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Entries in Rapture (2)

Tuesday
Sep252018

Your Personal End Times: The Second Coming of Jesus Christ

Various.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 23, 2018.

We have established earlier that the Bible tells us there is one of two places a person will end up, depending upon our faith in Jesus.  Believers continue in a conscious state as spirits and are in the presence of Jesus at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  However, those who are not in relationship with Jesus continue in a conscious state as spirits, but are in torments in the grave (Hebrew- She’ol, Greek- Hades).  They are held in this spiritual holding place until The Judgment Day.  Thus people are living their lives and going into these two different experiences every day.  Yet, we are told that this will not continue forever.  What happens next?

The Scriptures refer to two very distinct yet related events that will happen next.  The first is that Jesus is going to come back to earth physically, visibly, and from the clouds of the sky (see Acts 1:9-11).  The second is that Jesus will resurrect righteous believers in what is called the Resurrection of Life.  Later we will talk about different views on the timing of these two events.  This resurrection is contrasted with a later Resurrection of Condemnation for the wicked spirits in Hades [note: John 5:29 and Revelation 20].  Most of the views, at least those that take the Bible seriously, agree that the next event on the docket for those spirits in Heaven is the resurrection of the righteous.  In this event believers, both those who have died and those who are still alive on earth, will be instantly transformed into a glorified, physical being.  Those who are spirits will “clothed” with a new body, and those who are still in mortal bodies will have their bodies changed into immortal bodies.

Coming in the air to take believers to heaven
versus Coming to the earth to become its King

Though the Bible continually points to a Second Coming of Jesus, in which the world is judged, and the righteous are resurrected and inherit the government of the earth, we run into passages that give two different pictures.  One picture focuses on Jesus coming in the air to take believers to heaven, whereas the other picture focuses on Jesus coming to the earth to judge the wicked and take governmental control.

This is similar to the way that the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah had two distinct pictures of a Messiah, one who would come as a suffering servant to deal with our sins, and one who would come as a conquering king to take up dominion.  The believers of the centuries leading up to the First Coming of Jesus had many different views on how to interpret these passages and make sense of them.  Of course, now we know that Jesus came the first time to deal with sin as mankind’s greatest enemy, and He will come the second time to deal with Satan and the wicked rulers of this earth.  These two events are separated by a long period of grace, in which God give the nations opportunity to join His side through Jesus.  So, we should approach these issues with some humble caution, recognizing that there is most likely some information that we have not been told.  Let’s look at some of these passages.

In John 14:1-6, Jesus explains that He will be going away to prepare a place for His disciples; verse six makes it clear that this will be in heaven where the Father is.  Yet, Jesus also tells them that He is going to come back in order to take them to this place.  It would be easy to dismiss this as symbolic because we do not see an event in which Jesus literally came back and took his disciples to heaven.  Some feel that they are forced to interpret this as symbolic.  Thus the Lord symbolically comes back to receive each believer to Himself at their physical death.  It is definitely true that each believer is received into heaven with Christ at their death.  Yet, Jesus often spoke to his immediate disciples, who were later called apostles, as representatives of those believers who would later believe.  Also, there are too many other places where Jesus taught His disciples that He was literally coming back, and of course there is the testimony of the angels at His ascension mentioned earlier (Acts 1:9-11).

Some believers don’t see this as symbolic.  Rather, they believe that Jesus was wrong.  He and His disciples thought He was going to come back literally and yet, it didn’t happen.  They have to go through great intellectual gymnastics in order to say on one hand that Jesus was wrong, and yet on the other hand worthy of our devotion.  Most believers have chosen to believe that Jesus was correct that He would come back, but He also made it clear that no one knew when that would be (i.e. how long it would be.  See Matthew 24:36-37.  It was important for those first believers and the believers of every generation that followed to live lives that were expectant of Christ’s return.  This is not a lie.  It is a very clear statement that we do not know when He will return and thus we should always be ready.

Let me summarize this passage by pointing out that it is focused on Jesus coming back for believers to take them to heaven.  Let’s look at another passage.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 we again see language regarding Jesus coming back.  Yet, the focus is upon believers being caught up into the air to be with Jesus.  This passage lacks any sense of coming to earth.  We can allow for that by looking at the context.  The main concern is to assuage the fears of those believers who thought Christians who had passed away were going to miss out on Christ’s coming kingdom.  However, we will keep running into passages that focus on one aspect versus the other.  Let’s look at a passage that is clearly about Christ’s physical return to earth to become its king.

In Revelation 19:11-21 we see Jesus returning from the sky and then capturing the Beast (the earth’s political leader) and his False Prophet (his religious leader).  Next we see that the kings of the earth and their armies, who apparently are trying to oppose His return, will be destroyed and wiped out.  It is important to note that verse 8 of this chapter defines the white linen clothing as symbolic of the righteous acts of the saints.  Also, Jude 1:14 reminds us that the Lord will return with His saints.  This is important in regard to verse 14.  The armies of Christ are described as being clothed in fine linen.  Our first thought would be to see the armies as angelic in nature.  However, from the previous two points I made, we must also include glorified believers in this mix.  In fact, Jesus said that humans in their glorified bodies would be “like the angels in heaven.”  Mark 12:25.  So we have Jesus returning in a powerful way with an immortal army at His back taking over.  His saints are with Him already and ready to rule with Him.  The Beast and his False Prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire.  The next chapter describes Satan being locked up in the Bottomless Pit while the earth goes on to enjoy 1,000 years (a Millennium) of peace under the rule of Christ.  There is no sense in this passage of believers being caught up to meet Christ in the air and go to heaven.

We could go on and on through all the passages of the Bible that refer to the Second Coming of Christ, and the Resurrection of the Righteous, and we will find this continual tension between meeting Him in the air to go to heaven, and coming with Him to the earth to rule.  Many theologians and lay people have struggled with these passages trying to make sense of these events.  In fact, it has become popular within some Christian circles to toss the prophecies aside as irrelevant to our life because they are so hard to harmonize.  However, this is the position of skeptical unbelievers.  When we realize that believers had similar trouble understanding all the prophecies of the first coming, we can see that God does not give us prophecies so that we will have perfect clarity.  He has clearly left a lot of information out on purpose.  Yes we lack an ability to perfectly know how all these things tie together, but we have enough to encourage our faith in Christ no matter what comes against us and no matter how long it takes for Christ to come back.

Here is a list of some important differences that we commonly see in these passages.

  • Meeting in the air to go to heaven, versus Coming to earth with Jesus to rule.
  • Believers are delivered, versus the Wicked are judged.
  • Jesus comes for the Church, versus Jesus comes with the Church.
  • His coming is an imminent event that could happen at any time, versus His coming will come after some very specific events that must happen first.

The timing of the resurrection of believers has some difficulties that have led to various views.  Let’s summarize those different views.

Views on the timing of the resurrection of the righteous

Before we get into these, I would say that it is more important that we believe in the resurrection of believers and the physical return of Christ to earth than it is that we have the timing all figured out.  The timing of prophecy is important, but it is not necessary for our salvation.  Salvation is about a relationship with Christ and His people.  That said, let’s take a look at the main views regarding the timing of the Resurrection and the Second Coming of Christ.

The Pre-Tribulation View.  Some people believe that the resurrection of believers happens some time before the 7 year period of difficulty that happens at the end of the age.  God removes believers from the earth through resurrection and ascension into heaven as immortal beings with glorified, or heavenly, bodies.  Typically the term “rapture” is applied to this view.  However, we really are talking about the resurrection of the righteous.  Now it is important to note that just because two people agree about the timing of the resurrection of the righteous, it is not guaranteed that they will agree on all other aspects of biblical prophecy.  Thus there are many variations of the “pre-trib” view.

The Mid-Tribulation View.  Other people believe that the resurrection does not happen until the middle of the tribulation.  This would be right before the world enters the final 3.5 year period called “The Great Tribulation.”  Several passages state that believers will be delivered from the wrath of God.  Here are a couple of them.  1 Thessalonians 1:14, “[we] wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”  Also, 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Lastly, Revelation 3:10, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”  It is clear that the beast’s rise to power starts out peaceful and seductive.  However, at some point, he turns his colors and become extremely despotic.  It is in this 2nd half of the tribulation that we see God’s wrath being poured out.  Thus the mid-trib view focuses on believers being removed right before God’s wrath is poured out.

The Pre-Wrath View. Some people have made a further distinction that the resurrection occurs much closer to the end of the tribulation.  They don’t see the wrath of God beginning until the 7 bowl judgments are poured out.  Views vary, but involve a time period that is well past the middle of the tribulation.  All of these three views involve a period of time in which believers have glorified bodies and stay in heaven with Christ for a period of time.  The next view does not accept that there is a time interval.

The Post-tribulation View.  Some people believe that the resurrection happens at the same time that Christ is coming back.  Thus believers are caught up to Christ in the air, but instead of going to heaven, they come back down to earth with Christ to help set up a millennial kingdom.

If you take time to work through the passages of the Bible in light of each view, you will find that they all have their strengths and weaknesses along with the many variations under each view.  However, regardless of what view you hold, your experience will still be the same.  After being with Christ in spirit form, the day will come when your spirit is united with a glorified body.  Either the resurrection will occur at an amount of time before the Second Coming or at the same time as it.  Yes, these views do make a difference in whether one will go through the Great Tribulation or not.  However, Christians have always faced tribulation in this world.  Too many times people who hole to one view will ridicule those who hold another.  People will chide the pre-tribulation view for trying to avoid persecution.  This is an utterly ridiculous slam.  However, it is easy to ridicule the post-tribulation view by stating that it is ludicrous for us to fly up into the sky only to come back down again.  These slights do no good for convincing people and have nothing to do with what the Bible actually says.  Many sincere and smart theologians have disagreed through the years.  Regardless of which of these views you gravitate towards, the real questions are these.  Are you ready for your physical death?  Have you made your peace with God and put your faith in His Son Jesus?  If you haven’t then do so today before it becomes too late.

Personal End Times Second Coming Audio

Tuesday
Mar202018

The Fire of God's Judgment II

2 Kings 2:1-15.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 18, 2018.

Last week we saw how the fire of God was a symbol of the judgment of the wicked, that is, when they are found to be lacking before God.  This week we will see that the fire of God can also be seen as a judgment of the righteous, in that they are found to be acceptable to God.

This amazing story of Elijah’s ascension into heaven may raise the hackles of all cynics and skeptics.  However, it is in the Scripture for a reason.  It challenges our understanding of what is possible, but it also teaches us the ultimate purpose of God.  Though mankind knew that each person would one day die and go into the grave, in the persons of Enoch and Elijah, the righteous are given the hope, even the understanding, that the grave is not their final destiny.  God is able to take whom He will into the heavens with Him.  It is in the examples of Enoch and Elijah that we see that God does not intend the righteous to share the same fate as the wicked, even though our experience tells us that they all end up in the same place.  God will do what is necessary in order to lift the righteous into His presence.  

Let me encourage you today.  Even though our Heavenly Father is a consuming fire, we need not fear Him if we are walking in faith in His Son, Jesus.  The same power that takes the wicked down in judgment is the power that will lift you up into the presence of God, according to His judgment.

Elijah’s last mission

We are told right off the bat that Elijah is going to be taken into heaven in a whirlwind.  So if you pictured Elijah riding in the fiery chariot, you will see later that this is not the case.  This is to be Elijah’s last mission and as he follows the instructions of the Lord, he is led to the place where he will leave this world.

It is clear that it has become common knowledge that Elijah is to be taken by God, at least among the prophets and those who served them.  Either Elijah has made God’s plan known to the other prophets or it was another prophet who public ally prophesied that Elijah would be taken on a particular day.  Nevertheless, we see the “sons of the prophets” warning Elisha of what is about to occur.

Who are these “sons of the prophets?”  This is metaphorical language, which speaks of a person (like Elisha was to Elijah) who serves a prophet.  In some cases this would function much like we see with Jesus and his disciples.  They followed him around, lived with him, and learned from him.  It was often done in the hopes that eventually they would become like their masters, i.e. prophets.  The proven, elder prophet would be training those who came to them.  In Elijah’s case there is only one servant, but it is clear from this passage that some of these groups were quite large with 50 people mentioned at Jericho.  Now we do see a resurgence of the idea of a “school of prophets” today.  People will take classes and learn how to be a prophet.  We do need to be careful with this idea.  Not everyone who served the prophets became prophets themselves.  A person could not call themselves to be a prophet by just showing up.  To be a prophet was made clear by the fact that God was clearly speaking to them and through them.  Thus it might seem cool to be a prophet, but going to a school or hanging out with a prophet does not necessarily make you one.  This is up to God.  Even then, even those with the calling of becoming a prophet, and who will become people of great faith, need to learn and grow in the area of hearing God and representing Him.  

Now we see Elijah going from town to town.  In each town he tries to get Elisha to stay there while he goes on.  Now this could be seen as Elijah wanting privacy in this intimate time of his life.  However, it is more than likely that Elijah is testing Elisha, in order to see if he will stay the course.  It is important in life to do more than just want to do something.  We must also learn to follow through.  Of course, it is important what your target is, and Elisha desires a good thing: to be with Elijah when he is taken by the Lord.  Sometimes God does not give us what we want immediately to see if we will persist.

When Elijah and Elisha get to the Jordan River, we are told that 50 sons of the prophets are watching in the distance.  At this point, Elijah performs an amazing miracle, he strikes the river with his rolled up mantle and it parts in two that he and Elisha can walk through on the ground.  Why would God instruct Elijah to do this?  It is not like they couldn’t cross at the fords.  One thing to see here is that it will give credence to the fantastic story that Elisha will tell when he gets back.  Second of all, it will demonstrate that the power of God that was with Elijah has not left.  It is now with Elisha.  But more on that later.  

Suffice it to say that this miracle of parting the waters is a signature act of God.  The Jordan River was parted three times: by Joshua, by Elijah here, and as we will soon read by Elisha.  We also see in the Bible that Moses parted the Red Sea so that all of Israel could escape from the armies of Pharaoh.  Why all this parting of water?  It harkens back to the creation account where we are told that God separates the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.  It is a way of God saying, “I’m here!”

On the other side of the Jordan, Elijah asks Elisha what last thing he can do for him before he leaves.  Here Elisha asks for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.  Many teachers have made a big deal about Elisha performing exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah.  That may be true.  However, Elisha is not asking to do twice as many miracles or to be twice as powerful as Elijah.  A double-portion is terminology that goes with matters of inheritance.  Elijah is about to be taken from the earth.  Typically one would put their affairs in order and have a will to bequeath all their effects to their inheritors.  In Israel the estate would be divided between the sons in a way where the eldest would receive two portions compared to the other brothers.  For example, if there were three sons then the estate would be divided into 4 parts.  The eldest would get two (50%) and each of the other brothers would get 1 part (25%).  This was a picture of the blessing of God upon the eldest who would now be taking the place of the family patriarch.  Elisha is not worried about getting a material inheritance because Elijah did not amass any estate in this life.  What Elisha wants is a spiritual inheritance, and is essentially asking to take Elijah’s place, or to be used by God in the same way.  IT is interesting that God has given His Spirit to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.  As Elisha looked to Elijah, the man of God, and hoped to have the same Spirit, so we must learn to look to Jesus and ask the Father that the Spirit of Christ would rest upon us and empower us for what we need in order to face this life.  May we become the spiritual inheritors of Christ.  In fact, in Christ we can all inherit a “double-portion” of His Spirit.

At some point as they are talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses speeds between the two, separating them.  Then Elijah is caught up by a whirlwind that supposedly is in the wake of the chariot.  What Elisha actually saw is not told to us, we simply have his description of what it looked like.  Regardless, we see Elijah ascending into heaven in a fiery whirlwind.  This is not quite as grand and majestic as the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1.  But it is amazing, nonetheless.

I mentioned in the opening that Elijah and Enoch are unique in the Old Testament in that it is not said that they died, and that they do not go into the grave, but up towards heaven.  In fact Hebrews 11:5 tells us that Enoch did not see death.  This raises all sorts of questions.  Is it possible for a material being to be in heaven?  Isn’t it supposed to be a place for spirits only?  Well, Jesus has a material body and He is seated at the right hand of God.  I know that his is a glorified body, but I want us to see that there is much we do not understand about the physics of the material world and the spiritual world.  Because these two men of the Old Testament do not see death, and Malachi prophesies that Elijah will return before the coming of the Messiah, some have speculated that perhaps they are the two witnesses of Revelation 11.  We don’t have time to go into this today.  However, I would just say that it is clear that we are leaving the strong foundation of biblical witness and crawling out on the thin limb of speculation or opinion, at this point.  Regardless, of the full extent of its implications, the ascension of Elijah gives the righteous the hope that we too shall dwell with God by His mighty power.

Elisha begins his new ministry

As Elijah is taken up into heaven, we see the shock and amazement of Elisha as he cries out, “My father, my father, the chariot and the horsemen of Israel.”  Father here is a metaphorical term of endearment that is the complement to “son of the prophet.”  This spiritual chariot and horsemen convinced Elisha that the real defenses and protection of Israel came from God Himself.  In 2 Kings 2:6, Elisha and his servant Gehazi will be surrounded by the king of Syria.  We are told that Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”  Then the Lord opened the servants eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  We must never look to the things of this world as our true defenses and help.  It is God’s spiritual defense and help that is our true source.

Elijah’s mantle had fallen to the ground as he was snatched up.  A mantle was often designed in such a way that was indicative of both the profession a person had, and the individual themselves.  Thus Elisha taking up the mantle of Elijah is symbolic of him stepping into the shoes of Elijah.  God would now work powerfully through Elisha as He had with Elijah.  This is how it has always been in God’s kingdom.  Those who have gone before must train and disciple those who are coming behind.  At some point the older generation passes on and the younger generation must step into their shoes, and carry on the work of the Lord.  Not all are called to be prophets as Elijah and Elisha were.  However, there is a calling on our life which asks us to pick up a mantle that has been left behind.  We must learn to bravely pick up the mantle of what God calls us to do, not because we are confident in ourselves, but because we trust the God who is calling us.

As Elisha comes back to the Jordan River, he cries out, “Where is the God of Elijah?”  In the mouth of a foreign warlord, this would be seen as a mocking question.  But in Elisha’s mouth it is simply asking, “God are you still with us and in particular me?”  It is also important for the sons of the prophets who see Elisha coming back.  The question, and God’s response will highlight in their mind that God is with Elisha like He was with Elijah.  Did they ever get a show that day.  When Elisha strikes the river, it parts again (twice in one day).  They witness that the spirit of Elijah was on Elisha.  That spirit is the Holy Spirit of God.  May God help us to see what He is calling us to do.  In a way we are all prophets.  We have been given a message from God to share with all those around us who do not know it.  We must learn to trust Him to give us direction and empower us to do it.  Thus each day is a new day to rise up and ask, “God are you still with me?  Help me to walk with you today as long as I have time left on this earth.”

God's Judgement II audio