Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The “Shortened” Last Days, Part 2

Biblegems #220
Question: If the Bible predicts a 3 1/2 year tribulation then how can Jesus say the days will be shortened? Wouldn't that mean less than 3 1/2 years, thus nullifying the prophecy?

This is a great question, and it helps us dive deeper into God’s revealed Word concerning His timetable for the Lord’s Return. We will see how prophecy is not only fulfilled but also brought into sharper focus. Let’s take a look at the key events concluding The Last Days:

The Last Days conclude with a 7-year period known as Daniel’s 70th Week (See Dan. 11:36-45; 12:1-2, 11-12). This 7-year period is then divided into three major segments.

Jesus described the first 31/2 years of this 7-year period as “the beginning of birth pains”—or “beginning of sorrows” (KJV)—(Matt. 24:5-8; Rev. 6:1-8). Following this comes “The Great Tribulation” (Matth 24:21). Concluding the third segment of this 7-year period is “the Day of the Lord,” also called the Day of God’s Wrath (Joel 1:15).

Let’s break this down a little more for clarity.

The term “the Day of the Lord” in Scripture always refers to God’s judgment and wrath upon rebellious, unrepentant mankind (Rev. 6:16-17; Is. 2:19). It is never used as a synonym for the Tribulation. It is described in the book of Revelation with the opening of the 7th seal (Rev. 6:17). The Bible also teaches that a great cosmic upheaval will take place immediately before the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:11, 30-3), at the opening of the 6th seal (Rev. 6:12-14).

Jesus taught that the Day of the Lord takes place at “the end of the age” (Matt. 24:14)—i.e., with the opening of the 7th seal—and that the Rapture of the church also takes place at “the end of the age” (Matt. 13:39-40; 28:20). In fact, Jesus taught that the Day of the Lord begins the “same day” the rapture of the Church takes place (Lk. 17:26-30). That places these events in the final days of the 7-year period of Daniel’s 70th Week.

This is why Paul writes that believers will not experience God’s wrath on the Day of the Lord:
         1Thess. 5:2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. …9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s clear then that the onset of the Day of the Lord takes place somewhere in the final days of the last 31/2 years of Daniel’s 70th Week. The only thing “shortened,” according to Jesus, is the Great Tribulation itself, not the final 31/2 years of Daniel’s prophecy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The “Shortened” Last Days

Biblegems #219
Question: What is meant in Matthew 24 where Jesus says “those days will be shortened for the sake of the elect”? Is this a reference to the seasonally shorter days of Autumn / Winter, or something else?

In Jesus’ description of His Return in power and glory in Matthew 24, verse 22 records these words: “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”

If, as the question suggests, these shortened days refer to the annual shortening of days known as the Winter Solstice, wouldn’t that give us an approximate timing of Jesus’ Return in terms of the season?

This is not the case, however. The shorter days of winter, when the North Pole’s tilt away from the sun reaches its peak (23.5 degrees) also puts earth’s southern hemisphere that much closer to the sun. Consequently, the shorter winter days in the north are also the longest summer days in the south. Jesus describes days that are “shortened” simultaneously for the entire planet.

When Jesus says “those days will be shortened,” He is talking about “the Great Tribulation” in the preceding verse:
         Matt. 24:21 For then there will be great distress [i.e. “great tribulation” -KJV], unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

Jesus said this “Great Tribulation” will be triggered by the Antichrist setting up the “abomination that causes desolation” prophesied by Daniel, referring to the prophecy in Dan. 9:27.  
Matt. 24:15 So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand

According to Daniel 9:24ff., a period of seven years at the end of history as we know it—known as Daniels’s 70th Week—will conclude with this final 31/2 year period Jesus calls “the Great Tribulation.” Many have incorrectly assumed that the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord are the same thing. That is not the case. The Tribulation decribes the wrath of the Antichrist against God and the Church. The Day of the Lord is the wrath of God against the Antichrist and all rebellious mankind.

Jesus taught in Matthew 24:22 that the Great Tribulation period of 3 ½ years would be shortened “for the sake of the elect”—His Church. Those days of great persecution against the Church will be so brutal that “no one would survive” if Jesus did not shorten this 31/2 year period of horror. Jesus goes on to teach in Matthew 24 that the Great Tribulation is cut short by the appearing of Jesus at His Return and the rapture of the Church:
         Matt. 24:30-31 At that time [i.e., cutting short the Great Tribulation, v. 22] 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 [i.e, the Second Coming of Jesus]. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect [i.e., the Rapture] from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Salvation For The Severely Disabled?

Biblegems #218
Question: Can children (or adults) with severe disabilities be saved?

Presumably, the question has to do with people whose rational thought processes are profoundly impaired. Prime examples would be a person in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, an accident victim suffering severe brain trauma, or a person born with an IQ below 30.

Can individuals with acute brain disorders understand the Gospel and respond in faith? The answer lies in the nature of faith and in the power of God.

Jesus made this statement regarding salvation:
         John 3:16  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Notice that salvation applies to every human being who believes in Jesus. No person is exempt. The ability to save rests with God, not us, and flows from His immeasurable love for the world He created. According to Jesus, then, God is pouring out His love through Jesus upon all humanity, providing salvation and eternal life for everyone, and all we need to do to receive it is to believe it.

What constitutes “belief?”

The word “belief” in John 3:16 translates the Greek word “pistis.” In many Christian circles today the concept of belief or faith in Jesus is presented as the ability of a person to verbally agree with a doctrinal statement:
 Rom. 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9 is directed toward people who are mentally and physically capable of comprehending and communicating their faith in Jesus. The word pistis, however, does not require the intellectual ability to comprehend ideas like “lordship,” nor does it require the physical ability of a person to put the concepts of lordship and resurrection into words. If that were the case then people unable to speak would be excluded from John 3:16. God’s love and salvation would not apply to them.

Thankfully, that is not the case! To “believe” (pistis) fundamentally means to trust. Trust is much more a function of the human heart than the brain. That’s why Jesus said to his disciples:
         Mk. 10:15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

Infants learn to trust the voice and the hands of a loving parent long before they can intellectually understand it or explain it. In fact, it is only after children begin to develop reasoning ability and communication skills that they also begin to question their parents’ love and begin to question how much they are willing to trust their parents. The greater a person’s intellectual ability, the greater is the challenge to trust without reservation.

People with severely diminished mental function are still quite able to love and trust completely those who give them love—perhaps better than the rest of us! When that loving trust is placed in Jesus, even if they can’t communicate it, another soul has entered eternal life!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Raised From The Dead?

Biblegems #217
Question: The girl Jesus “raised from the dead” in Matthew 9:18-26 was just “asleep,” according to Jesus, so was Jesus being deliberately deceptive for some reason, or was this not a miracle at all?

Two questions are before us here: 1) Was this girl really dead? 2) If she was dead, why did Jesus say she was only asleep?

First, this young lady had most certainly died well before Jesus arrived on the scene. Consider the following evidence.

Matthew 9:18 and following describes how the little girl’s father (Jairus, the synagogue Ruler, Mk. 5:21) had walked a good distance to find Jesus. The trip to the man’s house was slowed considerably by further ministry among the crowd that pressed in around Jesus. In fact, friends of the family had time to catch up with him:
Mark 5:35b “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”

When Jesus arrived at the home he found that funeral proceedings had already begun. Two “flute players” at a minimum were hired by even the poorest of families when someone died, along with at least one professional wailing woman, as required by Jewish custom of the day. Their job was to help family and friends accept the finality of death with mournful music and loud crying and wailing—hence, the “noisy crowd” (Matt. 9:23). Professional mourners were not called in until death was undeniably certain.

Second, Jesus used the term “asleep” because it was a common metaphor in His day for death. The Pharisees taught the doctrine of resurrection, and that death was not the end of existence. However, when Jesus used this common term for death in this situation, He did so in a very un-common way.

Before entering the dead girl’s room Jesus said to the hired mourners and the crowd they had stirred up, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep” (Matt. 9:24). In telling them to “go away” Jesus was about to demonstrate that He had the authority and power to bring a person back from the “sleep” of death. He was demonstrating here what He later declared (and proved) at Lazarus’ tomb:
         Jn. 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies…”

The majority of the Jewish people, trained under the Pharisees, had a fairly correct understanding of death—it did not mean a person ceased to exist. There would be a resurrection of the just and the unjust whose eternal existence would be determined at God’s Judgment. Until that time, existence in Sheol was not unlike being asleep.

In practical experience however, they—like most people today—saw death as final and irreversible. But for Jesus, raising someone from the dead was no more difficult than waking someone from sleep.

So Jesus defiled Himself by taking the dead girl’s hand in His own, while the professional mourners outside laughed at Him. Then, as Mark records in his Gospel, Jesus “said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished” (Mk. 5:41b-42).