May 9, 2006
Revelation 1:7, "Behold He is coming with clouds and every eye will see Him, and they also who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen."
Throughout the ages the return of Christ, His coming on the clouds, has been a topic of great controversy in the Church. Although all believers agree that Christ will return, for the Bible tells us so, the contention takes on dimension when the discussion includes the when, and how many times He will appear.
There are many who believe that Christ's return will be multi-phased. They say first He will come for His Bride then He will return to judge the world. This first appearance of Christ, in many men's thinking, will be before any signs of the tribulation will be made manifest on earth, for they conclude that although the end times are mapped out in the Bible, we will not be here for these events.
Although Biblical basis for this theory is slim, most theologians base their entire doctrine on a singular scripture:
1 Thessalonians, 4:16-17, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."
However beautiful and majestic this scripture may be, however much hope it may inspire in us, we must realize that the scripture never mentions the 'when' of Christ's return. It simply states that He will descend from the heavens, the dead in Christ shall rise, and we who are alive will be caught up together with them, and will always be with the Lord.
This scripture never alludes to the fact that we will be caught up pre-tribulation, it never hints at the possibility that Christ will be making multiple trips. It simply states, what we know to be true, that Christ will return, and we will be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.
Now if no further scripture existed on the topic, if nothing more was mentioned as to the timeline of Christ's return on earth, we could simply write the discussion off as an unknown, agree to disagree, and move on to other things. In His goodness however, Christ did not leave us in the limbo of ignorance, but forewarned us to prepare, and told us without doubt that we will be here, on this earth, longer than some would like to believe.
I've had discussions on this topic with many preachers and pastors in the past, and they always turned into heated debates. Knowing the sensitivity of this topic, knowing how steadfastly some hold to their opinion, I would ask that we let the word of God have the final word, and lay aside our preconceived notions of what we think the Word ought to say, and believe it for what it does say.
Why is this so relevant one may ask? Why is it so important for us to know, whether or not we will be here for those times which the Bible calls times of sorrow, and tribulation? Why can't we just leave it in the realm, of knowing all things once we make it to heaven?
The answer is simple, yet profound. If in our hearts we are not prepared to endure for the sake of Christ, when the day comes that we are called to endure we will be unprepared, lacking the will and determination to remain faithful until the end. If throughout my life I am told that suffering persecution will never be an issue, when faced with that persecution, my reaction to it will be uncertain.
I can readily understand why the new doctrine, the modern teachings of opulence and excess being prerequisites for a Christian life are so vehemently opposed to even the idea that they may have to endure persecution for the sake of Christ and the cross. If we are to believe the word of God, that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution, then the entire foundation of 'prosperity thinking' and 'prosperity living' crumbles into nothingness, and all that we've based our doctrine on is nothing more than a mist.
We know there is nothing superfluous in the Word of God. When the Word was divinely inspired God didn't just throw in a bunch of unnecessary verses to fill space, to make the book look bigger than it was supposed to be. God was neither interested in wasting ink, or making Himself seem more articulate by including irrelevancies in His Holy Bible. Every verse, ever sentence, ever word of this precious book, is there for a reason, every one relevant for us His children, important, and necessary for our spiritual development and growth.
God did not include passages concerning the end times in the Bible simply to prove Himself to the world after we were caught up, and they left behind, but He included them that we may know the times and seasons, and prepare our hearts accordingly.
With that having been said, we come to the scripture that I believe to shed the brightest light, show the most complete compilation of events leading up to the return of Christ, and also that great event itself, His ultimate appearance in the clouds.
It is a prophecy, a foretelling of future events, given not by one of the prophets of old, or by one of the Apostles, but by Jesus Himself. I have preached this passage often, but its importance compels me to revisit it, for I believe it to be the greatest prophecy ever uttered.
Matthew 24:3, "Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, 'Tell us when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?"
In their desire to know more than those that merely followed Christ, His disciples came to Him and asked two separate questions, which at the same time are interconnected. They desired to know in specificity, what would be the sign of His coming, and of the end of the age. Why are these two events interconnected? Because the end of the age, and Christ's imminent return take place in close proximity to each other, as Christ explains further in this chapter.
Matthew 24:4, "And Jesus answered and said to them: 'Take heed that no one deceives you."
I have often wondered why Jesus began with these words, until clarity came upon me and I realized the simple truth of Christ's comment. If we are deceived, then we will not believe, even if the words come from the mouth of Christ himself. Now if He spoke such words to His disciples, those that walked with Him and saw the miracles He performed, that received His teaching firsthand, ought we not also take heed? Ought we not also be weary and cautious? Ought we not also test the spirits, to see if they originate from God? Ought we not also make sure that our doctrine parallels that of the Bible, and that the things we believe are found within its pages?
Whether we realize it or not, the Bible tells us we have an enemy. An enemy whose hatred burns for us, God's children, so brightly that if not for God's sovereign protection He would devour us, as would a hungry lion. This enemy of ours, does not have many weapons in his arsenal, in fact, he has only one. That weapon, and one that is very effective, is deception. The devil can only deceive, his only weapon is deception, and knowing this, we must make certain that our defenses are true and strong. The best defense against deception is discernment. If we retain the gift of discernment, then we will always recognize a lie of the enemy for what it is. In an age where God's own people no longer believe they have access to His gifts however, discernment being one of them, we readily come to the conclusion that even within God's own house there are those who are deceived.
More tragic still, is that often times the shepherds we trust to lead the sheep to pure springs of living waters, the shepherds we expect to lead the sheep to green pastures, are those perpetrating the deception.
This is why Jesus begins with a warning to all who would hear His voice, 'beware that you are not deceived.' For if deception has settled into your heart, then although it is Jesus Christ who tells you what will be, what is to come, and what you may have to endure, you will shut up your heart, and plug up your ears, and refuse to believe.
Matthew 24:5, "For many will come in My name, saying 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many."
Deception works best when there is a grain of truth somewhere at its center. Those that will come to prey on the house of God, those that dare I say are already here, will not come in the name of strange gods, but rather in the name of Jesus. They will have His name on their lips, but He will be far removed from their hearts. They will approach God's children with great swelling words, tickling their ears, and whispering seductively, 'this is the new way, this is the new truth, this is the new life, this is the new Christ.'
The way the gospel of Luke recounts the same event is especially poignant, and the wording signifies the deceptions with which the wolves will invade the house of God.
Luke 21:8, "And He said: 'Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in my name, saying 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.' Therefore do not go after them."
We have always been taught to stand watch, high in the guard tower, in order to spot the attacks of the enemy from without. Look beyond the horizon and see him approach, prepare for his attack, but rarely do we hear of those who have already snuck in, the wolves who although came in His name, brought nothing but death and destruction to the children of God.
My heart breaks when I meet good, sincere Christians who have grown disillusioned with Christianity because men who wanted nothing more than their money, or possessions deceived them time and time again. I weep for those who continually go in search of a new thing, a fresh thing, only to be disappointed, finding themselves emptier than when they began their search, not finding the spiritual succor they were so desperate for.
If we are honest with ourselves, and analyze the situation for what it is, we will realize that the greatest setbacks the church suffers today, are not caused from without, but from within.
For Jesus already forewarned, that these deceivers will be successful in their endeavors. They will deceive many, and indeed we are living the days in which many are deceived, refusing to believe the word of God, receiving the opinions of men, and prizing them above the Gospel itself.
Matthew 24:6-8, "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines pestilences and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows."
After Jesus deals with His own, after He warns His followers, His flock, of what will come upon the church, of the dangers that are present, He turns his focus on certain events that will take place in the world, shortly before His return. These are of a prophetic nature; they foretell the things that will be. Realizing that this prophecy was given over two thousand years ago, one cannot help but be in awe at the accuracy of these words. That which Jesus spoke two millennia ago, is coming to pass today, before our very eyes.
We are indeed seeing wars, and rumors of wars, and if not for the hope within us, we would be troubled as the rest of the world is. This is why Jesus encouraged His own by saying: 'see that you are not troubled, for all these things must come to pass.'
Our reaction to the events currently overwhelming much of the world cannot be as the world's reaction. For we know that the faithfulness of our Father abides, and in this promise we have the lasting hope that whatever may come God will be with us. All these things must come to pass. They were foretold, and by God's will they will transpire, however the end is not yet.
I have heard preachers, lamenting the fact that we are still here. I have heard words spoken from pulpits, stating that we should already be gone, it's getting a little to close for comfort, and any day now, we will fly away to glory. With each passing day, we see the futility of this teaching, and the more we enter into these times of sorrow, the more despondent some will become seeing the emptiness of their affirmations.
Among the things we will soon see take place in the world, besides the wars and rumors of war, will be an increase in natural disasters, famines, and pestilences yet all these are merely the beginning of sorrows. Again, Christ warns, see that you are not troubled. Although Christ recounts the time of sorrows, there is as yet, no mention of our being caught up, nor does He say we will not be here for them.
One thing I must point out, although it is part of another teaching, is that although these sorrows will come upon the world, the children of God will be under His protection. We have God's sovereign promise, that we shall see these things with our eyes, but will not be touched by them. This is why the world will hate us and begin to persecute us, because they see that we are as Israel in Egypt, unaffected by God's wrath.
Matthew 24:9, "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake."
There is a principal cause for every reaction that the world has toward believers in Christ.
A true Christian is a foreign element in this world of sin, both due to his being born again, as well as his purpose while here on this earth. He is an emissary, sent of a kingdom that is alien to this world, and he fulfills the duties of this kingdom while he is on earth. We are as ambassadors, sent to work on behalf of God's kingdom on earth.
If followers of Christ would simply go along to get along, and adapt to the surrounding environment, saying as the world, and doing as the world, the world would have no problem with them, but rather praise them for their tolerance and honesty. This is why the world is so enthralled with some of today's most prominent Christian leaders, because they see a mirror image of themselves. They see the greed, and lust for power, and they applaud these as virtues.
The world will never be able to suffer, or even tolerate a true Christian. Why? Because the life of a believer, will always bring reproach, and condemn a worldly life, their very nature being in opposition to that of the world.
Jesus Christ did not hide the fact that the world is God's enemy from his disciples. He did not try to shield them from the brutal truth that they will be hated and despised. He showed them the hardships that they would go through, and the trials they must overcome. He never promised a pleasant journey in this life, or an excess of earthly goods. On the contrary He prepared them, and by association, us, for a life of suffering.
Having read the previous verse one cannot help but wonder, who is this 'you' that Jesus continually refers to? Is it not His own, His faithful servants? Is it not those who have committed their lives into the hands of God almighty? No, the children of God will not suffer the judgments of God, but they will suffer at the hands of those that will despise them for their faith, and hope. The world will not hate you for being a Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, or Presbyterian, but for being a Christian, one who is like Christ, one whose singular desire is to emulate Christ. The world's battle is not against some mystical God, some deity that sits high above the earth and watches all that transpires, but against Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who died for our sins, and rose again the third day. It is for His name's sake that all nations will hate us. Yes the day will come when this generation must either stand or bow, and whether or not we will be faithful will depend in large part on our spiritual preparation and conditioning, and our expectation of the things that are to come.
Now it is becoming increasingly clear how damaging the doctrine of no sacrifice, and easy salvation can be to the children of God, for a soldier without his armor, a soldier without his sword, a soldier without his training is only a soldier in name. On the field of battle the unprepared soldier will do one of two things; either run from battle, or be trampled underfoot.
Matthew 24:10, "And then many will be offended and will betray one another and will hate one another."
In order to betray someone, at a certain point in time you must have had their trust, once you must have been loyal to prove disloyalty. But first, let us discuss the topic of the great offense. Why will so many be offended? Why will their offense be so great, as to turn into betrayal and even hatred?
The answer is difficult to absorb, but truth is never easy. From a personal point of view, I would rather be wounded by truth, than coddled by a lie. Truth is like medicine. Sometimes it tastes bitter, and its not easy going down, but once it is absorbed into the system, it benefits your entire being. Yes, I would rather feel discomfort in truth, than take comfort in a lie.
So, back to the original question, why will so many be offended? When taking into account that some ninety percent of the modern church refuses to believe that we will see the time of sorrows, the season of trials, the advent of tribulation, it is easy to understand why so many will be offended.
Imagine if you will, having been told a certain thing all your life. It was trumpeted into you, since early childhood, by men you held in high esteem, it invaded your ocular and auditory receptors on a daily basis, and you came to believe it so passionately, that even the mere mention of an opposing point of view stirred deep feelings in you.
Now imagine, that one day, after many years, you finally discovered that the certain thing you had been led to believe was the pure truth, as nothing more than a man manufactured illusion, and the truth was the total opposite of what you had been led to believe.
Would you not be offended? Would you not turn your back on the whole thing, and no longer believe anything?
It will be thus with those who steadfastly hold to the idea that any day, we will be swept away. That we will not see any of the things the Bible speaks of when relating to the end times, and we will all be in Abraham's bosom, long before any rumor of war, long before any pestilence or famines are due to envelop the earth.
No one is doing you any favors by teaching you a lie, and you are not doing yourself any favors by believing the lie. Don't take my word for it, but for the sake of your eternal soul I pray you believe the words of your Savior, Jesus Christ.
For in that hour, when the souls of men hang in the balance, when they are faced with the decision to either save this life, or forfeit it for the one to come, it is the foundation of their faith that will aid them in making the right decision.
It is those who have fallen, those who could not endure that will betray and hate the ones who remained faithful until the end. Only truth abides, all else fails in due time.
When what is sweet will be bitter to our lips, when gold will lose its sparkle, when the trappings of life, are no longer appealing but rather a hindrance, when the things of this earth around which we've built our entire faith and doctrine will fall away into nothingness, what will be left of what we've believed but scattered ash?
1 Corinthians 15:19, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable."
When all things pass away, truth remains ever faithful. Cling to truth, and in it you will find hope, comfort, peace and joy. Abandon truth, or despise it, and you have abandoned hope, you have rejected comfort, and you have denied peace and joy entry into your heart.
Matthew 24, 11-13, "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved."
If there is one concurrent, running theme whenever the end times are mentioned in the Bible, it is that of false prophets, and doctrines. Deception never sleeps, it is patient, it lays its traps and waits for the unsuspecting to fall in. It is like the ocean, when one wave retreats, another comes in.
Man is a being that deceives his neighbor, is easily deceived, and most tragic of all deceives himself. In our indifference toward truth, we open our hearts to deception. In our refusal to believe something that would diminish the flesh in us, we are blinded toward God's eternal word.
We live in a world of sin, but the sin that leads the pack in this generation, especially in the church is the church of deception. Deceivers are multiplying, and their victims are countless.
There is only one truth, and it must no be altered, and man's duty is to know truth, justice and righteousness for these are the things God demands of him, even if they come at a great price.
With a new wave of deception, due to the abundance of lawlessness in God's own house, and the love of many growing cold for lack of kindling, once more the net of deceit will ensnare many. And yet, in all this deception, in all this suffering and heartache, there is a promise, a silver lining, and a glimmer of hope: 'he who endures to the end shall be saved.'
In order to endure, one must have endurance, and in order to have endurance, one must continually exercise his spiritual man. This is why continual supplication, prayer and fasting are continually encouraged throughout the word of God; not because God likes to see us kneel, but because by doing this things our spiritual man grows in strength, maturity and understanding.
It is tragic to see so many spiritually stunted in their growth, but more tragic still, is the fact that it doesn't seem to bother them. There comes a time in every child's life, when he stops crawling, and starts walking, when he stops expecting to be spoon fed, and starts feeding himself. May we have wisdom to grow in Him, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, and going on to perfection!
We have come all this way, and still, no mention of our departure, we have traversed wars, and rumors of wars, pestilences, earthquakes, tribulation, persecution, and Christ is still speaking to His faithful.
Due to the fact that merely skimming the prophecy of Daniel concerning the seventy weeks in which the abomination of desolation is mentioned would require a dozen or so pages, and because it is discussed at length further in the book of Revelation, I will skip to verse 21 of Matthew 24, that we may gain some insight as to when Jesus will return, when we will be caught up, and what we may have to endure until that blessed day.
Matthew 24:21-22, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, those days will be shortened."
Two things are made clear in these verses, undeniable even by the biggest skeptic if he chooses to only believe what the word of God says. The first is that there will be tribulation of such magnitude throughout the world, as has never been since its creation. So terrible will this tribulation be, that unless God, in His sovereign goodness did not shorten those days, no flesh would be saved. These are the days in which the wrath of God will be poured out upon the earth, a wrath that will be all consuming, a wrath that will not take into account any man's level of success, social standing, wealth, fame or prestige; A wrath that will only spare those in whom the Son of God is found, whose hearts are sealed for the day of redemption.
The second thing that one cannot deny, is that these days will not be shortened due to the earth's travail, it will not be shortened due to the pleas of the world, but that they will be shortened for the elect's sake.
Knowing that the elect are God's own people, His beloved, why would he shorten those days for their sake if they were already with Him in paradise?
Could it be that we would grow weary looking down from heaven, seeing all that was taking place, and for our sake God would shorten those days?
I submit to you dear friend, that once I am in God's presence, once I have entered the gates of heaven, the last thing on my mind or heart, would be what was transpiring on earth.
The reason those days will be shortened for our sake, is because we will be here, witness to God's judgment.
Matthew 24:23-24, "Then if anyone says to you, 'Look here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible even the elect."
It will be the enemy's final attempt at deception, and he will pull out all the stops. The enemy knows that with each passing day his time grows shorter, and his only purpose is to deceive, and tear from God's embrace, as many as possible. In his desperation, the enemy will attempt to deceive, if possible even God's own elect, by showing great signs and wonders. Knowing this, we must be continually vigilant, realizing that not all supernatural phenomena originates from God, and that indeed there are lying signs and wonders, whose origins are none other than the pit of hell.
Once again the question begs to be asked. If we have already departed, if we are no longer, why is Christ telling His followers not to believe those who say, 'here is the Christ?' Why are we warned of these coming wonders, if they will only serve as an intellectual exercise, having no practical application to our spiritual journey?
Again, nothing is unnecessary in the word of God every verse serves a purpose.
Matthew 24:25, "See, I have told you beforehand."
And here Christ eliminates the possibility of any excuse or justification for our indifference, and lack of spiritual preparation. When we stand before Him one day, pleading ignorance will not excuse us, for in His goodness He has told us beforehand all that will be. We will not be able to justify ourselves by claiming to have followed men's teachings, while disregarding His teachings, for the very deception which we believed, the very trap we fell into was already foretold. No, there will be no justification for ignorance on that day. What a truly horrible day it will be for some, for having retained only a form of godliness, they had only an illusion of knowledge, never pressing in, never seeking out, and never desiring the deeper things of God.
Matthew 24:29-31, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, and from one end of heaven to the other."
Only after all these things, will the sign of the Son of man appear in heaven, only after all these things will He send His angels to gather His elect from the four winds; Only after all these things will we enter into His rest; only after all these things will we finally be home.
Until then our duty remains what it has always been, that of obedience and faithfulness, that of walking in righteousness before Him. Though these things are soon to come, we ought not be troubled, for the Creator of all that is, the God who so loved us, will let no harm come to His beloved. He has already dispatched His angels, and they encamp around those that fear Him.
It is easy to skip to the very end, to read those wonderful words of Christ's return, but beware that until that day comes, there is much road to be traveled, and much hardship to be endured.
And when all is said and done, when the final trumpet sounds, when at last we receive our crowns, we will know what all who came before us knew, that difficult as the path may be at times, it is worth it.
Revelation 1:8, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, says the Lord, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
God is eternally present. He is Jehovah, the one who was, who is and is to come. To God there is no time. Past present and future do not exist, but merely the eternal now. Although difficult to grasp by our minds of flesh, some of the great thinkers of our time have come close. Einstein once wrote, when speaking on the relativity of time, that often the beginning is the end, and the end is the beginning. To an eternal God, there is no time, no beginning, and no end. God is the beginning of the beginning; before there was a universe there was God. Only to temporal being such as ourselves is time of any consequence, mortality making time precious. This is why we must redeem the time we have been given here on earth, always aware, that eternity beckons.
The Alpha, and the Omega. Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet, and Omega, is the last letter. There is nothing before the Alpha, and nothing follows the Omega, all-encompassing, never ending God and creator.
God did not say, "I was the Alpha and the Omega", but rather He said, "I am." God exists in perpetuity, almighty, unchanging and ever faithful.
Why would God testify of Himself? In order to encourage us His creation, to strengthen our faith, and our trust in Him, that when we go through trials we would not grow weary but rather knowing the One who stands with us, press on.
Where God is the beginning, He is also the end, and everything in between. When we entrust our lives into His almighty hand, we know that He will not fail us, He will not disappoint us, nor will He ever abandon us. Just as He is unchanging and eternal in the universe He has created, so is He in the heart that has faithfully received Him.
When we begin to see change from good to evil, from truth to lie, from the Holy Word to the teachings of men, from light to darkness, then God, the Alpha and Omega is no longer Lord of that heart, for in Him there is no variation or shadow of turning.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.