Time

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 Cure for Fake News

man-coffee-cup-pen Fake news: it’s a term we hear every day and probably use ourselves. Whether you come from a liberal or conservative perspective, you likely accuse the other side of taking its cues from fake news.

To me, it seems as if many on both sides at times “bend the truth” or just plain lie to promote their agenda. I see many and varied Facebook posts with much discussion all based on what is later proven to be false. I myself have been guilty of getting agitated over what was later shown to have little or no factual basis.

If you are looking for a failsafe source of news, I do not have much to offer you. My default these days is to listen to what was actually said or discover what really happened rather than rely on what others report about what was done or said.

“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!”

If, however, you are looking for timeless truth, I can help. It’s found in the words of Scripture. It was there that one particular verse seemed to jump off the page one morning this week. In Psalm 40:4, David says this: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!”

How does this verse and the rest of Psalm 40 speak to the matter of fake news? Let me explain . . .

The Blessing of Trusting Jesus

Escaping from maddening overflow of news begins with trusting the Lord Jesus. Notice the blessing that David pronounces for the person who puts his or her trust in the Lord.

In the context of Psalm 40, such faith implies both waiting and hoping (doesn’t it always seem to be that way?). The preceding verses describe deliverance from “the pit of destruction” or a “miry bog.” We do not know for sure the circumstances that led David to describe his troubles in such a way; we only know that he “waited patiently for the Lord” and He rescued him.

Most often my consternation at the news comes from anxious thoughts; from worrying that the misleading items so prevalent in the media might hinder what I want to see accomplished. It’s so easy for me to become agitated and forget that my hope is not in the outcome of anything in this world. It’s in waiting for and hoping in the Lord.

I trust the Lord who is sovereign over all the affairs of humanity. In Daniel 4, we see the Lord taking extreme measures to teach the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar that He was the one who gave him his kingdom. In the end, this king acknowledged God’s sovereignty as he bowed his head in praise to Him. Whoever is president of our nation at any given time was put there by the Lord for His purposes. It’s not always easy to accept this, but this is precisely what the prophet Daniel teaches us.

I am not at all saying that in light of God’s sovereignty we do not pray earnestly for our nation or that we do not strive, as the Lord leads, for what we believe is right. I believe God wants us to beseech Him in the matters we believe are important for our nation. I cannot explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and the fact that prayer changes things. I just know both are true.

I believe the Lord gives us different gifts and talents and along with that places differing passions on our hearts. However, as we move forward with God’s calling upon our lives we must always remember that our hope rests solely on Jesus and His return for us.

The outcome of  our striving never rests in earthly outcomes, but in the prize that awaits us at Jesus’ appearing to take us home to forever be with Him (Phil. 3:14-21). The Apostle Peter reminds us that our hope rests solely in the grace to be given to us when Jesus comes to take us home (see 1 Pet. 1:13). What we see around us will constantly change, but someday Jesus will reward our faithfulness to Him regardless of any earthly outcome.

We can trust our wonderful Savior; He will accomplish His purposes in His time.

The Psalmist promises a blessing for us when we relax, when we trust Jesus as opposed to chasing after the many misleading news items we see every day. We can trust our wonderful Savior; He will accomplish His purposes in His time.

The Firm Foundation of Scripture

The good news about trusting the Lord is that He has not left us in the dark concerning His ultimate purposes or our future. We have God’s very own word written especially for us.

Notice what David says in verse 8, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” When David wrote Psalm 40, the Law or the first five books of the Old Testament was his Bible.

On this side of the cross we have so much more. John 1:1 describes Jesus as the “Word.” He came to reveal the Father to us and to carry out the grand plan of redemption. In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read this, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . .”

We have a huge advantage over King David, we have the words of Jesus including what He spoke directly while on earth as well as what He revealed through His apostles after He ascended back to heaven. It’s called the New Testament!

I am often troubled by those who take Jesus’ words out of context or use them to acknowledge some of what Jesus taught while ignoring almost everything else He said. All of Scripture is God’s Word. All of the Old Testament looked forward to Jesus and the New Testament reveals Him as the living and resurrected Son of God. Not knowing Scripture can make us susceptible to fake news.

One article I recently read mishandled Scripture by applying verses that speak of our personal responsibilities as believers to the role of government. The Bible teaches that the primary role of government is to punish those who break the law and in so doing protect its citizens. Much confusion results when we take verses meant for followers of Christ and apply them to government entities.

Franklin Graham summed it best, “But we have to realize that the President’s job is not the same as the job of the church.” Government is chiefly responsible for protecting its citizens.

Much confusion results when we take verses meant for followers of Christ and apply them to government entities.

As believers, we are commanded to welcome strangers as well as to show mercy and compassion to the hurting. We do not take our own revenge when wronged or if a crime is committed against us; instead, we forgive and place any resolution of justice in the hands of God alone.

Government, on the other hand, is commanded to intervene when a crime is committed and punish the wrongdoer (see Romans 13:1-7). This does not mean it should not act with mercy when appropriate. In the Old Testament, God held nations accountable for how they administered justice. I believe America will someday face God’s severe wrath unless we put an end to abortion, but that is a topic for another post.

As believers, our part is to show compassion to those strangers or refugees who are here and perhaps help those who are fleeing from violence who do not reach our shores. Samaritans’ Purse has been quite active in helping Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims who are fleeing the violence in the Middle East. Many, as a result their help, have come to know the Lord as their Savior. We can help in a tangible way through this ministry.

Toward the end of Psalm 40, David proclaims God’s faithfulness, deliverance, and salvation in spite of his sinfulness (vv. 9-13). The psalmist, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saw the forgiveness of sins that would one day stream from Calvary. It’s Jesus’ death in our place that gives us hope amidst all the confusing news of our day.

Fortunately, our hope does not depend on us being sinless or spotless in our viewpoints, but in the One who died in our place in order to replace our sins with His perfect righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

We may be pulled in various directions throughout our days, but one thing remains constant: we can trust our Lord Jesus and the words of Scripture, which form a firm foundation for our lives. He is our life, our salvation, and will someday come for us.

For now we wait and hope, just as the Psalmist did long ago.

What is the best cure for fake news? Trusting our wonderful Savior as we rest in the promises of His Word!

A much better day is coming. Maranatha!

 

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

The Scenes of Eternity

oct-2013-074 Perhaps they were not the most encouraging words to hear as a young child.

I remember my mom's comments on the brevity of life. “Time goes so fast!” she would sometimes exclaim. I cannot remember her exact words following that statement, but they always seemed to contain the discouraging implication that old age would come quickly for me.

My mom's words came back to me during a recent visit to Savannah, Georgia when I came across the above painting, La Parabola, at the Telfair Academy for art. Life in its entirety, from childhood to old age, pictured in just two scenes. As I first stared at the painting I felt a sense of sadness. What a depressing picture of life!

Cesare Laurenti (1854-1936) painted La Parabola in about 1895.  He intended the picture to depict the progression of “human life . . . The race toward pleasure, until clouds of weighty thoughts and sorrow come to disturb the serenity of the young soul.”[i] On the left panel, we see a young girl racing toward adulthood and the joys of romance. On the right, we see images of the same woman ever advancing in age toward death.

As I further contemplated the two scenes of this painting a few weeks back, the words of 1 Corinthians 15:19 echoed loudly in my ears, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” To be sure! If this painting represents the totality of our existence, we have no hope whatsoever. But such is not the case.

As believers in Christ, we look forward to a new beginning when Jesus comes for His church. 1 Corinthians 15:52-53 says this about our hope, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” What an amazing hope we possess in Christ Jesus!!

In eternity, the scenes of our lives appear radically different.

We may someday enter the scenes of eternity as an elderly man or woman (as depicted in the painting) only to be changed, at Jesus’ appearing, back to a time before the process of aging took away our youthful appearance. Then in countless never-ending  scenes of eternity after that, we will appear exactly the same as we forever celebrate the joys of eternity in the presence of our wonderful Savior.

In Jesus, we find sweet relief from the sad progression of life portrayed in this old painting. In eternity, the glorious scenes keep coming; they will never end. What will they picture for you?

If you have never called upon the name of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, please do so today before it is too late. 1 John 5:12 says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” If you are in the latter category, please call upon Jesus today. Jesus alone is “the way, the truth, and the life.”[ii] He waits in love to forgive all your sins and give you eternal life. Only in Christ will our eternity be one of joy and not judgment.

If you already know Jesus as your Savior, praise him for the glorious eternal hope you have in Him. The scenes of this old painting are but a minuscule part of your life compared with eternity.

Thank Him for a hope that will someday take us far beyond the scenes of La Parabola to the never ending joyous scenes of eternity.

[i] From a letter of Cesare Laurenti to Carl Brandt

[ii] John 14:6