"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"

Father God, thank you for the love of the truth you have given me. Please bless me with the wisdom, knowledge and discernment needed to always present the truth in an attitude of grace and love. Use this blog and Northwoods Ministries for your glory. Help us all to read and to study Your Word without preconceived notions, but rather, let scripture interpret scripture in the presence of the Holy Spirit. All praise to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Please note: All my writings and comments appear in bold italics in this colour

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Rapture - Hope or Hype?

Are you a rapture enthusiast? I think most evangelicals believe in a rapture happening; the Bible has several references to such an event. However, they just don’t agree on when it will happen. The classic view is that it will happen at the end of the Great Tribulation period – seven years of horror that God will plague the earth with.

There is, however, a predominant view in the post-modern evangelical church that the rapture will occur just before the Great Tribulation allowing us Christians to escape the hardships of life during that awful period. The reason the predominant view differs from the classic view is thanks mainly to one man – Tim LeHaye. His “Left Behind” series of books and movies has made the idea of a pre-trib general rapture very popular; indeed, that was his stated intention for writing them. In a recent Facebook discussion with an atheist, he asked me how the books and the movie were not basically brain-washing young Christians. I couldn’t answer him.

Is LeHaye right? Where did the idea come from if it wasn’t part of classical Christian belief? Is there any harm to believing in a pre-trib rapture of the entire church? I’m going to address the last question first because many who preach the pre-trib rapture say that there is no harm in teaching it. They say that we should always live for Christ anyway, so what difference does it make whether we believe in a pre-trib rapture or a post-trib rapture, or even a mid-trib rapture? An old pastor of mine believed in a pan-trip rapture – it will all pan out in the end. In those days, the 1980’s, very few pastors would take a stand on when the rapture would occur. Today, thanks in part to LeHaye, many happily go along with the pre-trib rapture hype.

They are correct in as much as we Christians should always be living for Christ, but, far more importantly, we should all be prepared to die for Christ. Are you prepared to die for Christ right now? How many people have you witnessed to this past week? Most of us are not even prepared to risk embarrassment for Christ, let alone willingly suffer and die for Him. If we are not ready to witness for Christ, we are not ready to die for Christ; and we are not ready for the Great Tribulation.

The Great Tribulation will not only be a time of judgment upon the unbeliever, but it will be a time of trials and testing for the believer, according to Daniel 12:10 “many shall be purified, made white, and refined.” This is similar to the Lord’s letter to Sardis in Revelation 3:4,5 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life…” and also, His letter to the Laodiceans, Revelations 3:18, I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich: and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed…”

In all seven of these letters, the Lord promises trials and tribulations. The only ones to escape are the faithful from the Philadelphia Church because they have already endured much testing and have overcome. And there is no doubt who is responsible for this testing as the Lord frequently used phrases like, “I am coming quickly” to indicate the pending trial that He expects us to overcome. I do not believe that there will be any easy entrance into Heaven, and the church should be prepared to suffer through much difficulty and even death.

The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Revelation 6:10,11, And they (the souls of the martyrs)  cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” That was the 5th seal that the Lord opened.

After the 6th seal was opened, John saw, “a great multitude which no-one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes…” Not knowing who they were, one of the elders informed John, “These are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

“A great multitude which no-one could number…” Are we talking tens of thousands, millions, tens of millions? Revelation 5:11, “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands…” Here, John is able to estimate more than 100 million angels, elders and other creatures (although no humans appear to be present!??), yet, in Revelation 7:9, he is unable to give even an estimate because the multitude is so vast. What does that mean? It means the number is at least in the hundreds of millions and quite possibly more than a billion.

Are Revelation 7: 9 & 14 the answer to ch 6: 11? Are these the martyrs whose numbers are now complete. If it is, it will mean the greatest massacre the world has ever seen – quite possibly a billion Christians murdered by the Antichrist and his supporters. Matthew 24:21, “For then there shall be great tribulation, such as has not been seen since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.”

Muslim rape and slaughter in Liberia
When we can’t buy food, or gas, or anything else without taking the mark of the beast, whatever that means, how quickly will we turn from a faith that fails to meet the promise of an abundant life and delivers persecution. Shouldn’t our teachers be preparing us for persecution? Have you ever heard a sermon on being prepared for persecution? Not unless you are planning on being a missionary in a hostile field.

At some point during the Great Tribulation, if we manage to hide for some period of time, there will come a day when we will be starving so badly, or suffering some other way to the point where we just walk in and surrender ourselves to possible torture and certain death. (You figured out by now that this is not a feel-good message.)

Notice, nearly all the passages of scripture above contain references to “white robes,” or “dressed in white.” It is not clear whether the “white robes” referred to frequently in this book, refer specifically to martyrs or to all believers who overcome the trials and tribulations. It could be that the Lord was referring to martyrdom in His letters to Sardis and Laodicea. See also, Daniel 11:34,35; 12:10. Elsewhere, the only reference to white clothing is on God, the transfigured Christ, angels, the 24 elders, and the armies which are in Heaven that accompany Christ on His return. These are almost certainly the martyrs whose numbers were completed.

Nowhere, other than perhaps the two letters mentioned above, does the Bible say that ordinary Christians will be clothed in white. So, if indeed they do refer to martyrdom, then nowhere in scripture are non-martyred believers clothed in white. In fact, nowhere in the Book of Revelation does it indicate that Christians who were not martyred are even in Heaven before Christ returns at the end of the Great Tribulation.

Jesus said, Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life (everlasting), and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13,14. Never, until recently, in the history of the Christian church, has the concept been taught that all we need do is say the sinner’s prayer and then wait for Jesus to come and “beam us up” like Captain Kirk, when things start to get rough. But that is the gist of what is being taught now in many churches. Do you think such people as believe that are prepared to suffer and die for Jesus? It is more likely that they will be so completely disillusioned with the sudden, remarkable persecution in the Great Tribulation that they will decide that the whole thing is a joke, or just not worth the suffering?

Pre-tribbers aren’t concerned about that because they believe that it will involve people who become Christians during the Tribulation. These same people will tell you that the Holy Spirit (He who restrains evil) will be withdrawn from the earth during the Great Tribulation. How hundreds of millions of converts are going to occur without the Holy Spirit is a question I cannot guess at. They say the 144,000 who receive the mark of God on their forehead, and the two witnesses in Jerusalem, will be responsible for the conversions. Yet, there is no reference anywhere of them going into the world and converting souls. It is circular reasoning, for they think that because all the Christians have been taken out of the world, and millions of Christians are persecuted by the antichrist, that, therefore, millions must have come to the Lord (without the Holy Spirit) during the Great Tribulation. Except for a few thousand people in Jerusalem, there is no indication of anyone coming to the Lord during this time.

Is the Holy Spirit He Who restrains evil? There is certainly some support for that. But isn’t it just as likely that Michael, the Archangel, is the restrainer. It was Michael who fought Satan for the body of Moses, Jude 9. Daniel 12:1,2, “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time, and that at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the Book.” This, of course, is arguing against my own point here, but it seems to me that as long as there are Christians on the earth that the Holy Spirit will be there.

The consequences of taking the mark of the beast, of denying Christ, are infinitely worse than the momentary affliction that awaits those who persevere. We must be ready and willing to suffer unto death, even death on the cross. Are you ready? I repeat; if you are not ready to suffer possible embarrassment by witnessing of Christ, you are a long ways from being ready to be a martyr. Prepare yourself, for it appears your teachers will not.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I Will Never Leave Thee nor Forsake Thee - Conditional or Unconditional Promise of God?

I will Never Leave Thee nor Forsake Thee

You often hear Hebrews 13:5 quoted from the pulpit. It is usually used as a blanket statement applicable to all Christians, especially by those who believe in the Calvinist doctrine of “once saved – always saved.” But is it being quoted properly? Is it an unconditional promise to all Christians? Let’s look a little deeper into that statement.

In the previous chapter, the writer of Hebrews mentions the Israelites standing before the mountain when God spoke to them at Mount Sinai (v18-21) and how the people could not bear to hear God speak. He then goes on to say that they are no longer at Mount Sinai but at Mount Zion, at the New Jerusalem (v22). In verse 25 and 26a, he states, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him Who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him Who speaks from Heaven,”…

There would appear to be a contradiction here at first glance, God promises to never leave nor forsake us, but then, threatens us if we don’t listen and obey Him. In fact, there is no disagreement here which we will see if we look a little more closely to the use of the statement in the Old Testament.

The first use is in Genesis 28:15 where God is speaking specifically to Jacob, promising to be with him until he completes what God has given him to do. That has little application to the general use of the term. Similarly, Joshua 1:5 appears to be God’s promise to Joshua to always be with him, as he was with Moses.

However, God, in Deuteronomy 31:6, spoke it to Moses as Moses was giving his final address to the Israelites before he commissioned Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land.

Just before that, God also said, “I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish…” Deuteronomy 30:15-18.

So it is clear that the promise God gave the Israelites that He would never leave nor forsake them was not a blanket, unconditional statement. It was, in fact, in direct relationship to their faith and obedience as manifested in their entering and conquering the Promised Land. Even in this matter, the Lord’s presence was dependent upon the Israelites keeping the covenant which the Lord commanded them; for Achan had taken silver and gold and garments that had been forbidden. Consequently, the Lord did not go with them when they went up against the few men of Ai, and so, the men of Ai routed the Israelite soldiers and killed 36 of them.

When Achan was found out, Joshua took him, his family, his possessions, even his animals, and had them stoned and then burned and then buried under a great pile of rocks.  God is serious about our obedience; don’t ever think that disobedience is a small matter.

So what we have learned so far is that God’s promise to never leave nor forsake you is not unconditional and that it seems to be, at least as far as the Israelites were concerned, for the purpose of conquering the land.

We could also look at the generation that heard God speak from the mountain and asked to be excused so that they wouldn’t have to hear Him. This same people reached Kadesh-Barnea and refused to enter the Promised Land out of fear of the giants and walled cities. Had they forgotten God was with them? After all the miracles in Egypt, at the Red Sea, in the desert, they still did not trust God. They refused to listen to Moses, Joshua, and Caleb. When the Lord condemned them to 40 years in the wilderness, they had a sudden change of heart, but it was too late. They decided to go up against the Amorites and Canaanites in spite of the fact that Moses warned them against it. Numbers 14:42 “Do not go up, lest you be defeated by your enemies, for the Lord is not among you.”

Of course, they did not listen to Moses and went up to fight and were severely routed, again, because God was not with them. These are those, who refused Him Who spoke on earth, and were condemned to fall in the wilderness, indeed, some falling straight into Hell. Numbers 16:1-34 tells the story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and some 250 leaders who rebelled against the God-given authority of Moses and Aaron with the consequence that the earth opened up and they were swallowed alive into the pit. Some versions called it Sheol rather than the pit. Sheol is another name for Hell.

 The writer of Hebrews quotes God as saying in regard to that generation, “So I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter My rest.” Ch3 v11.  What is “My rest?” For the Israelites, it was rest from war after they had conquered the Promised Land. But what does it mean for New Testament Christians? An obedient, faithful, NT Christian has already entered the Promised Land and is in the process of conquering the giants and walled cities. Some might suggest that when we have conquered the internal enemies, that we can rest in Jesus. That’s certainly true to a point, but we are also called to intercede, to stand in the gap for others who are still in the midst of battle. In this life, we should never stop assailing the gates of Hell.

Entering God’s rest can refer to two other possibilities. One is the Millennial Reign, where there is peace on earth and the lion lies down with the lamb. This is a tantalizing period in the future that we understand too little about. Some suggest that only those who are martyred for Christ will be ruling with Him in that thousand years on earth. Others believe all Christians will partake in it. Nevertheless, it could be the “rest” that God refers to.

The other possibility is the rest one gets when they enter Heaven. There is considerable Biblical support for the idea that when we enter Heaven after our body dies, that we rest until either Jesus returns to earth, or until Judgment Day at the end of the Millennium. The judgment on the sons of Korah seems to indicate that the alternative to entering God’s rest is Hell. Consequently, I suspect that God is referring to our rest in Heaven.

Whatever God’s rest is, we should be doing whatever we have to to make sure that we get there. And again, “much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him Who speaks from Heaven,”… Shall we consider God’s statement that He will never leave nor forsake us to be an unconditional promise? I think not. So then, when can we rely on God keeping that promise?

I think it is clear, when we are obeying His commands. Not in a legalistic way because Jesus delivered us from legalism; His law is written in our hearts if we are rightly related to Him. But if we find that we are breaking His laws, then we need to see that as an indication that we are not in a right relationship, and we must fall on our face and seek His. At the very least, seek help from a wise counselor.

Jesus said, in John 14, that if we fail to keep His commands, it is because we don’t love Him. If we don’t love Him, it is either because we don’t know Him well enough, or because we love ourselves too much. If that is you, repent, and spend much more time reading about and praying to Jesus; not only praying to, but listening to Him.

Most of the quotes above either contain, or are prefaced by, comments that the disobedient did not listen. Listening to God is a necessary condition of a person who is rightly related to God. “if your heart turns away so that you do not hear” is a clear indication that if you do not hear the Lord, something is out of order in your heart. It could be pride, or selfishness, busyness, or something else that has replaced God in your heart.

The Holy Spirit should be constantly teaching and guiding the true searcher. How do you know if you are hearing from God? What He says will line up with scripture and with the character of God. Furthermore, when God speaks, it will almost invariably provoke, in the listener a sense of humility if not outright fear.