Friday, June 24, 2011

God will Spare Us from the Coming Wrath

As we have been studying signs of the End Times, the question has arisen of the evidence for the Rapture of all believers occurring before the tribulation. Rapture is the event in which Jesus will descend from Heaven and believers will rise up to meet Him in the air, the dead in Christ first and then living believers, all transformed instantaneously into glorified bodies (1 Thess 4:16-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-53). Jesus will return to heaven with the Church, where we will stay during the tribulation.

The Rapture is imminent (could happen at any time) but will occur at an unknown date and time (Matt. 24: 13, 42). This unknown day and date must apply to the Rapture, and not to the Battle of Armageddon when Christ returns with His armies, because 3.5 years (1260 days) occur from the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15-16) to the return of Christ to defeat Israel’s enemies.

The abomination of desolation refers to the Antichrist, whom the Jews previously thought of as their peaceful Messiah, desecrating the Temple and stating that he is God (2 Thess 2:4). Finally the Jews will realize his deception and they will flee for their lives. This will occur halfway through the 7-year tribulation (Dan 9:27), which ends with the Battle of Armageddon. So the timing from the abomination of desolation to the Battle of Armageddon is known (3.5 years), and the unknown date and hour for the Lord’s coming must refer to the preceding Rapture. Jesus warns only those in Judea to flee, and not other nations.

Paul tells us that God will spare believers from the wrath to come, i.e. the tribulation, which must be because we are Raptured before the tribulation occurs (1 Thess 5: 1-9; 1 Thess 1:10).

1 Thessalonians 5: 9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ

Paul also tells us that the Holy Spirit will be removed from the earth before the Antichrist will be revealed (2 Thess 2: 7-8). The Holy Spirit now resides in every believer, so when we are all Raptured, the Holy Spirit will leave with us, allowing the Antichrist to do his work unopposed.
After the Rapture, the believers enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19: 7-9). We will stay in Heaven with Christ until the great tribulation on earth is nearly over, about 7 earthly years.

We will return with Him to earth as His armies to fight the Battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:14). If the Rapture were not until the end of the tribulation, we would be caught up in the clouds with Christ and then turn right around and go back with Him again to fight the battle, leaving no time for the marriage supper.

In the first 3 chapters of Revelation, Christ addresses each of the churches, i.e., the believers. The church is mentioned 19 times in these chapters as being on earth. Thereafter, the churches are never mentioned, and the focus turns to the Jews living in Israel. John is called up to Heaven in his vision in much the same way the believers will be caught up at the Rapture – with the sound of a trumpet and a call to “Come up hither” (Rev 4:1).

John sees Christ seated on His throne in Heaven, surrounded by 24 elders, or representatives of saved believers, dressed in white robes (Rev. 19) and wearing crowns (Rev 4:2-4) that believers can win to lay at Jesus’ feet (2 Tim 4:8). Because they already have the crowns, the judgment seat of Christ must have also already occurred (2 Cor 5:10). So the believers are already Raptured before the tribulation begins, and the events of the tribulation are described in subsequent chapters of Revelation.

As the tribulation unfolds, an angel descends to earth and seals the servants of God to protect them from destruction (Rev 7:3). There are only 144,000 people sealed, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Believers can be considered to be the servants of God, and it stands to reason that He would protect us also, unless He has already done so by removing us at the Rapture before the tribulation begins. The 144,000 Jews are sealed on the earth, while we, a very large number of believers from all nations, are in heaven worshipping God (Rev 7:9-10).

Jesus compares His coming to the times of Noah and of Lot – in each case, the righteous believers who had faith in God were removed from destruction and harm, so it follows that the Rapture will remove believers from the harm and destruction of the tribulation to follow (Luke 17: 26-30). Those who reject Jesus as Savior will be left behind in the tribulation; those who trusted Him will be Raptured to Heaven.

1 Thess 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett

Friday, June 17, 2011

How Will You Spend Your Days?

As we have been studying in Matthew 24, no man can know the day or the hour of Christ’s return (Matt. 24:36), but He wants us to be aware of the signs that mean it is getting closer. As we follow the daily news, all of what Jesus described seems to be happening, and we look forward to that day with great anticipation. The signs described by Jesus in the Olivet discourse point to the great tribulation, which will occur after the Rapture, so our meeting with Christ in the air will occur even sooner!

Terrible things will be happening on earth during the great tribulation (Matt. 24:29), but we have no reason to fear if we have repented of our sins and trusted Jesus as our Lord and Savior. If so, we shall be caught up with Him in the air at the Rapture and live eternally with Him and other believers in Christ, including those who died before us (1 Cor 15:51-54; 1 Thess 4:15-17)

Knowing that the Rapture is imminent, meaning that it could occur at any time, and we could meet Christ face to face at any moment, we should live each day as if it were our last. We should die to our sin nature and yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit, so that we can resist the devil, become more like Christ (Phil. 3:10), encourage other believers, spread the Good News of the Gospel, and follow God’s perfect will for our life.

At the same time, we should not be discouraged by what may seem to us, in our impatience, as a delay in Christ’s return. We need to be firmly grounded in our faith in God’s promises so that we will not be shaken by those scoffers who take this delay to mean that Jesus will not keep His promise to return (2 Pet 3 :3-4). Rather, we should understand that God’s sense of timing is perfect and altogether different from ours.

We are limited by our earthly life span to consider time in terms of those few years, but in eternity, our earthly years are but a vapor, (James 4:14) gone as quickly as the visible puff of breath we exhale into the air on a wintry day. God has no limitations, and for Him, time stands still, which may help to explain how He can know everything, past, present and future; how He can be everywhere at once; and how He can deal with all our prayer requests at the same time. For Him, one day can be as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Pet 3 :8; Psalm 90: 4-12).

What scoffers perceive as a delay or even a failure of Christ’s return, we as believers should realize is a sign of God’s infinite patience and mercy. He is not willing that anyone would die unsaved and go to hell. The longer He waits to return, the more time there is for the lost to repent of their sins and be saved.

2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Because He gave each of us free will, He will not force anyone to make that decision, and because He is just and holy, He must judge those who reject Him.

The timing of Christ’s return is in the Father’s hands alone, yet He does not want us to sit idly by. He wants us to pray for His return, to lead lost souls to Him, and to win crowns that we can lay at His feet (2 Timothy 4:8). If we watch for His return and are Rapture-ready (2 Pet 3:11,14), He will reward us richly (Matt. 24:45-47). His eternal rewards are the only ones that matter, because everything on earth will be consumed and burned up (2 Pet 3:10,12-13; Isa 51:6). Therefore, our priorities should be with accumulating heavenly rewards, and not earthly treasure (Matthew 6:19-20).

Only He knows how many days are left, but we can all know how He expects us to live each day by studying and following His Word (2 Pet 3:18).

Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thy People Shall Be My People

As we saw last time, as we are progressively sanctified and conformed to His image, our natural emotional response to fellow Christians can mature from philia, or brotherly love, into self-sacrificing agape love. Christ's indwelling Holy Spirit lets us love unconditionally and sacrificially, not only other believers but also the unsaved (1 Pet. 1:22).

2 Peter 1:5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

Peter explains the progression of how Christians can develop agape love to one another. We have to work at it and be passionate about this transformation! It doesn’t come naturally. It starts by being saved, i.e. having faith in Christ, which allows us to be obedient in our desire to please Him. Obedience makes us more likely to be virtuous and less likely to sin, and more likely to study His Word and gain Biblical knowledge and Godly wisdom. That will improve our self-control, or temperance, and give us more patience toward others when they disappoint us. That makes us more conformed to Christ’s image, first showing philia or brotherly kindness toward other Christians, and finally showing charity, or self-sacrificing agape love for one another and also for the lost (John 13:35).

Jesus Himself showed how philia can become agape when He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Jesus even called Judas “friend,” who betrayed Him (Matt. 26:50), but Jesus went from philia to agape as he paid for the sins of Judas and of all men. The self-sacrifice of Christ did not end with His pain, suffering, and even death, but, it led to His joy at being the means of salvation for all mankind (Hebrews 12:2).

Similarly, the friendship and kindness we show to others will be returned to us many times over, and even acts of self-sacrifice for our friends will reap eternal rewards. An excellent Bible example of this transformation from kindness and respect, to sharing a common belief, to self-sacrifice without expecting anything in return and ultimately to blessings beyond measure, is the story of Ruth.

Naomi and her two sons lacked faith in that they left Bethlehem, where God had promised to provide for them, during a time of famine (1:1). They traveled to Moab, where Naomi’s husband died and her sons each married a Moabitess woman, one of whom was Ruth and the other Orpah (1:4). This also was an act of disobedience to God’s command of not intermarrying with pagan people.

When Naomi’ two sons died about 10 years later , both her daughters-in-law initially offered to stay with her, but she encouraged them to return to the homes of their parents so that they could stay in their home country of Moab and find new husbands there (1:8-13). This is agape love on Naomi’s part, because she is now a sad, old woman who has lost her husband and sons, yet she is willing to risk traveling alone back to Bethlehem so that she would not be a burden to Ruth and Orpah and so that they could make new lives for themselves. Orpah willingly agreed, but Ruth’s friendship toward Naomi went far deeper, and she begged her to let her accompany her to Israel (1:14-16).

16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

Ruth pledges her life to Naomi, not only accompanying her on the journey, but wanting to go wherever she goes and to live wherever she lives, accepting Naomi’s people as her own even though she has never met them and knows nothing about the country and its customs. She even accepts Naomi’s God as her own, which shows that the agape love of a believer toward an unsaved person may lead them to the Lord.

But the blessings she reaped back in Israel, along with the barley she gleaned in Boaz’ field (Ruth 2), were not only the faithful friendship, love and good advice of Naomi (3:1-5), but provision for her physical needs (3:15), a loving marriage to Boaz (4:13), and even giving birth to a son who would be a forefather of to Jesus Christ Himself! (4:17). She gave up all she knew, but she gained faith in the only true God, and with that, the blessings that only He can offer.

Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett

How Do You Love Him?

The Greek words used for love in the Bible include philia, or brotherly love (Romans 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7). connoting friendship; and agape, or self-sacrificing love, of which the best example is Jesus suffering and dying on the cross to pay all our sin debt in full. Phileo means to have an affection, sentiment, kindly feeling, or fondness based in the heart toward another person. Philia is based on a natural emotional response toward another, whereas agape is based on the will, volitionally doing what is best for another even when he is unloveable. Thank God that He shows agape toward us even though we are sinners with wicked hearts (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 5:8).

Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament contrasts many aspects of philia and agape. Philia is a natural, emotional response of the heart, but agape is learned through studying God’s Word and following Christ’s example, and applied through the will. Philia is discriminatory and conditional, shown toward those who please us, bring us delight, or do nice things for us. Agape is non-discriminatory and unconditional, shown toward everyone because we consider them to be precious in God’s sight and esteemed more highly than we value ourselves.

Philia is bound to fail, as it occurs because of what someone does or because of what he is like. Ultimately those conditions change and people displease us. But agape never fails (1 Cor. 13:8), as it occurs in spite of what people do or what they are like.

The difference between philia and agape is seen in John 21:15-17, when the resurrected Jesus calls aside Peter, who is filled with remorse over denying Christ 3 times, just as Jesus as predicted he would. To reconcile Peter to Himself, Jesus asks Peter 3 times, “Do you love Me?” Twice the word Jesus uses is “agapeo,” but when Peter says that he loves Christ, he uses the word “phileo,” which implies a lesser intensity and commitment than the self-sacrificing agape love Jesus has shown to all of us.

It is as if a wife asks her husband, “Do you love me so much that you would risk your life to save mine?” and he answers, “Well, you know I have warm, fuzzy feelings for you when you serve me breakfast in bed.” Each time Peter avoided the real issue of what Christ asked him, Jesus gently explained what agape love means, by saying “Feed my sheep.” Jesus wanted Peter to put his own needs behind those of the lost sheep he had to bring to Christ. Ultimately, Peter did just that, making the ultimate sacrifice of dying a martyr’s death and being crucified upside down (John 21:18).

Friendship often starts with philia, as an emotional response to someone who shares a common sense of purpose and belief system. It is natural to like people who think and feel the same way we do on important issues. But true friendship occurs when philia lead to self-sacrificing, unconditional agape love. We see this in the family of God, where new believers in Christ join the church, or body of other born-again Christians who share the common experience of having turned away from, or repented of, their sins, and of having turned toward Christ as their Savior (Rom.12:10). You gain new Christian friends when you are saved, and, conversely, if you are a friend to someone who is lost, you may lead that person to trust Christ as her Savior.

Through studying God’s Word, prayer, worship, and Christian fellowship, new believers become progressively changed, or sanctified, to become more like Christ. Philia, or natural affection they feel toward other believers, then becomes more like the self-sacrificing love of Christ as they begin to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). As we are progressively sanctified and conformed to His image, our natural emotional response to fellow Christians can mature into agape love as His indwelling Holy Spirit lets us to love unconditionally and sacrificially, not only other believers but also the unsaved.

1 Peter 1:22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.

Love in Him,

Laurie Collett

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Now is the Time!

As students of history have seen proven over and over, and as the media took great delight in reporting last month, any attempt to predict the date of Christ’s second coming only makes the self-proclaimed “prophet” look foolish. Sadly, it also discourages and even devastates those gullible enough to believe the “prophecy,” while discrediting and making a mockery of Christians’ well-placed faith in the Rapture. As Christ so clearly told His disciples,

Matt. 24:36: But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Nonetheless, Christ clearly wanted us all to be aware of the signs that would precede and build up to His second coming, as He further described to His disciples in the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24), including men falsely claiming to be Christ (v. 5); wars and rumors of wars (v. 6-7); famines, diseases, and earthquakes in varied and unexpected places (v. 7), persecution of Christians (v. 9), false prophets (v. 11), and spread of the Gospel message to all nations (v. 14).

These general signs will culminate in a very specific sign, the “abomination of desolation,” (v. 15). The Antichrist, who will have been regarded as a peacemaker and messiah will desecrate the holy temple in Jerusalem, most likely by slaughtering a swine on the altar, clearly revealing that he is not the promised one the Jews are awaiting, but quite the opposite. This ushers in the great tribulation (v. 21) and ultimately Christ’s second coming (v. 30).

As we hear of all that is going on the world today we must realize that all these general signs are present and increasing, suggesting that the second coming will be very soon. Even more exciting is the realization that before Christ returns with His armies of believers to fight the battle of Armageddon (Rev.16:16), the Rapture, in which all believers in Christ are caught up to meet with Him in the air (1 Cor 15: 51-54), must happen at least 7 years before! So, as close at it seems the second coming must be, based on the signs of the times, it is actually 7 years closer!

Of course, even the disciples who watched as Christ ascended into Heaven believed, as we do, that Christ’s return is imminent, meaning that it could occur at any time. God’s timing is always perfect, and His sense of timing is very different than ours (2 Pet 3:8). We can thank Him for what we experience as a delay in His return, because it gives more souls an opportunity to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), and because it gives us more time to lead others to him and to win crowns to lay at His feet.

The world mocks Christians for believing that Christ will come again (2 Pet 3:3-4), but we can be blessed by knowing that we can have the crown of righteousness to lay at His feet just by eagerly looking forward to His second coming! (2 Timothy 4:8). Although we don’t know what day or hour the Rapture will occur, we do know for certain that it is closer today than it was yesterday, and that we should live each day as if it were our last before He comes again!

Matt. 24:44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

And we also know that for those who don’t yet know Christ, that now is the time for salvation. We’re not promised tomorrow, so let’s be ready for His sure, imminent return, and waste no time in telling others about Him.

2 Cor 6: 2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)

Love in Christ,

Laurie Collett