Saturday, December 27, 2014

Guest Post: Why Jesus Came To Us

“And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
With Advent, we think about the coming of Jesus and prepare our hearts to receive Him. Different Christian traditions have different customs regarding advent, but the basic idea of thinking of the meaning and importance of Jesus' arrival into this world is common to all. 
So, we ask: "Why did Jesus come?" If you can answer that question then you have answered much about who He is and what He wants to do in our lives. There is no one single reason why Jesus came; He came to accomplish many things. But here John defined the mission of Jesus Christ at its most basic root: “to take away our sins.”  The angel Gabriel promised Joseph regarding the ministry of Jesus: “you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sin” (Luke 1:21). Knowing that this is what Jesus came to do, it is fair to ask: How does Jesus do this? How does Jesus take away our sins? 
Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of removing the penalty of our sin. This is immediately accomplished when one comes by faith to Jesus. The guilt and punishment that our sin deserved was judged in Jesus instead of in us. 
Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of removing the power of sin. This is an ongoing work in the lives of those who walk after Jesus. As we walk closer to Him, we find sin having less and less power over us.
Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of removing the presence of sin. This is a work that will be completed when we pass into eternity and are glorified with Jesus.
Notice whose job it is to take away our sins: “He was manifested to take away our sins.” This is the work of Jesus in our lives; it is a work we must respond to, but it is His work in us.
We cannot take away the penalty of our own sin. It is impossible to pay the price our selves. We must instead receive the work of Jesus in taking away our sin.
We cannot take away the power of sin in our lives. This is His work in us, and we respond to that work. Someone who comes to Jesus does not have to clean himself up first, but they must be willing to have Him take away their sin.
We cannot take away the presence of sin in our lives. This is His work in us, ultimately accomplished when we will be glorified with Him.
As we remember this week of advent, thank Jesus for coming into the world - and coming to take away our sin.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Guest Post: The Old Paths

The Old Paths

Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.  --Jeremiah:6:16-17

Why wouldn't the Israelites want the "good way" and "rest for their souls"? Why wouldn't they "hearken to the sound of the trumpet," i.e., want to hear what God has to say? Let me suggest one reason that could certainly apply. They were so far removed from doing things God's way that they couldn't relate to the "old paths." Furthermore, their idea of "good" was not God's good, and the "rest" they sought after was not the rest of God. Doing their own thing for their own selves for so long may have pushed God's way well beyond their interests and comprehension. This condition was not unique to ancient Israel; we also see it in the church today.

For decades Dave Hunt and I have been addressing the detrimental influence of psychological counseling among evangelical Christians. Trying to convince believers that psychotherapy is both pseudoscience and antibiblical quite often has been like endeavoring to paddle a canoe upstream, mostly in the face of rapids and occasionally as though challenging a Niagara Falls. One reason for this is similar to what probably contributed to the rebellion documented by Jeremiah: the church has been so seduced by psychological counseling for so long that anything that seems at odds with the current counseling practices is usually considered a consequence of ignorance.

I recently received a book written by Dr. Martin and Deidre Bobgan titled Person to Person Ministry: Soul Care in the Body of Christ . It is, in part, an indictment of the unbiblical way the evangelical church has gone about counseling. It is also a call to return to the "old paths," that is, God's instructions for how He wants believers to minister to one another. This is not a critical treatise directed at the problems inherent within professional psychotherapy; the Bobgans have shined the light of Scripture in that dark arena in their many other books (see resource materials) . Rather, Person to Person Ministry reproves those approaches that call themselves biblical counseling yet have gleaned much from the way the world counsels.

My experience has shown me that questions rush through the minds of many who take exception to our criticism of psychological counseling (although they may appreciate our addressing other things): "So what are you saying? Are you now telling us that even biblical counseling is wrong?" In a few words, yes--in most cases. The Bobgans' book gives enough examples to make anyone who loves the Lord and His Word very cautious about recommending someone who calls himself a biblical counselor, even if he claims that he is anti-psychology. On the other hand, the greater value of what the Bobgans have written is in their "sounding the trumpet," that is, exhorting and encouraging believers by reminding them that God has provided everything they need to deal with and benefit from the troubling issues of life "through the Word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit...[and] the fellowship of the saints...." (p. 172).

What will perhaps make Person to Person Ministry upsetting to some is not necessarily the content, which is simply and clearly biblical, but the fact that unbiblical ways and means of counseling have so permeated the church that anything that challenges them is likely to be regarded as extreme. Here are some "counseling" problems that should concern those who want to minister, and be ministered to, God's way. As I list some of the errors they expose, see if there is either a practice or teaching found in the New Testament to support these current practices. In other words, in reference to the old hymn, was it "good for Paul and Silas"? Many "biblical" counselors mimic the way professional counselors counsel. They have a counseling office, a calendar of appointments, meet with people on an hourly basis often once a week or more, and that sometimes goes on for months or years. They charge fees or accept donations for their church (which pays their salaries). Some don't see a problem here as long as the counselor is "using the Word of God." Other than the fact that the methods are at odds with what Scripture teaches, I'm not sure what "using the Word of God" means, because the "biblical" concepts and methods vary from biblical counselor to biblical counselor. For example, most biblical counselors integrate psychological concepts in some fashion, often incorporating humanistic or behavioral psychology that has been spiritualized, so they sound as though they were biblically consistent.

Teachings such as Freudian psychic determinism and the unconscious or Jungian dream analysis and the collective unconscious or behaviorism or inner healing, etc. (without using those specific terms), are rampant among those who nevertheless claim to counsel sola Scriptura . Exploring the past and looking for causes for sinful decisions based upon one's parents or one's environment or a life trauma are also common. Some specialize in deliverance from demons while others major in the unbiblical four temperaments. Most of those who practice the healing of memories would argue that they are adhering to the Scriptures rather than psychology. However, as the Bobgans point out, "Each counselor uses the Bible according to some combination of personal experience, secular theories, biblical doctrines, and common sense....While some have attempted to control the field through certificates, diplomas, degrees, and organizations, there is no single model or method of biblical counseling" (p. 49). Yet for all the differences among biblical counselors, including those who attempt strictly to adhere to God's Word, they all have this in common: they have set themselves up (some unwittingly) as experts in solving the problems of living that are adversely affecting Christians. This problem-solving approach is plagued with problems of its own, as the Bobgans demonstrate.

First of all, neither the God of the Bible, nor His instructions in Scripture, nor the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is about fixing our daily mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. Every believer is a new creature in Christ, and his objective in life is to have Christ formed in him. That is the process of sanctification-being set apart from the ways, means, and lusts of the world to a life that is in submission to the Lord and in which choices are made that are pleasing to Him, the One with whom every true believer will spend eternity. It's a growth process, which at times involves sufferings and trials that the Lord allows in our lives to help us depend upon Him and mature in our relationship with Him. Yet most biblical counseling is trapped in a "just fix the problem" or "get rid of the symptoms" mentality and mode, along with other concepts that are contrary to the biblical way. The Bobgans write,

Problem-centered counseling appeals to the flesh of both the counselor and the counselee....The counselor appears as the expert who has it all together and who is able to fix the one who does not....The appeal to the counselees' flesh exists because the counselees can present their case usually without being contradicted, condemned, or judged, but with gaining great sympathy and support. The more directly problem-centered one becomes, the more self-centered the counseling is. Problem-centeredness and self-centeredness are linked.

[J]ust as the psychotherapists are looked up to as experts in the world, so too have their problem-centered biblical counterparts been looked up to as experts in the church. The counselor is often regarded more highly than the pastor, and counseling is often regarded more highly than the teaching, preaching, and evangelizing. (pp. 24-25)

Preaching, teaching, and evangelizing are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Counseling, however, is noticeably absent from among the gifts. Why is counseling missing, especially since high profile counselors and others in that position are arguably the most influential people, either nationally or at the local church level, in the evangelical community today? The answer is that counseling is not a biblical ministry. Those who function as counselors (biblical or otherwise) are erroneously involved in an activity that is primarily a function of the Spirit of Christ. He is our Counselor. More often than not, counselors supplant the Spirit of Christ as they try to do in the life of a believer what only God can do. They attempt to peer into the heart of the counselee, grasping for motivations, connections, sin inducements, and other insights, in order to remedy troubling conditions. They are grasping at straws because such an activity can only result in man's speculations at least, and, even more important, it displaces the convicting, correcting, and comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God as the only true "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews:4:12) .

So, if psychological counseling is out, and biblical counseling is rarely--if ever--biblical, what are believers left with? The "old paths"! The old paths, as applied in this article, are simply the way God wants us to minister to one another. One third of the Bobgans' book is titled "What Can Be Done: Christ-centered Ministry." What they supply from the Word of God is so simple and true that it no doubt will seem alien, even incredulous, to multitudes of believers conditioned by psychology's pervasive influence on the church. That, sadly, is not a wild guess. I've experienced such a reaction for years when I've voiced my concerns about the unbiblical nature of psychological counseling.

Let me give you a current situation, which I believe is analogous to what the Bobgans are encouraging in the Body of Christ. I hope that it will help some to better understand. The American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association have spent billions of dollars, over decades of years, searching for the cure for cancer and heart disease respectively. At some point, both organizations recognized that a better strategy would be to promote a program of prevention rather than putting all their time, energy, and funding into curing the illnesses themselves. Today, they are mostly committed to recommending changes in a person's lifestyle that would help to prevent cancer and heart disease, particularly through health-sustaining diet and exercise. It's a secular "old path" plan, and it has produced "good" results for those who have followed their advice. As Benjamin Franklin noted, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Yet many have decided, "We will not walk [or run or bicycle] therein." The discipline necessary for a lifestyle involving a beneficial diet and reasonable exercise is not high on their agenda, preferring (wishfully) a quick fix or cure of the disease, should it show up in their bodies.

God's "old paths" are primarily preventive . The emphasis is on the growth and maturity of the believer. Again, the Bobgans point the reader to the Scriptures: "'The just shall live by faith' (Habbakuk 2:4; Romans:1:17Galatians:3:11Hebrews:10:38) . Therefore faith in all that Christ has done (to overcome sin, secure salvation, provide new life and power through the process of sanctification, and give believers the solid hope of eternity with Him) constitutes the primary emphasis of all New Testament ministry" (p. 171). A believer's life in Christ is to be led of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within every believer, enables him to make righteous choices, helps him to be fruitful, to understand and know better the Word and the Word made flesh, to love Jesus more, and thus to do what pleases Him. Such an approach is not a method or technique or program or anything else conjured up by man but rather a miraculous life superintended by God. It is a life of faith, without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews:11:6) . Problem-centered counseling is tragic by comparison. The Bobgans write,

Becoming mature in the faith far surpasses any change in circumstances or immediate solutions to temporal problems, though temporal change does accompany spiritual growth. What we are talking about here has eternal consequences, not just solutions that make people feel better for the time being. (pp. 171-72)

Those who have concluded that what the Bobgans are urging is impractical for dealing with life's problems need to consider this: which troubling issues can you think of that do not involve "the lust of the flesh," i.e., sin? They need to take that up with the Apostle Paul, who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote, "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would....If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians:5:16-17, 25) . These are God's instructions, His "old paths," which the church has followed successfully for two millennia. Nothing could be more practical . Furthermore, His words are for every believer, every one of whom He has equipped to minister to fellow believers. That is the clarion call of Person to Person Ministry:

By God's grace and enabling, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who are walking daily with Him and maturing in the faith through the trials of life are already equipped to minister to fellow believers who are suffering from the same kinds of problems generally addressed by trained counselors. These believers are equipped to do this by what Christ has already done in them through the Word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, the trials of life, the fellowship of the saints, and opportunities to serve.

Paul wrote the following for every one of us who desires to follow the Lord and minister in His truth: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians:6:1-2) .

This should be the heart's cry of each of us: Lord, concerning the "old paths"--Your ways--help Your Body of believers "to walk therein."   TBC

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Post: The Shemitah

The Shemitah

by: David James

Oct 1 2014
In his book,  The Harbinger , Jonathan Cahn argues for a direct connection between what has happened in America since 9/11/2001 and what happened to ancient Israel based on what he believes is a template of God’s judgment in Isaiah:9:10. In the chapter titled “The Shemitah,” Cahn argues that he has discovered the mystery of the  Shemitah , which he claims is now affecting the United States.
In the Law of Moses, God commanded Israel to observe the seventh day of the week as a day of rest, and they were also to observe a Sabbath year, called the  Shemitah , as a  year  of rest. Every seventh year there was to be no planting, reaping, or any other work in the fields. In addition, all who owed money to creditors were to be “released” (the meaning of Shemitah) from their debts (Dt 15:1-2). In turn, God promised to provide enough in the sixth year to more than meet Israel’s needs during the seventh year (Lv 25:20-21).
If Israel failed to keep His commandments, however, including the Sabbaths, the Lord warned: “I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste….Then the land shall rest and enjoy its Sabbaths…for the time it did not rest…when you dwelt in it” (Lv 26:33-35).
Centuries later, Israel experienced precisely this judgment because they had abandoned God’s laws and turned to pagan gods. Because Judah had not observed the Shemitah for seventy cycles, God sent the nation into captivity for seventy years.
This imposed Shemitah judgment was very specific and involved  only the nation of Israel . Since no Gentile nations were ever obligated to keep the Shemitah, there is no scriptural basis for suggesting that any other nation would ever experience an imposed Shemitah judgment. Yet, this is precisely what Jonathan Cahn suggests that America has experienced.
Cahn also wrongly implies that the Shemitah is essentially a universal  principle  that is somehow integrated into the order of the universe. Cahn makes the following assertion in his book:
[KAPLAN] “Seven years—the biblical period of time that concerns a nation’s financial and economic realms.” [This and all quotes are taken from: Jonathan Cahn,  The Harbinger  (Lake Mary, FL: Frontline, Charisma Media/Charisma House Book Group, 2011)]
Although Israel was on a seven-year economic cycle, no biblical passages support Cahn’s idea that natural economic cycles of seven years exist for nations in general. Furthermore, financial experts have not identified any seven-year economic cycle.
Yet, Cahn further states:
[THE PROPHET] “The sign of the Shemitah, given to a nation that has driven God out of its life and replaced Him with idols and the pursuit of gain. The issue is the Shemitah as a sign of judgment, the sign that specifically touches a nation’s financial and economic realms.”
There is no scriptural basis for interpreting recent events as a sign that God is imposing a Shemitah judgment on the United States or the world. Even if America were in the very midst of God’s judgment, there are no passages that connect any  signs  to a Shemitah-type judgment for any nation but Israel.
In ancient Israel, the Israelites were not to work the land at all, and wealthy lenders were required to forgive debts owed to them. Then, when Israel turned from God, He  imposed  the Shemitah on Israel by sending the nation into captivity, collapsing the entire economy. Everyone lost everything.
Cahn goes to great lengths in trying to show from the Bible and history that God has imposed a Shemitah upon America, and yet he fails because nothing has happened in America that even roughly parallels Israel’s being forced to leave the land completely fallow.
Similarly, a study of the credit and debt situation reveals nothing indicating that America’s economy is under judgment as Israel’s was. Cahn tries to support his claims based on the failure of a few large financial institutions (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG). However, even though these were significant factors in the economic crisis of 2008, this doesn’t follow “the ancient pattern” when Israel was invaded and overrun by a foreign army with everything of value being destroyed or carried away.
In sharp contrast, what America suffered on 9/11 was relatively minor when compared to Israel’s complete destruction. Even though the US and global economies went through a serious contraction and many people were hurt financially, it wasn’t close to the scale of the devastation in ancient Israel.
Cahn himself notes that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were rescued by the Federal Financial Housing Authority, and although Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy did rattle the US and world markets, Cahn’s analysis is filled with overstatements that don’t reflect reality:
[THE PROPHET] “Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy—the largest bankruptcy in American history up to that date. It would be called the collapse heard around the world. The fall of Lehman Brothers would, in turn, trigger the collapse of Wall Street and the global financial implosion.”
The fact is that Wall Street did not collapse, and the global economy did not implode. They were seriously damaged, but they simply did not collapse. And though the Lehman Brothers failure was staggering in terms of dollars, if their assets and debt are added together, the $1.25 trillion represents only 0.6 percent of the world economy and is exceedingly insignificant when compared to what happened when God imposed a seventy-year Shemitah upon Israel.
Cahn continues to try to make his case by citing the September 29, 2008, stock market crash as the “greatest single-day stock market crash in Wall Street history.”  Although it was the largest point drop , it wasn’t close to the biggest  percentage  drop, which is the only thing that matters. In ancient Israel,  everything  was wiped away, which is not what happened to America. And though the Dow Jones did drop 7 percent, Cahn fails to mention that this doesn’t even rank in the top ten drops in terms of percentages.
The Dow did drop about 25 percent in the two weeks following the defeat of a bailout bill on September 29, but even this doesn’t rank in the same league as the 1929 market collapse. At that time, not only did it fall 48 percent in just over two months, but by the end of the crash, stocks had lost 90 percent of their value. Even the Great Depression was not of the same relative magnitude as what ancient Israel experienced.
The overstatements continue:
[THE PROPHET] “The crashing of stock markets across the world meant that the funds invested had vanished and would not be paid back, at least not for the foreseeable future. Both credit and debt, trillions of dollars worth of credit and debt, had, in effect, been canceled. ‘ Every creditor who has made a loan to his neighbor will let it go, will cancel it ’ . . . a Shemitah.”
… [KAPLAN] “And when the stock market crashed in September 2008, how much was wiped away?”
[THE PROPHET] “All the gains of the past seven years, and then some.”
How can Cahn maintain that all credit and debt from 2001 to 2008 had “in effect, been canceled?” Of course, there were losses, but nowhere close to all debt was wiped away. If all debt had been wiped away, those who found themselves in upside down mortgages could have kept their homes and owed nothing. Furthermore, although the biblical Shemitah involved the cancellation of all debt, Cahn has redefined it to include  the wiping out of savings and investments .
Cahn then goes so far as to argue for a  global  imposed Shemitah:
[THE PROPHET] “…The global economic collapse was, itself, one colossal Shemitah made up of countless smaller ones.”
But in fact the world’s economy did not collapse.
Cahn goes on to point out that September 29, 2008 was also the 29th of Elul on the Hebrew calendar, the end of the year, according to Hebrew reckoning, when all debts among the Jewish people are to be forgiven according to the Shemitah laws. He further notes that seven years earlier on Elul 29 (September 17, 2001, on the Gregorian calendar) the largest stock market crash up to that time happened in the wake of 9/11.
[THE PROPHET] “Take note…. A seven-year period that begins with a stock market crash and ends with a second stock market crash…a seven-year period framed by the two greatest stock market crashes in Wall Street history...”
[KAPLAN] “A seven-year cycle beginning and concluding with two massive remissions of credit and debt...the Shemitah”
Admittedly the timing is interesting, but is it significant? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapsed on September 7. Lehman Brothers’ stock dropped 45 percent on September 9 and announced a $4 billion dollar loss on September 10. And then on September 11, Lehman’s stock “took a second precipitous plunge.” But why is September 11 considered  the  significant date and not September 15, when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy? Or why not September 9, when the drop started? Or why not September 7? Cahn’s argument is arbitrary and seems to be “cherry-picking” evidence to strengthen his case while ignoring related evidence that does not support or undercuts his arguments.
The author cannot have it both ways by arguing for exact precision to the day but then arguing for “in-the-ballpark” dates to make a similar point, switching between the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars. Someone has well said, “If you torture statistics long enough, they will confess to anything.”
Another feature of Cahn’s argument is what he calls “a mystery of sevens,” which also relies on numbers and statistics. Cahn cites three instances where “seven” appears in association with the Shemitah and thus “demonstrates divine intervention”:
  1. $700 billion: The amount of Lehman Brothers’ rejected government bailout request
  2. 7%: The size of the stock market crash in 2008 on the day Congress voted down the bailout
  3. 777: The size of that market crash in points
Of course, the number seven clearly has special significance throughout the Bible, but this is not the issue. The fact is that the above numbers come from a very large universe of statistics that includes many different numbers. Using this method, the author could have been trying to prove any number from zero through nine and found the evidence he was looking for.
In trying to demonstrate the validity of the “mystery of sevens,” Cahn appeals to what he says are very precise numbers. Therefore, if precision is claimed to prove God’s involvement, the numbers actually do need to be precise. Anything less proves nothing more than an interesting coincidence.
The first issue is the supposed sign of the 777-point drop on September 29, 2008. Late that day, reported the drop as 778 points. This was because the actual figure was 777.68 points. If the Lord were trying to draw attention to what He was doing, causing the drop to be precisely 777.77 or 777.00 certainly would be no more difficult for Him than 777.68. But as it is, the actual figure is just another number. Furthermore, while the DOW is important, the NASDAQ and S&P 500 indices are also significant indicators, and they fell 9.1 percent and 8.8 percent respectively. Would it have also been a sign from God if the DOW had fallen 8 percent but the NASDAQ had fallen 7 percent?
And, in fact the drop was not exactly 7.0 percent. Rather, it was 6.98 percent. Though this may seem nit-picky, when the basis for one’s arguments is precise numbers, they need to be precise. Would it also have been a sign if the numbers were 6.51 percent or 7.49 percent? How much could it be off and still be a sign? How difficult would it have been for God to cause a drop of exactly 7.0 percent? Or better still, 7.7 percent, or even 7.77 percent?
If someone claims to be able to discern what God has done based on precise numbers, then precision should be expected. Yet the degree of Cahn’s “precision” is both arbitrary and inconsistent. The numbers are interesting—but not amazing and clearly not the sure signature of the hand of God. The historical evidence for a Shemitah judgment is just not there.
Although the above strongly mitigates against Cahn’s theory that God has imposed a Shemitah on the United States, the theological problem of proposing that God is using the Shemitah as a  principle  for nations other than Israel is even greater. The Sabbath day and the Sabbath year, the Shemitah, were exclusively part of the Law of Moses. If God had any expectations with regard to the Sabbath day or a seven-year economic or agricultural cycle apart from the Law, there would be corresponding revelation. However, the Scriptures are silent on this, both before and after the Law, and they never involved any nation except Israel.
The New Testament never indicates any Sabbath-keeping at either the day or year level for believers after Christ’s death on the cross, but the writer of Hebrews does give additional insight into the matter of the Sabbath for believers in Christ. In order to prepare ethnically Jewish Christians for the soon-coming destruction of the temple, in chapter 4, the author states that those who have believed the gospel have already entered into God’s Sabbath rest by faith—which would include both the Sabbath day and the Sabbath year (Heb:4:1-3, 8-10). Therefore,  because Christ fulfilled the Law, God does not impose a Sabbath day or a Sabbath year  (the Shemitah) upon believers.
Nor does God any longer expect Jews or any nation to continue keeping the Sabbath day or Shemitah. Rather, His desire is that all would enter His Sabbath rest through faith in Christ. There is no biblical basis whatsoever for Cahn’s theory concerning an imposed Shemitah. Quite the opposite is true—his theory runs counter to the Word of God and the gospel.
Jonathan Cahn’s suggestion that America may be under an imposed Shemitah is antithetical to the biblical concept of the Sabbath laws given to Israel alone and the fulfillment of those laws for believers in Christ. This doesn’t mean that God will not judge the nations, including America. This doesn’t mean that His judgment is not already underway. It may very well be—and if so, it is well deserved. However, whatever the judgment is or will be, it is not an imposed Shemitah judgment connected with Isaiah:9:10.
Adapted from chapter 14 of  The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Part 1 of "The Timing & Significance of the Rapture"

Question 1: What is the Rapture and its Significance to the World?

The Imminence of the Harpazó

The Rapture is a subject we hear about often, but a subject that is so often misunderstood. It seems to simultaneously cause confusion, fear, ridicule, anger, hope, and joy, depending on the listener. I hope I can clear up some of the confusion and increase the hope and joy of Jesus’ followers, in regard to this glorious event to come.

According to the literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible, at any time “the Lord Jesus Christ will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God”, and all living believers will be “caught up” from the earth (”harpaz√≥” in Greek, “rapiemur/rapturos” in Latin, “caught up” or “snatched away” in English). The Church is taken to be with the Lord just before God’s judgment is to be poured out on this God-rejecting world. That time of God’s judgment on the world is known as the Tribulation, and is fast approaching.

I will be offering evidence for this event known as the Rapture, showing that Christ’s coming for His Church is imminent and therefore must take place before the Tribulation.

Firstly, the doctrine of the Rapture is without refutation. It is taught so clearly in 1 Thessalonians 4 & 5 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, among other places, that to deny it is simply to deny the plain and literal meaning of Scripture and the accuracy and inspiration of God’s Word.

Another doctrine of the New Testament that is irrefutable is that the return of Jesus at the Rapture is imminent, meaning that there is nothing stopping it or holding it back; it could happen at any moment. That the Rapture may take place at any time is taught by Jesus when He says,

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:42-44).”

The Day of the Lord

Before we go any further into the doctrine of the Rapture, it is important to know that the Rapture initiates something known in the Bible as the “Day of the Lord” (the Tribulation). Spoken of more than any other one subject throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament), the Day of the Lord begins sometime after the completion of the Church Age. The completion of the Church happens when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25) and the Rapture of the Church has taken place (both happen simultaneously). This is the key to understanding when the Rapture takes place in relation to the seven-year Tribulation period, which we will discuss shortly.

The Day of the Lord primarily refers to the seven-year Tribulation period which follows the Rapture, but is also used by the writers of the Old Testament to speak of Christ’s Judgment of the Nations, which terminates the seven-year period. In the Old Testament, the “Day of the Lord” or “that day” usually refers to the seven-year Tribulation period alone (or, in particular, the last three and a half years, known as the “Great Tribulation”), but it also can refer to Christ’s Second Coming, the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth that begins at His Second Coming, as well as the Great White Throne Judgment (the final judgment) of all those that have failed to receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus. The Day of the Lord is also used to describe the period of time in which all of these events take place, which culminate in the dissolution of the universe, including earth, called “the heavens and earth” in 2 Peter 3:10- 13 & Revelation 20:11, and in the subsequent creation of the New Heaven and New Earth, meaning the entire Universe, the entire creation of God (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1, Isaiah 65:17).

The New Heavens and New Earth will be created by God after the Millennial (1,000 year) reign of Christ and the final, Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20 are concluded. Also known as the Eternal State or God’s Eternal Kingdom, the New Heaven and New Earth will be created by God after the Millennium, the final Great White Throne judgment and the destruction of the old heaven and earth. His New Creation then heads into eternity glorified along with all of the believers of all time (Romans 8:21). This is usually known simply as “Heaven” or “Eternity.”

So, the “Day of the Lord” refers broadly to the whole period (approximately 1,007 years), and more specifically, depending on its context in the Scripture, to the Rapture or the seven-year Tribulation or the Second Coming or the Millennium or the destruction of the old heaven and earth or the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth.

As believers in Jesus Christ, born again, born of the Spirit of God by faith in Jesus (John 3), we are now looking to the return of Jesus Christ at the Rapture, our departure from this world just before the Day of the Lord and the Tribulation begins. We are not looking for more signs of the “last days” to be fulfilled or to the evangelization or Christianizing of the whole world. We are not looking for the revealing of the Antichrist or the one-world government, or the beginning of the Tribulation, or the last three and a half years of the Tribulation (known as the Great Tribulation). Nor are we looking for the bowl judgments or final trumpet of Revelation or any other signs or events before the Rapture. To be looking for anything other than Jesus coming for His Church at the Rapture is to be focused on something other than Jesus and our eternal glorification with Him, which is to be our focus.

As has always been true for the Church at every point of the Church Age, we are to “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2) and we are to be “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). At this moment, as with the first followers of Christ, and as should have been in all periods of Church history, we are looking for Jesus to come and take us to be with Him. This is our “living and blessed hope.” We will develop this thought further throughout this article. This subtle biblical truth alone reveals that the Rapture of the Church must take place before the Tribulation period. But, there are many additional reasons to believe in the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church.

When Will the Rapture Take Place?

If we cannot know when the Lord is coming for His Church, as He has said, then the Rapture could happen at any moment. The Lord has designed it this way so that His people would live as if His return was imminent (impending, close (at hand), near, (fast) approaching). He wants His Church to live as if He is returning at any moment! Jesus’ plain and simple teaching insists that the Church should be living in such a way that we are looking for Him to return for us at any time at the Rapture, and every New Testament writer agrees that this is how we are to be living our lives. By necessity, there can be no prerequisites to the Rapture. Additionally, there can be no terminus, or final date by which it must happen, otherwise there would be prerequisite events that would have to happen first. Conversely, the exact time of the Second Coming of Christ, to the day, is easily ascertained and well defined because it terminates the seven-year Tribulation period. Once the Tribulation begins, the inhabitants of earth during the Tribulation will be able to count forward seven years from the unveiling of the one-world leader.

There is a second opportunity during the Tribulation to calculate the Second Coming. At the half way mark, something called the “abomination of desolation,” which we will talk about shortly, takes place. By counting forward three and a half years from the day of that event, many believers will know the exact day of the Lord’s glorious return (see Daniel 12:11-12, where he gives the Tribulation survivors the exact number of days). It is not possible, on the other hand, to know the timing of the Rapture, as the Lord Himself has said. This is a crucial fact when considering the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation period, as well as any attempts to ascertain an actual date for the Rapture, an hour or day or year, like so many false teachers and misled Christians have mistakenly and unsuccessfully attempted to do throughout history.

No one can know the day or hour or season of the Rapture, that is clear from the Lord, so no dates can be set for it and there is nothing that has to take place before the Lord can come for His Church. The Apostles believed that and expressed that belief with much enthusiasm. We will look at their thoughts on Jesus’ imminent return for His Church in the third section of this article, but it suffices to say here that the gospel does not have to go out to the whole world through the Church first, nor does the Antichrist have to be revealed, nor the beginning of the Tribulation begun. These prerequisites would make Jesus’ return for His Church dependent on other events unfolding first. They would have the Church looking elsewhere, to something other than Jesus’ return, to worldly events that are to take place first instead of to Jesus and His coming Kingdom. That contradicts Jesus’ clear teaching in the Gospels on His return for the Church. It also contradicts the way the early Church understood His teaching and viewed the timing of the Rapture.

Therefore, the Rapture must take place during an open-ended period of time with an undefined end that, at a certain point in time, connects (or very nearly connects) to the Tribulation period. The only indeterminate period of time that it can happen within, in relation to the Tribulation, is the so-called “Church Age,” which is the period of time that we live in now, that extends from the start of the Church until the completion of the Church at the Rapture. This is the only time period between now and the Tribulation in which no one could possibly know in any way, or within any period of surrounding time, when the Rapture will occur. This circumstance must be true in order for Jesus’ statement to be true, that no one will know the day or the hour or the season of His return (Mark 13:32-37).

The Church Age ends when the fullness of the Gentiles come in, which is before the Tribulation begins. Any proposed time for the Rapture after the Tribulation’s onset is disqualified due to this fact. Expecting His return at any moment is called the doctrine of imminency. If Jesus’ return is imminent, as every writer of the New Testament believed, and as Jesus stated Himself, then there is nothing holding it back, it can happen at any moment. In my understanding, this, among many other proofs, assures the Church of a pre-Tribulation Rapture. We’ll look at one other indisputable argument for the “pre-Trib” Rapture in a moment, though J. Dwight Pentecost lists no less than twenty-eight reasons for a pre-Tribulation Rapture in his book Things to Come. When interpreting the Bible literally, it is an indisputable fact that this view harmonizes with the whole of Scripture to a far greater extent than any other view of the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation. The pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine has more Scriptural support than any of the other options for the timing of the Rapture.

The World After the Rapture

When the time for the Church to be taken from the earth to Heaven in the Rapture arrives,

“Then we who are alive and remain shall be raptured, snatched away, caught-up together with them (those who have already died in Christ) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11).”

Once the Church is removed from the earth at the Rapture for our “marriage to the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7), our glorification in Heaven with Jesus, then the false world leader known as the infamous “Antichrist” will be revealed on earth (2 Thessalonians 2). He will be revealed as a master politician and broker of peace and safety. But, he will ultimately lead the nations of the earth into Israel, Mount Megiddo in the north of Israel being the central gathering point for the final world war (known as Armageddon). This war features nations from around the globe, but primarily becomes the powers of the west facing off against the powers of the east. 

Finally, he leads what remains of the world’s armies into war against Jesus and His bride at Christ’s return, the “Second Coming” (Revelation 19:19). Initially, the last world empire’s leader is apparently peaceful, powerful and an intriguing politician. For more on this future one-world leader, the Antichrist, see Daniel 7:8-28; 8:9-14, 23-26; 9:24-27; 11:21-45; Revelation chapters 13, 17, 18, 19; 2 Thessalonians 2 and Matthew 24.

This man quickly becomes a seemingly benevolent and effective world leader sometime after the Rapture, (either immediately or possibly over some indeterminate time) but is in reality the “man of sin” and the “son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) and the “worthless shepard” (Zechariah 11:16-17). He is to become the one-world government’s dictator, the Antichrist. Beginning halfway through that seven-year period he breaks his covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27). He also goes into the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple and stops the sacrifice to Israel’s God (which is re- instituted sometime after the Rapture) and demands that the world worship him as god (possibly even an atheistic, New Age idea of a human achieved “godhood”). This is the “abomination of desolation” that Jesus and Daniel referred to, and it is the event that starts the last three and a half years of the seven-year period. This three and a half year period of time, covering the last half of the seven year Tribulation, is known as the “Great Tribulation.”

The 70th Week of Daniel and the Timing of the Rapture

We call the last three and a half years of the seven-year Tribulation period the “Great Tribulation” because of Jesus’ description of it in Matthew 24:21, and Daniel’s description in Daniel 12:1. We know that the whole period is seven years because of repeated references to it being that length of time in the book of Revelation and Daniel, and because it is also known as the 70th week (of seven years) of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27).

The last three and a half years of the Tribulation will be a time of great tribulation, unlike any other time on earth. I believe it is the realization that the whole Tribulation period is the 70th week of Daniel that eliminates finally and completely any other timing of the Rapture except it happening before the seven-year period begins. This is because the Church cannot be on earth for any duration of the 70th week of Daniel. The Church Age must end before the last seven years of God’s plan with Israel can resume. Paul makes this clear in Romans chapter 11, so getting acquainted with Romans chapters 9-11 is essential. But before we look at that, let’s look at Daniel 9:24-27 for more on the “70th week of Daniel.”

In Daniel chapter 9, the angel Gabriel is sent by God and says to Daniel that seventy “weeks” (literally “sevens”) of years (seventy 7’s of years) are determined (70X7= 490 years)… “to bring in everlasting righteousness” and to “anoint the Most Holy” (v. 24). These events, without debate, will only happen at Jesus’ Second Coming and the initiation of the Millennial Kingdom. After 69 weeks of years (69X7= 483 years), according to Gabriel the “Messiah shall be cut off” (literally, “suffer the death penalty”). Since this already happened at Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, that leaves a seven- year “week” left unfulfilled, the 70th week of Daniel (490-483= 7 remaining years).

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem during the week before His crucifixion was exactly 483 years from the start of the prophecy given in Daniel (the start date of the 483 years is recorded in Nehemiah). The 70th week, the remaining 7 years, must be future to the time of Jesus and the Church because the 70 weeks prophecy was to Israel, not the Church, and it was not fulfilled after the time of Christ being on earth. Astonishingly, the 483 years concluded on one of the days between Jesus’ presentation of Himself as Messiah at the triumphal entry and His crucifixion a few days later (His being cut off), exactly 483 years from the start of the prophecy, just as Gabriel said it would. So, the 70 weeks of Daniel were interrupted right between the end of the 69th week and the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel at Christ’s rejection and subsequent crucifixion and resurrection. In Romans 11, Paul makes it clear that God cast Israel away at this point (v. 15), but only temporarily. There is still then a need for that final 7 years of Daniel to take place for God “to bring in everlasting righteousness” and to “anoint the Most Holy.”

At the birth of the Church, God ceased to have direct relations with Israel as a nation because they had rejected the New Covenant, they rejected their Messiah. That indeterminate period of time, of Israel being set aside by God, precisely and unequivocally coincides with the Church Age, the Age of Grace that we are still living in today. Through Israel’s fall (their failure to receive Jesus as the Messiah) salvation has come to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11) and “is riches for the Gentiles (v. 12).” And here is the key: Paul says in verse 25 “that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25). The birth of the Church was just after Israel’s rejection of Christ, which paused the 70 weeks of Daniel at the conclusion of the 69th week. And it is the glorification of the Church that will start God’s clock on Israel again, “for God has committed them all (Israel as a nation corporately) to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (the rest of the world, Romans 11:32). He has also promised that “all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).”

“For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world (the start of the Church Age), what will their acceptance be but life from the dead (The Resurrection, Romans 11:15)?”

Considering that we know the resurrection of the Church happens at the Rapture and that the resurrection of Israel happens around the time of the Second Coming, these verses in Romans 11 are exhilarating, and conclusive! Paul tells us clearly that when Israel, as a nation, accepts Jesus as their Messiah, the resurrection of God’s people will take place!

According to the book of Revelation, an acceptance of Jesus by a remnant of Jewish believers will directly follow the Rapture of the Church, will continue throughout the Tribulation and will usher in the Second Coming seven years later. Remember also, the Tribulation is called “the Time of Jacob’s Trouble” in Jeremiah 30:7. And Daniel clearly states, in 9:24, that the “seventy weeks are determined for your people (Israel) and for your holy city (Jerusalem).” He says that this period determined for Israel, that ultimately brings judgment on the earth during the last seven years, will be “to bring in everlasting righteousness” (v. 24). The last week is like all the other weeks spoken of by Gabriel, it is exactly seven years (v. 24 & 27), but it culminates in the “bringing in of everlasting righteousness”, with Jesus’ return and the beginning of the Millennial reign of Christ. Daniel even tells us, like Jesus and John, that the Antichrist commits the abomination that causes desolation exactly three and a half years into the seven-year period, which initiates the worst part of this whole period, the Great Tribulation (v. 27).

The fullness of the Gentiles is the completion of the Church, and the Church Age is consummated by the Rapture. Otherwise, Jewish believers during the Tribulation (“the remnant” mentioned so often throughout the Prophets and in Romans 11) would also be soon-to-be-raptured Christians in the midst of the Tribulation. They would be part of the Church! Impossible. They must be one or the other during this period of time. They cannot be both, like in the Church Age. Clearly, according to Scripture, the Tribulation is a separate program in God’s eyes, distinct from the Church Age. Jewish believers during the 70th week of Daniel are the oft spoken of remnant of believing Israel, many of which must survive the Tribulation to repopulate the world during the Millennial reign of Christ. If they were part of the Church, and the Rapture took place during the Tribulation, they, too would be raptured during the Tribulation. The problem with that for the mid-Trib and pre-Wrath views is that the Rapture is no longer imminent, because we would know it is coming after the beginning of the Tribulation but before the half-way point of the Tribulation. For the post-Trib view, there also is the problem of imminency, as well as another issue. Who would populate the world in the Millennium if all believers are raptured at the end of the Tribulation and all unbelievers are judged at the judgment of the nations?

Without dispute then, this is the plain, straightforward reading of the text. Only after the Church is removed can God begin to deal with Israel again for this last seven-year period of Daniel, yet unfulfilled. This is exactly what Paul says in verses 25 and 26 of Romans 11, “blindness to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (to the Church and then into Heaven at the Rapture). “And so all Israel will be saved,” separate and distinct from the Church. This happens throughout the 70th week of Daniel, the time of Jacob’s Trouble, but ultimately is fulfilled at its culmination when the remnant of Israel constitutes “all Israel” and they enter into the Millennium after the judgment of the nations.

When the Rapture takes place, at the end of the Church Age, God begins to work with Israel again. At the end of that seven-year Tribulation period, the 70th week of Daniel, “the Lord comes with billions of His saints (Jude 1:14), the Church, which is His bride, and captures the Antichrist and his false prophet and they are “cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone (Revelation 19:11-21). This event is known as the Second Coming and brings the Tribulation period to a close. It also initiates the Millennial (1,000 year) reign of Christ on the regenerated, Eden like earth (Isaiah 51:3). For more on the Antichrist and his false prophet see Revelation 13. For more on the Millennium see Revelation 20, along with such Old Testament passages as Isaiah, chapters 11 & 35. The “judgment of the nations” is described by the Lord in Matthew 25:31-32. As previously mentioned, God’s Eternal Kingdom, the New Heaven and New Earth will be created by God after the Millennium, the final Great White Throne judgment and the destruction of the old heaven and earth. His New Creation then heads into eternity glorified along with all of the believers of all time (Romans 8:21). This is usually known simply as “Heaven.”

The General Outline of the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ

As an important side note, in the book of Revelation, 1:19, Jesus tells John to break the book into three main divisions. Chapter 1 is what John saw: the Revelation of Jesus in glory, with all authority in Heaven and earth given to Him. Chapters 2 & 3 represent the things that are: the present and entire Church Age from the resurrection of Christ to the Rapture of the Church. Chapters 4-22 are the things which will take place after this (after the Church Age): all of chapters 4-22 are future to the Rapture of the Church. Furthermore, chapters 4 & 5 describe the Church in Heaven immediately after the Rapture, concurrent to the seven-year Tribulation happening on earth. Chapters 6-18 describe variously the events of the Tribulation on earth. Chapter 19 is a description of the Second Coming of Christ with His saints, the Church (the Church is finally mentioned again for the first time since chapter 5 because we return with Jesus from Heaven after our departure before the seven-year Tribulation period began). Chapter 20 of Revelation describes the Millennial reign of Christ, and 21 and 22, the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21:1-4), as well as our relation to the earth in the New Jerusalem (Heaven) during the Millennium and Christ’s reign on earth at that time (after Revelation 21:4). It’s critical to have that outline and to understand the meaning of the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It is a revelation of His eternal glory and all that He will do for the eternal futures of those that put their trust in Him. It gives us insight and perspective on all He has been doing for His creation throughout history.

For the world, the Rapture of the Church is the beginning of the end of world history, as we now know it. For the Church, it is the beginning of our eternal, glorified lives with Jesus.

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