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As a theologian (and poet and musician), I talk a lot about God and related subjects. There are all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. But the core message is ‘God is love’, and Jesus brings – and indeed is – good news for all who will receive him. If you are anything like me, there are all sorts of things in your life that you know are not the best, habits, actions, words, thoughts, whether it be addictions or anxiety and depression, or anger, or even just arrogant independence in living apart from God. If you don’t think any of these apply to you, then you are lying to yourself! These all ultimately stem – whether directly or indirectly – from lack of faith in God, both by you as an individual, and society around you. This is what the bible calls sin, and it makes it quite clear that every single human being is infected by this moral disease – every single human in history, except, that is, Jesus of Nazareth. Right from our fore-father and fore-mother, Adam and Eve, the bible says, we have all ‘fallen short of the glory of God’ and his perfect standards by sinning, or falling short of the mark (and as God’s representatives delegated to have authority over much of creation, the natural world is also broken by human sin and causes misery – is in ‘bondage to decay’ as the apostle Paul puts it in Romans). God’s standards may be perfect, but he is not – thankfully – a perfectionist, or at least, he has been very creative with his perfectionism, if He is a perfectionist. As a God who is perfectly just and holy, for all sin there must be punishment, but humans are not able to bear such a punishment. Therefore, right from the start of history, God has promised, in every increasing detail, to send a man who is the perfect representative of God, a God-man, if you will, who would be able to rescue us from this dilemma and condemnation – Jesus Christ. He was untouched by the stain of sin, whilst suffering the effects of living in a sinful world and remaining perfect in word, thought and deed, even in the face of extreme temptation, and finally willingly enduring God’s just punishment for our sins. For those who will make allegiance to Jesus by declaring his divine lordship and confessing their sinfulness before God and believing or trusting in Jesus and the work he did by suffering for us on the cross, Jesus offers the reward for his perfect righteousness that he put aside to bear our just punishment in one of the most shameful, painful and degrading deaths possible – both physically and spiritually. God then vindicated him and rewarded him by raising him from the dead several days later, giving him a resurrected body with super-natural powers untouched by the death and decay of this sinful age. This is a down payment, or ‘first-fruits’ of what God promises for those who make their allegiance to Jesus.
This is great news. However, there is a dark down side, and an unbelievably fantastic destiny on the other side. The down side is that we are called to be disciples of Jesus. Really believing and making allegiance to Jesus means being one who follows Jesus, and models him, and Jesus’ way is one of victory and resurrection, but only through suffering in one form or another. Jesus also warned that because ‘the world’ – meaning human society and government systems that oppose God’s will and law and purpose – hated him, it would also hate and persecute those who were truly his disciples. As the apostle Paul puts it we ‘have to go through many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God’. Jesus and his apostles repeatedly warned that in the very last days this opposition would intensify – that there would be an increase in wickedness and selfishness, an increase in violent opposition, and an increase in abandoning the true law and faith and doctrine of God, including in the church that professes to follow Jesus (and this last factor will make it even more difficult for those who wish to stay true to the teaching of Jesus and the bible). This situation of violence and wickedness and laxness or worse in the church will pave the way for a grand deception, a false Messiah who will promise peace, but at a huge price, the anti-Christ. He will demand allegiance, and oppress those who refuse to give it to him, particularly those who follow God’s law – Christians and Jews. In the days before Jesus returns, he taught, the times would be absolutely terrible – and not just for those who seek to follow God. The battle lines will be drawn, and there will be no middle ground – choices must be made, either for or against Jesus and his ways.
But giving and maintaining allegiance to Jesus in the last days will be an absolute necessity, no matter what we face, because Jesus said ‘only those who endure to the end will be saved’. Saved from what, you ask. Well, remember the just punishment that God delivers? Ultimately, our sinfulness is against Him, the eternal God and Creator to whom all allegiance is justly due, and the punishment will match the stature of the one wronged. Jesus said of judgement day ‘Those who deny me before men, I will deny before my Father in heaven’ (in other words, Hell), ‘but those who acknowledge me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father’ (in other words an eternal welcome into the heavenly kingdom). Deliberately denying and persisting in denying the suffering Saviour in the face of suffering demonstrates lack of faith and not truly being a disciple of Jesus the crucified. Jesus also asked of his return whether he would ‘find faith in the earth?’. That can also be translated as ‘faithfulness’. When Jesus returns, just as God vindicated Jesus after his tremendous suffering, so God will vindicate his church, Jesus ‘bride’ – or at least such have remained faithful in suffering like Jesus did. They will be fit for each other, and fit for the full expression of the Kingdom of God that currently only is found in partial and hidden form in this age. God is not looking for perfection in a legalistic way, but he is looking for faithfulness, one that is expressed in righteous (not perfect) living and in fidelity to Jesus. Although it will appear the easy option, giving allegiance to the anti-Christ by taking his mark is to doom yourself to damnation for eternity.
You will hear preachers say all sorts of things that run counter to this message. The bible warns that in the last days, people in the church will gather to themselves teachers who tell them what they want to hear, using the memorable phrase ‘having their ears tickled’. Such siren preachers will talk about ‘living your best life now’ and about financial wealth and blessings above all else, the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’, and whilst I don’t want to deny God’s willingness to bless materially for the furthering of his kingdom when He chooses, the whole tenor of much of this preaching is in complete opposition to the pattern of teaching in the New Testament. There is also a particular teaching that is immensely popular in the evangelical ‘bible-believing’ church and believed to be ‘biblical’, but is anything but. It’s called ‘the rapture’, and it is really a form of prosperity gospel, ironically often held by those who are ardently against the regular form. Don’t listen to such seducing sermonizers, no matter how sincere they are, or how they are reputed to be ‘biblical’. What they are teaching is little short of heresy, because again, it is completely contrary to the pattern of teaching in the New Testament about the last days. It teaches that the church will escape the suffering of the last days when Jesus and the apostles taught precisely the opposite.
When I was researching my book on the subject, ‘Rapture Rupture!’ I found that the New Testament and the early church fathers consistently taught a number of things about the last days. Along with the terrible times, the abandonment of God’s law and the persecution of God’s people, Israel and the true church, the increase of wickedness, they also taught that to remain strong in the faith, Christians should not give up meeting together, and also that the key to remaining ready for Jesus’ return was not about looking for some kind of escape, but living spiritually alert and righteously, because it is righteous living that enables us to escape the dissolution that will blind people to the times and the need for holiness. For those so blinded, Jesus’ return will be like ‘a thief in the night’, and taken unawares, they will be excluded from the kingdom. As Jesus warned, in that day, ‘Many will say Lord, Lord,… but I will say to them ‘Away from me you workers of lawlessness, I never knew you’.’ People who have done miracles in Jesus name will be cast out because they did not live righteously in communion with him.
For those of you reading this who have never given allegiance to Jesus, then it is time you made your choice. It is time to face up to this choice while you are still breathing, for when are dead it is too late, and no-one knows when their end will come. However, Jesus made it quite clear that in the time before he returns there will be death in abundance. In fact, he taught that no-one would be left alive if he didn’t come early to save his own. It is a matter of the heart, in which you acknowledge what Jesus has done for you, taking your punishment so that you could gain paradise and eternity with Him. It is a matter of giving allegiance to Jesus as rightful Lord. The exact words are not vital, but generally a prayer like this is a good guide :
‘Father God, I acknowledge that I am a sinner, and that I have lived a life apart from You, and in rebellion against your laws. I believe that you sent your Son, Jesus, to die for my sin. I am sorry for my sins and I submit to Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. Take away my sin and come into my heart by your Holy Spirit, in Jesus name, Amen.’
This is not some insurance policy, something you can pray, and then live your life as before. Unfortunately, much of the evangelical church has got this desperately wrong. They urge people to just ‘say the prayer’ and you will be saved, but that is again, very different to what the bible teaches, and there are many professing Christians who need to pay attention. Just because you have ‘said the prayer’ does not mean your salvation is guaranteed. Fidelity to Jesus and living (however imperfectly) according to his laws are evidence of saving faith. Denying Jesus and abandoning allegiance to him is a way to put yourself out of the Kingdom, and persistently unholy living risks the same. That is why the early church was so big on repentance and holy living, and so should we be. Paul said ‘Examine yourself to see if you are in the faith’, a warning we all need to heed from time to time, and even more so as the last days loom ahead. So, there is good news, but there is also a warning for those who don’t yet believe, and those who think that they do. ‘If you think you stand’, said Paul, ‘take heed, lest you fall’.
Maintaining allegiance to Jesus in the face of the forces that are preparing for the anti-Christ will be hard, the seductions and intimidations many, but it is worth enduring to the end, for that is the only way we will be saved, as Jesus said. Any teaching, however revered or believed to be biblical, that gets in the way of preparing for that reality is a demonic delusion, a snare that should be repudiated, and it is something that the church of Jesus Christ, and in particular the professing evangelical church urgently needs to do now, and to step up to stand alongside their suffering brothers and sisters, abandoning apathy and remembering Jesus’ criteria on judgement day – helping suffering brothers and sisters who imitate the suffering Saviour. Broad is the gate and wide is the way that leads to destruction, and unfortunately much of the Western evangelical church is embracing that way and encouraging others to race down that road too. May God have mercy on our souls – for His mercy is the real good news in the encroaching darkness.
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