Sunday, 26 June 2011

Things you need to know...

Well, I got to preach on one of the most controversial chapters in the Bible this morning. Millennium, rapture, intermediate state - what are we to make of it all, and chapter 20 of Revelation in particular? Unfortunately at this point many Christians quite understandably switch off with a ‘blow it, I’m not sure I want to get into all that’ mentality, and that’s a shame because I believe that God does not want us to be ignorant about our future. Knowing what your future holds is very important, especially when you get to face it a bit closer up! An understanding of God’s plans for this world is also important - knowing whether it will it wind up, blow up or go up. As a pastor, I feel the responsibility of teaching and preparing people well so that they can face the uncertainties of life and death with a faith that is grounded in God’s Word. So here’s a few headlines, some key truths that I believe we need to extract from the debate:

What happens to Christians when they die?
I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that Christians go straight into the presence of Jesus - no waiting, no ‘soul sleep’ - the immediate enjoyment of Jesus’ presence! I base this on 2 key passages, firstly Jesus’ words to the believing criminal on the cross ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’ Lk 23v43 (the word ‘paradise’ is used interchangeably with ‘heaven’ in 2Cor 12v4) and secondly Paul’s words in 2Cor 5v6: “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” Every Christian should be clear on this, it enables you to approach death well! Now as it happens, I believe that Revelation ch20 also teaches this when John speaks of the 1st resurrection in verse 5, but I base my interpretation of that difficult passage on the clearer teaching of the earlier references that I mentioned.

What happens when Jesus returns?
In each of the many instances in the Bible where this event is mentioned there is reference to trumpets and angels and cosmic shakings - so you won’t miss it!! See Matt 24, 1Thes 4, 2Pet 3. It will be glorious! It will also be awesome - really awesome, as every person stands before a Holy God to give account. We read of that this morning in Rev ch20 where we also read of the Book of Life in which is written the names of those whose faith in Jesus will exclude them from judgment since He has taken their sins on Himself! So there will be a separating out of Christians from unbelievers, as Christians are caught up to meet the Lord in the air (the rapture). See 1Thes4v17. At that time we will receive new bodies ready for the new heaven & earth, so we won’t be drifting around in space!
The Bible also teaches that the second coming of Jesus will be a very decisive day. Sin, suffering and satan will be decisively dealt with once and for all as God makes all things new. See 2Thes2v3, 2Pet3v8,12, and Matt 24. And that leads me to the controversial question:

What is the millennium all about?
Millennium means 1000 years and is spoken of only here in Revelation ch20. It is a period of time when satan is spoken of as being bound, and when saints who have died reign with Jesus, prior to the final destruction of satan. Pre-millennialists believe that this will be after Jesus returns (Jesus comes pre the millennium!), and Post-millennialist, you guessed it, they believe that this will be before Jesus returns. Now if as Pre-millennialists believe, this 1000 years occur after Jesus returns, then it follows that there is more grief ahead, 1000 years later, when satan causes havoc again and has to be dealt with all over again. I don’t think so. I believe that Jesus’ second coming will be decisive and conclusive.
Post-millennialists believe that any time now satan will be tied up so that the world gets better and better for 1000 years before Jesus returns. But that surely means that his return is a long way off, and... Not convinced! Lastly, what if the millennium isn’t a literal period of time, and what if we conclude that satan is already bound & restricted as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, bound in that he cannot hold the nations in deception because the gospel is going out into all the world, saving people from every tribe and nation? That’s A-millennialism - it’s now! Satan’s influence has been limited, and dead Christians reign with Jesus - Now! And when Jesus returns, then satan will be dealt with decisively and permanently - no delay, no come back appearance 1000 years later - dealt with! To my mind, that fits best with the teaching in the rest of Scripture and is why I am an A-millennialist!