What Do the Signs Tell Us?

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Last night while we were sleeping, Israeli jets attacked a chemical and biological weapons manufacturing plant in Syria that was operated by the Iranians. It was the largest such airstrike in Syria in the past ten years. The Iranians and Syrians are both furious and vowing revenge.

Israel is expecting an attack in response. During the past several days, the Israeli army has conducted its biggest military exercise in twenty years in the northern part of the country. The planning of the exercise was clearly staged to coincide with the airstrike so as to have the army already in place.

I just finished listening to a video by Amir Tsarfati where I got much of the above information. He is a former military officer in the Israeli army and maintains many key contacts. I will provide a link to his update at the end of this post.

What does it all mean?

The Signs of the End Are Increasing

It’s almost impossible to keep up with all that is happening right now. The news regarding Irma dominates the news as one might expect. The fires out west would perhaps be the lead story on the news if were it not for hurricanes Harvey and Irma. A place in Idaho, which is not far from Yellowstone Park, has experienced over a hundred small earthquakes in the past few days. In the past seven days, there have been 107 earthquakes in the world with an intensity of 4.0 or greater.

Threats and rumors of war are becoming common to the point where we scarcely notice them anymore.

Besides the raised probability of a war in the Middle East, we also hear the repeated North Korean threats of launching a nuclear attack against the United States. Threats and rumors of war are becoming common to the point where we scarcely notice them anymore.

In South Asia, the death toll from monsoons and resulting flooding has reached 1,400 with millions of acres of cropland destroyed. This will only increase the great famines in the world that go largely unreported.

These signs have been increasing in intensity for a long time, but Israel’s attack on Syria seems to up the stakes. We know from Ezekiel 38-39 that in the last days an alliance led by Russia, Iran, and Turkey will attack Israel. These nations are not only closely tied together at the present time, but all have a significant military presence in Syria, very close to the border of Israel.

Could an attack such as we saw last night be the spark that begins the war that the prophet Ezekiel describes? It’s altogether possible. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly warned both Russia and Iran in past couple weeks that he will not allow the continuing buildup of Iranian military forces in Syria. Last night’s airstrike on the chemical weapons plant shows that he is not bluffing, but dead serious about his intentions.

It’s a Time for Greater Watchfulness and Readiness

I believe all these things signify that we are living in the last days before the tribulation starts and the judgments of Revelation 6-16 occur. Based on my study of Scripture, I believe that Jesus will come for His church before this awful day starts (although some disagree with me).

As such, I believe Jesus’ return for us is getting very close. However, we must not set dates as He is much more patient that we are; He is giving an opportunity for as many as possible to believe in Him before it is too late. He may come today, this month, next year, or sometime after that. All I know is that the signs are increasing in both frequency and intensity.

Does He not also expect us to recognize the signs today of His return?

Jesus and the prophets gave us all these signs and indicators so we would know that His appearing is getting close. If nothing else, it’s certainly a call to greater watchfulness for His appearing. Remember how the Lord chided the Pharisees and Sadducees for not recognizing the signs of His first coming (Matt. 16:1-4)? Does He not also expect us to recognize the signs today of His return?

Personally, I hesitate to regard the fires and hurricanes as God’s judgment. The destruction and potential for destruction is terrible, but it’s nothing compared to what the world will see during the Great Tribulation when the Lord will clearly be judging mankind for its rejection of Jesus, the Savior who died on cross for them.

Also, another reason for my hesitancy is that a great number of dear believers were severely affected by Harvey and are already being impacted by Irma.

Perhaps it’s best to regard all these things, including the Israeli airstrike on Syria, as warning signs that the tribulation could begin very soon. I think they are also reminders to look up as Jesus instructed. In Luke 21:28 Jesus said this, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” What we are seeing today certainly qualifies as signs beginning “to take place.”

I believe the signs tells us that it cannot be a whole lot longer until Jesus comes just as He promised in John 14:1-3 to take us to be with Him. It’s time to watch and be ready.

Ann Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, also wrote a very good article yesterday calling our nation to prayer. It can be found at: https://hellochristian.com/9240-anne-graham-lotz-its-time-to-get-serious

As I listened to Amir’s update this morning, I could not help but agree with him that what we seeing throughout the world today points to Jesus’ soon return for His church. It’s also why I wrote this post versus the one I was planning to write today.

 

Is It Too Late?

Ten Commandments Arkansas
Broken Ten Commandments Monument in Arkansas

When I first heard the expression, my immediate thought was “that’s it!” This fits perfectly with what I see.

I’m referring to Os Guinness’ description of current western culture as a “cut-flower civilization.” This, he says, is the direct result of the cutting off of its Judeo-Christian roots.  Guinness, an author and defender of the Christian faith, explains that while our culture still exudes some beauty from the past, it’s quickly fading away as a cut flower in a vase of water.

Putting this in my own words, I would say that cut flower people are those who believe they can continue the ideals of liberty and freedom without the roots that made them possible in the first place. They tear down of monuments containing the Ten Commandments seemingly unaware that many of these decrees form the basis for the very laws that protect their freedoms.

The Cutting Away of Our Foundations

Our freedoms, the sanctity of life, and all our laws are rooted in the belief of a Creator who gives life and establishes morals to protect and preserve life. A nation cannot exist without laws and the foundation for ours (as well as our freedoms and rights) is the Judeo-Christian worldview of our founders. Just like a flower cut from its roots, our culture has cut itself off from the very source that brought it the liberties and freedoms it now enjoys.

Just like a flower cut from its roots, our culture has cut itself off from the very source that brought it the liberties and freedoms it now enjoys.

The second paragraph of The Declaration of Independence begins with these words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Today’s prevailing belief that our rights come from the government runs contrary to that of our founding fathers who wisely saw that the tendency of the state is to restrict freedoms, not grant them.

Although some are threatened, our basic rights remain intact. Unless we return to seeing God as both the giver of life and our rights, however, our liberties will fade just as surely as a flower cut off from its life-giving roots. Our freedoms cannot survive indefinitely in the current environment. We see the unmistakable signs of this withering all around us.

The Withering of Our Culture

What are the signs of the withering? First, truth no longer matters. I struggle to know what to believe; fake news confronts me everywhere I look. People have no qualms about lying to prove their point; it’s all about the ends justifying the means, getting the desired results regardless of the path taken. Politics now consists of ridiculing one’s opponent; mocking has replaced debating issues. In many of our churches identity has replaced God’s Word as the starting point for discovering truth.

The second sign consists of the deplorable racism, hate, and resulting violence we see on our streets. Several weeks ago, we saw the vileness of several radical racist groups spill over into violence in Virginia. Both extremes use racism to recruit activists and stir up hatred. The words of 2 Timothy 3:1-7 have never been more relevant. Many today are indeed “slanderous, without self-control, brutal.” These things sadly characterize so many in our nation who use violence to silence and bully others.

The third sign is that of rejecting God as the creator of life. Jesus said that God “from the beginning made them male and female.” The wholesale repudiation of Jesus and His words was clearly seen a couple of weeks ago as the state of Minnesota decided to introduce transgenderism teaching into grade school classrooms telling young children that “your genitals don’t make you a boy or a girl.” I grieve for the irreversible damage this is causing to the youth of our country. The little petals are quickly falling to the ground, are they not?

The little petals are quickly falling to the ground, are they not?

Other indicators of the withering abound in our culture. Congress continues to fund an organization that performs one thousand abortions a day and then profits from selling body parts from these precious unborn babies.  Sex trafficking remains a huge problem in our nation while efforts by our President and some members of Congress to end it are stymied by many rich and powerful people who themselves are involved in this great evil that tragically harms so many of our children.

How much longer can our rights and freedoms persist in such an environment? Without a sense of the sanctity of human life, respect for individuality, or the cherishing of our freedoms and justice, all which flow from our Judeo-Christian roots, the government will at some point forcibly impose its solutions upon the resulting chaos. This will be the beginning of the end or perhaps the end itself of so much that we cherish.

Is It Too Late?

Is there any hope? Are we as a nation headed for disaster amidst the continuing strife, divisions, and resulting violence? Can we be reconnected to our roots or is our situation just as impossible as replanting a cut flower in the ground?

Millions of believers across our land continue to pray for our nation and its leaders. Nothing is impossible with God; He is sovereign and He can do all things. Jesus has already delayed His return to earth for a long time waiting for as many people to repent of their sins and find eternal life in Him (2 Pet. 3:9).

On the other hand, the storm clouds of the tribulation quickly approach. When this time of trouble arrives, the world will experience God’s response to its rejection of Jesus and His word. This seven-year period of history will be the worst all of all time as the Lord pours out His wrath upon the world because of its refusal to repent of its many sins (see Rev. 9:20-21).

So many biblical prophecies regarding the last days are coming to fulfillment before our eyes. The signs Jesus gave regarding the tribulation and His return are everywhere; it’s almost as if Jesus was reading from today’s popular websites as He addressed His disciples in Matthew 24. If the tribulation is ever so close, how much more so must the rapture be since it occurs before the tribulation?

Where are we? Is the flower about to fade away with no hope of restoration? I am not sure, but I do see a few things:

1) There is no hope for our nation apart from Jesus. The cutting away of our Judeo-Christian foundations was in essence a rejection of the words of our Lord and Savior. Only Jesus can deal with the hatred in the hearts of many in our nation. The violence we see on our streets will not end apart from people turning back to Him. Tearing down statues will not heal wounds or relieve hatred.

2) As followers of Christ, we must stay away from the anger around us as we point others to Jesus. Our hope does not rest in our culture turning itself around or in any political leader. While we cannot remain silent as strife overtakes our nation, we must remember God’s love in graciously forgiving all our sins as we call people to repent of theirs. One former pastor of mine put it this way, “we are just one beggar telling another where the bread is at.”

Don’t get caught up in the strife of this world and forget the overwhelming joy that awaits all of us whose trust is in Jesus.

3) Regardless of what happens next, we have no reason to fear. Whether Jesus comes for us today or next month or sometime in the more distant future, He is our hope regardless of what we might suffer in this life. We have an amazing and joyous eternity ahead for us that will be spectacular beyond our wildest imagination! Don’t get caught up in the strife of this world and forget the overwhelming joy that awaits all of us whose trust is in Jesus.

He is coming very soon to take us to His Father’s house.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? If not, please call upon Him before it is too late to do so. He lovingly waits to forgive all your sins and give you an amazing hope that is truly out of this world and joyous beyond your imagination!

 

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).

 

Peter, Enoch, and Methuselah

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Of all the late night comedians I watched over the years, I liked Johnny Carson the best. I liked his humor and still remember several of his skits.

Johnny would sometimes come out dressed as Carnac the Magnificent with a large red turban on his head and a dark cape wrapped around him. Ed McMahon introduced the parody referring to the sealed envelopes he held in his hand as containing questions no one could possibly know about beforehand. Carnac held each envelope to his turban before giving the answer to the question in it supposedly never seeing the contents of the envelope.

Sometimes he listed three names as the answer before opening the envelope to read the question, which tied the three answers together in a humorous way.

Similarly, you may be wondering how the three names in the title tie together. What possible connection could they have? I do not have an amusing question tying them together as Carson would do; I have a connection that tells us something about God.

I believe the names listed above reveal something of His patience with humanity before he sends judgment. Let me explain . . .

Peter

The apostle’s warnings in 2 Peter 3 are more relevant today than ever before. Peter tells us that in the last days “scoffers” will come ridiculing the promise of Jesus’ return (3:3-4).  Their key mistake, Peter says, is that of assuming all things have continued the same “from the beginning of creation.”

He explains what they miss, “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (vv. 5-6). In looking at the world around them, these naysayers neglect to consider that God judged the world in the days of Noah and is therefore capable of doing it again.

Peter also gives us the reason for the seeming delay that the scoffers so readily misinterpret.  God is patient, waiting for as many as possible to repent and find salvation through His Son. The Lord, who views time much differently than us, is not slow about keeping His promise but He is giving people a chance to receive eternal life before his judgments fill the earth (vv. 5-10).

I have always wondered why the apostle brought up the great flood in reference to the scoffers and God’s patience with humanity before sending judgment.  I understood how the flood warns us that at some point God will send judgment. But how does that relate to His patience with mankind?

Enoch and his prophecy regarding the upcoming flood helped me clarify that connection.

Enoch and Methuselah

Enoch lived about a thousand years before the flood that destroyed the earth. He stands out in the list of names in Genesis 5 for his close walk with the Lord. Genesis 5:24 says that while Enoch was walking with the Lord one day he disappeared, “for God took him.” He did not die, but the Lord one day took Enoch up to be with him. Many see this as a type of the Rapture and I agree with that.

Before his ascent into heaven, the Lord enabled Enoch to see far into the future. Jude, the brother of Jesus, tells us Enoch saw far ahead to Jesus’ Second Coming, “It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him’” (Jude 14-15).

What an amazing revelation for that time; all the way back during the timeframe of Genesis 5, Enoch saw the Second Coming of Jesus. I wonder what the Lord also showed him. Is it not likely Enoch also saw Jesus’ first coming as well?

Enoch, at the relatively young age of 65, bore a son he named Methuselah, which means “when he dies judgment.”  If we follow the timeline in Genesis 5 and 6, we see that the flood came in the very same year that Methuselah died.

So not only did Enoch see ahead to Jesus’ return to execute judgment upon the earth far into the future, he also predicted the timing of the coming flood that destroyed the world of Noah’s day when he named his son.

God’s Patience

Do you see how this all relates to God’s amazing patience with sinful humanity?

Who has the longest recorded lifespan in Genesis 5? It was Methuselah, of course. After Enoch named him, indicating that when he died judgment would come upon the world, the Lord enabled Methuselah to live the longest of anyone named in the Bible. He was not eager to send judgment upon the world.

God is so patient with us! The very length of Methuselah’s life shows God’s unwillingness to send judgment until it becomes absolutely necessary.

We see this same patience today and many people, just as Peter said, take this to signify that the Lord will never intervene in the affairs of humanity. They scoff in unbelief at the idea that he could ever judge the world for its sins as they conveniently overlook God’s destruction of the world in the days of Noah.

So what do Peter, Enoch, and Methuselah tell us about the day in which we live? They tell us that while the Lord is exceedingly patient, at some point God’s judgment will fall upon a sinful world.

So many people today ridicule such a notion. They take God’s patience as an indication of His distance from us. They see Him as uninvolved in the affairs of mankind and hence not willing to hold anyone accountable for his or her sins.

I believe we are very near to the time of tribulation predicted in the Old Testament and outlined in greater detail in the book of Revelation. I am convinced we are near the time when just like in the days of Noah, God’s patience will end His judgments will arrive on earth.

If you have never put your faith in Jesus as your Savior, please do so before it is too late. He said this in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Apart from Christ, there is no other way, no other path leads to eternal life except the one He provides through His death on the cross and resurrection.

Things will not continue forever as we see them today. The Lord will intervene first through judgments upon sinful humanity and then through His glorious Second Coming. Those outside of Christ, who are alive at the time, will suffer God’s wrath on earth and face an eternity without Him.

For those of who are followers of Jesus, we need not fear the wrath of the day of the Lord; we will be delivered from it, caught up to be with the Lord (see 1 Thess. 5:3-10). I believe the day of the Lord wrath referred to in this passage includes all of the tribulation, although some limit it to just the latter judgments of the book of Revelation.

Regardless, the Lord asks that we watch for His appearing and be ready for He is returning at a time we do not expect (Matt. 24:44). This urgency is not because we can ever be caught by surprise by God’s wrath, but rather Jesus desires that we be as active as possible in serving Him so He can reward us accordingly at His appearing and we can avoid the shame of not being ready when he takes us home.

 

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.

 

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.

 

A Confusion of Roles

fence-border

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!

 

 

Is The Pretribulation Rapture a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card?

get-out-of-jail-free-revised

During the past year, the Lord called me away from my career as a financial analyst to pursue writing on a fulltime basis. His call began with a stirring of my heart as I saw the ridicule of the pretribulation rapture on Facebook and I felt a strong desire to defend my beliefs.

I am not a scholar. However, a careful and prayerful study of many passages in the New Testament over a period of many years has led to my deep conviction that the rapture happens before the start of the tribulation. I have studied opposing viewpoints as well.

I recently read a blog post arguing against the pretribulation rapture. In doing so, the writer made three common arguments, ones based more on human reasoning than on the Word of God. At first, I dismissed the post.

As I later reread the article, however, I felt compelled to answer his attacks on the pretribulation rapture. I have heard similar arguments over the past several decades; they are not new.  However, in the past I have not written out a response to them.

This is the time to do so.

I will respond to this article in a series of three shorter posts rather than one lengthy post.

A Get-Out-of Jail-Free Card?

The first argument of this blog post is that the pretribulation rapture offers believers a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” Here is his exact quote:

First, believing I won’t have to endure the awful end-times tribulation period, fosters in me an “early-out” mentality, in which I don’t need faith to live my life. Waving my get-out-of-jail-free card, all I need do is simply hang on, and hang out until my sudden extraction. How does this jive with Jesus telling us that all who believe, will ‘suffer persecution’ ? It doesn’t. Perhaps what He meant to say was, “All (but the last generation) would suffer persecution.” But that’s simply not what He said, and I always credit the Son of God to have said what He meant to say. Doesn’t wisdom begin with that? [i]

In other words, this writer believes that the pretribulation rapture offers believers an “easy out” of the persecution of the tribulation. Since the church is not experiencing opposition at the moment, in his opinion, our belief in the pretribulation rapture thus represents a desire to miss out on such oppression.

Persecution Versus Wrath

First of all, there is a significant difference between persecution and the wrath of God that will be poured out on sinful humanity during the tribulation. Approximately half of the world’s population will die in the judgments of the tribulation. This is not the “persecution” of the church; it is God’s judgment on the world to bring them, as well as Israel, to repentance.

No one who advocates a pretribulation rapture does so to escape persecution. It is God’s wrath we seek to avoid and understandably so. Who wouldn’t want to miss out on that!

We believe we will escape this wrath because the Lord promises us such a deliverance.

This is not an “early-out mentality” whatsoever. The Lord, through the apostle Paul, says the church will miss the pouring out of God’s wrath on the earth during the tribulation (1 Thess. 5:9). We believe we will escape this wrath because the Lord promises us such a deliverance.

The rapture is the promise of a ceasing of persecution for the church after which the Lord’s judgment falls on a Christ-rejecting humanity. This, I believe, is the message of 2 Thessalonians 1.

The Church Is Being Persecuted Today

Second, the writer’s point only makes sense for believers in America. For most believers in our world today, the rapture is most certainly not a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” Many believers across the world are experiencing fierce persecution; they have seen loved ones brutally killed by ISIS and have left all their belongings behind while fleeing for their lives.

What this blogger describes applies only to the church in America. It’s a totally invalid argument in almost every other nation of the world where believers are currently undergoing intense oppression.

Yes, Jesus says His followers should expect persecution and this is what we see in many places in our world and even to some extent in America. The tribulation, however, is God’s wrath poured out on a sinful world that refuses to repent. It’s far worse than “jail.”

As a defender of the pretribulation rapture, I am not looking for an easy out in regard to persecution. I may yet experience fierce opposition for my faith. Who really knows what we will face tomorrow?

I am, however, looking and waiting for Jesus to take me home before the coming period of wrath overtakes the world. That is a much, much different matter than an escape from persecution!

Our Great and Glorious Expectation

In Philippians 3:20 Paul wrote this, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word he used for “await” in this verse denotes “intense anticipation” and an “excited expectation” of a future event.  It implies a deep heart-felt longing for whatever is expected.

In this case, it’s the return of Jesus to take His church back to His Father’s house in heaven (John 14:1-3).

Paul characterizes believers as recipients of grace who as a result look for the “blessed hope” of Jesus’ appearing.

Titus 2:11-13 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Paul characterizes believers as recipients of grace who as a result look for the “blessed hope” of Jesus’ appearing.

I could cite several other verses from the New Testament that point to Jesus’ appearing as our immediate hope, our great and glorious expectation. Believers in the New Testament, regardless of their circumstances, eagerly awaited Jesus’ return.

We may yet face fierce persecution in the United States; we almost certainly will face dark times in our lives that will test our faith. We do not know where the path of following Christ will lead us

One thing is certain, Jesus is our hope. Our great expectation is that of seeing Jesus face to face. It’s a wonderful anticipation that brings hope and joy in the midst of the most painful of circumstances and calms our fears.

Our great expectation is that of seeing Jesus face to face. It’s a wonderful anticipation that brings hope and joy in the midst of the most painful of circumstances and calms our fears.

No where does the New Testament tell believers to await the pouring out of God’s wrath such as will characterize the entire seven years of the tribulation.

The pretribulation rapture is not a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” It’s the promised cessation of persecution for believers while the Lord judges a sinful world in order to bring them and Israel to repentance.

The pretribulation rapture is precisely what Jesus promises us through the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The same Jesus who tells us to expect persecution in this life also promises to deliver us from the wrath of the coming tribulation.

[i] John Miltenberger, Rapture

 

The Cubs, The Wait, Our Hope

baseball-pic

Something is bound to go wrong! Can the Cubs really hold on to this lead, defeat the Dodgers, and go to the World Series?

As I watched the Cubs defeat the Dodgers last Saturday night, I had nagging doubts until the very last out.  Would the Cubs win and actually gain a spot in the World Series for the first time since 1945?

Perhaps my qualms came from desiring to see this happen for so very long.

As a small boy back in the 1960’s, I frequently listened to Cub games on my transistor radio all the while hoping they would somehow make it to the World Series.

I remember 1969; it seemed like that would be the year for the Cubs. Before the season began Ernie Banks said, “The Cubs will shine in ’69” and they played like champions for much of the season. Then the New York Mets got hot and the Cubs faded like an ice cube on a scorching hot day. In my high school history class, the teacher brought in a box of Kleenex specifically for Cub fans as hopes of a pennant faded.

Although I have not followed baseball for many years, I always pay attention to the fate of the Chicago Cubs. Most seasons, hopes fade early as the Cubs lose game after game. This season, however, the Cubs immediately took the lead in their division and ended up with the best record in all of baseball.

So what was the source of my misgivings regarding the Cubs as they played the Dodgers for a trip to the World Series? It was not the amazing amount of talent on the team.

Rather, I doubted that something I had anticipated for so very long would actually happen.

Isn’t it the same way with our hope for Jesus’ return to take us home? After waiting for something for so long, we begin to think it won’t happen!

Isn’t it the same way with our hope for Jesus’ return to take us home?

Most of us have looked for His appearing for many years, if not decades. Just like waiting for the Cubs to win the pennant, it’s easy to think this will not happen, at least not anytime soon.

As result of waiting so long, we all too often dismiss our hope and live as though Jesus will never show up and radically change everything.

Scripture tells us, however, that Jesus will return just as promised; our waiting will not be in vain.

The Waiting

Unlike waiting for the Cubs to go to the World Series, our hope in Jesus’ return remains certain. The Lord said He would someday return for us (John 14:1-3); no such promise ever existed for the Cubs to ever win the National League pennant.

The same Lord who predicted both His death and resurrection promises to return and take us to be with Him. With Jesus’ track record, it would be foolish to doubt His promise to return for us. And yet . . . we wait!

The same Lord who predicted both His death and resurrection promises to return and take us to be with Him. With Jesus’ track record, it would be foolish to doubt His promise to return for us.

And yet, if there’s one word that stands out in the New Testament regarding the Rapture, it’s “wait.”

In Philippians 3:20 Paul clearly addresses this wait, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word Paul used for “await” in this verse denotes “intense anticipation” and an “excited expectation” of a future event. The word implies eagerness and even a longing in our hearts for a future event.

At times, our waiting for Jesus’ appearing may seem a bit surreal. Will it really happen? Will He show up just as He promised?

Yes! The Cubs’ victory reminds us that things we hope for do happen.

Will the Cubs go on to win the World the Series? We cannot know at this time.

Will Jesus come someday for us?

This we can know for sure. He will come just as He promised regardless of the wait.

Despite the length of our wait whether it be a day, a week, a month, a year, several years, Jesus will not disappoint. He will come at precisely the right time!