The Heart of the Debate 2

From The Cross in the End-Times

An argument can be made that Christianity itself is based upon a violent and irreconcilable difference of opinion in first-century Jerusalem regarding the nature of the messiah.  Christianity is born out of a lethally violent disagreement.  Our salvation is based upon God’s working within a massively destabilizing first-century social upheaval and religious crisis of identity, truth, and right living.  This crisis produced redemption and salvation for countless millions of new-covenant believers down through the twenty centuries leading up to our present time.  All of the first-century early church participated fully in these events, according to their individual callings, abilities, and Holy Spirit empowerment.

God has shown us in the Bible that He is able to stand alongside us in the fiery furnace, in the lion’s den, and on the challenging road to evangelizing the Mediterranean world in the first century.  As Spirit-led Christians, when faced with adversity, we do not fold up our tents and go home.  Godly men and women in the Bible, and Spirit-led Christians today, do not back down in the face of a challenge.

In Mark 4:35-41, when the disciples finally wake up the sleeping Jesus, and rather pointedly ask Him whether or not He cares if they perish in the storm at sea, Jesus counters by saying “Why are ye so fearful?  How is it that ye have no faith?”  Jesus is the Almighty God and Creator of the universe.  Jesus cannot perish in a small boat in peril of a strong storm on a lake.

The Christian church can follow Jesus anywhere, even into the dreaded tribulation for a few years if need be.  Spirit-born Christians have the Holy Spirit residing inside them.  Nothing on earth can overturn the Christian who is rooted and grounded in faith in Jesus Christ (Rev. 21:7).  Luke 21:36 can be applied to any appropriate time during the seven-year tribulation.  The fulfillment of Luke 21:36 does not have to occur before or at the beginning of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period in order to be a blessing, a relief, and a hope-filled motivation for continued watchfulness.

The Holy Spirit, living within the Christian, is not afraid of the great tribulation.  Jesus Christ securely enthroned in our hearts is not intimidated by Lucifer or the Antichrist.  The Bible tells us from beginning to end that God has complete mastery over spiritual opposition.  This is an extremely important concept to grasp as we approach the upcoming end-times events.

As Spirit-born Christians, if we find ourselves someday soon in the midst of Daniel’s end-times tribulation period, this means God pre-destined us for these times, and this also means we have the capacity through the power of the Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ to step up to the challenge at hand.  If we find ourselves in the tribulation, Jesus Christ will be there with us.

The tribulation can therefore be alternately viewed as the opportunity for the “ordinary” Christian to become a great hero of the faith.  Instead of something fearful to avoid, the Holy Spirit empowered participation for a period of time in the last great harvest of souls, amidst the tribulation, should be viewed as a privilege of inestimable value.  To be chosen and called…to “be purified, and made white, and tested” according to Daniel 12:10, is no small thing in the grand expanse of the history of the saints of God.

To experience the total abandonment of self-interest and self-preservation, lost through the loving outreach component of the power of the Holy Spirit like Stephen experienced before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:15), is to become Christ-like in the penultimate demonstration of character…the sacrifice of the cross.  To overcome the “accuser of our brethren” by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of our testimony, and that we loved not our lives unto the death (Rev. 12:10-11), is something that will bring victorious closure to human redemptive history that would endure for an eternity.

For Holy Spirit filled and empowered Christians during the tribulation, “ye shall be as gods” (Gen 3:5) does actually come true for human beings, but in the narrowly right way in divine loving self-sacrifice as patterned for us by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.  This unexpected outcome is to the eternal chagrin, consternation, and judgment of Lucifer the archangel who wanted to become god for all of the wrong reasons (Isa. 14:12-17; Rev 12:12).  God is so imaginatively creative He can bring the destructive words of the temptation in the Garden of Eden back full-circle upon Lucifer’s own head.  God pouring out His divine power and grace in demonstration of self-sacrificing Christ-like love through end-times Christians would place an emphatic period at the end of the final chapter in the long story of human redemptive history.

Human efforts to create a better world are rife with failure and shortcomings.  The narrative stories of faith in the Bible are the only sure examples of success having eternal benefits.  When God joint-ventures with us in an adventure of faith we have the potential for large results on an unimaginable scale.

God has to initiate drastically enhanced worldwide circumstances one last time to attempt to break through the stubborn rejection of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.  For many people adversity is the only thing that brings focus to our shortcomings that leads to seeking heartfelt repentance toward God.  We therefore need God to set-up the precisely targeted conditions on earth whereby the task of salvation is completed and the church becomes the light of the world.  We need God’s divine help to finish the job at the end of the ages.

The end-time great tribulation is not about what we would like or prefer.  It is about God closing out the human story of redemption in the highest and best way possible according to the extremely tight specifications of the final journey of faith patterned for us in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.  It is about Immanuel…God with us…in the penultimate resolution in the pursuit of truth designed to benefit the people of God for all eternity.  It is the closing chapter of the story beginning with Abraham so long ago, of trusting God and letting go in a set of circumstances that divide truth from error in a way that is incomprehensible to the horizontally conventional world of skeptical unbelief.

The example of Paul aptly closes out this book.  In Acts 21, Paul is journeying toward Jerusalem for the last time.  Along the way, Holy Spirit inspired Christians forewarn Paul that he will face persecution, imprisonment, and possibly physical harm in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24, 21:10-14).  Paul is arrested in the temple, beaten by the populace, rescued by a Roman guard, almost interrogated by scourging, in danger of being “pulled to pieces” in the Sanhedrin, and threatened with death through an ambush of forty men lying in wait, having taken a vow not to eat until they have killed Paul.  Yet in Acts 23:11, just before Paul learns of the plot to kill him and he is moved to Caesarea for safety, Jesus appears to Paul in the night and says: “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”

Jesus amazingly and counter to all worldly conventional thinking encourages Paul to “be of good cheer” in the midst of deadly opposition and the most unsettling of worldly events.  Paul goes on to witness before the Roman governor Felix, and King Agrippa and Bernice in Caesarea.  Paul then appeals to Caesar for a hearing in Rome, survives a shipwreck in route to Rome as a prisoner, writes his remaining four “pastoral” New Testament epistles, and is finally martyred by the Emperor Nero in Rome.

Is this example of the Apostle Paul the true foreglimpse of the selfless divine love that can go forward in the face of enormous opposition to accomplish the task of salvation for others through the enabling power of the “latter rain” of Holy Ghost evangelical fire? Is a fully engaged Christian church on earth during some portion of the great tribulation the difficult but privileged calling that will define for all time the true nature and person of Jesus Christ the King of glory?  Is our blessed hope of Titus 2:13 the unbreakable assurance of Jesus with us come what may?

God supplies Holy Spirit faith, power, and boldness when we need it (Dan. 3:16-18; Acts 4:8).  The world wants to sweep the issues of sin, repentance, and our decision regarding Jesus Christ under the rug.  People want to be distracted from these issues by the everyday concerns of the world.  But the upheaval of the end-times brings these issues to the surface in the same lethally unwelcome way that forced the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the first century.

The cross element patterned for us in the journeys of faith recorded throughout the Bible, deserves our closest examination as we approach an understanding of upcoming end-times biblical prophecy.  A commendable bias of including the cross and the resurrection in our interpretation of scripture should become part of the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding we bring to our Christian worldview as end-times events begin to come into clear focus.

The cross in the end-times…of God brilliantly displacing our worldly conventional thinking with life-scripts beyond our imagination…is a huge issue.  God validating and authenticating His character and faithfulness is best discovered and demonstrated through the creative details of a God-composed adventure of faith.  The Cross in the End-Times is as large as any other issue at the close of human redemptive history.  The cross fully applied to our lives creates the most space for God to effectively work out His highest ways.

“Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Mt. 24:44).

The Heart of the Debate 1

From The Cross in the End-Times

“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure.”                                                                                                                           (1 Jn. 3:3)

As I venture out into my neighborhood and community, the prospects for massive Christian revival in the very near future have not improved much.  People are still going about their self-absorbed pursuits of obtaining material wealth and possessions, trying to display the prideful outward appearances of their merit and worthiness through the measuring scale of financial success, and showing little or no openness to their need for God in their lives.

People rebuff attempts by Christians to share the gospel message with them, as if this outreach of love was a direct personal insult to their ability to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining.  Accepting Jesus Christ into their lives means to many people a retreat into character weakness, having to lean upon God’s help “as a crutch.”  Without some cosmically drastic negative change in this outward worldly environment, the status quo of difficult evangelical outreach in developed countries would continue on its current slow pace right up to the very edge of the end of time.

I believe it will take major acts of God, as described in the biblical end-times prophecies, to create the quantum shift in the world environment that will be required to shake-up people’s current comfort zone to become receptive to God’s final outreach of redemptive love.  The current context of life issues must be turned upside down for people to replace their self-centered pursuits with a serious consideration of the offer of a new eternal life through Jesus Christ.

To reach deep into the self-centered group of people currently going about their own way without any regard for God, it will take some drastic shake-up in the world’s social, political, economic, and/or natural environment to get their attention.  When this occurs, what are we actually describing?  Are we then talking about the beginning of the actual seven-year tribulation, or are we looking at a series of preliminary warm-up events on a gradual upward incline of chaos and upheaval leading up to the start of the tribulation?

We cannot control the upcoming natural disasters and judgment plagues of “biblical proportion” that are described in the Bible to occur in the tribulation period.  These tribulation events will topple proud and arrogant people off the pedestals of their false confidence of being gods on the thrones of their destinies.  Some people will fall to their knees and cry out to God to save them amidst the unprecedented chaos.  Others will continue to shake their fists at God in stubborn defiance.

The great end-times message is that we are not gods.  We were never created to be our own gods.  We have no business being a part of Lucifer’s rebellion against God.  The basis of Lucifer’s recruitment of mankind into his rebellion was a lie.  This end-times message is not new.  What will be new in the end-times is that the world will be coming apart at the seams.  What will be so powerfully new in the last days is the close correlation of this message to repent and step down off our thrones, with the realization of our utter helplessness to affect or control the outward manifestation of catastrophic natural events of a magnitude entirely new to the planet (Mt. 24:21).

The end-times message will closely correspond to unfolding world events.  The upheaval of the tribulation period will compliment and accentuate the end-times message, that we are not gods and we are not self-sufficient kings.  The end-of-time tribulation will set up upon the earth an environment that will clarify, with powerful finality, the separation between the limits of our capacity as human beings, and the role that Almighty God must responsibly assume in the physical, ethical, and moral management of the universe.

Counter-intuitively, the most loving and thoughtful thing that God can do for us is to allow this temporary and disposable world to fall apart at the end of redemptive history, to reveal to us for one last emphatic time the catastrophic result of our thinking that we are gods capable of living independently apart from Him in spiritual rebellion.

At first glance, therefore, what may seem like only a surface difference in timing between a pretribulation rapture and the thesis of this book, that the rapture will more likely occur a few years part-way into the tribulation, now separates into two very distinct outcomes.  A pretribulation rapture removes the Christian church off the earth and out of any possible participation in the momentous events of the tribulation.  A pretribulation rapture erases any possibility of Immanuel…God with us…in the midst of issues that will define God’s claim to rightful leadership as King and Ruler for the remainder of eternity.

But an as-yet un-raptured Christian church on the earth during at least some of Daniel’s final seven-year tribulation, utilizes the unprecedented narrow gate environment imposed upon the entire planet, creating the biblically patterned context for “called, chosen, and faithful” commitment to service for each and every Christian alive on the earth.

The unprecedented combination of the total loss of any option for normalcy as a result of worldwide persecution and the start of the judgment plagues, with the selfless fervor of evangelism empowered by the pouring out of the Spirit upon all flesh according to Joel 2:28-29, enlists and transforms even initially reluctant Christians into life-and-death service to Jesus Christ that they will be grateful for, for all eternity.  The pattern of the cross of Christ contained integrally in the adventures of faith…recorded throughout the Bible…lies at the heart of this debate.

What makes the end-times tribulation period unique is not the large volume of end-times prophetic information given to us in the Bible, or that our understanding of end-times prophesy becomes more clear by employing a literal interpretation of scripture as often as possible, or that a dispensational framework of interpretation allows for a confident placement of the rapture at the beginning of the tribulation.  What makes the end-times tribulation period unique in history is the drastic change in the context of the world environment, introducing judgment plagues, the worldly appealing initial introduction of the Antichrist, unprecedented worldwide persecution of Christians, and a monumental last-ditch outreach of the gospel message of salvation to the uncommitted.

What drastically changes during the tribulation is an extreme environment of narrowly focused, life-and-death issues and goals, in which every Christian alive on the earth will become instantly transported into the reality of an adventure of faith.  When Joel 2:28-29 commences, every Spirit-born, twenty-first century Christian on earth overnight becomes a “called-out” person, no matter who or what they previously were.  When the latter rain of Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:16-21 begins, every Christian on earth will become a called, chosen, and Spirit-anointed vessel for service, similar to what Jeremiah experienced and describes in Jeremiah 20:9.


The Cross in the End-Times 2

One Important Lesson at the End of the Ages

One of the most difficult things to do in all of human experience is to keep our composure when we are unjustly or inaccurately criticized.  Our natural inclination is to strike back in hostile anger when someone criticizes us for unjustified reasons.

Jesus is unjustly crucified as a malefactor between two thieves on crosses when in fact He is acting as the perfectly sinless, atoning Lamb of God sacrifice for the shortcomings of other people (Lk. 23:41).  But Jesus on the cross is operating at the pinnacle of self-sacrificing righteousness.  His performance occurs within the context of the most derisive and unjustly demeaning circumstances imaginable.  Yet Jesus kept His composure throughout His ministry, His trial, and the crucifixion (Lk. 9:55-56).  He did not call down tens of thousands of avenging angels from heaven in righteous indignation while on the cross.  He did not even defend Himself, His honor, or His complete innocence at His night-time trial (Mk. 14:61).

Only divinely unselfish love, motivated by a higher purpose, can produce this lofty character trait of absolute composure in the face of wrongful accusations patiently born for the benefit of other people.  Only a future-sighted spiritual vision elevated above the horizontally conventional now could possibly place the needs of others high enough above our own reputation and worldly standing to inspire and maintain self-composure.  Matthew 24:7-14 seems to imply that this is one of the lofty character traits that will be required of end-times Christian to be able to navigate successfully through some portion of the great tribulation without being offended (Mt. 13:21) and falling away (2 Thes. 2:3).

During the period of time when the latter rain of the Spirit of God is poured out upon the earth (Joel 2:28-29), enabling heroic evangelism and self-sacrificing good works by Christians around the globe, the universal hatred toward Christians prophesied in Matthew 24:9 would be as unjustified as was the rejection of Jesus of Nazareth in the first century.

The great irony of a successful journey of faith that produces elevated aspirations, morals, and attitudes is that this creates the separation and difference from other people still living in worldly conventional thinking.  The positive change that enables Spirit-born Christians to have something valuable to offer to the world in terms of salvation and transformation is ironically the very thing that produces the unpopularity of being different and not fitting in.  The farther Christians get away from being worldly-minded through their God-composed and guided walks of faith, the more Christians have to offer but the less they will fit-in and be accepted (Acts 22:22).

End-times Christians must obtain through hard-earned experience the elevated vision to be able to love and pray for our enemies and those who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:43-48).  Genuinely wanting the salvation and beneficial transformation of those disagreeable people in our lives to the point that we can disregard opposition, offensive behavior, and hard speech toward us (Mt. 5:11-12), and push forward in prayer and right responses on our part, is a divine character trait.

Every Christian who has been challenged, exercised, and chastened in this area of maintaining our self-composure in response to unjustified criticism and unfair accusation, knows how unreachable this character trait is in our fallen, natural-man thinking.  Yet Matthew 24:7-14 tells us clearly that the whole world will hate Christians in the last-days and that many will be offended and the love of many will grow cold.  Christians cannot possibly learn and exhibit this spiritually mature behavior at the pinnacle of Christ-like character without experiencing first-hand the challenging events of the end-times.  The end-times tribulation is the capstone course in Christian character, the final seminar lesson-plan in discovering the real truth behind the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:5).

If end-times Christians can rise to the challenge and put into practice unselfish sacrificial love, this divine character trait will shine in brightness above the egocentric, false light of the fallen covering cherub Lucifer.  This brings the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden full-circle.  It exposes the lie of the character assassination of God in the Garden of Eden, and accomplishes this through the very same agents…human beings…who were originally so easily deceived.  God’s divine love shining through mature and experienced Christians sacrificing themselves unselfishly for the salvation of others, through their free-will voluntary decision to follow and obey Jesus Christ in a journey of faith even into the spiritual battlefield of the great tribulation, is God’s winning demonstration of the power of thoughtful and giving love over the obstinacy of self-centered rebellion in all of its forms.

This final argument can only be forever decisively articulated through a full assembly of the Christian church in battle array on earth, clothed in the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6:12-17, and motivated by the divine quality of love exhibited by Jesus Christ at Calvary.  The Christian church gets the long-awaited final victory through Jesus Christ, a hard-earned lesson of inestimable value that will last for all eternity.

This great final victory involves a willingness to embrace change at the deepest, most profound level.  Humility produced now through divinely guided training, which is liberated from the cares of this world and is committed to uplifting Christ to the world even at the potential cost of our lives, is the authoritative pattern of the narrative stories of faith in the Bible.

Radical change in the outward world environment, having the loss of the expectation for worldly conventional normalcy combined with the contrast of Spirit-filled, non-worldly minded Christians not going along with the horizontally conventional, temporal message of the Antichrist, will separate and divide the eternal issues of right and wrong like never before.  The willingness to follow Jesus into the uncertain risk of radical change may be one of the required ingredients in the end-times needed to expose finally and forever the man of perdition of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, aptly and decisively bringing to a close the final chapter in human redemptive history.

The Cross in the End-Times 1

“Who, through faith, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”  (Heb. 11:33-34)

Anyone who has ever been brought in as an outsider to reform a business company as a temporary consultant or as a long-term, in-house employee eventually discovers the discouraging reality that the people initiating the reforms often think the problem involves other people within the company, and not themselves.  Company owners and managers pushback against the very reforms they initiate, at the critical transition point where fact-finding abruptly changes to actual  implementation, because they resist recommended changes in the way they are doing things at the very top of the company, just like everyone else resists change throughout the organization.

The irony is that owners and top managers resist the changes that would improve the company structure and performance when these changes also include the way they themselves have been doing things.  Beneficial change is then killed by half-hearted commitment and partial implementation because of the strong human tendency for continuing to do things our way, once we have developed patterns and practices that have been set within the inertia of usage over time.

The optimum best approach sometimes fails to gain acceptance because people do not want to change.  It is considered okay to audit and scrutinize others, but we do not like other people entering into our “turf” to analytically criticize how we ourselves do things (Jn. 3:20). The baffling and inexplicably intense, hostile resistance to beneficial change that would clearly bring improved efficiency, mistake prevention, and cost-savings into a struggling company is a huge challenge to overcome for those people tasked to identify and implement change in the organization.  This concept is central to understanding the hostile pushback the Christian gospel message of salvation receives out in the world.

The core feature of Christianity is change.  The central tenet in Christianity is that Spirit-born believers become new creatures “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17), going from darkness to light, from spiritual death to spiritual life.  Jesus is the Consultant who has perfect understanding of every enterprise, system, and every person.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life…who has the solution to absolutely every problem, crisis, and shortcoming in business, family life, and in our personal characters.  Jesus assuming His rightful place on the throne of our lives, as we step aside from our short-sighted, egocentric, and misdirected self-rulership, is the life-long Christian reformation process that begins with repentance, spiritual rebirth, and picking up our cross to follow Jesus into God-composed adventures of faith designed to produce beneficial change.

When a large company acquires a smaller company, often the larger company lays-off everyone in the smaller company except a few people who understand the bookkeeping system and the maintenance of the building structure.  This radical strategy is designed to remove the possibility of critical naysayers bringing dissention into the larger company culture by comparing the new system with the old, and complaining about the differences.  “Cleaning house” from top to bottom in the smaller company erases all of the old policies and practices that have been engrained in the smaller company organization, providing a fresh start for the new larger organization without the human resources problem of resistance and pushback to change.

As Abraham travels from the city of Haran to the region of Canaan, God displaces all of the old Haran-based plans and schemes of Abraham with an entirely new life-script plan so far above worldly conventional normalcy that Abraham could never have envisioned it.  The higher ways of Gods were far above anything Abraham could have imagined.  By changing the plan, God essentially terminates and fires the horizontally conventional, Haran-based worldly plans for culturally defined normalcy with an adventure of faith beyond human invention.  Scripture says that Abraham believed God…went along with the radical change contained within his new calling…and this was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.

Jesus is the only person in all of human history qualified to expand upon the Ten Commandments to the level of moral perfection.  No one before or after Jesus…philosophers, teachers, prophets, political leaders, even Moses himself…attempted to present the absolute standard of perfect moral thought and behavior from the divine perspective.  What mere mortal would suggest that looking upon a woman to lust after her is equivalent to committing adultery with her (Mt. 5:28)?  Who other than God could or would come up with the idea that harboring unjustified anger toward another person is the equivalent of committing murder (Mt. 5:22)?

Jesus is the only person in human history who can justifiably present a divinely perfect standard of thought and behavior, without any hint of condescension, hypocrisy, or cheekiness.  Jesus can do this with uncompromising truth because He will soon carry His cross toward Calvary to enable people to live up to these self-same very high standards.  Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount, with its high moral precepts above anything spoken before or after in all of history, is above human imagination or literary creative invention.  Having “ears to hear” (Mt. 11:15) and implementing the words of Jesus into our lives as wise people (Mt. 7:24-27) through the Holy Spirit, is allowing the divine Consultant to beneficially change our lives on an eternally practical and applicable level.

Following Jesus requires continuing change above and beyond our initial repentance, salvation, spiritual rebirth, and becoming new creatures in Christ.  Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ requires a life-long, new way of thinking.  A journey of faith following Jesus displaces our conventional way of doing things according to worldly horizontal thinking.  This is where picking up our cross and dying to self-sovereignty comes in.  Our stubborn resistance to the changes God would implement in our lives must die on the cross alongside Jesus.

The Bible describes the Christian church as the bride of Christ, and Jesus Christ as the groom.  But God is a spirit.  The relationship is spiritual, not carnal.  The current context for spiritual intercourse between God and His bride is found within the higher events and circumstances of a God-composed journey of faith.  This is what we see in the journeys of faith recorded throughout the Bible, with individuals, with the nation of Israel, and with the early Christian church.

God wooed the nation of Israel as the love of His life, but she rejected Him.  Israel rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah because he was not worldly affluent.  Jesus did not take up conventional arms against the foreign Roman occupier in the fashion of past prophet warriors to rid the nation of its current political and economic problems.  The nation of Israel wanted change, but only according to her terms, conditions, and worldly horizontal expectations.  Jesus was rejected as a suitor to Israel because His value and worth as Savior did not translate into worldly conventional wealth, prosperity, and political independence.

But Jesus was immeasurably affluent then and now.  Jesus owns everything and His resources are limitless.  Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, walked on water, calmed a storm at sea, and multiplied a few loaves of bread and fish to feed multitudes.  The life contained within the words of Jesus the Word of God liberates people for all eternity (Jn. 8:34-36).  The wealth of salvation purchased through the cross and resurrection potentially covers all of the sin ever committed by the fallen human race beyond reckoning, a salvation accessed and actualized free-of-charge through individual repentance and faith.

Jesus could have won over the entire nation of Israel in the first century by leading a conventional army against the Roman Empire.  Military victory would be a sure thing.  But this approach would have been way beneath and totally out-of-place for the Son of God.  Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God could have captured the affection of Israel unfairly by defeating the Roman army like Joshua or David of old, but this affection would only be at the very lowest conventional level of shallow and short-lived gratitude.  Affection purchased at this worldly conventional level alone would be permanently susceptible to the ever changing fortunes of the nation of Israel in every horizontally political, social, and economic area.  Temporarily fixing our problems in this broken world is a never-ending enterprise as long as this effort remains in the worldly conventional realm.

The change that Jesus was offering then and now is a fundamental change in a person from the inside-out.  This divinely crafted transformation from darkness into light produces fidelity and loyalty toward God that willingly climbs any mountain and crosses any sea, not counting the cost come-what-may.  The dynamic change that God offers through redemption through Christ will produce an Abraham standing patiently on the promise of God for the birth of Isaac, Joseph sticking it out through enormously discouraging initial outward appearances to eventually become governor of Egypt, and Saul/Paul flipping 180 degrees to become the champion of the faith he previously persecuted.

Because the life-scripts of Abraham, Joseph, Paul, and many others in the Bible are above and outside of human invention, a journey of faith is not theoretical.  The God of the Bible for Moses, David, Esther, Daniel, and Peter is not a projection of themselves unto an imaginary god.  A biblical journey of faith does not produce a fictional version of a character we would like to be.  A God-composed and guided journey of faith produces genuine character change at the center of truth and right-living, purchased through difficult lesson-plans spread out over the real events and circumstances of life.

The End-Times 3

From The Cross in the End-Times

The Perilous Times of Timothy

The perilous times of Timothy present another scriptural inconsistency with a pretribulation rapture scenario.  Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:1: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.”

At the time of this epistle, Timothy is not a tribulation saint as understood in our modern times.  Timothy is not a member of a distinctive group of people who will be left behind after the rapture occurs.  Timothy is a member of the one and only main body of the Christian church in existence when Paul wrote Timothy this letter.  In the first century, there is no division between Christians in-good-standing and some future, soon-to-be converted group of post-rapture tribulation saints.  Within the contemplation of Paul and the early church, there is no conception of something called a post-rapture tribulation saint.

Timothy is half Gentile and half Hebrew.  Timothy’s father is a Greek, and his mother is a Jew (Acts 16:1).  Yet in this address to Timothy by Paul, who understood better than anyone the subtle nuances between New Testament Gentile and Jew (Gal. 2:11-19), we see not the slightest hint of any dispensational differentiation by Paul in the practical application of this 2 Timothy 3:1 end-times prophesy, regarding this dual nature of Timothy.  If the question of a divided application of end-times prophetic scriptures to church-age Gentiles and Messianic Christian Jews, before and after a rapture, was ever to be addressed within the Bible…assuming such a question existed…surely we would think this was an excellent opportunity for Paul to clear up confusion and establish sound doctrine in applying end-times prophecies to his close friend and protégé Timothy, having the combined dual ancestry of Gentile and Jew.

If the rapture occurs in the first century, then Timothy will be raptured.  If the rapture occurs in Timothy’s lifetime, he will be one of those taken as described in Matthew 24:40-41.  Yet Paul addresses this particular end-times prophecy to Timothy, as if Timothy is in fact a tribulation saint.  Whatever Paul is referring to as “perilous times”, they directly apply to Timothy.  These perilous times do not leap-frog over Timothy one generation to a future group of first century people unsaved at that time, who would become converted to Christianity as a result of discovering they were left behind after the rapture.  Paul’s prophecy is aimed directly and squarely at Timothy, a born-again, Spirit-filled, first-century Christian.  If Timothy is a scripturally viable rapture candidate, then according to Paul’s prophecy here, Timothy is apparently also a scripturally viable candidate to experience perilous end-times.

Because these uniquely perilous times did not actually occur during Timothy’s lifetime, this prophecy in its composite form has continued by extension to each and every succeeding generation of Christians down to our present time.  Nowhere in scripture does it allow us to insert a discontinuous break in the application of this prophecy, merely because it was written so long ago.  This warning of Paul to Timothy, applies to us today as if Paul were here now speaking to us in person.

If this prophecy referred to a future period of time immediately after Timothy was raptured, yet with a post-rapture first century world still in place, then Paul’s sentence does not make much sense.  This prophecy is directed toward the one and only full-sized Christian church that was on the earth at the time of Paul, because Paul was writing this warning to Timothy, a younger contemporary of Paul as a future reference and guide toward an upcoming actual time in Timothy’s life.  By continuous extension, this as-yet-unfulfilled prophetic warning similarly applies with all of its force to the contemporary Christian church on the earth today.

For the unbeliever, there is no such thing as a non-perilous time.  Living on the edge of dying in sin, and passing on into an eternity in hell, is always perilous.  How can the last days become any more perilous for the unbeliever than normal times?  Again, in this 2 Timothy 3:1 verse, Paul says that “perilous times shall come.”  If people say that these perilous times for unbelievers refer to receiving the mark of the beast, then this places the perilous times described by Paul for Timothy right in the middle of the period of the Antichrist.

We cannot have it both ways.  Timothy, the first-century church, and Paul’s perilous times all go together.  If Timothy is on the scene for the perilous times foretold by Paul, then the times must be perilous for somebody, otherwise they would not in fact be perilous.  If Timothy is to be raptured as one of the faithful in his lifetime as anticipated by the early church, yet also experience perilous times, then the rapture slices up these perilous times into two parts.  Some portion of Paul’s perilous times, unspecified in length, must occur before Timothy is raptured.  Otherwise Timothy is not physically present for these perilous times, and Paul is directing his warning to the wrong person.

Conversely, if the times are unusually perilous for unbelievers because of the presence on earth of the Antichrist, then Timothy is alive on earth for some portion of this same period of time, because Paul addresses this prophecy to Timothy.  If the times are also unusually and noticeably perilous for Christians sharing the gospel message, then what possible change in the outward world environment would create this to the extreme point that Paul would address this issue in a letter to Timothy, other than some singularly calamitous cascade of events leading up to the tribulation, or the actual momentous tribulation period itself?

Another reason why I do not believe that the rapture will occur at the beginning of the tribulation period, is that Daniel’s seven-year tribulation is the final period of time for everything in terms of the old world system.  When the time finally comes that there are only seven years of human earthly history remaining, it would certainly be imperative and incumbent upon God to shake-up the world as described in the book of Revelation.

The reasons behind this shake-up are two-fold, and they are enormous.  The first reason is that God would not want the last generation of unbelievers, with only seven years remaining on the clock, to be mistakenly focused on the non-essentials like what color to paint the kitchen, or whether to buy or lease our next automobile, or which college law school our granddaughter should apply to.  These otherwise legitimate life issues today would be rendered entirely superfluous by virtue of the short end-times period remaining on the earth.

The second reason for a major shake-up by God as described in end-times biblical prophecy is to demonstrate that the Antichrist, posing as the messiah and savior of the world using fair speech, lofty promises, and intimidating threats, is in fact a worthless counterfeit god-man…an imposter who cannot control the catastrophic natural events or the health related judgment plagues that will be occurring in the world.

Only the real God can supernaturally intervene in our natural world.  The catastrophic magnitude of the events occurring on the planet during the tribulation would be God’s unselfish and loving way of exposing the lie and the emptiness of the high sounding speech of the Antichrist.  This would be God’s final, emphatic, and unambiguous attempt to capture the attention of the last inhabitants on this planet as to the truly fragile nature of our existence and the genuine reality of our dependence on our Creator God.

At issue is the fundamental difference between “self-made men and women” and “God-made men and women”… which has been at the center of the debate in God’s outreach throughout human redemptive history.  The tribulation period is an environment of imposed dependence upon God for temporary physical and eternal spiritual survival, and forces a decision for or against God upon every inhabitant on the earth.  When the time comes that there are only seven years of time remaining, there is no point to God holding back or moderating His final appeal to mankind.

The End-Times 2

From The Cross in the End-Times

There must be some motivating rationale for the whole world hating Christians as described in Matthew 24:9 “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.”  This scripture cannot be addressed to the early Christian church, because the next verse says “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Mt. 24:10).

This did not occur among Christians in the first three centuries.  History tells us for the most part, at least up until the Decian persecution of 250 A.D. and the Great Persecution of Diocletian from 303 to 313 A.D., that Christians remained faithful to one another during the periods of intense persecution under the Roman emperors.  The bonds of friendship, loyalty, and love between Christians often grew stronger during times of persecution.

This backdrop provides historical context for a critique of one important cross-related scriptural problem with the concept that the Christian church will be raptured pretribulation.

Some Problems with a Pretribulation Timed Rapture

In my view, one difficulty with the concept of the timing of the rapture occurring at the beginning of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period is an extension of the Matthew 24:9-10 verses mentioned above: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.  And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.”  My conception of the tribulation saints (those Christians converted after the rapture), are as a tightly focused group of believers totally dedicated to their last chance at serving Jesus Christ unconditionally (having missed the rapture).

This would be the case whether they have exclusive domain over the last remaining evangelical outreach on earth for all seven, six, five, four, three, or even the final two years during Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period.  This would be the case regardless of the makeup of the tribulation saints…Gentiles and Messianic Jewish Christians

This hard-core group of tribulation saints does not seem susceptible to large numbers of them being offended as a result of persecution (Mt. 13:21), or betraying other tribulation saints, or hating each other.  These prophetic words of Jesus Christ would only seem to apply instead to a large, widely mixed group of born-again Christians who had in their numbers a sizable percentage of nominal, unconverted adherents who could easily fall into becoming offended, betraying real Christians, and living in an attitude of hatred and disappointment as a result of the end-times evil (Mt. 24:7-13).

This would more accurately describe the required blend of the genuine Christian church, combined with the apostate church, which we see in the world today, and which would appear transparently inseparable and indistinguishable to the undiscerning secular world before the start of the last day’s persecution and tribulation.  This would be more consistent with Matthew 24:10 saying “then many shall be offended”, implying that there is a large enough beginning sample of people for many to be offended, and conversely for many genuine Christians not to be offended, to comprise the whole group.  This would also set up the basis for a clearer understanding of the falling away (2 Thes. 2:3).

The tribulation saints by contrast, whether Jew or Gentile, would be almost exactly like the Christians of the first two and one-half centuries in terms of fidelity to Jesus Christ.  They would be entirely new converts to Christ, narrowly focused on their mission, uniformly dedicated, fearless, committed, fiercely loyal to one another, and living with the constant threat of discovery, exposure, and imminent martyrdom.  If this is the case, then these Matthew 24:9-10 verses would therefore appear to be inconsistent with the currently popular teaching of an early rapture of the church prior to the full seven-year-tribulation-scenario.  If these Matthew 24:9-10 verses occur within the time-span of  the seven-year tribulation period of great persecution of Christians, and the only new Christians formed after a pretribulation rapture are this group of tribulation saints…who are not plausible candidates for betraying and hating one another…then something here is clearly amiss.

The dispensational approach has newly converted Jews as a main contingent of the post-rapture tribulation saints who evangelize the world.  But this formulation is inconsistent with Matthew 24:10 which expressly states that many will be offended and hate one another.  This cannot apply to newly converted Jewish-Christian believers, converted by as-yet unknown supernatural revelations of Jesus Christ to Jews worldwide similar to Joseph in Egypt revealing himself to his brethren.  The revelation that Jesus Christ is not just a God of the Gentiles but is in fact their long promised messiah, will engender the most dedicated fidelity to the gospel message of Christ soaring above any persecution that would cause others to become offended.

After a pretribulation rapture, there would not be a blended mixture of hard-core tribulation saints in close association with nominal adherents in a worshipping fellowship.  There would be nothing in common between these two groups after the rapture to bring them together in fellowship.  After the rapture, whenever it occurs, the tribulation saints from then-on-after will be a distinct and isolated group notable for their purity, zeal, commitment, and dedication of purpose.  The required diverse combination of a large number of genuine Christians mixed with a large number of nominal churchgoers…for Matthew 24:9-10 to occur…will simply not exist after a world-emptying pretribulation rapture taking all Spirit-born Christians off the earth.

Therefore, either there is some extremely intense persecution occurring pretribulation for the main Christian church prior to the rapture, causing this dissension and culling-out within the “mixed multitude”, or conversely the continuous uninterrupted existence on earth of the combined main body of the Christian church plus the apostate church, extends and overlaps into the tribulation period itself for some period of time.

Some large group of people (“many”) identified in these biblical verses must betray and hate other people in the group, for this very specific and unambiguous prophecy to be fulfilled.  The persecution that causes this internal dissension, and the large group of people who break-away to become disloyally offended and hateful, must both be in-place at the same time period.

If the hard-core, last-chance group of tribulation saints would probably not be the people to react this way to the life-and-death trials of the end-times, then it is logical to conclude that these verses apply to a time period when a large mixed group of people in the Christian church and in the apostate church are still together.  This then pushes the rapture forward into and beyond the tribulation starting point for some unspecified period of time having this intense persecution and tribulation, which would trigger the events as described in Matthew 24:9-10.

If tribulation saints are not plausible candidates for consideration as the uncommitted people who will fall away to betray and hate one another during the end-times persecution…and since Matthew 24:10 specifically says that many shall be offended…then some of the pieces of the pretribulation rapture puzzle are not fitting together here.  Toss in a large group of fiercely loyal newly converted Jewish Christians into the mix, and the rapture cannot plausibly occur at the beginning of the great tribulation.

A mixed mass of people and a period of persecution must be a couplet linked together concurrently…on one or the other side of both the rapture and the tribulation.  The rapture removes the Christian church, leaving only the future, newly converted die-hard tribulation saints.  Persecution sifts out and divides the offended from the un-offended.  The events of both the rapture and some form of persecution divide the same identical large body of people into two distinct halves…those raptured and those not raptured…and those offended and those not offended.  Intense, sifting-out persecution cannot overtake a main Christian church raptured away into heaven, isolated forever from nominal churchgoers on earth.  It would therefore appear that a large disparate body of people and an intense period of persecution must be together…either before or after the rapture.

This means that either persecution shifts backwards in time, before the church is raptured, affecting both the genuine church and the apostate church together in time as one large group.  Or this requires the presence on earth of the genuine church combined with the apostate church…as one large group…shifting forward in time into persecution/tribulation.  The unique nature of the resiliency, steadfastness, and narrowly committed exclusivity of the group of people called tribulation saints, who are probably not susceptible to many betraying and hating each other, is an important key to our understanding of the timing of the rapture.

It appears then that the rapture cannot occur in isolation.  The rapture cannot occur outside of a close relationship to an intense level of end-times persecution and tribulation…that would be so great as to noticeably split the “church” in two…as described in Matthew 24:9-10.  After the rapture…after the close of the church age, the only Christians remaining on earth to the end of time are newly converted post-tribulation saints, and they do not fit into the description of potentially offended people and the events of Matthew 24:9-10.  After the rapture, tribulation saints are not susceptible to becoming offended by persecution or adversity (Mt. 13:21).  To fulfill Matthew 24:9-10, an unprecedented level of intense persecution has to find and overtake the main Christian church for some period of time before the rapture occurs, and one solution to this riddle is for the rapture itself to shift forward in time…into the tribulation.

If a satisfactory alternate explanation is to move some intense period of persecution into the time slot preceding the start of the tribulation, then why go to such dispensational premillennial efforts to sustain a pretribulation rapture interpretation?  The intensity of a sifting-out split of the “church” through worldwide persecution (Mt. 24:9-10) is equivalent to the magnitude of the actual great tribulation itself.  Sparing the Christian church from tribulation then loses its meaning, purpose, and appeal.

The End-Times 1

From The Cross in the End-Times

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there anything too hard for me?”                                                                                                                       (Jer. 32:26)

During the first few centuries of the Christian faith, believers were subjected to periods of intense persecutions within the Roman Empire that were designed by Lucifer to wipe out Christianity.  To be a Christian during these times often meant arrest and brief imprisonment, shortly followed by martyrdom.  New converts to the Christian faith lived under the threat of having only a few years or even months to enjoy a walk of faith before they were captured by the authorities and given the option of renouncing their faith or suffering the consequences.

History tells us that the steadfastness and courage of the small but resolute Christian communities that were scattered throughout the Roman Empire during these times of persecution, won converts among the populace who admired the resolute demonstration of the Christian’s convictions compared to the emptiness of their own polytheistic religions based upon idol worship and mythology.

One of the effective lies that Lucifer concocted against Christians in these first centuries was the idea that the troubles and problems these societies were facing were caused in part by the stubborn refusal of the Christians to worship the pantheon of pagan gods that everyone else accepted and worshipped.  The authorities often used the Christians as convenient scape-goats to blame all sorts of government and social problems on.  The Emperor Nero blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians.  The Christian communion service or “love feast”…as it was sometimes called…was slandered as a form of cannibalism.  Christians were seen by the authorities as social outsiders who did not attend the temple services and thus brought down the disfavor of the gods upon their societies.

The real truth was that, apart from not participating in the temple services to worship pagan gods, the Christians were among the most law abiding and peaceable citizens in all of the Roman Empire.  History records that Christians were actually known within their small communities as being sociably charitable to needy non-Christian strangers and Christians alike, and to women and children, without prejudice.  This unselfish character trait, exhibiting the love of Jesus Christ, enabled Christians to stand-out favorably among the people who personally knew them, but did not unfortunately dissuade in any way the impersonal condemnation and persecution by the official government authorities.

The question may reasonably be asked, did not God love these early Christians who were crucified, burned at the stake, forced to fight gladiators, and killed by wild beasts in coliseum arenas throughout the empire at various times during the first three centuries of the faith?  This is an area where the world has no understanding or concept of the Christian experience.  These early Christians, some newborn to the faith for only a short time, thought it a privilege to suffer and die for the Savior who had given His life on the cross for them (Acts 5:41).  They knew without a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of the world, and could not dream of renouncing Him before the Roman authorities or pagan temple priests to save their lives.

And the early Christians would not compromise the exclusivity of their allegiance to Jesus Christ alone.  They would not agree to the very reasonable (from a conventional worldly standpoint) request of the authorities to worship and honor the pagan gods along with Christ.  The forgiveness of their sins and the new born-again spiritual life they enjoyed were of more value to the early Christian than anything else on earth.

This stubborn adherence to their Christian faith was incomprehensible to the worldly Greek/Roman culture of that day.  Christians sang songs of praise to God with uplifted arms as lions and tigers were unleashed upon them in the coliseum arena.  Brave Christian men came out during the daytime to walk the streets of Rome, risking capture and certain death in the arena, to procure provisions for the people living under the city in the catacombs.  This sometimes went on for periods of years during the great persecutions, during the reigns of some of the Roman emperors.  All of this is actual recorded history.  We can visit the Coliseum and the catacombs in Rome today.

We do not fully understand why God allowed the life-plans of many of these early-century Christians to be so short-lived and to end in violent deaths.  These Christians apparently had enough internal peace and the courage of their convictions to stand up and proclaim their faith against the onslaught of the entire Roman Empire.  What if they had caved-in to the pressures of death in the arena, and considered their lives here on earth more important than standing up for their faith in the face of such relentless persecution?  The answer is that the Christian faith may not have survived.

With deadly precision Lucifer knew who to single out as scapegoats, because he knows who the children of light are.  The Roman Empire did not aimlessly waste its time persecuting groups of people like the Macedonians, or Egyptians, or Spaniards, because these people belonged in good standing to the everyday worldly empire of greed, selfishness, ambition, and sinful pleasure that Lucifer controls.  The early Christians were persecuted because they were the New Testament church…the light of the world (Mt. 5:16)…the Bride of Christ.

If Lucifer could get the early church to implode through persecution, he might impede or stop altogether the spiritual progress God was making in the world.  If Lucifer could not defeat Jesus at Gethsemane and Calvary, he might defeat God through these early Christians by intimidation and fear.  But God countered this evil strategy of Lucifer by empowering the unwavering and steadfast witness of the Christian’s faith in the face of this persecution.  Today we (in the wealthy and developed nations of the world) look back at the faithfulness of these early Christians with pride and celebration, yet their uncompromising courage and faith are difficult for us to relate to in our present-day, more normal pursuit of a peaceful and productive life.

If the modern-day Christian church is not raptured pretribulation, and experiences persecution in the last days, Lucifer may pull out of his bag of lies this old lie that worked so well against Christians in the first centuries of the faith.  Christians may again be unjustly blamed for the problems of the world, this time by refusing to go along with everyone else and accept the mark of the beast.  This acceptance of the mark of the beast will be considered so reasonable and sensible by the world, in order to solve whatever political or economic problems exist at that time that the stubborn refusal of Christians to go along will again be viewed as anti-social and subversive.

The mark of the beast will be a fallen, corrupted, worldly counterfeit version of the true spiritual unity between believers when we are “in Christ.”  The Christian’s discerning choice of the higher unity of the bond of the Spirit in love, and the rejection of the lower worldly counterfeit solution of the mark of the beast established through coercion and threats, will not be understood nor embraced by the world.