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Reasons for Optimism (Eschatological Debacle pt. 2)

The_Last_Judgement._Jean_Cousin. (1)

Unlike many of my fellow believers here in the USA, I no longer believe in the traditional understanding of a coming tribulation or rapture, and in this post I’d like to show some of the many reasons why my belief about the “end times” has changed and what I now believe.  I certainly understand where those who are looking for a rapture or tribulation are coming from, as I believed that way myself just a few years ago.  My belief, put very basically, is that nearly all of the scriptures which are frequently used to support a future rapture, tribulation, persecution, and destruction of earth are either referring to things that happened in the past, at the end of the Old Covenant “age” which culminated in the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, or are speaking of spiritual things.  I believe that now, we are living a different age, where the Kingdom of God is and will be growing on earth.  Maybe that sounds crazy, but all foreign ideas sound crazy at first, and it’s not as crazy as it might seem – many devout believers, past and present, believe similarly.  I don’t ask or expect you to take my word for it – I intend to give you some substantial meat to chew on.

I fully admit I’m not an expert on the end times, there are still things I don’t understand, and there are probably things I’m still wrong about.  But I remain not only willing, but eager to adjust my understanding according to truth.  In writing this post, I’ve learned by experience that it’s a lot easier to criticize a viewpoint than it is to coherently present your own, but I’m happy I’ve at least made a genuine attempt to do so.  Below, I’ve divided the broad topic of the “end times” into various categories, with reasons given for my optimistic view under each one.  I’ll genuinely try to be brief, but this is a big subject.  I’ll also give resources at the end of this post for further study, as there are many people smarter than me who have spent a lot more time studying and writing about these things.  

I truly thank you for reading, and I welcome questions or (respectful) feedback or criticism in the comments section at the end of this blog or at my e-mail: ryan.clement.2010@gmail.com  

Time Statements:

Many scriptures that people assume refer to future end-times events actually state WHEN they were going to happen, and their occurrence is always clearly in the past!  For instance:

  • Revelation 1:1,3,7. Revelation 1:1 says this: This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things which must happen soon, which he sent and made known by his angel to his servant, John…” 
  • In Revelation 1:3, John wrote: “the time is at hand,” and Revelation 1:7 says that “those who pierced him” will see Jesus’ coming in the clouds!  This wouldn’t make sense if the fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies was thousands of years later.

    • A common explanation given by those who see Revelation as future is to say: “With God, soon can mean thousands of years; even Peter wrote that to God a day is like a thousand years.” 
      • My Response: Revelation was written TO and FOR people who were alive at the time it was written, nearly 2,000 full years ago.  This is plainly seen in Revelation 1:4, which says John wrote the book of Revelation: “to the seven assemblies (churches) that are in Asia…”  So, if I were to write you a letter about something to happen “soon,” there’s no way you’d think I meant it was going to happen sometime after the year 4015!!!!  You would know the letter was to you, and that the things in the letter would be relevant in your lifetime.  Also, it makes no sense that Jesus, through John, would tell these churches about specific things that were going to happen to them (like being put in prison and oppressed for precisely “ten days” in Rev. 2:10), if they were going to be long dead before they happened.  There’s no good reason to think that Revelation 1:1 doesn’t refer to the entirety of the book, and there are many good reasons to think it does.
      • The New Testament in the Bible consists mostly of letters addressed specifically to various congregations of people, or even specific individuals, in a specific location, all of whom were alive at the time these letters were written.  These letters contain many things that are very obviously meant for that time and place, such as Paul asking to be sent a cloak and parchments (2 Timothy 4:13), and encouraging “Euodia and Synteche” to quit arguing (Philippians 4:2).  Those things are obviously not meant for you and I, thousands of years later.  Likewise, there are other, less obvious things in scripture which were meant for “then and there,” but are mistakenly thought to apply to us today.
      • It’s true that God and His son Jesus Christ are the same yesterday, today, and forever, so the letters which are in the New Testament contain valuable, eternal, unchanging truth about God, His son, and even prophecy.  That doesn’t change the fact that we MUST keep in mind the original audience and timeframe of these letters. We don’t need to be afraid that somehow it’s spiritually dangerous or disrespectful to scripture by doing so.  The opposite is actually true, as the meaning of the scriptures and God’s will will actually become clearer!
  • Matthew 24:34.  This is a verse that absolutely must not be overlooked or explained away.  In this famous chapter, which so many Christians believes refers to future events, Jesus describes a coming persecution, tribulation, and arrival of the Son of Man in the clouds.  After describing these things, he says this: “Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away, until all these things are accomplished.”  “This generation” means the generation he was in and speaking to, therefore what he said wasn’t meant for us.  As I’ll show later, things happened exactly as he said they would.
    • Common Objection“Jesus actually meant “that” generation, as in the generation who would be alive when these things happen.” 
      • My Response: That’s so obvious, it wouldn’t need to be said!  That would be like saying: “the generation alive when these things happen will see these things happen,” which is obviously nonsensical.  Plus, the Greek word for “this” in “this generation” means “THIS,” as in something present, current, right then and there.  Jesus clearly meant that the generation he was in, almost 2,000 years ago, was going to see the fulfillment of ALL the things he had described.  If you take this one, plain statement as a basis, then you have to start looking at some of the other things Jesus said in Matthew 24 in a spiritual or symbolic sense, which I believe is exactly how he meant them.
    • Common Objection #2: Jesus said he didn’t know the day or the hour of these things happening, so how can we?”   
      • My Response: Jesus Christ was not mistaken.  He didn’t know the day or hour, but he knew it would be in that present generation (probably a 40 year period, roughly from 30 AD to 70 AD).  This objection isn’t much more complicated than that.
  • Matthew 10:23.  This is another time-sensitive statement made by Jesus, after describing the persecution of his disciples prior to “the end” (more on what “the end” refers to in a bit).  Jesus said: “But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man has come.”
    • Common Objection: Some say Jesus’ coming wasn’t referring to the same thing as Matthew 24, that maybe it refers to Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey.  But Jesus was answering a question about the time of “the end.”  Some also have tried to say that “going through the cities of Israel” somehow means “evangelize the world,” or they add to Jesus’ words and say that this statement somehow applies to all believers for all time, who will minister to Israel. But again, the preceding verses make it very clear that Jesus was speaking about “the end,” speaking specifically and only to to his 12 disciples, and he was telling them that he would come before they went through all of Israel.

Spiritual Nature of Scripture:

The Bible is a spiritual book, and the apostles who wrote it were what are sometimes called “mystics” – deeply spiritual men who went into trances, had visions, and at least one who even went to what he called the “third heaven” in an experience that was so profound he wasn’t even sure if he was in his body or not!  It makes sense, then, that the apostles’ writings are often spiritual and symbolic in nature.  Similarly, Jesus’ said his words were “spirit and life” (John 6:63) and that he spoke in parables and hidden meanings (Matthew 13:34). Not everything is as simple or straightforward as we like to think, and there are many things in scripture that remain confusing and mysterious to even the most devoted believers and scholars.

The book of Revelation is the most obviously symbolic book in the Bible, describing many fantastical events and strange beasts. One thing I’ve noticed, which I feel is a mistake, is people seem to “pick and choose” parts of the book to read symbolically, and parts to read literally.  For instance, everyone realizes Revelation’s description of a multi-headed beast and the “harlot” who rides it aren’t literally and physically referring to a sexually immoral woman riding around the earth on a monster.  But, other things which are mentioned in this same book as these clearly symbolic descriptions are taken literally or made to fit a certain interpretation without much basis.

 Antichrist:

I am totally convinced, beyond any doubt, there is absolutely NOT a past or future person known as the “antichrist.”  Are you as surprised as I was to learn that no form of the term “antichrist” is found anywhere in the book of Revelation!?  That alone should make us start to reconsider the popular notion of this figure, who is presumed to play such a large role in the “end times.”

The word “antichrist” is used in the Bible in only four verses: three in 1 John and one in 2 John.  Below I have listed all four of these verses, with some of my own commentary in blue.  I want you to notice that in each case, the word “antichrist” is speaking of something or someone past or present, but never future!!!  Also, any time the word is capitalized, that is simply something the translators did to try to help the passage fit their understanding better.  There was no capitalization in the original text, and some translations today probably don’t have it capitalized still.

  • 1 John 2:18: “Little children, these are the end times (!!!), and as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. By this we know that it is the final hour.”  
    • First of all, notice that the “end times” and the “final hour” were both at the time John wrote this, almost 2,000 years ago! 
    • What John is saying is that “the Antichrist” his readers had heard was coming, was already there in the form of “many antichrists.”  So “the Antichrist” is somehow a group of people, not one single person. 
  • 1 John 2:22: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” 
    • In verse 18 above, John wrote that his readers had heard of a coming “Antichrist,” but he corrected their understanding and told them that many antichrists had already come.  Here, he tells his readers who the antichrist was: whoever “denies the Father and the Son!”  He never said that antichrist was future, but both here and four verses earlier, he says this antichrist was present already.
  • 1  John 4:3: “and every spirit who doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already.” 
    • John again says here, very plainly that the spirit of the antichrist was “in the world already.”  Not a future person.  Notice also, the antichrist is denoted as a “spirit,” meaning it’s not a person, but a mind, an influence, a spirit.
  • 2  John 1:7:  “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who don’t confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist.” 
    • He again defines who the antichrist is here, plain as can be.  “The antichrist” refers to a group of people, who were alive around 2,000 years ago when John wrote these letters, who “don’t confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.”  The idea that this somehow means a future leader is totally a wrong understanding that needs to go away.  Some say John wrote 1 and 2 John (again, the only letters to mention antichrist), to refute a teaching known as “gnosticism” which was gaining steam at that time, which said that Jesus was not a physical person, and that he didn’t rise from the dead.  According to some, it was specifically these gnostic teachings and their followers John referred to as antichrist.

666:

This number is often thought of as associated with the “Antichrist,” who is presumed to be who the 666 beast represents in the book of Revelation.  Here’s the passage which this famous number comes from:

He causes all, the small and the great, the rich and the poor, and the free and the slave, to be given marks on their right hands, or on their foreheads; and that no one would be able to buy or to sell, unless he has that mark, the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. He who has understanding, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is six hundred sixty-six.”  (Revelation 13:16-18 WEB (R))  

Remember, Revelation was written to people in seven churches which existed in John’s day.  John tells these people that with wisdom and understanding, they could calculate who the beast was, thus showing that he was someone alive in their time.  The clues John gives are that this beast is a man, and his number is 666.  What does this mean? I believe, like many do, that this beast was the Roman Caesar Nero, who was in power at the time and persecuted Christians horrifically.  The number 666 isn’t really mysterious or evil.  It’s derived by a fairly common (so I’m told) first-century practice known as “gematria,” in which words are converted into numbers by assigning a certain value to each letter.  For instance, a=1, b=2, c=3., etc., The number of the word “cab” would then be “6” (3+1+2).  Using this method, the name Caesar Nero, when converted to Hebrew, = 666.  (Interestingly, some ancient manuscripts record the number of the beast as “616,” which is the gematria value of Nero’s name in Latin).  The Bible says that when John wrote Revelation, he was living on the island of Patmos, where he had been banished by Rome.  I think it is very possible John knew when the book of Revelation was delivered by his Roman captors to the churches in Asia, it would be examined closely, and if he had mentioned Rome or Nero by name, it would have never been allowed off the island, so he used a simple “code” which would not be understood by those screening the letter.  

Jesus’ Vineyard Parable and Warnings:

Jesus told at least one parable aimed directly at the religious leaders of Israel, describing the judgment and wrath that was coming to them, and why.  It’s found in Luke 20:9-19 and Mark 12:1-12.  I’d encourage you to read it yourself, but to keep this shorter I’ll summarize it: A man built a vineyard, then went away on a journey and leased the vineyard to some tenants to care for it. While away, the owner of the vineyard sent His servants to check on His vineyard’s fruit, but the tenants either beat or killed these servants, giving them no fruit to take back to the master.  Finally, the master sent his own son in hopes the tenants would treat him better.  But the tenants selfishly killed the landowner’s son, hoping to obtain the vineyard for themselves.  Jesus says the landowner, upon his return, will destroy these tenants and give the vineyard to others.

The Bible says Israel’s religious leaders “perceived that he had told this parable against them.”  They realized they were the tenants God gave to care for the land, but who persecuted and killed those who the master sent to see how his land was doing.  And just as Jesus foretold, the system of law, ordinance and temple worship which they represented, used as a means for their selfish desires, and trusted in instead of the God above all, was destroyed along with Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD.  If you’re interested, I wrote about this parable in more detail a couple of years ago, here and here.  There’s probably some better studies on it elsewhere on the web, as well.

In Luke 11:47-52 (WEB), Jesus basically says the same thing as in this parable, plainly saying that it was the generation he was living in that was going to experience God’s wrath, saying to the religious leaders of Israel: Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.  So you testify and consent to the works of your fathers. For they killed them, and you build their tombs.  Therefore also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles; and some of them they will kill and persecute,  that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zachariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.’ Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you took away the key of knowledge. You didn’t enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in, you hindered.”

Matthew 24:

Matthew 24 (along with Mark 13 and Luke 21, which all give an account of the same speech of Jesus), which I briefly mentioned earlier, contains what is probably the most famous “end times” speech of Jesus in the Bible.  It’s often referenced by people when earthquakes or wars or famines happen, to support their belief that the rapture and return of Jesus are imminent.  However, to understand what Jesus meant in this chapter, we MUST understand where he was coming from and the question he was answering!!!  These things are plainly seen in the first 3 verses: 

“Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on his way. His disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all of these things, don’t you? Most certainly I tell you, there will not be left here one stone on another, that will not be thrown down.” As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”  (Mat 24:1-3 WEB (R))  So, Jesus’ entire discourse in Matthew 24 is in reference first of all to the destruction of the temple, which also somehow was connected with the signs of his coming, and of the “end of the age.”  It is the destruction of the temple and the end of the Old Covenant, Jewish “age” that Jesus was talking about in the entirety of Matthew 24.  

This chapter is particularly confusing for a futurist viewpoint, because it contains things that were plainly meant only for people who heard Jesus and lived in his time, but it also mentions things that seem not to have happened yet and are therefore future. For instance, in verses 16-20, Jesus says that those who are in Judea should flee to the nearby mountains, that no one on their housetop (houses in that time and place were built with flat roofs for sitting and storage) should even take the time to gather their belongings, and tells them to pray their fleeing doesn’t happen in winter or while pregnant.  This isn’t meant for 2015 America!  Luke 21 gives Luke’s account of this same speech of Jesus.  He mentions that Jerusalem being surrounded by armies is the sign to Jesus’ listeners to flee.  History apparently records that only those who listened to Jesus and fled Judea survived the destruction of Jerusalem.  Also worth mentioning from Luke 21 is verses 34-35, in which Jesus says: So be careful, or your hearts will be loaded down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day will come on you suddenly. For it will come like a snare on all those who dwell on the surface of all the earth.”  The word “earth” there is the Greek word “ge,” which can and in other places does also mean a specific place or a certain land, rather than the entire globe.  

Other things in Matthew 24 seem to be so incredible that they surely haven’t happened yet, like Jesus appearing in the clouds, the “powers of the heavens being shaken,” etc.  I believe these statements are metaphors for spiritual things.  The “powers of the heavens being shaken” doesn’t even make sense if you try to make it literal.  Maybe that refers to the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus taking dominion over the law of Sin and Death (Romans 8:2), which was so powerful that even the veil in the temple was torn!?  I must also reiterate the importance of Matthew 24:34, in which Jesus says “this generation will not pass away, until all these things are accomplished.”  “This generation” meant the generation Jesus was in and speaking to.  It’s a crucial point.

The End of the Age:

Another difficulty that arises regarding understanding Matthew 24 and similar passages is that we don’t believe the “end of the age” has happened, because we think that means basically the same thing as the end of the world.  However, the word “age” doesn’t mean world, it means a period of time, an era.  The age that was ending, which Jesus said was going to go out with tribulation, wrath, gnashing of teeth, and destruction, was the age of the Levitical priesthood, animal sacrifices, temple worship, and all the other components of the old covenant system of Judaism. This system had to end, as the new covenant began.  I believe this happened in the generation Jesus said it would, and how Jesus said it would, in the years leading up to and culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD.

The apostles also knew they were living at the end of an age, as verses like these show:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:11: “Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come.”
  • Hebrews 9:26: “But now once at the end of the ages, he has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
  • 1 Peter 4:7: “But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer.”

 New Covenant Changes:

In some ways, the nature of the “new covenant” that began with Jesus is probably the most important reason of all to not look for an imminent tribulation or wrath on the earth.  Though the nature of the New Covenant is one of the most important things for a believer to understand, I think very few understand just how radically different is is from the Old Covenant of law and wrath.  I feel I’m just beginning to grasp the significance of this change myself.   As many of you know, the Bible is divided into two sections, called the Old Testament, which describes God’s dealings with His people under the Old Covenant, and the New Testament, which describes God’s dealings with His people under the New Covenant. 

To describe these covenants in a nutshell really can’t do them justice, but for the sake of space I’ll try.  The Old Covenant was made between God and Israel, and it basically was: “follow these laws and ordinances, or face curses and punishment.”  (By the way, punishment is the very essence of the law.  Law never rewards good behavior, it only monitors and punishes bad behavior).  Paul understood and wrote extensively about the transition and difference between the old and new covenants, and understood that the Old Covenant was one of wrath.  In Romans 4:15 he said: “the law worketh (produces) wrath, for where there is no law, neither is there disobedience.” 

The New Covenant, which is described in the Bible as a “better” covenant, isn’t based on the keeping of laws or ordinances, but is based on a promise God made to Abraham, which was fulfilled and settled in and by Jesus Christ.1  The New Covenant basically is: “deny yourself, receive Christ’s life as yours, and walk according to the leading of the spirit.”  Because the New Covenant isn’t based on behavior or performance but on a promise God made and fulfilled Himself, this covenant produces only blessings and life.  Because the New Covenant isn’t associated with law, it carries with it no wrath.2  The new covenant “law” is in one place called “the law of the spirit of life,” which is in Christ Jesus.  It isn’t on us to keep any law – Christ kept it already and we are in him.  

Conclusion:

Once again, I admit I could still be wrong, and there are things I still don’t understand.  However, as one who has believed both ways and genuinely tries to be impartial, a mostly “fulfilled” version of end-times events makes much, much more theological, scriptural, and historical sense than a mostly “futurist” view. I could have given even more reasons I believe what I do, along with many more supporting scriptures, but I’ll leave further study to others in the references below.  There are some things I believe haven’t happened yet, such as prophecies about the fully manifested Kingdom of God on Earth (Revelation 21 and 22, for example) and the sons of God being manifested on earth (Romans 8).  While I think these things arrived in Christ in the form of a seed or potential, I don’t believe the church has yet walked in them as she one day will.

When I explained some of these things to a close friend who has been raised in a “futurist” church and viewpoint, their first question was “so what are we living in now?” In other words, if the “end” isn’t imminent and many of the verses about the end are referring to past events, then what is our current situation and what is coming in the future?  I believe that we’re in what could be called the “Kingdom age,” and what’s coming is the growth and expansion of God’s government and Kingdom (His will and character being conformed to and shown) on earth, until the earth is subdued and Jesus returns.  It may take a long time, and there will continue to be disasters and evil before it is fully manifested, but one day the “darkness” and confusion are going to be removed from the people of God, believers all over the world will walk like Jesus did when he was on earth, and by the power of God the earth will be healed, restored, and brought into subjection to life instead of pain and death!  Be encouraged and be optimistic, because there are good reasons to believe the future of both heaven and earth is glorious, not terrible. 

References:

  1. Hebrews 7:22, 8:6, 2 Corinthians 3:9
  2. I know that’s a radical statement, and it’s taken me time to see it myself.  But it’s true. The losing of our own life and the denying of our selfish nature to follow the nature of Christ can be painful and hard, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s no wrath from God in the New Covenant.  God is satisfied in Christ, He’s not concerned with what the world is up to.  He wants His sons and daughters to begin to walk in their inheritance and bring life and light and dominion to the earth again, as Adam did before he fell, and as Jesus did when he was on earth.  Jesus didn’t condemn or doom the world, and because he was an exact representation of God’s heart, we can know God isn’t doing so either.  The one thing Jesus opposed was religion and those who promoted it.  Religion is the most spiritually dangerous thing there is, because it convinces men it is a bearer of light (truth, revelation from God’s heart), but is actually darkness (a creation of the mind and heart of natural man). Religion is so dangerous because it defiles with good, instead of with bad (both are from the wrong Tree – the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil).  As Jesus said in Luke 11:44: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like hidden graves, and the men who walk over them don’t know it.”  To walk over a grave made you “defiled” according to the law, and  you would have to leave the city and go through a purification ritual.  What Jesus meant is that the scribes and Pharisees, those who perpetuated the religious system among God’s people, made these people defiled without them even realizing it, just like a hidden grave would do to someone who walked over it unaware.  That’s what religion does then, today, and forever – it spiritually “defiles” people with good, so they don’t even realize it.
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Posted by on October 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Chronological Chronicle of an Eschatological Debacle

The_Last_Judgement._Jean_Cousin.

*Note: if you aren’t familiar with the terms rapture, tribulation, etc., that’s ok! I’d encourage you to forget you ever heard the terms and go out and walk with God in spirit and Truth! However, if you have heard those terms and have been taught about or studied the “end times,” you might find the following testimony interesting.

For better or worse, through Facebook I am frequently exposed to a wide variety of spiritual thought and teaching.  One thing I often see posted about is the “end times.”  In America especially, the mainstream Christian view is the “pre-trib” rapture, which is part of a larger view called pre-millennialism.  The pre-trib rapture belief  states that Jesus is going to instantly and invisibly take his church off of the earth shortly before a 7-year time of worldwide persecution and destruction, called the “tribulation,” after which he will return with the Christians to set up his 1,000 year reign on earth.  Understandably so, many people seem borderline-obsessed with watching for signs of the coming rapture and tribulation, often with various government conspiracies tied in.

In this post, I would like to share my personal “Chronological Chronicle of Eschatalogical Debacle.” In other words, my personal evolution of understanding regarding the “end times.”

I grew up in Baptist and evangelical churches. My first distinct memory of hearing about the rapture and return of Jesus was when I was maybe 9 years old. The pastor of our church retired, and an interim pastor came in. An older man, his style of preaching was much more “hellfire and brimstone” than I had been exposed to before, with a confrontational style and a harsh tone that quite frankly scared me. I recall one Sunday he really got on a roll and said that he was confident that Jesus was going to return within 5 years, and all of us better be ready. This meant that if I was lucky, I would barely get to experience my teenage years before the sky cracked open, Jesus descended, and all my pre-teen issues were exposed and judged, after which I HOPEFULLY was allowed to enter heaven to sing worship songs endlessly, or something like that. This old preacher seemed so sure of what he was saying, so holy and fiery and devout, that it was hard for a boy like myself to ignore what he had to say. I dreaded the prospect of Christ’s return and felt bad for doing so. Thankfully, these feelings faded and I went on with my life (and 5 years passed without incident). Since that time, I’ve heard several other “timelines” for Christ’s return, including some with confirming signs and dreams or visions, but all have failed.  

Around age 12 or so, I found my mother’s copies of the incredibly popular “Left Behind” series of books, which tell a fictional but purportedly realistic story of people who were “left behind” after the rapture of Christians, and who had to then live through the tribulation period on earth with the Antichrist rising to power. While I didn’t get through all the books (did anyone else find them increasingly boring and weird?), I read enough to once again scare me and get my imagination going. Book one describes the rapture taking place, with parents and loved ones disappearing in an instant, christian-piloted airplanes falling from the sky and christian-driven cars causing massive, deadly wrecks with only a pile of clothing left behind the wheel. I didn’t know enough to seriously challenge or question such a scenario, and I knew many pastors supported it and some scriptures seemed to as well.  So. I accepted that at any moment, millions of people (hopefully including me) could disappear instantly. Like I’m sure many others did who read these books, I fearfully imagined being “left behind” myself, with no parents or family remaining on earth. Once, around this time, I went to ask my parents a question, but though they had been inside just moments ago, I couldn’t find them. I slowly began to panic that the rapture had happened. I was extremely relieved to learn they had only stepped outside to talk. These things seem silly now, but they have real implications for those who believe it.

Thank God, as I got older and more serious about truth and the faith of Christ, I began to read the Bible for myself, without many pre-formed ideas, with an open mind and heart, which is a dangerous practice for religious indoctrination. As I did, I began to see that the “pre-tribulation” rapture idea was not only lacking in scriptural support, but actually contradicted by multiple scriptures. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 24:29 that he was going to return for his people AFTER the tribulation he had just finished describing, and I saw that Revelation clearly said the saints were on the earth during the so-called tribulation period, when pre-trib rapture folks say we will be in heaven. I saw in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 that the tribulation could not start until AFTER the “man of lawlessness” was revealed, though this directly contradicted the pre-trib theology and narrative of the Left Behind books.  I saw no evidence for an invisible, silent “rapture.”  I did, however, see case after case where believers were persecuted and suffered terribly, and I noticed the Bible placed much, much more emphasis on encouragement in the midst of suffering than it did promises that we would be spared it. I also saw that many of the terms Jesus and the book of Revelation used were obviously spiritual and metaphoric, and I questioned such a literal reading like the Left Behind books portrayed. These and other things pretty much totally erased my belief in the “pre-trib” rapture, but I didn’t pursue the issue too much further and for the most part I was ok to not know or understand just how things would/will play out. (I still respect that view a lot more than dogmatically holding to a view regardless of evidence or scripture).  

My whole Christian/spiritual understanding continued to evolve (and still is), and I continued to read the Bible and various Christian books. I began to see more and more problems not only with the eschatology of American Christianity, but American Christianity in general. Around this time, I got a new job and was actually told to spend a few days just surfing the internet while my exact duties were being finalized and prepared. I began to research conspiracy theories and other things that seemed interesting, and came across all sorts of Christian blogs and websites that tied various conspiracies together with Bible prophecy and the end of the world. Thankfully, I was mature and grounded enough to see that most of these were full of crap, and several lost credibility to me when they wanted money before they would reveal the “secret key” to revelation that they claimed to have discovered.

There was, however, one website/ministry I came across that seemed to teach very solid and deep truth, with a strict devotion to scripture.  To this day, I feel that many of this ministry’s basic teachings, of which there were plenty, were quite solid and beneficial.  However, the main thrust of this ministry was to warn and prepare God’s people for the 7-year “tribulation” period that was imminent, in which Christians will be persecuted and killed, especially in America, before Christ’s return.  This ministry believed it would be a “spearhead” in leading a powerful revival of Biblical Christianity during this tribulation period.  There were thousands of personal testimonies and stories of miracles, fulfilled prophecies, supernatural dreams and visions, and other things, sent in by people all over the world in support of this imminent tribulation and in support of God’s ability to miraculously provide for and protect His people (which He can and does do, according to His will).  Adding to its credibility, this ministry offered all it’s resources, including books, CD’s, DVD’s, and other resources completely free, because Jesus told his disciples “freely you have received; freely give.”  It was all very convincing and exciting to someone a little disillusioned and seeking like myself. 

In this ministry’s weekly online Bible study, current events were examined obsessively as possible signs of the beginning of the tribulation.  While an exact date for the beginning of the tribulation was never given, dates of “interest” were given a few times (which never panned out). I recall someone had a dream in which they were told the tribulation would begin in 2011. After the Deepwater Horizon oil leak happened in 2010, weeks and weeks and weeks were devoted to discussing how this could be the cause of 1/3 of the oceans turning to blood and fish dying as stated in Revelation 8, how it could likely cause a tsunami to hit the gulf coast, resulting in economic collapse and the institution of Marshal Law, FEMA camps, and the beginning of the tribulation. All of this seemed very plausible.  Thankfully, even though I kept up with this ministry closely for 2 or 3 years, I continued to seek God myself and to desire truth more than I desired for this ministry, its leaders, or even myself to be right (this is SO important).  After several failed doomsday predictions, an apparent increase in dysfunction and strangeness within the ministry, and little new or fresh revelation, I moved on. I didn’t one day decide to move on, I just did.

Somewhere around 2012, I came across the teachings of the early Quakers (from the 1600’s) such as George Fox and Isaac Penington. I had briefly read about George Fox years before, and while I wasn’t able to receive the radical things he had to say then, I was much more ready by this time. To this day, I hold the early Quakers in very high regard and agree with much of their understandings and teachings. They argued, extensively from scripture, that the book of Revelation is to be taken spiritually and symbolically, and that the coming of Jesus, the rapture, tribulation, etc. were not future physical events to take place, but spiritual events, to take place spiritually within each believer and among the body of Christ as a whole. I had briefly encountered another ministry which taught similarly, which always interested me but seemed too “esoteric” for me to grasp. A big key to my spiritual maturity has been coming to see that while God certainly has plans for earth and His people on it, He is spirit, and even Jesus Christ has now become a “life-giving spirit,” as Paul wrote.  Therefore, knowing God has to be in spirit and in truth, and mystic experiences and practices are actually essential.  This doesn’t mean that all mysticism is beneficial or “right,” but it means that a spiritual God is related to spiritually, not only mentally or later physically.

I don’t understand everything about the “end times” yet, and I’m ok with that.  However, I do feel I’ve learned a few things.  First of all, I am convinced that there have been two big errors Christians have made when forming their understanding of the “end times.” The first is that they try to make the book of Revelation fit a pre-formed narrative in which they take it literally and read it as entirely in the future. This creates a lot of confusion and in some cases simply doesn’t fit. The second is failing to recognize that much of what Jesus himself said about the end times, such as in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, was meant to be understood by those listening to him in that day, and referred to the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD. While the ministry I talked about acknowledged this a bit, they essentially said that what happened to Jerusalem is going to be repeated again worldwide. Many Christians, myself included, have failed to realize just how big of a deal the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70 was.  

I know that many people take a view like: “we’ll find out one day how things play out, so I’m not going to worry about it.”  While that seems to make sense, it’s really not a good position to take, and in reality, there aren’t multiple views.  There is only either truth or imagination.  That’s the case with everything.  The Bible DOES speak about the Kingdom of God coming to earth, Jesus and the saints ruling and reigning on earth, and a new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem being made.  I am convinced that both “not worrying about it” OR holding to a pre-trib rapture view are spiritually damaging, because they cause one to “wait” for something in the future, rather than seeing that the Kingdom of God has been “at hand” since the time of Jesus.  I believe the earth isn’t waiting to be destroyed, but is waiting for a generation of sons of God to manifest the Kingdom of God on earth like Jesus did.  I don’t know when that generation will be, but there are signs it’s coming soon.  

Thank you for reading, please continue to seek God and learn how to commune with Him in spirit.  I’ve drifted from those practices and am hoping to resume them.  God bless you.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Christ Revealed as Life (Second Coming)

Today, for the first time, I connected these two verses from Colossians 3:

3For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

For most of my life, I’ve thought verse 4 was talking about Jesus’ “second coming” to earth. But it’s not. Look at the preceding verse for context. It’s talking about Jesus being revealed (recognized, apprehended) WITHIN us, AS our life.

This must take place, BECAUSE of the idea Paul wrote immediately before this, in verse 3. We have died. These are spiritual realities and won’t fully make sense to the rational mind. It’s just a spiritual fact. In God’s eyes, Jesus, as the firstborn, was and is the ancestor all of His spiritual children. When Jesus died, we all died with him. This is stated over and over in scripture; ignoring it doesn’t change it, it just keeps us from fully partaking of it.

Jesus is referred to by Paul as the “last Adam” and the “second man.” He succeeded where Adam failed. We were born physically with the self-consumed nature our ancestor Adam inherited. In Christ, we are born-again by the spirit, with the nature of God Himself. As we see this fact (Christ being revealed as our life), we will also bear that nature and be in a position of glory. This is progressive, and I think it is to happen individually, but even more importantly it is to occur in the corporate body of Christ, worldwide. But the foundation has already been laid, the work has already been done by Jesus Christ.  Don’t look for Jesus to come in the sky – look for him to be revealed within you.

http://www.marketstreetfellowship.com/553/knowing-him-in-his-death-pt-1/

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Violence and Suffering

 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.”  -Jesus

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”  -Jesus

“…encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”  (Acts 14:22)

“I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus…”  (Revelation 1:9)

This may be one of the most important blogs I have written, because it exposes one of the most persistent deceptions and hindrances facing those who are truly seeking to know and honor God.  It’s a deception I’ve faced myself.  The deception is basically this: passive faith is all that is needed to access God’s Kingdom and to fulfill His will.  It’s simply not true.  Both Jesus and the first apostles told us multiple times that we must be diligent, strive, suffer and be violent to access the Kingdom of God and to do His will.  But today, for whatever reason, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that we simply need to “believe,” and God will do and give us everything.  Certainly we need to believe, but certainly not is everything “automatic” after that. 

In pursuing God and understanding the new covenant which Jesus brought, it’s helpful to look back to the old testament, because the old testament is full of physical examples that represent spiritual realities for us today.  The following scriptures (and many more) demonstrate this: 

“Now these things happened to them (ancient Israelites) as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”  (1 Corinthians 10:11) 

“Now if He (Jesus) were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law;   who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (spiritual realities which Jesus taught about)…”  (Hebrews 8:4-5)

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself…”  (Hebrews 9:24 ESV)

If the physical “promised land” which in the old testament God promised to the Israelites represents the spiritual Kingdom of God today, it’s helpful to see how God gave the physical land to Israel and how they came to inhabit it.  Between the time God promised the land to Abraham and his descendents and coming to actually inhabit the land under Joshua, Israel faced years of hardship such as enslavement and oppression in Egypt, wilderness wandering, brutal wars with surrounding nations, etc.  And even once Joshua led them into the land, there were enemies there that needed to be conquered and driven out.

Thus we see clearly that in the spirit realm all believers in Jesus are going to have to wander and seek and fight and strive, at least for a season.  The enemies faced by spiritual Israel, the church, are religion, fear, pride, self-preservation, disapproval of family, desire for worldly success, security and pleasure, distractions, boredom and dryness, bitterness and unforgiveness, discouragement, etc.  We fight these enemies with spiritual weapons.  Once the church finally cries out to God and persistently, diligently and violently follows Him, as Jesus did, the promised land will be taken spiritually.  I believe that day is coming.  Seek Him while you can, from a motive of love.  God bless you.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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