What We Want to Believe (Q & A part 2)

What We Want to Believe (Q & A part 2)

Jan 30, 2009

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: What We Want To Believe

Category: Membership


Well today we come to the very last sermon in our “What We Want to Believe” series.  And so let’s go ahead and begin with some end times questions.  Before we do that I want to review our 4 points on interpretive humility from last week.  I just think our tendencies are so prone to wander away from the heart of Jesus when it comes to working through tough issues.  So just a refresher:

  • Be careful about thinking controversial issues don’t matter
  • Be careful about linking any one view with a high view of Scripture.
  • 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.
  • Remember the point: Jesus is coming back, so live in light of it!

So with that, let’s dive in.  This first question has to do with the timing of the rapture which is a question that we do not have an official position on as a church because as a church we see this particular issue as very unclear in Scripture.  So what I will say in response to this question is just my personal understanding.

Tribulation Questions

  • If the church (people redeemed between the Day of Pentecost and the rapture) is raptured at the end of the tribulation period how could that event be considered sudden and unexpected? 

So this is a very perceptive question.  This question probably more than any other end times question reveals one of the trickiest tensions found in the Bible in relation to end times.  If you can figure out the answer to this question, you can write a book and make millions.

So what I want to do is first of all just show you the two tensions and some passages that seem to teach exact opposite things.  On the one hand, there are many passages encouraging us to be ready because Christ will return at an hour we do not expect. On the other hand, there are several passages that speak of certain events that will happen before Christ returns.

There have been different ways of resolving the apparent tension between these two sets of passages, with some Christians concluding that Christ could still return at any time, and others concluding that he could not return for at least a generation, since it would take that long to fulfill some of the predicted events that must occur before his return.

In order to feel the cumulative force of the passages that predict that Christ could come very soon, it is helpful simply to list them here in order:

Watch therefore for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched 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. (Matt. 24:42–44; cf. vv. 36–39)

The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. (Matt. 24:50)

Watch therefore for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matt. 25:13)

It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch. (Mark 13:34–37)

You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour. (Luke 12:40)

Our Lord, come! (1 Cor. 16:22)

For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thess. 5:2)

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and all the works that are upon it will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)

What shall we say to these passages? If there were no passages in the New Testament about signs that would precede Christ’s return, we would probably conclude from the passages just quoted that Jesus could come at any moment.  It would seem to blunt the force of the commands to be ready and to watch if there was a reason to think that Christ would not come soon.

Text’s which Speak of Events that must take place first.

Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.."

And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines; this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs. (Mark 13:7–8; cf. Matt. 24:15–22; Luke 21:20–24)

For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. (Mark 13:19–20)

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. (Mark 13:24–25; cf. Matt. 24:29–30; Luke 21:25–27)

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ...that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.... And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. PPT ADVANCE For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thess. 2:1–10)

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved. (Rom. 11:25–26)

The impact of these passages seems so clear that, as was mentioned above, many Christians have felt that Christ simply cannot return at any moment. As we look over the list of signs given above, it would not seem to take much argument to demonstrate that most of these events, or perhaps all of them, have not yet occurred. Or at least that is what appears to be the case on a first reading of these passages.

VIEW 1:  Christ could not come at any time

One solution is to say that Christ could not come at any time. This position is taken by Louis Berkhof, in the sentence quoted above. Just how long it would be before Christ would return depends on each person’s estimate of how long it will take some of the signs to be fulfilled, such as the preaching of the gospel to all nations, the coming of the great tribulation, and the ingathering of the full number of the Jews who will be saved.


  • The difficulty with this view is twofold. First, it really seems to nullify the force of the warnings of Jesus that we should watch, be ready, and that he is returning at an hour we do not expect.
  • Rather than signs creating eagerness and expectation, they create in us a realization that Jesus is not returning any time soon.

VIEW 2:  Christ could come at any time and there are two separate comings.

Another solution is to say Christ could come at any time, and the way to reconcile the two passages is to see two separate comings of Christ.  In this view there is a secret coming at which Christ takes Christians out of the world, and then, after seven years of tribulation have occurred on the earth, a visible, public triumphant coming in which Christ comes to reign over the earth.  So the way this views solves the tension is that is says during the seven-year interval all the signs that have not yet been fulfilled (the great tribulation, the false prophets with signs and wonders, the antichrist, the salvation of Israel, and the signs in the heavens) will be fulfilled, so that there is no tension at all between waiting for a coming that could occur “at any moment” and realizing that a later coming will be preceded by many signs.  This in my mind is the greatest strength of the premil-pretrib position because it does the best job of alleviating this tension.  This is an excellent view and it is held by many in this church.  That being said, it is not ultimately convincing for me personally because of these difficulties.


  • The problem with this solution is that it is hard to derive two separate comings of Christ from the passages that predict his return.
  • This view was completely unknown to the church prior to the middle of the 1800 where a man by the name of John Darbey put forth his understanding of end times. It just seems unlikely to me that it took 1800 years for the church to discover that a secret rapture was in view.
  • One of the verses pretrib folks will use is Revelation 3:10, "Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.."
    • To me this verse is not strong enough evidence that the entire church will be raptured out of the tribulation.
    • First, this statement is made to one specific church (Philadelphia) and should not be applied to the whole church at some future point in history.
    • Moreover, “the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world” does not necessarily refer to the time of the great tribulation, but more likely refers to a time of great suffering and persecution that would come upon the entire Roman Empire.
    • The promise that the church in Philadelphia will be guarded does not imply that they will be taken out of the world, but simply that they will be kept faithful and will be guarded from being harmed by that period of suffering and testing.
  • Finally, the New Testament does not seem to justify the idea of two separate returns of Christ (once for his church before the tribulation and then seven years later with his church to bring judgment on unbelievers). Once again, no such view is explicitly taught in any passage, but it is simply an inference drawn from differences between various passages that describe Christ’s return from different perspectives. But it is not at all difficult to see these passages as referring to a single event occurring at one time.
  • Someone may object to this and say what about 1 Thess 4:7. Doesn’t that teach a rapture.  1 Thes 4:7 is the only passage that explicitly speaks of the fact that the church will be “caught up” (or “raptured”), to speak of the idea of a secret coming. It says, “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16). Leon Morris says, “It may be that from this he intends us to understand that the rapture will take place secretly, and that no one except the saints themselves will know what is going on. But one would hardly gather this from his words. It is difficult to see how he could more plainly describe something that is open and public.”
  • When Paul says that “we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17), he uses the Greek word ἀπάντησις (G561) for “meet,” which is used in Greek literature outside the Bible to speak of citizens going out of a city to meet an arriving magistrate, then to return to the city with him. “The word ἀπάντησις is to be understood as a technical term for a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors” (Erik Peterson, “ἀπάντησιςTDNT 1:380). Moulton and Milligan say, “The word seems to have been a kind of technical term for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary—a usage which accords excellently with its New Testament usage” (MM, p. 53).

VIEW 3:  Christ could return at any moment because all the signs have been fulfilled.

On this view, one could look for possible fulfillments of these signs in the events of the early church, even in the first century.  But to many including myself this is not a very convincing view because the signs seem to point to much larger events than those that happened in the first century.

VIEW 4:  Christ could return at any moment because although unlikely it is possible that the signs have already been fulfilled.   We simply cannot know with certainty at any point in history whether all the signs have been fulfilled or not.

This position is an attractive one because it takes seriously the primary purpose for the signs, the primary purpose for the warnings, and the fact that we are not to know when Christ will return. With regard to the signs, their primary purpose is to intensify our expectation of Christ’s return. Therefore whenever we see indications of things that resemble these signs, our expectation of Christ’s return will be aroused and intensified. With regard to the warnings to be ready, advocates of this position would say that Christ could return at any time (since we cannot be certain that the signs have not been fulfilled), and so we must be ready, even though it is unlikely that Christ will return at once (because it seems that there are several signs yet to be fulfilled).

So this fourth position would be my answer to this question.

  1. How can “all Israel” be saved during the Tribulation period when they do not acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah?
  2. Are only Jews able to make a decision for Christ during the Tribulation or can anyone?  Are the only ones being converted at this time the ones living in Israel?
  3. Is the Tribulation the time when that hardening that occurred in Romans Ch. 11 will finally be lifted?

I will answer these questions from a premillenial perspective since that is more or less the position of our church.  But we take that position very lightly knowing that other positions have lots of weight and merit.  But for the sake of time today, I will just answer this question from the viewpoint of a premillenial understanding.  As a side note, one’s view on the tribulation does not necessarily effect the way you answer this question.  You can be a premil, pretrib; premil, midtrib; or premil, posttrib and answer very similarly.

Last week we looked at the OT references to the millennial kingdom and why in my mind it makes sense to see two distinct regatherings of the Jewish people.  That was from an OT perspective.  This week I want to look at Romans chapter 11 and what this text says regarding the NT understanding of the nation of Israel.  And this will hopefully give us answers to these questions raised here. 

Now the whole point of Romans 11 is that the ethnic nation of Israel has a future. It just seems inescapable to me. 

Look at verse 1

Romans 11:1  I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!

Romans 11:11   11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall?  Was the purpose of their stumbling that they might fall permanently?  No he has a further purpose in mind.  The stumbling and falling is to provoke the Jews to jealousy and thereby bring them to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus.  Romans 11:11  Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Paul answers that question.  BY NO MEANS!

Its obvious Paul think God has given them certain promises and that if they were to fall permanently, Israel would no longer have her promises.  Any if they don’t have their promises which they were given unconditionally, what shall we say about the faithfulness of God?

Romans 11:12  12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

What is his argument?  His argument goes like this:

If the Jewish people have rejected Jesus and that rejection has created blessing for the Gentiles how much more will be the resulted of the Jewish fullness [the word fullness is completelness.  When they come to their full number again].  If they fail and there is great blessing how much blessing can we expect when they come together?

Romans 11:13-14  3 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry  14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.

Notice he is not looking for all of them to be saved.  He is looking to the future for that event.  But he is hoping that his ministry to the Gentiles will make his fellow Jews jealous [the same thing he said back in verse 11]

Romans 11:15   15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

The argument here again is an argument from the lesser to the greater.  The Jewish people as a nation are no longer in relationship with God.  And that rejection by the Jewish people has produced Gentile salvation.  What does he mean their acceptance?  When the Jewish people return to Christ and believe in him in salvation. 

What is the phrase life from the dead mean?  Evidently it is very great.  It is far greater than reconciliation of the world.  It is far greater than Gentile salvation.  Something like a unprecedented quickening in the form of worldwide salvation! All the promises somehow have their end in us.   Wrong.  There is distinction between Jew and Gentile not a merging. 

If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

This will ring around hollow in your head and wont attach itself to anything unless you are familiar with your OT.

Numbers 15:17-21, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land to which I bring you and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall present a contribution to the Lord. Of the first of your dough you shall present a loaf as a contribution; like a contribution from the threshing floor, so shall you present it. Some of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord as a contribution throughout your generations.."

The Israelites were to offer a cake from the dough of the first ground flour as it came from the threshing floor.  And this giving of the cake to the Lord consecrated all of the lump.  So the point then is that if this small remnant of Gentile believers has created blessing, just wait until the Jewish people come to know the Lord.

Then Paul launches into this section warning the Gentiles against being prideful of their privileged position.  And at the end of that section he says.

Romans 11:25  Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

With that background, lets see if we can answer some of the questions before us. 

  • How can “all Israel” be saved during the Tribulation period when they do not acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah?

They Will.  All Jews will come to know Jesus.  And my understanding of how this will be fulfilled is that the tribulation will produce a time of great persecution so that all Jews will either reject Christ and turn to him or be destroyed in their rebellion. 

  • Are only Jews able to make a decision for Christ during the Tribulation or can anyone?  Are the only ones being converted at this time the ones living in Israel?

Here I would say that God’s attention turns once again to the nation of Israel, but that does not preclude Gentile salvation inn the same way that God’s attention currently is on the Gentiles but that does not preclude Jewish salvation.  And while the center of God’s work will be focused in Israel it would be difficult to say that there are geographic limitations to conversion.

  • Is the Tribulation the time when that hardening that occurred in Romans Ch. 11 will finally be lifted?

Yes!  Most definitely.

General Bible Questions

  • My question has to do with 1 Corinthians 15:29, it talks about baptism of the dead, and knowing we don't do that, it is kinda a "huh?" passage to me. I don't really have a question besides what is he talking about? and I was just hoping you could explain it a little bit. Thanks.

In the course of this chapter the Apostle Paul is laying out the truth of the gospel, most importantly the resurrection.  In verse three he says, “Look I’m telling you what I myself received… that is Christ died for our sins, and after he was buried he was raised to life.  That is a fact, and listen, many people even saw him afterwards, including me.”  So, if I’ve told you that all this is true, why are there some people in your midst trying to say there is not resurrection at all.  That is what he is arguing against in the next section.

       Now our passage is very interesting because of how it is all structured from 12-34.  The meat, the real teaching is sandwiched between two sections of him arguing as if he was his opponent.  This just basically means you’re arguing on his ground, from his arguments.  That’s why from 12 to 19, he says that if there is no resurrection:

      -Christ is not raised

      -preaching is vain

      -faith is vain

      -we’re false witnesses, and guess what

      -we’re still in our sins  (can you hear him in the background saying: “you fools”)   

So then in 20-28 he sets them straight, giving them the correct teaching, the order of the resurrection, and all that goes along with it.

But then in verse 29 he jumps back into what he had been doing in 12 to 19.  He’s arguing on their ground again 

Otherwise… Ok, if this is not true, if what I just finished saying to you is a lie, if you don’t believe in the resurrection, then there are some people out there doing rituals completely in vain. 

  1. To say there is no resurrection is foolishness
  2. the example of the baptism of the dead. 

Otherwise, What will those do who are baptized for the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?  Ok, we come to one of the few places in the New Testament where I don’t have a problem saying we don’t know exactly what he’s talking about.  A simple way to find that out is to see how many different opinions can be mustered up concerning what was actually taking place.  I could fill all ten minutes just listing them.  There are a lot of unknowns.  It would seem BEST to me, that because he arguing on his opponents ground, these same people who were denying the resurrection in the church were also participating in this strange baptism rite.  So the exact nature of this baptism does not necessarily have to be understood in its entirety to understand the flow of Paul’s logic.  Here you are saying the resurrection is a hoax, well then your baptism practice is a hoax and you’re foolish.  I think it is important to keep in mind that Paul does not say one way or another whether he approves of this baptism or not.  The only part that it plays in here is how foolish they are for performing such a practice if they don’t believe in a resurrection.  This is not a passage that teaches us anything about baptism, it is simply an illustration for his point.  And I think that had Paul been given the opportunity he would have denounced this practice. 

  • In almost 2 years I have not heard anything about baptism.  Can you talk about this important aspect of church life?

Of all the questions in the series this one probably plagued me the most.  The reason this plagued me is not because we haven’t made a point of emphasizing it in our teaching.  There are many, many, many things we have not explicitly emphasized over the course of two years.  There are just so many important things to cover that it is difficult if not impossible to stay perfectly balanced and hit everything we need to.  At any one point, as a church we are spiritually anemic.  As elders we are constantly evaluating where we are malnourished, what areas needs specific teaching, what areas we need more shepherding, etc.  All that aside, when do you usually hear teaching about Baptism?  At a baptism service.  And who is usually being baptized?  A new Christian.

So the one things this question does is expose the fact that nobody has been saved in our church in the past two years.  Or in the past 6 years that I am aware of???  Today is the 6 year anniversary of the church.  That is not good.  Now I am not saying that we have control over salvation and that if we put in more effort we would have more results.  That would be an incorrect conclusion to draw.  But is it not correct to say that a farmer cannot complain about the lack of harvest if he fails to plant seed?  How much seed have we as a church sown in the past 6 years of our church?  How many times have you shared your faith in the past 6 months?  These are questions that are good indicators of how much seed is being sown. 

Now our church has grown tremendously in the past 6 years.  We are so much more loving and caring and compassionate toward one another.  Our inreach and fellowship activities are healthier than they have ever been.  But I think God is calling us in 2009 and 2010 to focus on outreach.  Do you realize that if everyone in this church was able to plant enough seed and just one seed from every person landed on good soil this time next year we would have performed 150 adult baptisms.  Wouldn’t that be cool!  I want to challenge you to pray individually about how the Lord wants to change you this year in regards to outreach.  And pray for the leadership as we think through how we should lead in this regard.  We have two more topical sermons before we launch into a new series on Philippians.  And my hope and prayer is that God uses that book to change our lives.

The symbolism of baptism is union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Paul says,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3–4)

Let’s pray that God gives us incredible opportunity to participate in new believers identifying with Christ in this way.

I challenge you to be more outreach oriented this year.  One of the ways you can get involved in outreach is through the ESL program.  In fact, I believe there is an orientation meeting this Monday evening.  Talk to Angie or Kristen or myself if you want more information.  Now, I personally love ESL.  And let me tell you why.  I truly want to help people in the name of Christ.  Can you sympathize with that?  Don’t you want to share Christ’s love with people?  But who?  In my experience, the people that ask for help are the people that are least helped by it and the people that don’t ask for help are the people most helped by it.  If ever there is a group of people who needs help and does not ask for it, it is this group.  The definition of a refugee is they have crossed an international border because of some sort of persecution (religious, ethnic, political, social).  So every refugee you have seen in Boise has lived in at least 3 different countries and probably speaks 3 or 4 languages and is struggling to learn English. They have experienced very difficult hardships in life and coming to America is not much easier.  Who will be your friend in a mostly white community.  Who will help you and where will you get a job when you don’t speak English.  These are opportunities to truly show the love of Christ.  This is one opportunity.  There are many, many more.