Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)
Recently I was reading Joel 3:10 and found the phrase:“Let the weak say ‘I am strong’” and a smile crossed my face as I thought of the song the evidently quotes from this verse. Unhappily, this is just one of a thousand times when we get the context wrong even though we have a correct biblical concept!
Perhaps you have heard the song (written by Don Moen):
And now let the weak say, “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us”
Of course, we are to boast in our weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on us, “for when I am weak, then I am strong”. (2 Cor 12:10) But this is NOT the context for Joel!!
Believe it or not, this is the Lord’s taunt to the nations of the world to assemble for the Final Battle in the valley of Jehoshaphat! They are to come, one and all – farmers are to: “Beat your plowshares into swords”; the weak and sick are to say: “I am strong enough to fight against Israel!”
The typical interpretation of this verse, as we “clip-and-paste” our way through the Bible, is actually the opposite of what the Lord declared! THE CONTEXT clearly shows the proud and arrogant nations of the world are being gathered by the Lord in the Last Days for the Final Battle of this age.
“I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. Then I will enter into judgment with them there.” (Joel 3:2)
2. Be diligent to put yourself into the time period of the original writer.
One thing I often use as a guide to “divide up time periods” is the the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1. There we find 3 time periods: Abraham – David, David to the Exile and the Exile to Jesus. Simple but helpful. (Often Christians don’t realize that the Bible is not laid out in chronological order but books are placed in order by their actual LENGTH, particularly the prophetical books, or by their “type” of writing — ie, poetry or history, etc.)
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to [q]the Messiah, fourteen generations. (Mtt 1:17)
Are you reading from Isaiah, then put yourself into the 700s BC. in Judah, before the exile to Babylon. Are you are reading Daniel, know that you are IN Babylon during the Exile, etc.
3. Be diligent to leave your preconceived ideas behind.
One of the strongest areas that I have had to fight through for myself, and that which I see people struggle with a great deal, is the area of preconceived ideas of truth and the way future events will unfold. These are stubborn personal belief systems that we have simply “inherited from our forefathers” in the faith, be that a pastor, mentor, TV show, movie, book or friend. These are not necessarily founded on diligent study or “sweat equity”.
Can I offer you one of the most glaring examples of preconceived truths that are really hard to die in many people?
He [Jesus] spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” (Mtt 13:33)
A standard teaching on this parable is that it illustrates the power of the Gospel impacting the whole earth, like leaven impacts the whole loaf. Indeed, haven’t we been promised that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11, Hab 2)
Leaven is an “infiltrating agent”, like the mustard seed, they teach us; small, yet in God, extremely powerful!
Yet what if by diligent study and hard work I come across the fact that in the Bible leaven is always used as a symbol of evil and corruption! Can I leave behind what I have been taught, even if taught it by the dearest people on the earth to me?
“Leaven – which, in Scripture, always symbolizes that which is evil – is not, like yeast, a fermenting element, different in substance from meal: leaven is simply old and sour dough, which infects the whole meal with its corruption.” (D. M. Panton)
Sometimes even the written word of God can not change our already arrived at conclusions… We need the hammer of God’s voice to break that rock!
“Is not My word like fire?” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock? (Jer 23:29)
My suggestion is to be ruthless, almost to the point of being, dare I say it, extreme. Especially so, I believe, when it comes to receiving into your spirit prophetic truth about the end of the age, which satan fears more than we and clouds and confuses more than we can ever imagine.
“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:25-27)
The typical believer today lives out the truth of the following statement:
not knowing “the day or the hour” (Mtt 24:36) has become interpreted to mean not knowing ANYTHING!
But I believe the many signs that Jesus told us about that were to come BEFORE His return will help us be watching and waiting! There is an old proverb that tells it well: “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”.
Actually, knowing the details of prophetic signs and not just giving “lip service” to them will keep the church from being led astray by false teachers and false prophets, who, we have been told in Scripture, will come in the “last days”.
“The signs of the times…”
Probably not too many phrases exasperate the body of Christ more in this day and age than this one! Regrettably, these signs, which were meant BY THE LORD JESUS to be for our protection and preparation, have become “thrown to the curb” because of faulty teaching on the one hand and over-zealous prophets on the other.
These are two sad and unfortunate truths. Let’s examine the each of these two extremes that keep us from watching for the signs.
#1 Faulty teaching.
During the 1800’s, as revival of prophetic truth was being dug up by the children of the men of the Great Reformation, there came to the body of Christ a faulty teaching that taught that we would be raptured off the earth before the great tribulation (Mtt 24:21) which will fall upon the whole world in the final hours of this present age.
This belief has become known as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture position. The “Pre-trib” doctrine says that we don’t need signs because Jesus might come any day, even today. They would even go so far as to affirm that they are not “waiting for signs” but “waiting for Jesus”. Sounds nice…. Sadly it is not the biblical position. This doctrine has led to the widespread belief in Imminence, meaning that the rapture can occur at any moment.
Yet this is not what the Scriptures teach. One can see this quite easily by studying the parables of Mtt 13.
“The parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30) shows the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest, this therefore refutes that there will be any pre-tribulation rapture of the church seven years before the end.” (www.logosapostolic.org)
#2. Over-zealous prophets.
During this same time period (1800s) the church suffered though many inaccurate and emotional false predictions. One of the most famous of these prophets is William Miller, whose followers became know as Millerites who eventually birthed the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“William Miller is perhaps the most famous false prophet in history. In the 1840s he began to preach about the world’s end, saying Jesus Christ would return for the long-awaited Second Coming and that Earth would be engulfed in fire sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. Moved by those messages, as many as 100,000 “Millerites” sold their belongings between 1840 and 1844 and took to the mountains to wait for the end.” (Kayla Webley)
Here is a SHORT list of some other famous end time zealots. (From Wikipedia)
(Sorry if I left out your favorite…)
Needless to say this pitiful history of false prophecies has left the church of Christ skeptical, exhausted and weary of even trying to keep up with the actual REAL signs!
The Word of God is our answer, our hope and anchor!
Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things [signs] happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:29-31)
Dear fellow believers, we are told by Jesus that we will see the signs and know for ourselves that His return is near.
Instead of burying our heads in the sand we are told to lift up are heads!
But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Lk 21:28)
Instead of feeding our appetites and “living life large” we are told to be on our guard.
Be on your guard, so that your minds are not dulled from carousing, drunkenness, and worries of life, or that day will come on you unexpectedly like a trap. (Lk 21:34-35)
Yours for the coming King,
Many in the church across the world are sensing that “this present age” is winding down to transition into “the age to come” (Mk 10:30). The “signs of the times” (Mtt 16:3) are being observed from Manila to Moscow to the Middle East.
One of the shocking facts of the End Times is the predicted apostasy or “falling away from the faith” by believers (1 Tim 4:1). Many Christians imagine that this will take place because of the great persecution by antichristian forces prior to the Final Battle.
But I think that one doesn’t just “fall into apostasy” because a gun is pointed at one’s head! I believe it will be a more seductive slide down a slippery slope of deception and searching after comfort and financial security which will lead to a “lukewarmness of heart”. Jesus had stern warnings against lukewarmness in the book of Revelation. (Rev. 3)
If you are not up-to-date on your “falling away” scriptures, I offer some of them here:
In that day many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. (Mtt 24:10-11)
Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [the day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed (2 Thess. 2:3)
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. (1 Tim 4:1)
The point we must realize in all this is that these believers won’t just fall into apostasy; they will find their way there, I believe, “little by little”.
“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest”— Your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man. (Prov. 6:10-11)
These are NOT Tares…
Just to be clear, those that fall away from the faith before the Great Day of the Lord (Joel 2:31) are not the same as the tares that grow side-by-side with the wheat until the harvest. Tares will stay in the kingdom until the angels remove them at the Second Coming of Christ. Tares are planted by satan (‘An enemy has done this!’ Mtt 13:28) to grow as an “imitation crop”, tightly interwoven amongst the true wheat of Jesus’ body to infiltrate and weaken.
At the Second Coming of Jesus, not before like the apostasy, the Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom – the professing church – all “stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mtt 13:41-42)
God’s Answer to Lukewarmness
In the book of Revelation, which covers very well the conditions on earth during the Last Days, Jesus offers advice to the lukewarm, self-sufficient believers in Laodicea. In highlighting those lukewarm ones, Jesus flat out tells us that He would prefer we be hot or cold… but NOT lukewarm.
Did you ever ask yourself why Jesus would actually prefer us to be cold rather than lukewarm? Here are some great insights on that subject from Albert Barnes, noted New Testament scholar:
“Such a state of open and professed coldness or indifference is more honest. There is no disguise; no concealment; no pretence. We know where one in this state “may be found”; we know with whom we are dealing; we know what to expect… we all prefer such a character to one where professions are made which are never to be realized – to a state of insincerity and hypocrisy.”
The Laodicean “lukewarm church” is an interesting case as it had no opponents from without, nor heresies from within (ie. Nicolaitans, Jezebel), rather it suffered from thinking it had life and was “in need of nothing” when it was “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
In an effort to win back those with lukewarm hearts, Jesus declares:
“I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (Rev 3:16-19)
Believers all around the globe can freely follow our King’s same advice!
1. Gold refined by fire.
Gold refined in fire speaks of God’s purification process — heat makes impurities rise. God will allow “fiery trials”, that brings us to true holiness.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
To “buy” speaks to me of hard work to acquire money to be able to spend it on the cost of an item! Buy up time in His word! Buy up time with Him in prayer.
2. White Garments.
White garments are expressive of purity and holiness: sins forgiven are as white as snow or as white as wool; the white garments of angels and the 24 elders around the throne; and the transfiguration of Jesus.
“And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” (Mark 9:2-3)
3. Eye Salve.
Eye slave speaks of not seeing clearly. In lukewarm Laodicea Jesus is outside the church, standing and knocking to get in!
“To see clearly the character of God, the beauty of the way of salvation, the loveliness of the person and work of Christ.” (Barnes)