Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Know God, Part Four: Setting the Stage

Quick recap: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." 2 Timothy 3:16. God's word is meant to be read in its entirety, taken literally, applied relevantly to our lives, and taught faithfully, no exceptions. "God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near." Revelation 1:3. Prophecy comprises nearly 1/3 of the Bible, making it not only worth studying, but invaluable to our growth and effectiveness as slaves of Christ. "You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don't know how to interpret the present times." Luke 12:56 Though we cannot know the day or hour, we absolutely can and MUST learn to recognize the generation in which we are living and be able to determine when and if we have entered the generation which will see Christ's return.

Matthew 24:3 - "Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, "Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the age?"

[First, let me comment on the word used at the end of that verse. Some translations state it as "the end of the world," but it is important to understand that the world is not going to end, as many Hollywood blockbusters like to depict. This world is not going to be destroyed. Jesus likens the signs of the times to birth pains. And what do birth pains signal? A birth! The world is going to go through unimaginable birth pains, but it isn't going to end in destruction; it is going to end in a renewal, a rebuilding, and a NEW age of peace and righteousness. When Christ returns, he is not going to destroy this earth and start from scratch. He is going to breath new life into it and rule here for 1,000 years. We'll get into details later.]

So, what are the signs? What should we be looking for? There are both general signs of the times as well as very specific prophecies which must be fulfilled before Christ can return. We have to remember that time to us is so different than how God views time. When Jesus spoke of the last days, he wasn't just talking about the literal last bit of time before he would return. The "last days", as described in Scripture, began at Pentecost. We have been in the "last days" for the last 2,000 years. This concept can be frustrating for believers who are anxious for their savior's return. "If Jesus said he was coming back 'soon' and it's already been 2,000 years, how do we know that he's not going to wait another 2,000 years?" But I believe, as do many trustworthy Bible scholars*, that not only are we now in the "last days" but we are in the last microscopic nanoseconds so to speak. Jesus is coming back VERY soon, and I'm going to do my best to summarize some of the reasons for that belief.

Throughout time, people have looked at the list given in Matthew, as well as the other gospels, and concluded that surely their generation would be the one to see Christ return. A war comes, and people quote the verses that speak of "wars and rumors of wars." Children grow increasingly disobedient and rebellious, and their frustrated grandparents point to verses that speak of such behavior in the last days. There has been slow movement away from God and in the direction of countless false gods and religions. There have been natural disasters throughout history that have seemed "apocalyptic" in nature. We have been seeing the "birth pains" growing throughout history, but each of these signs alone are not enough to signal the end of the age. Rather, Christ says in verse 34 of Matthew 23:

"Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away until ALL THESE THINGS TAKE PLACE." (emphasis added)

First, let's define "this generation." Obviously, Jesus was not speaking of the disciples' generation. I do not believe that Jesus was saying to them, "your generation will not pass away..." I believe he was saying, "The generation that sees all of these things happen, this is the generation that will not pass away..." 

So, if this is the case, we need to be on the lookout for one generation in which ALL of the signs of the times are occurring, and not simply occurring, but occurring in unprecedented intensity and unprecedented frequency. The generation that sees these things happening in a way unlike anything the world has ever seen, THAT is the generation that will not pass away, but will live to see the return of Christ.

Again, just to clarify the difference between the events that have been happening for centuries and those that are happening now, let's go back to the metaphor of the woman in labor. I don't know if this image is entirely biblical, but let's just stick with the theme: Even before a woman goes into labor, she often experiences something called Braxton Hicks contractions. They are basically "practice" contractions. It is her body's way of preparing for the real thing. Now, for first-time moms who maybe haven't studied what to expect during a pregnancy, sometimes these "false" contractions can feel extremely real, especially as she nears the end of her pregnancy. They might even cause her to think she is actually going into labor, causing her to rush to the hospital, only to be reassured that she has a good long while before that baby actually makes its debut. Over time, she gets more used to them and learns to even ignore them for the most part. She may even, after a few false alarms, begin to doubt her ability to even recognize real labor, dismissing even real contractions at first when they do finally begin. One day, she gets one that feels a little different. It makes her stop and take notice. But she doesn't feel anything else for a while, so she goes on with her day, assuming it's another false alarm. All of a sudden there's another one. This can go on for quite a while, and she might even start to think, "This isn't so bad." But slowly, they start coming closer and closer together, and they get stronger and stronger in intensity, and finally, she reaches a point where she KNOWS, "I'm really in labor." There is no turning back at this point. She's going to have a baby.

The signs of the times are exactly like this, and the Bible repeatedly compares the last days to this contracting woman. I believe that throughout history, over the last 2,000 years, we have been seeing the "Braxton hicks contractions" so to speak, and for someone who doesn't have a full grasp on the ENTIRETY of prophecy, it can be easy to jump the gun and say, "This is it! Jesus is coming!" And this is exactly what has happened throughout church history. The sad thing is that because of these possibly well-intended, but over-zealous town criers, the church and the world as a whole has sort of painted everyone who speaks of end times with the same brush, dismissing all warnings that Jesus is coming back. Also, in response to these many false predictions, believers in Christ have misused the verses in the Bible that tell us we cannot know the day or the hour, and distorted that to mean that we cannot even know the generation. The church has been lulled to sleep by the world, investing their time and effort in their careers and their life savings and their dream homes and dream cars and stylish clothes and a great many host of other worldly treasures, thinking that we are going to be here for hundreds and thousands of more years, ignoring the signs that are flashing violently in front of their faces. 

The time has come, folks! Jesus said that a time would come when we would finally reach that point in the "labor pains" when there would be no turning back.

"Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near." Matthew 24:32

To say, "Well, I know things look pretty bad, but you never know. God could slow things down again and we might still be here for another hundred years," is to contradict what Jesus demonstrated clearly here in Matthew. When these things start happening; when you see within one generation, all of these signs, with this kind of intensity, THIS is the generation that will see His return. 

And I believe, as do many others, that that generation began with the rebirth of Israel in 1948... be continued in the next post...

*Again, please take the time to watch the videos presented at the Epicenter Conference. Also, take a look at Anne Graham Lotz (the daughter of Billy Graham) and Joel Rosenberg, and their ministries.

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