A Delicate Balance for Unbelief 1

“And through his policy also he shall cause deceit to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many; and he also shall stand up against the Prince of princes, but he shall be broken without hand.”                                                                                            (Dan. 8:25)

If God wanted to provide incontrovertible proof to the world that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and the promised Messiah to Israel, all Jesus had to do after He was raised from the dead was to walk down the middle of Main Street and right into the temple in Jerusalem…on Tuesday or Wednesday of the first week following His resurrection.

This is so obvious that we miss it.

This is like the theological controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the first-century…regarding the resurrection of the dead.

Jesus answers this question posed to Him as a theological challenge by the Sadducees (Mk. 12:18-27), by pointing out in the scriptures that at the burning bush God identified Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jesus then says that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, thus resolving this first-century controversy as to whether there is life after death.

Even though the Old Testament is not overly definitive on the subject of the afterlife, the answer to this specific question was right there all the time in plain sight…in one of the most well-known encounters in the Old Testament, in this exchange between God and Moses at the burning bush.

If the risen Jesus can suddenly appear in a room where the disciples are gathered (Lk. 24:36), and earlier the same day walk alongside two disciples heading for the nearby village of Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-32), it would not have been any more difficult for Jesus to walk into the temple in Jerusalem.

Then everyone, including the Pharisees and scribes, would believe in Him.

Why did Jesus only appear to Mary Magdalene at the tomb (Jn. 20:11-18)…to Peter (Lk. 24:34)…to James (1 Cor. 15:7)…to the eleven apostles (Jn. 20:19-23)…to five hundred people (1 Cor. 15:6)…and to Paul (1 Cor. 15:8)?

Why did God set-up the gospel-message preaching of the early church based upon the eyewitness testimony of the disciples, instead of the more obvious and beyond-a-doubt visual proof of Jesus walking openly through the streets of Jerusalem after His resurrection?

Why did God moderate and fine-tune the impact of the Son of God’s ministry on earth in such a way as to leave intact the ability of large numbers of people to remain in skeptical unbelief for centuries to come?

Why is this fine-tuning of the balance between belief and unbelief in the spiritual realm…at a level comparable to the precision of the fine-tuning of the strength of gravity or the cosmological constant in our natural world?

Why does the Christian witness today begin with our testimony that Jesus Christ lives…that He redeemed us into a new and living way…that the transformation in our lives demonstrates that God is real…and that our knowledge that we now possess eternal life sets us free from a past life in bondage to sin?

Why do we come home from a prayer meeting at the age of 18, like I did, after becoming a new Christian, into a house and a family that is antagonistic toward the Christian faith (Mt. 10:34-36)?

Why do we start-out having to earnestly resolve to live the Christian life in all of its purity so that those around us will see His Light within us and also believe?

Why is it so important for God to maintain this delicate balance between the ability to freely believe in God…and conversely the freedom to remain in skeptical unbelief…which makes evangelism and the conversion of others so difficult?

The answers to these questions are profoundly deep, yet profoundly simple.

The only thing that really matters, in the final analysis, in our verbally spoken and life-in-action witness about Jesus Christ, is the quality of our transformation into becoming new improved people in Christ.

All of the persuasive speech in existence will sound empty and flat if our faith in Jesus Christ produces no tangibly noticeable improvement in our outlook, our attitudes, our countenance, and in our actions.

The acid-test in the witness of any Christian’s testimony to the world is the positive change that has occurred in our lives (Jas. 2:18).

Once people see this positive change, it is then up to them to evaluate whether or not they will consider and be open to the possibility in their own lives of repenting of their sins before God, abandoning self-in-control through the cross, and following Jesus into a journey of faith creating genuine meaning and purpose for their existence.

Jesus Christ…as seen in the lives and in the verbal testimony of Christians…is what attracts most people to the Christian faith (Mt. 5:16).

This is why a universally accepted, factual acknowledgement of the existence of God…through something like the fictionalized, hypothetical example of the risen Jesus walking openly down the main streets of Jerusalem, is unacceptable.

There must be a broad separation between the two extremes of belief and unbelief, having a wide gray-area center of indecisive fence-sitting, for the intentional and committed discipleship of picking up our cross to follow Jesus… to have real value.

God could easily confirm His existence supernaturally anytime to the satisfaction of the most skeptical people on earth today.  God could remove unbelief in an instant.

But then our decision to follow Jesus Christ in response to His love would not be based upon a voluntary free-will choice.

We do not voluntarily choose to believe in the existence of the noonday sun.  We do not choose to believe in two plus two equals four.  These are obvious, involuntarily acknowledged facts that require no faith or choice whatsoever.

A resurrected Jesus walking into the temple in Jerusalem, or walking openly down its main city streets, would not result in a free-will choice to believe, trust, and follow Him in response to His loving invitation for an intimate friendship.

It would simply change the nature of faith in Jesus Christ into an incontrovertible fact, conferring no more virtue upon its adherents than upon the observation that the noonday sun exists.

One reason that God has maintained the delicate balance between belief and unbelief throughout the long course of human redemptive history…is that it adds meaning to the free-will choice of human beings to believe in God to the point of yielding their lives to His will and leading.

The virtue of following God through thick-and-thin, like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul, only has meaning in a world where people can freely push God away and live their lives in total self-sovereignty apart from God.

This delicate balance between belief and unbelief in the spiritual realm is just as vitally important, indeed maybe more so in the eternal scheme of things, than the delicate balance of the fine-tuning of the current laws of physics in the natural universe.

Alter even slightly the force of gravity in the cosmos, and the delicate balance of factors needed to support complex life collapses.

Alter even slightly this delicate spiritual balance of belief and unbelief, and the working out of the eternal issues of right and wrong in our relationship to God… lose all sense of free-will, purpose, and meaning.

The Perfect Timing of God 4

Unity Forged Through Common Challenge

The present-day Christian church has lost its way.  We are lost in factions, and divisions, and denominations, and disagreements.

In this regard we are “yet carnal” (1 Cor. 3:3).  The early church warned us against this.  Somewhere along the past twenty centuries we lost the unity of brotherly love we are supposed to exemplify, exhibit, and enjoy as patterned for us in the Trinity.

As a group, we are currently as lost as the Israelites were as slaves in Egypt, or as lost as Joseph was as a prisoner in Pharaoh’s dungeon, or as lost as David was as King Saul chased him all over the countryside, or as momentarily lost as any of the other positive characters in the Bible waiting to find their true selves within the life-scripts composed by God for them.

This is not the Christian church that we are supposed to be.

We need outside supernatural help once again from God…to step-up into the challenge of a God-composed tribulation script of events designed to forge us into becoming the body of believers we were intended to be.

Just like the Israelites needed the parting of the Red Sea to jump-start them along their way to fulfilling their God-intended true destiny as the nation of Israel, the modern-day Christian church needs the intensity of first-century persecution and tribulation to focus on what is really important and to discard the unessential differences that divide us.

The shared experience of the adversity of the great tribulation is probably the only viable means that God can use to help the Christian church find itself…to capture its destiny and define itself as the expression of the character of Jesus Christ, in the purity of unselfish sacrificial love for each other and for the world.

This is the heartfelt final prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, that His church of believers would become as one in the unity and bond of love like He and the Father are one.

One of the reasons that the Christian church must face-off against the Antichrist during at least some of the tribulation is that this is the final opportunity for Christians to exhibit the Christ-like character trait of unselfish, sacrificial, un-offended love in opposition to nakedly exposed raw hatred.

Unlike the Israelites at the parting of the Red Sea, who were at the beginning of their character growth journey through the desert toward the Promised Land, the end-times Christian will be set-apart and remarkable by the advanced character trait of being able to powerfully love the unsaved and unbelieving last generation of people in the world, without any thought or care for their own personal safety, welfare, or social acceptance.

The genuine Christian in the last days will stand-out for their ability to not be offended by evil, persecution, and tribulation in the face of their calling to preach the gospel message of peace amidst the massive final deceptions of Lucifer through the Antichrist.

One of the remarkable and distinctive characteristics of the divine love of God is that it does not exclude people for any reason (Mt. 9:10-11), but instead reaches out with the transforming power of truth and genuine care to deliver people from their bondage to sin.

“Love the sinner but hate the sin” has been the working motto for genuine Christian service and outreach to a lost world for two thousand years.  This is one of the defining, authenticating attributes of the genuine Christian disciple that cannot be faked or counterfeited in the heat of persecution and tribulation (Acts 14:22; 1 Thes. 1:6-8).

Pure divine love rises above all forms of prejudice, unforgiving resentments, and hatreds, because the invulnerability of selflessness contains nothing of substance that evil can take ahold of…or latch on to.

Uncompromising love in the face of the fierce opposition of persecution will be one of the validating signs of the love of Jesus Christ exhibiting itself in the words, countenance, bearing, confidence, and Holy Spirit light of the end-times tribulation tested Christian, demonstrated horizontally towards people and vertically towards God.

If Jesus Christ can bring His church to the point of being able to demonstrate this high level of pure, unselfish love in contrast to the unjustified, deadly animosity shown toward Christians by Lucifer through the Antichrist, then what does this have to say about mankind’s recovery from its early defeat in the Garden of Eden?

This final head-to-head comparison of the expression of the overcoming divine love of Jesus Christ demonstrated in action through end-times Christian people, contrasted with the nakedly exposed malicious and unwarranted hatred of the Antichrist, puts all of the great past issues into perspective.

John 20:21 reads “…even as the Father has sent me, even so send I you.”  All of the narrative stories of positive faith in the Bible contain an extremely tight set of circumstances.  This is one of the features that authenticates and validates the proactive hand of God working within the lives of His saints.  The tight circumstances of a biblical journey of faith are purposed…by the intelligent design of God…to fall outside of the capacity of human creative invention.

The philosophy of deism says that God indeed created our natural world, but then backed off to a comfortable distance and has no active participation in our ongoing world.  The journeys of faith recorded in the Bible tell us just the opposite.

Through the totally unique and novel aspects of the narrowness of the cross experience (Mt. 7:13-14), God demonstrates that He is intimately active in the lives of people of faith in a way that is unimaginable within worldly conventional thinking.

God-composed journeys of faith reveal that they are singularly divine because the tightly structured series of events mirror the same finely-tuned precision that we discover in the force of gravity or the cosmological constant in our physical universe.

In light of the foregoing discussion of the incredibly tight circumstances surrounding the disposition of the Egyptians and the Israelites at the shoreline of the Red Sea, and the tight series of divinely orchestrated circumstances in Egypt that Moses and the Israelites experienced in their deliverance from bondage in Egypt…the question can reasonably be asked: “Is the timing of a pretribulation rapture tight or wide?”

Is a rapture of the Christian church, placed at the beginning of the tribulation, consistent with the biblical pattern of God nurturing and building faith through incredibly tight circumstances outside of human imagination and control?

Is a pretribulation rapture scenario an aberration…inconsistent with the biblical pattern of God’s precise interaction in our lives?

Does it reveal instead a wishfully optimistic scriptural interpretation of end-times biblical prophecy based upon human intellectual reasoning that misses altogether the spiritual insight that comes through an understanding of the narrowness of a journey of faith…via the cross?

I believe that Christians currently engaged in journeys of faith following Jesus Christ will see in the days ahead that events and circumstances in their lives will tighten like never before, as preparation for the upcoming challenges facing the end-times church.

I believe that mature Christian men and women…having a recent history of purchasing an active and living faith through the intensive training environment of tight and narrow life experiences following Jesus Christ…will be indispensable leaders and examples for at least some portion of time during the tribulation.

When the world starts to come apart, threatening the worldly conventional dreams and aspirations for normal life that are shortly coming to an end, the last remaining group of lost sheep will finally let go of the cares of this world…and respond to the gospel message of hope and salvation amidst even the most daunting of circumstances.

This message will be preached by courageous Joel 2:28-29 Christians who have the personal conviction of having “walked the walk” through their own God-led adventures of faith.

I believe that every major, positive character in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and all of the people of faith during the church age… including Christians in faith-propelled ministries of one sort or another today… have at some time in a personal and honest moment with God asked: “Do you really and actually know what you are doing, God?”

I believe that part of the last “great tribulation” is designed to resoundingly answer that question in a final and unimaginably tight and precise “yes” that will secure our faith, trust, and admiration for God…for the rest of eternity.

The Perfect Timing of God 3

God Sees Us Differently Than the World Sees Us

This concept of unselfish love, that costs us something in the giving up of some of ourselves in deference to others, could not be more starkly contrasted in the callous and uncaring attitude of the Egyptians towards the Israelites.

The Israelites were not supposed to be slaves.  This was not their destiny as intended by God.  They were the future nation of Israel…the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2:8)…a blessing to all of the nations (Gen. 18:18).  But the Egyptians couldn’t care less about the Israelites or their future potential as individuals or as a nation.  The Egyptians only cared about themselves.

The Egyptians were all about other people serving them.  They were the epitome of cold-hearted, worldly self-advancement at the expense of others.  Their self-centered attitudes and actions were the direct opposite of perfect love.  They were the diametric opposite of the unselfish and pure love expressed within the Trinity, which God was about to attempt to bring into the realm of human experience on a larger scale through the creation of the nation of Israel.

No amount of clear reasoning, or logical appeal, or supernatural signs through catastrophic plagues could break through the worldly self-centeredness of the Egyptians.  They cared only about keeping the Hebrews in bondage as slaves under their control.  God judged this destructively hate-filled character trait of Lucifer’s approach to the use of power, demonstrated in action through the blindly self-centered attitude of the Egyptians towards the Israelites, with powerful finality at the parting of the Red Sea.

At some point in time during the previous ten plagues…brought upon the land of Egypt leading up to the release of the Israelites…the Egyptians became stubbornly hardened beyond reach.  The Egyptian chariot army, poised to attack the Israelites camped on the shoreline of the Red Sea, were well beyond the sympathetic and loving outreach of God.

If the nation of Egypt at that time could not be reasoned with through the obvious hand of God evidenced through the supernatural ten plagues upon their land, then they were beyond the reach of self-evaluation, repentance, and redemption (Ex. 1:8-14; 7:3-5).

Pride and self-centeredness pushed out the capacity for repentance.  The Egyptians could no longer empathize or feel compassion for the Israelites.  They had lost the ability to care about others.  The Egyptians had no fear, no respect, and no reverence for the word of God.  This is our lost-in-sin condition at its worst.  The Egyptians were in a total state of unbelief…polarized in spiritual blindness beyond salvage.

God knows that following Lucifer leads to oblivion.  God tried but could not break through to the Egyptian nation, even using powerful signs and plagues.  Sadly, the only recourse for God to do with the incurable threat of the Egyptian army was to drown it in final judgment in the Red Sea.

Otherwise, the Egyptian chariot army might have merely driven north around the Red Sea, and attacked the Israelites on the other side.

This may be a preview of the last days.  For some people the twenty-one scroll, trumpet, and bowl judgment plagues of Revelation, like the ten plagues in Egypt, will have no effect (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9).

The pivotal question for all Christians to consider as they study the end-times biblical prophecies…is can this massive final confrontation between good and evil occur with all of its force and impact without the main Christian church on the earth for at least some portion of the seven-year tribulation?

Can God perfectly choreograph the events of the end-times tribulation period, separating good from evil, demonstrating His redemptive love, and exposing the need for final judgment, without the modern-day equivalent of the “Egyptians” and the “Israelites” both being present in full-strength along the banks of the Red Sea at the same time?

Would the start of the parting of the Red Sea a day or two earlier, facilitating the easier escape of the Israelites without the pressure of their impending doom in the visible presence of the nearby Egyptian army, have diluted and thereby spoiled this classic encounter between good and evil, mediated so decisively by the supernatural deliverance of God in opening up the Red Sea?

Can the hatred that is generated against Christians (Matthew 24:9), the debate that occurs between the little horn of Daniel and the saints of the Most High (Dan. 7:20-21), the final and glorious deliverance of the church through the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-53; Mt. 24:40-41), and the scroll, trumpet, and final bowl judgments of Revelation all occur without God bringing them all perfectly together in close proximity in time and space?

Do all of the antagonists have to be fully in place on earth for the final conflict to have lasting impact and resolution?

The Perfect Timing of God 2

No Shadow of Turning in Perfect Love (James 1:17)

One of the developments that have resulted from the steady progress of modern Christian theology is a more insightful understanding and articulation of the concept of the Trinity (Mt. 3:16-17; Jn. 1:32-34).

This understanding of the relational friendship and love enjoyed between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity sheds light on the concept of unselfish and giving love, perfect in its expression within the fellowship of the Triune God.

A God who has been alone since eternity could not claim to have much credibility in the area of understanding perfect friendship and love.

But a singular God…who knows how to exercise perfect love in friendship and harmony within the complex nature of the three distinct Persons of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit…gives us a better understanding and comprehension of many of the core doctrines, teachings, and truths of the Bible.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God” combined with “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, makes more sense in the light of a model of unity, friendship, and love expressed within the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…since before time began.

A God whose program is based upon getting us back into a condition where He can unselfishly share with us the same quality of love He enjoys within the Trinity, adds that one helpful additional element to our understanding of the motivation behind God’s composition of our journeys of faith.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the Father: “if thou be willing, remove this cup from me” but then surrenders His own personal preference in deference to the ancient course of action planned by Himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, working closely together as a team to provide salvation for mankind through the cross and the resurrection.

Jesus frames the classic sentiments of unselfish, sacrificial love by going on to say: “nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done” (Lk. 22:42).

This is one of the fundamental realities that is at the best and highest of the human experience.

In entering into a successful marriage, both husband and wife must lovingly and willingly surrender some of themselves to the wishes of their partner.  Part of the expression of love is this willingness to please the other person in the giving over of our own will and way, not just to maintain harmony, but because we genuinely care about the other person’s wishes and desires.

The same thing occurs in maintaining a healthy friendship.  We cannot enjoy a close friendship with another person if we insist upon having our way all the time.  In meeting other people “half-way” in the making of plans for the weekend, or in taking vacation trips together, or in simply deciding where to get together for lunch, the exercising of a humble spirit of compromise and unselfishness goes a long way toward building close and mutually respectful friendships that can last a lifetime.

Jesus Christ the Son of God surrenders a portion of His momentary preference…to explore the possibility of another option…to the eternally larger plan and scheme of salvation through the cross.

This is deference to the will of the Father…and love for His neighbor…human beings (as a result of His Incarnation into the human race)…in perfectly executed fulfillment of the commandments of the law and the prophets (Mt. 7:12).

In Gethsemane and at Calvary, Jesus loses some of His individuality…His personal request to the Father to “remove this cup of suffering.”

But in the highest and most sublime sense, in doing so, He gains back His individuality in defining Himself as the sacrificial atonement for sin, the Passover Lamb of God Savior for all eternity.  The self-sacrifice of the cross defines for all times the essence of truth, righteousness, and love.

The power, beauty, and rightness of the plan of salvation amazingly take precedence over the individual wishes of even the divine Son of God living in a human body.

This places Jesus Christ at the forefront as our leader in this regard.

When we give up something of ourselves, in a marriage relationship, in a friendship, within the structure of a healthy family life, and in a God-composed journey of faith following Jesus Christ according to His higher plans and not our own, we are experiencing one of the highest character traits leading to peace and goodwill for all eternity.

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.