The Heart of the Debate 5

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 4

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 Heart of the Debate 3

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.

The Heart of the Debate 2

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 Heart of the Debate 1

“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 Cross in the End-Times 4

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 3

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.