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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Your Future Is In His Hands

You have it in your heart to please God all the time. Imagine yourself at worship during a church service. As the music plays, your hands are lifted up in the air, a symbol of your soaring heart as you focus on him who loved you enough to save you. Ah! A little bit of Heaven within you.

Then after the service is over, it is coffee and doughnuts at the back hall, sometimes referred to as "fellowship". Your patience is put to the test as you stand in line and wait to be served your coffee. The person being served talks and talks, and you watch as you see the steam rising from the pot diminish as the black coffee cools. Eventually it is your turn to be served and the milk jug runs dry. The server turns to the fridge and mutters,
"Oh no! So and so had forgotten to restock the milk!"

You decide to go without the refreshment at the same time you feel the crave for a hot, steaming mug of coffee in your stomach. Then a ten year old child runs towards you with a cup of orange juice as he plays a game of chase with another boy, accidentally jolts as he runs past, spilling his juice down your leg. Finally your temper snaps, and to the child you shout:

You decide to get in your car to drive home. Along the way, an incredibly stupid or blind driver cuts you up and you slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. The language pouring out of your mouth cannot be included here.

During the service, you were soaring the heights of holy devotion. Now at home you see yourself as a vessel of iniquity with the inability to pray, as you're still consumed by anger and frustration. You feel cut off from God and harbour the idea that if you were to die at that moment, it would be Hell, having lost your salvation, at least for the time being. So according to the teachings of your church which holds the "Arminian" view of constant faithfulness, human will and free choice. But if you calm down enough to pray, and confess your sin, then your salvation will be restored, providing that you have not gone beyond the point of no return, from where there is no more hope.

But here I wish to present a very different truth, which my long-term Christian experience seem to back up. Let me share an incident while I was a volunteer at a Christian Conference Centre, ran by the Church of England, in Israel, 1994.

If a volunteer offends, he or she was driven by car straight to the airport after a flight back to the UK was booked by the Centre's Director. Just previous to my arrival, two volunteers were escorted straight to the airport from the Centre. Their offence? The young man and woman fell in love and they were caught petting, to the offence of staff and other volunteers.

After two months of volunteering myself, a massive disagreement arose between me and several other volunteers, the differences of opinion having came to a head that evening. The Director decided that I should return to the UK. But he also commended on my work done at the Centre, and my commitment to the project. That was why I was not escorted to the airport. Instead I was given a sum of pocket money and allowed to remain in Israel until I was ready to fly home, with which I had to make my own flight booking. They escorted me as far as the local bus station, where I was "dumped" there.

I spent a full month at a small backpackers hostel within the Old City of Jerusalem. I was so devastated on what I saw was a miscarriage of justice. I did not believe that a better educated member should be treated with greater favouritism, hence the dispute. I was so fed up with Christianity altogether, I decided to renounce it all, and go my own way. To Hell with the consequences. Day after day, when the other backpackers went out for the day, I lay on the bed, contemplating. I lay face down, burying my face in the pillow.

But after a while, I began to hear, or should I say, feel, a still small voice calling within me, "Frank, Frank..." - Maybe not unlike that of Elijah who fled from the clutches of Jezebel feeling equally disillusioned after serving God so faithfully. (1 Kings 19:1-18).

I began to respond, calling on the name of the Lord. By the time I flew home at the end of the month, my faith was restored, but I still remained emotional devastated which gradually tapered off until I flew out to New York on the very first anniversary of my flight home from Israel.

Our future is in God's hands. Did you know that long before you were even born, God knew every single day of your life? He not only knew exactly how many days you will live, but he also knew when you first believed in Jesus, the time your heart soared to Heaven and he knew also of the coffee line up afterwards, the spill of juice down your leg and the careless driver, all before you were even conceived. He knew who your parents will be, where you will be born, and he knows exactly when you will be called home. Every single work, thought, belief and action were already written in his book before you ever existed. Likewise he also knew of my rise in faith, the fall and restoration in Israel, as well as, as I stood on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem, receiving a vision to fly to the USA the day before I flew home to the UK. It was something I had not anticipated, but God knew all along as I lay on that bed in the hostel.

And this is where I find prophecy so fascinating! The very first judgement God passed to Adam and Eve after the Fall contained a promise of the future Messiah (Genesis 3:15). Later, King David wrote a song which contained accurate and well detailed prophecy (Psalm 22). He described himself as hanging on a cross with a crowd of people staring up at him, mocking him, after having both is garments either given away to someone by casting lots, or cut up into four parts. In fact, David gave a vivid description of the Crucifixion a thousand years before it came into existence. Isaiah too, also gave a thorough description of a suffering servant who took upon himself the iniquity of many, so that they will be healed. (Isaiah 53).

Another astonishing prophecy is found in Zechariah, which reads:
I told them, "if you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, then keep it." So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
And the Lord said to me, "Throw it to the potter"- the handsome price of which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord to the potter.
(Zechariah 11:12-13).

Here is the spot-on prophecy concerning Judas Iscariot, who received thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus Christ to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Afterwards he threw the money back into the Temple and went and hanged himself. The Council then used the money to buy a potters field, to bury the dead of foreigners. (Matthew 27:3-10). Certainly God knew exactly what Judas would get up to, some 460 years before he was even born.

The book of Daniel contains some prophecies of astonishing accuracy. One concerns the dating of the coming of Jesus, from the day a decree was sent out to rebuild Jerusalem after it was razed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 BC. Daniel received a divine vision that after the decree is made, seventy "weeks" will transpire before the land is fully restored after the Return of Christ. We understand that these "weeks" are actually seven years, not even days. If true, then what this Scripture is saying is that Israel shall continue without a king for a further 490 years after the decree to rebuild the city, about the duration the nation was a kingdom from the start of the reign of King Saul to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

The decree is detailed in the book of Nehemiah, who received it from the Persian King Artaxerxs in the twentieth year of his reign, or 445 BC. Daniel then records that from the decree, there will be seven "weeks" and sixty two "weeks". The seven weeks, or 49 years marks the end of the Old Testament canon, after the prophet Malachi finally puts down his quill. The remaining 62 "weeks" or 434 years was the period leading up to the cutting off of the Messiah, "but not for himself", but for the salvation of others. If we add 434 to 49, we get 483 years, which is seven years, or one "week" short of the initial 490 years as first given. From the decree given to Nehemiah in 445BC to the Crucifixion, there will be a time period when Israel will not be a kingdom, a duration when Israel was a kingdom from Saul to the destruction of Jerusalem. Read the whole of Daniel chapter 9, which also has the prophet's wonderful prayer of intercession. As for the remain one "week" of seven years, many scholars believe that this week will immediately precede the Second Coming of Christ. Seven years earlier, the Rapture of the Church to Heaven will begin the "week"- during which the future Antichrist will arise to reign over the world and trouble the Jews, until Christ arrives to rescue Israel from destruction and to sit on the throne of his father David.

Daniel also gives a graphic detail of the coming Greek empire from after his passing to the start of the Roman Empire, and the Jewish subjection under such cruel Greek masters who will desecrate the Temple in Jerusalem. (Daniel 11). The prophet even gives the detail of a future maiden who will be given to a rival king to secure his own kingdom. Scholars have identified her as Berenice, the daughter of Greek King of Egypt Ptolemy Philadelphus, who will give as wife to Antiochus Theos, King of Syria. (Daniel 11:5-6). But then, why did God foretell the actions of future Greek kings with such intimate detail? Because God also knew that the duration of the Greek Empire is the only period when the Bible will not be written. Malachi, the final penman of the Old Testament, wrote his book during the Persian Empire. Matthew, whose Gospel is the first book of the New Testament, was written, as with the whole of the New Testament, during the Roman Empire.

Yes, this this is getting rather academic. And on top of this, I only gave a small, but rather stunning set of prophecies. But I use these examples to demonstrate that we are all in the hands of God, especially to those who believe, or trust in Jesus Christ to save us from the penalty of our sins, to friendship with God.

It is because of this, the stunning accuracy of prophecy and the full foreknowledge, or omniscience of God, that I believe in the Perseverance of the Saints, or if you like, Once Saved always Saved. But after listening on You Tube and reading other people's articles on this issue, I tell you what Once Saved Always Saved does not mean. It does not mean:

I once asked Jesus Christ into my heart, and lo! I'm saved. I can do anything I want now because I won't be going to Hell. I can have my fill of sin, knowing that I will go to Heaven when I die.

If you think that the above statement is what being eternally saved is all about, then that's proof that you have never known what salvation really is, that you are still in your sins and you are not a child of God. Yet there are many "Arminian" Christians who think that is what we believe!

To be eternally saved is to have a new heart planted within you, a heart that wants to know God, wants to love him and who wants to be cleansed from sin and have no part in it. But we do still sin, and God says through John that if we confess our sins, he he faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because of the new heart, created by God and planted within our souls, I don't believe that a true believer can ever fall away. His desire to know God and communicate with him just keeps on growing within him. I watched some people in our church grow in grace to such an extent, and one young man in particular, young enough to be my son, I fully support him as an elder in our fellowship, respecting his authority.

And if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, then I want you to be fully assured that everything that happens in your life, both good and bad, have all been foreseen by God. Nothing ever happens by chance or coincidence. And let me encourage you that your future is in his hands, a loving Father.

With his prophecies of such stunning accuracy, how can we not trust in him?

And would he really save you if he already knew that some time later you will lose your salvation? In the light of fulfilled prophecy, this does not make sense, does it?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Come On, Mate, You Can Do It...

While browsing the Daily Mail online, I came across an article written by one of the Mail's bloggers, Dominique Jackson. Her piece was about why in the last year the number of unemployed British young people, aged between 16 and 24 years old, rose to over a million (imperial million, i.e. 1,000,000) for the first time over many years. At the same time, in the past year, 181,000 overseas-born applicants successfully landed jobs here in the UK, which is equivalent to 490 each day.

The general opinion for this phenomenon is that those who have decided to stay out of work are better off on benefits, which means that they each receive from the taxpayer a higher income from the State than one would from a low-paid job. They protest on why should they get up early in the morning to work their socks off at such a dead-end job, and at the end of the day, actually be worse off, with a slimmer wallet.

Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Why work for less money? But this also highlight another attitude among the British unemployed, a lack of the work-ethic.

But it was writer Dominique Jackson who had revealed what might be considered the underlying motive. This is what she wrote, and I quote:

Urged by his parents, both mesmerised by the shibboleth of a University education, young Johnnie will eschew the lowly apprenticeship and fight for his right to a still coveted three years of further education...There remains a stubborn snobbery, in almost every sector of British society, about starting work on the shop floor.
(Emphasis mine.)

And yet, as the author also brought up, the now famous tycoon of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, did poorly at school due to dyslexia, and had never seen the inside of a University. Neither did Lord Alan Sugar, another successful businessman who built his empire from a market stall selling flowers in London. (Alan Sugar is the host of The Apprentice UK, our version of Donald Trump.) Really, as I have experienced, there is nothing wrong with shop floor work.

As I can testify. After leaving school in 1968 with absolutely no qualifications, my first three years of work were spent sweeping the floor each morning of two departments at a furniture-making factory. Additionally, in the wood finishing workshop, each week I had to clean out the two spray booths, the market stall-like structure with an extractor fan where lacquer and other finishes were sprayed on to the woodwork. This created an accumulation of fine white powder, which had to be cleared away. So I ended up literally covered from hair to shoes with this dust, as I poured it onto the bonfire some distance outside. That was my job, I never complained or objected. At least with the making of the teas, (a worker's custom here in the UK - the traditional tea break)- this was done by another adolescent in the cabinet-making department, who had to make tea each morning for the entire workforce, me included.

I personally believe that those years made the transformation from boyhood to manhood. Throughout that time, working in an all-male environment, I learned more smut and filthy talk in the first few weeks than from all my schooldays. And of course I was subjected to teasing. One occasion I was told to go down to the stores for a long weight. Thinking of some gadget essential for the job, I stood and waited...and waited. Then the penny dropped: A long wait! Well, look at it this way, at least I had a free respite without having to answer to the boss. And neither was I subjected to go out and buy a packet of holes, as one of my colleagues had to a few years earlier. Perhaps had I been sent out on such an errand, I might have returned with a packet of doughnuts, and enjoy a good nosh up in the men's restroom! But one very beneficial outcome from this work experience was that it made a man out of me.

In a sense, I never left the shop floor, even after more than 43 years of my working life. Only its nature had changed. I'm now self-employed, running a business cleaning windows at the homes of my clients, which I had been doing for over 31 years. The longevity of the business testifies that I must get some enjoyment and a sense of achievement from my work.

But I didn't stop there. During the last thirty-plus years I attended evening college voluntarily and acquired two G.C.E. "O" Levels, one in English language and the other in Geography. Alongside this, after confessing Jesus Christ to my all-male work colleagues at the furniture factory in 1973, my knowledge of the Bible began to take root and grow.
And may I add one interesting point to this saga. All I had at the time was a pocket New Testament, which was given to me some years earlier by the Gideons at school. When I took it in to work, so I could have a quick read during the break, our foreman looked at it with an element of fear. It also caused reaction from other employees, causing them to blaspheme as well as leading to hot discussions. How could such a little book have such an effect? A couple of months later in 1973, I terminated my employment at the furniture factory to take on a very different job as a pool lifeguard, having qualified in the months leading up to the change.

Later, in the early 1980s, I learned a little bit of computer programming at home, thanks to the good old Sinclair ZX81 home computer with just 1K of RAM, a shoebox cassette recorder for storing software, and a TV set with a spare channel! You see, by then, the church I was attending had attracted a group of young University graduates who worked at one particular computer programming company who moved into our town to trade in our area. During the mid 1970s I began to feel small and inferior in their presence. (See my blog, Alan Sugar at the Kerith? published June 28th, 2011.) The introduction of the ZX81 home computer with which I can actually learn to program was a great confidence booster! I actually believe that God was in this, opening a door to new knowledge, which rebounded in a better walk with God, Bible study and acceptance of my social status. But all this has never made me leave the shop floor, even when there were times I wished that I was able to. Yet I also knew that there was nothing wrong with manual work, unlike the thinking of many of today's younger Brits who believe that the shop floor is beneath them.

The ZX81 Home Computer, released onto the market in 1981

Then again there is a point when one wants to take on a particular vocation. One good example is a man I admire, South Today reporter Allan Sinclair.

On his South Today profile, he tells us that from boyhood he always wanted to be a journalist. But at age 14, he was told by the school careers adviser that he should pursue a trade in plumbing. I think Sinclair felt rather crushed. Why the advisor came up with such an idea we were not told, neither were we told if this student left school with any qualifications. But later in his life he worked as a journalist with various local newspapers before finally being hired by the BBC as a Regional News Reporter. Did he eschew an apprenticeship in plumbing because of snobbery? No, not at all. Journalism was his dream. And I believe that many, if not the majority, of worthwhile professions are held by those who had a passion for their vocation since their schooldays. This is a stark contrast to Johnnie, mentioned above, who only wanted to go to University to escape the dread of manual work he saw as something beneath him.

All this takes me to the Parable of the Talents, spoken by Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:14-30. Here, the Lord tells a story of a master who will be absent for a long time. Just before he goes, however, he chooses three of his servants and he gave one five talents, another he gave two, and the third he gave one talent. I do not know exactly how much a talent is worth, but I believe it to be several thousand pounds or dollars. He told each of them to use the money to trade and bring back a profit. The first two went straightaway to trade. But the third hid the money in the ground. Why did he do it?

I think it was because he felt that his master underestimated his ability, which made him feel resentful. In other words, the servant refused to believe in his master, while the other two believed in him. Now supposing that I was there, a fourth servant. I would approach the master and ask,
"What about me?"
"What about you?" He asks.
"You did not give me any money to trade with."
The master looks me up and down, and with his hand under his chin, mutters,
After a long pause, he disappears, then returns with a small bag.
"Try with this," he says. "Its a quarter of a talent, but let see what you can make of it."

Wheres today I would have no idea what to do with the money, since I have no experience in stocks and shares. But back in those days the servants knew exactly what to do. And I would be no different.

Straight away I invest the cash in two cattle, a bull and a cow, and some sheep, along with their food, especially mandrakes - which is an aphrodisiac. Then I let nature take its course. I also use the cowpats for fertiliser over a field, and invest in some wheat seed, as well as fodder for the animals.

Over a period of time, harvesting yields a bountiful crop which I sell to the markets. The older offspring of the cattle and sheep, after birthing another generation, I would also sell to the market. So it goes on until I have a full talent by the time the master returns.

The first servant invested his five talents to make five more, likewise the second servant turned his two talents into four, and both were richly rewarded. But the master passed a harsh judgement on the one who buried his one talent and had nothing more to show for it. Then, meekly and with fear of the same judgement passed to the third man who had the one talent, I say to him,
"Lord, you know the quarter talent you gave me? Well, er, I made it into one full talent."
The master's eyes widened and sparkled and a big smile spread across his face, from ear to ear.
"WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT!" He almost shouted. "Because you have been faithful over such a small thing, I will let you be responsible over bigger things. Enter into the joy of your Lord."

So the third man and I both yielded the same amount of money, a talent. But why such a contrast in the master's judgement? It was all because I believed in him, the other fellow did not.

And that's how God sees us. He does not evaluate by social status or level of education. Neither does he evaluate us on our nationality. He evaluates us whether we believe in him and of our availability to serve him. Whether one is a Minister of Parliament or Senator, a Doctor, Journalist, or for that matter, a cleaner or one who sweeps the streets, or clean windows, or empty the dustbins. God will always reward those who believe in Jesus.

If only young Johnnie knew that when his enthusiastic parents were being interviewed. Maybe their son would have readily accepted a "lowly apprenticeship" knowing that his main aim in life was to exalt and glorify God in throughout his life.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Why We Remember The Price Paid For Our Freedoms

This morning at Ascot Baptist Church I stood in solemn silence with the rest of the whole congregation for two minutes commencing at 11.00 precisely. Just like the rest of the nation. It was Remembrance Sunday, or Poppy Day, as we call it here in the UK. It is always the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day, marking the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice was signed by the Allies and Germany at Compiegne, France, marking the end of the Great War (World War 1). Armistice Day this year fell on a Friday, two days previously. This may be why some journalists, such as Daily Mail columnist Simon Heffer, believes that the two-minute silence should be observed on that precise moment, when all work should stop, all other activities cease, and even trains stop wherever they are. This, according to Heffer, will get every person's mind to remember the human sacrifices made for our freedoms, and not on a Sunday when much of the nation is slumped on the armchair.

Maybe I can understand how Heffer feels. Much to the credit of many, including employees at the Lloyds Bank in the City, together with a public gathering at Trafalgar Square along with a few Scottish veterans at a cenotaph at a remote area, as with many other locations across the nation, people stopped what they were doing to give a two minute silence of respect at exactly 11.00 on the Friday morning, and this, as far as I know, without any order or even a suggestion made by Government, Royalty or Church officials. Little wonder that Heffer feels that Remembrance Sunday is farcical and Armistice should be the day for remembering. For you, Heffer, the 2012 Armistice will fall on a Sunday, thanks to it being a leap year.

Images of World War II

In the Great War, between 1914 and 1918, an estimated 20,000,000 people, mostly in the military, died defending our freedoms. The casualty toll for World War II was much greater, with more than 16,000,000 of the Allied military dead, along with 45,000,000 of civilian deaths, giving a total of more than 61,000,000 casualties.

But our remembrance Sundays are not confined to the two World Wars. As we stood still this morning, our latest casualties who were killed in Afghanistan were also considered. At this point of writing, 385 of our British soldiers were killed defending our country, which is more than one soldier for each day of the year.

We sometime forget what a very fortunate generation we are! As we revel in our materialism, our high education and careers and our advance in Medicine and healthcare, along with the knowledge that we weren't, nor will we ever wear a military uniform, try to think of yourself as one barely out of your teens, out in a trench, across the Channel from home, on a freezing cold day. During a respite your heart pines for home, the nearness of your mother and perhaps girlfriend, or your wife is due to give birth and you know that you won't be around. Instead as the firing re-starts, bullets from the enemy frontline whistles within inches past your cheek. Your best mate right next to you is hit, and slowly dies. If he is lucky enough, he is ferried back to quarters. Otherwise he dies in the trench and left there for the duration of the shooting. Meanwhile, your crushing desire is to be anywhere but here.

In the Daily Mail newspaper, columnist Max Hastings gives a graphic account of one 17 year old serving on the battle-cruiser Hood in 1940. The youngster writes a letter to his mother begging those in the Admiralty to give her son a reprieve from the ship and offer him a shore job at Rosyth. He concludes his letter with the words:

You know, tell them you have got two sons away and that. Be sure to tell them my age. If only I could get off this ship it would not be so bad.

Not much later, in May 1941 the ship Hood went down with nearly all hands, including the lad who wrote to his mother a few months earlier. He was one of the 16,000,000 military casualties.

On the other hand, there is enough evidence to prove than many who voluntarily join the Forces, particularly in the present day, do so for want of adventure and a life of daring challenges of frontline warfare. In the same article, Hastings relates of two individuals who finds putting their own lives at risk very exhilarating, along with a report that nearly every front line soldier in Helmand was guiltily proud of the casualty rate which, according to them, "was six times higher than at Iraq" as they testify as the most dangerous and exhilarating game that had ever been invented. I wonder whether it was love and loyalty to Queen and Country which had motivated them to travel far from home to fight the Taliban, or was it a way to escape the crushingly dull, mundane day-to-day existence in the office, stuck with a dead-end desk job, and equally stuck in rush hour traffic every morning and evening. An offer of an alternate life in the Forces promises much, much more!

But whatever the motive, wherever it is to fulfill a duty to the country or seeking a dangerous thrill, sacrifices were, and are constantly made. The price to pay for our freedom from a foreign dictatorship such as Hitler, or freedom from terrorist attacks from such as the Taliban, is human life. And once a year we set two minutes of our lives to remember those whose lives were paid for our freedoms.

And it was while at church this morning that one of our elders, Dave Rogers, likened the sacrifices made by our fallen heroes to the one Sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on the cross also for our freedoms. But this freedom gotten for us by Jesus Christ is the eternal freedom from sin and death, to eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Here there will be fullness of joy, when we will partake in the everlasting love which had always existed between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All one need to do is to believe that the Cross of Christ will be effective and trust in its saving power.

When Jesus Christ hung on that cross, his motive was not a reluctant duty under obligation to a King or country like the teenager on board the battleship. Neither was it an exhilarating thrill seeking experience like it was to those two fighting in Afghanistan. Rather it was an act of love, the love God has for mankind, and a love which God allowed his Son to suffer and die as a once-for-all sacrifice to bring reconciliation between God and mankind.

And there are a multitude of martyrs who willingly gave their lives for the cause of the spread of the Gospel. Sure, we do have All Saints Day (1st November) but that is much more remembered for the evening before, Halloween, than for the day itself. At least for the better known martyrs, such as St. Peter, St. Paul and St. James, churches and even hospitals were named after them.

This issue has, to me, brought up the question: what are the spiritual state of those who died in warfare? Are they in Heaven? In Hell? Where is the poor soul of the teenager who drowned when the Hood went down?

Author Dave Hunt once wrote of an experience of standing at a large war cemetery in France, contemplating the souls of all those French soldiers who died in warfare. Hunt assumed that the vast majority of them are in Hell. With much sorrow and grief of heart, he then cried out in prayer, "Why, oh God, did you create man?"

But although I have much respect for this brilliant Bible scholar, whose books played a role in shaping my own Christian life, still I don't agree with all his assumption of the French soldiers. Yes, I agree that each person is saved by God by grace - undeserved mercy - through faith alone, and not by human grace or courage, neither by human sacrifice. But it is not for us to judge or decide who is in Heaven and who isn't. This matter is solely between the person's heart and God. Only God has that right to release or bind a person. In other words, there could be a lot more saved souls from that French cemetery than Hunt would speculate.

The same applies to our British fallen. We have no idea of the whereabouts of their souls. Only God knows. But we can be sure that these people died to defend our freedom. In a parallel sense, it was Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life for our freedom from sin. This is something always to remember and rejoice in, and hoping that by the grace and undeserving mercy of God, the souls of many fallen in warfare are now enjoying eternity basking in God's love and joy.

Now that is worth a poppy or two.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Rapture? It had already Occurred - Twice!

This article is a response to one of our fellow Bloggers who recently wrote an article on why he believes there will be no future Rapture of the Church, which if re-worded, would mean no translation from earth to heaven of all believers, both from the Old Testament and the New, all believers who lived and died in the past and all believers who will be alive at the time of the event. Since there is a forum of comments, mostly agreeing with the author, it looks to me that there is wide support.

Therefore I wish to present why I do believe in a future translation, or Rapture, of all Christian believers sometime in the future which only God knows. Unfortunately, there had been attempts by advocates to guess the date of this event, the failure of it happening on such dates bringing disrepute to the doctrine, both from Christians and atheists alike, and the likes of "The Rapture Generation" highlighted by the likes of Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye becoming the butt of ridicule.

The idea of the Rapture originated from Plymouth Brethren John Darby who developed the "Dispensation Theory" which is to say, that the Bible divides the whole of human history into seven time periods, each period emphasising a facet in God's dealing with mankind. Although I have already shown what these periods were, it is worth highlighting them here:

1. Innocence - From the Creation of Man to the Fall
2. Conscience - From the Expulsion to the Flood.
3. Human Government - From the Flood to the call of Abraham.
4. Promise - From Abraham to the Exodus.
5. The Law - From Mt Sinai to the Crucifixion.
6. Grace - From the Resurrection to the Second Coming of Christ.
7. Kingdom - From the Second Coming to the Last Judgement and end of history.

Although there are seven divisions of time listed here, each period known as a dispensation personally I believe that there is only one dispensation - the Dispensation of Grace. In other words, from the Fall of Man in the beginning, to the end of history, a person has always had his sins forgiven by the unmerited mercy of God, through faith alone. This was as much true with Abel and Enoch as well as with Moses at Mt Sinai and with all true Christian believers today. The whole of Hebrews chapter 11 emphasise this single dispensation of grace through faith alone.

However, looking at how the doctrine of Dispensationalism originated, its history here is very controversial! It was Jesuit Francisco Ribera who in 1590 defended the Papacy from Protestants accusing the Church as being the Beast of Revelation 17 with the Pope as Antichrist. This form of accusation began with Martin Luther and John Calvin and their followers, who came to the conclusion after reading and studying the Bible for themselves. So Jesuit Riberia, who of course, was a Roman Catholic, used the Bible to formulate that the Antichrist was not the Pope, but a politician who will rise to power near the end of human history - from his standpoint in time, far into the future. Ribera's associate, fellow Roman Catholic Cardinal Bellarmine, backed Ribera's research and conclusions.

It was Plymouth Brethren John Nelson Darby who turned to Ribera's thesis of the future Antichrist as the foundation to build his Dispensationalist theory, which includes a future Rapture of the Church. But this is why this makes the whole issue rather colourful. It occurred in the early 19th Century, a time when there was a heavy anti-Catholic sentiment among Protestants, something which was the result of Luther's and Calvin's conclusions reached in studying the Bible. The church structure in which Darby led and worshipped was against the clergy/laity division, against tradition, against the display of crosses and other works of art, against the liturgy, against the adoration of Mary and certainly against the Roman Catechism of worship and service format, along with the rejection of the Pope and his authority - all of these accepted as the mainstream of Catholic church structure. Therefore Darby's acceptance of Ribera's thesis of a future Antichrist and then using it as a foundation to build his own Dispensationalist structure would have been extremely ironic, being so unlikely if not impossible - unless Darby recognised a high level of Biblical truth within Ribera's works, which would come to the admission that God spoke through the Roman Catholic Jesuit, much maligned by the Protestants of the day.

John Nelson Darby

But although I recognise Darby, Scofield and even Ribera's works as valid, my advocacy of the Rapture is based on a very important issue, and it is this:-

If God has not finished with the nation of Israel, and he has future plans for the Jews, then the Rapture of the Church will occur. But If God had forever finished with Israel, and the Church had replaced Israel, then the Rapture need not occur.

There is an intrinsic relationship between Israel and the Rapture. Does God have plans for the Jews in a national sense, or not? If not, and the Church as replaced Israel (a thesis known as Replacement Theory) then we have no need to be concerned about a future Rapture. But even if the Replacement Theory is proved to be correct, the fact that two "Raptures" or translations, had already taken place in human history. I am, of course, referring to the translations of Enoch and Elijah, the only two men in the whole of history to be taken alive to Heaven. The case of Enoch is endorsed in the 11th chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (verse 5).

This may give a clue to the identity of the two witnesses narrated in Revelation chapter 11. These two will be killed by the future Antichrist after 42 months of ministry within the city of Jerusalem. One popular theory is that Moses will be one of the witnesses. I don't hold to that idea. The reason being would be that Moses would have to die twice, the first at the foot of Mount Nebo some 3,600 years ago, then again in the future at Jerusalem. No man had ever gone through such an ordeal, not even the Lord Jesus himself. Enoch qualifies as the ideal candidate, alongside Elijah, both have yet to experience physical death. But the point is: The Rapture is not beyond God's capabilities!

So why the Rapture? Well, let's go back to the beginning.

Because God loves mankind despite being sinful, he had chosen to give an area of land to Abraham, which is to be passed to Isaac and then Jacob, who was renamed Israel, the father of a new nation which will always bear his name. When the fledgling nation was in Egypt, they became slaves to Pharaoh, from whom God delivered through Moses. Later King Solomon son of David, built the first Temple on Mount Moriah, just north of the city of Jerusalem. With the completion of the Temple, God has made a conditional promise that there will always be a descendant to reign in the throne of his father David, as long as each King stays close to God and keep his Commandments. (1 Kings 9:1-9, 2 Chronicles 7:11-22).

But the condition was not met by either Solomon himself or by most of his subsequent kings. By 586BC King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon razed Jerusalem to the ground, destroying both the city and Temple while the exiles were carried off to Babylon. This was the end of Israel as a Kingdom, and it will not be restored until after the second coming of Christ.

Jeremiah the prophet lamented over the destruction of his beloved city, even to the extent of writing a canticle, The Lamentations of Jeremiah. But God gave him some reassurances that if a man can count all the stars in heaven, or disrupt the rotation of the Earth, then will God forever abandon Israel for all what they has done (Jeremiah 31, the whole chapter). In verses 33 and 34, after the nation had been restored and all the exiles and of the Diaspora had returned to the land God had given to Abraham, there is a promise that God will renew the heart of every Israelite across the whole nation. This has not happened yet. In fact, the regeneration of the heart can only come about through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ their Messiah. To this day, the vast majority of the Jews remains in unbelief.

Then there is a large chunk of Scripture that makes up the last twelve chapters of the book of Ezekiel. This section alone occupies 15 pages of my KJV Bible, compared with the whole of the first letter to the Corinthians, which occupies 13 pages, and the whole of Romans, which also occupies 13 pages. In other words, the last twelve chapters of Ezekiel is longer than any of the New Testament epistles. Yet these chapters, as seen by many Christians who advocate the Replacement Theory, are not only ignored, but the truthfulness of these chapters seemingly denied.

What do these chapters tell us? That God has sworn to protect and glorify his own name, and for his own name's sake, he will bring back all the children of Israel to their homeland. This was written soon after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and it does not fit in with the return of the exiles under Ezra and Nehemiah. This was because the vast majority of Jews remained where they were resettled, and were known as the Diaspora, still very much in force during the time of Pentecost of Acts 2.

Ezekiel chapters 36-39 gives the detail of all the Jews returning to their homeland. In 36:24-27 Ezekiel specifies the cleansing of each person's heart and the sprinkling of clean water, the removal of the heart of stone to be replaced with one of flesh. This is the regeneration, nationwide, of the heart which comes only through faith in Christ, confirming Jeremiah's prophecies. Along with the promise of heart cleansing, the restored nation will once more be a Kingdom, with Jesus himself as the King. (Ezekiel 37:21-25).

From chapter 40 onwards, Ezekiel gives a thorough description of a future Temple. Future from our own standpoint in time, because it does not fit with the Temple built by Ezra, which was embellished by Herod the Great before the birth of Christ. For a start, there will be no curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the structure, but a pair of beautifully panelled doors. Then in 43:1-7 we have the glory of the Lord enter the Temple from the east gate, his body parts (soles of his feet) described in verse 7, strongly indicating a risen and glorified Lord Jesus. This did not happen at the second Temple built by Ezra. Also, a river flows out of the Temple precinct to nourish the land of Judea and to sweeten the water of the Dead Sea, so that this presently desolate salt lake will become a habitation of fishes.

Then the priests who minister to the Lord will be the sons of Zadok, a descendant of Aaron. Now if this is all future from now, then it must be said that God has, and will preserve the descendants of Zadok, and it is well to say that Zadok's offspring are with us today! This is backed by the allotments given to all eleven tribes of Israel, something which never took place again after the Exile. Therefore it is safe to conclude that all twelve tribes of Israel are with us today, and only God knows which tribe every Jew belongs to.

Now, if we are to believe that there will be a future Temple to be built in Jerusalem, this present some massive problems. First of all, why should a Temple be built anyway? Did not Jesus Christ atone for all sin for all time? If so, then why the need for more sacrifices?

Now I will be honest here. I do not know why this Temple will be required. But this is a case of believing the Word of God, and submitting to what it says. If the Bible teaches that a future Temple will be built, then who am I to argue? This is a case where I must bow the knee, and my soul to yield to the authority of God's revelation. Trying to argue intellectually would be utterly foolish and bring no lasting fruit.

Then there is another big problem - the Islamic Dome of the Rock sitting spot on where the Temple will be. We know that in no way will the Arabs allow any Jews to lay their fingers on that mosque.

The Dome stood on Temple Mount for the last 600 years. As long as it stands, the Jews were not able to build the third Temple and offer sacrifices. I believe that God allowed this arrangement while the Bride of Christ, which is the Church, reaches its fulfilment. Only when the Church as reached the exact predetermined number will God allow the Temple to be built, and then come to rule the restored Kingdom of Israel from the Throne of David, which will be located within the Holy of Holies of the Temple itself.

When I spent a few months in Israel back in 1994, working as a volunteer at a Christian Conference Centre, I took the opportunity to look at a scale model of the Temple the Jewish people had in mind to build. The model was on public display within Jerusalem Old City, in the Jewish Quarter. There were a number of Orthodox Jews who were against the construction of the Temple but general public opinion seem to be highly favoured of the idea, hence the display.

But there were, and are, two obstacles blocking the project. One is the presence of the Church here on earth. It is to this, at present, where God is ministering, building a people for himself who will make up the Bride of Christ. When she is ready, she will be called up to heaven to marry her Groom. We call this calling to the wedding of the Lamb's Bride the "Rapture".

Then secondly, right on the site where the Temple needs to be built, stands the Islamic Dome of the Rock. This must be demolished, or at least relocated before any construction of the Jewish Temple can even begin. There is no way, at present, that the Arabs would even consider such an idea. Also, where at present, there is much disunity among themselves in the Muslim world, the very threat to the Dome of the Rock would quickly unite the entire Arab population to push Israel into the sea. It could even start a world war.

Therefore it must take an event of huge global proportions to get the Arabs to change their minds. This event is so terrifying, that global pandemonium will seize everyone still alive. The sudden disappearance of millions of people across the globe. The consequences of this will be so dreadful that countless multitudes will go insane due to unrestrained panic. The common explanation for this sudden phenomenon most likely to be an abduction of the human population by extraterrestrials to serve as slaves on another planet. Suddenly those who had remained behind are under the mercy of a power they have absolutely no control. Who will be next? Will more be snatched off this planet to populate another as slaves? It is then that a statesman will suddenly arise who will claim to be the intercessor between the remaining mankind and the alien power. The people will understand that they will be safe if they submit to this man. And he will instruct the Jews to demolish the Dome of the Rock to make way for the Temple, and not a single Arab will oppose him. His motive to build the Temple will be purely selfish. As he sees the construction taking place, this statesman anticipates the day he will stand at the imposing entrance and proclaim himself to be God! (See 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4.)

This, of course is just a scenario, but one that could be close to reality. But for Israel to take centre stage again, the Christian Church must be removed, and so it shall, to present herself as the glorious Bride, dressed in white and adorned for the Groom who will accept her as his own.

Maybe who knows, perhaps Ribera, Darby and Scofield did see something in the Bible after all, the restoration of Israel as a Kingdom once more.