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When Jesus walked the earth, He gave us the example of what it meant to be a leader who had no positional, earthly authority at all but wielded gargantuan spiritual authority.

He was God with us, after all, Immanuel. Yahweh in the flesh.

Not just an example. He is The Example.

He wanted us to understand what He was doing in the emptying and diminishing of Himself. He took the form of a servant. This was God Himself. If He, the Lord God Almighty, was willing to do this, we surely should do the same.

The world does not do this—cannot do this. It is another kingdom altogether.

The ultimate lowering? The Creator reduced to the status of criminal, one who is cursed, who allowed Himself to be crucified out of His love for people and to glorify His Father.

He was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.

However, things have changed.

Jesus is now king. He is not just a king; He is The King. The King over all kings and all kingdoms that have existed and ever will exist. Jesus never called Himself a king in His ministry, but He did seem to confirm this truth when He stood before Pilate (John 18:37).

Yes. He is The King who is still the Lamb, but His sacrifice is over, finished. Look at these verses:

“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Revelation 6:15–17).1

A wrathful lamb. We Christians must attempt to unify those truths which seem so incompatible.

“He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:15b–16).

This is not the image from the 1960’s of a fair-haired Jesus gently knocking on a door in the garden.

No. He is furious.

This judgment was prophesied by Isaiah: “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come” (Isaiah 63:3–4).

So, let me say without hesitation: We do not want to be on the wrong side of this.

We may think it unfair. We may think Him cruel. We may shout and rage at God. Those who do so, and we Christians, to be honest, do not understand the depths of the degradation of our sinfulness, how abhorrent it is to God. We have trouble grasping how holy His holiness is. We do not understand because we have not fully comprehended how stunning it is that the Lord God Almighty lowered Himself to be punished as a filthy sinner.

But we will understand it because these days are coming.

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28–29).

We must stay awake. We know neither the day nor the hour.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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The return of Jesus, our Creator, Savior, and Judge, is a slow train coming. I know it’s not a long time for the One who knows no time, as Peter wrote, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8–9),1 but it seems like a very long time for us. That is our problem, not His.

We don’t know the Father’s timetable, but one thing is certain. Jesus will return. He promised He would.

And He keeps His promises.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2–3).

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28–29).

His promise was reasserted by angels. “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:10–11).

What more do we need?

When Jesus says something is going to happen, it is going to happen.

“One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they set out, and as they sailed, he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’” (Luke 8:22–25a).

When Jesus says we are going to the other side of the lake, we are going to the other side of the lake. Period. Full stop. Why did He ask the disciples where their faith was? He told them their destination. Did they think the tempest would hinder Him, that the wind and waves were stronger than the word of the God who created the water and the wind?

His word is as unyielding as—well, to what shall we compare it? The Rockies? The Himalayas? However, both these immense mountain ranges will one day be no more; nevertheless, they are among the most immovable potencies we can conceive. We must try to get it into our heads that His word is immensely more formidable than we understand. I wonder if that’s because among humans, talk is cheap. We can easily utter words about actions which will never happen, or if they do occur, are of little consequence, particularly over time. However, Jesus doesn’t say things He does not mean or will not transpire, just throwing out words which don’t have massive power or eternal significance. His words are spoken by the one who created the universe and upholds it. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3a).

So, Jesus’ return may be a slow train coming, but it is coming; and nothing we can do will stop it. Nothing. What disquiets me is I know that a whole slew of bad things will precede His coming. Yes, we can and should rejoice in the old saying, “We’ve read the end of the Book of Revelation. We win in the end,” but I’m finding it difficult to sluff off the impending, it-is-going-to-happen reality of the end of days.

But I’m working on it, believe me. 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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What grabs the attention of the Lord God Almighty? More than we could list here, so let us look at only three.

First, blood.

“Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the LORD said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth’” (Genesis 4:9–12).1

What a stunning thought. Blood cries out from ground. Just as stunning is that the Lord hears it.

The verb “crying” has within its semantic domain words such as shouting, yelling, screaming, raising a battle cry, rejoicing, and lamenting. In the case before us, it is not crucial in my opinion, to fine-tune the Hebrew word tsa˓aq, but those other meanings enrichen our understanding. Blood is shouting. Maybe screaming. Perhaps lamenting.

There it is. In the truth of Scripture.

This should give us some interesting contemplation about Immanuel’s blood. Surely, it too cried out—shouted—from the earth.

Or perhaps rejoiced.

It should also generate some interesting thoughts about the blood of innocent babies and murdered innocents of all kinds.

In Genesis 4, our first example, the Lord God Almighty responds strongly to the voice of just one innocent man’s blood. How does He respond to that of millions?

Another instance of a cry which caught the Lord’s attention is farther along in Genesis.

“Then the LORD said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know’” (Genesis 18:20–21).

We are not told the source of this outcry. Was blood spilled there, as well? Or was that outcry the pleadings of the only righteous man in the city, Lot?

We do not know.

Regardless, I would like to draw attention to the seeming insignificance of the sources of these two attention-getting outcries. One man’s blood. Possibly one man’s prayers. And God’s staggering, inevitable response. The first was to forbid a man to work the ground from which the blood of a slain man had cried. The second was to incinerate entire cities (Genesis 19:24–25 and 29).

Our last example is the outcry of martyrs.

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Revelation 6:9–11).

The spilling of martyrs’ blood is to be avenged, according to these verses. That request would be answered at some future time. I do not think that response will be desired by a great many people, nor expected.

What do these three outcries tell us about a coming judgment of the world, where the blood of martyrs and millions and millions of murdered people and babies cries out from the ground? How loud are these shoutings?

What do these outcries tell us about a coming judgment on the United States?

It is time to plead for mercy, my brothers and sisters. It is time to ask the Lord God Almighty to grant people repentance and salvation in these last days.

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17).

That Day is coming. Stay awake.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

Recently, I watched a YouTube video of a pastor who said he has had three terrifying dreams of the days to come—as soon as this Fall of 2020, in fact. (Link below.)1 Beginning in September and particularly in November, he said, the United States will become a nation overwhelmed by chaos. Money will be flying out of banks and people’s wealth will disappear. Cities will burn, and civil war will break out. There will be Russian, Chinese, and NATO troops in our streets.

Pretty scary. How should Christians respond?

Christians are to judge such prophetic manifestations. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29).2 The Greek word “weigh” can also be translated “judge.” In other words, is the utterance biblical? The problem is, many prophecies cannot be verified by Scripture because they speak of things to come. These are the ones we put “on the back burner.” The issue here is that these predictions won’t be sitting on that burner very long.

However, we have another measure that can help us. Jesus said we will know Christian ministers by their fruit. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15–16a). We are at a disadvantage here because we know nothing about this person. Who is he? What is his life like? What does he teach and believe.

Nevertheless, here we are.

So, how should Christians prepare for these it-might-be-possible events? The pastor tells us that the Lord kept telling him, “Brace yourselves.” This brother also offered some good advice about enduring and abiding in Jesus. He also had some bad advice: To have an ample supply of guns and ammunition. We do have the right to protect ourselves and our families, but if Russian and Chinese troops are active in our cities, we would find ourselves fighting against an army. Our guns and ammo will be worthless. We would be overtaken in moments.

Since there is little we could do to physically prepare or respond to what has been prophesied, outside of making sure we have a good stock of food and water, nothing has changed for Christians. Yes, as the brother said, endure and abide in Jesus. I would add that we should look forward to the hope that is in Jesus, and that is an eternal hope, not one based on existing circumstances, regardless how bleak and life-threatening. We should love our neighbor, not kill him for taking our food. Trust God; rather work at trusting God. I write that because when trials come, trusting takes active mental and spiritual effort. Accompanying that trust will be peace in God. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:3–4). It’s interesting that Isaiah used the Hebrew words Yahweh Yah when he wrote “LORD GOD.” Startling emphasis here. He is an everlasting rock. He is a rock that cannot and will not be shaken or moved. He truly is the One to trust in.

Isaiah knew well about this. He was a prophet of the punishment that was coming to God’s people. He experienced it himself. We Americans should not assume that such things could never happen to us, whether these particular prophecies come to pass or not. Why shouldn’t they? Daniel, while in captivity in the pagan kingdom, Babylon, said “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings;” (Daniel 2:20–21a).

God is sovereign. He does whatever He pleases. We may know why. We may not. Regardless, we pray. We trust. We hope. We love God and neighbor. And yes, we may suffer nation-changing catastrophe.

1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LiYhtTwvic

2All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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For two thousand years, the Church has been waiting for the return of Jesus. This is a good thing. We are to hope in the coming glory and eternal life in God’s kingdom. We are told to expect Jesus to return quickly. We are taught to be ready. Let’s take a large bite of this I-don’t-understand-it-but-it-sounds-glorious reality: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).1 Do you know what that means in any detail?

Yeah. I don’t, either.

However, we also know—or should—is that those last days will be perilous. It will not be easy for the saints who are alive at that time. I am familiar with the narrative that the Church will be taken away before the tough times come, and proponents of a theory called the rapture say that the Church will not suffer God’s wrath. I will not argue that point, but we are nowhere taught that the Church will not experience tribulation, even in our normal, everyday lives. To think that we won’t experience it in the days approaching the return of Jesus, is misguided.

In addition, Paul told us that before Jesus returns, the man of lawlessness will be revealed and the one who restrains lawlessness will be taken out of the way. I do not know if there are degrees of lawlessness. I don’t know if the lawlessness we now see in the United States is any worse than other times in its history. However, as you can bear witness, the current lawlessness is vicious and unsettling, and any future lawlessness will be as well.

The Book of Revelation says this about a being who will appear at the end of things.

“And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:5–10).

If the Church has been raptured before these events, then we must ask what to call the Christians who are present in the above passage. If the Church isn’t to suffer difficult times, then we must ask why Scripture itself says that the beast will make war with the saints and conquer them. If the one who restrains is taken out of the way is the removal of Holy Spirit from the earth, then how did these Christians get saved? And if the Holy Spirit is gone, how does Jesus uphold all things by the word of His power? “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). One must do some fancy dancing to claim that the Church will be raptured out of tribulation.

I read a piece recently about a Christian who claimed to have had a dream or a vision about what will happen in the fall of 2020. He saw banks with their roofs torn off and money flying into the sky. He saw chaos, and no one was able to deal with it. His advice in response to what he saw was to buy a gun, buy gold, and hoard food. The way I felt after reading the article was fear. There are wise fears, like not trying to pet a grizzly in the wild or smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. However, the fear that was engendered from what this man said is not of God. It indicates a lack of trust in God. If we think that our gold and stored-up goods will save us in the last days, we are not thinking clearly. If circumstances are chaotic and lawless, how will we prevent our hoarded gold and food from being taken? Buy a gun, you may say. If we think we are going to hold off, by ourselves, fierce, frightened, and hungry people, we have some hard thinking ahead. These kinds of self-preservation tactics are how the world deals with trouble.

We will be called upon to trust the Lord in ways we have not been called upon to do before. It will be a difficult, challenging time. Except for the violent upheaval of the Civil War, we Americans have not experienced this tumultuous national and cultural breakdown as so many peoples have throughout the history of the world. Is God concerned about the tribulation we will experience? Yes. But He is so much more concerned about our response to it. Will we trust Him? That is a grand question. I’m having a little trouble answering it. 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

Recently, we have been looking at the days of yet-to-come-already-here lawlessness. In this article we will look at a related issue—the most important issue—Jesus’ return. Our first stop will be to proclaim the truth that Jesus will return soon. (Some will scoff at this proclamation. Thank you for that. You just fulfilled prophecy: “They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:4)).1 Perhaps other readers will expect me to back up my claim concerning Jesus’ return with some kind of prediction. No, I’m just repeating Jesus’ own words. He said He would return soon three times in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible. In fact, He said it in the next to the last verse in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible (Revelation 22:20). From Jesus’ eternal point of view, “soon,” is over two thousand years. “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

The universal truth for Christians throughout the centuries has been that since we don’t know how “soon” “soon” is, we should consider His return imminent. Jesus taught us this. “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42–44). This is a reiteration of His admonition at the end of the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were not ready for the bridegroom’s coming. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

However, Jesus is also coming quickly. The Bible translators have most often interpreted the Greek word “tachys” as “soon” in the 22nd chapter of Revelation, although in all the other passages in the New Testament, this same Greek word is translated “quickly.” I do not know the reason for this differentiation. But Paul wrote, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1–2). And Peter wrapped it all up nicely. “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:8–10).

I don’t think it’s a stretch to maintain that there is little difference between coming “like a thief in the night” and coming “quickly.” In other words, the event will be over before we will have had opportunity to respond.

Concerning His coming quickly, I would like to add two testimonies of experiences of people that I know. The first is from a Christian brother and friend, now deceased, who once told me that as he was walking down a rural road near his hometown, he had the strong, strange sense that all he was beholding on this walk would one day change, be momentously different, in ways he could not fathom, from what he now saw—in an instant.

The other witness is my wife, who is not given over to Pentecostal extremism in any way whatsoever. This event occurred around thirty years ago when we were pastoring a small church in eastern Washington State. She dreamt she was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes. There is a nice view of fields and mountains from that window. Suddenly, she saw the mountains split in two and coming through that opening was Jesus. Jesus was returning. Everything changed in that one moment. He was here, and everything was about to change forever. Who you were at moment was, well, who you were. No time or opportunity to change anything. This was it.

Those who know me and read this blog know that I do not promote visions or revelations that people claim are from the Lord unless there is biblical evidence for them. I believe the God-given experiences that these two faithful saints meet that standard.

Jesus is coming soon. And quickly. Christians, we need to be ready. He will return at an hour we do not expect.

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28).

I echo Brother John’s response to Jesus at the end of the Book of Revelation when He proclaimed He was coming soon: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of Bing images.

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In 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote about the mystery of lawlessness and a coming man who would embody it. A man of lawlessness is not difficult for us to imagine. The world has witnessed many of them throughout its history.

But lawlessness—why is it a mystery? Sin seems straightforward. A person tells a lie, commits murder, or adultery, evidence abounds, and he or she is guilty. What is mysterious about that? The Holy Spirit did not inspire Paul to elaborate on this subject, but perhaps as we investigate we will discover some clarity concerning the mysterious nature of sin. Nevertheless, but let me be clear that what I write is speculative.

Let’s look at the greatest crime in human history: The murder of Jesus, Immanuel, the Creator-in-the-flesh. In Jesus’ life and ministry, He had done nothing wrong and nothing at all that should have merited punishment by a government official. He told only the truth. He did only good. His “sin” was that He had challenged the Jewish religious leaders, but He broke no religious or civil laws. The Jews’ massive problems with Him were that they said He violated the Sabbath, of which He claimed to be Lord, had table fellowship with sinners, and claimed to be equal with God by saying He was His Son. The final straw was His announcement, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

All these assertions were true, but the Jews were blind to those truths, and God’s prophesied plan had to be realized. The Jewish leaders knew how much the people loved Him and therefore could not harm Him outright. So, they brought Jesus to the reigning civil authority, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate as part of their plan to eliminate Him. They accused Him of breaking their laws, and, finally, of being an enemy of Rome. Pilate, however, could find no guilt in Him. In response to their insistent calls to crucify Him, he asked them the third time,

Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him (Luke 23:22).1

Pilate knew the Jews had brought Jesus to him out of envy, and his wife had warned him to leave Him alone.

For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream” (Matthew 27:18–19).

Pilate then gave the Jewish leaders an opportunity to release Jesus.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted (Matthew 27:15).

Instead, the Jewish leaders called for the release of a murderer and a thief.

It became clear that nothing Pilate said or offered would mollify the Jewish leaders.

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:24).

There is mystery here. In this case, a lawful man, Jesus, was found lawfully innocent of breaking any law by the powerful civil authority, Pontius Pilate. Regardless, Pilate, fulfilling his role of judge, ordered the lawful Man to be lawlessly murdered.

This made sense to everyone. Lawlessness “won,” in the way man thinks.

Good—Jesus, God in the flesh—became evil.

Evil—murder, the breaker of God’s command—became good.

Let’s look at a more contemporary case. Abortion.

In our sinful world, a woman finds herself in a predicament when she is pregnant with an unplanned or inconvenient child. The solution: kill the baby. In most of the history of the United States, this was a sin and an illegal act. However, the explosion of “free sex” in the 1960’s resulted in a multitude of unwanted pregnancies. Abortion was a dangerous, unsanitary, back-alley business. The solution was to legalize abortion. Thus, the case for killing innocent children was brought before the Supreme Court.

Here is the logic of that case. When a woman becomes pregnant, the baby cannot survive on its own outside his or her mother. Therefore, the infant is not a person. It is still a part of the mother’s body. The government cannot force a woman to do something with her body that she does not want. If a woman has a cancerous or benign tumor, for example, the government cannot forbid her from having it removed. It is a civil rights issue. It’s her body, and she has a right to do make choices concerning it and her well-being. So, the Lord’s just law prohibiting murder was overthrown by human logic and civil rights.

Here is the mystery: Murder, again, is declared lawful and good; even necessary. People attempting to preserve God’s law of forbidding murder are accused of wanting to deny human rights and are therefore misogynistic, bigoted, and fascistic.

Evil is good. Good is evil.

This makes sense to the majority of the population of the Untied States.

The mystery of lawlessness is already at work, and the one who restrains it is being taken out of the way. Good will continue to become evil. Evil will continue to become good. The man of lawlessness, who will embody that mystery, will be revealed some day. And, when that time comes, the evil that he does will make sense to almost everyone.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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A thought popped into my head a few days ago. I am not claiming it was from God, but it caught my attention and stimulated spiritual and biblical considerations. Like you, many ideas shoot through my brain. Most quickly die a natural death. Some are stored away for a time to come; some good, some evil, and some just neutral. The good and neutral may require further study. The evil ones must be dealt with and rejected. Some grab my attention because they are interesting. It is into this last category my recent thought fell.

As of today, we are living within the tsunami of the corona virus plague. I use the word plague because it is a biblical word, and it refers to a time of suffering and upheaval. All plagues, to be clear, are not diseases. The ten plagues that the Lord brought to Egypt included darkness, lice, frogs, and hail. The sending of enormous hailstones upon the earth is referred to as a plague in Revelation 16:21. Since the onslaught of the pandemic, not only have people died, much of the world has shut down economically. The stock market has tanked. Millions are out of work. I bring all this up because the thought that went through my head was something like, “I wonder if the fall of Babylon will be something like what is happening now?”

The fall of Babylon is mentioned four times in the Book of Revelation (chapters 14, 16 and 17), but the most detailed account is in Chapter 18. Here are two portions that specifically deal with the economics of that fall:

“And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls” (Revelation 18:11–13).1

“The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, ‘Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste’” (Revelation 18:15–17).

No reason is given for the demise of Babylon in any of the chapters in which it appears, but in its earliest appearance in Revelation, it occurs after the revealing of the beasts in Chapter 13. At this point—and let’s be clear that chronology in the Book of Revelation is like a winding staircase—plagues have already struck the earth. The point is that Babylon’s fall didn’t happen in a vacuum, and neither is the commercial cataclysm that we are experiencing today.

Those passages from Revelation 18 sound eerily familiar, but this current financial distress is not the fall we see there. The conditions don’t match. However, the interesting, arresting thought that day came trailing a galaxy of questions. Well, not a galaxy—more like a small solar system. Questions, such as, “How will you respond when everything falls apart economically in that day?” and “Do you presume to think that Christians, including you, are immune to this catastrophic event?” “What will you do when money fails?” “How much trust are you putting in riches?”

These are challenging questions, but the Bible provides the answers.

Scripture does not condemn riches, but it warns us about them. In the verse below, we see that riches are contrasted with righteousness. In the Old Testament, righteousness refers to loving God and neighbor, the two greatest commandments.

“Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4). That “death” would be of the eternal kind. This verse offers a massive contrast between loving riches and loving the Lord and others.

In the light of this truth, consider Jesus’ admonition in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man spent his wealth on fine clothing and an abundance of food. He cared nothing about the poverty and suffering of Lazarus and did not let a coin fall from his hand to help him. He was concerned only about himself and was not rich toward God (Luke 12:21). That covetousness and lack of care had to do with the absence of his relationship with a just and loving God. Eventually, Lazarus died and went to “Abraham’s side,” and the rich man died and ended up in Hades (Luke 16:19-31).

As it was written, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”

Lord, today and in any economically difficult days to come, help us to love You and not temporary riches, which cannot save and will cause us to fall. As we trust, help us to care about others and not only ourselves.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

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From my very first days as a Christian, the Lord embedded me in the Pentecostal/Charismatic church, and I thank Him for it. In my years there, I heard many prophecies. I can remember almost nothing of those given publicly, but I would say that most of them—perhaps all of them—were encouraging and uplifting. As I have continued to learn Scripture, however, I found that my position on the nature of prophecy has changed. In both the Old and New Testaments, prophecies are not always encouraging and uplifting. On a personal note, this was gratifying as well, since most of the prophecies or words I had been given were not positive.

Pentecostals/Charismatics today hold to the position that prophecies are positive, I think, because of this passage:

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). 1

However, I now think that we have misunderstood the complete meaning of prophecy.

Prophecy is both negative and positive.

The negative usually comes first.

For example, all throughout the book of Jeremiah, the Lord told the prophet many times that He was going to send sword, famine, and pestilence upon Judah because they had forsaken Him. However, He often pronounced positives like this:

Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD (Jeremiah 23:3–4).

Bad news. Good news.

Terrible, suffering news. Good news, which ultimately builds up the Church because it brings hope to the sufferer, letting us know that He is the true sovereign of history and the Church. Thus, it’s true that prophecy is for the building up of the saints.

This truth brings us to another suffering, terrible word from Jeremiah that should make Christians more than a little uncomfortable. I was shaken when the truth of it was made known to me.

And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity’” (Jeremiah 15:2).

God’s sovereign will is revealed here. If you’re destined for pestilence, for sword, for famine, or for captivity, that is what will happen to you. When we read this, we just think, “Wow. Those Jews in Judah really blew it when they disobeyed God. They were destined for pestilence, the sword, and famine.”

Well, it is more than that, because not all the Jews had forsaken God; nevertheless, all suffered this disquieting sovereign judgment. This should make Christians more than a tad uncomfortable because it is echoed in the Book of Revelation, and it concerns Christian believers. Look for the same words the Lord gave Jeremiah: captivity and sword. The “it” who makes war on the saints refers to a being that is called the “first beast.”

Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints (Revelation 13:7–10).

But then comes the positive. The end of the book of Revelation.

But believers will suffer before that ending. Bad news. Good news. The marriage supper of the Lamb. The new heaven and earth. The New Jerusalem.

Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals may say, “We shall not suffer in this way. We are God’s children.”

But look at this passage from Ezekiel:

And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 14:12–14).

Do you see the words, “when a land”? The Lord is not addressing Israel or Judah here. Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in this “land,” they would also suffer famine along with everyone else.

The Lord has some bad times coming for believers. Then some eternally wonderful positive-beyond-imagination times.

This is the nature of true prophecy.

Fellow believer, strengthen your relationship with the Lord. Stay awake. Strengthen your faith. Prepare to endure.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

giphy

Yesterday, at our out-of-the-building church gathering—it was at a local grocery store in the deli-eating area—a man sitting nearby approached us. At the time, we were talking about the temple and the development of the rabbinical system. Laurie’s been studying about this lately. I wondered if that system arose in Judaism because there were no prophets. There hadn’t been for four hundred years until John the Baptist came on the scene. In a related way, I also wondered if rabbis arose because, in the absence of prophets, spiritual leadership no longer existed. That causes problems. “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18). 1 The man came up somewhere in the middle of this, saying he’d overheard us talking about prophets and stuff. As a footnote, let me add that people interacting with us in our public Bible studies is relatively rare. I’d say once a year. All the responses thus far have been positive.

This one was too, but it was extraordinary in character.

The man who began to talk to us looked like, well, a wizened cowboy without the boots and the buckle. His jeans were well-used, as was his flannel shirt. Perhaps a construction worker. He was missing a tooth. He talked about meeting people in the laundromat. He wasn’t a young fellow. Looked like he was in his fifties.

We talked for some time, but the gist of our conversation was this: Difficult times are coming, times of sorrow, but we are safe; safe in the Lord. He mentioned the account of the three Hebrews thrown into the furnace. Someone had mentioned to him years ago that these three men were safer in the furnace than they were anywhere else in the country. I had never heard this before, but it was a wonderful point well-taken. He said that what we are now experiencing is like a toilet paper roll unrolling. You don’t notice much change at first, but soon you’re at the end of the roll. Homespun (pardon the pun) metaphor, but effective.

We told him that we agreed. I told him that I hadn’t met many people who talked this way.

Several times in our conversation, he was so moved that he teared up. You know how guys tear up. They fight it, but their eyes get wet. Happens to me fairly often when I talk about the things of God. I don’t know why this man was so moved. The Holy Spirit?

I told him that part of my sorrow in this time-before-His-coming has been the slow declination of the United States. We are a post-Christian nation I said. Perhaps we have been for longer than we realize. Culture and tradition, Christian or not, only has so much strength. When they fail, all the hidden ickiness comes out into view.

We all agreed again, that despite the sorrow, we were safe in the Lord. It was good. The man maintained that we won’t even remember countries when we’re in heaven. I’d never thought about that, and it makes sense. All things will be made new. “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5).

We parted in friendship and gratitude for the fellowship.

All that we discussed is still true, here today, as I type this article.

The United States someday will no longer exist. Neither will England. Russia. Any other nation.

I love the country in which I live. I am thankful and appreciative that the Lord has provided for us here, in this place. I am thankful that Christians have been free to worship the Lord God freely.

Thus far.

We are noticing that that may be changing.

But we have fallen, fallen in terrible ways, and the falling has been slow but is now speeding up. In our history, we committed the terrible sins of slavery and mistreatment of Native Americans. We are still seeing the fruit of those sins today. Subsequently, we legalized the killing of unborn children. Then we legalized same-sex marriage, which to me is simply a symptom of the sinfulness of a culture. Gays and others should certainly have all the rights of other citizens. It’s just that it was never an issue before. Remember, we are a post-Christian culture.

One must wonder what will befall us next, how far we are from unrolling down to the nub. The consequences of this fallenness are huge, not just for Americans, but the world. We are the bastion of freedom in the world—a strong economic and military bastion. When we fall—and we will—it isn’t difficult to conceive that the whole world will be in a more dangerous and drastic condition.

However, we are safe, and will be safe in Him, as the visitor said. Woe to those who do not know that safety. They will have no refuge. They will have no peace. But Jesus will still be available. May those who do not know Him find Him today and in that day as well.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

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