What Did Jesus Tell Us About Our Future?

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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.

 

 

The Nightmares of Yesterday

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As I drove away I thought, “My faded memories of yesterday are real, not just bad nightmares from so long ago.” I had gone back to the town and to the church building where I was the pastor many years ago. I remembered my high hopes and great excitement for the new ministry opportunity. I absolutely loved being a pastor and desired to accomplish great things for the Lord. Everything in my life suddenly turned upside down while there, however, rivaling any bad dream of my past.

I also felt a deep sense of peace and calmness in my heart on my way back home. Yes, the trials were exceedingly painful and severe, but the Lord had delivered me through all of them. The restoring process was quite long, but Jesus has healed me from all the wounds and resulting fears and panic attacks.

During the long healing process, I wrote the story below for myself, to focus my thoughts on the future rather than on what had happened in my past. Perhaps this is why biblical prophecy remains such a passion of mine; it continues my focus on the future.

Here is what I wrote about 25 years ago:

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The Land of What Will Be

The past is a lonely place. We so often journey to this land by ourselves, relive its memories in the solitude of our minds, and linger there, thinking about what might have been.

This barren land of What Might Have Been bears a striking resemblance to Neverland where Peter Pan fled to escape reality. Like boys refusing to grow up, we so often refuse to let go of the faded dreams of our past, now only a faint memory. We tenaciously hold on to the past not realizing that there is only air in our hands. I know; I have visited this deserted isle many times.

Our stay in the land of What Might Have Been is risky. There the pirate of our souls attacks us with his sharp arrows:

“You fool! You should have known better.”

“HA! You got what you deserved.”

“You are the guilty one!”

“It’s all your fault, you know, you should have seen it coming.”

And on it goes in the land of What Might Have Been. No overgrown boy in tights flies to our rescue in this realm. We are there seemingly all alone, feeling the pain, shouldering the burden, and soaking our pillows with tears.

Failed plans, broken relationships, crushed dreams, and telephone conversations with old friends can all take us back to this desolate isle where hard as we might try, nothing changes.

There is another land, however, called What Will Be. It’s a joyful place. Those burdened with the past rarely feel the great joy and happiness of this brighter shore.

Two Men on a Journey

There were two men, however, who with help were able to leave the barren land of What Might Have Been and experience the joy of the land of What Will Be.

As we join these men traveling to their home in the early evening, we notice their heads hanging low. They are despondent, like many of us at times. As tears run down their cheeks, they rehearse the events of the past few days. The one who was to save their nation had been killed, put to death as a common villain.

“If only . . . . If only he had lived. What would it have been like? Freedom from bondage. A safe home for our people. If only he were still alive. Can you imagine how great that would be?”

As they languished in the land of What Might Have Been, a familiar stranger approached from behind and asks, “What are you guys talking about?”

“Are you the only one in this country who does not know what has happened these past several days, how Jesus of Nazareth was betrayed and put to death?” they reply. “Now, to make matters worse, women have visited his tomb and reported that it is empty. They say an angel told them that He is alive. What could have happened to the body?”

Undaunted, the stranger becomes their teacher explaining the ancient Scriptures to them. “The prophets clearly foretold that the Messiah would have to suffer first, and then enter into His glory,” He tells them. Beginning with Moses, he then proceeds to give them a course on Old Testament prophecy far surpassing all that had ever been given since that time.

As the two men approach their home, they feel their hearts burning with hope. They invite the stranger in for supper; and there, as He gives thanks and breaks the bread, they recognize Him.

“This is our Master. He is alive! He has risen from the dead! He is here, in our home, eating at our table!”

As soon as these disciples recognized Jesus, He vanished. Immediately, they got up and raced back to Jerusalem, their feet barely touching the ground.[1]

Our Call to Hope

The same Savior who brought hope and joy to those saddened travelers so long ago knows all about our shattered dreams, crushed hopes, and troubled hearts. He comes alongside us in our pain and feels all the pangs of our loneliness.

Yet He also stands at the edge of the desolate land of What Might Have Been and bids us to leave this desolate territory.

It is not a call to fame and fortune, at least not in this life. We may discover that our circumstances do not change. They may even get worse. The disciples who reveled in the resurrection that first Sunday long ago would face years of persecution for their faith. Except for John who suffered banishment, they would all be put to death for proclaiming the resurrection.

What, then, is the appeal of the land of What Will Be? Hope!

This is not, however, the type of anticipation we think of when we express a desire that the weather will be sunny and warm tomorrow. It may storm all day or even snow.

This hope is certain. Our future joy is just as sure as Christ’s resurrection, which guarantees it with absolute certainty for all those who know Him.

But how does this hope sustain us?

The Example of Jesus

Jesus Himself gives us the best illustration of how it works.

First, consider all that He endured. Betrayed by a trusted companion. Condemned in phony and illegal trials, although He had never done anything wrong His entire life. Denied by a close friend. Beaten, whipped, and mocked by the very men He had created. Nailed to a cross, the cruelest form of execution ever imagined. Scoffed and ridiculed while gasping for air on a cross full of splinters. And worse of all, separated from His beloved Father in heaven.

How did He survive all that? What kept Him from losing His mind? How was He able to forgive and reach out to others in midst of such cruel torture?

Hebrews 12:2 explains how He did it, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Can you imagine a joy so great as to carry someone through all that torment, grief, and agony? Jesus could.

And the good news is that He is willing to share it with us. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus spoke of His home in heaven (the place of joy that sustained Him on the cross) and promised His followers that He would return to take them to a special place He was preparing for them inside that home.[2]

The glory of this future gathering in heaven caused the Apostle Paul to proclaim that the sufferings of this life were really nothing compared to the joy and splendor we will experience in eternity.[3] (If you think Paul had an easy life, read II Corinthians 11:23-33.) Jesus revealed to Paul that the future joy of eternity would make his enormous earthly afflictions seem small in comparison.

Our Eternal Hope

Our hope is this: Jesus has shed His own blood so that we might possess eternal life and enjoy a future joy far beyond anything we can imagine here on earth. And He has risen from the dead to demonstrate that this is no pie in the sky promise. It is real. It is certain. He is coming again.

Will we return to the land of What Might Have Been in a vain attempt to recapture failed dreams? Will we put our ultimate hope in earthly tomorrows that hold no certain promise except that they themselves may someday become candidates for the bleak realm of What Might Have Been?

Will we let Jesus transform our grief into joy as we look forward to the tremendous joys of eternity awaiting all who know Him as their Savior?

Or, will we place our trust in the One who has cancelled all the charges against us and promised us a certain and secure future, one that even the worst of circumstances on earth cannot destroy? Will we fix our eyes on eternity and let that gaze be our strength in a troubled world? Will we let Jesus transform our grief into joy as we look forward to the tremendous joys of eternity awaiting all who know Him as their Savior?

We have a choice. We can remain in the land of What Might Have Been and let the enemy of our souls ravage us with his relentless charges. Or, we can put our lives in the hands of a loving and gracious Savior who longs for us to experience the love, forgiveness, and joy He so freely offers to all who trust Him. The land of What Will Be is real and a place of overwhelming joy and all-encompassing hope.

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This forward gaze to eternity sparked considerable healing in my life in the years after I wrote this story. This is one reason I am so passionate about writing about our hope. It’s not just a matter for theologians to debate, it’s something that redeems our troubled past, relieves our fears of the future, and gives us an unfailing hope for what lies ahead. This is why I write about our thrilling hope; it’s so much more than theology to me!

Where is your ultimate hope today? Does it rest in this troubled and chaotic world or in Jesus and His promises of a glorious eternity?

    [1]Luke 24:13-35

    [2]John 14:2, 3

    [3]Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17, 18

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.

 

Are These the Days of Noah?

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Photo from Ark Encounter Website

No, I am not suggesting that we start building ships or that we rush to the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky hoping that the recreation of Noah’s ark will actually float. I am referring to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 where He said this, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

What characterized the “days of Noah?” Back in Genesis 6, God complained about two things regarding the people of that day. Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of heart was only evil continually.” Besides the extreme wickedness of the time, this expression appears twice, “the earth was filled with violence” (6:11, 13).

For the past couple weeks I have been contemplating a post on violence in our world, but the recent shooting of Steve Scalise and others pushed this to the forefront of my thinking. I believe that the violence we see in our world is a sign we are truly living in the last days of human history.

Violence Fills the Earth

In 2016, there were 2,478 Islamic terror attacks in 59 countries in which 21,237 people were killed and 26,680 people were injured. In just the past 30 days there have been 174 attacks by Islamic Jihadists in which 1,659 people were killed (source for these numbers is thereligionofpeace.com, which chronicles each such attack). These statistics do not include the thousands of Christians whom ISIS beheaded or crucified during the past few years.

During the bloody civil war in Syria over 500,000 people have been killed, according the last numbers I saw on this, and the bloodshed and killing continues unabated in this horrible conflict.

The greatest source of deadly violence in our world continues to be abortion. In our nation alone, over 50 million babies have been murdered since 1973 and worldwide, this number is much higher. Is not God just as grieved by this senseless bloodshed as He is by the bombings and killing also prevalent in our world? I absolutely believe He is.

Wikipedia lists fourteen current and ongoing wars in our world, including the civil war in Syria, with 1,000 or more deaths each year. The Mexican drug war has claimed the lives of 138,000 people since 2006 with over 12,000 dying because of this violence in 2016 alone.

Does violence fill the earth at this time? Absolutely! We do not know the statistics of violence during the days of Noah, but I have to think what we see around us certainly qualifies as an apt comparison.

The Acceptance of Violence

What’s also disturbing to me is the growing acceptance of violence in our nation. The popularity of the play currently running in New York City portraying the assassination of President Trump demonstrates this growing acceptance of violence. This play is not sponsored, as you might suspect, by some lunatic fringe group, but by the New York Times and other well-known companies. I would condemn such a play regardless of who was president; it would sicken me just as much.

More people have been arrested for violence and for threats of violence in the past six months than in the prior ten years.

Illinois State Senator David Syverson recently posted this on his Facebook page about the growing acceptance of violence, “What’s different about the few random threats made in the past vs today is usually they were made by lone wolves or individuals with no credibility. Their actions were soundly criticized and shut down from all fronts. Today these individuals who are inciting violence are ‘credible’ leaders, in their circles. They have followers and their actions and statements are covered respectfully by the media.”

Senator Syverson also stated that more people have been arrested for violence and for threats of violence in the past six months than in the prior ten years.

The shooting of Steve Scalise was not some random or isolated event; it predictively grew out the frenzied hatred and vitriol by many on the left and in the media toward President Trump and toward Republicans by virtue of their association with him.

Granted, the vast majority of people who oppose President Trump do not advocate violence against him, but the standing ovations at the end of the play advocating his assassination and the often repeated calls for violence against our President sadly testify to the growing acceptance of violence in our culture.

Legitimate protests are a treasured part of our national heritage; it’s those that turn violent or promote violence that not only show a growing acceptance of violence but also cause much harm to our nation.

However, there is overwhelmingly great news for those of us who know the Lord Jesus as their Savior.

A Day Like Any Other

In comparing the days leading up to His coming to the days of Noah, the Lord also made this interesting statement, “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Matt. 24:38). The flood came on a day that started out just like any other day for those who rejected the warnings of Noah.

For us who know Jesus, it will be a day glorious beyond anything we have ever experienced.

Until the moment Jesus returns for His church, life will proceed on earth pretty much as normal as well; there will likely not be any great sign or worldwide catastrophe signaling His appearing to take His church home. Just as in the days of Noah, life will seem normal. It will be a day like any other, that is, until Jesus takes us away to be with Him.

For us who know Jesus, it will be a day glorious beyond anything we have ever experienced.

Please pray for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. I believe it is vital that we pray for their safety as well as all those around them in the Whitehouse and in the leadership of Congress. If anything, the shooting of Steve Scalise has intensified my prayers for our President and for his wellbeing.

Pray also for the continued and full recovery of Representative Scalise; we need his principled leadership in Congress. He is leading the fight in Congress against the growing problem of sex trafficking. (Update: Steve Scalise continues to improve; God is answering our prayers).

 

Eternity Amnesia

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As I read Paul David Tripp’s devotion today about “eternity amnesia,” I was struck by how well his comments help us understand the madness we see around us in the world today and also, sadly, to some degree in the church.

I’m referring to Tripp’s June 7 devotional in his book, New Morning Mercies, which I read again this morning. Because his words are so pertinent to the time in which we live and to our needs as followers of Christ, allow me to share some of what he wrote:

“It is sad how many people constantly live in the schizophrenic craziness of eternity amnesia. We were created to live in a forever relationship with a forever God forever. We were designed to live based on a long view of life. We were made to live with one eye on now and one eye on eternity.  You and I simply cannot live as we were put together to live without forever. But so many people try. They put all their hopes and dreams in the right here, right now situations, locations, possessions, positions, and people of their daily lives. . . . They demand that a seriously broken world deliver what it could never deliver even if it were not broken. . . .

“Your eternity amnesia makes you unrealistically expectant, vulnerable to temptation, all too driven, dependent on people and things that will only disappoint you, and sadly susceptible to doubting the goodness of God. Recognizing the eternity that is to come allows you to be realistic without being hopeless, and hopeful when things around you don’t encourage much hope.

“And Scripture is clear—this is not paradise, and it won’t be. Rather, this moment is a time of preparation for the paradise that is to come. . . .”

“The evidence is clear—there just has to be more to life than this. This broken, sin-scarred mess can’t be all there is. And Scripture is clear—this is not paradise, and it won’t be. Rather, this moment is a time of preparation for the paradise that is to come, where everything that sin has broken will be fully restored to what God originally intended it to be.”

Dr. Tripp asked this penetrating question, “Are you experiencing the schizophrenia of have eternity hardwired into your heart but living as if this moment is all there is?’

His comments sum up my motivation for writing. I write to remind myself and others that this life is not all there is. I seek to draw the attention of Christ-followers away from the drudgery of day to day living to the glorious eternity awaiting them in eternity. For those who do not rest upon Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life, my desire is that they find true life and hope in Christ and in Him alone.

Yes, I have strong convictions regarding the timing of Jesus’ return for His church. But my overriding concern is that we do not place our hope in the fleeting things of this earth but look to Jesus’ return and the joy ahead for us.  I know just how easy it is to slip into hoping in the things of this life while forgetting the wonderful and glorious promises of life ahead for us in eternity.

Is not the angst and hatred we see many times on social media the result of putting all of ones hope in the things of this life rather than eternity? I am so grieved by what I see because it shows a longing for paradise in this life, which will never happen, and reveals a lack of any hope beyond our short stay here. Our lasting and yes eternal hope rests solely in Jesus and His promise to return for us, to take us to forever be with Him.

Who else but Jesus could accurately predict His death and the exact timing of His resurrection?

Jesus’ resurrection makes His promises sure. Who else could accurately predict His death and the exact timing of His resurrection? And, if His words are that accurate, then we can absolutely trust His warnings of the coming tribulation, His promise to return for His church, and His vivid description of His return to earth after the tribulation.

It’s when I forget about eternity that this life takes on a frightful dimension (and I get too caught up in making comments of Facebook, ones that I later regret).

One the other hand, it’s the sure hope of eternity that has sparked so much healing in my soul from the wounds of my past and keeps me joyously pushing forward in spite of the aches and pains of this life and in spite of the shifting winds of politics.

Let me close by repeating Dr. Tripp’s question (that by the way a year ago shaped the title of this blog), “Are you experiencing the schizophrenia of have eternity hardwired into your heart but living as if this moment is all there is?’

Maranatha!! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

 

 

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 . . . .