A Delicate Balance for Unbelief 2

Raptured People Will All Be Christians

This brief introduction about the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…serves as a tie-in to one of the key issues in our understanding of biblical last-days prophecies…which is the timing of the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-53).

Identifying the real underlying cause behind a pretribulation rapture would be one of the easiest and most clear-cut pieces of investigative journalism ever.

It would not take long for investigators and journalists to discover that those people missing through the rapture…hundreds of millions around the world…were all practicing Christians.  Investigators would quickly put two-and-two together regarding what these missing people all had in common, and thus eliminate any competing bizarre and speculative explanations…concluding instead that this event must have been the heretofore popularized biblical rapture.

God does not make mistakes.  He is not inaccurate.

Every person raptured will be a Spirit-born Christian, without exception.

This will be the largest, homogenous group of people to ever participate in any single event of history.

If every person amongst hundreds of millions of people disappearing in the twinkling of an eye around the world, were all and only exclusively Christians, everyone on the planet would quickly know this.

If within a moment of time there were absolutely no believing Christians to be found anywhere on the entire planet, this would become immediately apparent in many parts of the world.  It would be common knowledge within days, possibly hours, and in some locations even minutes, that this event was the New Testament rapture and nothing else.

No amount of secular media spin, no matter how liberal the initial bias, would be able to explain away or refute the common knowledge among the populace that those family members and friends they lost in the great disappearance…were all uniformly and exclusively practicing Christians.

If three, four, or five hundred million Christians were instantly raptured from the earth, it would be extremely difficult to spin this event as anything other than the biblical rapture.  What other possible explanation would come close on the plausibility or believability meter?

It is the uniform, universal nature of the people missing that is controlling.

UFO abduction would not make sense.  Why would unidentified flying objects abduct hundreds of millions of Christians, as opposed to the God of the Bible abducting Christians in a rapture event?

It would make no difference if journalists began their investigation from a completely secular, non-biblical perspective.   The initial focus of the investigations would be about the people missing, not about Bible prophecy.  The investigations would all lead to the same consistent conclusion.  Any subsequent questions regarding the meaning of Bible prophecy relating to the disappearances would only become a secondary factor after it was clearly established that the people missing were all Christians.

People around the world would quickly know this was the rapture, as an indisputable conclusion of fact, because they would have personally known the people who disappeared.

A pretribulation rapture by definition also occurs pre-Antichrist, so there cannot be a concerted worldwide governmental organization in place to spin the rapture into something other than the rapture.  This cannot be the “deception” referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.

On a full transatlantic 747 airliner crossing, moments after a hundred passengers had vanished off the plane instantly, a shocked man in row 25, standing up and looking around the lighted cabin interior at the remaining passengers, would remark out loud to himself more than to anyone in particular, that his missing wife was a Christian and that this was the biblical rapture.

This left-behind husband would know without a doubt the reason why his Christian wife had suddenly disappeared.

A woman in row 28, also standing up to visually search amongst the nearby passengers, would overhear this comment, and confirm with resigned sadness that her missing husband was also a Christian, and that this was the rapture her husband had told her about while reading the Left Behind books a few years ago.

A young couple in the middle seats between rows 25 and 28, overhearing this exchange, would frantically say that their small children were also missing.

Within ten to fifteen minutes everyone on this jetliner, because of the confined space, would have heard and processed the idea that Christians and small children had all disappeared in the biblical rapture.

Similarly, because of the large proportional number of hundreds of millions of Christians that would be raptured pretribulation, within the confined and finite space of our planet, the initial speculation that the cause of this vanishing was the biblical rapture would be instantly set-in-motion as a natural result of the close personal relationship between the people raptured and the very people left behind.

Again, the uniformly Christian composition of the people taken would preclude any bizarre, paranormal explanations.

This is one reasonable and straightforward construction of people’s reactions that would shortly follow the rapture during a mid-flight 747 jetliner crossing over the Atlantic Ocean.  This same scenario would repeat itself quickly across the globe as people “compared notes” and realized who had disappeared.  The idea of the rapture as the plausible explanation for the disappearances would become concrete fact worldwide, hours or days before any alternate fantastic explanation could be fabricated by anyone.

With this many people left behind and personally affected, the world would not be looking to a detached, impersonal, and spiritually ill-equipped secular media to provide a believably authoritative explanation for the clearly supernatural disappearances.  They would already know the cause behind the disappearances, based upon their personal relationships with the Christians who had been instantly raptured.

If a pure, easily identifiable, homogenous group of 500 million Spirit-born Christians all disappeared in the twinkling of an eye…it would make no difference in this explanatory interpretation if an equally large-sized group of unsaved nominal churchgoers were unexplainably left behind.

The question would not degenerate into whether only “good” Christians were taken and mediocre or less dedicated “Christians” were left behind.

The clarity of the identification and nature of the large mass of those people taken in the disappearance would not be clouded or diluted in any way by the nature of those nominal churchgoers left behind.  Their condition would be a separate and unrelated issue way…down the list of immediate considerations.

In today’s pretribulation rapture discussion in Christendom…we are missing the obvious.

Any numerical quantity of people noticeably disappearing with or without their clothes in a worldwide manner, above the unrealistically understated number of 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000, for example, would garner immediate attention and be attributed by the general populace as a divine act of God…with no other plausible causation.

No imaginable space-alien invasion or natural force could discriminately take 100% intact, whole people totally into thin air, vanishing completely.

Few people would think this surgically accurate and precise removal of whole people…without leaving behind body parts or any other visible trace… could possibly be anything other than some inexplicably divine act of God.

Couple this with the singular nature of those taken, the expanded number of this group to be in the hundreds of millions…and the only plausible explanation of this totally implausible event would be the rapture and nothing else.

This does not mean that the world would believe the rapture explanation as incontrovertible proof to motivate them to surrender and yield their lives in faith to Jesus Christ.

It simply means that everyone would have heard this rapture explanation as the leading, most plausibly acceptable explanation for the disappearance of hundreds of millions of Christians.

Left-behind people after a pretribulation rapture are by definition skeptics and unbelievers.  Just because they hear and process the information that the rapture is the cause of the disappearances, does not mean necessarily that many of them would reconsider and embrace change in their lives on account of this information.

What makes this a critical issue in our centuries-long, ongoing recovery of truth regarding biblical end-times prophecies, is that God the Father did not previously choose to have the resurrected Jesus walk through the main streets of Jerusalem in route to entering into the temple.

God did not choose a wide-scale public demonstration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, as the means to generate commendable, virtuous, and salvation quality faith.  The contemporary skeptics observing a resurrected Jesus walking into the first-century temple in Jerusalem…would indeed acknowledge the supernatural nature of this occurrence.

But this would probably not generate repentance and separation from self-sovereignty leading to salvation faith for them…any more than seeing Jesus miraculously cleanse lepers, restore sight to the blind, or raise Lazarus from the dead…did during the time leading up to the cross and the resurrection.

The all-important point here is that God Himself did not choose to upset the delicate balance for belief and unbelief…although He easily could have done so at this most opportune time by introducing the element of incontrovertible proof into the equation of His new covenant outreach of love to mankind in the first-century.

Romans 10:17 sums this up beautifully and simply: “So, then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

 

 

 

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.

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.”