Caught Up – Part 2

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

Paul, writing from Corinth, was attempting to correct a misunderstanding among the believers who made up the church in Thessalonica. They were confused over the fact that Christ had not yet returned and in the meantime, some within their congregation had died. This had raised serious questions about the timing of Christ’s return and the fate of those who had expressed faith in Him but had died.

In an effort to fill in the holes in their theology and to provide encouragement over the recent departures of their loved ones, Paul expanded their understanding of the events surrounding the end times. This passage has become the primary defense for what has come to be known as the Rapture of the church. I discussed the genesis of the term “rapture” in the previous blog. Here, I will attempt to look at the further evidence found in Scripture that supports the doctrine of the Rapture of the church.

There are those within Christianity who reject the idea of the Rapture, and who believe that in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul is speaking about the Second Coming of Christ. And among those who believe in the Rapture of the church, there is great debate as to when it will take place.

The time of the Rapture has been a matter of disagreement among conservative interpreters. Some believe it will take place before the Tribulation (pretribulationists). Others believe that it will take place after the Tribulation (posttribulationists). Others conclude that it will take place during the Tribulation (midtribulationists). Still others hold that the Lord will catch away only some Christians, not all (partial rapturists). – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Thessalonians

Among these various groups, the primary point of debate is the timing of the Rapture as it relates to the Tribulation. Will it take place before, during, or after? Most pretribulationists believe that this passage, among others, supports their view, and I would agree. As we saw in yesterday’s post, verse 17 provides important evidence for the doctrine of the Rapture. Paul states that, upon the Lord’s return, “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” And then Paul adds, “and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV). While there are those who interpret this verse as referring to the Second Coming of Christ, there are problems with that view. Why does Paul refer to believers being caught up and meeting the Lord in the air? At His second advent, Jesus will come to earth.

The prophet Zechariah, in addressing the end-times event known as “the Day of the Lord,” describes Jesus returning to earth at His Second Coming.

Then the LORD will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. – Zechariah 14:3-4 NLT

In the previous chapter of his letter, Paul referred to Christ’s Second Coming, and differentiated it from the Rapture by describing it as “…the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV). This view aligns with the vision given to the apostle John which he recorded in the book of Revelation. He describes Jesus coming back to earth and bringing the saints with Him.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. – Revelation 19:11-14 NLT

In the verse preceding this description of Christ’s second advent, John describes his vision of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where the

“Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people. – Revelation 19:6-8 NLT

In this passage, John describes seeing the “bride” of Christ, the church, enjoying a sumptuous feast with Him in heaven. They are dressed in “the finest of pure white linen” (Revelation 19:8 NLT). And this event precedes His return to earth with “the armies of heaven, dressed in pure white linen” (Revelation 19:14 NLT). How did the church get to heaven before Christ’s return to earth a second time? The logical answer would be the Rapture. The day will come when Christ returns for His bride, the church. Those believers who are alive at that time will rise to meet with Lord in the air and return with Him to heaven. And this interpretation seems to support the promise Jesus made to His disciples prior to His ascension.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:1-3 ESV

Jesus returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But the redemptive story didn’t end there. As the disciples stood staring up into the sky, two angels appeared and gave them some very important words of encouragement.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:12 NLT

Jesus died. He was buried. He rose again. He appeared. He ascended. And, one day, He will return. This is the very event to which Paul refers in this section of 1 Thessalonians 4. He reminds His audience that there is another important event that looms on the horizon of redemptive history. The return of Christ for His bride, the church.

The Rapture, while often confused with the Second Coming, is a completely separate end times event. It refers to the return of Christ for His bride, the church, and it will take place at the end of what is called the church age – a period of undisclosed length that includes the time in which we live. It began with the coming of Jesus and will end with His return for the church when He takes all those who have believed in Him to join Him in His Father’s house in heaven.

All of this fits into the wedding imagery that Jesus used concerning He and the church. He is the groom and we are His bride. Technically, according to the traditional Jewish concept of marriage, we are the betrothed on Jesus. The marriage has yet to be consummated, but we are legally bound to Him, having been given to Him by His Father, just as in a traditional Jewish wedding (John 17:12). During the betrothal period, the bride and groom are legally married but remain separated from one another.  It is only just before the actual wedding itself that the groom returns for His bride and takes her to his father’s house, where the wedding ceremony and feast are held. Jesus, having returned to His Father’s house, is preparing a place for He and His bride. Then, when the time is right, he will return for her and take her to His Father’s house, where the ceremony and the celebration will take place.

That is the event to which Paul is referring and he appears to be bringing it up because there was confusion among the believers in Thessalonica. They had been longing for and eagerly awaiting the Parousia or coming of Christ. The early church lived with a sense of immediacy and imminence when it came to Christ’s return. They expected it to happen any day. And Paul and the other apostles encouraged this outlook. Paul told the believers in Corinth:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

And he added another important aspect to this end-times event.

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. – 1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT

Notice what Paul says here. Those who have died will be raised to live forever. And those who are living when Jesus returns for the church will also be transformed. That is the very same message Paul is delivering to the Thessalonians. The dead have not missed the boat. Their souls have gone to be with Jesus in heaven. All believers who die prior to the Rapture go to be with Him. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul stressed that death brought immediate entrance into God’s presence.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV

And the day is coming when those departed saints will return with Christ and receive their newly resurrected, glorified bodies. Again, Paul addressed the reality of this incredible promise in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! – 1 Corinthians 15:50-51 NLT

As Dr. Thomas L. Constable so aptly puts it: “the translation of living Christians and the resurrection of dead Christians will take place at the same time.” It is at the Rapture that all those in Christ, the living and the dead, will receive their glorified bodies, custom-made for the eternal state. As Paul puts it, “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT).

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to maintain their hope, even in the face of loss. Their loved ones were not gone, they had simply gone on ahead. And the day is coming when all believers, those who have died and gone to be with the Lord, and those who are still living, will be reunited and will receive their resurrected, glorified bodies. And the apostle John provides us with further words of encouragement regarding that day.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Will…

14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
    so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal
    with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you in,
    at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes,” says the Lord. – Zephaniah 3:14-20 ESV

As Zephaniah prepares to wrap up his very short, but densely packed book of prophecy, he redirects his focus from the coming judgment of Judah and the world to the more upbeat topic of God’s plans for restoration and reconciliation. The world will not end in an apocalyptic firestorm of destruction and devastation. Yes, God is going to bring His divine judgment upon sinful mankind and He will destroy the heavens and the earth, but He will also make all things new (Revelation 21:5). The end of the age will really be a time of new beginnings.

God had promised His chosen people, Israel, that the day was coming when He would restore them to a right relationship with Himself. In spite of all their years of rebellion, unfaithfulness, and stubborn unrepentance, He would once again reestablish His covenant relationship with them.

Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign LORD: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:22-28 NLT

And not only that, God had promised to recreate the universe, which currently suffers under the curse of sin.

“Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth, and no one will even think about the old ones anymore.” – Isaiah 65:17 NLT

The apostle Paul describes the creation as “groaning” under sin’s curse, eagerly awaiting the day when it will be renewed and released from the death and decay that has marred it ever since the fall.

…all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:20-22 NLT

But the good news is that God is going to bring about a renewal of the physical universe and within the hearts of men. Even rebellious Israel will find itself made new by God, which is why Zephaniah shouts:

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter of Jerusalem! – Zephaniah 3:14 ESV

Zephaniah predicts the return of the Messiah and the establishment of His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. And His return will be accompanied by not only the restoration of Israel to favor with God but also by the removal of all further judgment.

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall never again fear evil. – Zephaniah 3:15 ESV

In the book of Hebrews we have recorded the words of God describing this future day when He will make a new covenant with His chosen people.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah…
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.” – Romans 8:8, 10-12 ESV

This will be a day of great rejoicing because God will provide His once-rebellious people with the inner capacity to live in perfect obedience to His law. The law, once relegated to tablets of stone, will be written on their hearts. And the prophet, Jeremiah, recorded God’s promise regarding this coming day.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:33 ESV

Heart transformation. That is what God will bring to His people. Radical, Spirit-enabled heart change that will provide the people of God with the capacity to love and obey Him perfectly and joyfully.

And Zephaniah declares that on that day, God will replace mourning with joy. He will remove all reproach, eliminate all oppression, heal the sick, restore the rejected, eradicate shame, and return His people to a place of prominence and power. And He makes an unbreakable, unwavering promise to His people: “I restore your fortunes before your eyes” (Zephaniah 3:20 ESV). And all this will take place when His Son returns to the earth.

Jesus Christ will come again. And when He does, He will usher in the Millennial Kingdom, His one thousand years of righteous rule from the city of Jerusalem that will bring an end to the reign of Satan and establish culminate with the eternal state. As the prophet Isaiah predicted, Jesus will be King.

Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:7 ESV

Two times in the closing chapter of the book of Revelation, Jesus announces, “behold, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:7, 12 ESV). Obviously, John wrote those words nearly two millennia ago, so Jesus did not mean His return was imminent. But He did mean it was inevitable. And so, we are to live with confidence, eagerly anticipating the reality of His return.

And while the people of Judah faced the coming judgment of God in the form of the Babylonian conquest, they could still rejoice in the knowledge that God will one day “take away their humiliation and make the whole earth admire and respect them” (Zephaniah 3:19 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

   

 

But God Will…

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:22-26 ESV

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:1-7 ESV

The story of the life of Joseph is filled with ups and downs, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, hope and disappointment. It is a story of contrasts and contradictions, including betrayal and forgiveness, curses and blessings, famine and fullness, a powerful Pharaoh and lowly shepherds. But one of the main themes of this fascinating story is that of God’s sovereign hand guiding the affairs of Joseph’s life, from beginning to end. It is the story of the eternal, all-powerful God guiding and directing the details surrounding one man’s life so that His divine plan for the world might be fulfilled. This story is about so much more than Joseph and his rise to power and prominence. There is far more going on than God’s temporal blessings on single individual. Joseph’s promotion to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt is not the point of the story and was never intended to be taken as an example of how God blesses those who are faithful to Him. What happened to Joseph had less to do with him than it did with God’s much greater plan for the people of Israel and, ultimately, for the nations of the world. The story of Joseph must be kept within the context of the overarching story of the Bible. Joseph’s story is a snapshot, a single frame from the film of God’s great redemptive epic. From the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin and fall from grace to the return of the Second Adam and His restoration of all creation and removal of all vestiges of sin from the world, God has been and is accomplishing His grand redemptive plan.

Even Joseph knew that God was not yet done. His life was ending, but God’s plan was far from over. He told his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Genesis 50:24 NLT). Joseph was not dismayed, distraught or disappointed that his life was coming to an end. He had lived a long and eventful life. He knew that his 110-year odyssey on this planet was just a blip on the radar screen of God’s eternal plan. His life, while it mattered, was not ALL that mattered. His life’s accomplishments, while significant, were nothing compared to what God was going to do. His death was not mean to be an epilogue, but simply the closing words of a single chapter in God’s great story of redemption. Joseph was fully expecting God to do more of what He had already done. He lived with the constant expectation that “God will…” He was so confident in God’s promises that he made his brothers swear to take his bones back to the land of Canaan when God did what He had promised to do. They would return one day. He was sure of it. And when Joseph said, “God will…,” he was right, because God did. God did visit eventually visit them and the people of Israel did return to the land of Canaan. And as for Joseph’s desire to be buried in the land of Canaan:

As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. – Joshua 24:32 ESV

If God has said it, He will do it. If He has promised it, He will accomplish it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

The stories of the Bible provide us with glimpses into the character of God. He is faithful and true. He is persistent and unwavering when it comes to His plan and consistent in His  efforts to carry out His promises. Reading the story of Joseph should not leave us amazed at the faith of this unique individual, but it should produce in us an awe at the faithfulness of our God. It should encourage us to trust the One who Joseph trusted and to rest in the promises of the same God who fulfilled all His promises to Joseph. Joseph could confidently say, “God will…” Can you?

Before He ascended back up into heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). And years later, while the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos, Jesus appeared to him and said:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20 ESV

Jesus has said, “I will come again.” He has promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” And He will. That is the story of the Bible. That is the point of the story of Joseph.

 

Motivated By Grace.

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 ESV

It will become increasingly evident from the content of this letter that Paul’s ministry was being maligned or at least, questioned. His motives were also under the microscope, constantly being scrutinized and criticized by those who would choose to reject his authority as an apostle. But Paul responds with confidence, claiming that he and his companions “behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity” (2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Paul can write what he is about to write with complete confidence, even boasting about it, because his conscience is clear. He knows what he has done and why he has done it. He has no reason to question his motives, because he knows that his actions were the result of God’s grace, not earthly wisdom. Paul had made this claim to the Corinthians in his first letter.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV

It was God’s unmerited favor that had produced the life-change in Paul. His words, actions, and even the content of his letters were the by-product of God’s ongoing grace in his life. God was working in him and through him, and he had no reason to take credit for it or apologize because of it. Paul says that his behavior had been marked by simplicity and godly sincerity. The Greek word for simplicity is haplotēs and it refers to “the virtue of one who is free from pretense and hypocrisy” (“G572 – haplotēs – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Sep, 2016. <https://www.blueletterbible.org&gt;). Paul is claiming that his conduct and speech have been free from hypocrisy or any hint of having a hidden agenda. What he has said and done has not been motivated by selfishness or intended for personal gain. After all, as he stated in the opening verses of his letter, his ministry has not made him rich and famous, but has resulted in affliction and even the threat of death.

The Greek word translated, “sincerity” is eilikrineia and it means, “purity” or “cleanness.” Paul uses this same word again in the next chapter.

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. – 2 Corinthians 2:17 ESV

Paul’s conscience is clear because he knows his motives are pure. What he has done in his life has been the work of the Spirit of God. And that is especially true of his relationship with and ministry to the Corinthians. Even now, as he writes the words of this letter, he reminds them that all of his previous letters “have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand” (1 Corinthians 1:13 NLT). It is his sincere desire that they fully comprehend what it is he is trying to say to them and what he is attempting to teach them. They might not get it right now, but he longed for the day when it all made sense to them. He wasn’t in this to win friends, but to make a difference in their faith. He wanted to see them experience all that God had in store for them – the full expression of faith in Christ lived out in everyday life. He longed for them to grow in godliness and to put off their old sin natures. He wanted to see them grow in their knowledge of God and their dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

You can get a sense of Paul’s heart as you read some of the prayers he prayed on behalf of the churches he helped start.

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy – Colossians 1:9-11 ESV

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… – Ephesians 1:16-20 ESV

Paul knew that if they would listen to what he said and apply it to their lives, there would come a day when they would find reason to boast or glory in all that Paul had taught them, because they will see the fruit of it in their lives. The day to which Paul refers is the return of Christ, when he and all the Corinthians will stand before the Lord. It will be on that occasion that they will fully comprehend the simplicity and sincerity of Paul’s methods and message.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. – 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 ESV

Paul’s desire for the Corinthians was the same that he had for the believers in Philippi:

…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:15-16 ESV

Paul wanted to be a success, not so that he could gain recognition or earthly rewards, but so that he could stand before the Lord, seeing the fruit of his labors – the countless believers who had held fast to the word of life and remained faithful to God to the end. Paul’s motives were pure. His heart was sincere. His actions were the result of God’s grace in his own life. He wanted nothing more than to see the Corinthians grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God. They might not understand it now, but the day was coming when they would.

Naively Ignorant.

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. – 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

They say, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” But not only is that not the case, it can be deadly wrong. Especially when it comes to the judgment of God. The false teachers who were stirring up trouble among the believers to whom Peter wrote, were evidently mocking the apostles’ teaching regarding the return of Christ. In their estimation, things were going along like they always had. There seemed to be no indication or sign that Jesus was going to return anytime soon. So this gave them the confidence to follow their own sinful desires. They even mocked at the very idea of Jesus coming back, which was a direct contradiction of what the apostles taught. Peter started out this letter saying, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV). They had seen Jesus in His resurrected state and they had watched as He had returned to heaven, right in front of them. But before He left, He had told them that He would one day return. He also told them that there would be a time of coming judgment.

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:36-39 ESV

Peter brings up the flood as well. He says, “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3:5-6 ESV). These scoffers and doubters were not doing their homework. In their desperate desire to discount the apostles’ teaching about coming judgment, they had overlooked the fact that God had destroyed the earth once before. And while they were confidently boasting, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4 ESV), they were wrong to turn the lack of signs into cause for discrediting the reality of God’s pending judgment. Even those in Noah’s day were eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, they were doing business as usual. Life went on, and they didn’t see it hit them until it was too late. “So will be the coming of the Son of Man,” Jesus said.

God’s judgment is going to come. And it will catch many by complete surprise. They will be going on with life as they always have, ignoring the Word of God and the offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. They will scoff at the idea of punishment for sin and the need for a Savior. They will mock those who attempt to live righteously in this world, living like Moses, choosing to “be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 12:25 ESV).

That is why Peter wrote this letter. He was attempting to remind his readers to keep on keeping on. He wanted them to remain steadfast and committed, and to “remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2 ESV). Peter and the other apostles were teaching the reality of Christ’s return for His church, the inevitability of the tribulation, and the promise of the second coming of Christ when He will judge the world and establish His Kingdom on earth. For Peter, it was essential that his readers stay committed to and dependent upon the Word of God. Let the scoffers scoff and the mockers mock. Let the doubters have their day and the naysayers have their moment in the sun. But as people of faith, we put our trust in the reliability and truthfulness of God. He says of Himself, “I publicly proclaim bold promises. I do not whisper obscurities in some dark corner. I would not have told the people of Israel to seek me if I could not be found. I, the LORD, speak only what is true and declare only what is right” (Isaiah 45:19 NLT).

Isaiah goes on to record the words of God proclaiming, “Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God; there is no other. I have sworn by my own name; I have spoken the truth, and I will never go back on my word: Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess allegiance to me” (Isaiah 45:22-23 NLT).

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the words of Jesus:

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. – Revelation 22:12-17 ESV

The naively ignorant can live as if the promise of His return is a pipe dream. They can boldly deny the reality of the coming judgment of God. But denying something is true does not make it so. As followers of Christ we are to live with these words ringing in our ears:

“Surely I am coming soon.” And our response to that promise should be “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 ESV).

Hold Fast.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV

There should be a proper response when we consider all that Jesus has done for us.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 5:8-10 ESV

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, this securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:28 ESV

His sacrifice on our behalf should provide us with a confidence to come into the very presence of God, with “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 ESV). When Jesus died, the veil in the temple that acted as a barrier into the Holy of Holies, was torn in two. “Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51 NLT). That event was incredibly significant, because it removed, for all time, the veil of separation between man and God. Up until that time, the only person who could enter the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence was said to dwell, was the high priest. And his access was limited to a single day each year, the Day of Atonement, and he could enter only having sacrificed an animal for his own cleansing. If he failed to do so, he would die. And no one else was allowed into the presence of God. But that all changed when Jesus died. The veil was torn, and the barrier to God was removed. It was as Jesus had claimed: “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9 ESV). Those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their sin substitute can now enjoy access to God. As His sheep, they can enter into His presence without fear of death or rejection. The can go in and out and find pasture.

But this newly available access to God, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus, should create in us not only a confident assurance, but a desire to live in obedience to His will. The author tells us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). We are to pursue righteousness, not in the hopes of gaining God’s approval, but in gratefulness for the fact that we are already approved in His eyes. Our hearts have already been sprinkled clean. Our bodies have been washed with pure water. We stand before Him as holy. This does not mean we are without sin. Each of us still retains his old sin nature. We still have the capacity and propensity to sin. But our sins can no longer keep us apart from God. We have been extended forgiveness. We have been fully acquitted. And we have His promise that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). We have access into the Holy of Holies, at all times, where we can receive mercy, grace, and forgiveness – never condemnation.

So the author of Hebrews tells us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). This is the same thought he expressed back in chapter six when he said, “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Hebrews 6:18-19 ESV). Earlier in that same chapter, he wrote, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:11-12 ESV). We must keep our focus on the promise to come. Our hope is to be based on the completed work of Christ. He is coming again. That is why the author tells us, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV). He came, but our hope is based on the fact that He is coming again. And we are to hold fast to that reality. It is to provide us with the motivation we need to remain faithful until the end. It is to give us the encouragement we need to live obediently and not complacently. The apostle John reminds us, “And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame. Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children” (1 John 2:28-29 NLT). It is our hope in Christ that gives us the help we need to live godly lives as we wait for His return. It is our faith in His return that provides us with the determination to remain faithful till the end. We must hold fast. We must finish strong. We must fight the good fight and finish the race set before us – “for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV).

The Divine Witness.

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. – John 15:26-27 ESV

Once again, Jesus is attempting to prepare His disciples for His imminent departure. In a matter of hours, His betrayal and arrest will take place and the disciples will find their world turned upside down by the events that will follow. So in this message, which has come to be known as the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus gave His disciples a glimpse into what was to come, including an assurance that they would have help after He had gone. He would send them a helper or advocate, in the form of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. And according to all that Jesus said was going to happen to them after He was gone, they were going to need the Spirit’s help.

First, Jesus said that the world would hate them, just as it hated Him. And they were going to be first-hand witnesses as to just how much the world hated Jesus when they saw Him brutally crucified. They would watch as the crowds turned their joyful shouts of “Hosannah!” into angry screams of “Crucify Him!” But Jesus let them know that things were going to get even worse after His departure. “I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19 ESV). He warned them that they were going to be persecuted. Why? Because of their relationship with Him and because they were going to be His representatives on earth after He returned to His Father.

So Jesus told them to abide in Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). But this statement had to confound the disciples, because Jesus was telling them that He was going away. He was leaving them. So how were they supposed to abide in Him when He was no longer going to be with them? How was He going to be in them if He was going to be absent from them? And how could Jesus say to them, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”? (John 15:11 ESV). Joy in the midst of persecution? How were they supposed to have fullness of joy at the thought of the death of their friend and teacher?

That’s where the Helper was going to come in. Jesus knew something they didn’t know. He knew that none of what He was asking them to do was going to be possible without help. They were incapable of surviving all that lie ahead without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The joy that would be in them would come in the form of the Holy Spirit. His presence would provide them with a constant internal reminder of all that Jesus had said and done when He was with them. The Spirit would make it possible for them to endure all the persecution that was coming and be fruitful in the process. They would not only survive, but thrive in the midst of abundant difficulty. They would discover a supernatural capacity to love selflessly and sacrificially, just as they were about to see Jesus do. The Spirit within them would bear witness to them regarding Jesus. The Holy Spirit would make sense of all the seeming madness regarding Jesus’ coming, miracles, teachings and startling death. The Spirit would provide undeniable proof of just who Jesus had claimed to be. His presence within them would prove that Jesus was still abiding with them. And as a result, they would become unwavering witnesses of Jesus, testifying of His resurrection and proclaiming His offer of forgiveness of sin and eternal life to any who would receive it.

It is the Holy Spirit who proves once and for all that Jesus was who He claimed to be and that the salvation He so boldly offered is real. The apostle Paul put it in words that make it so clear: “he [Jesus] has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us” (2 Corinthians 1:22 NLT). In his letter to the believers in Rome, he put it this way: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16 ESV). It is the abiding presence of God’s Spirit within us that provides us with inarguable evidence that Jesus’ offer of salvation was real. It proves that Jesus really did rise from the dead. He does sit at the right hand of the Father. He is going to return some day. The Spirit of God who lives in us is our personal guarantee regarding all that Jesus promised to us. And while we wait for the ultimate climax of all that Jesus promised: His return, we can enjoy fullness of joy and assurance of our salvation. We can experience abundant fruitfulness and express unconditional love. We can sense the reality of Christ’s abiding presence and trust in the promise of His imminent return.

How Long?

Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly? – Isaiah 64:10-12 ESV

Isaiah 64

Isaiah’s prophetic ministry spanned the reigns of four successive kings in Israel. He had lived long enough to have seen God’s warnings of judgment come true. King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian troops had laid siege to Jerusalem for years and had eventually entered the city, pillaging and burning the temple of God, and taking captive many of the citizens of the city. As Isaiah surveyed the aftermath of all that happened, he knew two thing: They had gotten what they deserved and God was the one who brought it upon them. Their stubborn refusal to turn from their sin and back to God had led to their fall. God had not only allowed the Babylonians to defeat Judah, He had invited them to do so. They were acting on His behalf, as His agents of punishment. Jeremiah had recorded the words of God, warning, “behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation” (Jeremiah 25:9 ESV).

The sad state of affairs in which the people of Judah found themselves had been brought on by their own sin and had been sanctioned by the very God they had refused to obey. And Isaiah knew that as long as God remained angry with them, they had no hope. There was nothing they could do to change their circumstances. Their redemption lay completely in the hands of God. Only He could restore them, which is why Isaiah called out to Him. He knew that as long as God remained silent, the people would remain enslaved, impoverished, hopeless and helpless. It is interesting to note that the people of Judah had refused to obey God and serve Him alone, but now they were having to obey a foreign king and live as slaves to his will. They had rejected the one true King and found themselves serving a pagan, human king. But Isaiah was not willing to accept their current circumstances as final. He turned to the only one who could do anything about it. His prayer was for God’s redemption and restoration of His people.

But when God redeems, He offers more than just release from the guilt of sin. He desires more than just a release from the pain and suffering caused by sin. He wants to restore the relationship necessary for men and women to exist peacefully and pleasantly in His presence. The people of Judah needed more than just release from captivity to Babylon or the physical restoration of the temple and their city. They needed God. They needed their hearts restored. They needed their character transformed. And only God could bring those things about. God’s silence would only mean more suffering. God’s decision to delay His salvation would only prolong their pain. Isaiah knew the people of Judah well enough to know that, in spite of all that they were having to endure, they were hardheaded enough that they would never repent of their sins and return to God. So He was appealing to God to do what only He could do. Save.

All the way back in chapter 44 of Isaiah, God had spoken these words to Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,
who frustrates the signs of liars
and makes fools of diviners,
who turns wise men back
and makes their knowledge foolish,
who confirms the word of his servant
and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
and I will raise up their ruins’;
who says to the deep, ‘Be dry;
I will dry up your rivers’;
who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” –
Isaiah 44:24-28 ESV

Just as God had ordained and orchestrated the fall of Judah through the king of Babylon, He was going to one day restore the fortunes of His people and rebuild the temple through another pagan king. God was not done yet. He was not finished with the people of Judah and had not forgotten all the promises He had made to Abraham and David. Judah had to be restored. Jerusalem had to be rebuilt. The temple must be reconstructed. Why? Because one day God’s final solution to man’s sin problem would be born into the tribe of Judah, walk the streets of Jerusalem, minister in the temple courtyard and be crucified outside the city walls. All as part of God’s redemptive plan for the world.

Isaiah would never live to see that day, but he hoped in it and longed for it. So should we. We live in a time when men are enslaved to so much and held captive by the oppressive rule of so many things. Even believers find themselves living as slaves to sin, when they have already been set from its grasps. Our world longs for release from its pain and suffering. As believers we should long for the day of God’s salvation – the Day of the Lord. Our daily prayer should be, “How long?” We should long to know how much longer God will delay before He brings about His restoration and redemption to the world. How long will it be before He sends back His Son to call home His bride, the church? How much longer will He delay before He brings the final fulfillment of His redemptive plan for the world? Only He knows. But we can cry out for His salvation to come. We can long for His redemption to take place. Because only He can bring about the transformation this sin-sick world needs.

The Last Hour.

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. – 1 John 2;18 ESV

What a foreboding statement. At this point in his letter, John seems to take on a tone of seriousness and soberness. He addresses his audience as children, exposing his pastor’s heart and his feelings of compassion and responsibility for them. He wanted them to know the reality of their circumstances and understand the seriousness of what they saw happening around them. What they were experiencing was NOT to be unexpected or surprising, because of the times in which they were living. It was the last hour. How does John know that? Because “many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18 ESV). As the gospel advanced, the opposition increased and it continues to this day. And it is not just an opposition to Christians. It is an anti-Christ sentiment. It isn’t even an opposition to God. There are many who, like the individual referred to in chapter one, claim to have fellowship with God. They claim to know Him. But they deny Jesus as Christ. They are anti-Christ, and therefore opposed to the good news as preached by Jesus Himself and carried on by His disciples. Like the original recipients of John’s letter, we are living in the last hour, the last days. This was a common designation for the days that followed Jesus incarnation and resurrection. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:2 ESV). Paul warned Timothy, “that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV). Peter tells us, “that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires” (2 Peter 3:3 ESV). But Peter also knew that the last days would also be accompanied by a great movement of God. He had seen it and experienced it. On the day of Pentecost, he had been part of the small band of disciples who had been dramatically and miraculously transformed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. And he knew that their experience had been promised by God many years earlier through the prophet Joel. “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17 ESV). Peter worked this Old Testament prophesy into the message that he gave to the crowd of people who had gathered as a result of the disciples speaking in languages they didn’t know. It was the last days. God was at work. He had sent His Son. He had died, was raised again and now His disciples were spreading the good news regarding the salvation made available through Him. But there was going to be opposition. There was going to be an anti-Christ sentiment rise up and spread. The world would oppose their message. Satan would stand against the gospel and its offer of a restored relationship with God. We are living in a war zone. Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the eyes of the lost. He wants to keep them in the dark regarding the hope available to them through Jesus Christ. So he offers them alternatives and seemingly viable options. But they are all anti-Christ, other than Christ. They provide options that leave out Christ.

But like the believers to whom John was writing, we have hope and we have help. We have the Holy Spirit. John wrote, “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27 NLT). What we have to realize is that virtually everything around us is anti-Christ. The world and the things it offers us provide a constant temptation to turn from Christ to something else. Satan wants us to find our hope in the things of this world. He wants us to find our satisfaction from the things of this world. He wants us to seek our joy from the things of this world. He wants us to find our significance from the things of this world. But these things are all lies and illusions. They are poor imitations of the real thing. John reminds us, “And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25 ESV). That should be our focus. Everything here is temporal, not eternal. It is fading away. But our hope is sure. Our salvation is secure. Our eternal future assured. And we know that the last days will have a last day. There is an ending to this story. There is a final chapter to God’s story of redemption. Jesus Himself told us, “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven” (Matthew 24:30-31 NLT). These are difficult days, but we serve a great God. We have His Spirit within us and His promise of eternal life to motivate us. We can not only survive, we can thrive. We have already overcome the evil one because of what Christ has done for us.

Daniel 11-12, Revelation 22

He Is Coming!

Daniel 11-12, Revelation 22

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!– Revelation 22:20 ESV

As the books of Daniel and Revelation both come to a close, they provide encouraging reminders that the events recorded in them will take place. Daniel is told to “shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4 ESV). He is to seal up what is contained in the prophesies provided by God and preserve them. God was not telling Daniel to hide them, but to make sure that he preserved them so that the words contained within them would be proven true when all took place just as God had said. In the book of Revelation, John is told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Revelation 22:10 ESV). This was an indication that the end was close. The culmination of all God’s plans for the redemption of mankind were nearer than they had ever been. There is a surety and a certainty contained in both of these books. What God has said will take place. What He has prophesied will come to pass. There will be much that will happen between now and the end of time. Daniel was told of events involving the nations of the world that would result in all kinds of political and military upheaval in the centuries to come. The Persians, Egyptians, Seleucids, and Greeks would jockey for power, conquering one another and making the Middle East a volatile and unstable environment for years to come. All the way up until the rise of the Roman empire, Palestine would find itself in the middle of a power struggle between powerful nations, leaving the people of Israel as helpless pawns and easy preys for their enemies. The 400 years between the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament were some of the most tumultuous times on earth – just as God had said they would be. But they would end with the coming of the Son of God as an innocent human baby.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But Christ’s first advent was designed to pay for sin and offer salvation and justification to all who would believe in Him. His first coming was to satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God who had to punish mankind for their rebellion against His sovereign rule. Jesus became the sin substitute, accomplishing for man what he could not have done for himself. Jesus lived a sinless life and lived in perfect obedience to the just requirements of God’s holy law. He became the perfect, spotless Lamb who was sacrificed as a payment for the sins of mankind. His death made eternal life possible. He exchanged His righteousness for man’s sins. He bore our burden and died the death we deserved. All in fulfillment of God’s divine plan. But while His redemptive work is finished, His job is not yet done. He is coming again. He has unfinished business. The point of all prophesy is the future. In Daniel’s case, he was given insight into events that would take place over the coming centuries. And all of what was recorded in chapter 11, verses 1-35 has taken place. The various kings and nations mentioned can be easily traced and the accuracy of the prophecies contained in these verses can be easily proven. So if what God said would happen has actually taken place, why would we not believe that everything else He promised would be fulfilled as well. God told Daniel that “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (Daniel 12:1 ESV). He was speaking of the Great Tribulation, the missing seventieth week spoken of in Daniel 9. It will be a time of great trouble. Jesus Himself described it in these sobering terms: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21 ESV). But God had good news for Daniel. “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1b ESV). God would redeem a remnant of His people. He even told Daniel, “But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days” (Daniel 12:13 ESV). This does not mean that Daniel would live to see the end, but that he would be part of the faithful remnant who would undergo resurrection from the dead and stand before “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:3 ESV).     

What does this passage reveal about man?

Jesus told us, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8 ESV). The centuries have recorded a wide range of events, from wars to natural disasters. We continue to watch as the influence of sin on the world manifests itself in a variety of unsettling forms. There are days when it would appear as if the end was near. We even question whether it can get any worse. But Jesus said these things are simply the birth pains. They are the precursor to something even greater yet to come. Man’s rebellion against God will continue to increase up until the bitter end. The period of the Great Tribulation will see the rise of the Antichrist and the greatest outpouring of persecution on the Jews that the world has ever seen. Sin will have reached its apex. Man’s rebellion against God and Satan’s war against God’s people will come to a climax. And then God will step in.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

John records the stirring words of Jesus Himself, predicting His second advent. “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:12-13 ESV). He is coming again. God predicted it and He will bring it to pass. Again, Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon”  and the response of those of us who call Him our Lord and Savior should be, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 ESV). We should long for His coming. We should pray for His return. And while we wait, we should issue the words found in Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17 ESV). Jesus is coming again. And while there may appear to be plenty of time before that event takes place, we must live with a sense of urgency. We are to live soberly and righteously, as if His return could take place at any minute. We are to issue an invitation to everyone we meet, inviting them to “Come!” We are to point all those who are thirsty to the source of living water – Jesus Christ. And while we wait for His return, we are to do exactly what the angel told John, “Worship God” (Revelation 22:9 ESV). He is to be our focus. He is to be our source of hope. He is to be our help in times of trouble and our strength when we feel weak. We must constantly remind ourselves that God is not done yet. His will WILL be done. His plan WILL be fulfilled. His Son WILL return. His Kingdom WILL come. And sin WILL be no more.

Father, You are worthy of worship. You are deserving of my praise and my trust. You have proven Yourself trustworthy and true time and time again – in history and in my life. Your Words always come true. Your prophecies always get fulfilled. Your will always comes to pass. Help me to live in light of those realities. And, come Lord Jesus, come! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org