Showing posts with label End Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label End Times. Show all posts

Thursday

Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets

Abolish is a strong word.

People quote Matthew 5:17&18 at me, to say “See! We still need to be under the Law! Look! See!”

These verses read, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

I have to admit, if you grab that verse, yank it out of its context, ignore the bit about the Prophets, and try to use it as a club to support a need for the Law (or at least the 10 Commandments), then it kind of fits. If you close one eye and squint the other. 

Let’s look at this a little more closely, a little more objectively, shall we? Is Jesus really saying, “Psych! I’m not really freeing you from the Law!”? Or is Jesus saying something else.

That “Something else” could be several things:

  1. Perhaps the context tells us some things?
  2. There may be a Jewish metaphor here that we’re not catching because we’re not first century Jews. That might change the meaning here.  
  3. He might be talking about a purpose of the Law and the Prophets that he’s going to fulfill.
  4. He might be talking about and end of the Law, but one that is not His doing. 
Let’s look at these possibilities one by one.

1. First, what does the context tell us? This is in the middle of a sermon where Jesus is completely re-interpreting their understanding of the Law. The entire chapter is about Jesus saying, “You’ve heard the Law taught this way…. But I tell you this other thing instead.”

So it’s not reasonable to assume that suddenly he breaks his train of thought and talks about submitting to the Law, at least not without some more evidence to work with. It’s more reasonable to infer that Jesus is doing away with how that Jewish culture has always understood the Law, and replacing that with a completely new understanding. That is the context.

2. Is there a Jewish metaphor here? I’m glad you asked. Yes there is. Jesus says the Law is valid “until heaven and earth pass away.” Well, when is that?

We, in our 21st century, science-based world interpret that literally, scientifically, and if Jesus were speaking on CNN or the Discover Channel, that would probably be a reasonable interpretation. But that is not how his audience at the time would interpret it. So it’s not permitted for us to impose a 21st century interpretation onto this first century document.

If you look at the phrase in scripture (http://nwp.link/2idn9Ml), it’s used more than 120 times (NKJV). In general, the words are used to describe “Pretty much everything we know” (which was *much* less than what we know today!), but when used together, it’s specifically addressing the abode of God (see: http://nwp.link/2j2nNR5, especially Isaiah 66:1 and Jeremiah 23:24). This is describing the Jewish temple. 

In fact, this view was so prevalent that eventually the temple and its courtyard in Jerusalem became known as “Heaven and Earth,” and was spoken of as immovable. The temple itself, the “dwelling place of God” was Heaven, and the courts, particularly with the court of Gentiles, was “the Earth. In more poetical language, it was described as “Where Heaven and Earth meet.” (https://utpress.utexas.edu/books/grawhe)

So the Law and the Prophets are still valid, under Jesus’ new interpretation, until the temple was destroyed. That’s what it meant to the writer and the original readers of the Gospels. We cannot impose our 21st century cosmology onto the text.

3. The structure of the sentence clearly points to the fulfillment of “The Law and the Prophets.” We’ve taught for generations (correctly) that the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus, and this passage in Matthew has been part of that teaching. Certainly, the reference to “the Prophets” would not be part of a declaration of keeping the Old Covenant Law.

These verses are clearly saying that the Law was still in place as Jesus made the statement; it hadn’t been fulfilled yet. Recently, I fulfilled my obligations on a loan. Until that loan was fulfilled, I kept making payments. If I missed even one payment, even the very last payment, then the loan was in default, and the bank had the right to seize my property and sell it off to cover my failure. 

But when I fulfilled that loan, when the payments were done, then the loan no longer has any power over my behavior (“Payments are due!”) or consequences (“…or we’ll seize your stuff!”). I was now free from that law. 

Jesus was declaring that the fulfillment of everything the Law and the Prophets spoke about was upon them: they were about to see the realization of everything they’d been waiting for for the last couple of millennia!

4. The Old Covenant Law was still in place when Jesus spoke these words about the Law being fulfilled. It was already “obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away,” (Hebrews 8:13), but it didn’t finally “vanish away” until the last possible second: exactly one generation (40 years) after Jesus’ death, when the Jerusalem, the temple (“Heaven & Earth”) and perhaps even most significantly, the genealogical records of Israel were all destroyed. Without those records, it was impossible to determine who was a descendant of Aaron, and therefore qualified to be a priest and to make the sacrifices the Law demanded. Legitimate sacrifices could never be re-instituted.

When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD (a description of which is in Matthew 24, in answer to the question of “When will the stones of the temple be thrown down?”), the Old Covenant finally breathed its last and died, completely fulfilled in Christ.

So these verses are not a statement that Believers need to keep the Old Covenant Law. They were a warning that while the Law was still in force when the words were spoken, but that Law would end soon. Romans is blunt: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness….” Done.

And Jesus didn't just end Ten Commandments. He ended 613 laws; he ended all of them. All of that is dead. It was obsolete. It wasn’t needed any more.

You see, all of those commandments were the "terms and conditions" for the Old Covenant. And Jesus ended the Old Covenant. (The Epistle to the Hebrews describes that termination pretty well, better than this article has room for.)

So when that broken down, obsolete covenant was replaced with a New Covenant, the terms and conditions of the first covenant (all those laws, and the priesthood, and the sacrifices) were all replaced with the terms and conditions of the New Covenant as well.

So anyone who names the name of Christ is not under the Old Covenant, and not obligated – not even a smidgeon – to the terms and conditions of that obsolete covenant. We share in a New Covenant, and no man can serve two masters. Dont try.

What about the Law and the Trials of the End Times?

People regularly quote Second Timothy Three: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times.” And Paul outlines much of the difficulties going on in the Roman Empire at the time. And people say, “These are difficult times! Paul must not have been talking about first century Roman Empire, but about twenty first century America (or Europe, or whatever). 

Paul offering pastoral advice to his young protégé. He’s writing from prison, which means he’s writing in AD66 or AD67. And he’s telling Timothy, “Here’s how to pastor this kind of person (verses 8-15, same chapter).

So If Paul is telling Tim how to pastor these people, then “the last days” that he’s talking about in AD67 must be AD70, when the Jerusalem was destroyed, when the temple was destroyed, and most importantly, when the genealogies (which showed who was qualified to be a priest or even a Levite) were burned. Destroyed. Gone forever. 

That was the “Last Days” that Paul was writing about. It’s not about now. It’s about the end of the Law.

Why in Heaven’s name would the apostle write pastoral advice for how to relate to a situation that was exactly what was going on in his day that minute, but give advice that would be about an event that wouldn’t happen for twenty centuries? That’s just silly.

Of COURSE he was writing to what was going on in Tim’s ministry right then.

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So here’s the real question:

Given that the Law of the Old Covenant is dead and gone, given that the “Last Days” talked about in the Bible are generally about “the last days of the Old Covenant,”

HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE.

Note: this is not a place to argue about whether you agree that the last days are behind us. This is an “If – then” question:


If the evil things and the “difficult times” that the New Testament writes about have already happened, what do we do with our lives?

That’s the question that really matters. If we’re going to focus on the days ahead, let's focus on what’s important. 

Preparing for an Uncertain Future.

I’ve been asked recently, “How should we prepare for the upcoming hard times in our nation?” The topic comes up a fair bit in one form or another.

I started to reply to the individual who asked this one, but there are several folks with questions on this topic. Here’s what I observe on the topic:

§         No single prophet will have all the insight on this (or any other) topic. Father promises to reveal his secrets to “the prophets” not “to each prophet.” I won’t have anything close to a complete picture. Having said that,

§         It’s not the prophet’s job [ever] to replace your hearing from God yourself. Take what you hear from the prophets to God to get your instructions for your own situation.
 
§         I believe that fear is the primary danger ahead of us: the enemy is making a pretty strong focus on this sin, trying to drive God’s. If believers resist that temptation, we’ll be positioned to get the rest of it right. (This means, of course, filtering what we listen to, and HOW we listen to it.)

§         It’s my opinion that the disaster prognostications flooding the media are fear-based, and are in error, if only because they’re based on fear.

§         While God is calling some of his children into the prepping community, “prepping” is not the answer. Luke 12:20-21 applies to those who, because of fear, store up all they’ll need to survive Armageddon: I don’t believe that’s actually possible; if we knew all that we needed to store up, that violates the First Commandment, and God has promised to not permit that. (Note: the “first commandment” is more of a threat than a commandment: “You will not be able to have any other gods before me: you set ‘em up & I’ll knock ‘em down!” [http://bit.ly/1nn65Rm])

§         I personally believe that the epic disasters of Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation are clearly behind us, not in front of us (that is perhaps another conversation, and others believe differently). Nevertheless,

§         That does NOT mean I see blue skies and butterflies. Someone really smart said, “In this world, you will have tribulation.” I suspect that’s related to the fact that we are engaged in the greatest war this universe has ever known. It’s NOT “good vs evil.” It’s about the Kingdom of Heaven vs the lesser kingdoms (of which there are many: “good vs evil” is one; fear is another, and self-sufficiency is a third).

§         It is my opinion that the most critical things we can do are in John 2:5 (“Whatever He [Jesus] says to you, do it.”) and Hebrews 12:1&2 (“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”) Key: fix our eyes on Jesus. Having said that,

§         This does not mean “Don’t prepare.” It means look at what Jesus is doing and do what he says. He has had me make SOME preparations (we have gotten out of debt, and we grow some of our own food on our city lot, etc).

§         I’m reminded of stories like Matthew 17:24-27 (and we could choose many others!): It appears that Jesus is invested in provisioning us. Which leads to,

§         I believe we’re coming into a season where we rely on the supernatural for our daily lives. We need to (and are, in fact, beginning to) get used to miracles, so that we can multiply food or raise the dead comfortably and consistently.

§         Whatever troubles that come are an opportunity for the Kingdom of God, not obstacles. Even if there is real persecution against believers, upheaval of any sort open people’s hearts and minds to the King of the Kingdom. If we respond in fear we’ll miss the opportunity (see Romans 8:15).

§         Other people may be called to different responses. I am clearly called to a non-political response, but Father has specifically spoken to me about others whom He may be calling to be involved with politics, or even with forceful resistance to evil. Their calling is not my calling, but I need to not hinder them.

§         The story remains unchanging: God’s goal for us is still intimate relationship, his instruction is still to extend the kingdom, by means of the Great Commission.



So what do you hear God saying to YOU about this season ahead of us? 

A Brief Guide to The Rapture.



A little history about the doctrine of the Rapture. (Note that this is not a theology paper; this is an article about following God.)

First, the term "rapture" does not appear in scripture. The general idea is there (specifically in 1 Thessalonians 4:17), but it is not the same concept that is taught today called “The Rapture.” It has nothing to do with the “Left Behind” books’ theology!

Much of our concept of The Rapture comes from Cotton Mather, the 17th century Puritan, and master of the Salem Witch Trials. It gained traction in the teaching of John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, just after he left his denomination, the Church of Ireland; some historians report that he used this sensational new teaching to garner more speaking engagements (a practice that continues today). Contemporary church leaders, including Charles Spurgeon, rejected Darby’s teaching. But he wrote a translation of the Bible and started a minor denomination, so people take him seriously. 


The reality is that the Bible has very little to say about the Rapture, apart from acknowledging, in the context of the dead being raised, that one day we will be “caught up” with God in the air. Note that this was expressly given as comfort to those grieving dead loved ones, not as a theological foundation for eschatology. (As a general practice, we don't build major theological points on minor, unclear passages that are focused on other issues!)

Having said all that, it does appear that some points about the Rapture could do with being emphasized:

*        The big point in Scripture is that believers who die before Jesus returns will not be separated from Him. The Resurrection of the dead is for real. This is the main scriptural teaching about “The Rapture.”

*         The idea of being caught up with Jesus seems worth pursuing, even today. A number of contemporary prophets (and many believers) encourage pursuing the experience, though not in a physical sense, rather in terms of what might be called “day trips to Heaven.” This sounds like a great use of our time. “I believe in the Rapture,” says Bob Jones. “I do it every day!”

*         The Bible - and therefore the earliest apostolic doctrine - carefully avoids clear teaching on the subject, which should be a clue to us. Moreover, Jesus clearly said (Acts 1:7) that figuring out the details of the end times was a distraction of the real work that he has set before us (Acts 1:8). It could be reasonably concluded that end times theology (including the Rapture) is largely a distraction from our actual assignment: a theological time-waster.

*         The current teaching of the Rapture (The Left Behind version) is completely contrary to God’s ways: it’s taught as an escape from persecution, sneaking out the back door before a season of tribulation starts. God has never demonstrated the value of keeping some favored people from having to deal with difficult times, while letting other, less-favored people suffer from them. The idea of removing the only people who can bring comfort to afflicted people is not in him. If anything, he has historically sent his people into the midst of the trouble in order to be light in the darkness. Therefore, it is more likely that he would send his people into the midst of the tribulation. (See 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 and 1 Thessalonians 2:2.)

There are two clear action points that I can see, when thinking about the Rapture.

1.       God has apparently not intended that we understand the details about the end of the world. It would be wise, therefore, for me not to focus on what he is not focusing on.

2.       It will be a much better use of my time either working to prevent trying times, or preparing people to cope with trying times, rather than teaching people to expect a “Get Out of Tribulation Free” card.

Our job is “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” At least within our sphere of influence.