What We Want to Believe (Q & A part 1)

What We Want to Believe (Q & A part 1)

Jan 31, 2009

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: What We Want To Believe

Category: Membership


Introduction to Answering Eschatology Questions:

This morning we launch into a two part series attempting to answer the questions you guys submitted for the Q&A series.  We were only planning on doing one message here, but you asked so many good questions we had to break it into two separate messages.

I just want to level with you here.  When these questions started rolling in, I started feeling overwhelmed.  Because honestly, I don’t know the answers either.  But you know what the difference between you and me is?  I have access to 3000 dollar Bible software.

Several of the questions (in fact 7 of them) had to do with eschatology (end times) and several others had to do with questions that had multiple possible interpretations.  So I wanted to lay a foundation for addressing those questions.

3 Principles for interpretive humility:

Be careful about thinking controversial issues don’t matter. 

There is a form of arrogance that says, “I know better than God.  He made this doctrine difficult and he wants me to wrestle with it, but I have better things to do with my time.”  Eschatology is difficult to understand but it matters.  The sovereignty of God is difficult to understand but it matters.  There is a second form of arrogance which is the polar opposite of this one.

Be careful about linking any one view with a high view of Scripture.

This form of arrogance thinks that really confusing things are in fact crystal clear.  This form of arrogance is usually blind to prejudices and presuppositions.  We all think we are right about things we believe otherwise we wouldn’t believe them.  But it is very important when we talk through these areas of Scripture that are not quite as clear to assume that our position is the only position that does justice to a high view of Scripture.  There are many men who we would all invite to speak at our church and who I personally would be thrilled to serve along side who hold different views of end times.  These men all have higher views of Scripture than I do.

          John Calvin (most reformers)

          B.B. Warfield   (Bring his book on inspiration and authority of Scripture)

          R.C. Sproul

          John Murray

Think about this for a moment.  The only people who even enter into these debates are people who have a high view of Scripture.  People with a low view of Scripture never attempt it.  They have no expectation that there is a continuity and cohesion or that developing a systematic theology is possible or would even be useful. 

The different views on controversial subjects are various ways of trying to deal with the tensions found in Scripture.

This is a lesson I have personally had to learn the hard way. 

If the other view doesn’t sound convincing, it is likely you are either unaware of your biases or you don’t fully understand it.

Proverbs 18:13, "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.."

That principle can be applied to interpretive humility.  Of course only one view is going to sound convincing if that’s all you hear.  And of course the other views are going to sound weak if you hear them from the mouth of the man who disagrees with them.   We are foolish and it should be shameful to us if we listen to only one side of a case whether we are talking about a courtroom or whether we are talking about theology.

Until we can all get to the point where the other view sounds convincing or at least we can independently from our own heads clearly articulate the other position in a way that would be satisfactory to someone who held that position, we must be very cautious in criticizing other positions.  We don’t earn the right to criticize until we have given that position a full hearing.  That takes a lot of time.  I’m not saying that everybody needs to do this.  We don’t have time to make a career of studying positions.  But my point is that meekness should characterize our attitudes at all times, but especially when we have not had time to study the issues as fully as we should.

Remember the Point.

Jesus is coming back.  So live that way!  Getting stuck on the details of eschatology and not living in light of Jesus’ coming would be like two surgeons arguing over the ethics of stem cell research while a patient bleeds to death on the operating table.  The urgency of the world in which we live demands that we live for Jesus and keep the big principles sharply in focus.


Does the Bible Support a place in God’s future kingdom for the State of Israel, not just Israel as the redeemed Jews who are part of the church?

This is a thorny question.  There are basically four views here:

Replacement Theology. –

  • When Israel rejected her Messiah, God was finished with her people and God began working with the church.
  • There is no unfulfilled prophesy relating to the nation of Israel.
  • All the covenant promises were transferred to the church.
  • We are to understand the prophesies in a spiritual or allegorical sense.
  • So, the regathering of the Jews that the prophesies speak about are intended to speak of the regathering of the elect into the church until the church is complete.
  • The modern Jewish state is a curiosity of history. Not relevant to Bible prophesy.

There will be a future, final restoration of Israel according to the promise.

  • However, when they look at the modern Jewish state they have a hard time fitting the modern state into Bible prophesy.
  • Because the prophesies they look at talk about a final regathering in faith in preparation for blessing.
  • And when we look at the modern Jewish state the vast majority are not believing. In fact of the 5.1 million Jews in the land today only about 4000-5000 maximum are believers in the land.  And of those the vast majority classify themselves as either atheist or agnostic. 
  • They would agree with view one that the modern Jewish state is an curiosity of history. But they would disagree with view one in that they see a literal future ingathering of the Jewish people.

What we are seeing today is the final restoration of Israel.

  • What we are seeing today is the beginnings of those fulfilled prophesies.
  • There will be a steady increase until all the Jews are back in the land at which point there will be a national regeneration and salvation and then the Messiah will return.
  • When asked about the period of divine wrath and judgment that must precede this time, they would say this has already been fulfilled in the holocaust. There is not future tribulation to come.  
  • What we are seeing today is the final restoration. In this view your are living in sin if you are a Jewish believer living outside the land.

There are two types of regathering prophesies. 

  • There is a regathering in unbelief and a regathering in faith. But then this view goes on to say that they are unsure if the present Jewish state today is the regathering in unbelief.  Why?  Because it is possible to have a regathering in unbelief and a dispersion. 
  • Another regathering in unbelief followed by dispersion. You can have many of these before the specific regathering occurs which Bible prophesy addresses. 
  • But although we are not sure, there is nothing that precludes the modern Jewish state from being a fulfillment of those prophesies. (And this is where I tend to land)

So since I have the mic, I get to talk about my view.  But remember, its folly and shame for you to accept my view without looking into the other views.  Be a Berean.  I want to do two things in the limited time we have:  1.) I want to show that the OT in my mind predicts a regathering of ethnic Israel that is hard to spiritualize as the church and 2) I want to show that the concept of two regatherings seems to be taught.

So I want to show you some texts which speak of Israel being regathered in unbelief and for judgment.

Worldwide regathering in unbelief in preparation for the judgment of tribulation.

    Ezekiel 20:33-38 33 "As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you.  34 I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out.  35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face.  36 As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord GOD.  37 I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.  38 I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

    Ezekiel draws a parallel with the Exodus. Israel gathered out of wrath for wrath in this specific period of judgment called the tribulation.

    Ezekiel 22:17-22 17 And the word of the LORD came to me:  18 "Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are dross of silver.  19 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have all become dross, therefore, behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem.  20 As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you21 I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it.  22 As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the LORD; I have poured out my wrath upon you."

      Purpose of this regathering and subsequent judgment is to bring them to national repentance.

      Zepheniah chapter 1 uses the term day of the Lord repeatedly and this is the most common term in the OT for tribulation. In can be used other ways but this is the most common way it is used.  And then Zephaniah chapter 2 mentions several things that must take place before that can happen.  Notice how many times the word before is used.

      Zephaniah 2:1-2 Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation,  2 before the decree takes effect1 - before the day passes away like chaff - before there comes upon you the burning anger of the LORD, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the LORD.

      Worldwide regathering in faith in preparation for blessing.

      Ezekiel 34:13-15  13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.  15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.

      Isaiah 11:11-12   11 In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush,1 from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.  12 He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

      You mention about the pretribulational-dispensational view that the Lord returns twice to earth.  My understanding is that there only one physical return (day of the Lord).  The other return meets the saints in the air and return with him later for the 1000 year reign.

      This is correct.  According to this view Christ will return physically twice, but the first time his feet will not touch the earth.  The second time is when he will come to setup his kingdom on earth.  My only quibble with the way that is worded is that it makes it sound like the “day of the Lord” is associated only with the second return of Christ.  The “day of the Lord” is a broad term which most folks including premil-pretrib guys would say envelopes the tribulation as well as the millennium.  So in the case of pretrib, the day of the Lord would begin with the rapture

      When does the BEMA or judgment seat of Christ and the marriage of the Lamb occur?  When we return with Him at the Second Coming we are clothed in white linen, bright and clean. 

      “When” questions in eschatology are always incredibly curious but very sticky.  This is a really difficult question to answer without assuming a specific end times position.  But fortunately when it comes to this particular question regarding judgment there are really only two camps: dispensational views or everybody else.

      Dispensational View

      In a dispensationalist view there are different judgments:

      (a) a “judgment of the nations” (Matt. 25:31–46) to determine who enters the millennium;

      (b) a “judgment of believers’ works” (sometimes called the βῆμα (G1037) judgment after the Greek word for “judgment seat” in 2 Cor. 5:10) in which Christians will receive degrees of reward; and

      (c) a “great white throne judgment” at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:11–15) to declare eternal punishments for unbelievers.

      So to answer the question according to this view, the Bema seat judgment which is associated with believers rewards is a judgment that takes place in heaven at the beginning of the tribulation after the church has been raptured out.

      I personally have a very hard time with this saying that these are three different judgments.  And the main reason is that there is not indication in the text that we should separate them out.  Let’s take Mt 25:31-46 as an example

      Matthew 25:31-46, " “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?

      And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”."

      From a dispensational perspective, this passage does not refer to final judgment (the “great white throne judgment” spoken of in Rev. 20:11–15), but rather to a judgment that comes after the tribulation and before the beginning of the millennium.

      This seems unlikely to me for a couple of reasons.

      • There is no mention of entering into the millennium in this passage. It is very difficult to establish a time frame and distinguish this from the final judgment.  The burden of proof certainly falls on the man who wants to say this judgment is distinct from the final judgment.  There are no other texts that I am aware of that link this judgment to the millennium.
      • Also, the judgments that are pronounced speak not of entrance into the millennial kingdom on earth or exclusion from that kingdom but of eternal destinies of people: “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . . . Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels....And they will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life” (vv. 34, 41, 46). That to me sounds like the kind of language that belongs to final judgment.

      Everybody Else

      Every other view I know of takes all the judgment passages to reference one and the same judgment.  This is the view that is most convincing to me.  If this view is correct the purpose of this single judgment would be two fold:  Judge our Works, Administer Rewards.

      Judgment of Works.

      Romans 2:5-8, "But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.."

      Now in this text believers and unbelievers are both judged according to their deeds.  How can that be?  Why would a believer be judged for something Christ paid for on the cross?  The text means what it says but it is absolutely essential that we carefully articulate the sense.  I think the idea is that Christ is looking for evidence that true saving faith has manifested itself in deeds.  In other words he’s looking for fruit.

      Here’s an illustration that I think makes clear how deeds will function in the final judgment. Remember the story of how two harlots brought a baby to king Solomon, each claiming that the baby was hers (1 Kings 3:16-27). They asked king Solomon to act as judge between them. He said that a sword should be brought and that the baby should be divided and half given to the one and half to the other. The true mother cried out, "O, my lord, give her the child and by no means kill it." Solomon said, give this woman the child, for she is its mother.

      What was Solomon looking for? There was nothing the woman could have said that would have made her the mother.  She was already a mother and what she said proved it.  That is the way God looks at our deeds. He is not looking for deeds that purchase our pardon in his courtroom. He is looking for deeds that prove we are already enjoying our pardon. The purchase of our pardon was the blood of Jesus, sufficient once for all to cover all our sins. And the means by which we own it is faith—and faith alone.

      We will all stand before Christ this way.  If you want a visual, the way I heard it explained once was this:  think of your life in terms of a file cabinet full of the works of your life.  What Christ does for a believer at judgment is he looks at those deeds and extracts everything that is not done for his glory.  So he picks up 7/8’s of your file and throws it in the fire and says, “Taken care of on the cross.” 

      Judgment of Rewards

      And that remaining 1/8 is the evidence of saving faith in your life.  And not only is it evidence of justification, but it is the basis upon which you will receive rewards which is the second purpose of that period.  This is the meaning of passages like 1 cor 3.


      • In your sermon on the “10 steps of salvation” you made mention of the idea of perseverance and that a follower of God must persevere in order to see the kingdom.  Although a believer must persevere who gets the credit for this?  I have always thought about it as something I may at times want to do, but it is not possible for me to continue faithfully in my walk without God supernaturally urging me on.  Is this the correct way to view this?

      The answer to this question is yes.  Any good that I ever do God gets credit for.  Any sin that I ever do, I get credit for.  That’s the simplest way to say it.  But let’s think about why that is confusing.

      The reason this is confusing is because, once again, we are running into a tension that the Bible intends for us to maintain.  If we release the tension on then we have very likely fallen into some sort of error.  Staying between the two ditches on either side without falling into either one is the goal.

      So what are the two tensions?  They can be summarized in the very definition.

      The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.

      So I want to show you Scriptures on both sides of this tension.

      The who are truly born again will be kept by God’s Power

      John 10.27,  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

      Here Jesus says that those who follow him, those who are his sheep, are given eternal life. He further says that “no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28). Now some have objected to this that even though no one else can take Christians out of Christ’s hand, we might remove ourselves from Christ’s hand. But that seems to be pedantic quibbling over words—does not “no one” also include the person who is in Christ’s hand? Moreover, we know that our own hearts are far from trustworthy. Therefore if the possibility remained that we could remove our self from Christ’s hand, the passage would hardly give the assurance that Jesus intends by it.

      But more importantly, the most forceful phrase in the passage is “they shall never perish” (v. 28). The Greek construction (ο μή plus aorist subjunctive) is especially emphatic and might be translated more explicitly, “and they shall certainly not perish forever.” This emphasizes that those who are Jesus’ “sheep” and who follow him, and to whom he has given eternal life, shall never lose their salvation or be separated from Christ—they shall “never perish.”

      There are several other passages that say those who believe have “eternal life.” One example is John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life” (c.f. also John 5:24; 6:47; 10:28; 1 John 5:13). Now if this is truly eternal life that believers have, then it is life that lasts forever with God. It is a gift of God that comes with salvation (it is put in contrast to condemnation and eternal judgment in John 3:16–17, 36; 10:28).

      “I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

      Only those who persevere are truly born again.

      John 8:31–32: “Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”’ Jesus is here giving a warning that one evidence of genuine faith is continuing in his word, that is, continuing to believe what he says and living a life of obedience to his commands. Similarly, Jesus says, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22), as a means of warning people not to fall away in times of persecution.

      Paul says to the Colossian Christians that Christ has reconciled them to God, “in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard” (Col. 1:22–23).

      Then there are the passages of Scripture that speak of scriptural self-examination:

      2 Corinthians 13:5, 

      2 Peter 1:10,  

      How do I think about it practically?  How doe these two truths go together?  Or to state it more fundamentally.  How is the doctrine of assurance any assurance at all if I need to wait and see if I indeed persevere to be assured of anything?

      The answer to that question has to do with the way Jesus intends for us to be assured.  God intends for assurance to dwindle when we sin.  Ever heard the phrase, “This book will keep you from sin and sin will keep you from this book.”  That is talking about this same truth.

      When we are close to God assurance is full and beautiful and strong.  But when we drift away, he intends that assurance to fade as a mercy to drive us back to him. 

      General Bible Questions

      • We were specifically talking about the Philippian church reviving their concern for Paul in giving - where they had lacked opportunity before.  We didn't know if they were particularly poor, but it brought up the issue about the balance between "being poor is not an excuse for not giving" and being wise with finances and paying bills, etc. 

      So the question here is basically, what do you do about giving to God when you are poor.  Philippians 4:10, " I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.."

      So this text seems to indicate that Philippian church wanted to help Paul but didn’t because they couldn’t.

      Does being poor ever excuse us from giving?   For example, Are there cases when it is reasonable to advise someone to pay what they owe rather than give to God?

      The short answer to that is no.  But here are three principles to keep in mind about giving (three principles of hundreds that could be given):

      • Giving is not a duty. If you don’t want to give, don’t.  This applies to rich people.  This applies to poor people. 2 Cor 9:7.   God loves a cheerful giver.  Don’t give out of what?    Don’t give if you don’t want to (rich or poor).  But instinctively, we know that if we don’t want to give, something is wrong in our heart. 

      The first thing to do if you find yourself in a situation where you are financially shackled is simply ask the question, “Am I longing to give.”  Don’t play games with God.  Sometimes you get really tight and you say to God, “I’ll give you my time but not my money.”  And that is code for I don’t want to give you my money, because that is more precious to me than my time.  I will only give you the crippled one-eyed lambs. 

      • Let’s assume that you really want to give to the Lord. Debt cripples your ability to give.  Avoid debt because debt will keep you from being able to give.  Freedom from debt is not an end in itself.  Too many financial counselors talk as though once you are freed from debt you have accomplished your mission as a Christian in the area of finances.  Quite contrary.  Quite, quite, quite contrary.  There are millions of unbelievers who are free of debt.  But they give no glory to God.  Freedom from debt gets you to the starting line so that you can spend your wealth for Jesus.  If you are in debt, you don’t get to choose how you spend your wealth.

      In the case of the widow’s mite, my guess is that she was free to give.  She didn’t have an RV payment, or a mortgage or and SUV payment or credit card debt.  That penny was hers to do with as she wished.

      • The point is investing in eternity.

      It’s not that you have to give.  “Oh I just don’t have money to give to you God.  Sorry.”  Whose loss is that?  God’s?  No!  Yours!   We give to God and in the most amazing unexpected way, it is credited to us for eternity. 

      So remember this as you contemplate how to use your wealth.  Remember the story of the parable of the talents?  Who was the fool in that parable.  The guy who did what?  Who buried his talent in the ground and did not invest it.  So, make sure you get the point of that parable.  Doubling your money in the bank, doubling your money in the stock market.  Doubling your money in real estate and rentals is EXACTLY the same as bearing your money in a hole in the ground.   It is not an investment UNTIL it finally gets INVESTED in something eternal. 

      Let me add to that.  Leaving all your money to a charity when you die doesn’t count.  Remember David, “I will not sacrifice to God that which costs me nothing.”

      I get really weary of listening to people talk about being frugal.  Being frugal with your money is not stewardship UNTIL the money you have saved from being frugal gets invested into something eternal.