September 11, 2016

Thoughts on September 11, 2001




Today, September 11, 2016, marks the 15th year since the attack happened. Following is a sermon I preached in Winona Lake, Indiana, just five days after the 9/11 tragedy. I remember the attack vividly. Today, as we mark the 15th year since the tragedy, I was reminded of that day in 2001 and how difficult and important it was to give our church a message of hope.


Most of us have been glued to our televisions and radios this week, watching and listening to details of the horror that visited our shores on Tuesday, September 11. We’ve been hoping and praying for more survivors and mourning the thousands of dead with the rest of the nation, all the while asking ourselves how such evil acts could have happened.

We’ve been inundated with commentary and video replays. One Muslim representative on National Public Radio commented the only way the west could appease the Muslim fundamentalists would be not to exist at all, while another said no cause justifies the immoral and inhumane acts that occurred on Tuesday. Palestinians in Israel were shown celebrating the terrorists’ success in the streets, and the Afghan government advised its citizens to prepare for a holy war and said that it is an honor and a holy service to die fighting the United States.

A few well-known conservative Christian television personalities offered the opinion that our nation has sinned against God, and He no longer protects it . . . and they said that’s why the horrendous tragedies occurred. But we must remember that our nation is not a chosen people in a covenant relationship with God, as was Israel. Every Christian, no matter his or her nationality, is bound by Scripture to honor his or her relationship with God by worship, prayer, and faithful and righteous conduct. It is a personal, not a national, relationship. As to why the attack occurred, a National Public Radio commentator summed it up simply: It happened because the United States supports Israel, he said.

As we have sought this week to internalize the events and their meaning and impact, perhaps the lament of a volunteer rescue worker in New York City, in a short interview on MSNBC states the relevant theological truth: "This world is evil; this world is evil," he said, shaking his head sadly.

Our sense of security has been shaken. No longer do our shores and borders seem safe from the hatred and violence in the world. Suddenly, we don’t just observe from afar the dangers people face in parts of the world torn by terrorism and violent persecution. We how experience the same fear and daily uncertainty as people living in countries of the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the world. It’s not that hatred and violence is new. Indeed, the Bible teaches the wickedness of the unregenerate human heart beginning in the earliest chapters. But it is new to most of us experientially, and that has changed our thinking profoundly.

As Christians, we must not lose sight of three eternal truths as we ponder and respond to the awful acts of terrorism in our country: (1) our future is in Christ and not in the world, (2) God judges evil and will triumph over evil, and (3) while the battle rages in our midst, God wants us to live in the light of eternity.


Our future is in Christ and not in the world

Regardless of good or evil circumstances affecting us, the focus of our lives, as Paul put it, is Christ Jesus our hope (1 Timothy 1:1). Nothing that has happened this week and nothing that will happen will change the things that matter to us most as Christians. Those things are our relationship with God, our future home in heaven with God and with all our loved ones who have known Christ, and theforgiveness and lovingkindness God has shown us and continues to show us.

Jesus . . . HE is the issue for us, HE is our purpose and our goal, HE is what matters, not our circumstances.

And what about the sudden and violent loss of our sense of safety and security? In the world, there are no guarantees we will be safe. But there is the guarantee for Christians that we are loved, and that is the real security. Here is how God, through the inspiration of the Apostle Paul, describes it in Romans 8:34 & 35:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger of sword? As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Always remember in every circumstance, whether positive or negative, that your future is in Christ, not in the world, and while there are no guarantees we will be physically safe, there is the guarantee that God loves us.

God judges evil and will triumph over evil

Seeing video of the airliners crashing into the World Trade Center towers and the thousands of relatives on the streets searching for their loved ones, many of us have asked ourselves how such evil can prevail. Despite the evil acts we witness, we must remember that evil does not and shall not prevail. In the resurrection, Christ defeated death itself and gave us eternal life with Him.

God has a will and a plan to punish evil in the present. That is the very reason He established human governments--to reward righteousness and to punish evildoers. Knowing this, now as much as ever we should pray without ceasing that our national leaders will show the wisdom and the courage they will need to accomplish the task before them in ridding the world of the evil of terrorism. Here is God’s will and plan, as shown to us in Romans 13:1-4:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath, to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

God also has a will and a plan to judge evil in the future for all eternity. Here is the scene revealed to John in Revelation 20:7-21:8:

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth--Gog and Magog--to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand of the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city He loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
 He who was seated on the throne said, I am making everything new! Then he said, Write this dow, for these words are trustworthy and true.
 He said to me: It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars--their place will be the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

Remember as you ponder the tragedy our nation is experiencing . . . we may witness evil acts, but we can be assured that evil shall not prevail in the present or in the future.

While the battle rages,
God wants us to live in the light of eternity

Many, many times in Scripture, God gives us the assurance He will judge evil and reward righteousness. In the light of eternity, we may wait patiently for Him to act. Here is how God inspired David to assure us about this in Psalm 37:1-9:

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

How plainly God has given us His plan! We are not to fret (literally in Hebrew, the term means do not burn with anger) because He will cut off evil people and their deeds and reward the people who hope in Him. Our task is to commit our own way to the Lord and to trust in Him. The Hebrew term translated trust in this passage also is quite specific to our current circumstance: the Hebrew term literally means feel safe.

God also is our refuge in the times we have tough questions about the evil around us, in times of uncertainty and insecurity, and in times of fear. In Psalm 46, He puts it this way:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, thought its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, He burns the shields with fire. Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Remember what we have discussed today: As Christians, we must not lose sight of three eternal truths as we ponder and respond to the awful acts of terrorism in our country: (1) our future is in Christ and not in the world, (2) God judges evil and will triumph over evil, and (3) while the battle rages in our midst, God wants us to live in the light of eternity.

As a closing thought in our consideration of the new circumstances we in the United States find ourselves in, the church would do well to observe that we as a society have not seemed to prosper and grow spiritually in our times of material prosperity and sense of national security. Yet there are many Christians in other cultures where persecution, violence, and death are a way of life, and inevitably those Christians have grown in spiritual maturity, have seen the urgent need to expose the unsaved to the gospel, and whose churches are bursting at the seams. Our society has been lulled by its prosperity and strength into a sense of security, but now that sense of security has been shattered. We now have the opportunity to share our faith with those around us who are more ready than ever to hear about God’s plan of salvation and security for them. Let us hold each other accountable to begin sharing the good news of Christ to the people around us more urgently than we have ever done before!

January 20, 2016

Introduction to the Book of Revelation & Revelation Chapter 1



An introduction to the study of the Book of Revelation 
for the Sunday evening small group
at First Baptist Church, Glenville, West Virginia.
This is the outline from which I taught.


-         Name:        Revelation, Apocalypse, “unveiling” or “uncovering”
-         The same word used Romans 16:25, Galatians 1:12, Ephesians 1:17; 3:3—describes unveiling of a spiritual truth.
o   Ex.: Romans 16:25-26— 25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God,…”
-         Also used to describe the revealing of the children of God (Romans 8:19), the incarnation (Luke 2:32), His glorious appearing at His 2nd coming (2Thessalonians 1:7; 1Peter 1:7).
o   Ex.: Romans 8:19— 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”
-         No question about author (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8)—John, the apostle & author of 4th gospel & the 3 epistles of 1,2,&3John; he was the last surviving apostle & is thought to have died around 100 A.D.
-         Place of writing: Island of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Asia Minor (Turkey today).

o   John exiled there by the Roman Emperor Domitian.
§  Arrested in Ephesus while ministering at the church there & surrounding countryside; exiled because of his witnessing for Christ & work establishing Christian churches (Revelation 1:9).
§  Tourist attraction today; Christian pilgrimage

-         Date of the vision: est. 94-96 A.D., shortly before John’s death. John was in his mid- to late-90s.

-         There is almost no debate about authorship & date—affirmed by writings of church fathers in early 2nd century A.D.

-         2 purposes:

o   Conveyed commendations & warnings to 7 churches in Asia Minor at which John had ministered & had witnessed their development (chapters 2 & 3);
o   Record of a series of visions from the risen Christ…visions that laid out the future history of the world.

-         Themes

o   Warnings & exhortations to the church—warnings about sin, exhortations to holiness.
o   The doctrine of the last days…
§  Final political makeup of the earth at His appearings
§  The last battle in human history
§  The career & ultimate defeat of the antichrist
§  Christ’s 1,000-year kingdom on earth
§  The glories of heaven & the eternal state
§  The final state of the wicked & the righteous; God rules over the kingdoms of mankind, and He will accomplish His sovereign purposes regardless of human and demonic opposition

-         Millennial Views

o   3 primary views
§  The millennium is mentioned in Revelation chapter 20, where it talks about 1,000-year period of time when Jesus rules with his saints over the earth in its sinful state. Satan is said to be bound for the 1,000 years so that he cannot deceive the nations, then after 1,000 years, Satan is once again released. There is one final rebellion which is crushed by Christ and then there is the final resurrection and judgment of all people.

§  Amillennialism

·       Millennium is figurative; a picture of what is being experienced now in the church through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit
·       Bk of Revelation is entirely symbolic and not a prophecy of literal future events
·       Christ will return at the end of the age (a long age, not literally 1,000 years) to begin the eternal state
·       Origin: the teaching of St. Augustine.
·       Still popular (Presbyterians)

§  Postmillennialism
·       The millennium is in process through the church
·       The church, through the preaching of the Gospel, will bring the world into a “golden age”…end of evil and universal acceptance of God
·       Christ to return after this golden age & establish the eternal state
·       Origin: the teaching of the Puritans
·       Popular in 17th-19th centuries
·       Also called “preterism”; interprets all end-times prophecies as events which have already happened, except for Jesus’ return
·       Holds that events prophecied in the book of Daniel happened in the second century BC & the prophecies of Revelation happened in the 1st cent.
·       Still held by a very few sects today.

§  Premillennialism
·       The oldest view; held by the apostolic fathers.
·       Relies on a literal interpretation of prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul (1 & 2 Thess.) & book of Revelation
·       That is, these are literal prophecies of real future events
o   the kingdoms predicted in Daniel
o   the regathering of Israel & rebuilding of the Temple
o   the return of Christ for His church & the rapture
o   the 7-year tribulation
o   the return of Christ with His church to reign for 1,000 years
o   the judgment & eternal state
·       Premillennialism is the only view that honors the simplest and most reliable Bible interpretive method—that the Bible means literally what it says
o   & that predictive prophecy of the future will be fulfilled just as surely as the biblical prophecies we have seen fulfilled in the past.
·       Some difference of opinion about pre-, mid-, & post-tribulation rapture, but all agree times of increasing troubles for the church preceding the rapture

_______________


Revelation Chapter 1

Revelation 1:1-3—“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

-         “Revelation”—something clearly visible

-         “Blessed”—the only book in the Bible…promises blessing for the one who reads it & “…takes to heart what is written in it…”

-         “…the time is near…”—refers to epoch, age, era, or season… interp. present age or church age…telling us that the next age or era is imminent. Christ’s return for His church is the next event…

-         Note Matthew 24:36-39…no one knows the time of His appearing—“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

-         Note 2 Peter 3:3-4…anticipates long delay…so long that people will begin to question whether He will ever come—“3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’”

Revelation 1:4-8—“4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. 7 ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’ So shall it be! Amen. 8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

-         7 churches in Asia Minor…modern Turkey…7 key cities…sort of like county seats…church established in each

-         “…who was, and who is to come…”…the eternal God…I AM… always present & always will be…

-         “…the seven spirits before his throne…”…most likely ref. to the 7 churches in Asia Minor…7 biblically is the number of completeness…parallel meaning=fullness of the HS…

-         7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pierced him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.”…Daniel 7:13 (“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.”) & Zechariah 12:10 (“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”)…ref. to the Jews (“…house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem…”)

-         8 “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”…the beginning & the end…(El Shaddai)…leaves no doubt as to the one speaking to John—God…

Revelation 1:9-11—“9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.’”

-         Patmos—Small island in the Aegean Sea…isolated…John exiled “…because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus…” …John banished from populated areas of the Roman Empire due to His preaching & teaching…

-         John heard the audible voice of God…

Revelation 1:12-20—“12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. 19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

-         V. 12 “…seven golden lampstands…” each lampstand represents a church…the 7 churches in Asia Minor (v. 20)…a church from which the light of life is shown…7 being the number of completeness, the 7 lampstands are representative of all churches.

-         V. 13 “…Son of Man…”… Christ…81 times in the gospels…

-         V. 14 “…white like wool…”…most likely a blazing white…a white light (Daniel 7:9—“the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.”)…

-         V. 15 “…voice like the sound of rushing waters…”…no longer the clear, crisp, sound of the trumpet heralding victory…but now the voice of power & authority…like the sound of the powerful, relentless crashing surf against the rocks of the island’s shore…

-         V. 16 “…he held seven stars…”…these are the angels (messengers) of the 7 churches (see v. 20)…the meaning of holding them in His hands: He controls the church & its leaders… “…double-edged sword…”…a broad weapon signifying judgment…

-         V. 17 “When I saw Him I fell at His feet…”…a common response to seeing the Lord in all His glory…

o   Genesis 17:1-3—“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3 Abram fell facedown…”

o   Isaiah 6:1-5—“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’”

o   Ezekiel 1:28—“28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”

-         V. 18—“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

o   “…keys of death and Hades”…(Hades=Sheol, the place of the dead)…Holding the keys, it is Christ who decides on the timing of life and death…

-         V. 19—“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later.”…this is sort of a brief outline of the book… “what you have seen”=chapter 1; “what is now”=letters to the churches (vv. 2 & 3)…and “what will take place later”=chapters 4-22.

-         V. 20—“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”


o   “Angels”—lit. “messenger”…could be either…but probably refers to leaders in the churches…7 leading elders (we call them deacons)… “lampstands”—mentioned previously…the 7 churches…lamps giving the light of the gospel from the churches.

Introduction to End-Time Prophecy

An introduction to the study of the Book of Revelation 
for the Sunday evening small group at First Baptist Church, Glenville, West Virginia.
This is the outline from which I taught.


The Signs of His Coming

-          No date
o   Mark 13:32-35:  “…about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.”

-          The Bible teaches imminent return—in the next moment!

o   While the Bible talks about conditions in the last days…there are no calamity; political, economic, or religious developments; & no prophecies needing to be fulfilled…before JC returns for His bride, the church.

§  James 5:7-9: “7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

o   1 Thessalonians 5:1-9: “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

o   Titus 2:11-13: “11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,…”

-          We do know from scripture the order of future prophetic events.

1.      The latter times or the last days of the church age (now)
2.      The return of Christ for the church, His bride—1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

3.      Third in the order of prophetic events…the 7-year tribulation period on earth (Revelation 4-19), also called the “70th week of Daniel” (Daniel 9:24-27)—
Daniel 9:24-27— 24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. 25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”[1]

4.      Fourth in the order of prophetic events is the return of the Lord “with power and great glory” with His church to establish His Millennial reign on earth (Revelation 20 and Matthew 24:29-30)—

Matthew 24:29-30—29 “Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.

-          We believe we are now in the latter days (end times, or last days) prophesied for the church age. Scriptures referring to this period of time, or dispensation, describe the social conditions and attitudes that will be apparent at the time immediately before the return of Christ for His church (called the “rapture”).

o   1 Timothy 4:1-5—1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

o   2 Timothy 3:1-9— But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses,[2] so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

o   2 Timothy 4:3-4—3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

o   2 Peter 3:3-4—3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

o   These prophesied “last days” for the church will be marked by apostasy, seduction by false spirits, unnatural affection, pride, treachery, skepticism, etc.—that is, an accurate description of the world in 2016!

-          We are not told in the Bible to become preoccupied with specific “signs” to immediately precede our Lord’s return for us, but only the general conditions that will exist in the “last days.” From its inception in the first century A.D., the New Testament tells us that His return is imminent, and that we should be expecting it at any moment. Paul calls this our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13— 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,…). This applies to every generation of Christians, but we believe that the conditions the Bible describes as characteristic of the last days of the church age are evident today.

o   Matthew 24 has been subject to much discussion. In Matthew 24:3, the disciples asked Jesus, “…what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The church age and the rapture of the church are not taught in the Old Testament, so it is thought by many Bible scholars that the disciples could not, therefore, be asking about these doctrines, because they had yet to be revealed by the Holy Spirit. There are many just-as-qualified Bible scholars who believe Jesus is referring generally to His return, without differentiating between His return for His church and His return to reign with His church. I believe the former interpretation is to be preferred.

What they were asking Jesus was what signs would precede His return as to rule Israel (as prophesied in the Old Testament). His response refers to His return at the end of the tribulation to rule not just Israel, but the entire earth in His millennial kingdom This is found in Matthew 24:29-30—29 “Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.

o   Another evidence that Jesus may have been referring to His return at the end of the tribulation in Matthew 24 is His mention in verse 14 that “…this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The universal preaching of the gospel is accomplished finally in the tribulation period, and is described in Revelation 14:6-8—“6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” Note the timing of the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom to every person on the earth—after the rapture but before the Lord returns at the end of the tribulation to establish His millennial kingdom.

-          There will, however, be signs Israel is to look for during the tribulation period. This is the time when the church is with the Lord in heaven looking down on the events transpiring on the earth as the Lord judges Israel and the rest of humanity. Looking down on the events, the church witnesses the ordeal of the Jews and Gentiles alike as the Lord judges and witnesses to Israel in preparation for His return to reign.

o   Jesus reveals to His disciples some of the signs that will take place during the tribulation as the time nears for His return to reign:

§  False messiahs and prophets deceiving many (Matthew 24:5, 11)
§  Wars and rumors of wars (v. 6)
§  Unprecedented political turmoil, famine disease, and earthquakes (v.7)
§  Martyrdom, betrayals by members of one’s family (vv. 9-10)
§  Licentiousness and lawlessness as in the days of Noah (vv. 37-39)
§  A 10-nation confederacy of the revived Roman Empire (Daniel 2, Revelation 13)
§  The building of the temple in Jerusalem (Daniel 9:26-27)
§  Physical signs—earth, sun, moon, and stars (Luke 21:25; Joel 2:30-31)
§  Hearts will fail for fear due to cataclysmic events (Luke 21:26)
§  The believing remnant of Israel will be gathered from throughout the earth (Matthew 5:31)
                                                                                                                                   
-          These signs precede the coming of the Lord “…in power and great glory…” to redeem believing Israel and usher in His 1,000-year reign on earth (Luke 21:27-28; Matthew 24:27, 30, 42).

-          We see the advent or imminence of some of these signs now, just another indication that the time may be near. The signs Jesus told to His disciples will become fully evident, however, after the Lord returns for the catching up of His church in the air (the rapture) and will precede His return at the end of the tribulation.

-          Note that the Christians in Thessalonica were troubled because of false teachers who taught them that they had somehow missed the rapture (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3—1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.”

o   The terrible trials and persecutions these Christians were suffering made them wonder about the times and left them susceptible to false teachers telling them that they were in the midst of the great tribulation.

o   Paul’s reassurance in 2 Thessalonians is in the context of his first letter to the Thessalonian Christians, in which he promised them (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18): “16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together[3] with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

-          It seems readily apparent that the spirit of apostasy the Bible describes as characteristic of the last days is present today, which leads us to an ever-increasing realization that the Lord’s return for His church and the beginning of the tribulation period are imminent. That has been the “blessed hope” of the church since its inception and the expectation of every generation of Christians since the apostles.

-          While we wait for and anticipate His return, we must continue to do the Lord’s work of reaching the lost, encouraging one another, walking in the Spirit, and demonstrating in our manner of living the difference Jesus and the indwelling Holy Spirit makes in our lives.

-          The Holy Spirit admonishes us to live as though the Lord’s return will happen at any time (1 John 2:28—“28And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.”)

-          Finally, as we look forward to His appearing, we can take to heart the words of 1 John 3:1-3— 3See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”



Footnotes:

[1] These are “sevens” of years and describe a period of 49 years (7 sevens), thought to be the time between Daniel’s writing until the end of Nehemiah’s ministry or the end of the prophecies of Malachi; followed by a period of 62 sevens (483 years), for a total of 490 years (69 “sevens”) until the first advent of the Messiah, which is thought to have been fulfilled with the triumphal entry of the Messiah circa 30 A.D. The final 7 years (the 70th “seven”) is the prophesied 7-year tribulation.
[2] Jewish tradition holds that these were two men among the Egyptians who went with the Israelites in the Exodus, and that they were the ones who urged the Israelites to make and worship the golden calf while Moses was on Mt. Sinai. They are not mentioned in the Old Testament, however.
[3] Anytime someone tells you the term “rapture” does not appear in the Bible, refer them to 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The Greek word is translated to English here as “caught up together.” The origin of the English word “rapture” comes from Latin translation of this verse in the Latin Vulgate, a translation produced in the 4th century A.D. and in use for more than 1,000 years prior to the translation of the Bible into common languages. The term “rapture” is a transliteration of the Latin verb raptus in v. 17, or perhaps the transliteration of the French form of the same word, meaning to “catch up” or “take away.”