What We Want to Believe (The Doctrine of End Times)

What We Want to Believe (The Doctrine of End Times)

Feb 01, 2009

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: What We Want To Believe

Category: Membership

Detail:

Doctrine of End Times

Today is the last message in the what we want to believe series.  And you will recall that the reason we entitled this a what we “want” to believe series is because we wanted to focus on the fact that we often times know that the Scriptures tell us something is true and yet we don’t really believe its true, because if we did, it would alter the way we behave far more than it does. 

And I guarantee you that there is no doctrine that fits this category more precisely than the doctrine of end times.  This is where we all functionally live like flaming hypocrites. 

For believers, I liken the doctrine of end times to the doctrine of earthquakes.  If you like earthquakes, move to L.A.  Some city planner thought it would be a good April fools joke to plan a city of 10 million people on top of the largest fault line in North America.   Seriously, what were they thinking?   Everybody believes that earthquakes exist (there is no intellectual question)  and in fact, everybody knows that another earthquake will strike the L.A. basin again in the next decade or two (again, no intellectual question).  And everyone knows that if a big one does hit, it would be devastating.  The last big earthquake hit January 17th 1857 was an 8.0 on the Richter scale.

As the Southern California Earthquake Data Center summarizes it,

…As a result of the shaking, the current of the Kern River was turned upstream, and water ran four feet deep over its banks. The waters of Tulare Lake were thrown upon its shores, stranding fish miles from the original lake bed. The waters of the Mokelumne River were thrown upon its banks, reportedly leaving the bed dry in places. The Los Angeles River was reportedly flung out of its bed, too.

Everyone knows another big one is coming.  This is earthquake theological fact.  In an article entitled, “The Coming Quake” by Judith Lewis I read this prediction:

What will happen to Southern California when a 7.8 earthquake breaks open on the San Andreas Fault…? Unstable desert sand will turn into something like barely set gelatin and many of the houses built on it will collapse, as will any remaining unreinforced masonry buildings (affectionately labeled by seismologists "FPRs": Future Piles of Rubble). Hillsides throughout the San Gabriel Mountains and on Cajon Pass will collapse in cascades of rock and debris; dams will splinter. Seventy seconds into the rupture, seismic waves will reach deep into downtown Los Angeles, where 55 seconds of sustained shaking, measured from the moment the waves hit, could bring down older "steel-moment" high rise buildings.  (By way of comparison, a 6.7 earthquake that hit Kobe, Japan, in 1995 shook for just seven to 10 seconds. One third of the city's 600-some steel-moment frame buildings came down.)  Fire will likely follow the destruction aggravated by dry, hot Santa Ana winds.  In addition to that it is very likely that most if not all the "lifeline corridors" entangled with the fault line will snap. Interstate freeways run alongside the San Andreas; aqueducts, natural gas lines, scores of fiber optic cables, two major freight lines, high tension power lines and electrical transmission corridors crisscross it and will likely all blow to pieces rendering the city crippled for weeks and months.

That sounds scary.  But I lived in L.A. for 7 years of my life.  I wasn’t scared.  The doctrine of earthquakes didn’t really effect me.  You say to yourself, “Ahh, what are the chances.  Look at all these other people.  Nobody seems to be worried.  Must be okay.”  So, everybody still lives there.  It’s just not that big of deal. 

  • The ozone’s getting baked,
  • the salmon are dying,
  • caffeine isn’t good for me,
  • I might win the lottery some day,
  • I happen to live a fault line,
  • and Jesus is coming back in judgment.

All these events fall into the same category.  They could potentially affect me positively or negatively.  And if they did, it would be major….. but….

  • Since they are either highly improbably,
  • discouragingly outside of my control,
  • or so distant that they seem irrelevant.

I’m going to just live like they don’t exist.

And I think that is the way a lot of Christians look at the doctrine of end times.  I know God exists.  I know that Christ will return.  I am reasonably confident of that,

  • but it so distant,
  • it is so outside of my control,
  • it seems so removed from my actual experience in life that I’m going to take my chances and
  • after all there are so many different views, who can really know anyway.

So…….  I’m just going to

  • live comfortably and
  • take as few risks as possible for the sake of the gospel,
  • because after all, he probably will not come in my lifetime,
  • I’m not convinced that even if I do risk much and sacrifice much that my effort and risk and leanness in living is really worth it.

That is how a lot of us functionally live our lives.  But the goal of today’s message is to change that.  The goal of today’s message is to get you thinking more about the actual reality that Christ will return.  If I were writing a theology book I would entitle a section on end times “the doctrine of the future.”  Because that’s all we are talking about.  Christ will return.  That is far more certain that any earthquake prediction.  And if he doesn’t return in your lifetime, you will die.  That’s about as certain as it gets.  And living in light of these realities is the point.

So what does the Bible say about the future?  When it comes to end times, it is a common attitude to just give up because of the complexity of the issue.  And there is no denying that trying to synthesize the details is complex.  There is an incredible amount of integration required in order to really understand the issues.  You have to understand the

  • NT use of the OT,
  • you have to understand what the OT predicts concerning Israel,
  • you have to understand how to interpret apocalyptic literature,
  • the use of symbols and imagery,
  • how Daniel relates to Revelation,
  • how Jesus’ Olivete discourse in Mt 24 relates to the first century.

It is a big issue.  And so the focus is often times on what we don’t agree on rather than what we agree on.  And I think that is a big mistake.  We have universal agreement on some pretty amazing things!  So let me give you 4 broad strokes about what all Christians agree. 

Christ will Return

All the millennial and rapture models aside the most basic thing the Bible says about the future is that Jesus is going to come back one day.  And he’s coming back to take us home!  Are you ready for that?

Our need for a home arises from the fact that we have lost one. We had a home once, in Eden. But sin caused the loss of that home and, ever since, the history of the human race has been one of wandering.

And so this theme of Christ coming back to take us home is no small theme.  In the New Testament alone one verse in twenty-five deals with the Lord’s return. It is mentioned 318 times in the 260 chapters. Not only that, but it occupies a prominent place in the Old Testament because most of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of Christ deal, not with his first coming in which he died as our sin-bearer, but with his Second coming in which he is to rule as king.

Christ will Return in Judgment and Reward

In private discourse that Jesus gave his disciples on the Mount of Olives in the middle of his last week in Jerusalem, Jesus used three parables to teach what the final judgment would be like for unbelievers. One parable was about ten virgins who had been invited to a wedding banquet. Five were wise and five were foolish. The five wise maidens prepared for the banquet by buying oil for their lamps. The five foolish maidens did not. As they waited in the long evening hours they all fell asleep.

“Lord, lord, open to us.”

But he answered, “Truly, … I do not know you.”

Jesus concluded, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mt. 25:13).

The second parable was about three servants. Their master was to go on a journey. He called the servants to him and gave each money: to the first, five talents; to the second, two talents; to the third, one talent—each according to his ability. Then he departed, and the servants who had received five talents and two talents respectively invested the money but they guy who had received one talent buried it in the ground.

The master condemned that servant, taking away his talent and casting him forth into “the outer darkness” (v. 30).

Finally, the Lord told the parable of the separation of the sheep from the goats. The goats are the lost, and they were condemned because they neglected to feed the Lord when he was hungry, give him drink when he was thirsty, welcome him when he was a stranger, clothe him when he was naked, visit him when he was sick and comfort him when he was cast in prison. They said, “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?”

He replied, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (vv. 44–45). On the other hand, he welcomed those who did these things.

Each of those parables, though different from the others in detail, contains the same essential features.

  • In each case, there is a sudden return of the Lord.
  • In each case, some are prepared for his coming and others are not.
  • In each case there are rewards and judgments.
  • In each case, those who are lost are no doubt amazed at that outcome.

Thus it will be with our generation.

Christ will Return to Resurrect our Bodies

The Christian doctrine of the resurrection recognizes that death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) and is therefore something unnatural, something evil that was not God’s original intention for humanity.  We all know death is evil simply by the fact that people pretend it is not.

I read the story of a Christian who was in the last stages of cancer and who described what had been happening. She said, “I can see the people who come to visit me because there is a mirror in the hall and they are reflected there as they come by. Many pause to put on a pleasant expression. Then they come into the room and talk about what is going to be taking place at church next week or the week after that. They speak of the time when I am going to be better and be with them again. But they know I won’t be. They know I’m dying. I know I’m dying, but they don’t want to talk about it. So they put on a pleasant face and pretend that the evil isn’t there.”

But a Christian doesn’t need to pretend about death.  Death is horrible.  But death is not the end.  Death is the necessary tearing that must take place to separate soul and spirit so that we can be resurrected in a new body.

1 Cor 15:50-55

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

          “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

     55     “O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

The resurrection is the reality we all await.

Christ will Return to Take us Home

Home is not home without the people that make your home.  The most basic thing we can say about heaven is the fact that Jesus will be there. 

Piper Quote.

The critical question for our generation-and for every generation-is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?

What makes heaven, heaven is Jesus.  My mom, because she understood this principle so well, used to be so bothered by that old hymn, “I got a mansion, up over the hilltop.”  You want to know where that hymn comes from?  It comes from the KJV translation of Jn 14.2.  But that is such an unfortunate translation.  The greek word monai. simply means dwelling places.  But our ear hears mansion, and we picture this 10 million dollar Westen villa with vineyards and orchards, separated from the rest of society.  That couldn’t miss the mark any further.  And even in that passage, just listen for the emphasis.

John 14:2-3  In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

The point is we get to be with Jesus.

The Finer Details Where There is Disagreement

That’s the big picture.  But the Bible hints at a lot more than that and since we all have an aching curiosity to know more about the future than just that, we try to figure it out.  And that is a good thing.  But the problem is we are like detectives straining at pieces of information and we don’t have enough information to develop the entire picture.  In the absence of complete information, the best we can do is develop theories.

And that, by the way is why the different theories exist.  And there are a lot of them: 

  • dispensational premillenial,
  • historic premillenialism,
  • postmillennial,
  • amillenial,
  • pretribulation,
  • posttribulation,
  • midtribulation,
  • pre-wrath.

Not to mention all the different theories concerning the antichrist, Elijah, the two witnesses, Day of the Lord.

Any time you get a lot of different positions from men who highly value God’s Word and who use it as the ultimate source of authority in faith and practice, you can know for certain that you have run into an area of theology that God has left intentionally mysterious. 

So here’s how I have decided to break down our study for this morning.  I want to do some just give you a eschatology 101 primer, but then I want to spend some time contemplating what effect our theology (whatever position we hold) should have on us.  Of all areas of theology we have studied thus far, as I have already mentioned, this has to be close to the top of the list in terms of intellectual acknowledgement with very little crossover in real life.  And in case you haven’t figured it out, that’s not good!

So what I will do in terms of just teaching is explain the 3 (4)  major views on the millennium.  Of all the issues in end times to cover, why choose the millennium?  The reason to do it that way is because it answers the most basic question everybody wants answered.  What is going to happen next?    If you boil it all down, isn’t that what you actually care about?  Ask most any pastor or teacher that question and the answer you get back is always annoying.  “It depends on what position you hold.”  So you really do have to know the positions on at least what could happen, if perchance you were mistaken.  So I will let you know the 4 major positions and then I will explain where our church has landed along the spectrum.   This will take 12 minutes. 

Four Major Views of the Millennium:  Amillennial

Amillennial is really the simplest of the positions and it is attractive for that reason. 

Now in all these positions, Revelation 20:1–10 is going to be the passage that is talked about.  [This is the passage that talks about the angel coming down and binding Satan with a chain and throwing him in a pit and there being peace on earth for a thousand years with Christ on the throne]

Now an Amillenialist takes that passage and says that this passage is describing the present church age.   

  • They will argue that we live in an age in which Satan’s influence over the nations has been greatly reduced so that the gospel can be preached to the whole world.
  • Those who are said to be reigning with Christ for the thousand years are Christians who have died and are already reigning with Christ in heaven.
  • Christ’s reign in the millennium, according to this view, is not a bodily reign here on earth but rather the heavenly reign.

This view is called “amillennial” because it maintains that there is no future millennium yet to come.   It’s not a great title for the position because they do maintain that a millennium exists, just not in the future.  This is as much of a millennium as you’ll ever see.  In other words the “millennium” described in Rev. 20 is currently happening.

  • According to this position, the present church age will continue until the time of Christ’s return.
  • Judgment/Rewards
  • Eternal state.

Four Major Views of the Millennium:  Postmillennial

The prefix post- means “after.” According to this view, Christ will return after the millennium.

According to this view, the gospel acts like a bulldozer and slowly but steadily plows over resistance until a large portion of the world’s population turns to Christ.  So according to this view, at some time in the future, Christian influence in movies, legislation, society will dominate and society will more and more function according to God’s standards, and gradually a “millennial age” of peace and righteousness will occur on the earth. 

  • This “millennium” will last for a long period of time (not necessarily a literal one thousand years), and finally, at the end of this period, Christ will return to earth believers and unbelievers will be raised, the final judgment will occur, and there will be a new heaven and new earth. We will then enter into the eternal state.

The primary characteristic of postmillennialism is that it is very optimistic about the power of the gospel to change lives and bring about much good in the world.

  • If you were to toss out a view based on your experience, this would be the first to go! We don’t tend to see an increase in Christian influence in America.  Take gay marriage or abortion for an example.  Is Christian influence becoming stronger or weaker in those issues?  Belief in postmillennialism tends to increase in times when the church is experiencing great revival, when there is an absence of war and international conflict, and when it appears that great progress is being made in overcoming the evil and suffering in the world.
  • But postmillennialism and all positions for that matter in their most responsible form don’t base their conclusions on observation of events in the world around us; you base your conclusions on Scripture no matter what it looks like.

Four Major Views of the Millenium:  Historic Premillennial

The prefix “pre-” means “before,” and the “premillennial” position says that Christ will come back before the millennium. This viewpoint has a long history from the earliest centuries onward. And so sometimes it is called historical premillennialism.

According to this viewpoint, the present church age will continue until, as it nears the end, a time of great tribulation and suffering comes on the earth (T in the figure above stands for tribulation).  So according to this view the next thing we can look forward to is martyrdom and persecution.

  • After that time of tribulation at the end of the church age, Christ will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom.
  • When he comes back, believers who have died will be raised from the dead, their bodies will be reunited with their spirits, and these believers will reign with Christ on earth for one thousand years. (Some premillennialists take this to be a literal one thousand years, and others understand it to be a symbolic expression for a long period of time.)
  • During this time, Christ will be physically present on the earth in his resurrected body, and will reign as King over the entire earth. The believers who have been raised from the dead, and those who were on earth when Christ returns, will receive glorified resurrection bodies that will never die, and in these resurrection bodies they will live on the earth and reign with Christ.
  • Of the unbelievers who remain on earth, many (but not all) will turn to Christ and be saved.
  • Jesus will reign in perfect righteousness and there will be peace throughout the earth.
  • At the beginning of this time Satan will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit so that he will have no influence on the earth during the millennium (Rev. 20:1–3).
  • According to the premillennial viewpoint, at the end of the thousand years Satan will be loosed from the bottomless pit and will join forces with many unbelievers who have submitted outwardly to Christ’s reign but have inwardly been seething in rebellion against him.
  • Satan will gather these rebellious people for battle against Christ, but they will be decisively defeated.
  • Christ will then raise from the dead all the unbelievers who have died throughout history, and they will stand before him for final judgment.
  • After the final judgment has occurred, believers will enter into the eternal state.
  • It seems that premillennialism has tended to increase in popularity as the church has experienced persecution, and as suffering and evil have increased in the earth. But, as in the case of postmillennialism, the arguments for the premillennial position are not based on an observation of current events, but on Scripture.

Four Major Views of the Millenium:  Dispensational Premillennial

According to this position, Christ will return not only before the millennium (Christ’s return is premillennial), but also it will occur before the great tribulation (Christ’s return is pretribulational). This position is similar to the classical premillennial position mentioned above, but with one important difference: it will add another return of Christ before his return to reign on earth in the millennium. This return is thought to be a secret return of Christ to take believers out of the world. So if you’ve ever read the left behind books, this is the only view that affirms that understanding of prophesy.  This is by far the most dramatic of the views in terms of what happens next. 

  • According to this view, the church age will continue until, suddenly, unexpectedly, and secretly, Christ will return part way to earth, and then will call believers to himself:
  • “The dead in Christ will rise first; then 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. 4:16–17).
  • Christ will then return to heaven with the believers who have been removed from the earth. When that happens, there will be a great tribulation on the earth for a period of seven years.

During this seven-year period of tribulation, many of the signs that were predicted to precede Christ’s return will be fulfilled. The great ingathering of the fullness of the Jewish people will occur, as they trust Christ as their Messiah. In the midst of great suffering there will also be much effective evangelism, especially carried out by the new Jewish Christians.

  • At the end of the tribulation, Christ will then come back with his saints to reign on the earth for one thousand years.
  • After this millennial period there will be a rebellion, resulting in the final defeat of Satan and his forces, and then will come the resurrection of unbelievers, the last judgment, and the beginning of the eternal state.
  • This view is found almost exclusively among dispensationalists who wish to maintain a clear distinction between the church and Israel. This pretribulational viewpoint allows the distinction to be maintained, since the church is taken out of the world before the widespread conversion of the Jewish people.
  • These Jewish people therefore remain a distinct group from the church.
  • NEXT EVENT: Christ’s return could occur “at any moment” in the form of a dramatic rapture
  • I always joke this is the most risky position to hold. Why?  Cause it has the highest potential for disappointment.  If you are a, give me worst case scenario type of guy, go with classic premillennialism.  You can’t get much worse than a slow painful martyrs death. 

Summary

So that was a lot of information in a short period of time.  Let me reiterate that the reason there are lots of positions by many godly men who all love the Scriptures is because we are trying to fill in the gaps.  But even though there are lots of positions, I think some positions are better than others.

Where have we as a church landed here?  We have a semi-official statement that we are currently in the process of massaging into our formal doctrinal statement that will come out of this series.  But here is our rough draft as it relates to the millenium.

We believe in a pre-millennial view of the kingdom which teaches that Jesus Christ will come back bodily to earth to set up a literal kingdom where He will rule from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2-4; Zechariah 14:3-4; Acts 1:9-12; Revelation 19:11-16; 20:1-7).  Because we see the NT as primarily complementary to the OT (as opposed to seeing the NT as explanatory and interpretive commentary on the OT) we understand that the promises made to ethnic Israel in the OT will find their fulfillment during the millennial kingdom.

Let’s take the first sentence.  Basically what that means is that we feel that Scriptures teach that the prophesies in the OT coupled with the Revelation 19 seem to point to a literal millennium on earth as opposed to a spiritual millennium as maintained by the amillenniast.  This is also opposed to the postmillennial position which states that there will be an earthly millennium but Christ will not be present reigning. 

Now let’s take the second sentence and break that down.  Because we see the NT as primarily complementary to the OT (as opposed to seeing the NT as explanatory and interpretive commentary on the OT) we understand that the promises made to ethnic Israel in the OT will find their fulfillment during the millennial kingdom.

This part is basically affirming some sort of future for the nation of Israel.  It is not necessarily insisting on a dispensational distinction between Israel and the church but it is maintaining that the promises made in the OT to ethnic Israel will somehow be fulfilled in ethnic Israel in the future.

So, our position statement as a church is inclusive of classic premillenialism and pretribulational premillenialism.

Honestly, for just me personally, depending on the day of the week I find myself vacillating between the two.  If you talk to me today, I probably lean with one or two fibers of my being toward classic premillennialism.  I do see a future for Israel although I tend to see ethnic Israel’s future integrated into the church rather than distinct from it.  I also tend to think Christians will probably go through the tribulation. 

Application Component.

The bottom line is that Christ is coming back and that should have an effect on you.  Let me just give you two effects I think this doctrine should have on us.  

The Doctrine of End Times Should make us Long for Christ’s Return.

I think it is fair to say that the degree to which we actually long for Christ’s return is a measure of the spiritual condition of you life at the moment.  If you don’t long for Christ’s return you are spiritually sick.  I don’t know if there is a way to soften that any more.

If I separated you from your spouse for six months, and you were not just sick to your stomach to get back together, would you not say that there was something wrong in that relationship.  That is messed up.  The reason we long for heaven is not as much a function of the fact that you are living in a sinful world as much as it is a function that you are separated from Jesus.   You are spiritually sick (or possibly just spiritually immature)if you don’t miss Jesus. 

The Doctrine of End Times Should Make us See This World As It Is.

The more we long for Christ, the more we salivate at the prospect of heaven, the more we see the world as it really is, as God sees it.  Christians who long for heaven see the world in bondage to sin and rebellion against God, and in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).

If you do not have a very strong yearning for Christ’s return, what factors in your life do you think contribute to that lack of longing?

  • Comfort,
  • pursuit of non-eternal things,
  • harboring resentment,
  • love of the praises of men,
  • self-focused pity,
  • lack of worship,
  • desire to be married,
  • love of opportunity,
  • compartmentalizing your life,
  • fascination with investing,
  • worship of the environment,

This world is not your home.  Why?  Because sin abounds?  Because my life is at times uncomfortable?  Because my 401k tanked in 2008?  No.  Because Jesus is not here.  The more you love Jesus, the less this world will become your home. 

  • Don’t live like this earth is all you’ll ever know.
  • Don’t live like you are immortal, like you have somehow escaped death.
  • Don’t live as if your living in this life has no bearing on your enjoyment of God in the next life.
  • Don’t live like you have no clue about the future!

God has given us details about the future to actually change the way we live.