Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Harmonizing Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and Who the Elect Are, and Why These Chapters Don't Speak of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture

Each of these chapters from the synoptic gospels definitely refer to the same set of events even though there are some differences between the accounts. Each account has unique material suggesting that what Jesus said on this particular occasion is more extensive then what any of the Gospel authors penned or He actually spoke about this more than once. Each author includes what they felt most important or what supported the reason for their writing. Even so, there is definitely an outline that all the authors follow.

1. Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple. 
2. Jesus gives signs concerning the end of the age.
3. Jesus talks about the persecution before the end comes.
4. Jesus speaks of the destruction (or desolation) of Jerusalem.
5. Jesus foretells the coming of the Messiah.
6. Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree.
7. Jesus ends with a warning.

1. Foretelling of the destruction of the temple. 

Jesus begins by foretelling the coming destruction of the temple. The major question Jesus speaking of the destruction of the temple in AD 70 or is he speaking of another temple destruction at the end of the age? Or could he be referring to both?

It is important to note that the disciples connected what Jesus said about the temple to the end of the age. Matthew records the disciples asking him "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" All three of the Gospel writers record Jesus responding with "the end will not be at once" (Luke 21:9) and "this must take place, but the end is not yet." (Matthew 24:6 and Mark 13:7). 

Jesus obviously knew more than his disciples. It is very possible that Jesus was speaking of both the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and another destruction at a later date. There are many Old Testament prophecies that have dual meanings applying both to a near future event and a further future event. In the case of 70 AD the temple was completely razed. Josephus, a Jewish historian said that if he hadn't seen the temple in his lifetime he would have never known it had been there. Such was the destruction.

2. Signs concerning the end of the age.

When asked about when these things will be Jesus responds to his disciples by giving a warning "See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!' Do not go after them." (Luke 21:8). Matthew records Jesus' words as "See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray." (Matthew 24:4 & Mark 13:5 & 6). Luke records him continuing "And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified." (v. 9) Matthew and Mark are very similar "And you will hear of wars and rumors of war. See that you are not alarmed." (Matthew 24:6 & Mark 13:7).

With the advantage of hindsight we now can interpret what Jesus meant. Jesus was saying something like "Listen, its going to be awhile. You guys are going to be tempted to say its right around the corner. Every time you hear of someone claiming to be me, or every time you hear of a war to come or happening you are going to want to say it is the end. Don't be fooled."

The three authors agree in what Jesus says next. "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines (with Luke adding) and pestilences." (Luke 21:10-11a, Matthew 24:7 & Mark 13:8a & b). Both Matthew and Mark then record Jesus saying "All these are but the beginning of the pains of birth." (Matthew 24:8 and Mark 13:8c). However Luke continues "And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven." (Luke 21:11b).

Jesus is reinforcing this idea that they need to be patient. There are several things that will take place before the end comes. There will be numerous "tribulations" even some that seem "great" (think of the Holocaust or put yourself in the shoes of Christians suffering under ISIS), but these are just the beginning. The comparison of these things to the beginning of birthing pains is apt. I may not have not experienced the birthing process, but I have been there to witness it. Any woman who goes through the birthing process for the first time can't imagine the pain getting worse as the pregnancy progresses, but it does, and the worst part of it is right before the baby enters the world. 

3. Persecution before the end comes. 

In the next section Luke, Matthew and Mark seem to diverge a bit in that they don't have Jesus saying the exact same thing, but even though there is little that is repeated verbatim the message is very similar. All three warn that persecution of the disciples will come, and a word that each of the three use is the world deliver. Luke says "But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake." (21:12). Matthew says "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake." (24:9). Mark says "But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings." (13:9) 

I don't believe Jesus is speaking of the events of the great tribulation here and this is the reason why. First, Luke says "But before all this..." So before nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom. Before the various "great" earthquakes or various famines and pestilences. Before the terrors and great signs in the heaven. Before these birthing pains of the end. This all seems to indicate near future. Jesus gives a warning to his disciples. We see what he foretells here being fulfilled in Acts. He specifically says that they will be delivered to prisons AND synagogues were they will stand before kings and governors. Interesting that Jesus says they will be delivered to synagogues. Why synagogues, because the apostles, who saw themselves as belonging to Israel, would have been seen in violation of Jewish law and belief. Again, it seems that Jesus is speaking to his Apostles of the near future which is seen fulfilled in Acts.

Both Luke and Mark have Jesus speaking of the opportunity this would present to witness before the kings and governors. "This will be your opportunity to bear witness." (Luke 21:13) and "and you will bear witness before them" to which Mark adds a statement that we find Matthew repeating as well "And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations" (Mark 13:9-10) with Matthew giving the reason why "and then the end will come." (24:14). We see this in the case of Paul in Acts 24 and 25.

Jesus promised his disciples that during these "deliverances" that the words they would speak would be provided for them. "Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict." (Luke 21:15). Mark records "do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit." (Mark 13:11b). Jesus told his disciples that they could trust God to provide for them in this great hour of need, and I believe that we can trust God will do the same for us if we ever find ourselves in a similar situation. We have the Holy Spirit who is our paraclete. He is our helper, advocate and comforter. He is there to help us live our lives the way God would have us live them, and He is there to help us in our hour of need.

All three gospel writers warn of betrayal by those who are supposed to be close. Matthew simply states "And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another." (24:10). Luke records "You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake." (21:16-17). Mark records "And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name's sake." (13:12-13a). It was not an easy thing for a Jew to perceive that his friend or relative has forsaken the way set out by God. At least that is how they see it. Like Islam today, people are shunned for leaving Islam. Family members reject them. They may take them to court. They may even kill them. We read of Paul in Acts who was actively persecuting Christians. In Paul's own testimony he admits to having Christians put to death.  "I worked hard and killed men and women who believed as I believe today. I put them in chains and sent them to prison." (Acts 22:4).

We are tempted to apply what Jesus says here to the period found in Revelation known as the Great Tribulation. We know there will be a tribulation like the world has never seen described in detail in Revelation and Jesus even mentions it in these chapters in conjunction with the end of the age and his second coming, but remember, Luke said "But before all this..." So it seems better to apply these words to the near future of the disciples (and Church) and the opposition the early Jewish believers would face from both the Jews and the Roman state. Even so, Luke records Jesus as saying "But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives." (21:18-19) and Mark says "But the one who endures to the end will be saved." (13:13b). We must assume that Jesus is speaking of more than physical salvation for many did lose their physical lives for the faith. He must be referring to a spiritual salvation. Ultimately they would receive eternal life for their faithfulness. Paul describes how during the resurrection we will be transformed. 

"I tell you this brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. 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." (1 Corinthians 15:50-53)

4. Destruction (desolation) of Jerusalem.

Jesus then transitions to a more direct answer of the question "When will these things be?" Luke diverges from what Matthew and Mark record, but again, even though his record of Jesus' words are not verbatim with the record set forth by Matthew and Mark it cannot be mistaken that they are speaking of the same thing. All three authors speak of the destruction of Jerusalem. Matthew and Mark record Jesus "So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)" (Matthew 24:15 & Mark 13:14). 

The prophecy being referred to is most likely Daniel 9:24-27

"Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator."

Luke records Jesus saying something different. "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near." (21:20)  It must be remembered that Luke's audience is not Jewish and therefore most likely lacks Jewish background whereas both Matthew and Mark's audience is Jewish. Luke's non-Jewish audience may not have understood the allusion to the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel. I have to believe Luke records the words of Jesus that are left out by Matthew and Mark. When Jerusalem is surrounded by armies one can know that Jerusalem's desolation is near seems to be referring to a prophecy spoken by Zechariah (14:1-2)

"Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city."
What Luke records Jesus saying next seems to confirm that Jesus indeed referred to Zechariah 14.

Luke says "Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains..." of which both Matthew and Mark echo (Matthew 24:16 and Mark 13:14b).

Zechariah says "And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him." (Zechariah 14:5).

"The the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him" has to refer to Jesus' return and the establishment of the millennial kingdom spoken of in Revelation. 

"Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! the one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war...And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rules them with a rod of iron...Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus a for the word of God...They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." (19:11-20:4)

It is very tempting to say that Jesus is foretelling of the 70 AD destruction of the temple, but during that destruction an abomination of desolation did not occur. So we must understand that Jesus is speaking of another future date when Jerusalem will be, as he will put it, trampled by the Gentiles. A still future date when Israel will have the forces of the world come against it.

The problem with what Jesus is saying is that many Christians see it as pertaining to all of Christendom, however this cannot be true. Yes, there will be Gentile Christians present in the tribulation, but, Jesus is warning his apostles, Jewish Christians, of what is going to happen to the nation of Israel.

Here is why.

First after giving the sign of armies surrounding Jerusalem (and the abomination of desolation as revealed by Matthew and Mark) Jesus goes on to warn "The let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." (21:21). All three gospel writers record Jesus saying this. 

Jesus goes on to say "and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written." (Luke 24:21b). The city being spoken of is obviously Jerusalem. 

Matthew and Mark agree with Luke but word it differently "Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what in in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak." (Matthew 24:17-18 & Mark 13:15-16).

All three Gospels writers share the same sentiment. When Jerusalem is surrounded by armies and is invaded, don't bother going back for anything. It will be far worse if one does. And as to stress this point all three authors have Jesus giving a woe concerning pregnant women. "Alas, for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days." (Luke 21:23a, Matthew 24:19 and Mark 13:17). Both Matthew and Mark follow this up with "Pray that your flight may not be in winter" (Matthew 24:20a & Mark 13:18) with Matthew recording Jesus adding "or on a Sabbath." (24:20b). With this addition of Sabbath we once again see that Jesus is speaking to Jewish believers.

Luke records Jesus "For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people." (Luke 21:23b)

Matthew and Mark use the word tribulation (thlipsis). The Greek word Luke uses is ananke and it literally means "necessity." It is necessary for this "distress" (which is another way to translate the word thlipsis which Matthew and Mark use) to take place. That this is referring to the Great Tribulation cannot be ignored. Luke says "For there will be great distress upon the earth." Matthew says "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no and never will be." (Matthew 24:21) Mark records "For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be." (Mark 13:19).  

However, Luke adds "and wrath against this people." An interesting choice of words. Houtos ho laos means "this people group." So a specific group of people are in mind. The people group that lives in Judea. The people group that holds Jerusalem as important.  The people group God chose to be his people.

The last verse of this section makes it pretty clear that Jesus is speaking to Jews. He continues. "They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (21:24). 

Here he alludes to the city of Jerusalem being overtaken. Jerusalem represents all of Judea and Israel. Jews will be slaughtered and led captive among the nations. It is as if the nations are trying to reverse the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 when Jews from all over the world came back to Israel, but there has been much argument concerning whether the restoration of Israel in 1948 should be seen as legitimate or not. So what we are seeing here could be an attempt to reverse what took place in 1948.

Who does the trampling? The Gentiles. How long will this last? Until the times of the Gentiles is fulfilled.  There are several speculations of what this phrase means. Some say the times of the Gentiles began in 586 BC when the Jewish temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. Some believe it refers to the period of time from Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection to the millennium. Others seem to think it spans from the destruction of the temple in AD 70 to the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in 1948. I can't be completely sure at this point, but I do want to present another view.

First, this passage describes a series of events beginning with the surrounding of Jerusalem with armies and the prophecy of the abomination that causes desolation being fulfilled. Luke seems to be calling this time period the times of the Gentiles. 

We naturally want to connect the prophesy concerning the armies surrounding Jerusalem with the answer to the question of when the temple will be razed. However, we have already shown that Jesus' reference to the surrounding of Jerusalem by armies is most likely linked to the end time prophecy concerning the abomination of desolation found in Daniel and not so much about the temple razing, though it may be razed once again for it will be rebuilt at some point and the sacrifices will start again. Instead, I think we must see that the times of the Gentiles could not start before Ezekiel's and Daniel's end time prophecies. 

If we begin this time period with what Ezekiel and Daniel reveal concerning Jerusalem in the end times we must place the times of the Gentiles within the tribulation itself. Further, we have a reference in Revelation 11 that seems to coincide with the event of and time period laid out by Ezekiel and Daniel.

"Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, 'Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months." (Rev 11:1-2) 

This prophecy seems to coincide with Daniel's prophecy. Daniel 7:25 "He [the anti-christ] shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times and half a time (referring to 3 1/2 years or forty-two months)."

So the times of the Gentiles could actually refer to the last 3 1/2 years of the tribulation when the anti-Christ occupies Jerusalem. Three and a half years is plenty of time for the Jews to be carried off into the nations and then return after Jesus's second coming and when the millennial reign begins. 

At this point both Matthew and Mark record Jesus giving further revelation and instruction. Both record Jesus saying "And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (or "shortened the days" according to Mark)." (Matthew 24:22 & Mark 13:20). 

Naturally we see the word saved and we think about salvation through Jesus Christ. However, I don't think this is what is being referred to here. Considering the context we are looking at a time of "great distress upon the earth" and "great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no and never will be." When you read Revelation it is quite clear that God will be pouring out his wrath upon the earth during the period of Seven Bowls (Rev 16). God could, if he so choose, completely do away with human life on earth. He did it once before, and he could do it again. But that is not his plan.

He has offered salvation through his Son Jesus. He has enabled the people of the world outside of Israel the opportunity to be saved. But we have to remember that He did make several promises to Israel, and he must fulfill his promises do them. He did not allow the nation of Israel, in general, to see the truth about the Messiah, but a time is coming when he will. There has to be people around for this to happen.

Jesus' second coming is going to resemble the way the Jews believed he should have come the first time. I don't necessarily think the Jews were completely wrong in their interpretation about his coming. They were just blind to his first coming. They just didn't expect him to come the way he did the first time and offer salvation to the Gentile world. God has to fulfill his promises to the Jews, and if he were to allow the tribulation to continue there would be no Jews left for him to fulfill his promises to. 

Matthew and Mark are not speaking of Christians when they use the word elect. They are speaking of God's chosen people. The word elect is often (not always) used of Israel through the New Testament. Paul uses this term at times to refer to Israel. Mark's record of Jesus words seems to confirm this "the elect, whom he chose." (Mark 13:20).

In this context it then makes sense that Jesus would issue a warning that both Matthew and Mark, writing to Jews, recall. Jesus emphasizes what he said earlier.

"Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you before hand." (Matthew 24:23-25 & Mark 13:21-23)

Why would Jesus warn his disciples? Because Israel as a whole, again, does not see the Messiah in Jesus. Israel is still looking. Jewish Christians, more than any other Christian, will always be tempted to wonder if Jesus truly is the Messiah. When someone comes in his name performing great signs and wonders and looking like a conquering king there is going to be temptation.

Also, Jesus foretold that he will be coming back. Jewish Christians will naturally be looking, once again, for a conquering king, and this is the picture Revelation gives us. Matthew records Jesus giving further warning. 

"So, if they say to you, 'Look, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out. If they say, 'Look, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." (Matthew 24:26-28)

5. Coming of the Messiah (second coming of Jesus and rapture)

Though what Luke says next is lacking in both Matthew and Mark it cannot be mistaken that all three of them are speaking of the return of Jesus.

Luke says "And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world." (Luke 21:25-26).

Matthew and Mark are pretty much the same. Matthew begins with "Immediately" and both continue "after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven." (Matthew 24:29a & Mark 13:24-25a) Notice that these signs are to occur directly after the tribulation and before the Second coming of Jesus. All three agree with the next words of Jesus. "For the powers of the heavens will be shaken." (Luke 21:26b, Matthew 24:29d, & Mark 13:26b). Matthew continues "Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all tribes of earth will mourn" (Matthew 24:30a) all three Gospel writers continue "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:27, Matthew 24:30b & Mark 13:26). 

Both Matthew and Mark record "And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:31 & Mark 13:27).

This echoes what Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonian church. 

"For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

Paul puts it in the perspective of those who are in Christ while Jesus is speaking solely of Israel who will be given the final chance to receive him as their Messiah. Israel will spend the next 1000 years under Christ's rule. The point of all of this is, there is no possible way that the world will not know that Jesus is returning. It will be unmistakable. Matthew and Mark record Jesus speaking of the foreboding of the nations whereas Luke records Jesus encouraging his disciples.

         "Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 24:28)

6. Parable of the Fig Tree

Matthew and Mark are almost verbatim when it comes to the parable of the fig tree and Luke only changes a few words/phrases. The point is clear. One can tell the season by looking at the fig tree (or as Luke suggests any tree). Jesus likens all the signs He just foretold of to the tree starting to grow leaf. It is apparent summer is on its way. What is interesting is to note that Jesus says summer is on its way. He doesn't say spring is here. This could be an allusion to a greater amount of time than what is expected. 

The real problem, perhaps, with the explanation Jesus gives the parable is when He says "this generation will not pass away until all is taken place." It would be easy to explain "this generation" if we looked to the fulfillment at destruction of the temple in AD 70. Many who heard Jesus' words would have still been alive during the destruction, but Jesus says "all is taken place" meaning all the signs He foretold of.

He most likely is speaking of the time period that begin immediately after His death, burial, and resurrection. Generation in the Bible doesn't always mean how we have defined generation. It can simply mean a period of time. The generation He is speaking of is the period of time God has ordained for the Church to proclaim the good news. It will end with either the beginning of the Great Tribulation or rapture and beginning of the Millennium. 

7. Warning

Luke's record of Jesus' warning is quite different from Matthew and Mark's. Mark's is much shorter than Matthew's, but it is obvious that a warning is being given in each of the Synoptics. And the warning is pretty much the same. Be ready. Be prepared. Even though Jesus has given all these signs of when the end is coming it is interesting that He then tells his disciples to be watchful. That it will come when no one expects. Etc... This seems to be another illusion to a greater amount of time than the disciples and the early church expected for these things to come about.

Many people like to take Matthew and Mark and use these passages as proof text for the pre-rapture tribulation theory. However, Luke's record seems to support the idea that Christians will go through the tribulation It is easy to form that opinion if a person just read Matthew and Mark, but we need to take all three of these gospels together. Luke records Jesus warning his disciples to be ready. Not to be ready for the rapture (pre-, mid- or post-). He says "...that day [will] come upon you suddenly like a trap." What day? The Last Day? How do we know this? Jesus just gave the answer to the disciples' question concerning when the end will come. And Jesus says right after this that "it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth." He can't be speaking of the rapture here. Who will it come upon? "...that day [will] come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth." It is pretty clear. Jesus is warning His disciples concerning the end. This is made clearly evident by His clarifying statement which implies "It is not just you, but the whole earth." Why does He warn them? "...that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place." If Jesus is going to rapture the church before the Great Tribulation than why would He warn his disciples so that they "may have the strength to escape all these things?"

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What "imminent" event should be a motivating factor in Gospel proclamation?

I keep hearing this term "the imminent return." I find it somewhat disturbing and somewhat arrogant. Those who use the term usually imply that they know Jesus' return is right around the corner despite the fact that every generation since Jesus' incarnation here on earth has believed that the his coming was right around the corner. Every generation has interpreted events of the generation as if they were fulfilling Jesus' prophecy concerning the end of days.

There seems to be a trend developing in the Church today. Along with more and more people believing that the rapture is to happen before the Tribulation there is an awful assumption being made. "If you don't accept or believe in the imminent return of Jesus you can't fully develop the sense of urgency that is needed to proclaim the Good News!" Really?! You mean to tell me that every person who believes in the imminent return of Jesus right now (which seems to be the majority of American Christians today) is out there evangelizing? Statistics concerning the growth of Christianity  in America would disagree.

Many people use the Christianese term "imminent return" as if this is the only real motivating factor for a Christian to urgently proclaim the Good News. However, consider this. There is another imminent event that every Christian should be completely aware of, and this event should also be a motivating factor in the urgency of Gospel proclamation. It is the imminent ending of one's time here on planet earth! No one knows how long they have, nor do they know the hour of their departure. James said "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (James 4:14)

Christians should not be looking down on brothers and sisters who may not subscribe to the "imminent return of Jesus" ideology (pre-tribulation rapture theory) that is present today. There are other motivating factors for Gospel proclamation. Christian brothers and sisters should encourage one another to give Gospel proclamation priority and see it as an urgent matter because our days here on earth are short, and we should be making the most of what we have been given. This concept in Christianity is known as good stewardship.

Things like when the rapture should happen should never be a dividing issue especially when all Christians should be motivated by the same thing when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel. The major contributing factor to the urgency of Gospel proclamation is not even the fact of our own imminent demise. The greatest motivating factor in Gospel proclamation should be one's love for and obedience to God.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

When Does the "Rapture" Happen?

I wrote this as an email with a friend who holds the pre-tribulation rapture view. Up until a couple of years ago I didn't hold a rapture view. I was "pan" in my view. I believed that everything would pan out in the end. Two years ago my men's group study went through Revelation. I was fascinated that there was no mention of the rapture there. So I began to study more and came to the conclusion that the "rapture," or the "catching up" of the saints, should not be a separated event from Jesus' second, and final, coming.

Today I finished Daniel. I know that some people read the pre-tribulation rapture into Daniel. Here is the email unedited (except for some personal stuff).

Daniel 11:2-35 pretty obviously presents historical events from Daniel's time up until Antiochus IV Epiphanes (and I believe Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2 and Daniel's visions in chapters 7-10 all speak of this same period). History matches with what is revealed in all of these chapters. However, at the end of Daniel 11 verse 36 there seems to be a switch that takes place. The Angel goes from speaking about Antiochus IV Epiphanes to some unknown king. So I would agree with scholars that 11:36-12:4 is concerning the endtimes and Revelation certainly fills in the gaps there.

Okay, so here is where I see support of the rapture happening when Jesus comes back for the last and final time. Chapter 12 is the end of history and the beginning of eternity. It is recorded "There will be a time of distress such as had not happened from the beginning of nations until then." Obviously the great tribulation. "But at that time your people--everyone whose name is found written in the book--will be delivered." I see a lot of people on the web claiming that this refers to Christians. However, Daniel is very concerned about HIS people. God reveals what he does in chapters 11 and 12 because of Daniels concern. And then you have this statement in 12:1 "But at that time YOUR people...will be delivered." So I can't buy that that verse 1c is a reference to Christians being delivered. However, verses 2 and 3 would seem to imply that the resurrection being spoken of here will be the final resurrection which of course includes Christians. The implication. Final deliverance for Israel comes at the same time as the resurrection for all God's people.

Some can make an argument about the phrase "But at that time" saying that it implies at the beginning of the "time of distress." However, I see a problem with this interpretation and it is based on translation. This phrase is a translation of one Hebrew word. The word is hiy and is a pronoun. Depending on context it can be translated that, him/her, same, this, he/she, which, who, etc... What this means is the word "that" cannot be used as an preposition (As in English. Actually, in English "that" can be used as an article, conjunction, pronoun, adverb, preposition...) It does not act as preposition to show a fixed position (first, during, after) in time. It simply means "that time" similar to the phrase "his book" or "which rock."

So in order to find the fixed position in time one must line what is revealed in Daniel up with other scriptures such as 2 Thessalonians 2.

Paul is of course is speaking to the concern of Christians about the being gathered to him (which many take as meaning rapture because the concern seems to stem from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians where of course he speaks about being "caught up"*). Paul clearly explains in verse 3 "Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship..." (which seems to be a reference to Daniel 11:36-39). Paul further explains " in verse 8 "And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of HIS COMING." ("His coming" is the English translation of the Greek word parousia and means "presence" referring to a royal visit. It is used earlier of Jesus in verses 1 and 8 and therefore cannot refer to the lawless one).

Paul says all of this must happen before the gathering of God's people can occur.

It seems pretty clear to me that the deliverance of Israel in Daniel, and the resurrection of God's people, which includes we Christians, will occur at the same time which is at the end of time when evil is defeated once and for all. God's people will be resurrected and we will be gathered together and caught up in the air to meet our Lord and Savior. At the same time, he will not even need to set foot on the earth to defeat Satan. His mere appearance (epiphaneia "brightness," "radiance," "splendor," "glory") will vanquish the enemy.

* What did Paul reveal in his first letter to the Thessalonians? In summary, the way the passage reads cannot refer to a secret rapture but refers to the final coming of Jesus. "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first (Resurrection in Daniel 12). Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord." (1 Thess 4:16-17).

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

When Offense Becomes Insult

Someone told me that the truth is not offensive. This was in response to me accusing them of being insulting. My response, most of the time truth is offensive. Truth is offensive in that it will always go against what is falsely held to be true. A person who believes falsely will be offended by the truth. I think there may be several reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest reason truth makes a person feeling foolish for possibly falling for a lie. When we believe certain things to be true, in particular religion, we become invested in such false truths and we live our lives upon the foundational beliefs. To have someone reveal that our foundation may be faulty causes pride which leads to a stubbornness to hold on to false belief.

This is completely natural. It has to be, for we human beings want to know everything, and yet, we cannot. We are finite beings with finite thinking, finite knowledge and have finite comprehension. It is so very important to understand the humans limitations when revealing and speaking about truth. We are all ignorant, however, it is till possible to know the truth.

Why is it important to understand this...truth about human nature? Because one of the worst things we can do is move from the offense of truth to being just plain insulting. An insult is an intentional hurting of someone else, and it has no benefit when trying to win someone over to the truth. In fact, insult hardens the heart and closes the ears.

I'll give some examples that closely resemble some things I have seen on a facebook page where Christians and Muslims come together to debate.

The truth, according to us Christians, is that Muhammad prophesied falsely.

One can speak the truth like this and it will still offend the Muslim. How can it not offend them when they believe Muhammad is the final prophet of God?

Or, according to the Muslim, Jesus is not the Son of God but only a prophet.

Again, a Muslim can speak this truth (as they see it) and still offend the Christian. How can this statement not be offensive when the Christian believes Jesus was not just the Son of God but also God in the flesh?

Compared to insult, offense is much easier to get over. Especially if one considers how the other person sees the "truth." But insult, as stated before, is meant to hurt. It is meant to be so offensive that the other person will either make mistakes in their response or quit responding at all. It is meant to have a sense of victory where there is no real victory at all. (Why, because the real victory is getting to see someone accept the truth not run away from it).

Examples of insult would be...

"Your 'prophet' is nothing but a lying sack of garbage and you are the idiot who fell into it!"

Or, "You're so stupid you believe in a god who impregnated his own mother and claimed to be his own dad. Whose the idiot now?!"

These are insults added to the truth and they do nothing to help the truth (or perceived truth). They do more damage than good. The beauty about truth, if it is truth, it will stand on its own. Truth is powerful that way.

The Apostle Peter writes

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil."

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 3:13–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Peter understood the offensiveness of the truth, and that is why he exhorts Christians to witness with "gentleness and respect, having a good conscience." Why is having a good conscience important? Peter is basically saying to leave the conversation having done your best to love like Jesus and not having intentionally done anything that might jeopardize the response to the Gospel message. Basically, you shouldn't be the reason someone rejects the gift of salvation. That is why he continues by saying that even when you are slandered your character (which comes out in your behavior) will put them to shame.

So I encourage all who are engaged in disseminating lies and revealing truth so just simply speak the truth with love, gentleness and humility. Remember that it will offend and there is no need for greater offense through insult. Don't count it a victory if you just shut someone down. Count it a victory when they realize and understand the truth you have.

Monday, October 17, 2016

When Does it Become Gossip?

Just doing some thinking. What really defines gossip as opposed to sharing information for the purpose of prayer? I ask because, even in light of the fact that some Christians use the opportunity to "pray" as an opportunity to gossip, other Christians will use the excuse of not gossiping to not pray for and even ignore the sin of a brother or sister. We get the idea that we shouldn't discuss the sins of brothers and sisters in Christ with each other because it is gossip, but is it?

Jesus commands us to confront one another when sinning. If no repentance takes place we are to confront that person with a couple of other people. That requires talking about a person's sin amongst concerned brothers and sisters.

I think gossip really has to do with the heart more than anything else. Gossip is malicious and lacking in love. Gossip is selfish for it is done to make one's self look good. It does not take into consideration the person the information is about and how the divulging of that information will negatively affect that person. In fact, it doesn't care, or it maybe even done maliciously.

I believe it is important that sins are made known amongst those who are suppose to be caring for one another. I believe we are each other's keeper. There is a fine line to walk between gossip for selfish purpose and the decimating of information in order to help a person through prayer and accountability.

We need to be very careful when we speak of others and their sin. We shouldn't completely avoid such talk, but we need to be wise when we do. The purpose of such talk must be for the benefit and edification of our brother or sister.

If we really care for one another we are going to find loving ways to confront sin. Prayer is essential. The more people praying the better. Support is essential, the more caring people there are supporting and encouraging the better. The more open and known our sin is the better it can be dealt with within a loving community of believers.

Something to think about.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Can Physical Healing Be Found In Jesus?

When I teach on Sunday mornings I have a particular point, or lesson, in mind. Case in point, this Sunday's teaching was concerning the need to test man's teaching for, as John says, there are antichrists among us who have come out from us. In stressing the point that we can identify false teachers by the examining of the gospel they present I used an example. I examined the gospel of Ricky Edwards who was the evangelist for the Kingman tent revival held a couple of months ago and supported by some churches in Kingman. Ricky holds that the Gospel message not only promises salvation but guarantees healing as well (the inference being made by using Psalm 103:3 as a proof text).

When I teach, with a particular point in mind, it can be easy for things said to be misconstrued especially if what I am teaching seems to go against a held belief. Case in point, I made the statement that one would be hard pressed to find scripture that guarantees healing for the Christian (much less it being a part of the Gospel message). What some may have heard me say was that Christians shouldn't believe that God heals.

It is important to me that what I teach be understood in proper context, and not false implications made. On Mondays I will be posting on my blog, and sending out a churchwide email, that will followup on the preceding Sunday's teaching. It will do one of two things. It will attempt to clear up any misunderstanding and/or give further thoughts concerning the subject.

Today I want to clear up a possible misunderstanding. Can physical healing be found in Jesus? The answer is, absolutely! But is physical healing guaranteed? Absolutely not! Jesus very obviously can heal. He did so while here on earth, and being in nature God, he has the power to heal today. In fact he does heal today. One cannot ignore the many miraculous healings that occur in this present age.

Unfortunately (or is it fortunately?) there is no guarantee that God will heal, no matter how much faith on has despite the number of teachers who say so. Is it wrong to believe God can heal or to pray for healing? Absolutely not! Is it wrong to expect God to heal? I believe it is. Some might claim this is a lack of faith, but I claim it is greater faith. What is easier to believe? Is it easier to believe that God will heal, or is it easier to believe that God has a plan that brings glory in the midst of one's suffering? It is easier to believe in healing for the desire to be healed is a selfish desire. What I simply mean by this is that it is far easier to focus on one's self than it is to focus on what may benefit others. Therefore faith in God's ability to heal is easier than faith in God's ability to use one's suffering to help others. God may have a reason for physical suffering, and it may involve the salvation of others. Of course this is harder to accept because it means one may have to continue to suffer and not experience healing.

The fact is God can and often uses suffering to increase faith. As faith increases the concern for self decreases. The very nature of faith brings our fears and concerns about ourselves to cessation as we believe and understand that God will do and provide what we need. Faith enables us to focus on others as John says is the evidence of salvation.

Can God heal? Absolutely! Can we expect to be healed? Not always. What can we expect? God's will to be done in our lives when we submit and have faith in his perfect and divine nature.

Again, the point of Sunday's teaching is to examine man's teaching. Examine the Gospel message taught, and compare what is taught to the revealed scripture. By this we avoid slipping into error. We will be held accountable for what we accept as truth.

Another issue I would like to try and clear up is the correct understanding of prosperity. People mostly think in terms of financial and material prosperity. This is rather unfortunate (and reveals the continued contention with flesh and selfishness) for the prosperity of God surpasses such petty things as money and stuff. Even so, does God financially and materially prosper those who follow him? I believe he definitely can. I previously said as faith increases the concern for self decreases. So the question I must ask is, why would God financially prosper only to have the concern for self increase? I don't presume to completely understand God and his mind, but in general I don't believe he would do something that would take us further from him. As long as a person is concerned about self I don't think they should expect for God to prosper them in such a way, but if the concern is truly for others and not for self one would probably most likely be unaware of God's financial prosperity as the more they are given the more they give in loving others. In fact, what they most likely will be even more aware of is an increasing joy that only comes from loving others as Jesus loves (talk about prosperity!). Overall, I caution anyone in believing and expecting that God will prosper them financially and matetially (as I cautioned with the expectation of healing). What is at issue is God's will. We can stand firm on the promise of Jesus that our needs will be met. What more do we personally neec? Such a promise frees us from concern of self and allows us to focus on truly loving others. In this way God is free to work through us. If he prospers us financially and materially it is simply because he expects us to use it to love others.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Is Happiness All There Is?

Happiness. It is one of the many answers to the philosophical question "What is life all about?" It is the foundation on which many ethical theories rest (egoism, utilitarianism, etc...). It is also used in the attempt to discredit Christianity or question the God taught by Christianity. 

Over the course of the last few days it has become obvious that many people think happiness is all there is to this life, but I have to ask the question. Is happiness all there is?

Here are my thoughts. 

1. If happiness is all there is then life is pretty pointless. In view of the fact that we are all mortal and will some day die then I think the idea that the ultimate goal on earth is happiness is complete nonsense. What's the point? I'm happy now but when I die I will not remember it because happiness was all there was when I was and now I am not! I would argue that happiness is not the ultimate goal but, from a biological standpoint, survival and perpetuation of my genetic material would be (fortunately I am not an evolutionist).

2.  The kind of happiness I think most people are looking for is a non-stop/eternal type of happiness. The truth is, no one will ever achieve the kind of happiness they seek on this earth. It is completely impossible. Life is filled with pain, suffering, evil and selfishness. There will always be heartbreak, loss, and sadness. As long as we live in a world where there is evil (both natural and selfish driven) then lasting happiness will never be attainable. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.

3.  Happiness, by definition, is an emotion and as such emotions come and go. This relates to number 2, but there will always be something that causes the emotion of happiness to cease or it just plain wears off. Happiness is not an emotion that is maintainable. It is simply impossible. 

Based on just these three thoughts I have to come to the conclusion that there has got to be something more to life than happiness.