HAVE YOU REALLY THOUGHT THESE THINGS THROUGH?
By Frank R. Speer
*Parenthesis and bolding are mine.
“Look! It’s Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, standing aside a school bus full of children on a collapsing bridge! But have no fear; Superman will be along shortly to save the day!”
Don’t you just love those stories? It seems that we all do. But Why? Because we long to see good triumph over evil, to see justice prevail, because at the end of the day – the bad guys have it coming to them – and finally – all will be right with the world.
The above is very close to how masses of modern Christians perceive the continuing story of Jesus Christ, The Son of God. A Superman of sorts who will one day, very soon, swoop down from Heaven to planet earth to rescue it, along with all the good people, from the evil forces of the darkness. And I must admit – I myself saw Jesus like that for a long, long time.
But then I discovered that what is most important is not what Frank Speer (or anyone else) WANTS Jesus Christ to be like – but what matters – when it comes right down to it – is what God says about His Son. Now, Christians believe that when we are reading the Bible – we are reading the very words of the one true God. While it’s true that these writings were physically penned by ancient human beings, it is just as true that those men were writing under the direct inspiration (divine stimulus) of The Spirit of God Himself. Therefore, these ancient authors were saying exclusively WHAT GOD WANTED SAID; at that precise TIME and in those precise WORDS (in the original languages of course).
Since this is the case, we must depend upon the sacred Scriptures ALONE to give us THE FINAL WORD on what’s-what when it comes to Gods PLAN FOR MAN. In this article I am not dealing with the NATURE (character or quality) of Christ’s Second Coming (Greek – “Parousia” – a visit resulting in a lasting presence) but here I aim to deal (and not exhaustively) with the WHEN of the Second Coming of Christ.
More exactly – I am asking – when did these biblical authors themselves EXPECT Messiah-Jesus to come? These first century followers of Jesus Christ – who actually walked and talked with Jesus Himself and then later wrote the New Testament – when did they anticipate the Second Coming of their Lord? After all, WHO WOULD KNOW BETTER THAN THEY?
I cannot overstate just how CRUCIAL it is to keep in mind as we read and study the Scriptures that these writings had an ORIGINAL AUDIENCE in mind when they were being written – and that original audience was not and could not have been YOU or ME. Let that sink in a moment.
Just like when we write letters or send emails today – those first century writers were communicating to living breathing first century readers, and so – as expected – these writings contain information that – by and large – concerns those first century followers of Jesus Christ in ways that were very particular to them in their lifetimes. As I hope to show in this article, much of what was being communicated to the early church was TIME SENSITIVE.
It is beyond question that The Bible was written FOR (the benefit of) all people – however, it was clearly not written directly TO all people. In other words, the Bible is not NONSPECIFIC when it comes to its intended recipients; It does not contain statements such as, “Greetings to all inhabitants of planet earth…” or “To Humanity; past, present and future…” or “This is for all Christians who will ever live…”
When Paul wrote his letters to “The Corinthians” he was NOT writing to 3rd century Egyptians, 7th century Arabs, 15th century Germans or 21st century New Yorkers. Right? Then who WAS He writing to? Well, to those whose names were on the envelope (so to speak) – the first century church congregation living in the city of Corinth.
When Paul wrote his two letters to “Timothy” – he was NOT writing to The Apostle Peter, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein or Barak Obama. But guess who he WAS writing to? He was writing to young Pastor Timothy, the ancient man who was at that time living in the ancient city of Ephesus (Modern Turkey).
Now this may be so painfully obvious to YOU that it actually seems silly for me to mention it, however, the fact of the matter is that A GREAT DEAL of misinterpretation and erroneous doctrine has arisen out from the neglect of this single hermeneutical principle of Audience Relevance. As many have said before me, “When we are reading the Bible we are reading someone else’s mail”. I honestly do not believe the case can be overstated.
OK. With these things firmly in mind, let us now begin to hear what GOD HIMSELF has to say on the matter of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ – and please – do your very best to allow the words to simply mean what they say.
The Apostle Paul writing (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) to first century Christians…
(2 Cor 1:12-14) “We brag about this: and our conscience agrees – that we teachers behaved ourselves toward you in this world in simplicity and sincerity of God – not in human wisdom but divine. We communicate to you only what you are able to understand and I hope that you will continue to understand these things that we teach right up TO THE VERY END (Mt 24:3; 1 Cor 10:11). At this time you know us only in an incomplete way, but I hope that you will brag on us, just like we will on you, IN THE DAY OF THE LORD JESUS.”
Question: Since the Apostle Paul told that first century church that he, his fellow Christian workers, and those first century Corinthian Christians would brag on each other for their faithfulness to the cause of Christ – “IN THE DAY (Coming) OF THE LORD JESUS”.
Are they STILL waiting for this to occur?
Paul says THE SAME THING to the first century Thessalonian believers…
(1 Thess 2:19-20) “Who is our hope, joy, or crown (reward) of extreme joy? It will be YOU (Thessalonian Christians), (when we are) in the presence of our Lord JESUS AT HIS COMING? Because YOU are our glory and joy!”
Are those first century Christians all STILL WAITING for this day of REJOICING TOGETHER? Of HOPE, JOY and CROWNS? Where are these first century Christians now? Are they IN HEAVEN still waiting for the future coming of Jesus to earth BEFORE they can begin to rejoice in the fruit of their first century earthly ministries?
HAVE YOU REALLY THOUGHT THESE THINGS THROUGH?
If “THE DAY OF THE LORD JESUS” has NOT YET TAKEN PLACE – what have these saints been doing in Heaven for the last 2,000 years? Have they not yet SEEN EACH OTHER so they can rejoice in each other as Paul promised? Are they forbidden to rejoice together until Christ comes?
Have they NOT YET been JUDGED AND REWARDED? Are they in some type of “holding pattern” or “waiting area” until Jesus comes to earth again in the future?
How is it possible that those first century Apostles and saints – who have been PRESENT IN HEAVEN WITH THE HOLY TRINITY for the last two millennia – have not been able to come into the fullness of their “treasures stored up in Heaven” (Mt 6:20)?
Wasn’t their reward based upon their life and ministry (Mt 10:42)? In 2 Cor 1:12-14 Paul says in effect, “On that day of the Lord WE will brag on EACH OTHER’S LIVES AND MINISTRIES TOWARD ONE ANOTHER – see how WE are behaving toward YOU now – so that on the day WE won’t be ashamed to face Judge Jesus!”
If your futurist eschatology is still not shaken to the core – take a good hard look at how Apostle Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) encouraged a young first century pastor…
(1 Tim 6:13-14) “I command you Timothy, in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and in the presence of Christ Jesus, who testified the truth before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, that YOU (as a first century pastor) KEEP THE COMMANDMENT OF CHRIST without stain or reproach UNTIL (mechri – “up to the time of”) the appearing of our lord Jesus Christ.”
If the coming of Christ HAS NOT YET OCCURRED – how can Pastor Timothy be doing anything other than “KEEPING THE COMMANDMENT” of Christ now? Is it POSSIBLE for him NOT to keep the commandment of Christ IN HEAVEN while he is awaiting the coming of Christ to earth? Has Paul been telling Timothy (In Heaven) for the last 2,000 years – “Hold on a little while longer? Keep the command of Christ until HE COMES!”
DOES THIS EVEN COME WITHIN THE VICINITY OF MAKING SENSE?!
The first century church OBVIOUSLY expected Christ to come in their time. That’s just the bottom line. And why wouldn’t they since that’s EXACTLY WHAT JESUS PROMISED THEM OVER AND OVER.
Were they all mistaken? Did the Holy Spirit MISLEAD THE CHURCH? Was Jesus Himself wrong about His coming? Are you prepared to say that He was? Based on what Scriptural evidence?
Take a good hard look at what else Paul told those first century Christians who were facing persecution, imprisonment, torment and gruesome death at that time…
(1 Thess 3:12-13) “May the Lord cause YOU to increase and abound in love for ONE ANOTHER, and for all people, just as we gospel ministers also do (currently) for you; so that – Christ may set YOUR HEARTS un-blamable in holiness – in the presence of our God and Father – AT THE (TIME OF THE) COMING OF OUR LORD JESUS – WITH ALL HIS SAINTS.
Question: Have their first century hearts NOT YET been “SET UN-BLAMABLE IN HOLINESS”? Even though they have been in Heaven for 2,000 years are they STILL working on being holy? Are they NOT YET “in the presence of The Father” even though they have been in Heaven for so long?
Again Paul says to them…
(1 Thess 5:23) “Now, may the God of peace Himself set YOU apart completely for His use; and may your spirit and your soul and your body be PRESERVED COMPLETE, WITHOUT BLAME – AT THE TIME OF THE COMING OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.”
Question: Are those Christians NOT YET “completely set apart for God’s use?” Are they NOT YET totally holy – even though they have been IN HEAVEN for 2,000 years? Is it possible for them to be INCOMPLETE and WITH BLAME in Heaven?
What will you do with these SCRIPTURAL FACTS my dear friends?
If Jesus has NOT YET COME – than no Christian HAS EVER YET BEEN SANCTIFIED OR GLORIFIED. No Christian has ever been made blameless! No Christian has yet been judged or rewarded? No Christian has yet rejoiced in Heaven with others! No Christian is ‘in the presence’ of the Father or The Son?
Do you honestly believe that all of those millions of Christians who have died since the time of Paul and those first century Corinthians saints – are all STILL AWAITING THEIR HEAVENLY BENEFITS ETC.? Imagine the agony? Being in Heaven but not being able to enjoy it yet! That sounds more like torment than bliss!!
Both Jesus and Paul PLAINLY TAUGHT that those first century Christians would receive their rewards AT THE COMING OF CHRIST…
“The Son of Man is going to COME in his Father’s glory with his angels, and AT THAT TIME – He will REWARD EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO WHAT HE HAS DONE.” (Mat 16:27)
“I solemnly charge you Timothy in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is ABOUT TO JUDGE (reward or condemn) THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, AND BY HIS APPEARING AND HIS COMING KINGDOM.” (2 Tim 4:1)
ARE THEY ALL STILL WAITING FOR THESE THINGS?
How can they even be ENJOYING Heaven – and the God of Heaven – if they won’t even know UNTIL JESUS COMES IN THE FUTURE whether they have DONE WELL OR NOT while they lived on the earth – If they have not YET received their rewards?
Are they all sitting around in Heaven – with butterflies in their stomachs – waiting to see what’s going to happen at some still future judgment or reward and punishment?
What do YOU say to all of this?
Some will say, “Well, God is ‘outside of time’ so somehow each person experiences the judgment when they die – it all works somehow in the eternal dimension.”
Well, that sounds fascinating and all, but then we must ask, “Where does the Bible teach that?” And, “How many ‘comings’ of Jesus will there be?” The N.T. plainly teaches that these rewards were to come AT “THE” (ONE TIME) COMING (Parousia – “divine visit in judgment”) OF THE LORD. Unless one is prepared to say that Jesus ‘COMES’ over and over – every time a Christian dies – than futurists have a definite predicament here.
Have you ever REALLY CONSIDERED with all your might – exactly what the Apostle Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) told those first century physically suffering Christians?…
(2 Thess 2:1-5) “Now we request of you (our first century) brothers, regarding THE COMING OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, and OUR (subsequent) ‘gathering together’ to (be with) Him (Mt 24:31), we ask that you would not be quickly shaken from your composure – or allow yourselves to become disturbed by those (false teachers) who claim that a ‘spirit’ or a message or a letter came from us Apostles – saying that THE DAY OF THE LORD HAS ALREADY COME! Listen! Don’t let anyone, in any way deceive you! The day of the Lord will not come BEFORE THE APOSTASY COMES (Mt 24:10), and ‘THE MAN OF LAWLESSNESS’ is revealed (the son of destruction), who will oppose Christ and exalt himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Don’t you remember that WHILE I WAS WITH YOU, I was explaining all of this TO YOU?”
Question: Why doesn’t Paul tell these first century Christians that THEY HAVE GOT IT ALL WRONG? – THAT THEY HAVE MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE IN BELIEVING THAT JESUS WOULD BE COMING SOON! It would in fact be CRUEL not to tell them and let them go on kidding themselves that they were ABOUT TO BE DELIVERED FROM THEIR ENEMIES!
In reality, what was happening was that some false teachers had come to Thessalonica, telling the church that Christ HAD ALREADY COME AND THAT THEY DIDN’T MAKE IT! They missed the boat! The Thessalonian church must have been devastated!! They thought that they were not true believers!
Notice what Paul does NOT say to those first century Christians in response. He does not say, “WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT?! HAVE YOU GONE NUTS? CHRIST ISN’T COMING FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS! WHERE DID YOU EVER GET THE IDEA THAT HE WOULD BE COMING FOR YOU?” WHO FILLED YOUR MIND WITH SUCH NONSENSE?”
NO!!! NO!!!! NO!!! : )
Instead, Paul tells those Christians living in Asia Minor at the time – that CERTAIN VERY SPECIFIC EVENTS WERE PREDICTED TO TAKE PLACE FIRST – and THEN – Jesus would come for them. Paul clearly APPROVES and CONFIRMS the timing of Christ’s coming is FIRST CENTURY – but not UNTIL some specific events occurred first. Jesus told His disciples THE SAME THING in the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24, Mk 13, Luke 17; 21).
Question: If Christ was NOT returning to THAT FIRST CENTURY GENERATION like Jesus Himself promised (Mt 24:34) – wouldn’t The Apostle Paul (being guided by the Holy Spirit) have KNOWN THAT? Wouldn’t he have set those believers straight? Of course he would have. But the fact is – that in nearly EVERY LETTER of the N.T. the “SOON”, and “NEAR” coming of Christ is being anticipated and counted on – they are very clearly PREPARING FOR IT.
Take a really hard look at what James tells the suffering first century Jewish Christians…
(James 5:7-9) “You (apostate Jews) have condemned and put to death righteous men; but they do not fight against you. But be patient therefore my dear Christian brothers, UNTIL THE COMING OF THE LORD. Listen to me, the farmer (you) waits for the precious produce of the soil (the rapture-resurrection harvest), being patient about it and waiting for both the early and late rains. So, in the same way, you followers of Christ must be patient – just like the farmer; so strengthen your hearts, because – THE COMING OF THE LORD IS NEAR! So, do not complain against one another, so that you yourselves may not be condemned – because The Judge (Jesus) IS STANDING RIGHT AT THE DOOR!”
James was only telling those first century Christians that WHAT JESUS TOLD THEM was going to happen – was about to take place…
(Mat 24:33) “When YOU SEE all these signs of the end, then recognize that I am near, RIGHT AT THE DOOR.
Again – The words of The Holy Spirit…
“I am CONFIDENT of this very thing, that God who began (past tense) a good work in you (first century Christians) will mature it (right up) UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS.” (Philippians 1:6)
Question: Is God still “MATURING” the work that He began in those first century saints? Is He “perfecting them” in Heaven? Is He still ‘working on them’ in Heaven – until a future coming of Jesus when they will be “complete”?
“Beloved, right now we are truly the children of God, but it has not appeared as of yet what we shall be (in the future). But, we know that, WHEN HE APPEARS, WE SHALL BE LIKE HIM, because (at that time) we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2)
Are the Christians in Heaven NOW still waiting to “SEE JESUS”?
Are they still waiting to “BE LIKE HIM” when He comes?
What are they “LIKE” in Heaven right now if they are not yet “LIKE JESUS”?
“And this I pray for you, that your love may grow still more and more – in real knowledge and all discernment – so that you may approve the things that are excellent, so that you will be SINCERE AND BLAMELESS until the day of Christ…” (Philippians 1:9, 10)
Question: Paul urges those first century Christians to be found “SINCERE AND BLAMELESS” AT THE TIME WHEN CHRIST COMES. How can they be anything OTHER than “sincere and blameless” if they are now in heaven with Jesus for the last 2,000 years – awaiting the return of Christ?
Are they in Heaven right now trying their best to become sincere Christians and blameless?
Of course not – Paul was clearly encouraging those first century saints to behave themselves in anticipation of the first century coming of Christ to gather them unto himself – just like Jesus promised (Mt 10:23).
HAVE YOU REALLY THOUGHT THESE THINGS THROUGH?
Some more still…
Similar to what he wrote to them earlier, Paul goes on to tell the Philippian congregation…
“…prove yourselves to be BLAMELESS AND INNOCENT, children of God above accusation in the center of a crooked and perverse GENERATION (Mt 24:34), among whom you Christians appear as lights in this (first century) world, giving close attention to the word of life, so that IN THE DAY OF CHRIST I will have reason TO REJOICE because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain (in my ministry here on earth).” (Philippians 2:15, 16)
Is the apostle Paul still waiting – 2,000 years later – to rejoice in the fruit of his earthly ministry? If so – what is he doing all this time?
Do you agree with some who would say that he is “soul sleeping” – waiting to “wake-up” at the future return of Christ and receive his reward at that time?
The problem is – that’s not what Paul himself believed would happen to him when he died!
“I am troubled over this from both directions, having the desire to DEPART THIS WORLD AND BE WITH CHRIST, because THAT IS VERY MUCH BETTER!” (Philippians 1:23)
Paul clearly saw physical death NOT as entering into a state of soul-sleep – but BEING WITH CHRIST and having a VERY MUCH BETTER experience than he was having on planet earth!!
“Our citizenship (residency) is IN HEAVEN, from which also WE EAGERLY WAIT FOR A SAVIOR, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will (when He comes) TRANSFORM THE BODY OF OUR HUMBLE STATE INTO CONFORMITY WITH THE BODY OF HIS GLORY, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20, 21)
Is Paul (along with all those first century saints who are all together in Heaven) STILL WAITING for Christ to “transform their humble physical bodies into something better? How can they even BE IN HEAVEN in their humble physical bodies?
HAVE YOU REALLY THOUGHT THESE THINGS THROUGH?
What will you say about this passage?…
“They themselves report what kind of a reception we had among you Thessalonians, and how you turned (past tense) to God from your idols – to now serve a living and true God, and TO WAIT FOR HIS SON FROM HEAVEN, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, WHO WILL RESCUE US FROM GOD’S WRATH TO COME”. (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10)
If Christ has NOT YET COME – WHEN AND HOW will Paul and those first century Christians “BE RESCUED” FROM GOD’S WRATH TO COME IN THE FUTURE?? Aren’t they all IN HEAVEN now? Do they STILL need to be RESCUED from God’s FUTURE WRATH at the FUTURE COMING of the Lord Jesus Christ?
”You yourselves (you Thessalonian believers) know full well that THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL COME JUST LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT. While they (Christ’s current enemies) are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon THEM suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But YOU, (my first century) brethren (as opposed to THEM), are not in the darkness (as “THEY” are), so then – the day of The Lord will not surprise and overtake YOU like a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4)
Question: Why would Paul tell those first century Christians that “the coming of the Lord” would not “TAKE THEM BY SURPRISE” – if the coming of the Lord wasn’t going to take place for thousands of years?? Can a future coming of Christ OVERTAKE THOSE WHO NOW LIVE IN HEAVEN BY SURPRISE? Isn’t overtaking them a BAD THING?
Lastly for now…
“We (first century workers of Christ) ourselves speak very proudly of you (Thessalonian Christians) among all the other churches of God because of YOUR (current) PERSEVERANCE AND FAITH IN THE MIDST OF ALL YOUR (current) PERSECUTIONS AND AFFLICTIONS WHICH YOU ARE (currently) ENDURING. This (current suffering of yours) is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment, (it is happening) so that you (first century Christians) will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, the kingdom for which in fact you are (currently) suffering…
…After all, it is only right for God to REPAY WITH SUFFERING THOSE WHO ARE (CURRENTLY) AFFLICTING YOU, and to GIVE RELIEF TO THOSE WHO ARE (CURRENTLY BEING) AFFLICTED – AND TO US (Apostles and workers) ALSO – AND THIS GOD WILL DO AT THE TIME WHEN THE LORD JESUS WILL BE REVEALED FROM HEAVEN WITH HIS MIGHTY ANGELS (Mt 16:27-28) – (at that time He will be) dealing out payback to those who do not know God and to those who do not (currently) obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (but are persecuting you instead).” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-8)
Question: How in the world would a still “future” (21st century) coming of Jesus Christ “GIVE RELIEF” to those persecuted first century Christians and to Paul and his companions?
You do realize that they were actually undergoing severe persecution back then – in the first century. Those Christians to whom Paul was writing that letter were clearly in need of divine deliverance – and the Apostle Paul – (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) ACTUALLY ENCOURAGES THEM TO ANTICIPATE SOON DELIVERANCE FROM THEIR VERY REAL PHYSICAL AND MENTAL ANGUISH AT THE COMING OF CHRIST – WITHIN THEIR GENERATION!
Question: If Paul PROMISED them divine deliverance from the torment of their living first century enemies – and that divine deliverance DID NOT OCCUR – HOW can it happen now?
Are they still – RIGHT NOW – somehow being persecuted by those same first century enemies of Christ – awaiting relief at the future coming of Christ? Aren’t they in heaven – where Paul said things would be “MUCH BETTER”?
Can there possibly be enemies of Christ torturing Christians in Heaven?
Or did Paul just get it all wrong?
Did the Holy Spirit get it wrong?
Is the Bible the word of God or no?
HAVE YOU REALLY THOUGHT THESE THINGS THROUGH?