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.

The Cross in the End-Times 2

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 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.