Time Markers in Apocalyptic Literature

Time PassingPerhaps one of the most misapplied passages of our time is Matthew 24, in which Jesus answers the disciples’ questions concerning the destruction of the Temple. Another greatly-abused scripture is the entire book of Revelation! Throw in a number of other Old and New Testament apocalyptic passages and you have an excellent recipe for outlandish and obscure results.

Ironically, Jesus warns several times in Matthew 24 against false Christs and false prophets who claim to know when the Lord is coming! Don’t listen to them, Jesus instructs. We ought to pay close attention to what Jesus articulates and block out the massive volume of junk interpretations of what He meant.

One helpful interpretive device is the time markers the speaker or author reveals. For instance, if you wonder exactly when the events of Matthew 24.1-35 (and possibly extending through verse 44 or beyond) take place, examine the context for time markers from the Lord. In the greater context, Jesus warns in the previous chapter of the fall of Jerusalem: “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23.36). When? Within a generation from the time Jesus spoke the words. In the immediate context, we find 24.34: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” What things will take place? Return to the beginning of the chapter in which Jesus boldly proclaimed that the great temple would be torn down, “not one stone shall be left here upon another,” and include all He said with reference to that event up through verse 34.

Those terrible judgments would happen in their generation. Jesus was not speaking of something 2000+ years in the future, so we should not be looking for these signs today.

Also, John reveals time markers in Revelation to which we should pay heed. In the very first verse John marks for us, “things which must shortly take place.” How misleading if what he meant by “shortly” was “in a couple of thousand years.”

Sand FallingAgain he writes in Revelation 1.3, “for the time is near.”

Revelation is addressed to the seven churches of Asia (1.4, 11), which collectively probably symbolize the overall Christian church in the first century; nevertheless, they were actual, historical churches, and Jesus targeted His seven letters of Revelation 2-3 to those specific churches. John then records all the wild visions Jesus gives him and ends the book with several statements of Jesus, “Behold, I am coming quickly!” (22.7, 12) and “Surely I am coming quickly” (22.20). The time marker at the end of the book reflects the first chapter: “And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place” (22.6).

While I don’t believe Matthew 24 and Revelation deal with the same judgment, they both use similar language, sometimes quoting the exact same Old Testament passages or using the same judgment symbols. Both speak of Jesus coming in judgment and Him coming quickly. Both indicate a time frame within about a generation. If we interpret those scriptures in the time frames they themselves present, we will find ourselves on a firmer foundation than if we attempt to apply those things to our period of history thousands of years later!

Take care to interpret Scripture using Scriptural time frames.

Are You Confident in Your Salvation? Why?

Trust ExpertsWhat thing or person completes the following for you: “In ______________ do I trust for my salvation”?

Careful, now. Answer honestly.

“Why are you confident in your salvation?”

If you answer, “I am not confident in my salvation,” please shoot me a response e-mail, because that needs to be remedied! God wants you to be confident. Read 1 John 1.1-4, and see that God wants your joy to be full. You should “know that [you] know Him” (2.3), and you should “know that [you] are in Him” (2.5).

But allow me to address the rest of you who are confident in you salvation. Why are you confident?

Are you confident because of your church or your minister?

“I am sure of my salvation because I’m a member of the right church and my preacher preaches the right doctrine.”

Let us immediately dismiss this, for no person or body of men can ever save a soul.

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:

“As I live, says the LORD,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Rom. 14.10-12)

Trust DadAre you confident because you follow God’s laws?

Does your assurance come from having been baptized (in the correct way and for the right reasons)? Does your confidence swell each first day of the week as you assemble with the saints and correctly partake of the Supper of the Lord? “I do lots of good works. I’m obedient.”

The recurring sermon of every Bible preacher under both Old and New Covenants has been and continues to be, “Repent, and bear fruits worthy of repentance.” So the fruit of a changed heart surely should be seen in us, giving us a level of confidence as to our position with the Lord. However, the fruit is merely a sign of the salvation and not the very thing itself. The good works we do may reveal that we have been saved, but the works themselves don’t save!

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…” (Titus 3.5)

Are you confident because of your inward repentance and faith?

“I know my heart is right.”

Please don’t depend upon some attitude of your heart, some inherent internal goodness. Can you be saved without faith and repentance? Not hardly! But these, again, simply expose the fact that you are saved!

If we are completely honest with ourselves, each of us knows he is not worthy because the intents of his heart continue to hold traces of evil motives and weaknesses to temptation. When is faith ever good enough? When is repentance ever absolute? We might believe our latest repentance came from a complete and utter brokenness, but then in a few more days our weaknesses resurface again! O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Reaching UpSo From Where Does True Confidence Come?

Our confidence, ultimately, comes from Jesus Christ, the One whose word never falls to the ground, whose promises are never broken. He exists, He lives, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Our confidence should never be in our seeking but in the One Whom we seek! Christ is our Yes and our Amen.

“For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Cor. 1.20-22)

Brother and Sister, rest confidently in this, that God saves in Christ, not because of any works we accomplish but because of THE WORK Christ has done and the work the Holy Spirit continues to do in us.

In Christ do I trust. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2.20).

Who Is Jesus?

Jesus intentionally and consistently challenged His audience with the question: “Who am I?” Was He only a righteous man, a good teacher, a charismatic leader? Did He die a martyr to His cause? Was He more than a good teacher? Perhaps He was the Prophet or the Messiah of prophecy but Israel murdered their hope?

Or was He actually the Son of God?

Jesus TeachingWho is Jesus?

In Matthew 16.13-20 Jesus interrogated His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” A variety of responses were then listed: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. In other words, there were many ideas floating around as to who this mighty miracle worker could have been. Only one truth existed as to His identity, but what was it?

Jesus then asked, “Who do  you say that I am?” Peter stepped up with, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus blessed Peter for that statement, insisting, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Peter’s confession was revelation from the Father! According to Christ, Peter’s statement rang completely true.

If Jesus was the Christ, He was the Messiah of prophecy (“Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew “Messiah”)–the anointed one–identifying Him as a leader and king. Rather, THE leader and king. But the “Son of the living God” goes much farther than what “Messiah” implies! Peter showed great insight and faith in his confession, and Jesus completely agreed with his statement that He Himself was the Son of the living God.

Son of GodThe Transfiguration

After six days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain where He was transfigured before their eyes, and they beheld Moses and Elijah sitting and talking with Jesus. Peter wanted to build a tabernacle for each of them, but suddenly they were struck to the ground by a voice from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matt. 17.5). Looking up, the three apostles saw no one but Jesus. Now they had received verification from heaven as to His identity! Moses and Elijah were, perhaps, the two most revered prophets of Israelite history, but they were not the Son of God.

Paying the Temple Tax

Later in Capernaum (Matt. 17.24-27), someone inquired of Peter as to why his Teacher did not pay the temple tax. Peter defended Jesus, but, when he went into the house, Jesus brought up the subject:

JESUS: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”

PETER: “From strangers.”

JESUS: “Then the sons are free.”

Bible ReadingWhat does that mean? Jesus was explaining to Peter that, as the Son of God, He really should have been considered exempt from paying taxes to Himself! The temple was His Father’s house…literally. Why should He pay taxes to it, since He owned the house?

So…Who is Jesus?

Clearly Jesus considered Himself to be the Son of God. It’s important you answer the question for yourself–but realize only one right answer exists; either He is the Son or He isn’t. You may choose to believe He’s not the Son of God, but reality doesn’t shift based on your belief, does it? What will you believe?

I agree with Jesus: the knowledge (that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God) comes from heaven! My prayer is that you will believe Him and accept Him for who He actually is.

Helping Out an Enemy

Helping outMy wife and I watched War Room a couple of days ago, and we both highly recommend the movie.

Slight spoiler alert…

In one of the scenes, the main couple drives up to a guy in a business suit and nice car who has a flat tire. It so happens (of course) the stranded man has been sour and belligerent towards our story’s protagonist, and so we wonder if the man will stop and help his foe. The short scene packs the right kind of punch as we see our hero step out of his car to help his enemy while his wife and daughter watch.

I ran across this verse in my readings this morning:

Exodus 23.4-5 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”

What an excellent illustration of both “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12.31; Rom. 13.9), which undergirds the even harder instruction to “love your enemy” and “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5.43-48)!

If you see an enemy in trouble and you can help him / her, help! It’s what God does. While we were yet enemies Christ died for us…

Notice in Exod. 23.5 the situation God describes: “If…you would refrain from helping it…” In other words, we sometimes find someone we don’t like in a tangled mess, and in the darkness of our hearts we snicker, “This ought to be good,” when we should really be thinking, “I reckon I should help her out because, after all, that’s what I would want from her if the situation were reversed.” Yes, sometimes we just don’t want to help out; we would refrain from it. But God insists, “You shall surely help him with it.”

Yes, Lord. I need an attitude adjustment.

Rahab and Jesus

Scarlet CordA prominent figure during the Conquest of Canaan was Rahab the harlot. Even though the Holy Spirit recorded this unsavory fact about her for all time, everything else recorded about her points to a rare faith.

Before Israel stormed into the land, Joshua sent two spies to secretly test the people to check out the lay of the land. The spies went into Jericho but ended up running from the authorities, eventually hiding out in Rahab’s house. She hid them on her rooftop under some flax she was drying, and she sent the Jericho police on a wild-goose chase outside the city.

Rahab’s expression of faith impresses and resonates with us today:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, please swear to me by the Lord, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” (2.9-13)

Flowers at JerichoRahab stands as a monument of active faith, and the New Testament writer, James, characterizes her in James 2.25 as having been “justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way.” He continues in 2.26, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Not only did she believe; her faith motivated her to movement. God does not seek people who merely mentally assent to Him as God. On the contrary, “he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11.6). The Hebrew writer also mentions Rahab in this way: “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (11.31). What was the difference between Rahab and all the others of Jericho? Rahab believed in the one true and living God.

But Rahab is also connected with Jesus! How so? If you check out Jesus’ family tree in Matthew 1, you will find in verse 5, “Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab.” Oh yes, this is the very same Rahab from Joshua 2. Among the firstfruits of the Promised Land, it seems God gathered this woman to Himself and placed her in an auspicious position as one of the mothers of Jesus! What grace God demonstrates in this, that He can take a heathen harlot and bless her on such a grand scale!

What might God do with you?

Prayer Lists

Praying HandsYesterday, our church enjoyed a helpful and inspiring sermon on prayers of request, using Philippians 4.6 as the launching text:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

Several times in his lesson, Craig Roberts encouraged the use of prayer lists as a way to organize and remind ourselves during our times of request to God.

The simplest way to create a prayer list is by writing it down in a notebook or memo book of some kind. If you’ve seen the movie War Room (or even the trailer), you’ll see another possible way is to post your list on the wall of someplace you’ll frequent. I like the idea of doing the work of writing your list down by hand because there’s something about the act of handwriting which embeds what you write in memory.

But if you’re like me and tend to use about ten different notebooks at the same time and don’t keep good track of where you wrote what (probably a bad habit…), then you might consider a digital solution. Here are a couple:

  1. If you use Google Drive or some other cloud-based folder system that you can access from your mobile device, you can simply create a document online with your list. You might even consider using a Spreadsheet to more easily create lists, perhaps with separate pages for current prayers, answered prayers, and notes.
  2. There are a few prayer list apps available. I am checking out Echo right now, which delivers a super-simple interface and the ability to create multiple lists, remind yourself when to pray for time-sensitive items, and easily check specific prayers as “answered.” Check out the info on Echo’s About page.

Do you make a list? How do you do it, and how does it work for you?

The Transfiguration (Craig Roberts)

Craig Roberts taught a morning class on January 10 concerning the Transfiguration (Matthew 17). It’s insightful and helpful.

In the evening of the same day, our church had a discussion extending the thoughts from the morning:

Jesus Is the Reason…

Frozen CherriesSo I keep hearing songs and statements around town and on the radio insisting “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Yeppers.

Sometimes it seems to me it’s almost insulting to the Lord to even make such a statement. Jesus is the reason for spring, summer, fall, and winter. Undeniably, without Jesus this world would have never begun to exist and without His continued grace it would disintegrate. How do I know this?

For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1.16-18)

Christmas CoffeeIf we must remind someone to “keep Christ in Christmas,” the battle was lost long ago. I’m not saying all Christians must celebrate the birth of Christ during this season, for there are many who know the Scripture never commands such a celebration, and neither do we actually know on what day Jesus was born. Nevertheless, I worry about Christians who celebrate the holiday in such a way as to keep thoughts of the Lord at arm’s distance–as if being spiritually-minded or devotional on Christmas is wrong!

Whatever your stand on Christmas, whether you celebrate it as Christ’s birth or simply as a national holiday or whether you avoid any special celebration at all, I hope you still continue to celebrate Jesus Christ as you have all year in 2015 and will in 2016. Jesus is the reason for life!

May God’s richest blessings be with you who trust in Him. Peace be with you.