Saturday, June 17, 2017

HEAVEN CAN WAIT, OR CAN IT?

By Peter Garcia







Is the Doctrine of Imminence still relevant?

If you take anything away from this and last week's article, let me sum it up by saying this; the greater the convergence, the lesser the imminence. The same is true in reverse, the greater the imminence, the lesser the convergence. It is impossible for both concepts to take up equal space on the same prophetic timeline. The only caveat to this then applies only to those who choose to remain ignorant of the signs of the times.

Because the world pushed the 20th century into the modern age with advancements in just about every field of knowledge.  One would think that in an era of instant gratification and information, life on earth would become sublimely utopic. Rather quite the opposite has occurred with this world's out of control addiction to technology causing many to self-alienate and disconnect from reality. It is at this juncture that we come to a unique paradox matched only in one other time in human history, the pre-flood world.

On one hand, life for a majority of the world (the extreme third-world being the exception) has improved technologically, medically, economically, and socially. On the other hand, the Bible states that things will deteriorate morally, socially, and religiously as time goes on. Thus we have the convergence of increased knowledge and travel (Daniel 12:4) which has resulted in the overall increase wickedness and violence on a global scale. And the unintended consequences of man's increased free time and liberty due to said technological advancements (Gen. 6:5; Luke 17:26).

One of the consequences of the curse God put on Adam after the Fall, was that man was to toil and work the land to survive (Gen. 3:17-19). For most of human history, life on earth was brutal and tough. When a civilization reached its apex, what inevitability ensued was a rapid deterioration in that society's morals and values ultimately making societal collapse all but inevitable. We are again at this summit of where mankind need not struggle to eat, shop, buy, marry, etc.

Although there are still some undeveloped places on the planet, for a majority of the world, electricity, the internet, instant communication (cell phones, computers, landlines, etc.), and advanced travel are still accessible. Also consider that today, most of the world does not farm. Only a small fraction of the population actually labors to produce any food. The rest of us buy from stores the things we need and want. As to violence, more people have died in the past century than the previous twenty centuries combined. In Earth's Earliest Ages, G.H. Pember noted (this in 1884)...

...the fitness of man for a condition of extreme liberty, and the worth of a trust in the innate justice supposed to lie at the bottom of the human heart, have been already tested by the great Creator. Modern philosophers are urging a repetition of the experiment; but the history of the times of old proves the fallacy of their views. For the wickedness of man became great; all flesh corrupted its way upon the earth, and the earth was filled with violence. And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man.

The Bible is quite clear when speaking about certain future events which have to happen. Scriptural logic leads one to understand that events rarely just happen instantaneously. There is an unfolding of connected or interrelated events that makes something that seemed either impossible or unlikely, all but inevitable. For example, the Bible speaks about Israel becoming a nation again for the second time (Amos 9:14-15, Isaiah 11:11-12, Ezekiel 37). But were it not for World War I and II, the rebirth of the nation of Israel could not have happened. Could God have brought Israel back into the table of nations without major global wars? Sure, but that is not how things have transpired. So it stands to reason that our recent history has unfolded precisely as God intended it, along with its intended results.

Transitional Imminence: 1917-1948

Israel, as John Nelson Darby taught it, was God's timepiece. If that is true, then Israel's entire history going back to Abraham should be the most chronicled and detailed of any people who ever existed. It is.

As many today note, Israel is the super-sign of the end times. Israel's rebirth as a nation after almost two millennia in Diaspora is absolutely a miracle. No other nation can make that claim. But before Israel became a nation again, there was the stirring of the Jewish people to return to their homeland. The Zionist Movement, which began in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, along with strong Dispensational and other Christian evangelical support, became momentum that would continue from 1897 through 1948. From a Christian perspective, that support didn't occur in a vacuum.

Darby's support in the early 19th century for the return of the Jews back to what was then just a backwater province of the Ottoman Empire became influential amongst other Dispensationalists. Many of the early Dispensationalists had come out of the Anglican and Presbyterian denominations to make up the Plymouth Brethren. Their influence in part helped later shape decision makers like Lord Balfour to instruct England's political position on the rightful return of the Jews back to what was then called Palestine. As World War I began drawing to a close, it was clear that the Ottoman Turks were in no position to continue ruling over the Middle East, thus European powers began to drawing boundaries to set different nations again.

With England's support for the now growing European Zionist movement, teachers and preachers of Dispensationalism were cautiously optimistic that they were witnessing God's word being fulfilled. Men like C.I. Scofield, Clarence Larkin, and others wrote decades before 1948, that the Jews would become a nation again just as the Bible predicted it (Jeremiah 31:35-36, Ezekiel 37, Amos 9:15, Isaiah 2, 11)...and so it was. This Balfour Declaration encouraged and renewed the strength of the literal view of scriptural interpretation and they began to understand that as Israel goes, so goes God's clock for the world. Watching the progress of Israel becoming a nation again, meant for these early watchers that the fullness of the Gentiles and the time of the Gentiles would soon be drawing to a close. I call this period of time Transitional Imminence simply because although the Church could see God moving and shaping events, Israel had yet to become a nation again.

Limited Imminence: 1948-Present

On November 29th, 1947, the United Nations approved a Partition Plan that agreed to divide up what was then Palestine into a separate Arab and Jewish state. The Jews declared their independence some six months later on May 14th, 1948, and were immediately attacked by their Arab neighbors. And from then until now, Israel has tenuously and cautiously lived in a neighborhood hell-bent on her destruction. The significance of her rebirth has worn off since many are not old enough to remember a time when there wasn't a nation of Israel. There are many today who don't even remember a time when Israel wasn't in complete control of Jerusalem. Much time dulls the eyes of many in the church.

The idea of imminence being limited might sound odd to the reader, but what is implied is that our window for Christ's return is rapidly shrinking, thus limiting the timeframe in which imminence can be completely unknowable. Again, we can't know the day or hour, but we will recognize the season. We know this as a certainty, because when Jesus gave His Olivet Discourse...He added a comment about convergence that matches up with the later revelations that were given to Peter, Paul, James, Jude, and John.

"Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near-at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Matthew 24:32-34

We know from the rapid advancements in the past century with technology, communications, warfare, digital currencies, medicine, natural and manmade disasters, that it is quickly placing us in a time that matches the capabilities present in the seven-year window known as Daniel's 70th Week. Along with the geopolitical arrangements with nations aligning themselves as they are (The United Nations, the European Union, Russia, Iran, Turkey, etc.) also point toward the world in which final day events play out.

On top of that, we see what was once the stronghold of the Christian faith in the West is crumbling. Just as political and military power have primarily moved westward over time, we now see the Christian faith moving eastward as God the Holy Spirit once again moves mightily in the Old World. Adding to this is the world's continued attempts to divide and destroy tiny Israel. All of these (the ultimate convergence) points to the conditions in which both Jesus and Paul called birth pangs.
 
Conclusion

In the final book of the Bible, Jesus addresses seven churches with seven letters. We understand that these were real, literal, historical churches in what was then Asia-Minor in whom John was familiar with. They were also relatively unknown. Why not a letter to the church in Rome? Or the church in Christianity's birthplace, Jerusalem? Antioch? We also know there are other applications in these letters because of how they are constructed and arranged. They contained seven parts: the Lord's title, a commendation, a criticism, an admonition, a call, a challenge, and a promise. Two of the churches received no criticism (Smyrna and Philadelphia), and one received no commendation (Laodicea). Also, the challenge and the promise are reversed for the last four church. For review:

They were real, historical churches in the 1st century

They had a corporate application (admonitory to all churches of all times)...i.e....he who hath an ear, let him hear...

They had singular and personal applications...i.e....admonitions and challenges to the believers

They had prophetic applications by the order of their selection and arrangement

Skeptics might debate that last bullet, but let's say hypothetically that the letter to the church at Laodicea was placed anywhere other than at the end of the seven letters. If that were the case then this prophetic application wouldn't make sense and skeptics would be correct in their rebuke of such a claim.

But because the letter to Laodicea is at the end of the letters, we can see a clear progression that also matches what we know from church history. In other words, the church ages (or epochs) can clearly be seen when we review how Christendom has unfolded around the world over these last two thousand years. Remember, Laodicea was just as real a church at the same time as Ephesus or Smyrna was. While it is not necessary to hold to seven-letter seven-epochs as the gospel truth, it is noted that throughout church history, one type of church tends to be the dominant face of Christendom.

Each of the churches unfolded in an age in which their brand (or their type) tended to dominate any other form of Christendom. There was an Ephesus era that had the Apostles who were still walking the earth. But that time came to an end when John passed on into glory. There was a Smyrna era in which the Church then (100-313AD) came under intense persecution from the Roman Empire. There was an era when the Roman Empire legalized Christianity, and thus we see the mixing of paganism into Christianity that is exemplified in Pergamum. So on and so forth. Put an another way, they unfolded individually as eras, but they continued on and overlapped, thus waning in power and influence and giving heed to the next type (or form) of church era.

At the very least, the last four letters to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea are all still in play. Since the 1960's, the West has rapidly digressed into antichristian territory with the onset of the Sexual Revolution, the reemergence of Eastern mysticism, embracement of socialism, and rapid increases in violence and the occult in entertainment. All of these have morally weakened societies around the Western world, and have enforced a compromise-or-die type of mentality upon western churches in particular. Thus in trying to remain relevant, we have the compromised Laodicean era who is hell-bent on making being lukewarm the hottest trend around.

All that to say this, that if these churches are in fact chronicles heralding the stages the church would go through, then it is equally reasonable to assume that they had to play out first, in order for Christ to return for His church. So while it was reasonable to assume that no sign preceded the Rapture of the Church for most of its history, we now have the luxury of hindsight and can see we are at the last stage of development in the age of the Church. It is not until the conclusion of this last Laodicean church, that John see's the door in heaven open, and hears a voice as a trumpet call from there "Come up here!"

As one with many children and having witnessed pregnancy many times, birth pangs do not go on forever...as all births come to a moment of truth when the child arrives. This writer's belief is that while blind imminence may have been a valid assumption for the first portion of the last two millennia, it is quickly becoming something we can no longer hide behind. Too many events are pointing to too many signs for Christians to simply shrug their shoulders' and say who knows or who cares? It should be a call for us to wake up and wake up our brothers and sisters in Christ and to put on a sense of urgency that our blessed hope is about to be realized. Christ promised a special warning to His believers who did not bother to watch and chose to remain ignorant about His return. To the dead church at Sardis He said...

Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. Revelation 3:3
Even so, Maranatha!

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