The Perfect Timing of God 1

“Who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people of his own, zealous of good works.”                 (Tit. 2:14)

 

In the example of the parting of the Red Sea at the start of the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, the perfect timing of God waits until all of the parties are together on the banks of the Red Sea before He begins to part the waters.

The Egyptian chariot army is stalled on one side of the pillar of fire, and on the other side the Israelites are watching the Red Sea open up through the supernatural hand of God.  The unarmed and defenseless Hebrew slaves are just beyond reach of the Egyptian army.

This sets in motion the infuriation of the proud Egyptians at this yet-again miraculous intervention of the Hebrew God on behalf of the heretofore lowly Israelites, and fuels the determination of the Egyptian army to continue their pursuit of the fleeing Israelites into the parted waters of the Red Sea…and to their eventual judgment of God and final doom.

It is the emotionally charged energy that is generated by having both the Israelites and the Egyptians together in close proximity at the shoreline of the Red Sea…that propels the actions and events that lead to the deliverance of the Israelites…and the destruction of the Egyptians.

All of the competing issues of character that make up the long period of exploitation, servitude, and inhospitality the Jews experienced while sojourning in the land of Egypt…are brought together into a final climax at the parting of the Red Sea.

The demonstration of God’s deliverance…the need for faith in God on the part of the Israelites…and the judgment of evil attitudes and actions…are all divided, separated, and exposed in this monumental collision of forces and purposes at the banks of the Red Sea.

It is the perfectly timed choreography of these events that allows God to craft and shape a final outcome that both reveals His character and establishes some important truths having eternal application.

If God had started the parting of the Red Sea a day earlier, with the exodus of the Israelites already in progress and nearing completion when the Egyptian chariot army arrived at the shoreline, much of the power and impact of God’s message would have been deflated.

The Egyptian army, watching the tail-end of the Israelites nearing the opposite shore…across a long dry-land passage through the sea…an escape that would have begun sometime the day before…would have been a discouraging and anticlimactic ending to the Egyptian’s final pursuit of the Israelites.

This would have resulted in the Egyptian chariot army simply giving up and possibly returning to Egypt.

In this scenario, the Israelites would have already perfected their escape, at least for the time being.

It is the closeness together in time and physical proximity of these two extremely dissimilar groups of people, the Egyptians and the Israelites, which allows God through the events of the parting of the Red Sea, to ignite this explosive mixture into the outcome that He anticipated, designed, and orchestrated.

This divinely crafted outcome of deliverance and salvation for the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was in complete frustration and consternation to the forces of spiritual opposition.

Instead of the destruction of the children of God, the Israelites are safely across to the opposite side of the Red Sea and heading toward Canaan, while the Egyptian army with all of their chariots and swords and continued plans of domination and exploitation…are drowned at the bottom of the sea.

This was a preview and a foreglimpse of God’s many imaginative and powerful tales of salvation to come, recorded in the Bible, that today we can by faith “cut and paste” forward into our own upcoming, immensely challenging end-times period.

The plagues in Egypt…and the parting of the Red Sea…at the beginning of the exodus of the Israelites heading toward their Promised Land, and the upcoming last seven-year tribulation period at the close of human redemptive history, are on a relatively equal magnitude level of truth-revelation.

If the perfectly timed choreography of events during the parting of the Red Sea was designed by God to contrast the difference between the power of loving salvation, and the utter destructive judgment of self-centered evil…surely there is a similar level of purpose of revelation contained within the last seven-year tribulation period for mankind.

Identifying some of these central purposes is critical to evaluating the truth-content of the various end-of-time scenarios being discussed today.

A Promise of Hope for Every Generation 5

The Theme of this Book

 

In the study of the history and development of eschatology, emphasis is placed upon the importance of the recovery of last-days biblical prophetic truths during the time-period following the Protestant Reformation.

This has occurred alongside the parallel discovery of other key doctrines such as salvation by grace, justification through faith, and becoming spiritually reborn (Jn. 3:3), which were partially lost during the dark and middle ages of history.

One of the key biblical doctrines that still has not made a full recovery in practical application to this day…in my opinion…is the concept of a divinely planned and guided challenge of adversity contained within a God-composed journey of faith, which beneficially separates the believer from debilitating self-sovereignty.

The Christian set free from self-in-control in a walk-of-faith through the cross and the resurrection is then able to step into a biblical quality of life to match on some level the experiences of an Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Ruth, Esther and Mordecai, Daniel, Peter, and Paul.

In the current emphasis in developed countries for “church growth” and the effort to find the right tone to reach out and successfully evangelize the “unchurched”, one key element of our discipleship…of picking up our cross and following Jesus…is all too often homogenized out of the message for the sake of not offending worldly-minded potential converts.

Sadly, in too many churches today the idea that every Christian can have an individualized adventure of faith composed and guided personally by Jesus Christ…starting at the foot of the cross…is not even clearly and powerfully taught as applying to our everyday lives here and now…much less factored into the calculus of the upcoming tumultuous end-times prophetic scenarios.

In my opinion, the Christian church must experience some portion of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation.

As I interpret the narrative stories of faith in the Bible, this viewpoint does not adversely affect our blessed hope, or undermine the doctrine of imminence at any time of an immediate rapture of the church, or call into question the purity of God’s love for us (Ps. 34:19).

Confronting and overcoming dark challenges is an integral and inseparable part of the process of a journey of faith life-script that God lovingly composes for our eternal good, as patterned in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.

Jesus Christ actually tells Peter at the beginning of Peter’s ministry that he will someday in the future be martyred through crucifixion rather than be raptured (Jn. 21:18-19), yet this seemingly negative prophetic information does not discourage Peter, diminish the power of his ministry, or destroy his blessed hope in the slightest (1 Pet. 1:3).

Paul tells Timothy (2 Tim. 4:6) he suspects that he (Paul) will be martyred, not raptured, soon.  Yet Paul presses forward in this knowledge with unwavering hope and determination to honorably complete his mission and calling (2 Tim. 4:17).

Because Paul enjoys the status of being a Roman citizen, historical tradition tells us that Paul is finally executed by beheading (parallels Revelation 20:4) in Rome under Nero’s decree sometime around A.D. 62-65…instead of being crucified like Peter, a Jew and a non-citizen of Rome.

If two of the greatest Christians and chosen authors of New Testament letters to the churches, Peter and Paul, did not allow a foreknowledge of their future deaths as martyrs to adversely affect the commitment to their calling and their fidelity to Jesus Christ, how is it that many Christians today believe that experiencing some portion of the tribulation will destroy their blessed hope of Titus 2:13?

In John 15:11, Jesus says: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”

Moments earlier, Jesus told the disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

These words Jesus spoke the night before His crucifixion the following day.

In John 11:7, upon hearing of the death of His friend Lazarus, Jesus says: “Let us go into Judaea again.”  The disciples respond by saying: “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou there again?”

In verse 16, one of the disciples Thomas (the much maligned “doubting” Thomas who would not accept the resurrection until he saw Jesus with his own eyes) then says with characteristically clear-sighted appraisal of the situation: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Yet the disciples do not perish with Jesus during His trial and crucifixion, but after Pentecost go on to preach courageously of the bodily resurrection of Christ in the very heart of danger in Jerusalem.

The narrowest of gates opens for the disciples to form the early Christian church…amidst the most lethally adverse circumstances…a church which has flourished and survived down to our present day to provide salvation and deliverance from sin to Spirit-born Christians worldwide.

Jesus Christ fills all-in-all so that we can follow Him safely into the deepest valley and up to the highest mountaintop, in our singular and unique callings.

We must factor this honest and straightforward reality into our interpretation of biblical end-of-time prophetic scripture if we are to come reasonably close to what God intends us to understand ahead of time as God prepares us for the upcoming end-times.

Peter and Paul exemplify the true, biblical, divinely authorized foreglimpse of the overcoming attitude of faith and trust in the Rock that is Christ, in response to whatever challenges lie ahead in the future for Christians.

This is the hope-built foundation of our faith, no matter what is occurring in the outer world.

For the Spirit-born Christian, our eternal life with Jesus Christ in heaven is forever, without end.  It is already secure.

The cross of Christ experience, therefore, in our short-lived lives now is priceless beyond reckoning (Rom. 8:18).

This is the part of the discussion relating to eschatology that has not yet been fully recovered.  It is certainly an opinion and a viewpoint worthy of examination, discussion, and argument from scripture.

The cross of Jesus Christ in our lives, as it applies to the end-times, is the theme of this book.

A Promise of Hope for Every Generation 4

Our Relationship with Jesus Christ is Paramount

The most important immediate question regarding the last days is not whether we have all of the prophetic events clearly identified, sequenced, and completely figured out in advance, but whether or not we are mature Christians in terms of faith and trust in God in order to be spiritually ready for whatever lies ahead.

Christians who are surrendered and yielded to the will of God, and are currently engaged in Spirit-filled service, are by definition in a state of watchfulness and will be raptured no matter when it occurs in relation to end-time events (Mt. 24:46).

What Christians must avoid at all costs is a mere head-knowledge of some particular end-times scenario of events, which in our minds satisfies and displaces the requirements regarding our discipleship responsibility to watch and to be ready.

Intellectual head-knowledge of end-times prophecies will not fulfill the need for active interaction with Jesus Christ in the present moment, as the required element for watchfulness.  Christians cannot afford to become complacent and over-confident because we confuse intellectually subscribing to a particular well thought-out end-times scenario, with actually being in the midst of faithful service to Jesus Christ the King as our living proof of watchfulness (Jas. 1:22).

If our particular current, for-the-moment chosen end-times interpretation turns out in fact to be partially wrong, if we are nonetheless “in Christ” in terms of a genuine journey of faith and service according to our unique talents and abilities, then a transitional adjustment to a more correct view of prophetic events will not be that difficult.

If however, we are unwise and coasting along in the false expectation of the master of the house coming back at the first watch of the night (Mk. 13:35), we could end-up without having purchased through faith enough oil in our lamps to make it through a potentially long duration of the night (Mt. 25:8).

The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 1:6, 1:10, and 2:16, is trying to get the Philippians ready for the “day of Christ.”  Paul does the same thing with the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:8, 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14), the Thessalonians (1 Thes. 4:13-17; 2 Thes. 2:2, 2:8), Timothy (1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:18, 4:8), and Titus (Tit. 2:13).

If this is important to Paul in the first-century, how much more so is it important to the present-day Christian church twenty centuries later?  We are certainly closer to the “day of Christ” than the first-century church that Paul is addressing in his letters.

We should have the same message today as the Apostle Paul, yet with even more urgency.

If everyone knew the exact day and hour of the rapture, sadly many people would cruise along in sin until the last minute, and then suddenly attempt to turn pious.  Paul says that the successful Christian life is a foot race that requires steady, lifelong training in order to win (1 Cor. 9:24).

Jesus knows that the most important thing, which overrides all other considerations, is to complete the work of salvation on the earth down to the very last person who will respond to the gospel message at the close of this age and the beginning of the eternity to come.

Those Christians in past centuries who did not experience the rapture have not been overlooked.  Their treasure is in heaven where it does not rust or decay.  The promise of their resurrection to eternal life is secure.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that the dead in Christ shall rise first, and that we who are alive and remain will be caught up to join them in the air.  The promises of God are and have been true for every generation of believers.

There is an old saying: “Fate does not call upon us at the moment of our choosing.”  That is why we are to watch and always be ready.  The one true approach that will work well for the Christian believer no matter how the end-of-world events actually unfold…is to stay close to Jesus Christ in our daily lives, and to keep our eyes and ears open to the Holy Spirit at all times.

Being spiritually prepared for any potential end-times scenario has no down-side.

A Promise of Hope for Every Generation 3

God Has Not Revealed Everything Yet

The seven-year tribulation period is traditionally understood by many Christians to begin with the “covenant” that the Antichrist makes with the nation of Israel described in Daniel 9:24-27.

For purposes of this book I am assuming a seven-year tribulation period, recognizing that many past and present Christians have suggested a three and one-half year tribulation, and that there is disagreement as to what to do with the second half of the 70th week of Daniel after the messiah is “cut off” and the sacrifice caused to “cease.”

Every Christian knows from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and the book of Revelation, that there will be an end-times great tribulation.  The question…of how long the tribulation will last…and when the rapture would occur…is still open.

The scenario of world events that would lead to the nation of Israel signing such a peace agreement with the involvement of the Antichrist is currently not known.  The idea that the chaos following a worldwide rapture would precipitate the series of events that would facilitate the rise of the Antichrist, is speculative conjecture based upon one plausible scenario among many other possible alternatives.

No human being has all of this completely figured out at this time.

We currently do not know what would be the magnitude of the impact that a worldwide disappearance of hundreds of millions of Christians and underage children…through the rapture…upon the psyche of the world’s current 7-billion population.

The only real expert here is the Holy Spirit.

It is not an article of faith to accept the viewpoint that the rapture is required to set up the conditions for the rise of the Antichrist.   This particular viewpoint does not have to be taken as gospel.

There are a number of possible events that could create the environment conducive for the rise of the Antichrist, some of which may be revealed already in Matthew 24:4-7 depending upon the order, magnitude, and timing of their particular occurrence.

The ancient hatred of the Arab countries for the nation of Israel alone has enough explosive political energy within it to propel a deceptive, smooth-talking, outwardly charismatic peacemaker into world prominence and power.

Christians, at this time, do not have to commit to anyone’s particular end-times interpretation, including my own viewpoint as expressed in this book.

Nowhere in the Bible, that I can find, does it say that we must have all of the last days events completely figured out one-hundred percent ahead of time.

It is allowable, even divinely purposed (Joel 2:28-29), to hold some questions in suspension for a while until actual events begin to unfold.

The teaching that because the Bible is one-third prophecy…that this automatically infers that we can put all of the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the end-of-time biblical prophecies together completely ahead of time…sounds commendably logical on its surface according to horizontally conventional thinking…but this viewpoint is not biblically correct (the subject of chapter five).

The parable of the fig tree (Mt. 24:32-35) suggests that Christians must watch for the sprouting of the leaves (end-times events) to know when the end is near.

Joel 2:28-32 tells us that in the last days our sons and daughters will prophesy, young men will see visions, and old men shall dream dreams.  This implies that there is additional, fill-in-the-gaps, Holy Spirit breathed and validated prophetic information to be revealed at the appropriate future time when this information begins to become applicable.

This divinely promised, definitive revelation will be a timely and welcome improvement over the varied opinions and interpretations that have been commendably and honestly debated over the past several centuries.

A Promise of Hope for Every Generation 2

Evangelism Takes Precedence

In the debate over the timing and sequence of end-times events, this tension between the hope of an imminent rapture at any time in the church age, and the on-going work of salvation on the earth to draw-in each and every lost sheep destined for eternal life in heaven, often takes a backseat in recent times to the more high-profile argument of the timing of the rapture in relation to the seven-year tribulation period.

Yet this issue of the end-of-the-ages worldwide evangelism is paramount.

Matthew 24:14 reads: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”

The Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) takes precedence over the timing of the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Millennium.

The work of salvation, the sharing of the good news of the gospel, stands front and center above all other considerations.

The eternal salvation of even one person is so important to God it can hold in abeyance the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth.

If Christians cannot agree on this point, regarding the overriding importance of worldwide evangelism coming first and foremost within the scheme of end-time events, then the basis for our end-times theology may be out of balance.  People can argue for a pretribulation rapture of the Christian church, or conversely for a return of Christ after the millennium, because these differing scenarios fit smoothly into systematically constructed viewpoints.

But the emphasis in the mind and heart of God has always been the harvest of lost souls right up to and including the very last person pre-destined for salvation.

This reality is strongly evidenced today by the explosion of Christian evangelism and salvation in many parts of the world, alongside the parallel fact that we are still looking for the rapture and the second coming of Christ.  As time marches relentlessly on, the Holy Spirit is convicting lost sinners and saving souls around the world.

Only God knows who these last final converts are, when they will exercise salvation quality faith in Jesus Christ, and what will be needed in terms of external situations and circumstances to bring them to the point where they recognize their need for God.

And only God knows how many Spirit-led Christians will be needed on hand to speak the words of Life to match the number of people who will respond to God’s final call at the end of the ages.

That is why the times and the seasons must belong to God alone.

If Christians knew in advance who the last few people were to be saved at the end of human history, we might rush-out ahead of the Spirit with our own program, and attempt to convert them before the Holy Spirit had the opportunity to generate the external circumstances to correctly prepare them to receive Jesus Christ through genuine repentance and faith.

The same process of a sense of shame and internal conviction over our personal sins and shortcomings, which brought us to salvation quality faith in Jesus Christ, must also actualize for the last-days convert as well.

There is a finite list of people, compiled through God’s eternal foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29), who will come to salvation faith throughout the long span of Old and New Testament history.

Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Mark, Luke, Stephen the martyr, Paul, Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy, Barnabas, and Titus, to name only a few first-century Christians…were on that list.

The Old Testament men and women of faith, the early church fathers, the reformers, the missionaries and their converts in previous centuries…were on that list.  Those of us who are born-again Christians today are on that list.

We have not reached the bottom of this list yet.  Each generation of Christians in past centuries, within its own unique historical context has worked on completing the Great Shepherd’s list of lost sheep to be found and saved, not knowing how close they were to the bottom of this list.

Every person named on this list had to work through their lives within the time-frame and context of their own personal situations and circumstances, to reach the point of choosing through their own free-will volition to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts.

The Holy Spirit is capable of reaching all of the people who are called to salvation faith in every generation.  But events must follow their proper course.

From our limited viewpoint, we simply do not know when this list of people will finally be exhausted.

This is how the watchfulness and expectation of Christian disciples for the second coming of Jesus on the one-hand, and the evangelical outreach through the Holy Spirit to the lost sheep on the other hand, can appear to be contradictory…yet in fact proceed down through the ages in harmonious tension.

From the time of that important question to Jesus by the disciples regarding the setting up of the final Messianic kingdom in Acts 1:6, down to our present time, the work of salvation takes precedence over the rapture or the second coming of Christ.  The rapture and the second coming of Christ are held in suspension in time until the work of evangelism reaches a point somewhere down the list, where those people called to salvation make their decision to accept Jesus Christ, at the correct appointed times in their lives.

Then at some point in God’s divine time-line, in coordination with the Holy Spirit empowered work of evangelism, the colossal end-times events definitely begin to occur.  This ushers in an intensified period of chaos and upheaval that will set-up for the last final group, at the bottom of the list of people called to salvation within the due course of time, to be motivated by end-times catastrophes to reject this world and to make their decision for Christ.

The long history of human salvation, and the promised momentous end-times prophetic events, both running along parallel tracks, finally converge at their appointed time.  Somewhere along this time-line, the last “great” push for the most stubborn converts intensifies to a final crescendo…the great tribulation kicks into a higher gear…most if not all of the evangelical work is complete…and in my opinion the promised rapture then occurs.

A Promise of Hope for Every Generation 1

“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness.  Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”                                                                         (2 Pet. 3:13-14)

In the Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches, like Peter’s quote above, part of the message to these new Christians was to look forward in hope and anticipation for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in their lifetimes.

This was consistent with the commands of Jesus given in several teachings and parables scattered throughout the gospels, for His disciples to always watch and be ready for His return (Mt. 24:42, 25:13; Mk. 13:37; Lk. 21:36).

The question can then be asked, if the teaching of Jesus, the preaching of the apostles, the doctrine of the early church, and the scriptures of the New Testament all uniformly say that not only first-century but all subsequent believers should look for an imminent second coming of Christ, was this inconsistent with a pre-condition, for example, that Israel would have to become a nation again…as actually occurred in 1948…before the end of time (Isa. 11:11-12; Jer. 31:10)?

In light of the past two thousand years of recorded history, during which the rapture or the second coming did not take place, were all of the Christians who lived and died throughout the centuries between the first-century and the twenty-first century, partially misinformed about looking in earnest expectation for the rapture of the church (1 Cor. 15:51-53) and the second coming of Jesus?

At the time of the ministry of Jesus, and the subsequent writing of most of the New Testament in the following decades, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the nation of Israel by the Romans in 70 A.D. had not even happened yet (Lk. 19:41-44).

The fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the world would obviously have to occur before a re-gathering could happen sometime in the future, as a sign that the last days were approaching.

When the disciples ask the recently resurrected Jesus in Acts 1:6 “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel” (the Messianic reign), Jesus answers “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”

             This discussion with Jesus, concerning His restoring the kingdom in Israel and thus bringing about the end of the old world system, was occurring before Paul the Apostle was even converted, and before much of the New Testament theology and doctrine was fully formulated.

It would be almost two decades before Paul would write 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.

This discussion with Jesus about the end-times was occurring before the Apostle John had even written his gospel, much less the book of Revelation.

Yet Jesus did not say at that time, to stop watching and looking for His second coming, but instead said that the disciples would receive Holy Spirit power to become witnesses of Christ to the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8).

It was a fair question by the disciples to ask of the resurrected Jesus at that time, and the answer then was that there was evangelical work to do, which stretched in time far beyond the vision of the early disciples…to our present day.

Many people use the above-mentioned scriptures and early church doctrine to argue that the rapture of the Christian church is imminent today, and could happen at any moment, and I believe they are correct.  The concept that there would be millions of Christians living through twenty centuries of time without this promise actually coming true, yet living their lives as if the rapture and the second coming could happen any day, is not inconsistent.

The expectation of the second coming of Christ and the beginning of a new earth and a new heavens where peace and justice will reign, is a hope that is rightly supposed to reside within the hearts of Christians in the second-century, the fifth-century, the tenth-century, through the middle ages, and in each of our previous four or five centuries leading up to today.

The fact that the rapture and the second coming did not occur in these past centuries, even though many Christians were faithfully watching and looking for these events…is due to some overriding considerations that are more important than the timing of the rapture or the second coming of Christ.

One of these important considerations is the salvation of the many sheep that Jesus speaks about when He says He has other sheep to call that are not of this first-century flock:

“And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (Jn. 10:16).

Those sheep that Jesus is referring to, at this current time, happen to be us.

If the rapture and the second coming had both occurred in the 8th century, for example, we could not now be saved because we would never have been born.  You could not be reading this book, if the rapture occurred in the 9th century, because the world and the millennium would have ended already.

If the rapture had occurred in the 11th century, there would have been no John Wycliffe, no Martin Luther, no Protestant Reformation, no invention of the printing press that allowed Bibles to be available in hundreds of languages to be read by the common people, and no great missionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries.

If the rapture had occurred in the 15th century, there would have been no Salvation Army, no Red Cross, no Billy Graham crusades around the world, no classic debates with brilliant antagonists resulting in the creation of modern theology and apologetics, and no intense searches for truth over the past recent centuries within philosophy, science, history, archaeology, politics, and Christianity.

Even though the earnest expectation for the end of this world and the beginning of a new world has been the proper hope of every Christian since the first-century, this hope has correctly and rightly been put on hold until the very last sheep have heard the gospel message and made their decision for Christ.

This viewpoint is consistent with 2 Peter 3:9, which says: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

The Christian Church in the Last Days 2

In my opinion, the organized Christian church (the outwardly visible church) today does not know who or what it is.

Some “mega-churches” rely on well-dressed people driving into the parking lot for Sunday worship in expensive luxury cars, able to write substantial checks to support the large new building mortgage debt.

The stark economic reality of  increased financial responsibilities often forces the “church growth” program of the mega-church to foster and maintain an artificial exterior front that everything is socially, economically, and spiritually perfect in the lives of its church members…in order to attract the “unchurched” and expand its support base.

Other churches sadly are so mired in stuffy rituals and old-fashioned tradition…that the Holy Spirit…and most young people have left.

Some churches wanting to be acceptable to the world and to fit-in with the liberal cultural agenda of moral relativity and universal tolerance, have abandoned any fidelity to absolute moral truths and biblical ideals.

All the while a new covenant journey of faith following Jesus Christ that would actualize into every Christian’s experience leading personally to knowing God from the least to the greatest (Jer. 31:31-34), is sadly neglected and placed at the bottom of the priority list.

The Christian church needs God’s help to find itself.

The Christian church does not need an early exit, pretribulation rapture from the typically biblical, unimaginably unconventional scenario of events that God will guide and shape in the last-days for the eternal benefit of His church.

The plans, schemes, and actions of God that we read about in the individual lives of the people of faith in the Bible give us a clue as to what we might expect for the last-days Christian church as a whole.  This is the final exam, the capstone course on faith and trust in the good intentions of God, worked out through the tightest of circumstances to match His normally unusual, brilliantly ingenious method of operations.

In short, we need God to set-up the unique circumstances in life to enable us to find ourselves and to find God.

A journey of faith is a journey of discovery, and only our Creator God knows the end-point of purpose that will fulfill each of us individually and as a church.

This is a work of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God purchased for us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Abraham discovered both his true self and God through his journey of faith, pushed to the limits of human patience and endurance.  Likewise all of the positive characters of faith recorded in the Bible found their true selves and God…by being pushed to their limit by the carefully crafted journeys of faith composed by God.

No one could have engineered these brilliantly imaginative biblical life-scripts except for the living God.  There is no comparable frame of reference throughout all of human culture, literature, or history for a biblical journey of faith.  By intentional design, a biblical journey of faith falls completely outside of humanism.  It is not something that we can manufacture on our own.

A journey of faith following Jesus Christ comes entirely by grace through faith.  This is why the scripture says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).  Without a God-composed journey of faith fully integrated into our lives, God cannot impact us in the supernaturally transforming way He intends.

This is what is at stake for individual Christians and the Christian church as a whole.  This is what Lucifer and the powers of deception will attempt to undermine and destroy in the days ahead.

In the last-days one of the things in Christianity that will be most targeted by radical skeptical unbelief is the one thing…the supernatural elements in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible…that serves as the strongest antidote for the individual defense of our faith.

The debate over the credibility of the Bible is not only a macro-battle that will continue to take place within apologetics, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, history, linguistics, and the natural sciences, but also at the micro-level in the everyday experiences in the lives of Christians.

We prove the faithfulness and credibility of Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life within our personal and collective journey of faith experiences.

It is easy to have faith when we are living on the mountaintop.  Christianity is easy when life’s events are going smoothly in parallel with worldly conventional normalcy.  The acid-test for Christians is at the point where God inserts hardships and suffering, expertly designed for our character growth but painful nonetheless, according to a game-plan and training regime that is not of our making.

This is a key feature of our Christian walk following Jesus that elevates it far above irrational and make-believe religion.  Defining who the real Jesus Christ is, as Creator, Savior, and King of the realm for all eternity as revealed in His divine Word the Bible…but also through God-composed journeys of faith… is the central issue to be finally and emphatically resolved in these upcoming last-days.

Can we as individuals and as the church exercise our faith and maintain our fidelity to Jesus Christ if He leads us into the darkest valley (Ps. 23:4)?  Can we push through in faith as overcomers, bearing our cross despite dauntingly negative appearances?  This requires the most expert advance training.  This training needs to begin now.

The first-century apostles were not initially the intellectual and spiritual elite of Israel.  They were ordinary and unremarkable people from a worldly viewpoint.  God crafted them into the spiritual elite of Israel, creating through them the early Christian church that has withstood the test of time.

God has been capably transforming lost sinners into mature saints of God for thousands of years.  This provides hope that God can do the same for Christians today.

What is it worth to find out through first-hand experience that our God is more intelligent and wiser than ourselves, beyond human imagination?

Is it worth a journey of faith containing the risk that God might fail us?  This is the question that was in the back of the minds of every person of faith answering their individual callings of service in the Bible, and the question that each of us has to individually face in our own journeys of faith.

What would be our source of joy for the length of eternity?

It would be to serve a King who is wise, intelligent, adored, respected, and interesting beyond our imaginations, and has our best interests at heart in all of the activities He would involve us in.

God has enlisted this current broken world as the optimum, temporary school for the lessons of faith that will serve us for eternity. This is why an active journey of discovery now is vitally important for the Christian church as a preliminary lead-up to the enormous spiritual conflicts of the last-days.

Some people will accurately complain that I am overstating the case repeatedly throughout this book.  I admittedly am guilty of “over-painting the canvas” in coming back to the cross and the need to surrender our self-in-control natures to God to make room for Him to work in our lives.

This issue is so important that I risk the impatience of the reader in sounding like a broken phonograph record.

The highest standards of God for Christians and the Christian church today starts with the surrender and yielding of ourselves to His leading, so that He can initiate the type of biblical-quality life-plans that will get us into top spiritual shape to meet the end-times challenges ahead.

It is the deep and uncompromising love of God that wants to see each one of us triumph as overcomers in this upcoming great end-times conflict between truth and error.

To close out the book, I quote from 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 (KJV):

7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.

9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

11 For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

12 So then death worketh in us, but life in you.

13 We, having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak,

14 Knowing that he who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.

15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

 

The Christian Church in the Last Days 1

“Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”      (Pet. 1:10)

As I explore the narrative stories of the people of faith in the Bible, I see God deliberately leading and maneuvering people into challenging trials, almost impossibly tight circumstances, and nearly hopeless situations…way beyond our natural desire for worldly soft, conventional normalcy.

Like inspired athletic coaches pushing their players towards excellence achieved through total commitment, the God of the Bible sets up unimaginably unconventional scenarios that require faith and trust to break through to a positive outcome for our eternal benefit (Jud. 7:2).

This has been the experience in my own life that informs my understanding of the Bible and the writing of this book.

It is certainly not Abraham’s idea to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah.

It is not Joseph’s plan to eventually end up in Pharaoh’s prison.

It is not the fault of Moses that Pharaoh’s heart is stubbornly hardened and bent on keeping the Israelites as slaves in Egypt.

The singularly unique strategy for Gideon to defeat the invading Midianites is God’s plan…Gideon would never come up with this battle plan in his wildest imagination.

Similarly, the unusual military strategy for Joshua to bring down the walls of Jericho belongs entirely to God.

The anointing of David by the prophet Samuel to become the future king of Israel did not include the relevant information that a jealous King Saul would pursue David to kill him.

Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi is in response to the unexpected death of Ruth’s husband.

The deadly confrontation between the three young Hebrews and King Nebuchadnezzar…regarding the idol worship of the King’s image…is not of their making.

Daniel is completely innocent of any wrongdoing as he is being lowered into the lion’s den.

The desperate plan of Esther and Mordecai to derail Haman’s evil scheme to destroy the Jews, balances precariously on a knife’s edge.

Nehemiah faces enormous external opposition in his attempt to rebuild the walls surrounding Jerusalem.

Jeremiah’s best prophetic utterances to reform Israel…end in outward failure.

It is not the plan of Peter and John that God should heal the crippled man at the gate called Beautiful leading into the temple on that particular morning, initiating a remarkable cascade of events resulting in Peter and John being “set in the midst” of the Sanhedrin council (Acts 4:7).

The Holy Spirit empowered witness of these two disciples to the resurrection of Jesus is so committedly fearless and forthright…that Peter and John were probably not only amazed at their own courageous stand…but members of the Sanhedrin “marveled” at their boldness (Acts 4:13).

The opposition that Paul faced continuously throughout his evangelical ministry to take the gospel message to the first-century Greco-Roman world…is not of his making (Acts 26:22-23).

If we are engaged in a biblical-quality adventure of faith, God will eventually take us to places where we do not want to go, to fulfill unseen potential within us and to stretch our faith, both for personal growth and for the benefit of others (Lk. 22:42).

We all have a tendency to want to do things our way (Isa. 53:6).  Each of us to some extent has trouble listening to others…listening to parents, a spouse, family members, children, friends, co-workers, and listening to God.

We all want to stay within the comfort zone of our own ideas and our own ways of doing things.

Only our Creator God could beneficially override this innate tendency by inserting supernatural plans and outcomes into our everyday lives.  But this requires our willing cooperation, and faith and trust in God’s character and intentions.

A biblical adventure of faith, where our self-sovereignty as kings sitting atop the thrones of our lives…is placed on the cross to be crucified alongside Jesus…is specifically designed to cancel-out the stubbornly prideful component of the I-know-it-all, I-can-do-it-on-my-own tendency.

If the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers in the first-century had been flexibly open-minded and teachable, they would not have rejected the message and the Person of Jesus Christ as Messiah.

If they had been actively engaged in their own biblical-quality journeys of faith…they would have recognized the Holy Spirit within the actions and speech of Jesus of Nazareth.

In the extreme, the insistence upon having everything our way, as demonstrated by the religious leaders in first-century Jerusalem, leads to the final tragic outcome of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

A journey of faith humbly following the leadership of Jesus Christ in our lives, trusting upon His wisdom and good intentions for us in everything, is the opposite attitude of the entrenched religious leaders in Jerusalem wanting only their worldly conventional vision of a military style messiah…promising political and economic deliverance from Roman rule…or nothing at all.

Of course we should never surrender our independent moral judgment to other people (Acts 21:13).  But the ability to listen in the Spirit, and be open and teachable to truth is an attribute that with few exceptions every person can improve upon (Acts 19:30).

God invented the supernatural vehicle of a journey of faith to navigate triumphantly through this broken world.

God, in His infinite wisdom, took the malevolent temptation of Lucifer in Eden that “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5) and turned this around into a positive, commendable, prophetic mission-statement for mankind.

God created this spiritual vehicle called a journey of faith, whereby He could engineer events and circumstances in the lives of the people of faith who willingly trust and follow Him, brilliantly crafting and reshaping Lucifer’s ill-intentioned and destructive temptation into positive fulfilled prophecy in the most laudably clever and commendable way (Prov. 3:5-6).

The Falling Away 4

2 Corinthians 4:17 reads: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

One of the clear signs we can detect in the apostate church is the attempt to homogenize the “light affliction” part of Christian discipleship…removing it entirely out of the experience.

“Christian” churches that have a lot to offer in terms of various programs, but demand very little in terms of teaching people about the costs of discipleship, actually prevents the Holy Spirit from actualizing in the lives of the congregations the challenges of faith that lead to spiritual maturity.

Apostate churches celebrate worldly success in the outer natural realm, having no potential for creating spiritual growth.

Paul says that momentary light afflictions will work for us eternal glory.  The apostate church has no idea what Paul is talking about here.

In John 6:22-65, Jesus is talking about Himself being the bread of life from heaven.  Many of the disciples at that time were offended by the statement by Jesus that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have life.

John 6:66 then says: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”  Then with a voice that has a note of sadness in it, Jesus asks the twelve apostles: “Will ye also go away?”

This is not a mere Old Testament prophet or one of the New Testament apostles speaking.  This is Jesus the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  Jesus is teaching the truth, because He is the Truth, and some people are choosing to “walk no more with him.”

The preaching and teaching of the truth sometimes winnows and sifts out people from following God.  In this example, we see that teaching the truth does not always result in increased popularity and “church growth.”

The lesson of Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles, tells us that a person can be in the presence of Christ (in the church), and yet not be born again in heart and mind.

Judas had a divided heart. He wanted to follow Jesus as long as this appeared to lead toward a position within an earthly kingdom of the Messiah in Jerusalem.

When it finally became apparent that Jesus would be rejected by the recognized political establishment, and that following Jesus would lead to a much more costly, worldly-humbling brand of service to the Messiah, Judas sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

All the while, not even the other eleven apostles appear to have been aware of Judas’ traitorous intentions.

It is possible to produce large bodies of similarly unconverted, half-hearted “followers” of Christianity simply by downgrading and diluting the gospel message to the point that adherence produces no real discipleship challenge.  Christianity then subtly morphs into self-composed and self-directed religion, with churchgoers sitting atop the thrones of their lives in self-sovereignty.

Peter said to Jesus “Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee” (Mk. 10:28).

Judas Iscariot brought some of the world with him in following Jesus, and never “left all.”

A large number of Judas Iscariots can be created in the apostate church by compromising the “left all” portion of the gospel message.

The falling away is a real event that will occur in the future.  Whether the main body of the Christian church will be on earth for this event…I cannot dogmatically say.

But there is a strong argument…reasoning out of the scriptures…that there cannot be a noticeable falling away, worth mentioning in the Bible…without a large number of Christians and nominal churchgoers together as one homogenous group on earth at the same time.

I believe there is a storm coming, a massive spiritual hurricane that will engulf the entire planet (Mt. 24:21).

But you would never know a storm was coming by the outward attitude in contemporary Christendom.  Some churches in America today seem to have an almost pre-storm party atmosphere.  Light-heartedness in our worship can be taken too far.  The word “good” can have too many O’s in it, if we are not careful and not biblically watchful.

The Old Testament prophets were rejected and sometimes killed because they brought a sobering message that people did not want to hear.  Jesus told us to always be alert and to watch.  This is certainly a timely message for today.  But a portion of the organized church seems to be looking the other way, towards things that do not lead to spiritual alertness and readiness for the end-times.

Finally, every Christian should examine where their investment lies.  Unsaved, nominal churchgoers, who have their investment in careers, material possessions, family, friends, the future well-being of children and grandchildren, and next summer’s European vacation, will be extremely disappointed in God when and if conditions deteriorate on earth as prophesied in the Bible during the upcoming end-times.

If our investment is in earthly things exclusively, then we are setting ourselves up for the great falling away.

When our expectancy for worldly conventional normalcy begins to become jeopardized, this will be one of the factors initiating the falling away.  World events will begin to expose people’s expectations and motivations, and will sift-out and separate true Christian disciples willing to stand with Jesus at the cost of their lives…from nominal churchgoers perfunctorily going through the motions of church attendance for reasons similar to those of Judas Iscariot.

All of the good things in the natural realm…careers, family, friends, material possessions…are commendably virtuous only when they are recognized as God’s gift to us and are therefore completely surrendered to Him.

True spiritual balance comes when we can understand that everything good that we have and enjoy comes from God alone, that we ourselves belong to Him, and that we can let go of our treasures and confidently place them in His hands for safekeeping.

The concept of “Occupy till I come” (Lk. 19:13), including all of the normal cares and responsibilities of this life…when in proper balance…compliments and harmonizes with a journey of faith following Jesus Christ.

But the catastrophic end-times events, assuming the Christian church is on the earth for some or all of its tribulation and persecution, can and will cause a shaking loose of our attachment to everything that is near and dear to us, so that we will correctly focus our eternal investment upon God alone.

We can begin doing that now in anticipation of these end-times events, through a surrendered, crucified life in service to Christ.

If we are coming up upon the start of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period, which begins the final countdown to the end of this present world, then beginning to let go in service to Christ, while still “occupying till He comes,” is the most rational approach.

When the storm of persecution and tribulation finally comes…to borrow a line from the recent movie Elizabeth starring  Cate Blanchett…each person on earth will respond according to their character.

Some will be brought down by the terror of the situation.  Others will flee in fear and attempt to hide.  Christians who have been prepared by God for these events will spread their wings like eagles and soar with the wind.

This is God’s promise to us, and the consistent history of God’s performance in the lives of the people of faith in the Bible.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”    (Isa. 40:31)

The Falling Away 3

Paul writes to Timothy: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” (2 Tim. 3:1).

This verse, combined with 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3…giving the sequence of a falling away and the revealing of the son of perdition before the rapture… implies that the fiery challenges of the great tribulation period are in full play and producing noticeably prophetic results on a grand scale…by the time the rapture occurs.

Many people believe and teach that all of the prophecies that are required to take place prior to the rapture were fulfilled with the formation of the nation of Israel in 1948.  I am not so sure.

The Bible talks about a great falling away before the coming of the Lord, as quoted above, regardless of whether the “day of the Lord” refers to the rapture or the second coming of Christ.

It talks about scoffers in the last days chiding Christians about the rapture or the second coming not having occurred yet (2 Pet. 3:3-4).

The Bible talks about perilous times, when people’s moral standards and sense of right and wrong will have noticeably deteriorated (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

The Bible talks about believers prophesying, seeing visions and having dreams, to the point that this prophesying is probably recognizable and notable to skeptics and believers alike (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-21).

2 Timothy 4:3-4 talks about a time when people will not endure sound doctrine, but will turn their ears away from the truth.

The gospels tell us not to be afraid when we hear of wars, of nation rising against nation, of great earthquakes, and famines, and pestilences, as if we are still on the earth and not raptured yet (Mt. 24:6; Lk. 21:9).

The Bible tells us that the whole world will be evangelized before the end comes (Mt. 24:14).

These scriptures suggest either an intense preliminary period of distress and spiritual activity containing all of these challenges for the church leading up to the tribulation, or the church still being on the earth for some period of time overlapping into the tribulation.

How might the falling away transpire?

If large numbers of people were attracted to a version of Christianity Light that promised positive-thinking outcomes with no discipleship costs involved, in keeping with our instant coffee, microwave popcorn culture, and they were transported back in time to one of the great persecutions under the Roman emperors in the first or second centuries…then we can easily see where a lot of these people would reconsider their membership in the church.

There was no opportunity for a Great Falling Away during the first three centuries of the Christian church, because there was not the time and population numbers to build up a watered-down, worldly attractive, compromised apostate church in existence that would draw-in millions of nominal adherents.

Life-and-death persecutions under the Roman Empire from time-to- time sifted out nominal believers from the Christian fold, because it truly meant the possibility of death when the authorities would catch and put on trial a professing Christian during these periods of widespread persecution.

In our modern times, people who have joined a church because they are attracted to the positive-thinking, upbeat message of God helping us to obtain better jobs, bigger houses, nicer cars, and better relations with family and friends…through what often amounts to a form of self-realization, will in all probability abandon the Christian church at the first signs of trouble.

People who join a church because it is a friendly club for social networking, family activities, and to make business contacts, will have a difficult time re-evaluating the decision they made for this easy and worldly compromised version of Christianity…when it is compared to the alternate real version of Christianity where believers will have to take a courageous stand for their faith that will cost them their lives (Rev. 12:11).

When the Antichrist changes his tactics from deceptive peace (Dan. 8:25) to deadly persecution, and begins to require people to take the mark of the beast or suffer the consequences…the nominal churchgoers will probably opt for survival (Dan. 3:7).

We can have large, arena-type sanctuaries, with comfortable stadium seating, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, worldly entertaining “rock and roll” style worship music having over-simplified Christian lyrics that appeal to large numbers of people, and positive-thinking motivational style messages mixed with watered-down Christian doctrines.

But what will it profit if the people who attend these churches do not get challenged and inspired to follow Jesus into an intimate journey of faith?

What will it profit if end-times persecution exposes these types of churches as being shallow and empty in terms of preparing Christians to live lives that would faithfully stand up in the heat of hard times?

What will it profit if people have been mistakenly taught that they could successfully have one foot in the world and one foot in Christ, without any future adverse consequences or reckoning? 

            What will it profit if the external environment of persecution and tribulation removes overnight the possibility of safely attending the currently popular mega-churches, and the churchgoer is left “high and dry” without having established a personal relationship with Jesus Christ with the ability to listen and follow the Holy Spirit on their own?

What will it profit if the end-times churchgoer cannot tell the difference between the counterfeit but worldly appealing Antichrist (Dan. 7:25), and the genuine Jesus Christ who calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him?

%d bloggers like this: