Friday, November 21, 2008

This Little Light of Mine...

How many of you know how to finish that phrase? The rest is; "I'm gonna let it shine", and I'm sure it probably dates me but it's from a song I learned in Sunday School when I was little and I'm not sure if it's even taught anymore. I hope it is because there is more good theology in this song than in many sermons taught from the pulpit today. Now if that statement somehow offends you let me point out that it is not just my opinion, but unfortunately also the opinion of Jesus when He describes the state of the Church just before His return.

Now most of us can relate to the anxiety of receiving our report cards at the end of the quarter, and trying to formulate some sort of a believable excuse for poor performance. Like me, I'm sure your excuses fell on deaf ears as well because the evaluation of our performance was up to our teachers, not us. What many believers are unaware of though is that the first three chapters of the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible is exactly that; a report card from Jesus on the performance of His church. When you study what Jesus has to say it becomes apparent that, like my report cards, it's not a very pretty picture.

When you do an in-depth study of the letters to the churches, you find first of all that there appears to be at least 4 levels of meaning behind what is said. First of all these letters were sent to actual churches of the day, so the messages were in response to actual needs within the specific church. Second, as there are only seven churches mentioned, and we know the number seven in the Bible stands for "perfectly complete", we must assume that the messages are a complete picture of the Church as a whole. Every church today fits into one of these profiles, because if you note, the message to each individual church contains the admonition "Hear what the Spirit says to the churches", plural! Third, it further appears that these letters refer to us as individuals within the church because each letter contains the phrase, "He that hath an ear let him hear". So each of us as believers fits the profile of one of these seven churches. Fourth, and most amazing of all, these letters have been discovered to be prophetic because they accurately describe the evolution of the Church through history from birth to the present time. That of course means that we can look at the last church described to see what Jesus has to say about our church today.

The last church mentioned is the church of Laodicia, and what Jesus has to say to them does, in many peoples opinion, accurately describe the state of the church today. Jesus paints the picture of a large, seemingly rich church that appears on the outside to have it all. But when He describes the inside He says that although the members think they are doing everything right, have it all, and need nothing, they are in fact "lukewarm", have an inaccurate opinion of themselves, and are in fact "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked". He goes on to say in verse 20 that the reality is that He himself, Jesus, is outside of His own church! Jesus is not even inside, but outside knocking on the door trying to get in! How can this be, that a church full of professing believers can actually be so poor that Jesus says in verse 16 that He intends to spit them out of His mouth?

I think the answer to this lies in a few other passages that describe what believers are like as we approach the end of this age. Now we have already mentioned Jesus referring to the days of Noah, and what men were like at that time. If we look also at 2 Timothy 3:1-5 we see a description of not just people in general, but as verse 5 makes clear, these are people who claim to be Christians but in fact are hypocrites. They go to church and go through the motions but in reality they are only interested in their own pleasures to such a degree that according to verse 4 they love them more than they love God! The most important things in their lives can be seen in how they live their lives; "covetous, proud, boasters, disobedient, blasphemous(bad language), unholy, lovers of pleasures(whatever makes me feel good-drinking, sex, etc.) are all what we would call demonstrative behavior. You can see these people do these things, it's not as if they try to hide it. Jesus also describes these end times believers in Luke 21:34-36 with words like "surfeiting" (partying to excess) and "drunkenness" (no explanation needed). So the picture here is of people who profess to be Christians acting exactly as non-christians do in regards to their personal lives, and failing in the one thing that Jesus says is most important to Him.

In the book of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 13-16 Jesus spells out what our responsibility is to Him, and in reality also to the Body of Christ, the Church. In these verses Jesus says that we as believers are to live in such a way that our "light" shines "before men" (the world) and brings glory to God. Jesus also refers to believers as the "salt" of the earth. Everyone knows that a little salt can go a long way, and it doesn't take much to affect an entire meal. But if you were to use salt on your dinner and find that it wasn't salty, you would throw it away and get some fresh. Do you get what Jesus is telling us here? In this verse people that claim to be Christians but don't have any effectiveness are "cast out" and "trodden under foot". In Revelation the "lukewarm" Christian gets spit out of Jesus' mouth. So you tell me, how important is it to Jesus that we as believers live our lives as a shining light in this world of darkness? We do that by being different from the rest of the world, not the same. Maybe we would all do well to ask ourselves just how far do we think Jesus can spit? I for one don't want to find out.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. How's that for some solid theology?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Three Messiahs

As most of us know, the fundamental belief of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, sent to the earth to save mankind from their sin. Many people are surprised though to find that other religions have their messiah figures as well. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all share a belief in a messiah type individual as part of their eschatology, or beliefs of the end of the world. It also goes without saying, that one thing in common with each of these three religions is that each is watching and waiting for the appearance of this messiah in the very near future.

There is, however, a very large difference in what Christianity believes about it's messiah, and what Judaism and Islam believe about theirs. You see, we as Christians believe in the deity of Jesus; He was the Son of God. Judaism and Islam share the same idea that their coming leader will simply be a man. In Judaism, they believe their coming messiah is simply a human descended from the line of King David, and he will be annointed King of Israel to rule much the same as the ancient kings of Israel did. He will be a righteous king, be a strong political and military leader, and he will cause the temple to be rebuilt. But most of all he will be human, not a divine or god-like individual.

In Islam, many of the faithful are looking for the appearance of a person they call the Mahdi, or Guided One. Depending on their interpretation of prophecy, he will appear on earth for a period of 7 years before the advent of what they call the Day of Resurrection. There is a lot of disagreement within Islam concerning the particulars surrounding this individual, but it is safe to say they believe he is going to appear on the scene very soon. The president of Iran has been very vocal in his belief that he feels it is his duty to prepare the way for the appearing of the Mahdi, and there are other leaders in that part of the world who share that belief. So the situation we have here is this; Christians are looking for the return of their Messiah to take them to Heaven in an event called the rapture, and two other world religions are looking for a powerful charismatic leader who will solve the world's problems, bring peace and stability, and be universally accepted as someone worthy to follow.

Isn't it interesting to see how accurately the Bible has predicted the situation that would exist on this world during the period of time called the tribulation? A question many have asked over the years is how could one man, referring to the antichrist, broker or enforce a peace between Israel and it's enemies? This would somehow indicate that he would have to be either very strong militarily, or extremely persuasive politically. There is, however, an alternate scenario here that could also be considered. What if both Israel and Islam believed this person to be the fulfillment of their religious eschatology? What if this individual is smart enough to figure out a way to present himself as exactly that, and be acceptable to both religions?

The answer to that question might be partially answered by the New York Times which reported recently that reaction in the Middle East to the election of Barack Obama was, in their words, euphoric. If that is truly the case, it demonstrates that it is entirely possible for one person to generate support across a very diverse population in a part of the world that is known mostly for it's disagreements. Now am I trying to identify the antichrist here? No, but I think it's very curious to see that the situation that the Bible describes as existing at the time of the end can be seen in the events taking place in the world today. As I've said before, we as believers are commanded to watch, and given a list of things to watch for. What we need to make sure of is that we don't become so focused on individual events that we lose perspective on the "times".

God in His infinite wisdom has given us a very detailed picture of what the situation on this earth will be as we approach the time of the end. Let's not forget the big picture as we watch for the signs. Remember that in Matthew 16:3 Jesus rebukes the religious leaders for not recognizing "signs of the times". If we look, it would appear the world is even now looking for that one individual who will not only solve the problems that exist, but will somehow be acceptable and followed by all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mystery of the Temple

I bet I have your attention now, don't I? Do you know how I know? It's as simple as using the word mystery. It's been said that everyone loves a good mystery, and to look at how many best sellers, how many movies from Hollywood, or just programs on television that are mysteries would seem to justify that claim. There is something about trying to figure out the plot twists, the suspects, and the possible outcomes that simply draws our attention and keeps it until the end is revealed.

Unfortunately for many, the fact that there are hidden mysteries contained in the Bible seems to have been missed. In fact, it's my personal opinion that nobody loves a good mystery better than God does. How else do you explain the existence of so many contained in the Bible, not the least of which is prophecy telling us how the history of the world has and will unfold? Now you may wonder why God chose to include so many hidden things in the Bible, but as far as myself, I believe His intent was obvious. How better to make study fun than to include so many surprises in His Word just waiting for the serious student to find?

In the book of Hebrews, Paul tells us in chapter 11, verse 6, that God is a "rewarder" of those who "diligently" seek Him. Now what exactly do you think He might have meant by that? In John 1:1 we are told that "the Word was with God, and the Word was God". We are also told in 2 Timothy 2:15 to "study to show thyself approved unto God". Put these three together and the picture is that anyone who desires to know God needs to study His word diligently, and by doing so not only get closer to God, but will also receive His approval and a reward. Paul explains this to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 2:7-16 by saying that the wisdom of God is in fact a mystery to unbelievers, but this hidden wisdom is ours for the taking because God prepared it for those who love Him.

One of the signs of the coming tribulation period is the rebuilding of the temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. As many subjects I have had the opportunity to study over the years, by far the most intriguing is the Temple Mount and it's importance not only to Israel, but to God Himself. God ordained that this exact piece of real estate to be the most important to be found in the entire world. How important is that? You may be surprised to find there are many unique features of the Temple Mount that seem not only to verify it's importance to God, but to also be used as an example of the mysteries of which we have already mentioned. Let me give you just a couple of examples.

Recent research has revealed an extraordinary correlation between events in Israels' history and the distance from the Temple Mount to geographical locations related to these events. Most students of the Old Testament are familiar with the Babylonian Captivity where Israel was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and taken to Babylon as slaves. We are also told by the prophet Daniel that Babylon in turn fell to Darius the king of the Medes in the story of the handwriting on the wall that is found in chapter 5 of the Book of Daniel. We know from history that this happened in 539 BC. We also know from history that Israel was reborn as a nation on May 14, 1948 in a fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel 37 referred by many as the prophecy of the dry bones. This rebirth was facilitated by the country of Great Britain which had controlled the geographical area of Israel after the end of World War One. But what you may not know is that if you draw a straight line from the Temple Mount to Babylon, it measures 539 miles! Do the same between the Temple Mount and London, England and you get 1948 miles! These are just two examples of many I could give you, but the point I want to make here is this. The location of the Temple Mount and the rebuilding of the temple is very important to God and will occur as He said it will, apparently just after the 7 year tribulation begins. The question I want to ask here is this; why do they rebuild it?

In recent years there have been numerous steps taken and preparations made for the rebuilding of the temple. The instruments for sacrifice and worship have been constructed, the garments for the priests to wear have been made, and those who have been identified as being descendants from the tribe of Levi are even now being trained to serve as priests. The one drawback here though is this. Only a small minority of Jews are interested in rebuilding the temple on the Temple Mount. There is no way that Israel would attempt to start rebuilding the temple at this point in time especially considering the situation that exists with the Muslim Authority which controls the Temple Mount. It is only if a situation exists where the vast majority of the Jews want to rebuild, and the government is unafraid of retaliation that this rebuilding could occur. So what could happen to produce this feeling in Israel today?

I believe the answer can be found in the events of Ezekiel 38,39 where we are told of the conflict referred to as the Gog Magog War. I think the most telling part of this prophecy is to be found in the revelation that it is God Himself that intervenes to protect and save Israel from the invading armies of Gog. When Israel sees that they have been saved by Divine intervention, I believe they will want to rebuild the temple to give thanks to God. Of course, this is also the time where the Antichrist will enforce an agreement which will allow that rebuilding to take place. The stage is set for the next war to begin and the only question before us is "when"? There are serious concerns in Israel right now that with the election of a new president in the United States who they believe will not support them if they decide to move against Iran, forces them to act now before he takes office.

Keep watching.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Answer Man

Now that the election is over and America has voted for change, a natural question arises as to how much just one man can change the world in which we live? I'm sure that most people would come to the conclusion that one man can't, given the complexity of the world's governments, financial institutions, and even religions that exist today. Unfortunately though, the Bible makes it clear that there will be a man who not only can and will accomplish great change, but will also change the course of history by sending the earth as we know it on a path to certain destruction; the man the Bible calls the Antichrist.

A question I often hear is if this man is going to be so evil, how in the world does he manage to rise to such a position of power? I think the answer to that is becoming more and more obvious as we take a close look at what is happening in the world today. In reality, can anyone look at the world today and find someplace where there isn't some sort of problem that needs fixing? Of course, if you were to ask anyone on the street today what the biggest problem facing the world today is, I'm sure they would respond "the economy", but as we all know, that isn't the only one. The unrest in the Middle East is certainly foremost in the minds of many people not only there, but here as well considering the United States has so many troops in that part of the world. There is another problem, not widely recognized, that is a direct result of the worsening financial situation we see in the world today and that is famine. Always a problem in some parts of the world, there are now signs that entire Third World countries are in danger because entire populations are becoming unable to afford even the subsistence level of their daily food requirements. So with all these problems and more besides, is it possible that one man could come along and rise to such a position of power that the Bible describes? Absolutely! How? Simple; he has all the answers!

A fact that most students of this period of time realize is that for the first three and one half years of the Tribulation, people and governments willingly give authority to this man. Why? Simply because he seems to have the answers to the problems facing the world today. The Bible tells us that the very first problem that he appears to solve is the conflict between Israel and all the surrounding nations that seek to destroy it. How many nations, how many administrations, how many politicians, and how many years have so many tried to solve this problem with no success whatever? Yet this man does what no man has been able to do; bring peace to that part of the world. That in itself will make this person a household name all over the world, but in effect, it will only serve to bring him to the attention of the entire world in order for him to begin to consolidate his power.

Speculation about who this man may be is the source of all too many strange if not curious conclusions. I have often been asked if I have any "favorites" as far as candidates for this position, and many have shared their picks with me. My favorite by far is Barney the Dinosaur, but please don't ask me to explain how they come up with that one. The fact remains that among believers today, many are interested in trying to identify potential candidates as a sign of the end. Although the Bible gives us 43 names of this man, as well as a complete physical description, I believe we also need to understand that the Bible suggests it is fruitless for us to try and identify who he may be.

There are several points the Bible makes clear about the identity of this coming world leader that we as believers need to be aware of. Of these, the one that is the most important to our discussion here is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8. It is here that Paul tells us that there is a prerequisite for the revealing of this man to the world and that is the removal of someone or something called "he who now letteth" or "he who now restrains" depending on the translation you use. Who or what is this "restrainer"? Some feel this is a reference to world governments that exist at the time, but the most common interpretation is that this is referring to the Holy Spirit which at this time is present in all believers, the body of Christ, also known as His Church. So if Paul tells us that in order for this man to be revealed the Church must be removed, it seems obvious he is talking about the rapture. The obvious conclusion then is that we won't be here when the Antichrist is revealed and begins his rule.

Does this mean that we are wasting our time studying about him? On the contrary, if that was God's intent I'm reasonably certain He wouldn't have told us so much about him in the first place. Rather I believe God wants us to know about him in order to help us recognize how it is that the world embraces someone who claims to be able to solve the worlds' problems. What a shame that the world will choose to believe this "man of sin" rather than believe in the One who really can save the world! If our recent election showed anything, it showed how easily someone can convince so many not only in this country, but around the world that one man can bring change.

But what price will the world pay for that change?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Days of Noah

I have often said that Jesus would not have told us to watch if He didn't intend to show us something. The Bible is full of stories and examples of how God has, over time, demonstrated His omniscience by foretelling the future. Not only has He told us of what would come, but in many instances He has gone further and told us exactly when they would occur. Just a few of these examples would be telling Israel exactly when they would be released from their captivity in Babylon, exactly when their Messiah would arrive, and of course, when they would again be a nation in their ancient homeland of Israel. Since so many examples of events in Israels' history exist, a logical question would be "does the Bible tell us when these future conflicts with other countries will occur"?

To answer that question, I think I'll refer to something Jesus has told us in the Mark account of the Olivet Discourse we have been talking about. When Jesus is talking to His disciples about the end of the world He says in chapter 13, verse 23 that He has "foretold you all things". So in that case, it would appear all we have to do is search the scripture until we find an answer to our question.

As often as I have read and studied this passage, it wasn't until just a few years ago that I realized I might have been overlooking an important clue as to when these things might occur. Notice in verse 37 that Jesus says "just as in the Days of Noah" right after He says no man knows the day or the hour. It took a few times studying this passage before I asked myself the question, "why the reference to Noah"? So I began to look for something the two events might have in common, in order to try and answer that question. In this passage, Jesus is talking about the rapture, and the worldwide tribulation that follows. Now the Bible tells us many times that the tribulation is a time of judgement on an unbelieving world, and obviously that is exactly what the purpose of the flood was as well. It goes without saying that it took Noah a very long time to build that Ark, and it isn't as if the people that came by to look weren't informed by Noah as to the reason he was building it. Even though they chose not to believe, when they saw the animals being loaded and Noah and his family getting on board, they had to understand Noah was finished building and was prepared to sail.

Do we find ourselves in a similar situation today? As believers, don't we see the signs that the next judgement is near? Considering the fact that even non-believers are asking questions about what is going on in the world, shouldn't those of us who study the Bible understand that the time is near? I think there is no question that God made it perfectly obvious to those in Noah's day that something big was coming, and I believe He is doing the exact same thing today. But I also want to take this a step further, and consider if possibly Jesus is giving us an exact time to watch for the things of which He had been speaking.

If our timeline of events that precede the tribulation are correct, we are looking for an attack by Israel on Damascus, followed by the reaction by the rest of the world described in Ezekiel 38,39 as the "Gog Magog War". If you compare the descriptions of the response to Israels' attack in Isaiah 17 with the attack by the nations in Ezekiel 38 you find they are almost identical. This leads me to believe that these two events are not only related, but occur one right after the other with probably not a lot of time between them. After all, since no country has dared to use a nuclear weapon since the end of World War 2, the next use will most certainly provoke an immediate response. If that is the case, we may have found another clue as to when this all might take place.I have already suggested we compare the accounts in both Isaiah and Ezekiel to notice their similarities. If we do that, and then go to another Old Testament prophet and read his account of a future conflict that also occurs in the time of the end, we find not only a description of what occurs, but an exact day as well.

In the book of Haggai, chapter 2 verses 20-22 we find an account of what is in store for a coalition of nations that presume to attack Israel. In it, God tells us that the armies in essence destroy themselves by attacking each other. Compare that to the account in Ezekiel 38, verse 21 where the exact thing happens. There seems to be little doubt that we are seeing two different accounts of the same conflict, but in Haggai we are given something else; the exact day that it might happen. Twice in the Haggai account God refers to the 24th day of the eighth month. On the Jewish calendar, this is Kislev 24, or as it is better known, Hanukkah. If in fact, God is telling us here that the attack and defeat of the armies of Gog will occur on Hanukkah, and we believe that the events of Isaiah 17 occur shortly before, are there also clues to when that conflict might occur?

Recall if you will, that when Jesus was asked when these things would occur, he referred to that time as like the days of Noah. If we go to the book of Genesis and read the account of the flood given there, we find again not only an account of what happened, but exactly when it happened as well. In Genesis 6, verse 11 we find the flood began "in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month," or on the Jewish calendar, the 17th day of Cheshvan. Now in order to avoid some confusion, at the time of the Exodus God told Moses to change the calendar so the first month of the year would be celebrated then in the spring, rather than where it had been celebrated in the fall. That is why there are two calendars at work in Israel today; the religious calendar and the civil one. The religious calendar begins in the spring as God instructed, but the civil calendar starts in the fall as it did before God changed it. The point here though, is this. Although the second month for the flood, and the eighth month for Hanukkah seem far apart, it's only because the date of the flood is listed on the civil calendar, while the date for Hanukkah is on the religious one. Put them both on the same civil calendar and the 17th of Cheshvan occurs just 37 days, or one month and one week before the 24th of Kislev. That means the anniversary of the flood is just 2 weeks from today, or Sunday, November 15th. Is it possible the events of Isaiah 17 and Ezekiel 38 occur a little more than a month apart, and in fact occur in the months of November and December?

I'm not sure we can can say with certainty that is the case, but in my mind at least, I feel it is a very strong possibility that God is telling us exactly that. I can't help but remember that in Matthew 24 Jesus has just come from the temple where He condemned the religious leaders of that day for not recognizing the signs of His appearing. Why did Jesus tell His disciples the events He was speaking of would be just like the days of Noah? Was He just referring to their attitude, or was He giving us a clue as to when these things will occur? How about both? Let's keep watching together shall we?