What If Jesus Said “Relax Guys . . . ?

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Perhaps one of the more perplexing matters in the New Testament is the sense of imminent expectation regarding the Lord’s return.  We see this all through its pages.

Jesus said, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). Jesus instructed His disciples to expect His appearing at any moment.

All through the epistles, we read of the New Testament saints eagerly watching for the Savior’s appearance (see Rom. 8:23; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; and Titus 2:11-13). It’s clear that those who read the apostles’ letters anticipated Jesus’ return at any moment, too.

Yet, 2,000 years have passed since then. How do we understand Jesus’ command the expectancy of the New Testament saints?

What if we look at it from another perspective? What if . . . ?

What if Jesus had said this to His disciples? “Relax guys; it’s going to be a very long time until I return. It may be one or two thousand years before the world sees me again.”

What would have been the consequences if Christ had told His disciples of the long delay in His return with no need to watch for His imminent appearing?

1. No Urgency to Share the Gospel

With such a mindset, do you think the apostles would have been so determined to spread the Good News of salvation throughout the world? Would they have turned it upside down?

I don’t think so.

C. S. Lewis said this about the eternal perspective that motivated the apostles:

“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.”[i]

The minds of the apostles and others who followed them were fixed on eternity because of their awareness that Jesus could return at any moment.

When Jesus’ return ceases to be an imminent possibility, His followers stop thinking about “the other world,” or eternity, and their urgency to share the Gospel diminishes. I am not saying that all evangelism ceases; just that for many it becomes less of a priority.

2. Less Motivation for Purity

The apostle John said this about the impact of Jesus’ imminent return upon our lives, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he as pure” (1 John 3:3).

I realize that many other motivations exist that lead to a holy life, but the thought that Jesus could back at any moment heightens our resolve to walk closely with Him. I have found this to be true in my own life.

Of course, we do not earn our salvation. Scripture is clear on that matter.

However, when we live as though at any moment we might find ourselves in Jesus’ presence, it has an impact on our walk with Him and our service to Him. How can it be otherwise?

In Matthew 24:45-51, Jesus addressed what would happen with those who saw His return as a far distant reality. The behavior of most might not be as extreme as with the person in Jesus’ parable, but the point is clear. When people start believing Jesus is not coming back for a very long time, if ever, it ceases to be the motivation for faithful service Jesus intended it to be.

3. We Would Never Start Looking for Jesus’ Appearing

If the church has started out with the knowledge Jesus was going to delay his return by one or two thousand years, how would anyone know when to start watching for his appearing? What would be the key to change from passivity to actively anticipating his arrival? How would we know to start looking for the rapture?

For the prospect of Jesus’ appearing to motivate and comfort believers of all ages, it has to be an ever present possibility. Once we put it off to the distant future, it ceases to be our hope and fails to encourage us in the midst of suffering. It causes the things of this life to grow in importance as we look to the temporal things of earth for comfort rather than eternal realities.

Jesus commanded us to watch and be ready for His return because He knew without it, the results among His followers would be disastrous. We see this all through church history.

Did Jesus deceive us? Absolutely Not! All the saints who have gone before us are now enjoying the glorious joys of eternal life in the presence of their loving Savior and someday will be reunited with their earthly bodies.

For us, it means that the Lord’s patience has resulted in our salvation and the anticipation of a joyous eternity beyond our wildest imaginations.

No one in the past who died waiting for Jesus’ appearing was ever disappointed when Jesus welcomed them into glory.

No follower of Jesus today will feel an ounce of disappointment when the day comes for the trumpet to sound and we see Jesus welcoming us home! It will be oh so worth the wait.

Maranatha!

Note:  This was inspired by JD Farag’s prophecy update on March 18, 2018.

[i] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Collins, Fontana Books, 1955), p. 116. Quoted in Hot Tub Religion, p. 90

Why Such Silence in Our Churches?

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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 . . . .

A Confusion of Roles

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The anti-Trump sentiment has hit a fever pitch in recent weeks over his immigration policies. Even though President Trump’s initiatives differ little from the policies of other recent presidents, this has not stopped the fierce condemnation of his executive orders. Many forget that President Obama stopped all immigration from Iraq for six months in 2011 citing similar reasons for his travel ban that President Trump is giving for his actions.

I saw that over 100 evangelical leaders recently joined together in posting an advertisement in the Washington Post condemning President Trump’s temporary travel ban on immigrants from seven countries where terrorist activity is high.

On the other side, many other Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham and prophecy pastor JD Farag are voicing strong support for the temporary travel ban mandated by the President’s executive order.

Why is the Christian community so divided on immigration? Does Scripture give us any guidance in sorting out these various viewpoints?

What is going on here? Why is the Christian community so divided on this issue? Does Scripture give us any guidance in sorting out these various viewpoints? I believe it does.

The Role of Government in the New Testament

2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (NKJV). Since my early years of attending Awana, this verse has always stuck with me. In the original, the idea of “rightly dividing” Scripture is that of making a “straight cut.” It signifies handling God’s Word accurately.

I believe that the leaders siding with the opponents of Trump are not “rightly dividing” God’s word in that they are not separating the role of the government from that of us as followers of Jesus. They are confusing the role of civil authority with that of believers. Let me explain.

The Bible teaches that the primary role of government is to punish those who break the law and in so doing protect its citizens (Rom. 13:1-7). God entrusts human government with the responsibility of intervening when a crime is committed and gives it the right to punish the wrongdoer.

Our government leaders are entrusted with the responsibility to keep us safe. This is their primary task.

When government does it job correctly, its citizens enjoy a “peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Is this not why we are commanded to pray for our leaders? Our government leaders are entrusted with the responsibility to keep us safe. This is their primary task.

Franklin Graham summed it best, “But we have to realize that the President’s job is not the same as the job of the church.” Government is chiefly responsible for protecting its citizens.  National borders are not some evil invention of humanity, they originate in God’s sovereign purposes for the nations of the world (see Acts 17:26).

Graham’s organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has provided relief for refugees in most of the nations listed on the travel ban. Their hospital outside Mosul in Iraq even cares for wounded ISIS fighters. But as he pointed out in a recent Facebook post, caring for them in Iraq is far different than allowing them to migrate to our nation.

Graham went on to also say this, “Taking time to vet who we’re allowing to enter America isn’t too much to ask—we need to know who they are. God does tell us to help the stranger and those in need; but God doesn’t tell us to expose our cities, homes, and lives to hostile people.”

The primary role of Government is to protect its citizens. The Lord calls believers to a far different task.

The Role of New Testament Believers

As followers of Christ, we are commanded to welcome strangers as well as show mercy and compassion to the hurting. We do not take our own revenge when wronged or if a crime is committed against us or someone we love. Instead, we forgive and place any resolution of justice in the hands of God alone and then with the civil authorities.

The evangelical leaders criticizing the immigration policies of President Trump cited the parable of the Good Samaritan as proof of their argument that we should welcome Muslim refugees to our nation.

The parable, however, speaks to our responsibility to minister for those we encounter in our daily walk. It says nothing about the function of government. Jesus’ words here speak solely to our duty as believers to care for the needs of the hurting that He brings our way. It’s a mistake to apply this to our government that has far different responsibilities.

I applaud the efforts of evangelicals who are ministering in Jesus’ name to the needs of the refugees who have reached our shores. They are acting as “Good Samaritans” to these people. They, along with Samaritan’s Purse, are obeying Jesus’ call to minister to the hurting both here and the Middle East. Many have come to know Jesus as their Savior as a result of these initiatives.

Much confusion results when we apply God’s commands to us as His followers to our government leaders who are tasked with much different obligations.

Are we as followers of Christ commanded to be welcoming to strangers and aliens? Are we to help those in need? Absolutely! This is what Jesus taught through the parable of the Good Samaritan.

This does not, however, imply that our government should open its borders to those who intend to harm us. Its first responsibility is to protect those within its God-ordained borders.

Much confusion results when we apply God’s commands to us as His followers to our government leaders who are tasked with much different obligations.

The Need for Further Discernment

As believers, we must also be discerning of what we hear even though such wisdom is increasingly difficult amidst the avalanche of “fake news.” It’s prevalent everywhere we look. I have all too often become agitated by something I read only later to find out that the story was false or misleading.

There are several things, however, that I believe are well-supported.

We know that refugees from those nations on President Trump’s travel ban have joined in terror attacks in France and Belgium. ISIS has made it clear it intends to enter our country posing as needy refugees. The FBI has already arrested several refugees in our country for their association with ISIS.

Many of the Muslims already here are seeking to impose Sharia Law upon us rather than accept the laws of our land. Sharia Law denies all the rights we currently enjoy because of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. The treatment of women under Sharia Law is both abominable and demonic.

The threat is real and we do need good measures for vetting immigrants who seek refuge in our country.

We are a nation of immigrants and we have derived tremendous strength from those who have come to our shores from other nations. This, however, has come about from those who have come lawfully to our country and then submitted to our laws.

Is our government really fulfilling its God-given purpose if it lets in those who seek to harm us and subvert our laws? Are we really wise to let in strangers who shout “death to America” and make no secret about their hatred for us? I do not believe so.

President Trump’s purpose in the travel ban is meant to accomplish two stated purposes. First, he is seeking to improve the current vetting process, which even the FBI director appointed by President Obama said was insufficient and not capable of keeping out the bad guys. Secondly, the President is seeking to make the process fair for Christians, who are by far the most persecuted group in the Middle East.

During the last year of President Obama, Christian refugees made up about one half of one percent of all the refugees from nations such as Syria. Why the shameful discrimination against persecuted believers? I am happy to hear that our President intends to correct this serious injustice.

Conclusion

Does Scripture place the same responsibility upon government and its leaders as it does upon us as followers of Christ? No. While our leaders in government do not escape responsibility for the justness of their actions, their primary purpose is to punish evil and thereby protect its citizens.

We may disagree on whether President Trump’s policies are necessary for our security and that is fine. Based on what I see here and in Europe, I believe his temporary travel ban is both wise and necessary. I pray it will result in a safer vetting process as well as the acceptance of many more Christian refugees seeking to avoid the brutality of ISIS.

Whatever the outcome of the debate, it’s comforting to know that our hope is solely in Jesus and in His return to take us home. My hope is certainly not based on the government always getting its policies correct nor my ability to always do what’s right in showing mercy to others. My hope is solely in Christ who died in my place that I might have eternal life. I would have no hope apart from Jesus.

Jesus will not fail us regardless of the turmoil we see around us every day. Even when everything we see disappoints us, we can know for sure that Jesus will remain faithful to His own forever and ever.

Never forget that He alone is our hope. He is coming soon to take us home! In the meantime, He will never leave nor forsake us. It does not get much better than that.

If you have never put your trust in Jesus as your Savior, please do so before it is too late.

Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus!