Friday, May 26, 2017

Understanding Prophecy IV

Understanding the historical context is valuable in understanding any subject.  Fortunately, the historical contest is usually a part of the story in he scriptures, making it relatively easy to learn.  Because prophecy so often reaches beyond the immediate time, frequently the historical context is less obvious.  Perhaps more than any other subject in the Bible, understanding prophecy depends on an understanding of history that had not yet happened when the prophecies were made.  

 First, it gives us a way of verifying that the prophecies actually came from God, because as Deuteronony 18:22 tells us, “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.”  Quite simply, if the prophecies have not been or are not being fulfilled, the person is a false prophet, and we should not pay attention to them.  Secondly, if the prophecy is not yet complete, an understanding of the history can help us understand where we are in the prophecy and give a better understanding of what future events are described.   Daniel 11 provides several examples.

Daniel starts the chapter by describing the time when he received the prophecy in Daniel 11:1.  “Also I in the first year of Darius the Mede, even I, stood to confirm and to strengthen him.”  About 500 BC, the medo Persian Empire conquered Babylon and Darius the Mede ruled the part of the Empire where Babylon was located. 

Daniel 11:2 continues, “And now will I show thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia.”

About seven years later, Darius died and Cyrus the Persian took over, giving the command for Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.   The Empire became known just as the Persian Empire.  Cyrus was the first of the Persian emperors.  He would be followed by Cambyses, using the title Ahaseurus or King of Kings.  When Cambyses was Killed, Darius the Persian became emperor.  Late in life he made his son Xerxes his co regent, but Xerxes was killed shortly before Darius’ death and never became emperor,  When Darius died, Xerxes’ son Artaxerxes became Emperor.  He was rich and powerful and toward the end of his reign, there became a lot of conflict with the expanding Greek power.   The Persian Empire began to collapse shortly after his death, with various Greek forces taking over. 

“And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.  And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven; and not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion which he ruled: for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others beside those.” (Daniel 11:3-4)

Philip of Macedon was able to unite the various Greek city statesinto a single Empire, and His son, alexander the Great then conquered the rest of the Persian Empire.  Alexander died in 320 BC, and his kingdom was split between his four generals, with Ptolemy taking the southern kingdom which included Egypt, the Arab Peninsula, Ethiopia and Libya. 

“And in the end of years they shall join themselves together; for the king's daughter of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement: but she shall not retain the power of the arm; neither shall he stand, nor his arm: but she shall be given up, and they that brought her, and he that begat her, and he that strengthened her in these times.” (Daniel 11:6)

Later, under the Roman Empire, the Greek empire would be reunited.  Cleopatra, the last of Ptolemy’s descendants would make a treaty with Rome but later be executed by the Roman army.  The Roman Empire became extremely powerful and lasted until 476 AD. 

“But out of a branch of her roots shall one stand up in his estate, which shall come with an army, and shall enter into the fortress of the king of the north, and shall deal against them, and shall prevail: And shall also carry captives into Egypt their gods, with their princes, and with their precious vessels of silver and of gold; and he shall continue more years than the king of the north. So the king of the south shall come into his kingdom, and shall return into his own land.” (Daniel 11:7-9)

About 610 AD, Mohammed started the Muslim religion,  in the Arab Peninsula, a part of the old southern kingdom.  Islam would eventually spread throughout much of the old Roman Empire reaching as far north as Southern Russian and Austria.  World War I finally finished their control, with various European nations dividing up their lands and driving the leadership back to their original homelands.  .  They had been a world power for almost thirteen hundred years, far longer than the Roman or Greek empires. 

“But his sons shall be stirred up, and shall assemble a multitude of great forces: and one shall certainly come, and overflow, and pass through: then shall he return, and be stirred up, even to his fortress.  And the king of the south shall be moved with choler, and shall come forth and fight with him, even with the king of the north: and he shall set forth a great multitude; but the multitude shall be given into his hand.  And when he hath taken away the multitude, his heart shall be lifted up; and he shall cast down many ten thousands: but he shall not be strengthened by it.” (Daniel 11:10-12)

Today we again see the Islamic forces expanding, trying to gain world domination,  especially trying to establish a presence in northern Europe and Asia.  Clearly, Daniel’s prophecies have been fulfilled to this point, which means we need to take them seriously.  Knowing the history also helps us to understand who the players will be in the future, even though they didn’t exist in Daniel’s day.  Without a knowledge of history, it would be nearly impossible to understand Daniel’s prophecies.  Many of the conflicts over prophecy have arisen because the history has been ignored.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Understanding Prophecy III

One of the most polarizing doctrines in prophecy is that of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.  Like other doctrinal disagreements, the conflict arises as a result of a failure to use basic Bible study procedures.  The Pre-Trib position is that the Antichrist cannot assume power until the Holy Spirit is taken out of the world.   Since the Holy Spirit is in every Christian, that means the Christians must be raptured out before the Tribulation can start.   They use II Thessalonians 2:6-7 to prove their point, insisting it refers to the Holy Spirit.  “And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.”  This has led to many believing that no one will be saved during the Tribulation, while others realizing that Revelation 7:14 spoke of people being saved during it have concluded that they are saved  during that period in a special way that does not require the Holy Spirit’s working. 

Unfortunately the interpretation of II Thessalonians 2:6-7 as referring to the Holy spirit overlooks the principle in II Peter 1:20, “…that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation,” that no scripture can be  interpreted by itself, but must be compared to other scriptures.  In nearly fifty years of study, I have not found any other scriptures that support the idea that it is Holy Spirit who restrains Satan from taking over the world.  Instead, I found that Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:21, Daniel 12:1, and Revelation 12:7 indicate that it is Michael, the archangel who stands against and restrains Satan.  This leaves the Pre-Trib position without scriptural basis, but does not prove it is wrong. 

In order to see if it is true or not we will start by reading II Thessalonians 2:1-10 more carefully.  “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.  Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.  For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.  And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

II Thessalonians 2:1-5 clearly states that the Christians will not be gathered together with Christ, or Raptured, until after the Antichrist is revealed.  While the Tribulation will last 7 years, Daniel 11:15-21 indicates the Antichrist will not come to power until about three and a half years into it.  Revelation 13:4-5 tells us the Antichrist will only be in power three and a half years.   “And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?  And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.”  Other passages refer to his reign as lasting a time, times and half a time, or one thousand two hundred ninety days.  This would make it impossible for the rapture to come before the Tribulation starts. 

This fits exactly with what Jesus said in Matthew 24:29-31.  “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  Revelation 14 indicates a similar picture with the rapture occurring somewhat later, and the sequence of events described in Revelation 19 paints a similar picture.   

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Understanding Prophecy II

One of the biggest problems in understanding prophecy is that so many do not apply the basic principles for understanding scriptures.  For example, different ones have referred to different signs such as the alignment of certain planets or the so called blood moons as signs of the Lord’s return.  Still others have focused on various wars such as World War I or World War II, or the rebuilding of Israel and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.  By just taking time to read a passage completely and keep it in context many of those problems can be eliminated.  Matthew 24:3-8 provides a valuable example. 

“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.  For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.  And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.”

Jesus said we were not to consider these kinds of events as signs of the imminent return of Christ, because they are natural outcomes of the present world and the way it works.  For example, like solar eclipses, the alignments of the planets or the blood moons occur periodically as a result of the orbits of the moon and various planets, and have no special significance.  Claiming they are some special sign is little different that reading the horoscope or practicing astrology. 

Similarly, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and climatic changes such as droughts or climate change result from natural events such as the shifting of the tectonic plates or a slight wobble the earth’s rotation as a result of those tectonic shifts.  Geological evidence shows these changes have occurr3ed periodically since the beginning of time and have no special meaning.  Wars and conflicts are the result of man’s sinful nature, and serve only to remind us that mankind is inherently sinful. 

Jesus said Christians should not allow themselves to be upset by false teachers claiming such events are signs of the end of the world or of the Lord’s return.  They are just a reminder that we live in an imperfect world.  Unfortunately the proponents of global warming are little different than many prophecy teachers, ignoring the science and historical records in an effort to stir people up to accomplish their agenda.  In II Thessalonians 2:1-2 Paul warns against falling for such teaching, regardless who is promoting it.  “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,  That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.”  Simply taking time to read what the prophecies say can save a vast amount of confusion and concern.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Understanding Prophecy

One area of scripture that leads to a lot of controversy is prophecy.  Some believe God finished the prophecies with the completion of the Bible, while others believe it is an ongoing gift in the church.  With new prophecies given daily.   Some have devoted their entire ministry, arriving at widely divergent interpretations of what the prophecies mean.  As a result, some have concluded that the study of prophecy is a waste of time because it is impossible to understand.   Others say these things are not relevant to us today. 

II Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”   A great deal of scripture is comprised of prophecy, so obviously, those who refuse to study it are missing out on things they need to know in order to be fully equipped to please God.     In I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul makes it clear that an understanding of some prophecy is the basis for our hope for eternity. 

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” 

Without an understanding of the Lord’s return, there is no reason to continue to as a Christian.  All hope effectively ended when Christ died on the cross if the prophecies are to be ignored.  Our faith is based on the premise that he will fulfill those prophecies about his return.   Clearly, a proper understanding of those prophecies is crucial for us to develop a proper spiritual relationship with God.   A ministry which does not teach people about the prophecies cannot fulfill the great commission, because they are not teaching everything Christ has taught us.   At the same time, a ministry which focuses solely on prophecy cannot equip people for day to day service of God because not all scripture is focused on the future.   

The first step in understanding prophecy is to understand the biblical meaning of the word.  Our English word specifically implies foretelling the future by some means, and this is meaning most people associate with prophecy.  The biblical word refers to telling people what God has said, and does not necessarily refer to foretelling the future.  In Deuteronomy 18:18-22 God gave some very specific  guidelines about prophets. 

“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.   And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.  But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.

And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?  When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. “ 

The prophet was to speak only what God had said.  He was not to change it or tell them what he thought, and the people were to take his words as being from God.  A prophet who spoke in the name of other gods or made a prophecy which did not come from god was to be killed as a false prophet.  They would know whether the message was truly from God or not by  watching to see whether the prophecies were fulfilled.  This principle is still in effect. 

The study of prophecy requires the same efforts as the study of any other passage of scripture, including a proper understanding of the words, the grammar, and comparison to other scriptures.  In addition it requires a study of the history to see whether some of the prophesied events have taken place in the past.  This gives us another way of checking our understanding of the prophecies.   If we take the time to apply those principles we can be sure of our understanding of the prophecies.    In future posts we will see how these principles affect our understanding.   

Monday, May 22, 2017

Studying The Scriptures VII

Many today believe that the old Testament is irrelevant to modern Christians.   This is directly contradicted by II Timothy 2:16-7.  “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”   Paul says it is all relevant.  

In I Corinthians 10:6-11, he tells us, “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.  Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.  Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.  Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.  Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.  Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.  Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”  Even the most obscure passages warn of the consequences of ignoring God’s plan, in hopes of preventing our experiencing the same consequences.

Many believe that the old Testament law is completely obsolete, quoting  verses like Romans 10:4 to support their claims.  “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”   Jesus himself said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven,” in Matthew 5:17-19.   While those who believe are no longer under the Law, it is still in effect for the unsaved world.    While it cannot save them, understanding it’s provisions makes people aware of their need of salvation, according to romans 3:20.  “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

Those who ignore that law, or teach others to ignore it will lose any rewards they might otherwise earn, although they will not lose their salvation, according to I Corinthians 3:13-15.  “Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.  If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

Each book and story in the Bible was specifically directed by god to teach us certain things in order to prepare us to serve him in a proper fashion.    The first few chapters of Genesis tell us who God is, how he created the world, and how man began to rebel against him, choosing to follow Satan instead.   God is a just God who cannot overlook such rebellion, and the remainder to Genesis and Exodus illustrate his love and mercy, providing a way to be freed from the consequences of sin.   Hebrews than uses those illustrations to enable us to understand what eternal salvation requires.  The historical books show us the rewards for serving God, and the punishment for ignoring him.  Leviticus helps us understand the moral standard and attitudes God expects from his people.   Proverbs provides a series of short, easily remembered guidelines for having the best life possible here on earth.  Romans explains the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, while I Corinthians demonstrates what it means to walk in the Spirit.  I and II Timothy and Titus explain what is required in ministry, while Revelation and the various prophets warn of what we can expect in the future.    The overlapping teachings of the various books enable us to verify our understanding of the different teachings. 

Clearly, it will be necessary to study all the scriptures if we are to be fully prepared to serve God acceptably.  We must not limit ourselves to a few subjects or passages we consider more important.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Studying The Scriptures VI

John 5:39 commands, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”  Thanks to the Holy Spirit’s working in us, as Christians, I Corinthians 2:16 tells us, “… But we have the mind of Christ.”  As a result, a careful and conscientious study of the scriptures has a tremendous impact on us.  II Corinthians 3:18 tells us, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Literally, the more carefully and thoroughly we study the scriptures, getting to know God and Christ, the more like Christ we will become.    The one condition is that we approach our study with an open face, laying aside our traditions and preconceived ideas about them so that we can get to know the real beings.  If we hold to those old ideas and traditions, we may never get to really know either God or Christ.

A girl has been raised by an abusive father or has been constantly told that all men care about is sex may never understand how much her husband loves her because she filters everything he says or does through those filters.  In the same way a person who has been taught that God makes unreasonable  demands on people may have trouble accepting or sharing his love and become very rigid and judgmental, demanding everyone meets their standards of behavior, not understanding that “… where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” as II Corinthians 3:17 tells us.   Similarly, a person who has been taught that the Old Testament standards of morality no longer apply may have trouble understanding that He is also a God of wrath and judgment who will not ignore sin.  As a result they find it hard to take a stand against sin or hold people accountable.   In both situations, the people are allowing their carnal understanding about God to distort their view of him, hampering their spiritual development.    I

To gain maximum benefit from our studies, it will be essential to examine everything we have been taught in the light of the scriptures and eliminate any doctrine or belief that does not match the scriptures.  Most people find this difficult because so many of those incorrect beliefs have been held so long they no longer think about them, simply assuming they are true because they trust the people who told them.   Unfortunately, even honest and sincere people can be wrong.   We need to be willing to change when we find out something is not right.      

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Studying The Scriptures V

We have looked at the importance of studying the scriptures, of taking the time to read in context, to check out the punctuation, of word meanings and grammar just as one would any other book.  We also stressed the importance of comparing passages to make sure we are not distorting or perverting what they say.  All of these are vital, if we are to understand the scriptures, but there is one very important factor than needs to be considered. 

I Corinthians 2:14 tells us, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  The natural, unsaved person has a limited capacity for understanding spiritual things.  It is like trying to explain the workings of a modern sawmill or power plant to someone who has never seen one.  No matter how carefully it is explained or how accurately, they will not fully understand until they see it in operation.  Similarly, no matter how carefully one studies or tries to explain the scriptures, the lack of understanding of how god works will limit the person’s ability to understand them, regardless how much we try to dumb down a new translation, a commentary or series of lessons, and frequently such efforts lose much of the meaning .

Fortunately, when a person receives Christ as savior, he also receives the Holy Spirit, who is able to give him the understanding he needs, as I Corinthians 2:11-13 tells us.  “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” 

His presence does not reduce the need to read and study toe scriptures, but he makes us able to study effectively, understanding what the scriptures tell us.  In John 14:26, Jesus said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”  All teaching is based on the things a person has learned previously.  The Holy Spirit causes us to remember the things we have studied, even before we were saved, to help us understand new things about God’s word. 

In fact, John 16:13 tells us, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth…”    As a result, I John 2:27 tells us, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”  With the Holy Spirit to teach us, we will not need a lot of other materials or teachers to help understand the scriptures.   We can depend o the Holy Spirit to teach us, and to show us when something we read or hear is not right.