Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Coming Like a Thief in the Night??

Today's Eschatological issue I want to address is Jesus' "coming like a thief in the night". This phrase and the verses that use it is popularly used by Pre-Tribs to teach that Christ's coming (ie the Rapture) could be at any moment. Thus it is used by them to try and  disprove the Post-Trib theory, since that view teaches that Christ won't return until the end of the Tribulation.

But a plain reading of those verses by any well-meaning laymen, who read them objectively, can see that it does not have to be the case as some Pre-Tribulationalist like to claim. In my research, this analogy of Jesus "coming like a thief" in the last days appears about 6 times in an Eschatological context. I will address each one for today's short blog post.

(I am using the English Standard Version (ESV), but any decent translation (KJV, NIV, etc..) works just as well to make the case. Also, I have highlighted certain words in the passage to make the point.)

1.) 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6
For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

Paul is making a clear distinction in this passage that for those walking in darkness (unbelievers) the Lord's coming will be a great surprise, but those who are walking in light (believers) it is not a surprise. Those who were prepared and read the Scriptures about the coming of Christ were not caught off guard because they were not, metaphorically speaking, asleep about such matters.

However those who were not prepared and were spreading their own ideas preaching "peace and safety" were caught off guard at his coming. They were asleep in their darkness. Thus, to the unbelieving world, Christ's coming will be unexpected and without warning; like the thief in the night.

2.) 2 Peter 3:10
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Dispensationalist love to quote the first part of this verse about the thief coming suddenly, but they tend to ignore the rest. The common Pre-Trib view is that: Christ returns secretly for his bride (the rapture), but life continues on Earth for another 7 years while God judges the unbelievers, and then Jesus returns for a 2nd second time (Yes, i call that a 3rd time as well). After that then the old world will die as the new Heavens and Earth are ushered by Jesus, who will be ruling and reigning over them personally.

While I agree with some things in that interpretation, I just don't get a few things from this verse. How can the Lord return and there still be life on earth as we know it now? Following the Lord's return it will not be business as normal until the 7 seal, bowel and vial judgments mentioned in Revelation start up. To me, the language used in this verse is clear following Christ return, Life as we now understand it  is over with. The heavens (sun, moon, stars) as well as the Earth, itself, will loudly and fiercely pass away, burn up, and dissolve after the coming of our Lord. There is no indication of an intermediate gap (seven year period) in this passage between the two events. The Post-Trib view makes more sense in light of this passage. Seven years of tribulation, next Jesus' single 2nd coming, and then the old world is destroyed and replaced by the new heaven and earth. No gaps or two different Second Comings.

3.) Matthew 24:42-44
Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Again, we see Jesus, himself, using this analogy of coming unexpectedly like a thief in the night, for the purpose of telling his followers they need to stay awake, alert, and prepared. If we had known the He was coming, to carry on the metaphor, we would have not let the thief break in. In other words, Jesus is warning us to be awake and prepared, and if we are so, his coming won't take us by surprise.

4.) Revelation 3:3
Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

Once more, Jesus is telling believers to be awake and alert or for them his coming will be like a thief in the night. Jesus is talking to the Church in this passage, specifically the church of Sardis, and is telling them they have heard and received the truth about him, and they need to keep it and repent. Recalling back to what Paul said in 2 Thess 5 there is no reason why we as believers walking in the light should be taken a back with unexpected surprise when the Lord comes. He has given us the signs and prophecies in his Word. If we're reading it and growing in the knowledge and understanding of it, there is no reason, why we should be caught off guard, like the unbelieving darkened world will be. 

5.) Revelation 16:15
“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”

Shall I continue to beat this same drum? Jesus again and again warns, and even says we're blessed if we stay awake. The thief can't rob your of your clothes if you were awake and prepared for his coming. Likewise, are you ready for Jesus' second coming? Do you know the signs that will proceed his coming? Or will you be found naked and wanting on the Great and Terrible Day of the LORD?

6.) Luke 12: 35-40
Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

In this final passage, we see it stated once again that we who are walking in light, and they are dressed for action, their lamps stayed burning, and they were awake and ready for when the master returns. Moreover, he tells us, we will be blessed by the Master, himself, because his arrival didn't take us by surprise like the thief in the night.  

Final Thoughts
When one looks closely and clearly at these 6 passages all together in this context, where it talks about the Lord's coming like a thief in the night, it becomes clear the analogy that the New Testament authors were trying to convey has less to do with the sudden and imminent return of Christ, but more so to do with the fact, that we as believers should NOT be taken off guard at his Second Coming. The word that used in every one of these passage is "awake". Are you awake? We are not in darkness, we are in light as the followers of Christ. We need to prepare ourselves for his coming by digging deep into his word and learn what the Scripture truly does teach about what the world will be like in the last days, what will be the signs of his coming, and what events must take place before he returns for his own.

The greater context is clear I think, the primary point here is that we need to be awake, alert, and ready for his coming so that it doesn't take us by surprise as a thief breaking into a home in the middle of the night.  It is not a verse that proves Jesus will come back at any sudden moment, only that his return should not catch us off guard suddenly. It will be only the foolish and unbelievers who should feel that his arrival was out of the blue.

Indeed, I am sorry my Pre-trib brothers and sisters this phase about "coming like a thief" does not disprove the Post-Tribulation belief because it 'proves' Jesus can return at moment. No, if anything it most likely strengthens the belief in the Post-Tribulation, as I hope I demonstrated above. Look, there will be certain prophetic signs and events that must occur before Jesus' next and final coming. I'll go into some of those signs and events in a future blog, but for now let us agree that we need to be reading and growing in the Word. Thus, preparing ourselves as we wait eagerly for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 2, 2013

My Eschatological Journey in Understanding what the Bible says about the End Times

So I've decided to start blogging again. However, instead of just blogging about random things. I wanted to talk about something important to me: Truth. In this case, how that pertains to Eschatology, that is, the study of the End Times. (Also, In these blog posts, I will be assuming the reader has some knowledge of the end times terms I use, such as Pre-trib or Preterist. If not, i'll provide a hyper-link on the term the first time it appears with the explanation)

The Bible tells plainly that God's standard of truth: Jesus is Truth (John14:6), Your Word is Truth (John 17:17), and the Law is Truth (Psalm 119:142). So with that said, what does the Bible actually have to say about these matters of the last days? There is so much cultural myth and misinformation out there thanks in part to popular fiction and novels like the Left Behind Series and The Late, Great Planet Earth. Many Christian have read or heard talks in discussions about the last days. They have some ideas about things like the Rapture or the Second Coming of Christ, but ask them to show you the verses for it in the Bible and they can't.

 I'll freely admit I use to be in that camp for a long time. Thus, about 7 years ago after reading many of the Left Behind books I really started to wonder about the events of the last days. As I opened the Bible, and started reading many of the verses they used in the book series, it didn't add up in the broader context of the passage. Now I was just a college student and by no means a pastor, but even I could see the verses weren't adding up very well with Jenkins and Lahaye's explanations from the book series. I told myself well this is just fiction, they probably took some artistic license. I knew at least the pre-tribulation rapture teaching had to be right. I'd had heard dozen of pastors on TV, the radio, and internet podcasts preach on it for years since I became a Christian. But, again as I read the Bible cover to cover year after year, I could find no clear verse ever talking about the Church getting raptured away before Christ's 2nd coming and this period of Great Tribulation that Jesus and his Apostles referred to again and again in the New Testament. For example, the biggest unresolvable issues for me at that time, were the 2nd coming of Christ, the frequent talk of suffering for believers at the hands of the Antichrist and his followers in the last days, and this main end times passage from 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4. I will talk about these 3 issues in far more depth in my next upcoming blog post. But for now, I'm just giving them as examples now. Today is just background on my journey of how and why I am doing this and one smaller example on the imminent return of Christ and the "thief in the night" analogy.

I am a teacher and historian, i've been reading the Bible cover to cover every day for the better part of a decade now. I've tried to read every end times article and book I could get my hands on from each of the various camps: be they Dispensationalist, Postmillennialist, or Preterist etc. In addition, I have probably listened to hundreds of hours worth of sermons of all digital media types on these matters. There is still a great debate in-house on many things related to Eschatology. However, most mainstream Christian theologians and scholars have agreed on the who, what, where, why, and how with nearly total unanimous support over the centuries about the events of the last days. It's just that pesky 'when' or 'what order of events' they can't seem to resolve. Sticking with this issue about the Rapture for the moment. I still called myself a pre-trib among my Christian friends and church members, but I seriously had my doubts about it, but it was what nearly all of them were believing and talking about when this subject matter came up. So, I felt compelled to play along in all honesty.

 After years of listening to so many points of view on this issue. I got tired of being passive about it, and wanted to know about these things for myself; time to get active I told myself. I am an historian, it was time I put my training to use. So instead of reading new stuff, I went old school. I started reading what the Early Church Fathers had to say on the issue, particularly what Irenaeus of Lyons (b.130AD- d.202AD) had to say about the events surrounding the last days. What makes Irenaeus so interesting is his proximity to the Apostle John, who wrote the book of Revelation while he was exiled on the Island of Patmos. John, the last of the 12 original Apostles, had a disciple by the name of Polycarp, who in turn had a student under his tutelage named Irenaeus. Thus, Irenaeus sat at the feet of the guy (Polycarp) who sat at John's feet. John the guy who literally wrote the book of the Bible on the things pertaining to the end times. Thus, Irenaeus was a great resource for getting as close I could about how John would have interrupted his own visions in Revelation and then pass that knowledge onto Polycarp, who likewise would have done the same to Irenaeus. I'll share my findings on what he and the other Early Father taught about these in an upcoming blog. But needless to say, what I discovered is that nearly all the mainstream Early Church Fathers and Great Protestant Reformers from like 100AD to 1800AD had in common was the shared a similar belief about the Church and the Tribulation. About 99% of them believed the Church would go through the 7 year period of tribulation prior to the Second Advent of Christ. They were Post-Tribulationist as we would call them today. 

The idea of a secret rapture and the Saints being whisked away just before the revealing of the Antichrist and the Time of Tribulation is an idea that not only contradicts 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, but was not even in consciousness of Christian teachers until the 1800s. This teaching started and grew in popularity mostly due to two people, a pastor and a teenage girl, who lived in Scotland in the early 1800s. But again, I'll go into more in-depthness on this in an upcoming blog post. For now I am just setting the ground work. Anyhow, back to my story, as I read what past theologians had taught for literally dozens of centuries and about the 'recent' origins of the Pre-Tribulationalist theory, which has become so popular in Western culture and theology, all my questions and concerns we addressed. With respects to the Rapture I am indeed now a Post-Tribulationalist. This view not only satisfies all my intellectually Eschatological questions, but it also addresses all the Scriptural concerns and conflicts that are found under the Pre-Trib belief. Everything. all the verses and prophecies just finally made sense. The Post-Trib explanation calmed my spirit. This Truth that believers would go through Tribulation of God's Wrath made so much sense when one looked at the context of all the end time verses. Now yes the Church will go through that terrible period of time, but it will not suffer any of God's Judgments on the unbelieving world. I think Scripture makes that clear. Again see future blogs for more unpacking of this point of view. :-)

 Now why am I doing this? Why do I want to tell people about this? This is not one of those I think I am right and you're wrong and you need to believe what I think or you're not a Christian and going to Hell kind-of-thing. Far, Far, Far from it. This is just one believer sharing with others, his story about what God has shown him as he has prayed for wisdom and understanding, and poured through so many historical materials about these subjects. The Old Testament say plainly that God's people will suffer greatly if they lack the knowledge of his Word. Moreover, the New Testament warns believers that great falling away will occur in the last days. What are we seeing today? People in the West are leaving the Church in droves. But more interestingly, how many believers and so-called believers in the comfortable safe Western Church, who have placed their hope in a secret rapture teaching, will feel on that day when they notice they the End Time events are starting to come to pass (i.e. the Anti-Christ showing up, or the 7 year treaty between the nations and Israel, or some such) and they haven't been taken away.

How many would fall away or give up on God, if they weren't removed from the trials of the Tribulation? Western Christians, who have never really experienced true persecution for their faith like their brothers and sisters who live in China or North Korea or Saudi Arabia do. How well would we Western Christians hold out if suddenly we were being thrown in Jail or beheaded (Rev 20:4) for being a Christian? Would our faith sustain us when your 1 great hope of being taken away before hand doesn't occur? Or would this be the catalyst for what Paul talks about that will cause the Great Apostasy or Rebellion or Fallen Away (pick your Bible translation) he teaches about in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3. With that said I don't want my fellow Christians to be caught off-guard on walking in darkness. I want us to be prepared and walking in the light of his Truth.