Religious Liberty: What is it and is it Worth Keeping?

There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.  —John Witherspoon, The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men

What is Religious Liberty?

It is the freedom for all people to live out their faith according to their deepest convictions. (Important caveat: there are limitations, when it legitimately harms the common good, such as public health, it is fair and reasonable for the government to restrict religious liberty, but to do so, it must demonstrate a compelling interest for why it is a must to impede a person’s religious liberty while doing so in the least infringing way possible).

Why Should Christians Care About Religious Liberty?

Genesis 1:26-27. Humans are made in God’s image and they possess a conscience that helps them understand right and wrong. Human beings should be free to act on what they believe is their highest responsibility, obligation, and to pursue truth. True faith is always voluntary.

Mark 12:31. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This simple truth implies a fundamental truth about living together in a diverse world. We should treat others the way we want to be treated. If we do not want our religious beliefs targeted for harassment by the government, we should not want the religious beliefs of other religions targeted either.

Matthew 19:16-22. Rich young ruler – The man’s wishes to reject Jesus were respected by Jesus. The man was not coerced to follow Jesus.

1 Corinthians 10:31. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Religion entails a way of life. It is more than singing and praying and gathering in fellowship halls and sanctuaries. Religion stakes a claim on a person. Christianity demands that the believer live an integrated life. To have integrity is to integrate one’s beliefs with one’s actions.

Acts 17:6-7. “And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” Christians do not take our ultimate orders from any president or legislature, but ultimately from Jesus. Christians also understand that they will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The government should not aim to be Lord of one’s religiously informed conscience.

Matthew 28:18-20. Christians should care about religious liberty because it’s the pillar that allows the church to fulfill its mission. The effective and mass communication of the gospel depends on the freedom to proclaim it.

Constitutionally – Religious Liberty is Enshrined in the American Bill of Rights:

The Bill of Rights, established what is called the ‘first freedom’, that of Religious Liberty. The first Bill of Rights begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The freedom of religion is the foundation for all other freedoms. After all, if government can mandate what you believe or deny you the opportunity to live within your beliefs, then where will its reach end?

Why Did the Founders of Our Country Lay this Principle at the Very Foundation of Our Country?

• To be free to believe (or not believe), and free to live out those beliefs, is at the very cornerstone of a free society.

• Religious liberty arises from the truth that a person’s relationship with God is the most important relationship a person can have. No law or state should be able to interfere with a person’s relationship to God or his or her ability to live out his or her faith.

• In the same way, religious liberty teaches that religious truth cannot be coerced. Because it cannot be coerced, religion ought to be freely pursued.

• A government shouldn’t tell a citizen who God is or how God is to be worshipped. It is therefore right and good for persons, governments, or institutions to restrict themselves to the area that they’re designed to have authority over. A government is designed to see that laws are followed and that citizens are protected. The government is not designed to tell you or me what the me what the meaning of baptism is.

Religious liberty entails the careful balancing of a state’s right to uphold public order and the rights of citizens to freely exercise their religion in peaceful ways.

The state has legitimate authority under God (Though its authority is limited). The state should not set itself up as lord or god over the consciences of its people. The state exists not for the establishment of religion or the elimination of religion, but to protect the “free exercise of religion.”

Common Misunderstandings of Religious Liberty:

Religious liberty is often misunderstood today because we live in a society that is increasingly less religious. As a result, the views that religious liberty are designed to protect have less traction and support than they once did, which builds misunderstanding and even hostility.

Some opponents of religious liberty characterize “religious liberty” as a code word for bigotry. They warn that religious liberty is really a disguise for anti-gay, anti-liberal, or anti-progressive policies. Journalist now place scare quotes around “religious liberty” as though it were a pseudonym for discrimination.

It has now been customary to restrict the definition of religious liberty to freedom to worship. Freedom of worship communicates that individual should have only the right to gather together in houses of worship, and that a person’s ability to live out their faith is not protected. This is a reduction of the protections given in the Constitution.

With government expanding, it increasingly seeks to right wrongs and to encourage a set of behaviors and beliefs that is sometimes at odds with sincerely held religious beliefs. As governments continue to grow, we can expect that there will be more conflict with religion. This has come to a head recently with the growing numbers of conflicts between sexual liberties and religious liberty, including the pending U.S. Supreme Court case involving Lakewood, Colorado baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Biblical Perspectives on Suffering

Pastor William Willimon tells a story about visiting a woman in his church who had just given birth. When he got there, the husband and wife were waiting forth doctor because they had received the ominous news that “there were problems with the birth.” When the doctor arrived, he told the couple that the child had been born with Down syndrome, but he also had a minor and correctible respiratory condition. He said, “My recommendation is for you to consider just letting nature take its course, and then in a few days there shouldn’t be a problem.” The child would die “naturally” if they just left things as they were. The couple was confused and asked why they shouldn’t fix the problem. The doctor looked at them and said that raising a Down syndrome child would create enormous amounts of stress in the marriage, and that studies showed that many parents of Down syndrome children separated or divorced. He then said, “Is it fair of you to bring this sort of suffering upon your other two children?”

At the word suffering, the wife suddenly seemed to understand. She countered that her children had lived a safe and comfortable life with every advantage in the world. They had known, if anything, too little of suffering and the difficulty of life in the world. She spoke of “God’s hand” and said, “I could certainly see why it would make sense for a child like this to be born into a family like ours. Our children will do just fine. When you think about it, it could be a great opportunity.”

The doctor was dumbfounded and turned to the pastor, urging him to “talk some reason into them.” Willimon of course knew that the couple needed to be given good instruction as to what lay ahead so that they did not take up their parenting of this new child without some notion of what to expect. But, he wrote, the couple was using reasoning, though it was reasoning foreign to the doctor. It was the reasoning that suffering is not to be avoided at all costs.

The Bible does not give us all the answers we would like when it comes to all the particulars of suffering, but it does take it seriously, it provides a perspective from which to face it, and it does tell us what will finally become of suffering.

The book of Job tells us that though we may not understand from our limited perspectives, there is greater purposes at play even in the midst of suffering. Like Job, the New Testament book of Romans tells us that God is in control and does have a plan (Romans 8:28; see also Ephesians 1:11), and Revelation tells us that one day suffering will be no more (Revelation 21:3-4).

In the meantime, the Bible assures us that suffering can be used by God to instruct us, humble us, and teach us not to set our ultimate hopes on transitory things (Romans 5:3-4). Pastor Tim Keller sums this up well, “One of the main teachings of the Bible is that almost no one grows into greatness or finds God without suffering, without pain coming into our lives like smelling salts to wake us up to all sorts of facts about life and our own hearts to which we were blind.”

Christians may understand many doctrinal truths, but those truths seldom make the journey down into the heart except through enduring times of disappointment, hardship, and loss. As C.S. Lewis famously put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.”

Your Labor in the Lord Endures

In his book In, But Not of. A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World, Hugh Hewitt shares the following story as a warning and then follows it up with an encouragement:

“On exiting Richard Nixon’s house in San Clemente, CA., I noticed a man of about seventy wanting to see the president, but I did not recognize him. I asked Nixon’s secretary who he was and learned that he had been a senior Eisenhower aide in the fifties – one of the bright young men of that era. Thirty years later he was a slow-moving, genial fellow in a blue suit whom the young movers and shakers don’t recognize. “He used to be quite important,” the receptionist explained to me. There are hundreds of thousands of people about whom it could be said that they “used to be important.””

This reminded me of the story of when Billy Graham was receiving the Golden Congressional Medal in 1996, he had gathered before him in the Capitol rotunda the Who’s Who of Washington D.C. politicians, lawyers, and lobbyists. At one point in his message he asked, pointing to all the busts and paintings of American dignitaries around him: “what is the one thing they all have in common? I will tell you, the one thing they all have in common is that they are all dead. It does not matter who you are, time like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away.”

Hewitt continues: “The obituaries drive home this point. Everyone is eventually diminished by age. The world just doesn’t take much time to notice if he was a major filmmaker or she was a gifted novelist. Fame fades and almost everyone is eventually forgotten. When this happens in your life, it is a guarantee that you will be amazed at how quickly it passed.”

But…if you are a Christian, it is also a guarantee that your investment in the lives of others, in your ministry will endure. That is what the Bible promises: 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

If we live simply in a material universe, then all we are is gone the moment we die (and forgotten when those close to us die). The Christian worldview, by contrast, is more textured. What we do in this life matters. It matters in life and it matters into eternity. Because we are physical and spiritual beings, the impact that we are able to have in the lives of eternal beings have eternal consequences. It is on this basis that the Apostle Paul can say that “your Labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

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The Power of the Preached Word

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:14-15

In these two verse, the Apostle Paul asks four rhetorical questions. The answer to each is “they can’t.” The point is that God uses the means of his Word proclaimed to bring about conversion and a transformed life.

This is beautifully illustrated by the story of a man by the name of Luke Short, who lived in the Colonial America and was converted at the tender age of 103.

Mr. Short was sitting under a hedge in Virginia when he happened to remember a sermon he had once heard preached by the famous Puritan John Flavel. As he recalled the sermon, he asked God to forgive his sins right then and there, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Short lived for three more years, and when he died, the following words were inscribed on his tombstone, “Here lies a babe in grace, aged three years, who died according to nature, aged 106.”

Here is the truly remarkable part of the story. The Sermon that old Mr. Short remembered had been preached eighty-five years earlier back in England! Nearly a century passed between Flavel’s sermon and Short’s conversion. God’s Word will always accomplish God’s purposes.

“The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (Hymn)

The sands of time are sinking; the dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes;
Dark, dark, hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.

The King there in His beauty, without a veil is seen;
It were a well-spent journey, though trails lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army on Zion’s mountain stands,
And glory, glory dwelleth, in Emmanuel’s land.

O Christ, He is the Fountain, the deep sweet Well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted; more deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.

The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace;
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His piercèd hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Emmanuel’s land.

Author: Anne R. Cousin, 1857

The Final Judgment and The New Heaven and New Earth

Question 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: ‘How Does Christ’s Return “To Judge the Living and the Dead’ Comfort You?” It is an interesting way of the Final Judgment, isn’t it? But for believers in Jesus Christ, his return is to be a comfort. We will come around to why this is so at the end, and why for Christians, it is indeed the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).

First, though, what does the Bible have to say with regard to the Final Judgment? Revelation 20 gives us a picture of aspects of what is to come in that great and terrifying event.

Revelation 20:11-15: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

The passage focuses our attention on four successive scenes, each of which tells us something about what will happen after Jesus comes back.

The Great White Throne

God’s great throne is an image that should comfort and caution us. It comforts us because it promises that everything and everyone will answer to God. It comforts us because it promises that everything and everyone will answer to God. It our world, people get away with terrible evils. Genocide, war, slavery, corruption, and the list goes on and on. In the face of this, we cry with the Psalmist, “How Long O Lord” (Psalm 13). But, God is on his throne. And in the end, justice and righteousness will prevail and every single offense will be accounted for.

Here is Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf’s reflections on this truth:

I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them.

My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them?

Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”

The Standing Dead

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne” (v. 12). Death, Hades and the sea will all cough up their dead (v. 13). Everyone will be present. We won’t be able to hide from him who sits on the throne. Not even the grave can conceal us. “The earth and sky will flee from God’s presence” (v. 11), but we won’t have that option.

This vision of the dead standing before God reminds us that there will be a great resurrection of all people after Jesus comes back, though not all will be resurrected for the same destiny. We will all appear before the throne. Daniel prophesied: “And many of those who sleep shall in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). And Jesus said: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29).

There will be a final resurrection when all humanity from all the ages will stand before the throne where their eternal destiny will be determined.

Books and the Book

Books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life” (Revelation 20:12). What exactly are these two pieces of evidence, theses “books” and “the book of life?”

The “books” appear to be a record of each person’s deeds, and serve as the basis of God’s judgment: “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (v. 12). According to the Bible, we are all guilty, because we have all broken God’s commands (Romans 3:23). Our only hope is if our name is found written in the book of life.

What is the book of life? It is the record of those who have been saved from the guilt of their sin by trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Elsewhere in Revelation, this book is called “the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). The book catalogues the people God has rescued from the penalty of their sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. Daniel predicted: “But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered” (Daniel 12:1).

The Lake of Fire

Those not found in the Lamb’s book of life will face the lake of fire, the ‘Second death” (Revelation 20:14). Simply put, the lake of fire is the most terrifying, horrific, awful place ever. It is hell, the final destiny of all those who oppose God and his laws, and who reject Jesus. Just a few verse earlier, we find this dreadful description of the lake of fire:

“And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

Notice three things about the lake of fire:

  • The lake of fire is the final judgment for God’s enemies, including Satan and his followers, as well as death and Hades.
  • The lake of fire is a place of conscious torment, not obliteration or annihilation. It is final separation from God’s saving presence.
  • The torment of the lake of fire is eternal, lasting “for ever and ever.”

On the last day “every mouth” will be “stopped,” and the whole world will be “held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). As Revelation 19:2 says, “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just.”

The New Heaven and New Earth

Revelation 21:1-4: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The end of this world is not the end of the story. After this current universe has passed away, after humanity has been sifted and sorted before God’s throne, after all God’s foes have been cast into the lake of fire, God will do something unimaginably wonderful. God will make a new heaven and a new earth.

At the center of this new creation will be Christ. God himself will be present with his people (Revelation 22:4; Psalm 16:11; 73:25, 26). And while there will never again be the experience of sin, mourning, pain, or death.

As C.S. Lewis allegorizes it: “Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Millennium

The only text in all of Scripture that speaks of the millennium (Latin for ‘a thousand years’) is found in Revelation 20:2-5, “[An angel] seized the dragon…who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God…They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (the rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years were ended). This is the first resurrection.”

The question often asked from this passage is, “What are the thousand years and when will Christ return with respect to them?”

There are four basic views of the millennium that have had prominence throughout the history of the church. They are:

Postmillennialism
The Postmillennial view says that through the binding of Satan, there will be a gradual increase in the growth of the church and spread of the gospel where more and more people will become Christians. The influence of more believers will change society so that it will function as God intended gradually resulting into an age of peace and righteousness, in other words – the millennium, which is not necessarily a literal one thousand years. Christ will then come back “post,” or after, the millennium.

Amillennialism
The Amillennial view says that Satan’s binding will reduce his influence over the nations so that the gospel is preached to the whole world, yet there is a general view that times will worsen. Christ’s reign is a heavenly one and the millennium is equivalent to the church age currently going on, without reference to a literal thousand years. Christ will then return and judge believers and unbelievers at once.

Classic or Historic Premillennialism
The classic or historic Premillennialism view basically states that Christ will come back “pre-,” or before, the millennium. The church age will go through the tribulation period. At the end of the tribulation, Satan will be bound, and Christ will come back to establish his kingdom on earth for the millennium, which is not necessarily a literal thousand years. The resurrected believers will reign with the resurrected Christ physically on earth during this time. Unbelievers will also be on earth at this time and many will turn to Christ and be saved. At the end of the millennium, Satan is loosed and Christ decisively defeats him and his remaining followers. Then the unbelievers from all times will be judged, and the believers will enter into the eternal state.

Dispensational Premillennialism
The Dispensational Premillennialism view states that Christ will “rapture” believers before the suffering of the tribulation period. During the tribulation, the Jewish people will be left to go through it and will, in large measure, be converted. He will then return again, after the tribulation, with his saints to rule the earth for one thousand years. The rest of it then follows the same as the classic Premillennial view.

There are many great pastors, evangelists, and theologians over the years who have differed on these various views. Augustine, B.B. Warfield, Jonathan Edwards have held to the Postmillennial view. John Calvin, J.I. Packer, David Platt have held or hold to the Amillennial view. D.A. Carson, Al Mohler, and Wayne Grudem hold to the classic Premillennial view, while John MacArthur is a Dispensational Premillennialist.

Observe that all of these views have been held by what we would consider genuine Christians and great leaders in the Christian faith. This is not an essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Your salvation does not hang on how you come down on this issue. The important thing is that all of these views have the similar belief that Christ is returning and that judgment is coming.

Next blog post we will look in more detail  at ‘the final judgment,’ which will take place after Jesus comes back.

 

The Return of Christ (Part 2)

William Miller (the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists) predicted that the Second Coming of Jesus would occur sometime between March 21, 1842 and March 21, 1843. When Jesus did not return during that time, disappointment swept through the camp of Miller’s followers. Miller himself was undaunted; he asserted that he simply miscalculated the timing. He refigured and asserted with confidence that Jesus would return on October 20, 1844. As time drew near, a sign appeared on a Philadelphia shop window: “This ship will close in honor of the King of Kings who will appear about the twentieth of October. Get ready, friends, to crown him Lord of all.”

Most of the ‘Millerites’ sold or gave away their possessions and prepared their wardrobe for the coming of the kingdom. They gathered in white robes and waited, but there was no return of Christ. Five years later William Miller died and these words were penned on his tombstone, “At the appointed time the end shall be.”

What does the Bible have to say with regard to the timing of Christ’s return?

Jesus says in Matthew 24:36, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If we continue reading in Matthew 24:42-44, Jesus makes it clear why it is not for us to know when he will return. He says, “keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (v. 42-44).

Jesus then illustrates this teaching again with the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. He is driving home this message to “keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” of his return. Despite this clear teaching, people seem to have an insatiable desire to try to answer the “when” question of the second coming. You see this not only on the tabloids at the check-out counter in the grocery store, but also in the teachings of many religious sects (some claiming the name of Christ) and Christian leaders (does anyone remember the 2010 predictions of Harold Camping?).

It is not a sign of godliness to predict something with certainty that God says we will not know. Jesus commands us to watch and be prepared for his return. This seems to indicate that it is possible that Jesus could come back at any time – even today.

“Now, wait a second.” you may say, “Scripture does present the notion that certain signs will precede the return of Christ.” This is true; Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 all contain Christ’s teaching on signs of the end of the age. In Luke 21:11, for example, Jesus says, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilence in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”

Well, what are we to think about these things? How do we reconcile passages that warn us to be ready because Christ could suddenly return at any moment with passages that indicate that several important events must take place before Christ can return? There are some Christians who believe that by charting some of the “signs” that are thought to precede the return of Christ, they can make the statement that “since A, B and C have happened, now Christ can return” and name the exact moment when the return of Christ will occur.

We should realize is that some of those prophetic signs mentioned in the gospels were fulfilled when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. Yet, we certainly have no reason to believe that all of Jesus’ end time teaching was realized just a few decades after his death.

For example, what about the signs in heaven when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shakened” (Mark 13:24-25)? In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul writes about “the man of lawlessness” coming before the day of the Lord and being beaten on that Day. In the past, many people have thought this could be Nero, or Hitler, or the Pope during the Reformation, yet these have all come and gone and Christ has yet to return. There is still a futuristic element to Jesus’ prophecy that we must take into consideration.

Wayne Grudem offers up a pretty good answer to the tension between Christ’s return being unexpected while at the same time having obvious signs that precede his coming. Grudem concludes that there is a way to resolve these two sets of passages without making subjective statements as to whether or not certain signs have been fulfilled. He says: “[I]t is unlikely but possible that the signs have already been fulfilled, and therefore 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…to intensify our expectation of Christ’s return…With regard to the warnings to be ready…Christ could return at any time…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)” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1101).

This position accords well with the nature of biblical prophecy, where the chronology of future events is not always specified. The Apostle Peter reminds his readers that they are not to lose faith when scoffers mock their belief in the second coming and say “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:9-10: “But do not forget one thing dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness…But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”

The Return of Christ (Part 1)

I remember in high school a friend inviting me over to his house in order to show me the movie A Thief in the Night. It was a movie about a young woman who ignores her family and friends who urge her to follow Jesus. Suddenly the true believers are taken away in ‘the rapture’ up to heaven, leaving her to face the terrible ‘great tribulation period’ of the last days.

The movie had quite an effect on me. It caused me to ask questions like: is this a true portrayal of what will happen in the end? What does the Bible say about what is to come in the last days? As I have looked into this over the years, I have found comfort in that the God who knows all things about the future has told us in Scripture certain things regarding ‘what is to come’ – and it is to be a comfort for believers in Jesus Christ. And so, for the next several posts we will look at what the Bible has to say about events that are still yet to come

The Return of Christ

The Bible makes clear that in the end, there will be a literal return of Christ, he will come again to consummate his rule. This truth was taught by the apostles and assumed throughout the New Testament. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven.” The Lord’s brother James refers to the future expectation of this coming when he writes, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming” (James 5:7).

Where did these men get this expectation that Jesus would return again? Well, it appears from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. When sitting with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus tells them, “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to another” (Matthew 24:30-31).

The Return of Christ will be a Personal, Visible, Glorious Return

Jesus will return personally. In John 14:3, Jesus says that, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.” When Jesus ascended into heaven in Acts 1, without delay two angels came and said to the disciples, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). So the Lord’s return will be a visible return.

Finally, it will also be a glorious return. Matthew 16:27 tells us that Jesus will return “in his Father’s glory,” and this glory will be visible to all. In Revelation 1:7, John writes, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him….” Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Paul says that, “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” Christ’s return will be a glorious one, clear to all that the Son of God has come. It will be a fitting return for the King of Kings.

Tomorrow we will examine what the Bible has to say on the time of Christ’s return.

The Lord’s Supper: What is it and Why is it Important?

How Did the Lord’s Supper Come About?

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper the night before he went to the cross. Matthew 26:26-29 says: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.’”

In addition, Jesus calls his followers to “do this in remembrance of me” showing that it was intended to be done after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we see Christians, such as the church in Corinth, doing this very thing (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

What is the Meaning of the Lord’s Supper?

The Lord’s Supper is a Reminder

One of the functions of the ongoing practice and participation in the Lord’s Supper is to recall the event and significance of Christ’s sacrifice “for us.” “And when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; eat it in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).

The Lord’s Supper is a Symbol

The Lord’s Supper is also a symbol of the Christians commitment to Christ and to his body. It proclaims the Gospel message of Christ’s death and of his nourishing of the Christian life. As a repeated practice, it should remind the believer of these significant truths. In the same way, He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; drink it to remember me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

The Lord’s Supper is a Statement of Faith

In the Lord’s Supper “we proclaim the Lord’s death until he come” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Lord’s Supper is not a perpetual rite. It is a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the messianic banquet to come at the marriage feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), when our faith shall become sight. The Lord’s Supper therefore looks back to the past in remembrance, at the present in fellowship with other believers, and to the future when the promises shall be consummated. “For whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes back” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The Lord’s Supper is a Picture of the Unity of Believers

When Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper together, they give a clear sign of their unity with one another

. Paul instructs believers not to take the Lord’s Supper without “discerning the Body” (1 Corinthians 11:29), which I interpret as instruction to individual believers to make sure that they are doing all within their ability to maintain unity within the church (‘the Body’).

How is Christ Present in the Lord’s Supper?

When speaking of the Lord’s Supper, there have been different views about Christ’s relation to His Supper. The words “This is my body” are perhaps the four most disputed words in the Bible. It all depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.
With respect to Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper the debate is between those who argue that “is” means identity and those who assert that “is” means resemblance. Here are the different views put forth for the elements in the Lord’s Supper:

Transubstantiation – Roman Catholics teach this view, which asserts that the bread and wine actually become in their essence the body and blood of Christ. At the moment in the mass when the priest says, “this is my body,” the bread becomes the literal, physical body of Christ. For Roman Catholics, ‘is’ connotes identity, and so they understand the Lord’s Supper to be a physical re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ.

Consubstantiation – Marin Luther put forward this view and many in the Lutheran church still adhere to it. This view teaches that although the bread and wine do not actually become the literal body and blood, the physical body of Christ is literally present “in, with and under” the physical bread and wine. The analogy here is kind of like water in a sponge, the idea being that Christ’s body is somehow “contained” in the elements. This view arose from Luther’s perception of a requirement to take the “this is my body” statement, in some sense, literally.

Spiritual Presence, Symbolism – These are the views held by the rest of Protestant churches. The bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Christ. They give a visible sign of the fact of His true, though spiritual, presence.