Archive for the ‘Eschatology’ Category

Obsessed with Rapture

I listen to the Whitehorse Inn each week and you should too. It is hosted by Dr. Michael Horton who teaches at Westminster Seminary in southern California. He is normally joined by three other men, one of whom is Kim Riddlebarger. Riddlebarger has written a book entitled, A Case for Amillennialism. This week’s program, in the providence of God, is entitled “Obsessed with Rapture” and if you go to an evangelical church in America you should listen to this program. Dr. Horton says this in his opening commentary, “America has always been fertile soil for end times, apocalyptic scenarios. Hal Lindsey’s book [Late Great Planet Earth] was the best selling book of the 70’s and Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind series was the best seller of the last decade. The rapture is still big business in America. Does the Bible teach the doctrine of a secret rapture that is distinct from Christ’s second coming and is it possible that speculation and intrigue surrounding end time events takes our focus off of Christ, who is, after all, the point of biblical prophecy.”

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church – little to no doctrine, no expository preaching, lots of alter calls, “Just As I Am” over and over again, and a lot of talk about “the rapture”. How many people have made “decisions” for Christ when they were kids or teens out of fear of being “left behind.” A secret return of Christ and an overnight rapture of His church are very fascinating, but how biblical are they? When you get past the myths of modern American apocalyptic fictional books and start looking at the scriptures, there is a lot more clarity to eschatology (study of last things).

Haven’t you heard someone say, or haven’t you said it yourself, “All this Revelation stuff and tribulation stuff and rapture stuff is so confusing.” It is when you let the myths of modern American apocalyptic fictional books be your teacher. For some reason, and I knew this was going to happen, the more I look into the return of Christ the more I see that the church’s obsession with decoding the times and placing our hope in a “rapture” have only taken the American evangelical church’s eyes off of Christ. The entire point of Christ’s teaching on his return and the apostles teaching on Christ’s return was to cause the church to live radically obedient lives in the face of tremendous persecution so that at the culmination of the church age (Christ’s second coming) they would be found faithful and their salvation would be certain.

A great bit of the conversation on this week’s Whitehorse Inn program centered around 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which we studied this past week in Sunday School. Many will use this text of as the authoritative word about the “rapture”. Well, after looking at the Olivet Discourse and then coming to 1 Thessalonians 4 you can see a lot of connections between the writing of the Apostle Paul and the teaching of Christ. None of those passages talks about a “rapture” in the same sense that Christian pop-culture talks about a “rapture”. If you just sit down and read these passages – there is trouble in this world which the church must endure with the hope that when Christ returns we will be with him forever. Things will certainly get worse the closer we get to his return, but our hope is not in some kind of secret “rapture”. Our certain hope is that those who have trusted in Christ’s death and resurrection will be found in Him at His appearing and we will not be taken away into eternal judgment, but will be with Him forevermore.

That is the simplest, most straightforward reading of the texts, and shouldn’t that meaning always be the interpretation that the church commends to its people? The more I study it, the more I think so.

I will begin posting the Sunday School lessons on the return of Christ shortly.

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Believers in Orissa, India, and Christ’s Return

John Piper just linked to this article over on the desiring god blog. How do you think these believers in Orissa, India, regard Christ’s return? Do you think they are eagerly awaiting His return? I think if we were to ask 100 of them that question – 100 of them would respond in the positive. Now why do you think that is? It’s because they are suffering. Did they choose the suffering? In a sense they did – they determined that living as disciples of Christ in this world was what they would do and out of His providence suffering was brought upon them because of that determination. I wonder how much suffering you and I face on a daily basis because we have determined to live as disciples of Christ – because we took up our crosses and followed him. I’d measure to say that you probably suffered about as much as I did today. That is how it is in our comfortable homes and in our comfortable life styles. We don’t suffer. In fact, everything in us has been trained to avoid suffering at all costs. That is why there is such a thing as air-conditioning.

I’ve heard a pastor put it like this (and no, it wasn’t John Piper) – What if you determined that this week you were going to go to each of your neighbor’s houses. What if you determined to go and share the gospel with each of them to the point where they knew you truly believed they would go to hell if they did not repent of their sins and follow Christ? Do you think you’d suffer? What if you determined to call every church in your community that was apostate – not preaching the gospel at all or watering down the gospel message for the sake of “seeker sensitivity”. What if you called them and told them they were, according to God’s word, abandoning the gospel that was handed down once for all from Christ and His apostles? Do you think you’d suffer? What if you called that family member who you know is lost and on their way to an eternity under God’s wrath? What if you called them and told them that the road they were on was the road to destruction? Do you think you’d suffer? We make a thousand decisions a day (or refuse to make those decisions) to avoid suffering. What if, instead of choosing the path of least resistance, you started choosing the path that lead to suffering? How do you think you would start regarding Christ’s return? Would you be found eagerly waiting for His return?

Eschatology and the Olivet Discourse

I worry about guys who are obsessed with the return of Christ and what we call eschatology, the study of last things. There have been those throughout history who can be examples of this obsession with the last things being carried to the extreme. Men like Jim Jones and David Koresh are of the extreme variety. I think similarly there are those who, in pride, want to be able to be called an “expert” about the signs of the times and make predictions that will be proven true. Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” So we are to eagerly await his second appearing, I just think that there are those who are so obsessed with the last things that they lose sight of the reason they should be eagerly waiting for him. Some love to debate the subject. Others are obsessed with the headlines and trying to prove them in line with the secret codes of scripture.

My reason for doing this study is not because I’m obsessed with the end of the age or that I’m always on the lookout for the signs of Christ’s return. I’m not trying to win a debate or get you to win a debate. I’m not trying to be able to somehow predict what is going to happen by decoding scripture’s riddles. We’re simply dwelling on the scriptures that speak of Christ’s return so that, as the writer of Hebrews said, we will be found waiting eagerly when he appears the second time. I want our hearts and minds to be balanced with dwelling on the here and now as we must, but also looking in great anticipation to the day when we will receive the “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”, as Paul writes in Romans 8:23.

Unlike the convinced cult leaders and the weird guy in your Sunday School class, Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour of his return – only the Father knows. He states this in what has become known as the Olivet discourse. The Olivet discourse occurs in the synoptic gospels. It begins in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

Let me set the context of this discourse and then next time we’ll consider Christ’s take on His return. Jesus had just gotten through with some intense debates with the religious leaders in Jerusalem at the temple. Jesus and his disciples leave the temple to go back to Bethany and they stop at the Mount of Olives where Jesus looks back at the city and says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matt. 23:37-39). What catches the ears of the disciples is that phrase in v. 38 – “See, your house is left to you desolate.” The disciples question must have been, “If Jesus is the Messiah and Jerusalem is denounced and desolate, then where will Jesus rule? What will he rule?”

This brings us to the point of the discourse – Jesus is answering their 2 questions: 1) When will the temple be destroyed? 2) What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? It is important to note that the disciples are not asking about what is going to happen to the church that Jesus is going to build. I believe, because of this, the church is conspicuously absent in the Olivet discourse – Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ questions. Maybe the church has been raptured, some may draw that implication out. However, that is just an argument by inference when it comes to the Olivet discourse. The church may in fact be present during the times that Jesus describes, but he doesn’t talk about the church because that isn’t what the disciples asked him about. The rapture of the church and the timing of that event will have to be left to another discussion. We can say definitively that the Olivet discourse simply is not about the church. It is about Jerusalem and it is about the indicators of Christ’s return.

Luke’s gospel account deals swiftly and simply with the first question – “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near (Luke 21:20).” 70 AD the Roman armies surrounded the city of Jerusalem and left it desolate. Jesus’ words in Luke 21:20 and Matthew 23:38 were proven true in 70 AD.

The second question is answered in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke – because they are so similar are called synoptic like synonymous or synonyms). In our study, let’s focus on Christ’s words as they are recorded in Matthew’s gospel. I’ll do that in the next post. Until then, spend some time reading through Matthew 24, and thinking about what Christ has to say about his appearing.

How do you say Maranatha?

“Maranatha” is the joyful exultation of the Apostle Paul written at the end of 1 Corinthians, which is translated, “Our Lord, come.” How many times a day do you find yourself thinking, “Maranatha!”? If you’re like me, it isn’t too often if at all.

This past Sunday morning I began teaching on the topic of eschatology in our adult Sunday school class. I have a semblance of confidence when teaching soteriology or ecclesiology because I have studied these things so intensely, but not so with what the Bible says about the last things – eschatology. So I started the teaching series with what I was fully convinced of – that one day Christ will return. What is sad is that I must define what I mean by those words. What I mean when I say that, “one day Christ will return” – is that some day in the future Christ will come to earth again in the same physical body with which he left and that this appearing will be visible. Many in liberal theology would say that the second coming of Christ is just allegorical, which is a flat out denial of the words of Christ and his apostles. Others will say that although his appearing will be literal, it will be invisible and mysterious. That is also a denial of what is written in the New Testament. When it comes to the return of Christ, I take the words of Christ and his apostles at face value and refuse to deny what the writer’s of the New Testament make so plain: Christ’s second coming is going to be physical and visible.

So why study Christ’s return? In the adult Sunday school class we began studying 1 Corinthians in October of 2006 and it was my assumption all along that we would just continue in our study by going on to 2 Corinthians. However, I had been convicted about my lack of knowledge regarding eschatology for a few years and I could never really pinpoint why it was that I was not very interested in the study of last things.

Then as I studied the Sovereignty Psalms I came to Psalm 98 where the psalmist commands us to sing a new song to the LORD (a very eschatological command – there are a couple of places in Revelation where it is said that people will be singing a new song when the end times come and Christ returns). Here was my conviction as I communicated it in my sermon

Psalm 98:7-9. Take in the meaning of these words – the Psalmist is saying that it is not just us as a people who are to be about singing and making joyous noise before the King. The entire planet, both the animate and the inanimate join together in this song before the LORD. And why is that? It is because of that word in v. 9 – “for”. We saw it in v. 1 and now we see it again in v. 9. In v. 1 we sing a new song “for” he has done marvelous things. Now in v. 9 all of creation joins together in joyous song “for” he is coming. The King is returning and when that happens the victory will be complete. His rule and reign and his kingdom will be fully realized. That should give us reason to sing for joy and join with all creation to celebrate the one who holds all things in his hand. Do you look forward to the time when He returns? One of the songs that we sing together that blesses me the most is It is Well. I think about that last stanza that Horatio Spafford wrote: “And LORD haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the LORD shall descend even so it is well with my soul.” The Apostle Paul puts it like this – 2 Tim. 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the LORD, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” Do you love his appearing? Again the Apostle Paul writes this in Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Is his appearing your blessed hope?

I recall John Piper telling about a conversation he had with his 12 year old daughter at Pizza Hut. He said they were talking and at one point he looked out the window and said I can’t wait for Jesus to come back. His daughter looked at him and said, “Daddy, I want to get married.” He knew exactly what she was saying, and I know what she was saying and you know what she was saying. I want to see my kids grow up and maybe get married. I want to be a grandpa. I want to see a great work of God in and through this tiny church here. There is so much I want, Jesus can you just hold off for a few more years? In essence, what I’m saying is that I love my life here on earth just a little bit more than I love your appearing LORD. The problem I find in my own heart and I’m pretty sure you’re not that much different than me is that the time I spend thinking on the blessed hope I have in the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ doesn’t even begin to compare with the time I spend pondering my own personal goals and my own self-fulfillment. How would we live if we would count all things as loss next to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus and looking to the day when he will set all history right WHEN HE RETURNS.

My hope and my desire is that as we study Christ’s return together as a Sunday school class we would begin to dwell on His return. My hope and desire is that we would begin with the Apostle Paul to see Christ’s return as our blessed hope and so love His appearing.