Purpose and the Cross

            No writer in the history of literature has ever attempted to create a fictional character absolutely devoid of purpose.  Like reaching absolute zero temperature, creating an absolute vacuum, or producing the conditions for motion having zero friction…humans cannot conceive of a literary character having absolute zero purpose. 

            A person without purpose is a fiction beyond our imagination.  Every human being on the planet cares about someone or something, to some extent.  This aspect of our world, in which every person has some measure of purpose, whatever its direction or quality, should come as a surprise to us.

            But this is another of the many features of our present reality that we just accept and take totally for granted.

            This reality regarding purpose can be used as an apologetic argument for the existence of God.  Acknowledge even the smallest quantity of purpose in the recipe for meaningful human life…and this then requires a reasonably plausible explanation for where purpose comes from. 

            This is one of the philosophical inconsistencies inherent in skeptical unbelief.

            But purpose and meaning in life go much deeper than this.  The old proverb: “Do as I say, not as I do” reveals an inconsistency in all human behavior. 

            A common notion among many people is that we typically live around 75 or 80 years, then die, are buried, and this covers all there is to reality. 

            But if this were true in a purely absolute sense…if taken to its logical extreme…then people would live in total detachment and disinterest about anyone or anything.  If we are made up solely of atoms, molecules, and quantum energy, then existence should be a cold, empty, emotionless, absolute zero-purpose reality having no caring, no passion, and no meaning. 

            The one thing that is absolutely consistent about the application of purpose in our lives, is that none of us are absolutely consistent. 

            Christians are accurately criticized by the skeptical world of unbelief for not living up to the high standards of Christ.  Admittedly, Christians do not practice what they preach perfectly.  But neither does anyone else. 

            Some people say they do not believe in God, and do not believe in anything transcendent beyond this present life in the here and now. 

            But the inconsistency of their verbally stated belief system is betrayed by their fully engaged and sometimes active passion for social and political reforms, their insistence upon personal integrity in their lives, their solid endorsement of the standards and laws that govern society, and their unabashed enthusiasm for the welfare of their children and grandchildren. 

            This clear and unwavering preference for high standards and commendable outcomes in life has no place in a world having zero purpose or meaning.  Actions here shout louder than words, and in everyday practice these actions self-refute the theoretical foundation for the purely absolute, naturalistic worldview.  

            If all we do is live, die, and are buried, then why care deeply and passionately about anyone or anything?  What would be the point?  Is someone keeping score…and if so, what for? 

            Doing the right thing and caring about others becomes absolutely meaningless.  Making our mark in life and leaving behind us a better world for posterity has no enduring purpose. 

            Things like friendship, loyalty, honor, character, and self-sacrifice not only become meaningless…they do not even exist.  Even caring solely about oneself becomes meaningless in a world having no real purpose beyond atoms and molecules.   

            In my view, some people incorrectly use the argument that evil exists in the world, which greatly disrupts our good order and well-being as evidence that God does not exist. 

            The presumption here is that a wise and caring God would not create such a beautiful and orderly world as this, yet allow evil to mar its existence.  But we have to search in an entirely different area than fundamental purpose, for an explanation for the existence of evil in our world.   

            If a brilliant craftsman God did not create within us this facility for purpose and meaning in life, then no one would care about the issue of the existence of evil in the first place.  We would not possess the capacity to care about anything. 

            The inability to be absolutely detached and disinterested in terms of purpose and meaning in life to the point of not even being able to imagine such an extreme purposeless condition devoid of any appreciation of justice, fairness, and equity…severely undermines a materialistic explanation of reality based solely on atoms, electrons, and the physical elements.

            Every single human being is covered by the broad brush-stroke of hypocritical inconsistency in this area of the gap between what we say verbally…and what we actually do in practice.  Christians and non-Christians alike are merely at different points on the same spectrum graph-line of purpose in life.  No one escapes this issue of hypocritical inconsistency. 

            Christians aspire to moral perfection, but don’t quite get there.  Skeptical unbelievers aspire to a totally rational and intellectual existence consistent with a naturalistic worldview, devoid of any transcendent purpose or meaning…but don’t quite get there.  Although everyone has purpose of one sort or another, everyone falls short of absolute purity in the pure application of their particular worldview.

            One of the themes of this book is that it takes the cross of Jesus Christ applied to our lives, actualized through the spiritual rebirth described in the gospel of John chapter three, and symbolized in believer’s water baptism, to effectively remove the debilitating aspects of our self-in-charge natures. 

            This creates the space for God to insert His higher ways into our lives. 

            When we allow God to displace our plans with His life-script for us, even though our performance may be flawed at times, the game-plan itself is absolutely perfect.  When we willingly submit to the God-inspired destiny for our lives, we embark upon a journey having the tightest specifications…crafted exclusively to match our created abilities, talents, and purpose. 

            A God-composed journey of faith provides structure, direction, and momentum to the element of purpose we already have designed within us.  A biblical quality journey of faith through the cross enlists and connects to purpose at the fundamental core of its meaning.

            The beauty of this is that the cross element in the biblical narrative stories of faith is as orthodox as orthodox can get.  The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are just as authoritative as the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. 

            If we can clearly see the cross within the God-composed life-scripts of the great men and women of faith in the Bible, then we are viewing the precise handiwork of God perfectly integrated to the facility for purpose He placed within each of us.     

            For example, when Moses is in the middle of the ten miraculous plagues in Egypt designed to procure the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage as slaves, Moses is walking through the narrowest of circumstances having little or no wiggle-room (Mt. 7:13-14). 

            Each morning that Moses wakes up, he listens to God in the Spirit and desperately seeks God’s new and unique solution for that day to persuade the despotic Pharaoh to release the Israelites.  In the middle of any of the ten plagues, Moses is engaged within the tightest life-and-death scenario of events designed to progress toward a positive outcome that by all outward appearances…in the present moment…borders on the edge of being hopeless.

            As one miraculous plague after another fails to move Pharaoh off of his stubbornly entrenched position, the faith and trust of Moses in the character and ability of God to come through with the next brilliant step…is daily put to the test. 

            Today we miss much of the in-the-moment suspense and drama when looking back in hindsight at the entire story, because we already know the positive ending.

            During the ten plagues in Egypt, Moses is in the center of extreme opposing forces working themselves out within the most horizontal of worldly conventional realities. 

            Moses is in the middle between the earthly ruler Pharaoh intent upon keeping the Israelites within the borders of Egypt as economically and socially valuable slaves, and the supernatural God intent upon physically and spiritually liberating the Israelites entirely out of the country of Egypt to create the new nation of Israel. 

            The lesson here for all Christians is that the plans and purposes of God are located way over at the far extreme, risked-filled, totally committed faith-end of the purpose-spectrum that we cannot possibly reach through our own efforts, or even conceive of in our wildest imagination. 

            Moses does not deliver the Israelites through some exceptional gift for oratorical persuasion or appeal to enlightened reason in the presence of Pharaoh, according to some humanistic construction.  The deliverance of the Israelites is not the result of a win-win compromise based upon mutual benefits to both parties obtained through expert worldly diplomacy.  The successful deliverance of the Israelites occurs in a zone of reality that is not only entirely supernatural…but beyond our capacity to inventively imagine.  

            The capacity of innate purpose in Moses is stretched to its fullest through active faith, bonded with the higher ways and purposes of God to produce this incredibly brilliant outcome of the birth of the nation of Israel.  This in turn produces all of the benefits of the Old Testament events leading up to the eventual redemption through Jesus Christ our Savior at Calvary, which will endure for all eternity. 

            God accomplishes all of this in the middle of the most daunting and discouraging worldly conventional circumstances imaginable.

            Some Christians would like to have the typically modern 3-step or 5-step program to begin to apply a biblical quality journey of faith to our Christian lives.  But the biblical message of the narrative stories of faith tell us that only God Himself has the step-by-step life-plans of carefully designed events and circumstances to connect with the element of purpose He has placed within us. 

            This is part of the journey of faith that authenticates and validates the competence of the one true living God as King and Ruler of the realm.  Only God Himself can be the competent administrator of this life-purpose program. 

            The reason that the experience of Moses…with God…in the midst of the plagues in Egypt…is an interactive joint-venture effort between an ordinary man engaged in a committed adventure of faith, and the Almighty God is that Moses could not possibly self-produce the supernatural ten plagues in Egypt or the parting of the Red Sea. 

            The absolutely perfect plans of God integrate seamlessly with our innate sense of purpose in a way that is unattainable when we are stuck in the humanly limited position of self-in-charge. 

            Moses experienced the high privilege of daily walking within the tightest and narrowest of life-and-death circumstances in Egypt, to discover the absolute perfection of God’s ways and purposes in the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites.

Jesus and Purpose

            The best example to illustrate the perfection of the purposes of God is the life-script of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. 

            What is seamlessly perfect about the divinely composed life-plan of Jesus is that it is absolutely unselfish.  Jesus is not leisurely sailing the Mediterranean Sea with people waiting upon Him to satisfy His every need.  Everything that Jesus does is for us.  Even though the suffering of the cross adds a new perspective to God’s reality that He never experienced before (Heb. 5:7-9), there is no redemptive value for Jesus Christ on the cross…because Jesus does not need redemption from sin.

            Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The sacrifice on the cross is for us.

            What is astounding is that God is so brilliantly creative that He can compose a life-script for the perfect Son of God Jesus Christ, which actually contains an element of challenging difficulty.  God knew that we would have difficulty with the second half of the cross that requires our self-in-charge nature to be set aside so that God can effectively work with us. 

            Jesus says in Luke 12:50 “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am straightened till it be accomplished!”  Jesus says this not because He is in need of character growth through adversity.  The character of Jesus is already divinely perfect. 

            In Luke 22:44, it is recorded that Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane went back a second time to “pray more earnestly.” 

            This is beyond our comprehension.  We would normally assume that everything Jesus did, especially prayer, was perfect the first time. 

            In Luke 22:42 Jesus prays “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.” 

            How can God be so brilliantly creative to be able to write into the earthly experience of the divine Son of God Jesus, the element of difficult challenge which is totally foreign to the perfect nature of God, just so He could tell us He personally understands our own difficulty in picking up our cross in order to follow God…our difficulty in making the transition from self-sovereignty to God-sovereignty? 

            Even within the absolute perfection of the ways and purposes of God, the life-script of Jesus manages to contain God-challenging elements of difficulty written-in for our future consolation and encouragement.  This touches me at the capacity of my intellect and the depth of my heart.    

            It is the precise and intricate ways and purposes of God that enlists our own in-built facility for purpose, which can be integrated by God into any set of current life circumstances and events. 

            Whether we are a heart surgeon, congresswoman, appellate court judge, school teacher, auto mechanic, pastor of a small-town church, writer of Christian books, or housewife raising children…God can overlay and integrate His higher ways and purposes into our lives if we will surrender and yield our self-wills to Him in faith and trust. 

            The deliverance and salvation of God within the challenges of life, expressed so beautifully throughout the Psalms, takes place within the plans of God, and not our own. 

            Innate purpose translates into reality at the highest most glorious level when orchestrated and directed within the framework of a God-composed journey of faith.

            Sometimes purpose and worldly conventional normalcy do not mix.  Sometimes we cannot have both the risk-filled pursuit of truth and the security of conventional normalcy…simultaneously within the dynamics of this broken world. 

            Jesus, the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world can only die and be resurrected if His generation rejects and crucifies Him.  Only God can knit together a meaningful and purposeful tapestry of the commendable aspects of the Protestant work ethic (Lk. 19:13)…with the worldly incomprehensible, biblical journey of faith through the cross of Calvary. 

            All of the people of faith in the Bible gave up some measure of worldly conventional normalcy in following God’s life-script for them.  This separates out and elevates the quality of purpose and meaning into a higher zone that only God can orchestrate. 

            This highlights the wisdom of God in the area of purpose, and like the scriptural example of God composing a life-script for Jesus that contained challenging difficulty for our consolation.  It reveals an imaginative creativity that is at the edge of perfection regarding brilliantly directed purpose. 

            If even our hardships work an eternal glory in us that we cannot fully understand in the present moment…orchestrated, managed, and moderated by a loving and brilliantly wise God at the limits of perfection…this should bolster our faith and confidence when outward appearances seem close to hopeless. 

            The narrative stories of faith in the Bible tell us that God knows precisely what He is doing, dovetailed perfectly with the type and measure of purpose He has placed within us.  Laws, rules, precepts, psalms of praise and encouragement, prophetic warnings, and historical events all occupy their place in the revelation of God to man.  But the biblical narrative stories of faith demonstrate in action the will and ways of God within life-events to reveal His craftsmanship in the management of our journeys of faith and discovery.

            At the advanced Christian end of the spectrum of purpose and meaning in life, God will ask us to place our own personal Isaac on the altar of sacrifice.  Isaac is not just Abraham’s son.  Isaac is the son of promise.  Wrapped up in Isaac are all of Abraham’s commendable hopes, dreams, love, and care.  Isaac does not represent some bad character trait or secret sin that Abraham must surrender to God. 

            If the purpose and meaning of life were just about smooth sailing through calm seas, then Abraham and Sarah could have started a large family upon correctly obeying God to leave Haran and journey to Canaan. 

            But Abraham and Sarah wait for Isaac, and Abraham is maneuvered by God through long-range circumstances to this pivotal moment on Mount Moriah, for a monumental reason

            The lesson for the “father of faith” (and all of us) is that he must completely and totally rely upon God and give up any remaining residue of self-reliance. 

            This is one part of the Bible that cannot be manufactured by man through conventional thinking.  This was the God-manufactured reality in Abraham’s life that qualified him to be called the “father of faith,” initiating a new, higher way of life with God.  As Abraham lifts his knife up to thrust it down into his beloved son Isaac, Hebrews 11:19 reads that Abraham accounted “that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which also he received him in a figure.” 

            No ordinary person conquers death.  Through the incarnation, cross, and resurrection, Jesus conquered death…our last great enemy.  We are raised to new life in Christ because Jesus was raised from the tomb by God the Father. 

            This is the central message of the Bible.  God can and will do for us in a better and much higher way what we cannot possibly even imagine for ourselves. 

            The most painfully difficult, yet liberating, faith-producing events in our lives are when God maneuvers our circumstances to the point where we willingly make the decision to let go of our own plans, schemes, self-efforts, and even our personal hopes and dreams in a particular area. 

            As God shouts to Abraham “Stop!” as he is about to plunge his knife down into Isaac, Abraham has totally let go of all self-generated assistance regarding helping God out toward the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. 

            God would not and never has unjustly asked anyone to take the life of someone else.  The sacrifice on Mount Moriah was a foreglimpse, a “type” of the real sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary Hill two thousand years later that would go forward to full consummation in the death of God’s own beloved Son. 

            The foundational example of a biblical journey of faith, starting with Abraham, begins with Abraham placing his Isaac on the altar of sacrifice…and God taking this unconditional faith and trust and literally turning it around into life from the dead. 

            Like all Christians, I have experienced trials, tragedies, and heartbreaks in my life.  Although excruciatingly painful at the time, I would not trade these experiences for anything.  When shaped, orchestrated, and moderated by God, they make me into a better person. 

            Could one of the things that conventional, worldly thinking chokes on and stumbles over so badly…the presence of suffering and periods of hardship in this life…be an important ingredient that produces the continue-on-at-all-costs, come-what-may, get-up-and-carry-on resiliency of character that can overcome any life-challenge that comes our way? 

            I cannot discover the inspirations to write this book unless I allow God to lead me through a personal guided tour of life’s valleys and mountaintops to demonstrate to me His faithfulness and His management skills. 

            The partially hypocritical “do-as-I-say” moves step-by-step closer to the absolute ideal of “do-as-I-do,” when divinely-guided purpose is actualized within God-composed journeys of faith.   

            Purpose and meaning are inextricably connected with this concept of Jesus walking alongside us through the most challenging of life’s circumstances. 

            The purpose in the cross is all over this encouraging reality of a journey of faith following Jesus Christ through the hills and valleys of life, ironically fulfilling in the most commendable God-scripted way the tempting seduction of Satan in the Garden: “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).

            As King Saul’s deadly pursuit of David is on several occasions within a hair’s breadth of succeeding, David must think to himself whether God’s promise to him through the prophet Samuel will ever come true. 

            Joseph’s own attempt to get Pharaoh’s butler and baker to speak well of Joseph to Pharaoh and hopefully procure his exoneration and release from prison, falls flat. 

            When the Israelites are trapped against the banks of the Red Sea with the Egyptian chariot army in deadly pursuit, it never entered the minds of the Israelites as a plausible solution that God could open up the Red Sea.  If the Red Sea bordered on a forest, some small number of people might have used driftwood and logs as floatation devices to swim safely on top of the surface of the water to the opposite shore. 

            But this body of water was in the middle of a desert.  There were no trees or driftwood.  Some daring people might have considered attempting to swim across the entire width of the Red Sea. 

            Opening up a dry land passage through the midst of the waters was something that only God could even imagine, much less actually accomplish. 

            Upon first hearing God’s plan to successfully defeat the opposing army, we can imagine Gideon asking God “Did I hear you correctly…you want us to do what?” 

            Esther throws all personal “caution to the wind” in seeking an uninvited audience with the king…in an extremely tight set of deadly circumstances forced upon her by the expediency of the crisis…not at all of her making.

            Even on Resurrection Day, as the two disciples are walking toward Emmaus and speaking with the as-yet unrecognized Jesus, after some of the disciples had already reported discovering the empty tomb, they still did not understand the magnitude of the power of the resurrection.  They say about Jesus that He was “a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Lk. 24:19), and that “we hoped that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel” (Lk. 24:21). 

            They did not realize that Jesus, a “prophet mighty in deed and word,” had that very day conquered the great final enemy of death and hell for them, through His divinely empowered resurrection from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.

            Most of us did not fully understand the second half of the cross…the surrender of the sovereignty of sitting atop the thrones of our lives as self-autonomous kings…when we experienced believer’s water baptism.  When we were submerged briefly below the surface of the water, and then assisted up into a vertical standing position representing resurrection into new life, we grasped the basic outlines of the cross and the resurrection. 

            Only after some length of time in our journey of faith do we begin to comprehend in some measure the depth of God’s purposes, patterned for us in the narrative examples of faith recorded in the Bible. 

            This concept of placing our personal Isaac on the altar of sacrifice so that God can insert His higher ways into our lives, will crystalize into a major theme for Christians as we enter the last-days to close-out the long redemptive history of mankind. 

            This is another key to our success as the Christian church in the last-days. 

            Just as the cross and the resurrection conquered death in a way that was beyond our capacity to accomplish for ourselves, the second half of the cross is a divine creation beyond human imagination or creative literary invention. 

            The narrative stories of faith in the Bible, and our own personal experience of salvation and a journey of faith following Jesus Christ, will be a calm harbor of refuge and a sturdy anchor of protection through whatever worldwide turbulence lies ahead.

            A journey of faith through the second half of the cross is at the pinnacle of divinely inspired and revealed orthodoxy, as orthodox as orthodox can be. 

            This is the part of the message of the Bible that is designed to illustrate the Spirit-born transformation that takes place within a person, from having merely an impersonal knowledge about God, to a personal, purpose-filled, new covenant adventure of faith following Jesus Christ (Jer. 31:31-34).  

The Angle of Our Vision

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”                                             (Mt. 6:33)

            This blog is not about church organizations or structures.  It is about the people who make up the universal Christian church of Spirit-born believers around the world.  Get people personally connected to Jesus Christ, and He can then capably take it from there to produce the positive results we read about in the lives of the people of faith recorded in the Bible. 

            A genuine reformation in the Christian church begins with repentance, prayer, Bible study, listening in the Spirit, and a heartfelt desire for genuine discipleship. 

            But a fundamental reality in the world is that not many people listen to the words of the true prophet at the moment the message is being delivered.  This is primarily due to the vertical separation between the message of the prophet’s speech in the elevated realm of faith and trust in God, and how well people in-the-moment have the capacity for listening “in the Spirit” (Mt. 11:15; Acts 27:9-11). 

            Most people going about their normal lives have their vision focused horizontally upon day-to-day concerns, and are not contemplating the higher ways of God in their daily affairs (Isa. 55:8-9). 

            But a true prophet of God is always trying to elevate people’s spiritual vision up into the higher realm of daily living combined with “walking in the Spirit.”

            This is the location where faith and trust in God can produce divinely orchestrated outcomes coupled with profound character growth.  This is also the area where resistance to change and the element of risk reside. 

            This is why for many people the sudden introduction of the message of God through a prophet is often a jarring and unwelcome event.  The prophet’s message can be a nettlesome intrusion into our otherwise normative, complacent, worldly sensible plans.    

            Israel historically revered their prophets in hindsight, and went to great efforts to accurately record, maintain, and pass along the sayings and writings of their prophets.  But many of the biblical prophets were persecuted and rejected by their contemporaries at the time they delivered their messages (Jer. 1:19). 

            It is a relatively safe exercise to look backwards in time in nostalgic appreciation for the purely intellectual component of the prophet’s message, conveniently removed into the history of centuries past. 

            It is a relatively safe enterprise to endorse the ancient prophet’s fiery call for personal repentance, a heartfelt change in our lives, and the challenge to step-up into a biblical-style adventure of faith (Mt. 23:20), as long as this message can be interpreted to apply to past generations of our wayward ancestors…and not directly to us. 

            A Spirit-filled prophetic call to surrender all to Jesus today, in full consideration of the costs and benefits involved, can be just as sobering a challenge for us now as it was for the Old Testament Jews listening to Moses, Samuel, Elijah, or Jeremiah. 

            The unique aspect of the final chapter of the Christian church in the last days is that there will not be a future, upcoming, extended period of time in human redemptive history on earth…to nostalgically look back upon the present-day words of prophets calling people to a higher and deeper experience following Jesus Christ…in-the-moment right now. 

            The second coming of Christ brings an end to this current human redemptive period…for all time.  

            This interaction between God and people set within the context of life’s events and circumstances, having mutual faith and trust as the bonding cement of the relationship is not found anywhere else in philosophy, religion, or human experience. 

            The validating element of this arrangement is authenticated by the reality that the living God must actively take up His part of the relationship. 

            Like playing catch with a baseball, someone real has to be on the opposite side to catch the ball and throw it back.  In the case of a biblical journey of faith, the one true God invented the game and openly invites all to participate.

            The entire Bible can be interpreted as God’s attempt to get us to release our faith and elevate our vision up into the realm where God can effectively work with us.  This is actually a key aspect of the Bible that confirms its divine origin. 

            The component of God’s active out-reach toward us is something that cannot be fabricated by human invention.  The callings of God, and the ingenious and varied narrative stories that follow the enlistment of each person of faith recorded in the Bible, are totally outside the imagination and literary invention of man. 

            One classic example of God trying to get people’s vision raised above the horizontal, everyday thinking…is recorded in Mark 12:13-17. 

            The Pharisees and Herodians come to Jesus, and ask Him: “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”  These opponents of Jesus think they have Him intellectually cornered with this cleverly devised question which appears to offer no positive option within the worldly horizontal realm of practical concerns.  Answering yes or no strictly within the bounds of conventional wisdom…spells trouble either way. 

            Telling the Jews not to pay their taxes offends the Roman government.  Telling Jews to dutifully pay their taxes to the hated foreign occupiers offends the populace in the very sensitive area of Jewish national pride and in the practical area of their pocketbooks. 

            But Jesus brilliantly lifts this issue up a level higher into the elevated realm of the Spirit, above our horizontal vision.  Jesus asks the Pharisees to show Him a coin, asks whose image is engraved on the coin, and then unexpectedly divides the answer to their question into two distinct vertical zones. 

            Part one of the fully correct, responsive answer is to render faithfully to the demands of the everyday practical world that which belongs to the everyday world…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. 

            Part two of the answer is to render to God the living faith and trust that can only occur within the elevated realm of the adventures of faith following God, which up until that time were vividly and clearly portrayed throughout the Hebrew Bible.

            This ingenious answer by Jesus to this otherwise difficult question has intrigued skeptics and admirers of Jesus for almost 2,000 years.  The Pharisees and Herodians shake their heads and walk away in amazement at this answer of Jesus.  In its brevity it fully addressed all sides of the issue of practical godliness in this broken world, having the clear bell-ring of truth that left no further opening for a follow-up question. 

            This succinct answer by Jesus is inarguable and unassailable in its pinpoint accurate truthfulness, because it’s simple depth and scope fully encapsulates God’s program for all humanity in a nutshell. 

            Temporarily improving the political equation in Palestine in the first-century was not the solution to Israel’s current problem of Roman occupation.  God had already provided the solution to this problem to Israel hundreds of years before in the book of Judges.  The solution was to turn to God with all of their hearts.  This was the mission of Jesus (Lk. 4:18-19), not to lead a military revolt against the Romans to remove the burden of taxes paid to Caesar.

            The Pharisees and Herodians attempted a strategy of verbal entrapment with Jesus, trying to publicly catch Him in misspoken words.  What they got instead from Jesus the eternal Word of God was a brilliantly concise response of such universal scope and wisdom that the opponents of Jesus eventually recognized their attempts to outwit Jesus in pubic were embarrassingly counterproductive (Mt. 22:46). 

            But the splitting up of this question by the Pharisees and Herodians, into two distinct parts by Jesus, goes infinitely deeper than being merely a clever, temporary evasion of this thorny issue. 

            Jesus is not talking out of both sides of His mouth like modern-day professional politicians.  Behind the insincerity of the motivation to attempt to trap Jesus there exists a profound question that goes to the heart of our faith and relationship with God in this broken and often confusing world.  The answer of Jesus to render to God the things that are God’s soars far above all practical worldly considerations. 

            In a God-composed and orchestrated adventure of faith, everything in our lives is managed and guided by God’s will and way…even the paying of taxes to support the government of an occupying foreign nation (Mt. 17:27). 

            This attitude of faith and trust in God, within the ups and downs of life in a journey of faith, only successfully works through elevated vision focused on the one true living God. 

            In Matthew 16:21-23, Peter strongly voices his objection to the idea that Jesus might fall into the wrong hands and suffer personal injury.  This would otherwise normally be an admirable and commendable reaction from the worldly horizontal viewpoint.  But in this one singularly unique instance, Peter’s proposed physical protection for Jesus is about as far off-target as is humanly possible. 

            The upcoming event of the crucifixion of Jesus for the redemption of mankind was planned from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).  Peter’s spiritual vision, along with the vision of everyone else at that time, was horizontally flat regarding the impending trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

            Peter goes out and weeps bitterly after failing so miserably in the courtyard of Caiaphas, revealing his total lack of understanding regarding the big-picture direction of events that must occur, culminating in the resurrection that forever defeats death and hell (Rev. 1:18). 

            Likewise, the other disciples scatter for safety at the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane.  This also reveals a horizontal misunderstanding of the temporary safety of their position as mere disciples.  The security of this position is based in the historic miscalculation by the religious authorities that focusing exclusively upon the removal of the leader Jesus would quickly stamp out His movement. 

            Because of the conventional thinking of the religious leaders, the disciples had little to fear for their safety during the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. 

            The horizontally flat vision of not understanding the true situation is also clearly evidenced by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus by the wrapping of the body of Jesus with linen strips of cloth according to Jewish customs for permanent burial. 

            This is evidenced a second time by the women coming early Sunday morning to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus with spices, again in anticipation of permanent interment and not at all in expectation of an imminent bodily resurrection. 

            A large enough group of people heard and understood the sayings by Jesus that He would rise the third day, to the point of motivating the chief priests and Pharisees to take the extraordinary step of coming to Pilate the day after the crucifixion saying: “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again” (Mt. 27:63).  They then asked permission to place a group of guards and to seal the stone at the tomb of Jesus. 

            It is ironic that the deadly opponents of Jesus are the one group that expresses the possibility of Jesus rising from the tomb. 

            Albeit, in this case, their thinking is not based upon faith in Jesus but on the totally cynical notion that the disciples would attempt to steal the dead body of Jesus, and then falsely claim He rose from the dead.  Their vision is about as worldly horizontal as can be.  This explains their nervous precaution of placing a group of guards at the tomb to prevent the removal of the body. 

            The actions taken by everyone involved in the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection betrays their horizontal mindset. 

            Peter, the other disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus, the women at the tomb, and the opponents of Jesus all are stuck in the understandably commonplace notion that people simply do not raise themselves from the dead. 

            It takes the one-time, supernatural intervention of God the Father to raise Jesus the Son of God from these seemingly impossible circumstances, validating and establishing Jesus Christ as Savior.

            That God the Father supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead is the fuel that propels forward the world-changing gospel message and testimony of the early church, and is the foundation for the Christian church to this day.

            In this critical area of biblical lessons demonstrating God’s attempt to raise our vision upward toward Him, one of the highest illustrative examples is the redemptive reach of the cross of Jesus Christ. 

            How could anyone, including the apostles, grasp ahead of time the enormous idea that one person could die on the cross as satisfaction for all of mankind’s sin…actualized by grace through faith?  The atonement for the mass of sin accumulated by every single person from the beginning of human history…redeemed through the sacrifice of one man Jesus Christ…was in-the-moment simply too much to contemplate. 

            Even someone like Jesus, who is restoring sight to the blind, cleansing lepers, healing cripples, casting out demons, multiplying fish and bread to feed thousands, walking on water, instantly calming a raging storm at sea, and raising the dead…still does not bridge the conceptual gap ahead of time that one person could single-handedly as the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice absorb the enormous quantity of mankind’s sins and offences…enabling God to justifiably forgive any person who will come to Him through faith in Christ. 

            People see Jesus raise the widow’s son from the dead in the city of Nain, but they ascribe to this obviously divine miracle the arrival in Israel of a great prophet only.  This is as high as their spiritual vision will allow them to go (Lk. 7:16). 

            Eye-witnessing this miracle did not connect them with the idea of the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice…for the sins of mankind.  One does not necessarily follow the other.  Making atonement for mankind’s sin is a totally different matter. 

            Though Jesus actually told the disciples ahead of time about His impending crucifixion and resurrection (Mk. 8:31), even they did not get it.  It was spiritually above their still worldly horizontal comprehension.  Only after the resurrection did they finally understand. 

            They personally saw and spoke with the resurrected Jesus in His newly restored body, still having the nail-pierced scars on his hands and feet, affirming the divine capacity of the blemish-free Lamb of God Jesus to indeed take away the sins of the world. 

            The perfection of Jesus as the sinless, spotless Lamb of God atonement for mankind’s sin would only make full sense after seeing Jesus visibly risen from the dead. 

            The powerful testimony of Jesus through the words and deeds of His ministry, combined with all of the Old Testament messianic backstory, only comes into clear focus for the disciples after the resurrection. 

            In the glorious new world the disciples awoke to on that fateful Sunday morning, where Jesus is now bodily risen from the dead, the upper boundary line of what was previously possible was completely shattered.  This unanticipated action by God liberated the disciples up above the conventionally horizontal into the realm where all things are possible (Acts 3:6; 4:8). 

            The example of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands at the pinnacle of God’s divinely composed outreach to mankind…in a previously unthinkable and unimaginable way…to come upward in our spiritual vision of what God can and will accomplish in our lives if we will place our trust in Him. 

            One man can take upon Himself the sins of the world, if He is the Son of God.

            If absolutely everyone in-the-moment is not comprehending the upcoming resurrection of Jesus Christ prior to and shortly after His crucifixion, and all of the details surrounding their actions and reactions are embarrassing to the apostles of the early church…are we to plausibly believe that these same apostles or someone else subsequently invented this brilliantly imaginative scenario as literary fiction from a detached, mezzanine viewpoint? 

            What would be the origin or frame of reference to explain the unique originality of this creative inspiration if the gospels themselves admit that no one at the time anticipated God the Father raising Jesus from the dead? 

            Why would the gospel writers admit and accurately record this fundamental shortcoming of not grasping the upcoming resurrection, then describe it all with such detail?  And who amongst the followers of Jesus would possess this world-class literary creativity, if it were all pure fiction? 

            Encapsulated within the account itself is the important revelation that the ordinary, naturalistic capacity of our human intellect is not up to the task of anticipating and comprehending ahead of time the higher ways and works of God. 

            God had to arrange the cross and the resurrection in such a heart-breaking and disappointing fashion for the disciples in order to bring everyone to the endpoint of their own self-reliant thinking, plans, and vision. 

            The cross and the resurrection of Jesus forced everyone to squarely face the limited reach of their own horizontal thinking. 

            As the Roman soldiers are hammering the metal spikes through the hands and feet of Jesus, not only is the blood of Jesus cleansing believers from sin, but these metal spikes are going straight through the arrogant pride and hubris of humanism…humanism that was and is blind to what was happening at that moment.

            The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s most powerful, drastic, and love-filled means to get people to raise our vision higher.  The unsurpassed quality and singular originality of the story validates the divinity of its authorship. 

            This is a reality common to all of the positive journeys of faith recorded in the Bible, and a foreglimpse of the upcoming issues for individual Christians and the Christian church on a colossal scale in the end-times. 

            In a biblical journey of faith, God takes people through tightly crafted and divinely guided circumstances beyond the point where they can depend upon their own self-reliance. 

            This is the surest way…maybe the only way…that God can demonstrate His faithfulness and love for us.       

            Why did the world reject Jesus during His first advent as Messiah? 

            One basic answer is that the religious leadership in Jerusalem and a large portion of the populace had their vision focused horizontally.  Some portion of the populace followed Jesus because they wanted a free meal (Jn. 6:26) and to witness the novelty of miracles (Lk. 23:8). 

            The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes thought that the removal of Jesus of Nazareth, who showed no signs of leading a successful Jewish military revolt against the Roman occupation of their country according to their expectations, was best achieved through the ignominious death by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. 

            They had no concept of the mission of the messiah as outlined in Isaiah 61:1-2, and no desire for a new covenant gospel message of hope and peace that would offer genuine freedom to the entire world.  This was above their temporal and worldly comprehension.

            The disciples, on the other hand, are on the opposite end of the horizontally flat, vision spectrum-line.  Their individual hopes and plans are crushed by the trial, death, and burial of the one they believed to be the long-promised Messiah for Israel. 

            They wondered if they had somehow made a mistake in following Jesus.  It is probably not fair to say that the disciples should have known better.  God arranged events with such precision that the hopes and dreams of the disciples were dependent upon the miracle of a resurrection of Jesus…that was not even within their contemplation. 

            The eternal salvation for mankind and the disappointing heartbreak of the disciples were both contained within the exact same cross and resurrection events.  God had to raise their vision above the horizontal, and it took the most sublimely brilliant, imaginative action composed and orchestrated by God that also contained a painful separation of the disciples from their own mindset, their self-will, and the way they expected things to turn out. 

            In short, the divine love that is contained within the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ extends into our daily lives through a God-composed journey of faith far above the horizontally conventional. 

            This is a truth of such monumental importance and application that it must not be surrendered, misplaced, set aside, lost, or become partially out of focus for the Christian in the last days.

            Someone may ask at this point, how do the narrative stories and examples in the Bible relate to me, and to the modern-day Christian church?  I get up in the morning, go to work, and come home to my wife and children each day…so how do the inspirational stories of the biblical superstars of the faith relate to me in my desire to obtain vertical vision as a Christian? 

            How can God integrate His higher ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9) into the ordinary conventional routine of my daily life? 

            The answer is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, learning to listen in the Spirit, studying the Bible daily, and a willingness to follow the leadership of Jesus within the events and circumstances of our uniquely individual lives. 

            Like the example of playing catch with a baseball, we get better with practice.  But unless we are throwing the ball straight up and catching it by ourselves when it comes back down, we need a minimum of two people for a game of catch.  

            To enter into a biblical style journey of faith having vertical vision, this requires the unmistakably supernatural participation of the living God.  This is the reality for new covenant, Spirit-born Christians that is promised through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13).    

            The solutions to the challenges facing Christians and the Christian church in the last days are found in raising our vision upward toward Jesus Christ in faith and trust. 

            The answers to the upcoming challenges of the end-times are found in the fully committed approach taken by the three young Hebrews confronted with the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:18), by Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:22), and by Esther in attempting to be the instrument of God to save her people (Est. 4:16). 

            These are not ancient myths.  This is not man-invented folklore. 

            The opportunity to likewise exercise our faith, to walk in the Spirit, and to be “in Christ” in this broken world in the middle of the unprecedented world-shaking events of the last days, is a privilege, a calling, and an honor beyond reckoning. 

            The theme of this book is to illuminate and clarify this vision of seeing above the horizontal through faith in Christ. 

            An understanding of the role of a collective adventure of faith through the cross…for the entire Christian church as a group…composed and orchestrated by God in a way that is above and beyond human invention is another key truth leading to our success as overcomers in the upcoming end-times events.

The Heart of the Debate 3

For Holy Spirit filled and empowered Christians during the tribulation, “ye shall be as gods” (Gen 3:5) does actually come true for human beings, but in the narrowly right way in divine loving self-sacrifice as patterned for us by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.

This unexpected outcome is to the eternal chagrin, consternation, and judgment of Lucifer the archangel who wanted to become god for all of the wrong reasons (Isa. 14:12-17; Rev 12:12).

God is so imaginatively creative He can bring the destructive words of the temptation in the Garden of Eden back full-circle upon Lucifer’s own head.  God pouring-out His divine power and grace in demonstration of self-sacrificing Christ-like love through end-times Christians would place an emphatic period at the end of the final chapter in the long story of human redemptive history.

Human efforts to create a better world are rife with failure and shortcomings.  The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are the only sure examples of success having eternal benefits.  When God joint-ventures with us in an adventure of faith we have the potential for large results on an unimaginable scale.

God has to initiate drastically enhanced worldwide circumstances one last time to attempt to break through the stubborn rejection of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.  For many people adversity is the only thing that brings focus to our shortcomings that leads to seeking heartfelt repentance toward God.  We therefore need God to set-up the precisely targeted conditions on earth whereby the task of salvation is completed and the church becomes the light of the world.

We need God’s divine help to finish the job at the end of the ages.

The end-times great tribulation is not about what we would like or prefer.  It is about God closing out the human story of redemption in the highest and best way possible according to the extremely tight specifications of the final journey of faith patterned for us in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.

It is about Immanuel…God with us…in the penultimate resolution in the pursuit of truth designed to benefit the people of God for all eternity.

It is the closing chapter of the story beginning with Abraham so long ago, of trusting God and letting go in a set of circumstances that divide truth from error in a way that is incomprehensible to the horizontally conventional world of skeptical unbelief.

The example of Paul aptly closes out this book.

In Acts 21, Paul is journeying toward Jerusalem for the last time.  Along the way, Holy Spirit inspired Christians forewarn Paul that he will face persecution, imprisonment, and possibly physical harm in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24, 21:10-14).

Paul is arrested in the temple, beaten by the populace, rescued by a Roman guard, almost interrogated by scourging, in danger of being “pulled to pieces” in the Sanhedrin, and threatened with death through an ambush of forty men lying in wait, having taken a vow not to eat until they have killed Paul.

Yet in Acts 23:11, just before Paul learns of the plot to kill him and he is moved to Caesarea for safety, Jesus appears to Paul in the night and says: “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”

Jesus amazingly…and counter to all worldly conventional thinking… encourages Paul to “be of good cheer” in the midst of deadly opposition and the most unsettling of worldly events.  Paul goes on to witness before the Roman governor Felix, and King Agrippa and Bernice in Caesarea.  Paul then appeals to Caesar for a hearing in Rome, survives a shipwreck in route to Rome as a prisoner, writes his remaining four “pastoral” New Testament epistles, and is finally martyred by the Emperor Nero in Rome.

Is this example of the Apostle Paul the true foreglimpse of the selfless divine love that can go forward in the face of enormous opposition to accomplish the task of salvation for others through the enabling power of the “latter rain” of Holy Ghost evangelical fire?

Is a fully engaged Christian church on earth during some portion of the great tribulation the difficult but privileged calling that will define for all time the true nature and person of Jesus Christ the King of glory?

Is our blessed hope of Titus 2:13 the unbreakable assurance of Jesus with us…come what may?

God supplies Holy Spirit faith, power, and boldness when we need it (Dan. 3:16-18; Acts 4:8).  The world wants to sweep the issues of sin, repentance, and our decision regarding Jesus Christ under the rug.  People want to be distracted from these issues by the everyday concerns of the world.  But the upheaval of the end-times brings these issues to the surface in the same lethally unwelcome way that forced the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the first century.

The cross element patterned for us in the journeys of faith recorded throughout the Bible, deserves our closest examination as we approach an understanding of upcoming end-times biblical prophecy.

A commendable bias of including the cross and the resurrection in our interpretation of scripture should become part of the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding we bring to our Christian worldview as end-times events begin to come into clear focus.

The cross in the end-times…of God brilliantly displacing our worldly conventional thinking with life-scripts beyond our imagination…is a huge issue.

God validating and authenticating His character and faithfulness is best discovered and demonstrated through the creative details of a God-composed adventure of faith.

The Cross in the End-Times is as large as any other issue at the close of human redemptive history.  The cross fully applied to our lives creates the most space for God to effectively work out His highest ways.

“Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Mt. 24:44).

The Heart of the Debate 2

What makes the end-times tribulation period unique is not the large volume of end-times prophetic information given to us in the Bible, or that our understanding of end-times prophesy becomes more clear by employing a literal interpretation of scripture as often as possible, or that a dispensational framework of interpretation allows for a confident placement of the rapture at the beginning of the tribulation.

What makes the end-times tribulation period unique in history is the drastic change in the context of the world environment, introducing judgment plagues, the worldly appealing initial introduction of the Antichrist, unprecedented worldwide persecution of Christians, and a monumental last-ditch outreach of the gospel message of salvation to the people who are still undecided.

What drastically changes during the tribulation is an extreme environment of narrowly focused, life-and-death issues and goals, in which every Christian alive on the earth will become instantly transported into the reality of an adventure of faith.

When Joel 2:28-29 commences, every Spirit-born, twenty-first century Christian on earth overnight becomes a “called-out” person, no matter who or what they previously were.  When the latter rain of Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:16-21 begins, every Christian on earth will become a called, chosen, and Spirit-anointed vessel for service, similar to what Jeremiah experienced and describes in Jeremiah 20:9.

An argument can be made that Christianity itself is based upon a violent and irreconcilable difference of opinion in first-century Jerusalem regarding the nature of the messiah.  Christianity is born out of a lethally violent disagreement.  Our salvation is based upon God’s working within a massively destabilizing first-century social upheaval and religious crisis of identity, truth, and right living.

This crisis produced redemption and salvation for countless millions of new-covenant believers down through the twenty centuries leading up to our present time.  All of the first-century early church participated fully in these events, according to their individual callings, abilities, and Holy Spirit empowerment.

God has shown us in the Bible that He is able to stand alongside us in the fiery furnace, in the lion’s den, and on the challenging road to evangelizing the Mediterranean world in the first-century.  As Spirit-led Christians, when faced with adversity, we do not fold up our tents and go home.

Godly men and women in the Bible, and Spirit-led Christians today, do not back down in the face of a challenge.

In Mark 4:35-41, when the disciples finally wake up the sleeping Jesus, and rather pointedly ask Him whether or not He cares if they perish in the storm at sea, Jesus counters by saying “Why are ye so fearful?  How is it that ye have no faith?”

Jesus is the Almighty Son of God and Creator of the universe.  Jesus cannot perish in a small boat in peril of a strong storm on a lake.  The Christian church can follow Jesus anywhere, even into the dreaded great tribulation for a few years…if need be.

Spirit-born Christians have the Holy Spirit residing inside them.  Nothing on earth can overturn the Christian who is rooted and grounded in faith in Jesus Christ (Rev. 21:7).

Luke 21:36 can be applied to any appropriate time during the seven-year tribulation.  The fulfillment of Luke 21:36…does not have to occur before or at the beginning of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period…in order to be a blessing, a relief, and a hope-filled motivation for continued watchfulness.

The Holy Spirit, living within the Christian, is not afraid of the great tribulation.  Jesus Christ securely enthroned in our hearts is not intimidated by Lucifer or the Antichrist.  The Bible tells us from beginning to end that God has complete mastery over spiritual opposition.  This is an extremely important concept to grasp as we approach the upcoming end-times events.

As Spirit-born Christians, if we find ourselves someday soon in the midst of Daniel’s end-times tribulation period, this means God pre-destined us for these times, and this also means we have the capacity through the power of the Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ to step up to the challenge at hand.

If we find ourselves in the great tribulation, Jesus Christ will be there with us.

The tribulation can therefore be alternately viewed as the opportunity for the “ordinary” Christian to become a great hero of the faith.  Instead of something fearful to avoid, the Holy Spirit empowered participation for a period of time in the last great harvest of souls, amidst the tribulation, should be viewed as a privilege of inestimable value.

To be chosen and called…to “be purified, and made white, and tested” according to Daniel 12:10, is no small thing in the grand expanse of the history of the saints of God.

To experience the total abandonment of self-interest and self-preservation, lost through the loving outreach component of the power of the Holy Spirit like Stephen experienced before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:15), is to become Christ-like in the penultimate demonstration of character…the sacrifice of the cross.

To overcome the “accuser of our brethren” by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of our testimony, and that we loved not our lives unto the death (Rev. 12:10-11), is something that will bring victorious closure to human redemptive history that would endure for an eternity.

The Heart of the Debate 1

“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure.”                                                                                         (1 Jn. 3:3)

As I venture out into my neighborhood and community, the prospects for massive Christian revival in the very near future have not improved much.

People are still going about their self-absorbed pursuits of obtaining material wealth and possessions, trying to display the prideful outward appearances of their merit and worthiness through the measuring scale of financial success, and showing little or no openness to their need for God in their lives.

People rebuff attempts by Christians to share the gospel message with them, as if this outreach of love was a direct personal insult to their ability to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining.

Accepting Jesus Christ into their lives means to many people a retreat into character weakness, having to lean upon God’s help “as a crutch.”

Without some cosmically drastic negative change in this outward worldly environment, the status quo of difficult evangelical outreach in developed countries would continue on its current slow pace right up to the very edge of the end of time.

I believe it will take major acts of God, as described in the biblical end-times prophecies, to create the quantum shift in the world environment that will be required to shake-up people’s current comfort zone to become receptive to God’s final outreach of redemptive love.

The current context of life issues must be turned upside-down for people to replace their self-centered pursuits with a serious consideration of the offer of a new eternal life through Jesus Christ.

To reach deep into the self-centered group of people currently going about their own way without any regard for God, it will take some drastic shake-up in the world’s social, political, economic, and/or natural environment to get their attention.

When this occurs, what are we actually describing?  Are we then talking about the beginning of the actual seven-year tribulation, or are we looking at a series of preliminary warm-up events on a gradual upward incline of chaos and upheaval leading up to the start of the tribulation?

We cannot control the upcoming natural disasters and judgment plagues of “biblical proportion” that are described in the Bible to occur in the tribulation period.

These great tribulation events will topple proud and arrogant people off the pedestals of their false confidence of being gods on the thrones of their destinies.  Some people will fall to their knees and cry out to God to save them amidst the unprecedented chaos.  Others will continue to shake their fists at God in stubborn defiance.

The great end-times message is that we are not gods.  We were never created to be our own gods.  We have no business being a part of Lucifer’s rebellion against God.

The basis of Lucifer’s recruitment of mankind into his rebellion was a lie.

This end-times message is not new.  What will be new in the end-times is that the world will be coming apart at the seams.  What will be so powerfully new in the last days is the close correlation of this message to repent and step down off our thrones…with the realization of our utter helplessness to affect or control the outward manifestation of catastrophic natural events of a magnitude entirely new to the planet (Mt. 24:21).

The end-times message will closely correspond to unfolding world events.  The upheaval of the tribulation period will compliment and accentuate the end-times message, that we are not gods and we are not self-sufficient kings.

The end-of-time tribulation will set-up upon the earth an environment that will clarify, with powerful finality, the separation between the limits of our capacity as human beings…and the role that Almighty God must responsibly assume in the physical, ethical, and moral management of the universe.

Counter-intuitively, the most loving and thoughtful thing that God can do for us is to allow this temporary and disposable world to fall apart at the end of redemptive history, to reveal to us for one last emphatic time the catastrophic result of our thinking that we are gods capable of living independently apart from Him…in spiritual rebellion.

At first glance, therefore, what may seem like only a surface difference in timing between a pretribulation rapture and the thesis of this book, that the rapture will more likely occur a few years part-way into the tribulation, now separates into two very distinct outcomes.

A pretribulation rapture removes the Christian church off the earth and out of any possible participation in the momentous events of the tribulation.  A pretribulation rapture erases any possibility of Immanuel…God with us…in the midst of issues that will define God’s claim to rightful leadership as King and Ruler…for the remainder of eternity.

But an as-yet un-raptured Christian church on the earth during at least some of Daniel’s final seven-year tribulation, utilizes the unprecedented narrow gate environment imposed upon the entire planet, creating the biblically patterned context for “called, chosen, and faithful” commitment to service for each and every Christian alive on the earth.

The unprecedented combination of the total loss of any option for normalcy as a result of worldwide persecution and the start of the judgment plagues…with the selfless fervor of evangelism empowered by the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh according to Joel 2:28-29…enlists and transforms even initially reluctant Christians into life-and-death service to Jesus Christ that they will be grateful for, for all eternity.

The pattern of the cross of Christ contained integrally in the adventures of faith…recorded throughout the Bible…lies at the heart of this debate.

The Cross in the End-Times 2

One Important Lesson at the End of the Ages

One of the most difficult things to do in all of human experience is to keep our composure when we are unjustly or inaccurately criticized.

Our natural inclination is to strike back in hostile anger when someone criticizes us for unjustified reasons.

Jesus is unjustly crucified as a malefactor between two thieves on crosses…when in fact He is acting as the perfectly sinless, atoning Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the shortcomings of other people (Lk. 23:41).

But Jesus on the cross is operating at the pinnacle of self-sacrificing righteousness.  His performance occurs within the context of the most derisive and unjustly demeaning circumstances imaginable.

Yet Jesus kept His composure throughout His ministry, His trial, and the crucifixion (Lk. 9:55-56).  He did not call down tens of thousands of avenging angels from heaven in righteous indignation while on the cross.

He did not even defend Himself, His honor, or His complete innocence at His night-time trial (Mk. 14:61).

Only divine love…motivated and empowered for a higher purpose…can produce this lofty character trait of absolutely perfect composure in the face of wrongful accusations…patiently born for the benefit of other people.

Only a future-sighted spiritual vision elevated above the horizontally conventional in the present now…could possibly place the needs of others high enough above our own reputation and worldly standing to inspire and maintain self-composure.

Matthew 24:7-14 seems to imply that this is one of the lofty character traits that will be required of end-times Christians to be able to navigate successfully through some portion of the great tribulation without being offended (Mt. 13:21) and falling away (2 Thes. 2:3).

During the period of time when the latter rain of the Spirit of God is poured-out upon the earth (Joel 2:28-29), enabling heroic evangelism and self-sacrificing good works by Christians around the globe, the universal hatred toward Christians prophesied in Matthew 24:9 would be as unjustified as was the rejection of Jesus of Nazareth in the first-century.

The great irony of a successful journey of faith that produces elevated aspirations, morals, and attitudes is that this creates the separation and difference from other people still living in worldly conventional thinking.

The positive change that enables Spirit-born Christians to have something valuable to offer to the world in terms of salvation and transformation…is ironically the very thing that produces the unpopularity of being different and not fitting in.

The farther Christians get away from being worldly-minded through their God-composed and guided walks of faith, the more Christians have to offer but the less they will fit-in and be accepted (Acts 22:22).

End-times Christians must obtain through hard-earned experience the elevated vision to be able to love and pray for our enemies and those who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:43-48).  Genuinely wanting the salvation and beneficial transformation of those disagreeable people in our lives to the point that we can disregard opposition, offensive behavior, and hard speech toward us (Mt. 5:11-12), and push forward in prayer and right responses on our part, is a divine character trait.

Every Christian who has been challenged, exercised, and chastened in this area of maintaining our self-composure in response to unjustified criticism and unfair accusation, knows how unreachable this character trait is in our fallen, natural-man thinking.

Yet Matthew 24:7-14 tells us clearly that the whole world will hate Christians in the last-days and that many will be offended and the love of many will grow cold.

Christians cannot possibly learn and exhibit this spiritually mature behavior at the pinnacle of Christ-like character…without experiencing first-hand the challenging events of the end-times.

The end-times tribulation is the capstone course in Christian character, the final seminar lesson-plan in discovering the real truth behind the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:5).

If end-times Christians can rise to the challenge and put into practice unselfish sacrificial love, this divine character trait will shine in brightness above the egocentric, false light of the fallen covering cherub Lucifer.

This brings the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden full-circle.  It exposes the lie of the character assassination of God in the Garden of Eden, and accomplishes this through the very same agents…human beings…who were originally so easily deceived.

God’s divine love shining through mature and experienced Christians…sacrificing themselves unselfishly for the salvation of others… through their free-will voluntary decision to follow and obey Jesus Christ in a journey of faith even into the spiritual battlefield of the great tribulation…is God’s winning demonstration of the power of thoughtful and giving love over the obstinacy of self-centered rebellion in all of its forms.

This final argument can only be forever decisively articulated through a full assembly of the Christian church in battle array on earth, clothed in the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6:12-17, and motivated by the divine quality of love exhibited by Jesus Christ at Calvary.

The Christian church gets the long-awaited final victory through Jesus Christ, a hard-earned lesson of inestimable value that will last for all eternity.

This great final victory involves a willingness to embrace change at the deepest, most profound level.  Humility produced now through divinely guided training, which is liberated from the cares of this world and is committed to uplifting Christ to the world even at the potential cost of our lives, is the authoritative pattern of the narrative stories of faith in the Bible.

Radical change in the outward world environment, having the loss of the expectation for worldly conventional normalcy combined with the contrast of Spirit-filled, non-worldly minded Christians not going along with the horizontally conventional, temporal message of the Antichrist, will separate and divide the eternal issues of right and wrong like never before.

The willingness to follow Jesus into the uncertain risk of radical change may be one of the required ingredients in the end-times…needed to expose finally and forever the man of perdition of 2 Thessalonians 2:3…aptly and decisively bringing to a close the final chapter in human redemptive history.

The Cross in the End-Times 1

“Who, through faith, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”  (Heb. 11:33-34)

Anyone who has ever been brought in as an outsider to reform a business company as a temporary consultant or as a long-term, in-house employee…eventually discovers the discouraging reality that the people initiating the reforms…often think the problem involves other people within the company, and not themselves.

Company owners and managers pushback against the very reforms they initiate, at the critical transition point where fact-finding abruptly changes to actual  implementation…because they resist recommended changes in the way they are doing things at the very top of the company…just like everyone else resists change throughout the organization.

The irony is that owners and top managers resist the changes that would improve the company structure and performance…when these changes also include the way they themselves have been doing things.

Beneficial change is then killed by half-hearted commitment and partial implementation because of the strong human tendency for continuing to do things our way, once we have developed patterns and practices that have been set within the inertia of usage over time.

The optimum best approach sometimes fails to gain acceptance because people do not want to change.

It is considered okay to audit and scrutinize others, but we do not like other people entering into our “turf” to analytically criticize how we ourselves do things (Jn. 3:20).

The baffling and inexplicably intense, hostile resistance to beneficial change that would clearly bring improved efficiency, mistake prevention, and cost-savings into a struggling company…is a huge challenge to overcome for those people tasked to identify and implement change in the organization.

This concept is central to understanding the hostile pushback the Christian gospel message of salvation receives out in the world.

The core feature of Christianity is change.

The central tenet in Christianity is that Spirit-born believers become new creatures “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17), going from darkness to light, from spiritual death to spiritual life.

Jesus is the Consultant who has perfect understanding of every enterprise, system, and every person.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life…who has the solution to absolutely every problem, crisis, and shortcoming in business, family life, and in our personal characters.

Jesus assuming His rightful place on the throne of our lives, as we step aside from our short-sighted, egocentric, and misdirected self-rulership, is the life-long Christian reformation process that begins with repentance, spiritual rebirth, and picking up our cross to follow Jesus into God-composed adventures of faith…designed to produce beneficial change.

When a large company acquires a smaller company, often the larger company lays-off everyone in the smaller company except a few people who understand the bookkeeping system and the maintenance of the building structure.

This radical strategy is designed to remove the possibility of critical naysayers bringing dissention into the larger company culture by comparing the new system with the old, and complaining about the differences.

“Cleaning house” from top-to-bottom in the smaller company erases all of the old policies and practices that have been engrained in the smaller company organization, providing a fresh start for the new larger organization… without the human resources problem of resistance and pushback to change.

As Abraham travels from the city of Haran to the region of Canaan, God displaces all of the old Haran-based plans and schemes of Abraham with an entirely new life-script plan so far above worldly conventional normalcy that Abraham could never have envisioned it.

The higher ways of Gods were far above anything Abraham could have imagined.  By changing the plan, God essentially terminates and fires the horizontally conventional, Haran-based worldly plans for culturally defined normalcy…with a new adventure of faith beyond human invention.  Scripture says that Abraham believed God…went along with the radical change contained within his new calling…and this was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.

Jesus is the only person in all of human history qualified to expand upon the Ten Commandments to the level of moral perfection.  No one before or after Jesus…philosophers, teachers, prophets, political leaders, even Moses himself…attempted to present the absolute standard of perfect moral thought and behavior…from the divine perspective.

What mere mortal would suggest that looking upon a woman to lust after her is equivalent to committing adultery with her (Mt. 5:28)?  Who other than God could or would come up with the idea that harboring unjustified anger toward another person is the equivalent of committing murder (Mt. 5:22)?

Jesus is the only person in human history who can justifiably present a divinely perfect standard of thought and behavior, without any hint of condescension, hypocrisy, or cheekiness.

Jesus can do this with uncompromising truth because He will soon carry His cross toward Calvary to enable people to live up to these self-same very high standards.

Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount, with its high moral precepts above anything spoken before or after in all of history, is above human imagination or literary creative invention.

Having “ears to hear” (Mt. 11:15) and implementing the words of Jesus into our lives as wise people (Mt. 7:24-27) through the Holy Spirit, is allowing the divine Consultant to beneficially change our lives on an eternally practical and applicable level.

Following Jesus requires continuing change above and beyond our initial repentance, salvation, spiritual rebirth, and becoming new creatures in Christ.

Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ requires a life-long, new way of thinking.  A journey of faith following Jesus displaces our conventional way of doing things according to worldly horizontal thinking.  This is where picking up our cross and dying to self-sovereignty comes in.  Our stubborn resistance to the changes God would implement in our lives must die on the cross alongside Jesus.

The Bible describes the Christian church as the bride of Christ, and Jesus Christ as the groom.  But God is a spirit.  The relationship is spiritual, not carnal.  The current context for spiritual intercourse between God and His bride is found within the higher events and circumstances of a God-composed journey of faith.  This is what we see in the journeys of faith recorded throughout the Bible, with individuals, with the nation of Israel, and with the early Christian church.

God wooed the nation of Israel as the love of His life, but she rejected Him.  Israel rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah because he was not worldly affluent.  Jesus did not take up conventional arms against the foreign Roman occupier in the fashion of past prophet warriors to rid the nation of its current political and economic problems.

The nation of Israel wanted change, but only according to her terms, conditions, and worldly horizontal expectations.  Jesus was rejected as a suitor to Israel because His value and worth as Savior did not translate into worldly conventional wealth, prosperity, and political independence.

But Jesus was immeasurably affluent then and now.  Jesus owns everything and His resources are limitless.

Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, walked on water, calmed a storm at sea, and multiplied a few loaves of bread and fish to feed multitudes.

The life contained within the words of Jesus the Word of God liberates people for all eternity (Jn. 8:34-36).

The wealth of salvation purchased through the cross and resurrection potentially covers all of the sin ever committed by the fallen human race beyond reckoning, a salvation accessed and actualized free-of-charge through individual repentance and faith.

Jesus could have won over the entire nation of Israel in the first-century by leading a conventional army against the Roman Empire.  Military victory would be a sure thing.  But this approach would have been way beneath and totally out-of-place for the Son of God.

Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God could have captured the affection of Israel unfairly by defeating the Roman army like Joshua or David of old, but this affection would only be at the very lowest conventional level of shallow and short-lived gratitude.

Affection purchased at this worldly conventional level alone would be permanently susceptible to the ever changing fortunes of the nation of Israel in every horizontally political, social, and economic area.

Temporarily fixing our problems in this broken world is a never-ending enterprise…as long as this effort remains in the worldly conventional realm.

The change that Jesus was offering then and now is a fundamental change in a person from the inside-out.  This divinely crafted transformation from darkness into light produces fidelity and loyalty toward God that willingly climbs any mountain and crosses any sea, not counting the cost…come-what-may.

The dynamic change that God offers by way of redemption through Christ…will produce an Abraham standing patiently on the promise of God for the birth of Isaac…Joseph sticking it out through enormously discouraging initial outward appearances to eventually become governor of Egypt…and Saul/Paul flipping 180-degrees to become the champion of the faith he previously persecuted.

Because the life-scripts of Abraham, Joseph, Paul, and many others in the Bible are above and outside of human invention, a journey of faith is not theoretical.  The God of the Bible for Moses, David, Esther, Daniel, and Peter is not a projection of themselves unto an imaginary god.  A biblical journey of faith does not produce a fictional version of a character we would like to be.  A God-composed and guided journey of faith produces genuine character change at the center of truth and right-living, purchased through difficult lesson-plans spread-out over the real events and circumstances of life.

The End-Times 3

The Perilous Times of Timothy

The perilous times of Timothy present another scriptural inconsistency with a pretribulation rapture scenario.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:1:

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.”

At the time of this epistle, Timothy is not a tribulation saint as understood in our modern times.  Timothy is not a member of a distinctive group of people who will be left behind after the rapture occurs.  Timothy is a member of the one and only main body of the Christian church in existence… when Paul wrote Timothy this letter.

In the first-century, there is no division between Christians in-good-standing and some future, soon-to-be converted group of post-rapture tribulation saints.

Within the contemplation of Paul and the early church, there is no conception of something called a post-rapture tribulation saint.

Timothy is half Gentile and half Hebrew.  Timothy’s father is a Greek, and his mother is a Jew (Acts 16:1).

Yet in this address to Timothy by Paul, who understood better than anyone the subtle nuances between New Testament Gentile and Jew (Gal. 2:11-19), we see not the slightest hint of any dispensational differentiation by Paul in the practical application of this 2 Timothy 3:1 end-times prophesy, regarding this dual nature of Timothy.

If the question of a divided application of end-times prophetic scriptures to church-age Gentiles and Messianic Christian Jews, before and after a rapture, was ever to be addressed within the Bible…assuming such a question existed…surely we would think this was an excellent opportunity for Paul to clear up confusion and establish sound doctrine in applying end-times prophecies to his close friend and protégé Timothy, having the combined dual ancestry of Gentile and Jew.

If the rapture occurs in the first-century, then Timothy will be raptured.  If the rapture occurs in Timothy’s lifetime, he will be one of those taken as described in Matthew 24:40-41.

Yet Paul addresses this particular end-times prophecy to Timothy, as if Timothy is in fact a tribulation saint.

Whatever Paul is referring to as “perilous times”, they directly apply to Timothy.  These perilous times do not leap-frog over Timothy one generation to a future group of first-century people unsaved at that time, who would become converted to Christianity as a result of discovering they were left behind after the rapture.

Paul’s prophecy is aimed directly and squarely at Timothy, a born-again, Spirit-filled, first-century Christian.

If Timothy is a scripturally viable rapture candidate, then according to Paul’s prophecy here, Timothy is apparently also a scripturally viable candidate to experience perilous end-times.

Because these uniquely perilous times did not actually occur during Timothy’s lifetime, this prophecy in its composite form has continued by extension to each and every succeeding generation of Christians down to our present time.  Nowhere in scripture does it allow us to insert a discontinuous break in the application of this prophecy, merely because it was written so long ago.  This warning of Paul to Timothy, applies to us today as if Paul were here now speaking to us in person.

If this prophecy referred to a future period of time immediately after Timothy was raptured, yet with a post-rapture first-century world still in place, then Paul’s sentence does not make much sense.

This prophecy is directed toward the one and only full-sized Christian church that was on the earth at the time of Paul, because Paul was writing this warning to Timothy, a younger contemporary of Paul as a future reference and guide toward an upcoming actual time in Timothy’s life.

By continuous extension, this as-yet-unfulfilled prophetic warning similarly applies with all of its force to the contemporary Christian church on the earth today.

For the unbeliever, there is no such thing as a non-perilous time.  Living on the edge of dying in sin, and passing on into an eternity in hell, is always perilous.

How can the last days become any more perilous for the unbeliever than normal times?

Again, in this 2 Timothy 3:1 verse, Paul says that “perilous times shall come.”

If people say that these perilous times for unbelievers refer to receiving the mark of the beast, then this places the perilous times described by Paul for Timothy…right in the middle of the period of the Antichrist.

We cannot have it both ways.

Timothy, the first-century church, and Paul’s perilous times all go together.

If Timothy is on the scene for the perilous times foretold by Paul, then the times must be perilous for somebody, otherwise they would not in fact be perilous.  If Timothy is to be raptured as one of the faithful in his lifetime as anticipated by the early church, yet also experience perilous times, then the rapture slices up these perilous times into two parts.

Some portion of Paul’s perilous times, unspecified in length, must occur before Timothy is raptured.  Otherwise Timothy is not physically present for these perilous times, and Paul is directing his warning to the wrong person.

Conversely, if the times are unusually perilous for unbelievers because of the presence on earth of the Antichrist, then Timothy is alive on earth for some portion of this same period of time, because Paul addresses this prophecy to Timothy.

If the times are also unusually and noticeably perilous for Christians sharing the gospel message, then what possible change in the outward world environment would create this to the extreme point that Paul would address this issue in a letter to Timothy, other than some singularly calamitous cascade of events leading up to the tribulation, or the actual momentous tribulation period itself?

Another reason why I do not believe that the rapture will occur at the beginning of the tribulation period, is that Daniel’s seven-year tribulation is the final period of time for everything in terms of the old world system.

When the time finally comes that there are only seven years of human earthly history remaining, it would certainly be imperative and incumbent upon God to shake-up the world as described in the book of Revelation.

The reasons behind this shake-up are two-fold, and they are enormous.

The first reason is that God would not want the last generation of unbelievers, with only seven years remaining on the clock, to be mistakenly focused on the non-essentials like what color to paint the kitchen, or whether to buy or lease our next automobile, or which college law school our granddaughter should apply to.

These otherwise legitimate life-issues today…would be rendered entirely superfluous by virtue of the short end-times period remaining on the earth.

The second reason for a major shake-up by God as described in end-times biblical prophecy…is to demonstrate that the Antichrist…posing as the messiah and savior of the world using fair speech, lofty promises, and intimidating threats…is in fact a worthless counterfeit god-man…an imposter who cannot control the catastrophic natural events or the health-related judgment plagues that will be occurring in the world.

Only the real God can supernaturally intervene in our natural world.  The catastrophic magnitude of the events occurring on the planet during the great tribulation would be God’s unselfish and loving way of exposing the lie and the emptiness of the high sounding speech of the Antichrist.

This would be God’s final, emphatic, and unambiguous attempt to capture the attention of the last inhabitants on this planet as to the truly fragile nature of our existence and the genuine reality of our dependence on our Creator God.

At issue is the fundamental difference between “self-made men and women” and “God-made men and women”… which has been at the center of the debate in God’s outreach throughout human redemptive history.

The tribulation period is an environment of imposed dependence upon God for temporary physical and eternal spiritual survival, and forces a decision for or against God upon every inhabitant on the earth.

When the time comes that there are only seven years of time remaining, there is no point to God holding back or moderating His final appeal to mankind.

 

The End-Times 2

Some Problems with a Pretribulation Timed Rapture

 

In my view, one difficulty with the concept of the timing of the rapture occurring at the beginning of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period…is an extension of the Matthew 24:9-10 verses mentioned above:

 

“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.  And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.”

 

My conception of the tribulation saints (those Christians converted after the rapture), are as a tightly focused group of believers totally dedicated to their last chance at serving Jesus Christ unconditionally (having missed the rapture).

 

This would be the case whether they have exclusive domain over the last remaining evangelical outreach on earth for all seven, six, five, four, three, or even the final two years during Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period.

 

This would be the case regardless of the makeup of the tribulation saints…Gentiles and Messianic Jewish Christians

 

This hard-core group of tribulation saints does not seem susceptible to large numbers of them being offended as a result of persecution (Mt. 13:21), or betraying other tribulation saints, or hating each other.

 

These prophetic words of Jesus Christ would only seem to apply instead to a large, widely mixed group of born-again Christians who had in their numbers a sizable percentage of nominal, unconverted adherents who could easily fall into becoming offended, betraying real Christians, and living in an attitude of hatred and disappointment as a result of the end-times evil (Mt. 24:7-13).

 

This would more accurately describe the required blend of the genuine Christian church, combined with the apostate church, which we see in the world today, and which would appear transparently inseparable and indistinguishable to the undiscerning secular world before the start of the last day’s persecution and tribulation.

 

This would be more consistent with Matthew 24:10 saying “then many shall be offended”, implying that there is a large enough beginning sample of people for many to be offended, and conversely for many genuine Christians not to be offended, to comprise the whole group.

 

This would also set-up the basis for a clearer understanding of the falling away (2 Thes. 2:3).

 

The tribulation saints by contrast, whether Jew or Gentile, would be almost exactly like the Christians of the first two and one-half centuries in terms of fidelity to Jesus Christ.  They would be entirely new converts to Christ, narrowly focused on their mission, uniformly dedicated, fearless, committed, fiercely loyal to one another, and living with the constant threat of discovery, exposure, and imminent martyrdom.

 

If this is the case, then these Matthew 24:9-10 verses would therefore appear to be inconsistent with the currently popular teaching of an early rapture of the church…prior to the full seven-year-tribulation-scenario.

 

If these Matthew 24:9-10 verses occur within the time-span of  the seven-year tribulation period of great persecution of Christians, and the only new Christians formed after a pretribulation rapture are this group of tribulation saints…who are not plausible candidates for betraying and hating one another…then something here is clearly amiss.

 

The dispensational approach has newly converted Jews as a main contingent of the post-rapture tribulation saints who evangelize the world.

 

But this formulation is inconsistent with Matthew 24:10…which expressly states that many will be offended and hate one another.

 

This cannot apply to newly converted Jewish-Christian believers, converted by as-yet unknown supernatural revelations of Jesus Christ to Jews worldwide…similar to Joseph in Egypt revealing himself to his brethren.

The revelation that Jesus Christ is not just a God of the Gentiles…but is in fact their long promised messiah…will engender the most fiercely dedicated fidelity to the gospel message of Christ…soaring above any persecution that would cause others to become offended.

 

After a pretribulation rapture, there would not be a blended mixture of hard-core tribulation saints in close association with nominal adherents in a worshipping fellowship.  There would be nothing in common between these two groups after the rapture to bring them together in fellowship.

 

After the rapture, whenever it occurs, the tribulation saints from then-on-after will be a distinct and isolated group notable for their purity, zeal, commitment, and dedication of purpose.

 

The required diverse combination of a large number of genuine Christians mixed with a large number of nominal churchgoers…for Matthew 24:9-10 to occur…will simply not exist after a world-emptying pretribulation rapture taking all Spirit-born Christians off the earth.

 

Therefore, either there is some extremely intense persecution occurring pretribulation for the main Christian church prior to the rapture, causing this dissension and culling-out within the “mixed multitude,” or conversely the continuous uninterrupted existence on earth of the combined main body of the Christian church plus the apostate church, extends and overlaps into the tribulation period itself for some period of time.

 

Some large group of people (“many”) identified in these biblical verses must betray and hate other people in the group, for this very specific and unambiguous prophecy to be fulfilled.

 

The persecution that causes this internal dissension, and the large group of people who break-away to become disloyally offended and hateful, must both be in-place at the same time-period.

 

If the hard-core, last-chance group of tribulation saints would probably not be the people to react this way to the life-and-death trials of the end-times, then it is logical to conclude that these verses apply to a time-period when a large mixed group of people in the Christian church and in the apostate church are still together.

This then pushes the rapture forward into and beyond the tribulation starting point for some unspecified period of time having this intense persecution and tribulation, which would trigger the events as described in Matthew 24:9-10.

 

If tribulation saints are not plausible candidates for consideration as the uncommitted people who will fall away to betray and hate one another during the end-times persecution…and since Matthew 24:10 specifically says that many shall be offended…then some of the pieces of the pretribulation rapture puzzle are not fitting together here.

 

Toss in a large group of fiercely loyal, newly converted Jewish Christians into the mix, and the rapture cannot plausibly occur at the beginning of the great tribulation.

 

A mixed mass of people and a period of persecution must be a couplet…linked together concurrently…on one or the other side of both the rapture and the tribulation.

 

The rapture removes the Christian church, leaving only the future, newly converted, die-hard tribulation saints.

 

Persecution sifts out and divides the offended from the un-offended.

 

The events of both the rapture and some form of persecution divide the same identical large body of people into two distinct halves…those raptured and those not raptured…and those offended and those not offended.

 

Intense, sifting-out persecution cannot overtake a main Christian church raptured away into heaven, isolated forever from nominal churchgoers on earth.

 

It would therefore appear that a large disparate body of people and an intense period of persecution must be together…either before or after the rapture.

 

This means that either persecution shifts backwards in time, before the church is raptured, affecting both the genuine church and the apostate church together in time as one large group.

Or this requires the presence on earth of the genuine church combined with the apostate church…as one large group…shifting forward in time into persecution/tribulation.

 

The unique nature of the resiliency, steadfastness, and narrowly committed exclusivity of the group of people called tribulation saints, who are probably not susceptible to many betraying and hating each other, is an important key to our understanding of the timing of the rapture.

 

It appears then that the rapture cannot occur in isolation.

 

The rapture cannot occur outside of a close relationship to an intense level of end-times persecution and tribulation…that would be so great as to noticeably split the “church” in two…as described in Matthew 24:9-10.

 

After the rapture…after the close of the church age, the only Christians remaining on earth to the end of time are newly converted post-tribulation saints, and they do not fit into the description of potentially offended people and the events of Matthew 24:9-10.

 

After the rapture, tribulation saints are not susceptible to becoming offended by persecution or adversity (Mt. 13:21).

 

To fulfill Matthew 24:9-10, an unprecedented level of intense persecution has to find and overtake the main Christian church for some period of time before the rapture occurs, and one solution to this riddle is for the rapture itself to shift forward in time…into the tribulation.

 

If a satisfactory alternate explanation is to move some intense period of persecution into the time-slot immediately preceding the start of the tribulation, then why go to such dispensational premillennial efforts to sustain a pretribulation rapture interpretation?

 

The intensity of a sifting-out split of the “church” through worldwide persecution (Mt. 24:9-10) is then equivalent to the magnitude of the actual great tribulation itself.

 

Sparing the Christian church from tribulation then loses its meaning, purpose, and appeal.

The End-Times 1

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there anything too hard for me?”                                                                                    (Jer. 32:26)

During the first few centuries of the Christian faith, believers were subjected to periods of intense persecutions within the Roman Empire that were designed by Lucifer to wipe out Christianity.

To be a Christian during these times often meant arrest and brief imprisonment, shortly followed by martyrdom.  New converts to the Christian faith lived under the threat of having only a few years or even months to enjoy a walk of faith before they were captured by the authorities and given the option of renouncing their faith or suffering the consequences.

History tells us that the steadfastness and courage of the small but resolute Christian communities that were scattered throughout the Roman Empire during these times of persecution, won converts among the populace who admired the resolute demonstration of the Christian’s convictions compared to the emptiness of their own polytheistic religions based upon idol worship and mythology.

One of the effective lies that Lucifer concocted against Christians in these first centuries was the idea that the troubles and problems these societies were facing were caused in part by the stubborn refusal of the Christians to worship the pantheon of pagan gods that everyone else accepted and worshipped.

The civil authorities often used the Christians as convenient scape-goats to blame all sorts of government and social problems on.

The Emperor Nero blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians.  The Christian communion service or “love feast”…as it was sometimes called…was slandered as a form of cannibalism.  Christians were seen by the authorities as social outsiders who did not attend the temple services and thus brought down the disfavor of the gods upon their societies.

The real truth was that, apart from not participating in the temple services to worship pagan gods, the Christians were among the most law abiding and peaceable citizens in all of the Roman Empire.

History records that Christians were actually known within their small communities as being sociably charitable to needy non-Christian strangers and Christians alike, and to women and children, without prejudice.  This unselfish character trait, exhibiting the love of Jesus Christ, enabled Christians to stand-out favorably among the people who personally knew them…but did not unfortunately dissuade in any way the impersonal condemnation and persecution by the official government authorities.

The question may reasonably be asked, did not God love these early Christians who were crucified, burned at the stake, forced to fight gladiators, and killed by wild beasts in coliseum arenas throughout the empire at various times during the first three centuries of the faith?

This is an area where the world has no understanding or concept of the Christian experience.  These early Christians, some newborn to the faith for only a short time, thought it a privilege to suffer and die for the Savior who had given His life on the cross for them (Acts 5:41).  They knew without a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of the world, and could not dream of renouncing Him before the Roman authorities or pagan temple priests to save their lives.

And the early Christians would not compromise the exclusivity of their allegiance to Jesus Christ alone.  They would not agree to the very reasonable (from a conventional worldly standpoint) request of the authorities to worship and honor the pagan gods along with Christ.  The forgiveness of their sins and the new born-again spiritual life they enjoyed were of more value to the early Christian than anything else on earth.

This stubborn adherence to their Christian faith was incomprehensible to the worldly Greek/Roman culture of that day.

Christians sang songs of praise to God with uplifted arms as lions and tigers were unleashed upon them in the coliseum arena.  Brave Christian men came out during the daytime to walk the streets of Rome, risking capture and certain death in the arena, to procure provisions for the people living under the city in the catacombs.

This sometimes went on for periods of years during the great persecutions, during the reigns of some of the Roman emperors.  All of this is actual recorded history.  We can visit the Coliseum and the catacombs in Rome today.

We do not fully understand why God allowed the life-plans of many of these early-century Christians to be so short-lived and to end in violent deaths.

These Christians evidently had enough internal peace and the courage of their convictions to stand up and proclaim their faith against the onslaught of the entire Roman Empire.

What if they had caved-in to the pressures of death in the arena, and considered their lives here on earth more important than standing up for their faith in the face of such relentless persecution?  The answer is that the Christian faith may not have survived.

With deadly precision Lucifer knew who to single-out as scapegoats, because he knows who the children of light are.

The Roman Empire did not aimlessly waste its time persecuting groups of people like the Macedonians, or Egyptians, or Spaniards, because these people belonged in good standing to the everyday worldly empire of greed, selfishness, ambition, and sinful pleasure that Lucifer controls.

The early Christians were persecuted because they were the New Testament church…the light of the world (Mt. 5:16)…the Bride of Christ.

If Lucifer could get the early church to implode through persecution, he might impede or stop altogether the spiritual progress God was making in the world.

If Lucifer could not defeat Jesus at Gethsemane and Calvary, he might defeat God through these early Christians by intimidation and fear.

But God countered this evil strategy of Lucifer by empowering the unwavering and steadfast witness of the Christian’s faith in the face of this persecution.

Today we (in the wealthy and developed nations of the world) look back at the faithfulness of these early Christians with pride and celebration, yet their uncompromising courage and faith are difficult for us to relate to in our present-day, more normal pursuit of a peaceful and productive life.

If the modern-day Christian church is not raptured pretribulation, and experiences persecution in the last days, Lucifer may pull out of his bag of lies this old lie that worked so well against Christians in the first centuries of the faith.

Christians may again be unjustly blamed for the problems of the world, this time by refusing to go along with everyone else and accept the mark of the beast.  This acceptance of the mark of the beast will be considered so reasonable and sensible by the world, in order to solve whatever political or economic problems exist at that time…that the stubborn refusal of Christians to go along will again be viewed as anti-social and subversive.

The mark of the beast will be a fallen, corrupted, worldly counterfeit version of the true spiritual unity between believers when we are “in Christ.”

The Christian’s discerning choice of the higher unity of the bond of the Spirit in love…and the rejection of the lower worldly counterfeit solution of the mark of the beast established through coercion and threats…will not be understood nor embraced by the world.

There must be some motivating rationale for the whole world hating Christians as described in Matthew 24:9 “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.”

This scripture cannot be addressed to the early Christian church, because the next verse says “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Mt. 24:10).

This did not occur among Christians in the first three centuries.  History tells us for the most part, at least up until the Decian persecution of 250 A.D. and the Great Persecution of Diocletian from 303 to 313 A.D., that Christians remained faithful to one another during the periods of intense persecution under the Roman emperors.

The bonds of friendship, loyalty, and love between Christians often grew stronger during times of persecution.

This backdrop provides historical context for a critique of one important cross-related scriptural problem with the concept that the Christian church will be raptured pretribulation.