Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Rapture: Pattern in Prophecy

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In her book, Not Good If Detached, holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom told of a friend who was reading her Bible one morning, studying the Rapture of the Church in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. As the passage came alive to her, she became engrossed in its truths and didn’t hear the doorbell ringing. After several rings, the sound registered and she went to the door to find an impatient delivery man. “You must be getting deaf, madam,” he said. “I had to ring three times.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. Then the excited lady started preaching a mile-a-minute to the unprepared man. “It is not that I am deaf, but I have just read something in my Bible so glorious I forgot everything else. Do you know that it is possible that some day you may come to my door and I will no longer be here? Young man, one day you may find every Christian home empty. Jesus is coming to take His church away and we shall meet him in the air.” The delivery man looked at her like a calf staring at a new gate, “That’s great, miss. But before you fly way can I just get you to sign for this package?”[i]  

Many people like that delivery man find the Rapture difficult to accept. The instant disappearing of millions of people seems so bizarre that it sounds like something out of a science-fiction plot. For that reason, the rapture is dismissed by skeptics, liberal Christians and  amillennials who have a knack for spiritualizing prophetic sections of the Bible.

However, it may surprise you to know that there are several historical prototypes of the rapture in the Scripture. In fact, the Bible records six examples of rapture, which serve as illustrations of the climatic one to come.  

·         Enoch: In the days before the Flood, “Enoch walked with God and he was not for God took him” (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). Enoch is the first one in the Bible to be taken directly into heaven. Going deeper, we find an interesting model in Enoch, Noah and the pre-flood people of the three groups of people associated with the end-times. Enoch is an Old Testament type of the church, whereas Noah and his family are a picture of Israel, while those who drowned in the deluge are a picture of the unbelieving masses who reject the Gospel. Enoch was spared from the judgment of the Flood just as the Church will be spared from the wrath of the Tribulation (1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 3:10), while Noah and family were preserved in the Ark. In like manner, the church will be removed from the earth before the tribulation while Israel will have to endure it (Jer. 30:3). 

·         Elijah: The famous prophet, who stood against the wicked priests of Baal and the rebellious King Ahab, was whisked away in a chariot of fire (2 Kings. 2:1, 11).

·         Jesus: At the ascension Jesus was taken up into heaven 40 days after His resurrection (Acts 1:9; Rev. 12:5).

·         Philip: In the book of Acts we are told that Philip vanished into thin air after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch. His body was translated, not to heaven, but from one geographical location to another twenty miles away to Azotus (Acts 8:39-40).

·         Paul: At some point in his life, Paul was raptured into paradise and then returned to earth to complete his ministry. Twice in 2 Cor. 12:2-4 Paul uses the words “caught up” which are translated from the same Greek word used to describe the rapture, harpadzo. However, this trip came with a price tag, Paul also remarked in that same passage that God gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble and from becoming conceited.

·         John: While exiled on the desolate isle of Patmos, the apostle John had a similar experience that Paul did. John was given an exclusive tour of the future when he was called up to the heavenlies by the Spirit of God and then later returned to write down all that he had seen and heard in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:9-11; 4:1). John’s consciousness and perhaps his body, were taken beyond the limits of space and time. He was not only moved upward in space, but forward in time to see the end of history.        

There are few observations we can make about these historical examples:

·         First, they were prophetic. Each one was a type or model of the final Rapture foretold in the last days. Prophecy is usually tied to pattern. Moreover, if God has fulfilled these six instances of rapture then we can know the seventh will also be fulfilled.

·         Second, they were physical. In each of these historical raptures, people were physically taken up by the power of God and transferred to another location. In other words, these weren’t symbolic. This will hold true of the rapture of the Church as well.

·         Third, they were not predictable. Each case happened with no clear warning or preceding sign, so it will be with the rapture of the church. Christ will come “as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2).

No person knows how much time we have left on earth, either personally or prophetically. Personally, “life is a vapor that appears for a moment and then vanishes quickly away” (James 4:14). We stand on a razor’s edge between life and death. Prophetically, Christ could appear at any moment to whisk His bride—the church—away to heaven (Matt. 25:13). Those left behind will have to endure a long dark night of judgment.

Are you rapture ready? If so, then we ought to be filled with evangelistic urgency to share the Gospel (John 9:4). If not, then the time to repent and trust in Christ is now! As the Scripture says, “They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). -DM

[i] Corrie Ten Boom, No Good If Detached (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 1957), 157. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Operation Restoration

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In November 2008 one of the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance was restored to its original splendor and returned to its home at the world-renowned gallery in Florence. The Madonna del Cardellino was painted by Raphael in 1505 for the wedding of his friend, a wealthy Florence merchant. It portrays Mary, the mother of Christ, and two children playing with a bird. According to art connoisseurs, the toddling boys are John the Baptist and Jesus, while the goldfinch symbolizes Christ's crucifixion because it is a bird that feeds among thorns.

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As with any restoration project, this priceless piece of art has a checkered past. The painting’s problems began in 1547 when an earthquake toppled the merchant’s house where it hung. The painting was recovered from the rubble in 17 pieces. Another artist tried to salvage what he could. He drove long iron nails into the frame, trying to patch the pieces together. Then he painted over the cracks to conceal the breaks in an attempt to make it look whole again.

By and by, time and the elements took their toll. After nearly five centuries, the original artwork faded. Dust and grime obscured the composition. Raphael’s work needed extensive restoration.

A team of fifty technicians and artists were assembled to work on the project. After ten years of tedious and painstaking plodding the restoration was complete. The cracks were erased. Centuries of brown film and grime were erased. The dulling veneers and patches were stripped away. Today, the finished product glows with all of the deep reds, blues, and golds of the original vision. Given how badly it was damaged, some experts have said that the restoration of Raphael's painting is arguably even more amazing than the painting itself.[1]

Aren’t the spiritual parallels profound? Tragically, the beautiful design of God’s creation has been marred by sin. Not only does the earth plead for redemption, but so do we. Paul wrote, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22-23).  

Perhaps, you've experienced earthquakes that have shattered you—addiction, divorce, depression, sickness, stupid choices. You’ve tried to patch up the brokenness of your soul with quick fixes—self-help, retail therapy, sports, drugs, even religion—but nothing has filled the void. In fact, those jury-rigged repairs only made things worse. Thus, the need for restoration.

Thankfully, the Gospel declares that “Operation Restoration” has already begun. Here is just a handful of verses which promise that Christ can put it all back together again:

·         “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3)

·         “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten . . . ” (Joel 2:25)

·         “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (1 Cor. 5:17)

·         “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

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Through Christ the curse is being reversed. The promise of the Gospel is that God will restore it all—from depraved souls to the distant stars. This restoration is both present and future. What God does individually to those who repent and trust in Christ is a preview of what He will do universally. The restoration of His creatures is phase one, while the restoration of creation is phase two. It’s a new life today, but a new heavens and a new earth tomorrow.

Philip Yancey has summed up “Operation Restoration” by writing:
            “To judge God solely by the present world would be a tragic mistake . . . Imagine this scenario: vandals break into a museum displaying works from Picasso’s Blue Period. Motivated by sheer destructiveness, they splash red pain all over the paintings and slash them with knives. It would be the height of unfairness to display these works—a mere sampling of Picasso’s creative genius and spoiled at that—as representative of the artist. The same applies to God’s creation. God has already hung a “Condemned” sign above the earth, and has promised judgment and restoration.”[2]


[1] Peter Popham, “Return of the Fallen Madonna,” Independent, 28 October 2008
[2] Philip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 58-59. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Israel, the U.N. and the End-times

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In the last years of Obama’s presidency we have seen his true colors emerge towards Israel.

In 2015 the Obama administration and Secretary of State, John Kerry, brokered a controversial deal that called for limits on Iran's nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. In response to these negotiations with Iran, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu denounced it by calling it a “historic mistake for the world,” adding that, “Iran is not just developing ICBMs for Israel. They can reach us with what they have. They are also looking to reach the U.S.”[1] With this deal, the U.S. has helped a state, well-known for their ties to global terrorism and radical Islam, come that much closer to their stated goal of “wiping Israel off the face of the Earth.”

Then on December 23, 2016 the U.N. spat in the face of Israel again. USA TODAY reported, “In an unprecedented diplomatic rebuke of Israel, the United States abstained on a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, allowing the highly charged measure to pass.”[2] Netanyahu fired back denouncing the U.N. resolution and vowing that “Israel would not turn the other cheek.”[3] This is a complex issue that has a long history. In order to fully understand it we must go back to June 1967 and the so-called “Six Day War.”

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In this conflict tiny Israel stood up to Egypt, Syria, Jordan Iraq and Lebanon who coalesced to destroy the Jewish State. In a stunning victory, Israel won big and seized control of the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Over the years, some of these captured territories were given back by Israel in exchange for peace and recognition of their national sovereignty. But, that has never been enough for Israel’s neighbors, who hate her with passion. As Golda Meir (former Prime Minister of Israel) once said, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today there would be peace in the Middle East tomorrow, but if Israel put down her weapons today, there would be no Israel tomorrow.” The nations around Israel want nothing less than her total eradication.

Israel still controls property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and has built some 600,000 settlements there, which the Muslims cannot abide since this throws a monkey wrench in their plans to see a Palestinian State. The U.N. resolution, and the Obama administration’s abstention from vetoing the anti-Israel policy, essentially endorsed the Palestinian position by calling for the pre-1967 lines to serve as the reference point for a final border. In other words, the U.N. expects Israel to give back the land they won to the Palestinians who want them dead.

Dr. David Reagan of Lamb and Lion Ministries summed up the situation well, “The President's decision was shameful, reckless, spiteful, and dangerous. It was shameful because it represented a betrayal of our nation's best friend and ally. It was reckless because it serves to encourage Palestinian intransigence and terrorism. It is spiteful because it treats the only democracy in the Middle East as if it were a third-rate banana republic.”[4]      

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The Christians in this nation should tremble in fear and be outraged over these recent events. Why? Because we are clearly told by God in the Abrahamic covenant, “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you” (Gen. 12:3). When U.S. foreign policy persecutes Israel we are setting ourselves us for God’s judgment.  

In the neglected book of Joel, the prophet looks forward to end-times and the climactic battle of history—Armageddon. When the Lord Jesus returns back to planet earth He is going to destroy the evil nations who have allied themselves against Him and terrorized the Jewish people. Joel states many of God’s indictments against the gentile nations:

“I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; They have also divided up My land” (Joel 3:2).

Take note of that last part. Jesus is going to bring the hammer down on the nations who have carved up His land which He deeded to Abraham and his descendants long ago (Gen. 15:18), which is exactly what the U.N. and other nations are trying to do right now.

Unknowingly, the President's decision to persecute Israel is a significant step toward the fulfillment of end-times prophecy — namely, that all the nations of the world will come together against Israel over the issue of Jerusalem. Zechariah 12:2-3 states:

“Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.” 

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Unless Trump can change America’s treatment of Israel to blessing and not cursing, this does not bode well for our future. Moreover, this recent decision by Obama and the U.N. is a strong indicator of how the world stage is being set for the final act of God’s divine drama to begin. And that, in turn, means the Rapture could occur any moment. Are you ready? -DM

[1] ISABEL KERSHNER, “Iran Deal Denounced by Netanyahu as ‘Historic Mistake,” The New York Times, 14 July 2015 <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/15/world/middleeast/iran-nuclear-deal-israel.html>
[2] Doug Stanglin, “U.S. Abstains on U.N. Vote Condemning Israeli Settlements,” USA TODAY, 23 December 2016
[3] Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu on UN Settlement Vote: Israel Will Not Turn the Other Cheek,” Haaretz, 26 December 2016 <http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.761470>
[4] David Reagan, “Will Obama's Latest U.N. Antic Against Israel Be Disastrous?” Lamb and Lion Ministries, 4 January 2017 <http://www.lamblion.com/enewsletter2/v3_enewsletter_template_170104.html> 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Dangerous Descent

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In his best-selling book, Into Thin Air, John Krakauer tells the story of the ill-fated expedition to the summit of Mount Everest in 1996. In the book, Krakauer mentions a member of the expedition named Ms. Yasuko Namba, a 46-year-old Japanese FedEx employee with a passion for climbing. She was an accomplished climber, having reached the summits of seven of the largest mountains on the planet. The only one left for her to conquer the Big One—Everest.

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Krakauer wrote of her determination like so, “Yasuko was totally focused on the top. It was almost as if she was in a trance. She pushed extremely hard, jostling her way past everyone to the front of the line. She wanted to get to the top of Everest.” On May 11, 1996, she accomplished her life goal and became the oldest woman ever to reach Everest’s 29,092 ft. summit.

However, later that afternoon, Yasuko and several other climbers were caught in a terrible blizzard. And as the icy winds blew, Yasuko succumbed to the exhaustion of her climb and froze to death. According to Krakauer, Yasuko's fatal flaw was that she adopted the wrong goal. What she wanted the most was to stand at the top of the world. But this was the wrong goal, and a frequent and sometimes fatal mistake that climbers make. The goal of climbing should never be to get to the top of a summit—it should be to get back down to the bottom. Against incredible odds Yasuko made it to the top of the mountain. But as she poured out her energy to get to the top, she did not save enough strength to make it back down.

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                                       Yasuko Namba pictured on the far right of the first row.

The tragic story of Yasuko Namba shows that a climber’s greatest danger occurs on the way down the mountain and not up, because after an ascent he/she is lulled into a false sense of security and accomplishment. With their guard down, climbers are more prone to make careless mistakes.

As I thought about this it occurred to me that this is the way temptation works as well. The moment of greatest danger is after a mountaintop experience. This explains the strategy of Satan to attack Jesus after basking in the glory of his baptism (Mark 1:9-13).  Jesus had just heard the Father declare, “This is my beloved Son in who I am well pleased,” and was anointed by the Holy Spirit. After this spiritual high, Jesus was tested beyond what we can imagine.

Weakened by intense hunger pangs, Christ squared off against Satan in a barren desert. Reminiscent of Adam’s temptation in Eden, Christ faced the full onslaught of the tempter, but did not succumb to the pressure. One thing is for sure, Satan doesn’t play fair. The Enemy accosted Jesus when He was most vulnerable and our adversary will do the same to us.   

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How easy it is to sleep or become careless in our Christian walk. Temptation strikes when we neglect certain areas of our spiritual lives—such as prayer and Bible study—we become too self-sufficient and let our guard down, making us easy targets for Satan’s strike (1 Peter 5:8).

We need to be alert to the possibilities of an attack and pray to maintain vigilance. If we remain watchful and pray—for ourselves and for others—the Spirit will enable us to resist temptation. The best weapons we have against temptation are the Word of God and prayer (Eph. 6:17, Matt. 26:41). By staying vigilant, shoring up the weak places in our lives and not giving Satan a beachhead, we can resist the Devil and watch him flee (James 4:7). -DM