Apocalyptic: end-times, last days, eschatology, the rapture, the Day of the Lord, the end of the age, the final judgment, the great tribulation, and the like.
Visions: prophetic interpretations, insights, teachings, ways of seeing things, emphasis, scenarios, doctrines, directives, expectations, etc.
Outline & Index:
The Scope and Purpose of this Review1Thes 5:21 (KJV) Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.Apocalyptic Visions can range from things as pragmatic as the Y2K glitch problem to groups who honestly feel that God has commanded them to move to a particular place and/or prepare for the end times in a distinct way. In the case of something carnal like Y2K, these might be considered honest mistakes of opinion held by individuals if and when proven wrong. But in the decidedly spiritual case, God's name is likely embroiled in the Vision, and thus it is a much more serious matter.
Ex 20:7 (NIV) "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."Apocalyptic Visions can come from: scripture, direct revelation, religious tradition, interpretation of human events, ad hoc cult leaders, heightened expectation, or mere opinion. Of particular interest here are more radical people and/or groups who feel like they have "got it" in some unique sense, and who thus either congregate into special groups or feel some specific action is necessitated due to the vision.
While the batting average of such visions--either pragmatic or spiritual--in the past 1900 years is exceedingly dismal, we must remember two things:
Point B) is essential to keep in mind as it is often missed by people who approach the subject. While history is littered with previous examples of groups and teachings that have been grievous failures, this does not mean that we should join the scoffers who say "Where is the hope of His coming?" (2Pet 3:2-4) even if tacitly by over-emphasis on previous mistakes. For at some point, someone is going to sound a correct warning--even if by accident--and we do not want to reject it solely based on past failures of the like.
- A) There is first covenant scriptural precedent for such via Noah, Joseph, Lot, etc.
- B) That even though since the first century nearly everyone who has had such a focus has been shamefully wrong, at some point someone is likely to be right since Jesus really is coming again, and will precede His appearance with cascading bowls of judgment being poured out.
But, considering the shameful legacy of such apocalyptic emphasis and endeavors should give us pause for reflection to consider that the groups and people who brought such reproach to the name of Christ--and wasted their lives--in the past... were made of the same stuff that we are. They were often pious, sincere, biblically literate, and zealous; yet deceived and derailed by their visions of the end.
The Litmus Test -- How to Test the TestHow, then, can we test and approve our own notions of the end, and those of others, while still clinging to the blessed hope? What criteria and principles of discernment can be used? How can the resultant templates, guidelines, principles, and criterion be "tested" themselves?
The litmus-test to "test the test" that we have adopted is to look at how known first century characters and groups would have reacted in the first advent. For example, let us imagine we could approach a biblical character or group and foist our "test" upon them. If godly and good, what we would say should encourage someone like Simeon (who was right) and discourage groups like the Zealots or Essenes (who were wrong). The point of caution here is that concerning the second advent we do not want to discourage all end-times visions, as God may well make things more clear in general and/or speak specific instructions to individuals as He wills. Considering this, and the first advent examples of just such, we do not want to be found discouraging faith by those who are simply clinging to God's word. Still we must deal with the shameful legacy of false ideas gaining widespread popularity in the past and see if we can't learn how to test and approve such things in the present and future. In this context and with this sobriety we submit the following considerations, as we have found these particular criteria useful in avoiding some of the mistakes made in recent history by many in the body of Christ.
1Tim 4:16 (NIV) Watch your life and doctrine closely...In short, the essential "test" of any teaching in general is Christ: what did He say; what did He do. Hold any teaching up to Christ, and see if it "fits": Did He, would He, say that? Did He, would He, do that? "All things Christ" is the surest test of any doctrine or practice, and--it is hoped--the essential methodology of the outworking of each point that follows. Our prayer is that this framework of tests will encourage those who have purposed to follow Jesus Christ and be true to His words, life, and emphasis in these last days.
2John 1:8-9 (NIV) Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
The Purpose of the Teaching, Group, or IdeologyApocalyptic teachings and groups can be roughly categorized in three ways,
Those in group 1 will often deny that their emphasis is primarily physical or carnal and claim to be in group 2, but the emphasis is decidedly so in orientation and there is no discernible spiritual growth in the lives of the members. While the possibility of supernatural miracles is not openly denied--either of changed lives or of supernatural provision concerning the apocalyptic vision--these are merely mentally assented to. The focus is on carnal considerations, preparations, hedges, food, water, guns, etc. Examples of this sort are the Identity Christians and Militia / Patriot communities. While these people might have a traditional or religious sheen of Christianity, this is merely ornamental and tangential to the purpose and teachings that are salient and zealously believed. The critical point and test is that the fruit of the Spirit is NOT being manifested from the "rivers of living water" in the adherents. For teachings or groups which fall into category 1 we can say--without needing to point out scriptures at this point (we will later)--that such groups are clearly wrong spiritually, even if (sometime in the future) they are right about what they expect. While it is easy to agree to this in the general case and when it applies to clearly aberrant groups like the Identity Christians, how should we classify our own pet teachings and emphasis? Have they really proved to be effective towards spiritual edification, or are they an excuse for a "flesh out"? Are we growing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a result of our meditations, or are such notions encouraging us to vest ourselves again into this world, in disobedience to our Lord?
- 1) Carnal in emphasis, preparation, or approach
- 2) A blend or balance of carnal and spiritual considerations
- 3) Spiritual preparation, focus, and emphasis
Group 2 prepares along the lines of some specific apocalyptic expectations, but attempts to strike a balance between the carnal and the spiritual. As to the spiritual, the emphasis in case 2 groups can be either true or false doctrine, but let us admit that it has more often been the latter when it comes to the point of distinction or differentiation. An example of a Group 2 apocalyptic group with good doctrine would be Ben Israel, which has shown lasting spiritual fruit for those effected by its teachings but also has a sense of specific ministry and purpose in the carnal, ephemeral world. An example of a Group 2 apocalyptic group with bad doctrine would be the Branch Davidians, which no one would deny had a strong spiritual emphasis; even if it was false.
The spiritual focus of group 3 is, we would assert, the orientation Jesus suggested and is taught in the New Testament. It is not a blend, but a forceful repudiation of any preparation, worry, or endeavor based in food, swords, or human effort to save ourselves in this carnal world, and a deliberate and open embracing of eternal, spiritual life regardless of what sufferings will ensue here and regardless if we are near the end or not. Since later this will be set forth clearly enough, we will not do so here. If we wish to do God's will at the End of the Age, then--short of an Old Testament visitation such as Lot's or Noah's--we should stick to His instructions as our lifeline in the time of crisis and focus on spiritual preparation, not physical. Unfortunately, we cannot think of a single sustained example of this kind of ministry or group in modern times.
It seems that most of those who start off in Group 3 end up eventually devolving into groups 2 or 1. The reason for this follows a similar pathology to the Israelites "wanting a king over them". For many, spiritual, eternal life under the Lordship of Christ is just not "real" enough, so they hanker for something they can see, touch, feel, and claim as their own. Another pathology--that will be addressed in a separate point in more detail--is the case where the apocalyptic vision lacks veracity or reality over time which is compensated for by human personality, manipulation, or hype. In this case, the group becomes a sociological cult oriented around a strong personality; where followers will often cling to their leader even when his/her visions have proved false--even well after the prediction's (or other apocalyptic focus or rallying point) failure. Where personal loyalty or admiration supplants the truth in a group or movement, and when the point is pressed that: 1) it looks an awful lot like a cult, or 2) the prophecies have proven useless or false, if repentance is rejected then the group or leader grows recalcitrant, surly, and defensive. An example of this would be Monte Judah and his followers, or Hal Lindsey or Harold Camping for teachings / leaders at large. Sadly, many large and "successful" groups (from a human point of view) were built and founded on false prophecies, the Jehovah's Witnesses being a dramatic example. Less dramatic are people like Chuck Smith who gained much popularity with his "generation as 40 years" scenario coupled with his popularization of the bogus science "Jupiter effect" with which he predicted Christ's return in 1981, and has yet retained his "prophecy expert" status.
We have started with the analytical issue of these three categorizations because we think it is important to note and consider as we look at the teachings of Christ in the following points as we consider the spiritual checks and tests as we proceed.
If we seek to accurately dispatch an apocalyptic ministry as did the authors of scripture (even though the apocalypse did not occur in their lifetimes), we must consistently ask the question: "Is this what Jesus taught, admonished people to focus on, and emphasized?"
Mat 17:24-27 (NIV) ...The collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" ...When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "...Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."Those in Group 2, if the Lord does not favor them with the loving rebuke of having their grain attacked by bugs, their generators rust, and their fleshly armaments ripped-off, will have only succeeded in having set-themselves up to miss the miracles that those who are simply trusting the Lord will get to experience. But, we can hope that God will discipline those He loves and wither the arm of flesh well in advance of the time of testing so that we might be solely reliant on Him and find Him faithful to keep that which we have committed to Him against that day.
Mat 6:32-33 (Wey) "...Your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things--all of them. But make His Kingdom and righteousness your chief aim, and then these things shall all be given you in addition.
Jer 17:5 (NIV) This is what the Lord says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord."And whether or not we are near the end, the wisdom of being in Group 3 should not be missed: if we prepare ourselves spiritually it does not matter if our heartfelt guesses about when or how are right or wrong. If we live and teach as Jesus, John, Peter, and Paul did we win either way, for we have invested in the life eternal, and been specifically obedient to the command of Christ as regards what He said we should do if we intend to be included in His eternal Kingdom.
Ps 55:22 (NIV) Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.
What is needed is oil of the Holy Spirit (Mat 25:1-13) burning in our lives, not physical carnal oil. Minus "Christ forming in us" (Gal 4:19) all other preparations are a false hope. If we have Jesus manifesting in new life within us, He alone is more than sufficient for the day coming.
Zec 4:6b (NIV) "'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty."
Christ's Commanded Focus of Ministry: His Kingdom, His RighteousnessLet us start with the clear teaching of Jesus concerning where the focus of our lives, ministry, and preparation ought be... for those with an ear to hear it.
Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV) "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? ...So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
John 18:36 (NAS) Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."
Luke 17:20-23 (NAS) Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst." And He said to the disciples, "The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. "They will say to you, 'Look there! Look here!' Do not go away, and do not run after them."
Rom 14:17 (NAS) For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Luke 12:16-31 (NAS) And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." And He said to His disciples, "For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life's span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you."
Luke 9:24 (NIV) "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."
Destiny, Choice and Election: Shall we Follow Christ, or Not?John 15:14-15,20a (NAS) "You are My friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.... Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you."God makes it plain that if we follow Him, we will suffer. This has been true for nearly 2000 years for the followers of Christ, but will be especially so for those at the End of the Age. Thus, if we suspect we are near the end, as John did (1John 2:18), we should be soberly prepared for all this means, and not meditating on arming ourselves in the flesh to avoid the very suffering God has set as a fire beneath us to purify our faith.
1 Thes 3:2-4 (NAS) We sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.When seen in the context of the teachings of the New Testament, it seems odd that many apocalyptic teachings aim to provide some "wisdom" "teaching" or "prediction" that would avert the will of God for us to suffer. While suffering was fine for Jesus, we somehow think we can follow Him and avoid it entirely. Since most often such "wisdom" and "teaching" are false, it does not even work... but only makes fools of the gullible followers who embraced it. But even if it were true, should we seek to chuck the cross God would put on our backs?
Jesus won the greatest victory of all time by apparently losing. He showed true strength by trusting God and not lashing out in fleshly strength. And He told us to follow.
Jesus said: "Do not resist an evil man." We should interpret Matthew 5:39 not as a general command for pacifism, but in the context of prophetic destiny. Jesus resisted evil (sickness, possession, hunger, chicanery in the temple, false ideas and teaching, etc.) up to the time of prophetic destiny, but then He was like a "lamb before its shearer." And what takes more guts in the moment of destiny: to stand in faith and trust in the Lord or to wimp out in a flesh-fit? Who is the truly strong man? Is it the man who waits by faith for the deliverance promised by God, or the man who caves in to his lower nature? And if we are truly near the end, then "How then should we live?"
Shall we Attempt to Thwart or Resist God's will?Matthew 16:21-23 (Wey) From this time Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer much cruelty from the Elders and the High Priests and the Scribes, and be put to death, and on the third day be raised to life again. Then Peter took Him aside and began taking Him to task. "Master," he said, "God forbid; this will not be your lot." But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Adversary [Satan]; you are a hindrance to me, because your thoughts are not God's thoughts, but men's."
Matthew 26:51-54 (NAS) With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest [Malchus, Jn 18:10], cutting off his ear. "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
Luke 24:25-26 (Wey) Then [Jesus, after His resurrection] said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"
1 Peter 4:1-2 (NAS) Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
Marching Orders from Jesus for the End of the AgeAs we consider the largest teaching by our Lord while on earth on this subject, the Olivette Discourse, let us keep in mind that Jesus had previously said that "a wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign." So, in Jesus' response to the question sourced from this motive, He answers--but not to play to the adulterous instinct. Rather, the discourse given on the Mount of Olives gives us a lifeline of faith and tells us how to respond in certain ways. The Olivette discourse is not given as an assuaging "Christian crystal ball"--as if God condones the wicked instinct that would demand such--but rather to give us instructions on how to react when the few events specified occur. These are "marching orders" from Jesus: direct commands of what we should do.
Mat 24:3-9 (NIV) As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me."Note that nowhere mentioned is "storing up earthly supplies in barns", or "worry like the devil about planets aligning or Y2K", or any such carnal considerations. The reactions encouraged are spiritual and aimed at people who will live beyond this ephemeral life.
Mat 24:10-14 (NIV) "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
Mark 13:11 (Phi) "...do not worry beforehand about what you are going to say--simply say the words you are given when the time comes. For it is not really you who will speak, but the Holy Spirit."
Luke 21:14 (NAS) "So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves."
Mat 24:21-25 (NIV) "For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive the elect--if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time."
Mark 13:23 (NIV) "So be on your guard, I have told you everything ahead of time."
Mat 24:26-27 (NIV) "So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."
Luke 21:25-28 (NIV) "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Mat 24:36-42 (NIV) "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."
Mat 24:43-44 (NIV) "But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."
Mat 24:45-51 (NIV) "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away for a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth."
Luke 21:34-36 (Phi) "Be on your guard--see to it that your minds are never clouded by dissipation or drunkenness or the worries of this life, or else that day may catch you like the springing of a trap--for it will come upon every inhabitant of the whole earth. You must be vigilant at all times, praying that you may be strong enough to come safely through all that is going to happen, and stand in the presence of the Son of Man."
Interestingly, the consistent pattern is to "watch out" for deception and "hold still" and "not panic" in general, directly counter to the winds of doctrine we are presently assailed with.
The Example of Paul Who Did Actually FollowCol 1:24 (NAS) Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions.Paul, like us, had been forewarned of all that he would have to suffer. (Acts 9:16) Rather than try to avert his destiny, even when the certainty of such was later confirmed to him via prophecy (Acts 21:10-13), rather than "build barns" or take some other approach to avoid the suffering God had in mind, he--like Christ--"set his face like flint" to "seek the Lord and His righteousness". He did not seek to "save his own life", and thus he gained it. He really followed Christ.
Acts 20:18-24 (NIV) When they arrived, he [Paul] said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."
1Cor 11:1 (Wey) "Be imitators of me [Paul], in so far as I in turn am an imitator of Christ."
A Sin Snare: The Carnal Desire to Know and thus PrimpAmong those dispensing apocalyptic ministries it is typical that there is a defining element of being "in the know"; that by understanding "this" particular detail (often esoteric or spurious or directly forbidden) the person or group is somehow superior or more spiritual. Certainly "knowing" has a proper place within Christianity, but it has to do with who we know rather than what we know (Phi 3:8, 1Co 2:2, Col 2:2, Gal 4:9, 2Tm 1:12), and reciprocally, whether He "knows" us. And it is in such boasting and hype that we can easily perceive a major red flag.
1Cor 8:1b-3 (NAS) Knowledge makes arrogant (NIV: puffs up), but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.This verse is not very popular among those who would rather indulge a particular sin instinct in them than to be convicted and reproved by the word of God. For some, the desire for impressive knowledge is so intense within them that they cannot afford to take such verses seriously, lest they be shown to have a perverted attraction similar to the drunkard or sexual offender. For while there are ordinate uses of wine, and sexuality, and knowledge, some hanker for these things outside of God's will. But the sexual offender or drunkard is not likely to gain a place in "ministry" by indulging his sin, where the arrogant, boastful "knower" might well be a feature speaker on eschatology among us. Knowledge that comes from God, as opposed to this, has certain qualities that come with it: most importantly, humility, good fruit and good works. But more on that later. Here we are concerned with the propensity of certain kinds of knowledge to work in man just the opposite: to make "arrogant".
While the "puff" verse is acknowledged as being in the bible, it confounds the minds of those who wish to avoid conviction, and is generally shoved aside, explained away, or applied to someone else. How many other verses in the bible do we treat this way? Is this not odd? But there is more than one verse on this particular problem.
1 Cor 3:19-21 (Phi) Let no one be under any illusion over this. If any man among you thinks himself one of the world's clever ones, let him discard his cleverness that he may learn to be truly wise. For this world's cleverness is stupidity to God. It is written: "He that taketh the wise in their craftiness", and again, "The Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain." So let no one boast of men.Larks of attention-getting knowledge are illicit and result in opposite-of-Christ behavior. They are designed to have us swoon in admiration of men rather than God. And certain details of knowledge we are told are not for us. Along this line, another verse in the bible that causes teeth-gnashing and fits of scripture-twisting extraordinaire (among those who wish to continue in disobedience) is directly in the context of knowledge of the end times, interestingly enough.
Acts 1:6-7 (NAS) So when they had come together, they were asking [Jesus], saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority."We all know that our Lord said this, and yet we prefer to ignore it or explain it away since we figure that we are wiser than Jesus. If taken as true, it would surely ruin one of our favorite sins we have allowed within the church: arrogance in pretending knowledge where Jesus said "It is not for you to know".
Acts 1:7 (NIV) He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority."
Mat 24:36 (NIV) "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
Ps 131:1 (NAS) O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me.Let us admit that we all have a fleshly desire that runs counter to David's sentiment, above. We want to know what is contraband and forbidden, and thus to primp and strut in this knowledge. And some have this fleshly desire much more than others. Should they be offered up as "prophecy experts", or rebuked? For the Father has made it plain, through no less than the Son, that it is "not for us to know".
De 29:29a (NIV) "The secret things belong to the Lord our God."We have been given the battle plan appropriate for us and have been given our marching orders to get prepared in purity and holiness. And we should know the seasons and not be caught unaware (Mt 24:33-51, 1Th 5:4, 2Th 2:3) like the unbelieving world. But yet we hanker to be the ones who "figured it out" in some illicit detail that would give us reason to boast--and this is the defining difference. It must be admitted that over-confident boasting, hype, and puffery are the hallmark of much End-Times teaching; and that mental conceit is glaring among many End-Times teachers. It is easier to see this in others than in ourselves, but is it not true?
Is this really that hard to discern?
Forbidden fruit from the "tree of knowledge" still has its appeal.
Jas 4:14-16 (NIV) Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.
Jas 3:13 (NIV) Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
First Century Examples: The Dismal History of Mental Conceit & HubrisAs we look to the record of the Jesus' first coming, we do not see many examples of disciples "figuring things out" and glorying in mental pride as a result. In fact, we see just the opposite. Simeon, to be sure, had been told that he would "see the Lord's Christ before he died", (Luke 2:26) but this came because he "was righteous and devout" (Luke 2:25). On the other hand, the popular first century prophecy scenario builders (of whom we know a great deal thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls) had multitudinous and air-tight exegetical explanations for nearly all that would occur based on scripture, and nearly all of it was dead wrong. Even so, if you read it today, it is convincing and impressive in its dogmatic tone and biblical depth of interpretation.
In general, is not the more normal situation:John 13:7 (NIV) Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."And why should this be so? Perhaps...
John 12:16 (NAS) These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.
Lu 18:34 (NIV) The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
John 2:17 (NKJ) Then His disciples remembered that it was written...
Luke 24:8 (NIV) Then they remembered his words.
Acts 11:16 (NIV) Then I remembered what the Lord had said...
John 2:22 (NIV) After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
1 Cor 1:29 (NAS) So that no man may boast before God.If these direct texts do not resonate with the spiritual reality we all experience, then consider the parable of the sheep and the goats. Not only were the goats shocked and surprised, but also the sheep.
Mat 25:34,37-39 (NIV) "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world... Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'"In other words, they were not characterized by self-awareness of their ministry in the main. They were simply and without chest-beating responding to the promptings of the Spirit in the moment. In Jesus' parable, they appear genuinely surprised, don't they? Can a parable get through to us where direct teaching has not?
Heb 13:2 (NIV) Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
God Protects His Glory from the Likes of Us, Yet Shares it with UsThus, we see the consistent pattern in the New Testament of people understanding prophecy, ministry, etc., after the fact. This is part of God's "saving us in the highest way". The biblical history of these gracious surprises were written by the very people who might have been embarrassed in the flesh to admit what really happened, but nonetheless they report honestly and "for our learning" (Rom 15:4). There is no record in the New Testament of: "We figured it out. AHA!" To be sure, God expects us to meditate on His word and stand in His council, but it would seem that His intent is for us to have these ingredients as grist that He will put together later. Is this not the pattern we see throughout scripture, and in experience as well? Seeing the folly of hubris, and how the specific grace of revelation actually came to our fathers in the faith, we should learn to exchange our "glory" of "figuring it out" for the eternal glory of God, and stop stumbling and bumbling around. For those who repent and follow Christ in simple humility and obedience, God has many graceful delights of mind in store.
Imagine the thrill the early disciples felt when they--by God's will--were surprised by the glory of God in realizing the meaning of prophetic scriptures after the fact. For the glory of God is the only lasting glory, and He is generous to share it with us. Imagine as well the gnashing of teeth for those who did not see their dogmatically held scenarios play out, but rather a stumbling block ahead of them. (Rom 9:33, Mat 11:6)
1Co 4:7 (NAS) For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?In summation, we do not have a single example in scripture of anyone boasting "That is just like I/we figured out it would be". On the other hand, we have the preponderance of examples in scripture of people recognizing the glory of God after the fact. In the rare case where God did give a prophet an interpretation and/or understanding before the fact (Dan 9), it was not so that he could boast or primp; rather, the fruit of such rare revelation was fearful humility and lamentation rather than bombast / boasting in intellectual prowess. Is this what we presently observe among us? Let us honestly consider the real and present danger of arrogance and the potential for "knowledge" to "puff up" (1Cor 8:1-3), and take pains to be included in the group that is steeped in the word of God and open to the surprise of His glorious fulfillment. Most importantly, let us not take our opinions so seriously that we will be found reacting in anger towards God if He does not do it the way we figured out.
1 Jn 2:28-3:3 (Phi) Yes, now, little children remember to live continually in him. So that if he were to reveal himself we should have confidence, and not have to shrink away from his presence in shame. You all know that God is really good. You may be just as sure that the man who leads a really good life is a true child of God. Consider the incredible love that the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called "children of God"--and that is not just what we are called, but what we ARE. This explains why the world will no more recognize us than it will recognize Christ. Here and now, my dear friends, we are God's children. We don't know what we shall become in the future. We only know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is! Everyone who has at heart a hope like that keeps himself pure, as Christ is pure.
The Fruit Test: Predictions as a Pretext for Sin?The Lord Jesus tells us:John 14:27 (NIV) "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid..."Yet, along comes a "teacher" with a apocalyptic vision like the bogus "Jupiter Effect" or the conjectured "Y2K computer glitch" and somehow we feel we have permission to worry in great measure and thus directly disobey Jesus.
Matthew 24:6 (NAS) "You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for these things must take place, but that is not yet the end."
Philippians 4:6 (NAS) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Luke 12:32a (KJV) "Fear not."
Revelation 2:10a (NIV) "Do not be afraid."
We are told to "test the spirits", and many a carnal fearmonger is making an industry out of stoking fear among the brethren. Is this not easily enough discerned? Why are we welcoming such slathering wolves in among us to stoke the flock into craven fear and fleshly responses? Rather, perhaps we should be saying "Get out of here Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men," (Mat 16:23) even if it is one of our best friends who brings such a message.
If we are going to sell our birthright of peace for a pot of fear porridge, let us at least get more than a drop. For if we intend to use teachings such as Y2K as a pretext to capitulate into abject worrying, then what will we do when something really serious looms in the near future? If we intend to quake with fear like worldlings at a simple computer glitch, what will we do if our lives are threatened?
Luke 12:4-5 (NAS) "I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!"If we truly fear God, then we have taken the first step towards wisdom and the fear of Him will eclipse the fear of the world. If we fall short of this, then we will quake like chickens at the mere beginnings of sorrows and the wars and rumors of wars, as we see presently occurring. When such things happen, you will remember, we were told without ambiguity that "the end is NOT yet" (Mt 24:6, Mk 13:7, Lk 21:9) by Jesus; but there are certainly other voices out there as well, just as He "told us in advance would happen".
If you have ever sat through a "Jupiter Effect" or Y2K "teaching", it does not take a large measure of the Spirit to discern the spirit (1Jn 4:1) of carnal fear setting itself up to supplant the fear of the Lord.
Think about it, for our failure in these small tests might well be the medicine we need for success in more important, future tests.
1 Peter 3:14-15 (NIV) ...Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
Sin Snare: The Evangelical Monastic TemptationAn aspect of apocalyptic movements and communities that ought be scrutinized is the temptation to detach ourselves from the world and go off into a monastic bliss of super-saints or "like-minded" people.
Should we not consider that even an incorrect apocalyptic vision might well appeal to us on these grounds? Even if the vision is wrong or timed wrong, at least we can avoid the lesser brethren or the messiness of the world...
Jesus retreated into lonely places for solitude and fellowship with His Father, but only to dive right back into the hurly-burly of city life amongst friend and foe. He had to endure the diabolical questions of the Pharisees and the grievously stupid ones of His disciples. So as not to sin--as He was fully human--He retreated to get "reset" with the Father, and we should follow Him in this regard as well. But the idea is not to cowardly retreat into the castle walls like court pansies, but rather to get our wounds bound and our spirits fed so that we can leave the King's castle and go out to do battle and get beat within an inch of our lives.
Sin Snare: The Pastoral IdealThe "pastoral ideal" of so many apocalyptic groups might well be scrutinized as another potential hidden motive of disengagement with the world, a prospect not encouraged as a strategy for the Sons of God, as mentioned in the last point.
In any case, the "pastoral ideal" is a carnal one, as God has in mind for us to live in a gigantic city for eternity. This city, this "new Jerusalem", is so unimaginably huge that it will make the bee-hive of Hong Kong look like Ted Kazinsky's shack. <smiles>
Since it is our destiny to live in a CITY--albeit one pure and unpolluted and unlike anything on present earth--might we not want to practice now rather than flesh out in detachment, isolation, and escapism as seems to be axiomatic to apocalyptic groups?
God likes cities. He has made this clear all throughout history... and that it is our eternal destiny to live the biggest one ever.
The idea of "going off by yourself" and avoiding other people as a lifestyle was used by C.S Lewis in The Great Divorce as a parable of those who instinctively prefer and actively choose hell.
1John 4:20 (NKJ) If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
Sin Snare: AWOL From Our Mission to the WorldI suppose Jesus could have taken over Masada or some other "safe place", published pamphlets, lived the "pastoral ideal" and surrounded Himself with "like minded people", like so many apocalyptic ministries--then and now. He could have let the "mountain come to Mohammed". But rather he went out to seek and save the lost sheep.
Php 2:6-9 (NIV) ...Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.We know that at the End of the Age, the world will be under judgment. Even though we know that we will be spared ultimate judgment if we are at peace with God through Christ, should we not, as younger brothers of Christ, do as He did as concerns the world under judgment? Should we not plan on taking our place among the worst of men and in the worst of situations by willingly participating in their judgments as God would ordain us the opportunity--just as Christ did?
If Christ is really in us He will complete His unfinished sufferings, and a large part of this is enduring the sins and subsequent judgments even before the end of the age. (Rom 8:17, 2Co 1:5, Php 3:10, 1Pt 4:17) Considering this, shall we break rank and go AWOL into evangelical monastic retreats in the consummation of the age?
Following Whom or What?The world, for all its carnal wisdom, is ill prepared for the storm that is coming, being oriented around human perspectives and planning and calculations and food and drink and such. The church, due to is carnal orientation, is neither well prepared. And yet we think we will beat the world at its own game by "figuring it out" or "storing up in barns" and such. But let us think this through. If the world is about to be judged for its arrogance and trust in the flesh, should we not flee from this approach and prepare with the food of "doing the will of the Father".John 4:32 (NIV) But [Jesus] said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about."If the world is about to be judged for seeking after carnal things, let us flee from all such and put our trust in God so that we might really be prepared to minister peace to those that will be saved. For our message must be pure and not mixed.
Mat 4:4 (NIV) Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"If we are near the end, which we suspect is true, then there is all the more reason to take Jesus seriously here. If we are going to attempt to save our lives--if we care to consider what Jesus said--we are going to lose them (Lk 9:24). We must, like Paul, consider our lives as nothing and see if the Father will--as with Jesus--"exalt us to a higher place" as we intercede and come alongside those who are suffering. But let us not come dispensing a dose of the same poison of carnal focus that caused the problem in the first place, but rather with lamps full of the oil of the Spirit and hearts and minds ready to respond to the wind of God in the moment.
Rather than reflex into human fear and busybody preparations, we must grasp that for "us to die is Christ", and take our beliefs in sober seriousness if we are indeed approaching the end. Even if not in a blaze of judgment... we will all die physically in any case. Let us, then, use our allotted time in this debauched world to fully engage it in cities, with tax collectors, in temples, in homes, in the countryside, or wherever God leads us; and all the more if we truly believe we are at the End of the Age.
Christ came down from a very nice place to rough it out with us losers. Will we imitate Him, or build bomb shelters and buy gas masks and freeze-dried food and hide in bunkers?
Our purpose in making these points is in the general case that ought be considered with any apocalyptic group or movement. We should ask ourselves these questions and consider if motivations have been mixed and/or sin instincts have been spiritualized into virtues.
Basic Veracity of the Prophetic ScenarioIf someone says something like "Here He is, out in the desert," we have the direct command of Jesus "not to go out" and "not to believe it". "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." It can be assumed that the perpetrators of this gaff will be ignorant of the specific scriptures that warn against it. We have previously addressed the error of fearmongering and encouraging people to be directly disobedient to Christ by the Y2K teachers.
But what of things not so glaring? What of teachings that are presently being asserted as "what the Spirit is saying to the churches" and as God's will to work towards in the future? In general with these kinds of teachings and movements we must: 1) make a judgment based on fruit, 2) discerning of spirits (God, human imagination (the flesh), or Satan). This second test can include 2a) how a teaching fits with the patterns of God and scripture in general, and 2b) a basic common-sense fit with reality.
Jim Jones was "captive to sin" of the most egregious sexual kind (2 Pet 2:19), and so would have failed the #1 fruit test as he persuasively called people out to his apocalyptic community. But what if a teacher or movement seems to pass most of the tests and we are left without a clear means of discernment by fruit or direct scripture?
As an example of test #2b, the Branch Davidians--long before David Koresh's child molestation and adultery became manifest--were able to convince followers that Waco, TX was somehow the "New Jerusalem", many of them being very well educated people. But could not this have been stepped back from, looked at, and judged as absurd?
It is easy to dispatch these extreme examples away as "kooks", but this may well be arrogance and pride that proceeds our own fall into such error.
While the Ben Israel community is a far cry from the above extreme examples when it comes to doctrine or sexual conduct, unfortunately the basic premise of its formation is an illustrative example of abjectly failing this test. The vision promoted for several decades now is that a future persecution of the Jews is coming (to which we agree) and that Ben Israel will be a place of refuge for Jews in flight--to Minnesota, of all places. But if (in our lifetimes) and when such persecution comes, by "advertising" this mission in advance through tapes and books and by naming the community "Ben Israel", etc.--so as to get the message out to Jews, one supposes--will not the very ones who aim to oppress the Jews just come out and take them? What then; will a sword be taken up? And if supernatural protection is expected, then why set up in some backwater to make it so exceedingly hard to get to in the first place? Why not go "into the highways and streets" (Mt 22:9-10) where the Jews live in New York, Dallas, or Los Angeles if it is expected that God is going to protect through supernatural means? It just doesn't make sense, really, at any level of actuality.
Can this not be stepped back from, looked at, and judged as absurd?
Joshua blowing trumpets while marching around Jericho is surely absurd as well, and God has commanded many things that offend the carnal man. But let us remember that while there is obviously a carnal offense to the "absurd" things of God, there is also a legitimate spiritual offense to the absurd things of man as well. This proper sense of absurdity is an offense to "Christ in us" of things not worthy of Him or that tacitly slander His Name and/or His commands. If and when such things are pointed out, in defense "Joshua marching around Jericho" is often trotted out in justification. But God commanded Joshua to do this, directly. Knowing this, in further (or anticipatory) defense, the claim is often made that: "God told me/us..." If true, then fine. But if this is a stretch of what was actually just a "feeling", a personal conclusion of opinion, or something that was stumbled into, whoever exaggerates such to be the direct command of God is on very dangerous ground indeed.
Deut 5:11 (NRS) You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.Absurd notions have an appeal to the daring in us that often gets misplaced. For to "lose your life" and offer up your body as a "living sacrifice" is absurd to the flesh. But this is where daring is rightly applied: to the simplicity of the gospel of life through death. Having failed to live simply by the gospel, our daring attaches instead to spiritually absurd notions and schemas and actions, and we imagine ourselves bold in the faith to believe what amounts to wood, hay and stubble.
Blown by the Spirit, or Clinging to Pet Theories in a Ditch?Consider, in contrast, the godly example of the Ten Boom family (Corrie Ten Boom, her father, and her sister). They did great exploits in the Kingdom history of God not by "advertising" or even knowing of such a ministry in advance, but by seeking to please the Lord in the moment of crisis and finding Him able to make "rocks cry out" or "children of Abraham from stones" as needed. Think about it, there was no prescience or prophecy, only lamps full of oil and hearts full of humility and love. Great deeds were done "for the least of my brethren" by these humble saints which will ring through eternity and shine longer and brighter than the stars.
John 3:8 (NAS) "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."On the other hand, we can often become enamored with details of our own dreams or hopes of service--even if partially correct in a way that will prove us wrong and protect God's glory--and cling to these dreams and miss the real moment of opportunity that God has planned instead. If we find over time that our initial understanding or dream was incorrect and that God is doing something else with our lives and ministry, let us be quick to let the dream die and keep in step with the Spirit. For often we have ideas and dreams that seem good enough to us, but God has other ideas.
Acts 16:7 (Wey) When they reached the frontier of Mysia, they were about to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not permit this.
Testing All Things, Holding Fast to the GoodIn the case of apocalyptic teachings, if we test the ideas and find them false--even if they tend to support things revealed by God as true--what then should we do? And especially, what if they were our teachings of the past?
This is where many apocalyptic groups run off the tracks, and is perhaps the most serious and strident point we will make. While such is aimed at the general case and believed to be true and insightful, if so then it is something we all should keep in mind as we proceed into the future with our various ministries, apocalyptic or not.
Here is the problem: When an original notion has been found wanting or just plain wrong, it often seems to the leaders that to admit such would bring the whole down. It is all of a piece, it appears. So it seems that to admit that a deeply held core vision was mistaken or wrong would thus discredit what we have come to know as certainly true--or so the carnal mind reasons. Thus, we do not "test all things" and "hold fast that which is good", but rather avoid testing and end up with an unholy blend of things musty and pure.
The right way, of course, is to haul everything out into the light and be willing to acknowledge that many things that our egos have long flirted with may be wrong. But this is easier said than done. If we do so, however, then we can "hold fast to the good" without duplicity or compromise, and can avoid the radical--even unthinkable--consequences to holding error in the lap of ego.
An example of this was Cain. He aimed to please God and missed; for he had brought his fruit to the Lord, which was unacceptable. It was a nice try, but was not quite right. For this, He was rebuffed by God, but also had a clear example of how to approach God properly from his brother Abel.
Gen 46-7 (NIV) The Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."What happened next is unthinkable, inexplicable. God's stark announcement was no exaggeration, for the stakes were exceedingly high. And we know what happened in this instance: rather than repent and imitate his brother, Cain fell into "sin" which God had warned was "crouching at the door, wanting to have" him. And let us remember that all of this started with a failed attempt to please God.
This is why it is not that shocking to consider what happened with Jim Jones and others like him. Many of these leaders and movements started off with noble ideas and much fruit, but at some point they refused to be corrected and to "test all things"--especially core beliefs in error that God had winked at for a season. They took godly correction against them as a "sign" of Satan attacking "their ministry", and plodded on in error rather than simply acknowledge and correct mistakes as they surfaced. When it came time to scrutinize and correct manifest errors they recoiled from godly rebuke and scrambled from the light, and grew surly and recalcitrant and insular. By doing so, sin of an unthinkable kind was found waiting at the door when they stubbornly refused to repent.
Thus, seemingly small errors of approach can result in inexplicable and scandalous sins if we do not jump quickly back into the arms of truth when it is made known.
It comes back, again, to mental conceit or humility. Is it really so important to assume or project that all our previous notions and heart-felt opinions were right? Might it not be instructive for others to see that we have had a few "off" ideas that need repentance ourselves? What, in fact, are we promoting: our reputations, or God's? What are we clinging to at all costs: our ideas, or Gods?
Rom 3:4 (NAS) ...Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar...Our reputations and pride are expendable. So let us not be angry or have downcast faces as we consider imitating what is right when it appears before us. For if we let go of what missed the mark, then we will be accepted by the Lord and receive His favor. But if we grow defensive and self-focused, then sin of a radical sort is crouching to have us. Rather than following the pattern of Cain's disobedience, we should learn from such common mistakes and deal honestly and openly with errors as they are revealed to us in due season.
The Spirit Test: Derived From Scripture or Direct from the Lord?In most spiritual issues for believers in Messiah, the common currency for persuasion, debate, and discernment is scripture. We have made a case previously along these lines by considering the general tone and direction of spiritual preparation for the return of Christ. But when it comes to individual or ministry-specific plans to prepare for the Day of the Lord, this may not always be the case. This is a difficult point to make, but in a moment we will explain why we believe this an important, if elemental, distinction.
By way of introducing the point here: scripture is the right tool to discern novel doctrines, for example, but may have nothing to say to a person who is convinced that the Lord wants them to give 100$ to a particular person across the room. Such "personal direction" from the Spirit must often be judged by experiential fruit when there is no scripture that applies to it directly. The point here is that it would seem odd to have someone claiming that the Lord wanted them to give 100$ to a particular person across the room based on a study of biblical texts, no?
As previously highlighted, the consistent message of Jesus as recorded in scripture was not to worry, fear, or prepare to carnally "fight" what God has prophesied. Against this preponderance of teaching and emphasis by Jesus concerning this very issue, it is our view that any texts used to support an idea contrary to this will be scripture twisting at the outset--a deliberate attempt to unsay what Jesus said. Thus, any End Times potential course of action that runs counter to the sweeping clarity of Jesus and scripture in general for New Covenant believers is going to have a tough row to hoe. If such an instruction is given from the Lord against the general current of the inspired Word of God--as an eddy current of sorts--then it will be a direct revelation given as an exception to the general instructions to the saints. Thus, if such a directive is thought to be from God, rather than attempting to re-write scripture we might do better to test the message in the light of scripture if at all possible, and if there is nothing forbidding or encouraging it in particular then we should test by a different but complementary criteria.
Again, let us remember that God has told us how to react when certain things happen, as explicated previously. These teachings, if lodged in our souls, will be a "light to our feet and lamp to our path" in the future. To add to this with our own understanding, to "run ahead", then, seems to evidence a certain arrogance. Using scripture to do so does not make it right. (1Tm 1:8) If we have suspicions or heart-felt notions of how things will happen beyond the texts themselves, then let us put them forth if we must as our best-guesses or dreams; but let us not add to or blame the Bible for them unless they were honestly and carefully derived as advertised and fit in with the whole (1Cor 4:6). This may sound overly careful, but we must remember that Jesus said "it is not for us to know" concerning this subject in general, and so we think such humility is warranted.
But what if God directly speaks to us--in whatever way we have come to hear His voice? What if He tells us to go build an ark or leave a city forthwith? Well, in that case, then we had better get cracking. It matters little if anyone else agrees or works with us, we must obey the Lord and let Him be the judge of the outcome. While a personal sense of mission that is extra-biblical might well be wrong, we should not be judging another servant (Rom 14:4) unless it is in violation of scripture or fails the spirit or fruit tests. Simply offending human convention and custom is not a valid reason to reject another person's apocalyptic mission if received by direct revelation. Jesus often flouted the human additions and interpretations of the Sabbath laws, for example, and greatly vexed and offended those who were doctrinaire about such. But back to the point: If we believe that God has spoken to us, we must do what has been commanded and trust that God will keep us from error if we seek Him with a pure heart and are open to correction from Him.
How, then, can we remain open to God revealing specific things to specific saints or fellowships as He sees fit without falling into the trap of trying to reverse-engineer a biblical mandate where one is not "fit"? For the temptation and malpractice of this is all too common: of turning scripture on its head to prove some point of personal leading. The answer is simple honesty. If we feel God has told us to do something, then we should represent this truthfully rather than trying to torque scripture around to condone or endorse what we believe--unless it really does.
For example, as Jesus prepared to go into Jerusalem in the final hours before His crucifixion, He had both a donkey and room prepared by human agents. The details of how this was quickened to those who participated is not spelled out for us in the narratives, but we know regardless that those so instructed--by whatever means--obeyed. Now consider that finding an available large room in Jerusalem during the time of Passover with Jews streaming in from all over the world would compare in modern times to finding a hotel room in the city hosting the Superbowl the night before the game. Yet Jesus had "a certain man" (Mat 26:17-19) "carrying a jar of water" (Luke 22:8-13) set-up in advance to prepare one and give it up. Same with the donkey to "anyone who says anything to you" (Mat 21:2-3), albeit this was a less dramatic gesture to turn loose.
And right here is the point. Had you known that "certain man" or "anyone who says anything to you", and if they had told you they expected such to occur from Biblical exegesis, I suspect you would find it hard to agree with them. If either of these men had arrived at such a conclusion based on deep biblical studies, a proper response might be that scripture was never meant for such and that it is presumptive to use it thus. But, if on the other hand, that "certain man" said: "I had a dream that when I go to fill up my water jar, God wants me to give up my precious Passover room to a stranger who follows me and then asks"; or "The Lord spoke to me during prayer today and told me to give up my donkey and colt without question if the person taking it says, 'The Lord has need of them,'" well that is a different thing. Such personal words and leading must play out to see if they are really from God or not. If they are, then we get to participate in something beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations or knowledge, in direct counterpoint to the arrogant mindset of the "figure it out" approach.
Shall we Figure Out What is Not Ours to Know, or Participate in God's Glory?Consider Simon the Cyrene. Do we know of him due to his charts and graphs of end time events and his brilliant biblical analysis scenario of end times events? No, we know the Essenes for that, and they were woefully wrong despite their impressive knowledge and cogent arguments. Rather, we know of Simon as a man seeking God who was blown into glory by God's Holy Spirit.
Picture him, a devout Jew, come at great expense and expectation to the Holy City, ritually pure and bathed, fastidiously avoiding leaven, in his best robes, with his prayer shawl on, etc. Suddenly he is commandeered by a group of soldiers and made to carry the bloody cross of some unrecognizable "criminal" whom the Romans have beaten so badly he cannot carry it himself. As the blood seeped though his clothes and ruined his day, he must have thought "this is my reward for trying to please God?"
Little did he know... that this was the sweetest of rewards a man could be given.
It was the delight of God to give this gift to Simon. I can picture the two of them in glory, arm in arm, laughing themselves to tears at the way it played out. "Ha, you thought this was the ultimate ignominy, the lowest point of the Jewish oppression--and you ended up carrying MY cross for ME!" Had Simon known, he may have himself been crushed by the glory of the moment. And if we knew...
In this we see the pattern, wisdom, and glory of God.
2Sam 22:28 (NIV) You save the humble, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.Shall we be ambitious glory grabbers, or humble glory receivers? Are we setting ourselves up to receive the backhand of the Lord against our mental arrogance and prideful, stiff-necked assertions, or will we follow Him simply and humbly and receive His glory His way: by grace through faith? For God has a few more glorious gifts to give out, and He is NOT looking for the most "full of themselves" people to give them to. Instead, mental humility is in order if we intend to be "in Christ" and to be included in His glory in that day.
Isa 2:11-12 (NRS) The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low, and the pride of everyone shall be humbled; and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high.
Worry: a Euphemized Sin?Gal 5:22 (NKJ) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...A final and repeated point in considering End Times scenarios from things as plebeian as Y2K to grandiose claims of specific world events, is whether this engenders the fruit of the Spirit in us or whether it fosters fear, worry, and furtive planning.
Luke 3:8a (NIV) "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."
Often, worry gets couched as "concern" or "preparedness". But with whatever euphemism we choose, let us be clear that Jesus told us not to. If we obey Him, we may well be used in some glorious way that we cannot imagine by the wind of the Spirit. If we try to exalt ourselves with lofty ideas or destinies, on the other hand, we run the risk of being brought low.
In summary, "into your hands I commit my spirit" ought be our attitude (Lu 23:46), even if a demon possessed mob has just lynched us. For this is the acid test of faith, for which we have failed flagrantly in so many warm-up tests by selling out to fear or "concern" (or however we would term it) so quickly and without circumspection and learning. But, if rather than focusing on carnal things and considerations of this world, we behold the love of God in Christ and our life in Him, we have a valid hope for glory that is real and permanent.
Rom 8:35-39 (NAS) Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.For a related Bible Study, see: "The Cares of This World".
2 Pet 3:10-14 (Phi) In view of the fact that all these things are to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be? Surely men of good and holy character, who live expecting and working for the coming of the day of God. This day will mean that the heavens will disintegrate in fire and the burning elements will melt, but our hopes are set on new heavens and a new earth which he has promised us, in which justice will make its home. Because, my dear friends, you have a hope like this before you, I urge you to make certain that the day will find you at peace with God, flawless and blameless in his sight.