This particular blog is really a commercial in the ongoing series about "End Times". Hence it's Part 2.5, not Part 3. I'm well aware that discussions about Eschatology (the study of "End Times") tend to make some people in the Church very uncomfortable. It has been known to be divisive, which it simply shouldn't be. It's not a foundational doctrine. We're dealing here with prophecy, which involves "seven-headed beasts" for crying out loud. This can be strange writing indeed and shouldn't be made the foundational teaching of any church. If you read this series, apply the tools I'm sharing for interpreting Scriptures, and come away with a different understanding of prophecy than what I believe, that's totally fine. If you believe the Great Tribulation to be in our future, while I believe it to be in the past, that shouldn't keep us from worshipping and serving the risen Christ together.
So, because this can be divisive, some won't touch it with a ten-foot pole. I've been told that I should leave this stuff alone (I have to wonder if people would still tell me that if my view agreed with theirs.). Here's the deal. I'm willing to bet that each of you reading this hold to some views about the End Times, even if you're not exactly sure where you got them. Are you waiting for the Rapture? Are the current events in the news signs of the coming tribulation? Are you keeping an eye on political figures in case they might be the Antichrist (Well...we might currently find agreement on that one. Lol.)? Will Jesus have the Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem so He can preside as High Priest over the sacrifices?
Those are common beliefs about the End Times. If you do believe those things, great, but I challenge you to ask yourself "why?". Why do you believe those things? Where did you get that information? I believe it's not only important what we believe, but why we believe it. We all wonder why people in cults don't do their homework. If they would just dig a little, they'd discover the truth, right? Similarly, (though I'm not at all making a comparison between differing end times beliefs and cults), we need to dig a little and do our homework in order to know why we believe what we believe. Don't simply accept something because the pastor says so, it looks good on paper, or because it just "feels right". I encourage you to do your homework.
For example, reading the Left Behind series, as entertaining as it may be, isn't the same as reading through Matthew 24, deciphering the context (see Part 2), understanding the parts of speech and time references, and making linguistic comparisons to the prophecies made in the Old Testament. Having worked through those things, we can know why we believe something. We can point to it, explain the context of the passage, and give sound Biblical reasons for believing what we believe. If you still come out believing in a future tribulation and Rapture, that's totally cool with me. You'll be stronger in your faith knowing you came to that belief through proper study rather than by Kirk Cameron's unforgettable and convincing performance in Left Behind.
By going through a series like this, we can learn skills that will help us better understand all Scripture. You can grow by tackling prophetic passages in Scripture. Ignoring them altogether in the name of "well, this stuff can be divisive" may not prove to be wise. Somebody will be willing to tackle these for you and expect you to simply "take their word for it". I don't believe that's how I'm supposed to teach. My job is to equip the saints (Eph. 4:12), which I believe includes equipping them to read and interpret the Scriptures for themselves. That's what this series is about.
This is the second part of a series of blogs I'm writing about the "end times". You know the kind of stuff. Tribulation. Rapture. Antichrist. New Heaven and Earth. Have you sorted all this stuff out? Did you read the Left Behind series? Have you been told we're living in the "last days"? Did you read "88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988"? Did you read its sequel, "89 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1989"? No, really. Did you? Have you listened to preachers tell you that Barack Obama is the Antichrist? Did you know the Antichrist used to be Ronald Reagan? Note the number of letters in his name! Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6)=666. Lol. No, really. LOL!
End Times prophecy teachers have made quite a name for themselves over the last 40 years or so. Lots of books. Lots of predictions. Lots of current events "proving" their theories. Lots wrong. Wrong enough to cause many people to question Christianity and some to walk away from the faith. There are now websites for "ex-Christians" where many of them share a similar tale of buying into the latest prophecy pundit and finding themselves un-raptured and disillusioned. End Times teachings have sadly been the cause of much hurt in the Church.
So, with references coming up in my series through the Gospel of Luke, I'm currently getting my head around some of this stuff again. Not to frighten you about the coming Apocalypse or to share with you the current Antichrist. I'm here simply to share the tools that have helped me make better sense of not only prophecy, but the Bible in general. As I said in the last blog, I don't pretend to have all the answers. There are still many points that puzzle me. But I want you to know this: The Bible isn't a Book for mystics. This is a Book meant for you to read and understand. Even a Book like Revelation. Ooh, now that is a bit tricky in spots, but realize that Revelation was not meant to be an incomprehensible riddle for its original audience. For example, John meant for his audience to understand not only what "the Beast" referred to, but who. "Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666." Rev. 13:18. BTW-I doubt anyone in John's day read his letter, and with wisdom, deciphered the name "Ronald Wilson Reagan" as "the Beast". That would indeed be puzzling!
So, where to begin? Well, let's take on Matthew 24 shall we? Not all today, but piece by piece, let's see if we can make sense of a prophecy that has been interpreted by some to be past, while others say it's continually being fulfilled, and others yet who say it is all still in the future. Let's start with the context of Matthew 24. What was going on? Who was there? Who was speaking and who were they speaking to? What was the subject of the discussion? Where did this happen? When did this happen?
When the Biblical authors wrote, they didn't include chapters and verses. Those were added in much later in order to make it easier to find and reference things. But they just wrote really long letters. Matthew 24 isn't its own piece of literature. It's part of a much longer discourse shared by Jesus. Open your Bible to Matthew and notice that from the beginning of Ch.23 until the end of Ch.25, we pretty much have nothing but red letters. All Jesus stuff. All one long speech.
So, let's back up to Ch. 23. That's how we'll get the context of Ch. 24. This is Jesus going off on the Pharisees. He had a few issues with them and really let them have it. "Woe to you!". Now, notice the number of times Jesus says "you" in this short passage. In hopes to gain clarity about the context of this conversation, we need to ask "who was Jesus speaking to?" The answer may seem obvious, but it's important. In the end of His list of woes, He said this, "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation."
Quick quiz: Who did Jesus say was going be condemned for their treatment of the prophets? Answer: The Pharisees and teachers of the Law. That's why He kept saying "you" when He gave this speech. When Jesus said "you", these guys knew that He meant them. None of them cried out how unfair it was of Jesus to condemn the 21st century inhabitants of Israel for crimes they didn't commit. None of them pictured Jerry Seinfeld or Benjamin Netanyahu being burned in the fiery flames of judgment 2000 years later. They certainly didn't try to get Jesus killed for His condemnation of someone else did they? He was condemning the people He was speaking to. They knew that when someone spoke to them and said "you", it meant the person he was speaking to, not someone else. If I were to say to my wife, "Could you please get me a glass of milk?", she would know I was speaking to her, not someone in another place or another time. Make sense? We always have to remember that the Bible records interactions between real people about real situations. In Matthew 23, this involves Jesus and the generation of people living in Judea in the AD30s. No one else is in this picture. No one.
He followed that up with His famous "lament over Jerusalem", which refers to the rejection of Jesus by that particular generation and the end result of that rejection. Jesus said, "Look, your house is left to you desolate." Which house? Well, the house He was currently standing in when He said it. The house of the Lord. The Temple in Jerusalem. See? Nothing mystical in His statement. Nothing metaphorical at this point either. The "house" of the Jews was going to be left desolate. When? Good question. You're thinking just like the disciples. That was their next question for Jesus. He walked out of the Temple and said, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
"Crud! Seriously? The Temple's going down? Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
Quick quiz: What's the subject Jesus is talking about? Answer: The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Okay, so it makes sense that the disciples' question would be about that subject, right? Remember, Jesus had just told the teachers of the Law to expect to be condemned and to watch their "house" be destroyed. That's the context.
If you don't have a Strong's Concordance, I recommend you use one online. That will allow you to see the Greek word translated as well as its definition. You'll see in this case that the last word in the disciples' question is "aeon", which is defined as "age". Unfortunately, the KJV translated "aeon" as "world" all those years ago and people have been thrown off by it ever since. Jesus wasn't speaking about the end of the world. Just the end of their world. The Jewish world. The Jewish Age, to be precise. That's what the Greek word "aeon" used in the disciples' question means. Age. The Mosaic, 613 law-abiding, animal sacrificing, priestly garb-wearing, and dwelling in the promised land Age. It was coming to a close and the destruction of the Temple would mark it. The end of the Temple meant the end of the Mosaic Age and it would come about by Jesus "coming". A coming in judgment, which we'll get to next time.
Remember to ask context questions when you're reading Scripture, especially tricky stuff like prophecy. Who, what, where, when, why, and how? Answering questions about the context will help us unravel much of the mysteries in these texts and keep us from saying unkind things about Ronald Wilson Reagan, who turned out to be a fine President, but a rather weak Antichrist.
Ignorance is bliss. Ahh...I remember bliss. In particular, the bliss of knowing very little about "end times" prophecy. Some of you may still enjoy this bliss. God bless you. It's lost forever to me and my intentions are to bring you down with me to the land of knowledge and a decided lack of bliss. So sorry, but as a teacher I claim, "I'm just doing my job".
A few short years ago, though I had read a few books on Eschatology (the study of "end times"), I still had very little understanding of the subject. Then, I preached through the Book of Second Thessalonians. Why, oh why did I do that? The bliss of ignorance was soon lost as I spent 5 months preparing for a 3 month sermon series though a Book with only 3 chapters. I found that reading Second Thessalonians alone wasn't going to cut it. I needed to read Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 to try to understand what Jesus had to say about the "end times". Obviously, that also took me through Revelation a number of times. Studying Revelation meant I also needed to study Daniel (particularly Chapters 9-12), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Malachi, and so on. Then, I read books about those books. Books about literal blood moons as well as books about metaphorical blood moons. Books that said all prophecy was yet in the future. Books that said it was all in the past. Other books that criticized those that said it was all in the past, but believed strongly that it was mostly in the past. Books that criticized those that said it was all in the future, but believed strongly that it was partly in the future. Commentators that couldn't agree with each other and many that couldn't agree with themselves. Trust me, ignorance is bliss.
Still, prophecy makes up about 1/3 of our Scriptures, so ignorance of them means ignorance to about 1/3 of what God has spoken to us through His Word. I don't believe ignorance is an option you can maintain with integrity. So, say goodbye to bliss (if you haven't already) and hello to the world I now live in. The world where I must confess that I don't have all the answers. But neither do you. That's the difficulty. I have areas that I think I've sorted out, but there are areas of prophecy of which I can't yet make sense. I think if you're honest, you'll admit to being in the same boat. That doesn't mean we simply throw up our hands and quit trying to understand the Word. We just approach with a bit more humility.
This is the first in a series of blogs I'd like to do to address the issues that come up in studying the "end times". As I'm preaching through the Book of Luke, this stuff just keeps coming up, so I can't dismiss it if I want to be true to what Jesus taught. Though I do have my own views and interest in the topic, I'm not presenting this simply as a "hobby horse". It will come up quite often as I continue preaching through Luke, so I thought I might throw out a few insights here that may help you better understand where I'm coming from as I preach.
One of my discoveries, after subscribing to a number of eschatological systems, is that no system is perfect. They each have their weaknesses. They each have those spots they hope you won't bring up. Systems such as Dispensationalism, Preterism, Postmillennialism, Amillennialsm, etc. do their best to uncover the mysteries laid out in prophecy. All the mysteries. That's where the system usually fails. They try to make every prophecy fit into their system, even to the point of sounding ridiculous. In my opinion, the Dispensationalist that tries to tell me that "soon" means "not soon" and "this generation" really means "that generation" loses my respect. Similarly, the Preterist that tries to tell me that "a thousand years" really meant just "forty years or so" also sounds ridiculous. But they have to hold to such things in order to maintain their membership in the club they joined. Acknowledging anything outside their particular system to be correct threatens the legitimacy of their own system. I understand. Completely.
So, where do I now fit? Which club did I join? Which flawed system have I embraced? I suppose you could throw me into the "Partial-Preterist" club, which, by definition, also makes me a "Partial-Futurist". Lol. Though I no longer subscribe to the Dispensational system (which is what the Left Behind Series is based on. A rapture of believers, followed by a world-wide tribulation,the rise of the Antichrist, then the return of Jesus to rule over the world from a new Temple in Jerusalem for 1000 years.), I did keep my membership card, which gets me into Kirk Cameron movies for half price.
My journey began as I started to dig deeper into the prophetic statements in Scripture (while preparing to preach through 2 Thessalonians) and I couldn't reconcile my current system (Dispensationalism) with all the time statements made (this generation, soon, at hand, near, latter days, last days, last hour) and that the Apostles sincerely believed and taught that they were living in the time when these things would be fulfilled. They all taught people to wait for His coming (1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 10:37; James 5:8; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 John 2:28; Jude 18-19; Rev. 22:20). That they would be avenged for their tribulation at His coming (Rev. 6:9-11). That they would receive rest (2 Thess. 1:7). That they could be found blameless at His coming (1 Thess. 5:23). And that He was coming soon (James 5:8; Rev. 1:1). It was near. At hand. Right at the door! They were not only in the last days, but according to John, in the last hour (1 John 2:18). Jesus was coming soon!
Well, did it happen? Did Jesus ever show up? Was he near? Were they avenged? Were they found blameless? Did they ever get that promised rest? Well, I do have an answer for that. I don't have all the answers though. There still remains mystery and weaknesses in my own view. I'll share more about them in the next few blogs. You'll have to wait, but worry not. My second blog is "at hand".
I'll let you know that my goal isn't simply to win converts to my particular views of Eschatology. I'm not going to tell you what you have to believe. I don't intend to give you my view and ask you to simply take my word for it. I want to give you the tools to study these things for yourselves (like the Bereans in Acts). this series of blogs will give me opportunity to share those tools with you. Yes, I'll share what my studies have led me to believe. Yes, you may disagree. But please disagree because you've used the tools and come to a different conclusion, not simply because that's not what your last pastor taught. And if you do disagree, do agree to maintain love and fellowship. This isn't the Gospel. When it comes to Eschatology, I embrace the immortal words of the southern rock band .38 Special. "Just Hold On Loosely".
Here are a few other resources, which I've suggested before. I believe they'll really help round out your understanding of both history and how to study prophecy.
Josephus: The War of the Jews (describes the historical events I believe to be described in Revelation and The Olivet Discourse-Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21)
The Parousia. Though I don't agree with every conclusion in Russel's book, his exegetical approach to the prophetic statements in the NT has been noted by R.C. Sproul in his book "The Last Days Of Jesus". $4 for Kindle or free PDF.
We just finished celebrating our nation's independence from The British Empire. An independence we were willing to go to war to accomplish. Since then, the U.S. has been at war 93% of its existence. We've fought both the invaders and those they invaded. We've fought both communists and terrorists. In 240 years, America has enjoyed only 22 years free from war. We the people are heavily invested in war.
Now, before you lose your contact lens from that heavy eye-roll, just hear me out. This isn't an "anti-war" piece. I'm actually "pro-war". It all depends on the war that's being waged and how it's being waged. There are wars I can totally get behind. I'll wage war against racism. I'll wage war against poverty. There is one particular war for which God recruited me to fight.
I first heard about human trafficking at a men's conference back in 2006. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Slavery. Sex slavery. Is this really happening right now on our planet? Are women and children really being sold into slavery to be used to satisfy men's selfishness, greed, and lust? Are children really enduring such evil tonight? And are we really not waging war against this evil? An estimated 20 million people are enslaved around the globe today. Yes, you read that number correctly. 20 million. It blows my mind. My mind is blown that this evil exists, but history reminds me that we are indeed capable of this kind of evil.
Well, I won't begin to speak of our government's role in this kind of war. I don't make decisions for Uncle Sam. Whether or not our country should be sending troops into Indonesia, India, and Eastern Europe to wage war against slavery isn't something I pretend to know about. But I do pretend to know about what the Scriptures say about these things (wait...did I say that right?). James 1:27 states "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." Now, who is more an orphan than a child either stolen or tricked into leaving their family or even sold by their parents into slavery? Who will fight for them?
As a Jesus follower, I'm not suggesting we don our Indiana Jones garbs and free the slave children (or recover the lost Sankara stones, for that matter). We can wage this war with different methods. Our mightiest weapon is prayer (did I just sense another eye-roll from some of you?). No, it's true. God wiped out 185,000 Assyrian troops in one night in answer to King Hezekiah's prayer (2 Kings 19:35). Jesus was also aware that He could call down a legion of angels if He wanted to. This is the Kingdom of which we are now citizens. Citizens petitioning a King who can handle any request we make of Him. He has unlimited resources. Time's no issue for Him. Numbers don't faze Him either. He's not overwhelmed by any situation. So, let's ask Him to free these dear ones from their living nightmare.
He also uses people in answer to our prayers. World Concern are one of those groups God is currently using in this war. They battle with plowshares, not swords (Is. 2:4). They see education as a tool necessary to this battle. That means educating potential victims about the methods used by these modern slave traders. It also means giving job training so that children can help support their families through legitimate means instead of joining the slave market. Many of them are literally using plowshares to provide for their families and overcome the enemy's strategies to harm them. Supporting groups like World Concern engages the enemy with an offensive they aren't accustomed to defending.
There are wars I believe to be worth waging. I'm looking for a few good recruits. If you're interested in joining up, let me know. Below are a couple of sites to help us get started.
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
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