Have We Been Led Astray in These Key Areas of Our Faith?
Indeed, we have. PRI recognizes a serious need to re-examine what the Bible really says, and does not say. Below is a collection of key topic areas and misconceptions within traditional views of Christianity. We have created this website to be an open forum for anyone to comment on these 18 topics and more.
“The Antichrist is coming. We are looking for a man of unparalleled evil, an ultimate enemy who will deceive the world in the final days with his words and wonders. Will we know him when we see him?”
It’s the advertising pitch for premillennial dispensationalist Mark Hitchcock’s latest, end-times book titled, Who Is the Antichrist? (From Ad in Charisma magazine, September 2011, 28.)
Part and parcel of the futuristic end-times scenario popularized by the recent “Left Behind” series is a single world leader, called “the Antichrist,” who wrecks havoc on all humankind for a 7- or 3 ½-year period of great tribulation. Meanwhile, all true Christians—having been raptured—are in heaven enjoying themselves and avoiding all the tribulations being put forth on earth.
This most popular postponement tradition claims that this wicked one is a future “Antichrist” figure that has yet to be revealed. Over the centuries, he has been variously identified as Attila the Hun, Napoleon, the Pope, Martin Luther, Mohammed, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, and Mikhail Gorbachev. Virtually every unpopular public figure has qualified. Obviously, this tradition has proven totally inept at identifying this “Antichrist.” Unfortunately, it’s a tradition that has not died.
The Bible says nothing about a future-coming 7-year period of tribulation. But what does it say about “the Antichrist?” The answer is nothing in the Old Testament. Jesus never mentioned him. Nor did Peter, Paul, or any of the Gospel writers. Nor is he mentioned in the apocalyptic books of Daniel or Revelation. The only two places in the entire Bible where “antichrist” can be found are in the two short epistles of 1st and 2nd John. Here, however, we find statements that do not support the current and popular view of a future-coming world dictator.
What Scripture Says:
It’s almost unbelievable how some Christians speculate that some future and final Antichrist is the one who confirms the covenant in Daniel’s 70th week. What is their textual proof? There is none.
First, in Scripture, there is no such thing as a “final Antichrist.” “Many antichrists” (note the plural, see 1 John 2:18) were present in the midst of 1st-century saints, and have been present ever since (1 John 2:22; 2 John 7). Moreover, they don’t confirm covenants. Only God makes and confirms covenants. If anything, antichrists break them. Speculation about some future, final Antichrist is just that—pure speculation that has been read into prophecy.
Secondly, the idea that the beast of Revelation 13 or Paul’s “man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2 are the Antichrist is also purely assumptive. No such connection is ever made in Scripture. And we must pay close attention to what the Bible actually says and does not say. But many have not. Hence, for several centuries, Christianity has appeared foolish as the popular endsayers of their day have continually attempted to name the latest global villain as the “biblical Antichrist.”
Thirdly, Jesus was the One who, through his crucifixion and resurrection, put a stop to the Jewish sacrifices. It was not some future Antichrist in some distant revived Roman Empire inside a rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Moreover, there is no possible way a future Antichrist could fulfill even one of the six purpose statements encapsulated in this prophecy (see Dan. 9:24). Likewise, there is no need to reconstruct the same socio-political conditions of that 1st century, or revive the days of Rome, or reestablish any of the obsoleted institutions of the old Judaic system (Heb. 8:13) in order for them to be destroyed, again. Nor is there any need to forecast these repetitions of fulfilled end-time prophecy. It need never again be repeated.
This redundancy idea is terrible scholarship. The Bible says nothing about the Jews building a third temple in our day or in the future. Let’s call this theology for what it truly is—the re-Judaizing of biblical faith (Christianity). Sadly, it has great appeal, if not a strange hypnotic power, over many who claim they are the ones who are “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). If we have ever wondered how “the elect” could possibly be deceived in our day as Jesus warned (Matt. 24:24), here is another way. This delayed and deferment view does not serve the work of the Church or the purposes of God one iota.
Fourthly and finally, John defines who and what an “antichrist” was and is. “It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ . . . . Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (1 John 2:22; 2 John 7). Facts are, there were many antichrists back in that 1st century, have been many since, are many today, and will be many in the future. This is the whole teaching of Scripture on this topic of “antichrist.” No more needs to be said. Case closed.
“Caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). What does it mean? To multiple millions of Christians it means “in an instant, millions of people disappear from the face of the earth, shedding their clothing, shoes, eyeglasses and jewelry” (New York Times, Front page, October 4, 1998).
It’s called the “Rapture” and it’s a near-frantic preoccupation with the idea of Christians mysteriously being physically levitated off the surface of planet Earth, alive, and whisked away, en masse, on a gigantic flight through outer space to heaven. You can read it on bumper stickers:
- “In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned!”
- “Rapture: The only way to fly!”
- “He’s coming to take me away! Ha! Ha!”
- “Get right, or get left behind!”
This is the view promoted and popularized by the “Left Behind” series—which has been termed “the hottest trend in apocalyptic literature since Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth” (Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine, December 1998, p-6). It is also the predominant view in evangelical Christianity.
The so-called “Rapture” was never taught in the Church prior to its invention in the 1830s. And it directly contradicts Scripture.
What Scripture Says
Jesus specifically prayed against this belief. In his prayer for all believers He prayed that they back then and we today would not be removed from the world. “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15, 20). We believe Jesus prayer for all believers is still in effect and that He gets his prayers answered. In perfect consistency, Jesus sent forth his disciples, and us today, into the world (John 17:23) to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). Furthermore, He told us that “in this world you will have trouble/tribulation” (John 16:33 NIV, KJV). He never said some would escape it.
Another problem is, rapturists think they are going to defy the death rate—which to date is 100 percent—and get out of this world without going through the grave. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that it’s “appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). A Rapture-removal, at best, would be an exception to this, or it’s an outright contradiction. Also, an escape from planet Earth is not the subject of any Old Testament prophecy or promise to be fulfilled by the coming Messiah.
- Invention of the ‘Rapture’ idea.
- A seductive teaching.
- What else might God have had in mind?
- Resurrection of the dead ones (plural).
- ‘Bones-are-still-in-the graves’ objection.
Second Coming / Return
No idea has gripped the human imagination more firmly, saturated the Church more completely, or been proclaimed as the hope of the world more frequently than the idea and doctrine of a “Second Coming/Return” of Jesus Christ. Its influence on the thinking of most Christians and non-church people alike has been a driving force in the world. And yet this belief has been both the bane and chief blind spot of Christianity as its persistent nonoccurrence throughout Church history has embarrassed and discredited the faith.
The Bible says nothing about a “second coming” or a “return” of Jesus Christ. Nor do the historic creeds of the Church. Nothing! Why not? Because it’s inappropriate terminology.
Also, be assured that we simply cannot afford to be misinformed or confused about such an important element of our biblical faith. Unfortunately, “second coming” and “return” terminology implies only two comings of Jesus, one in the past and the other supposedly in the future. But this limitation does not fit with the testimony of Scripture. The idea of limiting the comings of Jesus to only two and calling the later one the “Second Coming” or “Return,” or limiting his comings in any way—past, present, or future—is simply a human notion, man-made terminology, and a post-biblical doctrine kept alive by tradition.
What Scripture Says
Make no mistake. Jesus’ timely coming in judgment, “on the clouds,” circa A.D. 70, and in destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was a biggie! It was his real, personal, and bodily coming and ending of the Old Covenant age. But it was not his so-called “return” or “second coming,” nor will any of his comings in the future so be. The late-great theologian, George Eldon Ladd, in his highly acclaimed book, The Blessed Hope, acknowledged this most significant fact this way:
- . . . the words ‘return’ and ‘second coming’ are not properly speaking Biblical words in that the two words do not represent any equivalent Greek words. (George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1956), 69).
Ladd’s admission here is huge and leads to major implications. Fact is, we Christians have been hamstrung for centuries with these two non-scriptural expressions and unscriptural concepts. Biblically, the idea that Jesus is off somewhere waiting to come back at some future time, as well as the idea of limiting the comings of Jesus to only two or three times, or to any at all, is man’s idea and not God’s.
- He never left.
- What is a coming of Jesus?
- The many comings of Jesus.
- Freeing yourself from religious bondage.
- The deception of the elect.
The Contemporary Christ
Most people today recognize that to get to know someone, anyone, it’s important we learn about their past—what they were like and what they did. But what is more important is what they are like and doing now. Why? It’s because people change. The same is true if you want to know and follow Jesus as He really is today.
Every week, all around the world, a story is told and retold. For almost two thousand years, people have gathered in churches, schools, universities, seminaries, conferences, and Bible studies to hear that story. In our times, it has drawn millions more to the movies, to their TVs and radios, and onto the Internet. It has been dubbed “the greatest story ever told.” It is about a man called Jesus of Nazareth—his birth, his life, his death, and his resurrection—two thousand years ago. And this story is important.
But what’s more important and the big problem here is—He’s not like that anymore. No longer is Jesus the sleeping baby in the manger we celebrate every Christmas, or a young man ministering in Galilee, or a dead man hanging on a cross, or even the resurrected, pre-ascended Lord. Yes, Jesus lowered himself to become a man. But now, he’s not like that anymore.
What Scripture Says
The only place we can turn to find out what Jesus is really like and doing today is to the greatly misunderstood and abused book of Revelation. Here, Jesus is unveiled in his present-day reality. And we can discover some amazing things about Him, such as: He looks different than the way we usually picture and think of Him—He rides a horse, He hosts a banquet, He comes, He fights the battle of Armageddon, He conquers some awesome creatures, He sits on a throne, He makes everything new, and He lives in a new city.
One thing is for sure, this is not the sleeping-baby-in-the-manger Jesus, the boy Jesus growing up in Egypt and Judea, or the young man Jesus ministering on a hillside in Galilee. Nor is it the crucified Jesus hanging on a cross. Here, in the Bible’s last book, Jesus unveils and reveals Himself in his present-day form and global (cosmic) reality. And He’s not just sitting around up in heaven waiting to come back. He’s in our midst all around the world.
- A much greater Jesus
- The historical Jesus
- The unveiling.
- Overcoming a major misconception.
- Latest picture of Jesus.
- Many countless comings.
- He still comes.
Battle of Armageddon
Armageddon? Is it past or future? Are millions possibly being led astray, again? The front cover of Publishers Weekly, January 13, 2003, featured this headline:
UNLEASHING EVERYWHERE APRIL 8, 2003’
On the inside cover it continued with this headline: ‘NO ONE WILL ESCAPE ARMAGEDDON.’ Fortunately, this alarming announcement was not about a real and so-called final “battle of Armageddon” at the supposed end of the world. At the time, this article was dramatically announcing the upcoming release of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ tenth blockbuster title in their wildly popular Left Behind series. Provocatively, it was titled Armageddon.
Even though this book was another work of fiction, LaHaye contends that his works of fiction are conduits of “God’s end-times truths” and they contain “prophetic knowledge that God expects His children to have” (Advertisement – “Introducing the LaHaye Prophecy Study Group,” Christianity Today, February 2003, 13). The Left Behind series has proven to be the best vehicle to achieve his goal. Its reported 65 million copies (to date, 2011) are designed to reach people in a way his “non-fiction” books can not. And they are doing just that—literally influencing and convincing multiple millions toward LaHaye’s view.
The Left Behind series’ books are based upon an eschatological view that is not held by all Christians, and for good reasons. A case in point is this Armageddon book. To illustrate just how far off LaHaye and Jenkins are, they claim this battle will be fought in a valley. But as we shall soon see, it was to be fought on a mountain—the exact opposite from a valley.
What Scripture Says:
Below are ten biblical and historical reasons why the theology behind LaHaye and Jenkins’ Armageddon story line is flawed.
- Reasons #1-3
- Reasons #4-7
- Reasons #8-9
- Reason #10
- In sum
Perhaps no more volatile or politically charged issue has exploded onto the front page of the world scene and into the Church than that of the contemporary role, or non-role, of the modern-day nation of Israel in fulfillment of end-time Bible prophecy.
Ever since its re-birth in 1948, an end-time obsession has characterized popular Christianity. Prophecy charts, rapture movies, best-selling books, and Antichrist speculations abound. Apparently, the stage is set. Israel is ground zero. How do Israeli Jews feel about their upcoming prophetic role and the pending Battle of Armageddon? Their wooing of Christians and prophecy popularizers has paid off handsomely.
America is passionately pro-Israel. And more than anything else, this end-time obsession has shaped our stance. It has also conditioned an almost uncritical support for Israel’s existence and actions in world affairs. But while Zionist Christians are longing for a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and anticipating the soon-arrival of other disastrous end-time events, they do not believe peace in the Middle East is possible, or even desirable. Meanwhile, other Christians claim that God is finished with the Jews and that the Bible should not be used to advance or detract from the position of any of the three main religious groups whose origins are in the Holy Land.
What Scripture Says:
While both of these views are understandable, we believe that confusion over eschatology should not be a catalyst in this conflict. In an attempt to prove that point, this topic point will address the top 5 of 13 popular eschatological misconceptions and provide scriptural responses.
- Misconception #1
- Misconception #2
- Misconception #3
- Misconception #4
- Misconception #5
Conflicting End-time Views:
“One of the most divisive elements in recent Christian history . . . . few doctrines untie and separate Christians as much as eschatology.” (Kenneth S. Kantzer, ed., “Our Future Hope: Eschatology and Its Role in the Church,” Christianity Today, 6 February 1987, 1- (I))
The field of eschatology is a complex maze of confusing and conflicting end-time views in which no consensus has ever existed. This lack of consensus has led to major disarray and division in the Church. Premillennialists say the amillennialists are wrong. Amillennialists say the premillennialists are wrong. Postmillennialists say they are right and everybody else is wrong. Few scholars are familiar with and even fewer lay people are aware that there is another comprehensive view—the preterist view.
Even more troubling, this field of theology has been plagued by the traditions of men and unscriptural false paradigms. These imperfections have forced their proponents to overrule sound hermeneutical and exegetical principles to reinterpret Scripture according to their view. Consequently, three major dichotomizing hermeneutics and many unsound conclusions have resulted in a stalemate that has plagued Christianity throughout its history.
What Scripture Says:
According to God Himself, the timely and precise fulfillment of prophecy is how we humans can know who the one true God truly is (see Isa. 44:6-8; also 41:21-24; 42:8-9; 45:20-22; 46:9-11; 48:3-6; Rev. 19:10b).
This fulfillment was also the once-for-all-delivered and completed foundation of our faith upon which we are to build—that was precisely foretold by the prophets (Amos 3:7), expected by the apostles (John 16:13), and time-restricted by Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 24:34; Rev. 1:1, 3 ~ 22:6, 10): “. . . contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)
Originally, this topic and material was presented in a 13-week seminar series at Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Indiana by John Noē. Its purpose was to present, study, and analyze the four major eschatological views of the historic, evangelical, and conservative Church, to determine their principal strengths and weaknesses and synthesize their strengths into one meaningful, coherent, and consistent view that is more Christ-honoring, Scripture-authenticating, and faith-validating than any one view in and of itself.
- 7 reasons why your end-time view is so vital.
- Fourfold premise.
- Preterist view.
- Dispensational premillennial view.
- Amillennial view.
- Postmillennial view.
- Synthesis of views.
- Comments from others.
Doing the Works of Jesus:
The increasing presence of the kingdom was not only being realized in Jesus’ Person and his words, but would be further manifested and modeled by his works (John 14:10; Acts 1:1), as Jesus obediently performed the “will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Dramatically and dynamically, He demonstrated the kingdom’s internal and external, spiritual and physical characteristics by:
- the life He led
- by his relationship with the Father
- by his dependence upon the Father
- by forgiving sins
- by healing the sick
- by casting out demons
- by taking authority over nature
- by performing miracles
- by releasing the oppressed
- by taking care of physical needs.
Jesus regarded all these as essential and intrinsic elements of his kingdom. Thus, his kingdom affected the whole person. It produced both spiritual transformations and physical blessings or consequences. But one of Jesus’ most prominent works was the casting out or exorcism of demons, which He interpreted as clear proof that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20; Matt. 8:16-17; Mark 1:32-34).
Using oath language, Jesus also made this dramatic and radical statement: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall you do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12 KJV).
So if we claim to believe in Jesus and are not doing the works He did, why shouldn’t we be considered in the ranks of the unbeliever? (The “greater works” will be covered next.)
What Scripture Says:
Jesus made this same radical demand of his first disciples when He called together the Twelve, and later the seventy, empowered them, and sent them out. As his representatives, they were to proclaim the same gospel of the kingdom and perform its same mighty works exactly as He had been doing. He “gave them authority” to:
- Preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
- Heal the sick.
- Raise the dead.
- Cleanse those who have leprosy.
- Drive out demons.
- (Matt. 10:1, 7-8; Luke 9:1-2, 6; 10:1-17)
Additionally, in his Great Commission, Jesus not only commissioned his first followers to “baptize” and “make disciples of all nations,” but He also commanded them (and us today) to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you to do” (emphasis mine, Matt. 28:19-20). Jesus’ “everything” certainly included the preaching of the kingdom and the performance of its miraculous, merciful, and fruit-producing works. But this understanding is in sharp contrast with the contemporary teaching that “witnessing” only involves telling the message of Christ and salvation. Practically speaking, the tendency of many scholars and pastors is to ignore, downplay, or try to explain away the full meaning of Jesus’ Great Commission.
Darrell Guder laments this great-omission tendency this way:
- In spite of Jesus’ admonition at the end of Matthew’s Gospel . . . to “teach the nations all that I have commanded you,” our reductionism with regard to Jesus’ concrete teaching . . . has been massive (Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, 195).
Lastly, and completing a scriptural “threefold witness” (see Matt. 18:16 from Duet. 19:15; 17:6; also 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28) are these two verses in 1 John:
- “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him [in Jesus]. Whoever claims to live in him [Jesus] must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:5-6).
“Walk as Jesus did” is an idiomatic expression that means “do what Jesus had been doing—i.e., the works of Jesus.
The bottom line here is this. While many of us profess faith in Jesus, we hesitate or simply do not want to do what He had and has plainly commanded them and us to do. Perhaps, the Great Commission is much greater than most of us have been led to believe. Dallas Willard poignantly bemoans that, most Christians “do not really understand what discipleship to him . . .is, and it [the Kingdom Among Us] therefore remains only a distant, if beautiful, ideal” (Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 291).
- What is true biblical Christianity?
- Do you find this offensive?
- Settling for a ‘lower calling?’
- Onto the greater works.
Doing Greater Works than Jesus:
Once again, and using oath language, Jesus made this dramatic and radical statement: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall you do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12 KJV emphasis mine).
Some think it’s arrogant or even blasphemous to expect or even think today that we can or even should be doing the same or greater works and miracles than Jesus did, even though we do have access to precisely the same power that Jesus used to do all his works. After all, what could be greater than dying on the cross for our sins?
What Scripture Says:
But Jesus is the one who made this statement—not us, not Paul or Peter, and not some pastor or radical right-winger. What’s more, this statement contains common and ordinary words used frequently in the New Testament and in those times:
- “Greater” = meizon (midé zone): larger (lit. or fig.), greater, more.
- “Works” = ergon (from ergo, to work): deed, doing, labor, work.
- Our working definition.
- Scriptural Support – OT.
- Scriptural Support – NT.
- Concluding thoughts.
Origin of Evil
The existence of evil in our world is and has been one of if not the strongest argument against the existence of God. For centuries, Jewish and Christian scholars, as well as those from other religions and even secular philosophers, have struggled with the so-called problem of evil.
Many feel that the existence of evil is incompatible with an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. Hence, theologians and philosophers alike have termed this conundrum the “awkward trilemma” or “inconsistent triad.” That is: 1) God is good and loves us, 2) God is all powerful, and 3) evil exists and its amount is staggering.
Ever since the emergence of monotheism—Jewish-Christian-Islamic tradition—scholars have wrestled with how to incorporate all three statements into one coherent concept of God. But as futurist, Robert B. Mellert notes, “attempts to accomplish this task” have always met “with questionable success” (Robert B. Mellert, “The Future of God,” The Futurist (October 1999): 31). Therefore, these scholars have tried everything they can think of to either distance God from evil or diminished one of the above three “triad” components. All of which, as we shall see, is highly problematic.
What Scripture Says:
Shockingly for some, Scripture, clearly and plainly, presents evil as part of God’s plan for this world. Moreover, it also teaches that God is the origin of evil.
- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1f) . . . .
- “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).
- Part of his original, pre-Fall, and “very good” creation was the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8).
- “In the middle of the garden” was evil, in the form of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9), as well as the opportunity to partake of it (Gen. 2:17), and the tempter himself, Satan (Gen. 3:1f).
- Moreover, God proclaims that “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD have do all these things. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it” (Isa. 45:7-8 KJV – italic mine).
- “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected . . . .” (1 Tim. 4:4).
This literal, biblical fact of the presence of evil in God’s original creation and his continuing acts of creating evil are the crucial points totally missed, ignored, or denied by almost every writer in a literature review conducted by John Noē, and in most, if not all, of the greater body of writings on this subject. Christian Overman provides an insightful and emblematic example as he insists on the following:
- “Things are not the way God originally made them to be. God’s good creation has been abused, misused, and warped. . . . the earth and all it contains has suffered since the day of the first sin. . . . These are the harsh realities of a fallen world.”
- (Overman, Assumptions That Affect Our Lives, 118.)
But evil and sin are two different things. And God is not the origin of sin. Big difference. Sorry to say, numerous theologians have come up with all sorts of other explanations.
- Noē’s Literature Review
- Side-stepping Solutions—Conservative
- Side-stepping Solutions—Liberal
- No Consensus
- The Purpose of Evil
Eternal Rewards and Punishment for Believers
For a believer in Christ, life on earth does not go unrewarded or unpunished. This is true both in this life and in the afterlife. Not only do a believer’s righteous acts (see Rev. 19: 8), here and now, bring rewards in this life, but perhaps even more and greater rewards in the afterlife and for all eternity. However, there is also punishment and loss that goes along with this. It’s termed “The Doctrine of Eternal Rewards and Punishment.” Over one hundred verses of Scripture address this postmortem reality.
WARNING: This topic point may not be a message some believers in Christ want to hear.
Rarely, if ever, is the doctrine of eternal rewards, loss, and punishments for believers taught or preached in most churches. Therefore, “there are countless ‘Christians’ who believe they have a ticket to heaven, and nothing else really matters” (Whistleblower magazine, April, 2005, 22).
So why is this biblical teaching rarely if ever taught? Here’s a short, recent, and true story from John Noē that might shed some light on this huge omission and problem.
The senior pastor’s sermon that Sunday was on the topic of “Universal Judgment.” Confidently, he assured the large congregation that “if they are believers in Jesus Christ, they have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about, concerning judgment, because Christ has taken care of it for us.”
In a follow-up conversation, I asked this pastor if he was familiar with the doctrine of eternal rewards, loss, and even punishment for believers in heaven. He said he wasn’t interested. I mentioned that many verses speak of this and I’d be happy to send them to him. He responded that there are many more verses that speak of God’s grace and love and of setting people free. He would focus on those and not the others, thank you.
No doubt, this pastor is both a victim as well as a perpetrator of a led-astray, dumbed-down, and off-target version of Christianity.
What Scripture Says:
Someday, each and every one of us—believers and unbelievers alike—will face, go into, and dwell forever in the postmortem experience. It’s the afterlife destiny of every person who has ever lived, is now living, or will live on planet Earth. Individually, everyone of us will “stand before God’s judgment seat . . . . [and] give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10b, 12b). For believers, there and then, we “receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Jesus further elaborated about this experience, thusly: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). No believer is exempt not even females, despite this use of masculine language. (Whether this is happening currently every day as people die [we think so] or is a future event yet to happen will not be addressed herein.)
Twice, and on the positive side, this encouraging tidbit also has been revealed. “However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9-10; from Isa. 64:4).
- Basis of your judgment
- How will you spend eternity
- Closing quotes
Book of Revelation
Three of the most perplexing questions with which we have wrestled for many years in the theological area known as eschatology (the study of last things) have been these:
- Why don’t most Christians know the pertinent truths and empowering realities the book of Revelation teaches?
- Why is there so much confusion, controversy, and conflict among Christians and churches over this book—which reveals Jesus Christ as He is today?
- Why can’t a typical, ordinary layperson study this prophecy and trust the Holy Spirit to guide him or her into its truths?
Real estate agents have a comical but serious saying. They insist that the three most important factors in selling a property are: “Location! Location! Location!” In a similar fashion, what do you think are the three most important factors or rules for properly understanding the meaning of any piece of literature, including the Bible? The answer is: “Context! Context! Context!”
Yet the #1 reason why most people, and for centuries and today as well, have misread, misunderstood, and mis-taught the prophecy of the book of Revelation is because they have failed to place it in its divinely determined context before they try to interpret and understand it. Consequently, they lift it out of its context, stretch it like a rubber band—1900 years and counting—plop it down out in the future, and create a pretext. A pretext allows the reader to make a text mean almost anything he or she desires. As a result the intended and true meaning is distorted and missed. Conflict and confusion then prevail between different views. And readers don’t receive this book’s wisdom nor promised blessings.
What Scripture Says:
The book of Revelation contextualizes itself. Therefore, by recognizing and honoring the divinely determined time and nature context this book of prophecy places upon itself, we can be better assured of grasping its true message and meaning and unlocking its wisdom and promised blessings, here and now. To do this, we must arrive at a proper understanding of these five foundational questions:
- How do we handle its strange imagery?
- When was it most likely written?
- How do we handle its time statements?
- When was or will it be fulfilled?
- What is its relevance for us today?
Your worldview is a paradigm. The word paradigm comes from the Greek pardeigma (para, side by side + deiknynai, to show, point out). A paradigm is a model, a pattern, a frame of reference, or simply a way of thinking for understanding and interpreting external reality. It’s the way we “see” the world, not visually but by perception. It is the mental framework by which we construe reality, process information, make decisions, and determine actions. For individuals, it brings order and meaning to our experiences. It’s also at the very heart of any culture.
In practice, a person may not live what he or she professes, but that person will always live in accordance with his or her paradigm. In other words, we live out what we truly believe and think. Consequently, when our paradigm shifts, many things will change.
Jesus’ paradigm or worldview was the kingdom of God. What’s your worldview? That’s why the kingdom was his central teaching and at the heart of his ministry. He also commanded his followers to “seek first the kingdom and his righteousness (justice)” (Matt. 6:33). What are you seeking, first?
Today’s sad reality is the kingdom of God is no longer the worldview of most of Christ’s church, its central teaching, nor at the heart of its ministry. What has happened? What has changed?
What Scripture Says:
Below are five foundational verses that, in our opinion, should significantly inform our worldview if we truly want to be true to Scripture. The proper understanding of and obedience to these five verses will also cause our worldview to radically depart from the current worldview of most of Christ’s Church. What do you think?
1“I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted/delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
The construction “once for all” here means exactly the same as it means in Romans 6:10 when applied to Jesus’ death; in Hebrews 9:12 with Jesus entering the Most Holy Place to pour out his blood; in Hebrews 9:26 with Jesus’ appearance and sacrifice of Himself; in Hebrews 10:10 with us being made holy by the sacrifice of his body; and in 1 Peter 3:18 with Christ dying for our sins. All these are part of that “once-for-all-delivered” faith. And all four are totally done deals. That means, no more remains to be done or delivered. But most of the Church today is contending for a faith that was only partially delivered. Thus, they are waiting for Jesus to come back some day and finish the job. (See again “Two Creations”, “Last Days”, “Second Coming”, “Rapture”, “Book of Revelation”, “Battle of Armageddon”, “End-Time Views”)
2“‘The time is fulfilled,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
This was the fulfillment of Daniel’s time-restricted prophecies for the coming of the everlasting kingdom (Dan. 2:44 and 7:14, 18, 22, 27). No other kingdom or form of this kingdom is promise or prophesied in Scripture. But most of Christ’s Church is still looking for Jesus to come back and either establish his kingdom or consummate the one he supposedly only initiated. (See again “Kingdom of God”, “The Gospel”.)
3“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12 KJV).
Most of Christ’s Church today is in functional avoidance, if not doctrinal denial, of this verse. (See again ”Works of Jesus”, ”Greater Works”)
4“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10)
Most of Christ’s Church today is in functional avoidance, if not doctrinal denial, of this verse, as well. The preferred avoidance tactic is to futurize it—“Oh, someday we will, after Christ returns and removes all evil.” But then what would be left to reign and rule over? (See again ”Kingdom of God”, ”Book of Revelation”, “Works of Jesus”, “Greater Works”)
5“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15b)
It’s the message of 7th trumpet and part of the Handel’s “Messiah” with its famous “Hallelujah Chorus.” But do we believe this? No! We futurize it, too. (See again “Kingdom of God” and “Book of Revelation”)
What a big difference this totally biblical and further reformed worldview would make for how Christianity is preached, practiced, and perceived—and received. What do you think?
- Kingdom Edited Out.
- “We are living in the ‘last days!’”
- “These are the end times!”
- “Soon it will be all over!”
- “Jesus is coming back!”
- “We’re leaving this world!”
If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard this a thousand times. And it never happens. Since the 1970s—the heyday of Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth—this end-times-gospel has been everywhere it seems. For John Noē, this was not good news. “I remember thinking at the time, oh, no! I had just become a Christian. The business my wife and I started five years ago was starting to make money. Our two children were attending grade school. I wanted to see them grow up. I didn’t want everything to end, at least not yet.”
“As a new Christian, I was also being told and taught to read and study my Bible. That’s when another strange thing started happening. Verses began popping out, like these two verses from the New Testament book of Hebrews 1:1-2. ‘In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.’”
“So I started asking more questions of those I deemed to be in the know like . . . “Doesn’t the writer of Hebrews state here that the biblical timeframe known as the ‘last days’ was taking place, back then and there—i.e. during the earthly ministry of Jesus and during the time this writer was writing? And if that is true, how can we possibly say that we are now living in the ‘last days?’
“Well, we just are! Look around,’ I was bluntly informed. ‘It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. Just look at the moral decay in society and world events—especially those in Israel. How could anyone come up with any other conclusion? Everybody knows we are living in the ‘last days.’ Or are we?”
What Scripture Says:
Every New Testament reference to the “last days” or to equivalent terms such as “last times” or “last hour,” confirms the same thing. And history records that circa A.D. 70, exactly forty years after Jesus’ most dramatic end-time prophesy on the Mount of Olives and within the time of one biblical generation that He placed upon its fulfillment, Roman armies led by Titus destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. This was the same Temple that was standing when Jesus foretold its destruction¾not some third (or fourth), rebuilt temple centuries removed.
Make no mistake Jesus was no false or fallible prophet. He was the greatest Prophet of all. And even though many may have dealt loosely, if not treacherously, with Jesus’ words, He set a definite time limit for the “last days.” These “last days” and end times were not a 19-centuries-and-counting extended period. Without exception, they literally refer to that 1st-century timeframe in which the New Testament writers were living, there and then. Hebrews 1:1-2 clearly and firmly affixes Jesus’ earthly ministry, as well as the time in which the writer of Hebrews was writing, to the historic and biblical time period termed the “last days.”
- Jesus’ most dramatic prophecy.
- Confusion abounds.
- Five side-stepping devices.
- More startling nearness statements
- The ‘whole world’ objection.
- What the critics charge.
Ask a committed, evangelical Christian what the gospel is and most will respond that it’s the good news of “the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus” (Michael Horton, “The Good God Who Came Down,” Christianity Today, December 2011, 28). He or she might also add that if you believe this gospel and in Him, then when you die you will go to heaven and not hell. Thus, the gospel is all about “our redemption in Jesus Christ” (Ibid., 29).
This was not the gospel Jesus came proclaiming. Jesus did not come into Galilee preaching Jesus or that He was going to die so that when you die you could go to heaven. Nor was Jesus asking people the question Evangelism Explosion has made so popular for several decades—“If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go—heaven or hell?” Fact is, the gospel Jesus preached had absolutely nothing to do with redemption and his dying and going to heaven so that when we die we can go to heaven—until approximately the three-year point in his 3 ½-year ministry.
What Scripture Says
For the first three years Jesus’ gospel was all about the kingdom of God on earth, in this life, and as a there-and-then present reality (Mark 1:14-15). And as we have seen, this gospel of the kingdom was also his central teaching, at the heart of his ministry, his worldview, and the very essence of New Testament Christianity. This gospel dealt with the ethical question ‘How then should we live?’ Today, this gospel of the kingdom is no longer the central teaching of most of his Church, at the heart of its ministry, its worldview, or its very essence. Red flag! What has happened? What has changed? Yes, we do have a problem here, Houston!
It was only at the approximate three-year point in his earthly ministry that Jesus began teaching about his upcoming death and what that would mean—“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matt. 16:21).
- Gospel reductionism.
- Steadfast resistance.
- Dysfunctional Christianity ripe for reform.
- Redefining the gospel.
The Kingdom of God:
Next to the Person of Christ, the kingdom of God is the most important and all-encompassing concept of Scripture. So much is contained within it. Fact is, get the kingdom of God straight and many other, vital, and interrelated realities of the Christian faith readily fall into place. Miss it, even slightly, and you’re liable to be way off on these many other aspects. That is how pivotal the kingdom of God is.
The kingdom of God was the central teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, at the heart of his earthly ministry, and central to his worldview and that of his first followers—the New Testament writers and the early Church. It was the very essence of 1st-century Christianity. But today, the kingdom is no longer the central teaching of most of his Church, at the heart of its ministry, nor its worldview or very essence. RED FLAG! What has happened? What has changed?
Once again, Dr. Billy Graham aptly demonstrates this omission deficiency in his syndicated newspaper column addressing the question of why we Christians “Celebrate Christ’s birth:”
- Yes, Christmas should be a time of celebration—the celebration of the coming of God’s son into the world for our salvation. . . . He came as a baby, but he grew up to become God’s appointed sacrifice for our sins by his death on the cross. And because he rose from the dead we have hope now and for eternity.
- (Billy Graham, “My Answer,” The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, IN), 3 December 2011, E-4)
Of course, what Dr. Graham writes is true. But notice that he makes no mention of the kingdom. The kingdom has been edited out. Therefore, his statement is only partially true. And as Christian Overman writes, “The most effective lies are those which come as close to the truth as possible. That’s no lie” (Christian Overman, Assumptions That Affect Our Lives (Bellevue, WA.: Ablaze Publishing Co., 1986, 1996, 2006), 95).
The most blatant example of Dr. Graham’s kingdom-deficient worldview and theological bias, however, comes from his column in today’s paper (as I write). I quote his sentence exactly and fully:
- In his first sermon, Jesus declared, “The time has come. . . . Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). (Billy Graham, “My Answer,” The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, IN), 26 December 2011, E-4.)
Here the kingdom of God is literally edited out by a three-dot ellipsis. Mark 1:15 actually reads in the NIV, “‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
What Scripture Says:
At the very start of his earthly ministry, “Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time is fulfilled [has come] . . . the kingdom of God is at hand . . . .’” (Mark 1:14-15 KJV [NIV]). What “time” (kairos meaning “set,” “proper time,” or “season”) was Jesus talking about that He claimed was “fulfilled?” Many Bible scholars maintain that “it is impossible to know the time.” Consequently, they wrestle with the tension of the kingdom being both present and future, and insist that the “time of apocalyptic consummation remains in the future.” Or does it?
- When would the everlasting kingdom come?
- How we lost Jesus’ kingdom—so what?
- False kingdom views in the Church today.
- Not postponed.
- Not ‘already / not yet.’
- Not just initiated or inaugurated.
- How long would Jesus’ kingdom last?
- What truly is the kingdom?
Every week in churches all around the world multiple millions sit snug in their pews believing that when they die they will go to heaven to spend an eternity of bliss with God because they are born again and saved. Meanwhile, the vast majority of humankind—untold billions of others—will go down into the flames of hell after they die because they have not believed in Jesus, repented and been forgiven for their sins, and are not Christians. In hell they will suffer awful, painful, and conscious punishment and torment, forever and ever, with no hope or chance of escape.
Hell is also a huge problem for a lot of people, Christians included. Its horrible and haunting concept has thoroughly permeated and embedded itself in almost all areas and aspects of our society. Nobody is immune. Fact is, this traditional belief and afterlife curse is so ingrained in the collective consciousness of society that it is now variously and negatively termed:
- “One of Christianity’s most offensive doctrines.”
- “The ultimately intolerant doctrine.”
- “Invented by church leaders to ‘keep the people in line.’”
- “Theology’s H-word, a subject too trite for serious scholarship.”
- “It’s like capital punishment for a traffic violation.”
- “There is no good news if there is no bad news.”
But is there really an afterlife place and reality of eternal conscious punishment and torment called “hell?”
What Scripture Says:
Nowadays, the Bible is considered the primary source of “hell” proclamations, denunciations, and slang phrases. And most Bible scholars confidently assure us that “hell is vividly described in the pages of the New Testament.” But do you know what the Bible actually says or literally mentions about “hell”?
The correct answer: NOTHING! ZERO!
What’s going on? Do you see a problem here?
- You’ve Gotta Be Kidding . . .Right?
- How many Americans believe in hell?
- What does the Bible actually say about hell?
- What did Jesus actually say about hell?
- Where did hell come from?
- The greater issue.
- The ‘all’ controversy.
- Thinking outside the box—like God.
- The twelve demands of Scripture.
- The synthesis solution.
Divine Perfection in Two Creations:
The God of the Bible is the God of order and design. Everything He created He did so with a plan, purpose, timeframe, and mathematical precision. For those who have eyes to see, his guiding hand is evident in every part of his two creations—from macro to micro, the largest to the smallest. This attribute of God has been called the stamp or fingerprint of divinity. We chose to call it simply divine perfection.
The different creations spoken of in the Bible are: 1) the physical creation; 2) the redemptive creation (Isa. 51:15-16 KJV). The first is composed of atoms and molecules. The second is comprised of covenants. Both dramatically manifest divine perfection. Unfortunately, most Christians and their churches deny this attribute of divine perfection in the redemptive creation. They claim that God’s “appointed time of the end” has been “delayed.” Critics claim it has proved “false.” But who should we believe—God and his divinely inspired Word or uninspired Christians?
What Scripture Says:
Seven hundred years before Christ, the God of the Bible inspired the ancient prophet Habakkuk to write: “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Hab. 2:3). One century later, God gave another Hebrew prophet, Daniel, the two most spectacular and explicit time prophecies ever given to humankind. Like bookends, these two prophetic time periods pinpointed and bracketed the exact time in human history for the coming of the Messiah to earth and Habakkuk’s “appointed time . . . of the end.” It all happened, right on time, certainly came, and came with a plan, purpose, timeframe, and mathematical precision. That’s divine perfection!
- Why the world will never end.
- How the perfect ending for the world came right on time.
- Three different entities called “heaven and earth.”
- Divine perfection in God’s end-time plan.
- A ‘new’ paradigm of thought and faith.
- Our greater responsibilities herein.
- Why the future is bright and promising.
- The basis for the next reformation of Christianity.