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Tuesday, 18 September 2018

How Will History End?

Theories of the end
Depending on who you are listening to, the world will end like this: perhaps it will end in a global nuclear war; perhaps it will end when the sun's fuel runs out and the sun expands engulfing and burning up the earth in its outward path; perhaps some other natural catastrophe - such as an asteroid impact - will kill every living thing.

The Bible's Vision
The Bible teaches something very gloriously different. It teaches that the end will not come about naturalistically, but supernaturalistically. Just as God opened history when he brought everything into existence, so he himself will draw the final curtain on time.

The Bible teaches that the return of Jesus Christ will end the history of the world.

The fine details are a little obscure
The precise details of Christ's return are open to discussion among true believers. The two areas of disagreement are:

(i) "The Millenium." There are three schools of thought, all connected to what is called "The Millennium." Some Christians believe Jesus will return before a 1000-year period in which Jesus will then reign on the earth (they are called pre-milleniests). Some believe Jesus will come after the millennium (they are post-millenniests). Yet others believe that there is no such thing as a literal 1000 year millennium but that this is figurative language describing the age between the first and second coming of Jesus.

(ii) The signs of his coming. Then there are many signs of his coming given in the New Testaments. This leads some believers to think that Jesus could not return at any moment - because those signs need to take place first. But other believers - and I am among them - believe that all of those signs could be fulfilled in such a short span of time that in effect Jesus could return at any moment.

What all believers are agreed upon is that Jesus will return in power and glory - and this central truth is what the Apostle's Creed focuses on, and this truth is the Gospel Truth all believers need to focus on. It is a great tragedy when Christians (often in the comfortable west) spend and waste time in endless speculation, and thereby ignore the real practical life-changing applications of this glorious truth.

The implications are both serious and glorious
Nowhere in the New Testament is the return of Jesus spoken of for the purpose of idle speculation. Everywhere, the truth is shared so that it makes an impact on our lives here and now. And here are seven glorious implications of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.....

(1) Believing that Jesus is going to return is the mark of a true local church. It is according to Paul, a Gospel truth (Romans 2:16, Acts 17:31). A church that does not believe in the return of Jesus is not a Christian church.

(2) Longing for his return is the mark of a healthy church or Christian. Throughout the letters of the New Testament we find the writers talking about this eagerness (see 1 Thess 1:9-10, Phil 3:20 - even 1 Cor 1:7!)  Healthy Christians eagerly await.

(3) The Return of Jesus is meant to give comfort to Christians who are suffering unjust treatment on account of Christ (2 Thess 1:5-9). Their persecutors will be punished one day - when Jesus returns.

(4) The Return of Jesus Christ is meant to give  hope and comfort to grieving Christians who have lost believing friends or loved ones. That's the comfort of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. Believers who have fallen asleep before us will come with Christ and we will all be caught up together, forever.

(5) The Return of Jesus Christ is meant to keep us on our spiritual toes. Like a parent who does not tell the child when he or she will return - and therefore keeps the child behaving the whole time, so the Lord Jesus will return at a time no-one knows, like a thief in the night - and we are called to be ready everyday (Matt 25).

(6) The Return of Jesus Christ spurs us on to use our spiritual gifts. Because one day the Master will return and ask us how we used them (Matt 25) - and we want to hear his "well done."

(7) The Return of the Lord is to become our ultimate future hope. It is called "the Blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). Not "a" blessed hope, a hope among many others, but "the" blessed hope. Of all the things we look forward to in the future, the return of Jesus should be tops. Why? Because all earthly hopes are just that - hopes, they may or may not happen; they may or may not resolve; they may or may not make better.

But the return of Jesus Christ is our blessed hope because it is certain and because his return will make all wrongs right,  remove all sorrows, satisfy all longings and heal all diseases. With a new resurrected body we will spend forever in the glorious presence of the Lord in a new heavens and earth.

 Every day we ought to wake with the thought "Jesus could come today! I want to live a life that honours him who loved me and gave himself for me."

It may be at morn, when the day is awaking,
When sunlight through darkness and shadow is breaking,
That Jesus will come in the fullness of glory,
To receive from the world His own.

O Lord Jesus, how long, how long
Ere we shout the glad song,
Christ returneth!
Hallelujah! hallelujah!
Amen. Hallelujah! Amen.

It may be at midday, it may be at twilight,
It may be, perchance, that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus receives His own.

While its hosts cry Hosanna, from heaven descending,
With glorified saints and the angels attending,
With grace on His brow, like a halo of glory,
Will Jesus receive His own.

O joy! O delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread and no crying.
Caught up through the clouds with our Lord into glory,
When Jesus receives His own.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Primary Truth

Primary, secondary, tertiary or quaternary?
More mischief is done in the church by a failure to understand the difference between primary and secondary doctrine than by almost every other source of trouble.

I say this as I prepare for a new series of teaching seminars on the End Times. What a bewildering array of end-times doctrinal systems and programs there are! 

"Postmil", "Premil" and "Amil" are just the starters! And variations of all three abound: "Pretrib Premil", "Mid-trib Premil" and "post-trib-Premil" for example.

I shall start the whole talk by asking my brothers and sisters to talk together about what is primary doctrine and what is secondary doctrine. (We'll leave out tertiary and quarternary categories!)

How do we discern what is primary?
There are three tests for primary doctrines:

(1) Is it mentioned so often in the Bible that to deny the doctrine is to deny the Scriptures? For example, if someone says that God is not the Creator they deny the Scriptures which teach this truth hundreds of times. Whether sisters wear hats or not is mentioned once - and believers disgaree over the interprtation of that one reference, so the doctrine of hats is not a primary doctrine. 

(2) Is it spoken of as being primary? Some truths are said to be primary explicitly. So for example, Paul says that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is of "first importance" (1 Cor 15). This makes it a primary doctrine. Nowhere does the Bible refer to the millennium as a primary doctrine - so whatever you believe on the millennium - real or metaphorical age - is not all that important. 

(3) Is the doctrine spoken of as a Gospel truth? Something that is so central to the Gospel that to deny it is to deny the Gospel? If so, it is a primary truth. Justification by faith alone is a primary truth because Paul says that without it there is no Gospel (Galatians 1). Exactly what we believe about the gifts of the Spirit is nowhere spoken of as a primary truth.  

We might add as a fourth test, the test of church history, and especially the creeds. One purpose of the creeds - especially the earlier ones - was to establish what truths were of first importance. If the doctrine is in the creed it's likely to be primary. 

When we understand the difference between primary and secondary, lots of other things click into place:
  • We learn to concentrate on the main things, not the secondary things
  • We humbly acknowledge that we may have many secondary things wrong
  • We love brothers and sisters who disagree over secondary issues
Where we fail to differentiate between primary and secondary we end up thinking that everything we believe is primary! The consequence is that we draw a hallowed circle around ourselves and judge everyone else by those (our) beliefs. Taken to extremes we end up in a church (cult?) of one person!

We have all met Christians who cannot live in any church because every church is "wrong" according to their personal doctrinal code.

The Return of Jesus Christ
Returning to where I started.....

...the most important truth about the future is not whether or not there will be a literal millennium; it is not what is happening or will happen to Israel, it is not seeking to fit every contemporary global event to a Biblical text, it is not whether there will be a rapture. The most important, the primary truth about the future is that Jesus Christ is returning and we are to live lives of great hope in the light of that glorious event.

                 "and he will come to judge the living and the dead" 

says the Apostles Creed, focusing as it does on primary truths. 

All other timetables and doctrines that surround the end times are secondary, many are tertiary, some are even quaternary.

"We wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour" is how Paul summarises the church's future hope in Titus. That is enough for us.