Outliers, the Church, and the Rapture

Seagulls

As 2018 begins, I feel like an outlier. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines an outlier as “any person or thing that lies, dwells, exists, etc. away from the main body or expected place.”  In statistics, it represents an observation that significantly differs from all others.

This feeling of being an outlier comes from so many in the church today who regard anyone who is watching for Jesus’ return as being out of the mainstream. Even pastors who say they believe in the rapture rarely, if ever, mention it in their sermons. Several popular Christian authors and teachers today do not even believe that Jesus is coming anytime soon for His church or that there will even be a time of great tribulation on the earth as described in the book of Revelation.

What we hear instead of watchfulness for Jesus’ appearing is that the church must be about fulfilling the Great Commission as though that excludes all teaching about the rapture, the coming tribulation, the Second Coming, or the millennial kingdom.

I believe Jesus regarded His command to preach the Gospel as inseparably intertwined with watchfulness for His return. Let me explain why.

What Does the Great Commission Tell Us to Do?

Let me be clear, I absolutely agree that the church should be about fulfilling the Great Commission. It’s of utmost importance that we use our gifts and resources to take the Gospel to those who have not heard the good news of salvation. Teaching and building up other believers is an essential element of this as is going to other cultures or nations.

As Jesus stated in Matthew 28:20, “teaching” is also a key aspect of the Great Commission. Specifically, He said that we should instruct new disciples “to observe all that I have commanded you.” We fulfill the Great Commission when we help build others up in the faith through teaching them to obey Jesus and His words.

This is where I begin to sense that I am an outlier.  I often get the sense that while it’s okay for me to teach and write about future things, this has nothing to do with fulfilling Jesus’ commission to His church. Eschatology is something reserved for the seasoned believers, aka old ones, and pertains little to what is truly important in following Jesus. I could not disagree more!

What Did Jesus Command Us to Do?

Does Jesus’ instruction for us to teach all that He “commanded” exclude watchfulness for His return or should it be an essential part of what we teach in this regard? I believe it is the latter.

In Matthew 24:44 Jesus said, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A little later He added this, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus not only commanded His disciples to be watchful and ready for His return but told two parables to emphasize His point. This was not something extraneous or unimportant to Him. Jesus spent considerable time telling His disciples to watch for His return.

Many assume that Jesus is talking about the Second Coming here, but that event does not fit with His commands for readiness and watchfulness. The Second Coming occurs after the tribulation and more specifically, three and half years after the antichrist defiles the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Why would Jesus encourage watchfulness for an event that could not happen until several other things took place?

Jesus’ emphasis suggests that His return could happen at any moment, which coincides with the rapture, but not with the Second Coming.

The Lord modeled an emphasis on eternity in His teaching.  He repeatedly stressed our hope of eternal life and promised to “raise up” those who believed in “the last day” (John 6:40). Martha, in her conversation with Jesus regarding the death of her brother Lazarus, displayed a certainly in a future resurrection that came from listening to Jesus teach (John 11:24).

The “kingdom” of which Jesus proclaimed consisted of both spiritual and future physical components. In Matthew 19:28-29 the Lord said this about His kingdom, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

Central to Jesus’ teaching was a physical kingdom where His followers would receive physical rewards for their faithfulness. His kingdom signified a time of renewal “of all things,” which certainly includes the physical world around us and the time when we as His followers will “inherit eternal life.” The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed throughout His time on earth included a physical “renewal of all things” such is what the apostle Paul talked about in Romans 8:18-25.

This hope carried over into the rest of the New Testament as the apostles repeatedly described believers as eagerly awaiting the appearing of the Lord (see Phil. 3:20-21; Titus 2:11-13; 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 John 3:2-3; and James 5:8-9). The New Testament church took seriously Jesus’ command to watch for His return as did the early church.

Jesus’ last recorded words to His church are “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20). The word translated “soon” depicts quickness of motion in the original Greek. In other words, Jesus is saying that when He returns He will come quickly. In other words, we need to be watching for His appearing just as He told us to do in Matthew 24.

Several Christian writers and leaders today do regard me as far out of step with the Great Commission. However, as I look at what Jesus proclaimed and commanded as well as at what the apostles wrote, I do not feel like an outlier any more.

I rather see myself as someone who is fulfilling the Great Commission in the way God has gifted and called me to do.

 

What Difference Does It Make?

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“What difference does it make?” Hillary Clinton made this question famous during her Senate questioning of what happened during the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi. Although she did not regard the questions she faced as important, I am sure the answers mattered to those who had lost loved ones in the attack.

Many ask similar questions in regard to future things. What difference does it make what I believe about the Lord’s return? Does it really matter if I am watching for it or not? People have been waiting centuries for Him to come again. Should I look for it to happen anytime soon or in my lifetime?

What difference does it make what I believe about the Lord’s return? Does it really matter if I am watching for it or not?

These issues have led to much indifference even among believers regarding the Lord’s return. Many are not watching for it while some do not believe it will happen any time soon if at all.

Does living with an expectancy of Jesus imminent appearing really matter? Absolutely!

Let me explain.

The Importance to the Lord of Such Anticipation

Even though Jesus knew there would be a lengthy delay, He instructed His followers to both watch and be ready for His return (Matt. 24:42, 43: 25:13). Throughout the New Testament, we see this same posture of waiting and expecting that He could appear at any moment (Rom. 8:23; Titus 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 1:13; James 5:8-9). The early believers followed Jesus’ command to watch for His return.

Would Jesus have commanded us to do something if it was not important to Him? Why would Jesus ask His followers to look for His return as something that could happen at any time if it was a useless exercise in futility? I do not think so.

Readiness for His Jesus’ appearing is something important to Him and beneficial to us as well.

The Benefits for Us of Such an Outlook

I see several benefits for us in the New Testament of living with perspective that Jesus could return at any time. Such anticipation:

Kindles purity in our lives – After writing about Jesus’ appearing the apostle John added these words in 1 John 1:3, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The prospect that Jesus could return at any moment kindles purity in us; it causes us to be much more mindful of walking in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we have victory over sin.

If you truly thought it was possible that Jesus could return tomorrow, would it make a difference in how you live? Of course it would. You might change your mind regarding what movie or TV show you watch tonight. Your thoughts as you go to bed would be different. You would be eager to resolve any conflict with your spouse or deal with unforgiveness toward someone in our life. You would be more conscious of using your gifts and abilities to serve the Lord.

You would want to be ready to meet Jesus!

Keeps a two-world perspective alive in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:16-18) The apostle Paul endured much suffering as he preached the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, yet he never lost heart. As he compared eternal realities with the temporal things of this life he said this, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul’s two world outlook focused his attention on the joys and glory ahead for him in eternity as he endured his beatings, scourging, imprisonments, and shipwrecks.

Without the hope of Jesus’ soon return, we would soon lose our anticipation of heaven. The things of this world would take on much greater importance compared with the wonders of forever.

Encourages us in the midst of suffering (1 Pet. 1:3-6) In writing to believers suffering under the weight of persecution, the apostle Peter immediately reminded them of their “living hope” and of their inheritance that was “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” them (1 Pet. 1:3-4). He reminded them of the substance of their hope. Regardless of what they experienced on earth, they had a glorious reward waiting for them in heaven at the end of their suffering.

Motivates us to use our spiritual gifts in making disciples (Phil. 3:14-21) – I believe Paul’s determination to press forward in His service to the Lord came from his anticipation of Jesus’ soon return. I believe this was the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14) that he further described in verses 20-21.

CS Lewis said this about such an outlook: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since because Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Keeps the hope of a better day before us Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” The focusing of our thoughts on Jesus’ soon return constantly reminds us that a better day is coming, one in which all sorrow, death, and mourning will be things of the past.

The focusing of our thoughts on Jesus’ soon return constantly reminds us that a better day is coming, one in which all sorrow, death, and mourning will be things of the past.

While most all believers hope for this glorious future day, the sense of imminency in Jesus’ return keeps these things in sharper focus. This also works to minimize the frustrations and disappointments of this life as we realize that a much better day is coming. Setbacks in this life are just temporary; an eternal day is just around the corner. A time of unending joy awaits us with Jesus’ appearing!

Results in a special reward – 2 Timothy 4:8 refers to “the crown of righteousness” that the apostle Paul says is for “all who have loved his appearing.” Our longing for Jesus to return will be rewarded even if we do not see it in our lifetime.

Yes, there are days when I start to wonder, “What’s the point of watching for Jesus to come? I have been waiting for such a very long time!”

It’s then the signs of the approaching tribulation remind me that the time is indeed short. The fires, famines, rumors of war, earthquakes, and increasing talk of the coming new world order all tell us that Jesus is coming soon. The signs around us are increasing exponentially with each pass week.

“How can it be much longer until Jesus whisks us away to heaven and the tribulation begins?”

We will experience endless joy beyond our imagination throughout eternity.

If you are experiencing sorrow, feeling hopelessness, or facing opposition or heartache because of your faith, do not give up hope. Keep your focus on the better day that is coming for all of us who are in Christ. When Jesus comes for His church, He will give us imperishable resurrected bodies and we will be with Him forever with bodies that will never age and never again experience pain or sickness. We will experience endless joy beyond our imagination throughout eternity.

Keep looking up; a much, much, much, better day is just ahead. Such anticipation makes a significant difference in how we view our lives.

 

The Silence of the Shepherds

Sheep and lake

What comes to your mind when you think of a shepherd? For me, it’s wise guidance and protection. I see the shepherd guiding his sheep to a calm, clear lake for a refreshing drink of water and at other times fighting off the attack of a wolf. Perhaps this is why the Lord frequently refers to the leaders of His people in this way.

This is also the reason that the silence of so many Christian leaders and pastors regarding future things troubles me so deeply. A number of outstanding teachers and writers either do not believe in Jesus’ return for His church or just never mention it. For me, it’s sad to hear messages on texts that bring up our future hope where the preachers do not mention eternity or the joy that awaits us there.

This morning, the words of Proverbs 10:28 spoke to my heart anew, “The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” If such anticipation brought joy back then, how much more should it lighten our load now? And why, then, are so many churches quiet about the great joy ahead for us in glory?

I see two key reasons why pastors should loudly proclaim the specifics of our future bliss rather than ignore the matter altogether or settle for vague references to the “sweet by and by” that fail to stir our hearts or encourage us in the midst of sorrow.

Jesus Commands Us to Watch and Be Ready

In His Olivet Discourse as recorded in Matthew, Jesus commands us not only to be ready for His coming, but to watch for it (see 24:42, 44; 25:13). We see this watchfulness all throughout the epistles as the apostles taught those new in the faith to eagerly wait for Jesus’ appearing (see 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thess. 1:8-10; Titus 2:11-13; and Phil. 3:20-21 as examples of this). The apostles instilled in their new converts an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return to take them home; a hope that endured long past their time.

The Didache, which means “teaching” in the Greek, is a brief document that was popular during early centuries of the church. In chapter 16 of The Didache we read this, “Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come.” Is this not the same imminent hope taught by the apostles? Of course it is.

Yes, there are many voices still today drawing our attention to the wonders of Jesus’ return, but most followers of Jesus have to go outside their local churches to hear messages regarding the imminency of their hope.

The present day emphasis on the Great Commission is excellent. The church must always be seeking to bring others to Jesus and to build them up in the faith. This is a given. We obey the Lord when we use our spiritual gifts, talents, and resources to further His kingdom around the world as well as to teach and build up believers He puts in our paths. These are all aspects of obeying Jesus’ command.

For the apostles, such obedience included instilling in their new converts an eager anticipation of Jesus’ soon return, as we have seen. Jesus told his disciples to teach those new in the faith to “observe all that I have commanded you” (see Matt. 28:20) and from this flowed, among other things, teaching them to eagerly await Jesus’ appearing.

Many pastors today ignore what was for the apostles an essential part of the Gospel message they proclaimed.

Things are different now. Those who stress reaching all the nations with the Gospel rarely, if ever, mention our future hope. Many pastors today ignore what was for the apostles an essential part of the message they proclaimed. As a result, the hope of new believers remains earthbound lacking the joyful anticipation of what lies ahead.

Not only does this silence of shepherds ignore Jesus’ commands, it also exposes their flocks to great dangers.

Sound Teaching on Our Biblical Hope Prevents Doctrinal Error

In Ephesians 4:11-14, Paul says that Jesus gives the church specially equipped leaders such as “shepherds” and “teachers”  both for unity and so that believers will “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” This is precisely what we are seeing in the church at large today . . . in a negative way.

The dearth of sound teaching on our eternal joy has resulted in believers being “tossed” every which way by false teaching. In recent years, some teachers have begun to falsely proclaim that Jesus has already returned just as He promised in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation.  Such a message has led many unsuspecting believers astray into error and misleading expectations.

Tragically, once these false teachers trap believers in their deceitful web it takes much more prodding, teaching, and the work of the Holy Spirit to enable them to escape than it would have taken for teachers to have established them in sound biblical teaching from the beginning.

It requires much more effort to help believers escape from false teachings than it does for solid biblical teaching to effectively shield them from it. This seems to be especially true in regard to future things as so many hold on to proof texts ignoring scores of other verses that contradict their errant interpretation.

Sound biblical teaching on future things safeguards believers from the many erroneous winds of doctrines blowing about in our day.

Do you see why sound biblical teaching on future things is so necessary? It safeguards believers from the many erroneous winds of doctrines blowing about in our day. It gives them a basis to resist the lure of false teachers who twist Scripture and lead many away from the joy of biblical hope.

This is why I write. This is why I am so grieved for believers who hear so little about the specifics or the scriptural basis of the glorious wonders that await them in forever. I desire to get the word out, either through teaching, speaking, or writing, to followers of Christ who are sadly looking only to the things of this life to bring them lasting purpose and joy.

It’s time to look up, is it not?

Jesus said this in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Jesus says now is the time to watch for His appearing.  Shouldn’t the shepherds of local flocks, those called to lead us, be echoing the words of our Lord? It’s not that the things they emphasize are bad, far from it; it’s just that their neglect keeps the focus of so many believers on the things of the earth rather than eternity where their ultimate and lasting hope resides.

Where are your eyes today? Is your ultimate hope on the things of this life or are you looking forward to your eternal inheritance reserved in heaven just for you (1 Pet. 1:3-5)?

 

What Did Jesus Tell Us About Our Future?

Lighthouse beacon light2

It always helps when planning a vacation to talk to someone who has already been to the desired destination. They can tell you about what to see as well as what to avoid. The same is true with restaurants, is it not? How many of you have decided not to go to a certain eating establishment after listening to a less than favorable report by someone who had eaten there? Or, on the other hand, how many of you couldn’t wait to go to a restaurant because someone raved about its food?

When it comes to heaven, we have someone who has been there. I am referring to Jesus, of course. When talking to Nicodemus, Jesus highlighted the fact He had descended from heaven to establish His authority for speaking about heavenly things (John 3:12-13).

When Jesus talked about our future, about eternity, He did so with unique authority as not only One who came from heaven, but also as One who rose from the dead.

What exactly did Jesus say about eternity, about our future?

Jesus promised to take us to His Father’s House: Jesus said this in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” In John 14:2-3, Jesus promised to take His followers, represented by His disciples, to the place in His Father’s house He was going to prepare for them. This very much seems to be a private return of Jesus for His own that differs substantially from His quite public return to earth, which He described in Matthew 24:29-31.

Jesus gave us signs of the end times: During the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples asked Jesus about the signs of His coming and the end of the age. Matthew 24:3-14 records Jesus’ answer with the list of signs He provided to them. Since these things came from the One who could see ahead to His coming, we should not so easily brush them aside as many do today.

So many believers today pay so little attention to what Jesus said in Matthew 24 despite the fact that His words are unfolding in an amazing way throughout the world today with uncanny preciseness. We are living in the time Jesus spoke about in these verses.

Jesus foretold the future desecration of the temple by the antichrist: Jesus also verified Daniel’s prophecy regarding a future world leader, the antichrist, who would put an end to sacrifice at the temple halfway through the tribulation. Jesus referred to this as the “abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (see Dan. 9:27, Matt. 24:15).

In this verse, Jesus confirmed that that there will be antichrist that will rise to power in the last days and he will defile the temple halfway through the tribulation, just as Daniel predicted. This has not happened since the time of Jesus; it awaits a future fulfillment when Israel will rebuild the temple, the antichrist will establish a covenant that will include Israel, and this leader will break his pledge of peace by defiling the temple halfway through the tribulation period.

Jesus predicted a time of great tribulation: In this same passage, Jesus also predicted a time of “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matt. 24:21). In the next verse, He states that if this time was not cut short, presumably by His return to earth, all humanity would perish. Jesus said that no one would survive this time apart from His coming,  which will stop the progression of events that would wipe out human life.

This is the time John spoke about in the book of Revelation. In chapters 6-19, the apostle adds details to this terrible time in human history.

Jesus described His glorious return to earth: I love Jesus’ own description of is glorious return to earth in Mathew 24:30, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Jesus entered the world as a helpless baby during His first coming. For His second coming, He will return in spectacular fashion with great power and glory as the entire world watches.

Jesus spoke of His future millennial reign: At this point you might be wondering where Jesus talked about His future millennial reign. While He did not specify it as clearly as John did in Revelation 20:1-6, he certainly implied it in key passages such as Matthew 26.

During Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, the High Priest demanded that Jesus tell him whether or not He was the long awaited Messiah. “Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Matt. 26:64). Jesus was quoting from Daniel 7:13-14, a passage that prophesies the Father giving the “son of man” a physical kingdom where “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”

By quoting from this passage in Daniel, Jesus affirms that one day He will be the King over the long awaited physical kingdom that will include the nations of the world.

Jesus warned people about the existence of hell: John Lennon tried to imagine life without an eternity, one without the existence of heaven and hell. In other words, our existence would end after our brief time on earth.

Jesus, however, acknowledged both the existence of heaven and hell. In fact, no one in the Bible talked more about God’s final judgment than Jesus. Seven times Jesus warned people about the existence of hell referring to it as a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus repeatedly warned people of the dire consequences of rejecting Him and His gracious and loving promise of eternal life.

Jesus assured His followers of eternal life in paradise: Jesus did not come for the purpose of condemning the world, however, but for the purpose of giving His life as a “ransom for many” so that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Mark 10:45; John 3:16-17). So yes, while there are frightful consequences of rejecting Jesus’ gracious offer of life, there is the promise of paradise for all those who turn to Him for salvation from the penalty of their sins. Even for the thief crucified next to Him received this assurance after acknowledging Jesus’ ability to save him from his sins (Luke 23:40-43).

Jesus commanded us to watch for His return: In Matthew 24:44 Jesus said this, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A little later in the same discourse He added these words, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (25:13). The Lord urges His followers, us, to watch for His return. This is not just something for the few on the fringe, but for all who call upon His name.

Jesus’ last recorded words to His church are these, “Surely I am coming soon.” The Greek word for “soon” is better translated “quickly.” It’s clear from His last words to us that Jesus desired for us to watch for His John 14:3 return. If this was true then, how much more today as we see the signs of the approaching tribulation multiply around us?

Why does all this matter? Do Jesus’ words carry more authority than the rest of the New Testament? No, I believe it’s all Jesus’ revelation to the church of His deity, the saving Gospel message, and the joyous eternity He is preparing for all of us who belong to Him. What we believe about the Gospel and our future after this life starts with the words and saving work of Jesus to which He added further revelation through His apostles in the first century.

These things matter so much today because so many professing believers want a Jesus who did not really say or mean several of the things listed above. They want Jesus, but deny the urgency of His saving message, the existence of hell, and His warnings of judgment. They want a Jesus of their own making, not the One revealed on the pages of Scripture.

We can trust Jesus’ words about all these things because He came from eternity and He rose from the dead, just as He said He would. This establishes His credibility beyond anyone else who has ever lived.

Oh, there is one more thing that is absolutely essential to add that many also deny . . . .

Jesus said He is the only way to the Father, the only way to eternal life: In John 14:6 Jesus said these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If you are trusting another Jesus, one who would never deny anyone entrance to heaven, please turn to the true Jesus, the One who is truly the only way to eternal life, who will be true to all His words that I have listed above. He will surely save those who belong to Him and bring them into the joy of eternity.

If you are trusting your good works or being a good person to get you to heaven, please know that Jesus died for your sins precisely because your good works could never merit you any favor with the Father. He is the only way to the Father; He is the only way to eternal life.

The cross proves how much Jesus loves us; He was willing to die in our place.

It’s Jesus’ righteousness that counts, not our own. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The cross proves how much Jesus loves us; He was willing to die in our place. If you have not yet put your faith in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of your sins, please do not reject His gracious and loving offer of life any longer.

The time of the end is rapidly approaching, please turn to the Savior before it is too late. Jesus said He would return when we do not expect.

Why Such Little Excitement?

 

Alaska Sunrise
“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”

We have so much with which to be excited as we look forward to Jesus’ appearing to take us home, but so often we lose our eagerness for it. Why does this happen? Why do even seasoned students of prophecy sometimes lose their eagerness for eternity? Why do I lose my excitement for what lies ahead?

It’s so easy to live as though this lifetime is all we have, is it not? We get up, go to work, drive home, eat, watch TV, and go to bed. We do a hundred different things throughout the day that focus our attention solely on this life and soon we forget about forever.

We dwell in the anxiety of the moment rather than in the thrill of hope that comes from a joyous expectation of what lies ahead.

I am not saying we must concentrate on eternity all day long; we would never get anything done at work or at home. But so often we go about our daily routines with a one-world perspective oblivious to the joys ahead for us in eternity. In essence, we live as though we have no hope beyond the grave despite what we claim to believe. We dwell in the anxiety of the moment rather than in the thrill of hope that comes from a joyous expectation of what lies ahead.

Why do we lack the eager anticipation of the apostles and early believers regarding the return of Jesus? I believe this happens for a variety of reasons:

Misconceptions

How often have we seen depictions of lonely glorified believers sitting on clouds strumming harps? With such a caricature of eternity, it’s no wonder believers lose their eagerness for heaven. Such a picture dampens our anticipation and understandably so.

Better to live for the moment than wait for an eternity of loneliness sitting on a cloud somewhere in the sky.

Scripture, however, tells us we will reign with Christ in his earthly kingdom and then forevermore throughout eternity. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better than the popular misconceptions of heaven?

Yes, we will sing praises to our Lord throughout eternity; this will be an unstoppable response at seeing the wonders of eternity and fully recognizing all that Jesus did to bring us home. However, our life in heaven will be so much more exciting and better than sitting on hard pews during a lengthy worship service.

I love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, but someday we will be far more than aspiring angels jumping into icy waters to earn our wings. Scripture says we will “judge angels” (1 Cor. 6:3). I am not sure of all that implies, but it certainly distinguishes us from them.

“I’ve Heard That Before”

Back in the 1960s’ and 1970’s, eschatology became a hot topic. Many churches emphasized the imminent return of Jesus. I remember Jack Van Impe coming to my church to teach on prophecy for an entire week. I felt the excitement of waiting for Jesus’ soon return. He could come at any time!

However, many decades have passed since that time. Believers in large numbers have lost their expectancy of Jesus’ soon return and often respond with “I’ve heard that before” to messages telling them to be ready for it. Having looked for Jesus’ appearing for so long myself, I understand the sentiment that finds it difficult to remain watchful as the years fly by.

Yet as we see prophecy begin to be fulfilled in our world today at an amazing pace, if there was ever a time to be watchful, it is now! The signs increasingly point to the soon beginning of what we know as the tribulation and thus to Jesus’ soon appearing that happens before its onset. Can it be much longer before he returns? Don’t let the phrase, “I’ve heard that before,” take your eyes off the prize! Jesus could come at any moment!

Silence

Unfortunately, rather than increase their focus on Jesus’ return for us as the signs multiply all around us, many churches remain silent. Such silence not only takes our eyes off eternity but also deadens our joyous expectation of Jesus’ appearing. How can believers today look forward to something they never hear about?

The passing references to everlasting life that we do hear from our pulpits fail to excite us. Assurances of an undefined eternity do little to instill eagerness in us for it. This is why we need a renewed focus on what Scripture reveals about the joys ahead for us rather than bland affirmations of heaven, which do so little to stir our hearts, relieve our anxieties, or comfort us in the midst of sorrow.

The silence in so many churches regarding the amazing truths of eternity sadly dulls our anticipation of the amazing joys ahead for us in forever.

Without the exciting biblical vision of our future hope, it’s difficult to imagine how heaven can be any better than IPhones, smart TV’s, electronically-equipped cars, comfortable homes, and a host of other items that add enjoyment and comfort to our everyday lives. Can heaven really surpass the comforts and wonders of this life? Yes! Absolutely! The silence in so many churches regarding the amazing truths of eternity sadly dulls our anticipation of the amazing joys ahead for us in forever.

Not only that, the silence in many churches adds to the prevailing confusion about Jesus’ appearing. Without sound teaching about our hope, many Christians fall victim to false teachings that take away their hope in Jesus’ return and keep their eyes focused on earthbound goals and aspirations where hope and joy eventually fade away.

Teaching Without a Two-world Perspective

When churches ignore a biblical two-world perspective that includes eternity, they can unwittingly make things such as happy marriages, good parenting, and wise financial planning, our ultimate hope rather than Jesus’ return. Of course, biblically-centered teaching on such matters is absolutely essential. Without a two-world perspective integrated into such instruction, however, these things can easily become the consuming focus of our lives rather than our hope in Jesus’ appearing and eternity with Him.

The danger comes from placing our hopes on temporal results where so many factors, including the sinful choices of ourselves and others, negatively impact the outcomes we so greatly desire. The New Testament teaches believers to expect difficult times in this life (James 1:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6, 4:12-13). Scripture promises us paradise in eternity, not now. We set ourselves up for great disappointment when we define anything in this life as our ultimate hope, even if it’s biblical and desirable.

To Sum Up

With all the things of this life continually shouting for our attention, it’s sometimes difficult to stay focused on Jesus and what He is now preparing for us in heaven. Even as someone who often writes about such things, I also feel the pull to put too much of my hope in what I see around me. But I also know from experience that it’s my hope of eternity that relieves anxieties and encourages me on a daily basis.

In today’s stress-filled world, we need more than dull platitudes regarding eternal life. We need our eyes fixed on our wonderful eternal inheritance that is reserved in heaven just for us (1 Pet. 1:3-4, 13). Once there, we will wonder why we ever thought that anything in this life could even come close to comparing with the joys of eternity.

 

Understanding the Times Part Three: So What?

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So what???

So what if we do not hear sermons on prophecy?

As long as we are focused on the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission, does it really matter that so many preachers ignore our hope for eternity?

Isn’t it enough that people come to know the Lord as their Savior? Why do we need to venture into controversial matters such as the Rapture? Will that not detract from our message of hope for the world?

While it’s common to hear such reasoning, is it really scriptural? Are there valid reasons for preaching and teaching about the Lord’s return . . . even at the risk of “upsetting” some Christians?

Yes! Absolutely!

Here is why I believe it is so essential that we teach, preach, and write about Jesus’ return for us.

All Scripture . . .

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Since “all Scripture” is “profitable” for our maturity, for our spiritual growth, why would we ignore such a large portion of it?

The topic of Jesus’ return, and all the events surrounding it, is second only to salvation as the most dominant theme in the New Testament.

There are an estimated 1,845 verses in the Bible that speak to Jesus’ return. Seventeen Old Testament books deal prominently with this matter while 23 of the 27 New Testament books of the Bible refer to Jesus’ appearing for His church, the Second Coming, and the events surrounding His return. Dr. David Jeremiah, my source for this information, states that the topic of Jesus’ return, and all the events surrounding it, is second only to salvation as the most dominant theme in the New Testament.

My question is this: if all Scripture is “profitable” for us, does it not stand to reason that prophecy deserves our attention? Why would the Lord give us so much information regarding His return if He intended our church to remain silent on the topic? He gave us the Bible to build up the church in the faith and teachings on His return and eternity are a key part of the message intended to accomplish that goal.

How does Paul conclude the sections in 1 Thessalonians where he deals with the Rapture? He commands his readers to use the good news of Jesus’ appearing to encourage one another (4:18; 5:11). Our hope is to be a means of comforting each other through the storms of this life.

The Lord did not inspire large portions of Scripture dealing with His return simply to satisfy the curiosity of scholars; He did so to give us hope and bring us to maturity in Christ. Prophecy is not there just for the sake of speculation, it’s essential for building us up in our faith.

Not only does Scripture emphasize the Lord’s return and our hope for eternity, it’s something Jesus emphasized as well.

Jesus Commanded Us to Watch for His Return

After answering His disciples’ questions regarding His return, what did Jesus command them to do?

He instructed them to “stay awake,” to be “ready” for His return (Matt. 24:36-44). He then told them a parable to encourage watchfulness based on the fact that He would return at a time that many would not expect (Matt. 24:45-51). In other words, He could return at any time.

Can you see why the early church emphasized watchfulness and readiness for the Lord’s return? This awareness came straight from the words of the Savior delivered to the early believers through the teachings of the apostles, most of whom heard Jesus’ command to be watchful.

The Second Coming is in no way imminent. It’s not something we currently anticipate because many prophetic events must happen before Jesus returns and stands upon the earth.

Many assume the Matthew 24 passage to be an exclusive reference to his Second Coming. However, Jesus’ Second Coming will not surprise those of His followers who are alive at the time. We know Jesus will return to earth 1,260 days after the antichrist defiles the temple. Anyone living at that time, who understands Scripture, will know the day of Jesus’ return to the earth. They will know the day.

The Second Coming is in no way imminent. It’s not something we currently anticipate because many prophetic events must happen before Jesus returns and stands upon the earth.

It’s the Rapture that will catch many unprepared; that’s the event that Jesus says will happen at a time we may not expect, similar to a thief showing up in the middle of the night.

Furthermore, what were Jesus’ last spoken words to His church? In Revelation 22, he states three times that “I am coming quickly.” Some versions of the Bible translate “quickly” as “soon,” but word here more aptly describes the speed of an event rather than its nearness in time.

Jesus commands us to watch for His return to take us home. His final words to His church emphasize the need to be ready since when He comes for us, it will happen quickly. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:52, those who are alive at the time of His appearing will be changed “in the twinkling of an eye.”

Jesus’ Soon Return Inspires Us to Serve Him

Many today argue that a focus on eternity diverts our attention from taking the Gospel to all the nations of the world. As a result, they emphasize obedience to the Great Commission at the expense of Jesus’ instruction to be watchful for His appearing to take us home.

They forget one thing. The same Jesus who commanded us to take the Gospel to the lost also instructed us to watch for His return; especially as we see the signs of the end of the age occur with greater frequency and intensity, as we do now.

It’s not an “either or.” Both represent obedience to Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples. In fact, I believe that an emphasis on eternity adds fervor to our passion to see people come to saving faith in Jesus.

C. S. Lewis said this regarding the connection between our hope and evangelism, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis said this, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since because Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Lewis blamed our lack of preoccupation with our eternal hope as the reason for our failure to impact the world around us.

I believe C. S. Lewis is correct in his assessment. I suspect Lewis would not have agreed with all my views regarding the Rapture. However, I agree with his recognition that an earthly perspective hinders our work in making disciples. It’s an eternal perspective that drives us forward in spreading the Gospel just as it did for the apostles.

Consider the example of Paul.

In Philippians 3:14 the apostle says this, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I realize that some commentators believe this “upward call” is the call to salvation. However, why would Paul press forward toward something he already possesses?

Although some will disagree, I believe the “upward call” is the return of Jesus for His church. Just a few verses later, Paul describes believers as eagerly waiting with great anticipation of Jesus’ return for us. Does not this fit better with the prize that drove Paul forward?

Yes, the call of salvation is a wonderful reality for all who believe. The word “upward,” however, fits much better with a sense of going up into the heavens such as what we will experience at the rapture. The word was used in the time of Paul of being called up to the stand to receive a prize for winning a race.

I believe Paul regarded the Rapture the imminent prize igniting his passion for serving the Lord.

One common theme we hear today is the lack of giving among believers and how that limits the mission of the church to reach the lost with the Gospel. However, what do we expect when our preaching emphasizes this life to the exclusion of eternity?

During this past tax season I worked at an accounting firm. There I saw many tax returns with people putting large sums of money into their retirement accounts with very little allocated toward giving to churches or even to charities for that matter. It’s natural for those who have no hope in Jesus to do so. But what about believers? Are they not following this pattern as well?

Of course, it’s certainly wise to prepare for retirement. However, when pastors push the reality of eternity to the far distant future, then believers will naturally pour most of their expendable resources into preparing for their future on earth since that represents the only real hope they have before death arrives and eternity begins. It’s only natural to do so if retirement is our only immediate hope.

I confess that if I had believed there was no chance of Jesus coming in my lifetime, my pattern of giving over the past couple decades would have been much different. I would also have placed a greater emphasis on my final years on earth rather than my eternal retirement.

A focus on reaching the lost that ignores our eternal hope is self-defeating by its very nature. While some may press forward undeterred by a lack of understanding regarding the times in which we live, most believers who only hear an earthbound message of hope will soon fall by the wayside occupied with preparing for their future on earth rather than some far and distant eternity, which scarcely seems like a reality to them.

So why should we stress prophecy in our teaching and preaching?

  1. It’s a large part of the Scriptures given to build up followers of Christ in the faith.
  2. We obey Jesus by watching for, and thereby talking about Jesus’ soon appearing to take us home. We obey the Apostle Paul by using our hope of Jesus’ appearing to encourage others.
  3. An emphasis on eternity arriving at any moment energizes followers of Jesus to use their gifts, talents, and resources in the effort of making disciples of all nations.

I am not at all downplaying the necessity of evangelism and missions. I am saying that our anticipation of eternity is the fuel that drives the church forward in this regard. We will not get very far by draining the fuel out of this engine.

Eternity is the future tense of the Gospel we share with the world.

 

Why Such Silence in Our Churches?

Church in the woods

Why are our churches so silent on the matter of Jesus’ return? Jan Markell, in a recent article, noted that 90% of pastors do not preach or teach about the return of our King, the Lord Jesus.

It was not like this during the early days of the church. The sense of imminency for Jesus’ appearing spilled over from the pages of the New Testament into the early centuries of the church.

Today, we see signs of the approaching tribulation everywhere we look. Yet, few pastors even mention the Rapture, the tribulation, Jesus’ Second Coming, or the Millennium. Why do so few truly understand the times in which we live?

Pastor Tom Hughes of The 412 Church in San Jacinto, California recently wrote an article titled, “Five Reasons Pastors Don’t Teach Bible Prophecy.” Briefly, his reasons are as follows:

  1. They don’t understand prophecy
  2. They fear offending members of the church
  3. They sense it will scare people
  4. They fear people will stop giving
  5. They fear looking like fringe groups who take things to an extreme

I agree that these things play a role in the current silence regarding prophecy. However, I believe they are symptomatic of far deeper issues impacting the church today.

False Teaching

From the very beginning, Satan opposed prophetic teaching. By the time the ink was barely dry on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, false teachers delivered a message to the believers in Thessalonica contradicting what Paul wrote concerning the timing of Jesus’ return for His church.

In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul promised the young believers in Thessalonica that Jesus would come for them before the judgments of the “Day of the Lord” (see 5:9). I believe these judgments include the entire seven year tribulation, but that is a topic for another time. Almost immediately after the church read Paul’s first letter, false teachers caused a great panic among these believers by telling them the “Day of the Lord has come” (see 2 Thess. 2:2).

It took only a matter of weeks or perhaps months for Satan to attack our hope embodied in the rapture.

In other words, either they had missed the rapture or Paul was mistaken about the Lord’s return for His church. It took only a matter of weeks or perhaps months for Satan to attack our hope embodied in the rapture.

In his second epistle, Peter warned of false teachers who would arise denying the basics of our hope for Jesus’ return. “Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). Are not many today echoing this same refrain? Does this not sound like the day in which we live?

The current pervasiveness of false teaching on Jesus’ Second Coming should not surprise us. The Bible clearly warned it would happen. It started during the days of the apostles and continued on from there.

In church history, the first prominent naysayer concerning the promises of Jesus’ return was a man named Origen who lived in the early fourth century AD. Influenced heavily by the pagan philosopher Plato, he taught that the promised millennium would be a spiritual kingdom, not something tangible and visible. The Council of Nicea in AD 325 condemned his many wayward beliefs, which included reincarnation as well as the belief that everyone, without exception, would someday be saved.

Many false teachings regarding prophecy persist today and I believe this makes many pastors hesitant to talk about the times in which we live. Rather than become embroiled in controversy or appear extreme, they remain silent. Rather than offend people, they avoid the subject altogether.

As a result, many false ideas regarding Jesus’ return continue unchecked by sound scriptural teaching.  The lack of sound teaching about prophecy only serves to further the spread of false teaching.

A Failure to Recognize That We Are at War

The avoidance of teaching about the Lord’s return blinds many to another reality.

Many preachers correctly apply the message of our spiritual warfare to the battles of our everyday life and Satan’s attempts to derail our walk with Jesus. Yet few go beyond this struggle to talk about the prophetic implications of the devil’s geopolitical war against the Lord, Israel, followers of Christ, and God’s Word.

The battle is not between good and bad people, between political parties, or even between politicians we admire and those we do not. As Ephesians 6:12 makes clear, our battle is against demonic forces of varying powers, not flesh and blood. We have a target on our backs, an enemy raging about as a roaring lion seeking to stop Jesus’ soon arrival on earth and destroy us in the process.

Only a worldview through the lens of biblical prophecy offers any sense to the war that daily rages throughout the world.

Satan sees the signs of Jesus’ soon return and it should not surprise us that he is doing everything he can to prevent it. He tried to eliminate the Israelites before Jesus’ first coming; it makes perfect sense he would repeat his strategy with the Second Coming.

Satan knows Jesus will someday return to a restored Israel and his only chance at preventing this is to utterly destroy Israel. We see this in the current massive buildup of weapons aimed at Israel. Scripture describes a great battle in Ezekiel 38-39 where many nations come against Israel. However, God will intervene and rescue His people.

When Satan’s initial attempts to destroy Israel eventually fail, he will use his man, the antichrist, to attempt to stop Jesus’ return to earth. The coming world order will be the mechanism for this coming evil leader to attempt to kill all Jews along with all followers of Christ. We see his plans for this new world order everywhere we look.

We see it in the dramatic growth of the occult and open worship of Satan. We see it in the pictures of small children in agony after another attack of chemical weapons in Syria. We see it in scenes of Christians lined up to be executed. Alas, we also see it in refusal of many politicians from both parties to take a firm stand against the ghastly murder of the unborn and sale of their body parts.

We see it in the hatred toward both Jews and Christians sweeping through the world. This is all setting the stage for the arrival of the antichrist (1 John 2:18). A world aligned with God would never accept the evil designs of the coming world order. The devil must destroy biblical faith and the Judeo-Christian foundations of right and wrong if he is to accomplish his purposes through the antichrist.

As followers of Christ, we are caught up in a war we cannot ignore. An understanding of the times in which we live not only gives us insight into the war around us, but also gives us the courage to push back against the enemy.

A Failure to Recognize Our Place in God’s Redemptive Story

I believe the silence in our pulpits regarding prophecy results not so much from a lack of understanding of prophecy as it does from a failure to grasp the full extent of the glorious message of the Gospel. There is a future tense to the Gospel; one in which Jesus’ returns to earth, binds Satan, and sets up His righteous kingdom over all the earth.

As believers, we are born into God’s redemptive story. Of course there is an enemy. Have you ever read a great story where there was not an adversary, someone opposing the hero of the story? So often we enjoy great dramas not realizing they also speak to our struggles and ultimate victory over our greatest foe.

Of course there is an enemy. Have you ever read a great story where there was not an adversary, someone opposing the hero of the story?

So yes, we are at war and that is where the good news begins. John Eldredge compares our adventure to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo played a vital role in saving the world of his day from the evil Saran. Eldredge calls it living mythically; grasping the reality of the great adventure of redemption of which we are all a part.

The magnificent story of our redemption includes Jesus’ saving work on our behalf in the past as well as His current work inside us through the Holy Spirit. However, we are also saved in hope of a glorious future, in hope of the completion of our adoption into God’s family and the redemption of our bodies (see Rom. 8:24).

Our salvation points to the future. Is this not why New Testament believers lived in constant expectation of Jesus’ appearing? The Rapture represents the completion of Jesus’ saving work on our behalf when we receive our immortal bodies and are caught up to forever be with our Savior.

We are not simply spectators in God’s glorious redemptive program; we are active participants. The spiritual kingdom, on whose behalf we now engage as warriors, will someday become a glorious physical kingdom in which we will reign alongside Jesus.

We all play a role in this great undertaking. Our mere presence on earth restrains Satan’s plans for world dominance; or more precisely, it’s the Holy Spirit inside each one of us that now restrains the work of the coming antichrist. Our prayers . . . our prayers make a great difference in the battle into which we were born the moment we trusted Christ as our Savior.

Do you understand why Satan works so hard to keep believers from understanding the true nature of the battle and their amazing role in God’s glorious plan of redemption? Believers with eyes focused on earth-bound hopes are much less of a threat to his ultimate plans.

Things are not as they seem; there is a much greater reality than what we see with our eyes.

Just like the ending to Beauty and the Beast, the Lord will someday gloriously transform everything we see; He will make all things new. The coming transformation of God’s people and His creation will make the ending to Beauty and Beast seem rather dull by comparison.

A proper perspective of our place in the Lord’s redemptive story negates all the factors that keep many pastors from talking about prophecy. The subject may very well scare us at times; our role requires courage, faith, and a heart devoted to bringing God the glory due His name.

The call of Jesus, repeatedly echoed by His apostles, is to watch and be ready for His return (read Matt. 24:42-51). His last spoken words to the church in Revelation 22 also echo this same plea for readiness.

This perspective energizes our faith and determination to serve the Lord in making disciples of all nations.

Why did Jesus encourage both fervent watchfulness and a passion for reaching the lost? Why is it so critical that we hear both messages from our pastors and teachers?

Stay tuned . . . .

Understanding the Times

Signs pointing up

In 1 Corinthians 10:6, Paul says that the sins of the Israelites in the wilderness happened as an “example” that we might not follow in their footsteps. On the other hand, we find many positive models of faith in the Old Testament we can follow such as some men from the tribe of Issachar.

In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we read this about them, “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.” What did they understand? They knew it was time to make David king over all of Israel, not just Judah. They understood the times in which they lived.

The Pharisees, during the time of Jesus, lacked such insight. In Matthew 16:1-4, Jesus scolded them for not recognizing Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They correctly predicted the weather based on signs in the sky, but they missed all the signs identifying Jesus as the promised One of Israel. They failed to understand the times in which they lived.

What about us today? Do we understand the times in which we live?

There are eight times more references regarding Jesus’ return to earth than for His first appearance.

There are eight times more references regarding Jesus’ return to earth than for His first appearance. In Matthew 24, Jesus repeatedly instructs us to be watching and ready for His return. He said this after providing many signs of His return so we would know when that time was drawing near.

In spite of this, many believers are asleep today. They hear no urgency regarding Jesus’ return in their churches. Instead, many pastors downplay any imminence regarding Jesus’ appearing. They tell us that Jesus will someday bring heaven to us, but not any time soon. Jesus’ return is a far distant event, they tell us, without any relevance for our current lives.

This is NOT how the early church regarded Jesus’ appearing.

Early Believers Eagerly Awaited Jesus’ Appearing

If there is one thing that the Lord has impressed upon me during the past year, it’s that the apostles instilled an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return in the hearts of early believers.

In 1 Corinthians 1:7 Paul said this, “. . . as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The apostle repeated this same thought in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The sense in both verses is not just that of simply waiting, but of an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return for them. The believers in Corinth and Philippi deeply longed for Jesus’ appearing. They watched for it with great desire as well as fervent expectation.

We also see this same sentiment among the Thessalonian believers. Turning to Jesus, away from their idolatry, led to their eager awaiting of His return (see 1 Thess. 1:8-10). In Titus 2:13, Paul said that the result of  turning to Christ signified, among other things, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” For these early followers of Christ, believing the Gospel was synonymous with waiting and watching for Jesus’ appearance.

A GEICO commercial portrays a spy fleeing from both armed men and a black helicopter. His phone rings as his adversaries appear ready to capture him. Thinking the call is from those coming to rescue him he answers the phone shouting, “Where are you?” We then see and hear his mom calmly talking about squirrels in the attic after which the narrator says, “If you’re a mom, you call at the worst time. It’s what you do.”

Reflecting on what Paul said in the verses quoted above, we might expect him to say something similar: “If you believe the Gospel, you live in expectancy of Jesus’ return. It’s what you do.”

Passage after passage in the New Testament points to Jesus’ appearing as our immediate expectation.

New Testament believers watched for and anticipated the appearing of Jesus as something that could happen at any moment.

The Early Church

Many object to the idea of such imminency reasoning that if this was the expectation of New Testament believers, why did no one in the early church, after the time of the apostles, believe this?

Church history tells us a much different story than what many might expect.

The Didache, which means “teaching” in the Greek, is a brief document from the early decades of the church that provides insight into its beliefs regarding Jesus’ return or the rapture, as we call it today. Scholars believe the Didache originates from as early as AD 70, although it likely was not formally compiled until around AD 300.

Chapter 16 of this short document contains instructions regard watching for the coming of the Lord, “Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come.”

Reflecting on Jesus’ command in Matthew 24, the Didache reflects the same imminency regarding the Lord’s appearing that we see in throughout the New Testament.

The church, well into the fourth century AD, remained almost uniformly premillennial. The early church looked for Jesus to return, setup His kingdom, and reign for 1,000 years. Prominent early church fathers such as Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian strongly advocated the literal interpretation of Revelation 19-20. They uniformly proclaimed their belief in Jesus’ return to reign upon the earth!

Irenaeus, writing late in the second century AD envisioned the Lord coming for His church just as Paul promised in 1 Thessalonians 4.

Irenaeus, a prominent early church father, believed Jesus would return for His church before a period of tribulation upon the earth. In his famous book Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 29, he said this, “And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, ‘There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.’”

Using the same terminology as Paul did in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Irenaeus said Jesus would take believers out of this world before a time of great tribulation upon the earth. Irenaeus, writing late in the second century AD envisioned the Lord coming for His church just as Paul promised in 1 Thessalonians 4. This would happen, according to Irenaeus, before a time of tribulation on the earth.

Another reference to the imminency of Jesus’ return comes from a most interesting person in church history known as Ephraem the Syrian (also known as Saint Ephraim of Edessa). Born in AD 306, he became a monk, a poet, a writer of hymns, and a preacher. Some believe he attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325.

In his sermon entitled On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, Ephraim clearly referred to the Lord coming for believers before the day of the Lord, before the tribulation. As such, he strongly encouraged believers to be ready for the soon appearing of Jesus to take His church out of this world after which the world would be engulfed in a time of great turmoil and suffering.

The belief in the imminency of Jesus’ return for His church did not end with the apostles. It carried over into the early centuries of the church. As late as the fourth century AD, we find an example of someone warning believers to be ready for Jesus’ return ahead of a period of tribulation upon the earth.

What Are the Signs Today?

Fine, you may be saying, but how does that relate to us today? Is there any evidence Jesus is coming soon? After two thousand years of waiting, should we still be expecting Him to appear at any moment?

YES! (I’m so glad you asked!) There are many, many signs we are living in the days leading up to the Great Tribulation and hence to Jesus’ return for us just prior to that, known as the rapture.

In Matthew 24:15, Jesus repeated Daniel’s prophecy that a coming world leader, the antichrist, would defile the temple in Jerusalem during a time of tribulation upon the earth. Irenaeus, 150 years later, also wrote about how the antichrist would someday perform such an abomination in the temple.

Although the Jews currently have no temple, a group known as the Temple Institute is busily preparing for its construction. The architectural designs are complete as are many of the furnishings for the Third Temple. The altar is ready for sacrifices and if you are a Levite, you can attend a special school to train for serving as a priest in the new temple.

The signs Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:4-14 are coming true today as never before in human history. We live in amazing times!!!

The signs Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:4-14 are coming true today as never before in human history. Indicators of Jesus’ return to earth at the end of the tribulation abound today. Earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, famines, and persecution of believers already occur with increasing frequency and intensity and will continue to do so all through the tribulation. Just like birth pangs, these signs are occurring more frequently and with greater intensity.

Ezekiel 38-39 speaks of a great war against Israel in the later days. Remarkably, we see the nations lining up exactly and precisely as predicted in these chapters. The nations prophesied to come against Israel have now joined forces as never before in history. The countries that remain on the sidelines during this conflict, including Saudi Arabia, are now aligning with Israel, at least to some degree.

Each day, we see increased tensions between Israel and the leaders of this coalition: Russian, Iran, and Turkey. The discoveries of rich deposits of natural gas and oil in Israel add to the intrigue and provide much motivation for these countries to someday attack Israel.

As Amir Tsarfati recently stated, today we see the history being written that will lead up to the great conflict of Ezekiel 38-39.

The Bible also predicts that a one world government and one world religion will engulf the world during the tribulation. The foundations for both these realities are carefully being laid so that once the church is gone, they can quickly be put in place. Not since the time of the Roman Empire has there been such an emphasis on unifying the planet under one world order.

With so many indicators of the approaching tribulation abounding today, why do so many preachers push Jesus’ appearing to the far distant future?

Why do so few believers recognize the signs of Jesus’ soon imminent return? Why do so few really understand the times in which we live?

I am often perplexed myself by these questions.

In my next post, I will examine why I believe so many pastors as well as believers do not understand the day in which we live and hence are not watching for Jesus’ return.

 

The Promise of Jesus’ Return

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Picture by Pol Sifter

Imagine the entire state of Texas covered two feet deep with silver dollars. If you have ever spent any time driving in Texas, you realize this is a huge number of coins. In addition, let’s say one of the coins is painted red.

What are the odds that someone could be blindfolded, walk into Texas, and pick up the red coin on the very first try? The chances of doing so would be exceedingly low, almost nonexistent. Peter W. Stoner, the former Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena City College placed the likelihood of doing so at 1017 or 1 in 100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000.

Peter W. Stoner joined with Robert C. Newman to write the book Science Speaks in which they calculated the odds of any one person in history fulfilling eight key prophecies regarding the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Their calculation came out to the number above, 1 in1017 or same odds as the blindfolded person walking into Texas and picking up the red silver dollar on the first try.

Old Testament Prophecies of Jesus’ First Coming

In all, Jesus fulfilled forty-eight clear and specific prophecies during His first coming. Christmas reminds us of so many of these prophecies.

The prophet Micah, whose ministry lasted from about 750-700 BC, predicted Jesus’ birth in the town of Bethlehem (5:2). The scribes and chief priests knew this, but failed to investigate the claims of the wise men (Matt. 2:1-4).

Matthew recounts Isaiah’s prophecy and fulfillment that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a Son whose name would be Immanuel (see Isa. 7:14 and Matt. 7:22-23).

Other prophecies concerning Jesus’ birth include the killing of the Jewish children in Bethlehem (Jer. 31:15) and the journey to Egypt to escape the killing (Hos. 11:1).

I am sure you are aware of the many other prophecies that Jesus fulfilled through His birth, life, death, and resurrection. Including the specific promises referenced above, there are over 300 verses in the Old Testament that speak of Jesus’ first coming.

The Promise of Jesus’ Second Coming

What about Jesus’ Second Advent? Are there as many Bible references to it?

Yes, Dr. Grant Jeffries estimated that there are about 2,400 verses in the Bible dealing with Jesus’ return to the earth.

The Old Testament prophets speak often of Jesus’ return to earth as King and of His rule over a restored Israel. Isaiah 9:6-7 speaks both of Jesus’ birth and future reign on the throne of David. Isaiah 25:6-9 depicts the Lord’s future rule as a time of feasting, of the elimination of death, and of the wiping away of all tears.

Zechariah 14:9 says, “And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” Many verses in the Psalms echo this same hope such as 99:1, “The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake.”

Jesus describes His second coming in a couple places in the book of Matthew (24:29-31; 26:64). Almost the entire book of Revelation speaks of events leading up to Christ’s return, His coming in great glory and power, His defeat of the antichrist, and His future kingdoms.

Almost every epistle in the New Testament makes reference to Jesus’ appearing to take His church back to His Father’s house as Christ first introduced to His disciples in John 14:1-3.

The Bible is full of references to Jesus’ return and what that will mean for the end of history as we know it. As such, it has great implications for our lives.

What Does This All Mean?

In Matthew 16:1-3, Jesus chided the Pharisees and Scribes for not recognizing Him as the Messiah. While they recognized the signs of an approaching storm based on the sky, they could not “interpret the signs of the times.” They missed recognizing their Messiah due to their misunderstanding of prophecy.

What does that say for us who have eight times more verses relating to the end times than what they had for Jesus’ first arrival on earth?

What does all this tells us about our hope?

  1. Jesus’ return to earth is an extremely important event in God’s eyes. Why would we have so many more verses regarding Jesus’ return than for His first coming if this were not the case? Clearly, the Lord wants us to be ready and watching as He so often instructs us in Matthew 24-25. If Jesus chided the Pharisees for ignoring the signs of His coming, how much more does He expect us to be aware of the indications of the end times?
  2. The study of future things is not something to be ignored or overlooked. God gave us 2,400 verses for a purpose; He intends for us to know about His return and be aware of the signs of His return. This subject is not simply something for theologians to discuss; it’s intended for all of us to study and know.
  3. We are not meant to live solely focused on this life. Clearly, the multitude of verses points us to eternity over and over again. We are not meant to live as though this life represents the sum total of our existence.

The Lord intends us to put our hopes in eternity and let the joy ahead for us filter back to relieve our anxieties and fears.

I like the way Paul David Tripp refers to our lack of attention to eternity:

        It is an item on each of our theological outlines, but we don’t actually live as though we believe it. We all say that we believe that this is not all there is. We say we really do believe that there is life after this one ends. Our formal theology contains the fact of a new heaven and a new earth to come. But we tend to live with the anxiety and drivenness that come when we believe that all we have is this moment.[i]

In 1 Peter 1:13 the apostle says, “. . . set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Our hope is not in this fleeting life where disappointments and frustrations so frequently rule the day. All too quickly our health fades and then what?

That’s why Scripture so frequently speaks of Jesus’ return and our future hope. It’s meant to relieve our striving as though this life were all that matters.

Prophecy gives us hope for tomorrow. Regardless of what we face today, a much, much better day is coming.

Prophecy gives us hope for tomorrow. Regardless of what we face today, a much, much better day is coming. As followers of Christ, we will live forever in immortal bodies that will never grow old or get sick. That alone should make us rejoice.

Since Jesus fulfilled all 48 specific prophecies regarding His first appearance on earth, He will certainly fulfill all the prophecies of His return. We can count on all the predictions of the last days coming to past just as the Bible tells us. God’s Word will never fail to come to pass.

Jesus is coming again!

Maranatha!

[i] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies – A daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton: Crossway 2014), March 11

Does the Pretribulation Rapture Favor the “Lucky Few?”

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A common objection to the pretribulation rapture states that this position must be wrong because it provides a way for believers in the United States to escape persecution. If Jesus returns before the rapture, then Christians in America will be the “lucky few” in church history to escape violent opposition because of their faith.

I first heard this argument while attending seminary and dismissed it because it used human reasoning rather than the words of Scripture.

However, given the continued popularity of this sentiment, as voiced by the blogger I recently read, I decided to address this matter.

The intent of this post is not to prove the pretribulation rapture position, but rather to show why the need of Americans to suffer persecution is an invalid argument against it.

What is the Argument All About?

The blogger I mentioned previously makes the following point against the pretribulation rapture:

Third, with the Pre-Trib scenario, there is little or no reason to think the “last” generation of Christians will undergo anything resembling what all the preceding generations of Christians had to face in the way of persecution and trials. Does this point to a fair and impartial God? I believe this is inconsistent with Scripture and history, and it thereby allows for the immediate translation to heaven of a “lucky” few who will arrive on the shores of Glory with empty hands and perhaps relatively unchanged hearts.[i]

In other words, the pretribulation rapture cannot be true because it allows a “lucky few” number of Christians to escape persecution while all other generations of believers have had to endure it.

It’s Never Been Equal

In response, I would say that the violent persecution against the church, to which this blogger refers, has never been equal among churches in the same era or even across generations for that matter.

In Revelation 2-3 we see a wide variety of experiences regarding persecution. The church at Smyrna suffered greatly (2:8-11) while other churches experienced significantly lesser amounts of oppression. Jesus promised the church at Philadelphia that they would escape “the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell on the earth” (3:10). Presumably, other churches would experience this time of testing or persecution while they would not.

Does the fate of previous generations of the church in America imply God’s unfairness because they did not suffer open persecution for their faith? Absolutely not!

Many generations of believers in America have faithfully walked with Christ and died without experiencing the intense persecution to which the blogger refers. Does this imply God’s unfairness because they did not suffer such open persecution for their faith? Absolutely not!

As I said in my previous post, a huge difference exists between wrath and persecution. The same Jesus who said His followers would experience persecution for their faith in this life also promises to take His church out of the world before the wrath of the day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:1-9).

What About Christians in the Middle East?

The blogger’s argument only applies if the church exists just in the United States. If the biblical truths of the rapture apply to the church worldwide, then how are we to make sense of this line of reasoning?

Christians throughout the Middle East face torture and death for their faith. Muslim Jihadists routinely crucify and behead children as well as adults because of their love for Jesus.

Just this past week, Muslim extremists ignited an explosion at a Coptic church in Egypt; the bomb killed dozens of Christians. in Nigerian, Boko Haram has murdered thousands of believers and burned down countless churches. Never before in history has the church experienced such severe persecution as we see today.

Many in America also face opposition for their faith. Christian bakers have lost everything as a result of standing up for what they believe. The shooter in Oregon last year singled out Christians to be killed while sparing Muslims from death.

When applied beyond the orders of our nation, this argument against the pretribulation rapture falls apart. God’s Word must be the source for our theology, not the experience of a limited section of the church.

What Does it all Mean?

The Lord tests the faith of every believer. Regardless of our experience on earth, no believer will arrive in heaven “with empty hands and perhaps relatively unchanged hearts” as this blogger asserts. This is a hurtful assertion that contributes nothing to the argument for or against the pretribulation rapture.

Our hope for eternity, regardless of what we experience, is Jesus and Him alone. And, He is returning for us just as He promised He would do.

The Lord tests the faith of those who follow Him. I have yet to see an exception to this.

Our hope for eternity, regardless of what we experience, is Jesus and Him alone. And, He is returning for us just as He promised He would do.

Throughout eternity, Christians from a multitude of nations, with as many stories as people, will sing praises to God for how He delivered them through their times of suffering. Many will be martyrs for Jesus while others will have experienced lighter persecution by comparison.

Regardless, we will have one great theme in common. We will all ascribe glory to Jesus alone for His safe deliverance through all we experienced in this life. In that sense, we will all equally stand before the Lord empty-handed as regardless of what endure on earth. He will be the only One worthy of all our praise and adoration for bringing us safely home.

Or salvation comes solely by grace through faith; it’s never a matter of what we do or even experience that makes us any more or less worthy of eternal life or for God’s deliverance from His wrath.

His righteousness is all that matters now and forevermore!

Maranatha!!!

[i] John Miltenberge, Rapture