Sunday, May 28, 2017

Who Knows?

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”  1 Corinthians 2:7-8  NKJV

know; to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty

Let me begin today by asking you a question; if Satan had known that the crucifixion would result in the salvation of the world, would he have gone through with it?  If you think that the reference to the “rulers of this age” is speaking of the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Pilate of Rome I suggest you might want to reconsider.  The crucifixion was Satan’s master plan and it backfired in his face in a spectacular way.  He had absolutely no idea that what he thought would be his crowning glory would end up being God’s plan to save mankind by salvation through grace as the result of the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”  Colossians 2:13-15  NKJV

Speaking of Satan, Jesus said he is the ruler of this world;

“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.”  John 14:30  NKJV

Paul calls him the god of this age;

“whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”  2 Corinthians 4:4  NKJV

John describes him as the wicked one;

“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”  1 John 5:19  NKJV

The “mystery” of the “wisdom of God” was that Jesus’ death and resurrection would result in the creation of the Church, a body of believers He would call His own and who would spread the gospel, the good news of salvation by grace available to all who choose to believe, to the ends of the earth.  Look back at the definition of “know” from the dictionary at the beginning of this article.  Paul refers to this plan as a “mystery” because it was not known or understood as a fact or truth, and Satan was the one God was hiding it from.

Considering that the mystery of the Church was hidden from Satan, it is logical to question if there might be something else God has chosen to hide.  Something many do not realize is that while the creation of the Church was called a mystery by Paul, he also called something else a mystery as well.

“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  1 Corinthians 15:51-54  NKJV

Now to me, personally, I think it makes perfect sense that Paul describes the rapture of the Church as a mystery.  If the birth of the Church had been known in advance to Satan, he would have come up with some sort of plan, devised some kind of scheme, and done everything in his power to stop that from happening.  Does it not then seem logical that if it were possible to know the timing of the rapture that Satan would do the very same thing if he could?  That is not to say that Satan doesn’t understand prophecy for he has had two thousand years to study it and probably knows it much better than we do, but by not revealing the timing of the rapture God forces him to be defensive in his planning rather than offensive.

There are some today who believe that it is possible to know or somehow deduce when the rapture will occur.  Many have actually revealed dates they believed the Church would be taken, only to be disappointed when those dates came and went.  Can we “know” the time of the rapture?  Although some might disagree, I would say that according to the definition of know, “to apprehend clearly and with certainty”, no one knows when this will occur.  Yet that does not mean that the signs we are seeing are not meant to alert us to its imminent fulfillment.  Jesus made it clear that we are to be watching, and that if we do we will know the time is quickly approaching when we will hear the trumpet blow and Jesus will call out to His Church to meet Him in the air.

On that subject, I thought I would leave you with an interesting take on the rapture from Jack Kelley, a wonderful Bible teacher I have come to know and respect for his deep understanding of God’s Word.

To underscore the Church’s uniqueness, its departure will have to be even more dramatic, even more cloaked in mystery than its arrival was. Soon and very soon, on a day that no one could have predicted in advance, believers will hear a loud command, “Come up here!” (Rev. 4:1), accompanied by the trumpet of God. Immediately the spirits of dead believers will receive new resurrection bodies and the living will be transformed from mortal to immortal. Together we will meet the Lord “in the air” having disappeared from Earth in the twinkling of an eye (1 Thes. 4:16-17, 1 Cor. 15:51-53) and then we’ll proceed to His Father’s house (John 14:2-3).

This has always intrigued me. The Greek word for air refers to that space between Heaven and Earth called its atmosphere. So we’re not immediately going to Heaven, nor is the Lord coming all the way to Earth, as He will in the 2nd Coming. Instead the meeting will take place in the atmosphere.

The atmosphere was created on the 2nd day when God made an expanse to separate the water under it (the sea) from the water above it (the water vapor canopy that surrounded the Earth until the flood.) He called it the sky or firmament (Genesis 1:8). Unlike all other creation days, the 2nd day was not pronounced good. Some scholars speculate this is because demonic spirits immediately inhabited it. This may be why Paul also referred to Satan as the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2).

If this is the case, then it means the Lord is going to shock Satan again, this time by suddenly assembling the raptured Church in his front yard without any warning. Each list of sins that Satan saw nailed to the cross 2000 years ago will be represented by one deliriously happy redeemed believer in a final grand display of victory before we fly off to our mansions in the sky. Talk about a dramatic ending for the Age of the Church. What a day that will be. Now do you see why its exact timing has to be kept secret?  We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.  

Have you ever made the decision to accept the salvation God has offered to you by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ?  Romans 10:9 states that there are two conditions necessary for salvation. 1) confess with your mouth and 2) believe in your heart. Verse 10 continues, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:13 says that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  If you have never done this I urge you to do it right now, and not be taken by surprise when the Church is called home to spend eternity with God our Father.

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

No Man Knows the Day or the Hour?

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only”.  Matthew 24:36  NKJV

How often have you heard this verse quoted as an argument surrounding the time of the rapture of the Church and whether or not we can know it?  To be honest, not only can I not put a number to how many times I have heard it, I can’t even remember just how long ago I first heard it because it was so long ago.  As far back as I can recollect it seems I have heard this over and over again whenever the subject of the rapture comes up.  Yet funny as it may sound, for just about as long of a time I can recall being somewhat uncomfortable with this explanation and application for reasons I could not fully explain.

So the time finally arrived when I decided that this was a question I needed to answer for myself and proceeded to apply what understanding I had at the time concerning Biblical interpretation towards examining this portion of scripture and deciding for myself if it did indeed refer to the rapture.  I proceeded to do that using the basic knowledge of the rules of interpretation that I had been taught and which have been used for generations.  One of my earliest teachers was Chuck Missler, a wonderful Bible expositor and teacher that I am sure many of you are familiar with.  One of his favorite sayings concerning studying the scriptures, and one which I will never forget goes something like this: “If you torture the data long enough, you can get it to confess to anything”. 

All too often it would seem many employ just that tactic in order to support a position they wish to adhere to, when in fact, a closer examination of the passage proves otherwise.  One of the first rules of interpretation is that you never take a verse away from the context in which it was written.  This principle, which has stood me in good stead over the years, is extremely important in this particular case.  So first of all we need to examine this passage in light of the context in which it was written.  Think “big picture”.  So the first thing I did with this verse is take a step back and look at the entire conversation, when it occurred, who Jesus was talking to, and what was going on that prompted Jesus to say what He said. 

“Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “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.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  Matthew 24:3  NKJV

So by examining the context of this conversation, and asking the three questions I just mentioned, this is what I came up with.  This was the Passion Week, and Jesus was soon to be taken and crucified for the sins of the world.  From what He had been saying to His disciples, they had a pretty good idea that something was up and were seeking clarification.  As Jews, looking for their Messiah, their concern was with the nation of Israel and its future in relation to the coming kingdom, which the prophets and Jesus had foretold.  Their question to Him was specific, and pointed; “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

When I did this, it seemed obvious to me that Jesus was speaking about the future of the nation of Israel, and not the Church as many have chosen to believe.  From the Jewish perspective, the disciples knew only that one day the current age would end and that the Messiah would establish His Kingdom.  They knew nothing of the Church as it would be established, or of what is now known as the “Church Age”, so an obvious question I asked myself is why would Jesus speak of it or refer to the rapture in answer to their questions about Israel and the future end of the world?  The only answer that makes sense to me is that Jesus is simply answering the disciple’s questions about when the world as they knew it would end. 

Now I am sure there will be those who would disagree with that conclusion, but to those I would point out something else I noticed.  If we wish to follow the rule that you never take a verse out of context, it seems logical to read the verse that immediately precedes the passage where Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour.  If we do that, and read both together, this is what we find.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away”.  “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. Matthew 24:35,36  NKJV

It certainly seems to me that Jesus is speaking of the future time when heaven and earth will pass away.  Although we might not know the day or the hour this occurs, we certainly do know when it will happen because Jesus revealed it to the Apostle John on the island of Patmos when He showed him the “things to come”.

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”  Revelation 21:1-5  NKJV 

Heaven and earth will pass away at God’s command and He will usher in eternity with a new Heaven and a new earth.  Only He knows the day and the hour this will happen, but He has also told us that if we watch, the signs of that time approaching will be as obvious as a woman in labor. Heaven and earth do not pass away at the rapture, so to take Jesus’ own words and apply them to a different event just seems wrong to me. I am sure there are, and will be those who disagree with my thoughts on these words from Jesus to His disciples but in all honesty I think the simplest answers are the best ones.  Of course, this then begs the question; can we know the time of the rapture?  We will talk about that next week.

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Solomon's Song

"For lo, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; The time of singing has come, And the voice of the turtledove Is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth her green figs, And the vines with the tender grapes Give a good smell. Rise up, my love, my fair one, And come away!"  Song of Solomon 2:11-13  NKJV

I wrote this article last year about this time and I somehow feel it may be even more appropriate to share it again with you now, especially as we have seen events occurring all over the world with increasing frequency which many see as definite signs of the end of this age approaching.  Considering that, and the arrival of the birthday of the Church on Pentecost in a few weeks which many see as a possible time for the Church to be taken, I thought I would share these thoughts on the Song of Solomon with you. 

Did you look forward to your wedding?  Did you possibly get a little more impatient the closer you got to the actual date?  I think most of us have either participated in our own, or observed someone else in this position and understand the impatience and anticipation someone approaching their wedding day experiences.  This though, raises a question in my mind which I would like you to consider as well.  Since the Church is described as the bride of Christ, and the Word also tells us He is coming to take His bride home at a future date, do you think Jesus is experiencing those same feelings of anticipation and impatience that we do?

When is the last time you heard a sermon taught on the Songs of Solomon?  To be completely honest, I don't recall personally ever having heard one.  Which truthfully seems to be a shame because if you believe that all scripture is inspired by God, and all scripture is profitable for instruction, you are then left with the question as to why this book was included in the scripture and what is its message?  As Solomon wrote this song to a Shulamite woman who he had fallen in love with, it is in essence his love song to her as he is courting her with the intent of making her his bride.  You don't need to read very far at all to understand the depth of his love for her, and the anticipation he has for the day she will become his own.

Seen in this light, it appears to me that this song can easily be considered to be what Jesus is feeling as He looks forward to His wedding to His bride, the Church.  Although the Jews have always looked at this book as signifying God's love for the nation of Israel, and it easily could be, I can also certainly see Jesus' love for the Church and His anticipation for the coming wedding in it as well.  One of the many interesting things I found while reading this book was this description of his intended which Solomon gives us in chapter 4.

"You are all fair, my love, And there is no spot in you."  Song of Solomon 4:7  NKJV

The fact that he sees no spot in her immediately brought to mind the description of the Church Paul gives us in the book of Ephesians.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."   Ephesians 5:25-27  NKJV

For many reasons, I can read this book and picture Jesus writing these words in anticipation of His future wedding with the Church.  Yet as long as we are going to talk about a future wedding, it would also seem appropriate to consider the possible timing of it, and see if Solomon gives us any clue as to when that might take place.  Notice his description in the passage from the second chapter, and everything that he says there.  It is obvious that Solomon is talking about the season of Spring, and all of the things that occur in Israel during that particular time.

"For lo, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone."

Solomon tells us that the winter is past, as well as the early rains which normally fall in March and April.  It is these early rains which help start the growing season in Israel.

"The flowers appear on the earth;"

One of the things I, and many others appreciate most about spring is watching all of the flowers reappear after hiding under the snow for the winter.

"the voice of the turtledove Is heard in our land"

Did you know that the turtledove is a migratory bird?  It normally leaves in the fall and returns to Israel in the spring.  

"The fig tree puts forth her green figs"

The fig tree normally produces its first crop in the spring, usually harvested in early June. 

"And the vines with the tender grapes Give a good smell"

The grapes are on the vine ripening in preparation for the coming harvest which normally occurs in July. 

The late Ray Stedman had this to say about this passage from Song of Solomon;

There is the springtime of life. But it doesn't lie in the past. It lies in the future. One day this whole world will experience a springtime like that. The Lord Jesus Christ, returning at last to claim his waiting bride, will greet her in words very much like those. The springtime will come, the time of singing, the time when earth shall blossom again and the curse will be lifted and the flowers will appear on the earth. This is a picture of what can take place in the heart of one who falls in love with Jesus Christ and enters into springtime. The cold winter of loneliness, misery, and selfishness is past and the time of singing has come. 

All things considered, I think it is safe to say that Solomon was anticipating a June wedding just like many others have.  Spring has certainly proven over time to be the season of choice when it comes to weddings, and the wedding stories in the Bible are no exception.  Many believe the Church is rapidly approaching its own wedding in Heaven, and a close look at the state of this world certainly seems to support that belief.  One day, very soon it would appear, the Church will hear the groom call out for it to "come away" just as Solomon wrote in this passage.  It is my prayer that you have made the decision to accept the gift of eternal life offered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your sin, and that you are part of the body, the bride of Christ which will live with Him forever in the place He is preparing for us.

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Evil Restrained

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.                            2 Thessalonians 2:5-8  NKJV

Do we live in a truly evil world?  I am sure that most of us would look at the world we live in and describe it as inherently good, with some evil in one form or another always present for the forces of good to do battle against.  Yet those who would do evil are in the minority and for the most part severely outnumbered by a peace-loving majority.  While not all would agree totally with that position, the Word of God tells us in no uncertain terms that a time is coming when evil will no longer be held in check, and this world will descend into chaos as everyone turns against each other and lawlessness is the order of the day.  That day comes when the restrainer, the Holy Spirit, is removed from the earth along with the Church at the time of our deliverance at the rapture.

Woe is me!  For I am like those who gather summer fruits, Like those who glean vintage grapes; There is no cluster to eat Of the first-ripe fruit which my soul desires. The faithful man has perished from the earth, And there is no one upright among men. They all lie in wait for blood; Every man hunts his brother with a net.           Micah 7:1-2  NKJV

I believe the Bible makes it clear that the rapture of the Church could happen at any time.  That does not mean, however, that there might not be a clue in the Word as to the season in which it might occur.  Many believe that this passage from Micah suggests that at the time of the first ripe grape harvest in Israel, usually at the beginning of summer, all of the faithful men of the earth have suddenly disappeared by virtue of the rapture of the Church.  Considering that the Holy Spirit was given to the Church to indwell her on the first Pentecost, it follows that the Spirit is taken at the same time.

If we ask ourselves the question just what this world would look like when the restrainer, the Holy Spirit, is removed from the earth at the rapture, I believe this passage from Micah tells us exactly what will happen.  Most of us are familiar with the observation of the philosopher Edmund Burke when he said “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.  Well, what happens when, according to this passage, there are no faithful men?  Every man is against his own brother, and evil is rampant on the earth.  Talk about all that is necessary to create the “perfect storm” of evil, God simply removes His Church along with the Holy Spirit and there is nothing left to fight against Satan and his forces.

Since history has shown that Satan’s priority is the destruction of Israel, what do you think he tries to do first?  Is it possible this passage from Micah refers to the rapture of the Church?  I think it certainly may well do that, considering the description it gives as to what the world looks like with the absence of the faithful.  Without the Holy Spirit present on earth in the body of the true Church, the evil that is presently being “restrained” will manifest itself in a fury this world has never seen, most assuredly in the direction of the nation of Israel. This evil, however, will not appear out of nowhere and I believe what we are witnessing today is somewhat like the filling up of a lake behind a dam until the point is reached where the dam will fail and a flood consume all that is before it.

Although some might disagree, there is considerable scholarship which supports the premise that the future tribulation period begins on the Jewish holiday of the Feast of Trumpets.  Those who hold the pre-tribulational position of the rapture of the Church look to this day as the time of our deliverance, and this has been taught for many years.  Yet although this would obviously be the point in time where the Church would by necessity have to be taken, there are many who have suggested over the years that there is no reason that there couldn’t be a period of time between the rapture and the beginning of the seven years of tribulation.

I believe a close study of the events that the Bible tells us lead up to the “peace” that the coming man of sin brokers between Israel and its enemies supports the idea that there are some very serious conflicts which take place first.  The majority of scholars I have studied believe that the attempted invasion of Israel outlined in Ezekiel 38, 39 and the deliverance by the direct intervention of God is the event which allows this peace agreement, and the tribulation, to begin.  Considering this, my question for years has been, “what is holding back Israel’s enemies right now”?  If your answer is the restrainer, then it follows He has to be removed before this attack can go forward.

If we accept that there might be a period of time between the rapture and the beginning of the tribulation, it is reasonable to consider the possibility of a summer rapture when the most likely day for an attack of this nature is on Israel’s national day of mourning.  That day is Tisha B’ Av, or the ninth of Av on the Jewish calendar.  This day normally occurs in the middle of the summer and this year it will begin at sunset on the evening of August 1st.  This day is unique in Israel as the day that many national tragedies have occurred throughout their history.  It seems reasonable considering this history that an attack of the type revealed in prophecy which is still to come would most likely occur on this date.

While we might look at the world right now and consider much to be truly evil, it holds no candle to what it will look like when the Church, along with the Holy Spirit is removed at the rapture.  The restrainer is right now holding back Satan’s full fury and the evil that he has planned for this world, but according to the Word of God it won’t last forever.  The Church will be taken and be spared from having to endure the evil which will come upon mankind and the most important question which needs to be asked is are you part of the body of believers which make up the Church?   

If not, you can do that right now and receive the guarantee that you will spend eternity with the Father in Heaven, and escape the evil which is to come.  Simply pray a prayer like this; Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank You for saving me. Amen.

Keep watching.