Archive for the ‘Christ’s return’ Tag

A conversation between Paul and Jesus

John Piper, in his sermon on Romans 16:17-20, records a conversation he imagined between the Apostle Paul and Jesus as Paul was writing that the God of peace will SOON crush Satan under our feet.  Read or listen to the entire sermon, but pay close attention to this imaginary, yet biblically informed conversation that Piper adds to the end of his sermon.

Paul: O Lord, how long? How long till this great enemy is finally removed and the troubles of the church come to an end?

The Lord: It is not for you to know. My Father has the time fixed in his secret councils. And he is infinitely wise and infinitely good.

Paul: Lord, could it be long—hundreds or even thousands of years?

The Lord: And if it were a thousand years—or two thousand? Would that be long? A thousand years is like a day with me.

Paul: Lord, how then should I speak of this coming triumph? What should I say about the time?

The Lord: Be true to me the way I really am, and say what will help people be ready at my coming. They must not think that they can presume upon my delay. For if they do, they will drift into patterns of indifference and be snatched away to destruction in a moment.

Paul: So do you mean, Lord, that I should say that you are coming soon even though I don’t know that from our side whether it will be soon? That would not be a mistake to say that?

The Lord: No that would not be a mistake. Say that. It will cause some to stumble, like many other things that I say. Scoffers will come and ridicule my promise. I know that. But if you give the impression that it will not be not soon, you will do far more damage to the truth and to the souls of men than if you stay true to my timeless haste and help the people be always ready and full of hope.

Paul: Lord, if a thousand years or two thousand should pass and you do not come, what should your people think who read these words in those days? Will they not think, So many hundreds of years have come and gone, there is no reason to think it will be soon any more or that our lives will be interrupted by his appearing?

The Lord: They should remember that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. It will be sudden and unexpected by almost everyone. The world will be going on as usual (Luke 17:26-31). And sudden destruction will come upon them. Pray for them, Paul, that they not stumble over the word soon. Pray that they will know that for me it will be soon, and for them it will be sudden. Pray that they will understand that expecting it to be soon is the best way not to drift into indifference and be snatched away in destruction.

Paul: Thank you, Lord. You know that I would love for you to come back while I am still alive. I would love to be clothed with life rather than stripped of my body in death. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

The Lord: Paul, my dear servant, your desire for me and my quick return is a great honor to me. I would not want you to desire anything less. Finish this letter to the Romans and pray that those who come after you will have your same desire. And until then, never forget—and don’t let the people forget—when I come I will crush Satan under your feet. My grace be with you.

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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.

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.