Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Second Coming in Genesis

Reading my way through Genesis this last time, I was surprised to find seven places in it that seemed to symbolize the coming of the Lord. Here I must be careful, because there are many places in Scripture where we might think we find a type, but we cannot be sure unless the Scripture itself points them out. Then and only then can we be sure that we are looking at a type. Scofield, famous for finding types all throughout the Bible, himself notes somewhere that the only true types are those that have the warrant of Scripture on them. Please notice that I am not going so far as to suggest these are even the lesser types of Scofield; rather I have deliberately chosen the words “seemed to symbolize”. It makes a rather delicious study anyway, and so in that spirit, I offer them for your consideration. Some of them I think you will find to be surely true; others may be harder to see, but I present to you the seven places where the Rapture, the Bride, or the coming of the Lord might be seen.

First, there is the obvious one. Enoch walked with God and was not, Scripture says, for God took him. I believe this one, of all seven is perhaps the strongest, and has been suggested by many Bible scholars over the years. Do we not have a picture of the church here, where the church is walking before God, and then God suddenly took it? The faithfulness of Enoch in walking with his God is compared to the church, which Revelation says is going to be dressed in the righteous acts of the saints. A beautiful picture of God’s deliverance from a coming wrath, for remember that the seventieth week of Daniel is what we are escaping from. In Enoch’s day, the wickedness of men abounded so much that eventually God was to destroy all of mankind except for Noah, which brings us to the next place.

Noah, being rescued from the judgment of the earth, becomes a picture of the saint of the last days, being saved from the coming judgment. God, being merciful, isolates his salvation down to only his chosen, in the flood to Noah and his family, in the seventieth week of Daniel to all his chosen saints. It is illuminating to think of Noah spending all of those years building his salvation according to the plan of God. Surely it is no accident that God has told us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it God within you working to his own good purpose. Rather than working on an ark, we are working and building the body of Christ (by the power of the Holy Spirit), and when it is finally completed, God will take that body out of judgment just as Noah was taken. Which takes us to another man famously taken out of judgment, Lot.

Lot appears to be at least a lessor creature to me when he appears in the Old Testament. Abraham takes Lot with him on the journey that God has given him. Commentators have long pointed out that Abraham was told “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Note that Abraham chose to leave his father’s household behind, but he took Lot. And Lot caused Abraham lots of grief. The herders of Lot and Abraham could not get along, so Abraham divides the land, lets Lot choose, and Lot chose the fairest plain which happened to include Sodom. Not a wise choice. When I first read this passage, my thinking was that Lot was not spiritual, that he allowed his base motives to direct his actions. Not exactly an evil character, but certainly not a good one. That is what I thought until I came across this verse from Peter, “For that righteous man [Lot] dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.” God, through his apostle Peter, evidently weighed Lot in the balance scale a lot differently than I might have. He was a righteous soul, and not only a righteous soul, but a soul that was vexed day and night by the evil deeds of those around him.

God took Lot from that place. It corrupted his wife, who looked back and turned to a pillar of salt. It corrupted his children, who later got their father drunk to sire children. Thus were born the Moabites and the Ammonites, who later became no end of problem for Israel. But Lot himself was a righteous man, a picture of the church who will be taken out from the world before wrath is poured out upon it. More specifically, we see the Bride of Christ being taken home to be with the Lord, escaping the wrath that will be poured out on the earth.

The fourth place I see the Rapture is a bit harder to glimpse, yet I think if you ponder on it a bit, you will see the grace of God again showing that future age. Isaac was the child of promise, and very long in coming. Abraham was promised a child that would eventually make him to become the father of nations, yet at 99, still found himself without child. Sarah, at an anything but spry 86, no longer considered herself to be able to bear children. Yet the faithfulness of God was not yet complete, until the coming of the son, Isaac, the child of promise. With that coming, which can be compared not only the first coming of the Son, but also the Second Coming. It is a promised coming, just as the comings of our Savior are promised. It is much delayed, just as the comings of our Savior were delayed—the first coming not happening for almost 2,000 years after Isaac, and the second coming still being waited on.

Rebekah, the chosen bride of Isaac, can also be likened to the marriage of the church (the bride) to the Lord. The marriage supper of the Lamb is yet to take place, yet when it comes it will surely follow many of the same things that happened to Rebekah. The faithful servant of Abraham stands as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, something commentators have long noted. The servant goes out and finds the bride, just as the Holy Spirit finds us, convicting us both of our sin and the righteousness of God. The faithful servant puts a bracelet around the wrist of the bride, sealing her as the bride of Isaac. Similarly, the Holy Spirit seals us into the body of Christ, guaranteeing us to be part of the bride. The servant then removes her from her home, and she is taken to an exalted position as the bride of Isaac, the chosen seed. One day when the Spirit is taken out of the way, at the same time, He will remove us from the earth, and bring us at last to the place the Lord has prepared for us.

Sixth, the family of Jacob, and Jacob himself are taken out of the wrath which is to come, remarkably like we are promised in Thessalonians. They are removed from the danger of drought and starvation, and brought to an exalted position. Indeed, Joseph has been made second only to the Pharaoh in position. The Christian will be saved from the wrath to come in the coming seventieth week of Daniel when the world is judged, and exalted beyond all hope as we find our inheritance in heaven.

Lastly, I see the dream of Jacob as a sign of the faithfulness of God. Jacob dreams of a ladder going to heaven. Jacob is forced to be a sojourner in a foreign land, just as we Christians are sojourners in a foreign land. Yet, God gives to Jacob the promise that he will one day be brought back to the land of promise, and so we Christians look forward to the completion of God’s promises that he will, at long last, bring us to the home which he has prepared and promised us.

All seven are thus given, and certainly not all are equal. Some are more obviously hinting at the coming of our Lord, while others perhaps only become obvious as we willingly muse about them. But this we have as a certainty, that the Lord himself told us to search the Scriptures for they are they which testify of him (John 5:39). Is it any wonder, then, that we should find much of Christ and his comings in the very first book of Genesis?

Friday, September 08, 2017

End times

Everywhere I go lately, someone is talking about the end times and the disasters happening in our state and even the hurricanes hitting other countries and earthquakes. They are convinced it is the end times. I wanted to know your thoughts about this.

What a question! I was looking for something to do this morning anyway, so I will attempt to answer as briefly as I may. Hopefully it will not be too much answer for you. I would first recommend that you read a great book on the subject of the rapture, called The Rapture Question, by John Walvoord. I am reading it through for my third time right now. He thoroughly covers the topic from A to Z, presenting the literal viewpoint of a pretrib rapture, and why the post-tribulation positions are so much less literal. You note that “your take is that we might spend less time talking about it, and using more time to tell others about Jesus.” What a fine observation! But it still should be the driving force of our need to talk to others about it, for as the song wonderfully asks, “What if it were today?”

So no, we should not just sit around and talk about it, rather it should be our motive to push us to be found busy following our calling.

Jesus is very clear about his expectations for his saints. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” History is full of people who have erred grievously by trying to predict the day of his coming, and all have been wrong. But if we cannot know the day, Jesus does teach us that we will know the season, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (24:32, 33). He goes on to tell us, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (24:45).

So when your friends note that the season is near, they are doing exactly that which Jesus commanded. They are watching. But, as you did suggest, they ought to be doing more than watching. The epistles to the Thessalonians were both written to clarify the incidents that happen around the Second Coming, particularly the Rapture. I am so glad the Thessalonians became confused about the details, because it caused Paul to stop and write down the prophecies clearly, so that you and I might understand more about what is to come. (In fact, every chapter in the epistles of Thessalonians, except for one, tells us something about the coming of our Lord. Can you find the chapter that does not talk about the coming of the Lord? It makes for a wonderful Bible study!) Did you know that church history teaches that some of the Thessalonians were parking themselves on rooftops, so sure were they that the coming was near? They did not want to miss a thing, and were watching. They might remind you of the friends you mentioned that want to talk about nothing else.

You are correct when you observe that we need to be busy telling others about Jesus, and if we are truly following the Lord, our watching for his return should make us realize that our time is indeed short, and we will need to be found busy following our calling when he does return. So end time sentiments should be motivating us to work harder, lest we be caught unaware. So there is a place for both, and we need to watch ourselves so that we are not found on the rooftops, but rather in the harvest where we have been placed.

Knowing him is a beautiful thing that ought to be shared in hopes that others might hear and begin watching with the rest of us. Hope this very short answer helps, and don’t forget to check the book out!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Two Apparently Opposing Ideas

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 9:23 (NIV)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matt. 11:28-30 (NIV)

How is it that our Lord should say two such apparently contradictory things? In Luke, he tells us to take up the cross and follow him. Not once. But daily. The cross is a symbol of suffering, of the persecution of the righteous, and it is to the cross we must go if we are to follow Jesus.

I get that. So I bow my head, bare my shoulders, and prepare each day for the cross. I must grit my teeth, mutter to myself that I can handle it, and stagger forward. But wait! He also said in Matthew that he will give us rest. He tells us that he is gentle and humble in heart, and that learning about him will give us rest. For his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Which is it? One or the other, I think, in my fleshiness. It cannot be that I carry a cross across my shoulders, and find the yoke is easy and the burden is light. Can it?

Two such oppositional ideas cannot be both true, except in the providence of God. God, having made his plans before the foundation of the world, purposed to make both ideas to be the center of the Christian life. He fully intends for us to have both in our lives, as contradictory as they might seem to be at first.

There are two examples of this that I would like to remind you of, since they both are such excellent examples of lives carrying the contradictory truths. First, I will look at the example of Stephen, our first martyr, and then I will look at the example of the apostle Paul.

Stephen is chosen to be a deacon, an office which seems to be more than the apostles first intended, and resulted in a great circle of men of faith. Stephen, the Bible assures us, is “full of faith and the Holy Spirit”. His cross to bear, that the apostles bestowed upon him, was evidently to see that the Greek widows were not overlooked in their needs. Nothing more is ever said about the deacon’s service to the widows, but God takes Stephen and molds for him a great cross to bear: he becomes the first church martyr.

The cross, at that point, must have been insufferably heavy. The Jewish leaders took him captive, and all in his future must have been terribly dark. But, Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, begins to preach what is perhaps the most powerful sermon in the book of Acts. Please note that the Scripture does indeed refer to Stephen as being filled with the Spirit, and that is the key to understanding how to bear the cross that is given to us. We do not bear it under our own power, but with the very power and Spirit of God. Thus it becomes easy to bear. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Because it is God’s outworking of his Spirit within us.

Look at Stephen. Giving a powerful sermon, he only moved the haters to conspire to kill him. With practically his last breath, he looks toward heaven, asking for the Lord to receive his spirit. With his last breath, he mutters perhaps the most powerful prayer in all of Acts, saying, Father, do not hold this sin against them. Like his Lord’s cry from the cross, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. He faithfully took up his cross, and followed his Lord in death, but not in his own power, but with the very power of God to enable him. I submit to you that Stephen may have been a very good person, and probably was, but he was utterly dependent upon God to carry such a cross. And proving willing to bear it, he found to his delight that the yoke was indeed easy, and the burden was light. Therein is the secret of the apparent contradiction.

But I am not done, for Paul is yet unexamined, and I have yet to show his taking up the cross and following his Lord. Stephen’s last prayer was for those who were so dreadfully hating him, for the very people who had gnashed their teeth in fury, and could not throw the stones fast enough to kill Stephen. One young man in that crowd of haters, was diminutive, small in size, and perhaps with weak eyesight. Nevertheless, he utterly hated Stephen, and offered to hold the coats of those who were bigger, and more able to bring death quickly. Stephen prayed for that man, a man who was to change history. He prayed with the power of the Holy Spirit for God not to hold this vile deed against him. And God saw fit to answer that prayer, bringing salvation to Saul, the apostle who brought Christ to the Gentiles. To you and to me, as an answer to the very last prayer of the first martyr. Talk about drama!

Saul must have been haunted by that prayer. I have often wondered who it was that remembered that last prayer of Stephen. There is a case to speculate that it was Paul himself who later gave the gist of that powerful prayer to Luke, who went on to record it in the book of Acts. Perhaps it was, we may never know. But I do imagine that Saul heard those words that day, and that those words began to haunt him in all of his misdeeds. Everywhere he went, did he remember those words, that prayer for his forgiveness? How it must have tortured his soul to think of the young Stephen praying for Saul’s forgiveness even as they brought him death!

I do speculate here, but not so much that it might not have been true. When Christ at last appears to his last chosen apostle, is not the reaction of Saul quick and decisive? Does he not seem to capitulate very quickly, deciding that he was wrong? I do wonder if the prayer of Stephen had not eaten away at Saul’s heart, preparing him for the truth of his later vision, the vision of the living Christ, asking, Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?

At any event, we have Saul being turned into Paul, who disdained all else, proclaiming the gospel to all who would listen boldly and without fear. Paul undergoes deprivations, shipwrecks, whippings, and even a stoning (Chafer suggests that stoning actually brought a temporary death). All of what he endured he counted as naught. Can we find a better example than Paul of carrying the cross of Christ? Yet, he found it true that his yoke was easy and his burden was light, not counting himself worthy to suffer for Christ, and finally telling us in 2 Timothy that he has fought the good fight and was looking forward to getting his crown of righteousness.

What is this amazing faith, this Christianity, that it should so radically change people? From the early years even until now it has always been this way, that Christians should disdain this world because of their vision of a better world to come. Throughout history the remarkable faithfulness of God is evident, teaching these words of Jesus. We are to take up his cross and find that it is not so heavy after all. Indeed, his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but only because of the great mystery, that Christ himself in the form of the Spirit, should be found in us.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Musings of a Reader

It seems to me that there are a set of fixed rules that are as of yet unseen by mankind. These rules must have in some sense been affixed by God, and evidently he respects those rules also. Those rules evidently include allowing Satan to run over this world, to and fro, as Job says, and to constantly accuse. What his province, or his job is, at current is hard to say. He is called the prince of the power of the air, which indicates that, at the least, he has the power to range over the earth. Perhaps he is allowed to accuse, and perhaps God listens with the heavenly host as witnesses to those accusations. But more unseen is the Devil’s control over the minds of men. Evidently he is allowed, at times, to incite violent awful episodes of derangement in our world, of course looking forward to the seventieth week of Daniel where he is allowed to wreak havoc upon the earth, and all them that dwell therein.

I think it makes sense, at least to me, that Satan was behind barbaric acts such as what happened on 9/11, where he was able to use a handful of fools to perform his will. It seems to me obvious from living through that day that great wickedness was given a way forward that seemed to be allowed to get over great hurdles. Of course, we know from Job that God himself is sovereign even over what the Devil might do. In that way, God is sovereign over all, just as we understand our Bibles to so plainly teach us. But just as in Job, we see God using agents to perform his will. Did he not use Satan to perform his will? It seems that both statements are true—that God is sovereign, and that Satan is performing at least some of his will. Trying to reconcile the two has proven to be a Sisyphean task for theologians; no matter how hard they try, the two do not seem to fit together. Yet, it is these opposing truths which God presents us with in Scripture. We are never quite told how they reconcile, but the safest course for the Christian is to simply believe and trust that one day it will work out as God has promised.

But I want to reflect on how we got here. Theologians cover in depth our depravity, and they have done an excellent job, as far as it goes. But actually it is revealed in Scripture that we (mankind) are almost the postscript in a story that has been going on for a very long time. There are other beings, called angels (it is a wonder to me, but if I called these angels aliens, many people would perk up, willing to believe in that which we have not been told about instead of that which we are told about) and these angels were involved in a struggle in heaven. God evidently sent mankind, that these insignificant beings should be, to the wonder of heaven, the very instrument to bring about the demise of Satan.

We are, as I have written elsewhere, the pawns on the chessboard of life. But the insignificant pawn suddenly becomes very important in the chess game when the pawn finds itself on the seventh rank. All of a sudden the game focus shifts totally to that pawn, as the mover tries to “queen” his pawn, and his opponent does everything possible to prevent that. We are the pawns, on the seventh rank. Suddenly the whole focus of heaven is upon us, waiting for the significant move that God is about to make.

But let’s look at things from the point of view of the pawn, who scarcely knows what is going on. All of the other pieces are suddenly focusing on his power, but he does not much understand how he, being so little and unimportant, has become the center of attention. So we little understand the rules of the game; we cannot see why God should suddenly make us so important. Yet, with the Incarnation, he did just exactly that, deciding to become flesh, reconciling the world to him, but also bruising the Serpent’s head. In the cross lies the chess move of God, if you will, making man to suddenly be on the seventh rank, and in lifting the Son up, pronounces simultaneously the bruising of the head of Satan, and the lifting up of men to become the Sons of God.

Remember that this lifting up of man in the incarnate man is a marvel in all of heaven—it is almost as if the rules of the chess game have changed, to the utter amazement of watchers. Now we await the final promotion, when the pawn is crowned and the new queen presents herself to the King. Rules that we cannot understand or begin to fathom, but why should we expect to understand? Has he not asked us to walk by faith?