If not the last days, what days are these? Part II: the question of the millennium 

Imagine attending a forty day conference with the resurrected Christ as the guest speaker. That would be amazing, right? The topic of discussion for the whole conference? The kingdom of God (or heaven) So, what is the kingdom of God? Commentary from the ESV study Bible says this: 

The “kingdom of God” means not an earthly political or military kingdom but the present spiritually directed reign of God, gradually transforming individual lives and entire cultures through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

With this explanation in mind I must say that the most damage done to the kingdom of God does not come directly from the devil, but through Christians who have the wrong understanding of the kingdom. Imagine an earthly kingdom that was impenetrable by enemy forces. It had a wall so high and so thick that enemies wouldn’t dare to try and invade. This kingdom has a military ten times more powerful than any other in terms of weaponry and skill in war. A kingdom this powerful could only be stopped by people inside its walls. 

I’m not saying that the kingdom of God can ever be stopped, but what I am saying is that the advancement of the kingdom slows down when believers take on wrong mindsets about it. The Jews in Jesus’ day had the wrong mindset about the kingdom. They envisioned the Messiah as a political king who would come and defeat the Roman army and deliver them from Rome’s oppression. They had David in mind, and since the Messiah was called the “son of David” they thought it meant He would bring the same sort of military advancement that David brought. 

Jesus did not come to defeat Rome. He came to defeat Satan, sin and death

In our day many believers have the idea that right before Jesus comes the world will get so evil that He will have to come and rapture His people, destroy darkness and set up His throne in Jerusalem where He will reign for 1000 literal years. Then the final judgment will come and then the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven ushering in the eternal state of the new heavens and the new earth. 

The mistake Jews in Jesus’ day made is the same mistake I think we are making today. That is, believing that the kingdom will come in a way that is visible to the eye. Jesus directly addressed this issue in Luke 17:20-21:

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” – Luke 17:20-21

When John says in Revelation that he saw the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God” people imagine a physical thing taking place, but that’s not how the kingdom is. We can dive into this by looking at a few different points:

  • The 1000 year reign 

First of all we must understand that the number 1000 is rarely used literally in the Bible unless it involves counting money or other possessions (as in Genesis 20:16). It often symbolizes a large quantity or the whole of something, like in Psalm 50:10 where it says God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Literally speaking, God owns the cattle on all the hills. Another example is in Psalm 84 that says a day with the Lord is better than a thousand elsewhere. A day with Him is really better than eternity elsewhere. 

The next thing we must understand is the nature of the thousand years. It says in Revelation 20 that during the thousand years Satan is bound and imprisoned, and that the saints reign with Christ. It’s also called the “first resurrection.” 

What it doesn’t say is that there will be any type of “golden age” or fairytale-like peace on earth. We must remember that peace is not the absence of evil, but the presence of Jesus. 

Looking at these characteristics of the thousand years we can better understand what is going on. When it says that Satan is bound it mentions that he is bound so that he “might not deceive the nations any longer” (ESV). The ESV is the only version I’ve found that says it this way and I’ve researched it and this is what the original Greek also says. 

What does it mean that he might not deceive the nations? Well, I think it means that Satan is bound up by anyone who believes he’s bound. When you consider the fact of how the gospel has been spreading across the earth for 2000 years this makes sense. In the news we hear about how bad ISIS, but the reality of heaven is that more muslims are coming to Christ today than ever before! Matthew 16:19 explains it perfectly:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” –NASB

When a person acts in faith and confronts evil forces by binding them, Jesus says that binding is past tense for that person. Think about it from opposite perspective. What if He said, “…whatever you do not bind on earth will not have been bound in heaven…” That puts this idea into perspective. Jesus bound Satan, but it’s our job to keep him bound and to keep the seal on the pit he’s in. 

You mean I have to actually take action??  Yes. This is why prayer and the spread of the gospel is so important and so much more powerful than we know. People, cities and nations are greatly impacted by the prayers and actions of the saints. 

  • The first resurrection 

I mentioned earlier that part of the nature of the thousand years is that it is called the “first resurrection.” Jesus clearly defines the two resurrections in John 5:25, 28-29. He says: 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live… Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:25, 28-29

The first part of this passage is about salvation. That hour is now, when spiritually dead people hear the voice of Jesus through His disciples and they come to life spiritually. This is the “first resurrection” where people come to life spiritually and reign with Christ. The second part is about the final judgment when people will come out of their graves and stand before God to face judgment also explained in Revelation 20. 

Revelation 21-22 explain the New Jerusalem. I believe the New Jerusalem is God’s prophetic explanation of the church and the kingdom of heaven. There are certain elements of the New Jerusalem that give us clues that it is not a description of eternity in heaven, but an allegory of life in the kingdom of heaven on earth. For this blog I think I’ve covered enough and will write another blog totally focused on the New Jerusalem. Grace and peace 2u.

Stay tuned…

If not the last days, what days are these? Part 1

Often, when I tell people that we are not living in the last days the first question they ask is, “Then what days are we living in?” That really is a great question and it shows a desire to know and understand what God is up to. First, we must understand where the term “last days” originates. It comes from the NT. One of the major passages with this term is Hebrews 1:1-2:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 

From this passage we understand that the term “last days” was used to explain the time when Jesus walked the earth. The questions then must be asked, if the last days were 2000 years ago, are we still in the last days? When did the last days begin and when do they end? 

There’s another term that we have to understand and that is the one found in Matthew 24:30 where it says Jesus will be seen “coming with the clouds.” That terminology originates with the prophets. Isaiah said, 

An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. – Isaiah 19:1

God never literally rode into Egypt on a cloud. This was a prophecy of Egypt being defeated, which was revealed in a deeper way through Jeremiah in chapter 46 of his book. God used the Babylonian army to bring down Egypt at that time. When God wanted to bring judgment on a nation for its evil He would raise up an army of another nation to go in and destroy the evil nation. His “coming” was with the armies He raised up. 

In Leviticus 26:31-32 God warns the Jews that if they continue in rebellion He himself would devastate the land and lay their cities waste (check out my blog titled “Why God is misunderstood” for background on how the Jews ended up in the most undesirable type of covenant, which brought their destruction). 

When most people read passages in the Bible declaring the destruction of cities (like Zephaniah 1) they make the mistake of assuming that God is declaring the end of the world. The reason why is God often used words like, “I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth.” In both the Old and New Testaments English translators chose poor wording. The original language read “land” instead of earth, especially when a specific city is mentioned. This changes the perspective on many passages in the entire bible that deal with the destruction of cities. 

One very important thing to consider is that when John wrote Revelation he only used the word “cosmos” (or world) 3 times. However, he used the term “land” (translated as “earth”) over 60 times. However, in the gospel of John there’s a switch and “cosmos” (whole world) is used instead of “land” because Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the entire world. 

There’s actually not one passage in the Bible that declares the destruction of the entire planet

With this background information we can clearly see that Revelation is not about the end of the entire world, but about the end of the world of the Old Covenant. I say that because when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD the temple and all the elements of old covenant worship were also destroyed. 

The “last days” mentioned in the New Testament were not about the last days of the world, but about the last days of the Old covenant world. During the time the NT was written both the old covenant and the new covenant were being walked out. As long as the temple was still standing the old covenant would continue to make it difficult for early Christians to fully engage in the new covenant. 

The solution for such a problem was for the temple to be destroyed. At the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and the destruction of the temple the Jews in Jerusalem had become so corrupt that the historian Josephus said if God hadn’t destroyed them, the earth would’ve opened up and swallowed them. Part of the wickedness of the people was that they assumed they were righteous because of the temple, which was a wonder of the world at that time. History shows us that the temple had become a major hindrance. 

The NT was completed just before the total destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the religious system of Judaism altogether. The records of the priests were destroyed, so there’s no way to know who can rightfully be priests. There’s no way back to that old system. This is the meaning of the term the “last days.” The writer of Hebrews wrote this about the Old Covenant:

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13

It vanished away when Jesus rode in with the Roman army and destroyed the city and the temple. The way it happened is very similar to the way God came with the Babylonians and destroyed the temple in the Old Testament. 

With the temple and the corrupt religious system that crucified Christ completely out of the way, we now have the New Covenant, the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of heaven on earth. 

The second part of this message will cover the topic of the New Jerusalem and the kingdom of heaven and how it operates and advances. 

Two good sources on this topic are: “Raptureless” by Jonathan Welton and “The Last Days according to Jesus” by RC Sproul. 

Stay tuned…

You want to change America? Start praying. 

In superhero stories and movies there’s usually only one person who can stop the villain. In most cases the villain knows this, so he goes after that one because if he can get him or her out of the picture he’s free to terrorize the world. 

The only people who have power over darkness are those who have faith, but not just any kind of faith. We must have faith in something greater than the darkness. How do we know if there is something greater than darkness? There has to be evidence of this or we get nowhere.  This is what John, the disciple who Jesus loved wrote in the first century:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

John sounds like he had a revelation of the light, who we find out to be Jesus of Nazareth. He’s the Word that was with God in the beginning. The word of God is not something static and powerless like people make it seem sometimes. The Word is living and powerful and full of light that pierces the darkest darkness. 

This bold statement that the darkness does not overcome the light has to  have proof in order to be a valid statement. And it does have proof. In Jesus’ name (all that He stands for and upholds) nations have been changed, cultures have been shifted, demonic powers have been bound and broken, captives have been set free, countless lives have been changed. 

The power of a person who prays in Jesus’ name can change the world, can change America. Praying in His name is not some rote method, but it means praying with a heart that is in line with all that He stands for and upholds. 

The enemy of your soul, the devil is real and the first thing we must recognize is that all the things happening in our land causing all the commotion are spiritual issues. I’m talking about all the racial discrimination, as well as the strife in the political arena and whatever else is stirring today.  These things don’t just happen. There is a real war going on in the invisible spiritual realm and we are called to action. 

The enemy knows that he’s no match for a praying follower of Christ, so he’s gonna do all he can to distract you from the mission. If you’re a believer reading this, I’m reminding you that you have power to change our nation. Don’t get caught up in the strife of the people. You are seated in heaven with Jesus. How would you pray if you were literally in heaven with the Father and with Jesus? You’d probably be making some bold declarations! Jesus said if we have faith, whatever we ask for in prayer will be done for us (Matthew 21:22).

The Bible tells us that the reality of Christ followers is that our spirits are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). This means your prayers can literally push back darkness and cause light to break in. Jesus told us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” for such a time as this. Grace and peace 2u.

Why God is misunderstood: Answering the “mean God” question 

So many people believe that God is up in heaven keeping track of how many wrong things they’ve done and waiting to punish them for it. Many people, even Christians believe that God changed between the Old Testament and the New Testament. They think He was mean in the OT and nice in the NT. Richard Dawkins, who is one of the most well-known atheists today said this in his book the God Delusion:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, a homophobic, racist, genocidal, malevolent bully. The God delusion, 31

This is basically how many people feel about God. Where do these ideas come from?

To answer that question, we must understand covenants in the ancient world and the fact that God actually entered into the same covenants with Israel that were common in the world back then. 

When God first took the Jews out of Israel He offered to them a covenant where they would’ve had direct access to God and would’ve experienced His grace and blessing. In OT times, when a king wanted to bless a group of people with no strings attached it was called a “grant covenant.” This is what you see offered in Exodus 19:1-6. All the Israelites had to do was say yes, and remain in the covenant. There were no mention of laws to be kept. 

Something happened between Exodus 19 and 20 that caused things to change. From verse 7 to 19 we see the people preparing to meet with God to establish the covenant. However, in verse 24 we see God tell the people not to come near Him. What changed? 

To understand what happened here you have to look at Deuteronomy 5:23-27. In that passage Moses explains in detail what caused this original covenant to never be established. Moses records in that passage that the people told him they were afraid of God because of the power and might He displayed. They told Moses they wanted him to be a middle man between them and God. 

When they made this statement they were telling God they were rejecting the “grant covenant” he offered and would like to establish a lesser covenant, called a “kinship covenant.” This is a covenant where two people groups come up with a small set of obligations, written on tablets of stone on both sides. Sound familiar? This is what was going on when the 10 commandments were given. 

In a kinship covenant each party was accountable to their God (or god) if they broke the covenant. This put God in an awkward place because not only was He the recipient of a covenant with Israel, but He was also their God who was forced to punish them for breaking covenant. 

Written laws were not part of God’s original plan. In Exodus 19:5, when the grant covenant was offered He tells them that if they simply obey His voice the covenant would continue. But since they rejected that covenant, God established a lesser covenant with them because He was meeting them where they were. The 10 commandments I believe are things in God’s heart, but He wanted their obedience to be from intimacy, not fear of punishment. 

One example of how things changed when the people digressed from the grant covenant to the kinship covenant can be found in Exodus 15:22-26 where the people grumble about water and God does not punish them, but gives them good water to drink. Then in Numbers 11:1-3 grumbling led to a destroying fire. 

These types of punishments are what lead people to make statements like the one above by Richard Dawkins. People have no idea of what was really happening and they assume that God is a crazed maniac. He was only giving the people what they asked for, but it was never His desire. 

If two kings were in a kinship covenant together and one did not keep it, when he died a new covenant would be established with the previous king’s successor. The whole book of Deuteronomy is God going over the history between Himself and the Jews. Chapter 27 shows the curse of this next covenant that lasted for the rest of the Old Testament. 

The book of Deuteronomy lays forth the downgrade from the kinship covenant to the worst type of Covenant, which is a “vassal covenant.” Many people read Deuteronomy as though it is God’s will for people today, but it actually records some of Israel’s worst moments that God never intended. 

What He intended was the type of covenant He had with men like Noah, Abraham and David. The covenant God had with them was based on faith and God’s goodness. This is the type of covenant that we have now in the New Covenant. There will never be another Mosaic covenant. Christ did away with it when He destroyed its temple in 70 AD. Now we have a better covenant with better promises (Hebrews 8:6). 

In those Old Covenants one thing that was common was for the destruction of enemies to be included the covenant. God originally wanted the Jews to take His love to the world. This is why today we don’t destroy our enemies, but we pray for them and show God’s kindness to them no matter what. 

A great resource is Dr. Jonathan Welton’s book “Understanding the whole Bible.” In it he lists many sources of information on this topic and many others. 

4 keys to experiencing heaven on earth: how to eat from the tree of life today

Many people have speculated about the tree of life and have tried to discover it for the world today. God has actually told us how to experience it. There are four key insights laid out for us in the book of Proverbs. The Holy Spirit released through Solomon some ancient secrets that have timeless application. 

1. The first is wisdom. These are some of the things Solomon said about wisdom in Proverbs 3:13-18: blessed is the one who finds wisdom, wisdom is better than silver and gold, better than jewels, nothing desired can compare with her, her ways are pleasant and peace, and she is a tree of life to those who find her

James 1:5 says that if we ask God for wisdom He will give it to us. The power to live a life filled with wisdom brings paradise to every area of life (home, work, relationships, etc). 

2. The second key to the tree of life is called the fruit of the righteous. It’s mentioned in Proverbs 11:30. How does fruit grow? When someone plants a seed. When we share the message of the kingdom with people it makes us come alive! And when that seed begins to sprout it will make them come alive! Also mentioned in this verse is that a person who wins souls is wise. I make it my aim to share Christ with people every day and when I don’t I feel like something is missing. I crave the joy of eating from the tree of life!

3. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” This is a powerful statement about hope. If we place hope in things or people that continue to fail us it makes our hearts sick. I believe this can also make us sick physically as our bodies manifest what is happening inside of us. Jesus is called the “Desire of the nations” in the book of Isaiah. 

If we learn to place our hope in Him and desire Him above all else we will experience paradise as we watch him come through for us time and time again, and as we feel His presence in our lives daily. He may not always do things the way we expect or want, but he always works in a way that brings you the most satisfaction and God the most glory. 

4. The fourth key is found in Proverbs 15:4. “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” The word “gentle” also means “healing.” Words that are kind and seek to bring grace to others are more powerful than you think. We can actually change a person’s day or even set their life on a pleasant path by speaking words of grace and life. At the same time we can destroy people with our words if we choose. 

We live in a society where everybody wants to be heard. Facebook is a great tool for this. Everyone has a voice and what we say goes a long way my friends. In Proverbs 4 we are told to guard our hearts because from it flows the spring of life. If we fill ourselves with the love of God and His hope we bring that same hope to others. If our hearts are continually fixed on foul things, that is what comes out of our mouths and that which was intended to be a spring of life becomes a spring of bitterness and death. Speak life. 

God created humans with a desire for paradise. Paradise is something we have to choose. In the garden there was a choice to be made. I used to wonder why God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden. But it hit me one day that there had to be a choice. One aspect of paradise is knowing that we chose love over something false. Marriage is supposed to be paradise, but selfishness can make it seem like hell. 

Every day we have choices to make and if we choose wisely we actually usher heaven right into our daily lives. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is a reality. Jesus knew what He was saying and we can and will experience it if we go after it as though it’s right in front of us, because it’s only a choice away. Grace and peace 2u.

What does it mean that Christ followers are “seated in Heavenly places”? 

Before a house or building is constructed an architect already has a plan laid out of what the finished project will look like, including all the dimensions of the structure. God the Father is like an architect and Jesus is the carpenter building the house using us as individual building blocks and the Holy Spirit holds it all together.

When God speaks about the identity of His children He doesn’t speak about what is possible or what may be. You wouldn’t have much confidence in an architecture who shows you a building plan that did not look half decent. Or if he showed you a plan and said, “This may be what it will look like.” You’d hire someone else pretty quick. You want an architecture who’s going to lay out a perfect plan and seems confident that it is what the house will look like.

That’s how God is when He lays out the description of the church, which is His spiritual dwelling, not the buildings but the people.  He says things like, the church has every spiritual blessing in heaven (Ephesians 1:3). He also says that we are seated in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6). These are powerful declarations! 

Not only does He make amazing declarations about the identity of His kids, he also gave John the apostle a vision of it, so He could see what it looked like and proclaim it to the church. 

In Revelation 4 there are 24 elders in heaven that John sees and they are seated on thrones around the throne of God. There has been some speculation about who these people are. First thing to make note of is that this is the first time in the Bible that humans are seen in paradise with God since Eden. OT prophets saw visions of angels in heaven with God, but never humans. That right there is awesome! It’s a New covenant reality.

In 1 Chronicles 24 we see king David organizing the priesthood into 24 divisions led by 24 priests. So, when the early church (who were mostly Jews) read John’s vision of the 24 elders in heaven their minds would’ve immediately went back to the priesthood. The awesome thing is this, who are the priests today, or who is the priesthood? 1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 1:6 say the church is a royal priesthood and a kingdom of priests. 

So, the 24 elders are none other than yours truly, the Bride of Christ, the church! That’s a picture of the glory of the church. She’s seated on a throne with God in heaven. You may be physically here on earth walking out your life daily, but spiritually you are right there in heaven with Jesus and our Father. 

What you’re going through doesn’t dictate your identity as a child of God. The only thing that dictates your identity is what your Father thinks and says about you. You are powerful and you are a world changer because you are seated in heaven with God. Nothing you face can overcome you, but you overcome and triumph over every obstacle. Your prayers move mountains and change nations and cities! You are a child of God. Grace and peace 2u. 

Unlocking the mysteries in the Book of Revelation 

As I mentioned in a previous post (the one about the “last days”), it is extremely important for us to consider the historical context the Bible was written in, the message the writer was trying to convey and the way the readers would have interpreted it. If what we arrive at goes beyond what the writer was saying, we have misinterpreted the message. This happens with the book of Revelation more than any other book of the Bible primarily because of the imagery used in the book. 

In order to truly understand what John was writing about we have to do two things (among other things). We must remember that most of his imagery comes from the OT, and most of that from the Prophetic books. And we must consider the historical accounts of that day to see if any of the prophecies he wrote were actually fulfilled, rather than jumping to the conclusion that he was prophesying about things 2000 years in the future. 

I have recently come across an amazing discovery. I consider it to be a gem when it comes to “cracking the code” (so to speak) of the book of Revelation. This discovery I’ve come across is a book titled The Wars of the Jews written by the Jewish historian Josephus, who was not only alive during the destruction of Jerusalem, but played a major role in the war for both sides. This book tells mainly about the war between Israel and Rome from 66-70 AD, which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD prophesied about by Jesus in Matthew 24 and parallel gospel accounts. It’s also prophesied about by John in the book of Revelation in a very artistic way. 

It’s my opinion that every Christian should read the portions of this book that cover the details of the war. Or, just like every Bible has maps at the end, maybe they should include a short summary of Josephus’ writings. Without these historical facts the book of Revelation will continue to be confusing to people. 

This book is a very long read, so to make things a little easier for you I am giving you a link to a page that points out many (not all) of the fulfillments that John prophesied about in Revelation. This answers many questions about these things that are impossible to understand when separated from their historical context. Here is the link: https://adammaarschalk.com/2016/11/02/josephus-and-the-book-of-revelation-nine-case-studies/amp/

Why is this important? Because your eschatology determines your theology. In other words, whatever you believe about the “last days” will greatly impact your view of the kingdom of heaven and how you go about advancing it. 

We are living in the days of the kingdom, not the last days of the world. Jesus will come back some day, but I think it will be not in the midst of a world that’s so dark the only solution is for Him to rapture the church and physically return. Besides, Jesus Himself prayed in John 17 that God not take His disciples out of the world, but keep them from the evil one. His final return will be to an earth that is filled with the knowledge of God because of people taking the Great Commission seriously. 

Remember the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13 about how the kingdom advances. And how Jesus said in Luke 17 that the Kingdom does not come in ways that can be observed (or seen physically), but that the kingdom is within. In other words, the kingdom of heaven is spiritual, not physical. 

I’ll touch on some other things in other posts like, the 1000 year reign, the marriage supper of the lamb, the New Jerusalem, etc. May heaven come! Grace and peace 2u.