Thursday, August 23, 2018

Faith Versus Works

Not all works are equal, and even "good" works can be differentiated by quality. Some works are self-referent and so are not meritorious in the sight of God even if they accomplish something worthwhile. These are initiated by the self for the benefit of self and so are merely a selfish pursuit, even if they seem altruistic. They are only impressive among those who cannot see them for what they are, or those who do the same kind of works. They gain no favor with God.

There are works which are not self-referent. Those are inspired by God, bidden by God, and carried forward at his instigation, impetus and encouragement. Even though such works are not truly capable of being credited to the ones doing them, God rewards them as if they are. If God rewards them for being done they must be considered meritorious, despite the fact that in themselves they could never force him to declare their doers righteous on the basis of them.

No work is meritorious of salvation, regardless of whether or not it is rewardable by God. No work has the power to erase the record of works which are not meritorious (i.e. sin), only blood can do that and that by concession from God. So at best, God-instigated works can be rewardable with benefits (even eternally) but never with forgiveness or righteousness. That is not surprising because forgiveness is an act of mercy or grace, and as such can never be earned, else it would cease to be mercy or grace.

Faith is always referent to its object. It can be misplaced, as it would be if directed at self or at false gods, and thereby be without any value whatsoever to God. However, if its object is God as he is, particularly his character and power, God does reward it. There is nothing about faith in and of itself which would deserve such reward, the impetus for such lies completely in God's grace. Yet, because God responds rewardingly toward faith in him, such God-referent faith would have to be considered meritorious.

However, even saving faith is not meritorious of salvation. There is nothing in such faith which has the power to wash away sin and restore righteous fellowship with God, even though it is essential to salvation. It is merely the reaction (trust) a believer has toward God's words and deeds, and even then not unaided. God's word (of promise) is what invokes faith, while God's presence (or Spirit) is what aids it.

The Apostle Paul made it clear that works and faith are not the same sort of thing. He treated them as diametrically opposed concepts. While it is true that both faith and works can be rewardable, it is also true that neither is meritorious of salvation. So even though God promises salvation to those who put their trust in Christ, it is the blood of Christ which does the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What Does It Mean to Be Regenerated?

Regeneration literally means to be born again. That is a biblical concept beyond doubt (e.g., clearly here and here, likely here), but what it entails and when it occurs is much more in question. Calvinists see it occurring prior to it's recognition in people, many as occurring before faith. Arminians see it as occurring after faith, as a result of faith. Calvinists see it as the fruit of God's monergistic efforts, Arminians see it as the consequence of faith enabled.

But what does it mean to be born again?

Being born again is a work of God whereby the Holy Spirit enters into the very existence of a human being to abide, thereby infusing spiritual life into and establishing an intimate, mutual fellowship with that person. It is a transformative experience, but not so much that it so thoroughly changes the person that he or she does not retain his or her personal self-awareness. It is transformation by addition rather than subtraction, which allows the born again person to begin to to experience communication with God, to perceive life differently, to relate to people differently, to valuate things differently and to live differently than they did prior to the experience.  Before the experience, the born again are singular beings separated from God; afterwards, the born again are people with two natures with one connected to God.

Becoming born again is the result of a combination of faith and the Holy Spirit. We don't need to be born again in order to believe, that is over-stretching a metaphor (i.e. being dead in sin); we are born again because we believe (otherwise, God would make everyone believe). Human beings do have a God-given capacity to believe as is seen in the ability of natural people to believe in and trust all kinds of things quite apart from God. However, to believe in Christ we need an encounter with the Holy Spirit sufficient to convict us concerning Christ and waken us to something we could not waken ourselves to in our metaphorical deadness.

Ultimately, the natural self, the sinful self, will be changed in the born again, completely regenerated into a new nature like unto Christ's. That new eternal creature will possess a singular nature in unity with the Father akin to that which Christ shared with the Father as he walked on the earth. Then, we will be on the same page with God, never to go astray again. Ultimately, regeneration is not being renewed to Adam's nature prior to the Fall, but surpassing it, and being transformed into Christ's nature as the second Adam, the Son of Man.

Our born again experience in the Holy Spirit now is the down payment of that good thing to come.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

What Does It Mean to Be Totally Depraved?

The one point that Calvinism and Arminianism agree upon is that humankind is totally depraved. It sounds like an incredibly harsh judgment against the creature, one that is not apparent, particularly, when looking at individual cases. This description, however, is not meant to suggest that everyone is as "bad" as they could possibly be, but to describe their spiritual condition in relation to God. In a nutshell, this characterization refers to the disabling brokenness that sin and death has caused to human nature since Adam's fall.

When Adam forsook God and was justifiably cursed by him, his innate connection to God was broken and his physical being was stricken with death. Adam was cast from the presence of God (the place where God walked) and frustrated in his relationship to the biosphere and with others of his kind (Eve to start). The individual became an island unto himself (so necessarily sinful) with no ability to get back to God, nor to truly understand and relate to him nor, for that matter, to do so with his fellow human (as seen from Jesus' high-priestly prayer). Locked in a self-absorbed prison of death and decay separated from God, debauchery ensued. If God did not initiate contact with humans, no contact, no interest, no desire would be forthcoming from Adam's kind.

Hopefully, it is evident that humankind's depravity should not be seen as something that renders humankind incapable, even in their depraved state, of responding to the interjection of God. God showing up in a way that can be responded to is sufficient in itself to break any barrier that would have kept fallen, natural man in the dark concerning God. Such is demonstrated over and over again throughout biblical history (e.g. Noah, Abram, Moses, etc.). To posit a theory in which God has to fix the depraved human being (i.e. regeneration) before that one can respond to him is unnecessary and not validated by scripture.

The truth is that what makes humans depraved in the first place is a lack of God in their lives. People are depraved in that they are like God (i.e. in his image) but are apart from and without God who's presence is what makes that image work properly. In their depravity, they have no desire to have God (as he truly is) in their lives. What they need they neither discern nor want. When God comes near in the mysterious ways that the Holy Spirit can, that lack is addressed at least to the level that the fallen human is able to see, hear, and respond to what wasn't there before. None of this requires any change in their nature and none is ever mentioned throughout the biblical record.

Human beings always had and have always maintained since the Fall the spiritual capacity to recognize God. That capacity was not such that it could independently discover God or engage him on the basis of executing that capacity in and of itself. God's direct intervention is necessary for each and every human being to come to know and understand him and his ways, but upon that divine intervention, awareness of what we otherwise would not have been aware becomes possible. However, if Adam in all of his pristine purity and perfection could ignore and forsake divine connectedness, than so can all his depraved sons and daughters.

Even the best amongst humankind is totally depraved, broken beyond their ability to help themselves--and yet even the most depraved among us can respond to the gracious visitation of the Holy Spirit. Depravity will continue to be an issue for us until Christ returns and our old dead, depraved natures are done away with once and for all, and new nature completely like unto Christ's is put in their place. That, of course, is predicated upon turning to Christ now. So let me ask you, have you responded to the Holy Spirit drawing you to Christ yet?

Friday, June 29, 2018

A. C.U.R.E.

The famous (or infamous, depending on your view) theological acronym TULIP has for centuries served the Church well in summarizing the basic tenets of Calvinistic soteriology. It arose from the disputations the Arminian school of thought offered back in the 1600's. The Calvinists carried the day at the Synod of Dort (the house was stacked) and walked away from that debate with what became known as TULIP: the Arminians walked away ridiculed with nothing but the truth.

There have been some good offerings for a similar acronym for Arminian soteriology (like FACTS), but I have never found them satisfactory because I didn't feel they were clearly descriptive. So, for the ailment of inexactitude, I'd like to offer a cure.

A.= Absolute Inability: mankind is so incapacitated by spiritual death, that none are able to turn themselves to God apart from the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit.
C.= Conditional Election: God has chosen to save all who trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
U.= Unlimited Atonement: the blood of Christ was shed for the sins of the entire world, and anyone who will can avail themselves of its effects through faith.
R.= Resistable Grace: The Holy Spirit's efforts at graciously influencing the sinner can be resisted by the sinner.
E.= Extinguishable Faith: the faith that the Holy Spirit's gracious ministrations made possible can be lost or shipwrecked by the person who had believed at one time.

I think this is a little more clearly descriptive than the FACTS acronym, especially for those who believe in the possibility of apostasy (and it doesn't have to be shared with a toy convention). It sure would be nice to have something as communicative as TULIP among those of us who actually got our soteriology right!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Faith Versus Fear

"For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me." Job 3:25 (ESV)

I've often told my congregation that the opposite of faith, at least in the active sense, is not unbelief but fear. Fear is the electromagnetic pulse that disables faith. How many times in the Bible is a divine encounter or a mission assignment prefaced by the encouragement, "do not be afraid?" 65, at least! The faith-stifling affects of fear can't be minimized and should not be ignored.

Fear is the Devil's calling card, his MO. It is his means of controlling the herd and driving it to the slaughterhouse. If the Devil can induce fear in people, he's got them. Like a venomous spider's strike immobilizes prey so it can be eaten at a more convenient time, so the apprehension and terror the Devil inspires allows him to throw his victims in his satchel at his leisure. Though it's completely speculative, I've always wondered whether or not he said something to Adam and Eve to make them hide from God in the bushes.

Fear of punishment, fear of death, fear of loss or failure--the Devil has game at any level and with any kind of fear. I cannot prove it factually (other than in Job's case), but fear, even secretly held in the breast, seems to be a harbinger of bad things to come. I've known people that wear their fear as a badge of honor, as if it proves they care. It only proves that they scare. Fear will not deliver us from any unfortunate end, but it sure seems able to deliver us to those ends.

Faith on the other hand, portends good things to those that possess it. Faith in God can move a mountain or calm the storm at sea. Faith receives healingwelcomes the promise of God, and moves the faithful to act. Nothing is impossible for one who has faith! Fear clamps chains upon the unbelieving, whereas faith frees the soul to lay hold of God with a grip that holds even through the passage of death.

The truth is that if we have laid hold of God through faith, we have nothing to fear at all, not even fear itself.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Death Be Not Proud

Death is said to be natural. It isn't. I know everything dies--bugs, trees, ocelots, and us--it's part of life as we know it. The struggle to avoid death, and the ultimate succumbing to it, are foundational to the naturalistic explanation of how life develops and species emerge. Yet, deep inside my heart, I hate death and chafe against its imposition.

And it is an imposition. God, the Creator, by revelation and definition doesn't dieweaken, decay, rest, rust, or turn to dust. All creation is an expression of who and what he is, so death doesn't fit! How can it be baked in the cake? The fact is that it's not: it's imposed supernaturally, as a curse from God.

The natural, created state of human beings was everlasting life. Sin is what brought death and all of us alike suffer from it. I think that despite the marring of God's image within humankind due to the curse on sin, deep inside, most of us feel that same chafing at death's imposition that I do. It doesn't feel right that it all should end with a breath. No matter how long we've lived in its shadow, it still catches up to us too soon.

I wish there was some way to fight that which is never satisfied; to yell, "That's enough!" and have it cease. If translated into some strange, spiritual dimension into a spectator's seat observing the battle between the living and the Grim Reaper, I would hiss at his every advance. I would boo at all of his progress. On particularly tragic days
, like a crazed soccer fan, I'd rush the field hoping to beat him with my own big stick.

But wait a minute... I do have a big stick and in the here and now! 

God came from heaven, took on human form, hung on that stick, died on it, and then rose from the grave victorious over it. Then he handed the power of that stick to us. Jesus defanged the hated beast and unstung the bee, and handed the victory to you and me. For all who trust in Jesus and what he did on that stick, what was natural is natural again.

Existence never ends, even if life does. For those trusting in Christ neither existence nor life end. Still, we must all cross over that dark threshold and chafe at the loss we feel as we and those we love die. Yet, our grief is not like the world's, for in the midst we find an overwhelming, inexpressible joy knowing that the Lion has risen and death works backwards

So, my friend, restore the natural order that was intended by God through embracing interjected supernatural means--put all your hope in Christ and live forever!

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: Be Prepared

The paradox of certainty v. uncertainty in regard to Christ's Return has some practical implications for the serious believer. We know with certainty it’s coming, but don’t (and can't) know when, so how should we then live? We're not left without instructions on the subject from Christ in the Olivet Discourse, which, as it happened, served to bring that discourse to an end. So what was the final word on the word about the final? Simply, "be prepared."

In Matthew's account, Christ advises that uncertainty is the fuel of preparation. Because the Son of Man will be coming at a time it doesn't seem like he will, being prepared for his return at any time is the only wise, practical response--a point graphically reiterated in The Parable of the Ten Virgins. Christ spoke of a parabolic homeowner who, if he would have known in what part of the night the thief was coming, would have made sure he was awake to prevent it. Since we cannot know when Christ will return, we should be at least as conscientious as that homeowner (who had a better forecast in regard to the thief than is possible for us in regard to Christ) and be watching rather than sleeping.

Luke presents the most general application of all three accounts: pay attention (Koine: prosexete) reflexively to how you are living. We are not to live weighed down by the worries of ordinary life, especially, I would say, if drunkenness (or even just "buzziness") is the means of doing so. It is not a burden to live in Christ, but it is a burden to live for this world, and it lulls us to sleep in regards to spiritual truth. The only way to gain the upper hand, and not be trapped suddenly in the tribulation ("these things") to come, is to stay awake and pray that we can gain that upper hand.

Matthew and Mark, although different as to specifics, both use a similar parabolic example (cf. Luke 12:35-46) to get this message of practical import across. The thought is that we should take Christ seriously as Master over us and be doing what he told us to be doing when he gets back. Since we do not know when that may be, reason dictates that we always be doing what he asked. It appears the best preparation for the end of the age is to be obeying Christ as a lifestyle.

So what are you doing?

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: No One Knows

All three accounts of Olivet Discourse issue warnings to be watchful in light of what Jesus prophesied concerning his return. I think this has led some to the faulty conclusion that the events foreseen would have been expected very soon by his original audience. I've already stated in other posts on this discourse that the signs mentioned were impossible to cram into a short time frame, so I won't repeat my reasoning here about that. Suffice it to say that Jesus' warning was not meant to convey urgency so much as it was meant to convey uncertainty.

No one knows when, exactly, Christ's return will occur. The phrase "day and hour" is specific enough to mean that the particular moment the event occurs is in view rather than a period of time within which it occurs; however, considerations about the suddenness of the event discussed below mean that the ultimate end cannot be what's in view either. We are told that angels do not know at which moment it will occur (I suppose that means the Devil doesn't either) and even the Son doesn't know. If only the Father knows, and the Son does not, that means there is no way for anyone to know--there is no way to figure it out and no revelation could be expected which would specify it.

No one knows, no one can know!

Yet, the crowd which has tried to figure it out or reveal it outright continues to grow (including Wm. Miller of the 7th Day Adventists, Chas. Taze Russell of JW’s, Herbert W. Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God, Edgar Whisenant, author of 88 Reasons, and Harold Camping of Family Radio, among others). Really, I don't know how much clearer Christ could have been on the subject. Those that pursue such a course have, minimally, fallen into error, and possibly, purposely, taken on the mantle of false prophet. May such folly cease to gain traction among the faithful!

Matthew (cf. Luke 17:22-37) tells us the time immediately prior to the return of Christ will be like the days of Noah before The Flood. Then, normal life (eating, drinking, marrying, farming, milling) proceeded right up to the moment sudden destruction came upon the world unaware. Despite Noah's preaching of righteousness and witnessing the construction of the ark, life prior to the flood was similar enough to what it had always been to lull his listeners into inattention. That, I believe, is the key point Christ was making--there was nothing about life as experienced by the masses prior to global judgment that signified that wrath was about to be poured out.

However, that point comes on the heels of Jesus elucidating very clear, noticeable, presaging signs that signified the end was near. How can these two points be compatible? They cannot be, if what Christ was referring to in this sudden ark-like deliverance from judgment at the end was to occur after the Abomination of Desolation (and all that goes with it). The only way the suddenness in the midst of regularity indicated by the description makes sense is if Jesus was not talking about the the ultimate end, but was referring to a period of judgment that started with that deliverance and finished with the ultimate end. This would be akin to the flood starting with Noah's family embarking on the ark, proceeding with a lengthy rain, and ending a year later with floodwaters receding and Noah's family disembarking.

In the example of Noah the judged were carried away by floodwaters, which was certainly passive for them, but was for God too, in the sense that it was indirect, through the agency of water. Noah, on the other hand, was personally, actively protected by God, who shut him in. There is a subtlety in the language of Matthew that could be seen to call upon the same dynamic. The word (paralambanetai) used to convey the action involved in taking the one in the field and at the mill has a range of meaning that allows it to be used for more personal, tender actions (like taking a bride) than either the word used of the floodwaters' action (eren) or for the ones left (aphietai) in the field or at the mill.

So, what is pictured is a cataclysm much worse than a mere 40 days of rain and a year of flood (i.e. 7 years of Great Tribulation) coming upon all on the earth at the end of the age. Some, like Noah in his day, will be actively removed from danger and taken by the hand of God (snatched or raptured), which fits quite well with Luke's "escape" (Koine: ekphrygien, to flee out from) and is pictured by the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Some will be left to their fate, carried off by the judgment overwhelming the whole earth as prophesied by Christ who will return at the end of it. The threshold the faithful need to cross is being ready for that Noachian escape popularly called The Rapture which comes suddenly, unknowably, but certainly in the course of everyday life.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: The Fig Tree Parable

The synoptic gospels are virtually identical in their accounts of the Parable of the Fig Tree within the Olivet Discourse. Whereas Luke specifically identifies the segment as a parable, the other accounts merely communicate its substance without a label. As in the case of many of the biblical parables, fanciful interpretations have arisen throughout history as to what are the "true" meaning of "symbols" within the parable. Therefore, it is vitally important to understand what parables are and are not in order to interpret this type of figure reasonably and to not veer off into the tall weeds.

Parables are merely analogies or comparisons--one thing, perhaps unknown or not fully understood, is likened, indirectly, to another that is readily known or understood. Parables are NOT allegories: each item in a parable is NOT meant to be symbolic of some other item in reality or to symbolically represent its action. Parables are really more akin to metaphors than to allegories in regard to their use of imagery. The conclusion or moral that can be drawn from the overall story of the parable, and thus teach a lesson, is the aim of using it.

As for the fig tree parable itself, two hermeneutic considerations need to be taken into account when interpreting it.

First, it is not really symbolic at all! It is a parable and is not reliant on meanings hidden in symbols. The audience knew figs, there were figs on the Mount of Olives where this discourse was being made (as well as olives), and so Jesus spoke about figs. When figs wake up from the winter and put out leaves, it is a sure sign that summer is around the corner. We could say the same thing using trees we know about in our neck of the woods and make the same point Jesus was trying to make, and make it just as well.

Second, Israel has never been symbolized anywhere in scripture as a fig tree, and it wasn't being symbolized as such in this parable. Making a fig tree represent Israel is beyond a stretch anywhere it is attempted, and it is not remotely hinted at, let alone obviously intended, by the language of this parable. To do so is bad interpretation, plain and simple. The fig tree is merely the means to communicate the concept of predictability in sequence from a known event to another related event: if one step of the progression occurs, you know with certainty the next step is about to happen.

Jesus said that when all (Matthew; Koine: panta) these things (Matthew, Mark and Luke; Koine: tauta) were seen (i.e., experienced), then we would know we were at the very end. Those things were all the things, each and every one of them (the force of tauta), detailed in the prior verses. When that condition exists, then the Son of Man bursting through the skies is at the door.  The intent is to keep folk from jumping the gun and anticipating the return of Christ before all of these things had come to pass--an especially helpful point considering the length of time envisaged in giving the signs in the first place.

The generation (Koine: genea, all those alive over a particular span) referenced has nothing to do with any symbolic meaning attached to the fig tree, since there isn't any. The point being made was that at least some of those who saw the Abomination of Desolation and its outcome ("all these things") would see the end as well. Clearly, the use of "generation" was not referring to the initial hearers of the Discourse such a long time ago, for the implicit scope of elapsed time within the signs given throughout the Discourse would have made their lifetimes an unlikely frame for fulfillment. So the use of "generation" was a way to push the scale of fulfillment off to a period in the future when the Abomination actually occurred and to offer hope to those believers who would be living through it.

The heavens and earth may seem like bastions of enduring reliability, but Christ's words are so established as to be more certain than even the existence of the creation itself, and especially so in regard to the end of the age.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: The Trumpet Blast

In their accounting of the Olivet Discourse Matthew and Mark describe, briefly, the gathering of the saints by Christ at the end of age. Luke, however, is silent on the subject. I've written elsewhere about how this gathering relates to the timing of the Rapture of the Church, so I won't touch upon those considerations here. Suffice it to say, the discourse merely states that the ultimate gathering of the elect will happen at the end of the Tribulation, and gives us some sense of how.

Specifically, the Son of Man will send angels to assemble the saints from everywhere in heaven and earth. The bifurcation in the description is important: one aspect of the gathering is earthly, the other aspect heavenly. The expression, "from the four winds" refers to the four compass directions and entails every place on earth; "from one end of heaven to the other" refers to the realms beyond the skies and is heavenly. We would have to assume that at least the dead in Christ were part of the heavenly group, but there is no textual reason why it wouldn't or couldn't include the already raptured.

Those gathering angels are sent with a trumpet call, which might lead the inquiring reader to ask, "Exactly which trumpet blast might that be?" A succession of seven trumpet calls are mentioned in Revelation but none of them are associated with the gathering of the saints. I do not believe they are what is referenced by Christ in the Olivet Discourse. A last trump is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:52, and is definitely associated with the Rapture, but I don't believe that it is associated with the seven trumpets of Revelation either.

The seventh trumpet of the Apocalypse leads to more tribulation (i.e, the seven bowls) rather than the Return of Christ after tribulation is finished. The seven trumpets are not referenced anywhere else in scripture (even though modeled in a sense at Jericho), and I do not think the Apostle Paul would have even known of them when writing to the Corinthians in 55 CE (at the latest). John wrote the Apocalypse in 95 CE, and I doubt the Apostle Paul had the same type of revelation or awareness of detail as John would have prior to him receiving his vision on Patmos. There is just no good reason to associate the last trump of 1 Corinthians with the seven visionary trumpets of Revelation.

Last (Koine: esxate, meaning final, extreme) certainly implies more than one, but if it's not referring to the series of seven in the Apocalypse, then what is it referring to? Perhaps Israel's mandate to use trumpets during the exodus can provide some insight.

A long trumpet blast, not followed by another, in other words, the last signal trump sounded meant all Israel was to gather. It seems reasonable to me that Paul could have had this in mind when writing to the Corinthians (or even that a succession trumpet blasts were signaled when they set out by camp, the last signaling that all Israel was on the move). If so, then Paul was merely relying upon that imagery in conjunction with the word "last" to get across the sense of totality and finality in God's people moving into their eternal state, rather than connecting this to any series of trumpet blasts.

So, at the end of this age, immediately after the Great Tribulation, there will be an actual trumpet blast, unconnected to the seven visionary blasts of the Apocalypse, which signals the final ingathering of the saints in heaven and on earth to be with Christ. All the faithful dead will have been raised at that time, and those alive and remaining will have been changed. That doesn't mean that some of either category won't have been raised or changed before, only that all those that will be will have been so at that particular time.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: The Return of Christ

According to all three accounts of the Olivet Discourse, the coming of the Son of Man will be unmistakable. If something is the sort of thing that could leave one speculating, “I wonder if that was it?” whatever it was, it isn’t the it we were looking for. So many groups (e.g. the Moonies, JW’s, Branch Davidians, among others) could have been spared much of their folly if they’d only taken this word to heart. Nothing about Jesus' actual return will be subtle, and it will not leave intact the course of ordinary living that had been the norm up to the time of its occurrence.

Matthew describes this lack of subtlety as having the quality of lightning flashing across the whole sky. The point is emphasized and clarified by the reference to vultures gathered at a corpse. The point is that when the sign has fully occurred (i.e. the Great Tribulation, which is akin to the corpse) that Christ's return is there on the spot like the vultures gathered in the metaphor. So, there is nothing doubtful about whether or not it will occur, or when the time comes, that is has occurred, anywhere here on earth.

Matthew tells us that Christ's return will happen "immediately" (Koine: eutheos, at once) after the distress of those days, that is the Great Tribulation. The sense of urgency entailed cannot be overlooked, so the return of Christ will come on the heels of the Tribulation without any protracted delay. I envision this as happening right after the outpouring of the seventh bowl at the end of the 70 Weeks. In other words, the seventh bowl of wrath serves as the last bit of the Great Tribulation and ushers in the return of Christ.

All three accounts reference astonishing astronomical events in conjunction with the powers in the heavens being shaken. Luke does not mention them in sequential terms (i.e, as following the Great Tribulation as do Matthew and Mark), but his generality cannot be seen to dismiss the specificity of the other two. Matthew, uniquely, refers to the sign of the Son of Man appearing in the heavens before his coming in the clouds. That sign is never described by Matthew, never mentioned by Mark or Luke, so suffice it to say, it's something we don't need to understand in any depth to know that Jesus is coming back in the clouds (and in the same fashion as he ascended).

Furthermore, we are told that the tribes of earth will mourn at the sign, whatever it might be. Mourn, in this instance, means to bereave the loss or cutting off of something or someone. This is not regret or repentance, this is the agony of defeat (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). At this sign, the Gentiles (tribes) alive at that time finally recognize that they are cut off—that they backed the wrong horse and face nothing but judgment ahead. The blinders come off, the delusion dissipates, and they will see, finally, the truth about Christ with their own eyes, but without faith.

It is infinitely better to see that truth, now, by faith but without sight.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: The Secret Rapture

Some look at the description of Christ's return within the Olivet Discourse and jump to the conclusion that the secret (i.e. pre-tribulational) Rapture of the church is an unscriptural teaching. The sudden catching away of the church prior to the Tribulation and the ascendancy of the Antichrist seems to fly in the face of the text, which plainly states that the return of Christ and the rescue of his saints occurs at he end of the Tribulation. I don't blame folks for holding this position, in fact, I thought this way myself in my early days as a Christian. 

What changed my mind was a "Eureka!" moment while poring over Revelation 12 (see this). When I understood the imagery in that passage, it was as if I'd been given a key that unlocked everything else the Bible said about eschatology. Suddenly, just about everything fell into place, including the Olivet Discourse. As it did, I no longer disdained the Secret Rapture teaching, but found myself, to my surprise, accepting it and thereafter promoting it.

The mechanics of Jesus' return as detailed in the Olivet Discourse are the same regardless of which approach to the Rapture one takes. Astronomical wonders and some uniquely associative heavenly sign immediately precede the visible return of Christ through the clouds. The series of events will be absolutely unmistakable and inescapable, like lightning illumining the whole sky. As he comes through the clouds, he will gather his saints together from the four winds (all over earth) and from one end of heaven to the other.

Pre-tribbers and mid-tribbers assume at least some saints were already in heaven (i.e., raptured, not just the dead in Christ) when Jesus finally arrives on earth. The text explicitly states that he gathers his saints from from all over the heavens so that is certainly a valid perspective. How those on the earth are gathered is not intimated, it is only said that they are gathered in the lot. I see nothing in the text which implies that those on the earth are quickly whisked up into the air just to experience a meteoric descent back to earth immediately afterwards with Jesus.

Post-tribbers have to assume that very thing, the sequence as follows: Christ appears in the heavens, gathers the saints from heaven (the dead in Christ) and earth (those alive and remaining) in the air (necessitated by 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) and then immediately returns to earth with them in tow.

Among other issues with that scenario, it does not jive with Revelation 19:19-20:5. That text clearly states that there are saints who did not take the mark of the Beast and that are raised from the dead (raptured, for all intents and purposes) in isolation from the rest of the dead. The passages that deal directly with the faithful dead being raised or raptured (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) clearly state that all the faithful dead at the time of the Rapture rise together. Therefore, the unmarked saints from the Tribulation cannot be part of the faithful dead at the time of the Rapture

The only way the math works out is for those unmarked, Tribulation saints to die after the Rapture has occurred.

If those Tribulation saints must die during the Tribulation but after the Rapture, the post-tribulation perspective is untenable. The mid-tribulation perspective is not eliminated, not at least by the passage mentioned above. It does have issues with what follows in the Olivet Discourse (see this), however.  It seems the escape of the Rapture, at least for the broadest measure of the Church, must happen suddenly in the midst of ordinary life, and hence pre-tribulationally, according to the scriptures. 

I must admit my approach to the Rapture in the Olivet Discourse is not a slam dunk. The language Jesus used in these passages is ambivalent enough for anyone so determined to justify in their own mind seeing these passages in another light. I do believe my approach to the Revelation and Daniel is more than solid and that everything else fits together within my interpretative schema, whereas nothing does under a mid- or post-tribulational regimen. If either of those approaches are right, no worries, bad things will happen to awake the slumbering before Christ returns, and they won't be caught with their pants down

If my approach is right, we need to be ready now.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: Great Tribulation

The synoptic versions of the Olivet Discourse vary widely in the section dealing with the Great Tribulation. There are commonalities in elements of the narrative, but the phrasing is variant and details differ. All, however, picture a very difficult time which has a start and a finish, and which will challenge the Jews alive at that time even while the entire earth experiences tremendous stress. All three accounts segue into the return of Christ at the end of said tribulation.

Matthew and Mark both describe, almost verbatim, distress (Koine: thlipsis--pressure, and the internal stress that results) unique in that it was never equaled before nor will it be equaled after. So, the envisioned tribulation will surpass Noah’s flood according to this description, and that wiped out just about everything and everyone. Anything globally significant before WWII and the Holocaust, as well as those occurrences themselves, will also be surpassed on the same basis. The siege of Jerusalem in 66-70 CE isn't even in the ballpark by such a description--not in terms of severity, or scope, let alone in fulfilling cited prophecy.

Though Luke describes the circumstance by a different word (ananke), it's meaning (distress caused by external conditions) is roughly equivalent. Luke and Matthew do agree on describing that distress as great (megale). Although many events experienced in history up to the present could be described as great, nothing matches the depth and breadth of some of the events described in the Apocalypse. It seems to me that Jesus was referring to that unique level of things when he described the coming tribulation.

For the sake of the elect, the days of this tribulation are curtailed, which may explain the day variation of Daniel 12:11-12. Who might these elect be? Generally, the word signifies the chosen of God, and from the context, it can be assumed that the reference here includes Jews in Judea and Jerusalem looking for the Messiah. If others were meant to be encompassed by the term, we're certainly not told that in this discourse. Regardless, it's comforting to know that God has an agenda concerning time which has the aim of ending time without ending the elect.

Those aching to see the Messiah return, especially in the midst of such severe stress, could be susceptible to counterfeits. However, when Christ returns he won’t be slipping into town quietly, in a fashion that could be missed--not even by those not anticipating his return. Anything less than a cosmic, earth shaking event can't be the Messiah's return. Thankfully, it will not possible for the elect to be duped, which I suspect will owe much to the ministry of the Two Witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11:1-13.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: Pregnant Refugees

A common feature of all three accounts of the Olivet Discourse is the pronouncement of woe upon the pregnant and nursing. It is situated in about the same place in the unfolding story in Matthew and Mark, but is located in a slightly different place in Luke. It doesn't appear to be a different detail, so can it be used to "align" all three accounts? I think that it could, but if it is, it removes any possibility at all that the Lucan account was referring to events foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

If the woe is the same woe in all three accounts, then Matthew and Mark's reference to the gospel being preached to all nations is a detail skipped over by Luke. The surrounding of Jerusalem and its desolation mentioned by Luke is just a different way of saying "the abomination of desolation" as stated by Matthew and Mark. Even though the Lucan description of this section would fit the events of 66-70 CE, the phrase "all that is written will be fulfilled" doesn't fit at all with 70 CE. Considering that at our late date all that is written still hasn't been fulfilled makes that especially so!

The only way to keep the preterist hope alive, therefore, is to see the woe on the pregnant and nursing as referring to two distinct occurrences of such a plight. Otherwise, the language of the end which dictates the interpretation of Matthew and Mark, would carry for Luke's account as well. The dual fulfillment of things like the "Abomination of Desolation" (seemingly fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes, yet used by Christ to refer to something yet undone) perhaps allows for such an approach, but I think it strains credulity to apply it to the pregnant refugees.

So in the end, I must dismiss it, and with it, the preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: Abomination of Desolation Part II

Primarily, there are two things occurring in regard to the Abomination of Daniel referenced by Christ in the Olivet Discourse: suppression and replacement. The normal activities in the Temple have to be stopped, and other ones, unclean ones, have to take their place. Antiochus models that, but doesn't fulfill it, the Romans did one but not the other. What does fit the bill, for both Daniel and the Olivet Discourse, is described in Revelation 13:14-15, even though its location is merely implied by Revelation 13:5-6 (see Daniel 9:27) rather than specified.

Since Jesus did command the reader of Daniel's prophecy to understand, particularly as it relates to the end Jesus is prophesying, the Abomination of Desolation at the end of the age spoken of by Daniel was clearly meant to be understood. Oh, it may take some consideration, some thought (which is the burden of the Koine "noeito" which is translated "understand"), but it was certainly meant to be understood. I think that principle of perspicuity holds for all end-time prophesy. Without a doubt, such prophecy becomes clearer the closer we get to its fulfillment (Daniel 12:9-10).

The elephant in the room in all this unpacking is that the Abomination of Desolation presumes a place that can be abominably desolated. I think I have well established that the destruction of that location in 70 CE was not part of its ultimate desolation as envisioned by Daniel and Jesus and which still awaits. That can only mean that at sometime, the holy place must be rebuilt according to biblical standards and prepared for the offering of holy sacrifices once again. Make no mistake about it, the Temple will be rebuilt, it must be in order to fulfill that spoken by the prophet and by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

At some point after the Temple is in place, the Abomination will be stood up, and those in Judea at that time are told to hit the pike; however, they are not directed to a location in the Olivet Discourse, or in Revelation 12, or anywhere in Daniel. Though Petra is often offered as a possibility by commentators, that is sheer speculation without so much as a shred of definitive biblical proof. At best, we can say that the refugees will probably run into the desert more than a Sabbath Day’s journey (~ ¾ of a mile) to a place where God will take care of them for 1260 days (3 ½ years). What is certain is that they are in hiding after their flight and are not to let anything (like purported sightings of the Messiah, even if evidenced by great miracles) draw them out.

That these refugees are believing Jews is easy enough to deduce: they are in Judea; they are sabbath keepers; they are actively looking for the Messiah. Furthermore, they must be those that would be mindful of the words of Jesus or this section of the discourse, which counsels them, would be fruitless. God's word never goes out void, so it seems to me, that some of those Jews, maybe a lot of those Jews, maybe even all of those Jews would be Messianic. It is easy enough to put together the pieces and see that the Abomination of Desolation will occur after Jews have rebuilt the Temple, and that many of them have turned to Jesus as Messiah.