Pretribulation Rapture

5 Ways Amillennialism Distorts the Biblical Worldview

5 Ways Amillennialism Distorts the Biblical Worldview

This is my third article on how an amillennial view of Scripture can, over time, open the day to Socialism. I’m writing in response to an article depicting how socialism is gaining a foothold in many churches across the United States.

Please note I am not saying all amillennialists are Socialists, certainly not. My point is that churches with a long history of amillennialism and its accompanying worldview seem to be much more susceptible to a Marxist way of thinking.

I believe this is because they distort the biblical worldview in a number of ways:

Is Belief in the Rapture Relatively New?

Is Belief in the Rapture Relatively New?

Those who oppose our beliefs in a pretribulation rapture fill up social media and the Internet with stories mocking the rapture as something no one believed until the nineteenth century. They discredit it based on its recent appearance in the life of the church.

So, is our belief in the rapture relatively new in church history? No, absolutely not! As will see in the following sections, saints in the early days of the church looked for Jesus’ appearing to take away His church ahead of a time of tribulation on the earth. The doctrine existed long before people began calling it “the rapture” during the 1800’s.

What Does Noah Tell Us About Waiting for Our Lord?

What Does Noah Tell Us About Waiting for Our Lord?

We live in an age of instant access. If I want to see the latest weather forecast, I instantly bring it up on my smart phone. If I want something warmed up, it only takes a few seconds in the microwave.

Perhaps this is why waiting is so difficult for us, especially when it comes to waiting for something that was promised us two thousand years ago. As we see biblical prophecy springing to life in our world against the backdrop of wickedness and violence we often ask, “How much longer, Lord?”

5 Reasons Satan Hates the Rapture

5 Reasons Satan Hates the Rapture

Satan hates the pretribulation Rapture and throughout the history of the church has sought to either bury the doctrine under layers of false teachings or discredit it. If ever there was a time in which this rings true, it’s today. His hostility to it began in the earliest days of the church.

Why does Satan hate the Rapture? Scripture gives us several reasons for this.

Where's God?

Where's God?

I’m deeply grieved by what I see today. I fully realize that evil has existed since the Garden of Eden and I also know that past civilizations have exhibited the same wickedness, or worse, before their demise.

If you are like me, however, you sometimes wonder, “Where’s God in all the violence and evil around us? Does He not see the ever increasing wickedness and violence?”

The Lord responded by turning my attention to the book of Habakkuk, named after a prophet who ministered in Judah shortly before Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and took the people captive.

Should We Still Be Watching?

Should We Still Be Watching?

Most people disdain the whole idea; many Christians regard it as an out of date belief.

“Who really believes in the Rapture anyway?” some ask. “Why should I put my hope in something that no one believed until the nineteenth century? Why would anyone look for something that only recently appeared in the long history of the church?”

The Rapture, What’s to Fear? Part 3: The Joy of Jesus' Return

The Rapture, What’s to Fear? Part 3: The Joy of Jesus' Return

Weddings are typically times of excitement to which both the future husband and wife joyously anticipate.

I believe this is why Jesus used words reminiscent of the first century AD Jewish wedding customs when He first mentioned His return to take believers back to His Father’s house, known today as the rapture (see John 14:1-3). His announcement would have sparked positive and hopeful comparisons to the disciples as they listened to Him that night in the Upper Room.

. . . . Someday, perhaps soon, the Father will tell his Son to go get his bride, to go get us! What a day of rejoicing that will be for us!!

The Rapture, What’s to Fear? Part 2: The Marriage Covenant

The Rapture, What’s to Fear? Part 2: The Marriage Covenant

While in college at John Brown University, I read Hal Lindsey's book The Late Great Planet Earth. His book greatly heightened my interest in prophecy to the point where I expected the rapture to occur at any moment, yes even way back in the 1970’s.

Late one afternoon I dozed off after hours of reading and studying. Suddenly, the sound of a trumpet awoke me from a deep sleep. For a moment, I thought “this is it; I am going to meet Jesus in the air.” After a second or two I realized the trumpet fanfare came from someone warming up for a nearby rehearsal. It was not the trumpet sound of 1 Thessalonians 4, which still remains a joyous future hope for all of Jesus' followers.

However, I know many people today do not take kindly to the idea of the rapture. They either fear it or disdain it for a variety of reasons. It’s certainly a source of unpopularity for those who teach or write about it; I know this from experience.

What Difference Does It Make?

IMG_3515 “What difference does it make?” Hillary Clinton made this question famous during her Senate questioning of what happened during the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi. Although she did not regard the questions she faced as important, I am sure the answers mattered to those who had lost loved ones in the attack.

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

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

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

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

Let me explain.

The Importance to the Lord of Such Anticipation

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

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

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

The Benefits for Us of Such an Outlook

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

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

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

You would want to be ready to meet Jesus!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will experience endless joy beyond our imagination throughout eternity.

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

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

 

The Silence of the Shepherds

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

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

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

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

Jesus Commands Us to Watch and Be Ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound Teaching on Our Biblical Hope Prevents Doctrinal Error

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time to look up, is it not?

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

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

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

 

What Did Jesus Tell Us About Our Future?

Lighthouse beacon light2 It always helps when planning a vacation to talk to someone who has already been to the desired destination. They can tell you about what to see as well as what to avoid. The same is true with restaurants, is it not? How many of you have decided not to go to a certain eating establishment after listening to a less than favorable report by someone who had eaten there? Or, on the other hand, how many of you couldn't wait to go to a restaurant because someone raved about its food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Such Little Excitement?

  Alaska Sunrise

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

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

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

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

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

Misconceptions

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve Heard That Before”

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

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

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

Silence

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Without a Two-world Perspective

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

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

To Sum Up

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

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

 

Understanding the Times Part Three: So What?

Processed with VSCOcam with 5 preset So what???

So what if we do not hear sermons on prophecy?

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

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

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

Yes! Absolutely!

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

All Scripture . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Commanded Us to Watch for His Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ Soon Return Inspires Us to Serve Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the example of Paul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why Such Silence in Our Churches?

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

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

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

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

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

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

False Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Failure to Recognize That We Are at War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned . . . .

Understanding the Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Believers Eagerly Awaited Jesus’ Appearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Early Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are the Signs Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am often perplexed myself by these questions.

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

 

The Promise of Jesus' Return

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

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

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

Old Testament Prophecies of Jesus’ First Coming

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

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

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

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

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

The Promise of Jesus’ Second Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does This All Mean?

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

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

What does all this tells us about our hope?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is coming again!

Maranatha!

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

God Speaks Through the Fire

  burned-page-of-scripture

 

Sometimes we hear or see something that sticks with us and we just know it’s significant. Other things may distract us from it for a while, but we cannot shake the sense it must be important. Such was the case with a story I read last week.

In the wake of the Gatlinburg fires, Isaac McCord of Tullahoma, Tennessee made an amazing discovery.  As he helped clean up an area of the Dollywood Theme Park damaged by the fire, he spotted a piece of paper under a bench. The frayed and wet page turned out to be from the Bible containing a few verses that survived the fire.

Many news websites carried pictures of McCord holding the page of Scripture recovered from the fire. This partially burned page form the Bible is pictured above.

Here is where the account turns prophetic. The verses rescued from the fire are from the book of Joel, mainly from the first chapter. The verses that are most visible speak of the coming destructive fire of the day of the Lord. Joel 1:5 says, “Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.” Another verse visible on the page, Joel 2:1, speaks to the nearness of this “day of the Lord.”

So what is the “day of the Lord” referenced in the verses on this frayed page of the Bible? In Scripture, the “day of the Lord” refers to events surrounding the return of Christ to earth. It includes the judgments preceding His arrival, His return in great power and glory, and the kingdom Jesus will establish on the earth.

I believe judgment portion of this day includes all of the seven year tribulation on the earth as described in detail in the book of Revelation.

To recap, here is what we know regarding this remarkable story:

1)  The deadly fire in Tennessee burned for several days destroying many homes, businesses, and sections of the Smokey Mountain National Park.

2)  The fire destroyed or damaged many places in and near Gatlinburg, including a building containing a King James Version of the Bible.

3)  After the fire, the only remaining page from this Bible contained verses from the book of Joel that speak of the nearness of God’s fiery judgment on the earth during the Great Tribulation.

I do not believe it’s a coincidence that an entire Bible is destroyed by fire except for verses that relate to the Lord’s coming fiery judgment on the world know as the day of the Lord.

I believe the Lord engineered the sequence of events so this page would be found as a warning that this day is indeed coming and may soon be upon us.

I believe the Lord engineered the sequence of events so this page would be found as a warning that this day is indeed coming and may soon be upon us.

As we see our world increasingly reject Jesus and His Words, as we see the violence throughout  our world and grieve as the most innocent among us are murdered each day in abortion clinics, and as we see evil in our world grow worse every day, it’s easy to think the Lord does not see and has forgotten His promise to setup His righteous kingdom someday. Does He really see what’s going on in our world? Will He ever bring justice to the nations?

Christ is coming again!

The finding of this page tells me that the Lord indeed sees what is happening today on the earth and has not forgotten both the warnings and promises He made through the Old Testament prophets and throughout the New Testament. Christ is coming again!

We do not know when Jesus will return for His church and the tribulation will begin. It may be very soon or it may be years later. Jesus said we would not know the day or the hour of His return.

We sense from this discovery, however, that time is running out on our world.

The world needs Jesus more than ever. All the judgments described in the book of Joel are surely coming and are about to be poured out on a Christ-rejecting world. God is not distant; He’s not asleep. He sees the evil throughout our world and He will surely respond.

The finding of the page in the fire does not make the message of the book of Joel any truer than it was before the fire; it’s always been God’s Word. The finding of the verses in the midst of the fire, however, certainly adds urgency to the message of the book for us today.

Before then, we have the opportunity to repent. The Lord, through the prophet Joel, also called upon the Israelites of his day to repent and return to Him (Joel 2:11-14). His words apply to us today as well, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

The finding of the page in the fire does not make the message of the book of Joel any truer than it was before the fire; it’s always been God’s Word. The finding of the verses in the midst of the fire, however, certainly adds urgency to the message of the book for us today.

It’s not an accident that these verses from the book Joel are now everywhere on the news for people to see.

If anything, God is saying that this day is getting ever so close. Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you eagerly waiting for His return as the apostles encourage us to do throughout the New Testament? Do you realize this world is not your home?

Do you know that you stand at the portal of eternity?

If you have not yet put your faith in Jesus as your Savior, please do so. If you need more information, please contact me and I will walk you through what is means to call upon the Lord.

A Peanut Butter Sandwich with the Jelly

pb-sandwhich I was startled by what I saw on my computer screen. It showed 47,444,396 views for the song I was listening to on YouTube. I had never seen such a high number, although other songs may very well have such a number or even exceed that total.

The immensely popular tune is Whom Shall I Fear by Chris Tomlin.

Chris Tomlin is an amazingly talented singer and I am never surprised by the popularity of any one of his songs. However, with the title, Whom Shall I Fear, I cannot help but believe its popularity relates in some degree so our search for hope, for something to relieve the anxieties so many of us experience.

We live in a society that breeds fear. If it does not come from the threats all around us, it pops up in the form of broken relationships, financial hardships, illnesses, and the setbacks of growing older.

Is there any relief? Is there any hope?

Yes, His name in Jesus. The Lord is our “strong tower” (Proverbs 18:10).

It’s our expectation of the future Jesus promises us that relieves so many of our apprehensions.

We Groan

We groan. Okay, I know this does not sound like a positive first step toward finding a balm for our worries, but stick with me.

In Romans 8:23 Paul says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” The Greek word for “groan” is sometimes used of the expression of a deeply felt emotion, a “sighing in the sense of longing for something.”[i]

What exactly are we searching for as we groan?

We know from Ephesians 1 that our adoption as sons and daughters into God’s family is complete as is our redemption (see Eph. 1:5-7).  It’s all a done deal; we need not worry about that anymore.

So why do we groan?

We cry out because we have yet to fully experience our adoption and the redemption of our bodies to the fullest extent. Recently, my a-fib acted up again and for two hours in the middle of the night I often groaned as my heart sometimes raced and at other times palpitated wildly.

I asked the Lord for relief, but in response He seemed to say this was necessary to teach me about remaining focused on my hope. If I was going to write about peace in the midst of turmoil, I needed to trust Him for peace in my soul even when my physical heart gave me much cause for alarm. So I groaned in hope of a better day.

We groan because the redemption of our bodies is not yet complete. We hope in spite of what we currently experience.

We groan because the redemption of our bodies is not yet complete. We hope in spite of what we currently experience.

We Hope

Paul goes on to say this in Romans 8, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?”[ii] Our hope is in what we do not yet see, that of Jesus completing our salvation in the sense that we will someday fully experience what we already possess by faith, our adoption into God's family and the redemption of our physical bodies.

Notice that we are saved “in this hope” of someday seeing this completion of our salvation. Jesus’ return for His church, which we often refer to as the rapture, signifies our full experience of our salvation. The culmination of the Gospel message is Jesus’ appearing to take us home to His Father’s house as He promised in John 14:1-3.

I believe the catching up of the church to forever be with the Lord was a key part of the New Testament proclamation of the Gospel, not something to be taught to believers much later if at all.

Because we have lost sight of the future promises embedded in the Gospel, we sometimes act as though our salvation is totally complete and it’s up to us to follow all the principles of Scripture to somehow live out our redemption. We behave as though the completion of our salvation depends solely on us.

Can you see how this focus adds an enormous amount of stress to our lives? Every day, the futility of hoping in the things of this world hits us hard, but yet we do not lift up our eyes above the daily grind to the One whose hope will never fail us. Instead, we remain committed to making a better life for ourselves now instead looking up to all that is promised us after Jesus appears.

Even if we are somehow successful for a season in limiting the scope of the Gospel to our current lives, ultimately we cannot escape the futility of placing our hope in the moment rather than in eternity.

Even if we are somehow successful for a season in limiting the scope of the Gospel to our current lives, ultimately we cannot escape the futility of placing our hope in the moment rather than in eternity. Everyone’s health eventually fails. Divorce can strike despite our noblest efforts to prevent it. Finances can fail even after the wisest of planning. Medical science can only do so much.

Everyone experiences sorrow and frustration in this life at some point. No one is immune.

Oh, but a much better day is coming. This is why we groan as children of God. We know we were not created for simply a life of frustration and sorrow. There has to be more than what we see and there is.

This is the Gospel. We are saved in the hope of Jesus’ appearing to take us home. The rapture is the future tense of the message of salvation.

We Wait

Because our hope is sure, we “wait eagerly” for it. Despite not seeing it, “we wait for it with patience.”[iii]

No one likes to wait, but it helps when we wait for a sure thing.

With my a-fib, I am scheduled to undergo an ablation early next year that may or may not fix the issue, although my cardiologist assures me the percentage is quite high it will resolve my problems. So I’m waiting in hope this will fix the problem, but I cannot be absolutely sure it will do so.

When Jesus returns, I know with absolute certainty the matter will be resolved; I will have a brand new body that will never perish (see 1 Cor. 15:49-54).

When it comes to waiting for Jesus’ return, we wait in absolute certainty He will show up to take us home.  Paul David Tripp referred to our hope, which includes His arrival, as the “expectation of a guaranteed result.” Tripp went on to say:

It is being sure that God will do all that he had planned and promised to do. You see, his promises are only as good as the extent of his rule, but since he rules everywhere, I know that resting in the promises of his grace will never leave me empty and embarrassed . . . . So even when I am confused, I can have hope, because my hope does not rest on my understanding, but on God’s goodness and his rule.[iv]

Because our hope is secure we wait in confidence of what we will be in eternity. As Chris Tomlin sang, with Jesus in control, we have no reason for fear. The tragedies of life may overtake us for a season, but our ultimate hope never changes.

Jesus is coming to take us away to forever be with Him. It could be today or tomorrow or next month or next year or perhaps even further down the road.

As Paul said, we do not see our hope. We see signs of the fulfillment of prophecy all around us, but we do not see Jesus coming for us and will not until He appears.

While we do not see our hope at the present time, we know He will complete our salvation, bring us home to our Father in heaven, and complete the redemption of our bodies. There is no doubt about this.

The preaching of the Gospel without the promise of Jesus’ soon appearing is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly, the sweet hope of His return.

[i] Colin Brown, editor, Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969) p. 423.

[ii] Romans 8:24

[iii] Romans 8:25

[iv] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies – A daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton: Crossway 2014), September 3

Will the Waiting Ever End?

black-and-white-woman-girl-sitting With my little transistor radio in hand, I followed every pitch. I heard the crack of the bat as Hank Aaron hit a deep fly ball. I was sure he had ended Ken Holtzman’s bid for a no-hitter; I remember the disappointment in the voice of the radio announcer as he described what he believed would be a homerun for Aaron. However, the wind was blowing in that day at Wrigley Field.

As Billy Williams, the Cubs’ outfielder, went back to the wall, he seemed to give up on the play. Then at the last second, Williams put up his glove, caught the ball, and preserved the no-hitter. (I later saw a video clip of the catch.)

I thought the Cubs were well on their way to winning the National League pennant that year. However, the New York Mets, not the Cubs, won the World Series in 1969.

Today, 108 years since they last won the World Series, the Chicago Cubs are now the reigning champs! It seems surreal to write those words. Did they really win last night?

If the Cubs had won it all last year, their fans would still be celebrating today. The storyline, however, would not be near as dramatic. Since last night, every mention of the Cubs’ victory contains a reference to the 108 years of waiting.

As believers, we yawn at the mention of waiting 108 years.

The year was approximately AD 50. That’s when Paul preached the Gospel in Thessalonica causing many of the people in that town to turn from idols to Christ and as a result, wait for Jesus’ return (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

Yes, it’s been 1,966 years since the apostle preached that message of hope to the Thessalonians and still . . . we wait. The longsuffering Cub fans have nothing on us in terms of waiting.

Waiting for Jesus’ Appearing

Almost every epistle in the New Testament contains a reference to Jesus’ soon return for His church. As the apostles preached the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire, their preaching included Jesus’ future appearing as something that could happen at any moment.

In all their preaching and writing, they assumed we would wait in great expectation of Jesus’ return.

In Romans 8:23, Paul wrote that we as believers “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Then in verse 25 he added, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Notice the emphasis on waiting “with patience” for what Jesus promised us. We believe; we hope for what we do not see; we wait.

In 1 Corinthians 1:7 Paul used the same Greek word for “wait” to describe the believers in Corinth as those eagerly awaiting Jesus’ appearing.

In all their preaching and writing, the apostles assumed we would wait in great expectation of Jesus’ return.

In Philippians 3:20 Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus, Christ.” As believers, we live in eager expectation of seeing our Lord at any moment.

Peter instructed his readers to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). Peter’s instructions echo Paul’s words on waiting.

The apostle John also emphasized our hope in Jesus appearing as something that would have a purifying effect on us (1 John 3:2-3). James added these words, “The coming of the Lord is at hand . . . . the Judge is standing at the door” (5:8-9).

The New Testament church waited for Jesus’ appearing as something that could happen at any moment. We refer to His return as something “imminent;” it can happen at any time. That was the hope of the New Testament church and nothing has changed since that time to diminish such anticipation, unless you count the passing of a couple thousand years.

Waiting for Justice

Along with waiting for Jesus’ return, we also wait for His justice to prevail in our world.

We frequently hear daily terror attacks somewhere in our world. We read of brutal atrocities committed against believers in places throughout the Middle East and in Nigeria. Scenes of intense suffering as a result of all this violence appear on television and Internet news sites.

The stories of Planned Parenthood profiting from abortion through the selling of body parts grieves me deeply. Does not the Lord see this? How can He let this continue? Where is He?

I’m almost embarrassed to recount the number of times I have needed to go to Psalm 37 for God’s perspective on those things. I did so this morning as I felt stirred by another instance of evil prevailing and needed the reminder of the Psalm.

And what do I find in Psalm 37? The Lord, through David, tells me this, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devises . . . For evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land” (vv. 7 and 8).

I have a tendency to fret and hence the need for the Psalm.

Psalm 37 is clear on two things: First, God will surely judge wickedness. Second, we may not see it. This is because Lord patiently allows time for sinners to repent. I’ve benefited from this many times as He graciously gave me time to return to Him in my life as a believer.

So many times I wish the Lord would show up and punish the evil I see in the world. However, I believe that day is coming and in the meantime, I wait. We wait. Sound familiar?

Waiting for the End of Suffering

Tonight, my wife and I are going to the visitation for a baby boy who died earlier this week of cancer at the age of seven months. We do not have to look far to see great suffering in our world. Little Lincoln endured so much pain during the three months in which cancer ravaged his tiny body.

Notice the tender touch of the Savior; the text does not simply say Jesus will end our tears but will gently “wipe” them away from our faces.

In my favorite passage from Isaiah, the prophet tells of a great celebration and foresees a day in which the Lord “will swallow up death forever . . . and wipe away tears from all faces” (25:8). Notice the tender touch of the Savior; the text does not simply say Jesus will end our tears but will gently “wipe” them away from our faces. He is able even now to ease the grieving for little Lincoln.

I love the response recorded in Isaiah 25:9 of those enjoying the feast of this still future day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Someday we will echo those very words as we praise the Lord.

Notice that even in eternity, after all suffering and pain have ended; we will emphasize the waiting as we rejoice in our great salvation.

The Scoffers

The apostle Peter tells us that in the last days some will give up on the waiting and mock our hope in Jesus’ return. In 2 Peter 3:3-4 he says, “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?’”

The Lord knew the wait would be long and many would give up believing in His return and push aside their hope.

We see this all around us today. Many today mock the rapture. They cannot believe the Lord would keep us waiting almost two thousand years for His return. Surely we have misunderstood prophecy; there must be a different interpretation to the passages regarding His appearing.

“Jesus has already returned,” the scoffers tell us, “your hope is not to be found in His return.”

But is this not why Peter warned against such scoffing? The Lord knew the wait would be long and many would give up believing in His return and push aside their hope. He knew scoffers would arise and through Peter warned us about these modern day naysayers.

Today, Chicago Cub fans celebrate the end of a 108 year wait for a World Series victory. Someday, perhaps very soon, we will celebrate the end of a much longer wait, that of waiting for Jesus’ return to take us to His Father’s home (John 14:2-3).

Some old Cub fans, like me, doubted the Cubs would ever win the World Series, However, if there is one thing their victory teaches us, things we wait for can happen.

I am not making that same mistake with Jesus’ return. He is coming again, just as He promised.

When that happens, we will not complain about the wait. But like Cub fans today, we will greatly rejoice that the day has finally arrived.

Hollywood Versus Our Hope

hollywood Imagine if you will, a man explaining to his fiancé his vision for their future once they are married.

Let's carry out this scene a bit further with the prospective bride responding something like this: "Let’s just concentrate on our life now before the wedding; we can talk about our honeymoon and life together after we get married”

Would you think that strange? Why would the future bride not want to talk about life after the wedding ceremony? We would wonder about the lack of excitement.

Is this not what we so often do as the church?

Jesus wants us to know about the future he has planned for us; He revealed many things about the glory ahead for us through His apostles.

Believers, however, remain fixated on what the Bible teaches about this life and spends little time contemplating their glorious future after Jesus appears. The result is an overall lack of excitement regarding Jesus' return.

How did we get here? What are some other causes of the focus on this life versus eternity?

Hollywood

How often have you seen depictions of lonely glorified believers sitting on clouds strumming harps? With such an idea of eternity, it’s no wonder believers lose their eagerness for heaven. Such misinformation dampens our anticipation and understandably so. Who would desire such a lonely and boring existence?

Better to live for the moment than wait for that.

However, Scripture tells us we will reign with Christ in His earthly kingdom and then forevermore throughout eternity. Doesn’t that sound much more exciting than sitting on a cloud?

Hollywood’s lame and misleading depictions of heaven fall far short of the glory ahead for followers of Christ.

I love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, but someday as followers of Christ we will be so much 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 and places us on a higher level.

Hollywood’s lame and misleading depictions of heaven fall far short of the glory ahead for followers of Christ.

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 for an entire week about prophecy.

As time has passed, however, believers have lost their expectancy of Jesus’ return. Having looked for it for so long, I understand the sentiment that finds it difficult to believe He will appear anytime soon. After all, we have heard it before for so many years and yet nothing has happened.

However, as we see the prophecy begin to be fulfilled in our world today, if there was ever a time to be watchful, it is now!

When I read the signs of the coming time of tribulation in Matthew 24:3-14, I wonder if Jesus had a laptop in front of him and was reading from various news sites on the Internet as he talked to his disciples. His words in that passage so closely match what we see around us today; it’s difficult to imagine he was talking about a still future period of history.

Silence in Our Churches

Unfortunately, rather than becoming more watchful as signs multiply, churches remain mostly silent on the subject. How can believers be excited about their future hope if they never hear about it?

It’s difficult, if not impossible.

Murky references to eternal life or some distant kingdom do not stir our hearts or relieve anxiety over what we see around us.

Murky references to eternal life or some distant kingdom do not stir our hearts or relieve anxiety over what we see around us. John Eldredge said this in his book Desire, “C.S. Lewis summed it up, ‘We can only hope for what we desire.’ No desire, no hope. . . . Bland assurances of the sweet by-and-by don’t inflame the soul.”[i]

Passing references to heaven do not impassion us, especially in America where so many enjoy comfortable lives. Without a vision of the joys ahead for us after Jesus returns for us, it’s difficult to imagine heaven can be any better than our current existence with IPhones, smart TV’s, computer games, and a host of other things I could list.

Teaching Without a Two-world Perspective

When churches ignore a two-world perspective, they unwittingly make happy marriages, good parenting, wise financial planning, etc., our ultimate hope rather than Jesus’ appearing. Of course, biblically centered teaching on such things is essential. Without a two-world perspective woven into such instruction, however, these things can easily become our hope rather than Jesus’ return.

The danger comes from focusing our hope 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 trials and 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 paradise. That is our future, not our present reality.

Hard Pews

Many see eternity as an unending church service as John Eldredge also notes in his book Desire, “Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea of eternity is an unending church service . . . . we have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky. . . . And our heart sinks.”[ii]

Of course we will sing and worship the Lord throughout eternity as we get caught up in the glories of eternity and celebrate the full realization of all that He had done for us.

We are promised an amazing future that we can be excited about and celebrate!

Scripture, however, also speaks of our reigning with Christ during the millennium and then forever. We will have thrilling kingdom responsibilities and forever enjoy a restored earth. We will never get bored in eternity with the exciting future the Lord has specifically planned for each one of us.

Satan’s Opposition

Amir Tsarfati recently gave a sermon titled, “Bible Prophecy – God Gave It – Satan Hates It.” Does that not sum up well what we see today with Satan’s ever growing opposition to anything related to our future hope?

Of course, Satan does not want believers to be aware of the glorious future God has planned for them. Why would he want us to anticipate our future immortal bodies when he can drag us into despair over aging, sicknesses, and other aches and pains?

It also makes perfect sense that the devil would distract us from our future hope and bring division into the body of Christ regarding such things.

Bottom Line

God did not reveal so much about our future hope simply for seminary classroom discussions. No, he provided many details of what’s ahead so we as believers can rejoice in our thrilling hope and rise about the anxieties that so often drag us down.

In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul writes, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God had prepared for those who love him.’ But the apostle does not stop there, he quickly adds in the following verse, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

We have a glorious future beyond what we can imagine. And yet, the Spirit has revealed some things to us. The Lord did not tell us everything about eternity, but He revealed enough to let us know it will be wonderful beyond all we could hope for.

No one will be disappointed with heaven and long to be back on earth. That will never happen; count on it.

[i] Eldredge, John, Desire (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), pp. 64-65

[ii] Ibid., p. 111