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Showing posts with label #EndTimes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #EndTimes. Show all posts

13 December 2018

Millennium: When Jesus rules the world.

And those who think it’s coming… and those who don’t.

Literally, a millennium is one thousand years. There’ve been two of them since Jesus’s time.

In Revelation we read about a thousand-year period which takes place after Jesus returns. Since the passage is part of an apocalyptic vision, it’s not a literal thousand years… although certain literalists insist it totally is. I can’t help what they believe. I’ll just point out it’s meant to represent a mighty significant stretch of time. The period of time between King David and Christ Jesus was about a thousand years, so figure it’s as long as a successful royal dynasty, or kingdom, might last; that’s the general idea. Although instead of 300 generations of kings/messiahs, we’ll just have the one king, Jesus.

The millennium gets described thisaway.

Revelation 20.1-10 KWL
1 I saw an angel coming down from heaven,
which had the Abyss’s key and a great chain in its hand.
2 The angel grabbed the dragon and bound it a millennium—
the old serpent, which is the devil, Satan.
3 The angel threw the dragon into the Abyss, and shut and sealed the Abyss over:
The dragon may no longer deceive the nations till the millennium is complete.
After that, it has to be released a short time.
4 I saw thrones. People sat on them. Judgment was given them.
They’re the souls of those beheaded for testifying of Jesus, for God’s word.
Whoever hadn’t worshiped the Beast nor its ikon, nor took its forehead- nor hand-stamp:
They live! They reign with Christ a millennium.
5 The rest of the dead won’t live till the millennium is complete.
This is the first Resurrection.
6 Those who take part of the first Resurrection are awesome and holy.
The second death has no power over them.
Instead they’ll be God’s and Christ’s priests, and reign with him a millennium.
7 Once the millennium is complete, Satan will be released from its prison.
8 Satan will come out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth,
to gather Gog and Magóg into a war. Their number is like the sand of the sea.
9 The nations rose up over the edge of the earth. They surrounded the saints’ encampment, the beloved city.
Fire from heaven came down and ate them up.
10 The devil, their deceiver, was thrown into the pool of fire and sulfur, where the Beast and fake prophet are.
They’ll be tortured there, day and night, age to ages.

So. According to the vision, this takes place after the second coming, Rv 19.11-16 after the Beast and false prophet are thrown into the fire, and their allies are killed and eaten by birds. Rv 19.17-21 Yuck. Next Satan itself gets locked in the Abyss (KJV “bottomless pit”), a sort of prison for devils. And this leaves a clear path for Messiah to rule the world unhindered.

All those people who aren’t Christian, don’t know Jesus, don’t even think they wanna know Jesus? They’ll finally get to meet him. The imaginary versions of Jesus in their heads will be irrelevant: Actual living, breathing Jesus will be walking around on Earth again, interacting with people. Christians do a poor job of demonstrating what he’s like, but now Jesus will do that himself. Pagans get to see him as he really is. Skeptics have to deal with reality.

Put into special positions of responsibility and authority are the martyrs, those who died for Jesus and resisted tribulation. Rv 20.4 Some preachers claim this includes every Christian who was resurrected at Jesus’s second coming. 1Th 4.15-17 Including them, they suppose. (They hope.) But it all depends on what they did for Jesus. If you call the average Christian’s life in the United States “suffering for Christ,” I think you’re seriously delusional. Jesus has in mind people who really did give up everything for him, Mk 10.29-31 not wannabes who assume pushback is persecution.

These resurrected Christians will rule the world under Jesus. And finally the world will be led right. With justice and fairness. With grace, forgiveness, and mercy. By judges who share Jesus’s character, and rule like he does. No more do we have to worry about hypocrites and frauds in positions of power; Jesus’s officers won’t be anything like the politicians or pastors we’re used to. They’ll be good rulers. They’ll fix the world.

Oh, it won’t be heaven. Not for another 10 centuries. But heaven’s kingdom will rule the world, and rule it properly. It’s something wonderful to look forward to.

21 November 2018

Purgatory: When our works are tested with fire.

Some Christians believe there’s no such thing. Here’s why the others believe it exists—in whatever form they imagine it.

Many Christians figure they’re C.S. Lewis fans ’cause they read his Narnia books, as I did in fifth grade. In high school I read his Mere Christianity, and in college I took advantage of its much-larger Lewis collection to read everything I could find. Including, it turned out, his academic stuff… which leads to another story I’ll tell another time.

One of his books was The Great Divorce, Lewis’s attempt to tell a Divine Comedy-style tour of purgatory, with George MacDonald as his guide instead of Virgil. It’s interesting because it gives examples of the sort of people who aren’t ready for heaven. But the book is a big hurdle for various Christians—in particular Fundamentalists—because they don’t believe in purgatory. Depending on how gracious they are (or aren’t), they’d assign Lewis’s case studies to either heaven or hell, and that’s that.

I’ve since found a number of self-described “Lewis fans” have never read The Great Divorce, and those who have, don’t entirely know what to do with it. Lewis was an Anglican, and since the Church of England believes in purgatory, so did he. My acquaintances were largely Assemblies, Baptists, or unaffiliated Fundies, and really didn’t like how their favorite author believed in something they consider “too Catholic” for their tastes. I get that, ’cause I used to be in the same boat: I dismissed purgatory as a ridiculous, non-biblical Catholic invention, invented as a loophole for good pagans who didn’t embrace Jesus, but might if they had one more chance in the afterlife.

Except that’s not what Catholics teach about purgatory. It’s what they teach about limbo. By which I don’t mean the game where you lean backwards under a bar without touching it; I mean the belief there’s a place in the afterlife which isn’t paradise, but isn’t torment either (well, unless the fact you’re never going to heaven is torment), where good pagans and unbaptized Christians go. (Although nowadays most of ’em teach unbaptized Christians go to purgatory.)

What is purgatory then? Purgatory is where you go before you go to paradise or heaven. Because when we die, we still have some sins on our souls, and these sins need to be removed before we can go onward and upward. Purgatory’s where we get those sins removed. That done, we’re clean, and can now enter God’s presence unhindered.

Is purgatory in the bible? Well, kinda. But the very little which suggests the existence of purgatory, has been pulled and stretched like taffy. Those who don’t believe in purgatory rightly point out far too much has been extrapolated from far too little. You know, like the Left Behind novels.

27 September 2018

Doggy heaven.

We don’t know the details of God’s relationships with his other creatures. Probably shouldn’t speculate.

Years ago, in my junior high school bible class, one of the students asked about doggy heaven. And just for evil fun, I horrified her by quoting Revelation 22.15, which describes New Jerusalem in the new heaven and earth:

Revelation 22.15 NIV
Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

So, I joked, all dogs apparently don’t go to heaven. Looks like they go to hell.

No, that’s not the proper context of the verse. The text does literally have oi kýnes/“the dogs.” But you have to remember what dogs were to ancient Judeans. Some of them did have pet dogs, a practice they picked up from the nations round them. But generally dogs in Israel were scavenger animals: They ate garbage, roadkill, and picked off rats and other vermin. They were ritually unclean, not to mention physically unclean. The Judeans tried to keep ’em outside the gates of old Jerusalem, lest they get inside and wreck things and stink up the place. Stands to reason they wouldn’t want any dogs in New Jerusalem either. Dogs were pests.

Various preachers also like to point out certain Pharisees referred to pagan male temple prostitutes as “dogs.” And yeah, maybe that was the idea John had in mind. But more likely it was the idea New Jerusalem wouldn’t have anything chaotic or destructive in it, like roaming packs of wild dogs.

But we really have no idea about domestic dogs in the new heaven.

See, we lack a whole lot of details about what will or won’t be in New Jerusalem. We have the book of Revelation, but Revelation doesn’t say. And Revelation, I remind you, is an apocalypse: The bulk of John’s visions, if not all of John’s visions, aren’t of literal things:

  • Jesus doesn’t literally have a sword sticking out of his mouth. Rv 1.16, 19.15
  • Jesus isn’t literally a seven-horned seven-eyed lamb who looks like he’s been killed. Rv 5.6
  • Satan isn’t literally a big red dragon with seven heads and ten horns. Rv 12.3 Not that Christians haven’t imagined it does look like that.

John was shown what the End was like. Not what the End literally consists of. Jesus didn’t want him—nor us—to have these details. This being the case, we can’t say with full certainty the descriptions of the new heaven/earth in Revelation are what it’ll literally consist of. All we can do is speculate, based on the tiny bits of evidence we have about what some of these visions mean. All we know for certain is Jesus will be there… so whatever it consists of, it’ll be good.

So, housepets in heaven: Don’t know.

I certainly don’t think pets are a bad thing. I gotta wonder about certain pet owners, of course. Some of ’em obsess over their pets to a disturbingly unhealthy degree. I gotta wonder about women who call themselves a “dog mom”: Love your dog all you want, but it’s not your baby, and your experience is not the same as raising human children. But I digress: I don’t see anything wrong with sane pet owners. Nor anything wrong with having pets in heaven.

Here’s the catch: I don’t see anything wrong with marriage either. But Jesus said marriage won’t be valid in heaven. Mt 22.30 (I know; Mormons are in serious denial about that one.) He didn’t go into detail, although many a Christian has speculated it’s because we won’t procreate anymore. I bring this up to point out a relationship we consider totally normal, moral, and (for many) enjoyable—but it’s getting done away with in heaven. So what other radical transformations might we be in for?

Maybe owning pets will be abolished the same as owning humans is getting abolished. All pets go free, and whether they stay with humans is finally voluntary on their part. To me, that sounds way more just and fair than our current situation. But I’m speculating. I don’t know how it’ll work in heaven. Jesus does, but he didn’t tell us.

14 June 2018

Tribulation, great tribulation, and not-so-great tribulation.

Life is suffering. But sometimes there’s a little extra suffering going on.

TRIBULATION /tri.bu.la.tion/ n. Great suffering.
2. The cause of great suffering.
3. An End Times period of suffering around the time of Jesus’s second coming.
[Tribulational /tri.bu.la.tion.al/ adj.]

Tribulation is an old-timey word which, to many people and Evangelicals in particular, has to do with the End Times. That’s why writers find it useful. You wanna talk about suffering, and wanna make it sound as bad as suffering can be? You call it tribulation.

Thing is, when the word tribulation came up in the King James Version, it meant any and every kind of suffering. Not just the worst-case-ever kind of suffering. I mean, it was used to describe that, Mt 24.21 but it was used for all the other kinds. ’Cause suffering is part of the world we live in. Life is suffering.

But Jesus has conquered the world.

John 16.33 KJV
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

So when we read of tribulation in the scriptures, it’s interchangeable with suffering. Don’t go reading great suffering into it… unless the context shows you oughta. ’Cause sometimes you oughta. And other times it’s just life.

Likewise, Christians shouldn’t be so surprised and outraged when life happens to have some suffering in it. Problem is, we do. American Christians especially are under the delusion that once we come to Jesus, our sufferings should be over. That any discomfort has one of the following causes:

  • The devil trying to rip us a new one like it did Job.
  • We sinned, or we’ve otherwise stepped outside of God’s perfect will, so God himself out to smite us.
  • We didn’t sin, but to preemptively keep us from sinning, God’s smiting us anyway, like he did Paul. 2Co 12.7
  • Somebody cursed us. So we need some form of supernatural deliverance; something to get the evil spirits to bug off.
  • The End has come. Or at least it’s a sign of the End, a warning of the End, a glimpse of End Times style judgment, or something related to all that.

Generally we go for one of many worst-case scenarios. We never consider the very real likelihood our suffering doesn’t mean anything. It has to mean something; everything means something; we’re just that important. (More like narcissistic.)

Nope. Reality doesn’t work like that. Christianity doesn’t either. Jesus never guaranteed a trouble-free existence in this age. On the contrary; read that John verse again. “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” There will be tribulation. Particularly for Jesus’s followers, who are gonna get pushback for following him properly. Pushback everywhere. Not even our homes are safe.

Matthew 10.34-36 KWL
34 “Don’t imagine I come to bring peace to the world.
I don’t come to bring peace but a machete:
35 I come to divide a person from his father,
a daughter from her mother, a bride from her mother-in-law:
36 A person’s enemies will be in their house.”

Face it: The road to God’s kingdom has a certain amount of tribulation to it. Ac 14.22 Every antichrist is gonna want to pick a fight with us. Every hardship is gonna be waved around as if it’s proof God’s not around or doesn’t care. Even fellow Christians are gonna test our commitment to Jesus when times get rough—because they insist times should never get rough.

At least not till just before the great tribulation.

25 May 2018

Near-death experiences, and the afterlife.

Funny how everybody sees the afterlife they expect.

In yesterday’s article, “How long does hell last?” I brought up the subject of near-death experiences, those cases where people died and came back, and have a tale to tell about what they saw in the afterlife.

And they have all sorts of tales. Like of an out-of-body experience, where their ghost watched the doctors or EMTs trying to bring ’em back to life. Like a spirit-realm experience, where they met angels, dead loved ones, Jesus, or the Father. Like an afterlife experience, where they travel through a tunnel of light and get to poke around heaven for a bit. In some cases it’s the bad afterlife, and they’re in hell.

These stories are really popular, and people share them and cling to them for hope. Books about them sell. Movies too. Since we have big questions about the afterlife, we figure near-death experiences help answer these questions.

This is also true for Christians. The scriptures don’t tell us a whole lot about the afterlife, because God’s kingdom is about new life, not afterlife. Resurrection, not living in a realm of the dead. So since the afterlife ultimately doesn’t matter—we’re getting rescued from it!—all we know about it are hints, clues, and no real details. But we want details: If Jesus doesn’t return before we die, we’re gonna experience the afterlife, and wanna know what we’re in for. So we tend to fill in those gaps in our knowledge with educated guesses, mythology… and of course the near-death experiences of those who’ve “been there.”

Yeah, putting it in quotes kinda tips off the fact I doubt they’ve really been there. Here’s why.

24 May 2018

How long does hell last?

Some say forever, some say temporarily, and some say no time at all.

As I explained in my article “The four hells,” there are four words translated hell in the scriptures, and the one I mean by “hell” is ge-Henna, the trash fire outside Jerusalem, reimagined in Revelation as a pool of fire and sulfur outside New Jerusalem. Rv 20.10-15 Into it go Satan and its angels, the Beast, the fake prophet who promotes the Beast, the personifications of Death and Hades (i.e. the afterlife), and everyone whose name isn’t listed in the life scroll—everyone who refused to turn to God for salvation, and therefore don’t get to enter his kingdom.

The Beast and prophet are explicitly described as being “tortured there, day and night, age to ages.” Rv 20.10 Though this lake is known as the second death, Rv 20.14 it doesn’t have a sense of finality like death seems to. Death feels like an absolute stopping point—when you’re dead, you’re not alive, you’re not moving, you’re not breathing, you’re not thinking, you’re not anything; you’re dead. Whereas the second death sounds more like the beings sent into it aren’t inert, but moving, conscious… and suffering from eternal torment. Because they’re in fire. Everlasting fire, as the King James Version put it. Mt 25.41 KJV Where quite unlike the trash fires of the literal ge-Henna, the worms don’t die, and the fire never goes out. Is 66.24, Mk 9.48

Now, I know certain dark Christians who love this idea of eternal conscious torment. Partly because there are certain people they’d love to see tortured forever. Satan obviously. But most of the time they’re thinking of certain political opponents. Certain unrepentant adversaries we’ve defeated in war. Certain obnoxious people they know. Yeah, I know: We all have people we don’t like, but… longing to see them burn forever? What is wrong with these people? Since God doesn’t wanna see anyone perish, 2Pe 3.9 and these people do, this sort of fleshly, fruitless gracelessness suggests these people don’t have any real relationship with God, much as they claim to. I don’t care what they call themselves.

The other reason they love the idea of eternal torment—a reason which is just a bit more legit than t’other—is because they figure it’s a powerful motivator for getting people into God’s kingdom. If anyone’s on the fence about this idea of living under Jesus’s reign in peace and harmony (mainly ’cause the church is full of a--holes like me), Christians can point out the alternative: Outside the kingdom, it’s hot, stinky hell. You don’t wanna go to hell! We don’t want you there either; God doesn’t want you there either; why go there when you don’t have to? Don’t worry about the jerks in the church; Jesus’ll deal with them. Focus on Jesus. Turn to him. Let him save you.

The rest of us really don’t love the idea of eternal torment. Problem is, we don’t really see any way around it. That’s what Jesus describes in the scriptures. So that’s the reality we’re obligated to deal with: When people reject Jesus, that’s the destination they’ve effectively chosen. If people prefer a cosmetic relationship with Christianity over a living relationship with Jesus, that’s where they’re going.

It’s not like we can make up a reality we like better. Although that’s never stopped people from trying, has it?

16 May 2018

What’s America’s role in the End Times?

Same as the rest of the world.

The bible, in entirety, was written before the middle east, Europe, Asia, and Africa knew the western hemisphere existed.

True, God knew it was there. But his apostles and prophets had no idea. And God didn’t see any point in informing them. It’s not like the Americas, nor any other yet-to-be-discovered islands in the world, were excluded from the scriptures’ blanket statements about humanity. The LORD is God, and Jesus is King, of the whole earth. Known and unknown lands alike.

So North and South America—the Indian nations then, and the current nations now—aren’t in the bible. At all. Neither suggested nor alluded to in it.

So even if you’re citizen of the United States, loyal and patriotic, or even just a big fan of all things American like so many of our resident aliens, I gotta break it to you: Other than the bits about “all the world,” we don’t figure into End Times predictions whatsoever.

But you’d be surprised how many American prognosticators simply can’t have that.

Blame American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is special, the greatest country in the world, the greatest country in history, and the related belief that Americans are smarter, more capable, more innovative, more talented, than the folks of any other nation. No offense guys; we just grew up under more freedom. If you had American-style freedom, maybe you’d do as well. But probably not. We’ve been freer longer, and we’re pretty sure that has something to do with it too.

We’ve been taught exceptionalism all our lives. It’s a huge part of American-style civic idolatry. So yeah, this is a lot of the reason why we Americans behave as if we’re special. We’ve always been told we are, and we believe it.

This attitude has trickled into our religion. Our End Times prognosticators figure the United States is special, doggone it, so we oughta fit in the End Times timeline somewhere. They’re not entirely sure where, but they shoehorn us pretty much anywhere they can get away with it.

16 March 2018

There’s a rapture, but it’s no secret.

When Jesus returns, everybody’s gonna see it. Which is kinda the point.

“People are missing,” she managed in a whisper, burying her head in his chest.

He took her shoulders and tried to push her back, but she fought to stay close. “What do you m—?”

She was sobbing now, her body out of control. “A whole bunch of people, just gone!”

“Hattie, this is a big plane. They’ve wandered to the lavs or—”

She pulled his head down so she could speak directly into his ear. Despite her weeping, she was plainly fighting to make herself understood. “I’ve been everywhere. I’m telling you, dozens of people are missing.”

“Hattie, it’s still dark. We’ll find—”

“I’m not crazy! See for yourself! All over the plane, people have disappeared.”

“It’s a joke. They’re hiding, trying to—”

“Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was left behind. These people are gone!”

So goes the first chapter of Left Behind, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ 1995 End Times novel. In the middle of a cross-country flight, where it’d be impossible for 100 people to simply disappear, they do. With no warning. No fanfare. No nothing. One moment they’re in their seats; the next they’re gone, with clothes, jewelry, pacemakers, and artificial knees left behind.

Happens like this in various Christian-produced End Times movies as well—though not always with the clothes and bric-a-brac left where they last stood. Guess only LaHaye and Jenkins had the idea everybody was gonna vanish, then appear in heaven butt naked.

(But the idea of leaving behind all the inorganic material—I’m not sure they entirely thought out how far that oughta go. If they left behind pins and stents, why not tattoo ink? The meds they last took? The alcohol they last drank? The food additives in their stomachs? The urine in their bladders?)

Well, it’s more dramatic that way, but it’s not consistent with the scriptures. Remember when Jesus got raptured?

Acts 1.9-11 KWL
9 Saying this as they watched him, Jesus was raptured. A cloud concealed him from their eyes.
10 While they were watching him go up into the sky, look!—two men in white clothing stood by them.
11 The men said, “Galileans, why’d you stand looking at the sky?
This Jesus, raptured from you into the sky like this, will come back like you saw him go into the sky.”

Our rapture is gonna resemble Jesus’s rapture—and he didn’t get naked on the way up. Nor was it invisible. Nor all that secret.

But y’know, the secret rapture idea is far more dramatic. And frightening. Arguably meant to be frightening.

Imagine you’re a little kid, and grew up hearing these scenarios of a secret rapture, and one day you’re at home and notice you’re all alone—nobody’s around when you thought they’d be. You realize how often these kids wondered, just for a moment, in brief but great terror, whether Jesus collected the rest of the family and not them? More times than I can count, I’ve heard Christians share that very story: Did the rapture happen without me? Oh no!

“Don’t you be left behind,” preachers warn ominously. But is that actually how the rapture’s gonna work?

No.

22 December 2017

Set your hearts for Jesus’s return.

Before Jesus returns, there’s a whole lot of lawbreaking.

Different scholars have different ways they wanna interpret the Greek word parusía/“[second] coming.” Most of the time “appearance” or “coming” or “return.” When used to describe what Jesus is up to, it has more of a sense of “arrival,” or even “invasion.” Certain gutless commentators leave it untranslated, and just refer to Jesus’s parousia, as if it’s too difficult a concept to convert into English. Rubbish: The popular idea of “second coming” works just fine to describe it, 1Th 3.13 so that’s how I translate it.

Today I wanna point to Jesus’s brother James, and how he referred to it:

James 5.7-8 KWL
7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.
Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,
patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.
8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:
The Master’s second coming has come near.

So. Ever since Jesus’s rapture, Christians have expected him to return at any time. True, he’s taking a mighty long time, but as I regularly point out, he’s trying to save everyone he can, and may put it off a great deal longer. Regardless, he’s one day coming for you individually. And me. And everyone else on the planet. Everybody dies, and we don’t always know when. So be ready.

James used the analogy of a farmer who looked forward to his crops. And yeah, at the time James wrote this, a few things had to happen before Jesus returned. In the analogy, the farmer had to wait through early- and late-season rains. Most Christians accept the idea the “early-season rain” has already happened in some form. Not all of us are agreed the “late-season rain” has happened yet. I figure they have; others insist it’s part of a future End Times timeline.

But either way, Jesus is taking his time about returning. And either way, we need to be patient. Which is a serious struggle for those Christians who want him to return today, and wrest our governments away from the fools and opportunists who currently have the reins. Much easier to have Jesus fix everything, than clean up our own messes. (And some of us are hoping Jesus does so with a whole lot of bloodshed; and yes, that’s seriously f---ed up of them. They need to get saved.) The End takes place on Jesus’s timetable, and not our timelines. If we gotta wait, we gotta wait. Still, let’s be ready.

18 December 2017

Apostasy before the second coming.

Before Jesus returns, there’s a whole lot of lawbreaking.

Before Jesus returns, bad stuff was predicted to happen. Both by Jesus, who described some of the events 40 years hence when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem; and here by Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they reminded the people of Thessaloniki that there’d first be a time of apostasy.

2 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL
1 We should ask you, fellow Christians, about the second coming of our Master, Christ Jesus,
and how we’ll be gathered together with him.
2 It’s so your minds won’t be shaken up, nor go into a panic,
whenever some spirit, message, or letter (like those from us) claims the Lord’s Day has come.
3 Don’t let anyone trick you in any way: Nothing happens till the apostasy comes first,
till the lawbreaking person, the child of destruction, is revealed—
4 the antagonist, the one exalting himself over everything called “god” and “worshipful,”
so much so he sits in God’s temple and claims he’s a god himself.
5 Don’t you remember the things I told you when I was still with you?
6 Now, you know who holds him back so he can be revealed in his own time:
7 The secret of the lawbreaker is already working—
but only till the one holding him back can come out of the way.
8 Then the lawbreaker will be revealed—whom Master Jesus will take out with his mouth’s breath.
He’ll abolish the lawbreaker at the manifestation of his second coming:
9 This is the coming against Satan’s works in every power, “miracle,” and fake wonder;
10 in every unrighteous trick towards those destroying themselves.
For fake miracles don’t accept the love of truth in their salvation.
11 Through it, God sends them off with their belief in fakes, in powerful error.
12 Thus everyone can be judged who didn’t trust truth, but were pleased with wrongness.

Popular Christian culture tends to call this “lawbreaking person” the Antichrist (with a capital A, as opposed to any old antichrist who just doesn’t like Christ or Christianity), and figure he’s the same as the beast of Revelation 13. There are also a bunch of wacky myths about how evil he’ll be and what he’ll do, but I won’t go into them today. Suffice to say he’s basically Bizarro Jesus: Like Bizarro Superman, who’s like Superman on Opposite Day, Antichrist supposedly does everything Christ does, but for evil and twisted reasons.

But Christians are actually disagreed as to whether such an Antichrist still needs to show up first. After all, it’s been 20 centuries since the apostles wrote to the Thessalonians, and many antichrists, many lawbreakers, have come and gone… and fulfilled this prediction many, many times already. And if this is the case, nothing more needs to happen before Jesus returns.

Still, some Christians really have their hearts set on this Bizarro Jesus version of the beast, and are anxiously awaiting him far more than they’re hopefully awaiting Jesus.

15 December 2017

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

Because even in the first century, people grew tired of waiting.

2 Peter 3.1-9

I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.

This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.

And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.

2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL
1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—
2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,
commands of our Master and Savior.
3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to mock,
following however their own desires are going, 4 saying,
“How’s the promise of his second coming meant to work?—since the church fathers died over it,
same as everyone continues to die from the beginning of creation.”

See, the expectation of the first Christians was—same as now—that Jesus could return at any time. During their lifetimes, they expected. They hoped. They waited. If anyone’d told them Jesus still wouldn’t return for more than 20 centuries, I doubt they’d believe it. (Of course, if you spoke to them now, from their vantage point in paradise I’m pretty sure they have a better idea of what Jesus is up to.)

But you know how impatient humans can get. Even in the first century, they were taking crap from those naysayers who were wondering just how much time Jesus needed to put together his heavenly invasion. After all, the first generation of Christians were dying off. And didn’t Jesus say they’d live to see his return? Mk 13.30, Mt 24.34, Lk 21.32 (Not really. But you know how people will take any hint and just go nuts with it. Jn 21.22-23)

So part of the reason Simon wrote 2 Peter was to remind his readers of their original conviction. 2Pe 3.1 Either you trust what the prophets and apostles taught you, or you don’t. And they did warn us about naysayers, who follow their own urges instead of God’s messengers, 2Pe 3.3 who spin the second coming till it suits them better. Sometimes by imagining Jesus never will come; that instead we all die and go to him. Sometimes by creating intricate seven-year tribulational scenarios. However they work.

11 December 2017

When Jesus got raptured.

He doesn’t say. Not that this stops us from guessing.

On 15 May, in the year 33 (if we take Luke’s count of 40 days Ac 1.3 literally, and not as an estimate) this happened.

Acts 1.6-11 KWL
6 So when they came together, the apostles questioned Jesus:
“Master, is it at this time you’re restoring the Kingdom of Israel?”
7 Jesus told them, “It’s not for you to know times or timing.
That, the Father sets by his own free will.
8 But you’ll all get power: The Holy Spirit is coming upon you.
You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world.”
9 Saying this as they watched him, Jesus was raptured.
A cloud concealed him from their eyes.
10 While they were watching him go up into the sky,
look!—two men in white clothing stood by them.
11 The men said, “Galileans, why’d you stand looking at the sky?
This Jesus, raptured from you into the sky like this,
will come back like you saw him go into the sky.”

Christians call this Jesus’s ascension, and celebrate it on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter (and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday). ’Cause it’s when Jesus went up, ascended, into heaven, to stand in service or sit in judgment, at the Father’s right. Ac 2.33, 7.55-56

But the reason I bring up Jesus’s ascension today isn’t to remind you he’s in a position of authority and intercession. It’s the bit the two men said after the students realized they weren’t alone in watching Jesus rise up into the sky. Yes, Jesus went up. But at some point he’s coming back down.

08 December 2017

When is Jesus returning?

He doesn’t say. Not that this stops us from guessing.

Jesus is returning. But when?

That’s the question every Christian asks, whether it’s in the front of the back of our minds. When’s Jesus coming back? Sooner rather than later, we hope—though considering the past 20 centuries, he’s taking an awfully long time to get round to it.

What did Jesus himself have to say about it? Well, this. You’re not gonna like it.

Mark 13.32-37 KWL
32 Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.
Neither the heavenly angels, nor the Son. Just the Father.
33 Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.
34 It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.
He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.
35 So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.
Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.
37 What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”

In short: “I dunno. And even if I knew, I’m not telling. You just need to be continually ready for it. On your toes. No slacking. Alert. Stay awake!”

Well, some of us can handle that command. Others really can’t. It’s why they’re running round like Chicken Little: “The sky’s falling! The End is near!” Everything they see in the news—contrary to Jesus’s instructions that these sorts of things will happen, but it doesn’t make it the End yet Mk 13.7-8 —is nonetheless treated as if it fulfills End Times prophecy. “Prophecy scholars” have us all wound up fearing all sorts of boogeymen which, no fooling, aren’t even in the bible. Aren’t even hinted about in the bible—they have way more to do with the prophecy scholars’ loopy politics than scripture. It’s all dark Christianity and irrational panic. Stuff that’s far more devilish than godly.

On the other extreme, there are the Christians who are pretty sure Jesus is never coming back. ’Cause it’s been 1,984 years since he ascended to heaven, and assuming a conservative 30 years per generation, that’s 66 generations ago. (And don’t go reading anything into that number, wouldya? Yeesh.) Since Jesus doesn’t appear to be in any rush to return, patiently waiting for as many to be saved as possible, 2Pe 3.9 he might take another 66 generations to finish the job. If ever.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s wise to adopt either extreme. Jesus fully intends to come back. If he’s not returning for the world for another generation or two, bear in mind he’s totally coming for you personally. You’re gonna die someday. So will I. So will everyone. We don’t know when that will be. “Stay awake” is as good advice for our personal day of reckoning, as it is for the world’s.

06 December 2017

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it.

It’s gonna be really obvious he’s come back.

When Jesus returns, it’s not gonna be a secret second coming. It’s not gonna be an event which only takes place metaphorically, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim; where they believe God’s kingdom began in 1914 but Jesus isn’t coming to earth till the final battle.

It’s not gonna be a secret gnostic event, which only the chosen few know about. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, where the Christians vanish and go to be with Jesus, and the rest of the planet has to wait seven years. It’s not secret. It’s nice and visible and obvious. As Jesus himself describes.

Matthew 24.23-28 KWL
23 “Then when anyone might tell you, ‘Look! Here’s Messiah!’ or ‘He’s here!’ don’t believe it:
24 Fake messiahs and fake prophets will arise, and will give great signs and wonders to deceive you.
If possible, to deceive God’s chosen people too.
25 Look, I’m forewarning you 26 so when people tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the wilderness!’ you don’t go out;
‘Look, he’s in the inner room!’ you don’t believe it.
27 For just as lightning comes from the east and appears in the west,
so will be the Son of Man’s second coming.
28 Wherever a corpse may be, there one will find eagles.”

That last line tends to confuse people—“Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” is how the NIV puts it. Certain dark Christians like to claim it implies judgment—that when Jesus returns, he’ll kill all the sinners, and carrion birds will feast on their flesh. Rv 19.8 ’Cause they take Revelation literally, but that’s not how to appropriately interpret it.

It’s not a judgment. It’s an epigram. “Where there’s a corpse, there’s eagles” is like saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” or “If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” If it obviously looks like Jesus has returned, that’s what happened. But if there’s anything iffy, or secretive, or “spiritual” about it—if it looks like nothing, but only “the chosen few” know about it—it’s a con. It is nothing.

When you read the Left Behind novels, or watch any of the movies where all the world’s Christians mysteriously vanish, you notice there are always pagans who argue, “We don’t know what that was,” and deny the disappearances had anything to do with Jesus. After all, Jesus didn’t appear! And if all the Christians in a given town vanish overnight, shouldn’t you suspect foul play? Doesn’t this secret-rapture idea make it disturbingly easy for anti-Christians to wipe us out and blame it on Jesus?

Thing is, it’s not at all how the scriptures describe the actual second coming of the Son of Man. Not Jesus, nor his apostles. It’ll be so obvious, everyone will see it, and know precisely what’s happening. Whether they believe their own eyes or not.

04 December 2017

Jesus describes his second coming.

The first hint we get that he’s bodily coming to earth more than once.

The first hint we have that Jesus is arranging a second coming—that he’s not taking possession of his kingdom during his first coming—appears in the Olivet Discourse, the bit in Mark 13, Matthew 24-25, and Luke 21, where Jesus answered his students’ question about a future disaster he’d just casually referred to. Mk 13.1-2, Mt 24.1-2, Lk 21.5-6

In each gospel’s version of the discourse, Jesus brought up the persecution of his followers, a particular time of great suffering which’d take place in Jerusalem, and fake Messiahs and prophets who’d try to lead them astray. But afterwards, this:

Mark 13.24-27 KWL
24 “But in those days after that suffering:
‘The sun will be darkened and the moon won’t give its light.’ Ek 32.7
25 The stars will be falling from the skies; the heavenly powers will be shaken.
26 Then people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ Da 7.13 with great power and glory.
27 Then he’ll send angels, and gather together his chosen ones from the four winds,
from the earth’s edge to heaven’s edge.”

Where’s Jesus during this suffering and persecution? Apparently not here. Which meant he was gonna leave. Which is not what his students were expecting. Even though he repeatedly told ’em they were going to Jerusalem where he’d be killed, Mk 8.31-32, 9.31, 10.33 they expected they were going to Jerusalem for him to conquer it. Even after he was raised, they expected him to take it over at that time! Ac 1.6 Fond beliefs are awfully hard to give up.

I don’t blame ’em for wanting Jesus to take over Jerusalem immediately. I want him to do that too. But first things first. First the period of suffering, like the bit where Jerusalem fell to the Romans, who performed horrible atrocities on its inhabitants in the year 70. Then the persecution of Jesus’s followers, which—despite large breaks, and powerful sanctuary nations like the United States—continue to this very day, in the millions, far more than there have ever been. And of course fake Messiahs and prophets, which we have in the States as well, ’cause comfortable Christians are way easier to lead astray than those who depend on God minute by minute.

The conditions are right for Jesus to return at any instant. The sooner the better. Come Lord Jesus!

10 November 2017

“Prophecy scholars”: Neither prophets nor scholars.

These are the folks who write all the End Times books.

I’m Pentecostal. So whenever I see an notice or ad for an upcoming “prophecy conference,” they tend to refer to prophets. Actual prophets. Meaning people who’ve learned to listen to the Holy Spirit—and thereafter share with others what he’s told them. True, some of ’em practice some really iffy methods of identifying his voice. But when Penecostals, charismatics, and most continuationists refer to prophecy, we literally mean the same thing we see done in the bible by Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Simon Peter, and Paul of Tarsus. They heard God; they shared what they he told ’em; that’s prophecy.

Outside Pentecostal circles—though not far outside Pentecostal circles, ’cause from time to time it gets in here—is a whole other type of “prophecy conference.” There, they aren’t at all talking about hearing God. They mean predictions about the End Times. They’re throwing a conference ’cause they wanna tell you what they think the apocalypses mean.

Um… didn’t God deliberately make those visions difficult to interpret, their details near-impossible to pin down, lest people try to make their own plans for the future which do an end-run around him? Well, insist these “prophecy scholars,” not really. ’Cause they were able to figure ’em out. They got a system!

Yep, figured out how to connect the dots. They were more discerning, more clever, more devout, more studied, more fervent, than all the other Christians before them. All the supposedly level-headed folks who insist we’re not to bounce to conclusions based on coincidence and fear-based illogic: They’re wearing blinders. Wake up, sheeple!

So come to their conferences. Pay the admission. Buy their books. Donate to their ministries. Subscribe to their websites. Hire them to preach at your churches. ’Cause they’re not giving away their teachings for free, y’know. They gotta pay the bills.

Anyway if you ever make the mistake of going to the conferences, led by “noted prophecy scholars” (many of whom you’ve never even heard of, unless you or your church have already blown hundreds of dollars a year on their stuff), you’ll notice their definition of “prophecy” is precisely the same as that of pagans. In other words, prophecy isn’t hearing from God; it’s about predicting the future. It’s only about the future. And, warn these guys, it’s likely the near future!

Well okay, they’ve been claiming that for the past two centuries. But unlike their prophecy-scholar forebears, their interpretations are gonna be correct. ’Cause discernment, cleverness, devotion, study, yada yada yada.

13 October 2017

Satan’s fall.

Satan used to have access to heaven. Now it doesn’t.

Revelation 12

One of the popular myths about the devil is it used to an angel. Not just that it fakes being one. 2Co 11.14 Christians will teach it straight-up was one.

Even more: It was Lucifer, the greatest angel ever. The best and brightest and mightiest angel in the heavens. Head of the heavenly choir. Ruled over earth as God’s number two. The Holy Spirit’s vice-president, more or less.

Anybody else think someone’s been padding its résumé a little?

Pause a moment, go some basic digging through the bible, and you’re gonna find out it says nowhere that Satan used to be an angel. It may have angels, working for it. At one time it came and went before God, just like God’s mightier angels. But Satan’s species is never once identified.

Given Satan’s reputation as a liar, Jn 8.44 I’m mighty suspicious about any stories about its origin which attempt to make it look like it used to be kind of a big deal.

Or still is. During Jesus’s temptations, Satan identified itself as being the master of the world’s kingdoms, then offered them to Jesus. Lk 4.6 Various Christians take this statement at face value, but Jesus’s response was, “Oh, get out of here, Satan.” Mt 4.10 If the devil is indeed the ruler of this world (and I’m pretty sure Jesus meant sin rules the world, not Satan) Jn 12.31, 14.30 it’s only because the world’s true rulers, humanity, dropped our reins and Satan is now playing with them. Like a little kid who tugs on the steering wheel in a parked car.

Y’see, Satan fell. Jesus watched it fall. Lk 10.18 And about 40 years later, he presented John of Patmos with a vision of the time Satan got tossed from heaven. Whatever the devil used to be, whatever power it was granted, is now irrelevant: It fell. It’s not a heavenly being anymore. It was banished. It’s an earthly being, same as us.

Or worse than us: Every human has the potential to tap into God’s grace and become one of his kids. Jn 1.12 But in another of Jesus’s revelations to John, he also clued us in to the fact Satan’s never gonna repent, nor avail itself of God’s grace. It’s going into the fire. Rv 20.10

So if you imagine the devil’s a big deal, don’t. It’s a defeated foe. Even we have the power to get it to flee from us. Jm 4.7 Stop fearing it, and start resisting it.

29 September 2017

The Fish-Sorting story.

What kind of fish are you?

Matthew 13.47-50

But before the Fish-Sorting story, let’s have the Fish Slapping Dance.


You wanna watch the whole thing, do it here. Monty Python

’Cause this parable’s about the End, and about judging the wicked, so it’s a bit of a downer. So I thought I’d first cheer you up with some grown men hitting each other with dead fish.

Considering a few of Jesus’s students were fishermen, stands to reason he’d include a fishing parable. This one compares sorting fish to sorting the wicked. Bad fish get tossed; bad humans get burnt.

Matthew 13.47-50 KWL
47 “Again: Heaven’s kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea, gathering every kind of fish.
48 Once filled it’s pulled up onto the beach and sorted.
People gather good fish into a vat, and rotten fish are thrown out.
49 It’s the same at the end of the age:
The angels will come out, and separate the evil from the middle of the righteous.
50 The angels will throw the evil into the fiery kiln.
It’ll be weeping and teeth-grinding there.”

O vrygmós ton odónton/“the grinding of teeth” refers to grinding ’em in anger, not suffering. These folks will be outraged they’re headed into the fire and not the kingdom: They expected the kingdom. They figured their public good deeds made ’em worthy, or the sinner’s prayer guaranteed them a slot. But, as Jesus elsewhere stated, they had no relationship with him, Mt 7.23 didn’t abide in him and produce fruit. Jn 15.4-5 Their “good deeds” were all tainted with self-promotion, instead of provoked by God’s love. Of course they get tossed out like stinky dead fish.

15 September 2017

The wealthy, their crimes, and their coming judgment.

On the misdeeds of the wealthy in James’s day.

James 5.1-8.

This next bit of James was directed to the specific people of James’s day.

Problem is, not every Christian has understood this. You know how we humans are; we wanna make everything about us. So we’ve looked at this passage and tried to figure out how it applies to us and the people of our day. Especially the people of our day, since rebuke and judgment are involved: We definitely want those bits to apply to other people.

Since James dropped a reference or two to Jesus’s second coming—an event which’ll take place at any time, a belief Christians have held since the beginning, and even Jesus’s first apostles watched out for it, as Jesus instructed—historically we’ve interpreted this bit as an End Times reference. It’s not really. In the New Testament, “the last days” doesn’t refer to the End Times, but the Christian Era. Ac 2.17, He 1.2 The “first days” were before Christ; the “last days” are after God’s kingdom has come near. As historians call ’em, BC and CE. And in these last days, we’re to live like the kingdom’s arrived—not like it hasn’t, and never will.

So when James rebuked the people of his church for living the same old lifestyle during “the last days,” he meant they weren’t acting as King Jesus’s followers should. Whether today or during the End Times. That should be our takeaway as well: If you’re wealthy, do try not to behave like these people.

And do try not to read this passage through your End Times filter. Read it for what it says.

James 5.1-8 KWL
1 Come now, wealthy Christians: Lament loudly about the sufferings which you’re going through.
2 Your wealth has decayed. Your clothes became moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver have tarnished. Their poison will be your testimony:
It’ll eat your flesh like fire. You stockpiled for the last days.
4 Look at the wages of the workers who reap your fields—withheld by you, so they cry out.
The reapers’ roar has entered the ear of the Lord of War.
5 You all lived comfortably, luxuriously, on the earth. You fed your hearts on the day of slaughter.
6 You all condemned, murdered the Righteous One, who doesn’t resist you.
7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.
Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,
patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.
8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:
The Master’s second coming has come near.

Okay. In James’s day, the wealthy Christians in his community were suffering. In part because their wealth had come to nothing. And more suffering was coming—because they’d ethisavrísate/“accumulated wealth” (KJV “laid up treasure”) instead of doing what they were supposed to be doing with it: They weren’t paying their employees.

Some people use this verse to knock the rich in general; to promote a little class welfare. This isn’t about all the wealthy; it’s not James knocking the rich for being rich. James got on their case because their workers were suffering, and crying out to God. So this is a prophecy from James, who’d been told by the Holy Spirit why the wealthy in his church were losing their money: God was judging them for their evil.

Yes, evil. It’s against God’s Law to not pay your employees. In fact the Law stipulates we have to pay ’em the same day they worked. None of this saving up till payday, like we do nowadays.

Deuteronomy 24.14-15 KWL
14 Don’t tyrannize needy and poor employees,
whether relatives, or foreigners who live in your land or within your gates.
15 Give their wages that day. Don’t let the sun come down on them first.
For they’re poor. They carry their soul in their hands.
Don’t let them call the LORD about you, and let it be sin upon you.

The unpaid reapers Jm 5.4 had told God on their bosses. This triggered Kyríu Savaóth—which is a half-translation, half-transliteration of YHWH Chevaót/“the LORD of Armies” (KJV “LORD of hosts”), our God when he’s about to do battle. These people’s ruin was God’s judgment on their misdeeds.

In that day. Not in the End Times. God isn’t always gonna wait till the End to open up a can of whup-ass. The cycle of history happens over and over again for this very reason.

Hence if the wealthy exploit the poor in this generation, there’s every chance God may take away their wealth again. It may not be the End Times… but it’ll definitely feel like the End Times for these people.

22 August 2017

Paradise: The nicer part of the afterlife.

Where Christians go when we die… and why we prefer other ideas to that of paradise.

Paradise /'pɛr.ə.daɪs/ n. In the afterlife, the place of the blessed. [Usually equated with heaven.]
2. The garden of Eden.
3. An ideal, happy, peaceful, or picturesque place or state.
[Paradisal /pɛr.ə'daɪz.əl/ adj.]

Perdís was an ancient Persian word for “a park.” Persian parks were particularly known for their decorative, ornamental gardens.

Both Hebrew and Greek borrowed the word. Late Biblical Hebrew turned it into pardés, which is found in the bible thrice. Sg 4.13, Ec 2.5, Ne 2.8 Ancient Greek turned it into parádeisos, also found thrice. Lk 23.43, 2Co 12.4, Rv 2.7 It’s where we get our English word paradise.

Of course in English a paradise refers to any nice place. I tend to hear it describe tropical beaches, which are hardly garden-like. But the Pharisees grew to use it primarily to describe Eden, the place of the first humans. And the afterlife.

Like Ecclesiastes commented, nobody really knew what happened to a human’s spirit after death. Ec 3.21 But they speculated. To them, once the body was in sh’ól/“the grave,” once the neféš/“soul, lifeforce” was extinguished, the spirit would go elsewhere and await resurrection. In the Old Testament, “elsewhere” was the same for both the righteous and the wicked. Ec 9.10 They didn’t imagine it as a place of reward nor punishment. It was simply where the dead went.

No, that’s not a pleasant idea. That’s why over time the Pharisees came to believe God sorted people in the “elsewhere” for reward and punishment, before resurrection. Different parts of the afterlife. A restful part, and a hellish part.

Y’know that story Jesus told of Lazarus and the rich man? Lk 16.19-31 Like that. The rich man’s torment, the Pharisees designated ge-Henna, after the burning landfill outside Jerusalem. Lazarus’s comfort, in contrast, was designated paradise, as if the LORD had teleported Eden into the afterlife, and let the ghosts of the deceased wander around there. (Not sure what they’d do with the fruit trees, though.) Yeah, both these terms are metaphors. Torment wasn’t literally a burning garbage fire, although it was mighty bad. Comfort wasn’t literally Eden.

Now, here’s the problem: Is this what our afterlife is gonna consist of? ’Cause for most Christians, this simply won’t be good enough. Our preachers promised us mansions in heaven. We want that. We don’t wanna lounge around with Abraham and await Jesus’s return; we wanna see our dead relatives and friends, then find Jesus and give him a big ol’ hug (and maybe weep on his toga for a bit), then run into the fields and play with our childhood pets which died years ago. We don’t just want comfort; we want our eternal reward. Right away.

So we wanna hear Jesus has significantly changed things since bible times. Here’s the problem: Bible doesn’t say he’s changed a thing. But Christian mythology sure does, and that’s the story Christians prefer.