Newsletter 105 Autumn 2012

“Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear”. The world in which we live is being shaken. How long the present order will last, none of us know. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are suffering tribulation. Hatred towards Christ is growing in the West. Despite this we as followers of Christ can look up in hope, for our future is in a kingdom which cannot be shaken. This present age will soon pass away. The age to come will be glorious for we will be with Christ forever.

The Great Anguish – Part 1

In this edition of Trumpet Sounds we start a new series which will look at the time of anguish which precedes the return of Jesus Christ.

For many the Great Tribulation casts its shadow over the blessed hope of our Lord’s appearing. The Tribulation has been presented in a way that naturally encourages Christians to want to be out of this world when it occurs.

Dispensationalism
In ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ by Hal Lindsey & C C Carlson we read; “God’s word tells us that there will be one generation of believers who will never know death. These believers will be removed from the earth before the Great Tribulation. Before that period of the most ghastly pestilence, bloodshed and starvation the world has ever known.”

Published in the 1970’s Hal Lindsey’s book ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ had a great impact on people’s understanding of prophecy. The New York Times called it the “number one best-seller of the decade.” It sold over 15 million copies.

Lindsey’s views on the timing of the rapture and the nature of the tribulation have influenced many in their understanding of how this present age will close. His views were not particularly original. They were a re-statement of the widely held dispensational interpretation of the Second Coming prophecies. Views so widely held that in the US they are regarded by many as the only acceptable interpretation of end time events. The majority of books on prophecy go along with the dispensational scheme of interpretation.

A Secret Rapture?
One of the key elements of dispensationalist teaching has been the belief that the church will be removed from the earth before this terrible time of tribulation takes place.

When the idea of a secret snatching away of the church prior to the Tribulation was first put forward in the 19th Century many Bible scholars and teachers disagreed. They questioned the scriptural authority for separating the gathering of the faithful from the actual physical return of Jesus Christ to this earth. The disagreement continues today and sadly divides those who study prophecy. Jesus gave a cautionary word with regard to His return. “You also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour which you do not think,” Matthew 24: 44. Whatever views we have on the return of Christ they need to be held with humility. Jesus has warned us in advance that there is a strong chance that we will get it wrong.

Will the gathering of Christians and the physical return of Christ be separated by a significant period of time? This article and those which follow are based on the belief that they are not. If they are not then Christians will still be on earth during the Tribulation. Therefore we will do well to seek a better understanding of what is in store.

A time of Anguish
Jesus spoke of this coming time of Tribulation in His talk to the disciples on the Mount of Olives. He had been asked by the disciples when the temple would be demolished, and what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age. In His answer He warned that immediately before He returns there would be a great anguish.

“For then there will be a great anguish, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” Matt 24:21.

In the above verse the word anguish has been deliberately substituted for tribulation. Affliction, anguish, distress and trouble are all legitimate alternative translations of the Greek word thlipsis. Changing the word will help us to take a fresh look at what Jesus meant when He spoke of a time of great anguish.

Not so cut and dry
Besides the secret rapture of believers, dispensational teaching has led to a number of other widely held assumptions. It is held that the tribulation will last seven years. There are prophecy books which break down this period into a blow by blow account of what will happen. It is also taught that the Antichrist will make a peace treaty with Israel which will be broken after three and a half years. We are told that the kingdom of the Antichrist will be global and all will be forced to worship the final world dictator called the beast. Also many believe that there will be a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem and the Old Testament sacrificial system will be restored.

These assumptions are based on possible interpretations of scripture. I along with many others consider that there are simpler more straight forward ways of understanding the prophesied end time events. For instance is the final kingdom of the beast global? The answer is not necessarily. In Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar is described as ruling “wherever the son’s of men dwell” Daniel 2: 36. From our modern perspective he ruled over a small area of the Middle East. Likewise similar is said of the Greek Empire “which will rule over all the earth” Daniel 2: 39. The empire also only ruled over the Middle East. In the New Testament we are told “that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.” Luke 2: 1. But the census only applied to the Roman Empire. Most of the world was outside that empire. Therefore in Revelation chapter 13, phrases such as “All who dwell on the earth will worship him,” could be limited to the area over which the beast has direct rule. It does not necessarily mean all the earth as we would understand it today.

This matter is raised, not to be contrary or enter into disputes, but to make the point that there is flexibility in the fulfillment of prophecy. Flexibility affords the opportunity to pray. The Antichrist kingdom could extend over the whole earth. Prophecy would still be fulfilled if it was contained within the area once ruled by ancient Babylon. One of the factors deciding its extent will be the prayers of the saints.

The seven year duration of the tribulation is mainly based on an interpretation of the prophecy of the weeks in Daniel chapter 9. However many would see that prophecy as being primarily Messianic. The one who causes sacrifice and offering to cease (v.27) is the Messiah not the Antichrist. Therefore there is no seven year period waiting to be fulfilled. Elsewhere in the Bible a three and a half year period is associated with the final time of great anguish.

So that we are not caught out by events
Why does this matter? It will matter if things don’t turn out as some confidently predict. If the church has been removed before this period then none of us will have any further concerns regarding the correct interpretation of prophecy. We will be with the Lord and that is all that matters. But if we are still here and if the events take a different course we need to know that this still fits prophecy. For example there are indications in scripture that when the Man of Sin reaches an agreement with Israel it will be very quickly broken.

Future articles will look at how the time of great anguish will affect different groups of people. Believing Jews, unbelieving Jews, Christians and the world in general will be considered. Each group will be affected in different ways.

What the Bible says
First a few thoughts on the time of anguish by looking at the two places it is specifically mentioned.

The only place in the Bible where the time is referred to as the ‘The Great Tribulation’ is in Revelation 7: 14. Here it is connected with what appears to be a huge end time harvest. That in its self should make us stop and think. How is the harvest going to be reaped if all the faithful have gone? This vision is not about either an absent or defeated church but a triumphant church pure and holy ready to meet her Lord.

The only other place where there is mention of this time is in the verse we have already quoted from Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus speaks of ‘a great anguish’. He then goes on to warn about false prophets and false Messiahs and continues by stressing the need to watch and be ready. The great danger He foresaw for Christians was not persecution but deception.

One other verse can be taken as a reference to this time. Jesus was almost certainly quoting Daniel 12: 1, “And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time;” Here this verse is clearly connecting the time of distress with Israel. In Jeremiah the period is called the time of Jacob’s trouble.

The Triumph of the Church
Our attitude to prophecy needs to move away from being fatalistic or escapist. Instead we should be triumphant. Through prayer we can hold back some of the evil which is coming on the world. Through our faithfulness we will see many coming to the Lord. Jesus tells us to lift up our heads when these things begin to take place. As we study this time of great anguish we will discover not only will the Christians be on earth during that period but it is essential that they are present. There may well come a time when the church appears to be crushed and defeated. But just as the cross was turned from defeat into victory so these final years will lead up to the glorious triumph of the church.

The cross – our reconciliation

Mankind was made for fellowship with God. St Augustine observed ‘Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee’. We are chosen to be His, holy and blameless in His sight. God created us out of His divine nature – God is love 1 John 4:8, 16. Love wants to give itself away. God is looking for a response of love from the objects of His desire. So God fashioned a race of beings who would respond to him in love, not because they had to but because they wanted to.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved”. Eph 1:3-6

Hence free will is a necessity because you can’t make anyone love you. Our first parents used their free will to disobey God, and a consequence is loss of the benefits which God had planned for mankind. Instead of a blessed creation, we find a world under God’s curse. “Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field”. Gen 3:18. Jesus died wearing a crown of thorns to symbolize the curse from which His death would free mankind [Gal 3:13].

Without Jesus our state is hopeless. Everyone is involved. We see this set out for us in the Old Testament, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin”. Eccles 7:20 and in Paul’s letter, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Rom 3:23. We are lost and nothing we can do will help.

God has pronounced His judgement on sin, “The soul who sins shall die”, Ezek 18:4. Death is the consequence of and punishment for sin. But all is not lost. Enter Jesus whose coming and death for our sins was foretold in the Old Testament: before ever there was a sinner there was a Saviour. God had no plan B. Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. Rev 13:8.

God tells Satan of the coming One who would bruise his head Gen 3:15. That Jesus would die is foretold in the remarkable Psalm 22. Not only that he would die but HOW was prophesied by David in 1000 BC. This psalm, quoted by Jesus on the cross, is a graphic account of death by crucifixion 400 years before it was first used by the Phoenicians as a means of executing criminals.

“I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots” Psalm 22: 14 -18. The detail is astonishing.
Also Isaiah 53:3 foretells that Jesus would be a man of sorrows.

In dying Jesus paid our debt by taking the debt upon Himself. “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation”. 2 Cor 5:18-19

In God’s saving plan we see what Derek Prince called the ‘divine exchange’. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor 5:21

Jesus was made sin with our sinfulness that we might be made righteous with His righteousness.

As Paul puts it, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross’ And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight,” Col 1:19-22. So we see in the cross God’s original purpose fulfilled.

You may be asking why did Jesus have to die such a brutal death? – was there no cleaner, sweeter way to reconcile us to Himself?

1. It was prophesied in God’s eternal plan:
Jesus on the road to Emmaus asks the grieving disciples, “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Luke 24:26-27

Jesus prophesied His own death to Nicodemus: “ And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:14-15

He predicts his death on the cross: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” John 12:32. How long had Jesus been lifted up before the first of many millions had been drawn to Him?

2. There was no other way for us to be reconciled back to God
Reconciliation = restoring a broken relationship, so that “we might become heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Rom 8:17
The cross then has three obvious benefits:

a) We are reconciled to [made friends with] God.
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation”. Rom 5:9-11.

b) There is no condemnation,
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Rom 8:1
The enemy of our souls is finally thwarted & defeated “the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.” Rev 12:10
“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Rom 8:33-34. God is eternally our Friend

c) We have peace with God
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom 5:1

As one commentator has observed; When Jesus died on the cross He satisfied God’s judgement and made it possible for us, His enemies by nature to find peace with Him. Hallelujah.

Marriage

At the end of the millennial reign of Christ the people of this world rebel. For a thousand years the world will have enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity. Life expectancy will have risen considerably and the natural world will be restored to harmony. For us who live in a world where there is hunger, war, greed and injustice we see the coming kingdom as paradise.

Despite the peace and plenty people will rise up to throw off the rule of Christ. They have enjoyed the benefits of His reign but hate the restrictions place on them by His laws. It is said in scripture that when Jesus comes to reign it will be with a rod of iron. Some will gladly receive His rule, others will bitterly resent it.

That time is still future but the lessons can be applied to the present. They can be applied to the church which has readily preached the benefits of coming to faith in Christ but been unwilling to accept the consequent restrictions. To a church which has thrown off the scruples from the past and under the guise of love and forgiveness preached a gospel of grace without holiness.

I was praying for a prophetic word to include in this edition of Trumpet Sounds. The following is what I received.

A Judgment
The Lord is allowing the redefinition of marriage as a judgment on the church. The church in general has already redefined marriage moving away from the intention as set out in scripture. If the church does not repent and return to the teaching of the Bible, the state will redefine marriage. Once the law is changed it will prove a rod of correction on a disobedient church.

Who is our Judge?
If you ever have the misfortune to be taken to court, it is useful to know who will be appointed to judge your case. On the basis of judge’s past track record your lawyer may advise whether he is likely to take a firm or lenient line. Jesus Christ has been entrusted with the judgment of all mankind. Therefore His views on every issue are all important.

Jesus was asked about His views on marriage. We can find His thoughts in the following passages: Matthew 5: 31 – 32, Matthew 19: 1 – 12, Mark 10: 1 – 12, Luke 16: 18. Within the church there is debate with regard to the exceptions which may permit divorce. But the case history included in the Gospels demonstrates that the Judge does not look favourably on either divorce or remarriage.

That same Judge who was asked for His interpretation of the law while He was on earth also gave the law in the first place. Under the law there are certain circumstances which will end a marriage. But note these are not the soft option which many suppose. Adultery by one of the parties is one circumstance. The marriage is cancelled by the guilty party being put to death.

We are not under the law but under grace. By the grace of God all of us who have failed to keep the law can through repentance obtain mercy. But as Jesus stated not the tiniest part of the law will be cancelled until all is accomplished. In Romans we are told that, “through the law comes knowledge of sin”. The law still exists. It teaches us how the One who will stand as Judge over our lives will respond to our sin. We are guided by the law to understand what is pleasing and also what is abhorrent to God. The penalties under the law are severe and certainly not to be applied in this age of grace. Their purpose is to warn that the sin is serious and will cause the judge to bring in a guilty verdict. Under grace that verdict will be cancelled if the guilty party truly repents. But if there is no repentance a person faces the prospect of eternal punishment.

The poor example of leaders
Sadly there are many within the church who retain positions of leadership while disobedient to God in their marriage. Hal Lindsey, mentioned in the ‘Great Anguish’ article, is just one of very many leaders whose private life runs hand in hand with false teaching. He is currently on his fourth wife having divorced the previous three. There are those who would overlook such misdemeanours. They seek to convince us that the call of God to ministry over rules such disobedience. No one is indispensable to God. If God runs out of righteous men to serve Him, stones will be raised up to proclaim His word. God offers mercy to the repentant. But a person on his fourth wife demonstrates that he is not repentant.

Far from turning a blind eye to leaders who sin, the Bible says that they will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1). A good start and outward sign that they acknowledge that they have done wrong would be for such men to step down from all leadership and ministry. In fact according to the Bible they are now disqualified and shouldn’t continue to lead or teach (1 Timothy 3: 2).

Whatever sin we commit it leaves a legacy. It is impossible to rewind the past. Restitution for sin should be made where possible, but when not possible we are to lay ourselves open to the judgment of God. King David had to be confronted with his sins over Bathsheba. God accepted his repentance but still took away the baby born out of the adultery.

All have sinned
Jesus introduces His teaching on the subject of marriage by making sure that none of us can condemn another who has fallen into this sin. In the Sermon on the Mount He taught that a man who even looks at a woman in lust is already guilty of adultery. How many, other than righteous Job, can truthfully say that they have set a guard over their eyes to avoid this sin? All of us need to come before God, confess our sin and ask His help to obtain forgiveness. But getting right with God may not be easy.

Following His words on looking at a woman in lust, Jesus says that to end this sin we must take drastic action. Too often time is wasted reasoning that Jesus couldn’t have seriously intended that we pluck out our eye or cut off our hand. The point is obvious; this particular sin needs to be dealt with ruthlessly. It is said that as many as 40% of Christian men look at on-line pornography. Every time an offending website is opened adultery is committed. An alternative to plucking out eyes is to take a sledge hammer to the computer. [A less drastic action is to set up controls which prevent access to such sites].

The only definition of marriage that God recognises is a lifelong commitment by a man and a woman. It is a covenant made before God which as long as the parties remain alive cannot be broken. That is why Jesus says that remarriage is adultery, for in the sight of God the original couple are still married. If we think that we can break a covenant made before God then there is no reason why we should expect Him to keep His covenant with us.

Out of Step
Christians are completely out of step with the world when we say that all sexual activity outside the covenant relationship of marriage is forbidden. But whether it is popular with the world or even within the church it is the stand which must be taken.

Homosexual Marriage in France

In France a new law has been drafted which defines marriage as “a union of two people of different or the same gender”. This follows up President Francois Hollande’s manifesto pledge to legalise homosexual marriage. The word parent will now be substituted for all references to mother or father in the civil code. Equal adoption rights will be given to both homosexual and heterosexual couples. The French Catholic church sees this law as the beginning of a process which will eventually legalise incest and polygamy. They believe that it will lead to the complete breakdown of society.

The Conversion of Hollywood

A few months ago I posted an article on the website under the heading ‘How to make money in Hollywood’. The article commented on the success of films with a strong or very strong Christian, biblical, moral and redemptive content. Such films on average gross 5 times as much at the box office as those with what may be described as promoting liberal values.

It seems that Hollywood has got the message. We have the prospect of a flood of films based on Bible stories. “Noah” is a $125 million dollar epic from Paramount Pictures starring Russell Crowe. The film is due for release in 2014. Warner Bros have the story of Moses with the title “Gods and Kings” in the pipeline. They have also recently acquired the script to “Pontius Pilate”. Twentieth Century Fox has another Moses themed film on the way under the title “Exodus”. There will be a prequel to the Passion of Christ titled “Mary, the mother of Christ”. Several other Biblical epics are planned.

The appeal to Hollywood is both that the stories come royalty free and that Biblical themes are great vehicles for big budget special effects. They hope these films will appeal to the regular moviegoer as action-adventure movies with spectacular visual effects, great filmmakers and an amazing cast. They also want to draw in the religious Americans who only go the cinema once or twice a year.

All these films are being made by secular film makers whose prime purpose is to make money and revive the flagging fortunes of Hollywood. In the past they have shown little understanding of how Christians respond to film.

Epic Adventure or Warning to Mankind?
Aronofsky who has written the story line for “Noah” admits that the detail in the Bible is sketchy. He sees this as an opportunity to flesh out the narrative with his own interpretation. That is where all could go wrong. For the Christian the story of Noah is not primarily an epic adventure but about how God interacts with man. It is about a society which has become so sinful that God has to bring it to an end. The Flood is a warning for our own time that God will not stand aside for ever. Very soon the time is coming when He will have to intervene.

It would be wonderful if Hollywood were to present that message in a well made epic adventure. We can pray that even if not the intention of the film makers, the need to repent to avoid God’s judgment will be the message people take away from watching the film.

Banning the Products of Israeli Settlements

In the last edition of Trumpet Sounds we commented on the Co-op removing from its stores products from Israeli Settlements. The move to discriminate against Israel is gaining ground. In mid September the Irish Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade agreed to commit to a national ban on the import of goods from (so called) illegal settlements. This agreement was reached after they had received submissions from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel [EAPPI]*.

The Presidency Manifesto
Following this decision the Irish Government has seen fit to include the ban on settlement goods in its manifesto for the EU Presidency which it takes over in January. See the following link: http://www.trocaire.org/sites/trocaire/files/pdfs/policy/Trocaire%20Presidency%20Manifesto%20FINAL.pdf

The manifesto sets out seven points which the government aims to achieve during its time in office. Six are of a general nature covering matters such as global development, climate change, hunger and revenue transparency. All are issues over which it will be impossible to measure whether they have achieved any tangible results. No doubt at the end of Ireland’s Presidency communiqués will be issued outlining the great achievements.

The most important issue!!
There is a seventh item on their agenda: “Uphold and protect the human rights of Palestinians by promoting support for the introduction of an EU-wide trade ban on settlement produce from illegal Israeli settlements.” Whereas the humanitarian issues arising in countries such as Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan get a brief mention in Section 3 of the Manifest, the whole of section 7 is devoted to the ban on settlement produce. It is in fact the only issue on which Ireland can be measured as to whether their Presidency has achieved anything. Therefore Ireland will put other states under pressure to go along with their plans so that at least in one area they can show results.

*Note: For more information on EAPPI, read Melanie Phillips Daily Mail article 12.07.12. She was commenting on the travesty in which the Synod of the Church of England endorsed EAPPI last summer. Having heard speakers from EAPPI I would agree with her comments on the odious nature of the movement.

The Muslim Mob

The attack on free speech
Following the You tube video the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and the violent response which spread through the Islamic world there are renewed calls for controls on free speech with regard to Islam and its founder. Support for limits being placed on free speech has come from many leaders and groups within the Islamic world. An annual event at the United Nations is the move by the 57 Islamic nations to bring in blasphemy laws prohibiting the criticism of Islam, the Qur’an, and Muhammad.

Western resistance to this restriction of free speech appears to be weakening. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that free speech has limits, especially when religious beliefs are involved. In his address to the UN General Assembly in September President Obama included the words: “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam”.

Who was Muhammad?
A dictionary definition of slander is; a malicious, false defamatory statement. On the basis of that definition not many Christians would wish to slander Islam. However it is not slander as we understand it which may provoke a violent backlash. The truth can be a cause for offence.

Muhammad is treated by Muslims as sacred. He is considered to be the perfect man. In Islamic nations the greatest of all blasphemies is to say something derogatory about their prophet. The only available source of information anyone has, with regard to the life of Muhammad, is Iban Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah [The Life of Muhammad] written about 100 years after Muhammad’s death. Statements about Muhammad uttered by an infidel although drawn directly from Iban Ishaq are likely to inflame. For Iban Ishaq demonstrates quite clearly that Muhammad was not the perfect man Muslims claim him to be.

Blasphemy laws are especially concerning for the Christian. To assert that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins and that salvation is only through faith in His atoning sacrifice, is to deny the validity of Muhammad’s claim to be a prophet. The Bible declares the Gospel to be an offence to the world. It is doubly an offence to the Muslim. If they ever persuade western governments to legally limit the freedom to speak the truth about Islam, it is Christians who will suffer first.