5) THE ANTICHRIST. The man commonly called the Antichrist is certainly the dominant human figure during this period. He will arise out of a western nation (Dan. 7:7-8, 20-26) and be a prominent leader there. It is as a leader of a powerful nation that he enters into a covenant relationship with Israel, promising them his protection (Dan. 9:27). When the Tribulation begins, he moves into action and will defeat three western nations which will lead to seven others submitting to him (Dan. 7). When the dust settles, he will be the ruler of a group of eleven nations. He will remain in this position as a dictator until the middle of the Tribulation.

It would be well to remember Jesus powerful statement about this time in Matthew 24.

“...for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short.” (Matt. 24:21-22)

When we read such statements and learn of this coming time of trouble, most believers in Christ do believe that these things will take place. But while we “believe”, we often do not see them as relevant to life as we now live it. It is good for us to recall what Jesus told His disciples about this time. After He got done detailing this coming time (Matt. 24 and 25), Jesus spent much more time encouraging His men to be prepared by serving Him. He warned them not to become complacent but to use these truths as motivators to living well for Him in the present. And for us, it is the same. Life’s decisions, values and priorities need to be framed by the reality of future events; events which just might be closer than the man in front of his TV set watching the History Channel might imagine.