Christianity 201

June 26, 2018

Explaining the Phrase, “Spirit of Antichrist”

Today we’re paying a return visit to GotQuestions.org. This is a great site to know about if you’ve… got questions. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?) Here’s a link to their archive page which categorizes their different topics covered. Today a much-discussed but often mis-used term, the idea of the “spirit of (the) antichrist.”

What is the spirit of the antichrist?

The phrase spirit of the antichrist is found in 1 John 4:2–3:This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

It’s vital to understand the context of John’s statements. A predominant worldview when he wrote this letter suggested that diverse spirits were at work in the world. Many false teachings, mystery religions, spiritual experiences, and variations of Christianity were emerging at the time. The spiritual atmosphere was not unlike the one present in our world today. People entertained countless views regarding truth.

John presented a definitive solution for wading through this variety of beliefs and teachings. He instructed his readers to pay attention and test the spirits: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

But how do we test the spirits? How can we discern which teachers are imparting truth? How do we recognize the spirit of the antichrist?

These “spirits” John spoke of were not merely disembodied, supernatural beings. John taught that a prophet or teacher was the actual mouthpiece for a spirit. Spiritual doctrines are promulgated through human spokespersons. Teachers of truth are filled with the Spirit of God and thus are agents who speak for God. Teachers of falsehood are spreading the “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB).

So, the first test relates to theology or doctrine: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 2). We can ask, does the content of the person’s teaching acknowledge that Jesus Christ—fully God and fully human—has come in the flesh? If the answer is yes, then we know the Spirit of God inspires that person. If not, his entire teaching ought to be rejected. This particular test was especially apropos in John’s day, as the heresy of Gnosticism was becoming prevalent; Gnosticism taught that Jesus only appeared to have a human body but was not actually a flesh-and-blood person.

Next, John says, “But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3). Anyone who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Bible presents Him is inspired by the spirit of the antichrist.

The word antichrist means “against Christ.” People who say that Jesus is not from God are controlled by the spirit of the antichrist. Satan opposes Christ, and he desires to deceive people into a false view of who Jesus is. The spirit of the antichrist teaches against Christ. To twist the truth about Jesus Christ is to pervert the gospel. Satan works to spread lies about Christ and keep people in the dark: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7).

The spirit of the antichrist is the birds that eat the seeds along the path in Jesus’ parable (Mark 4:4, 15). It is “the god of this age” who blinds the minds of unbelievers, keeping them from seeing “the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is “the father of lies(John 8:44). The spirit of the antichrist is “the great dragon . . . who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9).

The Bible teaches that the world will eventually produce a world ruler, called “the beast” in Revelation, who will wield great power and demand worship of himself. He will have “a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies” (Revelation 13:5) and is empowered by Satan (verse 2). He is called “the man of lawlessness . . . the man doomed to destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. This final Antichrist will be the culmination of the evil workings of Satan throughout the centuries. The Antichrist of the end times will embody all the deception and perversion of truth that the spirit of the antichrist has always promoted. Today, “the secret power of lawlessness is already at work” (verse 7). The same spirit that will empower the Antichrist of the last days is currently operating in the world to bring confusion and deception to the issue of Jesus Christ’s person and work. “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).

Even given the pervasive influence of the spirit of the antichrist, there is no need to fear. As John reminds us, the Spirit of truth indwells all believers and provides protection from the spirit of the antichrist: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

We have some practical ways to distinguish the false spirit of the antichrist from the true Spirit of God: “[False prophets] are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:5–6). Those who are influenced by the spirit of the antichrist are of the world. They have the same values as the world; therefore, the world listens to them. Those who acknowledge Christ have His Spirit of truth, and they embrace the apostles’ message. The gospel the apostles preached is never popular in the world, but it is that very gospel that holds the power to save, through God’s Spirit of truth (Romans 1:16).

The believer’s job is to test the spirits carefully (1 John 4:1). We must be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV). We should not automatically embrace the message of any preacher or teacher simply because of his or her reputation or credentials; rather, we must listen cautiously to their Christology. What they say about Jesus is of utmost importance.

June 20, 2018

Overrealized Eschatology

Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

This is our very first time with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community. Like our sister blog, Thinking Out Loud, Ted has an extensive blogroll of interesting websites and writers which I encourage you to be aware of. Given the wide mix of authors we introduce here, we thought this article provided balance on what can be a sensitive, personal subject for some. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Deeper Life Mystique and Mistake

March 8, 2018

Signs of the End: Mark 13

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by Clarke Dixon

Should we expect the world to end soon? Are the signs that the end is near lining up? Some take Jesus’ words in Mark chapter 13 to refer to the end times and the signs to watch for. However, others think it has nothing to do with the end of the world and everything to do with the destruction of Jerusalem long ago in the first century. How are we to know? Let us dig into Mark 13 and see what we can learn:

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, . . .  Mark 13:1-5

Let us first consider that we have a statement, a question, an answer, and a fact.

  • First the statement: Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed.
  • Then the question: The disciples ask when the Temple will be destroyed.
  • Let us jump now to the fact: Forty years later the Temple indeed lay in ruins.

Given that Jesus tells the disciples the Temple will be destroyed, the disciple ask when, and the Temple is in fact destroyed within forty years, it is reasonable to expect that at least some of Jesus’ answer has something to do with that destruction of the Temple. But is Jesus only speaking about the destruction of the Temple? Let’s take a look and think about how it affects us today.

Verses 5-13 can be understood to refer to either the first century or to the end times. The followers of Jesus did experience persecution then, and have continued to experience persecution at various times and places ever since. But let us dig deeper into the rest of the chapter.

14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15 the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 19 For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21 And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’—do not believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be alert; I have already told you everything. Mark 13:14-23

Ironically, in our day it is so easy for the reader to not understand what the “desolating sacrilege” refers to in verse 14. But in the first century, the typical Jew and Jewish Christian would have understood the reference to the book of Daniel as pointing to previous sieges against  Jerusalem by foreign armies. Jesus is teaching the disciples here to watch for signs of another siege. When it happens, do not fight, but flee. Some will point to verses 19 and 20 and declare that such intense suffering can only refer to the end times. However, Jesus is using the common literary device called “hyperbole” and Bible scholars point out that the Jewish historian refers to this same destruction of Jerusalem in a similar way. We should also point out that under a siege in the first century, many Jews would have been watching for a Messiah to rescue them from the enemy. Hence Jesus’ instruction to watch out for false Messiahs. By the time Jerusalem falls Jesus has already effected a much grander rescue.

24“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. Mark 13:24-27

Some think these verses continue to refer to the destruction of the Temple in the first century. However, many many think this refers to the return of Jesus that we still await sometime “after” (verse24) the suffering of the destruction of Jerusalem. We ought not to get too caught up in expecting stars to literally fall. This is poetry here and just as we might call an event of great significance an “earth shaking event”, the stars falling and the powers shaking alert us to a very significant event. The destruction of the Temple in the first century was a significant event as it signalled a new era. However the return of Jesus will be even more significant, signalling the beginning of a new “age“.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Mark 13:28-31

Those who understand all of Mark 13 as referring only to the end times tend to trip over verse 30 since that generation certainly has passed away and we are still waiting. However, there is no problem when we understand that Jesus is referring here to the destruction of the Temple. In fact while many translations tell us, like our NRSV here, that “he is near” in verse 29, the “he” is supplied and some translations go with “it is near”, that is, the destruction of the Temple. Jesus is now answering the original question of the disciples. Verse 29, “when you see these things” refers back to verse 14, “when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be”.  So to answer the question of the disciples, watch for the armies approaching (and run for the safety!).

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” 13:32-37

Here we have a contrast. The signs of the destruction of Jerusalem are clear, and you need to act on those signs. However “that day”, that is, the day of the Lord’s return as spoken of in verses 24-27, will come suddenly and without warning. There are no signs to watch for, one just needs to be always ready.

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH US TODAY?

  1. Take to heart that Jesus was correct about the destruction of the temple. Mark, along with most of the NT was written prior to the destruction of the Temple. Jesus’ prophetic words of judgement against the Temple did come about. He is to be trusted.
  2. Take Jesus seriously. With regard to his return, there are no signs to watch for. We do well to keep this in mind when people try to sell us books about when we can expect Christ’s return. They don’t know.
  3. Look Forward with Hope and Anticipation. In verse 7 the Greek word telos is not just “end”, but “goal”. It really is not the end, but a milestone, and a new beginning. We can also think of the “birth pains” of verse 8. No one asks a pregnant woman “when does your pregnancy end?”. We ask when the baby is to be born. What begins is worthy of greater excitement than what will come to an end.
  4. Be ready. How do we get ready? We look to the One who gets us ready. Within a week of speaking of the destruction of the Temple and his Second Coming, Jesus gave his life for us on the cross. Are you ready?

Should we expect the end to come soon? No one knows but God alone, but we should be ready for Christ could arrive at any moment.



All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (26 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

December 4, 2017

Identifying The Spots and Wrinkles

When He cometh, when He cometh,
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

– William Cushing, 1856


Do you hear them coming, brother?—
Thronging up the steeps of light,
Clad in glorious shining garments,
Blood-washed garments, pure and white

’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb;
’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb.

– Ralph Hudson, 1892


Today we’re back with Patrick Hawthorne who blogs at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “author’s blog page” to view other articles.

Has the Separation Begun?

A passage that has always troubled me is Ephesians 5:27 which reads,

“…that He (Jesus) might present her (the Church) to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

While the “what” of the verse is self-explanatory, the “how,” of the verse is not.  How will the Church – the Body of Christ Jesus – be without spot or blemish?  It’s obvious that the Church has some serious issues that need dealing with, but how will the Lord deal with these issues prior to His return?

Lately, the Lord has been revealing things to me about the Church so that I might pray more effectively.  One way was through a vision while in prayer, A Body Out of Alignment. Another way was through the Word, Storm On the Horizon. This latest has come through a conversation with my mom.  As a side note, never discount nor limit the way in which the Holy Spirit may speak to you.

As I was speaking with my mother about this burden to pray and write concerning the Church she said to me, and I paraphrase, “Did you know that the spots and blemishes of the Church are people?”  Of course I asked her to explain.  “Yes,” she said, “Look at 2 Peter 2:13 and you will see that the spots and blemishes are those within the Church who appear to be part of the Body but practice wickedness and deception.”  Naturally, my curiosity was peaked.

At the first opportune moment I went to those verses.  Sure enough 2 Peter 2:12-13 read,

“But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you,

(2 Peter 2:12-13 NKJV underline mine).

The spots and blemishes written of are church members.  These are they who live two lives; one life is in the church and the other is in the world. Suddenly things were making sense.

As I previously wrote, I believe we are in the season of the last of the last days.  I don’t know how much longer till Jesus returns but all indications reveal that we are close.  Could it be that the prophecy of Malachi 3:16-18 may occur prior to His return?  Could it be that the separation of the wheat from the tares within the Church has already begun?  Maybe… Be blessed.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.17 “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels.  And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”18 Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.  (Malachi 3:16-18 NKJV underline mine)


Lyrics for When He Cometh and ‘Tis a Glorious Church from TimelessTruths.org

November 15, 2017

Is This the End?

This our ninth time returning to the writing of pastor B. J. Rutledge.  These articles kicked off a sermon series at his church.  First, he wrote a shorter introduction:

Sometimes I think we’ve become a desensitized to the tragedies that happen around us. The news will sensationalize it for a while, but then there’s the next story. We care about the people impacted, but if it doesn’t hit close to home we don’t dwell on it too long. However, when we experience a personal tragedy, a question that lingers in the back of our mind or may be asked is: “Where’s God in all of this?”

Our country has been experiencing many tragedies over the past few months: the horrific shooting[s]… hurricanes, wildfires, and flooding. We’re also very aware of the tragedy that impacted our southern neighbors as another earthquake ravaged Mexico City. There’s horrible violence and flooding going on in Asia…

Two days later he posted our key article for today:

Are These THE END TIMES?

In light of all the chaos going on in our country and world, I get asked this question from time to time.  Here are a few things I believe.

Throughout history when there have been major wars or many natural disasters, there’s an increased focus on “the end times” among Christians.   This is good because it reminds us to focus on the fact that Jesus will return and time as we know it will end.

Every day we get closer to the End Times, and Scripture gives us numerous signs we can look to and expect; like what Jesus told us in Matthew 24.   However,  Jesus was clear to His disciples and us:    36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.  42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.    Matthew 24:36-42 NIV

Here’s what I suggest we keep in mind:

  • Jesus will return as He promised
  • Every day we’re getting closer
  • No one knows when He will return
  • We need to be ready every day  (1 John 2:28)
  • We need to share the truth about Jesus with as many people as possible

He then linked to an article from the Billy Graham Association:

Q: How bad is the world going to have to get before God finally steps in and Jesus comes back? I get very concerned when I see all the evil things that are happening in the world today. Are we living in the last times?

A:

The Bible warns us against making precise predictions about the exact time of Jesus’ return—but His return is certain, and we may well be living in the last days before He comes again. The Bible says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:12).

Shortly before returning to Heaven Jesus told His disciples that someday He would come back to establish His Kingdom. But before that could take place, He said, certain things would have to happen—and we see many of these today. For example, He said that before His return the Gospel must be preached throughout the world (see Mark 13:10). Never before has this been possible—but now it is, through radio and the Internet and other modern means of communication.

You also have placed your finger on another sign Jesus gave: Satan’s final attempt to halt God’s work through a massive onslaught of evil. Our world is no stranger to evil; Satan has always been working to stop God’s plans. But God’s enemies now have access to modern weapons of mass destruction, and no one can predict what the outcome will be. Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. … Nation will rise against nation” (Matthew 24:6-7).

The real question, however, is this: Are you ready for Christ’s return? You can be, by turning to Him and putting your faith and trust in Him. Don’t take His warnings lightly, but commit your life without delay to Jesus Christ.

Are you ready for Christ’s return?

Read the full set of five questions and answers from Rev. Graham at this link.

September 11, 2016

Where is God’s Heavenly Kingdom?

by Russell Young

   The location of the kingdom of heaven may not seem important, however knowing its setting might bring clarity to some important issues.  Due to lack of understanding people have entertained, and do entertain, all kinds of fanciful thoughts concerning heaven itself. The imaginations of many allow them to consider an eternal utopian existence somewhere in the grand beyond.  Most people have probably developed their own impression of God’s eternal kingdom.

The Bible reveals some truths that should impact our lives.

There are two locations revealed that apply to God’s heavenly kingdom. At this time, he is both building his kingdom and has a kingdom. He manages or reigns over his creation from heaven and will continue to do so until his Son has perfected his creation.  “Then the end will come when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24-25 NIV) When the reign of Christ is completed and the kingdom given to the Father, God’s heavenly kingdom will begin.

The second location for God’s heavenly kingdom is revealed as being on earth.  Heavenly, in this case, means heaven-like, or as existed in heaven.

John testified that he saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Rev 21:2 NIV) He had a vision of the Holy City descending to the new earth.  Some take this to mean a newly formed earth, however “new” in Revelation 21:1 comes from the Greek kainos and refers to newness–especially in freshness and not properly in respect to age. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #2537) The new heaven and the new earth will bring glory to God.  The Lord is making everything new (Rev 21:5), including the hearts and minds of those who will dwell with him.

The prophets wrote of a renewed earth. Isaiah has recorded, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (Isa 40:4 NIV) Zechariah revealed: “The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah.  But Jerusalem will be raised up and remain in its place, from the Benjamin Gate… to the royal winepresses.  It will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure.” (Zech 14:10, 11 NIV) Further description can be found in Isaiah 35:6─10. “Those passing through will say, ‘This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden.’” (Eze 36:35 NIV) And, the Lord revealed that “there is no longer any sea.” (Rev 21:1 NIV)

Paul stated that “this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 8:31 NIV) Further he taught of the “frustration that God’s creation is enduring as it waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed … in hope that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.” (Rom 8:19…21 NIV)

The purpose for a new earth must be put into perspective.  God had created and had declared his creation to be very good.  He had a purpose and had exercised his power to accomplish his good pleasure.  The evil inclinations of humankind (Gen 6:5) had prevented the fulfillment of his objective, but one day it will come about.  When those who have honored him through their own free will are chosen, his creation will be liberated and his heaven-like (heavenly) kingdom will be established on earth.  All things will have become new.

Everyone needs to recognize that God loves his world (Jn 3:16), not just humankind. The Lord prophesied that at the time of the sounding of the seventh trumpet the time had come for “destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:18 NIV) The earth is intended to be preserved for the future.

The revelation of a new heaven and a new earth, and the teachings that accompany it should give humankind pause to think.  It is not just a pardon that God’s people require; it is a transformation of their souls, hearts and minds into those whose imaginations are not constantly evil (Gen 6:5); they must become an offering acceptable to God. (Rom 15:16) Those who are chosen will be in the likeness of his Son (Rom 8:29), “a new creation.” (Gal 6:15) When his creation is refreshed to the state he had called “very good” his plan for creation will be completed. His heavenly kingdom will be on earth. This time, however, “everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (Mt 13:41 NIV) will be weeded out of his kingdom and it will be eternally righteous.

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tar from their eyes.  There will be no more crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4 NIV) God will finally have the created kingdom that he had envisioned and it will be on earth.

December 23, 2015

When Christmas Goes Off the Rails

•••by Clarke Dixon

Christmas always seems so picture perfect in the cards we give and receive, yet Christmas can go off the rails so quickly becoming more like Christmess. What are we to do when it seems the devil has his horrid hands in our lives during this most wonderful time of the year? Perhaps your Christmas is not shaping up to be the picture perfect scene worthy of a Christmas card.

Christmas is found in the book of Revelation and it has something to teach us about Christmas in the midst of a mess:

1 A great portent appeared in heaven:a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3 Then another portent appeared in heaven:a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days (Revelation 12:1-6 emphasis mine)

Granted it is only one verse, but there it is, the birth of Jesus, Christmas in Revelation. Did you notice anything about this Christmas? Looking at the verses before and after, this first Christmas is a messy one, with the evil one lurking and looking to destroy.

It will help us to consider what is happening in these verses and we can begin by considering the identity of the woman about to give birth. Notice that within a few verses we have a) a woman, b) agony in childbirth, and c) a serpent. Do you remember the last time we found these three things together in scripture? Yes, in Genesis 3 at the Fall. The Serpent tempts Eve and comes under a curse including this prophecy:

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15)

Eve succumbs to the temptation and also is cursed:

16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, . . .” (Genesis 3:16)

What we have in Genesis 12:1-4 is the history of the world from Eve great with potential to Mary great with child. In fact in chapter 12 of Revelation we have a snapshot of the history of the world from Eve to the situation today with a break to consider the victory of Jesus in verses 7-12. But how would this history lesson help the original readers of the book of Revelation who were facing great persecution in their day? And how can this history lesson help us today? It helped them, and helps us now, by taking us out from our troubles to see the big picture. And in looking at the big picture there are certain things we can learn:

First, the devil and his schemes are real, so expect a mess. According to Revelation 12 we should expect evil to be alive and well and we should expect to suffer the effects:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, . . . . Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:12,17)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? Do not be surprised, this is normal in a Fallen world.

Second, the devil’s nasty work is temporary. Thanks to the baby mentioned in verse 5, the evil one’s days are numbered. He has a “best before date,” or in this case a “worst before date”:

But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:12 emphasis mine)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? This too shall pass.

Third, the devil’s schemes cannot ruin the purposes and plans of God. In Revelation 12 we see an allusion to Herod’s plan to destroy the infant Jesus. We know that did not happen and the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus all happened according to plan. Additionally, many verses in chapter 12 point to God’s protection of His people:

. . . and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished (Revelation 12:6) . . .the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished (Revelation 12:14) . . . the earth came to the help of the woman (Revelation 12:16). . .

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? God has a plan. We ought not assume His plan does not include our own death at some point. God’s plans go way bigger than that.

Fourth, the devil is already defeated. The devil is a deceiver, but he is also known in the Bible as an accuser. Indeed this is what the very term Satan means. Satan is spoken of in the Old Testament as standing in the court of God, ready to accuse. We might think of the first chapter of Job where Satan accuses Job of loving God only because life was good. Satan is portrayed as the one who can stand before God and say “look at this guy, or look at that woman, they are deserving of destruction.” And Satan could stand before God and say of you and I, “look what they did, look how undeserving they are.” And we give him plenty to talk about don’t we? Except he cannot do that, for he is not there. He has been thrown down:

7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:7-10)

Far from winning a hearing in the presence of God, Satan has been conquered. While the passage speaks of the angel Michael leading the fight, it is really speaking about Jesus and trust in Him:

11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. (Revelation 12:11)

Keeping all this in mind let us think of the Apostle Paul’s words:

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Are you surrounded by mess and misery this Christmas? There is good news of great joy, for God has made possible a rescue from the greatest misery possible, eternal separation from God. In Jesus we have eternal life ahead with no dragons.

When the Christmas train goes off the rails, when it seems Satan has his evil hands all over your life, look at the big picture and remember that the final destination is Christ and His arms of love. Need a hug this Christmas? You are already in His embrace.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

 

December 9, 2015

When Peace Returns

•••click the title below to read this at Clarke Dixon‘s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

ISIS Goes Global. So Does Peace.

The term World War Three is popping up more and more these days. With ISIS extending its reach and more nations lining up to reach back the war on terror is looking more and more like a worldwide thing.  And ISIS is only one part, there is still Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and others besides. “It’s a small world after all” is feeling less and less like a feel good statement and more and more like a lament the world is too cramped. Will there ever be peace? Will we ever be able to stand together as different nations, peoples, and races?

This question in answered in the book of Revelation:

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

It's a Small World After AllNotice that the people in this vision are standing together. Finally, people standing together in peace! One thing I miss about my former church in Ottawa is the diversity in our worship. There were times you could look around and see people from Canada, Jamaica, Russia, Iran, Benin, Haiti, China, England, and N. Ireland not to mention the Congo when we combined services with a  sister church. Those combined services were a special treat with different races worshipping together in English, French, Swahili, and Lingala. It felt like a foretaste of Revelation 7:9, many peoples standing together in worship.

With all the wrangling over land, resources, and ideologies, we may correctly be cynical about ever expecting peace on earth this side of heaven. But we ought not to be surprised that God has promised to bring people together in harmony. The Bible has pointing this way for a long time. Do you remember the last time we enjoyed peace on earth? Yes, it did actually happen once. There were only two people on earth at that time mind you, but there was peace on earth! This was God’s intention from the get-go: peace and harmony. We see hints and pointers to this throughout scripture.

Like the promise to Abraham:

in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Like the words of an angel announcing a birth:

see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

Like the words of a whole big party of angels celebrating a birth:

and on earth peace among those whom he favors. (Luke 2:14)

Like Simeon on seeing the baby Jesus:

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:30-32)

Like John 3:16,17

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Like our Lord’s Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19)

. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NRSV)

Like the Day of Pentecost:

7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. (Acts 2:7-11)

Like the day the original Jews for Jesus realized Jesus wasn’t just for Jews:

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. (Acts 10:34-36)

And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life. (Acts 11:18)

All these and more are pointers to a coming reality:

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

Who are these people and why are they able to stand together? 

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)

Before we notice that these people are standing together we should notice that they are standing before God. This has incredible significance for it is a wonder that they should be able to stand there at all. In fact the seventh chapter of Revelation is an answer to a question raised in chapter six:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (Revelation 6:15-17)

Who is able to stand in the day of God’s judgement of sin? There is not one person who is able to raise their hand, point to their own righteousness and say “I am.” Yet here in Revelation 7 we have a multitude standing. The answer is those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) It is because of what God has done for us through Jesus at the cross that we can have peace with God, that we are able to stand in His holy presence. And it is because of God’s work in our lives that we will be able to stand together in harmony and peace.

While we cannot stand together before God on the strength of our own efforts, we are to be involved and active. Notice that the multitude are those who have done their washing! They have actively participated. They have repented. Salvation is completely the work of God in our lives through Jesus. But we are not saved to simply sit around waiting for the Prince of Peace to return and bring the Day of peace. We are saved to be peacemakers. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is the work of God in us and for us, but also in us and through us, for others.

Peace on earth might seem like an impossible dream. But when God is the One with the dream, nothing is impossible. Advent reminds us that the Prince of Peace is on His way. Despite the wars and rumours of wars all around us, we don’t just look forward to peace, we lean into it. Come Lord Jesus.

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Emphases are mine.

 

September 25, 2015

I Believe in the Resurrection

One of the most beloved Christian websites on the internet is Internet Monk. Founded in November, 2000 by the late Michael Spencer, the blog continues to post fresh material each and every day and its following is evidenced by the engagement in its comments section.

We’ve referred to iMonk here about ten times, but with one very short excerpt exception, never posted anything by current proprietor Chaplain Mike, aka Michael Mercer. What follows below is the first of five parts of a series on eschatology which ran this week. By clicking the title below and visiting the website you can track the other parts, which I’ve also listed below.

Eschatology Week: The Christian Hope = Resurrection

Part 1: The Christian Hope = Resurrection

I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

~ The Apostles’ Creed

These days, it seems that the gold standard for eschatological teaching in the Christian world is N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. This, however, hasn’t stopped the crazies from advocating wild theories about the end times, such as the “four blood moons” teaching offered by people such as John Hagee. And since September 28 is the fourth and final in the “tetrad” of blood moons, coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, and supposedly portending apocalyptic events, I thought maybe we should spend this last week on earth discussing a more sane and scripturally-grounded understanding of the Christian hope.

Despite what you and I and everyone else has been told in evangelical/fundamental circles since the advent of the Scofield Reference Bible, the heart and center of the Christian hope is the resurrection. For most of my adult Christian life, the resurrection (or resurrections — many believe there will be several) has served as little more than a dot on an end-times chart, mentioned but overshadowed by talk concerning things like the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Millennium.

One of the greatest contributions of Wright’s work has been to put the resurrection back in its proper place, back where the Apostles’ Creed puts it, as the main content of our Christian hope and that which leads to “the life everlasting.”

In chapter 3 of Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright traces various understandings about resurrection and life after death in ancient paganism and Judaism. He shows how Jesus’ teaching on the subject was not substantially different from that of the standard Jewish view.

When the ancients spoke of resurrection, whether to deny it (as all pagans did) or to affirm it (as some Jews did), they were referring to a two-step narrative in which resurrection, meaning new bodily life, would be preceded by an interim period of bodily death. (36)

Jesus’ own teaching more or less followed this narrative, with one great exception. In Judaism the resurrection was understood as something that would happen to all the righteous and unrighteous at the end of the age:

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

• Daniel 12:2-3

But Jesus began teaching his disciples that he himself was going to be raised from the dead after being betrayed and killed. The disciples, having a hard enough time grasping that the one they believed to be the Messiah would die, could scarcely imagine what he was saying when he spoke of resurrection in individual terms. So Jesus was adding something utterly new and unforeseen by those who followed them to the concept.

This addition, however, did not change their basic hope, it merely added elements to it that we will discuss in future posts. The Jewish and early Christian hope was focused firmly on bodily resurrection and the age to come. It wasn’t about “going to heaven when we die,” though that was one part of the process of hope that led inevitably to new bodies in a new world in a new time.

As a hospice chaplain, you might imagine that the subject of “life after death” is one I regularly discuss with people. And you would be right. Pastorally, when I get the opportunity to share the Christian hope, I think it’s important to help people get comfort from both parts of the “two-step narrative” that Wright discusses. It is important to know that their loved ones are safe in God’s care when they die. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” Paul wrote, and I give thanks for that every time I pray over the body of one who has passed.

However, I will also include this in my prayer: “Lord, take care of this loved one until the day she is raised up again in a new body to live in a new creation where there will be no more sorrow, pain, death, or separation from those we love.”

Resurrection

The last prayer I give at a graveside is the traditional committal:

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty
God our brother ______, and we commit his body to the ground;
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. May the Lord bless
him and keep him, may the Lord make his face to shine upon him
and be gracious to him, may the Lord lift up his countenance
upon him and give him peace. Now and forevermore. Amen.

Resurrection.

The Christian hope centers on this. New life, new bodies, a new creation. The material stuff of life, corrupted by sin and devastated by death, reawakened, reanimated, reinvigorated. All things made new and incorruptible. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven,” wrote Paul in 1Cor. 15. And in Romans 8: “…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”


Continue reading:

Part 2: Eschatology starts in our past
Part 3: Jesus’ Future Presence

Part 4: Setting the World Right
Part 5: Bringing Ultimate Harmony to Creation

 

November 17, 2014

Heaven is Heaven Because There We Find Christ

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NIV Col 3:2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

NIV Eph. 1:20 …he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

NLT Phil. 3:20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Today’s post was sourced at Christianity.com and is an undated devotional written by Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who we regularly refer to at this blog’s sister site, Thinking Out Loud. To read this at source, click the title below.

Russell D. MooreHeaven is the expectation of Christians that life does not end with physical death but, for the redeemed, continues eternally in the presence of Christ.

Theologian Jerry Walls has traced two understandings of eternal blessedness in the history of Christian theology: a theocentric view and an anthropocentric view. In the theocentric view, eternity is “a timeless experience of contemplating the infinitely fascinating reality of God in all of his aspects,” without much element of human fellowship. The anthropocentric view, by contrast, emphasizes “being reunited with family and friends” and sees eternity as the continuation of life without the mar of sin and suffering.

Both strands are seen from the very beginning of the Christian story, with Christian thinkers such as Origen and Augustine emphasizing heaven as beatific vision and spiritual reality and thinkers such as Irenaeus and Justin Martyr emphasizing the creational aspects of the new creation.

In biblical eschatology, however, the eternal state is strikingly anthropocentric but not in the ways found in much of popular piety. Eternity can be said to be anthropocentric so long as we understand that the anthropos referenced is Jesus of Nazareth. Eternity is not a timeless beatific vision or an endless choir practice. But neither is it merely a family reunion in which the circle is seen to be unbroken after all. Eternity means Jesus (and, by extension, those who are in him) finally receives his promised inheritance: everything.

Heaven is defined in Scripture as the dwelling place of God, a place inhabited by the angelic armies, the redeemed of all the ages, and the ascended Jesus himself as he awaits the consummation of his kingdom. At the moment of death, the believer is ushered into the presence of Christ in heaven. Since Jesus is now in heaven, this is where the inheritance of the church waits for us, where our mother, the heavenly Jerusalem, is located. Our inheritance, our Jerusalem, and even our Christ do not stay in heaven though-and neither do we.

Many Christians think of their future existence as heaven, in the kind of disembodied, unearthly abode they know awaits them immediately after death. And yet the time between death and resurrection–what theologians call the intermediate state–is far from permanent. It is itself a time of waiting for the full blessing of salvation: The resurrection of the body and the coming of the kingdom. Karl Barth describes John Calvin’s vision of this heavenly interlude for the dead in Christ with perfect clarity. Believers in heaven are conscious and active “but with the rest and assurance of conscience that comes with physical death, contemplating God and his peace, from which they are still at a distance, but of which they are sure.” These believers are “not yet in possession of the kingdom of God” but they can nonetheless “see what here we can only believe in hope.”

For believers, the intermediate state is blessedness, to be sure. But in heaven there is yet eschatology. The ultimate purpose of God is not just the ongoing life of believers but that his kingdom would come, his will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). That awaits the end of all ends, the return of Jesus and the final overthrow of death.

In Christian theology, the point of the gospel is not that believers should go to heaven when they die.  Instead, it is that heaven will come down, transforming and renewing the earth and the entire universe. After the millennium, the final judgment, and the condemnation of the lost, John sees a New Jerusalem coming down from the heavens to earth (Rev. 21:2).

He then describes an eternal order that, consistent with the rest of biblical eschatology, is surprisingly “earthy.” Eternity means civilization, architecture, banquet feasting, ruling, work-in short, it is eternal life. The new earth is not the white, antiseptic hyper-spiritual heaven some Christians expect as their eternal home. Nor is it simply an everlasting family reunion or the resumption of all the pleasures one enjoyed in this life.

It is the Christic focus of heaven that keeps Christian eschatology from veering toward a Platonizing spirituality or toward a secularizing carnality. The Scripture does indeed tell Christians to focus their minds on heavenly things, not earthly things. But this focus on heaven is precisely because the church’s inheritance is there-in Christ, seated at the right hand of God (Eph. 1:20-21). Paul contrasts the Christian mindset with the appetite-driven mindset of “enemies of the cross” who have “minds set on earthly things” by reminding the church at Philippi that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:18-20). But he does not stop there.

Of heaven, Paul writes: “And from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20b-21). Christians lay up treasures in heaven, but the treasure does not stay in heaven. Christians focus their minds on heaven, but heaven comes down to earth.

Ultimately our hope is in new creation: transformation and glorification of our bodies and, with them, the cosmos itself.

October 10, 2014

The Purpose of Prophecy

Rev 19:9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”
(NIV)

Two weeks ago I felt strongly that I was to share Revelation 19:10b with readers here but wasn’t sure exactly what it was I was to add to the passage.  Here are a few translations of this verse:

  • For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus. (NLT)
  • For the testimony about Jesus is essentially the prophetic spirit. (The Voice)
  • Those who tell about Jesus have the spirit of a prophet. (Worldwide English)
  • the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (KJV)
  • For the truth that Jesus revealed is what inspires the prophets. (Good News/TEV)
  • Everyone who tells about Jesus does it by the power of the Spirit. (CEV)
  • For the substance (essence) of the truth revealed by Jesus is the spirit of all prophecy [the vital breath, the inspiration of all inspired preaching and interpretation of the divine will and purpose, including both mine and yours]. (AMP)

Days later however, the top religious news story was the release of a new movie based on the Left Behind books. Those books are, to most people and many Christians, the essence of prophecy. However…

In the Bible prophecy does not refer to foretelling but rather to forthtelling.

I remember as a young adult the first time my pastor referred to prophecy as “powerful preaching.” “No, no!” I wanted to scream, “It’s about being able to tell the future; being given supernatural knowledge to know what is going to happen next.” You see, I had been greatly influenced by the Charismatic movement and got caught up in the sensational and supernatural aspects of the gifts of the spirit; the signs; the wonders.

I still consider myself a post-Charismatic. I still believe in the limitless power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that God indeed does give people insights into the future, but this is more through the gifts we call the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom; and even those are more concerned with seeing things as they are, not necessarily what will be.

The gift of prophecy is in no way connected to the fortune tellers who occupy low-rent business locations and invite clients to learn where they are to live or whom they are to marry. It’s more about speaking plainly and in the power and authority that God gives to speak into a person’s life, or to a situation; and then to point them to Christ.

Prophecy is indeed speaking in power and testifying to Jesus.  Charles Stanley writes:

Very seldom does the Lord God reveal a future event to us. The motivational gift of prophecy is primarily concerned with speaking forth the truth. The Word of God helps us to understand characteristics and avoid misunderstandings associated with the gift of prophecy, and it shows us how we use that gift when we walk in the Spirit.

…continue reading a 9-point outline on prophecy

The IVP New Testament Commentary offers this:

The apparent meaning is that those who have the testimony of Jesus—the angel, John and John’s brothers (fellow believers)—are all prophets. Prophets are bearers of the word of God, and in this book “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus” are inseparable (see 1:2, 9; 20:4). We learn now that the testimony of Jesus is not only a message about Jesus but also a message from Jesus the risen Lord. His is the one voice behind the many prophetic and angelic voices echoing through the pages of this book. So the testimony of Jesus is the spirit or essence of Christian prophecy. Whether it is also “the spirit of the prophecy,” referring to the book of Revelation itself (1:3; 22:7, 18-19), is more difficult to say (it does have the definite article in Greek). If it is, then the testimony of Jesus is virtually equivalent to the title “revelation of Jesus Christ” at the beginning of the book (1:1).

Although I couldn’t find an exact quotation on this, I love how Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey teaches on the times where Bible prophecy does involve looking into the future. He says that the point is not to look forward but after the events have come to pass to look back and realize that God had it all under his control all the time. God knew about it all along.

In the meantime, the words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts should be all about testifying to Jesus. To Him be the honor, the power and the glory, both now and in the unknown future yet to come.

 

 

July 4, 2014

The Pattern of Nations

Ezekiel 7:1 NIV The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to the land of Israel:

“‘The end! The end has come
    upon the four corners of the land!
The end is now upon you,
    and I will unleash my anger against you.
I will judge you according to your conduct
    and repay you for all your detestable practices.
I will not look on you with pity;
    I will not spare you.
I will surely repay you for your conduct
    and for the detestable practices among you.

At one of my other blogs, Thinking Out Loud, posts tend to be more topical. Not surprisingly for the 4th of July today, we looked at the question, Is America in Bible Prophecy.  Several of the responses we found online dealt with two recurring themes: Judgment, and what was called “the pattern of nations.”  You can read that post here.  For C201 readers, I want to look at one of the lists of scriptures dealing with judgment:

Jewish scholars and many good Christian theologians tend to think of prophecy in terms of biblical “pattern.” For instance, nations fall into patterns of behavior which results in God’s judgment again and again. These are clearly outlined in Scripture.  This is from the blog Remnant Report. A link to the full article follows.

Patterns of Behaviors

In terms of pattern there is no question that almost all nations including America fit into biblical prophecy. For example, Deuteronomy 28 & 29 lists the blessings of following God’s law and the consequences of disobeying it. Hosea 4 and Ezekiel 7 are two books which also list patterns of disobedience and God’s judgment. We might include Isaiah chapter 5 to feature consequences of disobedience, too. This one mentions large, beautiful houses sitting empty due to God’s judgment.

Ouch, America! …Empty houses, indeed!

A Case of Pattern – American Upheavals

In Ezekiel chapter 7 we find a clear example of pattern by God punishing a nation for its wickedness and pride. Does this sound like America today?

– The economy is destroyed. Citizens are warned not to rejoice over “bargains” or sellers to grieve over losses, because all will fail (v. 12-13).

Epidemics and diseases will kill and sicken many (v. 15).

– Citizens will be ashamed and mourn what has become of them (v. 18).

– The nation’s currency is destroyed and not even gold or silver will save them (v. 19).

– Citizens will become sick of its wealth and they will be robbed of all their valuables (v. 20-22).

Foreigners will swoop in to claim all the riches (v. 20-22).

– Ruthless immigrants will occupy citizen’s homes and homes will be lost, mansions empty (v. 24-25). (see also Isaiah 5:9)

– There will be terrorism, disaster after disaster, and calamity after calamity (v. 25-26).

– People will seek out religious leaders & advice, but there is no word from God (v. 26b-27).

– It’s payback time. What the evil citizens & rulers have done to others will be done to them (v. 27).
___________________________________________

In fact, I think you could make a good case for America suffering this kind of judgment at God’s Hands today. The pattern fits, doesn’t it?

[…read the entire article here…]

Go deeper: Here is another article on the same subject; be sure to also follow the links at the Thinking Out Loud piece.

June 30, 2014

Assigned Texts: When You’re Given a Tough One

In preparation for today’s study, read Revelation 8 and chapter 9.

Sometimes the circumstances of preparing a series necessitates navigating through some tough texts. Ian Paul is a writer from the UK who recently discussed the challenges he was facing in some tough chapters of Revelation. You can read more at the blog Psephizo.

I’ve just been writing some Bible-reading notes for Scripture Union (due out next year) on the first half of Revelation. It has been quite a challenge to writing something accessible and devotional on this complex text!

In fact, the first few chapters were not too bad. There is much to say about the opening section, and the vision of Jesus it presents. The messages (not ‘letters’!) to the seven congregations (not ‘churches’!) also have plenty of scope for devotional reflection—perhaps more easily than any other part of the book as a whole (excepting ch 21), which is why I guess there is so much written on them. The visions of worship in chapters 4 and 5 are also relatively easy to engage with, though perhaps not in the way many people think—the blending of imagery from the OT with contemporary images from Emperor ‘worship’ offer a specific challenge to us. The saints under the altar in chapter 6 offer a way into this section, and chapter 7 gives an extended reflection on what it means to be the people of God—disciplined as an army, suffering in combat, but praising God not so much for what God has done or is doing but for what God will do. (Warning: book coming on this one day!).

And then we reach chapters 8 and 9. What do you do, devotionally, with hideous, war-mongering locusts with women’s hair and human teeth, clanking and rattling their iron breastplates? How will these help you to live for Jesus today? (A clue: this is not a futuristic vision of attack helicopters, as some would have you believe.)

I have been helped by going back to a number of commentaries—Caird, Boxall, Beale, Mounce—and I have previously spent quite some time dwelling in some of these passages. But I was particularly helped by what I would call the critically-informed theological reading in Craig Koester’s Revelation and the End of All Things. What is interesting about this book is that it includes some introductory comments, but then goes on to offer a reading of each section of the text—not in a verse-by-verse format you would find in a commentary, but looking at the issues, the flow of the text, and how we might make some sense of it. Koester also has a great style of writing.

The opening observations about the structure of these two chapters caught my eye:

With each successive scene, disaster strikes earth, sea, and sky, until the demonic hordes of locusts and cavalry torment humanity amid clouds of fire, smoke, and sulfur (8.7–9.21). The cycle is all the more ominous because the destruction unfolds in a relentlessly measured way. the effect is something like an orchestral performance in which the strings scrape dissonant chords while woodwinds shriek, trumpets blair, and cymbols crash in what seems to be wild discord—except that all the players move to a steady beat that is set by the conductor’s hand: one, two, three, four… (p 93)

I love this metaphor, and it captures well the theological tension in the text reflection by the juxtaposition of literary structure and symbolic chaos. God is in control—and yet, within this, the chaotic forces of evil appear to be shaping the world.

In relation to chapter 9, Koester highlights really well the feature of the ‘macro-structure’ of Revelation: the alternation between the heavenly scenes of peace and order, and the earthly scenes of chaos and destruction. (This is the main reason why the lectionary selection of passages does not work; it picks out mostly one kind of scene, the heavenly, and the significance of this is lost when such scenes are no longer contrasted with their earthly counterpoints.)

Revelation depicts life under two forms of rule. The vision of the heavenly throne room in Revelation 4–5 showed a rightly ordered universe, in which creatures offered praise to their Creator and to the Lamb, who are worthy of power. But in Revelation 9, grotesque figures create a demonic parody of the created order, showing what conditions are like under the lordship of the king of the underworld, whose names Abaddon and Apollyon mean Destruction and Destroyer (9:11). Each of the winged creatures that attended the Creator had its own distinct face, one with a human face and another with the face ofa lion, etc.; but the winged beings that accompany the Destroyer have a hideous collage of traits: lions’ teeth protrude from human faces, while in front their chests are plated with iron and in back they have tails like scorpions. Where the elders in the heavenly throne room cast their crowns before God as they raised a harmonious song of praise (4:10-1 1), the demonic locusts continue to wear crowns on their heads as they raise a pounding and clanking roar, like chariots going into battle.

The judgment depicted here is not direct divine punishment, but a revelation of what it would mean for God to hand over the world to other powers…(p 100)

Koester here nicely draws out the way that, in Revelation, literary structure is a key bearer of meaning. And his reading is theological, in the sense that this last phrase helped me make connections with Paul’s language of ‘handing over’ in Romans 1.24 and elsewhere. He also highlights the allusion to OT images (of locusts, plagues and the like), and would want to add in echoes of things in the first-century world, such as the ‘blazing mountain’ reminding readers of the eruption of Vesuvius.

This does not solve all the problems and challenges of Revelation, especially with the violence of its imagery. But it reminded me of the depiction of evil in Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein. Interestingly, Tolkein’s vision was less an indulgence in fantasy as an expression of the reality of evil that he had encountered in the death and destruction of the Western Front in the First World War.

September 18, 2013

Things That Are Shaken

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“See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns from heaven. At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe”  Hebrews 12:25-28 ESV

Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.  Revelation 3:2 NASB

The first verse above was the key verse yesterday at Daily Encouragement. The writers focused on the great ‘shaking’ that is taking place in the world, particularly in the United States, and the overall moral decay in America.

What struck me however was the distinction between “things that are shaken” and “things that cannot be shaken.” For some reason, I was reminded of the above verse in Revelation. The Voice translates this as:

Wake up from your death-sleep, and strengthen what remains of the life you have been given that is in danger of death…

with the sections in italics representing additions to the text for clarity.  The NIV has

Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die…

Matthew Henry says of this:

(1.) He advises them to be upon their watch. The cause of their sinful deadness and declension was that they had let down their watch. Whenever we are off our watch, we lose ground, and therefore must return to our watchfulness against sin, and Satan, and whatever is destructive to the life and power of godliness.

(2.) To strengthen the things that remain, and that are ready to die. Some understand this of persons; there were some few who had retained their integrity, but they were in danger of declining with the rest. It is a difficult thing to keep up to the life and power of godliness ourselves, when we see a universal deadness and declension prevailing round about us. Or it may be understood of practices, as it follows: I have not found thy works perfect before God, not filled up; there is something wanting in them; there is the shell, but not the kernel; there is the carcase, but not the soul—the shadow, but not the substance. The inward thing is wanting, thy works are hollow and empty; prayers are not filled up with holy desires, alms-deeds not filled up with true charity, sabbaths not filled up with suitable devotion of soul to God; there are not inward affections suitable to outward acts and expressions. Now when the spirit is wanting the form cannot long subsist.

Returning to our original consideration, the verse in Hebrews, The Voice — again adding explanatory content within the verse, a practice some may be uncomfortable with — has:

…those things that can be shaken will be removed and taken away, namely, the first creation. As a result, those things that remain cannot be shaken…

This reminds me of Matthew 24:35:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away. (CEB)

which is paralleled in Mark 13:31

Earth and sky will pass away, but what I have told you will never pass away! (Phillips)

and Luke 21:33

The sky and the earth won’t last forever, but my words will.

Commenting on the Hebrews passage, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones preached:

…Wait a minute, says some one, what about the earth round and about us? What about the Beacons, the great mountains and the valleys and the rivers, surely these are durable and certain? Are they? Let off your hydrogen bombs and they will soon have vanished. As the Bible has prophesied centuries ago, ‘the elements shall melt with a fervent heat’ (2 Peter 3:10). Even creation is not durable; everything is being shaken. Man himself who has been worshipping himself, what is he? According to scientists he is nothing but chemistry and physics, he is nothing but a bundle of sensations. All our kingdoms are collapsing before our eyes. They can all be hurt, they can all be moved and yet men bank on them. They laugh at religion, they ignore the Bible, they do not believe in God. These are the kingdoms they believe in and yet they are collapsing before our very eyes. That is the message of the Bible.

But why do they collapse? Why is all that I have been saying been so true? And this man tells us. The certainty you see with all these kingdoms is that they are made. ‘And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made,’ These are man-made kingdoms and the tragedy of man is that he is too small to be a kingdom builder. Man is finite, he is limited, he is small. This is the final folly of man, that he thinks he knows everything. He thinks he can encompass the whole cosmos with his little mind. How small he is, he is finite, he is limited, he lacks the capacity to see things as a whole. He only sees little sectors of reality. Things that are made-man!

Yes, but even worse than that, according to the Bible, man is not only finite, man is also sinful-and this is what bedevils all his great efforts. Every one of us is sinful. What does that mean? It means that we are selfish. it means that we are self-centred. It means that we are subjects of jealousy and envy and malice and spite and hatred. We want things for ourselves – let the other man get on with it. This is in the heart of man, everything he touches, everything he makes therefore has got the seed of decay in it. That is why our Lord said: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal’ [Matthew 6:19-20]. But man keeps on doing this and everything collapses. Why? Moth and rust, this element of evil. You cannot trust anybody. You may think that you have got a man who will fight with you to the end-he will desert you at the very moment that you need him most of all. He is a false friend, he lets you down. You see it in the political parties and everywhere else, they all seem to be carrying a dagger in their hip pockets and they are attacking one another. No man trusts anybody, why? We are all sinners, we are all selfish, we are in no condition to build empires…

To read the full sermon transcript, click here.

The verse in II Peter 3:10 is:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare (NIV)

The Message follows with verse 11:

Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?

And so we close with the words of Jesus in the parable of the fig tree in Luke 21:28 (NCV):

When these things begin to happen, look up and hold your heads high, because the time when God will free you is near!”

May 16, 2013

Facing End Times Without Freaking Out

Awesome article by K. W. Leslie at the blog More Christ; clicking through is encouraged,– there are a lot of great writing there. This one was originally titled Prematurely freaking out over the End.

If we’re gonna talk about the End, we need to begin with what Jesus said about it—not in Revelation, but in the gospels. So let’s start with the first gospel written, which would be Mark.

Jesus introduces the subject by discouraging his followers from prematurely assuming the End has come.

Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, facing the temple. On their own, Peter, James, John, and Andrew were questioning him: “When will this happen? What’s the sign when everything is about to end?” Jesus began to tell them.

“Look, don’t let anyone lead you astray. Many will come in my name, saying this: ‘It’s me!’—and many will be led astray. When you hear war, or what others say about war, don’t freak out; these things happen. But it’s not the End yet! One ethnic group will come against another ethnic group; kingdom against kingdom. Places will shake. Recessions will take place. They’re early birth-contractions.”

Mark 13.3-8 NLT

Despite these instructions, Christians still freak out over every major world event. Our nation goes to war; Christians proclaim the End. Israel goes to war with its neighbors; Christians proclaim the End. The economy shakes and shudders; Christians proclaim the End. The economy prospers and Christians proclaim the End. We look for signs everywhere, and anything can be a sign of the End. We’re worse than the superstitious.

And in fact that’s precisely what many of us have become when it comes to the End: Superstitious. We worry that any little thing might show up and take away all our worldly possessions, all our personal freedoms, all our temporary stuff. We stockpile food in case we have to hide, stockpile gold in case we need to buy things, stockpile weapons in case we have to fight—and put our trust in them, and not in Jesus. We live in fear. Not in confidence. Not in patience. Not in trust. Not in faith.

When Jesus talks about the End, he deals in very specific images. They’re apocalypses, so they’re not literally what’s going to happen, but they’re meant to be easy enough to figure out if we have half a brain—and if we’re using that brain to recognize the times we live in, instead of allowing our fears and paranoia to run wild.

So let’s deal with each of the things Jesus tells us to expect as part of the natural order of things, and not as part of the End Times.

The wrong leaders.

I’m not sure many people are interpreting Jesus correctly when he warns about the people who will lead his people astray. The most common interpretation is Jesus is talking about fake Christs—people who claim they’re Messiah, and aren’t. They take this from when Matthew repeated this story.

Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.”

Matthew 24.4-5 NLT

Here’s the problem with this interpretation. These so-called “fake Christs” come, as Jesus pointed out, in his name. Not their own names. They’re claiming to have Jesus’ endorsement to make these claims about themselves. And here’s the problem: How many fake Christs come in Jesus’ name? Darned few. Jesus is their competitor, not their ally; they pay him a little bit of lip service, but pretty much everything else they do is in their own name, which they seek to glorify. Not his.

So this is why I translate the Matthew passage thus.

In reply, Jesus told them, “Look, don’t let anyone lead you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m anointed!’—and many will be led astray.”

Matthew 24.4-5 KWL

We too often forget kristós means “anointed one.” It can be translated either “Christ” and “Messiah”… or “anointed one.” It doesn’t mean these preachers are claiming to be fake Christs. It means—as we all too often see—these preachers are claiming Jesus anointed them to be the leaders of his people. But he didn’t, and they’re leading Christians astray.

All too often, self-anointed leaders are demanding very inappropriate degrees of honor and privilege and loyalty because of it. They want us to obey without question, and misquote, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” lest we dare stand up to them. They want to be treated just like we should treat Jesus. Yet they know better than to use the sacred title Messiah… so they stick to “anointed,” and hope we never notice. And we often never do. And we are led astray.

Any preacher who makes too much of their own anointing needs to be watched carefully. Any preacher who’s surrounded by followers who make too much of their preacher’s anointing, likewise needs to be watched carefully: Some of these folks are clever enough to stay humble in public, but they deliberately surround themselves with suck-ups. A truly humble preacher will discourage people from puffing them up, lest they start to seek praise, and not Jesus, as their reward.

So watch out for fakes. Look for fruit. Stay away from fruitless Christian leaders. Yeah, it might be okay to listen to their podcasts or radio shows—after all, Jesus told his students it was okay to listen to the Pharisees, but don’t follow their personal examples. (Mt 23.2-7) After all, hypocrites can preach the truth. They just won’t live the truths they preach. (Of course, defending their bad behavior might worm its way into what they preach, so remember to listen to them skeptically.)

The wrong harbingers.

As a superpower, the United States doesn’t really know how to worry about war. Our worries are that war is too expensive and kills our soldiers. We don’t worry at all about foreign armed forces invading and destroying our nation. We haven’t had to fight on our own soil since World War II, and haven’t encountered a serious conquering foe since the Civil War. Americans have more fear of our own government—which, considering how much it lets us get away with, just goes to show you how overly secure we are.

That’s not the case with most other countries. An invading army can destroy their nation: Overthrow their government, kill their soldiers, murder and rape and enslave their citizens, and wipe out their way of life. Israel has been on the receiving end of such wars far too often. God bailed them out a whole bunch of times—though not against the Assyrians, neo-Babylonians, or Romans. Still, when Israel’s enemies look enviously at it, and try to actually start something, many Christians will flinch at those events and claim, “There we go. This is it. This is gonna bring about the End Times.” And then we go lining up which anti-Israel opponent corresponds with which apocalyptic vision, and start publishing books.

No, said Jesus; they’re only early birth-contractions.

Wars happen. People get angry, and pick fights. Diplomats try to diffuse the disagreement, but too many people on either side are far more interested in vengeance against their enemies than in reconciliation, and too often they silence their diplomats and start shooting. It doesn’t mean the End is near; it only means people, as usual, are sinning.

And contrary to popular belief, sin doesn’t bring about the End. Jesus does.

This is going ahead in the narrative a bit, but the End comes because Jesus has finished sending out invitations to the Kingdom. It’s not because the world gets as evil as it’s ever gonna get. Ever since humans started sinning, it’s always been evil; it’s been in periods of great darkness, and with God’s help it’s been in periods of great light. But evil never forces God’s hand. He’s Almighty. He does as he wants. He’s going to make sure the good news reaches every single person he wants, and then the End will come. Not before. And not because of war, or antichrists, or persecution, or economic depression, or anything other than God’s will.

Till the End, Israel is always gonna have enemies. As will Christians. Big deal. Concentrate on loving them and making friends of them. Stop looking to the newspaper so you can fearfully catch signs of the End, and concentrate on lovingly bringing it about by sharing Jesus.

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