I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. Revelation 3:18
Recently, I sat thru a sermon based on the principles of hope. The pastor gave a somewhat stirring message centered on living as a hopeful people in a society gone off the rails. His conclusion, summarized, was that as the world gets crazier and darker, people will turn to Christ because we are finally getting serious about our faith. To be fair, I didn't sit through the first three sermons in this series, however, I don't think, given the tenor of this last message that they were any better. This last sermon had four points to it with which, at least the first three I had no major issues. However, it was on his final point that he came out of left field and really turned his previous three points on their heads.
That’s my beef with all of this prophecy jargon that’s on the Internet. Let’s look out here. Don’t worry about the things that God has right in front of you to deal with because you worrying about all of that and focusing on all that and getting all the timeline just right...it’s not gonna do anything other than get you distracted from what’s right in front of you. These are the things God has called us to. The reason that the church, if it doesn’t feel like the church isn’t advancing, it is not because God isn't coming, it's because we’re not dealing with the things that are important that He’s called us to. We are not dealing with the responsibilities that are right there in front of us that God has called us to. (source)
If this sentiment sounds familiar, it should. It is the overwhelming present-day consensus for the majority of messages billowing out of evangelical, catholic, and protestant pulpits every week. It's the proverbial either-or scenario. Pastors like this one, seem to think that mature Christians are incapable of both sharing the Gospel and also watching for the Lord's return. That's why I always like to emphasize (somewhat jokingly) that the reality is as mature/maturing believers, we can both walk and chew gum at the same time. It's not an either-or scenario.
However, this pastor's message seemed to indicate that the Church was somehow responsible for fixing all that ails the world. It's a mixture of Amillennialism's "we are the Kingdom" and Post-Millennialism's "we gotta fix this ourselves" sentimentality. I wish this sermon was just a one-off from some fringe church in the middle of nowhere, but it's not. It sounds like every other sermon coming out of a growing chorus of pulpits these days all across our fruited plain. It also sounds like this young pastor has pulled a lot of his talking points about getting 'busy' from books like The Purpose Driven Life. Who else embraces this dismissal of Bible prophecy? Quoting from Dr. David Reagan's article titled "The Abuse of Bible Prophecy," he lists the following:
1) Rick Warren In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, he mocks Bible prophecy when he states: “If you want Jesus to come back sooner, focus on fulfilling your mission, not figuring out prophecy.” He goes on to characterize prophecy as a “distraction” and says that anyone who lets himself get involved in distractions like studying prophecy “is not fit for the kingdom of God.”4
2) Tony Campolo In his book, Speaking My Mind, he attacks believers in Bible prophecy with these words: “Rigid Christians who believe in the possibility of Jesus’ soon return are a real problem for the whole world.” He then proceeds to blame them for wars and a host of other evils.5
3) Bill Moyers He is a PBS journalist who is also a Baptist seminary graduate. He gave a speech in 2005 in which he denounced Tim LaHaye as a “religious warrior who subscribes to a fantastical theology.” He then claimed that those who believe in Bible prophecy desire environmental disaster “as a sign of the coming apocalypse.”6
4) The National Council of Churches In December of 2008, the National Council of Churches joined the chorus of scoffers by issuing a denunciation of all those “who consider the state of Israel to be divinely ordained and scripturally determined, with a central role in ushering in the end of history…”7
5) Rob Bell He is one of the leaders of the Emergent Church Movement. Here is one of his many put-downs of Bible prophecy:8
I would argue that in the last couple hundred years, disconnection has been the dominant way people have understood reality. And the Church has contributed to that disconnection by preaching horrible messages about being left behind and that this place is going to burn — absolutely toxic messages that are against the teachings of Scripture, which state that we are connected to God, we are connected to the earth, we are connected to each other.
6) Brian McLaren He is the leading spokesman of the Emergent Church Movement. Writing in Sojourners magazine in April of 2009 he stated that any theology that stresses a special end-time role for Israel is: “Terrible… deadly… distorted… biblically unfaithful… and morally and ethically harmful.”9
He further stated that those who take the end-time prophecies about Israel seriously, “use a bogus end-of-the-world scenario to create a kind of death wish for World War III, which — unless it is confronted more robustly by the rest of us — could too easily create a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Or consider this incredible statement from his book, Everything Must Change:10
The phrase “the Second Coming of Christ” never actually appears in the Bible [Hebrews 9:28??] . . If we believe that Jesus came in peace the first time, but that wasn’t His “real” and decisive coming — it was just a kind of warm-up for the real thing — then we leave the door open to envisioning a Second Coming that will be characterized by violence, killing, domination, and eternal torture.
This vision reflects a deconversion, a return to trust in the power of Pilate, not the unarmed truth that stood before Pilate, refusing to fight. This eschatological understanding of a violent Second Coming leads us to believe that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion…
If we remain charmed by this kind of eschatology, we will be forced to see the nonviolence of the Jesus of the Gospels as a kind of strategic fake-out, like a feigned retreat in war, to be followed up by a crushing blow of so-called redemptive violence in the end.
The gentle Jesus of the First Coming becomes a kind of trick Jesus, a fake-me-out Messiah, to be replaced by the true jihadist Jesus of a violent Second Coming. This is why I believe that many of our current eschatologies, intoxicated by dubious interpretations of John’s Apocalypse, are not only ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral.
His reference to “the gentle Jesus of the First Coming” in this quote immediately reminded me of the words of Jesus in Revelation 2 where He speaks a strong word of warning to the church at Thyatira for tolerating a false prophetess in their midst. Speaking of her, Jesus says (Revelation 2:22-23):
Behold, I will cast her upon a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence; and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
That statement alone should be sufficient to dispel the myth of the supposedly “gentle Jesus of the First Coming.”
McLaren also ridicules the teaching of the Rapture and the Millennial rule of Jesus, and he dismisses Dispensational teachings about the end time as ‘pop-Evangelical eschatology.” Yet Dallas Theological Seminary (a Dispensational school) recently invited him to speak to all their students! [End Quote]
Clearly, the dismissal of Bible prophecy is a subject that has only grown in intensity in recent years thanks to the foolishness of infamous date setters such as the Millerites, Edgar Whisenant, Harold Camping, etc. However, I'd like to begin with several of my own rebuttals to this pastor's sermon (and those like it).
First of all, "prophecy jargon" doesn't come from the Internet. It comes from the Bible. Nearly thirty percent of the Bible is prophetic in nature, and to dismiss it out of hand as a distraction is both dangerous and foolish (see Matt. 16:1-4, 24:24-25).
Secondly, watching for the Lord to return isn't optional for Christians, Jesus didn't leave us that option. It's every bit as instrumental to our walk, faith, and responsibilities as is going out to make disciples of all nations.
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Mark 13:32-37 (my emphasis)
Sure sounds like a command to me.
Thirdly, if he (and other pastors like him) are serious about getting their congregations on fire for the Lord and getting serious about their faith (as his sermon seemed to indicate) one of the best ways to do that, is to teach and study sound exegetical Bible Prophecy.
Why is that? Because
1) Bible prophecy (eschatology) ties every other biblical doctrine into it giving the believer a well-reasoned and complete understanding of God's word beginning with Genesis 3:15 all the way to Revelation 22:20
2) It loosens our grip on the things of this world- as it was intended to do (Luke 21:34-36)
3) When understood properly, Bible prophecy motivates the believer to get busy doing all the work the Church should be doing (2 Peter 3:10-12)
Lastly, to study Bible prophecy is to study Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:10). If you want a church full of on-fire believers, teach them sound Bible prophecy. When it finally sinks in for people that we as a nation are not going to just continue on with the status quo into some unknowable, distant future, believing Christians will begin to focus on what's important; which is saving souls because that is the only thing we can take with us into eternity.
The age-old trade of pinning Matthew 24:36 to every prophetic discussion was only applicable up to 1948. However, after Israel was rebirthed as a nation again after nearly two millennia of diaspora, we really can't use that excuse any longer. Say what you will, but the fact we have a Jewish Bible, written by Jewish men, about a Jewish Messiah, who foretold on numerous occasions that Israel would be revived as a nation in the last days, doesn't leave us the option to feign ignorance any longer.
Furthermore, Matthew 24:36 was not the final matter our Lord said about the subject (see Revelation 3:3). While it is true that no man (or angel) will know the exact time of His return, we are expected to know the general time of His return so as not to be caught off-guard or asleep (1 Thess 5:1-9, 2 Thess 2:1-8, Hebrews 10:24-25, Revelation 3:3).
The repercussions of dismissing Bible prophecy outright far outweigh any negative aspects of being "distracted." It reminds me of an excellent article written by a Church of Christ professor some years ago in Pepperdine University's Leaven magazine. In his Eschatology: Essential, Yet Essentially Ignored, professor Lynn Mitchell perfectly summarizes the 'theological wasteland' created by the Church of Christ denomination's decades-long, systemic dismissal of all things prophetic. He writes;
All we have left is ah-millennialism.
We are neither passionately radical
nor invigoratingly hopeful.
You see, when you boil it all down, true, biblical Christianity really only has two options. Either it is all true (including Bible prophecy), and we must live as such, or none of it is true, and we are just random stardust floating in space. If the former, then the Church will exist/advance/be removed by the sheer willpower of God, and reality will bend according to His will. If the latter, then, well, what does any of it really matter? Because if the God of the Bible isn't real, then our existence here is accidental and when we die, we will blink off into nothingness. The Apostle Paul addresses a similar argument to the church in Corinth.
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And 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 Corinthians 15:12-19
Believers studied in sound eschatology will not live in fear or perplexity at the increased wickedness and lunacy that has currently taken hold of this world, because they will know that this is the way it is SUPPOSED to be at the end. It is this way at the end, NOT because we aren't doing our jobs, but because God's word already said it would (2 Tim 3, 2 Peter 3, Jude, James 5, Rev 3, etc.).
Things aren't going to get better. The Church isn't going to take over the world for Christ. If that were true, then Christ's Second Coming would be unnecessary. While it is true the gates of hell won't prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18), that is not the same as saying Church is going to win the world over so Christ can return. There is a huge difference between a stalemate and a decisive victory. The victory isn't going to be determined by how busy the Church gets in the here and now. The victory will be Christ's alone because only He can bring the Kingdom. If the Church could win the world over for Christ, then why have we waited 2,000 years to do it? The truth is we can't...nor where we supposed to. The Church isn't the Kingdom, nor are we building the Kingdom here on Earth. The Kingdom is what Christ ushers in at His coming.
I suppose one of the things that irked me the most about this sermon I sat thru, was his usage of traditionally prophetically charged passages like Titus 2:11-13 and Hebrews 10:24-25 as talking points, but completely stripping the prophetic significance from them (see 2 Peter 1:20-21). Not that this pastor will ever read or listen to my reply (i.e., prophecy jargon on the internet) however, I would like to ask him a question. Since you used Hebrews 10:24-25 as your closing scripture for the sermon you preached, what "Day" should we see approaching if we are not supposed to be distracted by looking for this Day?
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25
I seem to remember Jesus seriously chastising the Pharisees for not being able to recognize the times. As a matter of fact, they missed His birth as well (see Matt 2 and why they didn't go with the Wise Men to see the Christ).
Seriously, I weep for what passes as a seminary degree these days.
Oh, I suppose I'm preaching to the choir here. Most of you have either attended or are attending churches like the aforementioned due to a lack of options where you live or for some other dire reasons. I think the human in me secretly hopes the Rapture happens on a Sunday, JUST so it could catch many of these prophecy-denying clergy in the act of dismissing the very thing they've built their careers off of mocking. I also secretly wish people would get raptured according to their own eschatology. Thankfully, God is not petty like I am. Nevertheless,
Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to dismiss the prophetic word.
Nowhere in the Bible does God call Bible prophecy a "distraction".
Nowhere in the Bible (or history for that matter) does prophecy not go unfulfilled.
If the world is in the mess it's in due to its rejection of the one true God of the Bible, how much more will they be deceived by not knowing what is coming? Put another way, if the world truly knew the coming future, would it still be heading in the direction it's going? Verily I tell you, if Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. knew for sure what was coming, the overwhelming majority would be turning away from their pagan gods to the One True Living God of the Bible. That is the power of the prophetic word. We serve the only true and living God, who had the graciousness to tell us what was coming before it does, so we can warn the world. So important is this final point that 1) the book of Revelation is the only book in the entire Bible that offers a special blessing (twice) to those who read and apply the words of it, and 2) Christ affords a special place and privilege for those who are found faithful in watching (Luke 12:37-40).
In closing, don't let any pastor or theologian (so-called) rob you of your crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8) by selling you a humanist, world-based philosophy designed to keep you distracted from what is really coming. This age had a beginning (Pentecost) and will have an end (the Rapture). We are to be busy with the Lord's work, yes, but just remember you are created in the image of God. This means you can walk and chew gum at the same time.