Sunday, November 28, 2010

Will We Know When We Go?

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 NKJV

One of the things I enjoyed most when teaching young people were the questions I often got from them concerning the things we were studying in the scriptures. One of my favorites, and one I got repeatedly when teaching the rapture of the Church is if we will know or be aware that we are being raptured, or do we simply find ourselves suddenly in heaven without a clue that it was about to happen? That really is a great question and one I think many of us have thought about at one time or another, so I thought we might take a little time this morning to look closer at the event we call the rapture.

This verse in Thessalonians is probably the best one we can use in describing exactly what God says will happen on that day. If we look closely at what it says, we find that we are told there are actually three distinct things which will occur in sequence when Jesus returns for His Church. These are a shout by the Lord Himself, the voice of an archangel, and the sound of the trumpet of God. So let's look closer at each of these three and see if there is a clue to the answer to our question “will we know”?

The Shout. In this verse we are told this shout is from the Lord Jesus Himself. Now at first, it would seem understandable that Jesus might want to shout since He has been waiting over two thousand years to come get His bride, yet there may be more to it than that. We are also told here that “the dead in Christ will rise first”. So there is a sequence of events, and the first is the resurrection of the bodies of those believers who have already died to be reunited with their souls which went to be with Lord at the time of their death.

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:8 NKJV

When a believer dies, his soul goes to be with the Lord in Heaven while his body is left behind. At the time of the rapture, the Lord apparently commands their bodies to rise from the grave just as He did with Lazarus.

Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"
John 11:43 NKJV

So the first thing to happen at the time of the rapture is the resurrection of the dead in Christ. Like one of my kids said during Sunday School, “dude, would it be cool to be in a cemetery when that happens?” We laugh, but I just wonder if he is right?

The Voice. The only angel in the Bible to receive the title of archangel is the angel Michael, so I think it is safe to assume that is who is being talked about here. As opposed to the Lord's “shout”, we are told that we only hear the “voice” of Michael, so we are left to wonder exactly what his role here is. If you have studied this passage, or study it further, you will find there are a few opinions as to what might be going on. Although any of them might be right, I am going to go as far as to suggest a new one which may or may not be accurate, but feels the most comfortable to me. As I sat and thought about why Michael might be involved, I decided to look at the other occasions where he is mentioned in the Bible. A very interesting place I found is in the book of Jude where we are told this;

Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"
Jude 1:9 NKJV

Now I certainly found it curious that here we find a situation involving Michael that, along with the account of the rapture, is concerned with a body belonging to a believer. In this account in Jude, the only explanation that makes any sense is that Satan was disputing “possession” of the dead body of Moses. We can find an account of this in the non-canonical Book of Enoch, which Jude is obviously referring to. In that account Satan laid claim to the body for two reasons. The first was that Moses was a murderer because he took the life of an Egyptian, and the second was that Moses body was buried on earth, and he, Satan, is the lord over the things of this world. So my thoughts are these; if Satan has in the past disputed over the ownership of the body of one believer, just what will his reaction to the resurrection of all dead believers bodies be? If in fact this is what happens, doesn't it make sense that the same scenario will repeat itself and the voice of the archangel is Michael again saying “The Lord rebuke you” to Satan? As I said, there are other ideas concerning this portion of the verse, but since both of these accounts of Michael concern the ownership of believers bodies, to me this seems to be a logical conclusion.

The Trumpet. Actually, we are told here that what we hear is the "trumpet of God". Just what exactly is this trumpet sound and what if anything makes it special? In another account of the rapture, Paul tells us this;

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:52 NKJV

Here Paul refers to this trumpet as the "last trump". This helps us identify it for from studying rabbinical sources we see that this use of the term "last trump" means it is the shofar, or ram's horn which is being used. The shofar is related to the account of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and rabbinical tradition regards the left horn as the "first trump" and the right horn as the "last trump". There are two ways to blow the shofar, with the first being a series of short blasts which signify an alarm or bad news, and the second being one long blast which is meant to signal victory or good news. It is this last long blast which is identified as the "last trump". According to rabbinical sources the "last trump" or "tekiah gedolah" lasts as long as the blower has the lung capacity to blow. In this case, where the "trumpet of God"is being blown, one has to wonder just how long the blast will be? My personal opinion is very, very long.

The shout of Jesus calling for the resurrection of all dead believers bodies to rise, Michael rebuking Satan in the Lord's name for possession of the bodies, and the tekiah gedolah which lasts as long as the blower has breath, certainly gives rise to the thought that the answer to our original question might well be; yes! Yes we will know that the rapture is occurring because there is a sequence of three events which must take place before we go. I suspect the last trump will last long enough for all believers to know and understand that the time has come for the bride to go with the bridegroom and to rise and meet Him in the air. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Keep watching. (and listening)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't Look Back

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Phillipians 3:13-14 NKJV

One of the fringe benefits of my job for a large automobile dealership is the occasional opportunity to either deliver, or pick up vehicles from other dealerships across the state. I consider it a benefit because rather than driving my fifteen year old pickup truck, I have the opportunity to drive some very expensive cars that I would never be able to afford. Now I am usually so afraid of these cars that I just drive without touching anything, but I will admit that on my last delivery I gathered the courage to use the radio and was pleasantly introduced to something called XM satellite radio.

As I scrolled the offerings I soon found stations that played music from different decades, and as you might expect, I settled on one playing music from my high school years. I won't tell you which decade that was, but to be honest I was soon caught up in a flood of memories that at times really made me wish I could go back and live those days all over again.

As I began to think about that though, I wondered why I or anybody else would want to? The obvious answer would most often be so that we could do things different. However if that is our answer, it raises another question and that is why do we not forget the things we might want to change or do different? Is it wrong that we remember mistakes we may have made, or recall hurts and maybe emotional trauma which might have an effect on the decisions we make today?

If this passage from Paul is any indication, it would seem that if our focus is on the past and not the future, the answer to that question is yes. The Greek word for forgetting is epilanthanomai, which is a verb meaning 1) to forget 2) neglecting, no longer caring for 3) forgotten, given over to oblivion, i.e. uncared for. I think what Paul is telling us here is that as a believer, He too, like most of us, recognized he had made mistakes in the past. But as he reflects on his present life, he understands that his focus, and ours, needs to be on the future and not the past. In this chapter Paul is describing what is called a “faith based righteousness”, or in other words, the fact that in God's eyes our “righteousness”, or becoming acceptable in His eyes is based on our faith, and not our works. Since it is impossible for us to live this life without making mistakes, Paul tells us that we need to forget what is in the past, which we certainly can't change and focus on the future which we can.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Phillipians 3:12 NKJV

Something else I noticed about this passage, and something that I find reassuring is Paul's use of the phrase “press on” twice when referring to this life. It is actually a rather interesting word because if you look closely at it's meaning, it's not as simple as it might first appear. My first thought was we are being told to “grind it out' but if you examine it, it's something quite different. In the Greek, the word for “press on” is diōkō, which means 1) to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away. So actually Paul is instructing believers to do two things at the same time. When we are told to press on towards the “goal of the prize” which comes at the end of race, in essence Paul is saying we need to run FROM the things that might hold us back and TOWARDS the finish line where we will receive our reward.

Is there a danger in looking back? Well obviously, I'm sure most of us have experienced being distracted by something while driving and then looking back ahead only to find we are in the wrong lane. Not focusing on what is ahead of us has it's dangers, and I can't help thinking of one Biblical example of looking back in the Old Testament.

So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, "Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed."
Genesis 19:17 NKJV

But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26 NKJV

In this instance, there was obviously a punishment for looking back and I am not saying if we don't attempt to forget the past we will suffer the same fate. Yet if we consider what happened here, it seems what God is saying is that if we do in fact look back, we are of no use to Him now. I truly believe that is what the Apostle Paul is telling us here as well. Consider how most believers look at Paul and the effect he had on the world and the evolution of the Church as we know it. Then recognize that he is willing to admit he was just as bad of a sinner as we are, and had plenty of things in his past which he would probably like to do over. Yet his advice to us is to forget the past and focus on the finish line ahead of us in order that God can use us to accomplish what He has called us to do right now.

Is it easy? Of course not, yet that is exactly what God inspired Paul to write to us today. Focus on what's ahead, and forget the things in the past that would serve to distract us from our goal. Don't look back.

Keep watching.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Finding Grace

But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
Genesis 6:8 NKJV

In the world we live in today, how often do you hear someone take the position that we "deserve" many of the things we have? I often hear many people say that we have a right to obtain or experience certain things in this life, and by now I am sure you are familiar with the fact that many so called preachers of the Word tell their followers the same thing. Yet anyone who studies the Word of God with an open mind soon finds that we as sinners deserve only one thing, and that is God's judgment. Yet the possibility to escape that which we deserve is a manifestation of what is called "grace", given to us by God despite the fact we are undeserving.

The first time the word grace is used in the Bible is here in Genesis where God tells us that "Noah found grace". One of the often quoted verses believers use when discussing the possibility we are living in the last days, and again when talking about the rapture is something Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse.

"But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
Matthew 24:37 NKJV

But while most of the time the discussion centers around what people were like in Noah's day, one subject we usually find ignored is what made Noah different? What was it about Noah that helped him find “grace in the eyes of the Lord”? I believe if we look closely at what other men were like as opposed to Noah, we will see just what it is that God is looking for in order to bestow His grace on the undeserving.

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 6:5 NKJV

The first thing I think we are told in this verse about finding grace is that God has given us all a choice; a choice in whom we will serve. One of the things we know for certain is that all throughout Noah's age, as well as ours, God was and is calling out to men and pleading with them not to be deceived by Satan's lies. Yet the Bible makes it clear that men had made their choice, and it was to reject what God had to offer in exchange for the lie that Satan presents. So what was the first thing that set Noah and his family apart? They had made a choice to follow God, and the result was the chance to experience God's grace. All men must make a choice of whom they will serve, and that choice determines whether or not we experience God's grace, or His judgment.

"And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Joshua 24:15 NKJV

Second, in order for man to obtain grace, something I believe God is looking for is obedience. If we look at this verse we find that the result of man making the wrong choice was “wickedness”. From the context it seems evident what is being described are the actions of men after making their choice. When talking about the actions we take in this life, I believe they can be best described in only one of two ways; obedience to God, or disobedience. Those who choose to serve God, also choose to be obedient to Him and His commands. Obviously from this verse, it would seem that the result of making the wrong choice and serving Satan, results in only one thing and that is disobedience which leads to wickedness. Noah not only made the right choice in choosing to serve God, the result was also obedience, which was the second reason he found grace.

Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.
Genesis 6:22 NKJV

The third thing I believe we find in this verse is that in order to find grace we must have a heart for God. Notice that after talking about man's wickedness, we are told that “every intent” of man's heart was “evil continually”. How depraved is that? What we are being told is that absolutely nothing in man's heart was considered good, but only evil. The Hebrew word for heart here means man's inner will, thoughts, determination, and conscience. Basically, every waking moment was centered around thinking about doing evil. So if Noah “found grace”, what was in his heart? The logical answer would be just the opposite. Apparently Noah and his family had not only made a choice to serve God, and be obedient to His will, but to also spend their waking moments seeking to find ways to love Him and serve Him. Their desire was to please God by seeking to do good, rather than evil.

So he answered and said, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'"
Luke 10:27 NKJV

If we look closely at where we are today, it would appear that the world is indeed much like the days of Noah. If we were to get all that we deserve in this life, we would find ourselves in the same position the men of Noah's day did; waiting to receive God's judgment. Yet because God loves us, we are offered a choice in order to experience God's grace and escape His judgment. How do we as sinners find grace in the eyes of God? Simply make the choice to follow Him, be obedient to His will, and seek to show your love for Him by committing your every waking moment to be used to further the kingdom.

Keep watching.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Period of Silence

If you have never taken the opportunity to visit the following web site, I highly recommend that you do. It is filled with insight from many highly respected teachers and commentators, as well as a news page which keeps abreast of world events with Biblical ramifications. The following is an article by one of the founders which I think you will not only enjoy, but find useful as we watch to see what God has planned for this world.

Strange Prophetic Silence
by Terry James

Todd Strandberg often makes the observation these days that there seems to be a strange lack of prophetic activity; nothing in the news rivets the observer in the dramatic way, say, that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities might grab one’s attention.
This Strandberg perception of a lull in prophetic progression, as he calls it, might seem at first nonsensical, considering the tremendous procession of probable end-times issues and events that we at Rapture Ready address each week.
Geopolitically, there are many signals of biblically prophetic significance. The European Union (EU) continues to consolidate power while remaining at the same time loosely confederated. Certainly, we legitimately can and do make the case for this strange entity being the likely candidate for producing revived Rome–the ten toes of iron and miry clay given in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-vision of the final world empire (Daniel 2).
Russia is a brooding giant to Israel’s north, and at every opportunity, Iran threatens the Jewish state with oblivion. These nations combine with Turkey and others to constitute a coalescing agglomerate that has the characteristics of the foretold Gog-Magog military machine of Ezekiel 38 and 39.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin openly displays ambition that easily qualifies him as one who might aspire to be the Gog of the Ezekiel prophecies. Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spouts the kind of hatred for God’s chosen people that the prince of Persia no doubt will use to inspire Iran’s (Persia’s) leader to join with Gog in raging against Israel in that satanic attack (Daniel 10:20).
Recently, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has brought his nation into the Iranian and Arab world’s mantra for Israel to, in effect, be neutralized–be eradicated as an entity in the Middle East. Thus, Ezekiel’s prophecy about the Gog-Magog forces continues to congeal, with the ancient area of Togarmah now firmly within the foretold mix of peoples that will storm over the mountains of Israel to meet their God-ordained doom.
So, again, it seems nonsensical to say that there is a lack of prophetic progression, based upon such spectacular developments. Yet, clearly sees the strange disconnect, and, I must say, I have agreed with his assessment during our conversations. And, still the signals of this being the very end of the age continue to accrue.
Socioeconomically, the end-times signals are prolific, with the whole world in economic distress. The 2008-2009 U.S. and international monetary crises were nothing short of earth-shaking. With the global financial structure intricately linked to the U.S. dollar and its economy, America’s banking meltdown and all attendant to it suddenly had the western nations in panic. The panic is unabated, despite America throwing trillions of dollars that don’t really exist into the fiscal fiasco.
Rioting in Greece, Spain, Italy, and other so-called “civilized” countries displayed in blatant fashion the economic turmoil. Rage over government-provided social services being withdrawn and jobs cut from government, along with unions losing their funding, caused--and continue to cause--withdrawal spasms like those suffered by addicts needing their heroin fixes.
The nations are in distress with perplexity, just as Jesus prophesied as recorded in Luke 21:25. There is a call for a rearrangement of the economic order. It is just such an order that will serve Antichrist’s dastardly regime as he sets about to enslave the world. His 666 numbers-and-mark system as found in Revelation 13:16-18 can be seen in the making in these very days in which we live.
The electronic means to produce such a system exists, too. The computer-satellite capabilities and linkages–with Internet connecting practically every place on earth--doubtless will be all brought together in some spectacular way to produce the Beast’s system of economic gulag.
Ironically, about the only area of the world that seems to be progressing economically is part of Asia–particularly one specific nation that almost certainly has a prophetic destiny. While the economic and technological apex nation of the world–the United States of America—is suffering, causing the other industrial nations and socialist countries to suffer, that great prophetic Oriental region of the world benefits mightily from the distress and perplexity. China holds much of the debt owed by the most economically powerful nation ever to exist!
China will almost certainly be the "king" of the "kings" of the east mentioned in Revelation chapters 9 and 16. It is even now apparently acquiring the level of wealth that will assure the accumulation of military strength with which to (along with demonic assistance of major magnitude) kill one-third of the world’s population (Revelation 9:15-16, 16:12).
It seems beyond irony that it is the U.S. that is funding most of the Sino-monster. It is the American technological/wealth base that has been primarily instrumental also in providing the financial wherewithal for paving Antichrist’s future kingdom. It is perhaps within these fiscal facts that can be found America’s own ultimate judgment for straying so far from the godly founding principles upon which it was based. Yet there is this strange silence of prophetic progression that bugs Todd and me. Let us further examine the matter.
So, again, we come to the seeming disconnect–the tremendous number of biblically prophetic indicators from a strange prophetic silence that surrounds these signals.
and I analyze these matters without ceasing. The signs are everywhere that we are at the end times as given by Jesus when He foretold, for example, that it will be like the days of Noah’s pre-Flood time and Lot’s days in Sodom at the moment He will break in like a thief in the night on an unsuspecting world. And, yet, we are both amazed that the “prophetic progression” seems strangely slow–even to the point of causing us to constantly ask why things seem at a standstill.
How can we ask that question when every one of the apostle Paul’s 2 Timothy 3 perilous-times characteristics of end-times man is observably on the front burner of society today? People are lovers of themselves, boasters, proud. Children are disobedient to parents, with the assisted rebellion built in to the public school systems of America. We are a people–worldwide—who are unthankful and, certainly, unholy. The government-backed--even church-organization-backed--homosexual agenda, with hate crimes being legislated and implemented to punish those who dare to say God’s Word teaches homosexuality is a sin, shows the perilous-times characteristic “without natural affection” is in our face today.
Abortion takes the lives of more than four thousand babies per day in America. This, too, speaks to the characteristic Paul prophesied would mark the end-times generation, “without natural affection.” We only have to look at the divorce rate today to see that the characteristics Paul gave in prophecy are exhibited within marriage. Infidelity is rampant. People are traitorous to their marriage partners, they are false accusers and truce-breakers. We are an incontinent or addictive generation, whether thinking on illicit or prescription drugs, or on pornography that sears the minds of those who spend hours before computer screens. Also, we are addicted to spending money to satisfy ever-increasing and insatiable material desires.
People love pleasures more than they love God. Mankind is fierce, while at the same time many have a form of godliness, but deny Jesus Christ–who is the power of godliness. This is a blasphemous generation, like the one Paul predicted. The holy name of Jesus is used far more as invective than as a term of reverence and praise in this end-of-the-age hour. That name that God says is above every other isn’t even allowed in many of America’s workplaces, public schools, or government facilities–another panoply of reasons the nation’s judgment is certain.
Why do Todd and I see this as a time of slow prophetic progression, considering this avalanche of prophetic markers? How can we say this when Israel is in position precisely as biblical prophets foretold that nation would be as history draws to a close and Armageddon nears?
Isaiah and Daniel the prophets foretold that Israel would be involved in a peace process at the very end of things to come. Zechariah, many other prophets, and the Lord Jesus himself prophesied that Israel would be surrounded by and hated by all nations of earth at the time of the end. All of those developing prophecies regarding God’s chosen people are front and center right now!
There is a prophetic silence at present. But it is a perceived rather than an actual silence, I think. It is part of the strange cognitive malady with which we all suffer, perhaps.
Overload of day-to-day human activity causes desensitization to even the most traumatic of injuries. “Time heals all wounds” is one common explanation of this cognitive condition. We lose a loved one, and while we will often recall memories of him or her and suffer anew, the overloads of life continue to cause the scar to thicken. The pain fades, to some extent.
So it is in the matter of being watchful in the sense of Mark 13:37. We are so saturated with issues and events of our time that look like prophecy in stage-setting for fulfillment that we develop a malaise. We become desensitized to the phenomenal crush of end-times exigencies.
This is so disconcerting to those who work within prophecy ministries such as Rapture Ready, I think, because it is a solitary feeling at times that comes from such lack of interest among true believers. One finds oneself almost hoping something dramatic will happen to shake those believers into understanding exactly how late is the prophetic hour.
Come to think of it…Jesus foretold a strange prophetic silence. He said it would be just at such an hour that He would break in upon a world in darkness. Because our time is so saturated with indicators of Christ’s Second Coming, the apathy-ending event isn’t in the offing. Or maybe it will be the most lethargy-ending event possible that will do the shaking up. Maybe the next prophetic indicator that will end this strange prophetic silence will be the Rapture itself.
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24: 42-44).

Many also have shared with me that there does indeed seem to be a “lull in the storm” occuring right now. Yet I think there may indeed be a reason for that, and it is one which we can see not only from a Biblical perspective, but an historical one as well. Anyone who has studied the past wars in our world's history can tell you that a common occurrence is a period of silence, or inaction preceeding a major conflict or offensive.

Now you can see this principle in as small a thing as stopping to get your breath while working out, a coach calling a timeout before sending in a play, or in a larger sense by an army gathering it's forces together, positioning them in the most advantageous places, and stockpiling weapons before a major offensive.

There is another great example of this to be found in the Bible if we look at what is told to us in the book of Revelation about what is to occur during the Tribulation.

When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand.
Revelation 8:1-4 NKJV

This silence preceeds the beginning of the Trumpet judgments that occur during the Tribulation. Why?
I'm not sure, but if you look closely you will find that during this time God calls His angels before the throne to give them their instructions, and their trumpets.

Could it be that this is what is happening in Heaven right now? Is God calling His angels to the throne to give them their instructions and inform them of His plans for what is about to happen? I would not be surprised at all. Is this period of seeming silence also a sign for Christians that God is about to begin His judgment? Many are predicting events in the immediate future which will profoundly affect the course of world history. But while the world waits and wonders, those who believe know full well what is about to occur. As always,

Keep watching.