Posts tagged ‘End Times’

May 16, 2013

Real Blessing

The BeatitudesHave you ever had one of those moments when you thought, “wow I’m blessed”?  All the time people on facebook are saying that they are blessed.  I think it has sort of become a Christian word that non-Christians understand, so therefore Christians use in liberally.  We know what blessed is when it happens to us.  Who wouldn’t want to be blessed?

When Jesus spoke he spoke to people who thought they knew what a blessed life looked like.  The only trouble was that, well, everything that they thought was wrong! So he had to set them straight.  This is what he said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We call this passage the beatitudes.  When I first read it as a teenager I assumed that it meant that these are attitudes we are meant to be like.  Whilst that is kind of right the word itself means “blessings”.  The word has nothing to do with attitude. This passage is all about the blessing of God.

Jesus had to say to his hearers that the blessing of God looks nothing like what they thought it did.  If Jesus was walking around Christians today I think it would be much the same.

When you see someone poor do you think – wow, that person looks so blessed?  No, neither do I.  But Jesus sees it differently.  When you see someone grieving do you think that they are obviously walking in the blessing of God?  We actually think the opposite – we see someone who hasn’t grieved for a long time as the blessed person because all their loved ones are healthy.  Not according to Jesus.  When you read about Christians in China being persecuted and imprisoned do you reflect on how blessed we are to be able to worship freely in this country?  According to Jesus it’s actually the persecuted Christians who are blessed.

But why?  Why are all these people blessed?  They don’t look very blessed to me.  The answer is in verse 12 – because great is your reward in heaven.

Jesus is thinking eternally.  He is saying that blessing goes to the person who accumulates the most heavenly rewards.  Almost all of the “for they will…” promises are rewards that you don’t get in this life.  In Monty Pythons comedy The Life of Brian a person listening to Jesus deliver verse 5 – blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth – says, “Oh well it’s nice that they get something because they have a horrible time of it down here don’t they?”  The writers were trying to be funny but they have actually ended up making the very point that Jesus is trying to!  The writers probably assumed that Jesus is saying that being meek is virtuous and “virtue is its own reward”.  Jesus is saying nothing like that at all.  He is saying that the rewards of the next life are what we should be pursuing, and the more difficulty that you have to push through here the greater your reward is there.

Heaven is not the same for everyone.  It is great for everyone, but the rewards that each Christian get differ.  The greatest rewards go to those who are blessed.  Jesus is not saying that grief, meekness and persecution are fun and we should enjoy them. They are not “good for the soul” or some such nonsense.  He is saying that God sees them and God rewards them in the next life.

That’s real blessing.

April 3, 2013

End Times Series #2 – The Millennium

imagesCA33A6SHEnd Times theology is controversial.  As a consequence many Christian churches shy away from teaching about it.  This is unfortunate, because many Christians are rightly interested in it.  They therefore get informed about it some other way, and that is very hit and miss.

In this series I’m addressing many of the main issues and giving a super brief overview of the standard reformed view of these doctrines.  You can read the series introduction here and Part 1 on the Rapture here.

One of the big ideas in End Times theology is the millennium.  This is really strange because there is only one bible passage that even mentions a millennium!  So let’s have a look at some of the highlights of Revelation 20:1-10:

And I saw an angel…He seized the dragon…or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss…to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended…I saw…the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus…They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years…When the thousand years are over, Satan…will go out to deceive the nations…And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur…(to) be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

So let’s start with the obvious things that can be said about this passage:

Firstly, it is a very exciting picture of the end of Satan.  And his end is clear – he is destroyed.

Secondly, it is clear that God rewards those who give their life for Him.

Thirdly, it talks about a long period of time.  One thousand years.

So is this a literal 1000 years or not?  Revelation is a book full of symbols.  It is a style of literature that heavily uses symbols – that’s the whole point.  Oftentimes it even says what the symbols are (eg the seven lamp stands are the 7 churches – 1:20; the bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints – 5:8; the New Jerusalem is the church – 22:9-10).  I find it quite baffling that surrounded with symbols so many Christians would think that John is talking of an actual 1000 years.  I believe he is using 1000 years as a symbol of a long time.  It is not a literal 1000 years.

I believe that one of the main points that the author, John, is making is that people who lose their life for Christ are greatly rewarded for their sacrifice.  That would be a source of great consolation to John’s first readers who lived in a time of persecution.  One of the things that I strongly dislike about some views of this passage is that by placing all of these events far into the future (for John’s first readers) it offers no comfort for them.  I do not think that was John’s intention.  I think he wanted to offer his first century readers great hope for the future.  Verses 4 to 6 do this in a truly powerful way.

The upshot is that I think this passage speaks of a long period where those who have lost their life for Christ are with him, and where the truth goes forth and has an impact all over the world.  Which sounds a bit like what has been happening ever since the church started at Pentecost.  Indeed most Christians over the centuries have understood this passage to refer to right now – the current church age.

So let me make it clear – I believe that Revelation 20 is a picture of this church age.  John wrote it to encourage believers who were being persecuted and even killed for their faith in the first century.  That’s not a radical idea – it is actually what most Christians – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – have believed for most of church history.

John

February 20, 2013

End Times Series 1 – Rapture…what rapture?

cloxkSome weeks ago I promised to start a series on end times beliefs.  You can read the series introduction here.  This post is the first in the series.

One of the core Christian beliefs is that Jesus will return, all will be judged and God will be with his people forever.  There are numerous scriptures that deal with this subject.  The oldest Christian creeds include it.  The Apostles Creed says, “On the third day he (Jesus) rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in …the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

So belief in the return of Christ is core Christian theology.  However it might surprise you to know that belief in the rapture is not.  When I use the word “rapture” what I mean is the event referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 which says,

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”

Some Christians think that this refers to Christ’s final second coming.  However some Christians believe that this event is something that happens before the tribulation, and well before Christ’s final return to earth.  This latter view has become dominant in Protestant churches in the West in recent generations.  So when I use the word rapture I mean it in this second sense.

The idea that there is a rapture before Jesus returns (rather than being something that occurs at the same time as the return of Christ) was first taught by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s.  He was one of the founders of the Brethren Church.  It was picked up by Cyrus Scofield, D L Moody, and eventually the founders of Dallas Theological Seminary which has been the home of the teaching ever since.  Authors Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye have made what was a fringe theological view widely popular in the last 50 years.

So the idea that there is a rapture of Christians and then life goes on for those left behind was never held by any of the church fathers, nor Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or any of the other Reformers, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, nor most theologians since 1830.  So if all those people missed it, you would have to think that it might not be in the bible!

My understanding of what the bible says is that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.  It could come at any moment.  The picture of being in the clouds is a reference to Daniel 7:13, “there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven”.  Paul is trying to say that Jesus is coming in power, the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, and we get to be with him!  That’s the point.

So the modern, most widely held understanding of the rapture is based on a poor interpretation of a small number of bible passages that wasn’t really even conceived until 180 years ago.  What the scriptures do teach, in my opinion, is that Jesus returns and at that time he judges all.  Not two events – just one return which is what Paul is talking about in the passage above.  So forget the idea of vanishing Christians and everyone else thinking “where did they all go?”  Jesus will return and it will be clear to everyone that He is here, and He is king.

John

January 30, 2013

The Missing Second Coming

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In the 1970’s I understand that there were plenty of churches that were very excited and taught a lot about the second coming of Christ.  In recent decades there has been a reaction to that possible over-emphasis and in my experience you will do very well to find an evangelical church teaching on the subject now.

One reason for this is that it is the source of much disagreement, and many church leaders want to focus on the things that unite rather than those that divide.  That might be well intentioned but the fact is that this is a subject that the Scriptures have much to say about.  Not only that, people are very interested in the subject.  Books such as the Left Behind series have sold enormous quantities, and even in the last 12 months there has been a rash of Christian books about near death experiences.  Again, they have done extremely well at the cash register.

It seems to me that if people are very interested in a subject that the bible has lots to say about the obvious response from diligent church leaders is to teach it!  There’s not much rocket science needed there.

What I realised a few years ago is that this collective failure to teach on the subject is causing people to go to whatever books are best sellers for their answers.  And most of what the best selling Christian books say is, in my opinion, miles off the mark.  Most of what is accepted by bible believing Christians as what happens during the End Times has been developed over the last 150 years, and has very little in common with what Christians such as Augustine, Luther and Calvin have believed.

I got that realisation when a few years ago my church did a question and answer time on the subject.  By presenting the standard views that have dominated Christian theology for the last 2,000 years (and rejecting the new fashioned theology of the Left Behind novels) I caused quite a stir!  I got a question about every wild and wacky theory that is out there.  If we would simply address the subject then our people would get teaching from their own pastors rather than going to dubious books, movies and novels.

So I am committing to writing half a dozen or so posts over the year about end times theology.  I’m going to tackle eternal rewards, Armageddon, the Anti-Christ, the Second Coming, the Millennium and what is for many people the most important question of all – what happens to you when you die.

But to give you a bit of a teaser let me say that if you are a Christian you will be encouraged by what I share.  Over this sort of time period we can look at the subject in a relaxed and thorough manner.  But once Jesus was faced with a dying man who did not have the time to listen to a presentation with charts, timelines, pictures and diagrams.  To the thief on the cross Jesus said, “I tell you the truth – today you will be with me in paradise.”  That one sentence is all that Jesus had time to say, and all that the man needed to hear.  So fear not – this is a series that will encourage you!

John

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