Paul’s Private Discourse with Felix

During Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, Acts 24:24-25 reads:

“And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.  And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.”

Over the years I have wondered about the exact words and the power of Paul’s speech that made Felix…a Roman ruler…a powerful and worldly successful man…tremble during this very private interview of Paul and “the faith in Christ.”

Paul was reasoning out of the natural moral law combined with the gospel message of salvation through Christ and the cross, in an elevated manner and through personal conviction that is not attainable by human intellect alone.

Saul (Paul) the young Pharisee speaking to Felix or someone like Felix decades earlier, about his zeal and enthusiasm for the religion of Judaism, would have produced genuine respect and admiration for Saul’s religious beliefs and erudition, but would never have brought Felix under Holy Spirit conviction for sin that an anointed discourse on righteousness, temperance, and judgment-to-come would produce in a politically powerful, worldly successful Roman governor.

The difference between Saul the young Pharisee and Paul the seasoned Christian missionary evangelist is that on the road to Damascus, God found Paul and Paul found God.

Saul the young Pharisee knew about God…Paul the apostle of the faith knows God personally.  Paul was able to draw-out from his own adventure of faith following Jesus Christ, the living words of truth that cut through the hard outer shell of the practical worldly thinking of a man like Felix, to reach his inner conscience.

The difference in Paul was produced through an adventure of faith following Jesus Christ in the danger zone of self-abandoned faith….according to a God-composed life-script of such original creativity that it was previously unimaginable to Saul (Paul) or anyone else at the time, before his conversion.

It was a God-composed adventure of faith life-script to be a missionary evangelist to the Greco-Roman world of the first-century that enabled Paul to write to the Corinthians:

Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,    Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;  Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.                                                                            Love never faileth…                                (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

It is my guess that some of these timeless truths entered into the discussion of Paul with Felix so many years ago.  Only in heaven will we know whether Felix eventually made the decision for Christ that would determine his eternal future.

In this discourse between Paul and Felix, Felix knows that Paul is a prisoner, knows all about the recent furor in Jerusalem involving Paul, and is fully aware that Paul has been rejected by the ruling Jews of Jerusalem.

Yet Felix initiates this private interview with Paul, making a point of including his wife Drusilla the Jewess as well.

The Christian church in the last days, if not raptured pretribulation, may be in a similar worldly disadvantaged condition like Paul in relation to Felix and the world at large (Mt. 24:9), yet likewise be filled with Holy Spirit wisdom, self-composure, grace, confidence in Christ, and divinely empowered love that will draw people to us to hear the gospel message.

In the heat of the end-times environment, only the polarized contrast of a journey-of-faith and a journey-of-self…may exist as options.

Multitudes of people disenchanted with the conventional worldly option will become interested in hearing the gospel message…really listening for the first time.  The piercing truth of the gospel message spoken through an anointed and inspired discourse will cause people to tremble over conviction of sin…as Felix trembled at the words of Paul so many years ago.

Christians today must rise above being merely “church Christians” where the sole experience of our faith occurs only within the four walls of our church building.

Our testimony must have more depth than merely telling people “how great” is our church service, our pastor, the worship music, and the youth program, without ever mentioning what Jesus Christ means to us.

Our lives and our testimony must begin to approximate and become in-line with what we read in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible, based upon our own biblical-quality adventure of faith.

This is not only achievable, but is the special work God intends to do through the new covenant relationship with all believers who exercise faith in Christ.

Everyone Missed the Cross

Listen to what people said about Jesus before the crucifixion and resurrection:

“Then said some of them of Jerusalem, Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?  But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?  Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is” (Jn. 7:25-27).

“And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” (Jn. 7:31).

“Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.  Others said, This is the Christ.  But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?  Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?  So there was a division among the people because of him” (Jn. 7:40-43).

At the time, everyone intellectually missed the cross and the resurrection.

The disciples scatter for fear of their lives at the arrest of Jesus, not realizing that Jesus alone was the sole target.

Peter weeps bitterly at his failure not to courageously stand alongside Jesus during the ordeal of His night trial, not realizing that in a few short days the blessed redemption and salvation of millions upon millions of current and future believers would be fully and forever procured through the cross and the resurrection.

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus wrap the dead body of Jesus in linen clothes with myrrh and aloes according to the Jewish practices for permanent burial.

Mary Magdalene and the other women come to the sepulcher early Sunday morning to also prepare the body of Jesus for permanent burial…being totally surprised to discover an empty tomb.

The two disciples walking towards the nearby city of Emmaus reveal their complete non-understanding of the cross and the resurrection foretold by Jesus.

Why did everyone at the time miss the cross and the resurrection?

Everyone missed this because the God-composed journey of faith life-script for Jesus Christ the Son of God…like all other biblical-quality journeys of faith…was so far above ordinary conventional wisdom that no one understood or accepted ahead of time what was to occur.

Like the complex information of the workings of the Big Bang, or the unimaginable complexity of DNA and molecular machines within living cells, discovered within the last 100 years of modern scientific research…Christians also may not be able to decipher all of the details of the upcoming end-times events far in advance of their occurrence.

Even though, like the Jews in first-century Israel, we have prophetic scriptures, and the clear promise that we will not walk in darkness (1 Th. 5:4-11), much of our understanding of the end-times scenario may come at the last minute by revelation through the prophecies of Joel 2:28-32.

Much of our understanding of the great end-times issues may become clear by personal revelation and illumination in the midst of the events and circumstances themselves as they occur.

I see a brief last-days period of time…however all of the fine details of the eschatological pieces fit together…of “small” Christians around the globe being filled with Holy Ghost fire, preaching the gospel and sharing their faith courageously in arenas and environments which would currently be considered out of the question.

Christians standing up in their workplaces, their families, their neighborhoods, in universities, in schools, on street corners, and yes…in spiritually dead churches…with Holy Ghost power boldly preaching the everlasting gospel message for the sake of the one, two, or three out of ten who have ears to hear and hearts to respond positively.

I see a correspondingly ferocious opposition of hostility, rejection, and undisguised hatred by worldly people towards those who have this liberated outreach of Christian evangelism that is the antithesis of their skeptical, anti-god worldview beliefs, reinforced somehow and at some point in time by the presence of the dark personage of the “son of perdition” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and alluded to in Daniel 7:20-25, 8:23-25, and 12:10.

I also see the dissolution of a comfortable middle-ground of fence-sitting indifference, when the heat of the conflict between self-sacrificing divine love exhibited in the last-days outreach message of Spirit-filled Christians, and the venomously hostile rejection of Christians by hate-filled skeptical unbelievers (Mt. 24:9), produces the polarized environment too hot for compromise to persist any longer in the middle-ground of uncommitted indecision (Acts 6:9-15; 7:51-59; 2 Th. 2:3).

Returning to the analogy of the small construction company caught unprepared in the middle of rapid business growth, the last-days radical change in the world environment will force upon everyone on the earth the corresponding need for “managerial” character growth that is not obtainable through the horizontally conventional, worldly mindset of self-reliance alone.

The stakes will be so high and the conditions so dire that only a secure hope in the salvation of God through a future eternal life in heaven will overcome the utter despair at the loss of the supposed “right” to the temporal dreams, hopes, and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy (Heb. 11:13-16; Rev. 12:11).

The heat of persecution will purify the gold of faith and remove the dross of empty, worldly acceptance and short-term ambitions.

The “small” Christian energized by the latter rain of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the earth, transforming people now quietly going about their Christian lives into future roaring lions of the faith courageously proclaiming the gospel message of salvation and deliverance…will epitomize for one last final time the ability of God to reach in and rescue success from the apparent jaws of defeat.

This is the God of the Bible, and there is no other like Him.

To experience this power, grace, and divine love to the fullest maximum extent, at the close of time itself…come what may no matter how high the cost…is the controlling theme of liberated self-sacrifice I see over and over again in the biblical narrative stories of faith…and in the history of the church leading up to today (Est. 4:16).

The concept of people starting out thinking they are not up to the task, yet nonetheless rising to the occasion and overcoming triumphantly in the most difficult of circumstances, through the supernatural insertion of God-composed, ingeniously crafted life-scripts having top-down, information-rich plotlines ready to step courageously into from the outset, is unique to the Bible.

It is not only part of the key to understanding the upcoming end-times challenge, but part of the key to understanding all of the timeless reality of life itself.

A biblical-quality journey of faith following Jesus Christ, within the current context of this broken world environment, resides at the upper limits of all human pursuits and endeavors, because the creative heart and mind of God resides at the pinnacle of the natural moral law for all right thoughts, behavior, and actions.  It is here and here only that Holy Ghost fire energizes and purifies all things (Heb. 12:29).

In the light of these foregoing arguments, is it likely that the last-days Christian church will be raptured pretribulation before all of these critical issues can be played-out to their fullest?

Is it more likely that God has an end-times script already composed for the entire human race, involving the Christian church in the most determined and desperate struggle, against seemingly impossible outward appearances, to gather in the last remaining lost sheep at the last final moment for all time?

I cannot dogmatically say one way or the other.

If God does rapture the Christian church pretribulation, then like all of the works of God, this will be perfect in its outreach, message, and outcome.

But I hope people reading this book will include the worldview concept of the way of the cross into their biblical, end-times eschatological calculus from this time forward.

What Might the End-Times Look Like?

In my opinion, the tumultuous and chaotic end-times period prophesied in the Bible is the era in Christianity of the triumph of the “small” person on a universal scale.

There will of course be individual Christians who are larger-than-life characters…gifted movers-and-shakers…Spirit-filled prophets of God leading the way through a danger zone of faith characterized in Matthew 24:21…as being like no other in history.

But at the end of human redemptive history, when the dawn of eternal destinies awaits billions of people on earth, it is incumbent upon God to hold nothing back in His loving outreach to mankind.

With the definite end-point of time in sight, worldly conventional normalcy no longer has relevance.  Making long-range plans becomes an “exercise in futility.”

“Occupy till I come” (Lk. 19:13) has run out of time.  For believers and non-believers alike, God’s task of closing-out human redemptive history reaches a final crescendo.  Only God knows the time of the end.  Only God knows the magnitude of the shake-up that will be required.

Joel 2:28-29 reads: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”

In Genesis 17:18 Abraham says to God: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” revealing that Abraham, after such a long wait in time, is on the verge of quitting on the promise of God.

In Genesis 40:14-15, Joseph attempts, quite understandably, to procure his own release from Pharaoh’s prison by an appeal to the Pharaoh’s butler and baker, revealing that Joseph was at the edge of giving up on his two divinely inspired dreams received years ago as a young man at home in Canaan.

Moses, at the burning bush, protests to God to find someone else for the daunting task of delivering the Israelites from Egypt (Ex. 3:11; 4:1, 10, 13).  Towards the end of the 40-year period of being a herdsman in the land of Midian, Moses as an older man probably gave up on the absurdity of the idea of himself still being the called-out person to deliver his people from bondage in Egypt, now seemingly a distant, long past, impossible reality.

God says to Joshua and to Israel: “Be strong and of good courage” (Dt. 31:6), and personally visits Joshua before the decisive battle to take the city of Jericho (Josh. 5:13-15).  The walls of Jericho seemed too high and too strong for any hope of success through a conventional, frontal assault.

Gideon protests to God that he is a “nobody” in Israel and even within his own family (Jud. 6:15), and therefore requires a supernatural sign from God to authenticate his calling against seemingly insurmountable odds (Jud. 6:17).

Elijah complained to God that the evil opposition of Ahab the king and Jezebel the queen in Israel was too strong for him (1 Ki. 19:10).

Jeremiah protested to God that he was too young in age to become an effective prophet to Israel…to be taken seriously by the leaders in Jerusalem (Jer. 1:6).

Peter said to Jesus: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” not seeing his future potential as a bold speaker and leader through the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 5:8).

Paul confesses that he is the chief of sinners, yet God crafts him into the finest and most accurate spokesman for the gospel message of forgiveness, grace, and redemption, to initially lost and misguided persons like himself, that the world has ever known (1 Tim. 1:15).

All of these people of faith recorded in the Bible, along with many more, are examples of a reality that could not have come solely from the horizontally conventional thinking of gifted and talented people carving out their own fame and fortune through self-directed efforts.

All of these people reached a point in time in their God-composed journey of faith life-scripts where a positive fulfillment of their mission seemed on the surface to be nearly hopeless.  Their faith in God and in themselves reached the end-point of the despair of the outward appearance of seeming impossibility in obtaining success in their life’s calling.

When all seems lost, futile, and hopeless, it is here that God steps-in and says: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27).

No one could make this up.  It is beyond humanistic or naturalistic invention.  It requires the actual presence and participation of the living God who created the heavens and the earth.

What is a miracle from God’s perspective…part of the masterworks that He alone can create?

Part of the answer is a transformed life that comes up to the potential that God created within a person (Jn. 4:23).

It is the fulfillment of a joint-venture of faith…which at times faces challenges that seem on the surface to be insurmountable.  It is the free-will response of people of faith to take up their cross and follow God when the way ahead appears narrow and difficult.  It is people of faith who allow God through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit…to love lost and broken people in the world through us…especially when this means the sacrificing of our supposed right to enjoy normalcy according to worldly conventional thinking.

There is no getting around this component of the biblical narrative stories of faith.  God authenticates His rightful authority to rule and to reign as a brilliant, loving, and righteous King for all time, through journeys of faith that reveal his unmistakable, overcoming presence when all hope and human confidence is lost.

Jesus says at the Last Supper: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Lk. 22:20).

The seeming finality of Jesus’ death on the cross is an inseparable component of the hope-dashing despair of the disciple’s experience, despite Jesus foretelling of His death and resurrection to these disciples only days and weeks before.

Peter’s future eternal destiny, along with the destinies of all of the other disciples, rests in this improbable and almost unimaginable resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pet. 1:3).

The Climatic Adventure of Faith

In my opinion, the end-times period is the ultimate context for an adventure of faith.

In my opinion, the end-times Christian church will likewise discover the fullness of its unique and singular calling through the divinely composed and sequenced events as experienced first-hand in the final closing chapter of human redemptive history.

Again in my opinion, the final victory for the Christian church will be wholly and genuinely “not of this world.”

Due to the expediency of the running out of time, what if God allows, shapes, and channels the events of the end-times to produce a universal danger zone imposed upon the entire earth, narrowing the choices down to two…a journey of faith in God…or a journey of self-reliance…with no middle ground left for compromise or procrastination?

This is the question that forms the theme of this chapter, and is a natural extension of the main theme of the book…God-scripted journeys through the danger zone of faith.

Here again…within the context of the end-times…the positive half of the danger zone of faith…the empowering, emboldening, liberating validation of God’s faith and confidence…placed God-ward toward us to overcome the challenges in our God-composed adventures of faith…surfaces like never before (Rev. 12:11).

Like the confidence that God places in the unique lifestyles in nature as seen in lions, cheetahs, and leopards, or in the complex, cohesive integration of DNA at the microscopic level of living cells, or the coordination in the fine-tuned physical constants at the subatomic level and at the galactic sized scale of the universe…we see the purposes of God following their designed courses with unimaginable precision and intentional trajectory.

This loving element of God’s faith and confidence placed in us within our adventure of faith…when combined with faith on our part and the power of the Holy Spirit…is the fundamental essence of today’s Christian life in the danger zone.

This optimum, capstone journey through the universal danger zone of an end-times adventure of faith cannot happen…for the church…if it is raptured pretribulation.

For me, the “blessed hope” of Titus 2:11-14 is not an early exit out of the intense troubles of the end-times.  It is finding Jesus and Jesus finding us in an unbreakable bond of closeness created through shared adversity…which from an eternal perspective in the kingdom of Jesus Christ is priceless beyond measure.

Some of the attention in the end-times discussion is focused upon the fitness of the church to be raptured pretribulation.

But in John 10:16 Jesus says that He has other sheep to call.  Jesus has to finish His work of establishing relationships that are solid and true.  In the end-times last days…Jesus has to capture the affection of His beloved…the church…amidst the most difficult and trying of circumstances.

Without some measure of participation in the end-times tribulation, the Christian church cannot experience a life-and-death, Martin Luther style: “here I stand, I can do no other…God help me” moment.

At some definite point in time Joseph had to step-up into his unique calling.  The time of advance preparation was over…training had taken its course.

David at some point in time had to become king according to his difficult training regime and God’s calling at the words of the prophet Samuel.

Paul eventually had to join up with Barnabas as a teaching prophet in the city of Antioch as a prelude to his future evangelical mission.

The time finally came for Peter to stand-up at Pentecost in Jerusalem, and courageously step into the danger zone of leadership, following the call of his Lord and Master Jesus of Nazareth to become a fisher of men, as Peter instinctively knew would occur someday.

Christians today possess the gospel message of deliverance and salvation through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross at Calvary.

The good news of the gospel matches perfectly the need of our broken world lost in sin, like the perfect fit of two jigsaw puzzle pieces.

We have the winning arguments of the apologetic debate against the shallow, horizontally conventional wisdom of this world.

The intelligent design facts in the realm of science are emerging in defense of theism and in refutation of atheistic naturalism.

The world is showing no signs of the previous two or three century’s humanistic optimism through the “doctrine of progress,” producing instead a baffling sense of despair over the prevalence of violence, prejudice, injustice, and continual conflict despite our technological and scientific achievements.

God’s Unexpected Answer 2

This notion of removing the Christian body of believers off the earth pretribulation, chops out a massive portion of the potential creative imagination that God…as righteous Judge and eternal Ruler of the realm…could bring to bear in one last final closing chapter of human redemptive history.

The recurring pattern of the cross of Jesus Christ, skillfully placed within a variety of indeterminate plotlines having uncertain outcomes in-the-moment, in what this book calls the danger zone of faith in the competence and the good will of the living God…is a direct argument against a full pre-knowledge of the early removal of the Christian church…and what amounts to a foreclosing of the opportunity to adventure through the illuminating danger zone of the tribulation…at the end of the ages.

A perceptive reader at this point might object that the revelation of the upcoming end-times macro-script in incremental stages through actual events and circumstances as they occur in real-time in-the-moment (Mt. 24:32-51)…rather than all upfront in a clear and full revelation…places God in the very role that has been criticized in this book as inadequate for the management of larger, expanding enterprises…that of appearing to be in the reactive mode.

Herein is where a biblical journey of faith in the danger zone can be taken apart and more well-defined.

God has all of the answers already…because God possesses timeless foresight.  God lives in a timeless environment (Isa. 46:9-10).

Prior to the commencement of every biblical journey of faith, God has the script already pre-written.  But God does not reveal all of the details upfront to each person of faith.  God does not give us the entire blueprint of our journey of faith upfront for us to follow according to our own wits, personal interpretation, and take-it-or-leave-it pleasure.

This is why we call these God-composed life-scripts…walks of faith, journeys of faith, and adventures of faith.

The Bible says we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

If we had all of the information upfront about our journeys of faith, we would attempt to tweak some of the circumstances to fit more closely within the comfort of worldly conventional normalcy.

If Jesus the Son of God asked His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane if there was an alternate way to procure salvation for mankind, other than the events of the cross He was facing the next day, how do we suppose we will respond to the way of the cross in our own lives…if we knew upfront every challenge and difficulty we would face?

If Peter and John knew ahead of time that going to the temple in Jerusalem that fateful morning would result in the miraculous and sensational healing of the crippled man, and subsequently lead to placing the two of them standing foursquare before the intimidating Sanhedrin council demanding an explanation for this miracle, Peter and John might have decided to take a wise detour and go fishing that day instead.

God-composed journeys of faith are crafted for our benefit.  A timeless God has all of the journeys of faith pre-written, including the great end-times scenario of eternally momentous events resolved through a brilliant script, surpassing the suspense of our best spy thriller or murder mystery fiction novels.

But though God is timeless, we learn through discovery…experientially.

God-composed life-scripts are ingeniously crafted to unselfishly and lovingly impart some of the characteristics of God to us.

Although God is never in the reactive mode, for reasons that we do not fully understand now (1 Cor. 13:12), the revelation of God to us must occur in incremental stages as our confidence grows with each tentative step in our walk of faith.

Abraham discovers through his journey of faith that God is true to His word.

Joseph discovers that God knows exactly what He is doing, even when all outward appearances argue in the opposite direction.

Moses discovers the power and resolve of God to finish what He starts.

David discovers that God is trustworthy as a companion and a guide even while walking together step-for-step through the valley of the shadow of death.

Peter discovers that God sees our hidden inner talents and can transform anyone, no matter how common our initial worldly status, into the “rock” He called us to be.

Through his remarkable adventure of faith, Paul amazingly discovers that God does actually know everything and can separate-out and illuminate the intricate parts of any issue through the divinely sequenced occurrence of events and circumstances.

God’s Unexpected Answer 1

The divinely patient and love-filled answer of God to my prayer about guidance in the selection of a career…as a young man in college…went not at all according to what I naively thought I wanted, but what God knew I actually needed if I was to be able to grow in my knowledge of Christ and to understand some of the deep issues within the cross and the resurrection.

God’s answer to my prayer asking for worldly conventional normalcy in the career portion of my life, so that I could pursue Him undistracted by the cares of this world according to the shallow thinking of a beginning novice, turned out to be the direct opposite of what I expected.

Without divinely created and guided experiences, having some measure of adversity and challenge, I cannot grow into the fullness of the better person God had in mind when He created me.

If we truly seek God with all of our hearts and minds we will find Him, but not according to our initial, horizontally conventional thinking.

The God of the Bible that we find through life experience is not a shallow projection of our own imagination (1 Pet. 1:3). God is expertly and amazingly way ahead of us in laying out the precise routes to discovering truth in every aspect of reality and existence.  This is one of the truly fascinating features of picking up our cross and following Jesus Christ into our unique and individualized callings.

Herein is one argument against the timing of a pretribulation rapture of the Christian church, found within the modern field of information theory.

If the pretribulation scenario as proposed today is correctly described in exhaustive detail upfront…like in the exciting and captivating Left Behind book series…then unpredictability, improbability, and information content potential are all reduced.  The opportunity for God to creatively compose, using an information-rich end-times script, is reduced.

A God-composed journey of faith life-script is information-rich.  It is not repetitive, redundant, or deterministic.  The highest amount of information is conveyed within the biblical narrative stories of faith because the plotlines are novel and unique with uncertain outcomes…in-the-moment.

Even though there is the common pattern of the cross of Christ in every journey of faith life-script, there is what is called indeterminacy.  Every narrative story of faith is different.  There is no repetitive redundancy.

If the biblical narrative stories of faith and their resolutions were all closely similar…all narrowly predetermined…then less information would be conveyed as a whole.

For example, a romance novel that only has the word “love” repeated over and over for 100 pages provides very little information content.

God’s novel strategy for Gideon to repulse the invading Midianites, the unique approach for Joshua to bring down the walls of Jericho, Joshua’s request of God to halt the skyward progress of the sun in the middle of a decisive military battle, and Jesus walking on water, are examples where we can read the outcomes in hindsight but which were all in doubt and at risk in the moment they occurred.

Because the challenges in each situation differed, the solutions are unique and unpredictable.  And because there are multiple possible alternative outcomes, the narrative stories of faith in the Bible provide maximum information.

Using an analogy to the concert grand piano…artistically created, musical piano compositions are indeterminate in that there are a nearly infinite number of combinations of notes, tempos, and styles available on the piano keyboard to produce improbable outcomes.

The music of Chopin is distinctly different from the music of Debussy, Rachmaninoff, or Scott Joplin.

At the level of artistic creativity, how do we identify and define great musical melodies?  What is special about the simple melody of Beethoven’s opening notes to his fifth symphony?  How did the Beatles or the Beach Boys come up with so many brilliantly creative melodies in their popular songs, when other musical artists can only manage single hit-songs that are referred to as “one-hit wonders?”  How does composer and symphony conductor John Williams create such incredibly moving musical themes for his many movie scores?

This analogy to the concert grand piano, and the brilliance of musical compositions, helps us to understand the unique and elevated nature of the complex, highly-specified, diverse, artistically creative information that goes into a God-composed journey of faith life-script.

This then helps us to understand the ingenuity of the Christian life in the danger zone of faith, and to likewise be able to place our faith in the living God who is up to the task of writing and directing brilliantly insightful, issue-illuminating scenarios in our lives…no matter how darkly challenging in the present moment.

An irony therefore in the end-times prophetic debate is that one set of evidences that argues apologetically for the divine inspiration of the Bible…the presence of complex, specified, top-down information found in the ancient texts of these biblical narrative stories of faith…refutes the notion of a predetermined knowledge that the rapture of the Christian church would occur prior in time to the great tribulation.

What is Missing in the Eschatology Discussion Today…is the Way of the Cross

In my opinion, Christians in the end-times cannot fully discover, internalize, and outwardly demonstrate the triumphant, overcoming nature of Jesus Christ…without the necessity of experiencing a similar intensity of challenging issues on a massive scale, as Jesus did in the first-century, during at least some portion of the upcoming great tribulation, prior to the rapture.

Will the Christian church be raptured pretribulation to escape all of the action, or is the overriding, controlling element of biblical interpretation instead the investigative, experiential component of our God-composed journeys of faith…that take us straight through the cross no matter what are the daunting outside challenges we face?

Is the God of the Bible, who has given us a pattern in the biblical narrative stories of faith, and who resides in a timeless reality, equally capable of rising to the occasion and crafting an end-times script of brilliant intrigue, moves and countermoves, the unmasking of true underlying motives, and the revelation of truth worthy of the final chapter in this amazing saga of human redemptive history?

I personally do not think that the rapture and the second coming of Christ are one and the same event.  Paul speaks about the rapture of the church as being a mystery, yet everyone in the early church knew about the Acts 1:9-11 account of Jesus coming back some day in like manner as He ascended into heaven.

It is nearly certain that Paul shared his outlook on this important issue with the other apostles (Gal. 2:2; 1Th. 4:13-18; 2 Th. 2:5) and with the early churches he founded, yet there is no biblical record of any dispute or disagreement on end-times eschatology.

The major council of Acts 15 (around A.D. 49) in the early church considered the vital question of the Judaic law as it applied to the new Gentile converts, and had no recorded discussion of the rapture or the second coming of Christ as a secondary topic in dispute.

Because the element of the way of the cross in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible…argues against a pretribulation rapture of the church (discussed more fully in my book The Cross in the End-Times), and because I see the rapture and the second coming as separate events, this then leaves for me a rapture that would occur sometime in the middle of the great tribulation (there is no rapture after the second coming of Jesus Christ).

Everyone who looks at these issues has to form their own opinion.  The Holy Spirit is the only real expert in all of this.  Until Joel 2:28-32 and Matthew 24:7-14 actually begin to materialize and specify the coming events more fully, for the present I am leaning toward the timing of a mid-tribulation rapture of the Christian church.

Whether the duration of the great tribulation is a full seven years or three and one-half years, as some people contend, would obviously alter substantially the definitions of pretribulation or mid-tribulation raptures.

But the way of the cross in the biblical narrative stories of faith is central, controlling, and irreplaceable…in my interpretation of end-times biblical prophecy (1 Jn. 3:1-3).

One insight of priceless value that God has given me through a career in building construction, which informs my understanding of the cross and the journeys of faith recorded in the Bible, is that the varied problems that plague building construction can only be identified through hard-earned, first-hand personal experience with both feet planted firmly in the middle of the action.

Fact-finding research in the middle of the building construction jobsite arena as a tradesperson, a field superintendent, or a project manager…comes with a cost.

Valuable lessons only surface one at a time in the heat and stress of the daily struggle.  No detached, theoretical, academic approach from a safe distance will unearth and separate out the subtle, latent problems that disrupt the building construction process, causing time delays, cost overruns, poor quality, and the unpleasant task of having to explain to the new homebuyer why their house is not finished on time.

Comfortable complacency in the worldly conventional zone will never produce beneficial reform in this broken world.

Necessity is said to be the mother of invention and is the guiding motivation for discovery in many walks of life.

In terms of a journey of faith, we have to go boldly and courageously into the world to discover first-hand precisely what is wrong with the world…in order to enact real solutions.

Christians have to first go through the way of the cross ourselves in order to be able to assist others to be able do the same.

We see this theme at work throughout the Bible in the narrative stories of faith.  The positive characters of faith in the Bible are grounded in the realities of life, yet on an elevated plane within the creatively imaginative mind of God that produces truth-revealing adventures of faith like those of Gideon, Joshua, Elijah, Ruth, Esther, Jeremiah, Daniel, David, Noah, Moses, Joseph and Mary, and Peter, to name only a few.

The issues of right and wrong are sorted out by God for us through the actual events and circumstances of an adventurous journey of faith.

Paul has to live the Christian life to the fullest maximum extent in order to be able to “connect all the dots” and correctly write about it on a divinely inspired level.

The same is true for Peter, James, John, Jude, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ into this world in the form of a human being underscores at the divine level of perfection, the enormous power behind the concept of God-composed and guided journeys of faith…separating truth from error (Jn. 9:39-41).

Jesus Christ values a journey of faith, which sets up the context to reveal the true nature of God, so much that He entered our world as a human being to personally “debug” our relationship with God.

The Son of God as Jesus of Nazareth placed both feet firmly in the middle of the action to become the way, the truth, and the life through the events and circumstances of life.

Jesus Christ the Son of God became a human being to create a priceless commonality with us that is the basis for a lasting and meaningful relationship for all eternity.

A Personal Testimony

Decades ago as a newly converted Christian in my first year in college, praying for guidance in the selection of a work career, in my naïve innocence I asked God to lead me into an undemanding job that would not distract me from a future Christian ministry.

I mistakenly assumed that becoming engaged in a challenging, committed secular career…and attempting a Holy Spirit-guided journey of faith into the discovery of all truth…were two separate, mutually exclusive things competing for my time and attention.

What God gave me instead as an answer to my prayer was a clear and confirmed calling into the field of building construction, which for a natural organizer like me is a life-long mission into trying to bring order and calm into a manufacturing process that is in continual need of debugging.

Unlike the standard manufacturing assembly-line plant at a single fixed location, having an economic model which is based upon the absolute necessity of debugged repetitive precision…the building construction assembly process is inconveniently fragmented into tens of thousands of independent projects spread-out all over the countryside, separated by geographical distance, economic competition, and non-communication of proactive problem-solving information.

Because the large physical size of the building product requires its assembly on individually segregated building sites, a smooth-running perfection in building construction is an ideal we aim for but never fully achieve.

Some measure of controlled chaos is an unwelcome component of every building construction project…because each different square-foot size, price range, and architecturally styled project is uniquely and individually debugged in real time…in-the-moment.

The proverbial “reinvent the wheel” occurs to some extent on every new building construction project.

This unavoidable reality of the need for constant and repetitive reform in the assembly of the pieces and parts of building construction, informs and shapes a Christian like me regarding the inescapable costs to the psyche of anyone attempting to observe, record, and disseminate building construction debugging information through first-hand, basic field research (I have four books published by McGraw-Hill on housing construction, 1995-98, a two-volume set of books on debugging housing design and construction, 2016, and a book on construction field forms, 2016).

But this challenging secular reality in the world of building construction also translates into a lesson of immeasurable importance as applied to an interpretation of biblical end-times prophecy.

God cannot demonstrate His true character unless Jesus the Son of God walks through a broken world of deadly opposition and chaotic confusion ending in the cross and the resurrection.

Jesus Christ cannot display all of the fruits of the Spirit in perfect execution amidst the most lethally hostile rejection by the religious leaders in Jerusalem, in direct contrast to the wishes of a large portion of the general populace (Mk. 11:7-10), without the environment of a broken world lost in sin, envy, jealousy, ambition, and political intrigue (Jn. 15:22-24).

If Jesus came as messiah to Israel and Jerusalem when Ezra or Nehemiah were ruling the land, or even as early as when Joshua was the leader, or during one of the reigns of the “good” kings like Hezekiah or Jehoshaphat, then the danger zone of competing agendas would have been relatively muted and moderated…compared to the extremes in place in first-century Jerusalem (Jn. 8:42-43).

When the unruly mob comes to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says to them: “When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Lk. 22:53).

A danger zone of lethal dimensions was the social, political, and religious undercurrent that faced Jesus of Nazareth throughout His ministry, and His divine character shines through all the more brilliantly because of it.

Without a world mired in sinful rebellion, God has no way of demonstrating the true depth of the power of His love for us.

The deliverance of the Israelites in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the Exodus through the desert, and the conquering of the Promised Land cannot occur without the intensely contrasting, deadly hostile backdrop of the Middle East region roughly thirty-four hundred years ago.

One final point here before moving on.

What is the relative value of faith in the mind of God compared to worldly conventional normalcy?

God places so much weight on creating a context for faith to operate…even if this involves our waiting patiently “in faith” for some good outcome…some good thing to happen…that God will insert His plan that partially or utterly displaces whatever previous plans we might have entertained or cherished (Gal. 2:20; 1 Pet. 1:3).

A new God-composed context for faith displaces and overrides our natural desire for “worldly conventional normalcy,” even when it involves withholding or postponing something good for a period of time.

Abraham the “father of faith” is the first biblical example of this key concept.  Abraham and Sarah do not want to endure a lengthy wait for the birth of a son, and become so desperate to help God out in the direction of achieving this aspect of conventional normalcy in their lives, that they contrive to arrange the Hagar and Ishmael event.

But the life-script that God has written for the life of Abraham…contains a divinely ordained element of patient waiting…in the storyline…purposely to create the context for faith to operate.

Other biblical examples that come to mind are the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, Joseph in Potiphar’s house and Pharaoh’s prison, Moses in Midian, the Israelites in the wilderness exodus, Hannah, David during his 13-year period of preparation to be king, the blind man in John 9:3, and the three-day wait for the disciples while Jesus lay dead in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.

All of these people…along with many other examples in the Bible…had the circumstances and events of their lives arranged by God to set-up the context for faith to operate…at the cost of giving up some portion of conventional normalcy and thinking.

Not only does this have enormous apologetic value for validating the supernatural origin of the Bible…but it also provides a biblical perspective to our interpretation of end-times prophecy.

Human nature wants to hurry things along…to speed things up.  We want to rapture the Christian church off the earth pretribulation.

But God takes as much time as is necessary to do things right.

The contrast between Adam and Eve impulsively taking and eating the fruit from the forbidden tree, and the long period of human redemptive history…is enormous and clear-cut.

But if God must withhold or postpone something good in our lives in order to create the context for faith to operate…He will do it.

Faith leading to knowing God…like Paul in Philippians 3:10…in the eternal view is exceedingly more important than the loss or postponement of something otherwise good in the this-worldly, conventional scheme of things (Rom. 8:18).

Patience

What God wants the most, even He has to wait for.

God not only agrees with the perfection of the natural moral law, He lives it perfectly Himself.

If the current process at hand requires patience over time, then even God submits Himself to patient waiting if the rightness of the process requires it.

Even God cannot make instant saints.  Even God cannot instantly manufacture the “bride of Christ”…the Christian church…through instantaneous fiat creation.

Within the constraints of our earthly dimensions, bringing many sons and daughters to glory takes time.

Adam and Eve impulsively jump at the chance to obtain the knowledge of good and evil.  But the process of Jesus slowly and patiently bringing the disciples to a point where they can stand in faith on their own two feet, and capably listen and walk in the Spirit…after He ascends into heaven…takes a full three and one-half year period.

This standing on their own two feet…walking in the Spirit…occurs after their privileged, singular experience of listening to and observing Jesus up-close…the greatest teacher of all time…in action on a daily basis.

There is something singularly unique about patience that burns away the chaff of the superficial, and purifies the genuine and real.

Patience is a valuable component of the commendable process of becoming the actual, real thing in truth…after which achieving the given task at hand rises in importance to the point where worldly recognition and acclaim fades away into insignificance.

If God calls us out to become the king of Israel, or governor of Egypt during a great famine, or as the deliverer of a nation in bondage, or to become the father of faith, or to discover real truth to be able to write New Testament epistles to the early Christian churches…we may have to exercise patience and wait for some period of time while events and circumstances in our journey of faith develop.

The process of getting there and actually becoming the capable person uniformly through-and-through is more important to God than the thin veneer of outward appearances.

“Getting there” correctly and honorably is paramount (Ps. 22; Isa. 53; Jas 1:17).

What Abraham wants the most…to become the father of descendants as numerous as the stars of the night sky as promised by God…he has to patiently wait for.

What Joseph wants the most…to fulfill his potential according to his two earlier prophetic dreams as a young man in Canaan…he has to wait for patiently through his preparation in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaoh’s prison.

What Moses wants the most…to fulfill his destiny as the deliverer of his people in bondage in Egypt (Acts 7:25)…he has to patiently wait for.

What David wants the most…to become king and to rule the nation of Israel finally in peace and security with its surrounding neighbors…he has to patiently wait for.

What Peter wants the most…to fulfill his potential as a “rock” to courageously lead the early church…he must patiently wait for through many character-building lessons, setbacks, and failures.

What Paul wants the most…to discover real truth…he has to wait for through the long journey of a walk of faith as a missionary evangelist to the Jews and the Gentiles of the first-century Greco-Roman world.

What God wants the most, as expressed in the final prayer of Jesus…that Christians might be as one even as Jesus and the Father are one (Jn. 17:21), thereby setting up the context for genuine peace, joy, and love in His kingdom for all eternity …even God has to patiently wait for.

This prayer of Jesus has not been fulfilled yet, as today’s Christian church is divided by factions, disagreements, and denominations.

The last part of John 17:21…”that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” is greatly undermined today by this outward show of debilitating divisions and disagreements.

The actualization of this divinely uttered prayer of Jesus is still awaiting fulfillment within the complex and highly specified arrangement of events and circumstances in the upcoming last-days.

The soon-to-be-addressed issues of contention between God and the “son of perdition” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 are larger and more complicated than human intellect can currently fathom (Dan. 7:25-27; 8:23-25).

This final instructive confrontation between truth and error, between darkness and light, on a massive and intensified scale, will require a premeditated, divinely composed, macro and micro-engineered life-script for the world and for the Christian church on earth…of an unprecedented, panoramic scope and quality.

The end-times will require a God-composed script of such brilliant creativity and subtle complexity as to rival and surpass anything heretofore in Christian apologetics, in theology, in our burgeoning comprehension of the marvels of the physical universe today, or in any of the great journeys of faith recorded in the Bible… except for the life and ministry of Jesus Christ in the first-century (Dan. 8:23-25).

If the God-composed life-scripts of the people of faith in the Bible serve as a preview of what we can expect in the upcoming end-times, the scenario of events will include a large dose of patience as Christians likewise wait for what they want the most…the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…during a period of time described as being the most intensely challenging in all of human history (Mt. 24:21-22).

Why the Pursuit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Involves Hardship 2

Like the great high school football coach that works his players hard during pre-season training to be ready for the upcoming regular season…unselfishly for their benefit at the risk of temporary unpopularity…God crafts the characters of the people of faith to benefit them with the priceless capacity for joyful living…for eternity without end (Jn. 15:16; Rom 9:21).

In God’s infinite wisdom He knew ahead of time that this fall of man in the Garden of Eden would cost the future incarnation for Jesus the Son of God and the second Person of the Trinity, His difficult human ministry on earth (Isa. 53:3-5), the crucifixion, and the resurrection.

Yet on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus amazingly says to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn. 14:27).

Jesus is saying that even amidst the upcoming horrors of His arrest, trial, beating, rejection, ridicule, mocking, crucifixion, and death, that He has perfect divine peace.

Jesus can truly say this because His peace is founded upon an unselfish love for us that is infinite in its scope, dimensions, and outreach.

Yet in the Garden of Gethsemane, even this infinite divine love is stretched to the point of novel and unprecedented challenge as Jesus contemplates the awful ordeal of absorbing the full weight of the sins of the world…placed upon Himself on the cross (Lk. 22:42).

On the cross…a Person who has been and will be morally perfect and blameless for all eternity…Jesus Christ the Son of God…takes upon Himself the darkness and rebellion of human sin…enabling us to be set free from bondage to sin.

God is telling us through the life of Jesus that our impulsive attempt at a shortcut to the knowledge of good and evil…will also cost us a similar hard road of first-hand experience to discover God’s perfect peace amidst daunting challenge, adversity, and suffering.

A God-composed journey of faith life-script for us tells us that somewhere along our walk of faith…we will also in some measure and to some extent pray a similar prayer: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”

The hard reality of a joint-venture with God down the road to the discovery of “all truth” involves the fullness of experience that must honestly and courageously be encountered in a God-composed journey of faith…for Christians living in the danger zone.

This danger zone extends even to the breaking point of having to give up our will and way regarding the big issues at stake in life.

But in terms of a God-composed journey of faith life-script following the pattern of the way of the cross…the theme of this book… and arguably one of the main themes of the Bible…is that adversity, challenge, and suffering separates us from self-sovereignty.

Faith in the rigorous training methods of the great football coach…separation from the self-sovereignty of thinking that we know what is best…results in a winning season (1 Cor. 9:24-26; Gal. 2:20).

It is the fundamental tension between the strong pull of worldly conventional normalcy, and the totally unconventional way of the cross… that lies at the central core of every biblical narrative story of faith.

This is the razor-sharp edge of truth that separates-out each genuine experience of faith and trust in God…for our benefit and instruction (2 Tim. 3:16)…often tested through the furnace of immediate personal danger and the real potential for overwhelming, crushing defeat.

If the competence, faithfulness, and overall intentions of Jesus Christ our King and Ruler…for all eternity…must be experientially tried and confirmed through a joint-venture expedition of faith through the context of this broken world lost in sin, then the excess baggage of our claim to self-sovereignty must go.

If some measure of adversity, challenge, and suffering will accomplish this separation from our self-sovereignty…then it is God’s positive intention to set-up the precise circumstances for this to occur for each believer…for our eternal good.

This is what we see in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible.  This is why these real-life stories serve as the pattern for our own faith journeys.

This is the dangerous part of following the living God into a genuine journey of faith that we see portrayed in the lives of the people of faith recorded in the Bible.

This is the epitome of being accountable, of not quitting early, and of breaking through…so that we may someday at the end of our own journey of faith, commendably say along with Jesus: “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30; 2 Tim. 4:7-8).