Friday, April 19, 2013

Hidden In Plain View: The Rapture of Matthew 24

"For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8,9

As I said before, when God speaks about important issues, He speaks so that everyone can understand. Not to be missed, believers in the Bible are called "children". We are His children. So,... He takes time with us. He makes sure that we know what we need to know. He deals with each one of us individually... and He uses a love relationship with Himself to call us out to walk with Him. He may speak in mysterious parables to others but, with us He speaks in the open... plainly. Let me point out. Because of His desire for relationship, when we believers put ourselves in the position where the only spiritual food we receive is from someone else's quiet time, we are forfeiting God's plan for our lives. Yes, there is a place for preachers, a good Christian book, or a God-honoring TV or radio ministry in our daily walk. But, the whole of scripture puts the weight of relationship on our personal, one-on-One time spent with God... reading His word, meditating, studying and practicing what He shows us. There is a huge difference between hearing about Jesus and hearing Him speak to you from His word!

Did you notice that the opening verse from Ephesians 2 does not need much clarification? Oh, you might have a question about how salvation works but the main thrust is clear. There's nothing you can do about salvation! It is the gift of God! Similarly, (and getting back to our topic) I think it can be shown that Bible eschatology and particularly the prophetic events that lead to the rapture of the church are just as clear and understandable to any average reader of the passages involved.

Allow me to pose a question.

If you were to take 1,000 willing people and have them read and study the New Testament for a year, how many of them do you think would become Jehovah's Witnesses?... or, Mormons?... or Hindus? The answer is NONE. Why? Because no one ever became a Jehovah's Witness by just reading the Bible. To become a Morman or JW etc. you have to accompany your study of the Bible with outside, non-Biblical resources. Reading Watchtower Magazine resources would be imperative. Or, getting the "guidance" of a person who is a Jehovah's Witness. And, so on with the other groups.

[[[ BTW: This is a great blessing that we Christians have over the cults... a wonderful thing to contemplate as we evangelize. And it is this... We, personally, do not have to see or talk or guide our seeker/friend to the Truth. That is God's doing! Minutes, days, months after we have shared a portion of Gods' word your loved-one can be led by the Holy Spirit into a saving faith. In a cult, a person has to be steered as he or she is exposed to doctrines that are either not present at all in the Bible or else taken out of context to make a point that doesn't exist!]]]

To my point... If you gave the same group of people a year to study the second coming of Christ from the Bible alone, it is my contention that they would never come up with the Rapture placed at the beginning of the Tribulation. Why? It just doesn't read that way. As with the cults, you would have to have outside materials and resources to explain to you that what you were reading is not what is being said. (An odd thing for the inspired Word of God to do!)

We are going to look at three passages:

Matthew 24 - Jesus is teaching and explaining "when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of (His) coming".

II Thessalonians 1&2 - Paul is correcting a false teaching that the coming of the Lord had already taken place.

Revelations - The apostle John keeps mentioning the church which, according to the pre-trib position, isn't supposed to be in Revelation!

*****

MATTHEW 24

Jesus has just been in the Temple area. As He leaves, the disciples point out the splendor of the buildings and Jesus responds with a bleak portrayal of things to come. The subject being broached, they come to Him privately and ask,

“Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:3b

Jesus starts with a warning of false Christs and moves quickly into world history.

“See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs." Matthew 24:4-8

It is fair to say that verses 4-8 have been fulfilled over the past 2,000 years. Basically, world history is one long story of false Christs, politics, war and natural calamities. I think Jesus is trying to point out that believers should not get overly excited concerning events that will occur in the normal course of a fallen world. This is to prepare our consideration of those events He will mention later in the chapter. Events at the end days which herald "the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky" which will be in great contrast with the "norm". He follows in verses 9-12 by saying that believers are going to live through much difficulty.

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold." Matthew 24:8-12

We know that those mentioned here are Christian believers because they are "hated by all nations because of (Jesus') name." This would not be true of non-believing Jews. Unfortunately, this is also the "norm" for the entire church age. Believers will be hated for their beliefs... continually falling for false prophets... ever battling the inward desire to just "give up", follow the way of the world and become bitter and angry.

Then, Jesus gives us the first of several testable time-markers. A marker that points to an indentifiable event of (then) future history.

"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:14

You wanted to know when Christ returns? "THEN" is a big word in verse 14. Such and such happens... Then the end will come! A monumental task, world evangelization will have just been completed! "Go into all the world and preach the gospel". Matthew 24:14 would be the starting point. The completion of this world evangelization command along with the reestablishment of the nation of Israel are signals that the end of the age is upon us! Those of you who are world watchers know that these two "signals" have taken place in the lifetimes of many of us. Israel, against all odds, becoming a nation in 1948 and, more recently, missionary societies reporting that the "gospel preached to all the nations" is virtually complete.

Verses 15-22 seem to be future.

“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short." Matthew 24:15-22

These verses are centered around a theme of a false Christ and the entry into the terrible days of the Tribulation. I have no problem with saying that verse 15 speaks of the Anti-Christ. Time and place markers are given and three disclosures that need highlighting.

1. The Temple is evidently to be rebuilt!

I think that most everyone would agree that "the Holy Place" spoken of here is the Jewish temple. As of this writing (2013) there is no temple in Israel. The absence of it allows a test for the skeptic. IF the Bible is true and is literal in its descriptions of the end time, it predicts the rebuilding of the Jewish house of God before it has happened. That, dear friends, is a mark of the supernatural... the ability to foretell future events. Any number of miraculous events would have to happen before a temple could be built! But, happen they will!

[[[Just to keep in step with my earlier predictions on this blog... I can see the possibility of the new Temple being built with the aid and encouragement of a Muslim!! The 12th Imam? But, that is another story. We know that a temple does not necessarily have to have the endorsement of Jehovah God to be built. Historically, there was another temple built of a man's design and ambition. The last Temple in Jerusalem was not an "God-authorized" project and was allowed to be constructed by the hated Herod the Great. A golden-plated travesty of God's true vision. It was this temple with which Jesus was familiar in His day.]]]

All that being noted... Already in our day there are those in Israel planning and training in temple service; designing and crafting the gold and silver implements for service. The day of the Lord is near!

2. The Anti-Christ will visit this Temple

The "man of sin" as he is also referred to, will stage a Temple event to exalt himself as well as launch a devastating plan to annihilate God's chosen people. There are those who say that the "Abomination" in verse 15 is fulfilled prophecy. They point out that Antiochus IV, the Syrian king who ruled Palestine from 175–165 b.c., is the person of which the prophecy is speaking. My understanding is that Antiochus is a fore-shadowing of the future abomination. The reason I believe this is because of a closer reading of the passage. First, a time marker is given. "For then (following this temple abomination) there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved;" The word "then" is used again to highlight what happens after this future abomination of desolation takes place. A "great tribulation" occurs, unlike anything in history past, present or future. That "great tribulation" has obviously not yet happened. Hence, I believe verse 15 to be a future event. Conclusion: A great evil will take place in the Jerusalem temple, performed by the Anti-Christ, and in our future.

3. Crucial help for those in the Great Tribulation!

This is very important! There is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT ADVICE FOR PEOPLE LIVING IN THE TRIBULATION PERIOD IN VERSES 23-25. These verses contain: 1. Several "heads up" warnings; 2. Perhaps the most unnoticed wise counsel in all of the scriptures; 3. The key to understanding "who is Who" in those awful days when truth will have almost disappeared.

[[[NOTE: If you believe that Left Behind and Late Great are correct, you are hoping to have been raptured by this point. If these books/viewpoints are incorrect you will need this information! These few words of Jesus will save you from a pit of doubt and debilitating fear in those fearsome days.]]]

"Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." Mt 24:23-28

The difficulties that arise on the heals of the Temple fiasco introduce a palette of violence and deceptions. The events of those days become so spiritually devastating that everyone would be lost were it not for the fact that God Himself intervenes in history as stated earlier in verse 22. At this point in the Matthew 24 timeline we can see how events have moved from the previous "normal" into, what is now, a realm of great and increasing intensity. Jesus gives another time marker. "Then if anyone says to you,..." Who is the "you" here? Simply... believers. Believing Christians are going to be in danger! Mesmerized, dazzled, spellbound by these "Christs" and prophets. And note! There are multiple false Christs! In addition to THE Anti-Christ the tribulation will give rise to numerous treacherous teachers. Many of them doing great signs and wonders. Works of power so amazing and so persuasive that unwary Christians can be spiritually decommissioned. (Let me make it clear. You cannot lose your salvation! But, there are spiritual decisions that can make life miserable for any Christian. Amen? As far as the tribulation period is concerned... choosing to blindly follow a false teacher who would introduce degrading, immoral, anti-Biblical practices into your life would be a desolation.)

What will we be up against in those days? What will we do when some charismatic charmer heals everyone at the local hospital in God's name,... when he pulls fire out of the sky,... when he sets the world economy in order,... when he brings peace to the Middle East,... when he seems to know your thoughts and calls you "brother"? Are you ready for that?!?

The next two verses are vital instructions from the God of heaven for those living in a world where truth has been turned on its head.

Jesus begins by saying, "Behold, I have told you in advance." He then delivers another apparently unremarkable piece of advice. "Do not believe them." And He says it again! "Do not believe them." Those rather ordinary phrases contain a path to spiritual rescue, in my opinion, that will make all the difference to those living in the tribulation days. "Behold, I have told you in advance. Do not believe them."

Let's consider what lies ahead for those in tribulation.

Think about the level of spiritual preparation that it will require on that future day when close friends begin to berate and argue with you about your "silly, backward Bible notions"? How about losing your job because of the "negativity" you bring to the workplace? Are you ready for your family... your Mom and Dad or brother and sister to walk out of holiday celebrations because you persist in not supporting the new Leader? How about listening to, "Your embarrassing yourself and our family!" Your children... What kind of life will it be for them in school or at play... or, for that matter at church??!!

The scriptures say that it will be rough! Look at the context of this passage! In those days everything will seem to be against you!! You yourself may be shaken to the core! You may have NOTHING to fall back on but what Jesus says here. "Behold, I have told you in advance. Do not believe them." So, when it comes down to it, how can a person know when Christ has returned? With all the signs, wonders and deception going on, how will we know when the real Jesus comes? Jesus gives an amazing answer to settle that deeply troubling question in verse 27.

"For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." Matthew 24:27

"Lightning flashes"??!! I do not think that there is anything hidden here. No symbolism or riddle. Jesus' illustration from nature underscores how deep the spiritual blindness of those dark days will have become.

Imagine: You are picnicking on one of those magical summer days. The breeze is cool but the sun is warm... maybe early June. You're with your best pal... the one you most love to be with. As you enjoy your homemade sandwich, some chips and a cold drink you notice a gathering darkness on the horizon from your vantage point on top of a small hill. You continue to visit and plan future outings as you absentmindedly feel the low shudder of thunder approaching. Lost in the moment, the clouds gently cover you and it is only the spatter of an increasing rain that stirs you from your satisfying conversation. As if waking from a pleasant dream, you quickly stuff the remainder of food and drink into your basket and the two of you race down the hill toward the distant car. You arrive and begin fumbling for your keys when a bolt of lightning explodes just over your heads and travels from one end of the sky to another. In a shock of relief you unlock and jump into the safety of your vehicle.

Allow me to enter the story at this point. In such a circumstance I maintain that the first words out of your friend's mouth would not be, "What was that?" No. You both would know exactly what just happened. A lightening bolt just about took your heads off! No explanation is needed. In Matthew 24, Jesus gives a natural world example to show that there will be no uncertainty upon His return. As with our picnickers, those believers on that day, those that prayerfully heeded Jesus' words ("Behold, I have told you in advance. Do not believe them"), will have no question about what is going on. JESUS HAS COME! IT'S HIM! It will be crystal clear! Or, let me explain it in another way. If you are living then and the day comes when you are confronted with someone who is performing miracles, being worshiped and claiming to be the Christ... if you find yourself puzzling, "Hmmm, I wonder if this could really be Him?"... Verse 27 says emphatically that it is NOT! Because, the return of Jesus Christ will be unmistakeable in every aspect... it will be world-altering... it will be without precedent in all of history! Like a bolt of lightning just above your head. "Behold, I have told you in advance."

*****

And finally, to the crux of the question asked by the disciples. "... what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” This is also our question. Is there an order of events in all this? So far we've seen:

~ A "normal" fallen world in verses 4-8

~ The life and trials of believers in verses 9-12

~ A time marker/world evangelism accomplished in verse 14

~ A second time marker/the future Abomination in verses 15-22

~ Critical advice for Tribulation saints in verses 23-28

Now, for the good news! The coming in glory of the Lord Jesus Christ for His church! Verses 29-31

But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other." Matthew 24:29-31

Verse 29 gives another time marker. "...immediately after the tribulation of those days..." Stated simply, verses 15-28 are in the past! The Great Tribulation is over! What we read from this point onward comes afterward. We start with hearing about amazing sights in the heavens. These are the "not normal" signs that stand in variance with the fallen world events of verses 4-8. Jesus describes never before seen phenomenon going on. Sun, moon and stars all in commotion. In addition to these celestial bodies, "the powers of the heavens" are shaken. I understand these "powers" to be the "rulers and authorities and powers" spoken of in a number of places in the New Testament. These are spiritual entities... perhaps demonic authorities and the like. Jesus says that these will also be "shaken". Some have said that these "powers" have entangled themselves in earthly matters. Matters in which they had no permission to be involved. And now, the day of their judgement has begun. Moving on...

Verse 30 "...then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn,"

Jesus is clearly giving an order of events here. "Immediately after", "then", and "then".

"...Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky,..." I love this verse! What in Heaven's name could it be talking about?! It was only in the last few years that I began wondering about it. Is this "sign" something new? Or, is it THE sign. Is this talking about a star? Is it talking about THE star... that star that was "seen in the East"... the original sign of the coming of the Son of Man? Allow me a moment.

Think of it! The tribulation horror is ending. Then, immediately the sun goes dark. The moon goes dark. The stars fall. Everything permanent in the heavens becomes impermanent. There is utter despair among those without knowledge of what is about to take place! Then... they see the sign! "The sign of the Son of Man." Wow! I do not know exactly what this is talking about. But, I vote for Bethlehem's star (whatever that was) to make a reappearance at the end of the age!

What follows is a worldwide storm of mourning on the one hand and jubilant joy on the other. Mourning from those people and nations who have collaborated against Jesus and His beloved children. Joy and comfort to those who are about to be gathered to Him. Then, the world actually sees Him... coming on clouds "with power and great glory". He "sends forth His angels" with a great and awesome sound! A trumpet! And who do these angels gather? It says, "the elect". Throughout the New Testament this special term, "the elect", speaks of the church! And I love the fact that these people are not gathered from "all over the earth," or, "the four corners of the world". Those are the words that you would expect. No! Here in Matthew 24:31 Jesus curiously and wonderfully points out that the angels "gather together His elect from the four winds..." "The four winds?!" What is this saying? Jesus' words are pointing out that "the elect" are already "in the air"!! (Is this beginning to sound familiar?) And just to drive the point home He adds... "from one end of the sky to the other." This dear reader, is the Rapture! The harvest and gathering is taking place in mid-air! "... from the four winds... from one end of the sky to the other."

It is all here in Matthew 24. Just as in one of the most familiar passages concerning the Rapture, I Thessalonians 4:15-17.

"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."

All the ingredients and players are present. BUT, the Rapture in Matthew 24 occurs, and this is my point... "...immediately after the tribulation of those days..."

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Left Behind: The Movie!

Or, THE NOT-IMMINENT RAPTURE

In the last few days it has come to my attention that the book Left Behind is about to be made into a major motion picture with Nicholas Cage playing the lead character. This news is a concern to me on several levels. When it comes to spiritual themes, Hollywood has a way of getting it almost right some of the time. Yes, I know. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are reportedly going to be the screenplay writers having the "final say" on all matters of content, etc. But, therein lies the largest part of my problem.

As far as Left Behind:The Movie goes. I assume that this A-grade production will cause a big splash. It will have the accompanying tsunami of advertisement and a media blitz worthy of the subject matter. But, beneath all the excitement surrounding the production of the movie, I am alarmed by a mostly unnoticed element from the release of LB. And it is this: The movie, as did the LaHaye/Jenkins book, will leave the "low-information" viewer with the distinct impression that there is only one interpretation of end-time, Biblical events, when, in fact, there are several major viewpoints and multitudes of variations! The LB brand presents an interpretation that, in the opinion of many, has substantial problems! An interpretation that, in my mind, flies in the face of a simple, straightforward reading of the Bible passages involved. And what is the LB interpretation? The rapture of the church by Jesus Christ can happen at any time... that there is nothing keeping Him from coming back for His church at this very moment... and, that it occurs before a 7 year countdown called the Tribulation. For those of you who have read the book I am sure that this sounds familiar. At this point I imagine that a number of you are thinking, "Okay, so what's the big deal! It's just a movie!" True. But, I am going to attempt to show an unintended consequence from the LB product line. An outcome that contains significant spiritual peril to the church.

The rapture viewpoint displayed in the LB series has a name. It is referred to as the "pre-tribulation rapture" view. This "pre-tribulation rapture" persuasion of prophecy has been the most promoted viewpoint for many years among American Christians. The "pre-trib" notion was first brought forward in the 1700 and 1800s. Popularized by J.N.Darby it later made its way into the thinking and writings of men like C.I.Scholfield, John Walvoord and Dwight Pentecost. Hal Lindsey and his book The Late Great Planet Earth probably did more to bring this line of thinking into the mainstream than anyone in the last 40 years. That is until the Left Behind series appeared. Let me cut to the chase before I get bogged down in the historical crevices. I owe a lot to "Late Great"... It was that book, after all, that God used to pry me out of a life as a professional musician to follow Christ. But, what "Late Great" shares with LB is the same "pre-trib" prophetic conviction! May I say with all love and respect... This view of scripture may simply not be true! Historically, there are a number of other scriptural persuasions concerning the return of Christ held by great men and women of faith over the years. Some of these views are a LOT older than our current popular view.

So, what do we have... a block-buster book series, a coming movie, the high-dollar promotion of a "this is the way it is" interpretation of the last days. What is this "peril" about which I am so concerned?!

* * * * *

A THESSALONIAN NIGHTMARE

As a young believer I was part of a movement in the 70s that bore a resemblance to some of the churches in the New Testament. We were young and ready to learn. We were fresh in Christ and willing to do anything that the Lord showed us to do. And, God did some pretty amazing things. In those days you were never sure who might walk through the house-church doors. People looking for God or, just looking for friends. Others trying to score some good weed..."Sorry, wrong house!" Those who dropped by to "help" us "young people" see what we were doing wrong. And, those who came to inject outright false doctrine into our small group.

The Thessalonians had a great church, too! They were the total package. From day one they had taken everything that God had given to them (through Paul) and returned it in manifold ways. They were the example to follow... excited about the things of God and looking forward to the return of their Lord and Savior, Jesus. But they, like my young church, had to deal with the same kinds of problems and people in their day.

In his second epistle to the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul took much of the letter to confront a false teaching that had walked through the front door of their church.

"Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come."II THESS.2:1,2 nasv

It was a serious business. Someone had come in and told the believers that Christ had already come... that the day of the Lord had taken place! And here were the poor, confused Thessalonians... still in the flesh and living on earth, not in Heaven with their Lord.

[[[ Let me take a moment and address this term, "the day of the Lord" in I Thessalonians 2:2. Keep in mind that I am not a scholar, nor seminary trained nor an ordained pastor.

The "Day Of The Lord" is a term used in both Old and New Testaments. Its full meaning crosses many lines and includes a number of features of God's ultimate plan for the earth, His children, the last days, the millenium and the eternal kingdom. I believe that one of the guidelines when reading scripture is to look for the simplest, most easily understood meaning from any given verse or passage. Often the answer to questions found in a passage are found nearby; either in the same passage or in the context of whatever is being covered. I think that that is true in these two verses. The question would be: What is "the day of the Lord" in verse 2? It would be reasonable to say, upon a closer look, that the answer is found in verse 1. Paul points to the topic when he says, "...with regard to..." then, he presents the subject matter... "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him,... I.e. the "day of the Lord" or, at least, this portion of the Day of the Lord.

For some reason "pre-trib" folks split verse 1 into two parts! Part One: "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ", and Part Deux: "and our gathering together to Him,..." They say that the first part speaks of the coming of the Lord at the end of the tribulation and, the second refers to the Rapture seven years earlier!! (It seems odd that the Holy Spirit would chronologically transpose the two events in this way!) I totally disagree with that interpretation in any event. The two verses are simple and straightforward. The wording, "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him" is no stranger than saying, "the coming of Grandma and our eating cookies with her." Certainly, there could be a gap between Grandma's arrival and the eating of her cookies. But, seven years?!?! No. It would be reasonable to conclude that Paul is speaking of one event. A coming and gathering event. ]]]

But, imagine! If you had been in Thessalonica! You have been taught and you have believed that Jesus is coming back for YOU and now you are informed that He has already been there and gone... without you! For a Christian this would be devastating!! The blessed hope... the dearest longing of the believer's heart shattered!... with no explanation or understanding of what happened! A nightmare! And yet, that is exactly the place the American church could find itself in the foreseeable future. We have been told and taught for decades that the church will be gone before the Tribulation begins. And now, with the release of LB, we will be encouraged to promote this interpretation by participating in an "evangelism opportunity" using a movie that will, at its heart, present an escape-from-tribulation brand of salvation. A false escape. This prompts a troubling question. "What happens on that future day when we are confronted with clear evidence that the Tribulation has already begun... and that we are still here!?" Compounding this ... What if we were quite sure (up to that point) that our spiritual "upbringing" has been from solid, Bible-believing pastors. That our congregation, our whole denomination is deeply conservative with historical foundations in Scripture. How?! How could they have been so wrong?! What else have I been taught that is wrong?!? What happens to Christian hope on the day we wake up to find that some recognizable tribulation event is the main news story on Good Morning America and that, apparently, the rapture has not taken place? What would American believers think? What would you think?

I do not need a seminary or psychology degree to point out that if the above events were to happen there would be massive confusion and discouragement in the church. Pastors, trying to deal with their own confusion, doubt and fear, would be inundated with the confusion, doubts and fears of their flock. The word would quickly spread into the media and the news mill would begin the weeks-long, national churning of "up close & personal" stories featuring those who had lost faith... faith in their church... trust in their pastors... faith in God. And as for Satan... he would be having a field day!! Some of you might say, "Well, that is the way the sheep and goats are recognized." That might be true. But, going through it would be spiritually crushing for everyone involved. A national, spiritual calamity!

My prayer and desire in writing these articles is to attempt to bring balance to the topic. The American church is so deeply invested in only one way of viewing the return of the Lord. And, let me say, "Hallelujah!" if the "pre-trib" viewpoint is the right one. I am ready to rest in the arms of Jesus TODAY!!!

So, what are the balancing views? Well, it might be a "mid-tribulation Rapture", or a "post-tribulation Rapture" way of thinking. But realize, both of these views claim that Jesus' coming is not imminent... that He comes sometime after the Tribulation begins. Perhaps somewhere in the middle or, at the end of the Tribulation the rapture of the church would take place. There are several other viewpoints. But, I am most interested in helping you see that there are other ways... other ways of interpreting these prophetic Bible passages given to us by God. I am looking to present an understandable interpretation that needs only a "simple, straightforward reading of the Bible passages involved." That is the line of thought that I will attempt to present to you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Before Gog/Magog... BIG news!!

As I get older I am noticing how my thinking has changed and continues to change on Bible passages I have known for years. Things that were mysterious now seem more obvious. In some cases, I think that youthful enthusiasm was driving the interpretation of what I was reading and trying to understand. It resulted in overlooking the obvious. The Gog-Magog War of Ezekiel 38,39 is a good example. All the excitement of battle and God's rescue of Israel on the blood-soaked plains makes it easy to overlook a huge event in the days just before the war. More on that later...

The story actually begins in Ezekiel 37. God brings Ezekiel into a valley filled with bones. Human skeletons! "Very many" and "very old", dry bones! God asks, "Can these bones live?" Ezekiel wisely answers, "Lord, You know." It turns out that God is showing the prophet what is going to happen to the nation of Israel in the distant future (2,500+ years!). Having suffered great national loss and destruction, they will wander for many, many years... a skeleton of a nation... spirit and hope gone... dried up! Then, their fortunes change. God foretells,

"Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.”

He continues, making it crystal clear what He has in mind.

"Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,” declares the Lord.’”

Are you paying attention? Long ago God, through the prophet Ezekiel, said that the nation of Israel was going to go through an extended period of time in which they would, for all practical purposes, be considered a historically extinct nation. They would be like walking skeletons with no homeland and non-existent hope. Then, after many years, God would resurrect the entire nation and return its people to their homeland... Israel! "I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will BRING YOU INTO THE LAND OF ISRAEL." Emphasis mine.

Students of Bible prophecy often say that "Israel is the key to prophecy." This passage in Ezekiel is at the heart of that belief. What other nation in history can point to that kind of national story? But, that is not the end, neither of the story nor of the woes to be faced by this miraculous risen-from-the-grave people.

In chapter 38 God reveals a scenario to Ezekiel... a war that will take place in Israel. The prophet is told the who, what, when, where and why of the coming conflict.

WHO?

Verses 3-6. Israel...the target nation. Then, the aggressors:

Rosh, Meshech, Tubal (nations from "the remote parts of the North". Some say Russian, others, Asia Minor. ) Persia (today's Iran/Iraq region) Ethiopia (today's northern Sudan region) Put (today's Libya) Togarmah and Gomer (parts of Asia Minor) Gog is the organizing demon of the entire enterprise. He is "the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.")

WHAT?

A massive, coordinated invasion. "You (Gog) will go up, you will come like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your troops, and many peoples with you.” vr.9

WHEN?

Three important clues. "After many days" vr.8; "in the latter years" vr.8; in the days after Israel "(has) been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had been a continual waste; but its people were brought out from the nations," vr.8.
This prophecy was fulfilled in 1948 after 2,500 years!
WHERE?

The nation of Israel. "you (Gog) will come into the land that is restored from the sword, whose inhabitants have been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel."

WHY?

Gog is evil and creates an evil plan for Israel. Beyond the fact that he is demonically jealous he invades Israel "to capture spoil and to seize plunder, to turn (his) hand against the waste places which are now inhabited, and against the people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquired cattle and goods, who live at the center of the world." Note: Gog hates the LAND and he hates the PEOPLE.

So, what happens?!? The Bible says that this confederation of nations WILL invade and seek to destroy Israel BUT will come up against an Israeli "weapon" they could never have imagined. Again in Ezekiel 38:

"It will come about on that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel,” declares the Lord God, “that My fury will mount up in My anger. In My zeal and in My blazing wrath I declare that on that day there will surely be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all the creeping things that creep on the earth, and all the men who are on the face of the earth will shake at My presence; the mountains also will be thrown down, the steep pathways will collapse and every wall will fall to the ground. I will call for a sword against him (Gog) on all My mountains,” declares the Lord God. “Every man’s sword will be against his brother. With pestilence and with blood I will enter into judgment with him; and I will rain on him and on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, a torrential rain, with hailstones, fire and brimstone. I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the Lord.”’

God knows how to protect those who are His! And that is just what He does. Gog is utterly defeated, along with his allies and Israel returns to peace and safety, cleaning up their war-stained land following the fighting. Did I say they return to "peace and safety"? This brings me to the point of this writing. The "Before Gog/Magog...BIG news!!". The often-overlooked stage that exists in the weeks, months, years(?) before Gog makes his fateful move.

Is there a way to find out what is happening in Israel just before the great invasion? Yes. All we have to do is move back a little on the timeline given in Ezekiel 38. Two verses make it clear what the tiny nation looks like leading up to Gog. Verses 11 and 12

"...and you (Gog) will say, ‘I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will go against those who are at rest, that live securely, all of them living without walls and having no bars or gates,...against the people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquired cattle and goods, who live at the center of the world.’"

The description of life in "pre-Gog" Israel is unmistakable. God says the same thing four different ways in verse 11!

At the time immediately before the attack:

Israel is made up of "unwalled villages"

Israel is "at rest"

Israel is "living securely"

Israel has "no walls,...no bars or gates."

Okay! Here we are. Do you see the point already? Today Israel is back in the land. Today the players are all in existence and already in agreement as to their opinions of Israel. But, one thing is lacking.

ISRAEL MUST BE DWELLING IN PEACE... SECURELY, WITH NO WALLS, BARS OR GATES"

Do we need to talk about the security condition of the nation of Israel since its coming into existence in 1948? Do we need to cover the facts of the Iron Dome, the constant dangers from rocket attacks and the security wall that has/is being constructed across the land? So, here is the "BIG news."

We are on the edge of days just before, not the Gog/Magog war, but rather, when it is announced that a great "peace" has been worked out. A peace that will be so comprehensive and verifiable that Israel will literally take down all of her walls.

Now, that is BIG news. Unbelievable news!! But, if the scriptures are true...(and they are!!) this is the way it must and will happen. Read it for yourself! (For those of you who have been waiting for Gog to show up at any moment... it is not for now. You must wait.)

My prediction? There may soon be an interim war that so traumatizes the Mid-East that all parties come to realize that peace MUST be made or else everyone's survival will be in question! But, no matter how it comes... Peace is coming to Israel. BIG peace!! But, a short-lived, deceitful peace.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Moving Away From Anti-Christ (Literally!)

It is my contention that the Bible, especially those points of great importance, is understandable by the average reader. (Even a child can understand?) The scriptures were not given by God to frustrate us with multiplied rabbit trails and dead ends. That is not to say that there are portions of scripture that do reveal themselves only when a person takes time to meditate upon, study and apply them to life. But, as a whole, the Bible is easy to read (especially in some of the new translations) and is reasonably clear to any modern day reader.

That being said... I would like to take some time talking about the Rapture. The Rapture is the taking up of believers, both dead and alive, to be with Christ. This is an actual future event that happens at some point near the "end of the age" of our present world. I can confidently say that there are millions of the faithful worldwide who believe that we are in those "last days" right now. The rapture is referred to as "the blessed hope" by Bible-believing Christians and is considered by many (most?) Evangelicals as the next event on the prophetic calendar. I.e. Nothing needs to happen or be fulfilled for Jesus Christ to return today!! "Imminent" is the word that is used. It means, "about to happen". The coming of Christ for His church is imminent!

Now, that is comforting news to hear. Especially if it is true! But,... is it true? Could the return of Christ happen today? A lot of American Christians are counting on it!!

We're going to take three passages from the New Testament and see how they read. Are they understandable? Do they flow with a logical direction to a clear conclusion? Or, are they shrouded in mystery and need multiple other references to perceive the meaning of what is being communicated? We will look in the gospel of Matthew, in 2 Thessalonians and in Revelations.

I am NOT a Biblical scholar! But, I've been reading these passages for over 40 years. Thinking about them... rolling them over in my mind. And, as I said at the top of this piece, I do not believe that God reveals important information to us in ways that only a gifted, few people can get at their meaning,... then sell us their books. ( A LOT of this is our fault. We let others do the study after having been told to study it for ourselves!) So, it is my contention that the return of Christ can be clear and understandable by any reader who takes some moments to follow through with what Scripture is laying out in a logical way.

An aside: Beware the unending use of Christian manuals. A "manual" is a book of instruction according to my dictionary. And therein lies a problem. When I was younger, I had the understanding that the Bible was THE book of instruction. The book on "how to" live life. As time has passed and I have gotten older, I have noticed that we Christians expend more and more energy and money (a key idea $$) in books about the Book. I'll try not to go too far overboard with this... but, we desperately need to know the original. We need to know God's word in a far superior way than ANY other book or any other area of learning we have in this life. We should hunger for that kind of personal understanding that can only come through personal contact with God Himself in His word... Time with Him in His word... a desire to walk with Him in His word! Every "extra-Biblical" manual is at least one step away from that face-to-Face life that every Christian needs. (If this doesn't apply (to you), let it fly!)

That brings us back to our subject. The Rapture of the church.

There are three main schools of how and when the rapture takes place. I am not going to get deeply into the three because that, in itself, gets us off the point. Here are the three along with a couple of important features of each viewpoint.

1. The Rapture takes place before the Tribulation. I.e. a Pre-Trib rapture The Tribulation is a seven year period of time at the end of the age. It is a time of grave trouble, especially to the nation of Israel, and was foretold by prophets in the Old Testament. This is by far the most "popular" of the viewpoints. Many, many manuals have been written based upon this teaching.

2. The Rapture takes place at or near the middle of the Tribulation. I.e. a Mid-Trib rapture The Tribulation is a 7 seven year period of time at the end of the age and is divided into two parts of 3 1/2 years. The least known of the three viewpoints.

3. The Rapture takes place just after the Tribulation and initiates the Millennium. I.e. a Post-Trib rapture The Millennium is a 1,000 period of time on earth. (Nice to note... The earth doesn't "end"... just the age!) The Millennium is a time of fulfillment of promise by God to His people, Israel and His bride, the church. It is my understanding that the early church adhered to this view.

There is a LOT of force and feathers behind these 3 viewpoints! I will leave those ruminations for another manual. Suffice it to say, there is a more than enough argument over these teachings to last through the Millennium. I do have a concern, however, over the weight being given to the Pre-Trib scenario. When I was twenty (over 40 years ago) you would almost always hear a "balanced" presentation of these three views at Bible studies, on radio, etc.. All viewpoints would be covered and, often, the listener would be allowed to make his or her own judgement. As time has gone by it has become a much more dogmatic portrayal. A few years ago I heard a beloved radio/TV evangelist (I like him a lot!) lay down the law on all theories but his own... a pre-Tribulation rapture. To not believe it was to almost not be a Christian! It amazed me when I got to thinking about it. What happens to that pastor's church the day after they realize the Tribulation has begun and the Rapture did not happen??!! I think it would be rough going.

So, all that being said, let us begin.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let's get our heads together!

Here's another "little" hint to a Islamic future.

When I was in my twenties our church did a lot of outreach. One of the things we enjoyed was showing films on Bible prophecy. In those days you could not go online (there was no "online") to find any of hundreds of titles, then download them. There were only a few available, usually done by some company like, "Gospel Films", or some such name. They all looked pretty much the same (unless you got lucky and Billy Graham had just made a new flick). Lots of atomic explosions, fiery red sunsets, people running down streets, and universally bad acting.

One scene that was always the same, no matter which film it was, was the depiction of the death of Christian martyrs in the tribulation period. This was derived from Revelation 20 verse 4.

"Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years."

Beheaded?!? Interestingly enough, the manner of death in these old prophetic films was always a guillotine! You know, one of those head choppers with a slanted blade used by the French in the old days. Why? Well, the guillotine was a product of advanced Western civilization. Perhaps it was the ultimate in efficient, cold-blooded dispatching of the unwanted masses. And since post-WW2 people were undoubtedly making these movies... a black-booted Nazi pulling a guillotine handle was the ultimate horror of execution. I always thought it was weird. A guillotine?! It was hard enough to imagine that beheading people was going to be fashionable in the last days. Surely, a more modern piece of equipment would be used!

But, how could I have known that this particular form of execution would return as a form of capital punishment! And that it would come from a culture that revels in using the old instruments of death!