Gospel 3 – Handed over to passions and desires – Romans 1 v 15 – 23

gospel 3

In Romans 1 the Apostle introduced his theme of the gospel – the good news of judicial approval from God, received by God given persuasion, that in turn leads to trusting obedience. Why do we need God’s judicial approval? Because even though God is not seen directly, humanity knows a lot about Him because He is revealed in the things that He has made. But unrighteousness at the very core of people’s nature means that they suppress what they know, such that they do not honour God and change the truth about God for images of created things – humans, animals, birds and so on. For this reason, God has handed people over to their faulty thinking and the undercurrents of passion and desire rising up from deep within them.

Thus we see God’s settled anger being revealed from heaven in the general behavior of humanity, particularly in unnatural sexual relationships, and in people dishonoring their own physical bodies. Three times Paul tells us that in proportion to the degree that people fail to test their knowledge of God or hold on to and recognize God as God, He has handed people over to their desires.

Paul says:

1 v 24 – 32

Exactly in proportion to the fact that

                        They did not examine and test in order

                        To hold on to and recognize God in their experiential knowledge

            God handed them over to

                        Their mind and reasoning not passing the test –

                                    To manufacture and construct

                                                That which is improper and unfitting

Having been filled to capacity

                With all kinds of

                                   Injustice, pain-ridden wickedness and

                                   The desire for more possessions

                                   An undercurrent of malice, full of

                                   Embittered grudges, murder, quarrels, deceitful treachery

                                   A malicious disposition

                                  Whispering sneaky gossip and criticism

                                  Slanderers, hating God,

                                  Violently insolent, proud, arrogant and disdainful

                                  Flaunting themselves in a boastful way

                                 Contriving and inventing evil from within

                                 Unwilling to be persuaded by parents

                                 Unwise because they fail to put the facts together

                                 Breaking agreements, unfeeling and without compassion.

They have known in experience

         What God has announced to be judicially approved of –

                        That whoever performs such things as a regular practice

                        Are weighed and balanced and found to be deserving of death

BUT

            Not only do they manufacture and construct these things

            They also identify with, agree with and are of one mind with

                        Those who actively and regularly practice them

Comment

The Apostle presents us with a dynamic model or pattern of human behavior – a pattern that we shall see more of as we go on into later chapters. We only have to look around us to see the kinds of qualities listed above being evidenced in the world today. We see them displayed at every level of society from royalty, to political leaders, to bankers, to bosses of companies – right down to the lowest levels – to workers and the unemployed. As we look at this list of behaviors we might think that it is a bit of an extreme caricature, but these are the end results, the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that are the end product if people continue to follow the undercurrents of their inner passions, desires and lusts in an unregulated way.

Although this list seems like a caricature, in reality, people do not display all of these attitudes and behaviors to an absolute degree. Rather, as the Apostle points out, God hands people over to their inner desires exactly in proportion to the degree that they do not examine and test their knowledge in order to hold on to and recognize God. The fact is that we only have to watch or listen to the news, or read a newspaper, to readily see people exhibiting some of these qualities – sometimes to an unacceptable degree.

When people see injustice, greed, corruption, violence, lack of compassion, arrogance and so on, they often complain: ‘Where is God?’ or ‘Why does God allow such and such a thing to happen?’ The Apostle tells us that what people are seeing is the anger of God being revealed from heaven. But many people these days want to portray God as all-loving, all-forgiving, all-merciful, but still ‘fair’, but of course, what we see around us does not fit in with such a view of God. As a result, many people then conclude that God does not exist – but the Apostle tells us that their thinking has become aimless, pointless and without understanding, their very core is darkened. They assert and affirm themselves to be wise and skilled but they have become dull, sluggish and turned to foolishness. They have changed the honor, renown and splendor of God into forms and images of God being a ‘big man in the sky’ or even of God being like some form of animal. People often agree together on some of these conclusions and say in effect ‘If God does not exist, well, let’s eat drink and be merry – this is not a rehearsal – let’s get what we can out of life.’ And so they begin to approve, to varying degrees, some of these qualities that the Apostle has listed.

 

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Gospel 2 Romans 1 v 18 – 32 The swelling up of the settled anger of God

gospel 2

Paul stated the theme of his letter to Christians in Rome in Chapter 1 v 15 – 17:

The good news is the power of God

That brings deliverance to everyone who believes

    Because in the good news – in the the gospel –

       The fair judicial approval of God is revealed –

           By a gift of persuasion that leads to obedience

Now, in Chapter 1 v 18 – 32, Paul immediately begins to set out the context for this message of good news and why it is necessary. Once again I note the importance of small linking words which I will put in CAPITALS –

The news of deliverance and God’s judicial approval is good

BECAUSE (FOR)

     A swelling up of settled, passionate anger and opposition of God

     Is uncovered from the spiritual real of heaven

On the basis of

     Every kind of refusal by humans to give honor

     Where it is due

AND

     Every kind of human injustice and opposition

     To what is right

 

Unrighteousness within human beings means that

Humans hold back, tie down and restrain what is true to the facts

BECAUSE

            Experiential knowledge of God clearly exists within them

BECAUSE

            God has illumined and made Himself plain and apparent

BECAUSE

            (Although) He is unseen, away from the created world

                        Both His everlasting ability to perform

                                    And His revealed deity

                        Are being understood and apprehended

                                    By the means of things made and clearly seen

                        Leading humans to be inexcusable –

                                   Having no ground of defense

FOR THIS REASON (Because of unrighteousness within)

            Having come to know God in personal experience

            They did not value, honor and give weight to God for who He really is

            Nor did they give thanks

BUT INSTEAD

            Their thinking became aimless and pointless and without understanding,

     Their very core was darkened

            Asserting and affirming themselves to be wise and skilled

                        They became dull, sluggish and turned to foolishness and

                                    They changed the honor, renown and splendor of God

                                          Into forms and images of

                                                Decaying humans and of

                                                Birds, and

                                                Four-legged animals and

                                                Crawling creatures or snakes

THEREFORE

            God handed them over –

            Inside them, eagerness and desire in the core of their being led them to

                        Impurity and to ceremonial uncleanness

                        To shameful indignity and

                        To the dishonor of their physical bodies among themselves

                             No matter who it was who changed the truth of God

                            With regard to who He really is –

                                     Intentionally turning the truth into semi-truth and lies

                                    And worshiping, standing in awe of

                                    And giving service to created things

                                                In the presence of the One Who has created (them)

                        (Who is worthy of praise leading through the ages – So be it!)

The Apostle states it again: (v26)

BECAUSE OF

  This unrighteousness

            God handed them over to

            Raw strong feelings of valueless dishonor –

                        Females changed natural use and function –

                                    Leading to that which is closely alongside

                                    Their inner nature and constitution

  In addition, in the same way

                        Males, having sent away the natural use of the female

                        Burned in their strong desires and lust for one another

                        Males with males

  This improper lack of purpose works out to the end point –

                        They receive back within themselves

                        The corresponding reward of their deviant error –

                                A recompense that must inevitably happen

AND

            Exactly in proportion to the fact that

                        They did not examine and test (their knowledge) in order

                        To hold on to and recognize God in their experiential knowledge

            God handed them over to

                        Their mind and reasoning not passing the test –

                                    Leading to their manufacture and construction of

                                                That which is improper and unfitting

            Having been filled to capacity

            With all kinds of

            Injustice, pain-ridden wickedness and

           The desire for more possessions

            An undercurrent of malice, full of

                                    Embittered grudges, murder, quarrels, deceitful treachery

                                    A malicious disposition

           Whispering sneaky gossip and criticism

           Slanderers, hating God,

          Violently insolent, proud, arrogant and disdainful

          Flaunting themselves in a boastful way

          Contriving and inventing evil from within

          Unwilling to be persuaded by parents

          Unwise because they fail to put the facts together

          Breaking agreements, unfeeling and without compassion.

  They have known in experience

        What God has announced to be judicially approved of:

                        That whoever performs such things as a regular practice

                                    Are weighed and balanced

                                    And found to be deserving of death

BUT

            Not only do they manufacture and construct these things

            They also identify with, agree and are of one mind with

                        Those who actively and regularly practice them

Comments

Of course, some see these sentiments as ‘unfashionable’, ‘outdated’, or ‘politically incorrect’, especially when it comes to the statements about homosexuality and lesbianism. Some Christians talk about God’s love and our need as Christians to reflect and extend God’s love to so-called ‘gay’ men and women. Such Christians reinterpret raw strong feelings, desire and lust for same-sex partners as ‘love’ – and so they reason that as Christians we should celebrate same sex partnerships as expressions of sincere love, and that we should express loving acceptance of them in the same way that God lovingly accepts us. I do not see that kind of reasoning being presented here by the Apostle.

But this raises the question of the purpose of these posts. I am not in the business of ‘apologetics’ – the religious discipline of defending or attempting to prove the truth of religious doctrines, especially to ‘outsiders’, through systematic argumentation and discourse. I take this stance with regard to apologetics based on the Apostle Paul’s encounter with the Epicurian and Stoic philosophers in Athens. They heard Paul preaching the gospel and wanted to know more: ‘they took [Paul] and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.’ (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas) Acts 17 v 19 – 21. Paul preached the gospel to them but ‘when [the philosophers] heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ At that, Paul left the Council. Acts 17 v 32, 33. Paul did not go back, not even to those who wanted to know more. He was not interested in doing nothing but talking about and listening to ideas, or trying to defend and justify his ideas in the face of the alternative philosophical points of view of ‘outsiders’.

There is, you see, a final court of appeal in these matters for Christians and I suggest that is God’s word expressed in Scripture. I may not openly refer unbelieving Gentiles to Scripture – after all, the Old Testament Scriptures are largely written for the Jews. Nevertheless, Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) form the ground, base and foundation of the Christian’s understanding of spiritual realities, and Christians embrace it more and more as they grow in the faith. Much, if not all, of the New Testament consists of Apostolic teaching – the teaching of those directly commissioned by Jesus to declare the gospel – and Christians are encouraged to hold on strongly to this teaching and practice.

Therefore, my responsibility here is to remain faithful and true to what the Apostles taught. It is not my responsibility to engage in endless debates with ‘outsiders’ by trying to justify or defend what the Apostles taught. Like Paul, I walk away from such debates. My responsibility is, as faithfully and accurately as I can, to present Apostolic teaching, whilst recognizing that such teaching is spiritually discerned and that even being able to receive it, is a gift. Those who are able to hear let them hear. As for the rest, let them go their own way (Matthew 15 v 14, Luke 6 v 39).

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Gospel – 1 – Romans 1 v 1 – 17 The Judicial approval of God

gospel 1

Back in the 1960’s, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a very popular preacher and author. He gave a great piece of advice that has remained with me since the early 1970’s. It was almost certainly in one of his commentary series on Paul’s letter to the Romans. He pointed out how systematic and logical the Apostle was in his writing and that it was important for Christians, when studying Paul’s epistles, to pay attention to small but very important linking words. Words and phrases like: ‘Therefore’ ‘If’ ‘Then’ ‘So’ and ‘For’. These are the words that help us to understand the Apostle’s construction of his reasons, conclusions and implications with regard to the statements that he makes. Paying attention to these kinds of words helps Christians to understand the structure and logical flow of what Paul is saying and why he is saying it.

With this principle firmly in mind, over the next series of posts, I am going to look at Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he presents a concise summary of the gospel – the good news – along with its implications and comments as to how Christians should respond to it. Words like ‘So’, ‘And’ and ‘For’ will serve as a guide with regard to how the Apostle introduces new themes as well as how the Apostle introduces the implications of these themes.

My first intention was to write a couple of posts made up of headings – outline notes of the statements and themes that the Apostle writes about. But I found this to be very difficult, because the Apostle’s writing is so compact, so dense in the many different themes that he covers in just a few sentences. Hence, this series of posts on the gospel, drawn from Paul’s letter to the Romans, will be quite a few more in number than just two or three!

I will make considerable reference to the original Greek text and to relevant word studies. This means that in quoting Scripture verses I am present an amplified version in reference to the original words of the text in order to try and bring out the full meaning of the verse and what I understand to be the Apostle’s intended meaning.

In Chapter 1 verses 1 – 6 we can note that this letter is written by Paul who is an Apostle – a person who has been directly commissioned by Jesus Himself to preach the gospel, baptize new Christians and so on. We read elsewhere that Paul was called to be an Apostle at a slightly later time that the other eleven disciples of Jesus. Jesus called the eleven disciples to be Apostles shortly before his ascension to the spiritual realm of heaven, but Paul – initially a strong and zealous opponent of Christianity – was called later, whilst he was traveling on the road to Damascus on a mission of persecution of Hebrew Christians. There, he saw the now-resurrected Jesus for himself. He became an eye-witness that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. This appearance of Jesus was not a subjective hallucination or illusion – Jesus, now resurrected and alive after his crucifixion and death – actually appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road. (This is one reason why Paul was contemptuous of dead idols of stone, wood and metal manufactured by human hands – Paul worshipped Jesus as physically real and alive). Jesus commissioned Paul to preach the gospel to non-Jews – to Gentiles.

Paul declares that this gospel, this good news that Paul has been set apart for, had been promised beforehand – through Jewish prophets – their words being recorded in the writings of what we know as the Old Testament – the Hebrew Scriptures. This good news is in regard to God’s Son, Jesus the chosen Deliverer, our Master, who in his earthly life was a descendant of King David. He was marked out to be the Son of God in powerful energy brought down by the pure Spirit of God – by the raising up to life again from the dead.

Through him, says Paul, we received God’s favor and His commission on behalf of His name, leading to every kind of Gentile or non-Jew entrusting themselves in obedience. And you (Christians in Rome) are also among those Gentiles Jesus the Messiah summoned.

Verses 7 to 14 are mainly concerned with Paul’s personal greetings and news, then, after these initial comments, Paul comes back in v 15 to his theme: Paul was eager to preach the gospel in Rome. Why? What is it about the gospel that is so special? Paul tells us immediately:

            It is the power of God that brings deliverance to everyone who believes

                        First to Jews

                        Then to Gentiles

Now how can this be? How can this message of good news about Jesus bring deliverance? Right here, in verse 17, Paul declares the predominant theme of his letter to the Christians in Rome:

The gospel is the power of God that brings deliverance to everyone who believes

BECAUSE (here is one of the first of those important linking words)

Because in the gospel

           The fair judicial approval of God is revealed –

           By a gift of persuasion that leads to obedience

                        Leading to a gift of persuasion that leads to obedience

It has been written:

           Those who have God’s judicial approval

          Will live by a gift of persuasion

          That leads to obedience coming out from within them

That is the theme of Paul’s letter – the good news of the fair judicial approval of God received by a gift of persuasion that leads to obedience.

This is something that was hidden in previous times. There had been the promise of a Deliverer – a chosen one set apart by God. God had promised that the Deliverer would come from the Jews, from the physical descendants of Abraham and Sarah, and as such, the Jews would prove to be a blessing to other nations. And the Jews had been cultivated, nurtured and set apart to be ready for their promised Deliverer. They had been given God’s Law and the Prophets. But the details as to how God would accomplish this deliverance were vague – veiled and hidden. Prophets and angels longed to look into these details but they could not perceive what was entailed. Now, at this present time, in the gospel, God’s fair, judicial approval is revealed.

 

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The Gospel – Introduction – The period up to the Apostles

spiritualminded

Let me consolidate some of the themes that we have seen in the Old Testament and gospels as I have presented them in earlier posts.

God created the earth and it was ‘very good’. The creation of human beings in God’s image was the culmination of God’s creation

Adam and Eve were placed in the garden that God created, and God established a Covenant with them – Namely that they were not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

Adam disobeyed God’s command – he stepped over the line – and death and God’s condemnation arose as a result. The ground was cursed. There would be pain in childbearing. God retreated to the spiritual realm of heaven, separated from earth by a wall of partition. But there was also the faint promise of a future deliverer.

At one point God almost destroyed the world with a flood because the thoughts of human beings were continually evil

But God did not abandon His creation. Instead God embarked upon a plan of restoration and reconciliation.

God established another Covenant, this time with Abram. He would become the father of a great nation even though both Abram and his wife Sarai were old – Sarai was beyond childbearing age. Even so, God promised that they would have a son – and Abram believed God

At first, Abram and Sarai concluded that God wanted them to follow a custom that had been established – namely that Abram would father a son with their servant, Hagar. Hagar became pregnant and in due course Ishmael was born.

But God declared that thus was not His plan at all, and that it was Sarai who would become pregnant. In due course, Isaac was born to Abram and Sarai. But as the children grew up, there were disagreements between them and in the end, Hagar and Ishmael were discharged and sent on their way.

God made promises to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac that they would become a great nation, (Jews/Israel) and that they would inherit a certain portion of land, and that from these descendants, a deliverer would emerge who would also be a blessing to other nations.

As a sign of being a descendant of Abraham, male infants underwent circumcision. Any male outsider who subscribed to following the God of Abraham, (proselyte), also had to undergo circumcision as an outward sign of membership

Under the later leadership of Moses, Abraham’s descendants through Isaac, the Jews, were delivered out of harsh slavery in Egypt. God further elaborated His covenant, and God’s Law was given to the Jews.

The Law was given to the Jews as they were being cultivated, as God’s chosen nation, to receive their promised Deliverer. The Law was given to safeguard them from falling away into ungodliness and error.

God further elaborated His covenant when the Jews had David as their King. Their deliverer would be an everlasting king who would lead Israel into prosperity and security as God’s people.

But the Jews continually failed to obey the terms and conditions of God’s covenant with them. Prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah warned them of God’s impending anger.

Eventually, Israel split into two Kingdoms, both which were overthrown by surrounding nations. The Jews were exiled from their own land – an exile that continues right down to this day. Israel was eventually reduced to a province of the Roman Empire. Following various rebellions by Jews against these occupying forces, remaining Jews were thrown out of their own country – the Jewish Diaspora – to be scattered throughout other nations and countries.

Immediately before the Diaspora, Jesus was born and he eventually declared himself to be the Messiah. But Jesus was not the sort of Messiah that Jews were expecting. He was not a national leader who rallied Israel to defeat its occupying forces. He did not seem to fulfill all of the prophecies that the Jews applied to their anticipated deliverer.

Jesus came to the Jews, preached in their synagogues, and taught about the Kingdom that God was establishing. But the Jews rejected Jesus and regarded him as an upstart and a blasphemer. Jesus fell out with the Jewish leaders – with priests, scribes and Pharisees – and in the end, they conspired to have him done away with.

Eventually, Jesus was arrested, put on trial by Gentile Roman authorities under pressure from Jewish leaders, and crucified. The Jewish leaders congratulated themselves on dealing with a renegade blasphemer, and the close followers of Jesus went into hiding, dismayed and discouraged.

But then, news began to gather that Jesus had risen from the dead. This news proved impossible to silence. Many people testified that they had seen Jesus alive, including his close followers, and eventually, his close followers saw him ascend to the spiritual realm of heaven.

Shortly after this his close followers – commissioned by Jesus himself to spread the good news as eyewitnesses of his resurrection – were filled with the Spirit of God and empowered to declare the gospel with boldness and confidence.

Christianity became a sect within Judaism. But many Jews, including Jewish leaders in the Jewish religious Court – the Sanhedrin – were outraged at the message that Jesus was the deliverer that God had promised to the Jews. When this message was preached in Jewish synagogues, there were often riots and lynch mobs.

The good news was presented to Jews before anyone else. They had been cultivated and nurtured to receive their promised deliverer. But because the Jews opposed and resisted the gospel; because they rejected Jesus as being their promised deliverer, and because they were hostile to the Apostles and Evangelists, the good news was then presented to ‘outsiders’ – to non-Jews or Gentiles.

So what is the gospel – the good news? And what is the position of the Jews now? What about God’s promises to the descendants of Abraham through Isaac? What about the Promised Land and the everlasting Kingdom? What is the position of Gentile ‘outsiders’ who come to embrace the gospel? Probably the best outline of gospel ‘theology’ is to be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. I will summarize what Paul has to say over the next few posts.

 

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Views of the Messiah

whoisthiscover symbol

Christians, particularly Protestant Christians, are very used to emphasizing that they have a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus. There is an attitude of individualism that arose within Protestantism that resulted in each individual Christian placing a focus on their personal relationship with God. In addition, reactions within Protestantism to cold, dead, formal orthodoxy or too much emphasis on dry, scholarly, and sometimes divisive theology, led to pietism and the focus on cultivating a personal experience of the Spirit of God as part of a lively, active, relevant and dynamic personal spiritual life. Influences such as these infiltrated the Great Awakening and its leaders such as Jonathan Edwards in particular. The Great Awakening formed the basis for what we now know as Evangelicalism – especially in the U.S.A. Thus we find an emphasis on individuals reading and interpreting Scripture for themselves, and we find preachers encouraging individuals to ‘ask Jesus to come into their heart’, as well as perhaps encouragements to personal, individual experiences of spiritual gifts, or to a personal, individual experience of the Spirit of God, or the Presence of God.

This individualism reflects one of the great differences between modern day ‘Bible-believing’ Christians and the Jews, because the Jews tend to perceive God’s dealings with them as being at a national level more than at a personal or individual level. Jewish focus is on a group of people, physically descended from Abraham and the son that God promised to Abraham – Isaac – as being God’s chosen people. God made a number of promises to Abraham and his descendants, including the promise of land and the provision of a future deliverer. These promises to the descendants of Abraham and Isaac were further elaborated under Moses in particular. The Jews were set apart as God’s people and given not only promises but also privileges, revelations, prophets and God’s Law in order to keep them on a godly path until the time for their promised deliverer arrived.

But the Jews disobeyed the conditions of the Covenants that God made with them again and again, such that they roused the anger of God and lost what land they had managed to possess and found themselves placed in exile. By the time of Jesus, their land was reduced to a province under Roman governance. Even so, the Jews at this time were still looking for their promised deliverer or Messiah, and the Jews understood the promises surrounding the Messiah in nationalistic terms. This meant that the promised deliverer was thought of in terms of a ruler/king in Israel who would arise and deliver the Jews from Roman rule, defeat their enemies and establish the Promised Land that they would possess from then on under the heirs and successors of this promised ruler. This would usher in prosperity and blessedness for the Jews – for Israel.

Jesus claimed to be the promised Messiah but when he began his ministry he was met with opposition from the Jews. Despite his teaching and miracle working, he was seen as an upstart and a false messiah. On his death, the Jews considered that he had not fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies, and so they rejected him. Then, following a failed attempt to overthrow Roman governance, the Jews were banished from their own land – thus continuing their exile – an exile that had lasted from the time of Isaiah and Jeremiah right up until the end of World War II. The book or Revelation tells us that they were scattered in exile in the wilderness to prevent Satan, who was incensed at his failure to frustrate the work of the Messiah, from turning on them and destroying them.

Meanwhile, Christians, on seeing that not all of the Messianic prophesies had been fulfilled by Jesus, but still insisting that God cannot fail, chose to ‘spiritualise’ these unfulfilled prophesies by arguing that they had a ‘spiritual fulfillment’ in heaven. In the process, they denied the possibility of any literal, material fulfillment of prophecies found for example in Isaiah and Jeremiah.

A careful reading of Scripture reveals that the Jews are not wrong to interpret these prophecies in nationalistic terms. Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied the then forthcoming overthrow and captivity of the divided northern and southern kingdoms. But they were also at pains to point out that this defeat did not mean that God had abandoned them or that God had failed, and that in due course, God would honor His promises to the Jews because he had sworn by His own Name to fulfill His promises.

Thus, at the end of the present age, with the rise of the ‘man of lawlessness’, the Jews, at a national level, will have paid in full for their breaking of the Covenants and rejection of the Messiah. At the end of this present age, the full number of Gentiles and martyrs will have come in, and the gospel age will come to a close and God furious wrath will be poured out. It is with the close of the present age that God’s promises to the Jews as a nation will come into effect. Following the events that will occur during the time of the generation of the ‘man of lawlessness’, Jerusalem and Israel will be purged and cleansed, and afterwards the remaining remnant of Jews will be brought out of exile and will be gathered to their Promised Land. The rule of the Messiah will be established in Zion and the time for the judgment of nations will begin.

 

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Being watchful

After being away from a Christian fellowship for some time, it is interesting on coming back, to see the changes that have taken place. Small changes that take place month by month and year by year are hardly noticed by those who attend week by week, but on returning after a period of absence, the culmination of such changes seems much more obvious.

One development that has struck me in this way recently is the rise of a form of pseudo Christian Gnosticism within conservative Christian fellowships. It does not appear or promote itself under that name however. Instead there is a set of seemingly innocuous trends and features that seem to have infiltrated many of the fellowships that I have attended recently – trends and aspects connected with so-called ‘inner spirituality’ – hence the connection with Christian Gnosticism and also with Christian Mysticism.

Influences such as these have been infiltrating fellowships since Apostolic times, but since the 1960’s they have done so in a more open way and are closely connected with the increasing popularity since that time of the Charismatic Movement. These seemingly harmless and popular trends seem to me to be leading Christians into a form of sleepwalking. Scripture counsels us to be awake and to be watchful. It teaches us to grow in understanding with regards to the teaching of the Apostles concerning Jesus the Messiah, in order that we may be stable and bear fruit in our lives.

But under the influence of these trends towards inner spirituality and experiencing the Presence of God, Christians increasingly abandon theology because they see it as ‘divisive’. Instead, a ‘personal experience of God’ (or Jesus, or the Spirit) is put in place of a systematic understanding of Scripture and theology. In some cases, understanding, analytical thought, reason, debate, discussion concerning Scripture and the exercise of self-control in the light of understanding Scripture correctly are virtually abandoned in favour of an attitude of surrender to God, where lilting (or bland) songs of praise are sung, and a form of triumphalism is preached. Key Scripture verses are repeated in a mantra-like way as a badge of group membership, and talk of God’s Judgment and Wrath, if spoken of at all, is either spoken of as something that is reserved for unbelievers – for other people – or it is used as a spur to move people to escape judgment by ‘asking Jesus into their heart’.

This focus on the heart and on the ‘Kingdom of God within’ leads to a dismal state of affairs, since Scripture is concerned with real, objective events and warns us concerning the course of this present age. It seems to me that prophecies concerning the end of this present age and the coming ‘Day of the Lord’ have never been so pertinent as at this present time. I read what Scripture has to say and it seems to me that events are indeed steadily moving into place for the culmination of the age. I am not a fan of Twitter-like ‘soundbytes’ – of just quoting a few seemingly pertinent verses of Scripture. I have come the conclusion that the end of the present age is potentially near based on reading the Scripture narrative – as opposed to short passages or verses – and watching world developments, especially when centred around Israel and Jerusalem.

The reasons for this conclusion are nuanced and reasoned from the Scripture narrative. They are too detailed to go into here, but I have explained them in my books ‘Who is this Who is coming?’ and ‘The Return of the King’. But this post is not about publicising my books. Not at all. I fear for my grandchildren. As an older person, I have seen and experienced how the world changes so very quickly, I see events falling into place, potentially ready for the kinds of events prophesied in Scripture – events at the end of the age that will occur within the space of one generation. So I find myself watchful. I long for the return of Jesus but I fear His coming because it will be a period of time such as the world has never seen and I am a poor and unworthy servant. Don’t get me wrong – I am not an apocalyptic fanatic – I don’t fall for the fanciful nonsense that is so often promulgated concerning Armageddon. I leave that to Hollywood. But the point of this post is that I sense that this is not a time for Christians to surrender to complacent sleepwalking and the seductiveness of ‘inner spirituality’. This is the time to Wake up! Search the Scriptures! Be watchful! And turn around in godly fear and humility.

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Jerusalem

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The decision of President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is an interesting one for Christians because Jerusalem and Zion form the geocentric focus of many Scriptural prophecies concerning the Day of the Lord. It is around Jerusalem that many events will take place that will mark the end of the present gospel age. Scripture encourages Christians to be watchful and know the times and seasons. However, it is too early to read any great significance into this decision by President Trump, but until 1948, Israel was in the ‘wilderness’ and now, seventy years later, one of the major nations in the world is recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There have of course been many battles fought over Jerusalem in the past and any future hostilities around Jerusalem may prove to be just more of the same. Even so, to me, taking other factors into consideration, the end of the age and the fulfillment of these prophesies do sometimes seem as though they are only a generation or two away. These recent events may of course subside into nothing special in the grand scheme of things, but at the very least, Christians are called to pay attention to events concerning Israel and Jerusalem and to be watchful in the light of a wise understanding of Scripture.

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