Welcome to our second series of theological discussions.  We are offering on this page, the articles concerning what we exegetically understand to be the correct Biblical teaching on the End Times and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

We provide this quick link index to the articles in this series for the benefit of quick perusal.  There are seventeen articles in all. We hope you enjoy the research.

  1. The Beginning Of The End -- June 14, 2009           
  2. Now You See Them, Now You Don't -- June 21, 2009           
  3. The Twinkling of Eyes -- June 28, 2009           
  4. Will God's Church Escape The Tribulation? -- July 5, 2009            
  5. The Seven-Year Tribulation Theory -- July 12, 2009           
  6. Daniel 9:27 -- The Source Of The Problem -- July 20, 2009           
  7. The Antichrist: Fact vs. Fiction -- July 26, 2009           
  8. The Antichrist Comes First! -- August 2, 2009          
  9. What Is "Apostasy"? -- The Great "Falling Away" -- August 9, 2009           
  10. Who Is "The Man Of Lawlessness"? -- And Some Titanic Truths About The Temple -- August 16, 2009       
  11. All Eyes On Israel -- And Some Titanic Truths About That Nation -- August 23, 2009           
  12. Who Are The Two Beasts Of Revelation 13? -- August 30, 2009           
  13. What Is "The Millennium"? Part I -- September 6, 2009           
  14. What Is "The Millennium"? Part II -- September 13, 2009           
  15. Toward A Concrete Hermeneutic Of Revelation 20:1-10 -- September 20, 2009           
  16. Debunking The Rapture - Once And For All - By Verse -- September 27, 2009           
  17. The Lion And The Lamb - We Conquer By LAMB POWER! -- October 4, 2009           


June 14, 2009

It was 4:09 p.m. on Thursday, August 14, 2003.  It started with a blip.  Lights flickered and then went out, and in a few hours it was dark from New York to Cleveland to Detroit and into southern Canada.  The late-August front cover of Newsweek magazine labeled the event, BLACKOUT OF 2003.  Thankfully, the 55 million North Americans who were affected took it quite well.  Looting was minimal and no one died.

This new series of articles called is about another blackout!  It is a spiritual blackout which is now occurring within Christianity and concerns the true meaning of God's "sure word of prophecy" (II Peter 1:19).  Millions of prophecy-minded Christians sense we are nearing the return of Jesus Christ.  But when it comes to what a majority of people think is going to happen during Earth's last days, and what the Bible actually says will occur, the difference is seismic.

It's no secret that the following five teachings have become immensely popular:

1.   All true Christians will soon vanish in the rapture.
2.   Seven years of apocalyptic terror will overtake those left behind.
3.   One sinister man - the antichrist - will take over the world.
4    The antichrist will enter a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, claiming to be God.
5.   The nations of earth will attack Israel at Armageddon.

These five concepts are bring taught on radio, television, at prophecy conferences, in countless books and magazines, in end time movies, in seminaries and on the internet.  The five-point belief system is also tightly connected - with one event supposedly leading to the next - just like New York City's electrical power grid is intertwined.  On August 15, 2003 at 4:00 p.m., our nation's generators, electrical cables, transmission lines, and system operators were all working efficiently together.  Everything was fine.  Until 4:09.  Then a single, high-voltage current forced America into "the largest power outage in our history."

When it comes to popular prophetic theories, is it possible a large portion of Christianity is now in the midst of another outage - a truth outage?  The Bible clearly teaches, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers, and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (II Timothy 4:3-4).  Has that time come?  It sure looks that way!  I believe many good-hearted Christians have fallen prey to the above mentioned five-fold teaching of the end-times.  When did these so-called "teachers" arise who now scratch the itching ears of their hearers?  We can almost pinpoint it a year, a situation and a person.  We'll tell you more about that later.

I believe that the Rapture is a racket!  Whether prescribing a violent script for Israel or survivalism in the United States, this theology distorts God's vision for the world.  In place of healing, the Rapture proclaims escape.  In place of Jesus' blessing of peacemakers, the Rapture glorifies violence and war!  In place of the Book of Revelation's vision of the Lamb's vulnerable self-giving love, the Rapture celebrates the lion-like wrath of the Lamb.  This theology is not biblical

At the outset, let me hasten to say that Rapture theology is disastrous for the Middle East and it is more dangerous for planet Earth.  It's dangerous in that many of those who teach this doctrine influence our politicians and those in power in our government.  The results are such that we spend more of our foreign budget on the nation of Israel (mostly it's defense) than on all the other countries we help combined.  The United States is inseparably woven to the survival and welfare of Israel.  According to Public Enemy Number 1, Osama bin Laden, this is the primary reason for the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  If we backed off, even some of our support for the nation of Israel, our nation would not as easily be seen as "the Great Satan" by Islamic Fundamentalists. 

Proponents of Rapture theology love to use the image of a countdown, reminiscent of a missile launch.  Pastor John Hagee borrows his particular doomsday clock from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, an effort on the part of nuclear scientists to alert the world to the danger of nuclear annihilation.  Hagee writes in the introduction to his book: Daniel to Doomsday: The Countdown Has Begun that "Doomsday - the stroke of midnight - is coming!"  The Rapture is the reason Hagee and so many others revel in the prospect of destruction for the earth; the Rapture will be their "great escape" from earth.

In the summer of 2003, Ted Turner and Public Broadcasting System sponsored an eight-hour special "Avoiding Armageddon," warning of nuclear and chemical weapons proliferation and urging the world's leaders to take steps to curb the danger.  The next week, in reviewing the week's news through her end-times lenses, a breathless Rexella Van Impe asked her husband on their fundamentalist Christian cable television show, "Jack, Ted Turner thinks Armageddon can be avoided.  Is he right?"  Her husband was enthusiastic in his response saying there was no way Armageddon can be avoided.  Van Impe is the author of The Great Escape: Preparing for the Rapture, the Next Event on God's Prophetic Clock and other books on the Rapture and the Middle East.

Rapture and Armageddon scenarios tap into American's love for disaster films and survivalist plot lines.  Readers of end-times novels readily envision themselves among a select few who will escape planetary disaster.  These readers have spent not millions, but hundreds of millions of dollars on books like Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins Left Behind (16 million copies sold); and the succeeding eleven volumes in the Left Behind series.  Volume 2 is called Tribulation Force and it has sold nearly 14 million; Desecration (Volume 3) has sold over 12 million and so on.  Best-selling end-times author Hal Lindsey has published eight works dealing with Rapture theology since 1970 and, together, they have had 100 million copies sold in the United States alone!

There is no doubt about it at all. Bible believers are pre-occupied with end-time scenarios, particularly the two second comings of Christ and the coming of the Antichrist in between!  You read that right - I said two second comings

In the next article I will address some of these "Rapture Delusions" and the origin of the concept of the rapture.  To water your appetite I'll talk about the year 1829, Margaret MacDonald, Edward Irving and John Nelson Darby, and the rise of cults and occults.

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June 21, 2009

First, there was the Scientific Revolution (c. 1680-1760) which brought about the First Great Awaking in religion and taught that science could answer the things that God couldn't.  Then, there was the Industrial Revolution (c. 1800-1880) which brought about the Second Great Awaking in religion and taught that industrial progress will make man more advanced.  The third revolution is called the Nuclear Revolution (1945-2000) and different from the first two, this one did not bring about a religious awakening like the previous two, but did contribute to end-time scenarios that make people feel that there is a religious awakening.  Every time there is a "revolution" in society, three things follow:

    1)   An interest in and the rise of Charismatic phenomena.  Healing and miracle services and speaking in tongues are paramount.
    2)  The rise of cults and occults, each claiming that someone within each group is "inspired" by God to teach and write with His authority (such as Joseph Smith and the Mormons; Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah's Witnesses; Mary Baker Eddy and the Christian Scientists, etc.)
    3)  The progressive study of and heavily devoted interest in prophecy or the doctrine of "The Last Things."
The year 1829 falls within the context of the second "revolution."  The so-called "Shakers" in America were preaching and encouraging the working of miracles and spoke in tongues.  Joseph Smith had already claimed to received a vision of and had already published the Book of Mormon.  And, interest in the doctrine of the last things was gaining popularity.

To find the origin of the most popular eschatological view of our time we must begin with the second "revolution," i.e. The Industrial Revolution. 

A big shift in the study of prophecy began in the 1820's when a Scottish Presbyterian minister named Edward Irving co-founded a group of men and women interested in the last things and the second coming of Jesus Christ called The Society for the Investigation of Prophecy.  There were many Bible societies and study groups popping all around the world in the early and mid nineteenth century.  Many scholars and historians attribute this to the rise of the Industrial Revolution.  In fact, there have been three so-called "revolutions" in history.  Each one was considered a major historical shift in society that affected everything from politics to science, and from economics to religion. 

Into this mix comes Irving.  He and his Society for the Investigation of Prophecy researched and taught hundreds of lessons on the rise of the Antichrist.  But it was around the fall of 1829 that Irving began to teach what many called a novel idea of a two-phase return of Christ.  He wrote and preached that the first phase was a secret rapture before the rise of the Antichrist.  Christian journalist Dave MacPherson has researched this matter for many years and in his investigative book entitled "The Rapture Plot" he noted that Irving "stole" the idea from a young Scottish teenager named Margaret MacDonald.  MacDonald attended a number of "healing" services and while at one, was said to have exclaimed during one such service that she had a vision of Jesus returning twice.  Irving was present when she had such a revelation and he spent many months doing research.

Within the months that followed, a brilliant lawyer and pastor began to write a number of tracts on Irving's studies.  His name was John Nelson Darby who staunchly defended the infallibility of the Scriptures against British liberalism and unbelief.  In 1830, Darby became the lead of an English group called the Plymouth Brethren and spent many years developing his school of thought which he called "Dispensationalism."  Both Darby and Irving championed a view of the Second Coming of Christ that had never been taught before.  In the 175 years since, this view is accepted and taught by more than 60 percent of the Bible believing world!

The number one emphasis in this theology is first there will be a secret rapture (or first-second coming of Christ) - then the appearance of the Antichrist.  Reporting on Irving and Darby's rapture-then-Antichrist views, Dave MacPherson wrote:

Into this futurist system both Darby and Irving had injected a further refinement, based upon a declared attempt to reconcile the different parts of the New Testament which they considered to be relevant.  In their view, the Second Advent would take place in two stages:  first, there would be a quiet appearance - the "presence" - of Christ, when all true Christians, the true Church, would be removed from the earth.  The was the "rapture of the saints."  Only then, when the restraining presence of the Holy Spirit in His own people had been removed from the world scene, would Antichrist arise.  His rule would be brought to an end by the second stage of the Advent - the public "appearing" of Christ in glory.

Concerning the link of these two men to Margaret MacDonald, MacPherson testified:

Since Margaret MacDonald was the first person to teach a coming of Christ that would precede the days of Antichrist, it necessarily follows that Darby - back to whom pre-tribulation theory can easily be traced - was at least the second or third down the line.  To date no solid evidence has been found that proves that anyone other than this young Scottish lassie was the first person to teach a future coming of Christ before the days of Antichrist.  Before 1830 Christians had always believed in a single future coming, that the catching up of Christians in I Thessalonians 4 will take place after the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24 at the glorious coming of the Son of man when He shall send His angels to gather together all of His own.

Whether she realized it or not, Margaret did her part of pave the way for the doctrine that would demand separate waiting rooms at the end of this age - one for the church and another for Israel.  To her belongs the credit for the Left Behind books and The Late Great Planet Earth!

Having unfolded this brief little history behind the teaching of the Rapture, let's look at this concept a little closer. The exact word, "rapture" isn't used in the Bible!  However, millions of prophecy-minded Christians have nevertheless been taught that soon God's Church will disappear from earth without a trace.  Headlines are predicted to read: "Multitudes Missing, Chaos Sweeps The Globe!"  "All Children Have Disappeared!" "Massive Traffic Snarls Due to Evaporated Drivers!" "Planes Crash, Trains Wreck, as Pilots and Engineers Vanish!"  Perhaps you've seen the bumper stickers reading: "In case of Rapture, this vehicle will be unmanned."

In the last few years, the number-one promoter of the rapture idea has been the New York Times bestselling Left Behind series co-authored by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.  A high-speed, 12-book sequence of novels about the end times, Left Behind teaches that the return of Jesus Christ takes place in two distinct phases.  First, Jesus comes invisibly to remove His Church before a seven-year tribulation during which the rest of humanity must face the Antichrist.  This is the rapture.  At the end of those seven years, Jesus will again return visibly to deliver those who became Christians during the tribulation - after being given a "second chance" to be saved - and to pulverize the invading enemies of Israel at Armageddon.  This is the second coming.  Thus it's rapture first, then seven years with the Antichrist, then the visible second coming of Jesus Christ.

These popular concepts - rapture, seven years of horror, future Antichrist - have also been taught in many Christian films of the last thirty years such as A Thief in the Night, Image of the Beast, Tribulation Force, The Omega Code and Left Behind: The Movie.  Because the rapture teaching has been promoted so heavily in our society, even among those outside the Church, a rumor has circulated that some higher-ups in American Airlines want at least one non-Christian pilot aboard each flight - just in case!

The real question is: Although "rapture" isn't a Biblical word, is the doctrine there?  If not, could it be an END TIME DELUSION? Let's find out...

First of all, the Bible certainly does teach the exciting truth that Jesus will return for His people.  Our Lord Himself said, "I will come again and receive you to Myself" (John 14:3).  All Christians should believe Christ's promise and long to meet Him on that great day.

But will He come invisibly?  Will the Church disappear?  Does the Bible really teach vanishing Christians?  Without a doubt, the most quoted passage used to support the rapture concept is I Thessalonians 4:17.  A lot of Christians know this verse by heart, and it is cited in Left Behind: The Movie.  There Paul wrote that true believers will someday be "caught up ... in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."  But does "caught up" mean disappear?  Is Paul describing a silent return of Jesus Christ before a seven-year tribulation?  The answer is in the context.  We just need to read it and take it in slowly.

Here is what Paul actually wrote:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Rapture teachers interpret this event as silent and secret, yet doesn't it seem rather loud and visible?  There is a shout, a voice, and a trumpet.  Have you ever heard a silent trumpet?  The truth is, I Thessalonians 4:16 is one of the noisiest verses in the Bible!  Look carefully: Jesus comes down from Heaven shouting and blowing a trumpet.  The dead rise.  Then true believers are "caught up."  There is nothing here about vanishing Christians prior to the tribulation.  Rapture promoters interpret "caught up" to mean disappear because this view fits their tightly-meshed prophetic system, you it must be admitted that the text doesn't say this.

At the end of Jesus' earthly ministry, He was also "taken up," (Acts 1:9).  This doesn't mean He disappeared, leaving His clothes on earth.  Instead, in full view of His disciples, "while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight."  This event was highly visible.  Luke said Christ was "taken up," then clouds are mentioned, just like Paul wrote about believers being "caught up ... in the clouds."

Notice carefully the fill context of Acts 1:9:

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven."

Here we have holy angels - in the form of men in white robes - explaining the simple truth about Jesus' return.  They told the disciples that just as Jesus was literally and visibly "taken up" into the clouds, even so He would come in like manner as they had seen Him go into heaven.  The angels taught no secret coming here, nor anything about vanishing Christians.  Everything will be highly visible.

Returning to I Thessalonians, Paul, then, brings up the thief-in-the-night idea:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.  But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.  And they shall not escape (I Thessalonians 4:16 - 5:3).

Here Paul compares the coming of Jesus Christ to the arrival of a midnight thief.  Rapture promoters interpret this to mean Jesus will come like a silent thief to snatch believers off the earth before seven years of chaos - then driverless cars will crash, pilotless plans will collide, and babies will be found missing from their cribs.  Is this really what Paul is saying?

Again, slowing down and looking closely at this passage we see, first of all, the day when Jesus comes as a thief is clearly the very same day in which He descends with a shout and a trumpet blast.  Secondly, it comes as "a thief in the night" only upon the unprepared!  When it hits, "sudden destruction comes upon them (the lost), as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.  And they shall not escape."

Do you see what Paul is saying? Jesus' coming as a "thief in the night" does not mean He will come quietly and invisibly to steal Christians out of this world, as taught in rapture movies and New York Times bestselling books.  Rather, it means He will come unexpectantly, bringing "sudden destruction" upon the unsaved.  Will the unprepared get a "second chance" to be saved during a subsequent seven-year tribulation?  Paul answered this question when he wrote, "They shall not escape" (verse 3).

Here's a simple summary of what I Thessalonians 4:16 - 5:3 really says:

  1. Jesus Christ will literally descend from Heaven with a shout and a trumpet blast;

  2. The dead in Christ will rise first and true believers will be "caught up" just like Jesus Himself was visibly "taken up" into the clouds almost 2,000 years ago;

  3. This cataclysmic "day of the Lord" will burst upon the unprepared like the unexpected arrival of a midnight thief;

  4. "Sudden destruction" will overwhelm the lost, "and they shall not escape."

When taken literally, these words describe the visible second coming of Jesus Christ, not a secret rapture.

Immediately after his solemn prediction of Christ's return as a midnight thief, Paul wrote to true believers: "But you, brothers, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.  You are all sons of light and sons of the day.  We are not of the night nor of darkness" (I Thessalonians 5:4 & 5).

Remember the Blackout of 2003?  It left 55 million North Americans in darkness because a massive system failure short-circuited our electrical power grid.  At least when it comes to I Thessalonians 4:16 - 5:3, we have just witnessed another system failure.  The popular doctrine of a silent, secret return of Jesus and vanishing Christians is just not there!

Next time we will take a closer look at what is called the Parousia - the Second Coming of Christ.  Everything in the end occurs all in one day - not seven years.

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June 28, 2009

Jesus predicted, "Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:40-42).  This is probably the second most quoted Scripture in the Bible used to support the doctrine of an invisible return of Christ and vanishing Christians.  Supposedly, "one will be taken and the other left" means that believers will disappear in an unperceived flash, while the rest of the world suddenly wakes up in a mystified ignorance wonders, Which way did they go?

Again, the key is in the context, Matthew 24 begins with our Savior quietly sitting upon the Mount of Olives.  His "disciples came to Him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign of Your coming, and the end of the age?'" (Matthew 24:3)  Obviously, the disciples were thinking about Jesus' return and the end of the world.  Because of mental gaps and some loose ends, they asked the Master to clarify the truth.

Before we look at Christ's response, notice the little word "coming," in verse 3.  The original Greek word there is Parousia. While you don't need to be a Greek scholar to understand the Bible, that small word is of large importance.  As we shall soon see, the "Parousia Principle" will soon provide vital insights into the rapture question. 

In response to His disciples' please-clarify-the-end inquiry, Jesus' very first words were, "Beware that no one deceives you" (Matthew 24:4).  The forcefulness of this response should hit us like a tornado!  Why?  Because it clearly implies that when it comes to this exact topic of His "coming" or "Parousia," Jesus knew there was going to be a great deal of deception whirling around.  And what is even more dramatic is that Jesus raised His "Don't be deceived" warming flag four times in this singular sermon (see Matthew 24:4-5,11,24).  One gets the idea that end time delusions will someday sweep over Planet Earth like a massive tidal wave.  The only way to avoid being swept away in this sea of falsehood is to pay close attention to the exact words of Jesus Christ.

The Lord continued, "Because false christs and false prophets will come and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24).  It is here that Jesus said Satan's delusions will eventually become so subtle and powerful that only "the elect" will come through unscathed.  Who are the "elect"?  Based on this context, they must be a group of people who know the Truth Teller and the Bible so well that even the devil can't mislead them.  Verse 31 also tells us that "the elect" are people who are ready for the return of Christ.

Immediately after warning about tricky false prophets and deception, Jesus said, "Therefore if they say to you, Behold, He is in the desert; don't go out and look; if they say, look He is hiding here, don't believe it.  For as the lightening flashes in the east and shines to the west, so shall it also be with the coming of the Son of Man (verses 26 & 27).  Here Jesus draws a razor-sharp contrast between false views of His return and the truth.  Concerning false views, don't miss that little word "secret" in verse 26.  Jesus plainly warned that some will mistakenly promote a "secret" coming.  Based on the context, we discover that this will be one of those powerful delusions which only God's faithful elect will avoid.  How should we respond to the idea of a secret return?  The Lord's answer is stunning ... Don't believe it!  Why not?  Because "as the lightening flashes in the east and shines to the west, so shall it also be with the coming of the Son of Man" (verse 27).

Far from being a secret event, Jesus Himself compares His return to the brilliant flashing of electrically-charged lightening bolts hustling across the sky.  Now here is an important point to consider:  Guess what exact Greek word Matthew used for "coming" in verse 27?  It was the same one he used in verse 3 - "parousia."  This is clear evidence that the Parousia definitely applies to the highly visible second coming of Christ.  In Hollywood action movies, hidden files are sometimes labeled, "Top Secret."  When it comes to the Parousia, Jesus clarified it would be anything but secret!

Jesus' bewildered disciples had inquired, "...what will be the sign of Your coming (the Parousia), and of the end of the age?  After warning about secretive delusions, Jesus finally answered their exact question by lifting the curtain of history and fully unveiling what His cataclysmic return would be like:

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other (Matthew 24:30-31).

This description of Jesus' return contains more punch than the highly speculative, evolutionary Big Bang theory.  There is no question about it.  His "coming" or "Parousia" will be unmistakably visible to "all the nations of the earth."  The dazed masses of humanity will literally "see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of the sky with power and great glory."  Certainly no one will miss it, and no one will wake up the next day wondering, Which why did the Christians go?  On that awesome day, the unsaved will "mourn."  Why?  Not because their loved ones have vanished!  They will mourn because Christ has suddenly come and their last chance for preparation is behind them.  Now it's too late.  They are lost forever!

This entire passage also parallels Paul's words in I Thessalonians 4:16-17.  Just like in Paul's description of what will happen when true believers are "caught up."  Jesus also said His coming would be a very noisy event that will include loud reverberations from "a great sound of a trumpet" throughout the sky.  When we place these sections side by side - without prejudice or preconceived ideas - the message is unavoidable, inescapable and irrefutable.  Both passages refer to the loud, climactic, highly visible, and glorious second coming of Jesus Christ!

Back to Matthew 24; Jesus, the Truth-Teller continued:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven; nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  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; 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.  Then, two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.  Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If they owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch, and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him. (Matthew 24:36-44)

Here, Jesus compared His return to the sudden descent of billions of tons of water upon lost sinners in Noah's day.  Those ancient people thought Noah was a crazy old man, that is, until "flood came and took them all away.  That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:39).  Guess what Greek word is used here again for "coming"?  It's "parousia" which, as we have already proven, unmistakably applies to the highly visible second coming of Christ.

Now notice, immediately after Jesus described His "Parousia" in verse 39, He continued without skipping a beat: "THEN two men will be in the field, one will be taken and the other left" (verse 40).  Remember, this is the second most widely quoted verse used to uphold the secret rapture doctrine?  Supposedly, when verse 40 is fulfilled, those who are "taken" will vanish without a trace, leaving only their clothes, shoes, false teeth, and wedding rings, while those who are "left" will have to endure a horrific seven-year tribulation and face the antichrist.  But is this what Jesus is really saying?

We don't need to depend on scholars to find the answer.  In fact, it is never safe to lean completely on any man, no matter how smart or educated he may be.  I would never teach, and no Christian should ever be taught, to rely solely on persons like Tim LaHaye, John Walvoord, Thomas Ice, Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, Grant Jeffrey, Chuck Smith, John Hagee, or any other popular teacher or preacher.  We all should open our own Bibles, pick up our own concordances, and find out for ourselves what truth is.  If you are willing to do it, here is what you will surely find:  Believers will be "taken" (verse 40) at the "coming" or "Parousia" (verse 39), which the Bible clearly applies to the loud, visible, and glorious appearance of Jesus at the very end of the world (see Matthew 24:3,27,30-31 & 39).

Jesus basically said, "It will be just like Noah's day" (verse 37-39).  Now think about it.  Did Noah and his family vanish before the flood?  No, they just walked visibly into the ark.  And what about those who were left behind after the door of the ark was shut?  Did they have a second chance?  No again!  How were they left?  They were left dead: they did not escape.  After saying, "the flood came, and took them all away," Jesus made His power-packed point, "That is how it will be at the coming (Parousia) of the Son of Man (verse 39).  And then, without a break, Jesus said, "THEN two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left" (verse 40).  Upon careful analysis, these words leave no room for Left Behind's ongoing saga about "tribulation believers" resisting the antichrist during a post-rapture seven-year period.  Why not?  Because those who are "taken" are transported up at the "coming" or "Parousia," which applies to the final second coming of Jesus Christ!

Immediately after saying, "One will be taken and the other left," the Lord them compared His second coming to the sudden arrival of a midnight thief, just like Paul mentioned in I Thessalonians 5:2 & 3.  Jesus said, "But understand this: If they owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch, and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him" (Matthew 24:43-44).  To "watch" doesn't mean spending endless hours in front of the television set, nor does it mean watching popular movies about the end times which take detours away from the straight truth.  Rather, it means to watch out for satanic temptations and end times delusions.

Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 4 and 5 fit together just as perfectly as Adam and Eve before they sinned.  Both describe a noisy, highly visible, trumpet-blasting, and glorious return of Christ in the clouds.  Both describe believers being transported into the air.  Both declare this day will come with thief-like suddenness upon all sleeping sinners.  In Noah's day, when billions of tons of water came crashing down, there were no second chances for those who refused to enter the ark.  Similarly, Paul said the lost "shall not escape."  And both a Paul and Matthew use the same Greek word to describe this great and awesomely powerful "day of the Lord."  True believers are urged to watch, be ready, and to avoid all subtle, secretive, devilish tricks.

There is one other item we should look at before I conclude this article.  In I Corinthians 15:52 we find reference to an event predicted to occur "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye."  This is probably the third most quoted pro-rapture verse used to support the idea of vanishing Christians prior to the seven-year tribulation.  We have previously slowed down to look at our biblical speedometers, yet this time we must come to a screeching halt.  Context, context, context!!!  This is our safety zone.  Notice carefully what Paul really wrote:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (I Corinthians 15:51-52).

Is Paul saying believers will some day vanish while their loved ones blink?  Not at all!  He is simply saying that the dead will be raised and our sinful bodies will be changed "Ina moment, in the twinkling of an eye."  When will this "moment" take place?  Paul's answer is clear.  It will occur "at the last trumpet," when "the trumpet will sound," that is at the very end of the world.  This is the very same "great sound of a trumpet" Jesus said will be heard when He finally commissions His angelic friends to gather His people at His second coming (see Matthew 24:31).

To conclude, the Parousia Principle proves the "one will be taken" event occurs at the final second coming of Jesus.  And based on the full context of I Corinthians 15:52, "the twinkling of an eye" moment similarly occurs at the end of the age.

Around April 15th, even Christians sometimes need to file tax return extensions with the Internal Revenue Service.  Such extensions are allowed and usually approved.  But to add a seven-year extension to Jesus' words in Matthew 24:40, or to Paul's message in I Corinthians 15:52 is, quite frankly, an end time delusion.

In the next article, we will take a look at the penetrating question of whether the church will escape the tribulation.

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July 5, 2009

There are two concepts that come with the "rapture" package:
       1.   The Church of Jesus Christ will escape the "tribulation."
       2.   Those who miss the rapture will have a second chance to be saved!

Apart from what the Bible actually teaches about the first item, if you think about it, the second can be dangerous!  Some people might rationalize, "If the rapture takes place, then I'll know God is real.  Even though it may be tough I can still become a Christian during the tribulation and resist that antichrist guy!"  In this way, by adopting a lazy "Let's wait and see" attitude, lost sinners may put off their decision to repent and follow Jesus right now.

Die-hard tribulation supporters sometimes say, "God wouldn't allow His people to go through the tribulation.  He loves us too much!"  But if you think about it, does He love us any more than He would love after-the-rapture new believers during the tribulation?  No!  Then why would He allow them to go through such a horrific period, but not us?  Could it be that the idea of escaping tribulation is really only catering to our lukewarm American tendencies?  We like comfort, hate to go through trials, and can hardly bear it when our TV-dinner lifestyle is threatened.  Yet historically, God's people have gone through intense suffering.  All the disciples of Jesus, except John, were brutally murdered.  Thousands of early Christians were torn to shreds by wild dogs and lions inside the Roman Coliseum.  Millions of others were horribly tortured by the Inquisition and burnt to ashes during the Dark Ages.  Believers in Russia and China have suffered terribly under communism, and yet American Christians say, "God wouldn't allow us to go through the tribulation!"

When it comes to "tribulation" you may be chocked to discover that almost every reference to this word in the New Testament describes what believers suffer through!  Jesus told His followers, "In this world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33).  Paul told the early Christian converts"...we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).  Paul later wrote to the Thessalonian church "...we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure (I Thessalonians 1:4).  Only the lonely isle of Patmos, the Apostle John was our "companion in tribulation (Revelation 1:9).  Jesus told the church in Smyrna, "I know your works and tribulation..." (Revelation 2:9).  In the light of these Scriptures, the idea of Christians escaping tribulation seems like fantasy and illusion.

Many might respond by saying, "Yes, but those verses are talking about 'tribulation,' not the tribulation."  Again, I ask you to think about it.  If the majority of the BIble's "tribulation texts" refer to what believers go through, why would God's Word suddenly shift gears by teaching that the tribulation is something believers will not go through?  Even in Left Behind, there are after-the-rapture Christians who go through the tribulation.  Jerry Jenkins calls the "the Tribulation Force."  Therefore the thought of Christians going through this period is not so strange.

Many pro-rapture advocates also argue, "If the Church is going through the tribulation, then why isn't the Church mentioned after Revelation chapter 4?"  Let's take a closer look.  In Revelation 4:1, John was told to "come up here."  People conclude this represents the rapture and they think the Church isn't mentioned anymore.  First of all, John did not actually go to Heaven in Revelation 4:1; he was simply taken up in a vision, while his toes remained in Patmos.  Secondly, the Church is on Earth after Revelation 4.  How do we know this?  Because Revelation says the beast will make "war with the saints" (13:7), then we read about "the faith of the saints" (13:10), and finally, during the mark of the beast crisis, Revelation refers to "the saints" who keep "the faith of Jesus" (14:12).

Some will respond by saying, "Those are the tribulation saints after the rapture, not the Church."  But consider this: Paul wrote his New Testament letters to the "churches of the saints" (I Corinthians 14:33).  This tells us that wherever there are saints, there is the Church!  Even if the saints mentioned in Revelation 13 and 14 are only the tribulation saints after the rapture, wouldn't they, as sincere believers in Christ, still be the Church?

Rapture teachers content the Church won't be here for Armageddon.  Is this true?  The word "Armageddon" is used only once in the entire Bible - that is found in Revelation 16:16.  Here we have the great reference about the falling of the seven last plagues.  Right before verse 16, during the time of the plagues, Jesus thunders, "Behold, I am coming as a thief.  Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.  And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon" (16:15 & 16).

Did you catch that?  Who is Jesus talking to?  He was talking to the Church!  At the time of verse 15, while the seven plagues are falling, which is definitely during the tribulation, and right before the battle of Armageddon, Jesus has not yet come as a thief!  Therefore He must come like a thief at Armageddon, after the tribulation, and this must be the time when He comes to gather His Church.

Like a good commanding officer, Paul urged the soldiers of the cross, "Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand" (Ephesians 6:13).  We are to stand in "the evil day."  You know we won't be able to do that if we have previously disappeared!  Jesus also said, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13).  How long must we endure?  To the end!

What about the "second chance" idea?  First of all, God has given every one of us more than "a second chance."  When we sin and resist His love, He gives us countless chances to make a full surrender to His saving grace.  The message of the gospel is continually sounding to sinners, "Christ died for our sins" (I Corinthians 15:3); "Believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31); "Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).  But eventually, God's patience will wear out and the angel of mercy will take his final flight.  Humanity will have passed "the hidden boundary between God's patience and His wrath."

Paul wrote that all who are not fully on the Lord's side when true believers are "caught up...shall not escape" (I Thessalonians 4:17; 5:3).  For them, their second, third, tenth and ten-thousandth chances are over.  Jesus also said, "But as the days of Noah were, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:37).  After the door of the ark closed, all desperate attempts to get inside were useless.  It was too late.  Paul also wrote, "now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).  This is it!  Don't put off your decision to give Christ your life.  If you are not "caught up" when the Lord descends from Heaven with a shout, you will be lost forever.

There is one more key thought.  If the tribulation-rapture doctrine is false, this obviously means we ourselves must not only pass through Earth's final tribulation, but must also face the antichrist and his deadly mark (Revelation 14:9-10).  Here lies the biggest problem.  Many Christians are deeply afraid of this.  Thus it seems that fear - fear of the beast - often underlies many desperate efforts to maintain the shaky tribulation-rapture position.  From what I have seen, fear often lurks below the tribulation-rapture doctrine.  Deep down underneath the surface of many arguments lies the hidden scary thought of having to endure the time of trouble and face the beast.  This fear may be unconscious, yet often it is there, and it seems to prevent people from being open-minded enough to even consider another viewpoint.  Emotions fly high and many refuse to reasonably examine the clear scriptural evidence in favor of a "post-tribulation" gathering of the Church to Christ.

Sadly, those who hold to a "pre-tribulation" rapture doctrine has become the great evangelical escape clause for the avoidance of the end times.  And for those who must have it this way, no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise.  Like a triple-bolted door in downtown New York, they are simply closed to the facts.  The result is that truth has been left behind!

Christians should learn a lesson from popular bumper stickers and trendy T-shirts which say, "No Fear."  The truth is, we don't need to be afraid, for Jesus has promised, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).  "God has not given a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7).

In the next article, I take a closer look at the seven-year tribulation theory and the inconsistencies of this theory.

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July 12, 2009

If the rapture delusions we have discussed so far are true, then what about "The seven years"?  The concept of a seven-year tribulation is actually the underlying foundation of the entire Left Behind scenario (and all other pro-rapture books and movies).  Again, the theory is: 1) Rapture, then 2) seven years of horror.

Book Two of the Left Behind novels entitled, Tribulation Force, declares, "The disappearances have ushered in the seven year period of Tribulation." (This is found on the inside cover of the book).  Book Three, entitled Nicolae, reveals, "...the seven-year Tribulation is nearing the end of its first quarter..." (inside cover).  Later, in Book Six (called The Indwelling) tells us, "It's the midpoint of the seven-year Tribulation."  Book Eight (called The Mark) begins with "...the dawn of the second half of the Seven-Year Tribulation" (inside cover).  Book Eleven which is entitled Armageddon, opens "six years into the Tribulation, two and one-half years into the Great Tribulation" (page vii).  Thus this New York Times, USA-Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling series of end times prophecy books, endorsed by well-respected church leaders worldwide, is built entirely around this seven-year framework.

Where does this "seven-year" concept come from anyway?  It may shock you, but if you look for "seven years of tribulation" in any concordance, you won't find it.  The truth is, from Genesis to Revelation, there is no exact passage that specifically mentions a seven-year period of tribulation at all.  Amazingly, the entire theory is really based on a rather speculative interpretation of two little words in one single verse.  The text is Daniel 9:27 and the two words are, "one week."  Let me explain.

The Book of Daniel was written while the Jews were in Babylon - in exile because of their sins.  Daniel 9:24-27 contains a prophecy from the angel Gabriel to encourage the Jewish people that they would be given a "second chance" to return to Jerusalem, rebuild their temple, and ultimately receive their Messiah (Jesus Christ).  This highly controversial prophecy reads:

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon they hold city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.  Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven week, and sixty-two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.  After after 62 weeks the Messiah will be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.  And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of the abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate. (Daniel 9:24-27 King James Version)

Thus we have a prophecy about "seventy weeks."  Gabriel then subdivides the period into the small periods of seven weeks (verse 25), sixty-two weeks (verse 25) and one week (verse 27).  This looks like 7 + 62 + 1 = 70.

Seventy weeks = 490 days.  A day in prophecy represents a year (See Number 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6).  Thus 490 days are really 490 years.  Without going into all the chronological details here, this prophecy in Daniel starts with a direct "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" (verse 25) after the Babylonian captivity and reaches down to the first coming of Jesus Christ.  After 69 weeks (483 years) "shall Messiah be cut off" (verse 26).  All Christian scholars apply this to the crucifixion of Christ.  After our Lord's agonizing death, "the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary" (verse 26).  While there are differences of opinion as to who "the people of the prince" refers to, the majority of scholars nevertheless apply the destruction of "the city and sanctuary" to the second destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies under Prince Titus in A.D. 70.

So far, we have seen 69 weeks fulfilled.  That leaves "one week" left, otherwise known as the famous "70th week of Daniel."  Again, that highly controversial text reads:

And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease... (King James Version)

Based on the day-year principle (which is valid in most cases), the "one week" remaining in this prophecy must refer to a period of seven years.  Pro-rapture promoters claim this is the seven-year period of tribulation.  Their idea is that while the first 69 weeks (or 483 years) did reach to the first coming of Jesus, the "prophetic clock" has stopped because the Jewish people largely rejected Him.  Then they slide the 70th week (the last seven years) all the way down to the end times, call it the tribulation, and say it applies to the Jewish people after we're gone.

Rapture teachers interpret Daniel 9:27 as follows:

  1. "He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week."  "He" is the antichrist who will make a covenant (or peace treaty) with the Jews during the seven years of tribulation;

  2.  "In the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease..."  In the middle of the seven-year tribulation, the antichrist will break his covenant, turn against Israel, and stop their animal sacrifices;

  3.  The phrase, "he shall cause the sacrifice ... to cease" is viewed as irrefutable proof that a Jewish temple (which includes sacrifices) must be rebuilt on the Temple Mount inside Jerusalem.

Bestselling author Hal Lindsey in his The Late Great Planet Earth reflects this current view when he writes about "God's last seven years of dealing with the Jewish people before the long awaited setting up of the kingdom of God."  According to Mr. Lindsey, during those seven years "the antichrist breaks his covenant with the Jewish people and causes the Jewish temple worship, according the the Law of Moses, to cease.  We must conclude that a third Temple will be rebuilt upon its ancient site in old Jerusalem."

Therefore, according to countless modern interpreters, Daniel 9:27 is applied to a future antichrist, a future peace treaty made with Israel, a future seven-year tribulation, and a future rebuilt Jewish temple inside Jerusalem.  And all of this will supposedly start with the rapture.  Honestly, that's a lot to interpret from that single verse, especially when Daniel 9:27 says absolutely nothing about and seven-year tribulation, antichrist, or rebuilt Jewish temple!

Could there be something wrong with this picture?  You'll find out in the next article.

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July 20, 2009

Prophecy-minded Christians all over the Earth sometimes engage in a fierce debate about whether Jesus will return for His Church before the seven years of tribulation (which is called the "Pre-tribulation" view), in the middle of the seven years (the Mid-tribulation view), or at the end of the seven years (the Post-tribulation view).  Yet by far the most explosive question too few seem to be asking is: "Is an end-time 'seven-year period of tribulation' really the correct interpretation of Daniel 9:27 in the first place?"

In 1945, after months of agonizing deliberations, U.S. President Harry Truman finally issued the order to drop two atomic bombs on Japan in an attempt to end World War II.  On August 6, the "Little Boy" fell on Hiroshima.  Three days later, the "Fat Man" was released over Nagasaki.  Approximately 130,000 people were instantly vaporized.  Many heated discussions have occurred as to whether or not it was the right thing to drop those bombs.  One thing is fore sure, in the minds of those who made that fearful decision, they believe it was for the ultimate good of America.

Well, my readers, I think it is for the benefit of Christians everywhere that God's bomb of truth should now be released over what I call, "The 70th week of Daniel Delusion."

We have seen what the King James translation of Daniel 9:27 was in the previous lesson.  Let me translate it here from the original Hebrew as we would speak in English today:

He will confirm {enforce} a covenant with many for one seven {week}.  In the middle of the seven {week} he will put an end to sacrifice and grain offering; and on a wing of detestable things {abominations} comes one who causes horror {makes desolate}, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolate one.

This may shock you, but historically, the vast majority of well-respected Bible scholars have not applied Daniel 9:27 to a seven-year period of tribulation at all.  Neither have they interpreted the third person pronoun "He" are referring to a future Mr. Diabolical.  Instead, they applied it to Jesus Christ!

In the 18th century, about 70 years before the first mention of a tribulation by Margaret McDonald, John Darby and their followers, Matthew Henry, a world famous Bible commentator and scholar said: "By offering himself a sacrifice one and for all, Jesus shall put an end to all the Levitical sacrifices."  Thus, Mr. Henry applied Daniel 9:27 to Christ, not the Antichrist.  Another famous commentary of the early 19th century written by British Methodist scholar Adam Clarke says that during Daniel 9:27's "term of seven years," Jesus Himself would "confirm or ratify the new covenant with mankind."  Even renown scholars of the 20th century have identified the one who confirms or enforces a new covenant is Christ and he did this in the middle of the week.  The confirmation of the New Covenant is assigned to Him.

Here is one more statement from a book called, Christ and Antichrist, published in 1846 by the Presbyterian Board of Publication. On page 2 under "Recommendations," we find endorsements from many Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist ministers, including an official representative of the newly formed Southern Baptist Convention.  Commenting on the final week of Daniel 9:27 is found these words:

...sometime during the remaining seven, He [the Messiah] was to die as a sacrifice for sin, and thus bring in "everlasting righteousness."  Here are allusions to events so palpable, that one would think, the people among whom they occurred, could not possibly have misapplied the prophecy.

This being the case, let me bring the following ten points to provide logical and convincing evidence that Daniel's famous 70th week has no application to any future seven-year tribulation at all.  Keep in mind, this great prophetic period was definitely fulfilled two thousand years ago!

  1. The entire prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 covers a period of "seventy weeks."  Logic requires that "seventy weeks" refers to one consecutive block of time, in other words, to seventy straight sequential weeks.  The truth is, there is no example in the Bible of a state time period starting, stopping, and then starting again.  All biblical references to time are consecutive: 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:4), 400 years in Egypt (Genesis 15:13), 70 years of captivity (Daniel 9:2), etc.  In Daniel's prophecy, the "seventy weeks" were to begin during the rule of Persia (after that kingdom destroyed Babylon and let the Israelites go back to Israel (c. 475 BC) and continue to the time of Christ.

  2. Logic also requires that the 70th week follow immediately after the 69th week.  If it doesn't then it cannot properly be called the 70th week.

  3. It is illogical to insert a 2,000 year gap between the 69th and 70th week.  No hint of a gap is found in the prophecy itself.  There is no gap between the first seven weeks and the following sixty-two weeks, so why insert one between the 69th and 70th week.  To explain this further, if you were to tell your child to be in bed in 70 minutes, you obviously would mean 70 consecutive minutes.  What if five hours later your fully awake child said, "But Dad, I know 69 minutes have passed, but the 70th minute hasn't started yet!"?  I believe that after receiving an appropriate punishment, he would be swiftly sent to bed.

  4. Daniel 9:27 says nothing about a seven-year period of "tribulation," a "rebuilt" Jewish temple, or any "Antichrist."

  5. The stated focus of this prophecy is the Messiah, not the Antichrist.  After the Messiah is "cut off" (referring to Christ's death), Daniel 9:26 says, And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.  In the past, this has consistently applied to the destruction of Jerusalem and the second temple by Roman armies in A.D. 70.

  6. In verse 27, we read the words "He shall confirm the covenant."  Paul said "the covenant" was "confirmed before by God in Christ" (Galatians 3:17).  Jesus came "to confirm the promises made to the fathers" (Romans 15:8).  The "covenant" mentioned in verse 27 is the New Covenant.  Nowhere in the Bible does the Antichrist make, confirm or break a covenant with anyone.  The word "covenant" is Messianic, and always applied to the Messiah, not the Antichrist.

  7. The words "He will confirm a covenant with many" is reinforced in when Jesus said, "This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many...(Matthew 26:28).  It appears that Jesus is using Daniel 9:27 to show its fulfillment!

  8. The words "In the middle of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offerings" refers to the end of Jesus' three-and-a-half year ministry .  It was then that He died on the cross - "in the midst of the week, that is "in the middle of the seven years,"  At the exact moment of His death, Matthew said "the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom..." (Matthew 27:51).  This act of God signified that all animal sacrifices at that moment ceased to be of any value.  Why?  Because the Perfect Sacrifice had been offered!

  9. The words "On a wing of abominations comes one who makes desolate" was in Jesus' mind when he used the phrase "The abomination of desolation" in Matthew 24:15.  He applies this event to the time when His followers were to flee from Jerusalem before the destruction of the second temple in A.D. 70.  In a parallel text to Matthew 24:15, Jesus told His disciples, "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies [Roman armies], then know that its desolation is near (Luke 21:20).  The disciples did "see" those very events.  Because of the "abominations" of the Pharisees, Jesus told them, "See!  Your house is left to you desolate" (Matthew 23:38).  Thus Daniel's statement in Daniel 9:27 about Jerusalem becoming "desolate" was fulfilled in A.D. 70, not to be fulfilled in the future.

  10. Daniel said that the 70-week prophecy specifically applied to the Jewish people (see 9:24).  During the period of Christ's public ministry of three-and-a-half years, the Master's focus was largely upon "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6).  After His resurrection and then for another three-and-a-half years, His disciples preached mostly to Jews (see Acts 1-6).  After that second three-and-a-half year period in A.D. 34, the bold Stephen was stoned to death by the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 7).  This infamous deed marked the then-ruling Jewish leaders' final, official rejection of the gospel of Christ.  Then the gospel went to the Samaritans and to the Gentiles.  In Acts 9, Saul is converted to Christ and would become the "Apostle to the Gentiles" (Romans 11:13).  In Acts 10, God gave Peter a vision revealing it was now time to preach to the Gentiles.  Thus approximately three-a-and-half years after the crucifixion - and the end of the 70-week prophecy given for the Jewish people - the gospel shifted to the Gentiles exactly as predicted in Daniel's prophecy!

This is evidence which is overwhelming against today's Left Behind theories.  Point by point the events of Daniel's 70th week have been fulfilled in the past.  Those eight words found in Daniel 9:27 - confirm ... covenant ... many ... midst ... sacrifice ... cease {end} ... abominations ... desolate all find their perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ and early Christian history.

The entire "seven-year period of tribulation" theory is an end time delusion, a massive mega-myth.  It may even go down in history as the "greatest evangelical misinterpretation of all time."  It's a fact that there is no text in the Bible which teaches a "seven-year tribulation."  If you hunt for it, you'll end up like Ponce de Leon searching for the mystical Fountain of Youth, but never finding it.

I think the current debate and tremendous confusion over Pre-tribulation, Mid-tribulation or Post-tribulation is really a smoke screen of the enemy to hide the real issue.  What could the real issue be?  In the weeks to come I will discuss what the Revelation teaches about Israel, Babylon the Great and Armageddon.  Next week, we'll take a closer look at the Antichrist and find out what is fact and what is fiction.

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July 26, 2009

There are over 25 million people living on the west coast of California stretching from the San Francisco / Oakland area down to San Diego.  Along Interstate 5 is the San Andreas Fault.  We have always heard that there is a great possibility for the so-called "BIG ONE" to hit and devastate nearly half of California.  An earthquake above 7.5 on the Richter scale would cause the loss of life and the realignment of the entire state of California.  The point I make here is that when it comes of biblical prophecy, the "BIG ONE" is definitely the topic of the antichrist.  Let me warn you in advance.  Get ready for some shocks.

Kelly Sellers, who runs of decorative-stone business in Minneapolis, Minnesota thinks that the Antichrist is "probably a good looking man."  He says "I am sure he's in politics right now and probably in the public eye even a little bit."  Sellers has read every Left Behind book in the series.  Sellers was interviewed in a Time magazine article entitled "Apocalypse Now" and said that he anxiously looked forward the publication of each book in the Left Behind series.  Seller's view agrees with the "Glossary of Terms" which defines "Antichrist" as an evil figure who will plague the world and eventually be defeated by Christ in the battle of Armageddon.

Like most prophecy-minded Christians today, Kelly Sellers thinks the antichrist will be one super Bad Guy who will publicly appear after the rapture.  In the Left Behind series, storyteller Jerry B. Jenkins gives the antichrist a name, Nicolae Carpathia.  In another sequence of end time thriller movies - Apocalypse, Revelation, Tribulation, and Judgment - the name of the antichrist is Franco Macalousso.  With a creative twist going beyond other films, Megiddo: Omega Code 2, portrays the antichrist from boyhood on up, and even has him falling in love and getting married.  He name in this movie is Stone Alexander.  Unfortunately for Mr. Alexander's bride, she eventually discovers her dashing lover to be the devilish incarnation of Satan himself.

What does the Bible really teach about this mysterious subject?  The word "antichrist," or "antichrists," is found only five times in Scripture, and all of these references are in two small books right before the Book of Revelation.  The two books are 1st and 2nd John.  The verses are I John 2:18, 22; 4:3 and II John 7.  That's it.  When we read these verses (and others near them), we certainly don't read about any Mr. Sly falling in love and getting married.  On the contrary, we find:

  • I John 2:18 - The early Christians had heard that antichrist was coming.

  • I John 2:18 - Even now there are many antichrists.

  • I John 2:18 - This is evidence that the last time has come.

  • I John 2:19 - These many antichrists "went out from us."

  • I John 2:22 - Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is antichrist.

  • I John 2:26 - These antichrists are trying to seduce us away from Christ.

  • I John 4:3 - There is a spirit of antichrist.

  • I John 4:3 - The spirit of antichrist denies Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.

  • I John 4:3 - The spirit of antichrist is already in the world.

  • I John 4:4 - True Christians must overcome every form of antichrist.

  • I John 4:6 - The spirit of antichrist is a spirit of error.

  • II John 7 - There are many deceivers and antichrists in the world.

  • II John 9 - To overcome these antichrists, Christians must abide in the doctrine of Christ.

After an objective look, what have we discovered?  Do any of these verses describe a solitary Mr. Sin who only shows up after we are gone?  Definitely not!  The Word of God describes not just one, but many antichrists.  And according to I John 2:19, these many antichrists "went out from us," which means they were once inside the Christian Church!  They are subtle, deceptive, and at war with true Christians.  They may profess a certain faith in Jesus, yet their faith is superficial.  They actually deny the Father and the Son (I John 2:22 & 26).  There is also a spirit of antichrist, call "the spirit of error," which is now in the world (I John 4:3).  According to the Bible, the goal of these many antichrists and of the spirit of antichrist is to deceive Christians away from God's love, from the Gospel, and from the true doctrine of Jesus Christ (II John 7 & 9).  Just like America is now at war with terrorists, even so must genuine Christians do battle with these spiritual enemies of truth; and in the strength of Christ, overcome them (I John 4:4).

This is everything God's Word actually says about "antichrist," "antichrists," and "the spirit of antichrist."  Now don't miss this point.  None of these insightful passages point toward one Mr. Super Sin - like Nicolae Carpathia, Stone Alexander or Franco Macalousso - who appears as a cunning politician only after we are gone.  The truth is quite different.  In reality, they all refer to seductive and deceiving elements which are here now and which true Christians must face and overcome.

It's true, God's Word reveals other prophecies about the emergence of an evil "little horn" (Daniel 7:8), a dreadful "beast" (Revelation 13:1), and "the man of sin" (II Thessalonians 2:3).  It is primarily these prophecies that are now being used to support the idea of a future Mr. Abominable - one who will rise up outside of Christianity after the rapture.  Yet consider this: The definite trend of the Bible's literal "antichrist" passages clearly points to things that are here now and which true Christians must face and overcome.  So why would its other antichrist prophecies about the "little horn," :the man of sin," and "the beast," suddenly reverse this trend and apply to things which Christians will not face because they will first vanish in the rapture?

A few years ago I was asked to preach a revival in Vincennes, Indiana.  I was to drive from my church in Mt. Auburn, Illinois, but only knowing that the best way to get to Vincennes was to take U.S. route 51 South to U.S. 50 East, I thought it was a synch to get there.  My wife told me to stop and get a map of the Vincennes area so I wouldn't get lost after I crossed over into Indiana.  Knowing that my destination was just across the state line I didn't think it would be too hard to find the church where I was to preach.  Soon after crossing the line into Indiana I saw the Vincennes city limits sign on U.S. 50, but within two minutes I was outside the city.  Thinking that the road my wind around and back toward the city I just kept driving for about 15 minutes.  A little voice started impressing my conscience to check a map.  At first I ignored it, after all I would have to stop and get a map or ask directions - you know, men don't like to do that!  Finally, I stopped at an Exxon station, took a look at a map, and found that U.S. 50 did touch the northern part of the city but quickly moved away farther East.  I turned around, went back to the state line, turned onto Fort Knox Road and went into Vincennes proper and had little difficulty finding the church.  I made it to the Church on time!

I learned this lesson: No matter how much I trust someone who gives me directions, I must check the map for myself.  The same thing applies to the subject of the antichrist.  We may trust that today's much-respected prophecy teachers know their stuff and won't lead us astray, but in the final analysis, we must look to God's Map (the Bible) for ourselves.  So far, as we have done this, we've seen that all of the Word's clear "antichrist" statements apply to deceptive elements inside of Christianity - elements we must face and overcome.  But most bestselling prophecy books don't tell us this.  As you continue down the end time delusions highway, checking God's map closely and listening for His voice, you will discover many other things you won't learn at the movies.

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August 2, 2009

Nine months ago the American people elected a new president, 34 U.S. Senators and 435 Congressmen and Congresswomen. Many voted for state representatives and dozens of referenda, resolutions and propositions.  As with all elections and referenda, what the majority think is not always right,. In fact, in many cases what the majority thinks is often wrong! People thought the Titanic was unsinkable, yet she sank like lead.  Many believed the infamous Y2K computer glitch would spark a global economic meltdown as the world's clocks ticked over to the year 2000.  Yet, January arrived with hardly a hiccup.  Star struck lovers race to the marriage alter fully expecting a lifetime of bliss, yet after a few short weeks reality often hits like a boxer's glove to the nose.  It's obvious!  What we humans think will happen often fails to occur.

When it comes to the arena of Bible prophecy, how many mistakes are being made?  As we have already seen, at this very moment, millions of Christians fully expect to vanish in the rapture before the antichrist arrives.  Again, the idea is: first the rapture, then the antichrist.  This sequence is being taught around the world in books, magazines, seminars, on radio, television, in pulpits, and on the Internet.

As we saw earlier, the most quoted verse about the rapture is I Thessalonians 4:17.  There Paul wrote that true believers will someday be "caught up."  In Paul's second letter written to the same church, he referred to the same event as, "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him" (II Thessalonians 2:1).  In his second letter, immediately after describing "our gathering" to the Lord, Paul wrote about something or someone that is clearly antichrist in verse 3.  The question is: What did Paul teach about the sequence of events?  Did he say the Church would be gathered to Christ before the antichrist comes, or will antichrist come first, before we are gathered to the Savior?  Amazingly, Paul gives us a straight answer, and his answer is not what the majority of prophecy-minded Christians think!

Look closely at what Paul wrote:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him: we ask you, brothers, not to be easily upset in mind or troubled, either by a spirit or by a message or by a letter as if from us, alleging that the Day of the Lord has come.  Don't let anyone deceive you in anyway.  For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.

Did you see what Paul said here?  What do we read here as to which comes first - our "gathering" or "the man of lawlessness"? Christ's second coming will not come before the appearance of the antichrist.  Let's look at these three verses in a little more detail:

  • Verse 1:    Paul wrote about the "coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him."  This is obviously the same event as the descent of Jesus Christ from Heaven and our being "caught up together" to meet Him in the air found in I Thessalonians 4:17.  It's important to realize that the Greek word for coming in verse 1 is none other than our old friend PAROUSIA, which we have already seen clearly applies to the visible second coming of Christ (Matthew 24:27).  The exact same word is used in verse 8 describing "the brightness of His coming (Parousia)"

  • Verse 2:    Here Paul addressed a distortion about the timing of the coming of the Lord that was confusing the early Church.  He urged the Thessalonians not to be "easily upset" or "troubled" by false influences which were teaching either by "spirit" or by a "message" or by a "letter" that the "day of the Lord has [already] come," or as the King James Version put it, was "at hand" in the first century.  Because of this false teaching that "the day of Christ" was just around the corner in their own day, some of the Thessalonian Christians quit their jobs, stopped providing for their families and were just hanging around in idle expectancy waiting for Christ's imminent appearance (see II Thessalonians 3:10-12).

  • Verse 3:    Paul clarified the truth with this warning, "Don't let anyone deceive you in anyway; for that day (when Jesus comes to "gather us") will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction."

Did you catch that?  Verse 3 is pointed and clear.  Paul wrote that before Christ comes to "gather" His people to Himself, "the apostasy" (sometimes called the "Falling Away") and the rise of the "Son of Destruction" (the antichrist) must come first.  So, to those early Thessalonian believers, Paul's message was that "the day of Christ" was not just around the corner.  Something big must happen first.  And to us who live in the 21st century, Paul's message is equally clear: Before Jesus comes to "gather" us, "the apostasy" or "falling away" comes first!  Then, the antichrist will be revealed.  Paul directly, specifically and earnestly warned the Church not to be deceived about this very thing!  Evidently he knew Satan would work hard to dupe the saints in the exact area.

When we put these pieces together, it becomes super clear that before "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him" (verse 1), "the apostasy comes first" and the antichrist must be revealed.  Therefore, contrary to current popular opinion, it's antichrist first, and then the Church is caught up!  It's not the other way around!

Paul's voice echoes down through the corridors of many centuries: Don't let anyone deceive you in anyway.  I know many do not or will not agree with this.  But remember, people also thought the Titanic was unsinkable.

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August 9, 2009

We now turn our attention to the "Great Falling Away" spoken of in the last article and taught by the Apostle Paul in II Thessalonians 2.  Millions of Christians are now being taught that the antichrist will be some evil person who will rise into power outside of Christianity after the rapture.  But I ask you to think with me for a moment.  What if this idea is a horrible mistake?  What if the antichrist rises up inside of Christianity before the Church is caught up to be with Christ?  Because few would be looking for an antichrist within, can you imagine what kind of harm he could do?  Hold on to your seats, for you are about to discover that Paul taught that antichrist will come from within!

Paul wrote, Don't let anyone deceive you in anyway.  For that day [when Jesus comes to gather us] will not come unless the apostasy [falling away] comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction (II Thessalonians 2:3).  Almost everyone agrees that these words predict the rise of the antichrist.  What many people have missed is that Paul is describing an antichrist that rises in the wake of the "falling away."  What does this mean? 

Once again, a little knowledge of Greek is handy when interpreting this text.  The original word Paul used for "falling away" is apostasia, which literally means an apostasy or departure from Jesus Christ inside the Christian Church.  To illustrate the connection between "the falling away," and the rising up of the antichrist, imagine a boy who climbs a tree, stands on a branch, loses his footing, and then "falls."  After banging his head on the ground, a large bump starts growing on his forehead.  Surely you can see the connection between the boy "falling" from the tree and the rising of the bump.  It's the same with the "falling away" and the rising of the antichrist.  As we are about to see, this "falling away" unquestionably takes place inside the church!  That is, there are Christians, saved by God's grace, who will "fall away" (commit apostasy) and antichrist arises.

In the first century, the Christian church remained relatively pure, especially as long as the apostles were alive.  There were some who preached false doctrine and heresy, but they were quickly put down by Paul, John and others.  But with His cosmic perspective, God saw a change would come, and He revealed this sober reality to the writers of the New Testament.  A brief survey of the following Bible passages shows plainly that an apostasy, a departure, or "falling away" from Jesus Christ was predicted to occur inside of Christianity:

  • Acts 20:    Paul told the "elders of the church" in Ephesus (verse 17) that soon many false Christian leaders would rise up from among themselves to "draw away the disciples" after them (verse 30).  He was so burdened about this coming apostasy that he warned the church "night and day with tears" (verse 31).

  • I Timothy 4:    The Holy Spirit clearly warned that "some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons" (verses 1).  Here again is a predicted departure from the faith inside the church.

  • II Timothy 4:    Paul predicted a time would come when many in the church would no longer "endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (verses 3 & 4).  I believe there is no doubt about it that these words point toward an apostasy in the church that will lead professed Christians to turn from Bible truth to fictitious fables.

  • II Peter 2:    Peter told the early believers that soon "there will be false teachers among you" (verse 1).  The words "among you" means inside the church.

  • Jude:    After urging believers to contend earnestly for the faith once-and-for-all delivered to the saints, Jude warned that "certain men" had already "crept in unnoticed" among them (verse 4).

  • Revelation 2:    Jesus Himself sadly told His followers in the church of Ephesus, "Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works..." (verses 4 & 5).  These words are so clear!  Many Christians in the early church of Ephesus were falling away from their initial love for Christ, who died for them.

Thus we see Paul, Peter, Jude, and Jesus all passionately concerned about a "falling away," which means an apostasy, occurring inside the Christian church.  We might compare this apostasy to a disease entering a portion of the human body.  As a result, a malignant cancer finally develops.  The shocking reality is that God's Word has predicted a similar disease-like condition would eventually overtake a large portion of Christianity.  According to II Thessalonians 2, as a direct result of this unhappy condition, a diabolical spiritual cancer would rise up.  Paul called this cancer, "the mystery of lawlessness" (II Thessalonians 2:7).  We call him Antichrist.

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August 16, 2009

The Apostle Paul called antichrist, "The Man of Sin" (II Thessalonians 2:3), or, as he is called in many translations "The Man of Lawlessness."  It is primarily because of this phrase that millions have concluded that the word, "antichrist" must ultimately apply to only one Mr. Wicked.  Kids who read the popular Left Behind books sometimes call him, the "Evil Dude."  Apocalyptic Christian films like The Omega Code, A Thief in the Night, Tribulation, Judgment and Megiddo, all reflect the same idea.  Is it true?  Will there be only one Mr. Diabolical who becomes the antichrist, an Osama bin Laden number 2?

We have already seen that the Antichrist would come first and before the tribulation.  In the article of August 2nd, we discovered that John wrote about many "antichrists" (I John 2:18), and "that spirit of antichrist" (I John 4:3).  He also revealed that anyone who denies "the doctrine of Christ" (II John 9) is a "deceiver and an antichrist" (II John 7).  Therefore the idea of only one Mr. Sinister as the antichrist fails the biblical text.  Truth can afford to be fair.  It has nothing to hide and is willing to examine every bit of evidence.  So what did Paul mean when he referred to "the man of sin (lawlessness)"?  Doesn't this mean a single person?

First of all, Paul used other phrases in II Thessalonians chapter 2 to describe this same antichrist, such as "the son of perdition," (verse 3), "the mystery of lawlessness" (verse 7) and "that Wicked One" (verse 8 in KJV).  In Daniel's parallel prophecy, this same abominable horror is also called a little "horn" (Daniel 7:8); and in the book of Revelation it is labeled "the beast" (Revelation 13:2).  Almost everyone agrees these words and phrases apply to the same thing.  The big question is: Do they all apply to only one "Evil Dude," as commonly taught, or do they point to something wider and deeper - to something most prophecy teachers aren't telling us about?

Notice carefully, Daniel did not say the little horn would be a man, but rather it would have "eyes like the eyes of a man" (Daniel 7:8).  They would be eyes of intelligence.  In Revelation, the same horn is called "the beast."  Here's a key question: How does Daniel 7 define a beast?  There is no need to guess or to pull an interpretation out of a hat.  An angelic interpreter explained to Daniel, "...the fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth" (verse 23).  Got that?  Not a person, but a kingdom - a collection of people.  What is a beast?  Most doomsday preachers say it is a man.  There are those who are teaching now that it is a big computer.  The Bible says the beast is a kingdom.  And once again, just like the angels in Acts 1 who watched Jesus ascend to Heaven, this angel had his theology straight.

Let's go back to Paul's prophecy in II Thessalonians 2.  A careful study reveals the utter impossibility of "the man of sin" applying to only one Mr. Diabolical.  First of all, Paul said that in his own day this very same "mystery of lawlessness was already at work" (verse 7).  Thus this predicted antichrist was already becoming active in the first century.   Paul was also very emphatic that this "mystery" would continue all the way down to the second coming of Christ (verse 8).  Put the pieces together.  How could this refer to only one human being?  He would have to be 2000 years old!

You may ask: did Paul ever use this expression, "the man" in any of his other writings in such a way that it does nor refer to one individual?  The answer is YES!  He wrote:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.(II Timothy 3:16-17)

Look carefully at this phrase, "the man of God."  It does not (and grammatically cannot) refer to just one individual, else he would be talking about some Super Christian.  Instead, it refers to a succession of godly men throughout history who become "complete" through obeying the Word of God.

In the King James Version of Romans 13:4, a phrase is used - namely, "the minister of God" to refer to all civil officers throughout history whom God uses to restrain evil.  Therefore, if we let Paul's own writings interpret themselves, his unique phrase, "the man of sin" in II Thessalonians 2:3 need not apply to one supremely wicked person.  In the illuminating light of II Timothy 3:17 and Romans 13:4, "the man of sin," can properly apply to a historical succession of other men who follow tradition above the Word of God.

Now, as far as this "son of perdition" or "man of lawlessness" is concerned, the most popular teaching of today states that he will come into rebuilt temple of God in Jerusalem and desecrate it half-way through the tribulation.  This is supposedly based on II Thessalonians 2:4 and Daniel's statement concerning the "abomination of desolation" (Daniel 9:27) about which we have already addressed.  The idea of the antichrist setting himself and desecrating the temple is vividly played out in the Left Behind novels.  The novels swirl around the topic of the antichrist.  Book nine of these fast-selling fictitious novels is called Desecration - Antichrist Take the Throne.  It was released in October, 2001 with an initial print run of 3 million copies.  The official Left Behind website then declared, "In Desecration, Antichrist Nicolae Carpathia enters the temple in Jerusalem and declares himself God, leading the world to the brink of Armageddon."  Thus the eye of the storm is Jerusalem and the apex of the drama centers on Nicolae's abominable entrance into a rebuilt Jewish temple.

The cornerstone Bible passage underlying the theology of Desecration and of countless other prophecy books which teach similar things is the II Thessalonians 2:4.  Describing the antichrist, Paul wrote: "...he opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so the he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God."  Thus, they say, antichrist will sit "in the temple of God."  Desecration applies this to someone like Nicolae Carpathia who will enter a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem after the rapture.  The implication of this common interpretation is that Paul's antichrist-in-the-temple prediction has nothing to do with Christians today, nor has it had any real relevance to the Church for almost 2000 years.  Is this popular interpretation really what Paul had in mind?  Let's take a closer look.

It's time for another lesson in the original language here: GREEK. The Greek word Paul used for "temple" in II Thessalonians 2:4 is naos.  The Greek word that would have been used to refer to a physical or material building would have been hieron.  In fact, uses of the root to hieron come from words meaning, "priest," "priestly ministry," "to offer sacrifice," and "to perform sacred rites."  All of these having to do with function in a physical building.  But the Greek word naos is never used in reference to the building in Jerusalem.  It is used in reference to "the place where God dwells."  Now, where in the last 2000 years has God dwelt?  In the church!  And the church consists of people - not buildings! 

Let's see how this word is used in other writings of Paul.  In the letter to the early Corinthians, the apostle wrote to "the church of God which is at Corinth" (I Corinthians 1:2).  Then he inquired, "Do you not know that you are the temple (naos) of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16)  Here Paul clearly applied the word naos to the Christian church - not a physical temple in Jerusalem.  Paul did the same thing in his letter to the Ephesians.  Writing to "the saints who are in Ephesus," (Ephesians 1:1) he said they were all growing "into a holy temple (naos) in the Lord" (Ephesians 2:21).  In fact, in all of his writings, every time Paul used the word naos, he always applied it to the Church and never to a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.

Here is a very interesting point:  When Jesus died on Calvary, His death put an end to all bloody animal sacrifices once and for all!  When He cried out, "It is finished!" (John 19:30), that was it!  From God's cosmic perspective, all earthly sacrifices were over because His Son was the final sacrifice.  This is one of three main themes interwoven throughout the book of Hebrews (see Hebrews 10:12).  Think about it.  If the Jewish people ever do rebuild a temple in Jerusalem and restart bloody sacrifices, this would be a complete denial of Jesus' sacrifice - a slap in God's face.  Could a rebuilt Jewish temple ever properly be called by Paul, "the temple of God?"  Of course not!  Such a temple would not be God's temple, for it would be an open denial of His Son.  The correct interpretation of II Thessalonians 2:4, based on Paul's own use of the word naos, is that "the temple of God" refers to the Church, in other words, to Christians!  The lesson for prophecy students is this: Antichrist, subtle and deceptive, will slither into Christianity!

Paul said that antichrist will "sit" in God's temple.  This does not mean he will literally sit down on a four-legged chair.  After Jesus ascended to Heaven, He "sat down at the right hand of God" (Hebrews 10:12).  Has He been sitting down for almost 2000 years?  No.  When our Lord returns, He will come "sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64).  Will He be sitting on a fast-moving heavenly chair?  No again.  To "sit" often means to assume the position of authority.  When George W. Bush was inaugurated as President of the United States on January 20, 2001, newspapers around the world referred to him as being officially "seated" in office.  We often refer to him as the "sitting president."  When Jesus ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, this means He was officially seated (or inaugurated) as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He has become the Supreme Mediator in behalf of the human family.  He now has all authority in Heaven and on earth (see Matthew 28:18).

Then what, you may ask, is the meaning of the antichrist sitting in the temple of God?  A little reflection should make this clear.  The chocking reality is that prophecy predicts that the antichrist will usurp the legitimate authority of Christ by assuming an unauthorized position of power inside the church  And thus, contrary to the New York Times bestselling book Desecration and countless other similar works, Paul's prediction about an evil antichrist entering the temple of God has great relevance for Christians today, and not just for those after the so-called rapture.

As I conclude this article, let me frankly point out that in light of the above discussion on the antichrist "seating himself" and where he will seat himself (naos) - if naos refers to the place where God dwells (the church) then, we need to keep a close watch out for antichrist within the church today!  He will come from within!

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August 23, 2009

If you have received any e-mails from me, you may have noticed a saying, called a signature, that I attach to my electronic letters.  It is a quote from the 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer which says: All truth passes through three states.  First, it is ridiculed,  Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.  To illustrate the meaning of this pithy saying let me take you back to the year 1999.  There was a lot of hype and fear as the year 2000 approached.  Y2K!  Remember this?  As the world's clock's finally ticked over to 12:00 midnight and the dreaded year 2000 became a reality, it became obvious that Y2K doomsday prophecies had failed.  Earnest predictions about massive computer chaos, power disruptions, bank failures, stock markets crashing, nuclear missiles launching, and the resulting global terror, all proved to be false!

I ask you: is it possible that certain popular end time predictions about the nation of Israel will also fail?

On that same New Year's Eve in 1999, Israeli police assembled in record numbers inside Jerusalem.  They were determined to keep the peace in the midst of growing concerns about terrorism and the possible explosive actions of religious fanatics.  Thousands of pilgrims and worshippers were crowding toward the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall as news reports from around the globe swarmed throughout the City of David.  With the approach of the long expected new millennium, apocalyptic interests was at its height.  Countless Christians were thinking, if the arrival of the year 2000 has anything to do with prophecy and the end of the world, then surely Jerusalem is the place to watch!


Why are the eyes of so many people fixed upon Jerusalem?  Why is Israel considered the hot-spot of readers of prophecy and well-intentioned Christians?  There are many reasons, yet one big one is clear.  The fact is, literally millions of Christians who study prophecy firmly believe Plant Earth's final events will one day swirl around the Middle East, Jerusalem and the Jews.  According to what is commonly understood, what happens to the modern nation of Israel is definitely connected with an upcoming bloody battle of Armageddon. the return of Christ and the end of the age. 

When the horrors of World War II were finally over and Hitler's Third Reich had come to an end, the world awoke to the nightmare of the German dictator's "final solution."  Approximately six million Jews had been brutally murdered - many in gas chambers inside of death camps.  Public opinion then favored the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland.  Most of that opinion based on the feeling that this would serve as a way of expressing sorrow and paying sympathy for their loss of their loved one's lives.  To this day, there is a pervasive need to uphold, preserve, defend, protect and, if need be, place our nation in harm's way, for the nation of Israel. 

Our financial support of this nation represents 53 percent of the United State's foreign aid budget, with 59 other nations around the world splitting the remaining 47 percent.  The largest, most influential and most wealthy lobby in the United States is the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Berith, the pro-Israel, pro-Semitic organization which advances Israeli interests in the U.S.  Israel's welfare is so strong largely due to the Fundamentalist involvement in the politics of our country today.  Candidates for congress and the Presidency receive huge backing by the ADL and fundamentalists Christian groups who have adopted the dispensational view of John Nelson Darby, the Scofield Reference Bible and the Left Behind novels of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

Prior to May of 1948 the British controlled Palestine.  On May 14, empowered by a resolution of the United Nations, the Zionist Movement proclaimed the rebirth of the State of Israel.  For almost 2000 years the Jewish people had been "wanderers among the nations."  Now they were home.  Yet their struggles had just begun.

An Arab League composed of Egyptians, Iraqis, Syrians and Jordanians quickly invaded Palestine in an attempt to crush out the new nation.  The fighting was heavy.  Yet, by 1949 the Arabs were defeated, and Israel was still in the land.  In May of 1967, Egypt, Jordan and Syria prepared for another attack.  The Israelis struck first, and the war was over in six days.  In 1973, at the beginning of the Jewish season of Yom Kippur, the Egyptians and Syrians attacked again.  The battles were fierce and bloody.  Yet by 1974, Israel was again on top and still in the land.

For more than 50 years these astonishing events have gripped the attention of much of the Christian world.  A conclusion has been reached by millions: This must be the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.  This conviction is now being expressed on TV, radio, in books and magazines, at prophecy conferences, in Christian seminaries, and on the internet.  The rebirth of the State of Israel in 19489 is now considered by countless Christians to be the most significant prophetic event of the 20th century.

An example of the belief may be found in the popular book, The Next 7 Great Events of the Future by Randal Ross.  The author declares: "I call the establishment of the State of Israel 'the ultimate prophecy time bomb,' because when Israel became a legitimate state in the eyes of the world in May 1948, that single, seemingly isolated incident stated the prophetic time clock ticking down toward the 'zero hour' and the end of time."  Hal Lindsey dittoed saying, "Since the restoration of Israel as a nation in 1948, we have lived in the most significant period of prophetic history."  Today, the majority of Christian beliefs about the end times rest firmly upon this 1948 platform.

On April 10, 1912, the Titanic set sail from England for America.  The largest ship in the world at that time, she was considered unsinkable.  But after four days of smooth sailing, she hit the ice.  Three hours later she was underneath freezing water, sinking down to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  In many ways, the 1948 theory is like the Titanic.  In the minds of countless believers, it is considered unsinkable.  However, as you read on, in a few moments, this popular theory is going to hit the ice of God's Word.  If it begins to sink, we should abandoned ship as soon as possible.

There are three main arguments now being used to support the theory that Bible prophecy was fulfilled in 1948.  Let's examine them:

  • The "Fig Tree" Argument:  Hal Lindsey wrote: "Jesus predicts an extremely important time clue.  He says, 'Now learn a parable of the fig tree' (Matthew 24:32, 33) ... The most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel ... When the Jewish people ... became a nation again on May 14, 1948 the 'fig tree' put forth its first leaves.  Jesus said that this would indicate that He was 'at the door,' ready to return."

Is this really what Jesus said?  In a parallel passage, Luke records: "Then He (Jesus) spoke to them a parable: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21-29-31).

Because Luke wrote the phrase, "and all the trees, when they are already budding," we clearly see Jesus did not have in mind just one tree representing Israel in 1948.  In Matthew's gospel, Jesus explained the parable of the fig tree.  "So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near - at the doors!" (Matthew 24:33)  When fig trees, and all trees, start blooming at the end of winter, we know, summer is near.  "So ... also," said Jesus, when we see "all these" various signs given in Matthew 24 occurring at the same time, then we may know His return is near.  The fig tree is not the sign.  It simply represents "all" the signs in Matthew 24, none of which is the specified rebirth of Israel in 1948.  The ice of God's Word has just ripped the first hole in the bottom of the 1948 ship!

  • The "Israeli Victories" Argument:  Many view the Israeli victories on 1949, 1967 and 1973 as strong evidence that God had regathered Israel and was now fighting for His chosen nation, even though the leadership of that nation still firmly rejects its own Messiah.  Again, let's examine the argument.

First of all, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).  God says, "I am the Lord, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6).  With this principle in mind, let's ask, "Was God able to fight for Israel in the Old Testament when they were in unbelief?"

After the Exodus, God promised to bring Israel into the land of Canaan (see Exodus 33:1-3).  Twelve men were sent to spy out the territory.  Yet after all the people heard the "bad report" about "the giants" in the land, they "complained against Moses," saying, "Let us return to Egypt" (Numbers 13:32-33; 14:2 & 4).  Then God pronounced this judgment: "But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness.  And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years....and you shall know My rejection (Numbers 14:32 & 34).  Thus, because of Israel's unbelief, God was unable to fulfill His promise to that generation.  This proves that God can make a promise, but not fulfill it  to a certain group of people.

Those ancient Israelites were unwilling to accept that 40-year sentence.  The people proposed to go up anyway "to the place which the Lord has promised" (Numbers 14:40).  Moses said, "This will not succeed.  Do not go up ... for the Lord is not among you....the Lord will not be with you....But they presumed to go up....Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites ... came down and attacked them" (Numbers 14:41-45).  This passage is full of instruction.  Because of Israel's unbelief, God could not fight for her.  Even though He promised, He wouldn't fulfill it.  Years later, when Israel again "forsook the Lord ... they could no longer stand before their enemies" (Judges 2:13-14).  This truth is repeated many times in Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other books of the Old Testament.

 Again, God does not change (See Malachi 3:6).  All throughout sacred history, He could not fight for Israel while they were in unbelief.  Thus He could not have been fighting for the Jewish nation in 1949, 1967 and 1973.  Because a nation wins battles is not evidence in itself that God is fighting for that nation.  Was God fighting for Hitler when he won so many battles?  Was the Lord with the Nazis when they successfully incinerated so many Jews in crematoriums?  Obviously not!  Dear friend, the "Israeli victories" argument is not based on a thorough study of the Word of God.  Ice has just ripped a second hole in the hull of this unsinkable theory.

  • The End Time Regathering Argument:

 This is the big one.  The idea is now being expressed all around the world that ancient prophecies which predicted a regathering of Israel back to their land were fulfilled in 1948.  The main prophecy quoted is found in Ezekiel chapters 36-48.

 In chapter 4 of Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, the author gives the following three reasons why Ezekiel's prophecy most point to a 1948 fulfillment:

              A.    God told Israel: "I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land" (Ezekiel 36:24 KJV).

              B.    The phrase, "out of all countries," must apply to "world-wide dispersion," and therefore cannot apply to the Babylonian captivity.

              C.    Ezekiel's prophecy will be fulfilled "in the latter days" (38:16) which supposedly is a "definite term" apply to "the time just preceding" the second of Christ.

 These three reasons are accepted as unsinkable evidence of a 1948 fulfillment.  BUT WAIT! ...

 At first glance, Lindsey's arguments seem conclusive.  But the following five responses not only cast doubt upon the author's three points, but also prove that prophecy could not have been fulfilled in 1948.  The reasons why are:

              A.     God specifically told ancient Israel He would gather them "from all the nations" immediately "after seventy years are complete at Babylon" (Jeremiah 29:10, 14 & 18).  Thus an out-of-"all nations" gathering need not apply to the end times.

              B.     The time period right after the Babylonian captivity was also called "the latter days" (see Jeremiah 29:10-14; 30:24; 27:2-7; 48:47; 49:39; 50:1); thus this phrase is not always a "definite term" applying to "the time just preceding" Christ's return, as Lindsey claims.  Moses also told ancient Israel, "I know that after my death ... evil will befall you in the latter days" (Deuteronomy 31:29).

              C.      Three times in Ezekiel 38, the regathered Israelites are described as a people who "dwell safely ... dwelling without walls" (verses 8, 11 & 14).  These words "safely" and "without walls [of protection]" do not apply to modern Israelis who now "dwell" amidst terrorists, experience regular attacks from Islamic Jihad, and witness friends being blown apart by suicide bombers.

              D.      The reason Israel was scattered in Old Testament times was because she forsook God, broke His law, and disobeyed His word (see Jeremiah 16:10-13; 29:18 & 19).  If you look carefully, according to the same Old Testament passages, Israel must first repent of her sins before such a regathering can be accomplished by God.  Here is the proof.  God told Israel: "It shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse ... and you shall call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, and you shall return to the Lord your God and obey His voice....and gather you again from all the nations" (Deuteronomy 30:1-3, KJV).

 According to these inspired words, when God scatters Israel among "all the nations," if she returns and obeys His voice, then He will gather her.  If she doesn't return and obey, then this prophecy cannot be fulfilled by God.  Because the Messiah has come, this "return to the Lord" must include filly embracing Jesus Christ.  The facts of history reveal that Jewish Zionism did not meet this spiritual condition in 1948.

 Again, God told ancient Israel, "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me ... yet I will gather them" (Nehemiah 1:8-9).  "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations" (Jeremiah 29:13-14).  These Scriptures are plain,  Israel must first repent, then God will gather her.  Once again, this condition was not met by the Zionist movement in 1948.  The "unsinkable" theory is starting to go down.  "Lower the lifeboats" is the cry from this Watchman!

 Even Ezekiel 36 contains conditional elements.  Notice carefully, "Thus says the Lord God: 'On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt" (Ezekiel 36:33).  Thus, "on that day" God cleanses Israel from "all" of her sins, on that day He would "also enable" her to dwell in her cities.  This did not happen in 1948.  Israel as a nation was not cleansed from "all" her iniquities at that time.  Especially had it not forsaken its Heaven-confronting sin of rejecting God's Son (see Matthew 21:37-39).

 Jonah predicted, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4)  Yet forty days later, Nineveh remained unscratched.  Why?  Because the prophecy was conditional.  Nineveh repented, so God's judgment was deferred.  The same conditional elements are also found in the regathering prophecies.  Because Israel did not first repent and return to the Lord Jesus, the promises of regathering could not have been fulfilled by God in 1948.

             E.     Ezekiel declared: "Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog....In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people....You will ascend, coming like a storm....against a people gathered from the nations....And it will come to pass at the same time, when God comes against the land of Israel,' says the Lord God, 'that My fury will show in My face....I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone....Then they shall know that I am the Lord'" (Ezekiel 38:1-2. 8-9, 12, 18, 22-23).

 Chapter 5 of The Late Great Planet Earth is called, "Russia Is A Gog."  There Hal Lindsey applied the Ezekiel 38 prophecy to 1948 and then to a final Middle East conflict between Russia and Israel.  Yet the explosive truth is that the Book of Revelation actually applies Ezekiel's prophecy to a global event predicted to occur at the end of the millennium!

 Earlier we discovered how Mathew took Hosea 11:1, which originally applied to Israel, and then declared it "fulfilled" in Jesus Christ (Matthew 2:15).  We also saw how Paul made a similar Old Testament to New Testament application when he applied "the seed of Abraham," which was definitely "Israel," to "one ... who is Christ" (Isaiah 41:8; Galatians 3:16).  Amazingly, Revelation 20 does the same thing with Ezekiel 38.  Revelation 20:7-9 says:

Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.  They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city.  And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.

 The major elements are the same.  Both Ezekiel 38 and Revelation 20 speak about Gog, Magog, a great army, a final gathering for battle against Jerusalem, and fire from Heaven.  Yet Revelation 20 applies these things to the end of the millennium, to a global Gog and Magog, and to a final global battle against the saints and the beloved city, which is the New Jerusalem (see Revelation 3:12; 21:10; Hebrews 12:22).  Thus Revelation 20 takes what originally applied to Israel and applies it to a final global battle against the saints of Jesus Christ who are inside the New Jerusalem at the end of the millennium.

 Why does Revelation do this?  For the same reason we discussed earlier: So that the "word of God" won't be made of "no effect" in spite of the unbelief of many natural Jews (Romans 9:6).  God did promise in Ezekiel 38 (and in Zechariah 14) that He would defend Israel and Jerusalem during a final battle.  And He will.  He will defend His Israel in the Spirit which will dwell inside the New Jerusalem at the end of the millennium.  According to Revelation 20, this is how Ezekiel 38 will be fulfilled.  The big question is:  Are we willing to accept the New Testament's inspired application of Old Testament prophecies?  If not, we are not being faithful to the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

On April 15, 1912, at 2:20 AM, the unsinkable Titanic was fully underwater.  A third of her passengers sat shivering in lifeboats, yet the majority were corpses plunging lifelessly through dark waters toward the murky bottom of the Atlantic. How about us?  Will we abandon the "1948 ship" before we get into serious trouble?  Our Captain is pleading, "Get off the sinking ship and get into the lifeboats!"  If we refuse, we may sink far below the safety of God's Word.

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August 30, 2009

When it comes to associating the symbols found in the Book of Revelation, two images stand out.  They are the "Beast coming up out of the sea" (Revelation 13:1) and the "Beast coming up out of the earth" (Revelation 13:11).  Both of these beasts are empowered by the Dragon (Revelation 13:2) who is identified as Satan (Revelation 12:9).  The first beast has been the subject of much speculation in the 20th century as it has been identified as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union or Russia, Iraq and other nations or peoples.  The second beast has been identified as the Pope, or Roman Catholicism in general, Islam or Muslim nations, or even fundamentalist Christianity!!

In this brief article we will discuss the meaning of these two symbols and see that a particular person or individual country was not in the mind of John when he saw these visions, but rather a situation or class of people.

Even a cursory reading of the 13th century of Revelation reveals these three distinct foes of Christ.  The dragon stands on the shore of the sea.  The first beast from the sea, receives the dragon's power, throne and authority.  The second beast from the earth has a unique function.  He entices people to worship the first beast.  In Revelation 16:13 he is called "The False Prophet."  The identity of these three figures along with their overt blasphemy against the Most High God means that what is primarily in view is John's vision which depicts them as an unholy trinity.  The dragon, as Satan, is the antithesis of God in the Holy Trinity; the first beast, as the antichrist, is the antithesis of Christ; the second beast (False Prophet) whose duty is to arouse worship of the first beast, is the antithesis of the Holy Spirit.

What is recorded in Revelation 13 reflects the fact that a dramatic turning point in the history of redemption has already taken place with the coming of Jesus Christ.  Through our Lord's death and resurrection, the dragon has already been decisively defeated by the Messiah (Colossians 2:15).  Although our salvation has been secured through Christ's death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, the dragon is enraged by his defeat and wages war upon the saints (Revelation 13:7) because he knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12).

The Book of Revelation, therefore, depicts an already defeated foe waging his last desperate efforts in a war he knows he has already lost.  In this final attempt to escape his inevitable fate, the dragon now enlists the aid of the two beast to do his bidding.  While the final outcome is never in doubt, the particular circumstance that bring us to the climactic end of history have long fascinated God's people.

The two beasts mentioned in Revelation 13 are a part of a larger section of John's Revelation which begins in the last verse of chapter 11 (11:19).  Starting here and concluding with chapter 15 and verse 4, we are introduced to what we find are seven visions of cosmic conflict.

This sections opens as John takes us behind the veil of the temple he sees in heaven.  We see God's covenant, or agreement, to rescue His people from their enemies. Then, in the first six verses of chapter 12 we are introduced to three main characters, the first two are called "signs" (12:1 & 2).  They are a woman, the great red dragon and then a male child to whom the woman gave birth.  The woman and the dragon are called "signs" which are symbolic figures with meanings beyond the superficial ones.  They represent not a literal woman and a literal dragon, but something more.  The child is not a "sign" in this sense, because he actually represents a human person.  We will identify them in our class on March 4th.  Let me note here that Revelation 12:1-4 describes all the centuries of time BC (before Christ), verse 5 the thirty-odd years of Jesus' earthly life, and verse 6 all the centuries AD.

Beginning with verse 7 of chapter 12 we find the plot of this vision: A battle which is always in progress, in other words, continues throughout the history of the church.  The dragon wages war in heaven and is cast down to earth (verses 7 to 9).  While on earth he pursues the woman and tries to sweep her away with a flood from his mouth (verse 15).  Keep in mind, John is not describing a sequence of events, or a story, but a war - it's always going on and continues throughout history.

Now we come to chapter 13.  Verses 1 through 10 give us John's first vision of the cosmic conflict.  It is of the first beast - the one which arises out of the sea.  We are shown a beast whose power is not that of wealth or of influence, but that of government (notice "diadems" and a "throne" are mentioned).  He combines all the powers of the four beasts mentioned in Daniel 7 which means that this beast has worldwide authority (Revelation 13:7).  We find in this beast the principle of power politics, in other words all the power of the state.  From John's view point, this would mean the power of the Roman Empire. It has different meanings throughout history, but this beast is Anti-Christian Government.  For those who lived during World War II this would be the equivalent of Nazi Germany.  For those who us who lived during the Cold War, it would be linked the communism and communistic governments like the Soviet Union.  Today, radical, fundamentalist Muslim governments come to mind as they harbor terrorists and thrive with the one purpose in mind: To eliminate Judeo-Christian influence in the world and they kill Christians wherever they are found.

In the last year, many evangelical Christians have come to equate the way the US government is heading as Anti-Christian and indeed there are some signs to that affect.  The more the US moves toward godless socialism the more it begins to manifest itself as an oppressor of religious people.

The second beast, which forms John's second vision of the cosmic conflict, arises from the earth and looks like a lamb - at first (Revelation 13:11).  But, it's voice is dragon-like.  He stands before the first beast waiting on his bidding and ready to act at his command and speak with his authority.  This beast is concerned with worship, the religious aspect of human life. It works miracles, like bringing fire down heaven (verse 13).  The coupling of Christ-like appearance (he looks like a Lamb, and Jesus was called the Lamb of God in John 1:29 and again in Revelation 5:6-12), his Satanic message, the status of prophet, the concern for worship, and the appeal to the magical, all add up to one thing: Anti-Christian Religion

Again, many prophecy readers see in Barack Obama a sort of beast like figure and some have gone so far as to say that he is a false Messiah.  Given the fact that not a few people have come to see him as a "Rescuer," "a Deliverer" and "a Messiah" or sort and given the fact that he truly believes that government is the answer to all ills, it coincidently appears that Obama and the US government could dangerously fall into the categories we mention here - the two beasts. 

But I believe, and history bears the same conclusion, that BOTH beasts represent a system and not an individual par se.  It's not hard to imagine, then, that the first beast would be an anti-Christian, pro-socialist system (like many of the European countries today) and the second beast being an anti-Christian, pro-Muslim system, much like we see in Iran today.

Generally speaking, the first beast is Satan's perversion of society (regardless of what form of government or who is ruling it) and the second beast is his perversion of Christianity (regardless of whether it is a non-Christian religion like Islam, or a corrupt form of Christianity, such as a cult, or liberal theology).  This second beast is a religion in that he would encourage devotion to the state instead of God (Revelation 13:13).  His influence is by supernatural means (verse 14).

To review, then, the first beast (arising from the sea) is Anti-Christian Government - one that uses its influence to turn the people's attention away from the truth of God toward the power of the state (or Kingdom).  Satan uses Anti-Christian governments to advance his cause of threatening God's people with anything, including death, to turn away from the Living Lord.

The second beast is Anti-Christian Religion and urges, manipulates and even threatens people to worship the first beast (government) - to pay allegiance to the state.  To illustrate this for our current situation in America, think of the liberal-leaning church whose preachers and teachers encourage their members to rely on the government for its welfare.  The social-gospel of the 20th century is now a platform for the church advancing such things as "inclusivism."  Inclusivism involves accepting alternative life-styles such as homosexuality, abortion on demand, and genetic engineering to clone human beings and create a better race.  Inclusivism moves into the realm of politics where same-sex marriages should be allowed in society and ordained pastors should be forced to perform and solemnize such unions. 

Three years ago, a Baptist pastor in Suffolk, Virginia went on record as saying that he wanted the state's ban on same-sex marriage overturned and wants to be the first Baptist pastor to perform one.  He has already admitted two openly gay couples into the fellowship of his church.  His preaching is of the second beast!  About a year after saying this, he resigned (under pressure), and is now a state executive director for Cooperative Baptist Churches and has been invited to solemnize a gay marriage in - you guessed it - Massachusetts. 

So, just as we have a Holy Trinity (God, the Father; Christ, the Son and the Holy Spirit), Revelation 12 and 13 presents us with an "Unholy Trinity," (Satan, the Dragon; The First Beast and the Second Beast).  Throughout the history of God's people, Satan has used ungodly governments and kingdoms to persecute them.  In the Old Testament, there was Egypt, the Philistines, Assyria, Syria, and Babylon to name a few.  In the New Testament time it was Rome.  There have been numerous kingdoms and empires to arise and persecute God's people since that time.  They are empowered by the Dragon.

I am not going to present a commentary here on the Mark of the Beast or his number in these articles.  This will be saved for a future discussion.  There has been much ink spilt over this fascinating subject.  To ask what the number of the beast means is not the right question to advance.  The number does not stand for any particular person or institution.  The number simply stands for the beast!  When John says in Revelation 13:18 that the number is "a human number" he is not saying that the beast is a human being or that the mark is the number of a man (like his Social Security number)!  The phrase "human number" is simply opposed to it being a "divine number."  False religion, i.e. Anti-Christian religion is symbolized by a number = 666.

Notice also, John did not say "work out the meaning of the number."  He says "Work out the number."  The number is one that falls short of the divine or the number of perfection - "7"  And since we are talking about an Unholy Trinity or unholy 3, why not three 6's?

The next two articles will bring us to the question of the millennium.  In the first, I will present a survey of the four major views on the 1000-year reign of Christ.  The second will narrow in on one particular definition of the millennium and will present several factors in favor of a view which makes the most of Christ's current reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords and will expose the problems of the current views which are prevalent today in the writings of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Jack van Impe and others.

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September 6, 2009

In my second article titled Now You See Them, Now Your Don't I pointed out that the most popular view of the second coming of Christ and the prophecies which surround this view is a recent innovation!  It began in the late 1820's in England and Scotland and spread to America in a matter of ten years.  Since, the end of World War II and the constituting of Israel as a nation in 1948, it has become the most widely held and commonly accepted view of the evangelical world.  Before I continue to critique and (hopefully) dispel this view, let me make clear that I believe that many who hold this view of prophecy are indeed Christians.  I am not attacking the Christian character of those with whom I differ.  I owe a great debt to many who hold the view I will be criticizing.  However, the fact that they are Christians does not mean that they are right or that our differences are unimportant.  Some men's hearts are better than their heads.  What is in their heads may still be dangerous to others.

With the remaining articles of this series, and the coming class I will be conducting on John's Revelation, I believe that I must do a thorough job of convincing people of the error of the popular view of Christ's Second Coming.  Of course, I must do this mainly through opening up the clear teaching of the Word of God.  Before I do that, however, I must attempt to remove a prejudice in favor of the popular view and against what I will teach.  The view I criticize has been popular since at least rise of Hitler and World War II.  This makes it seem to many to be the historic view of the Christian Church.  Anything else thus appears to be novel.  Therefore, in order to test the validity of the claims for the popular view of our day, we will have to study a little church history.  With this article (and the next) we will look at the history of eschatology (that means, the study or doctrine of the last things).  I will then have to respond to a question that may begin to pop up in your mind:  "If what I have been and will continue to teach is true, how can so many people be so wrong?"

The First Response:  The view most popular today is only one for four basic views that have been held and are held by evangelical Christians today!

The prophetic view popular today has a name.  It is called Dispensationalism, or more fully, Dispensational Premillennialism.  Dispensational Premillennialism (as the name suggests) is a form of premillennialism.  Premillennialism is the view that Christ is to return before the millennium prophesied in Revelation 20:1-10.  The term, millennium, is simply the Latin for 1000 years.  The 1000 years of Revelation 20 is a time in which Christ reigns and Satan is bound.  Premillennialists take this to mean a personal and physical reign of Christ on earth after He returns to a literal 1000 years.

Dispensational Premillennialism is the form of premillennialism that emphasizes that history is divided into different dispensations.  Of course, all Christians - no matter their eschatological persuasion - allow that in some sense this is true.  Dispensationalism is more specifically the view that God is pursuing alternating programs in these different dispensations.  As the chart below suggests, God alternately pursues His plan for the Jewish nation, on the one hand, and His plan for the Gentiles and the church on the other.

Closely related to this Dispensational scheme of history and, in fact, built on it is the secret rapture theory of Christ's second coming.  As we have seen in previous articles, this theory has been spectacularly popularized by the special effects of the Left Behind, The Thief in the Night, and The Omega Code movies, is the view that Christ's return will be in two stages.  The first of these will be secret and will remove the church from the world prior to the Great Tribulation.  The second will be glorious and will bring an end to the reign of the Antichrist and usher in the millennial reign of Christ with the Jewish nation over the world.

It is important to emphasize that the unique and distinguishing feature of Dispensationalism is the consistent separation between Israel and the Church that it maintains.  This is called the Church-Israel distinction.  It is this point that most clearly distances Dispensational Premillennialism from the next view to be described.  That view is often called Historic or Covenant Premillennialism.  This view holds, in common with Dispensationalism, a premillennial view of Christ's return - without the secret rapture.  Premillennialism, as just noted above, is the view that says that Christ is to return before the millennium prophesied in Revelation 20:1-10.

The name Historic Premillennialism is a loaded term.  It claims for this view that it is the historic view of the premillennialism to be found earlier in the history of the Church.  It implicitly claims that Dispensationalism is not to be identified with the premillennialism found in the early centuries of the church.  In fact, Historic Premillennialism was a commonly accepted view of the second coming of Christ from the second and especially the third century onward.  We will come back to this claim later in this article.

This view has also sometimes been called Covenant Premillennialism.  The name, "Covenant Premillennialism" associates this view of the end times with so-called Covenant Theology."  Basically "Covenant Theology" does not separate Israel and the Church the way Dispensationalism does.  Rather, it sees the Church as "The New Israel" of God and rejects the Church-Israel distinction of Dispensationalism.  It follows that by rejecting this distinction this form of premillennialism has no need for a secret rapture theory.  Note here this differences in the table below:

The Church & Israel The Church is the true and new Israel The Church is distinct from Israel
The Second Coming One return and Post-Tribulational Two-stage return with a secret rapture and Pre-Tribulational coming first

Amillennialism literally means "no millennium."  In one sense this name is accurate, and in another it is not.  It is accurate in that the millennium has usually been defined as a great golden age of material blessing on earth before the eternal state in which evil is suppressed and righteousness is triumphant.  It is true that in this sense amillennialism holds no millennium.  Amillennialists, however, are Bible-believing Christians and view Revelation 20:1-10 as divine truth.  Thus, they do believe in the millennium of Revelation 20 and associate this period of time with the gospel or church age between Christ's first and second advents.  They teach, consequently, that Christ returns after this millennium is completed.  At His return the general judgment and general resurrection occur and the eternal state commences.  It is best diagramed like this below:

As you have probably guess from the previous articles, this is the view that I accept.  This view was also widely accepted by students of the Apostle John and their students as well and was popularized in the late fourth century by Augustine.  It was the most commonly accepted view of the Second Coming at the time of the Reformation Movement in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was the accepted eschatology of our early Baptist forerunners, the Anabaptists and with those who were a part of framing the Philadelphia Confession of Faith (the first Baptist creed).

The fourth view held by evangelical Christians today is called Postmillennialism.  As its name indicates, postmillennialism teaches that Christ will come back after the millennium.  In contrast to amillennialism, it does believe in a great, golden age of spiritual and material blessing on earth before the eternal state.  In contrast to premillennialism, it believes that this great golden age is brought to pass through spiritual means before the return of Christ.  This view was quite common among Roman Catholics in the Middle Ages and through the eighteenth centuries and was held by many Puritans and those of the First and Second Great Awakenings in America.  This view is now the least held among Christians today.

These are the four views of eschatology that have been held throughout church history with the first one (Dispensationalism) being the newest modal, and yet, the most accepted today.  These millennial views can be classified in different ways.  For instance, they can be classified by their view of the relation of the return of Christ to the millennium:

Dispensationalism Amillennialism
Historic Premillennialism Postmillennialism


They may also be classified by means of their view of the relation of the return of Christ to a future tribulation:

Dispensationalism Historic Premillennialism

These views may also be classified by means of their view of the relation of the Church and Israel:

The Church is Distinct from Israel
The Church is the New Israel
Dispensationalism Historic Premillennialism

Finally, these views may also be categorized by way of their view of a future millennium before the eternal state:

Dispensationalism Amillennialism
Historic Premillennialism  

The main point of this brief overview is to show that Dispensationalism is not the only view held by evangelical Christians.  The idea that, if the popular view is wrong, then the Christian church has been wrong, assumes something that is simply mistaken.  Evangelical Christians today hold each of the above views.  Each of the views discussed above, with exception of Dispensationalism, has been widely held by Christians in past centuries of the Church.  Dispensationalism is prominent in our day, but each of the other views has had its day in the church.  The point is this: Dispensationalism is not the only Christian alternative!

The Second Response:  Could those who sat at the feet of Christ's Apostles and third, fourth and fifth generation Christians (Church Father's) be wrong about the second coming of Christ?  Dispensationalism says: "YES!"

As I have pointed out, many have the impression that the Dispensationalism widespread today is the historic view of the Christian church.  This impression is sadly mistaken and based on a remarkably nearsighted view of church history.  It is true that Dispensationalists have made extraordinary claims with regard to premillennialism in the early church.  One noted Dispensationalist by the name of Dr. Charles Feinberg, has asserted, "The entire early church of the first 3 centuries was Premillennial almost to a man."  There are, however, three problems with Dr. Feinberg's claim.

1 - Even if his claim were true, it would do him little good.  As we have noticed above, there is a great deal of difference between Dispensationalism and Historic Premillennialism.  In fact, in a number of respects Historic Premillennialism has as much or more in common with Amillennialism and Postmillennialism, that it does with Dispensationalism.  It is indisputable that the Premillennialism found in the early church was Historic rather than Dispensational in character. 

The proof of this is to be found in the first church father in whose writings we find premillennialism.  This father is known as Justin Martyr.  Justin's writings date from about the year 160.  He was clearly a premillennialist.  In his Dialog with Trypho, the Jew, he says:

        But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.  (chapter 80, cf. chapters 76-81)

The difficulty with Justin's premillennialism for Dr. Feinberg is that in this very work he bears explicit and repeated testimony to his complete rejection of the essential feature of Dispensationalism, the Church- Israel distinction.  One of the main themes of his Dialog with Trypho, the Jew is that Christians are God's true Israel.  The following statement from chapter 11 is representative of many:

 For the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham ... are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ....

None of the early premillennialists manifest any understanding or commitment to the crucial distinctive of Dispensationalism, the Church-Israel distinction.

2 - Dr. Feinberg's claim that the early church was premillennial almost to a man is simply false!  We know this for a number of reasons.

In what are arguably the two earliest references to premillennialism it is clear that some early Christians were not premillennial.  The first reference has already been mentioned.  In the same chapter cited above in which Justin Martyr affirms his premillennialism, Trypho, the Jew, cross-examines Justin about his belief that Jerusalem will be rebuilt during the millennium.  Is he really serious, asks Trypho, in affirming a doctrine held also by the Jews?  Justin replies:

I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho, as to say one thing and think another.  I admitted to you formerly that I and many others are of this opinion, and believe that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.

In this amazing statement we learn that even in the early church people that Justin viewed as genuine Christians (many who are of the pure and pious faith) disagreed with him about the subject of premillennialism.

The second person of these two earliest references to premillennialism is associated with the name of Papias.  Papias claimed to be a student of the Apostle John.  Though none of Papias' books survive, excerpts of them are recorded in the church history of a man named Eusebius.  Eusebius lived between 260 and 340 and he interspersed his own comments throughout his excerpts of Papias.  Eusebius' comment about Papias is relevant to our point.

The same person, moreover, has set down other things as coming to him from unwritten tradition, amongst these some strange parables and instructions of the Savior, and some other things of a more fabulous nature.  Amongst these he says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth.

Eusebius' comment makes clear that he regarded Papias' premillennialism as beyond strange and actually fabulous.  From this it is clear that Eusebius himself was not a premillennialist.  This is another clear indication that Feinberg's statement about the early church being premillennial to a man in its first three centuries is simply unwarranted.  Clear and important evidence, then, flatly contradicts Feinberg's claim.

3 - The impropriety of Feinberg's claim is shown by the fact that it is Dispensationalism itself that is the novel in church history.  Far from being the historic position of the church, there is clear evidence that the particular form of premillennialism known as Dispensationalism only developed in the first half of the 1800's.  To review:  Dispensationalism was born in the cradle of what is called futurism.  This was a theory of the interpretation of prophecy and especially the Book of Revelation that assigned its events mainly to a future period of tribulation. 

The genesis of futurism among Protestant premillennialists must be traced to the influence of one Edward Irving.  In 1826 Irving came into the possession of a book written by Emmanuel Lacunza entitled The Coming of Christ in Glory and Majesty.  As might be expected from one converted out of a Jesuit background, the method of prophetic interpretation utilized by this author was futurism.  Concerning the developments leading up to the emergence of dispensationalism, the primary significance of Lacunza's work lay in its futurism with reference to the interpretation of the book of Revelation (not only regarding the millennium of chapter 20 but also the tribulation of chapters 6 to 19).

The futurism popularized by Irving is the backdrop and context of the development of the Dispensationalism of John Nelson Darby.  Though there were futurists who were not dispensational, Dispensationalism grew and could only grow on the futurist ground plowed by Irving.  If you read the second article of this series you will remember that the revivalists movement of the 1820's and 30's along with the rise of cult and occultism produced a growing influence in the study of the last things.  From the writings of Irving, the visions of Margaret MacDonald and the preaching of John Darby, dispensationalism was born.  The secret or pre-tribulational rapture theory emerged from within this context.

For Feinberg to claim any historic precedent in the earlier ages of the Christian church is completely inappropriate and wrong.

In the next article, we will continue with the study of the Millennium by answering the question of how to best interpret prophecy.  I will expose the error of the Dispensational method of interpretation and offer the alternative which is both historic and Biblical.

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September 13, 2009

If you haven't already picked up on it, let me state unequivocally that I do not adhere to, believe in or promote the most prevalent view of the End Times teachings so paramount today.  In fact, I believe it to be borderline heresy!  Most (though certainly not all) Dispensationalists are easily categorized as fundamentalist.  Most go so far as to push toward influencing the social and political landscape of the United States in a "protect Israel at all cost" attitude and strive to "force the kingdom of God" by way of their view of the End Times.  This attitude is dangerously close to that which is perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists who also use government to wipe out Israel and its allies!  The difference between these two religious thoughts is Jihad!  Islam will use weapons of destruction, while Christian fundamentalists will use politics!  Both are not only dangerous, but, of themselves, self-serving and not Godly!

You may ask what belief system do I subscribe to.  And what will I be presenting in the study on the Book of Revelation and why.  If I have to be pigeon-holed let me say that I am unashamedly an Amillennialist!  I do believe, however, that the name amillennial is not a good term at all.  The term is not a happy one.  It suggests that amillennialists either do not believe in any millennium or that they simply ignore the first six verses of Revelation 20, which speak of a millennial reign.  Neither of these two statements is true.  Though it is true that amillennialists do not believe in a literal thousand-year earthly reign which will follow the return of Christ, the term amillennialism is not an accurate description of this view.  One of my professors at Westminster Theological Seminary once suggested that the term "amillennialism" should be replaced with the expression realized millennialism.  This term, to be sure, describes the amillennial position more accurately.  This is due to the belief that the millennium of Revelation 20 is not exclusively future but is now in process of realization.  This article will explain the full meaning why I see scripture as pointing to the understanding that we are, as Christians, already a part of the millennium.

Before I go any further, I must note that it has been said that the best way to have a good offense is to have a great defense.  As I stated in the last article, I want to expose the error, or I should say, the many errors of Dispensational theology, but having looked back at the first twelve articles, I believe that this has already been done in great detail.  But, what is the alternative?  In the last article, I presented the four schools of interpreting the millennium with Dispensationalism being the most popular and yet most recently "created" theory.  It should come as no surprise after reading the first twelve articles that of the three remaining theories, I believe the so-called Amillennial view best fits into the scheme of redemptive history.  This article will present a defense of this position from both a Biblical and a historical perspective.  I think it is best at this juncture to leave Dispensationalism alone.  I have sufficiently exposed what I believe to be the many holes in its theology and why the dispensational interpretation of Scripture is faulty.  It is time for me to defend what I see to be the most accurate, Biblical and historical view of the "End Times."

A common criticism of amillennial eschatology is that it is too negative!  That it spends its strength primarily in opposing and refuting the other three theories with which it does not agree.  Leaving aside the question of whether this criticism is true or false, I would like at this point to counteract the negativism of some amillennial views by sketching briefly some positive affirmations made by amillennialists.  In this way we shall be able to see amillennial eschatology in its totality, rather than just as a certain interpretation of the millennium in Revelation 20.

This sketch will cover two areas: first, what amillennial eschatology teachers with regard to what is called inaugurated eschatology, and second, what it teaches with reference to future eschatology.  Please don't let these terms throw you!!  By inaugurated eschatology I mean that aspect of eschatology which is already present now, that is, during the gospel era, or the church age.  The term inaugurated eschatology means that for the New Testament believer significant "future" events have already begun to happen while other future occurrences still lie in the future.  This means that with the death and resurrection of Christ - and since Pentecost, God has begun, or inaugurated the future plan He has for His people.

As regards inaugurated eschatology, then, amillennialism affirms the following:

    1.    Christ has won the decisive victory over sin, death and Satan.  By living a sinless life and by dying on the cross as the sacrifice of atonement for our sin, Christ defeated sin.  By undergoing death and then victoriously rising from the grave, Christ defeated death.  By resisting the devil's temptations, by perfectly obeying God, and by His death and resurrection, Christ delivered a deathblow to Satan and his evil hosts.  This victory of Christ's was decisive and final.  The most important day in history, therefore, is not the Second Coming of Christ which is still in the future but the first coming which lies in the past.  Because of the victory of Christ, the ultimate issues of history have already been decided.  It is now only a question of time until that victory is brought to its final consummation.

    2.    The kingdom of God is both present and future.  Amillennialists do not believe that the kingdom of God is primarily a Jewish kingdom which involves the literal restoration of the throne of David.  Nor do they believe that because of the unbelief of the Jews of His day Christ postponed the establishment of the kingdom to the time of His future earthly millennial reign.  Amillennialists believe that the kingdom of God was founded by Christ at the time of His sojourn on earth, is operative in history now and is destined to be revealed in its fullness in the life to come.  They understand the kingdom of God to be the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ.  Its purpose is to redeem God's people from sin and from demonic powers, and finally to establish the new heavens and the new earth.  The kingdom of God means nothing less than the reign of God in Christ over His entire created universe.

    The kingdom of God is therefore both a present reality and a future hope.  Jesus clearly taught that the kingdom was already present during His earthly ministry: But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28, New International Version).  When the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, He replied, The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, "Lo, here it is!" or "There!" for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you (Luke 17:20-21).  But Jesus also taught that there was a sense in which the kingdom of God was still future, both in specific sayings (like Matthew 7:21-23 and 8:11-12) and in eschatological parables (such as those of the Marriage Feast, the Tares, the Talents, the Wise and the Foolish Virgins).  Paul also makes statements describing the kingdom as both present (Romans 14:17, I Corinthians 4:19-20; and Colossians 1:13-14) and future (I Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; and II Timothy 4:18).

    The fact that the kingdom of God is present in one sense and future in another implies that we who are the subjects of that kingdom live in a kind of tension between the "already" and the "not yet."  We are already in the kingdom, and yet we look forward to the full manifestation of that kingdom; we already share its blessings, and yet we await its total victory.  Because the exact time when Christ will return is not known, the church must live with a sense of urgency, realizing that the end of history may be very near.  At the same time, however, the church must continue to plan and work for a future on this present earth which may still last a long time.

    Meanwhile, the kingdom of God demands of us all total commitment to Christ and His cause.  We must see all of life and all of reality in the light of the goal of the redemption not just of individuals but of the entire universe.  This implies that there is not a single inch of the universe about which Christ does not say, "It is mine!"

    This total commitment further implies a Christian philosophy of history.  All of history must be seen as the working out of God's eternal purpose.  This kingdom vision includes a Christian philosophy of culture: Art and science, reflecting as they do the glory of God, are to be pursued for His praise.  The vision of the kingdom also includes a Christian view of vocation:  All callings are from God, and all that we do in everyday life is to be done to God's praise, whether this be study, teaching, preaching, business, industry or housework!

    A common source of tension among Christians today is the question of whether the church should be primarily concerned with evangelism or social and political action.  It seems to me that a proper "kingdom vision" will help us to keep our balance on this question.  Needless to say, evangelism - which is bringing people into the kingdom of God - is one of the essential tasks of the church.  But since the kingdom of God demands total commitment, the church must also be vitally concerned about the implementation of Christian principles in every area of life, including the political and the social.  Evangelism and social concern, therefore, must never be thought of as options between which Christians may make a choice; both are essential to full-orbed kingdom obedience.

    3.    Though the last day is still future, we are in the last days now.  This aspect of eschatology, which is often neglected in Christian circles, is an essential part of the New Testament message.  When I say, " we are in the last days now," I understand the expression "the last days" not merely as referring to the time just before Christ's return, but as a description of the entire era between Christ's first and second coming.  New Testament writers were conscious of the fact that they were already living in the last days at the time they were speaking or writing.  This was specifically state by Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost when he quoted the Joel's prophecy about the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh in the last days (Acts 2:16-17).  He was thus saying in effect, "We are now in the last days predicted by the prophet Joel."  Paul made the same point when he described believers of his day as those "upon whom the end of the ages has come" (I Corinthians 10:11).  And the Apostle John told his readers that they were already living in "the last hour" (I John 2:18).  In the light of these New Testament teachings, we may indeed speak of an inaugurated eschatology, while remembering that the Bible also speaks of a final consummation of eschatological events in what John commonly calls "the last day" (John 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48).

    The fact that we are living in the last days now implies that we are already tasting the beginnings of future blessings - that, as Paul says, we already have "the first fruits of the Spirit" (Romans 8:23). This means that we who are believers are to see ourselves not as impotent sinners who are helpless in the face of temptation but as new creatures in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17), as temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19) and as those who have decisively crucified the flesh (Galatians 5:24), put off the old self and put on the new (Colossians 3:9-10).  All this involves having an image of ourselves which is primarily positive rather than negative.  It also involves seeing fellow Christians as those who are in Christ with us and for whom we should therefore thank God.

    4.    As far as the thousand years of Revelation 20 are concerned, we are in the millennium now!  If the millennium is the kingdom of God realized, and Jesus is "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (present tense), then the millennium is a present essence, not just something in the future.  As I have said, the millennium extends from the first coming to just before the second coming of Christ when Satan will be loosed for a short time.  Therefore, John's use of the term "a thousand years" is not a literal thousand years, but a span of time symbolizing the church age, the gospel era.  The amillennial position on the thousand years of Revelation 20 implies that Christians who are now living are enjoying the benefits of this millennium since Satan has been bound for the duration of this period.  Please note, however, that the fact Satan is bound does not mean that he is not active in the world today, but that during this period he cannot deceive the nations - that is, cannot prevent the spread of the gospel.  It also means, that for the Christian, for the citizen of the millennium, Satan has no hold over him.  He cannot make you loose your salvation!  Satan is bound for the Christian!  The binding of Satan during this era, in other words, makes missions and evangelism possible and necessary.  This fact should certainly be a source of encouragement to the church on earth.

    Amillennialists also teach that during this same thousand year period the souls of believers who have died are now living and reigning with Christ in heaven while they await the resurrection of the body.  Their state is therefore a state of blessedness and happiness, though their joy will not be complete until their bodies have been raised.  This teaching should certainly bring comfort to those whose dear ones have died in the Lord.

Now, regarding future eschatology amillennialism affirms the following:

    1.    The "sign of the times" have both present and future relevance.  Amillennialists believe that the return of Christ will be preceded by certain signs: for example, the preaching of the gospel to all the nations, the conversion of the fullness of Israel, the great apostasy, the great tribulation and the coming of the Antichrist.  These signs, however, must not be thought of as referring exclusively to the time just preceding Christ's return.  They have been present in some sense from the very beginning of the Christian era and are present now.  This means that we must always be ready for the Lord's return and that we may never in our thoughts push the return of Christ off into the far-distant future.

    Amillennialists also believe, however, that these "signs of the times" will have a climactic final fulfillment just before Christ returns.  This fulfillment will not take the form of phenomena which are totally new but will rather be an intensification of signs which have been present all along.

    2.    The Second Coming of Christ will be a single event.  Amillennialists find no scriptural basis for the dispensationalist division of the Second Coming into two phases (called "the rapture" and "the return to earth"), with a seven-year period in between.  We understand Christ's return as being a single event.

    3.    At the time of Christ's return, there will be a general resurrection, both of believers and unbelievers.  Amillennialists reject the common premillennial teaching that the resurrection of believers and that of unbelievers will be separated by a thousand years.  They also reject the view of many Dispensationalists that there will be as many as three or four resurrections (since, in addition to the two resurrections just mentioned, Dispensationalists also teach that there will be a resurrection of tribulation saints and a resurrection of believers who died during the millennium).  We see no scriptural evidence for such multiply resurrections.

    4.    After the resurrection, believers who are then still alive shall suddenly be transformed and glorified.  The basis for this teaching is what Paul says in I Corinthians 15:51-52: Listen, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  (New International Version)

    5.    The "rapture" of all believers now takes place.  It is not a rapture as is taught by Dispensationalists, rather a "catching up" of all believers in the end as the earth is about to be destroyed!  Believers who have just been raised from the dead, together with living believers who have just been transformed, are now "caught up" in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (I Thessalonians 4:17).  That there will be such a "rapture" the Bible clearly teaches.  But I have put the word rapture between quotation marks in order to distinguish the amillennial conception of the rapture from the Dispensationalist view.  As I have pointed out in the first four articles, Dispensationalists teach that in the rapture the entire church will be taken up to heaven for a period of seven years while those still on earth are to undergo the great tribulation.

    Amillennialists see no scriptural evidence for such a seven-year period or for a transference of the church from earth to heaven (or the clouds near heaven) during that period.  Risen and glorified bodies of believers do not belong in heaven but on earth.  The Greek word translated "to meet" in I Thessalonians 4:17 is a technical term used in the days of the New Testament to describe a public welcome given by a city to a visiting dignitary.  People would ordinarily leave the city to meet the distinguished guest and then go back with him to the city.  On the basis of this analogy conveyed by the Greek word, all Paul is saying here is that raised and transformed believers are caught up in the clouds to met the descending Lord, implying that after this meeting they will go back with him to the earth.

    6.    Then comes the final judgment.  Whereas Dispensationalists commonly teach that there will be at least three separate judgments, amillennialists do not agree.  The amillennialist sees scriptural evidence for only one Day of Judgment which will occur at the time of Christ's return.  All men must then appear before the judgment seat of Christ.

    The purpose of the final judgment is not primarily to determine the final destiny of men since by that time that final destiny has already been determined for all men except those still living at the time of Christ's return.  Rather, the judgment will have a threefold purpose: First, it will reveal the glorification of God in the final destiny assigned to each person; second, it will indicate finally and publicly the great antithesis of history between the people of God and the enemies of God; and third, it will reveal the degree of reward or the degree of punishment which each shall receive.

    7.    After the judgment the final state is ushered in.  Unbelievers and all those who have rejected Christ shall spend eternity in hell, whereas believers will enter into everlasting glory on the new earth.  The concept of the new earth is so important for Biblical eschatology that we should give it more than a passing thought.  Many Christians think of themselves as spending eternity in some ethereal heaven while the Bible plainly teaches us that there will be a new earth.  When the Book of Revelation tells us that the holy city, the new Jerusalem, will come down from heaven to the new earth (21:2), that God will not have His dwelling with men (21:3) and the the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the new Jerusalem (22:3), it is teaching us in figurative language that in the life to come heaven and earth will no longer be separated but will have merged.  In the final state, therefore, glorified believers will be both in heaven and on the new earth, since the two shall then be one.  We shall talk more of this concept in our last class in the study of the Book of Revelation on April 29th.

As I conclude this rather lengthy article (for which I won't apologize), I want to offer some of the implications of amillennial eschatology for our understanding.  I will present four of them here as I conclude this article.

    1.    What binds the Old and New Testaments together is the unity of the covenant of grace.  Amillennialists do not believe that sacred history is to be divided into a series of distinct and disparate dispensations but see a single covenant of grace running through all of that history.  This covenant of grace is still in effect today and will culminate in the eternal dwelling together of God and His redeemed people on the new earth.

    2.    The kingdom of God is central in human history.  That kingdom was predicted and prepared for in Old Testament times, was established on earth by Jesus Christ, was extended and expanded both in New Testament times and during the subsequent history of the church, and will finally be consummated in the life to come.

    3.    Jesus Christ is the Lord of history.  This means that all of history is under Christ's control and will ultimately prove to have been subservient to His purpose.  We must therefore be concerned not just with enjoying the blessings of our salvation but also with joyfully serving Christ as Lord in every area of our lives.

    4.    All of history is moving toward a goal: the total redemption of the universe.  History is not meaningless but meaningful.  Though we are not always able to discern the meaning of each historical event, we know what the ultimate outcome of history will be.  We eagerly look forward to the new earth as part of a renewed universe in which God's good creation will realize finally and totally the purpose for which He called it into existence: the glorification of His name.

    All this implies that regarding world history, amillennialists adopt a position of "realistic optimism."  Belief in the present rule of Christ, in the presence of God's kingdom and in the movement of history toward its goal is accompanied by a realistic recognition of the presence of sin in this world and of the growing development of the kingdom of evil.  Amillennial eschatology looks for a culmination of apostasy and tribulation in the final emergence of a personal Antichrist before Christ comes again.  Amillennialists do not expect to see the perfect society realized during this present age.

    Yet, since we know that the victory of Christ over evil was decisive and that Christ is now on the throne, the dominant mood of amillennialism is optimism - Christian optimism.  This means that we view no world crisis as totally beyond help and no social trend as absolutely irreversible.  It means that we live in hope - a hope that is built on faith and that expresses itself in love.

Amillennial eschatology, therefore, gives us a realistic, yet basically optimistic world-and-life view.  It is an eschatology which is exciting, exhilarating and challenging.  It is a belief system which gives us an inspiring vision of the lordship of Jesus Christ over history and of the ultimate triumph of His kingdom.

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September 20, 2009

This article, along with the two previous on the Millennium, guarantee that I would never be allowed to graduate from some of the great theological schools, seminaries and Bible Colleges in the country.  Institutes like Dallas Theological Seminary, Biola University, and the Moody Bible Institute plainly will not let a student walk the aisle to receive a diploma who has not subscribed to Dispensational Premillennialism.  As I have attempted to prove, this hermeneutic is flawed and is not grounded in any historical roots farther back than the Industrial Revolution.

 Having "shown my cards" and declared myself to be an adherent to the Amillennial school of eschatology, I believe it is time to offer an interpretation to what is considered to be a perplexing passage of Scripture.  After much research and having studied under several of the most learned Christian scholars who adhere to the amillennial eschatology, I offer my interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10.  Most of the following article is adapted from a research paper I had to defend in a seminar on the Book of Revelation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  I owe a great debt to my professor and mentor, the late Dr. Philip E. Hughes and to the late Dr. Anthony Hoekema who critiqued my research prior to its presentation.

The following is just an synopsis of my research as the full paper is over 45 pages in length and quite technical.

Because of the unique literary makeup of the Book of Revelation and the extensive use of apocalyptic symbolism throughout, any interpretation of Revelation 20 should take place with the broader eschatology of the New Testament in mind.  Several factors which we have already considered throughout these articles serve as the background for the proper interpretation of this passage.  It should be clear that we must interpret unclear or difficult passages in the light of clearer ones.  This is especially the case with apocalyptic literature with which Revelation and most of the book of Daniel is composed. 

The dispensational approach to Revelation creates a number of problems.  The idea of a millennial age dominated by a return to the Old Testament redemptive way of life is just not possible.  While premillenarians tell us what is depicted here is a golden age on a partially renewed earth after Christ's second coming, postmillenarians see this period as a golden age for Christ's church during this present evil age, in which the nations are Christianized, and the vast majority of the earth's citizens come to faith in Jesus Christ.  Both forms of golden age millennialism build their cases on the assumption that what is depicted in Revelation 20 is like that foretold in the second chapter of Isaiah when the nations "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nations will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).  However, the amillennial position interprets this period of one thousand years as anything but a golden age when lions and lambs play together.  This period is marked by conflict, martyrdom, and revolt against God.  Revelation 20 depicts the church militant, not the church triumphant!  What is described in Isaiah 2:4 has to do with the renewed earth, not the millennial age.  The events described here are much more likely to be a description of this "present evil age" rather than a future millennium.  There is a real millennium despite the amillennial nomenclature.  The millennial age in which Christ rules, however, is a present reality and not a future hope!

I see Revelation 20 as the weak link in any form of premillennialism, even so dispensationalism.  If the premillennial position is correct, the golden age of the millennium where Christ reigns for one thousand years ends with glorified men and women revolting against the visible rule of Christ when Satan is released from the abyss at the end of that time.  By viewing this conception of the future millennial age through the analogy of faith, the idea of a "second fall" at the end of the millennium is so highly problematic that most amillennial interpreters like me rule out all forms of premillennialism.  A fall of glorified humanity into sin after Christ's second coming means that eternity is not safe from the apostasy and the spontaneous eruption of sin in the human heart.  This is why I build on clear texts in the Gospels and Paul's letters, such as the phrases like this age and the age to come.  I interpret the symbolic and apocalyptic language used by John in Revelation in light of how these symbols are used elsewhere in Revelation and throughout the Bible.

Let's look at Revelation 20:1-10 in what appears to be its natural divisions. Verses 1 through 3 deal with the binding of Satan, while verses 4 through 6 deal with the contrast between the first resurrection and the second death.  The third section is verses 7 through 10 and it describes the rebellion which transpires when the thousand years are over and Satan is released from the abyss.

Revelation 20:1 - 3

On the face of it, the millennium has certainly not arrived yet.  Television, radio and the newspapers remind us daily (though not in these words) that Satan is alive and well and living on the planet earth.  How can he be said to be bound and sealed in the bottomless put?  This vision depicts an even which is still in the future, like the battle which takes place in the last three verses of chapter 19.  BUT WHAT IS EXACTLY SAID HERE? 

Let's first look at the deed.  Satan is seized and bound.  Whatever interpretation may seem to be placed on this by the many commentators, preachers and teachers or by the state of the world around us, Christ's own words must carry the greatest weight.  In Mark 3:27 we find the only other reference to the binding of Satan in the Bible.  The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke relate the parable of the "strong man, fully armed," who "guards his own palace" so that "his goods are undisturbed."  The story goes on to describe the coming of "one stronger than he," whose object is to plunder the strong man's property.  The newcomer "binds" - Matthew and Mark use the word "binds."  Now we know from the context that this story was told expressly to illustrate something which happened to Satan, and which happened to him at the time of Christ's first coming.  With Christ's first coming, the kingdom of God had come, and He went about casting out evil spirits to demonstrate precisely this - that Satan, for all his strength, had been seized and bound.  We may still question what was actually implied by his "imprisonment," since he seems to have continued very much at liberty; but there is no escaping the fact that the same word and action, the binding link in Revelation 20-:2 with Mark 3:27.

Secondly, let's look at the object.  Satan is thrown bound into the pit in order "that he should no longer deceive the nations."  Here again, it may seem quite untrue to say that he is even now prevented from deceiving the nations, and indeed has been unable to do so ever since the time of Christ; surely he does still deceive them and that this also indicates that the millennium is yet to come?

But again, consider what is said about the nations in the rest of Scripture.  Genesis 22:18 states that their blessing will come through the seed of Abraham, Genesis 49:6 says that their light through the promised servant of the Lord; and when Christ is born, Luke 2:32 says that the aged Simeon recognizes that the baby in his arms is Himself the Seed and the Servant, a light for revelation to the nations as well as glory for Israel.  During the earthly life of Jesus, the undeceiving of the nations is foreshadowed by the visit of the wise men (Matthew 2:1-11), and exemplified by His contacts with a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28), and a company of Greeks (John 12:20).  The same pattern is repeated in the life of the church: "men from very nation under heaven" come to its cradle on the Day of Pentecost, and its career is marked by the conversion of Samaritans, Romans and Greeks.  Alongside Christ's prediction that the gospel will be preached to all nations (which is so often understood as something which will be achieved only shortly before his second coming) we have to place Paul's startling claim, that already, in the middle of the first century, it "has been preached to every creature under heaven (Colossians 1:23).  What do the apostle's words imply?  Clearly, the worldwide evangelism of which he speaks cannot mean an actual preaching to each individual race, let alone to each individual person.  But what has happened is that the gospel has been made available for the nations in general, instead of being restricted to the Jews.  Since the time of Christ is has been a universal gospel, in a way that it never was before in "the times of ignorance" (Acts 17:30).

Therefore, it seems to be quite in accord with Scripture to see in the millennium of Revelation 20:3 a period during which Satan is no longer able to keep in his custody the nations which, till Christ came to bind him and to steal them away from Him, were altogether in his power.  With this would agree the links which Christ makes between the casting out of Satan and the visit of the Greek enquirers in John 12:20-32, and between Satan's downfall and the early evangelistic campaign of Luke 10:17 & 18.  Every time we see a new convert added to the church, Satan's inability to deceive the nations is proclaimed afresh.

The "thousand years," which on our view began with Christ's first coming, are thus still in progress!  But at the end of that period there will come a time (according to verse 3) when, "for a little while" Satan will be freed from the restraints which the church age has placed upon him.

There are parallels to this end-of-the-millennium release which are readily to be found both in Revelation and elsewhere, and which support the interpretation we have been following.  In Revelation 11:3-14 God's two witnesses, who have preached unhindered for "three-and-a-half years" are then silenced for "three-and-a-half days".  In Revelation 13:1-10 we see the beast from the sea revive after it had been fatally wounded; and though we have taken this to be a perennial characteristic of Satan's godless society (Anti-Christian government), we should not be surprised to find it is true also as the over-all pattern of Satan's own career.  Then, in Revelation 17:7-18, the period of the "seven heads" (which to John is in the present tense), is followed by the period of the "ten horns" (which to John is in the future).  It seems again to indicate a great resurgence of evil at the end of time.  So here in Revelation 20:1-3: "When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations" (see verses 7 and 8).

Paul describes in II Thessalonians 2 what will immediately precede the return of Christ" "The rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed" (verse 3).  For the present, a divine power "is restraining him," though in some respects, of course, "the mystery of lawlessness is already at work" (verses 6 & 7).  But when the restraints are off, the world will see again "the activity of Satan ... with all wicked deception" (verses 9 & 10).  Paul's non-symbolic predictions tally so remarkably with the symbolic prophecies of Revelation 20 that it is hard to see how the two passage could refer to different circumstances.

If the Thessalonian passage describing the end of the church age is indeed parallel to the Revelation one describing the end of the millennium, it settles the relationship between millennium and parousia (second coming).  Because in it we are told that it is the glorious second coming of Christ - "the appearance of His coming" - which will put an end to the last outbreak of evil, which in its turn will have brought to an end the thousand years' restriction on Satan's activity.

It will again be obvious that the order in which John receives his visions is not the order of the events of history.  The Book of Revelation is not a single continuous view of the history of the church age, rather it repeats itself in various visions and this repetition illustrates history in various ways.  The seven seals of Revelation 6 and 7 takes us to the end of the age with the seventh seal bringing silence (God's judgment) and then, the beginning of the seven trumpets in Revelation 8 takes us back to the beginning.  The fact that John saw the beast destroyed before he saw Satan bound has nothing to do with the order in which these things actually happen.  That must be determined by what each vision is found to mean in the light of the rest of Scripture.  Compare, for example, the millennium of Revelation 20:1-10 with the chapters in Ezekiel to which it is linked by the use of the names Gog and Magog (20:8).  The sequence of events in Revelation 20 is the defeat of Satan, the resurrection of the saints to a thousand-year reign, the rebellion of Gog when Satan returns, and the last battle, followed in chapter 21 by the establishment of the new Jerusalem.  The last chapters of Ezekiel show a remarkable parallel: the defeat of Edom and the resurrection of Israel to prolonged peace (chapters 35-37), then the rebellion and defeat of God (chapters 38 & 39), followed by the vision of the new Jerusalem (chapters 40-48). 

So, Revelation 20:1-3 is concerned with the binding of Satan which takes place between the time of Christ's first coming and just shortly before His second coming.

Revelation 20:4-6

In verse 4 John writes as though he is distinguishing between two groups: "those who sat on the thrones and to whom judgment was committed," and "those who had not worshipped the beast or his image and had not received the mark on their forehand and on their hand."  But the Greek text of verse 4 reads: Then I saw thrones, and those who sat on them, and to them judgment was give and the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus....  In the King James and many other versions, the editors insert a full stop within that sentence as if to make John say two sentences.  The phrase "I also saw" or "and then I saw" are not present in the original language!  What John wrote was more like this: And I saw thrones (and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them), and the souls of the beheaded, and such as had not worshipped the beast; and they lived and reigned.  From this it seems more likely that the thrones of judgment are occupied by a single group, the living, reigning saints who have suffered execution and refused to worship the beast.

Even with that clarification, the millennial reign of the saints here in verse 4 is, at a first reading, as mysterious as the millennial binding of Satan in verses 1-3.  It begins with "first resurrection."  It involves those who have been beheaded for Christ's sake, so its setting is presumably a world beyond death.  In it they appear as "judges," which brings to mind the church's authority over men and angels spoken of in I Corinthians 6:2 & 3.  In whatever world it is set, it is certainly a thing of the future.  Yet all this takes place before the general resurrection of verse 5a.  Looked at in this way, the reign of the saints, though still apparently a part of time, not eternity, does indeed seem to be far removed from the here and now.

On the other hand, verses 1 through 3 seemed to show that the millennium is yet another symbol of the present church age.  And when we ask if the description of it in verses 4 through 6 necessarily places it a world away from our present existence, the answer is NO.  It is quite possible to understand it in terms of this world.  Here, in this age, God's people are already reigning as kings and priests.  John told us so in Revelation 1:6.  Paul makes his statement about the church's future authority in I Corinthians 6:2 & 3 precisely in order to show that the church is already competent "to judge ... matters pertaining to this life."  The "first resurrection" is a perfectly understandable way of referring to what the New Testament in many places describes as a passing from death into life.  This mean a person's rebirth as a Christian!  The saints are all who enjoy this new life and perhaps in verse 4 John is distinguishing between those who have and those who have not yet gone through physical death, but even so they all live and reign with Christ.  Verse 5 can be taken in the same sense; if God has not "made us alive together with Christ" (as Paul says in Ephesians 2:4 & 5) we shall remain "dead through our trespasses" (Ephesians 2:1) for the rest of this age, until the day when even the wicked rise - though not to eternal life - at the voice of the Son of God (John 5:28 & 29).

The "second death" mentioned in verse 6 implies that there is a "first death."  This first death doesn't have power over the saints, and is presumably the death of the body.  The "second death" is mentioned again later in this chapter in verse 14 where John defines it as being the Lake of Fire.  He also mentions that death itself (meaning the "first death" or physical death) and Hades (the state of the physically dead) are cast into the "second death."  These two deaths are no doubt what Christ had in mind when, in Matthew 10:28, He said: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."  Those exempt from the second death are those who live and die for Jesus Christ.

Revelation 20:7-10

With verse 7, the first two sections (verses 1-3 and verses 4-6) converge.  The thousand years, during which the saints have reigned and the devil has been held in check, end in a cataclysmic war.  Names and places are different, but there can only ever be one battle which is both so universal and so final as this one.  It must be the same as the Armageddon mentioned in chapter 16 where "the kings of the whole world" are assembled for "the great day of God the Almighty (Revelation 16:14).  Again this shows how John's Revelation, indeed how much of apocalyptic literature, is repetitious.  Verses 7 through 10 show the clash between the ten horn-kings and the Lamb who is King of kings (Revelation 17:14).  It portrays the war already described in the preceding chapter of the book where the beast gathers "the kings of the earth with their armies" to fight against the Rider on the white horse, and perishes with all his host (19:19-21).  In each case the disorder and chaos is too complete for these passages to be anything other than varied descriptions of the same event - that is, the last battle of history.

Whatever actual enemy went by the name of "Gog, of the land of Magog" in Ezekiel's prophecy (Ezekiel 38:2), in Revelation he cannot be any particular power, or even bloc of powers: the scale of the conflict makes it impossible.  Notice the breadth of vision, which sees gathered beneath the banner of Gog not merely "the kings of the whole world," but "the nations which are at the four corners of the earth ... like the sand of the sea."  Notice the depth of meaning when two powerful images are merged in one to describe the church - at once the heavenly strangers and exiles on the earth (Hebrews 11:9 & 10).  Also notice the height from which the enemy's destruction falls, when God Himself intervenes, and "the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire" (II Thessalonians 1:7).  Finally notice the length of the punishment which follows the ultimate downfall of Satan, "tormented day and night for ever and ever."

These are the ultimate realities.  The name of Ezekiel's Gog is extended to cover all "who do not know God and ... who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (II Thessalonians 1:8).  This is how things are in the last analysis.  In the end there is only Christ or Satan.  That is to say: Christ who lives forever, and those with Him, and Satan who dies forever, and those with him.  It is between these two that men are choosing daily - while they may.

In the light of this understanding of Revelation 20:1-10, five things can be adduced:

  1. 1)  We, as Christians, currently live in the millennium;

  2. 2)  Satan has no control over Christians and his power to deceive all people has been seriously curtailed;

  3. 3)  Christians have been raised from sin and death - this is the first resurrection.  There is a second to come;

  4. 4)  Christians escape the second death;

  5. 5)  Satan will be released just before the end of time and during this very short period, the Antichrist, man of lawlessness, will be revealed but quickly defeated, this is at the end of the millennium not during a Tribulation seven year before the millennium.

This interpretation presupposes that John's Revelation is a series of visions in which God repeats the scheme of history from different views and points to the entire church age and beyond with several different colors and nuances.  We will be presenting the use of "recapitulation" or "repetition" in our class study on the Revelation.

Next week, I'll debunk the rapture using Dispensationalists favorite verses with a view to proving the Second Coming of Christ is a singular event and not a series of events strung out over 1007 years.


September 27, 2009

It is now time for me to make my declaration that the Rapture scenario, as taught by the Dispensationalist school is a "racket."  As I said in the first article, it is more pervasive than a pyramid scheme designed to lure unsuspecting people into it with the hope of fortune.  Whether prescribing a violent script for Israel or survivalism in the United States, this theology distorts God's vision for the world.  In place of healing, the Rapture proclaims escape.  In place of Jesus' blessing of peacemakers, the Rapture voyeuristically glorifies violence and war.  In place of the book of Revelation's vision of Jesus as the Lamb with vulnerable self-giving love, the Rapture celebrates the lion-like wrath of the Lamb.  This theology is not biblical!  We are not raptured off the earth, not is God.  No, God has come to live in the world through Jesus.  God created the world, God loves the world, and God will never leave the world behind!

Let me be bold to say that Rapture theology is disastrous for the Middle East and it is even more dangerous for planet earth.  As I pointed out in article one, proponents love to use the image of a clock counting down, like that in a missile launch.  God has a clock that is counting down, its hands drawing ever closer to midnight.  Never mind that clocks and stopwatches were not invented until long after the Bible was written, it is their favorite image.  They say God's prophetic stopwatch is ticking down to the end of the world.

John Hagee, pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas borrows his particular doomsday clock from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, an effort on the part of nuclear scientists to alert the world to the danger of nuclear annihilation.  In 1947, these scientists initially set the hands of the clock at seven minutes to midnight.  They periodically moved the hands closer or further from midnight depending on their evaluation of the global nuclear arms risk. 

Hagee wrote in his book Daniel to Doomsday: The Countdown Has Begun that "God has a similar clock, my friend, and its hands never move backward.  Doomsday - or the stroke of midnight - is coming."  But note the crucial difference between Hagee's prophetic doomsday clock and that of the scientists.  The nuclear scientists developed their clock to alert the world to the perilous situation so that the hands will never reach midnight.  The scientists are trying to keep us from destroying the world!

Not Hagee, nor those who hold to his view of the End Times.  Tim LeHaye, Jerry Jenkins, Jack van Impe, Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith believe that the stroke of midnight on the doomsday clock is inevitable and even welcome!  God plans to destroy this earth and there is nothing we can do to stop it.  The countdown to the end is already under way.  The Rapture is the reason these men, and so many others, revel in the prospect of destruction for the earth; the Rapture will be their "great escape" from earth.

Rapture and Armageddon scenarios tap into Americans' love for disaster films and survivalist plot lines.  Readers of end-times novels readily envision themselves among the select few who will escape planetary disaster.  Like the remnant who survive an attack on planet earth by alien creatures in the 1996 film Independence Day, or the couple who survey the devastation of New York City after the tidal wave caused by the impact from a comet in the movie Deep Impact, or the survivors in the 1998 thriller Armageddon, readers of these scripts place themselves in the role of the elite individual heroes who will survive Armageddon or other disasters while the rest of the planet perishes.  Even once-jailed televangelist Jim Bakker has now disavowed his previous pre-Tribulation Rapture theology as escapist, calling it a racket that preached a false gospel of prosperity - combined with the promise of escape from any consequences.

Christ will return!  On that the Rapture proponents and I agree.  I pray for it each time I pray, "Thy kingdom come" in the Lord's prayer.  Did you know that is a prayer that is not once prayed in any one of the twelve Left Behind novels?  Jesus taught an urgency about His kingdom in this prayer that is still very much alive for Christians today.

In this next to last article, I want to once again look at those verses of Scripture that are used by the Dispensationalists and finally debunk their Rapture theory.  Hal Lindsey said on page 169 of his book The Late Great Planet Earth "We are not playing a game of Biblical hopscotch."  Yet, it is hard to call it anything else when he and other Dispensationalists jump from one Bible verse to another to piece together their chronology of End Time events.  They use the image of buried treasure, claiming that God has hidden individual Rapture verses here and there in the Bible, similar to burying a treasure.   But is the doctrine of the Rapture is so central to the Christians' future, why did God bury the treasure for 1800 years and then left clues in the hands of a 16-year old girl, named Margaret MacDonald and a couple of isolated preachers in England?  Why do we have to piece it together only to find it now?

Throughout these articles I have argued that the Rapture theory is a fabrication.  Why so many people believe it to be true is the great deception!  Ironically, those who believe this (Dispensationalists) out-number those of the other three views combined by 3 to 1!  The Dispensationalist story creates a comprehensive, overarching narrative that appeals to people who are seeking clear-cut answers.  But the Dispensationalist system's supposed clear-cut answers rely on a highly selective biblical literalism, as well as insertion of nonexistent two-thousand year gaps and dubious re-definitions of key terms.  The system is not true to a literal reading of the Bible as they claim.  Nor is their system true to the Bible's wonderful richness and complexity.  The Dispensationalist system narrows the Bible's message.

I will, once more, address the three principle passage which are key to Dispensationalists' Rapture script.  They are I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 24:40-41 (and to an extent the whole of Matthew 24 and 25) and John 14:1-2.  Rather than trying to harmonize these and other passages into an overarching system, it is important to examine each passage in its own historical and theological context.  Each of these three passages was written to address specific concerns in different first-century communities.  This very diversity is the Bible's true treasure.  It gives us richness and depth of relationship with God that far exceeds all of our attempts to systematize it.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.

The apostle Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians is the favorite Rapture proof-text for Dispensationalists.  A closer look at this passage in the overall context of the letter shows that it is not about Rapture, however, but about resurrection from the dead at Christ's second coming.  The Thessalonians apparently feared that some family members who had already died before Christ's return would be left behind in their graves when he returned - and they were grieving that separation.  Paul write to the church in Thessalonica to reassure them that those who have died will also be raised to meet Christ, "and so we shall always be with the Lord."  He wrote the letter in order to give comfort and encouragement, using the assurance of Jesus' resurrection from the dead to give assurance of resurrection also for us.

What this letter is emphasizing is not that some will be left behind, but rather that we will all be together with our loved ones in our resurrection life.  No believer, whether dead or alive, will be separated from Christ or from the community of their lived ones when the Lord comes again.  Paul is saying the very opposite of what Rapture proponents claim when they use him to support their terrifying left-behind notion that some people will be taken while others are left.  Paul's pastoral concern here is to comfort people by showing that we will all be together in Christ when He comes again.  We will not be separated from Christ or from one another.

Rapture proponents use the details of these verses to argue that Christ snatches born-again Christians off the earth to meet Him in the air, and then that Christ turns around and takes people back to heaven for seven years.  But take a closer look and you see that there is no indication that the Lord switches directions - much less any mention of seven years in heaven.  The passage proclaims that Christ will "descends from heaven" (verse 16) - that is, He is coming down from heaven to earth.  There is no reason to think that Jesus will change directions and turn around to go back to heaven after Christians meet him in the air.  What the passage is describing is Jesus' second coming to earth, and the resurrection from the dead that will happen when He returns.

Paul's description of "meeting" the Lord in the air employs a very specific Greek word for greeting a visiting dignitary in ancient times.  The word is apantesis, which has to do a practice by which people went outside the city to greet the dignitary and them accompanied him into their city.  The same word is used in Matthew 25:6 to describe the bridesmaids who go out to "meet" the bridegroom and then accompany him into the feast.  It is also used in Acts 28:15 to describe the Romans who go out to "meet" Paul as he arrives in their city.  We can look at these other usages to see more specifically what Paul means by the term "meet" the Lord.

The key factor with the normal usage of the Greek verb "meet" is this: In no case does the arriving dignitary change directions and go back where he came from after people come to meet him; rather, he continues with them into their house or city.  In Matthew, for example, the bridegroom's arrival is greeted with a shout: "Look!  Here is the bridegroom.  Come out to meet him."  But the bridegroom does not then kidnap the bridesmaids and take them away with him after they go out to meet him!  Rather, the bridegroom goes with the bridesmaids into the house from where they came, where everyone is waiting for him.  Matthew makes this clear: "The bridegroom came, and those who were with him went into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut" (Matthew 25:10)

Similarly in Acts 28, the Christians from Rome go out to met Paul while he is still outside their city gates, because they are so eager to welcome him.  "The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Apius and Three Taverns to meet us," Acts records.  Paul does not then switch directions and take the Christians away from their city after they go out to "meet" him.  Rather, Paul accompanies them back where they came from - into their city.

Paul's use of the same word "meet" in First Thessalonians would suggest that Paul is proclaiming a similar "meeting," where both those who are alive and those who are dead go up to "meet" Christ in the air on His way back to earth, and then they accompany Him the rest of the way back to earth as He "descends."  The central message of this passage is resurrection of the dead.  The image of meeting the Lord in the air underscores that every Christian - whether dead or alive - will be resurrected together to greet Jesus when He returns to earth.

Paul does not ever return to this image of meeting Christ in the air in any of his other letters, do we cannot know with any greater detail what he meant.  In all his other writings what Paul emphasizes is simply the good news of the resurrection from the dead.

...the flood came and swept them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.  Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.

Only by combining this passage together with First Thessalonians 4 can Dispensationalists begin to piece together their notion of "left behind" - their scenario in which some Christians will be taken up suddenly to meet Christ and go back to heaven with Him for seven years, while others will be left behind on earth.  But here's the problem with their use of this passage from Matthew: Dispensationalists make the leap of assuming that the person "taken" in this passage is a born-again Christian who is taken up into heaven, while the person "left" is an unbeliever who is left behind for judgment.  This is a huge leap, since Jesus Himself never specifies whether Christians should desire to be taken or to be left!  In the overall context of Matthew's gospel, both the verbs "taken" and "left" can be either positive or negative.

In these verses immediately preceding this passage, Jesus says that His coming will be like the flood at the time of Noah, when people were "swept away" in judgment.  If being "taken" is analogous to being "swept away" in the flood, then it is not a positive fate.  A noted professor of mine in graduate school told our class: We should all notice that being "taken" in this context means being taken in judgment.  There is no hint of a "rapture" here, or a sudden supernatural event that would remove individuals from the earth.  It is a matter, rather, of secret police coming in the night, or of enemies sweeping through a village or city and seizing all they can.

If Philip Hughes is correct, this means that being "left behind" is actually the desired fate for Christians, whereas being "taken" would mean begin carried off by forces of judgment like a death squad!  For people living under severe Roman occupation, being taken away in such a way by secret police would probably be a constant fear.  When analyzed in the overall context of the gospel, the word "taken" means being taken away for judgment, as in the story of Jesus being "taken" prisoner by soldiers in Matthew 27:27.  "Taken" is not an image for salvation!

The fact is, Matthew's gospel is not clear on whether "taken" or "left" is the desired fate - whether being "taken" is equivalent to Noah rescuing people by taking them into the ark to save them, as Dispensationalists argue, or whether being "taken" rather means taken away for judgment, as Hughes argues.  Similar ambiguity surrounds the word "left."  Is being "left" the negative fate the Dispensationalists assume, or does it rather have a positive sense, as when Satan "left" Jesus in Matthew 4:11?  Matthew seems to be deliberately ambiguous - perhaps because out focus is not supposed to be on worrying about being taken or on being left, but rather on the urgent necessity of readiness for Jesus' return at any moment!

Whatever the desired fate, Jesus' description of people bring "taken" or "left" in this passage certainly does not describe a "Rapture" or an event separate from the last judgment, but is rather part of that judgment.  Christ's return is a single event in Matthew, with no evidence that it is separated into two events.  There is no "Rapture" to heaven followed by seven years of tribulation, followed by another return of Jesus for judgment.

Indeed, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus cautions most strongly that we are not supposed to try to figure out the details of the chronology of the end times.  Just two verses before out text, right before the reference to Noah and the flood, Jesus tells his followers, "About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven not the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36).  Jesus does not intend for us to piece together Bible verses to construct a detailed timetable that even He Himself does not know.

We are, however, to be urgent, to be urgent in our waiting.  That urgency is the focus of the entire Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 & 25.  This urgency is highlighted by four parables that Jesus tells to illustrate His message.

The Matthew passage about people who are taken and left is part of what Dispensationalists call the Olivet Discourse, one of Jesus' five long speeches in the Gospel of Matthew.  Tim LaHaye calls the Olivet Discourse the "prophetic clothesline on which every other Bible prophecy ought to be hung."  With their view that Jesus' prophetic reference to the blooming of the fig tree was fulfilled with the founding of Israel, they think that chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew predict a sequence of other events that were set in motion in 1948 and are accelerating toward a cataclysmic completion in our lifetime.

But as I have argued, prophecy does not mean prediction.  Jesus did not intend His prophetic Olivet Discourse to give a play-by-play of predictions that would eventually culminate in a sequence of events thousands of years off into the future, after the United Nations granted statehood to Israel.  Rather, Jesus' purpose is to give exhortation to His followers to "keep awake" and remain faithful.  Urgency and readiness are the message of this important speech.  Disciples of Jesus in every generation are to obey His commandments in readiness for His return, whenever it happens.  Jesus is not telling us to figure out the detailed sequence of when or how that return will happen.

The focus of Jesus' Olivet Discourse for Mathew's first readers, and for us, is not prediction but rather ethics - as seen by the four vivid parables Jesus tells to underscore this discourse.  The four parables or stories all illustrate the importance if readiness and staying awake, of faithfully stewarding what is entrusted to us until Jesus comes again.  We do not know when Jesus is returning again.  That is why we must live our lives at every moment as Jesus taught us.  The message to Matthew's original readers was the same as the message today: Whatever traumas befall us, we are to be urgent in loving our neighbor, urgent in caring for the world that God created, urgent in feeding the hungry and visiting prisoners, urgent in living faithfully as Christ commanded us to live.

In the first parable (Matthew 24:45-51) immediately following the saying about the one who is taken while the other is left, Jesus casts His followers in the role of servants whose master has temporarily gone away.  The servant's job is to care for the household in the master's absence, to give food to each inhabitant at the proper time.  We are that servant, Jesus tells us!  The message is that we must love and care for one another and for the household of God's whole world - so that we will be "the servant whom his master will find at work when he arrives" (Matthew 24:46).  If we fall asleep while Jesus is away, or if we are like the wicked slave who says to himself, "My mater is delayed," and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.  He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  That is what this parable warns us of.

Similarly, the threat of the severe consequences that will result for those who fail to care for people while Jesus is away is also message of the fourth parable, the story of the judgment of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  Hal Lindsey applies this parable only to those left behind after the Rapture, and then only to the few who survive the seven-year tribulation.  For Lindsey, the predictive message of the parable is that "tribulation survivors" will be judged on the basis of how they welcomed a specific group - the 144,000 Jewish evangelists.  But such a bizarre interpretation totally misses the ethical urgency of the parable for all of us.  There is no evidence that "one of the least of these my brothers and sisters" In Matthew 25:40 refers to the Book of Revelation's 144,000.  Rather, the parable calls all of us to give an account to God on the basis of how we treat our neighbors who are in need.  The "goats" are people who fail to do such deeds for "one of the least of these" - that is, for our neighbor in need - then we have failed to do these things for Jesus Himself, since Jesus is present in every stranger who asks for a cup of water from us.

The message of the third parable (Matthew 25:14-30) is similar to the first, that the master of the household will return, and he will ask us to give an account for how we have cared for God's resources in the household of the world.  Hoarding our resources or failing to multiply our talents will result in judgment.

Living together as faithful servants ready for Jesus' return - not speculating about the end-times - is the central ethical urgency of all these parables and of Matthew's entire Olivet Discourse.  Jesus says, abusing people or abusing the household of God's creation will carry severe consequences.  This is a very different message from the Dispensationalists' escapist and nonethical reading of this discourse.

Dispensationalists view the Olivet Discourse as predictive - literal predictions of a linear sequence of world events that must happen in our day in order for Jesus to return.  But the most glaring problem with such a literalist approach is Matthew 24:34, where Jesus says: "Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place."  2000 years have now passed since Jesus spoke these words, and the people He addressed as "this generation" have long since passed away - yet the specific events of which He spoke did not literally happen as exactly as Dispensationalists say they must.  The Dispensationalist solution is to arbitrarily redefine Jesus term "this generation" so that "this generation" means not Jesus' original audience, but a generation that began with Israel's founding as a state in 1948, or with Israel's taking of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967.  Lindsey calls those of us living today "the generation of the fig tree," referring to his interpretation of the founding of Israel as the fig tree putting forth its buds in Matthew 24:32.  Such a move has no literal basis in the Bible itself, however, nor is it true to their "plain sense" rule of interpretation.  It is an example of their highly selective literalism - with no biblical evidence to support this redefinition of "this generation."

In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Rapture proponents like to point to Jesus' farewell words in John 14:1 & 2 as the first teaching about Rapture in the Bible.  They argue that Jesus' statement that He is going away to "prepare a place for you" means that He is going away to heaven to get a place ready for those who will be Raptured.  "In my Father's house are many swelling places," Jesus says, using a Greek word that means "resting place" or "way station."  The Greek word is mone which comes from the verb meaning to "abide" or "remain."  But the problem is that Jesus does not specify where the Father's house is located.  Is it in heaven, as Rapture proponents argue?  Not necessarily, or at least not exclusively in the Gospel of John, because later in the same chapter Jesus says that He and the Father will come and make their "dwelling" in the believing person.  In John 14:23 Jesus says "We will come and make our dwelling (mone) with that one. He uses the same word. Here is image surely means God's mystical indwelling in the believer.

I must caution against assuming that Jesus' "many dwellings" or "many mansions" are rooms up in heaven.  The crucial glue is that Jesus never promises that, upon His return, Jesus will take the disciples away to the "dwellings" or "mansions" in the Father's house, as one would expect in the Dispensationalist's literalist scenario.  Rather, what Jesus promised to the disciple is that "Where I am, you will be also."  The key to chapter 14 is the two parallel occurrences of the Greek word mone in verses 2 and 23.  These verses provide a reciprocal relationship as believers have abiding-places in Christ, so Jesus and the Father have an abiding-place in each believer.

Within the context of John 14, the term "Father's house" is not so much heaven as God's household or family on earth.  Indeed, the word "house" is probably better translated as "household" both here and in John 4:53 and 8:35.  In a strong sense John wanted to underscore that we are already in some sense living in the "dwelling places" in the Father's household that Jesus says He has prepared for us.  The passage is not about mansions in the sky, but spiritual positions in Christ.  To use the same phrases and image Jesus said in John 15 that He is the vine and we are the branches who "dwell" or "abide" in Him already.  It is not a matter of being taken away from planet earth, up to the Father's house in heaven.  The dwelling Jesus is preparing for us is something quite different.

In John's gospel, imagery of ascending and descending has a rich, double meaning that makes a strictly "heavenist" interpretation impossible.  Far more important than going up to heaven in John's gospel is the "in-ness" and "one-ness" Jesus wants us to experience already with God.  The gospel's focus is on the rich relationship of mutual indwelling and eternal life that is already ours.  To know God is to have eternal life - "this is eternal life," Jesus says in His great farewell prayer in John 17:3.

Never would John's gospel say that Jesus and God are now up in heaven, waiting until the end-times in order to come back to earth and take us away to heaven in the Rapture and then in the Glorious Appearing.  God dwells with us now, on earth, in our hearts.  He dwells in us through the Holy Spirit.  To impose the linear timeline of Rapture followed by tribulation and then an earthly return imports a chronology that is totally foreign to the Gospel of John.

Does the Bible contain a prophetic clothesline or a blessing?  The Bible is difficult to understand, and apocalyptic passage such as the Book of Revelation and Matthew 24 and 25 are some of the hardest.  The temptation is to make up a system to give answers - to create that so-called "prophetic clothesline" and then hang biblical passages on it.  But the Bible gives us neither a clothesline nor a timeline nor a system.  Instead, it give us a relationship with God!  To read the Bible's hardest passages is like wrestling with God, much like Jacob who wrestled through the night at the river Jabbok.  You grapple to make sense of the words, you hold on, you struggle for clarity, you seek to wrest answers for all your questions.  What God gives you instead of a system of answers is a blessing, a new name - a living relationship.  You are forever changed by the encounter.

There is no two-stage, or three-stage return of Christ in the Bible, no escapist Rapture from earth for born-again Christians. Instead, Jesus will return - ONCE.  Until then, we are always with Jesus and He is with us - Emmanuel.  Our life is held in God's time.  And we are called to live in wakefulness, to pray as the final verses of Revelation do, "Amen, come Lord Jesus."

I will be concluding this series next week with a call for all Christian to be "more than conquerors through Him who loves us." And He who loves us conquers through LAMB power, not LION power.  Please read Revelation 5 in preparation for this final installment.

We Conquer By Lamb Power NOT Lion Power

October 4, 2009

Jesus is the main character in the book of Revelation.  The book's opening line tells us that it is an "apocalypse of Jesus Christ."  Revelation's primary purpose is to tell us the story of Jesus, not to predict end-times events in Europe and the Middle-East.  And who is Jesus?  Jesus is first presented in the book as a majestic, human-like figure with the sword in His mouth.  But this depiction is quickly eclipsed by the portrayal of Jesus as a Lamb.  Once He is introduced, the Lamb dominates the rest of the action!  It is the Lamb who gathers the 144,000 holy warriors on Mt. Zion (Revelation 14:1); it is the Lamb on whom the armies of evil make war (Revelation 17:14); it is the Lamb who marries and rules after the war (Revelation 19:7; 22:3).

In this final article we will look at the person of Christ as presented in Revelation.  As stated before by strong implication, Dispensationalists would have us look at Jesus as the Lion-destroyer.  But John's view of the Christ is that of Lamb.  In the time of the Roman Empire (the same time in which John writes the Revelation), the Lamb becomes an amazing and yet wonderfully disarming vision.  In the face of Rome's ideology of "conquering" and "victory," the victorious Lamb of Revelation looks almost out of place.  In place of overwhelming military strength we are given the image of the Lamb's nonviolent power.  In place of Rome's image of inflicting slaughter on the world, Revelation tells the story of the Lamb who has been slaughtered - and who still bears the scars of that slaughter.  This reversal of images must have come as a big surprise to the first readers of John's Revelation in the late first century.  They were accustomed to Rome's images of power and victory.  Revelation undertakes to reveal what true power and true victory is:  At the heart of the power of the universe stands Jesus, God's slain Lamb.

We first meet Jesus as the Lamb quite unexpectedly in chapter 5 of Revelation.  He appears in the heavenly vision that follows the seven opening letters of chapters 2 and 3.  In keeping with the apocalyptic pattern of Revelation, the book takes us on a journey behind the veil into heaven itself where we see God seated on a beautiful throne.  All creation is singing praise to God.  Singing and worship are central to Revelation, a fact often overlooked by people who see the book only as a system of end-times predictions and timetables.  In Revelation we sing our way into God's new vision for our world, more than in any other book of the Bible.

Seated on the throne in heaven, God holds a scroll sealed shit with seven seals that must be opened.  But who is worthy to open this scroll?  God's voice from the throne tells John in chapter 5, "Do not weep, for the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. (Revelation 5:5).  Two words in this admonition lead us to expect that a fierce animal will appear to open the scroll with its claws.  These words are lion and conquer.  A lion would be typical for an apocalypse like Revelation.  Such fierce animals are often introduced to advance the plot.  There was an apocalypse called Second Esdras, written around the first century B.C., which portrayed the Messiah as a roaring lion prophesying judgment against the Roman eagle and its violence.

Revelation, however, pulls an amazing surprise.  In place of the lion that we expect, comes a Lamb!  Notice in Revelation 5:6 these words: "Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered."  It is a complete reversal.  Actually the Greek word John uses is not just "lamb," but the diminutive form, a word like "lambkin" or "little lamb."  One could call Him "Fluffy."  The only other place in the New Testament that this Greek word is used is where Jesus says He is sending His disciples out into the world, "as lambs among wolves" (Luke 10:3).  No other literature of this type (apocalyptic) ever pictures the divine hero as a small lamb - Revelation is unique among writings of this type in this image.  The depiction of Jesus as a Lamb shows him in the most vulnerable way possible, as a victim who is slaughtered but standing - that is, crucified but risen to life.

Reminiscent of the servant-lamb of Isaiah 53, who "is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep to the shearer is silent," the Lamb of Revelation became the victor - the conqueror not by militaristic power and slaughter but rather by being slaughtered.  From beginning to end, Revelation's vision of the Lamb teaches a "theology of the cross," of God's power made manifest in weakness, similar to Paul's teaching of the cross in First Corinthians.  I call this LAMB THEOLOGY.  This is the whole message of the Book of Revelation.  Evil is defeated not by overwhelming force or violence but by the Lamb's suffering love on the cross.  The victim becomes the victor.

Lamb Theology is what true victory is.  The word used most often in the Book of Revelation (other than the obvious references to Christ, God and evil) are the terms "victory," "overcome" and "conquer."  These three words come from the same Greek word nike.  This theme runs through the entire Revelation and we can safely conclude that the theme of Revelation is "VICTORY."  Nike is the same Greek word used in the Roman Imperial armies for "successful conquerors."  Romans celebrated victory, but more than that - they worshipped Victory.  This is a key to grasping the urgency of Revelation, for John wrote the book in opposition to the empire's entire ideology and worship of victory.  The Roman goddess of military victory was named Victoria in Latin, or Nike in Greek.  She was portrayed as a winged goddess, she is the inspiration for the wing-like symbol on the Nike running shoes today!

Victory personified was emblazoned everywhere in the Roman Empire.  Soldiers carried images of Victory into battle on their flags and trophies.  Senators burned incense to Victory as they entered the Roman senate building.  Cities erected statues of Victory - or Nike - with her foot on the globe, symbolizing Rome's conquest of the whole world.  It is against this backdrop that John write the Book of Revelation and sees a crucified lamb as the ultimate Victor.

The Lamb's conquering of evil's ultimate weapon (death) is paramount.  This is one of the amazing features of the book.  Much of Revelation can sound so violent, but we have to look at the subversive heart of the book - the redefinition of victory and "conquering" - to understand how Revelation subverts violence itself.  Just like the Lamb, God's people are called to conquer not by fighting but by remaining faithful, by testifying to God's victory in self-giving love.  This subversive power of Lamb theology throughout the Book of Revelation is what Left Behind and the Dispensationalists completely miss!

Key to understanding our role as followers of the Lamb and his way of life is chapter 14, the picture of 144,000 people who "follow the Lamb wherever He leads" (Revelation 14:1-5).  If we can resist getting fixed on the number 144,000 and instead go deeper into the scene, we find a marvelous picture of the Christian community.  IN the view of Chilean scholar Pablo Richard, Revelation 14 is the central scene for the entire book that gives a picture of our life as the people of God on earth.  The Christian community is portrayed as "those who follow the Lamb."  Our calling as Christians is simply to be followers of the Lamb, standing with Him, going wherever He leads us.

Revelation wants us to see that we have the Lamb's power in us.  The Lamb is an image John's Revelation wants us to carry with us into our lives, like a children's nursery rhyme.  Wherever we go, to school, to work, or shipping, everywhere in the world, the Lamb is with us, leading us into a new way of life.

"Lamb Power" is what one of my professor's called Revelation's new way of life.  It is a lifestyle oriented around Jesus' self-giving love.  Lamb power is the power of vulnerable but strong love to change the world.  It is the power of nonviolent resistance and courage in opposition to injustice; it is the power of solidarity and forgiveness.  In all of life we constantly must choose between the way of the Lamb and the way of the beast.  Living by Lamb power means we accept the cross as the ultimate expression of love.  For me, the apocalyptic events of 9/11 (September 11, 2001) have convinced me all the more of the necessity of Lamb power.  If we are to follow the Lamb, we cannot remain safe and secure for vulnerability includes the possibility of suffering.  Don't forget vulnerability is the primary characteristic of Lamb power!  Lamb power is the power of our acts of hope and resistance, our songs and solidarity to overcome the terror of the beast.

At the very heart of the Book of Revelation and at the very heart of God is a slain Lamb - Jesus.  The key to the book is that this slain Lamb has CONQUERED!

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