Book of Revelation: Weird, or, Wonderful?

Episode 42

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We’re finally here. We’ve made it through each book of the New Testament. I’ve had a ton of fun.  Starting next week, we’re going to spend 4 weeks in the Gospel of John, then we will move into a survey of the old testament.

Today, we’re going to race through the Book of Revelation.  For some it’s the most fascinating book in the Bible. For others it is terrifying and for still others, it is extremely confusing.

Rev 1:3  Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

This collection of visions was written by the Apostle John while he was in exile on Patmos, around AD 90*95.  It was an extremely difficult time for Christians.  The persecution of Christianity that began under Nero in the mid 60s, reached a fever pitch under Domitian.  Nero used Christians as the scapegoats for the burning of Rome, which was probably his own doing.  Domitian’s problem with Christians was more theological and in his own mind, noble.

Domitian loved Rome very much.  He believed her culture and religion were the highest in all the world, and superior to any other.  He also believed that he was a god in the flesh.  He was extremely tolerant of other religions, as long as the people also honored and worshiped him. Christians simply wouldn’t make that compromise.  In Domitian’s eyes, that was not merely defiance, but treasonous.

As a result of the Roman Oppression, the Church, was frightened and discouraged. John’s visions are written to bolster their resolve to stay true.

10:1010:26Simultaneously, the Churches in Asia were facing a scourge in false teaching and immorality in the form of the Gnostic heresy. In chapters 2 and 3, Jesus writes to seven prominent congregations, to let them know He still holds them in Hand, he is aware of their challenges, He warns them regarding their sin, and He promises to bless them if they overcome.

Down through the ages, interest in the Book of Revelation has waxed and waned, and there have been numerous popular interpretations of both the book and regarding the end times themselves.

For the first 1800 years, there were two primary dominant views of the end times, One is normally called today, Amillennialism and the other is referred to as Historic Premillennialism.  Essentially, their is whether or not the thousand years was literal or figurative.  For a while, a branch called postmillennialism gained popularity by saying the coming of Jesus happened AFTER the millennium. Yes, the Church was splitting hairs.

At the end of the first quarter of the 19th century, a new understanding of the end times was born. It is called dispensationalism, or dispensational premillennialism. Frankly, the other three views have more agremment with each other than any do with this dispensationalism.

It was made popular by John Darby. 14;50Darby was the son of wealthy Anglo Irish descent, and grew up in southern England. He was positively brilliant and gifted. He studied law and passed the bar. After just a few years, he abandoned his promising law career to serve as an Anglican Pastor. After becoming disillusioned with denominationalism, he left the clergy to become a lay preacher with the Plymouth Brethren.

Darby was the first well known proponent of Dispensationalism. He influenced C.I. Scofield, whose Bible Study notes really put this view on the map.

Dispensational looks very different than the other views in many ways.  One of the ways is in its approach to Israel. While the other three see the Church as the fulfillment, or even replacement for Israel, the dispensationalists see Israel as God’s primary concern and the Church as a parenthesis in history, to redeem Gentiles. After a secret ‘rapture’ which none of the other views see, there will be a seven year Tribulation which will end with Christ establishing a thousand year kingdom on earth. God will spend the millennium focusing on a revival of the Jews and re-establishing the Jewish Temple system.  Near the end of this reign, Satan will be released on the earth and establish a final rebellion. Christ will quell the rebellion and usher in the final judgement.

I fully confess my explanation of all the views are extremely broad brushed descriptions.  Sometime we’ll look at them in some depth, but today we’re not going there.

In 1948, Dispensationalism got a boost, when the allied forces offered reparations for the Jewish People by establishing the Nation of Israel. Dispensationalists saw this as a fulfillment of prophesy.

It was in the mid to late 1960s in the years following the 6 day war, with the extremely popular writings of John Walvoord, and especially Hal Lindsay, that Dispensational Premillennialism went mainstream.

Then, in the 1990s, the Left Behind novels (and later movies) catapulted the Dispensational view into preeminence.  Today, many, if not most Evangelicals, especially in America, do not even know about historic premillennialism or Amillennialism.  I have even recently read articles decrying the historic views as heretical false teaching.

I was very recently in a discussion with a group of Godly Believers, most of whom had never heard of anything but the Dispensational view, which for the record, I do not hold.

The discussion was lively, but respectful. When I got home I decided to do some digging on the matter and found that the debates among Believers have at times become quite ugly and have given ammunition to skeptics and unbelievers to allow them to mock and dismiss us for yet another way we Christians have no unity or agreement.

I knew this episode was coming up and decided right there to change direction. I am convinced that we sometimes miss the forest for the trees when discussing the Book of Revelation specifically, or the end times in general.

It is time for us to look at the areas in which we agree and go public with those, rather than focus publicly on our differences, which mostly don’t matter, anyway.

When we take this approach, the Book of Revelation is much less complicated. It doesn’t make great movies or novels, but it makes great sense and gives great hope.

Revelation repeatedly tells one thing and its one thing all Christians believe.

Ready for it? Jesus is risen and glorified. 2. Things are sometimes really tough for Christians. 3.It’s going to get worse. Much worse. 4. Just when it looks like evil wins, Jesus puts an end to the rebellion and 5. Sets up his Kingdom where all things good and holy exist forever and evil is banished. We call it, heaven.

I realize that’s not nearly as sexy as some of the view points, but it sure is accurate. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one.  And…that’s the Book of Revelation in a nutshell.  And its good, no, GREAT news!

And…that’s all I got. At least for today. Thanks, BTW, to those of you who have sent donations for our Vision trip to Scotland. We’re getting there. I’m still amazed at how many gifts are coming via cash and check rather than through the crowd funding page. Still, I’m humbled by all the gifts. What I’m promoting now is that if 100 people will give us $40 then we and get this done. But any size gift is welcome. Those $10 and $5 donations add up. Thank you.

Thanks, too, for buying Vol. 2.  Once you’ve read it, would you please consider writing a review. Reviews are huge for Kindle books. Thanks again, you rock.

Next week we’re going to begin a study in the Gospel of John. Talk to you soon. Until then, Be blessed, and be a blessing.

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Dead Vs Living: Who Wins The Race When Jesus Returns

 

 

Episode 28

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Man it’s gorgeous here in North Georgia right now. After a crazy heatwave in April, May has rocked. We’ve had decent rain, nice days and fantastic sleeping weather at night. The bad news is, it’s over. All good things come to an end. This too shall pass, yada yada .  Starting tomorrow, we will feel like we’re living on the face of the sun. We’ll have high temperatures and crazy humidity. Here in Georgia, we call that summer. I fear it more than I ever feared winter in Northern Maine.

However, compared to what’s going on in India, our summer is a Holiday Resort. Over the weekend I posted some articles about a severe drought that is affecting many parts of the country. (The photo on the left is a dry well).  I’ve also had reports from friends who live there or who support ministries there and they all say water in stricken areas is in short supply.  Many wells are completely dry. Places where the water table is normal 20 to thirty feet deep are reduced to just a few inches. Schools  and colleges are cancelled and orphanages are spending large sums of money to have water shipped in.  I am going to ask you to pray for these hard hit places. Pray for rain, and pray for aid. If you want to participate in providing assistance, I’m going to provide links in the show notes to some agencies I believe in, who can give you more information.

Also, before we get on with the program, I’m not sure I’ve ever announced to you all that Brittan and I are planning to return to Scotland in 2017 to serve the Kingdom there. I lived there for 13 years and feel drawn by God to return and serve again. Please pray for us as we are kicking off our fundraising efforts. It’s going to be quite a challenge, but our God is bigger than any challenge. If you want to follow our plans or keep up with news, we have a Facebook Page called, “Points North Ministry”. It’s going to get pretty active beginning in early June.  These are exciting times. BTW, I have no intention of ending the broadcast when we go, I’ll just be recording from someplace other than the camper.

Alright, lets get to the program.  The next two weeks, we’re looking at Paul’s 2 letters to the Thessalonian Church. I seriously considered doing both letters in one book, but there is enough material that I think its wise to do two broadcasts.

One of the things that fascinates me about these two letters is the fact of how personal the letters are, when Paul had only spent a short time there.  You can read about the founding of the Church in Thessalonica in Acts Chapter 17.  There are only a few verses dedicated to Paul’s time there.

No sooner had the Church been planted, when the Jews stirred up trouble for the fledgling congregation and Paul was forced to leave town. After a brief time in Berea, Paul goes to Athens and eventually to Corinth.  Most scholars and traditions tell us that Paul wrote the Thessalonian letters during the 18 months he was in Corinth. That being the case, it is likely that 1 Thessalonians was the very first of Paul’s letters and was written in approx. A.D.51.

One of the first things you’ll notice as you read through this first letter is how frequently Paul offers words of encouragement to them. I’m sure part of the reason is that Paul may be feeling a bit bad that he didn’t get to stay longer and he might be reminding them that he really cares for them and that his visit was not just a hit and run.

But is also seems obvious that the persecution from the Jews lingered long after Paul’s departure and was likely still in progress when Paul wrote.

It’s hard for us to imagine how tough it was for the early Christians. We have our political hassles here in the U.S. but the early believers faced genuine discrimination and outright physical persecution. But despite that, Paul begins the book by commending the Church for their perseverance and successful efforts.

Chapter two has many similarities to parts of 1 and 2 Corinthians where Paul defends his own behavior and compares it to many of the charlatans and persecutors who have less noble intentions. It seems that Paul and his company were constantly harassed by Jewish antagonists and the ‘Judaizing Christians’ who were trying add the law of Moses to the Gospel. It must have been exhausting for Paul. I know it would be for me.

Chapter 3 is spent telling them that Timothy had returned to Corinth from Thessalonica brought and encouraging report. Paul is excited to hear it and is disappointed that he was unable to go.

Chapters 4 and 5 are the real meat of the letter. As he does in most of his letters, Paul encourages the Believers to live holy lives both towards outsiders and towards one another.

He begins by calling them to sexual purity. It’s amazing how many times the new testament letters address sexual behavior. It’s tempting, in our 21st century world of easy access and anything goes, from Game of Thrones to instant porn on the world wide web, to think promiscuity is something new, but even a cursory reading of the Bible will rebut that notion. Immorality is not new, not by a long shot. Technology has merely provided us new ways to act out our physical desires. We’ve merely added digital and virtual reality opportunities, with robot lovers just over the horizon. We could spend a lot of time there, but I think we won’t do that today. We’ll get to it, but I don’t want to get distracted from the main message of this first letter, which begins in 4:13, runs through the end of the book and continues in the second letter.

Paul is intent of helping the Thessalonian Believers to a greater understanding of life after death and live in hope of Christ’s return.  Chapter 4 is one of the clearest presentations of the Believer’s hope that you will ever hear or read. So let’s park here for a little bit and take a closer look.

I love the way Paul describes death as sleep. Death looks so permanent and so strong, that a huge percentage of humans fear it. One of our most basic desires is to wonder what happens after death. While many secularists and materialists dismiss life after death as a fantasy, their arguments sound hollow to an overwhelming majority of the species. Instinctively and intuitively we know that this life is not all there is, or at least, we crave it to be true. Nearly all religions have some form of afterlife doctrine whether it be reincarnation, ‘moving into the light’, becoming one with the universe or hanging around like ghosts. This innate desire or fear is what allows many psychics and mediums to make a fortune offering comfort to the public.

Christianity offers comfort because our hope comes from One who was publicly executed and buried, yet showed up for breakfast three days later. He is not some disembodied spirit seen only by a central character on stage or sitting in a candle lit room. He was seen by literally hundreds of eye witnesses. The resurrection of the dead, first that of Jesus, then the promise of resurrection for the rest of us, is the central focus of Gospel Preaching in the Book of Acts. The point of every sermon preached in that important book is the resurrection. Christianity stands or falls on it.

With that in mind, Paul says in 4:13, the resurrection should provide a different response to death that it does for those who don’t believe. He calls them, those who have no hope.

There are those who would say that the word sleep, surmises that those who die just nap until Jesus returns. In fact, there are entire denominations build around ‘soul sleep’ as their primary distinction.  And, to be fair, from our perspective, living in time and space, that’s the way it looks.

But we have to also consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians in his second letter, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Both of those things are true.  The passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 looks at death from the perspective of time and space. The 2nd Corinthian verse looks at death from an eternal perspective. Once we pass from this life we enter into a new one, a new dimension you might say, where time and space are meaningless. It is a challenging concept to get our heads around because we have never experienced anything other than our dimension and it’s timeline limitations. A few years ago, the television series, ‘Fringe’, which is one of my all time favorite series, tried to grapple with it, but while entertaining, came up empty handed.

It’s far easier to look at death and afterlife from what we understand by experience that to think in eternal, abstract terms. So we will leave that for the moment, but it’s going to rear its head again in just a moment. Stay tuned.  The main thing, is Paul is focused on our bodies, which remain tied to this physical realm even after death.

In 4:15, Paul tells us that those who have died in Christ, will rise before we join the Lord. Lets look at the drama in verses 16 and 17. Christ returns, it isn’t secret, it isn’t a mystery, it’s accompanied by a trumpet blast and a shout heard round the world.

In verse 16 he says the dead will rise first. But go back to verse 14 where he says that those who died in Christ will return with Him. Huh? What?

Two things. First, think outside the box. Death is physical, but our spirits live on. In some crazy, awesome act of power, the spirits of those who have already passed will return with the Lord and will somehow be reconnected with their bodies. That is going to be one incredible show.

Only after that, those who are alive at the return will be join them with Jesus. How is that possible?  Paul goes into some greater detail when he writes to the Corinthians. In chapter 15 he writes that we will be changed. Our time and space bodies will take on an eternal form or nature; one that’s not subject to the ravages of time or limited by space or victimized by the effects of sin.

It’s beyond our ability to visualize, but well within our ability to believe and hope.

Death is not the end. Jesus resurrection defeated death and His return will be the end of the grave and corruption. Incredible. Death is not all powerful. It’s just a blip on a screen. That’s why he says in verse 18, we should encourage one another with that hope.

Paul begins chapter 5 as a natural response to the excitement provoked by chapter 4. So, when will this happen? Soon? He says, I don’t know. It’s going to be a surprise. Live like it’s today, but be prepared for it to be a long way off.

Isn’t that one of the hardest things to do? It sure is for me. We’ll see next week that it was for the Thessalonians, too.

When all is said and done, the thing that keeps me going in a crazy, topsy turvy world, is the awareness that the grave is defeated and one day, maybe this day, Jesus is coming to make all things new. That dog hunts.

And that’s all I got. Please email me or use the comments section of the show notes to share any thoughts or ask any burning questions. Oh, and if you get a chance and haven’t done it, please leave a review on iTunes. It really helps in promoting the show. Thanks in advance.  Next week we’ll dig into 2nd Thessalonians and look at ‘The Man of Sin – Is Damien For Real?”  Until then, have a great week. Be blessed and be a blessing.

 

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