Sunday, November 29, 2015

Signs of the Times

This week, like many of you, was a week not only of Thanksgiving, but visits by family and friends.  As such, I chose to take a week away from writing but still wanted to share something with you.  Today’s post is borrowed from the Omega Letter, a website I frequent for the many wonderful commentaries it contains.  The following is from Pete Garcia, one of my favorite writers, and an extremely knowledgeable teacher. I hope it blesses you as much as it did me.

COE Part II: A Chosen Generation by Pete Garcia

Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time, a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.  And devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him.  As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.  Acts 8:1-3

After Christ ascended the disciples waited in Jerusalem for ten days until the Feast of Pentecost began.  It was then that in a most spectacular fashion the promised Helper, the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 disciples as a mighty rushing wind and upon each of them who believed as ‘cloven tongues of fire’.  They began speaking in other languages, so much so, that it began drawing attention to the rest of the Jews there that had gathered for the Feast of Pentecost.  It was then that Peter, the group’s leader stood up in the Temple area and began preaching his famous sermon, heavily pulling from the prophet Joel and began by saying…Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem…

That day, nearly 3,000 Jews came to faith in Jesus the Christ.  The Jewish Sanhedrin had thought that by publicly humiliating and brutally killing their leader, Jesus of Nazareth, that it would dissuade future converts and be the death knell to their fledgling cause.  But now that appears to have backfired and the Sanhedrin were getting desperate.  In their desperation, they sought more drastic and violent methods to quell this growing movement.  Enter Saul of Tarsus.

Saul, having proven himself worthy at the stoning death of Stephen, was on his way to Damascus to continue his work of persecuting and imprisoning these early followers of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t know Jesus Christ personally but thought the audacity of a man to claim equal power with Yahweh was blasphemy worthy death. But it was on this road that his life and that of human history would be forever changed.

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.  Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”  Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  Acts 9:1-5

God then selected a man named Ananias to care for Saul…and for good reason, Ananias was hesitant at first.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”  Acts 9:15-16

And suffer he did.

From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting’s often, in cold and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:24-27)

Saul, who would later have his name changed to Paul, would go on to become the biggest contributor and architect of New Testament theology.

He attributed himself as the ‘least of the apostles’, and one born out of due time but would be used by God as His preeminent spokesman to the Jews and Gentiles concerning all the major doctrines we study today.  Saul was in his former life, a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel, from the Tribe of Benjamin, and was presumably very well versed in the Hebrew Scriptures.  But what Paul came to know and teach concerning this New Testament came directly from Christ Himself.  Considering the first words that Christ ever spoke directly to him would come to shape his understanding and nature of the fledgling Church for the rest of his life.  Saul wasn’t simply attacking believers of Christ, he was attacking Christ Himself.
This Church, whom Christ Himself is building through God the Holy Spirit, was not just believers waiting on a promise.  These believers were and are the corporate, multi-membered body of Christ, of which, He is the head of.  (Col 1:18; Eph. 5:23)

The Church then is the universal body of believers, who have been baptized into this unified body, not through water, but by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:13-14)  This diverse body of believers has been and is currently adding members to this corporate body ever since.  But this filling of the Body of Christ will not go on indefinitely.  There is a number and name, known by God, at which the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ comes in.

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  Romans 11:25

Although Paul was not the first to mention the concept of the Rapture of the Church (John 14:1-3), he was the first to systematically teach and explain this mystery.  That just as the Church had a sudden and miraculous beginning (Pentecost; Acts 2), likewise it will have a sudden and miraculous ending (the Rapture; 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15).

Connected to, but different from the fullness of the Gentiles is the Age of the Church…of which we have been in for almost 2,000 years now.  It is believed by many that this was chronicled ahead of time by Christ in the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches found in Revelation 1-3.  These letters can be matched to the seven churches that Paul wrote as well as the seven kingdom parables found in Matthew 13.  These letters serve a four-fold purpose in their divine expository;

    Admonitory for all churches
    Towards individuals as well as congregations
    Due to their arrangement, spell out (or outline) prophetically, the epochs’ the Church    would transition through.

The Church as a body of believers is neither Jew nor Gentile, but a new group altogether. (1 Cor. 10:32)   But over time, who and where the Church came out of began to become less and less Jewish, and more and more Gentile.  The church began exclusively with Jewish believers centered in Jerusalem, but as Paul’s (and the other apostles) missionary journeys began to spread the Christian faith around the known world, Gentiles flocked to the light of the Gospel. (Starting in Acts 8:4-8, and 10)  An unfortunate and probably unintended consequence of the Gentile converts was that they intentionally (and unintentionally) brought in customs and rituals which over time, began to change the nature and teachings of the Christian religion itself.  By the 3rd century, Christians almost exclusively came out of Gentile communities.

Having been sacked in 70AD by the Roman legions, Jerusalem, and the temple lay in ruin and the Jewish people had been scattered.  Their misfortune seemingly served as a powerful and tangible proof to the early Christians that the Jews must be cursed.  They assumed that due to the Jew’s culpability in the crucifixion of their Messiah that they had finally fallen out of favor with God and that He was now exacting divine justice.  To the burgeoning Gentile communities within Christendom this seemed as some sort of license to carry out God’s judgment on the Jews for God.  This allowed for the errant teaching of Replacement Theology (RT) to flourish.  RT began circulating through teachers like Origen and Augustine and taught that the Jews were no longer God’s chosen people, but that the church had replaced Israel and that the Kingdom was now.

Interwoven between the geopolitical and the prophetic we see how Christ’s knowledge of things to come is outlined fairly clearly in the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches.  Twice Christ chastises those who ‘say they are Jews but lie’.  But these letters in their multi-faceted fashion, prove that they were as applicable to the 1st century believer as they are today.

Ephesus: 30-100 AD Apostolic church, chastised for having lost their first love.
Smyrna: 100-300 AD, persecuted church, told to hold fast and they will receive the crown of life
Pergamum: 300-600 AD, mixed marriage, instead of the Church going out into the world, the world comes into the Church
Thyatira: 600-Present, ‘perpetual sacrifice’ would come to represent the Roman Catholic system
Sardis: 1500-Present, the dead church of orthodox Protestantism
Philadelphia: 1700-Present, the remnant church who remained faithful to true Biblical doctrines
Laodicea: 1900-Present, the ‘luke-warm’ church of whom Christ remains on the outside asking to come in.

Whether these seven churches represent actual era’s or stages within greater Christianity still has many divided.  This author believes they do for the following reasons;

    They are placed by Christ in the book a prophecy (Rev. 1:3)
    They were to be read and understood by all the churches
    They are multi-faceted in content simply by the people Christ is addressing. 
    The fact that Revelation is largely sequential in its outline (Rev. 1:19), thus the order and arrangement of these letters are in keeping with this pattern

If this pattern is true, and the seven letters not only speak to those specific churches in 1st century Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) but also to churches of all ages, then we truly are in the last days.  Churches today have largely been relegated to the ‘irrelevant’ section of the goings on.  Thus, in an attempt to remain relevant in a world whose moral compass is spinning wildly out of control, a majority of churches are trying their best not to offend anyone.  Whether they are homosexual, Islamic, Atheistic, etc.   The Apostles Paul, Peter, and John all warn of this and stated that even in their own day;

…For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves…Acts 20:29-30

From the Apostle Peter’s vantage point, he warned of the apostate and heretics who would come;

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

From Christ’s half-brother, Jude, who later wrote that by his own day, the apostates and heretics were firmly planted;

For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)

And so, it has been since then, that men and women have crept into the congregations teaching doctrines of demons and adding to or subtracting from the Word of God.
But despite the warnings and the general downturn in the world’s condition that was already foretold of it is not up to man whether the Church will succeed or fail in the long run.  Christ didn’t say that men would build His church but that He would. (Matt. 16:18-19)  The Church was known by God before the foundation of the world was laid. (Eph. 1:4)  We were to be God’s greatest demonstration of grace and mercy beginning with the sacrifice of Himself. (Romans 5:8) Although the world is sinking deeper and deeper into darkness, we need not worry about the outcome of our trials and tribulations.  Furthermore, Peter writes…

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10

Keep watching.