Overcoming Fear

These are some thoughts I recently shared with a friend.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:16-18

From the time I was very young I had a fear of death and dying, and genuinely believed (feared) that I was going to die somehow at a young age – before I was 30, or definitely by the time I was 40.  So here I am at 51 and alive and kicking!  I wouldn’t have believed it as a child.  But God is our protector, and He’s been so faithful in watching over me and protecting me, even from myself, since I can be my own worst enemy sometimes.

I’ve been through numerous situations in my life in which I feared I was going to die.  Most of them were irrational, but they seemed real enough at the time, and so they were still very real fears I had to overcome, even if only in my mind and heart.  I think God used each of those situations to bring me to a point of surrender and trust, to the place in which I learn not to love my life in this world so much, but to love God more, and to trust him.  God used those times to bring me closer to the point where I’m able to say with Paul “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21) and with Job “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

Psalm 34:4 says

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

I’ve taken that to mean not just that God delivered me from the things I was afraid of, but he even delivered me from the fears themselves.  This is true of my life; over the years God has delivered me from so many fears.  I still have fears that need to be overcome, but I’m confident that God is still at work delivering me from those as well.

A passage I’ve come back to over and over again when dealing with fears in my life is 1 John 4:16-18

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (emphasis added)

I can’t say I’ve fully come to understand or appropriate these verses, but I keep coming back to them when I fear.  John says the root of all our fears is a fear that God is going to punish us.  Deep down we know we deserve to be punished because of our sins.  But elsewhere John reminds us that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous [one]. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins….” (1 John 2:1-2).  That word “propitiation” means that Jesus took all the punishment and wrath we deserved for our sins upon Himself.  So the punishment for our wrongdoing has already been completely taken care of.

That means we don’t ever have to be afraid of being punished by God anymore!  “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  So 1 John 4:18 invites us to become more deeply rooted and grounded in the love of God.  He says this is the way we overcome fear.  *:) happy

Psalm 91 is also a good scripture passage to meditate on when dealing with fears of death or harm coming to us.  It’s all about how God invites us to dwell in “the secret place” with him, and that as we do so we enter into a place of protection with Him.  The psalm is filled with all kinds of promises of protection for the believer.

These things are true for anyone who is a follower of Christ.  Have you ever asked Christ into your heart?  If not, you can today, and then you can begin to know and experience these truths for yourself as well. ūüôā

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Book Summary of “The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee

Normal Christian Life

Nee, Watchman. The Normal Christian Life. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1978.

I’m taking a training class for lay counselors through my church, and as part of the class we were required to read The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee and then produce a summary of the book.¬† Its concepts are very dense so the book bears repeated readings.¬† This was my second time through it and I got a lot more out of it this go-round.

(For those who don’t know, Watchman Nee was a leader in the Chinese church during the first half of the 20th century.¬† When the communists took over in China Nee was imprisoned for his faith, where he remained for the next two decades until his death in 1972.)

Here, then, is my summary:

1. The blood of Christ is God‚Äôs remedy for man‚Äôs sins – plural. ‚Äď chapter 1

2. The cross of Christ is God‚Äôs remedy for man‚Äôs sin – singular. Every person is born ‚Äúin Adam‚ÄĚ and as such has sin working within us as a principle that causes us to sin. We are not sinners merely because we sin, but instead we sin because we are born sinners. But when we are baptized into Christ‚Äôs death (born again) we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God‚Äôs Son. The old man died with Christ and the new man rises to new life in Christ. Therefore now those who are in Christ are no longer ‚Äúsinners‚ÄĚ but ‚Äúsaints.‚ÄĚ ‚Äď chapter 2

3. We can know that we have died with Christ and that the sin principle within us has been overcome and rendered powerless through our identification with Christ‚Äôs death ‚Äď chapter 3

4. Therefore likewise we are to ‚Äúreckon‚ÄĚ ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. It is an accomplished fact, which we appropriate by reckoning‚Äďthat is, making a conscious choice to consider–ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. ‚Äď chapter 4

5. We are no longer ‚Äúin Adam‚ÄĚ but we have passed from death to life and are now ‚Äúin Christ.‚ÄĚ These are totally different realities, and never the twain shall meet. Baptism is the clear line of demarcation that we are no longer in Adam but instead in Christ. What was true of us ‚Äúin Adam‚ÄĚ is no longer true of us ‚Äúin Christ.‚ÄĚ We are new creatures in Christ. ‚Äď chapter 5

6. Now that we know we‚Äôve died and risen with Christ and therefore reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, the proper response is for us to present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness, for His service. Nee refers to presenting ourselves to God in this way as ‚Äúconsecration.‚ÄĚ ‚Äď chapter 6

7. God‚Äôs purpose in all this goes beyond mere redemption. Man‚Äôs sin and redemption was actually a detour in God‚Äôs eternal plan for man and the world. God‚Äôs eternal purpose is to have many sons who are conformed to the image of Christ, and to bring these many sons to glory. ‚Äď chapter 7

8. We fulfill the righteous requirements of the law not by trying to keep the law, but through walking by the Spirit. Acts 2 shows us that the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the people of God as a result of Jesus‚Äô exaltation to the right hand of God. Therefore, just as we can know we have died and risen with Christ, we can also know that if we have trusted in Christ then we have received the gift of His Spirit. It is not a matter of feelings but of trust in the finished work of Christ and belief in the promise and Word of God. ‚Äď chapter 8

9. Not only have we been delivered from sin through the death of Christ, but we have also been delivered from the Law. We are now dead to the Law and alive to God. ‚Äď chapter 9

10. The Law is not fulfilled in us by trying to keep the law, but by walking in the Spirit. Not only are we in Christ, but Christ is also in us through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. Walking in the Spirit does not equate to effort on our part, but simply to recognizing that our flesh has been crucified and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in and through us. ‚Äď chapter 10

11. Another part of Christ‚Äôs eternal purpose is that He would have a Body to express his life (p. 210). This purpose of God shows us that redemption was not God‚Äôs original intent for man, because sin was not part of God‚Äôs original intent for man. Instead, redemption was a restorative measure to bring humanity back in line with God‚Äôs original purpose, which was to have a glorious church, a body, through which to express His life. ‚Äď chapter 11

12. Because Adam chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than the Tree of Life, man developed an independent self-life which caused the human soul to become more developed than God ever intended. God never meant for man to live independent of Him. Therefore sinful man has the capacity to live life on his own and to depend on the power of the soul rather than on the power of God. Even a Christian has to guard against relying on the over-developed power of his soul to serve God rather than relying on the power of the Spirit. A Christian‚Äôs task is to walk by the Spirit, not live and work in the power of his soul. Therefore the believer has to choose to take up his cross daily, which consists of making a conscious decision in every situation to live and move in the power of the Spirit rather than relying on his soul power. Instead he must allow the soul to be crucified by resisting the temptation to rely on his soul and instead relying on the Spirit. ‚Äď chapters 12 and 13

13. We may be tempted to think that time and energy spent ministering to God is a ‚Äúwaste.‚ÄĚ We may think we should not ‚Äúwaste‚ÄĚ precious time and energy in ‚Äúidle‚ÄĚ tasks like prayer, worship, and Bible reading. But ministering to God is more important than ministering to people. It is not a waste for us to pour out ourselves at the feet of God. Martha‚Äôs busy service is contrasted with Mary sitting at the Lord‚Äôs feet. The author invites us to ‚Äúwaste‚ÄĚ ourselves in ministry to God. ‚Äď chapter 14

The Normal Christian Life is not an easy read, but it’s a very worthwhile one. I recommend you take the time to read and digest this significant work from one of the great saints and church leaders of the 20th century.

Some Things to Look For in a Church

A friend sent me an email with an article entitled “7 Things To Look For in a Good Church” and then asked what my list of things to seek in a church would look like if I made one.¬† After thinking about it, I came up with the following points:

1) A church that fosters loving community and is genuinely welcoming toward newcomers.
2) One in which the worship is genuine and heartfelt, and not just following the latest trends.  It is contemporary in style but also includes traditional elements from time to time, such as hymns or liturgy.  Worship is participatory by the entire congregation as much as possible, and not just those on the platform up front.  (See 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40)
3) A church in which Scripture is read, taught, explained, and lived in preaching and teaching that speaks to the spirit and not just the mind.¬† The goal is that faith would be “caught,” not just taught, and to teach people how to live as Christians, not just to give people more head knowledge.¬† The Bible is seen as infallible and the final authority for all of life.
4) A congregation in which the church and its leadership follows the Holy Spirit’s leading, even if that takes things out of the usual order or sequence of events.¬† The people are allowed and encouraged to move freely in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit leads, though order is to be maintained (See again 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40).
5) A church that is led by a group of elders who are all qualified to preach and teach and who share in these responsibilities together.  This board of elders and the church may be led by one or more elders who are pastors. (See Acts 20: 17-18, 28-32 and 1 Peter 5:1-4)
6) A congregation in which the leadership of the church recognizes that God can and often does speak not only to the leaders but to anyone in the church, and structures church life in such a way as to allow people to share with the leaders and the body what God has been saying to them.  (See again 1 Cor. 14: 26-33, 39-40)
7) A church in which when necessary the leadership administers loving discipline to those who stray (see Matthew 18:15-18, Galatians 6:1-5, and James 5:19-20; see also 1 Corinthians 5)
8) A church in which the leadership and the pastor are not lone rangers but are accountable to some higher body outside the church, whether it be a denomination or association of churches.
I’m sure there are other qualities that are important to consider when seeking a church.¬† What would your list look like?¬† What would you change about my list or add to it?

Signs of the Times: What the End Times Will Look Like

This post is the conclusion to a series I’ve done on the end times over the previous 7 posts. ¬†To read the entire series, please go to “Home” above and then scroll down to see Parts 1-7.

Washington in Great TribulationAs I said previously in this series, I believe Jesus’ words on the end times, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 17 & 21, are the key to understanding what the Bible teaches about the last days. ¬†I believe the Old Testament prophecies on the end times, such as those found in Ezekiel and Daniel, as well as the New Testament book of Revelation and the apostle Paul’s teaching on the last days,¬†should all be interpreted in light of Jesus’ own words in the Gospel passages mentioned above.

As I explained in Part 1, I do not hold to the Pre-Tribulation Rapture view, which has been the most popular view among evangelical Christians in modern times.  Instead, I take a Post-Tribulation view of the end times, for reasons explained in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  (A more complete summary and explanation of the Post-Tribulationist viewpoint, as well as a list of known pastors and scholars who hold this view, can be found here.)  What I want to do in this post is bring everything together and make some very general predictions about what I think the last days will entail

As I said in Part 1, taken at face value, Matthew 24 gives a pretty clear description of events prior to the rapture and the return of Christ.  Those events can be summarized as follows (the following list is taken directly from Part 1 of this series; verse references are to Matthew 24):

  1. First, there will be many false teachers who will claim to come in Jesus’ name or to be Jesus, but they will not really be from him, and will lead many astray (verses 4-5)
  2. Wars, ethnic tensions, and natural disasters will increase; yet this is only the beginning of the end (v. 6-8)
  3. Persecution of Christians will increase (v. 9)
  4. Many who have espoused the Christian faith will fall away (v. 10).
  5. False teachers will continue to increase (v. 11)
  6. Wickedness will be multiplied, causing the love of many to grow cold (v. 12)
  7. Other Christians will remain faithful to Christ and endure to the end, and through them the gospel will be preached throughout the entire world (v. 13-14)
  8. Once the gospel has been preached to all nations, the end will come, which will bring about a time of tribulation worse than the world has ever known (v. 14, 21)
  9. The tribulation will be sparked by a terrible abomination, the nature of which is not entirely explained, rather it seems to be referred to almost in code, the answer to which is contained in the Old Testament book of Daniel.¬† The time surrounding the abomination will be so severe that it will require people to drop whatever they‚Äôre doing and flee to the mountains and presumably to remote places where they will have to hide out wherever they can find (v. 15-22). ¬†(Many believe the temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt and that the abomination will take place there; however, I’m not sure a literal temple is necessary for this to take place.)
  10. Meanwhile the false teachers, false Christs, and false prophets will continue to proliferate, deceiving everyone but the elect–that is, the chosen followers of Christ. The deception will even be bolstered by great signs and wonders performed by these false teachers.¬† There will be rumors flying that Jesus has returned, but we are warned not to listen to them, because Jesus‚Äô return will be so obvious that rumors won‚Äôt be necessary (v. 23-28)
  11. [It’s worth mentioning here that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 warns against a great false prophet who will arise known as “the man of sin” or “man of lawlessness,” traditionally referred to as the Antichrist. ¬†More on this below.]
  12. At the end of the tribulation, signs will appear in the heavens as follows: ‚Äúthe sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn‚Ķ.‚ÄĚ (v. 29-30)
  13. Then ‚Äúthey will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other‚ÄĚ (v. 30-31).¬† This is the rapture, and as we see, it comes at the very end of the tribulation, at the time of Christ’s return, and not before.

Now, to the idea that we can use this passage to discern end times events, the objection is often raised¬†that wars, ethnic tensions, and natural disasters have always been a part of human experience, so how is this description unique to the end times? ¬†Likewise, they say, false teachers, persecutions, and Christians leaving the faith have always been a part of the church’s experience as well.

However, what we need to understand here is the¬†magnitude of what is being described. ¬†This passage describes wars, ethnic clashes, natural disasters, the arising of false teachers, persecutions, and falling away from the faith on an unprecedented scale the world¬†has never seen before. ¬†The thing that will be different about the end times is that all these tragedies will be “on steroids,” so to speak, at a level of intensity and frequency the world has never known.

To get an idea of what this might be like, consider recent events. ¬†In the last few years we’ve seen unrest in the Arab world as never seen before, with the so-called “Arab Spring.” ¬†This has resulted¬†in great instability in Egypt, and in the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has now spread to northern Iraq as ISIS militants are trying to take over large swaths of land in both countries. ¬†ISIS is persecuting Christians and other minorities in truly gruesome and hideous ways. ¬†Their desire is to set up an “Islamic State” in the region which would be run based on an extremely strict interpretation of the Quran and which would seek to exterminate¬†all non-Muslims. ¬†At the time of this writing, large sections of Iraq have fallen to these extremists, so that now they are on the very outskirts of Baghdad.

Likewise Nigeria has seen the proliferation of Muslim extremism in the growth of a militant group¬†called Boko Haram (which means “Western education is forbidden”). ¬†This group has been carrying out terrorist attacks in the northern and central areas of country. ¬†They are purported to have killed more than 5000 civilians since 2009–2000 of those in 2014 alone. ¬†In April they kidnapped over 200 students from a state run girls school. ¬†The girls were forced to convert to Islam and to marry members of Boko Haram. ¬†The whereabouts of many of the girls is still not known. ¬†This is but one in a long string of incidents perpetrated by this extremist group.¬†(1)¬†(2)¬†(3)

In the Congo region of Africa, a warlord by the name of Joseph Kony leads a militant group that works under the chilling and terribly ironic name of “The Lord’s Resistance Army.” Kony and his followers¬†travel the countryside conscripting children into their army by capturing families and then forcing the children to kill their parents. ¬†Women in these families are routinely gang-raped by Kony’s forces.

Meanwhile, conflict continues to escalate in Israel between Palestinians in Gaza and the nation of Israel.  Russia invaded Crimea earlier this year, and has now moved into parts of Ukraine and is eyeing the rest of Ukraine as well as other areas which were once part of the Soviet empire.  It is said that Vladimir Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet Union again.

In western Africa there has been another outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, which kills well over half its victims. This strain of the virus appears to be more virulent than any before.  Previous outbreaks affected a few hundred people and then were contained, and were usually confined to a single locale or region.  The 2014 outbreak, though, has infected thousands (current estimates are over 8000 so far, with over 4000 deaths), and has spread to four African countries. There is no sign of the outbreak subsiding yet.  Just recently the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in the United States.  This patient has since died, and now one of his caregivers has been diagnosed with the virus, becoming the first recorded case of Ebola transmission in the U.S.

Also on American soil is the ongoing turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri after a white police officer shot and killed a black man on August 9.  This sparked outrage on the part of blacks not only in Ferguson, but throughout the nation. Initially there were riots in Ferguson, but unrest between protesters and police continues to this day, almost 2 months later. (The collection of events mentioned in the above section on current events was suggested by this blog post.)

I’m sure I’m forgetting some crises as well. ¬†There is a lot of stuff going on in the world right now.

Now, (if you can) imagine the above sorts of events multiplied 10 times or 50 times or 100 times in the same span of time. Imagine more wars, more terrorism, more racism, more riots, more crime, more moral decay, more deadly diseases, more persecution and hostility toward Christianity and Judaism.  Imagine one natural disaster after another. And imagine all these things happening all at the same time.  Then you might begin to have an idea of how dire the events will be when the end times are finally here, when the birth pangs give way to the great tribulation.  It will be on a scale the world has never seen.

Second Thessalonians 2¬†describes a “man of sin” who will arise during that time, too. ¬†Traditionally the man of sin has been equated with the Antichrist, and with the beast(s) mentioned in Revelation 12 & 13. ¬†The Antichrist is believed to be a political leader who will become a world ruler that¬†will bring great evil during the tribulation.

2 Thessalonians 2:4, 9-12 has this to say about the man of sin:

4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God….

9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

So we see that the Antichrist will be a leader who opposes all true worship of God, and instead insists on being worshiped himself, much like the Roman emperors of old. ¬†The Antichrist will even be spiritually empowered by Satan to do all kinds of miracles, signs, and wonders, but these will be counterfeit miracles in that they won’t come from the true source of power and life, God himself. ¬†Instead, they will be rooted in evil and their goal will be to deceive the lost. ¬†Many people will follow this man because of the deceptive miracles he will perform, or claim to perform.

How might such a world ruler come to power? ¬†Imagine the world plunged into chaos as described above. ¬†In such a dire situation, the world would be very hungry for a leader strong enough¬†to manage the situation. ¬†Imagine that all of a sudden in the midst of the chaos a ruler¬†appears promising¬†to restore order–in exchange for your total, unquestioning allegiance. ¬†In a time of great trial and terror, many people will be only too willing to do anything to have the world return to “normal” again. ¬†The above is what we should be on the lookout for with regards to the rise of the Antichrist.

Revelation 13:5-18 says this about the Antichrist:

5 The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. 6 He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast ‚ÄĒ all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.

9 He who has an ear, let him hear.
10 If anyone is to go into captivity,
into captivity he will go.
If anyone is to be killed with the sword,
with the sword he will be killed.

This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

11 Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17 so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.

18 This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.

This passage talks about two beasts.  There are a lot of theories about that.  The challenging thing in interpreting Revelation is knowing what is meant to be taken literally, and what is meant to be taken figuratively.

Verses 5-8 sound similar to what we just read from 2 Thessalonians 4. ¬†The beast is very proud, and he blasphemes and slanders God and all that is holy, and demands to be worshiped. ¬†He persecutes Christians and the whole earth worships him–everyone except the elect (Christians). ¬†The implication is that believers will have the insight to see through this man and recognize who he really is and avoid worshiping him, but unbelievers will be captured under his spell and will be completely deceived into worshiping him instead of God.

The thing we want to watch out for is this: If (when) the world plunges into utter chaos, be on the lookout for a political leader who promises¬†to restore a sense of normalcy, performing mighty–even seemingly miraculous–works, and demanding total allegiance. He will force¬†Christians, and¬†perhaps people of all religions, to choose between their faith and following him. ¬†Those who refuse to worship him, those who disobey him, those who question him, those who refuse to renounce their faith for him, will be killed. ¬†It will be a choice between life and death.

Revelation 13 also talks about the mark of the beast. ¬†There has been a lot of speculation about what form the mark will take. Many believe it will be literal, such as a tattoo of some sort on the forehead or hand signifying total allegiance to the beast and allowing for commerce. ¬†Some have speculated that it will be a microchip implanted in the hand or elsewhere in a person’s body that will take the place of money and will allow the government of the Antichrist to track people at all times.

Others think¬†the mark of the beast may symbolize a cultural mindset¬†that will be utterly opposed to the worship of Christ, such that Christians will be forced to choose between their faith and their physical life. ¬†Whatever it is, though, it’s clear that the mark of the beast will require Christians to choose between total devotion to Christ or total devotion to the Antichrist. ¬†There will be no neutral ground, and no escape.

So the question is: How will we know when these events have come to pass? ¬†Well, I believe we won’t have to wonder, we will know. ¬†The events described in Matthew 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke will be of such magnitude and severity that it will be plain to everyone that the times described there have come. ¬†So if you look around at world events and you have to wonder whether it’s the end times yet or not, then probably the answer is no, not yet. ¬†For the times foretold in Matthew 24 will be so severe and of such intensity that everyone will wonder what hit them.

People sometimes say “If things keep getting worse in America then God is going to have to apologize to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.” ¬†And I just laugh when they say that. ¬†Go read Genesis 19 again and then tell me things in our day are worse than they were back then. ¬†Not even close. ¬†When the day comes that mobs¬†are going door to door throughout our cities gang-raping everyone in sight, then maybe we can talk about it, but until then, we have a very long way to go before our situation¬†will come anywhere close to the days of Sodom. ¬†Things can and will get much worse before the end comes.

Now Jesus was clear that no one knows the day or the hour of his return. ¬†But he did instruct us to watch for his return (Matt. 24:42), and to observe the signs of the times (Matt. 24:33). ¬†He said we’ll know it’s coming because the signs he described will be taking place. ¬†Remember, again, the key is the horrific¬†scale on which everything will be happening.

One thing that’s noteworthy about the times we live in is that for the first time in history the technology is available to make possible a totalitarian one-world government. ¬†Imagine, for example, what horrors would be possible if GPS technology was employed by a totalitarian power on its citizens. ¬†Imagine if all the capabilities of the US military were at the disposal of an evil power. ¬†This is all you have to think about to envision how bad things could get, and how possible it would be for an Antichrist figure to rule the world with an iron fist, and to strike terror in the world’s population, and to command total allegiance.

What will life be like for God’s people in these times? ¬†I think on the one hand we will experience uncommon power and grace. God will empower us to do the things we need to do, to fight the spiritual battles we need to fight. ¬†God will protect his children from many things. ¬†But also we’ve already seen that there will come a time when Christians will have to run for their lives, when–if we remain true to God and refuse to take the mark–we will no longer be able to buy the things¬†we need like our basic necessities–food, gasoline, utilities, paying the rent, etc. ¬†Times when we will be hunted and murdered for our faith, unless the grace of God intervenes. ¬†This is why Revelation says this of believers in the end times:

11 They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.  (Revelation 12:11)

This will require supernatural courage, but saints throughout history have been given that courage when their lives were in danger, and history is filled with the stories of courageous martyrs who found God’s presence and peace in the face of death.

Let me conclude by saying, I wouldn’t mind being wrong. I wouldn’t mind at all if the pre-tribulationists turn out to be right, and we are all raptured out before things get really bad. ¬†But I don’t believe that will happen. ¬†I don’t believe God wants His children to have an escapist mentality in the world’s darkest hour. ¬†The Bible says we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. ¬†Don’t you think¬†God would want us to be those things even in the end of days, as He has throughout history? ¬†Isaiah 60:1-3 says

60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

I believe these verses apply to the end times more than any other. ¬†It will get dark, but as the dark gets darker, the light of God’s people will shine brighter.

I also wouldn’t mind if I’m wrong and things don’t get as bad as I think they’re going to. ¬†I wouldn’t mind if the preterists turn out to be right in their claim that the worst time the world has ever seen already happened back in the first century. ¬†Although they are rather vague about what the future does hold in store. ¬†But I won’t mind if things don’t get as bad before the end as I think they’re going to. ¬†I won’t mind being wrong.

But I think it’s going to get bad, and I feel compelled to warn people of what’s coming.

So what do you think about the scenario I’ve described? ¬†Do you agree or disagree? ¬†Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

I believe this is an important and timely message, because I believe the times I described here may be upon us soon.  So I want to get the word out.  If you agree, will you share this message using the social media sharing buttons below?  Thank you!

Signs of the Times ‚Äď Thoughts on the End Times, Part 7

Part 7: More On Why I Believe the Preterist View Is Wrong

This post is a continuation of Part 6 and will not make sense without reading Part 6 first.  To read Part 6, click here: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/signs-of-the-times-thoughts-on-the-end-times-part-6/

To read Parts 1-6, click here: https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/

Jerusalem_Siege_by_Romans_70_AD_1Against the preterist view¬†I would also contend that the events of the first century don’t match the intensity¬†of the events described in Matthew 24: 4-25. ¬†These verses sound like they’re describing world events, not just events in first-century Palestine. ¬†Consider:

6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.¬†–¬†Matthew 24:6-9

There will be wars between various nations and kingdoms. It sounds like widespread warfare, not just something localized in one region. Natural disasters will occur “in various places” not just in one locality. Believers will be “hated by all nations.” ¬†That sounds like something on a global scale, not just in the middle east. Likewise, the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14).

Now, it is true that the Greek word translated “world” there is “oikoumene” which was understood as the known world or the Roman empire. ¬†Yet it could¬†also be translated “globe.” ¬†At any rate, what was in view was the entire known world, which is supported by the fact that this was going to bring a “testimony to all nations” or ethnicities (the Greek word there is actually “ethne” from which we get our English word “ethnic”), ¬†Once again, this was not a local or regional thing, but meant that the gospel was going to be preached throughout the world to every ethnicity. ¬†The fact that they didn’t know as much of the world back then as we do now in no way prevents this prophecy from being applied to the entire world as we know it today, for that seems to be the idea Jesus was conveying.

Now, the references to the temple and to Judea in verses 15-20 do clearly refer to Palestine.  Yet even here we have language that seems bigger than can adequately be explained by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Consider these words:

21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now ‚ÄĒ and never to be equaled again. 22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened (Matt 24:21-22).

This puts the events being described on the level of intensity of the most traumatic events the world has ever experienced–a time of “great tribulation” as the older translations express it–so bad that if it isn’t¬†shortened, even God’s own chosen people would be deceived (see verse 24) and would not survive.

Now, I have no doubt the events of 67-70 AD in Palestine were incredibly traumatic. But to say they are the worst the world has ever experienced, as verse 21 seems to imply about the times being described in the passage–well that would be hyperbole. ¬†A brief examination of the world wars of the 20th century alone would show that. ¬†In fact, my preterist friend explained the language in just that way–as hyperbole. ¬†But as with verses 29-31, I think it makes more sense to take them at face value (see Part 6). ¬†And if we do so, then the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem simply aren’t adequate to match the intensity described in verses 21-22.

We should also consider that Matthew 24 is a response to an initial dialogue between Jesus and the disciples recorded in verses 1-3:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Notice the disciples’ question in verse 3 has several parts:

  1. “When will this happen”…?–referring of course to Jesus’ statement that “not one stone [of the temple] will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (verse 1).
  2. “…and what will be the sign of your coming…”
  3. “…and of the end of the age?” (emphasis added).

Now preterists presume that all three¬†parts of this question necessarily assume the same event–i.e., the destruction of the temple Jesus referred to in verse 1. ¬†They assume that because the question is all in one sentence, the destruction of the temple, Jesus’ “coming,” and the “end of the age” must all occur at the same time. ¬†Indeed, it may be that in the disciples’ mind as they asked the question, they understood them all to refer to the same event. ¬†But even if the disciples assumed it would all be the same event that doesn’t require that Jesus’ answer is based on the same assumptions. Consider a similar question the disciples asked Jesus just prior to his ascension:

6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).

Here’s an example in which the disciples clearly had one thing in mind with their question, but Jesus’ answer went in a different direction. ¬†The disciples were asking about a temporal kingdom. ¬†“Now that you’ve conquered death and proven you are unstoppable, are you now going to expel the Romans, take back the throne of Israel, and restore the Davidic kingdom?” ¬†Jesus’ answer was indirect. ¬†It was a “no” by implication, but he really didn’t answer the question of when.

Even after his ascension Jesus’ disciples expected him to return bodily in their lifetime and set up His earthly kingdom, a kingdom in which Israel would rule over the rest of the world. ¬†Jesus’ answer went beyond their ability to understand based on their mindset at the time.

It was the same with the disciples’ question in Matthew 24. ¬†“Tell us when you’re going to come in power, destroy the current order (including the temple), and set up a new order?” ¬†In the disciples’ mind these events surely signified the “end of the age” (verse 3). ¬†Preterists see this reference to the end of the age as referring to the end of the Old Testament era of law and animal sacrifice. ¬†The temple was the premier symbol and institution of that age, and its destruction represented the final, irrevocable end of that age.

The problem with interpreting the phrase “the end of the age” in this way, however, is that in every other instance in which the phrase is used in the New Testament (all of which are in Matthew), it clearly refers not to the end of the Old Covenant era, but to the end of the world as we know it. ¬†Consider these other Scripture references as examples:

Matt 13:36-43 ~

His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Matt 13:47-50 ~

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matt 28:18-20 ~

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (emphasis added)

So it seems pretty clear that when the phrase “end of the age” appears in Matthew (and the New Testament) it refers to the end of this present world. ¬†And this is surely how the disciples meant the phrase when they asked Jesus about it in Matthew 24:3. ¬†Moreover, the events Jesus describes in verses 29-31 most readily coincide with an understanding of “the end of the age” in eschatological terms; that is, in terms of the end times and the end of the present world.

Now, the obvious problem futurists like myself have to deal with is the verse the preterists see as the lynch pin, quoted above:¬†Matthew 24:34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” ¬†If the events of Matthew 24 were not fulfilled in the first century, then how do we explain verse 34? ¬†Was Jesus mistaken, as some liberal scholars suggest?

Futurists have offered various explanations over the years. One such explanation calls attention to Jesus’ words in¬†Matthew 24:36¬†“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This explanation¬†says ‘well, Jesus himself said he didn’t know when his return would be.’ ¬†But that isn’t really a helpful answer because Jesus’ words in verse 34 are very emphatic. ¬†The statement begins with “I tell you the truth, ” which implies that Jesus is saying something he knows/firmly believes to be true. ¬†If Jesus truly is the divine Son of God then he doesn’t get a pass for being “wrong” about one of his prophecies. ¬†If Jesus said he knew something to be true, then for the believer it is as true as any of his other statements. ¬†A better interpretation is that Jesus was saying these events would happen before “this generation” passes away; but then in verse 36 he admits he doesn’t know the exact time it will happen (“the day or the hour”). ¬†So we are still left with our conundrum.

One way scholars have explained this problem is by asking what is meant by “this generation” in verse 34. ¬†The phrase in the Greek is “haute genea.” ¬†Some very reputable scholars interpret this phrase¬†as referring not merely to the generation of people who lived in Jesus’ time, but instead to the Jewish nation–meaning not Israel but “all the generations of Judaism that reject” Jesus (Eduard Schweizer, as quoted by Dr. Leon Morris in¬†The Gospel According to Matthew, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 612).

The Greek word “genea” can also be understood to mean an “age” or period of time. ¬†So Jesus could be referring to an unspecified period of time rather than to a single generation, perhaps similar to the present “age” which¬†his disciples¬†referred to at the beginning of the passage in verse 3. ¬†And indeed, in light of Jesus’ reference to heaven and earth passing away in the very next verse (verse 35), this interpretation would make a lot of sense.

Dr. Leon Morris also points out that in other instances the term “generation” is used more broadly to refer not to a group of people in a certain time frame, but instead to a particular¬†category of people, such as “the generation of the upright” in Psalms 14:5 and 112:2, or “the generation of those who seek” the Lord in Psalm 24:6. ¬†There is also the “generation of his wrath” as in Jeremiah 7:29 and Psalm 12:7. ¬†So Jesus could be saying more generally that “the generation” of people who reject him (i.e., throughout history) will not pass away “until all these things have happened.”

Finally, the word “genea” can also be translated simply “race,” so that Jesus might be saying “this race” (possibly the human race? but more likely the Jewish race, or maybe even the “race” of people who reject him, where “race” is used figuratively) will not pass away till all these things have taken place.

To conclude, the points I’ve made here and in Part 6 are all the reasons why I believe Matthew 24 and Revelation talks about future events, and not events in the first century.

What do you think about the preterist view?  What do you think about the various futurist views of these passages?

If you find this post valuable, please share it with your friends on your social networks using the “Share” buttons below. ¬†And please be sure to check out Parts 1-6 of this series if you haven’t already done so!

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 6

Part 6 – Has Matthew 24 Already Been Fulfilled? A Response to the Preterist View

Click here for Parts 1-5 Р https://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/

2ndcoming2When I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, although I heard different views of the end times expressed, they all fell under what would be broadly considered a “futurist” view. ¬†That is, the interpretations given to various eschatological passages of Scripture, whether pre-millennial or post-millennial, whether “pre-trib” or “post trib,” all agreed on one thing: those passages (such as Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation) dealt with events which are still in the future and haven’t happened yet.

Nowadays, however, a different¬†viewpoint is gaining popularity called the “preterist” view. ¬†This view says the events described in Matthew 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke, as well as in the book of Revelation, have already been fulfilled. ¬†The full preterist view says they’ve all been fulfilled. ¬†Most Christians I know who follow the preterist viewpoint, though, consider themselves “partial preterists,” meaning that while they believe much of Matthew 24 and Revelation have been fulfilled, they don’t believe it’s all been fulfilled, and they do believe Christ will come again at the end of the world as we know it. ¬†Full preterists don’t believe in the second coming at all, and so the full preterist view is generally considered heretical.

So why do partial preterists believe these Scriptures have already been fulfilled?  At several points in his ministry Jesus predicted that judgment would come on the Jews of his day because they rejected him.  One such passage is where Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard:

27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism ‚ÄĒ was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!”

31 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘From men’ . . . .” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

12:1 He then began to speak to them in parables:¬†“A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

7 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this scripture:

“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

12 Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. – Mark 11:27-12:12

Another passage that’s even more direct is¬†Luke 19:41-44

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace ‚ÄĒ but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

And of course there are these words from Matthew 24:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (verses 1-2).

Jesus’ prophesied that one day Jerusalem and the Jewish temple itself would be besieged because the Jews of his day rejected him. ¬†Jesus said this would be God’s judgment on the rebellious city and on God’s¬†rebel people.

Jesus’ words came true. ¬†In 67 AD the Romans came and laid siege to Jerusalem, and in 70 the city fell to the Romans and the temple was destroyed.

Quite simply, preterists believe that Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2 (another passage we’ve looked at in this series – see Parts 1, 2, & 4), and the Book of Revelation all dealt primarily with these events in the first century related to the siege and fall of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 67-70 AD. ¬†For this reason preterists believe these Scripture passages have been largely fulfilled, except for the small portions they see as referring to future events.

As I see it, the preterist interpretation of Matthew 24 (and much of the rest of the material in question) hinges on a single all-important verse:¬†Matt 24:34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” ¬†Preterists reason that because Jesus seemed to say that¬†his own generation would not pass away before the events described in Matthew 24 took place, therefore Matthew 24 must be about events in the first century.

Preterists contend that the events described in Matthew 24 fit historically with the sack of Jerusalem in 67-70 AD. ¬†As a friend of mine who is a¬†partial preterist said, preterists feel¬†that futurists don’t take Matthew 24 literally enough. ¬†If they did, he says, they would realize it pertains to the events of 67-70 AD. ¬†And indeed, the events predicted in verses 4-25 do fit at least somewhat with the actual historical events that took place prior to 70 AD in Jerusalem.

However, in my view, the problem with the preterist interpretation is that portions of Matthew 24:4-31 have never been fulfilled. ¬†In particular, if verses 29-31 are taken literally, they¬†clearly describe events which¬†weren’t fulfilled in the first century:

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

30 “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. 31 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.

These verses, understood literally, appear to be describing the literal, visible return of Christ in the heavens at the end of the age.  As if to remove any doubt about this, Jesus says just before that

26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. –¬†Matthew 24:26-27 (emphasis added)

Christ’s appearance in the heavens will be visible to all. ¬†Nothing of that nature occurred in the first century. ¬†In fact, if it had, it’s hard to imagine that it would not be recorded in the New Testament, since some portions of the New Testament were written after 70 AD.

In fact, there is some disagreement among scholars as to when books like Matthew and Revelation were written. Traditionally Revelation has been dated as one of the latest writings of the New Testament, often being assigned a date of composition around 90 AD.  Likewise, some scholars date the book of Matthew to some time in the 70s AD.  If Revelation and Matthew were written or completed after 70 AD, and if Jesus had returned at that time, one would think there would be some record of this in either or both of these books, or in any part of the New Testament that was completed after 70 AD.  And yet we find no such record in anywhere in the New Testament.

Likewise, if these books were written after 70 AD and their authors believed the events described in Revelation and Matthew 24 had already been fulfilled it seems very likely those authors would’ve expressed that belief. ¬†The absence of such interpretations in the books themselves means either the books were both written prior to 70 AD (which seems questionable in the case of Revelation), or else the authors did not see¬†the events they describe as having¬†already been fulfilled at the time the books were written.

However, some¬†scholars do date Revelation and Matthew prior to 70 AD. ¬†In the case of Revelation in particular, this earlier dating seems to be driven at least somewhat by preterist concerns. Moreover, many preterists interpret much of Revelation as having been fulfilled during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, which ended in 68 AD. ¬†However, the early church fathers (who were much closer to the events than us) almost all dated John’s exile on Patmos to the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), which is a big reason Revelation is usually given the later date.

So it seems very unlikely that Matthew 24:29-31 was literally fulfilled in the first century, especially since there is no record of Christ visibly returning in the heavens in the first century.  (Not to mention the fact that if Christ had returned in the first century, would we even be here 20 centuries later, having this discussion? But I digress.)

Preterists explain this problem by interpreting Matthew 24:29-31 symbolically. ¬†They claim that when Jesus spoke of his¬†“coming” in verses 3 and 30-31 he meant¬†a spiritual return only. ¬†They say it refers to Christ “coming” in judgement when the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 AD.

Preterists claim there is precedent in the Old Testament for interpreting such passages symbolically, citing passages like Isaiah 13:9-13, Isaiah 24, Isaiah 34:4, Joel 2:10, and Daniel 7:13 as examples in which similar imagery was used and which (they claim) was never intended to be taken literally, but instead was meant to be viewed figuratively.

However, I myself believe all those verses from the Old Testament also look forward to literal events–maybe even the very same events described in Matthew 24. ¬†I’m leery of interpreting such passages merely figuratively, for it makes one wonder if the passages are being interpreted symbolically simply because they sound too fantastic to be believed by modern minds. ¬†I’m inclined to believe this motif is recurring in Scripture because it refers to something that actually is going to happen one day, and that the prophets kept catching glimpses of it in their visions of the future.

This concludes today’s post. ¬†My next post will continue looking at the problems with the preterist view of the end times, and will pick up where today’s post leaves off. ¬†Please be sure to tune in next time!!

If you found this post valuable, please share it with your friends on Facebook and your other social networks using the “Share” buttons below. ¬†And please also be sure to check out the other posts in this series!

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 5

Part 5: Why Some Believe the Earth Will Be
Renewed Instead of Destroyed

Click these links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

(Happy thoughts, these, about the world being destroyed, eh?  O:-) )

In my last post I gave Scriptural reasons why I believe the Bible teaches that this world as we know it will eventually end and be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth (for my previous post, click on “Part 4” above).

Today I want to examine two alternative points of view to the one I proposed in my last post, not so much to refute them, as to share them and acknowledge that these other views could have some validity.  However, I will go on to point out some of the problems with these views and how I feel from a biblical standpoint the burden of proof is on those who hold them to demonstrate why they are viable possibilities.

Literal Or Symbolic?

In my last post I shared a number of Scripture texts which, if taken literally, I believe show conclusively that the Bible foretells the eventual end of our world.¬† I won’t repeat all these passages here, but will just share a couple of them, as examples.¬† (For those who read the last post, I know this is a bit of repetition, but please bear with me, for I’m going somewhere with this.)

Matt 24:29-31

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

30 “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. 31 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.

2 Peter 3:3-13

3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 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 in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

Notice the qualifier I gave above: I said, if these passages are taken literally, I believe they show conclusively that the Bible foretells the end of the world.¬† And there’s the rub.¬† For there are some Bible interpreters–perhaps many–who believe these passages should be understood symbolically rather than literally.

As far as I can understand it, the reasoning for this point of view goes that this imagery of the world ending in the New Testament is also found in the Old Testament.  Those who hold this view claim that the Old Testament passages about the world ending were never intended to be taken literally but instead refer to the collapse of earthly kingdoms.

For example, some who hold to this view believe Matthew 24 was largely fulfilled when the Roman empire besieged Jerusalem in 67 AD and destroyed the temple in 70 AD.  They interpret Matthew 24:29 as symbolic of the fall of Jerusalem rather than as intended to be a literal collapse of the heavenly bodies.  (I will address the view that Matthew 24 has already been fulfilled in a coming post.)

Those who interpret Matthew 24 in this way believe the passage from 2 Peter 3 should be understood symbolically as well.  They believe it refers to the fall of earthly powers, rather than the literal destruction of heaven and earth.

One of the things I learned in seminary was that often when people interpret the Bible, they find in the Bible what they started out expecting to see when they began.¬† For example, those who don’t believe in miracles usually approach the text with a bias against the miraculous.¬† Since they don’t believe in miracles, they conclude that anything in the Bible which claims to be miraculous needs to be explained another way, since they’ve already made up their mind that miracles are impossible.

Likewise, those who can’t abide the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexual activity look at the passages which speak against homosexuality and search for any reasons they can find to render those passages null and void.¬† If they can’t find a legitimate reason to do so, then they manufacture reasons, which is essentially what the pro-gay factions have done.¬† But I digress.

These are just a couple examples of how, if we’re not careful, what we want to find, or expect to find, in the Bible can dictate what we allow ourselves to see or accept in the text.

When we read the passages in the Bible that describe the end of the physical world as we know it, we have an interpretive decision to make: Will we accept what we find there at face value, or will we look for another way to interpret them?¬† My belief is the burden of proof is on those who choose not to interpret these passages literally.¬† Why shouldn’t we take them literally?¬† Whatever the answer is, it shouldn’t be because the idea of the world ending is distasteful or unlikely.¬† Neither of these considerations has any actual bearing on the truthfulness of the prediction.

Basically those who interpret these passages symbolically begin with an assumption that they are symbolic.¬† They assume the Old Testament passages were symbolic, and then move to the conclusion that therefore the New Testament passages are symbolic as well.¬† But it is equally likely (and I would say more so) that the Old Testament passages are describing a literal event which hasn’t happened yet.¬† There are quite a few Old Testament prophecies which remain unfulfilled, and these passages are among them.¬† I believe the simplest answer is that the Old Testament passages are describing the same events described in the New Testament, all of which still waits to be fulfilled.

The Restoration of All Things

There are a couple of New Testament passages which deal with future things, though, which I haven’t addressed yet, and these deserve to be mentioned.¬† The passages I have in mind would seem, at least on casual consideration, to contradict the ones I’ve already mentioned that talk about the end of the world.

The first of these is found in Acts 3:17-22

17 “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you ‚ÄĒ even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (emphasis added).

The second passage is Romans 8:18-25

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (emphasis added).

Based on these passages there are some who believe that rather than the world ending, our present world will be restored and renewed, that it will become the “new earth.”¬† In particular this belief is becoming more prominent in charismatic circles, for whom the Romans passages holds special meaning.¬† (I will explore current charismatic beliefs about the end times in another post.)

I can understand why they see that in these passages.¬† Acts 3:21 implies that when Christ returns, he will “restore everything.”¬† Likewise, Romans 8:19-21 says that when the “sons of God” are finally “revealed,” creation “will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”¬† That certainly sounds like restoration and renewal, rather than destruction.

The language in the Romans passage is end-times language.¬† It speaks of the sons of God being revealed, the creation finally being liberated from its bondage to decay, “our adoption as sons,” and the “redemption of our bodies.”¬† This is all eschatological language–that is, the kind of language the Bible uses when it speaks of heaven and the return of Christ.¬† These are things we expect to happen when Christ appears, when we are in his presence eternally.¬† So we can safely assume that Romans 8:18-25 is referring to events that will take place at the return of Christ.

So How Do We Reconcile This?

Now, the question is, how do we reconcile these passages which speak of the restoration and renewal of the present creation with those that speak of its destruction?

We can go one of two ways: Either we can assume that Acts and Paul give us the true picture of what will happen, and Matthew and Peter (along with several passages from the Old Testament) need to be harmonized with them in some way; or else we can take the other approach, that Matthew and Peter and the Old Testament passages give us the most accurate picture, and Acts and Romans are to be interpreted in light of these.

If we assume Acts and Paul, with their picture of the restoration and renewal of the present world, show us the true picture of what’s going to happen when Christ returns, then we have to make sense of the all the passages which seem to say clearly that the stars will fall from the sky and the heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire when Jesus comes back.

Now, in 2 Peter 3 it is clear that the fire of destruction is for the wicked (see verses 7, 9).¬† The implication is that the righteous will be preserved and taken to the new heaven and the new earth (see verse 13).¬† The words “destroyed” and “destruction” appear four times in verses 3-13.¬† However, in verse 6, Peter speaks of the earth having been “destroyed” by the flood of Noah’s day.¬† We know the world wasn’t literally destroyed at the time of the flood; only humanity and civilization were destroyed, so clearly Peter was using hyperbole.¬† Therefore it’s possible he is also exaggerating in the rest of the passage when he speaks of the world being destroyed by fire.

It’s clear that the fire of destruction he mentions is intended only for the wicked, and so it is a fire of judgment; the righteous (those who know Christ) will be preserved from it.

So if we follow the restoration theme in Acts 3 and Romans 8, then we would have to interpret 2 Peter 3 as being more of a fire of purification in which the world is purged of evil and sin, but not destroyed.¬† However, the language in 2 Peter 3:10 pretty clearly speaks of annihilation: we’re told “the heavens will disappear,” “the elements will be destroyed,” and the earth will be “laid bare” (emphasis added).¬† So if we say the world is simply going to be renewed, then 2 Peter 3:10 has to be taken symbolically and not literally.

Yet Revelation 21:1 speaks of the present heavens and the earth having passed away and being replaced with a new heaven and a new earth.  This, along with multiple passages in the Old Testament (see Part 4 of this series for these) as well as the passages in Matthew 24 and their parallels, and 2 Peter 3, all seem to point to the world ending and being replaced by a new heaven and a new earth.

In that case then we would interpret the language in Acts 3:21 and Romans 8:21-22 about creation being restored as something that will happen through the destruction of the present world and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.  In other words, it is through the destruction of the present world and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth that God restores everything and sets the creation free from its bondage to decay.

I Wouldn’t Mind Being Wrong

I wouldn’t mind being wrong about the destruction of the present world; though unless it is something that happens in my lifetime, it won’t affect me personally either way.¬† But I wouldn’t mind being wrong.¬† I wouldn’t mind it if God chooses to renew and restore the present world rather than remove it.

However, I think those who hold the restoration viewpoint are faced with some questions that must be answered.¬† The current world is fallen, under sin, and–as Romans 8:21 says–in bondage to decay.¬† If the world is going to be restored, how does the process of deterioration get reversed?¬† How does this present world in which death and decay are an everyday reality get transformed into an eternal paradise where there is no longer any decay and the righteous live forever?

Moreover, the Bible seems to speak of our eternal future with God as a spiritual reality.¬† Yes, it says one day our bodies will be resurrected, but in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says our resurrected body will be a “spiritual” body (see 1 Corinthians 15:44 and the following verses).¬† Revelation 21-22 describes the new Jerusalem in physical terms, but if we’re going to have spiritual bodies, then the reality John describes in Revelation 21-22 may well be a spiritual reality as well (though a substantial one), just described in physical terms.¬† If that’s the case, how does our present material world get transformed into the kind of spiritual reality that will be the New Jerusalem?

If the present creation is transformed and “liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21) then Romans 8 makes it pretty clear this only happens at the return of Christ, and not before.¬† Yet there are some who seem to believe that this transformation will be brought about by Christians before Christ returns, or even in order that Christ may return.¬† However, I don’t think that is what we see in Romans 8 (we’ll look at that view, and the problems with it, in a future post).

Whether the present earth is restored or destroyed and replaced with a new earth, either way the most important part of the message is that those who don’t know and follow Jesus Christ will experience the wrath of God, while those who know Christ will be saved from His wrath.¬† God Himself has provided an escape from the judgment that is coming on the world because of its sin and evil.¬† That way of escape is by receiving His Son Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and trusting in him for forgiveness, salvation, and life.¬† If you have never trusted in Christ as your Lord and Savior, I implore you to do so, for the Bible is clear that all who do not turn to Christ will not spend eternity with Him.

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Up next: A response to the idea that Matthew 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke have already been fulfilled.  Stay tuned!