False Prophets, Figs and Faithfulness

blood-moons

We’re a curious species. And as the saying goes, “Curiosity killed the cat.” I’m not saying that it’s bad to learn. God gave us these wonderful minds and we commit sacrilege when we discourage honest inquiry into reality. God also gave us boundaries such as the inability to see the future or to know for certain what happens after death. Scripture condemns the aspiration to transcend these boundaries as divination.

“But what about prophecy?” you say. Yes, God does speak through the prophets but there is a difference between information that God gladly gives us and that which we attempt to take. Prophecy seems to come in two forms: First, there is often very clear instruction about how to react to something yet to come in the immediate future for a specific group or individual. Second, there is vague, general information about that which God will do in the distant future as with the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament or with Revelation. God does things this way because he knows how dangerous our divine pretensions can be and how we crave to know all that is yet to come.

Jesus’ own disciples revealed their vain curiosity on the Mount of Olives near the end of Christ’s ministry. In Matthew 24:1-2, Jesus gave them a peek at what was to come a few short decades into the future, that the temple would be demolished. The disciples immediately rushed toward this cracked door, hoping for full disclosure, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age.” (Matt. 24:3b).

Christ’s words in response to them command our consideration as well, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Matt. 24:4) Jesus knew that our speculative urge can easily be turned toward Satan’s purposes. For evidence of the blinding nature of speculation, one need look no farther than most commentaries on Matthew 24 itself. It seems that almost everyone looks at this passage as a foretelling of what will be at the end of time. Yet, Christ didn’t respond to the disciples’ probing with, “Okay, okay, since you guys asked.” Instead, he said, “Watch out!”

As Christ prepares to leave his disciples to engage a spiritually diseased world, he gives them an inoculation against speculation. Here on the eve of the fourth blood moon in this most recent tetrad, with BSF for the first time ever venturing into Revelation and the secular media replete with post-apocalyptic movies, I’d like to offer the church Christ’s prescription:

  1. A lot of people will buy the devil’s lies. It doesn’t mean they are true. vs. 5
  2. World events are neither predictive nor insignificant. Like birth pains, they declare, “It’s getting closer!” vs. 6-8
  3. The time between Christ’s first coming and second coming will be filled with persecution, apostasy, false religion, ever growing wickedness, and the worldwide proclamation of the gospel through the church. vs. 9-14
  4. The destruction of the temple will have no eschatological significance. So, don’t buy in to the end times hysteria which will immediately follow that event. vs. 15-25
  5. There will be no secret return of Christ. When he comes back, his presence will fill the sky like lightning and every eye will see him. The heavens will declare his coming and a loud trumpet will herald his approach. Both his enemies and his friends will know he has come again. His friends will be gathered to him at that time. vs. 26-31 (Rev. 1:7)
  6. The first coming of Christ has begun the last days. People often stumble over vs. 34 here but its always best to let scripture interpret scripture. Jesus said, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.” What could that mean? We’re either left with somehow coming up with a secret return of Christ within the lifetime of those standing with him which was just precluded or we look for another understanding. First of all remember Christ’s purpose with these teachings, to safeguard his disciples from speculation. If Christ was giving a 50 year window for his return, then he would have been defeating his very purpose. So, what could he have meant? I believe the answer can be found in the verse which follows directly after, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” We are all the generation under Christ by his words. He has no successor nor is there any mediator between us and him. In these words, Christ has precluded every Mohammed, Joseph Smith or David Koresh. This meaning fulfills his purpose and fits the immediate context.
  7. Anyone who says with any certainty or specificity when the end will be is a liar. If Jesus didn’t know, then William Miller didn’t know and Harold Camping doesn’t know. Our job is to live today like Christ will return today. Period. Exclamation point! vs. 36-51

Hell? No!

I’ve had several conversations with atheists and agnostics regarding the existence of the God of the Bible. After all is said and very little done, their objections almost always come down to disbelief in a character who would create moral beings knowing they would sin and then cause them to suffer eternally for sinning. They say something like, “If such a being exists, he doesn’t deserve my allegiance let alone my love.” I have to admit they have a point.

That being said, I am a believer in the God of the Bible.  I will never apologize for the Being presented within the pages of Scripture.  I will in no way minimize his severity or avoid a discussion of his judgments.  I’m “all in” with God as revealed in holy writ.  Any other god does not deserve my allegiance let alone my love.

So, what are we to do with the doctrine of Hell?  Many Christian thinkers have struggled with this question.  C.S. Lewis expressed in his book, The Great Divorce, the belief that those in Hell lived in an environment which reflected the misery of their choosing and could at any time choose Heaven.  More recently Rob Bell mused in Love Wins that it’s likely that every created being will at some point accept the supremacy of Christ and be welcomed into the kingdom of God.  I understand the motivation behind these ideas but scriptural support for them is thin at best.  We mustn’t allow our personal disdain for a doctrine to push us into forging new ones.  For this reason, I disagree with these two men whom I otherwise respect.  The Bible teaches that Hell is a real place prepared for Satan and his angels and that those who fall under God’s wrath will be sent there as final judgment.  I do not, however, believe that God will cause anyone to suffer eternally.  I am under this conviction because that’s what I understand the Bible to teach.

In Matthew 10:28, after predicting that his followers would suffer persecution to the point of execution, he cautions, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Emphasis mine NAW)  The word translated, “hell” is gehenna which referred to the Hinnom Valley just outside of Jerusalem.  Gehenna was used as a garbage dump where trash was burned.  Jesus warned that God was not only able to destroy the body but also the soul in his celestial garbage dump, Hell.  Hell is not a place of eternal torture but an incinerator for the destruction of sin-spoiled souls.

Someone might protest, “But what about all those places in the New Testament which describe Hell as eternal?”  Good question.  Let’s look at a case in point.  Mark 9:47-48 says,

 “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’” (NIV 2011)

When he said this, Jesus was partially quoting Isaiah 66:22-24 –

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure.  From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord.  “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (NIV 2011)

So let me ask the question: Is this passage describing conscious people eternally suffering?

Jesus will return to judge all people who’ve ever lived.  Some will live forever in a new heavens and new earth.  Others will be cast into Hell where they will be completely destroyed as the Bible teaches.  So, pertaining to God’s justice, has he not the right to destroy what he has created?

I have much more I could say about this doctrine and what the Bible says about it it but I’ve got other things to do right now.  Maybe later.  For an exhaustive treatment of this topic, I suggest reading The Fire that Consumes by Edward Fudge.