A Lasting Faith for the Last Days by Rev. C. R. Biggs- Part 3
A Lasting Faith for the Last Days:
Practical Meditations on Eschatology for the People of God- Part 3
ARE WE LIVING IN THE LAST DAYS OR END TIMES?
VIII. LAST DAYS IDENTITY AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD
As we have been studying, the question that should be asked by Christians today is not whether we are living in the Last Days (we are! according to Acts 2:16ff), but rather, â€œKnowing we are living in the Last Days, how should we then live?â€ As we have learned, the study of eschatology in scripture is not primarily about 'when Jesus will return', in fact that is exactly what Jesus does not want to teach us (cf. Matt. 24). Rather, eschatology (or, literally "the study of last things") in Scripture is about what Jesus did when he came the first time in inaugurating his Kingdom here on earth.
Further, eschatology in Scripture is about the grace that was revealed in Jesus' preaching of the Kingdom and the Kingdom manifesting itself here on earth; eschatology is also about the grace, as well as judgment that will be revealed when his Kingdom is fully realized when he returns!
We have learned that eschatology is not trying to fancifully and creatively try and understand 'when' Jesus will return, but it is about a way of life for Christians until he does return. Eschatology in scripture is concerned with teaching us an 'eschatological faith'. That is, a faith that is ever looking to Christ for salvation, living obediently out of gratitude here in the last days NOW, while awaiting his return at any time! It is living by faith as Paul describes in Philippians 3:20-21. We are citizens of heaven, while we await a Savior from there.
In light of our study thus far, what kind of identity do we have as the people of the Living God living in the Last Days? In other words, how does Biblical eschatology form, as well as inform our identity? We have an eschatological identity as the People of God that is revealed to us NOW because of the completed work of Christ in his humiliation and exaltation. What is our eschatological identity as a people of God and what does it mean to be a holy people, consecrated to the LORD in these Last Days? Our eschatological, Last-Days-identity as the People of God is formed, as well as informed in several ways. I would suggest to you that preaching, publicly joining a faithful congregation of believers, partaking in the Lordâ€™s Supper, as well as worship are all practices we do as a Last-Days-People.
(1) Preaching is eschatological. When we hear the sermon preached on the Lordâ€™s Day, the pastor stands in the stead of Christ proclaiming what God has done in Christ's completed work and the hope of the imminent return of our savior. When he preaches this is eschatological because he declares to us the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and how he has conquered death, hell and the devil on our behalf, that we have been forgiven of our sins, and that we can live by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit as we await His return.
Preaching is eschatological because the hope of Christâ€™s return in the future interprets our present circumstances in his completed work (1 Peter 1:3-9), and it points us forward by faith to think on the day when Christ will preach and teach us himself in Paradise in the presence of God. Preaching teaches us to hear and to follow the risen Jesus Christ NOW, as we patiently, expectantly, and alertly await his return for us! Preaching unites the People of God in the Last Days and is vital for our spiritual growth. This office of preaching is given to Christâ€™s people to encourage them to endure and to teach them the truths concerning Christ and His Work so that they might mature. The Apostle Paul explains this truth to us in Ephesians 4.
Ephesians 4:11-16 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(2) Publicly joining a faithful congregation of believers is eschatological. It is a confession before men, publicly recognizing our sins, submitting to one another out of love for Christ, especially his elders, or undershepherds who are under Christ's authority, and showing forth in the visible church that we are identified and confessing members of the Kingdom of God in this present age. Our joining a congregation of believers and submitting to the authority of the elders in the church is for the Apostle Peter the same thing as submitting to the authority of God himself. Peter says that it is humble and shows forth to the world our submission to God, as the elders of the Last-Days-People are in submission to God as well.
1 Peter 5:1-11 1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Joining a congregation is eschatological because by faith in Christâ€™s righteousness alone, our names are publicly written down in the book of church membership, but we look forward to the Last Day when our names will be publicly displayed as written in the Lambâ€™s Book of Life, and how Christ Himself will confess us publicly before God, men, and a heavenly host of angels.
Revelation 3:5 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
Revelation 21:22-27 22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day- and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
Our relationship to the visible church of faithful believers should encourage us to remember that it is for our benefit to meet together and join with other believers publicly, just because we know that with the overlap of the two ages, there is pain, persecution and problems in this world. Our ministry to one another in the Last Days is to encourage one another, all the more as we see the Day of Christ, the Last Day, approaching. Notice how the author of Hebrews reminds the people of this truth in Hebrews 10.
Hebrews 10:23-25 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
As well, the importance of belonging and joining a faithful group of Godâ€™s people is described as those who are not of us. The implication is that those who belong to the LORD submit themselves to the elders of the church and publicly join a faithful Christian congregation to identify themselves with the true Last-Days-People of God. In 1 John, the Apostle Johnâ€™s appeal is to those who have gone â€œout from usâ€ in the context of the Last Days, proving that they were not the people of God.
1 John 2:18-20 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.
(3) Partaking in the Lordâ€™s Supper is eschatological. The Lord's Supper points us back to the hope of Christâ€™s body and blood that has cleansed us from our unrighteousness and through His Spirit we sup with Christ's real and spiritual presence, invisibly by faith- -NOW, as we await a day in Paradise when we will eat this covenantal meal with Christ in the presence of God. Blessed are all of those who are invited to the Great Feast where we will be privileged to dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the glorified and physical presence of our Lord Jesus, the One who has saved us from our sins!
Matthew 8:10-12 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Revelation 19:9 9 And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."
Jesus uses the Lord's Supper by His Spirit to nourish and strengthen us in our perserverance and faith as we await our full salvation to be revealed and we shall se Him as He is! John Calvinâ€™s understanding of the Lordâ€™s Supper is helpful in understanding our identity as a Last-Day-People of God. In a book entitled Given for You: Reclaiming Calvinâ€™s Doctrine of the Lordâ€™s Supper, Keith A. Mathison explains Calvinâ€™s Biblical understanding.
"Calvin understood that Christ is the Christian's source of life and nourishment and that for this reason believers must be united to him. The Father has life in himself and has granted the Son to have life in himself (John 5:26). Jesus has come to give eternal life to the world (John 6:33; cf. 1 John 5:11). That Christ is the believer's source of life is vividly illustrated in the Bread of Life discourse (John 6). Christ is the living bread, and those who partake of this bread will live forever (6:51)...
...The bond of our union with Christ, as Calvin explains, is the Holy Spirit: 'The bond of this connection is therefore the Spirit of Christ, with whom we are joined in unity, and is like a channel through which all that Christ himself is and has is conveyed to us.'...The Holy Spirit bridges the gap between individual Christians and Christ by uniting then with him. By virtue of this mystical union with Christ, divine life (eternal life) is communicated to believers. Christ is the true Vine. We are the branches who abide in the true Vine. The divine life of the true Vine is only able to pass to the branches because the Holy Spirit grafts those branches into the Vine.
Calvin explains that each of the two sacraments [baptism and the Lord's Supper] is related to the believer's mystical union with Christ. The sacrament of baptism is connected with the believer's initial union with Christ. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is connected with the believer's ongoing union with Christ. In the Lord's Supper, the believer is nourished and sustained, and his communion and union with Christ is strengthened and increased. The Lord's Supper is intimately tied to the believer's ongoing sanctification and growth in grace. Those who do not regularly partake of the Lord's Supper separate themselves from their source of nourishment and life." â€“pages 275-76
If Calvin is correct about the the Lord's Supper strengthening our bond and union with Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit in these Last Days (and I believe he is correct), then it would seem to me that as Christians we should all run to the opportunity to take part in the Lord's Supper. No matter how "inconvenient" we think partaking of the Lord's Supper may be on a frequent, monthly, or even weekly basis (and God forbid it if we do think this way as Christians), we should be realize the great blessing we have in strengthening us and helping us to grow in our sanctification and Christ-likeness! It seems to me that according to Acts 2:41-47, as well as Acts 20:7-12, that the early church which met after Jesus' ascension "broke bread" or took the Lord's Supper daily, and then on a weekly basis. The preposition â€œtoâ€ in verse 7 below is being used in this context with the understanding â€œwith the purpose toâ€.
Acts 20:7 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break breadâ€¦
Acts 20:7 teaches that the purpose for which the Last Days Christians wee gathered together was to break bread (and they also heard a sermon because Paul preached). In light of this, and without being dogmatic, It seems to me that it would be fitting for the modern church to return to the Biblical frequency indicated in the Book of Acts. It seems to me that the implicit teaching of Acts 2 and 20 is that every time the church met to hear the Word preached, they were there as well for the express purpose of taking the Lord's Supper (cf. Acts 20:7).
Perhaps this infrequency of partaking the Lord's Supper has led to the lack of spiritual growth in American Christian congregations? Perhaps a better understanding, as well as a more frequent partaking of the Lord's Supper combined with the preaching of the Word, could lead to thriving spiritual communities, a Holy-Spiritual revival, that could lead us into more reformation and Christ-like living? Perhaps a frequent partaking of the Lordâ€™s Supper would enhance our eschatological identity in these Last Days.
(4) Worship is eschatological. We praise God NOW for his word and deed as we think on the salvation he has wrought in Christ in the past, as well as the help and provision he supplies to us each and every day of our lives. In our worship we cry â€œCome, Lord Jesusâ€ as we await our Saviorâ€™s appearing. This points us forward by faith to consider the day when we will worship the Lord God day and night in his presence.
Revelation 5:9-13 9 And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"
Revelation 22:7-9 7 "And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." 8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God."
These are just a few of the eschatological activities we do as Christians that form and inform our eschatological identity as we await as pilgrim people for the Lord to come and restore all things. This is our hope and our confidence NOW as we await what God has promised to us. As pilgrims and sojourners (see previous studies on Hebrews and 1 Peter), we live a life in the Age of the Spirit, not by sight but by faith, knowing God is faithful to accomplish all things on our behalf. Let us remember the good news that the Apostle Paul reminds us of in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 9 But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"- 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
As the people of the Living God, we have such a blessing living in this Age since Jesus has been resurrected. Never forget the importance, as well as the privilege of getting to hear a preacher preach to you in Christ's stead on the Lordâ€™s Day. Remind yourself that what is happening is a rich and rewarding experience whereby Christ, by His Spirit, through his Word spoken by a 'jar-of-clay-imperfect-preacher' (2 Cor. 4-5), is communicating his instruction to you!
Remember the importance of joining with other believers publicly and submitting to one other in Christ's church as Paul admonishes us to do in Ephesians 5-6. Remember the privilege of partaking and feeding spiritually, yet really and truly on Christ in the Lord's Supper- -what an awesome advantage we have as believers to receive it by faith (just as we do the Word of God when preached).
Further, remember that when we worship we are taking part of what the heavenly host in heaven are doing presently, and we are looking forward to a day when we shall get to praise Christ having a greater knowledge of Him than we do now when we shall not only see him, but know him even as we are known (cf. 1 Cor. 13:9ff; 1 John 3:1-3). Praise God for all of our eschatological privileges because we are his people.
LET US BE DIFFERENT IN THIS PRESENT AGE, BECAUSE WE BELONG TO THE AGE TO COME!
IX. LIVING IN THE LAST DAYS WITHOUT A CURIOSITY FOR THOSE DIFFICULT PASSAGES CONCERNING THE LAST DAYS
Before we consider the attitudes that we ought to have in the Last Days, let us consider some of the more difficult passages concerning eschatology or the Last Days revealed in Scripture. We must all admit that we have some built-in fancy for being attracted by the more difficult passages concerning the last days, as well as being curious about what is to happen with regard to the future of the world. (I often shudder to think that more ink has been spilled in futile speculation of 'when', 'where', and 'how' Jesus will return, rather than focusing on the JESUS who knows when, where, and how he will return and who has not chosen to reveal it to us (Deut. 29:29).
It is sad (frightening?) to think that possibly we have spent more time as the people of God 'speculating' about eschatology and the last days, rather than carefully handling Scripture and LIVING ESCHATOLOGICALLY -- that is, living by faith with a true hope and love for HIS appearing. For some reason, we allow what God has chosen not to reveal, someone to prevent us from understanding what he has been please to reveal.
Though we desire to know more of Scripture, and our intentions are good, we get bogged down in the details and fail to consider the clear and encouraging teaching of such books as Daniel (particularly chapters 7-12), Mark chapter 13, Matthew chapter 24, and the Book of Revelation. We must resist the temptation to read into, or to be preoccupied with that which God 'does not' reveal to us, and to make every effort to understand that which he indeed 'does' reveal to us. Remember Deuteronomy 29:29:
'THE SECRET THINGS BELONG TO THE LORD OUR GOD, BUT THE REVEALED THINGS TO US AND OUR CHILDREN."
There are some things about the future that we must admit will remain a mystery, but what is clear and what will edify and build up the church NOW is what we are to focus on in these books containing truth about the last days living. Sadly, we divide in our churches over the unclear portions of Scripture, even portions we do not truly understand, rather than uniting upon that which is clearly revealed for us all. Imagine if you will, the sadness and irony for Christ's church, with all of our "charts of eschatology" that supposedly enlighten us, yet divide us, and cause us to miss the main blessing of what should unite us by love in the Last Days! What is clear in the difficult eschatological passages are the warnings to watch together (implying unity and love) for the coming of the LORD Jesus and to live our lives NOW in light of this imminent truth! The truth of this is seen in Jesusâ€™ Parable of the Ten Virgins that Matthew places directly after his Olivet Discourse in chapter 24 of his gospel. In fact the Parable of the Ten Virgins is the second of three stories Jesus tells, so that his people will get the clear teaching of what he is saying to them! He says be watchful, prepared, and ready!
Matthew 25:1-13 1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, 'Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise answered, saying, 'Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.' 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he answered, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.' 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
With regard to some of the more difficult passages of Scripture concerning the Last Days, such as Matthew, 24, Mark 13, 2 Thessalonians 2-3, and the Book of Revelation, there are some clear teachings that we want to understand before we seek to further understand the more difficult teachings. In fact, when we study the clear passages first, they usually helps us to understand the passages that are not so clear to us. We should remember that they were clear to the author of Scripture, as well as to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, as the Author will help us when we approach these texts humbly and in submission to Him the Great Teacher (1 Cor. 2:6ff; cf. 1 John 2:20-27).
As we have studied earlier, the clearest teachings in these difficult portions of Scripture is to be prepared; to watch; to be sober and alert. Additionally, there is a clear indication that evil and wickedness will increase in the Last Days in a way consistent with the progressive nature of the Kingdom coming into this world, and the spread of the Gospel. There is an escalation or progressive view, not only of Christâ€™s Kingdom coming into the world in this present age (1 Cor. 15:22-28; Mt. 12-13), but also there is an escalation or increase of wickedness and ungodliness, consummating, or ultimately coming to a conclusion in the overthrow of all evil, sin and death (Rev. 6-19:18; Mk. 13; cf. with the increase of wickedness from the first sin of Adam to Genesis 6: â€œAll the thoughts and intents of manâ€™s heart were evil continuallyâ€).
It is a constant New Testament expectation that to the extent to which the gospel of the cross is spread abroad, to that extent the hostility of the world will be manifested as well. Christ is destined to be a rising and falling for many, and to bring out into open the thoughts of many. HE has come into the world for judgment that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind (Mt. 21:44; Luke 2:34; John 3:19-21, 8:39; Rom. 9:32,33; 1 Cor. 1:23; Heb. 4:12).
In the last days, the days that precede the return of Christ, the wickedness of human beings will rise to a fearful level. The days of Noah will return. Lust, sensual pleasures, lawlessness, greed, unbelief, pride, mockery, and slander will erupt in fearful ways (Mt. 24:37ff; Luke 17:26ff; 2 Tim. 3:1; 2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 18).
2 Timothy 3:1-7 1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
This escalation of evil should be kept in mind and understood when reading the descriptions that the Apostles wrote concerning the Last Days. This means that although we live in the power of the Spirit in this present age, and our hope is set on the Age to come to be revealed when Christ returns, we will suffer persecution from evil spirits and people. In fact, the great expectation of every Christian ought to be a life of persecution in the Last Days as difficult as this is for us.
Paul says to Timothy: "Those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution"- 2 Tim. 3:12. God is gracious and allows us to have times of peace and creaturely comforts here in this present age that makes Last Days living somewhat easier. However, we should never place our trust in these "things", because they are never guaranteed to us. As American Christians who do not see as much persecution as the rest of our brothers and sisters in the world, we ought to daily remind ourselves of this truth!
In our desire to understand eschatological portions of the Bible, we must keep in mind not to get too bogged down with the details, but to â€œhearâ€ the emphasis of Christ in difficult passages such as Mt. 24 and Mk. 13 and in the Book of Revelation. These Scriptures are given for our encouragement, may this important truth be not overlooked.
May we consider the clarity of what is written in these passages and pray for patience and understanding by the Spirit, approaching any difficult portion of Scripture with humility, as a child comes to their father. May we thank Christ for the Spiritâ€™s gifts to the Church in teachers who can help us to better understand these passages. Although there can be some difficulties with understanding these passages, we should understand what is clear about them.
THE DIFFICULT PASSAGES ARE NOT MEANT FOR OUR CALCULATION ON CHRISTâ€™S RETURN, BUT FOR OUR CONSIDERATION OF THE ATTITUDE THAT WE SHOULD HAVE UNTIL HE RETURNS.
In Markâ€™s account of the apocalyptic Olivet discourse, he tells his disciples and us to â€œwatchâ€ five times! Jesus ends with a clear message of what he wants his disciples to understand however much we or they misunderstand Jesusâ€™ eschatology in Mk. 13:
"Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming -- in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning --lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"
The focus of our eschatological faith as the people of the Living God ought to be fixed upon Jesus Christ our Savior and King! We must learn from these somewhat difficult passages concerning eschatology that Jesus teaches us to be alert, sober, and watchful.
How can we learn from this as a Last-Days-People? Be alert as to who we are, who we serve, and keep our focus on His imminent return for us. Our alertness, soberness, watchfulness is increased in the faithful preaching of the Word. In the preaching and teaching of the Word, we are reminded of the shortness of this life and the greatness of the next life! We are reminded of our weaknesses and His great strength on our behalf (2 Cor. 4:16-18; 12:9); we are reminded that each day is a gift and we should use our time for his glory. Paul says that we must make the most of our time, knowing the days are evil. Paul reminds us that Today is the Day of Salvation, the day of grace offered to repentant sinners (2 Cor. 6). The Apostle Paul sums up the great news, the nearness of the Last Day, as well as the attitude of how we should live our lives as Godâ€™s people NOW in Romans 13.
Romans 13:10-14 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Let us pray that God, by His Spirit will make us an expectant people. A people who hold on loosely to the "things" of this present age, and a people who realize that they are citizens of another Kingdom, the Kingdom of the Age to Come. May we be diligent by His grace, to be serving him wholeheartedly when he returns, working to build up his church, to seek unity in his church and with his people, and may he not find us searching the Scriptures in a futile manner for yet another eschatological "chart of Jesus' return", but may he find us living with an eschatological faith awaiting the Living Hope Who will renew all things and bring glory to Himself! Amen.
X. ARMED FOR ESCHATOLOGICAL WARFARE
As we learned in the last study, although the gospel increases and expands throughout the world, the increase of wickedness also grows in the last days (2 Tim. 3:1-7). As in the parable of the sower and the seeds, the Evil One is there to snatch up the seeds that drop on the path as the Word of the Kingdom is proclaimed (Matt. 13:18ff). There is an eschatological war in the heavenlies and here on earth between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the Serpent; between the Sower of the Seeds of Righteousness and the Sower of Seeds of Wickedness; there is war between the Sower of Wheat and the sower of weeds. Yet, despite his real and evil work, the Sower of Righteousness prevails, and His Kingdom is abundantly increased (13:23, 43).
Matthew 13:18-23 18 "Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
Matthew 13:36-43 And his disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." 37 He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
As seeds of the Woman, being united to Jesus Christ the Seed of the Woman, we are called to bear his name, be witnesses to his Kingdom, and to boldly march in his Power and Spirit, but we must be aware of an enemy who is scheming against us, who is the Great Serpent, the Devil, who has his own seeds. We must remember as children of light that we are in a great war and how the Apostle Peter describes our Eschatological enemy the Devil in his First Epistle:
1 Peter 5:8-11 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
For this eschatological warfare in the last days, we need the armor of God Christians so that we may stand. That is, we must realize we are clothed in the armor that is given to us by God when we are united to Christ. Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-18 to be strong in the LORD. That is, our battle, our warfare is not against flesh and blood (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5), but it is against the rulers, powers, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Because we have been united to Jesus Christ by faith, seated with him in the heavenly places, although our battle is experienced by us in an earthly manner, it is also a battle "in the heavenlies". Dr. Sinclair Ferguson writes: "The work of the Spirit in uniting us to Christ brings the Christian life into an eschatological atmosphere. It is lived out in the heavenly realms (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). But these are also realms of eschatological conflict where the evil day is faced (Eph. 6:12-13)." ('Holy Spirit'-IVP). Paul says in Ephesians 6:
Ephesians 6:10-18 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saintsâ€¦
This eschatological warfare is a battle where we stand grounded in the truth revealed to us in Scripture as our belt of truth. It is a battle in which we stand with the breastplate of Christ's righteousness that is given to us; we stand with in the peace of the gospel, and with the helmet of salvation, using the Word of God as our sword to stand firm by faith. In this battle, we are called to pray continuously, ever depending on the grace, mercy and strength of God to stand firm against the Evil One and his schemes.
The reality is that Paul says we can stand (Eph. 6:13-14) in this great battle. That is, we are able to stand in this battle, we do not have to give up or to bow our heads in despair and doubt. When we are tempted by the Evil One, the one who hates us, we must remember that we have been united to Jesus Christ, we have died to sin and to our former master, and therefore Paul says 'stand firm' by faith in this reality (Rom. 6:3-8; Col. 1:11-14)!
People of God in the Last Days: Hold on and fight this battle, knowing that you have the Divine Warrior who has conquered death, hell, and the devil, and stand upon Christâ€™s victory won in his resurrection and ascension in these last days! Our Divine and Gracious Warrior, the Living God, has worn this armor himself (Is. 59:15-20)! It is "His" armor of strength which he gives to us so that we may stand firm in His Name, by His grace!
We should also remember we fight together (Eph. 6:18).
18 â€¦praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saintsâ€¦
We do not stand alone, but are part of Christ's body, and therefore we should take courage that the gates of hell shall never prevail against his Church, his people for whom he died (Matt. 16:18)! We should remember to pray for one another, for some in the body are much weaker than others and although they are dressed in God's armor, are strong in Lord, and have his powerful might in Christ, they have a weak faith, a faith that has not fully realized nor fully grasped these truths. Therefore, they need others who are standing firm, to help them to stand by His grace.
Paul says we must always stand in the confidence of our union with Christ, that no temptation comes into our lives, except which is common to all humanity (1 Cor. 10:12-13).
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
And with each temptation by the Evil One, we know that we can stand, and we know that God will not allow us to be tempted without providing a way out. If you think you are standing, take heed, lest you fall. That means, ever rely upon the grace and strength of the Lord Jesus and His powerful Spirit to help you, never on anything you can do in yourself, or by yourself. Always be ever mindful that you are in warfare, yet you are completely clothed with God's armor, and you can indeed, by faith, "be strong in the Lord and in the might of His power"!
Whatever your battle today, whatever your discouragement, whatever the temptation that continually seems to beset you, know who you are because of Jesus Christ, and in the knowledge of who you are, clothed in His righteousness and armor, stand firm in these Last Days! Pray for others as well, that they may stand firm, and never forget that you are never alone in the battle. Oh, and by the way, the battle has been completely won by Jesus Christ the righteous! Stand firm and strong in this reality! "Fear not, for I am with you," says your God and Father.
Charles R. Biggs
To be continued...Part four: Last Days-Eschatological Living in Difficult Times
FOR FURTHER READING ON "LIVING IN LIGHT OF BIBLICAL ESCHATOLOGY"
John Calvin, Book III- Institutes of the Christian Religion
Herman Bavinck- The Last Things
Sinclair Ferguson- The Holy Spirit
__________. The Christian Life
Anthony Hoekema- The Bible and the Future
Keith A. Mathison- Given for You: Reclaiming Calvinâ€™s Doctrine of the Lordâ€™s Supper
Herman Ridderbos- Paul: An Outline of his Theology; The Coming of the Kingdom
R. C. Sproul- The Last Days According to Jesus