When Will Christ Return?

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:32-37

We have all become accustom to hearing the predictions of the day that Christ will return. Joseph Smith, the father of the cult religion Mormonism, claimed that all Mormons alive in 1830 would live to see Christ’s return. He was wrong. Harold Camping not once, but twice, predicted the date that Christ would return. First, he claimed Christ would return September 6, 1994 and when that did not happen, he later stated that Christ would return May 21, 2011. Again, he was mistaken. Anyone who claims to know the day or hour that Christ will return is wrong. We simply do not know that information.

The above passage in Mark tells us that no one knows the day or time that Christ will return, only that He will return and we are to be ready. We may not know when He will return, but we can be sure that He will. And as a result we are to be, as Jesus tells us here in Mark, like servants diligently doing the Masters work until He returns. We should be making a concentrated effort to live for eternity even now. We should not be sleep-walking through this life spiritually, we should be awake and alert, actively pursuing a life that means something for Christ.

Paul echos what Jesus says here when he says in Ephesians 5, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). And also in Colossians 3 when he writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2). We don’t know when Christ will return, but we know He is returning and therefore we need to make the most of the time.

We get so caught up with work and school and deadlines and vacations and weekends and future plans that God gets placed on the back-burner. So often we live life and God is not on our mind and His work is not in our plans. And that should not be the case. D.L. Moody once said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.”

And what matters is Christ. What matters is living in light of eternity. Let’s be found diligently doing Christ’s work when He returns or calls us home.

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What is Heaven?

For as long as I’ve been a Christian I’ve always been captivated by the great hymns about heaven, about glory, and the sweet eternal bliss we’ll enjoy forever with God. Many hymns come to mind like On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand, In the Sweet By and By, I’ll Fly Away, and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. All of these provide a wonderful glimpse into what awaits all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. But one hymn stands above the others in my own heart, and its closing words have long given strength to my soul. The hymn is O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus and the final stanza goes like this, “O the deep deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best, tis an ocean vast of blessing, tis a haven full of rest. O the deep deep love of Jesus, tis a heaven of heavens to me, for it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee.”

These lyrics describe our final hope. Not the glory of being in heaven, not the glory of being in fellowship with loved ones gone before, but the glory an eternal and intimate fellowship with God Himself.

Let’s turn to these things now in the Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation we truthfully could summarize the whole scope of redemptive history in four encompassing terms: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. With these four terms in mind we can conclude that the whole Scriptures lean toward the final consummation of all things, the glories of heaven and the terrors of hell. Consider the following:

Heaven: An Eternal Sabbath

Early on in Genesis, at the end of the creation week we see God command Adam and Eve to keep the Sabbath, just as God had labored and rested from His work. This pattern was to be the norm for His people. This command is repeated again in the 4th Commandment, and throughout the entire Old Covenant God’s people were to keep the Sabbath regularly to rest from their labors. When Jesus comes onto the scene He caused quite a stir regarding the Sabbath. In Mark 2:23-28 He and His disciples are walking through a field on the Sabbath and the disciples plucked off the heads of grain to eat. After being questioned about this Jesus responds by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). By saying this, Jesus clearly declares that He is greater than the Sabbath.

Paul then, in Colossians 2:16-17, states the Old Covenant physical Sabbath rest was a mere shadow of the New Covenant spiritual Sabbath rest that is enjoyed in our union with Christ. Now the New Covenant believer rests not just once a week but rests everyday from our works as we trust in the saving work of Jesus on our behalf. We all know this rest is hard. Our remaining corruption within us tempts us to trust in our own works. So even in the New Covenant spiritual Sabbath rest, we struggle. But the day is coming when the struggle will end. This life we now live in union with Christ on earth is a foretaste of the greater life we’ll experience in heaven where we’ll finally and fully be able to rest from our works in the perfect work of Christ. Heaven therefore, is the eternal Sabbath.

Heaven: An Eternal Tabernacle

Come back again with me to the closing chapters of Exodus where see God confirm the covenant with the people of Israel. Here God gives Israel detailed instructions for many things, chief among them are the instructions for the tabernacle. God commanded such specific instructions for the tabernacle because He intended to dwell among His people through the tabernacle. The tabernacle was completed, and the glory of God came down and filled it, signifying God’s presence among His people.

Fast forward to John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The word ‘dwelt’ here is the Greek word ‘eskonosen’ which literally means ‘tabernacled’ or ‘tented.’ So just as God formerly dwelt and made His presence known among His people in the tabernacle, now God dwells and makes His presence known among His people in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the greater and truer tabernacle. And just as a display of God’s glory came after the completion of the first tabernacle, a truer and clearer revelation of glory occurs again in the Person of Christ. “…we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This means, Jesus is the true shekinah glory of God. Or we could say it all another way: God once filled the tabernacle with His glory to speak with Moses face to face. Now God not only reveals His glory but speaks with His Church in a vastly more intimate way, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6, in the face of Jesus Christ.

Because of this, God no longer lives in a temple or tents and He won’t ever return to one. Why? Divine space is no longer confined or located or seen in a place, but a Person. The only temple God now dwells in and will dwell in forevermore is His Son. And by the Holy Spirit Christ is making His Church into a new and glorious and diverse spiritual temple. He will build His Church, this spiritual temple until all the elect have been brought in. And we, as the spiritual temple and people of God, await the day when He will usher us into the heavenly temple, the eternal tabernacle, that will fill the entire earth. Heaven therefore, is the eternal tabernacle.

Heaven: An Eternal Confidence

Many today believe there is no life after death and think our hope of heaven is nothing more than a projection of our mistaken wishes. Yet, though the world may rile against us on this, we have great confidence to hold onto. Jesus gives us such confidence in John 14:1-4 when He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” In v1 Jesus lets them know that He would be leaving them soon, so it’s understandable to see them as being a bit distraught about His departure. Knowing this, He gives them such encouragement in commanding them Do you to not be troubled but to have a sure confidence about their future state. If the hope of heaven were false, Jesus would have told them so. But He encourages them to have a great hope in this by telling them how He is leaving to prepare a place for them. This promise of hope held out to the disciples here is a promise of hope every Christian can hold onto as well.

Heaven: An Eternal Glory

Though we learn greatly of heaven from many places throughout Scripture, in Revelation 21 we find what is perhaps the most extensive and breathtaking description of the life to come in the entire Bible. This is of course the apostle John’s vision of the New Heaven’s and the New Earth. Read it slowly, digest it deeply, enjoy it thoroughly – knowing these things await all those who’ve put their faith in Christ.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and she will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is wthe second death.”

Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth swill bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21)

What is Hell?

I will never forget first time I heard the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell explained to me. I was a sophomore in college, I was converted on a Wednesday evening and the evening after I was invited to attend the Campus Outreach on campus weekly meeting. I went, and loved it. It was the first time I worshiped with other believers, and the first time I had heard preaching as a Christian. When the time came for the campus minister to preach he walked to the lectern and his first words were as follows, “If you truly understand the nature of hell, you’ll become the greatest evangelist in the world.” Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. They’ve permanently left an impression on me, and has by and large shaped my understanding of what it means to be a Christian in a lost and fallen world.

Hell throughout History

In the early Church the doctrine of an eternal hell was embraced and taught. One document, The Shepherd of Hermas account we read, “…the age to come is summer to the righteous, but winter to the sinners. For just as in summer the fruit of each one of the trees appears, and so it is known what kind they are…the heathen and the sinners…will be found to be withered and fruitless in that world, and will be burned as firewood, and will be obvious because their conduct in their life was evil.” So too the early Church father Cyprian states, “The damned will burn forever in hell. Devouring flames will be their eternal portion. Their torments will never decrease or end. Their lamentations will be vain and entreaties ineffective. Their repentance comes too late. They will have to believe in an eternal punishment, as they refused to believe in the eternal life.” Augustine also, in his work City of God says, “The more enjoyment man found in God, the greater was his wickedness in abandoning Him; and he who destroyed in himself a good that might have been eternal, became worthy of eternal evil.”

This belief continued onto the Middle Ages and the Reformation. Thomas Aquinas believed eternal punishment must be infinite in time because wicked finite man cannot endure an infinite punishment in one moment. It was during this period we find the great works depicting the wicked suffering an eternal punishment in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Martin Luther spoke of hell as a fiery oven where the wicked will experience constant judgment and constant pain. Calvin spoke of the punishment inflicted as the fury of God’s might bearing down on those in hell. These thoughts and those similar to them continued to be taught by the Church until the dawn of the nineteenth century and the rise of humanistic modernism in western Europe which came over to America in the twentieth century.

One theologian goes as far to say, “Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment.” Theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, William Clarke, A.T. Robinson, Karl Barth, and others began teaching that such an eternal judgment is intolerable to the mind and heart of man and that Scripture doesn’t teach it or is just wrong about this. After this a minority view called Annihilationism, which has always been present in corners of the Church, came back into some kind of influence through the largely orthodox theologian John Stott, and some more modern writers such as Edward Fudge. Annihilationism teaches that God’s judgment is sure and wrathful but is not eternal or conscious. Rather, in the judgment God annihilates the wicked for their rejection of the gospel and they cease to be. In this sense the judgment is temporally eternal because from that point on the wicked no longer exist.

This brings us to our present moment in history.

Much of our current time reflects the liberal position believing the Bible to be wrong about hell. The recent survey Ligonier ministries completed shows that only 41% of self identified evangelicals believe hell is a real place. More than half of those who participated in this survey that identified as Christians, believe hell isn’t a real place. This is telling and saddening for sure. Rather than going with the tide of our time, we ought to stand in agreement with the Church of history. Not because we love Church history, though we do, we stand with them because we believe the position of an eternal conscious punishment in hell is an entirely biblical one.

Hell throughout Scripture

A prominent place to see these things is Matthew 25:31-46. In this passage we see in v31-40 the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats. On the one hand, the sheep will go into the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (v34). Why? Because the sheep lived a life characterized by gospel grace before God and man (v35-40). On the other hand the goats will go into hell (v41, v46) for not living a life characterized with gospel grace before God and man. Let’s explore the destination of the goats further.

In Matthew 25:41, 46 Jesus speaking of the goats says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous go into eternal life.”

First see here that Jesus speaks of hell as if it’s departing from the presence of God. “Depart from me…into eternal fire…” This is why so many have spoken of hell as separation from God. But is that really case? I don’t believe so. I don’t believe hell is separation from God because God is omnipresent, which means there is nowhere God is not. So yes, even in hell, we see the full presence of God. What then is the separation being spoken of here? There is a true separation being spoken of here in v41, but it is not a full separation. I believe it to be a separation from God’s gracious presence, or a separation from His eternal gospel favor. How does this view impact our definition of hell? It makes it not the place of separation from God, but the place where the wicked, apart from the righteousness of Christ come into the full presence of God, who is a consuming fire in His holiness. So in hell the wicked are consumed forever by the direct presence of God’s infinite holiness. In this sense we must recognize that hell is the place where the wicked will be forever and tremendously intimate with the wrath and fury of God.

Second, we see here that hell is permanent. v41 speaks of fire that is ‘eternal.’ v46 speaks of punishment that is also eternal. This passage shows that the reward or the punishment coming to all men will be eternal. This means hell is not a temporary place, it is forever. Similarly 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says those in Hell will experience “eternal” destruction and Mark 9:48 says hell is a place where, “The worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” The punishment of hell is eternal and forever, and once you’re there you cannot leave.

Third, this passage shows hell is a place of punishment. v46 says the eternal activity going on in hell is ‘punishment.’ Why punishment? Because the goats rejected the gospel, rejected Christ, and rejected His cross. This means the sins of the goats were not atoned for on the cross, and that hell is the place where they will receive the punishment for their sins. A gospel contrast is evident here. Sin is always punished. Sin is either punished on the cross of Christ by Christ, or hell by yourself.

Ending Thought

Let me leave you with this. “The dreadfulness of hell deepens our grateful praise for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Hell is what we deserve. And hell is what He experienced on the cross in our place. Believing the truth about hell…motivates us to persuade people to be reconciled to God. By God’s grace those of us who are trusting Christ have been rescued from this horrible destiny. How can we love people and refuse to speak plainly to them about the realities of eternal damnation and God’s gracious provision of salvation? Clearer visions of hell will give us greater love for both God and people” (Tom Ascol).

The Finale of History

You may be as wishful as you’d like to be, but the matter of final judgment isn’t a matter of opinion. It will come. 

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).

Paul in his famous sermon at the Areopagus in Athens, concludes by saying, “The times of ignorance (v23) God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Paul’s sermon conclusion told us as much when he said God has given us assurance that He will judge the world in righteousness by a man He appointed. What’s the assurance we have and who is the man? The Man is Jesus Christ and the assurance is His resurrection from the dead. 

What will occur at the judgment?

Christ will Judge

Jesus speaks of His judgment as something the Father has given to Him. John 5:26-28, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” For this reason Paul, when giving Timothy the charge to preach the Word in and out of season, speaks of Jesus as the “Judge of the living and the dead” in 2 Timothy 4:1. We shouldn’t also miss the implied meaning in Paul’s statement of the “judgment seat of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:10, that Christ is the One who judges.

All Mankind will be Judged

It will be a rude awakening for those who believe the judgment of God is only a metaphorical or a matter for the present moment, for all mankind will be judged. Hebrews 9:27 says “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” This judgment will be so thorough that we’ll have to give an account for every idle word we’ve ever spoken (Matt. 12:36). Luke 12:2-3 similarly shows us, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” It is a common belief that only the unbelievers will be judged at the final judgment, but Scripture tells us all mankind, believer and unbeliever alike, will be judged. Romans 2:6-10, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”

For the unbeliever, the wrath of God has already been poured out on them in various measures in life because they have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). They have lived foolishly, trusting in their own selves rather than in God and the gospel of His Son. So their end will be the total culmination of the wrath they received in part during their life. For the believer, there is no wrath and fury but instead no condemnation (Rom. 8:1) because they have lived wisely, trusting in God and in the gospel of His Son. So too, their end will be the total culmination of the grace they received in part during their life.

The Saints will Judge

In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul lays out his argument about how to ought to deal kindly and graciously when we wrong one another. In v2-3 he makes an interesting statement when he says, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” Here Paul uses the careful and considerate judgment we ought to use with one another with the judgment we will use in the final judgment. This does mean that believers will have some measure of judgment over the world where careful consideration must be employed. But I think it also speaks of our union with Christ. When He judges the world and all in it we will in part join with Him in that judgment and feel a sense of agreement and approval when it takes place. But its not only the world that we’ll join in judging, it’s angels too. Referring to our judging angels in 2 Peter 2:4 we find that God “…did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…” Jude agrees in v6 where he says angels, “…did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, He (God) has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” Why does God allow these things to take place on angels? Jude 5 gives us the answer when he says God destroys those who do not believe.

All of these things are good and profitable for us to consider because an awareness of what will take place at the final judgment moves us to live lives that are pleasing to God in the present. The final judgment will be the finale of history, we must prepare accordingly.

Your Millennial View Matters

Though controversial and debated, any study of eschatology worth your time must include an examination of the views of the millennium. So to set the stage for a brief overview of these views we must examine the passage dealing with the millennium most explicitly, Revelation 20.

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea” (Revelation 20:1-8).

Throughout the history of the Church there have largely been three positions concerning the millennium. Among the many distinctives these positions hold the chief distinctive (from which these positions derive their name) is when the second coming of Christ will occur. For the Premillennial it will occur before the millennium, for the Postmillennial it will occur after the millennium, and for the Amillennial, well there is no literal millennium, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Premillennialism

The Premillennial position has not always assumed the same form throughout Church history, so there is a need to distinguish between Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism.

Historic Premillennialism believes Christ’s kingdom began after the ascension of Christ with the work of the apostles. They call this first phase the Church age. In this age the Church of Christ will be successful in many ways but will ultimately fail in its mission and succumb to complete apostasy. This fall into apostasy will be a steady decline as history progresses toward the end of the Church age. After this Church age the great tribulation will begin, which marks the beginning of the end times or last days. During this great tribulation believers will suffer greatly from the antichrist and unbelief will reign on the earth. After the tribulation is over Jesus will return to rapture His Church away and reward the righteous. Jesus will then descend to earth with His glorified Church, fight the battle of Armageddon, defeat Satan, and bind him for 1,000 years. This thousand year period is the millennium in which Jesus will set up His kingdom in full measure on the earth from Jerusalem. At the end of this millennium Satan will be freed from his bonds, he will deceive the nations, but he will ultimately and finally be defeated by God’s wrathful judgment. It is this moment of final judgment where God will also judge the wicked and rescue the Church fully and forever.

Dispensational Premillennialism is a different belief system. The term was coined in the mid 19th century by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Finnis Dake, C.I. Scofield, and other various theologians. This system is known for two things. First, a belief that redemptive history is separated into varying dispensations where God deal with His people in different ways. Second, there is a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church as two separate peoples with two separate promises from God. To the dispensationalist, all of the Old Testament prophecies about Israel will be fulfilled in the current Jewish geo-political nation state of Israel. They believe the entire Old Testament sacrificial system will be reinstituted in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.

In the dispensational view, Christ’s kingdom is entirely future and comes after the church age, whereas in the historic view Christ’s kingdom began after the ascension. In lines up with the historic view at this point when it says the Church will be successful in many ways but will ultimately fail in its mission and succumb to complete apostasy as history progresses toward the end of the Church age. At this point most dispensationalists believe the rapture will occur to remove the Church from the world before the tribulation begins so they won’t have to face such turmoil. I say ‘most’ because some believe the rapture not be here but will occur in the middle of the tribulation, while others believe it will occur after the tribulation. All dispensationalists divide the tribulation into two equal periods of three and a half years. The first three and a half year period called the tribulation, is where the antichrist is revealed. The latter three and a half year period called the great tribulation, is where the antichrist will take up power, persecute what’s left of the Church, set up his own kingdom, and sit down to rule and be worshiped in the Jerusalem temple. After this seven year tribulation Jesus will return, destroy the antichrist, bind Satan, and set up his kingdom and will reign on the earth for 1,000 years. After this millennium Satan will be released, he will attack vigorously, but Jesus will call down judgment from heaven and destroy His enemies. Then the final judgment will occur.

This is the most popular millennial view in the Church today, probably due to the mass production and popularity of end times material published throughout the past generation, culminating in the Left Behind novels and movies.

Amillennialism

In contrast to the Premillennial position the Amillennial position believes Christ’s kingdom began with the first coming of Christ. This time we’re now in is synonymous with the end times or last days. This reveals one of important underlying foundational beliefs, namely, that the 1,000 year millennium spoken of in Revelation 20 isn’t a literal thousand years, but the time where Christ is ruling and reigning between His two advents. This is why the label, coined in the early 20th century, begins with ‘a’. For the amil believer there is no millennium, because we’re in the symbolic millennium now and have been for almost 2,000 years already. There is also a large covenantal, as opposed to dispensational, view of redemptive history where there is no distinction or separation between Israel and the Church in regard to the promises made by God to His people. Amillennialism sees the Church as the fulfillment of Israel. This new and true Israel of God is made up of all believers. “It is not an ethnically, politically, geographically defined people any longer. It has no geographic center. It has no single ethnic identity. It is not a political nation state. It has no system of sacrificing animals, no tabernacle, no succession of priests, no divinely authorized feast days, no requirement of circumcision or dietary particulars. All of these Old Testament patterns were temporary. Jesus has fulfilled them and ended them” (John Piper). And it will not ever return to these things any time in the future. Though these beliefs are prominent in the Amillennial view, the view does leave an opening for Jews to return to Christ in the end. There are varying opinions on this within the amil camp but it is agreed upon that if they’re to return to Him they will come to Him by faith alone.

As to how the Amillennial believes redemptive history will play itself out, here’s the structure. Satan was bound during the earthly ministry of Jesus, and where the gospel is preached and embraced Satan’s influence is held at bay. Believers, therefore, have a true impact on this world and even on the culture in which they live. But they will not ultimately transform the culture. Because, like the premil position, Amillennialism believes the Church will succumb to apostasy, grow in evil, and listen to the antichrist in the very end of days. But Christ will return once to end history, raise the dead, judge all men, and usher in His kingdom in full measure in the New Heavens and New Earth, which is a glorified earth. 

Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is very similar to Amillennialism and very different from Premillennialism. Rather than seeing the second coming of Christ as coming before the millennium, the postmil position sees the second coming of Christ after the millennium. In regard to the millennium most postmils believe it to symbolic while a few believe it will be a literal thousand year period. The Postmillennial view believes Christ’s kingdom began with the first coming of Christ and that the time we’re now in is synonymous with the end times or last days. It holds to a covenantal view of redemptive history along with the Amillenial view, and sees the New Testament Church as the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel. You may ask, what then is the difference between the amil and postmil views? There is one large difference that has been the one distinguishing belief of the postmil position that sets it apart from all the others. While both the premil and amil believers think the great commission will ultimately fail and that the Church will fall into apostasy, the postmil believer thinks the great commission will succeed and that the Church, though persecuted at times, will win in the end. So much so, that by the time of Jesus’ second coming the earth will be Christianized.

Conclusion?

So we have Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism. These three views have been and likely will continue to be hotly debated within the Church. I hope you can see that with each position comes not only a view on what the millennium is all about in Revelation 20, but how one ought to approach, interpret, and apply the whole of God’s Word to the whole of God’s people today.

After my own study I have come to embrace the Amillennial position, because I think this view not only has the most evidence throughout Scripture, I think this view is the only one of these views present in Scripture. I do think Premillennialism has an over exaggerated view of the nation of Israel as well as a thorough misunderstanding of how the two Testaments relate to one another. I also admit, I want Postmillennialism to be true! But I don’t see evidence for an ultimate triumph by the Church throughout the world. I see great things for the Church, but I also see great error in the Church as well as the rise of unbelief in our world.

So, for better or for worse I am an Amillennial.

I say this fully convinced but knowing I may be truly wrong about this. Many of the theologians I admire and have learned much from hold to views I don’t. One thing is 100% sure, God did not inspire His Word in order to give us options of belief about Him and His ways in the world. Whatever position you hold, hold it strongly with deep conviction. Panmillennialism, the belief that it will all ‘pan out’ in the end is not an available option.

The Time, Manner, and Purpose of the Second Coming

In Acts 1:9-11 we find the following words, “As when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.’”

In this passage we find the promise of the second coming, or the second advent, of Christ. “This Jesus” as the angels in white robes said, will return Himself in the same visible way He left. How did He leave? With a sense of awe and wonder. He was taken up in a cloud of glory and He will come again in a cloud of glory. This is why Matthew in 24:27 can say of the return of Christ, “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Yet in spite of such a rich and comforting promise Jesus warned that His return would be a controversial matter. In the beginning of His famous Olivet discourse given to us in Matthew 24 we read, “As He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:3-6).

So what will the second coming be like?

Scripture has three definitive things to say about it.

The Time of the Second Coming

Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, not the Son, but the Father only.” Two things only are certain, He is coming back and His coming is always near. This last statement, that His coming is always near, is an implication of 2 Peter 3:8 which says, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Because of this passage’s explanation of time to God, who is Himself outside of time as well as the creator of time, implies that His coming is always near because time as it is to us is not what it is to God. What may be very short to us could possibly be very long to God, and what may be very long to us could possibly be very short to God. The passage also could seemingly be teaching us both of these realities simultaneously. This is why we’re given the command to be ready at all time. Matthew 24:44, “…be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” The time of Christ’s return is, therefore, unknown to all except God the Father.

The Manner of the Second Coming

It will be personal, visible, and physical.

Recall Acts 1:11 that we began this evening with. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” So, the Jesus who left is the Jesus who will return. Acts 3:19-21, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago.” Philippians 3:20, “…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” Colossians 3:4, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” 2 Thessalonians 1:10, “…when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed…” Christians are spoken of us people who “love His appearing” in 2 Timothy 4:8, as those who are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” in Titus 2:13, and as those are “eagerly waiting for Him to appear a second time” in Hebrews 9:28. Christ Himself will return as He left, in His physical glorified body visible for all to see.

It will be sudden.

1 Thessalonians 5:2-6, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Similarly in Mark 13:35-37 Jesus says, “Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

These passages intend to teach us that the return of Christ will be sudden. But though it will be sudden God tells us to stay alert and watchful for His return so that we are not surprised when it occurs. So our lack of watchfulness is directly correlated to our measure of surprise when He comes again. That the return of Christ will be sudden also encourages us to live lives that are holy and pleasing to God in the present while we wait. Again Titus 2:11-13 shows us this. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” So how are we to live while we’re waiting for the blessed hope of Christ’s second advent? v12 gives us the answer. We’re to renounce ungodliness and worldliness while we embrace godliness and holiness.

The Purpose of the Second Coming

The second coming of Christ will be personal, visible, physical, and sudden, but we find the purpose of His second coming in this: it will be triumphant.

There’s something of a historical parallel for us to see here. In the Roman Empire when the Roman armies would come back from a military campaign they would camp outside the city and send word to the senate that they were victorious and waiting to enter the capital. Upon hearing of their return the senate and other leaders of the city would set up a large archway for the soldiers to walk through which marked the beginning of a victory parade. The armies and the senate of Rome would agree upon a time to enter the city once all the preparations had been made and when that time had come for this large conquering host to begin marching into Rome a large trumpet would be blown. This trumpet was the signal for the citizens of Rome to come out and join in and participate in the victorious march themselves. Paul uses this imagery to discuss the return of Christ throughout his letters. That when Christ returns He is returning in triumph, at the trumpet sound, with His Church who joins in His victory because of their union with Christ.

So this moment when He comes, He will not be coming in condescension to save. No, He will come in exaltation as the King of all kings and Lord of all lords, the Judge, and ultimate Victor. He will bring in the full measure of His Kingdom. The dead will rise, the Church will meet Him in the air, and all will go to the judgment. The righteous will go into eternal life in the New Heavens and the New Earth, while all the wicked will go into an eternal punishment in hell.

This second coming is the single global event in which, what is immortal will swallow up what is mortal, all that is wrong in the world and wrong in us will be made right, and the entire history of mankind will come to a close.

What is the Intermediate State?

In 1562 Zacharias Ursinus, born on July 18, 1534, was asked to draft a new catechism for Frederick III. Ursinus, then a professor at the University of Heidelberg, began work immediately and one year later the Heidelberg Catechism was published. It was received so well it was soon translated into Latin, Dutch, French, and English. Since it’s publishing it has become the most loved and devotional catechism of the Reformation as well as the fourth bestselling book in history (after the Bible, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ).

The 57th question of the catechism introduces us to our topic today.

Q: How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?

A: That not only my soul, after this life, shall be immediately taken up to Christ its head, but also that this my body, raised by the power of Christ, shall again be united with my soul, and made like the glorious body of Christ.

Question 57 of the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of the great biblical reality that one day our souls will be reunited with our bodies in the great resurrection. My aim in this post isn’t to discuss what our glorified bodies will be like or even to discuss the great and final resurrection. My aim is to talk about the in between time, when our souls are still separate from our bodies.

This time is called the intermediate state.

In the early Church the doctrine of the intermediate state wasn’t taught or written on because the return of Jesus was believed to be imminent. As the years progressed and a realization settled in that Jesus was tarrying, theologians began to discuss the intermediate state. These early accounts viewed this state as a temporary foretaste of the greater joy or greater terror to come. Among those who held this view were Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novation, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, and Augustine.

As time continued on into the Middle Ages this widely held belief was taken up by the Roman Catholic Church and it is here that we see the birth of purgatory. Which teaches that after physical death the souls of imperfect believers must go to a waiting place (or a limbo) where they will be purified to the point where they can enter into glory. In this sense purgatory is seen as the last step in a believer’s sanctification. How did they come to create such a doctrine? The Roman Catholics do defend and seek to prove the existence of purgatory from other passages, but they mainly go to 2 Maccabees 12. You may recognize that 1st or 2nd Maccabees isn’t in any of our Bibles. That’s because it’s found in what’s called the Apocrypha, or the Pseudepigrapha, as some Protestants call it. These books are historical books that show the details of what took place between the Testaments. The reason they’re not in our Bibles today is because the early Church fathers, Jesus and the apostles, as well as 1st century Jews didn’t believe them to be part of Scripture, so we don’t as well. They are helpful to read to get a historical perspective of what took place during that time, but in no way are these inspired texts of Scripture. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t officially believe the Apocrypha to be Scripture until 1547.

The context of 2 Maccabees 12, is that there has just been a large war where 25,000 Jews had been killed. The reason 25,000 men were killed was for secret idolatry. But afterward a leader named Judas leads the people to pray for these dead men “…that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out.” Then Judas took up an “offering for the dead, and had a special atoning sacrifice made them so that atonement would be made and they would be absolved from their sins.” Now you can see where the Roman Catholic Church gets their doctrine of purgatory as well as the doctrine of indulgences, which function as a kind of special offering for yourself or the dead taken up to shorten time spent in purgatory.

This view of purgatory was held as common belief until it’s rejection during the Protestant Reformation, though some reformers like Philip Melanchthon, believed it to be a matter of secondary importance and not worth arguing over. To this John Calvin said, “Since…purgatory is built on so very many blasphemies and is everyday reinforced by even bigger ones, creating untold scandals, it should never be ignored.” In our present time Roman Catholics and some Universalists still hold that purgatory exists (along with varying opinions of limbo), while the almost all the entire Protestant world rejects this concept due to lack of Scriptural evidence.

So what does the Bible say about the time between our physical death and the time when we’re reunited with our bodies at the resurrection? We could summarize it like this:

Upon death our bodies go into the grave while our souls will go immediately to heaven to be with Christ. In this state we will continue as conscious bodiless souls until the second advent of Christ where He will usher in His Kingdom in full measure, judge the world in righteousness, reunite the soul and body, send the wicked into hell forever, and bring the Church into the New Heavens and the New Earth for all eternity.

I do not believe the intermediate state to be a place of purification where we’re perfected until we’re holy enough to go to enter God’s presence, or even a place of soul sleep where we’re unconsciously waiting for Jesus’ second advent. No. I believe the intermediate state we get in the pages of Scripture is the time our bodiless and conscious souls spend in the direct presence of Christ in heaven, before the Second Coming of Christ.

We see this clearly in Revelation 6:9-11 where John the apostle says, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were killed as they themselves has been.”

Here we see the martyrs. Those who have borne witness boldly and bravely to the truth of the gospel in a place that didn’t welcome such things. For this they lost their lives. Upon their martyrdom their souls immediately go to the throne of God where they cry out for God to judge the world and avenge their blood. Here they will be until the full number of martyrs come in. This place where they are right now is the place where all believers go upon death – heaven, in the direct presence of the Lord. God hears their cries, knows their pain, and comforts them with robes of white until Jesus descends on the earth in a cloud of glory with His heavenly host to right all wrongs and make all sad things untrue.

The hope of heaven is that we will once again be united with our bodies and will reign upon the earth in the New Heavens and New Earth forever all because of Christ.

The Soul’s Immortality

Generally speaking, though there are always thinkers who deny it throughout history, in every nation, people, tribe, and tongue regardless of religious belief and quality of life there has always been a belief in the immortality of the soul.

Plato taught that upon death the physical body dissolves into parts while the soul remains intact and cannot be dissolved into parts because it is spiritual in nature and not physical. C.S. Lewis argues in Mere Christianity, that “…if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” Lewis is saying God gave men certain qualities (talents, aspirations, longings, etc.) that will not reach fruition in this world, and that from recognizing such realities he concludes that God has made another world where these qualities will reach their full potential, a world where we’ll live with Him forever. We could also speak of the lack of justice on the wicked. Our consciences testify that too often the evil grow in their evil deeds and those who suffer too often increase in sorrow in this life (think Psalm 73). That this is so often the case has led many to a belief in an afterlife where the wicked and the righteous receive what they’re due. Generally speaking, these thoughts sum up man’s opinions about why there must be an immortal state after this life and what that life entails.

Now, let’s get a bit more specific and go to the Scripture to see these things.

So let’s ask what appears to be a simple question on the surface. How does the Bible define the term immortality? We could use the term immortality in the sense that Paul uses the word in 1 Timothy 6 where speaking of God he says, “…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion forever. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:15-16). Here Paul makes it clear that it is God who alone has immortality, and because He alone has immortality He is the only Sovereign, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, to whom belongs honor, weight, and glory forever. If anyone one else has existence, that existence comes from the God who has always existed. All others had a beginning, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit never did.

But, since this passage clearly states God alone has immortality, does this imply that no one else will experience or have immortality? That answer from the Bible is clearly no. Adam and Eve could rightly be considered immortal beings before the fall. If they had obeyed God’s command and abstained from eating the fruit they would’ve continued to be immortal. But they chose poorly. So now upon physical death the body does return to dust (Gen. 3:19). But we know, because of the work of Christ, the souls of believers gain a blessed conscious immortality with Christ in glory while the souls of unbelievers gain a horrific conscious immortality apart from Christ in hell.

So yes God alone has immortality in the sense that only He has always been and never had a beginning. But also no, God is not the only One who has or experiences immortality because in another sense we too have immortality. The difference between our immortality and God’s is that ours is a created immortality. Paul makes this clear in his second letter to Timothy when he says Christ Jesus “…abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).

Theologians of old have described the immortality of the soul in these three ways:

Man in the Image of God

Man, as opposed to all the other creatures God made, was made different. Genesis 1:26-27 says God made man in His own image. This does means mankind is higher than the beasts because man has the ability to reason and ponder his own existence. Implied in this as well is the truth that mankind is higher than the beasts because man was made to commune with God, to worship God, to glorify God. How does man find out about the purpose he was made? God has placed eternity in his heart (Ecc. 3:11). Nowhere does the Bible give us any hint that God places eternity in any of the other creatures He made. That man is made in God’s image, and that God is eternal and immortal necessarily implies man, and man alone, will also have an eternal and immortal existence.

The Presence of Sheol and Glory

Throughout the Old Testament we see the wicked go to a place called sheol. In Psalm 49:14-15 the Sons of Korah declare, “Like sheep they (foolish man in his pomp, see v5-13) are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.” Here sheol is explained as a place of judgment not blessing. There is even a contrast to the wicked who are appointed for sheol and the upright who will rule over them. Then in v15 the Psalmist gladly declares that God will rescue him from such judgment. That the place of sheol exists and that it is contrasted with a place of blessing throughout the Scriptures, implies that man has an immortal existence apart from the body after death.

In the New Testament we see a similar reality being taught. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says, “And do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The contrast between Satan who can only kill the body and God who can destroy both soul and body in hell assumes the soul of man continues on after physical death. Likewise in Luke 23:43 Jesus tells one of the thieves next to Him on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” Both Jesus’ and this thief’s body will expire very soon, but that Jesus pronounces the presence in paradise implies their souls lived on. Lastly a passage where no comment is needed, John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet he shall live…”

Confident and Delightful Expectation

The immortality of the soul is also seen in the numerous passages that speak of the confident and delightful expectation of the righteous. Job 19:25-27, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has thus been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” Psalm 16:9-11, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Paul in 2 Cor. 5:1-5 speaks of the same expectation saying, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

Here the tent that is our earthly home is our body and the building from God eternal in the heavens is our entire glorified state. So while is here in this body he is longing to be clothed with the eternal, “…that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” We could also point to Paul’s monumental boast that is the entirety of Romans 8, where he delights in the no condemnation, no separation grace of God that will one day end in future glory where the sons of God will be revealed. These confident and delightful declarations of expectation imply the soul’s continuance after physical death.

Lesson? The activity of the soul is not a mere by-product of brain function that ceases when the brain dies with the body. We cannot after death live on in this life through our children and grandchildren though we love them dearly and will in a sense always remain in their hearts. Even if we make a name for ourselves in this life and leave behind a lasting and famous legacy or influence, we cannot after death live on inspiring many, eventually we all will one day be forgotten. That our souls will continue on for all eternity ought to sober us in this life. Indeed, living in light of eternity brings our present existence much clarity about what really matters.

Our Greatest Problem Is Not What You Think It Is

Mankind has a host of problems to deal with in life.

Some of the major ones we’ve got to deal with are nuclear weapons, war, disease, population increase, cleaner and more sustainable energy, terrorism, injustice, domestic and global economic crisis, climate change, hunger, poverty, and clean water around the world. Some dare to include other problems to this list like tangled ear bud cords, running out of siracha, and posting something on Facebook only to receive a couple of likes. Above these ridiculous first world problems, and above these real global problems we encounter in this life, one problem rises to the top that every man will one day have to face: death.

That statistics will always stand. 10 out of 10 die. Regardless what man in his scientific genius accomplishes in this life the reality of death awaits us all. On this R.C. Sproul says, “Death is the greatest problem human beings encounter. We may try to tuck thoughts of it away in a far corner of our minds, but we cannot completely erase our awareness of our mortality. We know that the specter of death awaits us.”[1]

All the way back in the beginning God told the man Adam and the woman Eve in Genesis 2:16-17, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” They could eat of any tree they so desired as they did life in the garden God had made for them. But they believed the word of the serpent over the Word of God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Upon sinning that first time they spiritually died and became unfit to be in God’s presence, so they were banished from the garden. But spiritual death wasn’t only in view. Up until the point they ate the fruit they were going to be with God for all time, but now that they had fallen, physical death would one day come to them. Paul speaks of this sad moment in Romans 5:12-18 where he says sin came into the world through Adam, and death through sin, which led to death spreading to all men. Thus we read God’s pronouncement upon our first parents in Genesis 3:19, “…for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Therefore, the origin of spiritual and physical death is sin.

 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a funeral. Family and friends gathered to honor this man’s life, memories were shared and tears were shed inside the church and throughout the few days we came together. But for me, the most poignant moment of the whole funeral, the moment filled with sobering reality, was when we gathered around the gravesite for the burial. I knew once the casket went into the ground that this man wasn’t coming back out. The finality of the moment was thick. It seemed impossible to escape. The unbelieving worldview simply thinks of death as the last part of a natural process but standing there watching the casket and hearing the sobs of the loved ones I didn’t feel anything of natural order. It made me feel that death is a cruel master, waiting to carry out its sentence on all of us one day where it will harshly sever the unity of body of soul.

Perhaps this is why Louis Berkhof mentions that “…death is something foreign and hostile to human life: an expression of divine anger, judgment, condemnation, and a curse.”[2] I think we feel such things at moments like this because death wasn’t part of our original state before God. We we’re made to live with Him forever but because we chose to sin by rebelling against God’s command all of us now will (because of God’s judgment on us for our sin) feel the pang of death one day. That is, unless Jesus returns first.

But see the beauty of the grace of God in that while He could’ve put forth an exact judgment as soon as Adam and Eve at the fruit, ending humanity once and for all, He didn’t. In His common grace He restrains the full effects of sin and death, and adding glory upon glory, in His special grace to His people He has conquered sin and death through the work of Christ. So it is true what many preachers have said throughout the ages, “Believers are born twice and die only once while unbelievers are born only once and die twice.” Is this not the outworking of Romans 6:23? “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The wages, or payment, of sin is death. So all those who remain in sin and unbelief will experience death in hell forever. While all those who forsake sin and believe will experience life in heaven forever.

But since the wages of sin is death, and Jesus bore our sin as our substitute, absorbing the wrath of God in our place, since that is true, why do believers still have to physically die? Why can’t God just take us to heaven when we’re saved or sometime before physical death occurs since believers have no more wages for sin to pay? This is a good question, and there are good reasons why God ordains for most of us to go through physical death.[3]

First, for Witness

If we are born again and immediately taken to heaven who would preach the gospel, who would share the gospel, who would gather with the Church? In fact, if God took us away upon conversion there wouldn’t be any Church left on earth, and if there is no Church left on earth, there is no way the great commission would be engaged in, let alone finished. By saving us and leaving us here God gives us the opportunity to be a witness to truth throughout our lives.

Second, for Humility

Nothing humbles the pride of man than an awareness of an impending death. Even if God’s providence brings you death years into the future, the knowledge that death will one day come and bring your life on earth to an end, does much to bring one’s life into focus. That all mankind: rich and poor, young and old, male and female will one day die is a great equalizer.

Third, for Holiness

Death does bring one’s life into focus. The peripheral things get pushed away and the chief things of man come into prominence. And among those chief things that come into prominence, knowing and pleasing God becomes most prominent because He is ultimately the One we must reckon with in the end of all things. Therefore, an awareness of death in the end will lead one to have a greater zeal for holy living in the present.

Fourth, for Heavenly Mindedness

In Colossians 3:1-4 Paul makes this point stating, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

The big idea Paul is getting is that we live this life rightly by considering, inclining our heart to, and wholeheartedly entertaining the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. So to set our minds on things above means using all of our energy to know Christ, continually seeking to mature in Christ, getting out there and pursuing the lost with the message of Christ, reading and meditating on God’s Word to grow in the knowledge of Christ, devoting ourselves to prayer to draw closer to Christ, and giving our lives to the service of the Church following the example of Christ. To flip the popular saying, “The only way to be of any earthly good is to be heavenly minded.”

The Puritan pastors used to teach their congregations to think on death often for the sake of gaining the right perspective in our current lives. In the Puritan prayer book, the Valley of Vision, part of the prayer entitled Sleep reads, “May my frequent lying down make me familiar with death, the bed I approach remind me of the grave, the eyes I now close picture to me their final closing. Keep me always ready, waiting for admittance to thy presence… I retire this night in full assurance of one day awaking with thee.”[4]

For the Puritans, our earthly life is only the title page and table of contents, preparing us to for chapter 1 of the never ending book that is eternity with God.

May the same be true of us as well.

 

 

Citations:

[1] R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s A Theologian, page 295

[2] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 670.

[3] I say ‘most’ because the believers who are alive when Christ returns will not have to endure through physical death.

[4] The Valley of Vision, page 163.

Three More Helpful Points On Eschatology

Last week I began this post by giving you two helpful introductory points on eschatology, today I want to give you three more.

Third, the New Testament is God’s inspired commentary on the Old Testament.

Hence, Jesus can say the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms all speak of Him on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27 and 24:44. Which leads Sam Storms to say, “Old Testament authors prophesied of events that would occur in a distant time and in a new world inaugurated by Jesus. From their original context they might not fully grasp how their words would find fulfillment in a history radically transformed by the coming of Christ.”[1] So, the New Testament shows how Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled at Christ’s first coming, and how they are then ultimately fulfilled at Christ’s second coming. The authoritative guide to understanding and interpreting the Old Testament is the New Testament. Dr. Derek Thomas once told us students at Reformed Theological Seminary that the reason the apostle Paul arrived the conclusions he did throughout his letters wasn’t because he was a theological innovator, but because he knew his Old Testament very well.

Fourth, when it comes to prophecy we should remember that “our ideas about things we have never experienced are largely controlled by things we have experienced.”[1]

This fourth, like the third statement gives us more background on the original intentions of the biblical authors. When the Old Testament authors sought explain a future they hadn’t lived in, they explained it with images and language from the world they did live in. For example Isaiah 2:4 speaks of a time when God’s people will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Did Isaiah mean that one day we will literally hammer out weapons of war into tools for agriculture? Or is it more likely that Isaiah is speaking metaphorically of a time when God will bring such a lasting peace that war will be no more? I think the metaphorical reading is the correct one. But see that Isaiah describes this future with words and images from his own time.

This brings us face to face with a larger issue which many people wrongly interpret when it comes to the biblical language: the meaning of metaphor. On the surface of every metaphor there is an untruth used to teach a truth.[2] If a student says ‘That class was a breeze’ they do not literally mean the class itself was a light wind, they intend to communicate the easy nature of this class. Or if I say neglecting true and sound doctrine is a ‘slippery slope’ I do not mean that you’ll literally slip and fall down a slope. No. I intend to communicate the grave hazard it is to neglect the sound teaching of the Bible. All of this to say two things: first, to approach the Bible using a ‘wooden literalism’ is to interpret the Scripture in a manner God never intended. And second, to approach the Bible understanding the metaphorical nature of prophetic and apocalyptic passages is to interpret the Scripture in the manner God intended. I do think most of the errors interpreting the book of Revelation (and much of the nonsense we see today about prophecy and Israel) misunderstand this very thing.

Fifth, typology and eschatology go hand in hand.

In Romans 5:14 Paul says, “…Adam was a type of the one who was to come.” This word ‘type’ in Greek is tupos which means ‘type’ or ‘pattern’ or ‘example.’ Typology then, is the study and recognition of certain types (people, actions, institutions) in the Old Testament that are complemented and transcended in the New Testament.[3] So in Romans 5:14 we see that Adam is a type of Jesus Christ. Since this is the case, we should learn much of the Person and Work of the second Adam Jesus Christ by looking at the person and work of the first Adam. We can learn much of the Church, or the helpmate of Christ, by looking at Eve, Adam’s helpmate. We can learn much of heaven by looking at the promise land of Canaan. Types of all kinds abound in the Old Testament and they all find their fulfillment in the New Testament. We can not only learn much in this way, but often the New Testament authors will specifically point out that these former Old Testament patterns existed in order to prepare the way for the greater reality to come.

Now, to bring this back to eschatology. Of all the books in the New Testament do you know which one contains the most quotations, references, and allusions of the Old Testament? The book of Revelation. Thus, one cannot properly understand eschatology if we don’t know of typology. Or to say it another way, the more we know our Old Testament, the more glory we’ll see in the New.

These three, coupled with the previous two points about eschatology, will do much to help guide us in our study of eschatology.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), page 25.

[2] Ibid, page 63-64.

[3] Leonhard Goppelt, Typos, page 10.

Two Helpful Beginning Points About Eschatology

The word eschatology comes from the Greek word ‘eschaton.’ Used throughout Scripture in various forms and tenses this word means ‘last things.’ So when coupled with the ending ‘ology’ eschatology means the study of, or the doctrine of the ‘last things.’ Though eschatology deals with many things, the sum and substance of eschatology is this: “Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and promised to physically return on the last day in order to raise the dead, judge the world, and then create a new heaven and new earth.”[1]

Eschatology indeed has much to say about the future, but what is often overlooked is that it also has much to say about the past and the present as well. Because of the grand scope of this branch of theology, it can feel daunting and overwhelming to begin. Here are two introductory remarks about eschatology that will help you get started.[2]

First, Israel’s prophetic hope is found in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ as well as in the Church. This is to say that all of the Old Testament’s prophecies and promises are fulfilled in Jesus and His Church, and once fulfilled we’re not waiting for any future fulfillment to come.

Take for example, Jesus as the fulfillment of the Temple. In John 1:14 the Word did not only become flesh, it says “He became flesh and dwelt among us…” This phrase doesn’t just mean He resided or settled among us, it means far more. In the closing chapters of Exodus we see God confirm and renew the covenant He made with Abraham to the people of Israel, we see God give Israel detailed instructions for the tabernacle, for all the items that would go inside the tabernacle, and for the priestly garments. God says these things were to be made for beauty and for glory. God commanded all these various things and the tabernacle to be made because He intended to dwell among, or to be present with, His people through the tabernacle in their wilderness wanderings. After Israel obeyed and made these things, God’s glory, the shekinah glory of God, came down and filled the tabernacle, bringing a terrible and awesome joyful fear among the people.

Now go back to John 1:14. That phrase ‘dwelt’ is the Greek word ‘eskonosen’ which literally means ‘tabernacled’ or ‘tented’ among us. So just as God formerly dwelt and made His presence known among His people in the tabernacle, now God dwells and makes His presence known in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. And more so, just as the result of God dwelling among His people in the tabernacle was a display of God’s glory, did you notice what the rest of v14 says? There is another and greater display of glory in our current wilderness of this fallen world. “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John is making clear that because God has tabernacled among us in Jesus, God’s glory is now revealed to us and has truly taken up residence among us in the Person of Jesus. Which means, Jesus is the true shekinah glory of God. Or we could say it all another way: God used to come, filling the tabernacle with His glory, to speak with Moses face to face. Now God has come to speak with His people and reveal His glory in a vastly more intimate way, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:6, in the face of Jesus Christ. Therefore, all the Old Testament symbolism of God dwelling with man in the tabernacle and the temple, all that God hinted at in a dim and imperfect fashion is now fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

What does all this mean? We’re no longer looking for a physical temple to be rebuilt in national Israel today that marks the beginning of the end times. God no longer lives in a temple or tent or tabernacle, and He won’t ever return to one. Divine space is no longer confined or located or seen in a place, but a Person. Now, it is entirely possible that modern day Israelites may build a new temple and take up the Old Testament sacrificial system again within it. If that happens, though it may cause all sorts of political and religious turmoil, it will have zero theological significance. To think God would do that to mark the beginning of the end of all things is to make a backward move in redemptive history.[3] The only temple God now dwells in and will dwell in forevermore is His Son. And adding glory to glory, Jesus is now by the Holy Spirit making His Church into a new spiritual temple as we embrace the gospel, treasure it above all things, and spread it to all peoples.

You could also see this first principle in Jesus being the fulfillment of all the priests, all the prophets, all the kings, all the feasts, all the ceremonies, even the Sabbath itself. He is the Person all of the Old Testament points to and finds its fulfillment in.

Second, the biblical authors view the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes as one act in two phases. That is to say, God’s redemptive purposes and His Kingdom truly came with the first advent of Christ, but will finally and fully come with the second advent of Christ. Which means, we now find ourselves in the ‘overlapping of the ages.’

The time commonly referred to as the ‘last days’ begins with the first advent of Christ and ends with the second advent of Christ. We’re not waiting for the end times to come upon us one day in the future, we’re here in them now. Take one example from Genesis 49 when Jacob was blessing his sons.

To his son Judah he says in 49:8-10, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

In this blessing is the promise that all Israel will submit to and bow before Judah’s descendant. Judah is called a lion that holds a scepter, which is an instrument of rule. And this ruling or kingly scepter will remain in the house of Judah until one of Judah’s descendants comes to take it, and once this coming One takes it, the obedience of the peoples will be to him. This promise is fulfilled and confirmed in the Davidic covenant, but it’s ultimately fulfilled in the royal reign of Jesus Christ. Now go back to 49:1 and notice Jacob says all these things will take place ‘in days to come’ or in Hebrew ‘in the last days.’

So what happens to mark the beginning of the last days? Jesus Christ, the long awaited descendant of Judah will come, and take the up the scepter to rule.

Some say this refers to the second advent of Christ when He will come to judge the world and usher in His Kingdom. I disagree and believe this to be speaking of the first advent and not the second. Why do I think this is referring to the first advent? Because Hebrews 1:1-3 confirms that the last days began when God began speaking (revealing Himself) through His Son. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the Heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.”

So, when Jesus was born He brought His Kingdom with Him, He began exercising His rule in part, and the last days began. These last days will end the moment Jesus returns for the second time to judge the world and usher His Kingdom in full. Therefore in this sense we see that there is an ‘already but not yet’ tension in our current time. We have been saved (Eph. 2:8), justified (Rom. 5:1), adopted (1 John 3:1), resurrected (Rom. 6), glorified (Rom. 8:30), and redeemed (Eph. 1:4). And yet we’re awaiting the day when we will be saved (Rom. 5:10), justified (Rom. 2:13), adopted (Rom. 8:23), resurrected (1 Cor. 15), glorified (Phil. 3), and redeemed (Rom. 13:11).[4]

Two introductory points, that do much to guide us well on the road to properly understanding biblical eschatology.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Kim Riddlebarger, Reformation Theology, page 721.

[2] These two statements are from Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, pages 15-42.

[3] Ibid, page 20-21.

[4] Ibid, page 29.

We Are Now and One Day Will Be…Glorified

We began our study on soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, several weeks ago. Today we bring it to its conclusion by looking at the final doctrine in the ordo salutis, glorification. And when covering glorification there is one text we must go to, Romans 8:28-30. Here Paul says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.”

This passage, known to many as the golden chain of salvation, runs the whole gamut of the ordo salutis. The ESV Study Bible mentions this in it’s notes for v30 saying, “The chain that begins with the word ‘foreknew’ in v29 cannot be broken.” John Murray, in his commentary on John, says, “Three actions are mentioned, calling, justification, and glorification. There is an unbreakable bond between these three actions…serving the apostle’s purpose in delineating the divine plan of salvation from its fount in the love of God to its consummation in the glorification of the sons of God.” Although Paul describes our glorification in the past tense (glorified) it is intended to teach us a double meaning: we have already been glorified in Christ and we will be glorified in Christ when our salvation has been completed.

As a young boy and up through my teenage years our family vacationed in Sarasota, FL during the 4th of July weekend. We would eat at the same beachside diner every year, enjoy live music, we’d dance, shoot off our own fireworks, chase tiny crabs by the water with flashlights, and finish the evening by watching the firework show put on by a nearby beach resort. Most of you have seen similar firework displays, where there is all sorts of various booms, sounds, colors, and sizes of fireworks all leading up to the grand finale when they would set off hundreds of fireworks at the same time. This grand finale was always the highlight of the evening for me. The loud blasts, color displays, and sheer volume of lights in the sky were captivating to behold. In the same (but greater!) manner, the doctrine of glorification is the grand finale of our salvation, where all that God has done in our hearts for His glory and our good comes to its completion, He gives us resurrection bodies, and we enjoy Him forever and ever.

Romans 8 shows us this in a few others places. After speaking of our adoption and union with Christ 8:17 says, “…and if children than heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” Romans 8 presents the Christian life as a life of suffering, but in the midst of that suffering we must be reminded of a few things. Namely, that our suffering in this life is a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. This is not just a statement intended for those who die a martyr’s death. No, this is for the whole Church. By sharing in the suffering of Christ, I think Paul means that our Christian lives, which are lived out in this fallen world, will cause us to bump up against and inwardly feel much fallenness and suffering. Paul spoke of always carrying around in his body the death of Christ, and we who believe know what this is like living in a fallen world as fallen and simultaneously redeemed people. Paul’s promise here in v17 is that if we share in His suffering (which all Christians do to varying degrees) we need to remember that we’ll one day share in His glory. Or to put it like Paul does, one day we’ll be glorified with Him. This causes a certain change about a believer’s life. We see it in v18 when Paul continues saying, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

First, see a confirmation of v17 here. That phrase ‘this present time’ is why I interpret v17 to mean suffering as a born again creature in a fallen world. Again, the suffering Paul has in mind is suffering brought to Christians during ‘this present time.’

Second, do you see how Paul’s hope of a future glory changes how he encounters the suffering in the present? He thinks of this current suffering as something not even worth comparing with what’s to come. He says similar things in 2 Corinthians 4 when he speaks of how the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ being held in jars of clay like you and I causes us to not lose heart. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). In both Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 4 Paul uses comparative language. Comparing the sufferings of this present world with the glory that’s to come. And his conclusion in both of these passages is the same: because of the eternal weight of glory that’s awaiting us, these present sufferings are two things: 1) they’re not even worth comparing with that glory, and 2) they’re only light and momentary afflictions.

In the verses that follow (Romans 8:20-27) Paul continues to expand on this saying the whole creation, and we ourselves (who are helped by the Holy Spirit) groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoptions as sons. Then into that context, we hear the stunning promise of the golden chain, “Those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” There are no dropouts!

Let’s go further.

After the stunning promise of a secure and sure glorification is no surprise that Paul rejoices in v31-39 with some of the most well known and celebrated passages in the book of Romans. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Can it get any better? Indeed it cannot. Thus, we long for the day when this glorification, when this completion of God’s salvation in us will bring us to the city we have sought. The city whose maker and builder is God. We long for the day when we’ll be ancient in our youth again, when we’ll run and not grow faint, when we’ll sing and not grow weary!

The truth is this: God has saved us. By grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God alone – and yet though He’s saved us, we are not now what we shall soon be.

Where’s Your Citizenship?

For many of you, this will be an introduction to who I am. Briefly, I’m a wife and mother, and our family is in transition from a life in North America to being missionaries in a small country in South America.

My husband and I are in what’s called “Ministry and Partnership Development” (MPD) or more commonly known as raising support. We are working toward leaving for our first term to Paraguay and to be honest, it has been a frustrating and lonely time, filled with unknowns. It has been challenging for us to explain to current and future supporters why we’re still here, as well as trying to articulate what we’re “doing” as we work through various delays and  wait for the green light to go to Paraguay.

The latest delay for us has come as a complete surprise to me. You see, I’m a Canadian and I’ve been living in the United States with a green card for quite some time. Twenty one years to be exact. I have been content with living here under that status, and have never felt the need or urge to become an American. While I enjoy living here in the US, I am staunchly and vigorously a proud and patriotic Canadian. I mean, what’s not to love about Canada?

But late last year, it was brought to our attention that my status here might be problematic to us living overseas for an extended period of time. Without going into all the details, we have come to the decision that I should become an American citizen. And since green card holders have been in the news lately, due to our current administration, I’ve been thinking a lot about citizenship vs. being just a green card holder.

In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul shares with his readers a list of accomplishments and reasons why he might be able to boast about who he is. But then he reveals that he counts it all as rubbish and as loss, compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. A little later in the chapter he mentions our true citizenship is in heaven. In Ephesians he talks about unbelievers being aliens and strangers but when they become believers, they are now “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

Potentially losing citizenship of my home country and becoming a citizen of another country has made me think more about my heavenly citizenship. You see, as a green card holder, I enjoy all the rights and freedoms that a citizen has, such as freedom of speech, religion, assembly, etc. But I cannot participate in the responsibilities that a citizen has such as vote or serve on a jury. My green card limits me. Yet I’m reluctant to give up my citizenship, because I love my country and my heritage. I don’t want to give it up. It means a very great deal to me.

Here’s what I’m getting at: there are many in America and Canada who attend church regularly, and think they are “citizens.” They enjoy the weekly meetings, fellowship with other believers, hearing preaching from the Word, and joining in singing with the congregation. But in reality, they are only “green card holders.” They have never repented of their sin, and looked to the One who can give them true citizenship. And frankly, they don’t want to give up their earthly citizenship. It means a very great deal to them.

So, where does that leave me and where does this leave you? How should Jesus inform our minds and hearts to the earthly situation of citizenship? How does the Gospel speak to this scenario?

Well, Jesus Himself was once a full “citizen” as it were, of Heaven. He enjoyed a perfect home and culture within the Trinity, and they lacked nothing. But here on earth we were a mess, and in desperate need of a Saviour. So Jesus left His perfect home and came to earth as a baby, becoming a citizen of earth, having earthly parents and learning a culture and language. In time He grew, and through His perfect obedience to His Heavenly Father, sacrificed Himself on the cross for the sins of mankind, “bringing many sons to glory.”

So, look “…to Jesus, the Founder and Perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Christ’s perfect obedience informs me that I too can give up my earthly citizenship. In order to be free to serve in Paraguay, its better for me to give up citizenship of one country (although in my heart I will ALWAYS be Canadian) and become a citizen of another. And I can also say that for the joy set before me of seeing many come to a saving knowledge of what Christ’s perfect obedience has accomplished for us, not only in the USA but of course also in Paraguay.

I want to be able to say with Paul that “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” I want any gains I may have been given in life to count as nothing for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I want to joyfully sacrifice my citizenship of one country for another. And even though it feels like a trial as we are delayed from heading to the mission field, I want to also count that as joy. “Count the cost, count it well. Then pay it with joy. Because Jesus is worth it.” (Joe Cannon)

Join me in such an endeavor.

 

When Are the Last Days?

2 Timothy 3:1 says, “But know this, in the last days, you will have hard times.”

The question concerning me for this verse is, “Okay Paul, I get you; but when are the last days?” Have you ever wondered that? After studying through this, I have come to the conclusion that we are in the last days now, presently. This means that I do not agree with the “Left Behind” view that we are waiting for a rapture to come and usher in the last days of the world. Why do I think this? Three big and clear reasons:

a) Genesis 49:1-10. Israel (Jacob) says in 49:1 that he is going to tell his sons what will take place in the “last days”. What does he tell them? In 49:8-10 he has some interesting things to say about Judah. He says that Judah will be praised by his brothers and have ultimate victory over his enemies. Then in 49:10 Jacob says, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet. Until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Follow me here: a scepter is a ruling instrument that a king would hold in his hand. Jacob is saying that Judah will always have this scepter, so Judah will always reign as king. The ruler’s staff is another term for scepter and Jacob says it will never depart from between Judah’s feet. ”Feet” in the OT sometimes refers to the penis, the male reproductive organ. So this means that the “seed” of Judah, or the offspring of Judah, which comes from his penis, will always reign with the scepter. Then the strange part comes “…until Shiloh comes…” Who is Shiloh? The NIV does a great job here and leaves the Hebrew exactly as it is found, “until it (the scepter) comes to whom it belongs.” This means that in the last days (49:1) the ruling scepter of Judah shall come to whom it belongs. Who has come from Judah to rule? JESUS! Jesus is the One “to whom the obedience of the people shall be.” This will happen in the last days Jacob says, so therefore, we are now in the last days, because Jesus has come and He holds all authority (Matt 28:18-20), He holds the scepter.

b) Hebrews 1:1-2. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us through His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also, He made the world.” Do you see it? God did speak to the fathers, the OT Israel, in many ways, but now, in these last days, speaks to us through His Son. God speaks to us through Jesus now, therefore we are in the last days.

c) Hebrews 9:26. “Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the end of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Who was sacrificed for sin? Jesus. When did this happen? On the cross. Notice how the author of Hebrews says this happened at the end of the ages? Therefore, we are in the last days now.

Why does this matter? Because we are in the last days now, we should expect things to be hard, difficult, violent, and dangerous for believers. These things should be a normal part of our everyday lives. Jesus promised we would have it trouble in John 16:33. If I am not feeling the tension and danger in my life because I’m a believer, I have to ask one question: Do I fit in too well with this present world? The world loves it own, and if it loves me, than I am not being a witness for Christ! If I am a witness for Christ, the world would hate me, as it hated Jesus. Have I not lived by the gospel clear enough to show the world what I am?

Listen to Jim Elliot:

The world cannot hate you”, so Jesus said to those who were of the world spirit. O’ that it could! The Lord is not enough ‘with me’ that the world can recognize and hate me for what I am – “not of the world.” The world loves its own, and for me it shelters not hatred. Lord, have I wandered so far?”

We Can’t All Be Panmillennial

Matt Smethurst:

One day, heaven’s risen and reigning King will return—suddenly, physically, triumphantly—to the earth he made. He will extend justice to his enemies and mercy to his ex-enemies. All things will be made new. So Christians have always hoped and believed.

But here the consensus screeches to a halt. Exact details become strikingly debatable (and publishable). Will Jesus secretly snatch away his church seven years prior to his climactic return? Will his return launch a 1,000-year earthly reign before the final judgment and eternal state? Or is the so-called millennium happening now via his heavenly reign? And if so, should we expect the world to become largely “Christianized” before he comes, or not?

In his new book, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Christian Focus, 2013), former premillennialist Sam Storms makes a substantial case for amillennialism—the belief that, among other things, the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 symbolize the reign of Christ and his people throughout the present church age. Regardless of your position, Storms has produced a careful and comprehensive volume that deserves serious consideration.

I corresponded with Storms, lead pastor for preaching and vision of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, about panmillennialism, whether eschatology should be a test of fellowship, weaknesses in his own position, and more.

***************

Why is our eschatology important? Can’t we just be “panmillennialists”—you know, those who believe everything will pan out in the end?

I’m tempted to say, yes, we can just be “panmillennialists” on the assumption we all affirm the reality of the personal and physical return of Jesus Christ to consummate his kingdom on earth. Far too much time and energy are spent hashing out minute and ultimately unimportant details regarding events surrounding the second coming of Christ, when our hearts should be united in the expectation of his return.

However, eschatology is about more than the end of history and the appearance of Jesus. It’s also about fundamental principles of interpreting Scripture, the nature and aim of our Lord’s first coming, the kingdom of God now and not yet, as well as the identity of God’s covenant people and how we should be living (and what we should be expecting) as we await our Lord’s return. Failing to grasp what Scripture says on this and other related topics has led many in church history into either fanaticism or fatalism. They become either aggressive activists who frighten Christians with end-time scenarios that have no basis in the biblical text or passive naysayers who miss out on the life-changing and sanctifying influence of genuine hope.

I should also mention that eschatology is so deeply and inextricably interwoven into all of Scripture that it’s virtually impossible to trace the storyline of God’s redemptive purposes without understanding something of its meaning and direction. Eschatology enables us to see the unified purpose of God in summing up all things in Christ. There’s something profoundly edifying and spiritually exhilarating in tracing God’s work from Genesis to Revelation and seeing how the various pieces, people, events, and books of the Bible tie together. And that’s a tall order in the absence of a basic understanding of eschatology.

How should local churches handle this issue? Should they require agreement for membership? For eldership?

I believe the only requirement for church membership related to eschatology is confessing the personal and physical return of Christ to consummate history. I emphasize the words “personal” and “physical” to indicate my conviction that hyper-preterists are outside the bounds of evangelical orthodoxy. They certainly wouldn’t be granted membership at Bridgeway Church, where I serve. As for elders, I’d again call for a consensus only on the issue of the parousia. On our board we have differing views on the nature and timing of the rapture, as well as on the millennium, and we function quite well. To make any particular eschatological view a requirement either for membership or leadership would elevate what I regard as a secondary issue to the status of primary and foundational.

How should a church teach if there are diverse millennial views among its leaders?

When I preached through Mark’s Gospel I made it clear my views on the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13) were my own and didn’t necessarily represent the other elders or pastoral staff. When I’ve taught our membership classes I communicate that you don’t have to agree with me to be a contributing member of this local church. My elders and pastors know they can disagree with me and not be in trouble. I might add that when I taught Mark 13 I made every effort to accurately represent the alternative views and not “demonize” those who might differ from me.

What are the most significant weaknesses of the premillennial view and why?

That question calls for an entire book! Briefly, once I began to look into this issue more closely I was increasingly unable to reconcile what the New Testament said about what happens when Jesus returns with the idea of a post-parousia, earthly millennial reign in which physical death continues to occur and where people are still come to saving faith in Christ and in which the natural creation remains subject to the curse, among other things. As I read about Christ’s return, it became ever more clear to me that this event marks the end of physical death as well as the bodily resurrection and final judgment of all humanity (both elect and non-elect), together with the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth.

Added to this was the clarity I gained on the structure of Revelation as a whole, together with what I now believe is a superior way of interpreting chapter 20, especially verses 1-6. Of course, much of my book is devoted to unpacking these very themes.

What do you think are the weakest points in the amillennial position, and how do you answer them in Kingdom Come?

Contrary to what many think, I don’t believe a purported “failure to consistently interpret the Bible literally” is a shortcoming of amillennialism. Some contend certain OT texts that appear to describe an intermediate kingdom on earth—greater than what we now know but short of the absolute perfection in the new heavens and new earth—undermine amillennialism. But I try to demonstrate in Kingdom Come that this isn’t the case. I suppose the “weakest points” of amillennialism, to use your term, would be the supposed “strongest points” of premillennialism. The latter would probably be the use of anastasis, translated “resurrection” in Revelation 20:5-6, as well as the meaning of Satan’s “binding” in 20:1-3. However, I’m not convinced by the premillennial view on these matters, and I try to provide a more cogent explanation consistent with amillennialism. The reader will have to be the final judge on whether I accomplish my goal!

Are there any inherent practical implications of amillennialism that differ from other millennial stances?

I’d hope anyone of any millennial persuasion who has his or her hope fixed on Christ’s coming might experience the sin-killing and sanctifying influence such an expectation is designed to produce. That being said, a couple areas deserve mention.

For example, there are probably some practical differences between postmillennialists on the one hand and all other millennial views on the other. If one believes Jesus will return to a largely “Christianized” world, and that in conjunction with this global soteriological triumph of the gospel there will be a parallel transformation of society and its many cultural expressions to reflect, in the main, biblical principles, then certain lifestyle decisions and political agendas might be pursued that Christians of other millennial persuasions would find unacceptable or at least unwise.

I think also of those within the postmillennial camp who believe the persecution of Christians and their consequent suffering will progressively diminish as we approach Christ’s coming. Believing suffering is here to stay—and likely to intensify as time passes—will have significant practical implications for how we live and pray and eventually respond to what our Christian witness entails.

Moreover, if one believes international political convictions and United States foreign policy decisions carry “practical implications” for how the church fulfills its mission today, the differences between dispensational premillennialists—with their views on the rights, status, and future of national Israel—might set them apart from amillennialists and even from many (if not most) historical premillennialists.

But I hope and pray all Christians, regardless of their millennial convictions, might unite in our common witness to the blessed hope of our Lord’s soon return.

Editor’s Note: See also Storms’s TGC article, “Why I Changed My Mind About the Millennium.”

Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.