The end-times has for centuries captured the attention of most believers in Christ. Many have taken it upon themselves to decipher the mysterious writings of the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation and the stark and troublesome prophecy delivered to the saints by Jesus that is recorded in Matthew 24. Most of those, throughout time, who have sought to explain the end-times to the rest of us laymen have done so through the lens of their respective denominations. Consequently, there are dozens of variations on the theme of end-times. Despite 30,000 plus Christian denominations in existence today, we all still tend to read from the same Bible with only slight variations in translation. Yet for whatever reason we manage to not agree on what is going to happen in the end times. Indeed, there must, by sheer commonsense and necessity, be only one true-version of the end times. It must by necessity be the same version that was revealed to the Master by the Father; the apostles John and Paul as revealed by Jesus Christ; and the prophets of the old covenant (i.e., Old Testament) as revealed through the Holy Spirit. Is it then possible to nail down what exactly is going to happen in the end times, simply by utilizing effective Bible study techniques, the revelation of the Holy Spirit, an open and receptive heart and mind, and an ounce of good ole commonsense? I say it is possible and am willing to take the plunge. Are you game? If so, then let us engage in a crucial conversation about the end times. This is It’s Not As You Perceive–Episode 42–The Rapture–The Christian versus Servant Perspective on End Times–Part 1 in a Series.
Greetings one and all–I’m Rod Thomas and welcome to another episode of It’s Not As You Perceive–the podcast and blog ministry of Qumran Family Church. The purpose of this ministry and its posts is to encourage you in righteous living. Jesus commanded us to “seek first the kingdom of God and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS…” (reference Matthew 6:33). And understanding just what that righteous living is really all about comes to us only through study of the Word of God and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. The God-inspired writers of the Bible were used of the Father to provide us instruction on how we are to conduct our lives. Additionally, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ provided each of us an exemplar of how one is to live a righteous life. What has originally developed as a result of these teachings from God’s anointed and the example of Jesus the Christ is THE Faith–a belief-system if you will–that brought to the fill the Hebraic Faith that was originally delivered to the children of Israel through the patriarchs of old (e.g., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses). Bear in mind, the true Faith was NOT built upon Judaism. Judaism was built upon man made laws and traditions enacted by Jewish scholars that ultimately overshadowed and replaced the original Hebrew Faith. Furthermore, it would be presumptive for us to conclude that “Christianity” as it exists today with its 30,000 plus denominations is the same original Faith. Somewhere, somehow, contained within the pages of our Bible, is the identifying qualities of that True Faith that was once delivered. Clearly, something went wrong along the way and the original Faith was compromised, resulting in the horrendous religious mess we have today.
In following the instructions of these biblical writers and the life example of Jesus Christ, we should begin to develop and manifest traits and characteristics that are holy, righteous and pleasing to the Father in Heaven. Here at It’s Not As You Perceive (and Qumran Family Church), we are all about contending for the True Faith once delivered to the first century saints by Jesus Christ–Jude 1:3. We attempt to accomplish this through an open and honest examination of the Biblical record without any denominational influences or assertiveness. We also look to the leading of the Holy Spirit to reveal some of the more difficult passages found in the Bible (those passages that receive a wide array of interpretations by the various denominations) as well as utilizing the vast extra-Biblical resources that are currently available to each of us through books, computer software and the INTERNET. Most of all, we seek to employ commonsense and reason. Far too many of the doctrinal and traditional teachings by the thousands of Christian denominations that currently exist are not sensible nor reasonable and in many cases not even biblically based; and they tend to play upon the fears and ignorance of those denominations’ members. This seems to be one of the biggest problems facing Christianity today. Millions of Christians are resistant–for whatever reason–to verifying for themselves the things that are coming out of their denominations’ pulpits every Sunday morning or via the hundreds of televangelists occupying time and space on the internet and television. Instead, the vast majority of self-professing Christians rely upon their church leaders for understanding and instruction in what it means to be a Christian. This places every individual who finds themselves in this type of situation in a most precarious position as it relates to their personal relationship with the Creator. If that relationship is not healthy and solid, it stands to reason that those individuals are destined for problems down the spiritual road so to speak. This is a crucial concern within Christianity today and it is high-time that this situation is cleaned up before the end times hits.
Perception Moment #1–Are you content with your church-life? Are you receiving all that you hoped to receive from your church? If you are not satisfied, are you willing to do something about it?
That being said, if you are content in your present spiritual situation and you are okay with placing your eternal destiny into the hands of your denomination’s leaders, then we bid you well. We do not cast judgment on you and we will always value you as brothers and sisters of the Christian Faith. However, if you are not content with the direction that your walk in Christ is heading or if you are not happy with your church for that matter, you are in the right place. Furthermore, if you are the least bit interested in strengthening your relationship and walk with the Master–Jesus Christ–and realizing the tremendous blessings to be had by contending for the true faith once delivered (Jude 1:3) and on top of that living a life worthy of your calling (2 Thessalonians 1:11), then you too are in the right place. You are about to take your spirit life to the next level and this is what this ministry hopes to facilitate.
So let’s move on to the main content for this post.
Understanding eschatology and end time prophecy is not a task for the timid of heart and mind and lazy of soul. It is not an easy thing to understand, especially given the myriad of differing perspectives on what the Bible records about the end-times. Nevertheless, I believe that it is a task that every believer in Christ must undertake. Bear in mind the words that Jesus relayed through the Apostle John to the readers of his letter: “Blessed (Greek for “makarios” meaning to be supremely fortunate or well off) is he that reads (Greek for “anaginosko” meaning to accurately know), and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep (i.e., to guard) those things which are written therein–for the time is at hand” (Revelation 1:3).
Notice that I said “every believer in Christ” should undertake a study of what the Bible has to say about the end times. I do not say this as a means of pushing my own agenda or personal, wild ideals upon you. So then, what do I mean by this statement?
The Christian faith is filled to the brim with Christians. Right now you’re probably saying in response to this statement, of course it is you idiot. But maybe the thing to ponder here is not the number of Christians in the world, but more so, what exactly is a Christian? Turning to Wikipedia, the definition of a Christian is someone who adheres to Christianity. Then what exactly is Christianity? Christianity is a Hebraic, monotheistic-religion that is based on the life and teachings of Jesus. Now, because there is no universal consensus in the world as to what constitutes being a Christian, the universally accepted belief is that being a Christian is one who accepts Jesus Christ (aka: Messiah) as their personal Lord and Savior–whatever that means. In general, the world sees Christians as good and Christ-like–whatever that means.
According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, the term Christian was first used or applied by Gentiles (specifically Romans)–Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16)–to describe individuals who were followers of Jesus. However, the term was not adopted by followers of Jesus to describe themselves until the passing of the Apostolic age–sometime at the end of the first century or beginning of the second cerntury. Interestingly, the early adoption of the title Christian carried with it very negative connotations. Found in the writings of Tacitus (aka: Gaius Tacitus–56-117?A.D.–a Roman senator and historian) is as follows: “The vulgar call them Christians. The author or originator of this denomination, Christus, had in the reign of Tiberius, been executed by the procurator, Pontius Pilate” (Annals xv. 44). Thus, it was not until well in to the 2nd century that believers accepted the term Christian as a title of honor.
Perception Moment 2: Are Christians today (and even throughout the centuries) comparable to believers or followers or disciples or servants of Christ in the first century Churches?
To the casual observer, the title and term Christian would handily encompass believer, follower, servant and disciple of Christ. But I submit to you that there may be a distinct difference between Christian and these 4-titles. The Bible provides clues as to what the model believer-disciple-follower-servant looks like. The primary clue of course is found in the example of Christ during His earthly ministry–in the way He lived out His life and through His teachings. The rest of the clues are contained in the apostolic writings and teachings that comprise the New Testament (aka: the renewed covenant). The characteristics and traits of believers-followers-disciples-servants are pretty distinct and obvious:
* these individuals are obedient to the commandments of Christ
* they abhor evil and sin; they strive for righteousness
* they seek the kingdom of God
* they are poor in spirit and never forget from whence they’ve come
* they love their master over all others
* they do not compromise their calling
* they are bold in their convictions
* they are loyal to their master and to the true Faith
* they imitate their master
* they love their brothers and sisters
More so, these individuals are willing to give their very lives for their master without hesitation. The traits and characteristics don’t stop here. There are indeed many more. But the question that I pose is: do these and other traits of believers-disciples-followers as suggested in the Bible match our modern day perceptions and concepts of what we call a Christian?
Does all this really matter, especially in relation to our discussion about the end times and the rapture? Absolutely it does! It matters because understanding of the end-times, specifically the book of Revelation, was specifically written for and to a certain class of people. This class of people are servants of Jesus the Messiah–The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. (Rev 1:1-2 KJV). Interestingly, Christians in general over the centuries have presumptively assumed that they are the intended recipients of this revelation. In other words, Christians throughout the last 2,000-years have readily assumed that they are servants of the Most High.
If I can attest to anything having had my Faith aggressively challenged and shaken in 2005, it is never to take anything recorded in the Bible for granted and to never simply take anyone’s word as Gospel about any subject in the Bible or about the Christian Faith without a full investigation in to the facts of the matter. This has unfortunately become the downfall of millions of Christians. It would appear that most Christians rely upon their pastors, ministers, teachers, friends, fellow believers and the list can go on, for basic and even advanced understanding of the many essential elements of the Faith. There is nothing as dangerous as resting one’s eternal destiny upon the oversight of another man or woman. For in the end, we individually must stand before the Eternal in judgment and give an account for our lives.
Consider: in our modern western society, when we go contrary to the laws of the land and we are caught, we are forced to give an account of our actions, typically before a court of law. There are no situations where we can simply plead innocent because we were raised to act contrary to the law or that we were told by others that it was okay to live contrary to the law(s) we broke.
I used to believe that anything and everything I came to understand about my faith and thus having conformed to the teachings of my faith that was sanctioned and taught by my denomination, God would by default approve of my life. And why did I believe this? Well, I rationalized that smarter men than me throughout the ages came to certain conclusions about the Christian Faith and it was those smart men who were led by the Holy Spirit and possessed the license (spiritual) and gravitas to shape my life accordingly through my denomination’s doctrines, teachings and beliefs. I recall speaking to a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses earlier this year about some pretty weighty spiritual matters. Whenever we reached an impasse in our conversation–even about something that was obvious and clear in the Bible (for example the passage where some of the dead saints in the city of Jerusalem rose up out of their graves the day Jesus was resurrected–Matthew 27:52 & 53) that the JW’s weren’t clear on, the JW’s told us that they needed to go back to and consult their church leaders for the answer to the issue in question. I’ve come across other stories of individuals who were staunch members of a Christian denomination, who when confronted with certain truths found in their Bibles that didn’t match the doctrines and teachings and beliefs of their denomination, instead of doing further research on their own or simply meditating and seeking revelation from the Holy Spirit on the issue in question, would sadly say that they needed to consult their church leaders for clarity and direction on the subject.
This is an epidemic my friends. For most believers, their understanding of Scripture which often affects their day-to-day behavior as Christians is shaped by the teachings of their denomination. Few of us are invested enough in our own eternal destinies to challenge the many teachings and doctrines of our Faith and find out for ourselves whether the teachings, beliefs and traditions of our denomination is in alignment with the Word of God. The Psalmist and the Savior both acknowledged that truth comes from the Word of God (Psalms 119:160 & John 17:17). Is it possible for truth to flow through and from our denominations? Absolutely. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to Christian denominations per se. I’m opposed specifically to denominationalism. I’m opposed to Nicholaitan organizations that, like the Judaism of Jesus’ day, enslave and foist teachings, beliefs and traditions upon its members outside the realm of the Word of God (reference Revelation 2:6) . Thus the members of these organizations are unable to think for themselves and they ultimately believe and follow lies and false teachings. You see, if the people can read and understand for themselves the Word of God and live victorious, free and powerful lives in Christ, there would be little need for the leaders of these organizations, would there? But then, if we are not willing to step up to the plate and answer the call, excusing the leaders of these organizations from the responsibility for our salvation and walk with the Savior, then it stands to reason that we may be walking through the wide gate and down the smooth path towards destruction– Jesus taught:13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Mat 7:13-14 KJV)
Consequently, it is because we who claim Christ to be our Savior are so lazy when it comes to investing in our own eternal destiny and relationship with the Lord, that we are for all intents and purposes Biblically illiterate. And it would seem accurate to even say that most of us are quite content in this perpetual state of spiritual mediocrity. I remember having a conversation with my boss a few years ago about certain doctrinal issues related to the Christian Faith and how I had begun taking time to delve deeper into the Word of God and debate the veracity of some of these weighty doctrinal issues in the light of disciplined exegesis. After much back and forth discussion, she told me that it was much more work than she was willing to invest and that she would rather rely on her faith–i.e., cognitive belief–that what she thought was true was indeed true. I didn’t think much of it then, but looking back at that exchange today, I cringe to think that such an attitude is so prevalent in the Christian Faith. We’ve received just enough information about the Bible to make us dangerous. We have been armed with a handful of nifty scriptural soundbites to support our denomination’s many doctrines and beliefs. Is it a good way to do spiritual business? Absolutely not. The Apostle Paul was quite clear on the necessity of believers to not make a mockery of their calling to the Faith–11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: 12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2Th 1:11-12 KJV)
And thus we arrive at the point I am aiming to make on Revelation 1:1 and that has to do with the Apostle John being given the revelation of the end times by his Lord and Master who in turn received the revelation from His Father. It is through John that the Master’s true “servants” or “doulos” are privy to the information about the end times and the Day of the Lord. This revelation is not intended for anyone else, only for the servants of Jesus the Messiah.
Perception Moment 3: Are Christians today servants of Christ? If so, why are there so many differing perspectives (denominational understandings) of what constitutes being a Christian?
Let’s see. The term used in the first verse of chapter one of Revelation says quite clearly that the revelation given by the Master was for “His servants.” The Greek for servants is “doulos.” Consider what Thayer Greek Lexicon has to say about the term doulos:
Rev. 1:1; 10:7; 11:18; of all who obey God’s commands, his true worshippers, Luke 2:29; Rev. 2:20; 7:3; 19:2,5; 22:3,6; (Ps. 33:23 (Ps. 34:23); Ps. 68:37 (Ps. 69:37); Ps. 88:4,21 (Ps. 89:4,21)). γ. δοῦλος τίνος , devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests: Matt. 20:27; Mark 10:44; strenuously laboring for another’s salvation, 2 Cor. 4:5.
It appears that the terminology being used here by John is more than a simple title that is haphazardly passed on to describe any and all Christians. More so, the term servant used in this passage is a descriptive action term–doulos refers to those who are obedient to God’s commands; who are the true worshippers of God; who are fully devoted to Jesus to the point of self-denial and who are actively furthering the message of Jesus Christ to the nations. This comes in context with the rest of the Book of Revelation and what the servants of the Master would have to endure and what the reward of the prevailing servants would be. If we were to, by chance, simply assume that the recipients of the Revelation to be all peoples who profess to be Christians, then we have on our hands a big problem. You see, Christianity is broken up in to some 30,000 plus denominations with corresponding beliefs, doctrines and traditions. Despite this huge disparity within the confines of one of the world’s largest faiths, the vast majority of adherents within the faith believe in some type of return of Jesus Christ to this earth, a gathering of Christians and some form of ensuing kingdom headed by Jesus–either here on earth or in heaven.
If we are to believe that Christians are destined to escape the evil to come in the end times, and that Christians will be whisked away to some realm of safety to live out eternity with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, then there’d be NO reason for the book of Revelation–especially since Christians have been taught for centuries that no one knows when the Savior will return and that the Savior’s return will be sudden and entirely unexpected. Instead then of making John endure such a troublesome vision and record all the terrible events to come at the end of days; and if Christians are going to be exempt from the terror ahead, why not simply write a quick–Jesus is coming back suddenly one day–be ready because you don’t want to be left behind–it promises to be really bad for all who are left behind. Just saying. But common sense says to any truth seeking believer that the Father in His infinite wisdom had more in mind than simply giving information to Christians that things are going to be really bad in the future, but don’t you worry your little heads because you will be exempt from the terror. Indeed, this seems to be the case.
The fact that the Book of Revelation is written exclusively for those who are servants of Jesus–doulos–those who are obedient to the Savior and His commandments and who are loyal to Him seems to suggest that the recipients of this revelation have serious “skin in the game” ahead as evidenced in Revelation 1:1b. In other words, the servants of the Master need to know what is contained in this letter so that they may be prepared to deal with the things that are mentioned in this book. We’re not talking about “good things to know” or simple “shooting the breeze.” We’re talking about really heady, terrible and glorious things that will certainly separate the true believers–i.e., servants, from the classic Christian or even want-to-be servant of Christ.
So where do you fall out? This is a question that each of us must answer if we are truly serious about our eternal destiny and commitment to the Faith? Are we simply socially-religious-people who claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior who are waiting to be whisked away during some secret pre-tribulation rapture and avoid the terrible events that will be endured by those left behind? Or are we unique individuals who have been chosen and elected by the Savior, who will, as a result of our affiliation, obedience to and loyalty to Christ, will have a critical roll in the end times; the roll of which will not be so pleasant? But the reward for overcoming will be well worth the unpleasantness of the times ahead.
Friends, this is where any substantive discussion on the end-times MUST begin. A difficult, crucial conversation must occur within ourselves, address that most painful of questions: Am I a “servant” of Jesus the Christ? As silly as this may seem to most of you in terms of a discussion on eschatology (i.e., end-times), I am a firm believer that no headway can ever be made in understanding the end-times unless we know where we stand in the grand scheme of things: namely, are we servants or are we just nice-principled-morale-religious people who happen to carry with us the title of Christian. This my friends is THE question that changed my life forever in 2005. When my brother-in-law asked me “How do you know you’re a Christian,” and all I had to respond with was the well-established talking points of my denomination to explain who and why I was. Quite frankly, I guess I could have simply ignored that question and kept on the path I was on at the time. But something within me was not satisfied with my answer. Why? Because the answers I gave him were NOT my answers, but the answers that were taught to me by my religion–my denomination–my church–my past and present pastors and ministers/teachers.
Perception Moment 4: How do you know that you are a Christian? For that matter, are you a servant of Christ?
Are you prepared to answer this question friends? Are you willing to step aside and seriously–honestly–ponder, meditate and seek the answer to this critical question based upon what your Bible has to say in answer to this most terrible but glorious question? For me, facing reality was painful; yet in the end was also freeing–John 8:32. It took me the better part of a half-year to fully come to terms with the honest answer to this question. I had to force myself to honestly answer this question without any denominational influences. What I found was that I was not a “servant” of Jesus Christ. Instead, I was a Christian. I was someone who said the “sinner’s prayer,” asked Jesus into my heart and life, was Baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and believed that He was, is and will ever be: case closed; game over; end of story. The rest was up to Jesus. All I had to do was await the rapture to heaven baby!
I turned the question around and asked myself: how do I know that I’m an American? How do I know that I’m married? How do I know that I am a father to my three children? I’m not talking about being an American, married or a father simply by name and title. I’m talking about the spirit of the matter. We have many criminals rotting away in jails throughout this nation for various crimes–are these true Americans? I have been married for the better part of 30-years, legally yes, but am I a true husband to my wife? What about my children? Have I been a true father–a good father–a responsible father? Have I fulfilled all of these titles and others as Yeshua would have? I innately knew that being a husband, being a father, an American, and more importantly a Christian, was about what I’d done and what I’m doing now to fulfill the ideals associated with each of these titles. Am I being obedient to the call of each of these areas of my life? Am I obedient to the commandments of my Master as the term “doulos” strongly implies? As in being an American: one is viewed as an American when they pay their taxes, meet their financial and human obligations, obey the rules and laws of the land, and contribute to the overall well-being of society. Those who fail to do any of these things are destined to be marginalized by American society or incarcerated. What about marriage or parenting? If we are not careful to nurture and do the things that are necessary to keep a marriage and parent relationship ongoing, healthy and vibrant, those relationships are destined to deteriorate and ultimately fail.
Why do we feel that our relationship with Jesus Christ should be only a one-way relationship? I’m afraid that a lot of this has to do with the teachings and doctrines and traditions of our denominations. A great deal of blame can be laid at the feet of Calvinism, which contends that much of our relationship with the Master is inputted or administered by God and we are simply too deprived to do or know any better.
I remember a short time ago, when I went back home to visit my folks, and my mother began to inquire why I had abandoned many of the traditions and beliefs of my Baptist upbringing. When I told her that I learned there was more than met the eye to the Christian faith and that I needed to make substantive changes to my walk with Christ, she responded: you weren’t raised that way.
Indeed, I wasn’t raised this way. Unfortunately, many of us are living according to the way we have been raised–be it mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally–by our denominations. Many of us are afraid to grow up and move on. We are often hesitant to question the things that we were taught out of fear of violating the traditions of our past and the feelings and expectations of our family, friends, peers and the like. But our individual eternal destinies and individual walks/journeys with Christ have absolutely NOTHING to do with anyone beyond ourselves and the Lord. There is nothing more important in this world than our personal relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ. Note I said relationship and not church affiliation or confession of our faith.
Thus I humbly and fervently call upon you, dear believer, to assess where you fall out in this thing. How do you see yourself? Are you a Christian or are you a servant? Figure out for yourself why, if at all, you should care about this issue. Regardless, take action today. Do something. Whatever you do, don’t rest on the laurels of your chosen denomination. Jesus foretells of a time when many believers will turn on one another when the truth of the end times is finally realized by the general Christian body (reference: Matthew 24:9-13). This mass betrayal will occur because millions of “Christians” will come to realize too late that there is no secret, pre-tribulation rapture of all the Christians to heaven. Consequently, these same “Christians” will endure the terrors of man made tribulations inflicted upon the earth and subsequently by God upon the earth and its inhabitants and turn on anyone who affiliates with the true Faith once delivered.
This is the first in a series of postings regarding the controversial topic of the end times and the rapture of the Church. Join me for Episode 43–The Rapture–The Christian versus Servant Perspective–Part 2. Until then, may you be most blessed.