Two Things Jesus will be Looking for

In my days in the college classroom, it was pretty clear that students liked to know what would be used to evaluate them. Simply put they wanted to know, “how do I get an “A” in here?”  They would not buy into the idea that I would arbitrarily give them a grade at the end of the course depending on how I might feel at that moment. Whether it is in the classroom, on the job or a dozen other situations, we like to know what is the criteria for our evaluation. 

Fortunately, the criteria for our evaluation at the Judgment Seat (bema) of the Lord Jesus Christ is clearly given to us in the Scriptures. We don’t have to speculate as to what will be used in our evaluation.  In our previous study we observed the first criterion given by the Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-4:5, the first of the criteria was given, and that was: “how closely did our lives align with God’s truth”?  As we served Him and lived for Him, did we do so according to the commands, principles and guidelines found in the Scriptures.  This indicates that there will be a clear, objective standard for us.  As Paul told Timothy, we will not receive the prize unless we play according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). This certainly suggests something of the importance of being people of the Book. We will now look at the other two criteria that the Lord Jesus will use as He evaluates the lives of His servants.

CRITERION #2: WERE WE FAITHFUL IN SERVING JESUS?

In the New Testament, each believer is said to be a “steward”.  This word is used by Paul as he describes what will take place at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

“Let a man regard us in this matter, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”  (1 Cor. 4:1-2)

A steward is one to whom the master has given many things.  The steward is to diligently work with these things that belong to his master. The issue that is most important is that the steward must be faithful. And because all things have been given to the steward, he is held accountable for how faithful he has been in the use of those things.  Paul further reminded the Christians at Corinth:

“For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

Although we are all so very different from one another, each of us is a steward and has been given much by the Lord.  (Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 25:15 that He does deal differently with His servants—there are some servants who are given 1 or 2 talents, while some are given 5). All of us have been given natural abilities and spiritual gifts.  Each has been given a level of intelligence and a level of financial resources.  All believers have been given time and opportunities. Each of us have a role in our families and churches. All these have been given to us by the Lord and He expects us to be faithful in using these things to live for Him and bring honor to Him.  The Judgment Seat of Christ will be the place where our individual stewardship is evaluated. It does, and it will, make an important difference in what we did with all that has been given to us. 

Unfortunately, we often compare ourselves with others and see ourselves as inferior to other believers.  We all too often assume that those prominent Christians (such as, pastors of megachurches or those who are on television or write many books or those who sing wonderful solos at church) will be the ones who receive great reward and have prominence in Messiah’s kingdom.  But that may not be case at all.  The great issue to the Lord Jesus is that of faithfulness.  We are called uponTO BE FAITHFUL, NOT TO BE FAMOUS! Did we “hang in there” and live faithfully for the Lord even in tough times. The Lord Jesus will evaluate us on what He has given to us, not on what He has given to someone else.  This should be a great encouragement to us.  Fellow believers, do not compare yourself with others because the Lord Jesus will not be doing that.  The issue is an individual one.  Were you and I faithful to Him in using what He has given to us?

CRITERION #3: WHAT WERE OUR MOTIVES AS WE SERVED CHRIST?

The Lord is apparently interested in our heart attitudes as we live and serve.  Our motive should be the glory of God and the approval of God.  It would seem that every now and then we should ask ourselves the question “why am I doing what I am doing?”  Our motivations are important even though it is sometimes difficult for us to fully discern our motives.  Again, the Apostle Paul mentioned this matter to the believers at Corinth.

“I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.  Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”   (1 Cor. 4:4-5)

It would appear that periodically we ought to try and identify “why” we are doing and living the way we are.  Paul was a faithful, devoted follower of Jesus, and in his life, he observed others who did not live as he did.  He mentions several wrong motives that could be spotted in others.  He noted that some served the Lord because it was profitable to do so.  They merchandised the gospel (2 Cor. 2:17).  They did what they did because of the financial rewards that they got. They put a price tag on what they did.  He also observed believers who served out of personal pride (Phil. 1:15-17).  They were building a kingdom, but it was evidently their own and not Christ’s. Personal fame was the fuel that energized their service. Paul made it clear that it is possible for one to serve Christ because it brings with it prominence, power or profit.  So, for example, we might ask ourselves why we want to be a lead singer in the worship service; or chair a committee; or be an elder or deacon; or have a lead part in the Christmas pageant or Easter cantata? Do we have people over to our house because we want to be known as a person of generous hospitality?  It is sometimes hard to completely determine why we do what we do. But since Jesus will be taking a look at our motives, we should probably do that as well. And it may be that we will need to pray for Him to help us get rid of those impure or suspect motives out of our thinking. We must never underestimate the deceptive power of our flesh, and we need to ask the Holy Spirit (the only One who can defeat the flesh) to assist us in serving Christ faithfully with noble motives.

While all of us as God’s children are equally loved by Him, He will be just and righteous in the manner in which He will deal with His children.  He will evaluate us as individuals and will not compare us with others. His evaluation will not be arbitrary, (depending on He feels at the moment!) but will be objective. If reward is given or if reward is withdrawn, it will be clear to all as to the reasons why.  This can be the greatest day for each of us stewards of Christ. Today does count forever, and what an incredible level of joy there will be. if indeed the King says to you “well done, good steward.”

What Will Jesus be Looking for at the “Judgement Seat”?

Most of us can recall a time when an authority figure required us to come see them. It may have been the school principal or the company boss or the coach of our team or someone else. But as we anticipated the meeting, most likely we became somewhat stressed about it, not knowing what was going to happen and what things would be like after the meeting was over. 

Far greater and far more significant than that meeting with some authority figure will be that scheduled meeting that we have with the Lord Jesus Christ at what is referred to as the “judgment seat of Christ.” Any earthly meeting cannot rival this future meeting which all believers in Jesus will be attending. Now, some of those human authority figures may not have really wanted our best or were interested in treating us fairly. That will not be true of the Lord Jesus. He is loving, merciful, good and gracious. He loves to give good gifts to His children and always desires what is best for His own. But He is also holy which requires that He deal justly with us and evaluate us fairly. He will not overlook the good we have done, but He will not overlook our sin and selfishness.  So, the question we want to address here is, just what will be the basis of Jesus evaluation of us as believers at the judgment seat. When we study the Scriptures, we discover that there are three primary criteria that Jesus will use. 

CRITERION #1: HOW CLOSELY DID OUR LIVES ALIGN WITH GOD’S TRUTH?

There is going to be an objective standard that will be used as Jesus evaluates our lives, and that objective standard is God’s Word.  The Scriptures give us all that we need to know to live well for the Lord Jesus and to serve Him.  The following verses give us a needed reminder of this.

Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Pet. 1:3)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Because the Word of God gives us all that is necessary to honor Christ and live well for Him, this same Word will be used to evaluate how we lived our lives. This is certainly one reason why it is so important that we are “people of the Book.” The Apostle Paul observed that we will not receive reward if we do not live according to the rules that God has set up.

“And also, if any one competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.”  (2 Tim. 2:5)

In his enlightening discussion of the Judgment Seat of Christ in 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul uses the helpful picture of building a structure.  He notes that all of us as believers are building. We should observe that the question is not “am I building?”  The question for each of us is what kind of building materials am I using?”  

In his illustration, he tells us that all believers are given the foundation on which to build.  The foundation on which we build is the same for everyone.  That foundation is the truth about Jesus Christ, His person and His work (1 Cor. 3:10-11).  Our lives and service are built on our relationship with Christ.  By faith, we have received God’s gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of our sins.  From the moment we are saved, we begin to build on this foundation.

Paul informs us that we have two types of building materials available as we build.  The first are those materials which will not perish when touched by fire (gold, silver, valuable building stones), and second, those materials that are combustible (wood, hay straw).  Again, we must remember that every day we are building, which means that last week you and I built. And the crucial question is what kind of material we used last week.

But what do these materials represent?  The imperishable materials (gold, silver, valuable building stones) represent the wisdom of God which is found in the Scriptures.  The context determines this. The discussion of the Judgment Seat found here in 1 Corinthians 3 has been preceded by a lengthy discussion of the importance of the wisdom of God.  From 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul has been arguing for the critical role that God’s wisdom plays in people getting right with God and with its significance in living life. When we live and serve according to the standards, commands and guidelines of Scripture, we are building with these wonderful, permanent materials.  On the other hand, the perishable materials represent those views, philosophies and ideas that are not part of God’s Word.  Some suggestions will be given on what these things might look like.

Living according to the guiding principles and commands of Scripture is building with gold, silver and precious stones.  For example, in our family relationships each of us have roles and responsibilities as set for by the Bible.  When I, as a husband, love my wife and give her biblical leadership then that is one area that I am building with imperishable materials.  As we guide our fiscal lives according to God’s principles on money and material things, we are building with these lasting materials.  So, whether it is in my vocation, my responsibilities in the Church, my relationship with the unsaved, the way I budget my time, the decisions made related to recreation or a dozen other matters, we can be choosing to live by the appropriate principles and guidelines found in Scripture.  

This, of course, leads to a fundamental issue of whether or not we are spending the needed time in studying the Scriptures to both understand and then apply the truths of God to the various areas of life.  What we do or don’t do will determine the receiving of rewards, or not, at the Judgment Seat.

What might the perishable materials of wood, hay and straw represent in the lives of believers?  These represent any alternatives to the revealed standards and principles of God in His Word.  In the context of 1 Corinthians, in a very fundamental way, this represents the “wisdom of man.”  Believers can and often do make decisions in life based on things other than the wisdom of God.  In order to try and take this out of the realm of the abstract and to see what wood, hay and straw might look like today, several suggestions are given. 

  • EXPERIENCES.  Believers will sometimes make decisions in life or prioritize what is important in life based on some circumstances or coincidence they have experienced. I have known people whose course was charted based on an alleged vision they saw or voice they heard.  Others say they were “slain in the Spirit” and this experience determined choices made in numerous areas of life.  But experiences, though real to a person, must be evaluated by the Scriptures.  Some experiences come from God but others do not. They instead are generated by the human mind and yet others by Satan. The Scriptures alone can determine the authenticity of experience.
  • TRADITION.  Believers can program their lives by their religious traditions. And while some traditions might prove helpful, they might not. As we all know, the traditions of the Pharisees in the days of Christ, brought terrible consequences to many.  Tradition are fundamentally man made, and though they might at times be helpful but it is only the Word of God that evaluates tradition.
  • PSYCHOLOGICAL IDEAS.  Even pastors in their sermons can substitute current psychological ideas for biblical truth. Current cultural thinking is no substitute for biblical thinking.  For example, child raising can be done according to biblical principles or according to current trends in psychology. Some will focus on digging back into a person’s childhood instead of focusing on the present and future (Phil. 3:13-14). The psychological views that come out of the culture are always in a state of flux and are more like quick sand than solid ground. 
  • DOCTRINAL ERROR.  The greatest concern of the Apostles was the influx of false doctrine into the church.  The distortion of biblical truth affects every area of life, and the Apostle John warned that embracing that which is error will bring about the loss of reward in the future (2 John 7-8). In today’s church setting, with the growing influence of “progressive Christianity”, erroneous teachings are growing like dandelions.

Building is going on daily in our lives.  Whether we are building according to the Word, or on other things, will determine the gain or loss of reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  It is no small matter.  And it becomes obvious to the thinking person that understanding and applying the truth of God in life is a primary task of ours in the present. And it is the Scriptures that will be the objective basis of our evaluation by the Lord Jesus.

In our next study, we will look at the matters of faithfulness and motivation as the other criteria that Jesus will be using in our evaluation and rewarding at His “judgment seat.” In the meantime, be in the Word and allowing the Holy Spirit of God to instruct us and guide us into truth centered living.

What Is Done Today Does Count Forever

Whenever an athletic team, or even an individual, wins a major victory, there is a unique level of exhilaration and enthusiasm that erupts. The explosion of happiness cannot be contained. After spending hours in training and practicing, the victory that is being experienced leaves them with a limited vocabulary. The moment itself was overpowering and their lives would never be the same. As I watch those winning athletes, I cannot help but think of a future time when we will be rewarded by the Lord Jesus, the King of Glory.  But the joy of those winning athletes is so very superficial when compared with the joy of those believers who have faithfully served the Lord of Glory here and now.  For faithful believers, it will undoubtedly be an incredibly emotional moment of great joy and immense satisfaction.  To have the Lord Jesus say, “you did a good job and I am so very pleased with you” will make all of the hard work and faithfulness in tough times be worth it all. And, like those athletes, this will have an impact on life from that moment on.

As we look at our crumbling culture with its growing hostility to Jesus Christ and His people, many believers are beginning to think a little differently and to prioritize their lives a little differently. And that is good. According to the Scriptures, how we live now does have a powerful impact on our futures in the coming Kingdom of God. Today does count forever.  What we do now for Christ will have a ripple effect throughout the coming kingdom of God. When the Apostle Paul was explaining to the believers at Corinth as to why he willing suffered so much for Christ and the gospel, he said: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:17).  Today does count forever and we too can part of the “eternal weight of glory.”  In this study, I would like to “stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance”, by freshening up our thinking on the Judgment Seat of Christ.  I want to deal with two questions.

WHEN WILL THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST TAKE PLACE?

The Scriptures indicate that it is at the return of Jesus that rewarding takes place.  When a person dies, it is sometimes said that “he has gone to his reward.”  While a believer will certainly be entering an indescribable place and seeing an awesome Person, technically this is not the time of rewarding.  Jesus put it succinctly in Revelation 22:12: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”  During His earthly ministry, He stated: “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.” (Matthew 16:27).  In several of His parables (Luke 19; Matthew 25), He connected the rewarding of His servants with His return to earth.

Scripture tells us that rewarding is connected with His return.  So, when He returns at the Rapture for His Bride, the Church, that will be the time when church age saints are rewarded.  This can also be seen in Revelation 19:8 where, just prior to the Second Coming to earth, the Bride is seen in heaven as rewarded.  And on the basis of Matthew 16, we can also conclude that all other saints (from the Old Testament and the Tribulation) will be rewarded at the Second Coming event.

DO THE REWARDS LAST FOR ALL ETERNITY?

It is sometimes taught that after the Judgment Seat, all believers will then be the same.  This is largely based on Revelation 4.  In Revelation 4:4-10, the 24 elders cast their crowns before the throne of God, and this has led some to conclude that after this act of worship that rewards play no part in future activities, rankings or conditions.  But that is probably not how we should understand Revelation 4. That particular interpretation simply does not align well with so many other scriptures.  It is true that the rewarded elders are worshipping the Lord by acknowledging that their rewards are ultimately due to His grace. And the fact that they have crowns enables them to have a greater capacity in their worship of the Lord.

However, when we look at Jesus’ teaching in Luke 19:11-27 and Matthew 25:14-22, as well as Paul’s powerful message in 2 Timothy 2:5-11, it becomes quite evident that rewards last for a very long time.  At a minimum they will have consequences throughout the 1,000-year reign of King Jesus. 

In the Millennial (Messianic) Kingdom.  In this kingdom, the Lord Jesus will rule for one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-10) over Israel and all the nations of the earth (Psalm 2:1-9; Isaiah 9:6-7, 11; Jer. 23:5-8; 33:20-26).  Absent from this kingdom will be Satan and his forces as well as the curse placed on the earth by God in Genesis 3.  This kingdom will be characterized by righteousness, joy, peace, prosperity and health.  There has never been a time like this on earth since Eden, and for those who have been faithful in this present life. there will be the privileged opportunity to co-rule with King Jesus.  Our investment (“laying up treasures”) right now will pay amazing dividends for one thousand years.

In the Eternal Kingdom.  There is a second part to the future kingdom of God and that is the eternal phase when ruling authority is handed to the Father by Christ after His messianic reign (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).  After all judgments have taken place, including that of Satan, unbelievers and the old heavens and earth, then this new final eternal phase will begin.  It is likely that this will be on the new earth.  But the question for us in this study is “do rewards have consequences in the eternal phase of the kingdom of God?”  There is evidence that rewards impact life in the eternal kingdom phase.  For example, man will have a place a rulership in this eternal kingdom.  Revelation 21:24 says that, “and the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it.”  In the eternal phase of the kingdom of God, there are nations and there are kings.  This means that there are some people who are going to hold honored places on the earth during the eternal kingdom.  This strongly points to rewards which are given to believers will have eternal consequences.  Again, the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).  The writer of Hebrews seems to support the eternality of rewards when he states that the present heavens and earth will be “shaken” while the kingdom we will receive will not be “shaken” (Hebrews 12:25-29).  The “shaking” refers to the destruction of the old earth which is in contrast to the kingdom we will be part of which will not be destroyed.  This statement comes after numerous exhortations to remain faithful and endure because of the rewards that are coming when Jesus Messiah comes; strongly implying that the rewards and the kingdom are eternal.

While it is impossible to be absolutely dogmatic on the matter of the eternality of rewards, the evidence points us in that direction.  But even it could be shown that rewards last for “just” one thousand years, how wise is the believer to live presently with that time in mind. How incredibly wonderful to have a unique relationship and a wonderful responsibility alongside the King, even if it is “only” for a thousand years. If it is eternity that is in view, then wisdom calls us with an even louder voice: “WHAT IS DONE TODAY DOES COUNT FOREVER”.  And Jesus’ exhortation to “lay up treasure” may be far more significant than is usually thought.  

When we do stand before the judgment seat, King/Judge Jesus will be looking at: (1) our faithfulness, (2) our motivations, and (3) how our lives lined up with His Word. It would be wise of each of us to regularly evaluate our own lives in these three areas, allowing the Holy Spirit to allow us to see how we are doing.

The times we are living in are changing at a breathtaking pace. The accelerating moral and spiritual darkness of this world can actually be a great help to us as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. This cultural change is making it easier to see what is of value, especially of eternal value. I think that each of us would love to hear Jesus say “you did a good job, My child”, and then to experience the incredible, indescribable joy that will accompany that moment and ripple throughout eternity. It will far surpass the emotions of athletes who gleefully dance around raising a trophy over their heads. We will indeed “enter into the joy of the Lord.” 

Maintaining and Maturing a “Two-World View”

As our culture rapidly departs from God’s truth, it descends into its own truth, which is constructed of deceptions, half-truths, slanted propaganda and outright lies. As the prophets of the Old Testament observed, they now call evil good, and conversely good is now evil. In such an environment, it is absolutely essential for the follower of Christ to have a maturing two-world view. A two-world view is what characterized the people of faith in Hebrews 11, as well as the likes of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:8-21.  

THE FIRST WORLD is the one we live in now. Satan, the “god of this world”, is opposed to that which the Lord has created, and which God has declared to be the best for mankind. These God-ordained entities include the key elements of family, the church and the concept of nations. The Lord has established these to help restrain sin and give to man what is best for him. But Satan works relentlessly at removing them, which explains the approaches of cultural Marxism growing rapidly in our country. Transgenderism, homosexual marriage, the widespread promotion of the LGBTQ agenda, inculcating young children with sexual perversities, unrestrained sexual activities and the explosion of pornography are all aimed at destroying the nuclear family. 

The church is clearly a target as well. The radical left partners with Islam, protecting and promoting it, for the one goal of destroying the church. And this reality is aided by “progressive” Christianity with its downplaying of prophetic truth which stimulates a two-world view. It is replacing God’s truths with its emphasis on “social justice”. And they all engage in the hateful name calling of believers who stand for the authority of God’s word. All this is all aimed at destroying the church of Jesus Christ. Open borders, rejecting “American exceptionalism”, and the rapid promotion of almost anything global is all aimed at destroying nationalism and patriotism. Nations were put in place by God after the Tower of Babel to help put a lid on sinful behavior. And while evil men lead nations into some terrible evils, the reality is that the one-world government of the Antichrist that is still to come will bring evil to its zenith. Globalism is where this world is headed. 

In a prophetic discourse (Luke 21:10-36), the Lord Jesus declared what would happen in this present world. In Luke 21:8-11, He stated what would take place in the first years  of the coming Tribulation period. Unusually intense famines, wars, earthquakes and plagues (perhaps Covid-22, 23 and 24) will hit hard with over 25% of the world’s population dying during those first years (according to Revelation 6:8). 

Then Jesus said that “before these things” take place (Luke 21:12), in this church age, there are going to be some very difficult times for His people. Believers will be persecuted and betrayed even by close family members. But all this has a purpose, and that is that we believers will have the opportunity and privilege of giving testimony concerning Jesus (Luke 21:13). And the good news is that we will be given all that we need at that moment to be able to speak boldly, wisely and accurately about the truths of God (Luke 21:14-15). 

In Luke 21:20-24, Jesus then continued speaking of the coming destruction of Jerusalem (which took place in AD 70). These are called “days of vengeance” because that generation of Israelites, who rejected Jesus as Messiah, would pay a heavy price for their stubborn refusal to accept Him. 

In Luke 21:25-28, the Lord then returned to the subject of the Tribulation period, pointing out the supernatural displays and destructions that will be experienced in the second half of this seven-year period of time. It is worth noting that men’s response to these events will be “dismay”, “perplexity” and “fainting from fear. Man’s philosophies and solutions to the world’s problems never ever bring the results that they advertise. They always bring despair to people. The cultural Marxists of our day speak (as they always do) of the utopia that lies ahead when the world gets rid of the out-of-date restraints such as the nuclear family, the church and nations. But such naivete will be exchanged for fear and despair. As the world descends into the nightmare, known as the Tribulation, uncertainty and terror will grip the minds and hearts of those who refuse to bow before the Lord Jesus. 

THE SECOND WORLD is the one guaranteed to us by the Risen Christ. A biblical worldview has this as an essential ingredient.  We are to live in this world but with an eye on the world to come. God has promised His children that our best days lie ahead of us. And He has set forth some of the realities that lie ahead of us. It is good for us to remember these matters, since they were given to give stability in unstable times.

  • The Rapture or Death. In either case, the believer immediately enters the presence of the glorified Christ, while getting rid of the sinful flesh which plagues us in this life. There is no third option, such as purgatory or “soul sleep”, but instantly we are with our Savior. All of the burdens and trials of this life are immediately set aside as we will begin to experience the wonderful world to come.
  • The Judgment Seat of Christ. This time of rewarding is to give us added motivation to live well for Christ in this world. It is a reminder that we are to be faithful to Him as good servants. Our salvation is never in question at the Judgment Seat, since our salvation is a free gift that we cannot earn. But the level of our fellowship and participation in the future kingdoms of God is affected by the outcome of Christ’s evaluation of us at the Judgment Seat. This was one of the primary motivations that the Apostle Paul had in his life (2 Cor. 5:10-16). We are not called to be famous, but faithful to what the Master has given to us, His servants. And each of us, as we live our lives on a daily basis, can be faithful to Him.
  • The Messianic (Millennial) Kingdom. We, as the “bride of Christ” will be part of this kingdom, as God is going to fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a coming 1,000-year reign of Jesus, son of David. The Old Testament prophets gave great detail about this aspect of the future kingdom of God, as did some New Testament writers. This reign of King Jesus will be on this present earth and will be characterized by a radical change in the spiritual dimension. Jesus will not be the carpenter from Nazareth, but will be seen in His great glory (as He was on the mount of Transfiguration). Satan and his forces will be imprisoned in the abyss for that thousand years, which means that neither Satan’s activities or Satan’s world system will exist. Furthermore, the world will then be characterized by righteousness, peace, joy and a full knowledge of the Lord. None of these exist in today’s world, so we really have to work hard at imagining what such an atmosphere will be like. The physical world will be marvelously changed as the curse will be lifted, making the entire earth fertile and capable of abundant fruitfulness.  Disease and deformity will no longer exist. Violence which characterizes the animal kingdom will vanish as harmony exists even among the animals. And the same holds true for mankind. The earth will go back to what it would have been like before the curse of Genesis 3 was placed on it.
  • The Eternal Phase of the Kingdom of God. At the time of mankind’s fall, God embarked on a program to restore and reconcile all that was lost there in the Garden of Eden. We are going back to paradise. Once the thousand year of the Messianic (Millennial) Kingdom is completed, God will destroy the old heavens and old earth and will created new heavens and earth, patterned after the original creation. It is on this new, perfect earth that God will dwell among His people (Rev. 21:1-5) and we will at last fully experience what our Good God has always wanted for His children.

IN THE MEANTIME, ACCORDING TO JESUS. In the Luke 21 passage, Jesus gave to His people truths for us to live by in this world, as we keep an eye on the world to come. 

  • Be prayerful (Luke 21:36). Of course, we should pray (but frequently we don’t). As we live in a morally and spiritually decaying culture, we can become fearful, resulting in a greater danger of compromising God’s truth. Jesus’ point is that we need to pray for the strength to remain steadfast and loyal to Him and to His Word.
  • Be honored (Luke 21:13-15). It is a great honor to represent the Great Creator God, and we have been selected to give “testimony” about Him to an unbelieving world. And when we think about it, with eternity’s values in view, what a privilege to represent Him, and to be empowered by Him.
  • Be diligent (Luke 21:34-35). We daily must evaluate how we are living, keeping in mind that cultural pressures can lead us into harmful living because either we compromise God’s standards or we just give up and hide somewhere. Life in this world has never been easy, but the cultural decay with its onslaught against the righteous standards of God make it harder. 
  • Be loyal to Jesus Christ (Luke 21:16-17). Jesus reminded us that even good friends and family members might let us down and even betray Christ. Divided loyalties are not to characterize us. In His ministry, time and again, Jesus made it clear that even family relationships cannot replace our loyalty to Him. We will, He says, give an account to the “Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).

And while we pray “even so, come Lord Jesus”, we are to maintain and mature our two-world view until we do see Him.

The Apostasy and the Harlot

It seems that the Apostles were acutely afraid of false teaching getting a foothold in the church; and so, they often wrote about it, warning believers to be on the alert.  Satan’s tried and true method of attempting to thwart God’s work in this world is through the introduction of distorted doctrines. He has been quite successful at it, and seems to be getting even better.   

The Apostle Paul informed believers, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, that at the end of this age there would be a monumental, deliberate defection from the truth of God (“apostasy”). “Apostasy” carries with it the idea of “rebellion.” And today, most of the “Christian” world, including so-called evangelicals, can be found denying or casting doubt on the fundamental truths of the faith. What Paul warned about, later on the Apostle John gave additional details, in his prophetic revelation concerning the “great harlot” found in Revelation 17.

There are several insights from John that we can glean from his expose of the coming “great harlot.” We need to remember that the imagery found in Revelation comes almost exclusively from the Old Testament. A “harlot”, as used by Jeremiah, Hosea and other prophets, was not a common prostitute. Rather when the prophets said that Judah and Israel were “harlots”, they were focused on the idea that Israel was the wife of Jehovah, and that instead of being faithful to her marital vows, she was unfaithful to her husband (e.g., Jer. 3:6-10). Israel and Judah went after other gods, and were, therefore, guilty of spiritual adultery. John is using “harlot” in the same way, which tells us that the “harlot” he is speaking about claims a relationship with the true God and Jesus Christ. The “harlot” of Revelation 17 would be “Christian”. But she is terribly unfaithful to Him.

The Composition of the Harlot. It is helpful to note that John says that the “great harlot” is the “mother of harlots” (plural) in Revelation 17:5. This would point to the reality that there are numerous “Christian” religious systems that make up the totality of the harlot. In the world today there are many religious systems that lay claim to Jesus Christ, but have long departed from the Truth (which is Jesus Himself in John 14:6). One cannot legitimately claim a relationship with Jesus Christ while, at the same time, be denying His truth. It could well be that some or all of the following would compose the harlot system: Roman Catholicism, apostate Protestantism, Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, various “Christian” cults and numerous other “Christian” systems.

The Influence and Power of the Harlot.  It is clear from John’s discussion in Revelation 17 that the Harlot wields tremendous power. First, in general it is seen that she has influence over the kings of the earth (17:1-2). There is an intimate and powerful connection between these political leaders and this religious system. And clearly, this indicates that she is a factor in the world order at that time and is deeply involved in the political realm. Second, and more specifically, the Harlot is seen as riding (controlling) the scarlet beast (17:1-7), which has earlier been identified as the Antichrist. Apparently, she will provide some cohesion which will help hold together Antichrist’s new empire. It is fascinating to learn that she actually has a control over this man who would initially rule in Europe (in the first half of the Tribulation) and then rule the world (in the second half of the Tribulation).Such a situation reminds us of the relationship that existed between the Pope and the kings of Europe during the middle ages. The Harlot is clearly one with significant influence.

The Great Wealth of the Harlot. Great wealth often brings with it great power and influence. Money does talk, in fact, it yells. And the Harlot is seen as being incredibly rich (17:4). It is extremely rare when great wealth does not bring with it great corruption and/or great authoritarianism. The Harlot is noted for being rich and we can only imagine what that will look like during these days of rampant evil. Her wealth will impact her influence in the world order.

The Killing of Believers by the Harlot. Remember that apostasy is a willful rebellion against the truth of God. Apostates deliberately, and knowingly, depart from God’s truth. It is not a mistake on their part or a matter of ignorance. And this deliberate departure from God’s truth is usually evidenced by their intense hatred of those who hold tenaciously to the truth of God. During the first half of the Tribulation period, she is the one who purposely and energetically murders God’s children. She is said to be “drunk” with the “blood of the saints” (17:6). She hates believers who adhere to the Word of God. It would hardly be the first time in human history that religion tries to eliminate God’s people from the earth. Religious leaders put the Lord Jesus to death and religious leaders will be putting Jesus’ people to death in the Tribulation.

The End of the Harlot. About the mid-point of the Tribulation period, she will be totally eliminated from the earth. All her wealth and power will be no more. At that time, there will be only one accepted religion in the world, and that is the worship of Satan and the Antichrist. All religions will be brought to an end. They were put in place by the Evil One until his great goal of being worshipped is brought to fruition. The Harlot will be destroyed by the Antichrist and his 10 subservient kings who have a deep and abiding hatred for her (17:16-17). These will actually be carrying out God’s will in the matter. And, in heaven, there is great rejoicing over the fact that the Harlot is no more (19:1-3) and that God has avenged the blood of His people.

                        Our Response to the Coming Apostasy

As believers in Jesus, we will not be here when the Harlot appears. We will have been removed by the Lord Jesus and taken to the Father’s house. But this does not mean that we are not seeing significant defection from the truth of God in our own day, which may be preparing the way for the emergence of the Harlot. 

Our task is to “hold fast” to the Word of God and not compromise it. As stewards, we all are accountable to One on what we do with His truth. The storm clouds are on the horizon and are likely coming our way. Too many churches are already compromising with the culture and, in so doing, are denying the authority of God’s Truth in doctrine and in life. Those who defect from the truth do and will pay a high price for that. The Scriptures tell us to “be faithful” and to “hang in there”. God can and does use His faithful men and women. It is important that we (like Daniel in Daniel 1:8) make up our minds that we will not defile ourselves with this culture. We need to make up our minds that we will be even better students of the Word, that we can give an answer for our hope and faith to anyone who should inquire. These are great days to be bearers of the Truth. 

Paul and the Progressive’s Perspective on Prophecy

One of the disturbing realities that we, as believers in the church face, is the invasion of “progressive Christianity.”  And it is not just into liberal churches where this theological poison is found, but increasingly into so-called evangelical churches. “Progressive (I prefer “regressive”) Christianity” not only is bringing in several New Age ideas and practices, but it is raising doubts in peoples’ minds about most every doctrinal area that we hold onto as basic to our faith. Now, we have neither the space or the inclination to discuss this subject in this article, but mention it because, not surprisingly, the “progressives” also cast aside biblical prophecy as irrelevant and unimportant to “real life.” Unfortunately, that position is not new, but this “progressive” form is reinforcing that position in the minds of church leaders and those in the pews. But, let’s not listen to some “progressive” pastor on this matter, but rather to a Christ-chosen apostle; in this case, the Apostle Paul.

(1) Biblical prophecy was part of Paul’s basic theology course for new believers.

When we look back at Paul’s journeys in the Book of Acts, we note that he went to Thessalonica on his second trip. It was unfortunate for him that the environment there became so hostile that he had to flee Thessalonica after being there just 3 or 4 weeks. Yet, in spite of his brief stay there, biblical prophecy was a key element in his theological training of these new believers. If prophecy was truly irrelevant, then Paul somehow did not get the memo. In First Thessalonians, he taught them about the Rapture event and the coming Day of the Lord. In Second Thessalonians, he reminded them of truths related to the Antichrist and certain other end time events. But we need to observe what he also said in that context of prophetic teaching.

Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well….” (1 Thess. 5:1-2)

“Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (2 Thess. 2:5)

Paul, other apostles and Jesus Himself would weave prophetic truths through their messages because those truths were not irrelevant, but were a key ingredient in helping God’s people live sanctified lives; in helping them prioritize life better; and helping them develop a correct world view. Far from being peripheral theology and out of touch with “real life”, all these understood that God’s prophetic word brings wonderful support to the life of the follower of Jesus Christ. And because that is the case, teaching biblical prophecy was seen as a foundational theological area. And nowhere in scripture does that change!

(2) Biblical prophecy understood and applied brings a believer to an important level of spiritual maturity.  As the Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he shared with the saints at Philippi something of his philosophy of life. And it is quickly seen how prophetic truths played an important role in forming his thinking.

…I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are PERFECT, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you…brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”  (Philippians 3:12-17)

As we look at the details of his worldview, there are four truths that stand out to me. First, Paul realized that Jesus had purposes for his life, as He does for each of us as well (he was “laid hold of” by Jesus Christ). His life had great significance. This reality, which included truth about the future, gave to Paul a single-minded focus for living his life. God did indeed have a “wonderful plan” for his life which energized the way he did life. And while none of us are apostles, we are here in this world at this time because Christ has a purpose for our lives. Second, as he lived his purposeful life, he refused to look back on past failures (like killing and imprisoning Christians) or even on past successes. Looking back has the effect on hindering present progress (like a runner who never looks behind him in his race because that will cause him to break stride). Causing believers to look back is one of Satan’s most effective ploys in keeping Christians from living well for Christ (2 Cor. 2:5-11).

Third, the Apostle’s focus was on the future, namely on two events. First, the “prize” that he spoke of is yet another reminder that Paul lived with a certain focus on the coming Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:10-4:5). His future accountability to Jesus Christ, and the eternal results of that time of evaluation was one of the great motivations in his life (2 Cor. 5:10-16). The other event mentioned here was the Rapture, the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” He expected Jesus to come at any moment and this had a powerful effect on the way he lived. These future events were consistently part of his worldview as he lived for Christ here and now. Apparently, these prophetic truths are not so irrelevant after all. 

And fourth, this worldview of Paul is a mark of Christian maturity. There is a notable level of spiritual maturity in those who understand and live according to this perspective. The word “perfect” in 3:15, carries with it the idea of maturity, not perfection. Biblical prophecy really is an important part of Christian maturity because he helps develop the two-world view (living in this world with an eye on the world to come). This two-world view is what characterized each and every individual mentioned in Hebrews 11, the chapter on great people of the faith. They lived as strangers and pilgrims in this world and did so with an eye on what God had in store for them in the future when He would bring to fruition His grand purposes for believing mankind. Paul was distressed by those who “set their minds on earthly things” (3:19), which is the one-world view which characterizes “progressive Christianity.” My guess is that the Apostle’s distress level would be greatly elevated today as he viewed the one-world emphasis so prevalent in the church.

(3) Biblical prophecy brings a passion for living.  It is worth noting that Paul speaks of our heavenly citizenship, our transformation and the Lord’s appearing (3:20), and this brings a kind of energy (“eagerly wait”) to our lives. Such a view assists the believer in not being overwhelmed by the trials, dangers, disappointments and concerns of this life.  This view actually aids us in living much better.

It really is a sad thing when Christian leaders dismiss biblical prophetic truth as unimportant and not worthy of one’s time and attention. What wonderful assurance the prophetic word gives to His people, and for “progressive” leaders and others to deny that to believers borders on the criminal.    

What’s Next for the Church?

It used to be that January 1st marked the time when people would make New Year’s resolutions and, perhaps, construct personal three-year plans. This year there seems to be less of all that, as people’s main goal seems to be survival. There is an unprecedented level of uncertainty in life today. But, for the believer in Jesus Christ, there are many certainties which need to shape how we approach today and all the todays of this year. Our future is inseparably bound up with the character/attributes of our Lord. (Check last month’s article on the certainty of prophecy being fulfilled because of God’s attributes).

Every now and then it is helpful and healthy to review truth, even truths we have known for many years. The Lord Jesus’ relationship with His Church follows that pattern of the ancient Jewish wedding ritual. In that wedding pattern, the first thing to happen was that the bridegroom would come in a torch light procession to get his bride and then go to his father’s house (note Matthew 25:1-11).  So, when the Apostle Paul describes the removal of the church from the world (the rapture event), he is careful to tell us that the Lord HIMSELF will come for His bride (1 Thess. 4:13-17). It is personal. Angels are not sent while Jesus remains in heaven waiting for the bride to arrive. Bringing His bride (the church) back to the Father’s house is a task He takes on for Himself. In ancient times, there was no set time for His coming for the bride. He did not tell her: “I will pick you up at 7:40pm”. The general time was known, but the exact time was not. This, of course, parallels our situation today. He has not given us a date or time for the Rapture. However, the Scriptures have enough information in them to let us discern that we are most likely in the end of the end times. The setting on the world stage is really in place (especially Israel being back in their ancient land) and there is no need for major adjustments to take place. The only issue is when the curtain goes up on the final act. So, the Bridegroom Himself will come and fetch His bride. 

The second part of the Jewish wedding pattern was the actually marriage itself. Revelation 19:7-8 speaks of that next part of the wedding. It takes place in heaven, and for the first time (aside from the first year or two after the Day of Pentecost) the entire church is together in one place. The bride is in heaven and she is seen as putting on beautiful garments, which represent the righteous deeds of church-age believers. This tells us that the event we call the “judgment seat of Christ” where believers are rewarded has taken place. And now, being properly dressed, the wedding will take place. Jesus had told His apostles that He would come and take us to the Father’s house, and this is what He has now done. Remember that the purpose of a marriage is to unite two people into one; with the result that where one person goes, the other goes. From this time onward, Jesus and His bride will not be separated. (As a theological side note here; these two events of the judgment seat and the wedding pose a very real problem for those who believe in a post-tribulational rapture. How can believers go up and meet Jesus in the air and then immediately return to the earth with Him? No time is allowed for these two very important events given in Revelation 19 to take place; important to Jesus and to the bride.)

The third part of the Jewish wedding was the wedding feast. At the time of the wedding, an announcement is made in heaven: “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9). At that moment, the wedding supper/feast has not yet occurred and is yet future. It is a blessed person who gets to participate in this future event of the wedding feast. However, the next immediate event in Revelation 19 is the Second Coming of Christ to the earth, and His bride goes with Him. This leads us to understand that the wonderful, joyous wedding supper is the Messianic/Millennial kingdom itself. In fact, Jesus used a wedding feast to illustrate His kingdom (note Matt. 22:1-14). The Scriptures do inform us that joy is one of the notable characteristics of the kingdom reign of Jesus (note Heb. 1:8-9). So, the wedding feast is the wonderful 1,000-year reign of King Jesus.

These things are certain. And in a time when uncertainty, with its frequent companions of depression, fear and anxiety, are now painfully present in our culture, the certain promises of God help dispel those unwelcome companions.

It light of the unusual days we are in, it might be good for us to actually make some new year’s resolutions. Perhaps, resolving to be a better student of the Word than we have been in the past (which would likely have a time element attached to it). Perhaps, resolving to be more attentive to ways we can serve the Lord Jesus; looking for new ways to minister to other believers and/or talk to others who have little certainty in their lives because they do not know the Savior. It is very possible that the Lord the Spirit might like to show us some specific areas we can serve.

It seems very possible that our culture is going to continue to decline and with it a growing hostility to those who follow Christ; and that we might become more like so many of our brothers and sisters in this world who are targets of hostility. We do not know what 2021 will bring forth but we do know that the Bridegroom could show up at any moment. Whatever this year brings we can have our best year ever because Jesus remains our Good Shepherd.  

Our Doubts and God’s Fulfilling of Prophecy

Impatience seems to be a regular companion of believers. This is partly because God seems to be rather slow in getting things done, and we often think that He needs to speed things up a bit. Even the Tribulation martyrs are seen crying out; “how long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” (Rev. 6:10). And the Apostle Paul certainly seemed to assume that the Rapture of the Church was likely in his lifetime as he twice included himself in those who would be alive at the Rapture event (1 Thess. 4:15, 17). So, I suppose, we are in good company when we wonder if God is finally going to fulfill what He said He would do in the last days of the last days. We believe it, of course, but doubts do arise deep in the minds and the hearts of believers.

We must remember that the fulfillment of biblical prophecy is dependent entirely on the character of God, the One who spoke these prophecies through Apostles and Prophets. When believers begin to doubt or wonder if these prophecies will really ever be fulfilled, it is time to step back and look carefully at the One who made them. God’s attributes are the guarantee that prophecy will be completely fulfilled. Theologically, we know that God is greater than the sum total of His attributes, so that we never can or will fully know Him. But as a reminder, we note here some of His attributes that do impact the fulfillment of prophecy.

God is Sovereign – This means that God is the supreme Being in the universe. There is no individual or group that is greater than God. All the forces of men and angels could never dethrone Him or force Him to alter His plans. God may choose to allow certain things to take place, according to the natural laws that He Himself has put in place. But His declared purposes can in no way be thwarted by His creation. His sovereignty includes the truths that He is absolute in His knowledge, power and freedom to act. Those prophetic events that He says will take place, will indeed take place because there is no person or force capable of resisting His plans or His power.

God is Truth – Truth is that which conforms to fact or reality. As an attribute of God, it speaks of Him seeing things as they really are; that His revelations about Himself are consistent and totally accurate, and that His revelations about all things, including prophecy, are also accurate and can be relied on. So, His promises will never fail or be unfulfilled, and His prophetic statements are not going to fail or remain unfulfilled. He can be trusted. He does not lie or deceive. And, as He has done, when He swears by Himself on oath that He will do this or that, then we have the greatest evidence that the God of Truth will do it.

God is Omniscient – God knows everything; which includes all things that actually are, as well as everything that is possible. He does not learn new things. A.W. Tozer noted that “He knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally. He never discovers anything, He is never surprised, never amazed.” (The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 62). So, His pronouncements about coming events are true, accurate and will never need to be adjusted. Some new fact is not going to come to light which mandates an adjustment in the future plan. The prophetic word which has been proclaimed will be the word that is fulfilled completely, with no mid-course corrections to be made. 

God is Omnipotent – In the Scriptures, God is often called “the Almighty”; meaning that God is all powerful, and His power never diminishes over time. Therefore, all things are possible and there is nothing too hard for God. However, He does not do anything that is inconsistent with His nature (such as, lying or being involved in sinful deeds). He can do all things that are in harmony with His nature and purposes. So, when God declares that He is going to do remarkable, supernatural, miraculous things in the future, He has all the power to do them. This is a great encouragement to His people. And, it is an important reminder that fulfillment of prophecy is never a question of the lack of power to do them. The question is usually one of God’s timing, which is always impeccable. 

God is Immutable – This is the wonderful truth that God does not change. Over time, He does not mature nor does He decline. He is perfect in all ways, and perfection cannot be improved on. Practically, this informs us that God’s love for us is not going to be different next year than it was last year. He is not going to be more or less righteous, or powerful, or truthful tomorrow. Immutability assures us that God’s statements about coming events in this world are not going to change. So, people cannot bribe, coerce or do anything which will bring about change in God’s nature, and therefore, His plans. 

God is Holy – God is “set apart” from all that is evil or unclean, and He Himself is absolutely pure. Holiness is the complete absence of evil and the presence of righteousness. Because all people are sinful (sin is anything that is contrary to the character of God), they are, therefore, separated from God. But if they receive God’s righteousness which comes to believing people because of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross then they can have fellowship with the holy God now and in all eternity. Holiness also means that everything God does is free from any taint of evil or uncleanness. So, in a sense, His justice flows out of His holiness. Holiness requires that God deal in justice with his creation, which includes keeping His word about what He said He would do. This means that He will justly judge all men and angels and evaluate them and deal with them according to His righteous standard. And prophecy has much to say about that.

God is Love – One of the great attributes of God is love; that is, He seeks the best for the one loved. God wants our everlasting welfare. The grand purpose of God is to bring people into that glorious, Edenic state which He Himself declared to be “very good.” This is the desired goal of His love; therefore, the Son of God came to die and pay for the sins of mankind. God sought our best so that we could love Him and enjoy Him forever in the prophesied future, forever kingdom of God. His love will be demonstrated in a magnificent way in His future kingdom. But, contrary to some unbiblical teaching, God does not and cannot set aside or modify any of His other attributes in order to “love”. Part of His love is His goodness. He is a good God. This means that God’s nature is to be benevolent, kind and to bestow blessings on people. His goodness will be revealed in the future kingdom where good gifts are given to His children. The future messianic age on this earth plus the following eternal kingdom of God on the new earth will be “very good.” 

So, with a God like this, should we doubt that He will do what He says He will do? Is there a place for thinking that Satan and his minions, as well as his human collaborators, will somehow thwart God’s prophetic plans and purposes? In our weariness, we may say “how long, O Lord, holy and true” before you do what you promised, but there is no question that He will do what He promised because of who He is.

The Sovereignty of God and the Elections of Men

The outcome of an election is very often unclear to us, including this one, until the very last moment. And as I write this article, the final outcome of the current election is still not clear. And this lack of clarity is causing great anxiety and despondency among many. But what is clear is the continuing need for the followers of Jesus Christ to keep their focus on Him and on His coming kingdom. 

The Book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were facing some very real persecutions as well as the diabolical hatred from their culture. These tough times were tempting them to “hide”. The counsel of the writer was for them to adjust their focus. The need of the moment for them was to “fix their attention” (Heb. 3:1) on Jesus as the Apostle and High Priest. “The Apostle” communicated the important fact that Jesus was THE One sent with authority from the Father to do His will in this world. Jesus is in charge, not the government or the culture. And Jesus as High Priest emphasizes the fact that He can give us all the grace and mercy needed in difficult times, when we come to Him. These realities were to be their focus.

Our Need to Check Our Focus.  We recall that infamous moment when Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about His coming death (Matt. 16:21-23).  Jesus’ response of “get behind Me, Satan” is well known. But equally important is what Jesus said next. He pointed out to Peter that you are not “setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” And that has always been a challenge to believers and it is certainly the case in this present moment. And while it is legitimate to be involved in “man’s interests”, these must always be a distant second to “God’s interests.” 

God has an absolutely perfect plan for His people, for His Messiah as well as for the entire world. And the Almighty God has let us know about many of those plans. And that, according to Jesus, is to be where our attention is fixed. Is it perhaps time to refocus?

Our Need to Remember His Revelatory Truth. Several months ago, in our Scofield article, we took a look at the wonderfully powerful Psalm 2. There are several points that would be good for us to recall as we try and focus our thinking. (1) While the kings of the earth, and the people of the earth as well, rage against God, He is neither threatened nor intimidated by their threats and anger (note also Isaiah 40). In fact, He laughs. (2) The focus of their hatred is the Anointed One. It has always been true, no matter how it is disguised, that the people of this world (culture) have an abiding hatred of Jesus. Jesus is rather clear on the matter in John 15:18-20. These have the attitude of their “spiritual father” Satan (note John 8:44). These simply do not want Jesus and His righteousness to dictate how they live. (3) The Father has already set Jesus as King, ruling over the entire world from Mt. Zion. Now, this is a future event but it is put in the past tense to emphasize the point that this is a “done deal.” The nations of the earth are the inheritance of Messiah Jesus. There is simply no way possible for God’s plan to be thwarted by anyone. (4) Before the wrath of God is poured out (and it will be), there is an appeal from God for the people of the earth to turn to Him and be saved. Ezekiel 33:11 reminds us that God desires to save men, rather than judge them: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked…turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die?” But those hardened in sin and unbelief will face God’s wrath which will terrify them (Psa. 2:5). And (5) we must focus on the great truth that the day is coming when all of creation will bow before Jesus and acknowledge that He is Lord of all (Phil. 2:9-11).

Our Need to Remember the Coming Plan.  For most readers of this article, the coming plan is pretty well understood and I would not attempt to detail all of that here. There is but One Sovereign Lord who raises kings up and pulls them down (Daniel 2:21) according to His own purposes. And He has clear, detailed plan that He will accomplish which ultimately is going to restore, and enhance, all that was lost in Eden. By His own path and in His own time, He will bring us into Messiah’s kingdom. But there are some signs along that path which give us some idea of where we might be. (1) First and foremost is the reality that national, ethnic Israel has come back from almost 100 nations in the world to the Land given by covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. With Israel in the land and living “confidently” (Ezek. 38:8: better than “securely), the basic stage is set for the final end time events. Israel’s presence in the Land was required, and they are there. (2) The nations of the coming Gog/Magog battle are pretty well aligned as Ezekiel sees them; especially noting the activities of Iran, Russian and now Turkey. This significant end times battle is that which begins bringing Israel back into a believing relationship with the Lord their God (Ezek. 39:22). And this repentance of Israel, as well as the salvation of millions of gentiles, is the grand purpose of Daniel’s 70th Week (the “tribulation”). And it is the one requirement before Jesus can return at His Second Coming (Matt. 23:39).         (3) There is no question about the fate of the wicked kings and people who will not turn from their evil and come to the Lord Jesus for His magnificent salvation. According to Jesus and the prophets this coming tribulation time is unlike anything that mankind has ever experienced. The time ahead for this world is simply the worst of times. (4) The growing apostasy within the church itself. Paul spoke of this end times apostasy in 2 Thessalonians 2. And while there will always be believers who remain faithful to the Lord and to His Word, the defection from God’s truth within those claiming to be the church will be unprecedented. What we witness in so very many places in the world is a wholesale turning from Truth. And there are, of course, other signs which give us some idea where we are on this path of God.

What do Do?  Jesus addressed this matter in Luke 19.  He informed His men that He was going away into a far country (heaven), but that He would indeed return and would do so with great authority. He would come back. Their task was not to try and figure out what day on the calendar that would happen, but their task was to do “His business” until that time. And that is really where our focus today must be. We are in this culture at this time and “doing His business” is what we are to do. That will look a bit different for each of us, but it is “His business” that we are to be about. As Jesus told Peter, your focus and mine must be on “God’s interests.”

Revival or Apostasy?

The cultural quicksand appears to rapidly be pulling us down into a place that is dark and foreboding, with the result that calls for revival are increasingly heard. Now, we know from the Apostle Paul that the end of the end times will bring a great departure from the truth of God. He says that preceding the Tribulation will be the apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3). But will a time of revival come before the time of great apostasy? Is talking about “revival” realistic? For sure, an apostasy will come (or is here) but what about revival? In an attempt to deal with this significant issue, we really need to take a step back and try and be clear on these two subjects.

The Matter of “Revival.”  Many believers aren’t sure what they are looking for when they are talking about and seeking “revival.” Just ask them. Some Christians, imagining a “revival”, think of some mystical working of God where strangely unique things happen. Some of this comes from accounts of alleged revivals from the past. But if we seek revival, just what is it that we are expecting to observe? Would we know it if we saw it?  

Several realities about “revival” should be clarified. First, unbelievers cannot be “revived” because they have never had spiritual life as their experience. They can’t be restored to something they never had. They need to be born again, so the issue is evangelism. Second, we need to define the word “revival.”  I would like to suggest that revival is a believer’s new beginning of obedience to the truth of God. Revival is for God’s people. Third, real revival is inseparably connected with the Word of God. This is seen in numerous biblical accounts, such as the revivals in the days of Ezra, Nehemiah and King Josiah. When the Word was heard and correctly responded to, that is when “revival” took place: that new beginning of obedience in the lives of God’s people. Fourth, revival is not a one-time event, but should be regularly taking place in our lives. As we are exposed to new truth from God, or are reminded of truth we knew from the past, we refocus on our obedience to God’s truth. For example, we hear a message on prayer and we think to ourselves, “I need to be more diligent and consistent in my praying.” And we do that. That is “revival”, as we have embarked on a new beginning of obedience related to our prayer lives. So, biblical revival ought to be going on regularly in the life of each and every believer.  But usually, the idea that “we need revival” is looking at some sort of mass movement which targets the unbeliever.

But can this great, mass movement happen today in our culture? The question is obviously not, can God do something. He is omnipotent and He is sovereign. But He has also put the spiritual mechanisms in place for accomplishing His purposes in individuals, as well as nations. And what must be in place is the accurate proclaiming of God’s Word. No Word, no revival. And this brings into focus the role of the Church both corporately and individually. But today there is precious little proclaiming of God’s truth; certainly not what characterized the church in years past. What passes for biblical preaching in many too many churches is simply not biblical instruction in the doctrines, standards and commands of God. Sermons today are characterized by a quick reference to a verse or two (without any real, solid investigation of their meaning in the text), followed by lots of stories and alleged applications of the biblical text. The point I am making is that without a cognitive understanding of God’s commands and righteous standards, along with an understanding of WHO God is, there cannot be “revival”. It is God’s truth that must be responded to. So, can there be revival today? No, not unless that Church makes some dramatic changes in the way it is doing the Lord’s business. God can do anything, but He put in place the mechanism of human involvement in the bringing about of revival. 

While the above might seem unnecessarily gloomy, recent statistics concerning the evangelical church (the group that probably should be leading the way in “revival”) is both enlightening and depressing. What were once core evangelical beliefs have increasingly been abandoned by many churches, pastors as well asindividuals. (So much so that the term “evangelical” has pretty much lost its meaning). Just consider a few results of a very recent survey. This survey says that 30% of evangelicals do not believe that Jesus is God; 35% want Roe vs. Wade kept as it is and 56% think that same sex marriage is fine. Other recent studies have revealed that the decline in those who believe that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative, error free Word of God is declining rapidly among those in both the pulpit and the pew. So, if the Word of God is essential (and it is) to real revival, then things don’t look very bright. The only hope is for pastors especially, and churches, to reverse the current trend and courageously proclaim God’s precepts without apology and without reservation. If believers hear God’s Word and chose to obey it, then revival begins. It is then that evangelism of unbelievers will really take place. But if one thinks that the Holy Spirit is going to swoop down in some mall (or even in a church building or tent) and overwhelm the people there and cause them to change their ways, further thought is needed.

The Matter of Apostasy.  Since the church began in the book of Acts, apostasy has been present. The term “apostasy” is used just once in the New Testament (2 Thess. 2:3) but it is used several times in the Old Testament. As it is used, the word has the idea of “departing from the truth” but the element of rebellion is there as well. And that makes sense. To depart from God’s truth is to depart from God Himself (so says Paul in Gal. 1:6), which is an act of rebellion. But while the word itself (apostasia) is used infrequently, the idea of walking away from the truth of God is everywhere in the Scriptures.

         The Apostles included in their writings warning about turning from God’s truth and how this church age will end.  They were unusually concerned with what the church would be like when this age came to its end. Prior to the Rapture event, there will be an unusually large invasion of false teachers with their false teachings that come into the Church. Now, we know that Satan, since the Garden of Eden, has used false and distorted ideas as his primary tool in countering God’s work in the world. This is nothing new. But the Apostles foresaw a time when falsehood in the church would explode leaving believers in grave danger.  Large numbers of men and women would seduce the saints with their damaging doctrines and there is so much of that today. These terrible teachings will hurt believers in this life; affect the life to come; and they will carry on into the Tribulation. And while we cannot set dates and times, we are certainly seeing such an explosion of falsehood. The “apostasy” is accelerating and often in places we never imagined, as once solid schools, churches and Christian leaders turn from truth to accommodate themselves to this decaying culture.

We can never look at the absence of sound (health) doctrine and declare that because of that, the Lord will be returning on such and such a date. What we can say is that He might indeed be coming very soon because of the ongoing departure from the truth of God in “the church”. The apostasy is yet another one of the props that will be on the prophetic stage when the end comes. This points to the possibility that it is close to curtain time, and the beginning of the final act of human history known as the Tribulation.

     In the meantime, until the curtain goes up, you and I need to daily refocus on the Lord Jesus (see Heb. 3:1). We are easily consumed by the events in the culture with the result that we become timid and fearful. The Scriptures are loud and clear that we must “contend earnestly” (Jude 3) for God’s truth, and to “expose” the distorted doctrines that are being promoted in the church (1 Tim. 4:1; Eph. 5:11). This contending for the faith is part of what a faithful servant of Christ does. Without being obnoxious, we need to confront errant pastors and culturally compromised Christian leaders about their “apostasy.” Fellow believers who have been drinking the “Kool aide” of these leaders have a need to be informed about what God’s Word really says. Most of us will never stand behind a pulpit speaking to thousands, but more likely will be one on one with a fellow believer who has been seduced by man pleasing ideas. We must not be argumentative, but we must be clear, compelling and full of conviction in our handling of truth. 

There is no revival without a new beginning of obedience to God’s truth in the life of a believer. Without revival the apostasy will come, and perhaps fairly soon.