Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Gospel of God

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine


By Phil Johnson

It's odd and troubling that the best-selling evangelical book of the past decade is a fanciful account of heaven spun from the imagination of a four-year-old boy. (Believe it or not, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Prayer of Jabez are both now more than a decade old.) Peddling fiction about the afterlife as non-fiction is the current Next Big Thing in the world of evangelical publishing.
Heaven is for Real, by Todd Burpo, tells the story of Burpo's son, Colton, who says he visited heaven while anesthetized for an appendectomy at age 4. Colton, now 13, says in heaven he got a halo and real wings (though they were too small for his liking). He also claims he sat on Jesus' lap while the angels sang to him; he saw Mary standing beside Jesus' throne; and he met the Holy Spirit (who, according to Colton, is "kind of blue").
More than seven million copies of this book are now in circulation, and the publisher has been assembling a sizable catalogue of spin-off products, including a planned movie version (to be produced by televangelist/prosperity preacher T. D. Jakes).
That book is not to be confused with The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, by Kevin Malarkey—another runaway best-seller. Malarkey's book is about his son Alex, who at age 6 was nearly killed (and left permanently paralyzed) in a devastating automobile accident. In the immediate aftermath, and then during his rehabilitation, Alex says he made multiple trips to heaven and back.
The Malarkeys' version of heaven is considerably darker and not as full of details as the Burpos'. "There is a hole in outer Heaven," Alex says. "That hole goes to hell." The devil evidently uses this portal freely, because he is a major figure in Alex Malarkey's description of paradise. Alex says he has personally seen Satan many times, first at the accident scene and then later in heaven.
Indeed, this is perhaps the most vivid part of Alex Malarkey's whole account: "The devil's mouth is funny looking, with only a few moldy teeth. And I've never noticed any ears. His body has a human form, with two bony arms and two bony legs. He has no flesh on his body, only some moldy stuff. His robes are torn and dirty. I don't know about the color of the skin or robes—it's all just too scary to concentrate on these things!"
Those books are part of a burgeoning genre, currently one of the hottest trends in publishing: imaginative tales purporting to be eyewitness accounts of heaven and the afterlife. (Blogger Tim Challies has labeled the genre "Heaven Tourism," candidly dismissing one bestseller in the category as "pure junk, fiction in the guise of biography, paganism in the guise of Christianity.")
Examples of these works include My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman; Flight to Heaven: A Plane Crash . . .A Lone Survivor . . .A Journey to Heaven—and Back, by Dale Black; To Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, by Mary Neal; 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper; Nine Days In Heaven, by Dennis Prince; 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man's Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Torment, by Bill Wiese; and many others. Several of these titles have appeared on various bestseller lists, and most of them are still riding high.
This is not a totally new phenomenon. Various survivors of near-death experiences have been publishing gnostic insights about the afterlife for at least two decades. Betty Eadie's Embraced by the Light was number one on the New York Times Bestseller List exactly 20 years ago. The success of that book unleashed an onslaught of similar tales, nearly all of them with strong New Age and occult overtones. So psychics and new-agers have been making hay with stories like these for at least two decades.
What's different about the current crop of afterlife testimonies is that they are being eagerly sought and relentlessly cranked out by evangelical publishers. They are bought and devoured by millions who would describe themselves as born-again Bible-believing Christians. Every book I have named in the above list comes from an ostensibly evangelical source. Many of them are old-guard mainstream ECPA publishers, not vanity presses or dilettantes from the charismatic fringe.
These books are coming out with such frequency that it is virtually impossible to read and review them all. But that shouldn't even be necessary. No true evangelical ought to be tempted to give such tales any credence whatsoever, no matter how popular they become. One major, obvious problem is that these books don't even agree with one another. They give contradictory descriptions of heaven and thus cannot possibly have any cumulative long-term effect other than the sowing of confusion and doubt.
But the larger issue is one no authentic believer should miss: the whole premise behind every one of these books is contrary to everything Scripture teaches about heaven.
In an upcoming book dealing with this subject, John MacArthur says,

For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies—with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God—are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception.
We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?" (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.
Only four authors in all the Bible were blessed with visions of heaven and wrote about what they saw: the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, and the apostles Paul and John. Two other biblical figures—Micaiah and Stephen—got glimpses of heaven, but what they saw is merely mentioned, not described (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55). As Pastor MacArthur points out, all of these were prophetic visions, not near-death experiences. Not one person raised from the dead in the Old or New Testaments ever recorded for us what he or she experienced in heaven. That includes Lazarus, who spent four days in the grave.
Paul was caught up into heaven in an experience so vivid he said he didn't know whether he went there bodily or not, but he saw things that are unlawful to utter, so he gave no details. He covered the whole incident in just three verses (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
All three biblical writers who saw heaven and described their visions give comparatively sparse details, but they agree perfectly (Isaiah 6:1-4; Ezekiel 1 and 10; Revelation 4-6). They don't agree with the Burpo-Malarkey version of heaven. Both their intonation and the details they highlight are markedly different. The biblical authors are all fixated on God's glory, which defines heaven and illuminates everything there. They are overwhelmed, chagrined, petrified, and put to silence by the sheer majesty of God's holiness. Notably missing from all the biblical accounts are the frivolous features and juvenile attractions that seem to dominate every account of heaven currently on the bestseller lists.
Every week, I answer e-mails and inquiries from evangelicals who are confused by the barrage of afterlife travelogues. Why Christians who profess to believe the Bible would find these stories the least bit compelling is an utter mystery, but it is a sure sign that many in the evangelical movement have abandoned their evangelical convictions. Specifically, they have relinquished the principle of sola Scriptura and lost their confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. Why else would they turn from clear biblical teaching on heaven and seek an alternative view in mystical experiences that bear no resemblance to what Scripture tells us?
This trend away from biblical authority was even noted earlier this week by a secular reporter in The New York Post. Consider the implications of this quotation:
Lynn Vincent, who ghost-wrote "Heaven is for Real" on behalf of the young boy Colton Burpo and his father, said that she was initially reluctant to include Colton's description of people in heaven having wings. "If I put that people in Heaven have wings, orthodox Christians are going to think that the book is a hoax." She did and they didn't.
Evangelical readers' discernment skills are at an all-time low, and that is why books like these proliferate. Despite the high profile, high sales figures, and high dollar amounts Christian publishers can milk from a trend such as this, it doesn't bode well for the future of Christian publishing—or for the future of the evangelical movement.
Watch for an all-new edition of John MacArthur's classic book The Glory of Heaven coming from Crossway next spring. The book will include thorough critiques of Heaven Is for Real and The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, plus extended evaluations of a few other bestsellers in the same vein. More importantly, it gives a thorough exposition of what Scripture teaches about heaven.
Spoiler alert: Heaven's a lot more glorious than any of these current bestsellers suggest.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Resurrection of Christ


The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead with a glorified body is a foundational
truth of the New Testament. In fact, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:17-19).

But how can we be absolutely sure that He rose from the dead three days after He died on the cross for our sins? Even one of the 12 apostles denied His resurrection: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Eight days later, Thomas saw Him in the upper room, and exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

But how can we say what doubting Thomas finally confessed if we have not seen Christ as Thomas did? Our Lord gave the answer to him and to all men everywhere: “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

This is an amazing statement! How can we believe in something so stupendous about someone who we have not seen? The answer may come as a surprise even to many Christians. It is the same dynamic    by which we can know how the world was created by God a few thousand years ago – not billions of years ago by chance through evolution. “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen [i.e., sun, moon, stars, plants, animals and people] were not made of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).

Many people who believe in supernatural creation by an Intelligent Designer would question this. They are convinced that the theory of evolution has been disproven by the Second Law of Thermodynamics – which teaches that everything in the universe is deteriorating in quality – and by the obvious irreducible complexity of all living things. Therefore, they say, we do not need to accept creation “by faith.” (See John C. Whitcomb, Jesus Christ: Our Intelligent Designer [Waxhaw, NC: Kainos Books, 2012].)

But this involves a profound misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches. We are not told to take by faith what anyone says – but only what God has said. That is why “faith [in what He has said] is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb.11:1).

How do we know for sure that God is speaking to us? The first chapter of the Bible provides the answer: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26). Human beings are infinitely different from animals. We have a mind, a soul/spirit and a conscience. We have a unique capacity among all living beings on this Earth to hear God speak to us. “Gentiles… show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Rom. 2:14, 15). When God spoke to our first parents, they did not say, “Who are you?” (See Rom. 1:18-23.)

One of the special ministries of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the triune Godhead, is to illumine our minds concerning divine realities. The Lord Jesus said of Him, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26). Furthermore, “He will convict the world… of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more” (16:8, 10). And, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (16:13).

That is how some Greek politicians in Athens, hearing the preaching of Paul, were able to believe in the resurrection of Christ, likely without ever having been to the land of Israel – more than 500 miles away. “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead… some men joined him and believed” (Acts 17:32, 34).
Friend, do you believe that “Christ died for our sins… and that He rose again” (1 Cor. 15:3, 4)? Through the inspired words of the Bible, we are told that He was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom.1:4).
Do not wait until you see Him – like doubting Thomas. Believe in Him now – because your God, who created you, has told you to!
May every Christian in the world today trust the Holy Spirit to make us effective light reflectors for the resurrected and glorified Christ until He comes again.

Dr. John C. Whitcomb is heard weekly as the Bible teacher on Encounter God’s Truth, a radio and Internet broadcast outreach of Whitcomb Ministries, Inc. He has been a professor of Old Testament and theology for more than 60 years and is widely recognized as a leading Biblical scholar. The book he coauthored with the late Dr. Henry Morris in 1961, The Genesis Flood, has been credited as one of the major catalysts for the modern Biblical creationism movement. Dr. Whitcomb’s broadcasts, sermons, lectures and writings are available at SermonAudio.com/Whitcomb. To receive the very latest on his ministry, like Facebook.com/WhitcombMinistries or myWorldview.com/WhitcombMinistries.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

IS THE RAPTURE IN 2 THESSALONIANS 2:3?



~~Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
  —2 Thessalonians 2:3
 I believe that there is a strong possibility that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is speaking of the rapture.  What do I mean?  Some pretribulationists, like myself, think that the Greek noun apostasia, usually translated “apostasy,” is a reference to the rapture and should be translated “departure.”  Thus, this passage would be saying that the day of the Lord will not come until the rapture comes before it.  If apostasia is a reference to a physical departure, then 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is strong evidence for pretribulationism.
THE MEANING OF APOSTASIA
 The Greek noun apostasia is only used twice in the New Testament.  In addition to 2 Thessalonians 2:3, it occurs in Acts 21:21 where, speaking of Paul, it is said, “that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake (apostasia)Moses.”  The word is a Greek compound of apo “ from” and istemi “stand.”  Thus, it has the core meaning of “away from” or “departure.”  The Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon defines apostasia first as “defection, revolt;” then secondly as “departure, disappearance.”   Gordon Lewis explains how the verb from which the noun apostasia is derived supports the basic meaning of departure in the following:
The verb may mean to remove spatially.  There is little reason then to deny that the noun can mean such a spatial removal or departure.  Since the noun is used only one other time in the New Testament of apostasy from Moses (Acts 21:21), we can hardly conclude that its Biblical meaning is necessarily determined.  The verb is used fifteen times in the New Testament.  Of these fifteen, only three have anything to do with a departure from the faith (Luke 8;13; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb 3:12).  The word is used for departing from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19), from ungodly men(1 Tim. 6:5), from the temple (Luke 2:27), from the body (2 Cor. 12:8), and from persons (Acts 12:10; Luke 4:13).
“It is with full assurance of proper exegetical study and with complete confidence in the original languages,” concludes Daniel Davey, “that the word meaning of apostasia is defined as departure.”   Paul Lee Tan adds the following:
 What precisely does Paul mean when he says that “the falling away” (2:3) must come before the tribulation?  The definite article “the” denotes that this will be a definite event, an event distinct from the appearance of the Man of Sin.  The Greek word for “falling away”, taken by itself, does not mean religious apostasy or defection.  Neither does the word mean “to fall,” as the Greeks have another word for that.  [pipto, I fall; TDI]  The best translation of the word is “to depart.”  The apostle Paul refers here to a definite event which he calls “the departure,” and which will occur just before the start of the tribulation.  This is the rapture of the church.
So the word has the core meaning of departure and it depends upon the context to determine whether it is used to mean physical departure or an abstract departure such as departure from the faith.
TRANSLATION HISTORY
 The first seven English translations of apostasia all rendered the noun as either “departure” or “departing.”  They are as follows:  Wycliffe Bible (1384); Tyndale Bible (1526); Coverdale Bible (1535); Cranmer Bible (1539); Breeches Bible (1576); Beza Bible (1583); Geneva Bible (1608).   This supports the notion that the word truly means “departure.”  In fact, Jerome’s Latin translation known as the Vulgate from around the time of A.D. 400 renders apostasia with the “word discessio, meaning ‘departure.’”   Why was the King James Version the first to depart from the established translation of “departure”?
 Theodore Beza, the Swiss reformer was the first to transliterate apostasia and create a new word, rather than translate it as others had done.  The translators of the King James Version were the first to introduce the new rendering of apostasia as “falling away.”  Most English translators have followed the KJV and Beza in departing from translating apostasia as “departure.”  No good reason was ever given.
THE USE OF THE ARTICLE
 It is important to note that Paul uses a definite article with the noun apostasia.  What does this mean?  Davey notes the following:
 Since the Greek language does not need an article to make the noun definite, it becomes clear that with the usage of the article reference is being made to something in particular.  In II Thessalonians 2:3 the word apostasia is prefaced by the definite article which means that Paul is pointing to a particular type of departure clearly known to the Thessalonian church.
 Dr. Lewis provides a likely answer when he notes that the definite article serves to make a word distinct and draw attention to it.  In this instance he believes that its purpose is “to denote a previous reference.”  “The departure Paul previously referred to was ‘our being gathered to him’ (v. 1) and our being ‘caught up’ with the Lord and the raptured dead in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:17),” notes Dr. Lewis.   The “departure” was something that Paul and his readers clearly had a mutual understanding about.  Paul says in verse 5, “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?”
 The use of the definite article would also support the notion that Paul spoke of a clear, discernable event.  A physical departure, like the rapture would fit just such a notion.  However, the New Testament teaches that apostasy had already arrived in the first century (cf. Acts 20:27–32; 1 Tim. 4:1–5; 2 Tim. 3:1–9; 2 Pet. 2:1–3; Jude 3–4, 17–21) and thus, such a process would not denote a clear event as demanded by the language of this passage.  Understanding departure as the rapture would satisfy the nuance of this text.  E. Schuyler English explains as follows:
Again, how would the Thessalonians, or Christians in any century since, be qualified to recognize the apostasy when it should come, assuming, simply for the sake of this inquiry, that the Church might be on earth when it does come?  There has been apostasy from God, rebellion against Him, since time began.
 Whatever Paul is referring to in his reference to “the departure,” was something that both the Thessalonian believers and he had discussed in-depth previously.  When we examine Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he never mentions the doctrine of apostasy, however, virtually every chapter in that epistle speaks of the rapture (cf. 1:9–10; 2:19; probably 3:13; 4:13–17; 5:1–11).  In these passages, Paul has used a variety of Greek terms to describe the rapture.  It should not be surprising that he uses another term to reference the rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.  Dr. House tells us:
Remember, the Thessalonians had been led astray by the false teaching (2:2–3) that the Day of the Lord had already come.  This was confusing because Paul offered great hope, in the first letter, of a departure to be with Christ and a rescue from god’s wrath.  Now a letter purporting to be from Paul seems to say that they would first have to go through the Day of the Lord.  Paul then clarified his prior teaching by emphasizing that they had no need to worry.  They could again be comforted because the departure he had discussed in his first letter, and in his teaching while with them, was still the truth.  The departure of Christians to be with Christ, and the subsequent revelation of the lawless one, Paul argues, is proof that the Day of the Lord had not begun as they had thought.  This understanding of apostasia makes much more sense than the view that they are to be comforted (v. 2) because a defection from the faith must precede the Day of the Lord.  The entire second chapter (as well as 1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11) serves to comfort (see vv. 2, 3, 17), supplied by a reassurance of Christ’s coming as taught in his first letter.
DEPARTURE AND THE RESTRAINER
 Since pretribulationists believe that the restrainer mentioned in verses 6 and 7 is the Holy Spirit and teaches a pre-trib rapture, then it should not be surprising to see that there is a similar progression of thought in the progression of verse 3.  Allan MacRae, president of Faith Theological Seminary in a letter to Schuyler English has said the following concerning this matter:
 I wonder if you have noticed the striking parallel between this verse and verses 7–8, a little further down.  According to your suggestion verse 3 mentions the departure of the church as coming first, and then tells of the revealing of the man of sin.  In verses 7 and 8 we find the identical sequence.  Verse 7 tells of the removal of the Church; verse 8 says: “And then shall that Wicked be revealed.”  Thus close examination of the passage shows an inner unity and coherence, if we take the word apostasia in its general sense of “departure,” while a superficial examination would easily lead to an erroneous interpretation as “falling away” because of the proximity of the mention of the man of sin.
 Kenneth Wuest, a Greek scholar from Moody Bible Institute added the following contextual support to taking apostasia as a physical departure:
 But then hee apostasia of which Paul is speaking, precedes the revelation of Antichrist in his true identity, and is to katechon that which holds back his revelation (2:6).  The hee apostasia, therefore, cannot be either a general apostasy in Christendom which does precede the coming of Antichrist, nor can it be the particular apostasy which is the result of his activities in making himself the alone object of worship.  Furthermore, that which holds back his revelation (vs. 3) is vitally connected with hoo katechoon (vs. 7), He who holds back the same event.  The latter is, in my opinion, the Holy Spirit and His activities in the Church.  All of which means that I am driven to the inescapable conclusion that the hee apostasia (vs. 3) refers to the Rapture of the Church which precedes the Day of the Lord, and holds back the revelation of the Man of Sin who ushers in the world-aspect of that period.
CONCLUSION
 The fact that apostasia most likely has the meaning of physical departure is a clear support for pretribulationism.  If this is true, (Dr. Tim LaHaye and I believe that it is), then it means that a clear prophetic sequence is laid out by Paul early in his Apostolic ministry.  Paul teaches in 2 Thessalonians 2 that the rapture will occur first, before the Day of the Lord commences.  It is not until after the beginning of the Day of the Lord that the Antichrist is released, resulting in the events described by him in chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians.  This is the only interpretation that provides hope for a discomforted people.  Maranatha!

Friday, April 18, 2014

ARE WE LIVING IN THE LAST DAYS?



 An important question that many Christians often ask is “Are we living in the last days or end times?”  When people ask me this question, I usually respond with a clear “Yes and No!”  Such an answer requires an explanation.  My explanation is that the Bible uses such terminology in multiple ways, so that some references do refer to our own day, while others do not.
LAST DAYS VOCABULARY
 Sometimes Christians read in the Bible about the “last days,” “end times,” etc., and tend to think that all of these phrases all of the time refer to the same thing.  This is not the case, just as in our own lives there are many endings:  there is the end of the work day, the end of the day according to the clock, the end of the week, the end of the month, and the end of the year.  Just because the word “end” is used does not mean that it always refers to the same time.  The word “end” is restricted and precisely defined when it is modified by “day,” “week,” “year,” etc.  So it is in the Bible that “end times” may refer to the end of the current church age or it may refer to other times.
 There are a number of different biblical expressions which appear to speak of the end times.  The Bible teaches that this present age will end with the rapture, followed by the tribulation, which will end with the second coming of Messiah to the earth.  Thus, we must distinguish between the “last days” of the church age and the “last days” of Israel’s tribulation.
 Note the following chart, which classifies and distinguishes between passages referring to the end of the church age and the “last days” for Israel:
BIBLICAL USE OF LAST DAYS
ISRAEL
“latter days”—
Deuteronomy 4:30; 31:29; Jeremiah 30:24; 48:47; Daniel 2:28; 10:14
“last days”—
Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 23:20; 49:39; Ezekiel 38:16; Hosea 3:4–5; Micah 4:1; Acts 2:17
“last day”—
John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48
“latter years”—
Ezekiel 38:8
“end of time”—
Daniel 8:17; 12:4, 9
“end of the age”—
Daniel 12:13 CHURCH
“latter days”—
1 Timothy 4:1
“last days”—
2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3; 2 Peter 3:3
“last times”—
1 Peter 1:20; Jude 18
“last time”—
1 Peter 1:5; 1 John 2:18
 The Bible clearly speaks of a last days or end time, but it does not always refer to the same period of time.  The contextual referent enables the reader to know whether the Bible is speaking of the last days relating to Israel or the end times in reference to the church.
 Many believe that there are specific signs that relate to the end of the church age.  However, I believe that it would be too strong to say that there are signs of the end of the church age.  Instead, the Bible indicates what the condition of the church will be like—the general course of the age—and then warns about some general trends toward the later part of the church age.  Passages like 1 Timothy 4:1–5, 2 Timothy 3:1–5, and 2 Peter 3:3 most likely refer to the second half or latter part of the church age.  These passages warn believers about beliefs and lifestyles that are common in the world will enter the church and become common there as well.  These passages do not speak about the general moral decline of society, which I do not doubt, instead, it is a decline that was predicted to occur within the church as part of the apostasy.
 It can also be noted, that it is hard to quantify such decline.  No matter how bad things get, they can always get a little worse.  So it is impossible to know specifically how bad things must be in order for something to be a prophetic sign.  It is the general condition within the realm of the church in which “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).
THE CHURCH AGE
 There are a number of New Testament passages where “last days,” “last times,” and “last time” clearly refer to the present church age in which we now live.  The writer of Hebrews says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1–2).  The contextual nuance of this passage demands that “last days” is a reference to the current church age in which we presently live.  In the same way Peter says, “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Pet. 1:20).  These “last times,” to which he speaks, in that context, must refer to the last two thousand years in which we still live.  John adds support to the two previous writers when he says, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).  Jude, speaking of things going on in his day says, “that they were saying to you,  “In the last time there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts” (Jude 18).
 The Jewish view of Bible prophecy viewed history as consisting of two ages.  The first was this present age, the age in which Israel was waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  The second was the age to come, the age in which all promises and covenants would be fulfilled and Israel would enter into her promised blessings as a result of Messiah’s coming.  The present age would be terminated by the appearance of Messiah, and the coming age would be introduced by His advent.  The present age, then, was to end in judgment, and the coming age must be preceded by this devastation.  The New Testament references the present age as the last days.  The last days of what?  The last days before the coming of the Messianic age.
 We see that there are at least four clear references in the New Testament that use end times vocabulary to refer to their own day and the entire church age as the last days.  Thus, in that sense, we are clearly living in the last days, since the entire church age is considered the last days.  However, that is not what the average person means when they ask, “Are we living in the last days?”  They want to know if we are living in a time when the final prophecies of Scripture are being fulfilled.  Before I can answer that, we need to look into the use of Old Testament terminology and the last days.
OLD TESTAMENT USE OF LAST DAYS
 When we look at Old Testament usage of these terms, we see that they are used differently than those which speak of the church age.  I believe that the Old Testament use of this language refers to the time leading up to the coming of Messiah to set up His kingdom on earth, which I would call the tribulation period.
 A clear example of this is found in Deuteronomy 4:30, which says, “When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice.”  The English word “distress” is the Hebrew word for tribulation—in this context, the tribulation—which means that this text equates the tribulation with the “latter days.”  Thus, the “latter days” are the tribulation period, which we are not currently living in, but may be on the brink of entering.  Of course, the church will be raptured before the world enters the tribulation.  Deuteronomy 31:29 uses “latter days” as a reference to the tribulation when it says, “evil will befall you in the latter days.”
 The term “latter days” is used of the tribulation period twice in Jeremiah (30:24; 48:47).  Daniel also uses it this way:  “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days” (Dan. 2:28).  Daniel commences to reveal God’s plan for the future, which revolves around events that will unfold in the tribulation period.  This is also the case concerning another passage in Daniel:  “Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future” (Dan. 10:14).
 The prophet Daniel uses a whole cluster of other “latter day” terms that all refer to the tribulation period or prepare the way for the kingdom reign of Messiah.  Terms like “end of time” (Dan. 8:17; 12:4, 9) and “end of the age” (Dan. 12:13) speak of the end-time, tribulation period, which is yet to come.  These terms are used three times in Daniel 12, which is said in verse one of that chapter to “be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time.”  “Distress” is the Hebrew word for tribulation.  Thus, the entire context is once again a reference to the coming tribulation.
 Daniel 12:4, says the teachings about the end-times in Daniel will be sealed up for the Jewish people until “the end of time.”  Many prophecy teachers believe that shortly before Christ’s return the world would experience an increase in the speed of travel coupled with an explosion of information based upon Daniel 12:4, which says “many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”  No one would quarrel with the fact that the last one hundred years has indeed witnessed an exponential increase in both the speed of travel and the accumulation of knowledge and thus would be a sign in our time that the end is near.  But is this really what Daniel is saying in the passage?  I don’t think so.
 The correct interpretation of the passage is given by Dr. Charles Ryrie in his famous Ryrie Study Bible when he says, “As the end approaches, people will travel about seeking to discover what the future holds.”   Not just people in general, but the Jewish people in particular.  This means that many Jews during the tribulation will study the Book of Daniel in an attempt to find out what is going on during this unique period of time.  Harry Bultema says, “The movement of to and fro may refer to that of the eyes through leaves. . . .  Thus considered it seems to us that the text here speaks of the diligent search of the Scripture at the end of time.”   Thus, the scope would be limited to the future time of the tribulation and could not justly be applied to our own day.
 There does not appear to be any real textual basis for the first interpretation.  The meaning of the Hebrew words and grammar do not support such a view.
CONCLUSION
 So are we living in the last days?  As you can tell from the above discussion, we are currently living in the last days because we are in the church age, which is called the “last days,” “last times,” and “last time.”  However, in no way shape or form are we in the last days, as the Old Testament says of Israel.  Those terms, “latter days,” “last days,” “latter years,” “end of time,” and “end of the age” all refer a time when Israel is in her time of tribulation.  This is a future time, which we could very well be on the verge of entering.  I believe that we are seeing the stage being set for last days or end time events of the tribulation.  But we are not currently in those times at the present time.  Maranatha!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Divisiveness vs. Discernment


By John MacArthur

Do discernment and divisiveness go hand in hand? Is it true that the term discernment is often employed as a cover for a contentious or critical spirit?
Let’s acknowledge that there are unscrupulous people who, under the guise of “biblical discernment,” engage in unbrotherly criticism. Their tactics often include innuendo, character assassination, guilt by association, and other dishonest methods. They weave conspiracy theories, sensationalize their attacks against others, and favor personal slurs over substantive doctrinal analysis. Militant fundamentalism has made this type of criticism its specialty. As a consequence, that movement has steadily lost its influence, forfeited its credibility, and fragmented into tiny, warring factions. My appeal for discernment is not a call to that sort of factious attitude.
Undoubtedly the prevalence of hypercritical attitudes among some fundamentalists has caused a backlash that has only accelerated the decline of discernment in the church. We rightfully deplore a pugnacious spirit. No true Christian wants to be contentious. No one who has the mind of Christ enjoys conflict. Obviously, harmony is preferable to discord. But when some crucial truth is at stake, how do we display the mind of Christ? Certainly not by allowing the error to go unchallenged. If we truly are to be like our Savior, we must both proclaim truth and condemn error in unambiguous language (see Matthew 23).
That means we must learn to discriminate. In modern usage, the word discrimination carries powerful negative connotations. But the word itself is not negative. Discriminate simply means “to make a clear distinction.” We used to call someone “a discriminating person” if he exercised keen judgment. “Discrimination” signified a positive ability to draw the line between good and evil, true and false, right and wrong. In the heyday of the American civil-rights movement, the word was widely applied to racial bigotry. And, indeed, people who make unfair distinctions between races are guilty of an evil form of discrimination.
Unfortunately, the word itself took on that negative connotation, and the sinister implication is often transferred to anyone who tries to discriminate in any way. To view homosexuality as immoral (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:9–10) is condemned now by the politically correct as an unacceptable form of discrimination. To suggest that wives ought to submit to their own husbands (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18) is now classified as unfair discrimination. To suggest that children ought to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1) is also labeled unjust discrimination by some. We see more and more that anyone who “discriminates” these days risks becoming a target of boycotts, protests, and lawsuits. We are not supposed to draw lines. That is the spirit of this age, and unfortunately, it has crept into the church.
If we are going to be discerning people, we must develop the skill of discriminating between truth and error, good and bad. The original languages of Scripture convey this very idea. The main Hebrew word for “discernment” is bin. That word and its variants are used hundreds of times in the Old Testament. It is often translated “discernment,” “understanding,” “skill,” or “carefulness.” But in the original language it conveys the same idea as our word discrimination. It entails the idea of making distinctions. Jay Adams points out that the word bin “is related to the noun bayin, which means ‘interval’ or ‘space between,’ and the preposition ben, ‘between.’ In essence it means to separate things from one another at their points of difference in order to distinguish them.” Discernment, then, is a synonym for discrimination. In fact, the Greek verb translated “discern” in the New Testament is diakrinĊ. It means “to make a distinction” and is translated that way in Acts 15:9.
So discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. The discerning person is the one who draws a clear contrast between truth and error. Discernment is black-and-white thinking—the conscious refusal to color every issue in shades of gray. No one can be truly discerning without developing skill in separating divine truth from error.
Does Scripture tell us how to be discerning? It certainly does. Paul sums up the process in 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” There, in three straightforward commands, he spells out the requirements of a discerning mind.
And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time.

(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Defense of the Faith: Must We Become Experts on All Religions?

Question:   Since there are so many sacred books of various religions, all of which claim to be true, how can anyone be sure that the Bible is the true Word of God without first examining all the others? Even though another sacred writing might be mostly false, couldn’t it still have enough truth in it to make it worth the time and effort to examine all religious writings?
 
Response:  That philosophy leads to liberalism’s conclusion that there is no definitive truth and no conclusive answer to any question whatsoever. For example, how could one be certain that two plus two was only four without first examining whether it might not also be three or five or six or seven or every other number? Since numbers are infinite, one would never come to the end of the search. So it is with religion: No one could live long enough to examine every claim of every religion that has ever existed. Nor is such an effort necessary.
Thankfully, truth is not arrived at by a process of elimination. The fact that two plus two equals four  and only four  can be proved without looking at every other number. And so it is with the Bible: its validity can be determined from examining it alone.

The Exclusivity of the Bible’s Claims
Whether the Bible is true or not depends upon the facts relating to that particular book. It is not to be arrived at by examining all other sacred books, concluding that none of the others is true, and then because the Bible is the only religious book left, accepting it. Every sacred book, including the Bible itself, could be and would be false if there were no God and/or if God had not chosen to reveal Himself and His will to mankind in written form. Whether He has done so or not is a question that cannot be answered by a process of elimination but must be determined factually.
Furthermore, if the Bible is the Word of God, as it claims (such terms as “Thus saith the Lord,” “The word of the Lord came unto me,” etc., are found about 3,800 times in the Bible), then all other sacred books must be false just as all other gods must be false. The God of the Bible says He is the only true God: “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. . . . Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any. . . . There is no God else beside me . . . for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah:44:6, 8; 45:21–22). If He is God alone, then the Bible through which He speaks must be His Word alone also.
Once one has come to know the true God, there is no need to check out all other possible gods just in case one of them might have some legitimacy. That possibility has been eliminated by knowing that the God of the Bible is the  only  true God. And once one has verified the Bible’s claim to be the  only  Word of God by internal and external proofs, by archaeological and historical evidence, and, most of all, by meeting the Christ and God of the Bible, then there is no need to examine any other
 sacred books to see whether one of them might not have some truth in it as well.

The only reason for becoming familiar with other religions and other religious writings would be in order to show those who follow these false systems wherein the error lies and thereby to rescue them.
—  An excerpt   from  In Defense of the Faith (pp. 71-73)  by  Dave Hunt

Monday, April 14, 2014

Grace — One Step At A Time



An excerpt from  Why Grace Changes Everything
 
Walking in the Spirit is an amazingly practical proposition. It doesn’t mean that we float through life with a halo over our head and an angelic smile on our face. We can be spiritually minded and still relate to people about earthly things. Some believers react so strongly against the pervasive worldliness of our culture that they lose the ability to communicate with their friends, relatives, and neighbors. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t take us out of reality; it allows us to function in reality with optimum effectiveness.
Relationship First
Somebody once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” How true that is in the spiritual realm! While walking in the Spirit is an incredibly practical proposition, we must bear in mind that it’s not the place we begin.  Relationship always precedes behavior .
A great example of this principle is found in the book of Ephesians. The first three chapters all deal with relationship. Only then does the fourth chapter begin, “Therefore…walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” The relationship comes first because it provides the foundation for everything that follows.
If we try to walk without first establishing the proper relationship, we won’t make it. Walking requires that we first acquire balance. This is true even in the physical realm. Before children take their first steps, they must learn how to keep their balance while sitting. Next they master the art of standing. Then they learn to wobble a little. And only after that do they develop the ability to walk.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells us that by understanding what it means to be seated with Christ we will begin to experience the power of God, which in turn will allow us to walk in a manner pleasing to Him. There is a definite progression here. First we must have a balanced relationship with God; then we can learn to walk.
At one time all of us lived after our flesh, obeying the desires of our flesh and our minds, and were alienated from God. But then God’s grace transformed our lives and we began to enjoy delightful fellowship with the Lord. We continue to enjoy that deep fellowship as we allow God’s Spirit to exercise control over our lives.
Walking Our Talk
There are many who claim to have a relationship with God, who throw around all the right Christian buzzwords and catchphrases, but who simply aren’t walking with God in any practical way. It is crucial that we learn to “walk our talk.” Our lives must be consistent with the calling, the blessings, and the profession we make concerning our new relationship with God.
The question is: how do we manage this? How do we avoid being carried away by the allure of the world? Paul had an answer in Galatians:5:16: “This I say then,  walk in the Spirit , and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (emphasis added).
The Greek word translated “walk” in this passage is a term used to describe the dominant characteristic of a person’s life. If someone were to have a reputation as a real miser he would be known as a person who “walked” in greed. If a person characteristically was concerned and helpful, he would be known as someone who “walked” in kindness.
To walk in the Spirit means that we allow the Holy Spirit to exercise control over our lives. Every day we are presented with the option of living after the Spirit or after our own fleshly desires. Our mind is the battleground where we will decide which will have dominion.
It is helpful to remember that God has designed the human mind to work much as a computer does. A computer can only produce that which has been programmed into it. In like manner, our minds are being programmed daily. If our input comes from the flesh, our lives will be characterized by the flesh. If we begin to program our minds with the things of the Spirit, our lives will begin to reflect the priorities of the Spirit.
How easy it is to fall into the trap of making a bold profession to please the flesh! Certainly the power that our fallen nature can hold over us is one of the biggest problems we face in life. How can we be free from the seemingly unconquerable bondage to the flesh?
The simple yet profound answer is this:  Don’t fight the flesh; strengthen the Spirit!  Don’t fight against the darkness; turn on the light.
To do this we must first recognize that we have both a spiritual and a fleshly side to our nature. If we are to walk in the Spirit, we must feed the spiritual man. We all know what it means to feed the physical side of our nature. If I miss feeding my body, it is not subtle about reminding me of its needs…. We exercise and take vitamins so that we might grow strong physically. Becoming strong in spirit requires a similar regimen. We must regularly consume the bread of life, the Word of God.
Taking in the Word
How ironic it is that our consumption of the Word is often the last thing we get around to. “Of course, I need to spend time in God’s Word,” we say, “but I just don’t seem to have time right now.” In essence, we are fasting in the Spirit. Our spiritual side often gets fed irregularly, spasmodically, and in an unbalanced way. We neglect regular, systematic study of the Word for a “let’s flip open the Bible and see what catches our eye” approach. Often we have no consistent practice of Bible study or personal growth…. As a result, the spiritual man becomes weak and the flesh begins to dominate.
If I want my spiritual man to be strong, it only stands to reason that I must sow to my spirit. I can’t be sowing to the flesh and hope that I’m somehow going to produce a spiritual crop. In order to walk in the Spirit, I must begin to feed the spirit. That means I must make it a point to get more and more into the Word of God….
It is important to see God’s Word as the essential that it is. Jesus claimed that His words were spirit and life, so a regular, systematic time in God’s Word is essential if we are to walk in the Spirit.
Communing with God
A high priority on prayer is another essential for experiencing the joys of walking in the Spirit. As we thrill to the excitement of communing with God, we find ourselves being strengthened in spirit. We become more and more conscious of the presence of God in all that we do and in every circumstance we encounter.
Being aware of God’s presence opens our understanding to a more full and developed worldview. I am convinced that one of our greatest needs is to become more and more aware of God’s presence at all times….
Our lives can be remarkably transformed when we come to realize that God is with us continually. Losing sight of that fact can open the door to spiritual disaster. The farther God is removed from our consciousness, the more we are strongly drawn to the things that feed and please our fallen nature. When we stumble and fall, we may point to many external factors to explain our behavior, but the root of our problem is a failure to keep God’s presence in mind. The instruction to walk in the Spirit simply means that we are to deliberately make God our constant traveling companion as we move through the day.
When we walk in the Spirit, living in constant awareness of the presence of God, we no longer need others to nag and preach at us about living up to Christian standards. Our lives will be revolutionized as we keep the nearness and love of God in the front of our minds.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Biblical Movies Helpful or Harmful?

Question: I’ve spent countless hours talking to those who support biblical movies, and no matter what concerns I raise that are abundantly clear from the Scriptures, the final word on their part is, “I hear what you’re saying, but I still feel that God can use such movies to win people to Jesus.” I am continually frustrated by their lack of biblical discernment. What do you say to those who respond based upon what they feel?
 
Response:  God, in His abundant mercy, can certainly bring conviction of sin and draw a person to Himself in ways and means that seem to be an exception to what we would normally see. Consider these scenarios: 1) A Roman Catholic at Mass hears a verse quoted from Scripture during the priest’s homily. The verse speaks to the person’s heart and leads him to the biblical gospel and salvation. 2) A Jehovah’s Witness is reading through his New World Translation bible, and some of its verses that contradict Witness doctrine lead the person to trust in the biblical Jesus. 3) Some of the writings in the Book of Mormon (which were plagiarized from the King James Version of the Bible) are read by a Mormon, who is then convicted by those words; they help lead him out of the cult, and to salvation. God’s Word, as we know, will not return void but will accomplish what He intends (Isaiah:55:11).
Can we then say that the Mass, the New World Translation, and the Book of Mormon are legitimate means of bringing the lost to Christ? No. To support such erroneous, even blasphemous, spiritual devices as valid for evangelizing is to give credence to those things that are an abomination before God, not to mention that they are a pack of lies. God cannot support such things for evangelizing that contradict or corrupt His Word, and He does not. Again, in His mercy He may  use  such things even when they contain only a slight hint of truth to help deliver a person from spiritual bondage.
Biblical movies are similar to the above examples because in the attempt to translate the Bible to the screen, the content must be altered to fit the medium. That involves adding dialogue to the Scriptures not found in the Bible, scenes not found there, characters who are portrayed out of their biblical context, emotions and drama not indicated in Scripture, locations not consistent with Scripture, and the list goes on. In other words, they are a major distortion of God’s Word. For those who still cling to the belief that God, nevertheless, is using such errors to draw multitudes of the lost to Himself, we appeal to them to consider these two words:  damage control .
Although God may use whatever truth may be gleaned from any medium, the unsaved meanwhile will have been subjected to a truckload of unbiblical teaching. God’s objective would not be to have people partake of the errors but rather that the lost would respond to the truth. Those evangelical Christians who know the Lord, however, and who watched movies such as  The Passion of the Christ  and  Son of God  have consequently been fed imagery that confuses their biblical literacy at best and corrupts the truth of what they have already been taught at worst. This is damage that has serious consequences and must be dealt with for the sake of  both  the lost as well as believers.

Source:  http://www.thebereancall.org/content/april-2014-q-and-a-2

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The New Jerusalem